Archive for the 'En Plein Air' Category

Cave Spring | 2019-2021

Friday, October 29th, 2021

“The most important thing
a painter can do is find
a good place to sit.”
— J.E.H. MacDonald
 

I started this miniature on location in 2019, deep into a hollow that reveals a natural site which offered the only large amount of “refrigeration” available to Kentucky pioneers in the region. My vision for a final look required more indoor time than could ever meet a qualification for en plein air. Paper can be a stern schoolmaster in the studio at times, and I’ve been known to get prickly under his tutelage, but Mother Nature smiles when I “return home.”
 
 
 

(above, left) A collage ‘start’ in the woods taking shape on my clipboard.

(above, right) The completed location work fell short of a finished landscape.

 
 

Cave Spring
collage miniature by J A Dixon
started on location / finished indoors
7.25 x 7.5 inches
available to collectors

Still Life with Peony Tulips

Monday, October 11th, 2021

“We think of the things we own and use as defining us in some way, but that can only be true if we first describe the things. Describing is a remarkable human act. It connects our inner and outer experience: as we observe and record the material world, we respond and reflect. We enter the realm where the material world meets the imagination. That’s the fertile ground of art.”
– Sheldon Tapley
 

I created this artwork for The Object Seen: Contemporary Still Life, current exhibition at Art Center of the Bluegrass in Danville. The juror was Sheldon Tapley, masterful painter, draftsman, and Stodghill Professor of Art at Centre College. I received a 2nd-place ribbon and cash prize. The honor came as a surprise, since I don’t consider myself a practitioner or student of still life as an art form. I have, however, looked deeply at artwork made by Sheldon and those who are. The arms-length quality of modern still life has compelled my close scrutiny for many years. Given that influence, I brought to the genre what I’ve discovered by “painting with paper” from direct observation (the long sweep of art history hovering somewhere outside my conscious awareness, with its rich tradition of artists tackling visual cornacopias of objects and edible fare). I decided to interpret a tabletop group of objects from raw material, rather than assemble a conventional collage composition from found images.

Please view a video clip of the juror’s remarks about my artwork.

The peony tulip blossoms were created en plein air in a local flower garden. The small “still life within a still life” was commenced and partially finished from a setup of actual objects. I relied on photo reference for the rest. Ingredients include colored paper (printed and unprinted), wallpaper, ruined book parts, tissue, reclaimed tea bags, string, and a dried leaf, plus minimal use of walnut juice, burnt coffee, tinted paste, and marker-ink edging. Adhesives include wheat paste, acrylic matte medium, and white glue.

 

Still Life with Peony Tulips
collage on salvaged canvas
18 x 23.75 inches

•  Second Place Prize

Eighth Chapter: Annual PAACK show opens . . .

Friday, August 27th, 2021

En Plein Air
an exhibition of recent
work by the Plein Air
Artists of Central Kentucky

It’s been an exceptional season for making art outdoors, and our local Art Center of the Bluegrass is currently presenting many of the resulting creations. I have six collage miniatures on display as part of the show. Enjoy the exhibit in-person or browse the virtual gallery until 9/11.

One of the highlights of the spring was our gathering at the backyard of Lee and David Simpson, with its quiet explosion of white and pink dogwood trees. They were certainly calling attention to themselves here and all over Danville. What a perfect day to be outside with the PAACK and “painting with paper,” thanks to my mobile collage kit. After some initial work, I gradually became convinced the scene was taking shape. As location coordinator for the day, I’d gotten off to an awkward start. I eventually came away from the pleasurable day with a solid interim stage, but as I began to finish the trees in the studio, it was clear that the piece needed more than details to improve it. When I decided that the foreground was too deep, I impetuously peeled off the base and moved it up an inch or so — after all, this is collage. That one modification helped everything about the look. The rest of the process became obvious. If I reinforced the sun-activated colors and spent a bit more time with the fence area on the right side, I could declare it finished, as long as I stayed within an overall time allocation that was legitimately en plein air. I was pleased to achieve a 70%/30% solution.

Whenever I gather under the sky with traditional landscape painters, their impressive work challenges me to “do my thing” with paper. With each outing, it’s feeling more like I’m painting, too! This was true in May, when we spread out to interpret the country home site of Paula and Ken Scott. A particular view of their wrap-around porch and surrounding garden captured my eye. I wanted to combine some hard-edge cutting with my evolving “brushstroke” technique. As is often the case, I pushed the finishing touches back in the studio to the 50/50 limit, matching my location time with more detailed refinements indoors. I’m still trying to solve how to bring something closer to a level of interesting density while still outside. Perhaps I’ll find that, by necessity, a totally site-based collage needs to be simpler in expression and more decisive in composition. A milestone in June and the subsequent Paint the Town experience would drive home the point, and also emphasize the importance of having a supply of “prepared papers” on hand to boost speed and expand my available vocabulary of effects.

