Matisse, Chagall, Renoir, Picasso....Powathil?

Matisse, Chagall, Renoir, Picasso....Powathil?

A road trip from Marseille to Nice in 2022 inspired my love for the French Riviera. I was in awe of the natural landscapes, architecture, food and culture-not to mention its deep roots in art history with artists like Matisse, Chagall, Renoir and Picasso living and producing work in the region. I knew I would want to spend an extended amount of time capturing some of that beauty in my artwork as well. Fast-forward to this summer when I decided to take two and a half weeks in Nice doing just that. 

Plein air painting had always intrigued me as a way to improve my landscape painting skills through careful study of the world around me. I knew that I would be challenged with selecting the right composition and capturing the light as it changed throughout the day. I just didn't anticipate learning so much about myself and what it means to treat art as my career in the process.

I kicked off my time in Nice with a quick piece completed on the balcony of my apartment as a way to ease myself into painting outdoors. I learned a valuable lesson in accounting for the elements (I briefly lost my piece to the wind and the sun dried the paints quicker than I anticipated) and had fun working on sizing buildings and capturing perspectives for the first time. The next day, I ventured outside and attempted to paint the sunset along the beach and this was when I learned that plein air painting can sometimes feel like a street performance.

I setup my pochade box on my lap and found a seat in one of the iconic blue chairs by the beach-trying to keep a low profile and sketch the scene quickly. A few minutes into my painting and I could see that the brushstrokes were catching the attention of people strolling along the busy promenade. Knowing that people were watching the early "ugly" stages of my painting really added stress that I hadn't anticipated and the piece reflected that. It felt rushed, incomplete and chaotic with both the color choice and composition.

Night one was clearly a wake up call on what it means to paint in public. I knew it would take time to get used to the additional sets of eyes on my work and decided to ease myself into it again by setting up at sunrise or using reference pictures from sunrise walks for the rest of my time in Nice. This was exactly what I needed-a few hours to myself intermixed with some fun conversations with locals and tourists who were curious about my artwork. I was slowly getting the hang of painting outdoors and beating the heat as well.

It was about a week and a half into this routine that I started to feel the pressure that I put on myself to produce a large body of work during this trip. Painting started to feel like a chore and I felt like I was pushing too hard and too fast (which is wild for someone who used to be the slowest painter in the class). I took a step back and a few days off of painting to spend time visiting St.Jean Vianney's tomb in Ars and bopping along the Riviera with a friend. I also started painting different subjects like croissants and sandwiches as a short reset from landscapes. That was just what I needed. So I learned the important lesson about creating art-there is a delicate balance between learning to work quickly and be expressive with your strokes and churning out work. Maintaining the sense of awe and wonder for the world around me is what I know I will need to focus on as I continue to produce art.

These personal lessons as well as the technical skills I picked up during my plein air painting trip in Nice were invaluable. Understanding that onlookers can see the good, bad and the ugly as part of the reality of what it takes to make art is something I never would have learned if I hadn't taken this trip. Making sure that I give myself grace and focus on creating pieces which bring myself and others joy and appreciation for the beauty of God's creation is also now a renewed priority. I cannot wait to continue to learn and grow and take more trips like this in the future!

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