Umpqua Plein Air is an annual painting event and competition sponsored by the Umpqua Valley Arts Association in Roseburg, Oregon. This year about 55 painters participated in the 4-day event. Artists could paint Wednesday afternoon through Friday evening at any location within a 50-mile radius of UVAA. Hospitality tables are set up at suggested locations where the painters can refuel on some coffee and homemade goodies. On Friday evening, painters turn in three framed paintings that they have completed during the event. The artwork is then juried by the juror and hung in time for the opening reception on Saturday afternoon. The 2017 juror was Kathryn Stats, a very talented and charismatic artist from Utah.
During the event, my friend from Portland and I camped in a yurt at Whistlers Bend Park, near Glide, Oregon. The yurt was fantastic! We had a deck that overlooked the N. Umpqua river and even had electricity to keep our cell phones charged — although we had little reception at the campground. But hey, we were there to paint, not to look at Instagram. The first afternoon of the event, we got settled into our yurt and did a quick painting by the river before heading back into town to have dinner on the patio at the Parrot House – a very cool restored Victorian house in Roseburg. The second day of painting, my friend Karen and I went out the N. Umpqua River. It’s such a beautiful place to be — but I’ll admit, it’s a little intimidating to paint there; rushing water, big rocks, and even bigger old growth forests. The final day of painting, we stayed closer to the campground because we knew we needed to have time to frame our work and get it to the art center by 5:30 pm. Around 3:00 pm, we turned our picnic table into a framing table and got to work framing and filling out tags.
Overall, I had a great experience at Umpqua Plein Air, even though I struggled with my paintings at first. Painting in a competitive setting is not easy. Even when you are trying to enjoy yourself, it’s easy to feel the pressure, knowing that you have to turn in work at the end of the event! On some levels, it was motivating and exciting, but there were moments when I was ready to toss in the towel and try again next year. Even though I have plein air painted quite a bit, I usually consider my plein air work to be studies or lessons to help with my studio work. And this is the only competition that I’ve entered, so maybe if I were to participate in more, I would become more comfortable with the competitive format.
Based on all of that, I was completely blown away to receive the Juror’s Choice Award for one of my paintings and an Achievement Award for another one!! My prize for the Juror’s Choice was a Burley Travoy, which is a bicycle cargo trailer, but also the slickest cart for hauling plein air gear that one could imagine! I’ll write more about the Travoy soon, but for now just let me say that if you are a plein air painter who is tired of lugging your gear back and forth to your car, you need one of these!
Once I was back home, I reviewed my pre-event notes and lists and wrote myself some tips for next year’s event. You might find these helpful for a plein air event or even a day of painting with your friends.
Tips for plein air events:
- Pack plenty of healthy food and drink lots of water.
- Pack comfortable clothes; prepare for warmer temps than expected and cooler temps than expected.
- Limit your time painting in the direct sun or wind (or in the case of 2017, smoke from wildfires).
- Choose subject matter that meets the level that you are at that day! Somedays you are a better painter than other days, so acknowledge and accept that, and choose a subject accordingly.
- Stay in close proximity to your first stop or the location you’re staying at. Don’t waste time searching for the perfect spot.
- Read the rules and know the timeline of the event.
- Prep and measure your frames and mats before the event. Double check (maybe triple check) that you have everything you need for framing. If possible, bring a practice mat for seeing your work in progress under a mat.
- Budget your time. Schedule time for travel, meals, framing, etc. Then stick to your schedule when you’re painting.
- Enjoy the process, which is easier said than done in a competition setting. Be serious when painting, but then stop and have fun!
- Socialize with other painters. Introduce yourself to other painters and ask them a few questions about their paintings. You can make painting friends pretty easy at an event like this because you all share a love for painting!