Saturday, August 23, 2014

Rocky Mountain Plein Air Festival: An Epic Challenge

I'm having a great time here in Estes Park, Colorado participating in the Rocky Mountain Plein Air Festival. Rocky Mountain National Park is a National Park in the grand old style. It's the high country where the light changes fast and the views are breathtaking. 

Painting up here presents a special challenge as I try to capture this amazing place in its best light. We hiked up to Alberta Falls, and on the way passed through a stunning Aspen grove. With the light streaming down through the leaves, the place was magical. That's where I stopped to do my first piece for the festival: 

Richard Lance Russell painting en plein air
Richard Lance Russell painting en plein airOn The Edge of Evening by Richard Lance Russell

 When you're painting plein air, you have a limited amount of time to finish your painting, because the light changes as the sun moves across the sky and whatever you are painting looks completely different in a couple of hours.

That is something many people don't notice. Changes in light influence the color of what you are seeing, the contrast between it and everything around it, and the shadows that fall on and around it. Naturally, for a realistic painter like myself, plein air paintings are necessarily small so that they can be finished before the light changes.

But when I arrived here and saw Rocky Mountain National Park towering around me, I knew I was going to have to give myself a particular challenge. Though my small canvasses worked great for the small, intimate portraits of the landscape like the aspen grove (above), the front range (which is a row of incredible 12- and 14-THOUSAND foot peaks) is an epic view. In order to capture it like I really wanted to, I had to have a large canvas.

So I got up before dawn, set up in time to see the first light, and undertook the creation of an 18" x 36" painting of the front range:

Richard Lance Russell Plein Air Painting

And it was a challenge. But it was also exhilarating to race the sun and complete the piece:

Richard Lance Russell Plein Air Painting
Richard Lance Russell with First Light On The Front Range Painting

Here it is:

First Light On The Front Range painting by Richard Lance Russell

And people really responded to this piece. It was as if the spirit of this bold and rugged place came through to viewers. The piece sold quickly, and tonight at the awards ceremony I received The City of Estes Park Award:

Awards Ceremony Plein Air Rockies Richard Lance Russell

Everybody loves a big blue ribbon, right? This piece was a huge undertaking, and it tested my limits as a painter. Maybe that's why I enjoyed it so much. 

I actually completed many paintings up here and learned something new from each one. I'll show you some more of them in future posts.

Monday, August 18, 2014


Everyone knows Chopin's Nocturne In E Flat MajoOpus 9, number 2  (or if they don't, they should). It's a beautiful piece of music. Many people don't know that there are also paintings called nocturnes. James Abbot McNeill Whistler (remember? the guy who painted his mother?) applied the term to painting, and, like musical nocturnes, they are inspired by the nighttime, evocative of it, or simply depicting it.
I am enjoying painting at the Rocky Mountain Plein Air Festival this week and they keep us busy with painting events. Tonight I participated in their "Nocturne Paint Out," where we all met downtown and created Nocturne pieces.

I chose this charming house for my subject because it was slightly lit by the streetlamp in front of it and because it had these strikingly warm lit windows, which complemented nicely the cool colors of the night. It was great meeting and visiting with the other artists, listening to the river rush by as I painted, and tackling the challenge of a nocturne piece.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Figurative Fridays: Pioneers and Plein Air

This has been a busy summer. We kicked it off with the Easter Show at the Joseph Smith Memorial Building, which I mentioned yesterday, and then we had a lot of fun at the Plein Air Fest in Jackson Hole:

Oil Painter Richard Lance Russell at Plein Air Fest in Jackson Hole

My wife Josi and I had a fantastic time in Jackson Hole at the Museum of Wildlife Art's Plein Air Fest! I arrived with a blank canvas and spent 4 hours filling it with the beautiful and scenic East Gros Ventre Butte.

East Gros Ventre Butte by Richard Lance Russell at Plein Air Fest Jackson Hole

Timed competitions are always intense, and this one was no exception. There was a great crowd, though, and the painting sold at auction that afternoon, benefiting the amazing Museum of Wildlife Art.

Capturing a little piece of the beautiful and rugged terrain of Wyoming added some perspective to the pioneer paintings I tackled when we got home. Those early settlers traveled so far and sacrificed so much. And, just last weekend, we spent a great time at Deseret Book in downtown Salt Lake City unveiling two of those new pioneer paintings and doing a live painting demonstration for Deseret Book's lunch and learn:

 Richard Lance Russell live painting demonstration at Deseret Book in downtown Salt Lake City

My beautiful wife was kind enough to pose for me in a pioneer costume. It really made Pioneer Day come alive! As many of you know, July 24th is Pioneer Day in Utah, a day commemorating Brigham Young's 1847 entry into the Salt Lake Valley with the first group of Latter-day Saint settlers who had crossed the plains. It's a day that represents family, and history, and culture, and reverence, and fun.

I've been working on a new series of pioneer paintings and I thought the Pioneer Day weekend, across the street from the Salt Lake Temple, was a great time and a great place to unveil the first two pieces in the "Come, Come, Ye Saints" series:

With Joy Wend Your Way
Come, Come, Ye Saints Series #1

With Joy Wend Your Way: Come Come Ye Saints Series #1

Grace Shall Be As Your Day
Come, Come, Ye Saints Series #2

Grace Shall Be As Your Day: Come Come Ye Saints Series #2

Another great model here, both for life and for paintings: Josi's mom, Carol, posed for this one. She makes beautiful quilts off the canvas, too.

Keep an eye out for some more from the "Come, Come, Ye Saints" Series. They're in the works. I've also been commissioned to do 6 murals for the new Monticello Elementary School, so that has me busy! And now, back to the easel . . .