16 September, 2018. I was invited to judge the 7th Annual Brush Creek Art Walk, a plein air event that has grown in stature and size in only a few short years. As the name implies, the event takes place along Brush Creek, which is located adjacent to Kansas City’s swanky Country Club Plaza and extends eastward into some less traveled pathways. Dappled with trees, foliage, a nature center, bodies of water, easy footpaths, and surrounding architecture, Brush Creek has evolved over the last two decades into a soft, green urban destination for families, walkers, and joggers. It meanders past the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, with a spectacular corridor view of the long landscaped lawn and our iconic shuttlecock sculpture.
The three-day event kicked things off on Friday, with a nocturnal quick paint. We gathered at one of Kansas City’s iconic fountains, near the corner of Broadway and Nichols on the Plaza and waited for the timed start. As the judge, my sketches were an act of camaraderie and participation so the pressure was off to produce a “finished” artwork. I began by making several compositional studies, realizing within minutes that I could easily stand in one place and develop a dozen worthwhile ideas. Simply turning in my spot thirty degrees offered up a completely different perspective from the previous study.
As night fell, the sky turned a deep, rich shade of blue. The architecture became silhouettes at first, and then sections began to glow with golden patches of highlight as the building illumination kicked in. From my perspective, the view was just a little bit magical! And could I capture that color?
Well, not really. But it was fun trying to mimic it.
Artist participation was terrific. I knew many of the painters and sketchers, and enjoyed getting to know others whose names I knew but had never previously met. Many other artists were new to me and the opportunity to meet and get to know them was one of the best things about this event. There’s little in the way of social community for artists, so it’s good to relish gatherings like these.
The paintings were impressive. Situated as we were, artist and public intermingled, chatted, got to know one another, and artworks sold on the spot. Who knew it would be so much fun and so easy to advocate for art?
As the first day concluded, I strolled the lineup of paintings with the purchase award patron, narrowed the competition to a field of five, and selected one purchase recipient.
Saturday morning dawned with a hot, mostly sunny day. Artists were out and eager to get started.
I gave a demonstration and talk along the path, chatting with participants about my own personal ideas relating to compositional design, defining areas of contrast through value and/or color, and how I “edit” a scene to distill down the visual to what is essential. This is the sort of situation where I tend to flourish – I enjoy interacting with people of a similar bent and interest. Questions and thoughtful replies are welcomed. Folks enjoyed their coffee, their feet shuffling in the damp grass, while I got the chance to warm up as I spoke.
I made this demonstration sketch, chatting about random ideas as they occurred to me: the rule of thirds, respecting the motif, creating a pattern of shadow to create visual flow, and not taking myself too seriously. I like to play with my marks, and I’m not interested in photographic accuracy either. The most enjoyable part of a sketch is simply allowing the pen to “dance” around the page.
Every now and then I had to turn my back to the group to place marks on the paper. Jennifer Rivas got a nice close up documentary photo of me scribbling early in the drawing.
As the morning quick paint got started, I finished my demonstration sketch. I work fairly quickly and with a three hour time limit, I had plenty of time to walk around and look over the shoulders of artists as they worked as well as to make another value study.
Wandering past one especially pleasant location, I happened upon several other sketchers, a vacant park bench, and these logs basking under a bright sun. Bleached by the weather, they were practically glowing; the shadows were a dense black, with few middle tones present. Those that were visible showed the texture of the wood. Working on gray Stillman and Birn Nova series paper with a bent nib pen, a Uni-Ball, and a white Uni-Ball Signo, I worked the shadow shapes back and forth. I was trying to capture believable shapes quickly because they were changing just as quickly as the sun drifted across the morning sky into an overhead position.
The day was hot, and the artists were too! But my seat under the canopy of walnut trees was excellent and all I had to do was be mindful of walnuts dropping like messy little bombs from above.
The Brush Creek Art Walk wraps up today with a sunset quick paint.