Competition en Plein Air

I’m glad the Ohio Plein Air Competition was in Columbus this year because I wanted a chance to hang out with the experienced painters who do it every year. They produce amazing paintings over the course of two and a half days. I had no illusions about my skill level compared to the pros, but I was up for the challenge.

The rules stated that the painting must be completed during the time of the competition – September 24 – 27 and be painted at least 95% en plein air (no studio work or painting from photos). Painters were given a list of potential painting locations but all of Franklin County was within the boundaries.

I begin scouting locations. I had to check a county map because I live very close to the Licking County line. I’ve painted so much at Inniswood Metro Garden and Franklin Park Conservatory and it would have made loads of sense to go back to familiar scenes but I wanted to do a more ambitious subject and stick close to home. I knew lots of people would choose German Village, but Reynoldsburg has some spots that are very charming as well.

Thursday, September 24 from 4-6pm was the initial sign-in at the Columbus College of Art and Design (CCAD) to get your canvas, boards or paper stamped on the back. That assures that the painting was produced during the competition time frame. I showed up with plenty of boards in case I got ambitious or decided to start over on one.

Canvas board which have been stamped for competition
Ready to roll!

That afternoon I made it back to Reynoldsburg and set up around five. The house that I wanted to paint caught the western sun so its stone turned a golden color. I knew it had to be a late afternoon painting, but there was no way I could get it done in one short evening.

Yellow two-story house.
This was as far as I got before the light changed and the shadows on the side of the building got less interesting.

On Friday morning I had my eye on a spot within walking distance. The zinnias had been calling me for the last month, but the best composition would be the convergence of roof angles for three houses. I had a great spot in the shade and good morning light. A few neighbors stopped to talk and one took my picture.

That afternoon I went back to finish the stone house. There’s a lot of traffic on Lancaster Avenue, but not too many pedestrians. I was able to work without much interruption. The trickiest part was getting the right amount of detail.

On Saturday the Columbus Dispatch Metro Section had a nice feature article about the OPAS painters who went out Thursday night to paint a nocturne on the streets of German Village. They are much more intrepid than I am. I’m a morning person so that wasn’t an option I had really considered. As it turned out I don’t remember any of the nocturnes being entered in the competition

By Saturday morning I saw where I needed to refine the neighborhood picture so I headed up the street for an hour or so. My neighbor, Allen, held off cutting stone pavers for his patio until I was finished. I found out that he is also a painter and didn’t want me to have to worry about dust on my painting. .

Then I headed back to Lancaster Avenue to catch the morning sun on a house facing east. It was another beautiful morning and a most encouraging young mother pushing a stroller complimented my work as she passed several times. I loved the tree and the wrap-around porch but it was hard to get the grays right without looking kind of dreary.

By Saturday afternoon I was all painted out. I thought about doing one more but I just didn’t have the energy so I picnicked with painting friends and got everything ready for the grand finale on Sunday.

Painters gathering for judging
Painters gathered on the lawn of CCAD to locate their assigned spot and set up an easel with their competition painting.

Sunday morning was just as beautiful as each day of the competition had been. About 40 painters chose their best work to frame and be judged. While the judging was taking place, those who wanted to, could enter the “Quick Draw.” They had two hours to go out and paint another painting and return with it framed. They returned with some amazing urban scenes. I went up to the cathedral for Mass instead.

The public was invited to a wet paint sale from noon till two. Awards were announced at one o-clock. . Usually judging is done by a painter who conducts a workshop the next week, but that didn’t work with the pandemic. This year the judges were all affiliated with local galleries. They had a tough job. There were so many beautiful paintings with top talent from the local area and the state.

Award winners with their paintings

As you may notice I wasn’t in the winners’ circle. Oh well, more reason to keep painting and improving my skills for next year.


Painter under an umbrella
Here I am in my native habitat, painting at Franklin Park Conservatory among the dahlias. Photo by Nancy Vance

By now we all know way too much about contagious viruses, but what about contagious creativity? How do you feel when you see someone else painting or building or sewing? Does it make you want to pick up your brush or hammer or needle? I’m convinced that creativity is contagious. When I watch other people work, my fingers get itchy. I can’t stand to just watch. I want to make something, too! Sometimes I dive in before I really know what I’m doing. Figuring it out is the fun part.

Even if I watch someone doing an art or craft that I probably won’t try, I still feel like it can cross pollinate to the work I do. Selection of fabric for a quilt can translate into color schemes for a painting. Texture in carving or print-making might influence stitchery. I right this blog to stay inspired and motivated to create. Here are some of the ways I “catch” creativity.

