The poet Robert Frost was on to something. In the final lines of his iconic poem, "The Road Not Taken," he penned the following:
"Two roads diverged in a wood, and I-
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference."
I took a road trip last month from Northern California to San Diego, where I participated in the 6th annual Plein Air Convention and Expo (PACE 2017). From April 24-28, 2017 I enjoyed classes, social activities, vendor displays and outdoor painting in picturesque locations. Some of today’s top artists were there to teach and guide artists of all levels.
I should mention that I'm not a joiner. I don't like crowds and prefer to paint alone- both in the studio and outdoors. Yet I knew it would be invaluable to attend this convention, take in the experiences and absorb the best of each presentation and class.
I'm happy to report that the convention did not disappoint. There were ample classes, demonstrations, vendors with cool products, and a kind of synergy that coalesces around the communal energy of fellow artists.
Why Your Comfort Zone Is Your Enemy
Generally, people don't like change. We lean toward the familiar and comfortable. In my case, I almost didn't attend the convention. I figured I could save money and better spend the week painting outdoors, sharpening my skills. But artist Lynne Fearman sent me a discount coupon, so I had to go!
Despite the long drive and expense, I found myself immersed in excellent demonstrations, classes and experiences. Not to mention the accommodations at the San Diego Sharaton hotel were excellent.
I attended an outstanidng gouache demonstration by MIke Hernandez, who is a Production Designer at Dreamworks Animation as well as a nation-wide sought-after workshop instructor. His works can be found in several private collections around the world.
I enjoyed an equally amazing gouache presentation by the artist John Burton, who happens to hail from my neck of the woods in the Carmel, California area.
B. Eric Rhoads, the chairman and CEO of Streamline Publishing Inc., which produces Fine Art Connoisseur and Plein Air magazines, is the brainchild behind the Plein Air Convention and Expo. Rhoads conducted several early morning "Art Marketing Bootcamp" presentations which were very informative.
I got the chance to meet the monochromatic painter Charlie Hunter, as he did an impromptu painting just outside the vendor show room.
As the popular website Line and Colors notes about Charlie Hunter, "He works with a limited palette of burnt sienna, viridian and French ultramarine, occasionally supplemented with yellow ochre or Naples yellow. He begins by toning the canvas with a diluted mix of his three basic colors, out of which he pulls large and then smaller shapes with paper towels, Q-tips and other implements before going back in with brushes."
Want to know why your comfort zone is your enemy? Because it prevents you from experiencing new things. And new things are what help us grow.
For example, if you take a workshop with the painter Charlie Hunter, here are a few of the suggested items you should bring:
"Mark-making tools such as Original Stim-U-Dents, 8” Ettore brass-handled window squeegee, Q-tips, hand-held spray bottle, plastic drywall tape knife... anything that looks like it could make an interesting mark."
I mean, would you have dreamed up tools like that for your oil painting? Probably not!
Retired cop that I am, I tended to hang out towards the back of the presentation rooms, near the exits. But I enjoyed slipping in and out to various demonstrations in the hotel.
In addition to the presentations, there was time allotted each day for participants to go out painting. Convention faculty were on hand outdoors to assist painters.
One day was devoted to painting in San Diego's Balboa Park, which is a 1,200-acre urban cultural park in San Diego. I did a couple of quick studies while I was there. Nothing to write home about, but good experience none the less.
in the evenings I would have fun painting various scenes from my imagination. Here are a few of the paintings I dreamed up and painted at night.
So here's the take away. Get out of your comfort zone. Take those trips and workshops and conventions and classes. Not all the time, because you'll need downtime to process what you learned and experiment. But don't hide under a rock.
I found that my trip to San Diego was inspiring and I learned a great deal. In fact, I came away from the experience realizing that I needed to paint a lot more. I had been so busy writing articles that I neglected my artwork. So I decided to scale back my writing to paint more.
When we stay safely ensconced in our comfort zone, we risk stagnancy. Personal growth requires new experiences and challenges. They may not always be easy. Sometimes they can be hard and make us feel inadequate.
Do it anyway. Take Robert Frost's road less travelled. I think, in the end, it will make all the difference.
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