REGIONAL INSPIRATION in the OPEN AIR • Winners of the 4th Annual En Plein Air Art Festival

Work on Display at Saginaw Art Museum and Andersen Enrichment Center

Posted In: Arts & Entertainment, Artist Feature,   From Issue 865   By: Robert E Martin

26th July, 2018     0

Many times it takes the prism of the artists’ eye to show us how wondrous and distinctly beautiful the surroundings and natural environment is throughout the Great Lakes Bay Region that we often take for granted.  And thanks to the 4th  Annual Great Lakes Bay En Plein Air Festival, which was held June 11 - 16th, thirty-eight artists from around the state and beyond gathered to paint singular works of on-location outdoor perspectives throughout the region that are now on display to the public at the Saginaw Art Museum through September 8th.

When asked to assess this year’s En Plein Air Festival, Saginaw Art Museum Director Stacey Gannon noted that while the festival had fewer participating artists, there was considerably more public engagement. “Back when we first started the festival we had over 50 artists and last year that grew to 60-plus, while this year we had 38, yet there were considerably more people from the public watching the artists paint and attending the many events and Quick-Paints that we scheduled throughout the region,” she notes.

“The ‘Quick Paint’ events are very popular and in the past we did only three of those, but this year we expanded that to five events; plus we had three evening events during the same time period at the museum and attracted 150 adults plus their children for Kids Day, which turned out to be very successful,” she adds.  “More importantly, we had several people from Bay City that came to see the museum after seeing the painters work in Bay City and gained many new members, so overall this year’s Plein Air gathering was very successful.”

“It’s very labor and financially intensive to put this festival on and next year we are thinking about staging it a week later over a three-day period of Thursday, Friday & Saturday instead of an entire week, as we need to rethink how we can best deliver the festival in terms of volunteer and sponsorship support,” she notes.

“Lots of people look forward to the festival so we definitely want to continue it. Plus, we’ve expanded the Museum Gardens this year, so there’s a lot of wonderful things going on. We’ve been booking a lot of weddings and events here at the museum, which is good for revenue and more people are becoming aware of the quality work that we showcase and present.”

This year’s judge for the Juried Class was Robert McCormack and winners consisted of the following: Best In Show: Donny’s Boat by Cornelius van Spronsen of Canton, Michigan; 1st Place: The First Cut by Alan Maciag of Midland; 2nd Place: Bridge Work by Priscilla Olsen of Midland; 3rd Place: The Fine Art of Graffiti by Sharon Will of Washington, Michigan.

Winners of the Open Class consisted of 1st Place: Iron Train Bridge & Bean Bunny Tower by Julia Rohde of Saginaw; 2nd Place: Francis Farm Corn Crib - Sanford by Lisabeth Curnow of Holt, Mi; 3rd Place: Old Pasture by Douglas Barron of Bridgeport.

The Open Class Exhibition is on view in the Artisan Wing and Morley Multipurpose Room at the Saginaw Art Museum through September 8th, 2018. Open Class work can also be viewed at the Andersen Enrichment Center. The Juried Class Exhibition will be on view through September 8th in the Sargent Special Exhibition Wing at the Saginaw Art Museum.

Here is a deeper look at three of the top winning entries from the artists that created these impressive works.

Cornelius van Spronsen ‘Donny’s Boat’  • (Oil; Canton, Mi Best In Show •  $2000 prize)

After receiving his first set of oil paints for his 12th birthday, Cornelius van Spronsen comes from a long line of family artists; and recalls his Mother taking him to the Louvre Museum in Paris when living there in his early teens, giving him early exposure to fine art.

“I’ve gone through many changes in styles in the years since that 12th birthday and I’ve worked in many mediums, but always seem to come back to oils because I find them ideal for my rather loose and impressionistic style of painting,” he reflects.

“I began painting en plein air six years ago, entering my first juried plein air event. I was hooked. I found that the challenge of painting quickly because of constantly changing light and shadows resulted once again in a development of my painting style. I’ve been told that people recognize my painting style. That style has happened rather naturally and without a conscious effort to do so, but it makes me happy to hear.”

