A couple of weeks ago I was fortunate to experience something I thought I would never do – instruct a plein air workshop in Manhattan, NY. Having been raised in rural Oregon and spending the majority of my time painting the open landscape vistas across the United States and Europe, I never considered leading a group around any urban location, let alone one as intimidating as New York City. When Christine Ivers, the president of the Connecticut Pastel Society and an active artist member of the historic Salmagundi Club of New York, first broached the idea a couple of years ago, I dismissed it, “I’m a landscape painter – what could I possibly do with the steel and concrete of a place like New York.” After she reminded me that Manhattan also contained one of the most beautiful parks in the world, Central Park, and that the Salmagundi Club with its deep historic roots in American representational painting would be hosting the workshop, I was intrigued. With the encouragement of the wonderful president of the club, Claudia Seymour – a well-known and respected pastel and oil artist, I agreed to give it a try.
From the first demonstration across the street from the Club in a gothic churchyard looking down 5th Avenue to the final day painting on location in Central Park, it was an experience like no other. The textures, colors, and local wildlife – otherwise known as residence – added to the sensory stimulation. While packing materials in and out of public transportation and making sure everyone was at the right location may have been challenging, it didn’t dampen the enthusiasm I felt to paint one of the most vibrant cities in the world. With the first stroke of pastel to surface, the old observation that everything we paint is really all the same came into my head. While subject matter may be important to the concept, the process of painting is really nothing more than shapes, edges, values and colors, arranged in a pleasing design. Within ten minutes, I understood the situation – we were in the Grand Canyon of man’s making. Instead of the sound of rushing water, we had traffic. Instead of fragrant field flowers, we had food vendors. While this may sound unappealing to some, it was exhilarating and undoubtedly had a profound influence on the finished works.
With the support of Christine, Claudia and the wonderful staff of the Salmagundi Club, a truly memorable week was had. I eagerly look forward to my next opportunity to paint en plein air in the urban landscape and encourage all of you that have never given it a try, to do so. Remember, if the painting fails, there is always a museum somewhere close to provide motivation.
Visit www.salmagundi.org to learn more about the Salmagundi Club and their efforts, lead by President Claudia Seymour, to restore the historic brownstone house they have called home since 1917.