Archive for the 'En Plein Air' Category

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
available for purchase

•  Second Place Prize

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
8 x 7.875 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

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
currently on consignment

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
7.5 x 7.8125 inches
available for purchase

Fifth Chapter: Sparring with the breeze . . .

Saturday, October 5th, 2019

“This idea of having something that isn’t quite in focus, something that isn’t quite understood, is interesting. I think details that are over-plentiful, details that are very dense, are lifelike. They exist in natural environments. Forests have a huge amount of details, because they are not built on a human level, so they are impossible to analyze at first glance, and I think we can only recreate what nature has done already, so I don’t think that the idea of simplifying something is a good thing.”
— Édouard Lock
 

August and September provided a stretch of exceptionally dry weather that was a disappointment for farmers in the Bluegrass, but valued by our intrepid PAACK of regional artists who work out of doors. I was able to create three more satisfying landscape miniatures.

Those who have followed this sequence of descriptions realize it hasn’t been that long since I met the challenge of doing collage en plein air. It has evolved as a gradient progression of discoveries. I’ve learned to think of my application of paper ingredients as a density of “brushstrokes” rather than the placement of simple design elements into a composition. The two-year process has brought my artwork from a crafted illustration with cleanly pasted elements to a more layered, painterly effect. I’m tending to work wet-on-wet, using sandpaper and blades to score and feather edges. The thickness of papers is torn into “veneers” with areas that can achieve a blended translucency, and I’m more routinely taking advantage of recycled tea-bag “skins” to add warmth, texture, or visual softness. I continue to use three different liquid adhesives — wheat paste, white glue, and polymer gel — which offer contrasting levels of stickiness and drying time. I saturate the paper for manipulations not available with dry material and then flatten the surface with a cloth or burnisher, depending on a desired level of dimensionality. Bits of printed text continue to appear as part of my treatment, providing subtle highlights or more overt suggestions of pattern. This growing vocabulary of techniques has given me more confidence to tackle scenes that might have looked too difficult not so long ago. Attempting to “paint” a pond fountain or a rocky outcrop with only paper would have seemed more daunting when I first started to do this.

None of it would be possible without the generosity of those who host our outings. With a spirit of hospitality, the diversity of two farms and a wonderful view of the Dix River were each made available to us for a day. I rely on a square viewing card to select my composition and the all-important place to sit.
 

A point of self-criticism: my plein-air “collage rig” had gradually crept into the forbidden zone of overkill, so I made an effort to lighten my load before the next PAACK venture.

My goal has been a self-imposed limitation of studio follow-through, equal to or less than the amount of time I spend at the original site. I was able to meet that comfortably with August Afternoon, for a 50/50 allocation. When completing Fountain and Shadow, I had to suspend my detailed labor on the central tree. I’d prefer to invest less time indoors and was able to do that with Reflection on an Outcrop (a more desirable 60/40 ratio). Having been studio oriented in my art practice, I always need to guard against allowing the concluding phase to upstage a vital plein-air impression. I’ll rely on memory as much as I do an iPhone photo taken on location. It’s also important to remind myself that, as much as I enjoy my “maximalist” propensity, the objective should be a creative interpretation instead of a literal rendering. It is, after all, a collage artwork.

Collage Madness, my joint exhibition with Connie Beale, is currently on display here in Danville, Kentucky at the Mahan Gallery of Boyle County Public Library. It has provided the first ideal opportunity to showcase my approach to plein air collage and I’ll explain my process to visitors at a Gallery Talk on Saturday afternoon, October 19th. I’ve covered a number of bases as an artist and designer, but I have to say that this has been one of the most personally rewarding projects I’ve begun. Perhaps many of you can be there to hear my remarks.
 
 
August Afternoon ~ plein air collage miniature by J A Dixon

August Afternoon
plein air collage miniature by J A Dixon
7.25 x 7.125 inches
available for purchase

 
Fountain and Shadow ~ plein air collage miniature by J A Dixon

Fountain and Shadow
plein air collage miniature by J A Dixon
6 x 6.375 inches
available for purchase

 
Reflection on an Outcrop ~ plein air collage miniature by J A Dixon

Reflection on an Outcrop
plein air collage miniature by J A Dixon
6.375 x 6.625 inches

•  S O L D

Fourth Chapter: Wasn’t this spot in the shade?

Tuesday, August 13th, 2019

“I go to nature every day for inspiration in the day’s work.”
— Frank Lloyd Wright
 

After much too long a hiatus, I finally got back on location with the PAACK to resume my project to create collage en plein air. Setting out in the morning seemed like a “forced march,” including unwarranted worries that I’d forgotten something essential, but as soon as I got to the nearby Scott estate, I was at home scouting for a place to sit. The environment and hospitality were both exceptional. With the grounds in ideal shape, our hosts had offered many inviting points of view. Relying on my card with a square cutout, I fixated on a cluster of three outbuildings that would provide some desired depth (which I then proceeded to compress in space). I also was looking for a good opportunity to continue developing my technique for trees. I made a conscious effort to back off from a previous “fastidious” style and to evolve a looser method of “painting with paper.” I resisted concerns about the end result whenever I discerned a now-familiar tendency to tighten up. It was a solid, productive outing during the hottest chunk of a fine summer day.