When asked what he enjoys most about open air creative projects and the inspiration for creating his ‘Best in Show’ work Donny’s Boat, he first references his love of being outside. “I really like taking the time to look and study my subject matter, deciding on what the most interesting viewpoint will be and allowing all the colors to reveal themselves. This is when I make my decisions on which colors, even colors not readily apparent to the untrained eye, I decide to push forward or enhance. I also like the immediacy of plein air painting, knowing that the light and resulting shadows will be completely different in a matter of hours, especially early morning and late afternoon. It’s sometimes called chasing the light and it presents a real challenge to capture that specific moment in time.”

“I painted at the Seventh Street Pier in Bay City with two other artists one morning and each of us set up in a different part of the boat yard,” he continues. “I found my spot and felt the scene had a certain dynamic to it. I am always looking for an interesting and dynamic perspective, something to draw the viewer into the painting. That comes from my many years in the graphic arts and design field. The Judge specifically mentioned that the dynamic perspective and my brushwork were what made “Donny’s Boat” best in show. High praise indeed.”

“As an aside, while I was painting there were quite a few people that stopped by to see what I was painting and virtually all had comments like “Oh, that’s Donny’s boat” or “Hey, you’re painting Donny’s boat” or yelling at Donny, who was working on his boat, “Hey Donny, he’s painting your boat!”. It was one of those paintings that named itself.”

Cornelius says that while painting comes naturally to him, there are still frustrating days where after hour of painting he finds himself wiping his canvas clean to start over again.  “After all the years of painting I’m still learning every day. It takes a lot of effort to promote my work through all the different social media platforms, requiring time to update and keep current. I have a website and Instagram account as well as a professional Facebook page and I need to continually work at keeping the content fresh and current with what I’m doing now.”

Currently he is finish a mural commission project and preparing for more plein air events in Glen Arbor, Northport, Detroit, Dexter and Fort Wayne, Indiana. He is also preparing for a show in Frankenmuth with four other invited artists. “The October show is put on by the Frankenmuth Arts Council and specifically represents paintings of Frankenmuth and the surrounding countryside throughout the seasons. We are all providing around ten paintings each.”

I also love interacting with the public while painting, answering questions about what and why I paint the way I do. I feel it’s a great opportunity to educate and expose people to original art and what’s involved.  Children are usually very curious about what I do and tend to ask lots of questions. I love giving them the inspiration to try their hand at expressing their creativity. I have done plein air painting events with my young nieces and nephews and they are all fearless, excited and talented artists in their own right. With more and more schools cutting their arts budgets and programs It’s getting more important to educate young people in the arts and to give them the opportunity to create and express themselves.”

“One of the best things about painting en plein air are the endless opportunities to share time and information with other artists, and to work with the great people who put on and organize these plein air events,” he concludes. “There is so much work involved and I’m always amazed at how well they make things come together. Managing 30 to 60 different artists can’t possibly be an easy task so kudos to the museum staff and volunteers who make these events happen.”

2nd Place Priscilla Olsen ‘Bridge Work’ • (Oil on Linen •  Midland ($1.000)

Second Place winner Priscilla Olsen was first informed about color and design by her mother, who is an artist and draftsman. “As a kid I was attracted to wildlife and landscape, so by way of bringing these things closer to me, I was frequently out and about with my drawing materials trying to ‘capture’ what was there, so I could bring it home with me and keep it,” she notes. “Much later that same attitude is still with me, only now I have the means to indulge fully my love of capturing color and design with oil paint on canvas.”

As for her enjoyment with open-air projects and the inspiration behind her winning entry Bridge Work, Priscilla says she loves the activity of walking, looking and listening. “To select a vantage point from which to construct a painting is like choosing a cookie - they are all good!  I look for a subject wo wonder about while I’m painting it.  The painting Bridge Work was begun as a technical challenge to myself to convey a lively scene with lots of colorful detail to suggest activity.”