I like to work outside because I like to be outside. When I formerly thought of myself as an amateur triathlete, I’d cross-train right through the hottest days of the summer. It doesn’t bother me to extend an Art Out into the late afternoon. Sometimes the morning shade has long since abandoned me. If I’m well into the groove, I can barely notice. Before I get totally off the subject here, I should state that I actually rely on direct sunlight to promote the drying of my collage surface, since I’m usually working wet-on-wet. A good example of this was the day PAACK gathered in the nearby Forkland community. I don’t fault others for finding a shady spot to paint. I set up not far away in the open sun.

In the decades since this Ohioan adopted Central Kentucky as my permanent home, I’ve developed an affection for the distinct topography and knobby woodlands of our area. Sure, the famous horse farms and limestone palisades are always handy, but I’ll never get enough of the unique contours of a “gumdrop horizon.” The Forkland community, which straddles three adjacent counties, was a destination that fit my attachment to “The Knobs”. The result was On the North Rolling Fork, one of my favorite landscape miniatures of the year.

 

Dogwood Day
collage miniature by J A Dixon
70% / 30% — site to studio
8 x 7.75 inches
available for purchase

 

Country Porch
collage miniature by J A Dixon
50% / 50% — site to studio
7.75 x 7.75 inches
available for purchase

 

On the North Rolling Fork
collage miniature by J A Dixon
50% / 50% — site to studio
8 x 7.75 inches
available for purchase

Tillie’s unpainted facade

Tuesday, July 13th, 2021

“What happens if we like a piece of art or hate a piece of art? Nothing. The art is still the same; it hasn’t changed. If we can realize that our judgments are not the truth, but a way to keep from telling the truth, then we begin the process of discovering what our truth is and putting that on the page.”
— Fonda Clark Haight
 

I started this miniature in a friend’s yard three weeks ago and cut myself off in the studio yesterday when the indoor work equaled the time expended on location. I wanted to keep the ratio to 50%/50%, a standard limitation we use for our annual En Plein Air exhibition. I’m fond of this piece, even though it will always look unfinished to me. I could’ve continued to refine it with more texture and details, but I had to keep in mind that it was more about the process than an end result. I learned something that day at Tillie’s about responding with paper to what I observed before me, in preparation for the “Paint the Town” time crunch. There was too much character in that old garage to fully capture anyway. Our fellow PAACK member has left the rear of that particular structure unpainted and speckled with antique tools — all for the benefit of local artists. Not a big mystery for anyone who knows Tillie!

 

Weathered Backside
collage miniature by J A Dixon
50% / 50% — site to studio
7.75 x 7.75 inches
available for purchase

Paint the town. (With paper!)

Saturday, July 3rd, 2021

“If everything seems under control, you’re just not going fast enough.”
— Mario Andretti
 

One week ago, I spent a windy Saturday in frantic competition with the clock, and managed to get an outdoor collage artwork framed and delivered for Lexington’s annual Paint the Town plein air event. At the opening reception that same evening, I was stunned to get a prompt sale and 2nd-place prize. It was one of the most exhilarating twelve hours I’ve experienced in quite a while.

Oh, the dubious lengths some of us will go to chase artistic intensity — even the temporary madness of extreme deadline pressure — all in the pursuit of rapt spontaneity. Heaven help me!

It doesn’t seem so long ago when I first took my collage obsession out of doors, and this kind of open challenge was a goal too absurd to contemplate. I had scouted the location and spent a couple days in preparation. By the time I’d registered a blank canvas, raced to my site and set up, one of the precious six hours had evaporated. I began to battle the breeze (nothing new there). Nor were the other 40 artists involved my foes. It was clear that the only towering opponent I faced was a daunting imperative to speed up my process. I’ve never pasted paper so fast in my life!

The judge said this about my piece: “I was very interested in the way this artist managed to create such an evocative landscape using collaged paper — and on a windy day! Places and buildings often hold so many memories and meanings, and the use of text on the siding of the buildings — with the words appearing in reverse, so they become texture and tone — adds another level of meaning.”

