Autumn in the Blueridge


Armand Cabrera
Over the last couple of weeks I’ve painted on the Blueridge Parkway and in some of the hollows on the western edge of the Piedmont where it meets up with the eastern base of the mountains. The weather was poorest right at the peak of color but there were a few mild sunny autumn days that made everything worthwhile.
Autumn will continue in the Piedmont for a few more weeks but most of the leaves will be gone from the upper slopes by then. I have plenty of reference for larger studio paintings and some finished pieces out on location. One of the joys painting outdoors is experiencing how different the same places and things can look year to year, month to month, day to day, hour to hour.
This time of year, Shenandoah Park gets inundated with visitors coming to see the spectacular panoramas during the peak of fall color in Virginia. Normally I can drive into the park without any traffic and paint all day without ever seeing anyone, but not this time of year.  Crowds are everywhere during the week and double on the weekends. In a single day on the weekends its not unusual for me to talk to 50 to 100 people.

It reminds me of when I started painting and I was living in the Napa Valley and I became used to people talking to me while I worked. I think of it as good practice for good marketing. I’ve never understood people who can’t talk or are cranky to people that are curious about the painting process. While I don’t expect to sell when I go out to paint, I do sell paintings right off the easel sometimes or people stop into my local galleries to say they met me and sometimes they will purchase through the galleries. Not everyone can afford my paintings, but they can afford my prints and meeting the artist can help decide a sale. Those sales wouldn’t happen if I didn’t talk to people when I was out painting.


Painting in Crowded Public Areas

Armand Cabrera
Painting in crowded public areas can be challenging, these public spaces are a little different than just painting outdoors in places where you have little contact with other people.
I’m lucky that when I started painting outdoors many years ago. I was living in Napa California and so got used to being surrounded by crowds of people as I worked. There were no places you could go in the Napa Valley without attracting onlookers.  I quickly developed the ability to paint and talk to people and now I enjoy meeting people while I paint.  I can generally stay pleasant while working as long as people are not overly rude or clueless about respecting my personal space.
I have never understood any artist who gets upset with bystanders interested in their art, especially when that painter is so visible and chooses such a public location in the first place. I’ve even witnessed bad behavior at Plein Air events by artists who obviously didn’t belong there snapping at quiet onlookers. My rule of thumb is to keep your bad attitude at home. If you don’t like or can’t handle communication while you paint then go paint in a more remote location where you can expect very little interaction while you work.
Part of the key to being in very public areas is keeping a small footprint. When a place is overly populated its best to not have too much gear where distracted people might not notice it and end up tripping over it or stepping on it.
In areas that get a lot of traffic I use a smaller setup, this way I can carry all of my gear in a small backpack. This includes my palette/ pochade box, all my paints and brushes, paint scraper , utility tool, mineral spirits and brush washer, a tripod, a small stool (if I choose to sit) paper towels, garbage bags, food and water, sketchbook, business cards and fliers, sunscreen, bug spray, rain poncho,  nightlight and up to 6 to 10 panels depending on the size. That number of panels is more than enough for a day of outdoor painting. Anything that can be ruined by getting wet goes into a ziploc plastic bag.
Whether I stand or sit when I set up, I place everything between me or directly under my easel so that no one can step on it or trip over it. If I’m not using something it stays in the pack not spread out all over the ground around me. When I take something out I put it back in the same spot so I know where to find it. By staying organized I get to spend my time painting not rummaging for something in my pack. By keeping things in their place until I need them it also allows me to pack up and break down very quickly.
Here is what it looks like all spread out on the floor. Total weight for this is only 20 lbs. including the pack. It is light enough that I can go on an extended hike and have everything I need for a days’ worth of painting. 

Virginia Workshop 2015


Armand Cabrera

I just finished up a studio painting workshop here in Virginia. These are the 1 hour demos I did each day. Demos are a great visual tool to convey the information I discuss with students during class. When I started teaching one of the rules I made for myself was to train myself to demo every day in a reasonable amount of time so students still have plenty of time to work on their own problem solving during the class. Each class is different sometimes the class is an outdoor painting class and sometimes it is focused on studio painting. Each of those situations have their own set of challenges. 
When I was taking lots of classes I found it frustrating that some teachers could not or would not demo in class so I made sure I did when I started teaching workshops. I also didn’t like teachers who showed up with a finished painting in class and pretended to paint on it for students. I believe working from blank canvas to finish on a painting for students is one of the best tools a teacher has for conveying the art process.

In each demo I focus on a different aspect of problem solving using my approach to the subject. These are always geared towards the students interest and so the demos vary greatly from workshop to workshop. In this instance the things people were most interested in were forest interiors, water and trees without any foliage on them. 

New York Botanical Gardens Plein Air Invitational


Armand Cabrera

I will be participating in this event on Sunday June 19th, 24 artists have been invited to paint the Gardens from 11am to 5 pm.  Unofficially I will be there on Saturday too, painting and picking out spots for paintings on Sunday.

The event coincides with Impressionism American Gardens on Canvas a display of more than 20 Impressionist paintings with work by artists William Merritt Chase, Childe Hassam, John Singer Sargent, William de Leftwich Dodge, Maria Oakey Dewing, Matilda Browne and others.The Impressionist show runs through September 11 2016.

All of this is part of the 125 anniversary of the New York Botanical Gardens. I want to thank James Gurney who is Artist in Residence at the Botanical Gardens this year for putting this together and inviting me to participate.