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Easel Off season Where are the plein air painters?

Vagabond painter
September 14th, 2004

Dear Artist,

On Sunday John Pryce dropped by. The itinerant Ontarian was a long way from home and wanted to know if there was anything to paint around here. He wasn't looking for food, a bath or anything. It didn't take us long to find something that was right for him.

While many of John's watercolours are done in his studio, most of his oils are now
John <i>en plein air</i>
John en plein air
 click image to enlarge
done on location. These days he's pushing hard on plein air. His Soltek easel was soon set up with a 12 x 16 inch plywood panel--previously sealed with industrial sealer and carefully primed with two coats of roller-textured white gesso. John rushes right in with broad fresh washes--no oil medium--just turps. He uses a format framer to isolate patterns and manage edges. "Greens can be a problem," he says, peering into the shadow values of counter-lit greenery with central sunflowers. I noted that his palette greens were Chromium oxide and Sap. He darkens with Prussian blue and neutralizes with Cadmiums red and orange. Cad yellow sits waiting. Several times he "wiped out" highlights with a light brush-load of clean turps. Sophisticated grays shine through and he leaves them sit. John works his surfaces like watercolour. He stands, brush at arm's length, holding his big sables by their ends. I brought the digital and I've asked Andrew to put up some shots of John's process.

John started his career in the musty offices of architectural rendering. "With renderings you have one person to please--the client, and if he doesn't like it you're up the creek," he says. We've both been there. Wild paintings are great because you make them to please yourself--then you send them out to galleries and the paintings themselves take over. Some, like orphans, sadly wait for a while--even years--until a blessed someone comes along and carries them home. Free-range painters live with the firm belief that there's someone for every painting.

John and I agree that plein air is something special. Plein air is an occasion, an event, a happening. Plein air makes plain days magic. Plein air has integrity and honesty. But above all plein air is the breeze, the birds, the passing parade. Who needs cigars when you're inhaling life?

Best regards,


PS: "No one expects the days to be gods." (Ralph Waldo Emerson)

Esoterica: One of the main challenges of outdoor work, particularly in sun and shadow, is the proper establishment of "values." Just as a cigarette in the palm of the hand is white, when held against the light it becomes some dark colour. The problem is compounded if you happen to be dealing with coloured cigarettes. But amazingly, even the simplest subjects, when the values are right, or nearly right, the work tends to "carry." No painter, living or dead, can hit it right on, every time.

Artists' Responses to Vagabond painter by Robert Genn
Be sure to check our Archives for related material.


Response to 'Vagabond painter' by Renato Muccillo :: Soltek easel

by Renato Muccillo

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What do you think of the Soltek easel, how much are they and where do you get
Autumn Study IIOil on Board
Autumn Study II
Oil on Board
 click image to enlarge

(RG note) I think it's a swift design. It can be changed into multiple configurations including laptop and table-top. The one upright bar to hold the painting looks wonky but seems remarkably stable. It has a well-designed and convenient tray and palette area. I've ordered one to try it out. The Soltek easel is designed by painter Jim Wilcox, sells for US$449.00 (EUR 275.00) and is available at, or John Pryce told me he once put too much pressure on his and it broke--but he was able to repair it. The Soltek easel comes with an Allen wrench to tighten things up.

, Other letters by Renato, Related material on Soltek easel, Renato Muccillo Website,
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Response to 'Vagabond painter' by Barb Rees :: Meditating by plein air

by Barb Rees

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My favorite place to paint is at the beach. Something about the freedom and salt air gives me a new lease on life. I'm hooked and I agree with your comment, "Who needs cigars when you're inhaling life." When I want to get away from my overly active brain that has way more ideas than I could ever pursue, I paint. My favorite medium at the beach is acrylics on small pieces of shale. Getting inside a sunset hooks me so I am unaware of time and space and my mind slows down. It's meditating by painting and it's great for the soul.

, Other letters by Barb
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Response to 'Vagabond painter' by J. Baldini :: Paint-out at Niagara Falls

by J. Baldini, Niagara Falls, ON, Canada

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We've just completed the 2nd Worldwide paint-out at International Plein Air Painters
Jacqueline Baldini
Jacqueline Baldini
(IPAP). John Pryce is one of our members and was truly representing what IPAP is about as a 'vagabond painter'. At our event we had over $5000.00 in awards and fantastic participation in Niagara Falls, headquarters for IPAP. We had many 'converts' this weekend to plein air, and those who thanked us for getting them back into painting from life. Some were a bit intimidated as they stood and painted the awesome power of the Falls with hundreds of spectators passing by. I'd like to think all now have the power of confidence to return to their turf and venture out into public. In the US and Canada, as in other countries around the world, plein air painters will one day, again, be an accepted sight on location as a part of life, instead of a novelty.