“Painting plein air always has the constriction of time,” she emphasizes. “It seems that if you have a sunny day you are essentially ‘chasing the light’ and have a window of about 2 hours before the scene changes so much that you can no longer depict it accurately. Plein air artists develop a visual memory in addition to efficient work practices and creative editing, to assist in getting their statement down in paint within 2 hours. This remains a challenge, so I usually intend to visit to the site more than once. This gives me the assurance that I will have the time I need to do the job right.”

Priscilla says she is also currently working on a series of paintings of Frankenmuth for their upcoming October exhibition. “Some of my short-term challenges are to work on larger pieces in my studio and to incorporate more figures and activity into my plein air work.”

3rd Place - Sharon Will ‘The Fine Art of Graffiti’ • (Pastel - Washington, MI • $500 Prize)

Third place winner Sharon Will received her introduction to the arts through commercial advertising design. “I received training in graphics and illustration, and then apprenticed in one of the large illustration houses in Detroit.  Then I worked in ad agencies, doing product illustration, automotive related work, as well as freelancing magazine illustration, logo design and a bit of sign painting.   Being in the arts makes you versatile.  Computers were changing the illustration world and I knew if I wanted to be competitive, I had to get computer training or turn to the fine arts.  I couldn’t see myself sitting at a computer all day, so I opted for the fine arts.”

“I started painting in oil, studying with the late Russell Keeter, and then pastel with the late Marie Larson, always working from life.  Pastel got me hooked and I worked exclusively with it for the next 25 years.  Its endless versatility of being an opaque drawing and a painting medium kept my attention and exploring it. Today I work alternately in both oil and pastel, with the landscape as my main source of inspiration.”

“As far as what is the most distinguishing quality of my work?  What I can tell you is my goal in painting.  I’m a firm believer in learning and working from life, so I do that whenever possible.  In my work I want to be true to nature.  And what I mean by that is that I want to be true to the principles of light, form, value and color.  Not to copy nature but find something that excites me about a scene and then capture it in a way that is first designed well, painted simply and then put a bit of myself into it.”

“That “something” or the idea to paint for me could be an interesting light or shadow pattern, contrasting color relationships, or an overall mood of a scene.    Hopefully, it’s then painted it in a way that others will resonate with the subject as I initially did, elevating the simple beauty around us in everyday situations. I also want the character and texture of the medium, whether oil or pastel, to shine through.”

“I enjoy just being outdoors.  There is an immediacy or energy, and a “truth” to work that is done from life, that just doesn’t exist in working strictly from photos.  And being a representational painter, there’s just no substitution for it!  Everything we need is all there in nature, we just have to spend the time observing and learning from it, in all light conditions and all seasons.  When I started working plein air, I think my landscapes took on more subtleties of the value and color that exist in nature. Experiencing the outdoors with all our senses: the sounds, smell and wind on your face, I believe somehow finds its way into the painting.  Painting things that are moving in the wind, though challenging, is the only way to really learn its character and rhythm.  That can’t be seen through a photo.  I like the idea of capturing a slice of life as it’s happening.”

“As for my winning work, “The Fine Art of Graffiti”,  I’m always attracted to architecture and color.  In past years in Saginaw I recall seeing this bridge with its colorful graffiti but couldn’t remember exactly where it was.  So I took a shot and early my first morning decided to start at Ojibway Island; and around that last bend, there it was!  The morning light lit it up beautifully and I knew I found my subject.  I painted on location there two sessions to complete it.”

“The more I learn and grow as a painter, the more I realize how far I want to go!   Painting is about solving problems for a specific idea.  First, finding what I want to say about the world around me and painting it in a way that brings beauty to the subject in a simple and unique way.  I want to always be growing and challenging myself in that process.”

“Much of my plein air work has been smaller so I’m looking to work larger.  That may mean bringing a larger canvas on location for several days or doing the smaller color study plein air and working from that in the studio.”

“I continue to look for more marketing opportunities on a national level through exhibiting through competitions, as well as further gallery representation.  With the recent purchase of a camper I look forward to more travel and painting slices of life along the way.”

“A selection of my original pastels and oils can be viewed on my website:   Along with painting, I also teach private lessons and periodic workshops, as well as run a side business of custom framing from my home/studio.” 


Please login to comment



Current Issue


Don't have an account?