An enjoyable discussion with the owner revealed the detail I would need for a fitting title. It was quite possible that the old, white-washed brick structure central to my composition had been the storehouse for a tannery in early Danville, one of the original pioneer settlements in Kentucky. The small piece turned out to be a 50%-50% location-to-studio allocation. This same time formula (which still allows for a legitimate plein-air designation) was applied to another miniature that I finished next, a scene that overlooked a spot on Main Street (here in downtown Danville). The artwork was something I’d commenced before a knee injury sidelined my plein-air activity last year. After a double session in the open, I’d always intended the piece to be a hundred-percent outside solution. I surrendered that idea and decided to pull it out of storage for a studio conclusion, in order to make the deadline for our annual group exhibition. In a future entry, I’ll delve into additional aspects of what I’m discovering about this process and a few of the helpful techniques that I’ve learned.

The 2019 En Plein Air show is currently on display until the end of August. An opening reception this Saturday evening coincides with a festive name-change event for the local arts venue — now to be identified as Art Center of the Bluegrass. The prominent facility in a former federal post office has always felt like a “home stadium” to me, ever since my first solo collage exhibition was held there, not long after the building was acquired and restored as a focal point for the arts. Long-time followers of this humble blogsite will know that it has surfaced regularly in the yearly roster. My best to everyone on deck at this institution, as you chart new waters for a valuable community resource.
 
 

Perhaps a Tannery
plein air collage miniature by J A Dixon
7 x 7.25 inches

•  S O L D

 

Across Main
plein air collage miniature by J A Dixon
7.875 x 9.125 inches

•  S O L D

A gallery talk about plein-air collage . . .

Friday, October 5th, 2018

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

As many of you already know, my warm-season activity was sharply curtailed by a mishap that diverted much energy into healing a traumatized left knee. As a result, I was unable to take advantage of the many “art-outs” organized by our Plein Air Artists of Central Kentucky. However, I took part in their annual exhibition and was invited to make remarks at a recent “gallery talk” and describe the plein-air collage kit that I assembled last year. Here is an excerpt from my presentation:

“One of the nicer things about the art-out gatherings is knowing that someone has volunteered to find a great setting, and to arrange all the details with the hosts. So, there you are, arriving at a new location filled with possibilities. Personally, I find that it’s important to not spend too much time selecting a spot to sit, even though, in my mind, the entire enterprise rests upon that decision. I want the act to be part of the overall intuitive process to which my day is pledged. For example, at Cambus-Kenneth Farm, it was tough to avoid squandering valuable minutes, since there were barns, ponds, pastures, an impressive Italianate home, and many remarkably preserved 18th- and 19th-century brick outbuildings, including an icehouse, springhouse, and slave quarters. To keep the inertia, I decided I needed to crop the setting like a photographer, using a viewing card with square window. It was a rare treat for our group to be offered the opportunity to wander among the paddocks and historic structures in such a serene environment, but a plein-air artist is on a mission, the sun does not pause, and there is no room for indecision. If an artist wants to cultivate self-trust and forward momentum in technique, a regular plein-air challenge is the way to do it.”
 

 
 

(above) details from plein-air collage artworks by J A Dixon

(below) the artist describes his plein-art collage kit at a recent gallery talk

 

 

Roster of Shows

Tuesday, August 7th, 2018

Adding a couple more items to my Roster of Shows: A collage miniature from 2014, Melting into Air, was displayed as part of “Little Pieces,” the fourth exhibition of the Nashville Collage Collective. It was an honor to be invited to participate with the dynamic group. Two of my plein-air collage pieces currently hang in the large grouping of works by members of PAACK. The Plein Air Artists of Central Kentucky meet regularly for organized “paint-outs” during the summer months, visiting local farms, parks, and historic landmarks. Locally, the exhibit is an annual favorite. The 2017 exhibit holds the distinction of being the show that yielded the most art sales last year in my hometown of Danville. If you haven’t checked out the summary from last year, read about how I solved the challenges of “painting” with small collage ingredients in the open air. I’ve been asked to make remarks during the upcoming “gallery talk” at the Community Arts Center, scheduled for the last Thursday of August. Perhaps I’ll see you there!
 

Melting into Air (detail) ~ J A Dixon Old Quarters (detail) ~ J A Dixon

Two square details of collage miniatures exhibited this summer.