It’s gratifying, and profoundly reinforcing, to have a knowledgeable evaluator find significance in aspects that have evolved gradually to become a natural part of my plein air method. I appreciate her remarks, the organizing effort of all those with Arts Connect, the camaraderie of the participating artists, the buyers (Scott and Paul), the indispensable support of my dearest partner — and you, reader, for visiting here and for reading all of this!

Onward to the next challenge!

 

Off Upper
plein air collage on canvas by J A Dixon
12 x 12 inches

•  Second Place Prize / S O L D

A June breakthrough

Monday, June 21st, 2021

“You know when there is spontaneous creativity when there is no resistance, when there is no anticipation, when there is no regret, when you’re totally present, and you’re experiencing what is called flow, because you know, deep inside you, that your only intention, ultimately, is the progressive expansion of happiness for yourself and for everyone else.”
— Depak Chopra

Yes, I’m happy, because I met an elusive goal that’s bugged me since my first experience with creating collage en plein air. With unfeigned satisfaction, I finished something entirely on location. This piece will probably mean more to me as a milestone than it might to anyone else. Now I feel better prepared to confront this Saturday’s “Paint the Town” landscape challenge. Unlike last summer’s more relaxed version, this event will be the real deal!

 

Day in June
collage miniature by J A Dixon
100% / 0% — site to studio
7.25 x 7.5 inches
available to collectors

Quarry

Monday, May 3rd, 2021

“Perpetual devotion to what a man calls his business is only to be sustained by perpetual neglect of many other things.”
— Robert Louis Stevenson
 

ROCK, PAPER, SCISSORS, the virtual exhibition organized by Kate Savage at Arts Connect, had its online event with artist commentary yesterday. As I prepared some remarks about my included artwork, I looked back to see what I’d written about it after its completion in 2019.

Nothing — that’s what I found.

With an emphasis on documenting my journey into making collage en plein air, I’ve apparently neglected to say as much about a corresponding investigation of studio-based landscape. Being a self-taught illustrator and fine artist, working from photographs has been a central part of the creative process — at least since my days as a “gopher” student in the 1970s, when I assisted veteran commercial artists compile reference scrap for tight-deadline assignments. In recent years, my work on location is informing how I do a collage painting indoors from a photo.

Quarry is a fitting example, created from a wonderful image by Jeff Hiles, an Ohio photographer who generously gave a green light to interpret his work in another medium. My piece also dovetails nicely with the theme of the show. More importantly, it demonstrates how I’m gradually learning to bring into the studio the sense of immediacy and intuitive spontaneity that I experience when working directly from a natural scene.

 

Quarry
collage landscape by J A Dixon
25 x 18.5 inches
on panel, framed
available for purchase

Knobland

Monday, October 5th, 2020

“It may be that when we no longer know what to do, we have come to our real work and when we no longer know which way to go, we have begun our real journey. The mind that is not baffled is not employed. The impeded stream is the one that sings.”
― Wendell Berry
 

I spent a hot but glorious day with the August sun and “knobs” of Boyle County, Kentucky. At first it looked as if I didn’t need to do much with this one when I examined it in the studio, because I’d decided to ignore any evidence of habitation at the rural setting. Something convinced me that wasn’t the way to go, so I decided to plunge back in, referring back to my photo reference. As usual, I was bound and determined to avoid exceeding the time I’d spent on location or to ruin the impression that I’d already captured. I didn’t know exactly what to do. That I couldn’t leave well enough alone was clear enough. Working more from a memory of how the farmstead was tucked into the countryside, I completed the miniature within the desired limitation. To be totally honest, I still don’t know if the result is an artistic improvement, but the presence of people with a relationship to this particular natural place ended up being an overwhelming necessity for my landscape. You can be the judge of its final merit as well as I.
 
 
Knobland ~ plein air collage miniature by J A Dixon

Knobland
plein air collage miniature by J A Dixon
50% /50% — site to studio
6.9375 x 7 inches

•  S O L D

Haven on the Ridge

Wednesday, September 30th, 2020

“Observers should feel that the act of painting was effortless — that it happened, it just happened. Which, of course, is not true.”
— Jane Piper
 

I’ll be spending more time in the collage studio soon, but I made the most of the warm months to create collage artwork in the open air. Much love and appreciation goes out to my sister, Joan Wood, for hosting a summer plein-air gathering at her wonderful retreat on Kelley Ridge in Garrard County, Kentucky. Since I was the PAACK coordinator for the outing, I decided to set up in a central spot to help me avoid overlooking any of our intrepid participants. The turnout was great, and I had at least one visitor that I wasn’t expecting. A house portrait demands a certain density and exactitude. I left with a good start, but it fell short of the hoped-for level of detail, so I challenged myself to bring it around with an expenditure of studio time equal to what I devoted to the outdoor session.

