Tim Breaux painting “Debutantes” 12×12 Plein air nocturne, Oil. Collection of the Artist.
Several years ago I was getting advice from an old timer about breaking a horse to drive. I had a young team that I had raised from colts and decided that I would learn the process and train them myself. The old timer, Terry, had years of experience and owned a carriage business for hire. In response to my questions about the potential for a breakaway (horses bolting while pulling a wagon) he explained that hitting the brakes on a wagon during a breakaway does not stop the wagon. It merely turns it into a sled. With raised eyebrows I said that sounded dangerous. He replied with the idiom, “yeah, it’s not for the faint of heart”. At that moment my respect and admiration of Terry increased and that saying always stayed with me. I later proved the sled concept with poor results. Not long after that I took up painting.
Plein air painting is also “not for the faint of heart.” I have done few thing in life that are more difficult. When faced with all of the information in nature it is challenging to choose what to paint and how to approach the subject. While we are not usually risking life and limb it does have more subtle challenges such as packing gear, hiking, ticks and fending off the occasional rooster.
For me, every plein air event comes with excitement and uncertainty. Excitement stems from getting to paint with friends and seeing the work they produce. Also, learning tips, techniques, and seeing seasoned artists approach a common subject in a unique way is fascinating. My personal uncertainties usually involve my work and my ability to create a good painting. I have both success and failure, however my outlook usually is based on the last painting I completed. A universal uncertainty common to all plein air artists involves the weather. Will it be cold and damp? Will a perfect morning turn into a cloudy sky or will it turn to rain? In the end I just paint and do the best I can on any given day and I try to have a backup plan to get out of the rain if it comes.
I recently attended the Eureka Springs Plein Air Festival in Arkansas. I was particularly excited to experience the broad range of subject matter that included vistas, architecture, street scenes and nocturnes. I had no idea I would be painting chickens at night.
Near the end of the five day event I found myself at Hidden Valley Ranch a few miles from Eureka Springs. I had painted the location the day before and had permission to return if it rained. The plan was to paint a nocturne from the cover of the barn overlooking the open field and structures near the far fence line. I arrived with Gil Adams from Tulsa, OK about an hour before dark to set up and decide on a subject. As we stood in the barn looking out over the field chickens milled about our feet and perched above our heads looking for a place to roost for the night. I looked to my left through a chicken wire covered window into one of the coops. Some hens in the coop had already found a place to roost up high in the shadows. Others milled about under a heat lamp scratching at the ground and drinking from a shallow pan of water. I thought, “Why not?”
The window into the coop was higher than I preferred so I stood on a step stool while I painted. Chickens are not cooperative subjects. The ones in the shadows up on the roost stayed put for the most part but the ones in the light under the lamp never stopped moving. With a single head lamp and a limited palette I chose what I considered to be an interesting composition of three chickens and froze that image in my mind. It was complete immersion for the next two hours interrupted occasionally by a rooster challenging my presence and trying to perch on my easel. About an hour into the painting the rooster flew across the hall and attacked Gil while he painted by landing on his head. With the utmost concern for Gil’s safety I laughed and focused on completing my painting. It was a banty rooster after all.
We came away with two paintings of chickens. They were not our best work and they won no awards but it was the highlight of my trip. In the future, when faced with an impossible task, I will say “it’s like painting chickens at night!”
In the midst of the excitement and uncertainty of plein air painting it is important to be open to the unexpected possibilities and enjoy painting with friends and chickens.
Gil Adams “Late Night Snack” 12×14, Plein Air Nocturne, Oil. Collection of the Artist.
Tim Breaux is a studio and plein air painter residing in Ozark, Missouri. He is represented by Gallery Augusta, Augusta, MO; Cherries Art Gallery, Carthage, MO; Hawthorn Galleries, Springfield, MO; and MacCreed’s Gallery. To see more of Tim’s work and read other blogs visit his website at http://www.timbreaux.com.
Edited by Patricia Tribastone, NOAPS Blog Director