My cousin, Emilie Freeman, is the ultimate creative. She’s never met a craft she didn’t like. She can see a gourd growing in the garden and imagine the bowl she’ll carve from it .

Basket carved from a gourd

I can’t begin to count the ways her skills cross over from one area to another. She decorates cakes and has the patience to go through the meticulous process of waxing and dying to keep the tradition of Ukrainian Easter eggs alive. Every time I visit her I feel that energy. Some of us put up the same holiday decorations every year. Not Emilie! There’s always something new and amazing. She does it all to share her joy.

Ukranian Easter eggs
Emilie starts with traditional Ukranian designs but improvises as her creative process unfolds.

If you hang out with creative friends or belong to a group with similar interests, you inspire each other. You have a forum for sharing what you’ve created and give each other useful feedback. Over time you can see growth in skill and imagination all around you. The group encourages you to keep working and improving . Members of the group share info about gear and techniques. They send each other links to podcasts and videos. Inspiring!

Central Ohio Plein Air is a group like that. We paint together on Saturdays. There are no dues or officers. We just show up and paint at a predetermined location. Seeing these folks week after week for years has resulted in some good friendships and definitely broadened my horizons.

The group contains oil painters, pastelists, and watercolorists of all skill levels. We’re all working to improve our skills no matter how many decades we’ve been at it. The artistic growth of the painters who stick with it is astounding! The work of more accomplished painters helps beginners to see what is possible. You just have to remember that they worked to get to that level so you have to be patient and put the time into study and practice

Of course you can spend hours watching You Tube videos and never make a thing. Entertaining, but not productive! You’ve got to do it to really learn it. So instead, hang out with creative people and be contagious!

Dahlias at Franklin Park Conservatory

Maker Genes?

Quilt that says "Let Your Light Shine!"

Is the tendency to be creative inherited? I come from a long line of makers, people who knew how to create things and preferred handmade over store-bought. Nature or nurture, I’m following in their footsteps. What do you know about your family’s creative legacy? Here’s mine.

On my mother’s side, my grandmother was a seamstress who did every kind of needlework imaginable. She crocheted doilies and embroidered pillowcases. She quilted.

She even did a type of cutwork called Hardinger embroidery. I remember looking at the Lee Ward’s catalogue at her house and being fascinated by all of the kits and supplies.

antique handmade buttons
Handmade buttons like those that my great-aunt made during World War II appear to be made with bone and yarn.

Her family in Poland rebuilt their house when the village was burned by the Bolsheviks in 1919. They raised their own food and honey bees. One of my great aunts even sold hand-made buttons and soap to feed her family during WWII. Now that’s resourceful!

My dad’s mother was also a maker. Every birthday card contained a hankie with a crocheted edging. For Christmas she made all 26 of her grandchildren a pair of flannel pajamas that were a pretty darn good fit. Out of those 26 grandchildren, there are several painters, card makers, an expert knitter, crocheters, a photographer, a hair stylist, meat cutters, bakers, cooks, crafters, a musician, and a painter of Ukranian Easter eggs. Sounds like a maker gene to me.

a painting of a house and yard
This is Grandma and Grandpap’s house remembered as a painting.

I’m not sure I can even list all the things my Mom has made over the years. My sisters and I had the best Barbie clothes in town: outfits for every occasion!

Every outfit was complete with accessories!

Mom made lots of our clothes, too. It wasn’t just sewing, she was great at many crafts. She crocheted and taught me to embroider when I was five. She did paint-by-number sets. She made the fanciest Christmas cookies you have ever seen. After her five of kids were a little older, she began to sell her wares at local craft shows to make extra money for Christmas.

Dad was handy, too. With help from my uncles he remodeled our house and added on three rooms, making all the cabinetry himself. He was always tinkering and learning. He made cutting boards and rolling pins to give as gifts.

rolling pin and cutting board

I’m obsessed with making. I love to watch people making things on Create TV or You Tube. I quilt and embroider and paint and dabble in other crafts, too. If a day goes by without working on a project it feels like a day wasted.

I could spend huge sums of money at hardware, craft, fabric or stationery stores, so I only go there for what I need (mostly). Raw material of any kind has so many possibilities!

When I’m out plein air painting the people who stop to chat often talk about their relatives who could draw or paint. I think they secretly wish they were carrying on that legacy, but they tell me they have no talent for it. I just tell them that I’m sure they have other gifts which painters don’t have. I hope their “maker gene” is getting expressed in some other way.

Keep on creating!