One gentleman passerby this weekend with a British accent, made the remark that, certainly, I must be French - my response - 'no, American', a reminder that I painted outdoors for some time before I even knew there was a French name for outdoor painting!

, Other letters by J., J. Baldini Website,
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Response to 'Vagabond painter' by Raynald Murphy :: Cannot be bought

by Raynald Murphy, Saint-Laurent QC, Canada

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Monday morning I drove off early some 100 km to an isolated country area I had
Grange des quatre-ventsWatercolor
Grange des quatre-vents
 click image to enlarge
spotted the previous week. I came back home around 7 pm with four watercolours ready to frame. What made the day so enjoyable, apart from the sunshine and ideal weather, was that in this remote farming/cottage region I happened to make new friends while working. This is what painters who work exclusively in their studios miss - the camaraderie, as well as the "breeze and the birds" and possible sales. The plein air experience along with the learning one acquires from observing nature, cannot be bought, acquired by reading or by taking courses. It has to be lived. I'm toying with the idea of starting a local plein air society. If anyone has had the experience of starting such a group I would appreciate any tips.

, Other letters by Raynald, Related material on Cannot be bought, Raynald Murphy Website,
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Response to 'Vagabond painter' by Louise Zjawin Francke :: Selling to the passers-by

by Louise Zjawin Francke, Chapel Hill, NC, USA

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This past Saturday was spent at an outdoor event meeting people and discussing
No Air
No Air
 click image to enlarge
portraits of animals. I get tired of recapitulating about the portraits I do of animals with attitudes. I know well that in this area the outdoor venue is not the place to sell expensive art so I have put up 4" x 4" acrylics @ $40 and $50 if framed. My 5" x 7" portraits are framed and sell at $125 which is the same price as in a local gallery where I'm represented. These low prices for small art works are a "come on" to get people interested in owning a larger piece.

, Other letters by Louise, Louise Zjawin Francke Website,
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Response to 'Vagabond painter' by Monika Dery :: Paint-out in the Rockies

by Monika Dery, Hinton, AB, Canada

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I met John Pryce in Toronto in his beautiful second-floor studio in the Distillery District where I have paintings in a gallery myself. I love his work and, frankly, love him as well, even though I've only met him twice. He's such a nice, outgoing, sincere person, as you obviously know. I'm involved with a plein air paint-out this weekend here in the Jasper Rockies and had invited John Pryce to come and join us.

I have a question. I've just asked a friend who's a true salesperson and loves to work with the public--to be my big city agent. I live in a place called Hinton, near Jasper, Alberta, Canada and want to sell more of my work in larger cities. She currently works for a magazine selling advertising and helping with layout, etc. What I need to know is what commission should I pay her if she's able to sell individual paintings for me. And then, what commission would be due if she got my work into art galleries where the commission to the gallery is 50%?

(RG note) Generally a "vest pocket" dealer is paid the same as regular galleries--50% is often the norm when they sell direct to clients. If she is placing work in commercial art galleries I would offer her a 10% kickback on everything a gallery pays you for one year. Because these deals tend to get sticky, the idea is to terminate the contract after one year--unless she is actively engaged in selection, liaison, pickup, delivery, transfers and perhaps bookkeeping--then you might work together in this way indefinitely. All contracts or arrangements of this sort ought to be renegotiable after an agreed length of time--one or two years is often best.

, Other letters by Monika, Monika Dery Website,
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Response to 'Vagabond painter' by Alev Oguz :: Infinite possibilities

by Alev Oguz, Istanbul, Turkey

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The universe is a vast pool of possibilities, limited only by our minds. The subject
undercoverOil on canvas
Oil on canvas
 click image to enlarge
matter is never a cliché, it is a simple fact of existence. Only the approach can make it boring or carry it beyond the ordinary. Ordinary is comfortable and safe. It is easier to eat the same breakfast every morning. It is safer to take the same route to work. It is easier to share your life with the same group of people. It is safe, predictable and requires less energy. The world has grown immense. It is noisy and destructive. There is crowd and clutter. So we are tired. We want to be relaxed. We want to use less energy. We like easy solutions, quick shortcuts. We frame our lives around some certain ways and do not take much risk. We condition ourselves, our children, our schools and our society. We live in our small world of boundaries. Boundaries of beliefs, boundaries of religion, boundaries of nationality, boundaries of traditions. Boundaries set our small worlds. We get smaller and smaller being captured in the system. But, the universe has no boundaries. The universe is infinite.

