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I just returned from three days of plein air painting in the Flint Hills of Kansas. I remember, as a young boy, passing through the area several times a year with my folks on the way to visit my grandparents in Pittsburg, Kansas.
The Flint Hills were first given the name in 1806 when explorer, Zebulon Pike, referred to the soil as being “flinty”. Early European settlers found plowing pretty much impossible because of a thick layer of underlying bedrock made up of flinty limestone. As a result, the region is sparsely developed and represents the last expanse of intact tallgrass prairie in the nation…and the best opportunity for the sustained preservation of this unique habitat once covering the great plains.
Millions of American Bison once grazed the area. Today one sees mainly cattle, but bison are also being reintroduced to the area. (Click images to enlarge)
Painting in the Flint Hills is not easy. It’s not the kind of place in which you can just show up and discover incredible motifs over every rise and around every corner. Trees, structures, even vistas can be difficult to find. Horizontal is the word that comes to mind when in the Flint Hills…layer upon layer of rolling horizontal lines. I think all of us artists sought verticals and diagonals to add balance to our compositions.
Although this is the third time I’ve painted the region, getting to the essence is not an easy task.
Shown here are my attempts.
Kim Casebeer organized this paint out and she wisely knew we would all like to experience a Flint Hills sunset. So, late one afternoon our Flying W Ranch hosts had us all pile into a 1956 Ford grain truck and they drove us to a high point. All of us painted this amazing vista as the light rapidly changed. The challenge was sticking with the original motivation and not “chasing the light”, as artists often say. I was guilty of this amateur mistake as I continually warmed up the landscape in order to keep up with the descending sun.
Mike Albrechtsen and I found this view. It was also one that Marc Hanson painted. Appealing textures, color variations, and rise and fall of the land were sufficient motivations for attempting this painting.
I enjoy painting farm scenes that include silos. While Marc and Michael painted a large pond just off to the right, I decided on this view.
Black and white ladies with large udders enjoyed dancing in the nearby pond but they gradually worked their way toward me. Ever so curious, nudging ever closer, they pressed in until I almost couldn’t move. They checked out everything. I felt my whole set up was in danger of going down. My loud warning to, “Go away”, fell on large, deaf ears. However, somehow I knew they must have approved of my work as they flipped their tails and nodded their heads. I hung in there and they eventually grew bored with my efforts to capture their home turf.
This is the view from the bunkhouse area of the Flying W Ranch. Painted early one morning, I was attracted by the long shadows and the winding road inviting one to see what’s around the corner.
On our last evening together, many of us painted on Coyne Creek Road. I found this location extremely appealing and sought to create an unusual composition. I was painting while standing in deep shadow so was totally shocked when I saw the painting in natural light. It was way too light and did not capture the observed mood at all. Back in the studio, I darkened the values in an attempt to get closer to reality.
Next week I hope to show the favorite paintings produced by each of the plein air participants.
If you want to be juried into an art show, or win an award in a show, it’s important that you have “connections”. Knowing the judge or jurors doesn’t hurt, maybe even being involved in the host organization will further your changes of winning something, anything…Right?
Accusations of award winners being preselected or friends being shown favoritism are occasionally leveled against art organizations by disappointed applicants. Oil Painters of America is not immune from such criticism. The question is, is there justification for such accusations?
Recently, within the last three weeks, I was bestowed the honor of seeing how an OPA Selection Committee works…from the inside out. I was one of five judges chosen to select the paintings that will be in the OPA Western Regional Exhibition this October at the Lee Youngman Galleries in Calistoga,
Now that all the selections have been made, I am able to tell you how it works.
First off, you need to know, I still do not know who the other four jurors were…and will probably never know. I asked out of curiosity, after the judging was completed, but received no response. Another thing, only two people knew the identity of the five jurors, the OPA President and the Jury Chairman.
We had four days to rate the 924 entries, grading them on a scale from one to seven. The entries were viewed using the internet and we had no way of knowing how other jurors voted. After all the grades for each painting were compiled we were given an additional three days to reevaluate the top 190 entries scoring them in the same way…one to seven. Those receiving the highest cumulative scores were selected for the show.
I did not enter the competition this year, but if I had, I was instructed to vote for my painting in order to avoid any possible computer processing issues. However, it was the average score of the other jurors that would have been substituted for my vote. So, even in that, the temptation to show favoritism toward one’s own work was eliminated.
Paintings were evaluated based on design and execution. The best works had one dominant value, a dominant color harmony, a clear center of interest, balance, accurate drawing, convincing value relationships, consistent and believable color temperature relationships, appropriate variety of hard and soft edges, and varied and interesting paint application.
Get all those elements right and you ended up with a seven…in the top 1-3 percent of entries.
I have judged many art shows and only once did I sense a little urging to vote a certain way…and that was for an Elementary School art competition.
Oh, you may be wondering if the artist’s signature on a painting has an influence. Well, to be very honest, I make it a matter of personal integrity to avoid looking at the signature. If the focal point of the painting is located in the area of the signature, there’s no need to be concerned about awards.
I’m sure if an advantage can be gained in any art competition, there will be those who will try to get that advantage. But, as for the Oil Painters of America Exhibitions, I was most impressed to see just how unbiased the jury process actually is. This should be an encouragement to many of you. Hey, it all comes down to the quality of the work, not to who you are or whom you know.
Below are website links to those featured in this article: