Alaska Plein Air painting

Dipping my feet in plein air painting

This summer, I have been enjoying a fresh (to me) way of creating: via plein air painting! While I have done plenty of street sketches during my travels, painting a canvas outdoors is something that I don’t typically engage in because my original pieces are so time-consuming.

Lately though, I have taken advantage of our perfect summer and fall weather, and worked on several canvases on location. This “new hobby” has forced me to paint in busy, ever-changing environment and with faster-drying acrylics. I believe that plein air painting serves as a great creative exercise, and plan on continuing this practice, whenever weather allows.

Here is the piece I worked on in July, all the way in Seward, Alaska, with a final studio-refined result below.

Alaska Plein Air painting

Seward Alaska painting

Now, to be clear: I do not (and will not, at least in the foreseeable future) consider myself a plein air painter in the full sense of this word. Artists who are fully dedicated to creating their paintings en plein air, normally complete their pieces on location from start to finish. They tend to stick to a loose impressionistic style, and do not refine their works later in the studio. I, on the other hand, start my pieces outside, and then tinker with them in the studio, using pens and other media, as long as I want to, until I deem them complete.

So, for me, plein air painting simply means enjoying some creation time outside. All of the other rules I make up as I go.

Here is a piece created on a beautiful September day, on a beach in Evanston, IL (with studio completion):

Beach Prairie paintng

Evanston Beach plein air painting

And this one was born on a beach in Chicago’s Edgewater neighborhood. I focused my piece on the red umbrellas and cute vibe of Chicago Waterfront Cafe, a hidden gem tucked between highrises on our beautiful lakefront. I’ve been painting local scenes with Joy of Art De Joie, a super prolific, talented plein air artist.

Chicago plein air painting

Chicago Waterfront Cafe painting

 

Ras Al Khaimah Fine Art Festival

Ras Al Khaimah Fine Art Festival & my first live painting abroad

The main reason for our last month’s travels to the Arab Emirates was my participation in the Ras Al Khaimah Fine Art Festival, which generously invited me to take part as an honorary guest artist. The concept of this festival is quite different from the sea-of-art-tents kind of event that I am so familiar with in the States. This show consisted of 3 days of activities – Opening Day, Film Screening, and Garden Party, all involving wonderfully-dressed people (artists, actors, designers, filmmakers, foundation crew) with a daily red carper to boot (hey, it’s the Emirates, baby!)

Ras Al Khaimah Fine Art Festival

The RAK Fine Art Festival took place in the northern emirate of Ras Al Khaimah. It is safe to say that Ras Al Khaimah (or RAK) is not well known in the western world, because most of the Emirates fame and tourism gets filtered into Dubai and Abu Dhabi. Northern emirates don’t get as much recognition on the world stage yet – and that is perfectly fine with me as I find it more interesting to explore the lesser known lands.

RAK Fine Art Festival

The Fine Art Festival is organized by Al Qasimi Foundation, which is headed by Sheikh Saud bin Saqr, and was established to aid in the social, cultural, and economic development of RAK. While I did not get to meet His Highness (lets just get this out of the way: nope, I did not meet any sheikhs while on this trip) – the crew of the foundation welcomed us with open arms and showed us incredible hospitality (and by “us” I mean myself and Kurt – of course he talked me into letting him come along on this trip, so I assigned him the job of a “social photographer”, ha!) Al Qasimi Foundation works closely with the U.S. Embassy, who contacted me with an invitation to this adventure.

RAK Fine Art Festival

UAE is a young country with a very diverse population, which mostly consists of expats (Dubai, for example, has only about 15% UAE nationals). However, Ras Al Khaimah has the highest Emirati population rate – at about 45% – so in that sense it is, perhaps, the most authentic.

RAK Fine Art Festival

RAK Fine Art Festival was great fun. First day of the festival, Thursday, consisted of the opening party, with beautifully dressed people of many professions and backgrounds. I think the most challenging aspect of this for me was the search for a long dress to wear – turns out, it isn’t easy to find a non-tacky evening gown in the States that fits well and is not designed to be a bridal dress or a prom dress, especially for someone like myself who quickly gets nauseous from shopping. And here, in the Emirates, gorgeous long dresses of all styles are sold everywhere, but there wasn’t much time to shop. Anyway – the opening party was lovely and the most enjoyable part of it was meeting people from many corners of the world.

RAK Fine Art Festival

Second day of the festival, Friday, consisted of film screening. We watched quite a selection of Emirati and regional indie short films, some created by students and some by career filmmakers. The films offered an opportunity to take a closer look at the local culture. After the film screening, there was an award ceremony, and somehow I even got trusted to present visual art awards (my big “official” job of the evening).

Ras Al Khaimah Fine Art Festival

RAK Fine Art Festival

Day three of RAK Fine Art Festival was scheduled for Saturday and was supposed to include a visual arts exhibition along with my international “live painting debut”.  But instead, it got wiped out by a massive sand storm that reduced visibility and made it practically impossible to go outside without a face mask! Supposedly, sand storm of this scale are not very common in the Emirates, so it was very kind of Mother Nature to present this special treat just for us!

United Arab Emirates sand storm

We spent the day on “lock-down” in our hotel room – but that that gave me a chance  to dedicate a few hours to preparing the painting. Live painting is a challenging task due to time constraint – it isn’t easy to create a nice piece from start to finish in a mere 2-3 hours. So I was happy to get all the “boring parts” – i.e. dark underpainting – out of the way, while sitting on the hotel room floor, trying not to splatter paint on the carpet. (By the way, I do not recommend painting in this position unless there is a necessity – it makes for a very sore back, oy). Sand storm calmed down in the evening, and was followed by rain, which was followed by a gorgeous starry night.

Hotel during sand storm

Day three of RAK Fine Art Festival, Take 2 was rescheduled for Sunday. And the crowd actually showed up – because this is the right-knit community of Ras Al-Khaimah, and everybody knows each other, and they still wanted to enjoy and support this event despite Sunday being a work day in the UAE.

Ras Al Khaimah art festival

The visual art exhibition along with the “Garden Party” took place on the gorgeous grounds of RAK National Museum. The museum is housed in a 18th-century fort that, until 1964, served as the residence of the Qawasim rulers.

RAK Fine Art Festival

My live painting area, as well as the party, were set up in the museum’s courtyard – and this was, hands down, the nicest setting that I have ever painted in!

RAK Fine Art Festival

Aside from my painting, I brought 2 canvas prints (which were framed and displayed) to show the public examples of my completed work.

RAK Fine Art Festival

As for my painting subject matter – of course, the plan was to depict a local landmark. There are many shiny new ones around here, but I really like old buildings and decay. So, I chose the historic ghost village of Al Jazirat Al-Hamra – which we visited and photographed two days prior (more on that fascinating place later!). From my photographs, I created a composition of 2 structures – the village fort and an ancient mosque.  The sky / background I filled with pattern loosely inspired by Arabic texture and designs that I have noticed in this area. Here are the beginning stages of the painting:

RAK Fine Art Festival

…and the underpainting – darker, more boring part – which I completed in the hotel:

RAK Fine Art Festival

Live painting at the RAK Museum Garden Party was so enjoyable, and having conversations about my painting process and art while working was quite interesting too.

RAK Fine Art Festival

I love answering public’s questions which help them understand how time-consuming painting process actually is. For example: “Why does the piece you are working on contain so much less detail than this one?” (pointing to the canvas print on my left). Me: “Well, that original paining took about 50 hours of work. This one, so far, have taken about 4 and I only have maybe another hour to complete it!”

RAK Fine Art Festival

RAK Fine Art Festival

Visual exhibition by other artists consisted of painting, mixed media, sculpture, fashion design, and photography.

RAK Fine Art Festival

Here is Jess, she works for Al Qasimi Foundation, and this girl is the main connection to my invitation to UAE. She is from Louisville, and she spotted my artwork there at St. James Court Art Show. I’ve always loved Louisville and its people, but now I love it even more. Thank you Jess!

RAK Fine Art Festival

In the end of the evening, as the party and my painting session were winding down, it was a special pleasure to meet the RAK National Museum Director.

RAK Fine Art Festival

RAK Fine Art Festival

I took the painting back to the hotel, and after a few more tweaks and highlights and brush strokes, I deem it completed. I gifted this piece to Al Qasimi Foundation – I thought it should stay in Ras Al Khaimah, and it was the least I could do to give them my thanks for such a fantastic experience!

Al Jazirah Al Hamra Historic Village painting

Bucktown Arts Fest 2013 poster

Super excited to be this year’s winner of Bucktown Arts Fest 2013 Poster Contest!

I have done this festival for so many years – 9? 10? – I’ve lost count. It takes place during the last weekend of August in Chicago’s happening Bucktown neighborhood, and is one of my favorite events of the year. It feels more like a big party including artists and patron friends, many of whom I have known for over a decade. As locals know, a goat symbolizes Bucktwon, and I am very proud that my goat will be advertising the festival this season.

This poster design combines “City Goat” acrylic on canvas painting with graphic design by yours truly.

Bucktown Arts Fest poster 2013

High school talk and exhibit in Southern Illinois

On the weekend of March 5th, I drove down to Jacksonville, IL to put up an art exhibit on the walls of Three Legged Dog and to talk to some high schools students about being an artist. My occasional exhibits and art activities in Jacksonville are organized through the wonderful Imagine Foundation. The foundation’s executive director, Clare Lynd-Porter, does an amazing job of bringing constant fresh art into their small town.

Giving a talk to high school students was a new and exciting experience. Aside from myself, photographer Sean Posey from St. Louis was invited to talk to school kids, and together we tried to make it a rater informal but fun presentation. As my paintings were to cumbersome to carry around, I brought some prints for show and tell. The high school where we spoke is located in Beardstown, IL – a very small town in the middle of farmland and cornfields, a half hour drive from Jacksonville.

I love the dynamics of U.S. population shifts. Being an immigrant myself, I always want to know where people in small towns come from, or how long have their generations been here. Hence, it was fascinating to see that tiny rural Beardstown has a very large percentage of Hispanics and French Africans (very large for a small Midwestern farm town, that is). Their high school even assigns French-English translators to go to classes with groups of certain new African students.

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Beardstown school is a calm place. Sean and I spoke to 4 different classes, in some – together, and in some – separately. All the kids were so well-behaved, and seemed interested in our stories. However, interactively talking to any group of high-schoolers can be a challenge. Many students don’t want to speak up because of the fear of looking “uncool”. I know I was that way in high school too! But, we still got some good questions – such as “What are your thoughts on censorship in art?”, and “How do your paintings express your emotions?”

And here’s the funniest one. I am talking to a biology class (about my flower paintings, and about how people eat spiders in Cambodia), and two girls are whispering.  I say: “why are you whispering? If you have a question, go ahead and ask!” One says: “Are you a widow?”. Me, trying to hold back laughter: “No, I’m not a widow. But why would you ask that?” Girl: “Well, I wanted to ask you what your husband does for a living but my friend told me – what if she is a widow? Then it would be a very inappropriate question!”

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