Cardinal Haven is the name that our mother, Virginia, came up with for Joan’s isolated abode (which spurred the title of this featured miniature). It’s on display right now, as part of the annual group exhibition in downtown Danville. En Plein Air lasts until October 30.
 
 

Haven on the Ridge
collage miniature by J A Dixon
50% / 50% — site to studio
7.1875 x 7.1875 inches
private collection

Seventh Chapter: Interpreting an observed world with collage . . .

Thursday, September 17th, 2020

“Our highest assurance of the goodness of Providence seems to me to rest in the flowers. All other things, our powers, our desires, our food, are all really necessary for our existence in the first instance. But this rose is an extra. Its smell and its color are an embellishment of life, not a condition of it. It is only goodness which gives extras, and so I say again that we have much to hope from the flowers.”
― Arthur Conan Doyle
 

 
 
 
 

(clockwise, from top left) Working at the sunny flowerbed in July. The ‘rig’ that enables me to take the medium of collage outside. The result of my concentrated, on-site attention. Closeup of a marvelous bloom that cast its spell on me.

 
My thanks to Margo and Russ Goodwin for their purchase during our annual exhibition, En Plein Air. Your sunny garden in July was a perfect spot to paint flowers, which I’d never done with paper before. My appreciation to Donna F for her continuous encouragement, to Katherine W for getting a shot of me with that rig I developed to create collage outdoors, and to Amanda G for taking pity on me with the loan of her handy umbrella. The last image in the grid above is the result of my preliminary work at the flowerbeds — to get a roughly seven-inch square composition. Needless to say, all the time spent studying the surrounding zinnias resulted in minimal pasted paper for the actual blossoms, but stored memories and photo references were sufficient to prime an expressive treatment back in the studio.

As I’ve mentioned before, my objective is to spend fewer hours with the indoor follow-up than I do on location. I’ll usually require “half-and-half” to resolve a solution. Yes, there are those who wouldn’t accept that as a legitimate plein-air piece. It’s a standard cut-off point that we use for our PAACK. It works well for me at this stage of my learning to “paint with paper.” The more important aspect of this journey into natural settings is the clear sense that contemporary collage, an innovation by modern-art painters, may still be largely untapped as a method of visually interpreting the observed world, especially as part of the plein air tradition. Flowers should be a essential part of that adventure.
 
 
July Zinnias ~ plein air collage miniature by J A Dixon

July Zinnias
plein air collage miniature by J A Dixon
50% /50% — site to studio
6.375 x 7.3125 inches

•  S O L D

Sixth Chapter: A virtual field trip for youngsters . . .

Saturday, August 22nd, 2020

 

 
“You can decide that you want your art to be very close, exacting, and faithful to the scene, or you can just let nature charge your imagination, and you just go from there.”
from our video “ridealong”
 

It turned out to be one of the more memorable days of the summer — not just another opportunity to take my collage making to a natural place, but a collaborative effort with my friend Brandon Long from Art Center of the Bluegrass. Responding to the new demands of the era, he was in the middle of organizing a virtual field trip to dovetail with our annual En Plein Air exhibition. He wants to encourage youngsters to create collage artwork out of doors, so he asked me if I would be the subject of a short video. Our local PAACK had already scheduled an event at Central Kentucky Wildlife Refuge, but, with the likelihood of rain, the gathering had been postponed earlier that morning. Brandon and I felt lucky, and we pushed ahead with the outing anyway. We were successful in avoiding the poison ivy and pulling off our little production at the edge of Island Pond. Not much later, a thunderstorm sent me skedaddling beneath a nearby shelter. Somehow, I came away with a good start on a miniature that I could finish in the studio. My goal has always been to spend less time with the indoor follow-up than I spend on location. Sometimes it happens, but usually I need a 50/50 time ratio between site and studio to bring something to a satisfactory resolution. There are artists who would not consider that a legitimate plein-air solution. It’s a standard limitation that we use for our Central Kentucky group. At any rate, I find the entire process to be personally rewarding. If I keep doing this, I think that basically I’ll get to where I can complete something in the field. Meanwhile, the challenge is to “paint with paper,” capturing the essence of a viewscape on site, and then to avoid messing that up with my finishing touches.

Creating Collage “En Plein Air”

 

Before a Storm
plein air collage miniature by J A Dixon
50% /50% — site to studio
7.5 x 7.8125 inches
available for purchase