There is no recipe, but there are ways of recovery from limited thinking. It starts in our daily life. We can change our daily routines and free ourselves for thinking beyond the ordinary. We can train our minds for the cracking of the shell. If you like hard-boiled eggs, try scrambled. It is your breakfast. It is starting your new day with new possibilities. It is not a irrelevant act--symbolically you are changing your approach to the new day. You are opening yourself to new possibilities. Spare some time and do something unusual on the way to work, something you have never done before. It can be as simple as taking a different transport. The only requirement is, it must be something you never do in your daily routine. So take some small risks. Attract little surprises. They may carry your mind beyond the ordinary. Be out of your cell. There are infinite possibilities, infinite ideas, infinite approaches.

, Other letters by Alev, Related material on Infinite possibilities
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Response to 'Vagabond painter' by Veronika Funk :: Copyright infringement?

by Veronika Funk

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I'm writing about copyright infringement... particularly as I've begun doing mixed
media pieces - a medium with words, sentences, even paragraphs inscribed into it and I've been incorporating words I've read and heard (music)... this is the border of the piece. Then I complete the piece with gold, silver or copper leaf and an oil painting. How should I be acknowledging the author of the written words? Am I infringing on copyright laws by using the words without prior authorization, being that it is only a portion of a completed work?

(RG note) In theory you are permitted to "quote" relatively short passages of practically anything without infringing copyright. It would be up to the copyright owner to defend the copyright if he or she felt you were quoting too much. It would also be based on the sums of money that were changing hands over your work. If, for example, your painting contained the complete lyrics of a Bob Dylan tune, was composed mostly of those lyrics, and sold for big bucks, you too might find yourself engaging a lawyer.

, Other letters by Veronika, Related material on Copyright infringement?, Veronika Funk Website,
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Response to 'Vagabond painter' by Jim Pescott :: Not comfortable with the value

by Jim Pescott

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Regarding Lorna Dockstader's query about the Biennale Internationale Del'arte
Sunday EveningOriginal Acrylic on Canvas
Sunday Evening
Original Acrylic on Canvas
 click image to enlarge
in Florence--I attended this event last December. I had received an invitation the previous year and, as I'd never been to Italy, an opportunity to go to Florence seemed perfect. Taking my art from my basement studio to Florence also felt exciting. As I participated in the 2003 Biennale, I've been invited to participate in the 2005 Biennale ... just received invitation documents. Will I go again? I'm not planning to. Very expensive for what it seemed to be. The function was like a very large art fair. Hospitality was minimal which surprised me given the registration costs. Yes there were over 800 artists from over 70 countries and that was quite exciting. Lots and lots of art, of course and seeing Florence is incredible. So basically I'm pleased that I went, just not comfortable with the value. Was it worth the 1800 Euro (now 2100) plus all the other costs including shipping and travel? Probably not. I definitely could have seen Florence for a lot, lot less money. Was it fun? Yes.

, Other letters by Jim, Related material on Not comfortable with the value, Jim Pescott Website,
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Response to 'Vagabond painter' by Judith D'Agostino :: Will not renew with Art Exchange

by Judith D'Agostino, Tucson, AZ, USA

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Regarding the letter in the last clickback from Elle Fagan--I'm with Art Exchange too.
After the StormPastel
After the Storm
 click image to enlarge
They pursued me for a year and I finally gave in. They were pretty convincing. However, I didn't do my homework. I found out that they really don't sell much and that most of their income comes from grants that they use to pay their employees. Putting the site up is inexpensive compared to the costs of maintaining a site. I personally have not gotten any sales from them and I have not been contacted by them since they received my money. I will not renew with them unless I see something happening. I hope they are not a scam.

, Other letters by Judith, Judith D'Agostino Website,
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Response to 'Vagabond painter' by Tricia Migdoll :: Internet art forum

by Tricia Migdoll, Byron Bay, Australia

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Your sentiments are so in tune with my own. I see no other forum on the internet that reflects such sensitivity, so I wonder if you have thought of starting your own forum? I NEED you.

(RG note) Thanks Tricia. Even rugged individualists need each other. Our clickbacks are indeed forums—the difference from others is that we edit mercilessly in order to bring a maximum of authoritative connectivity and information. Time and again a busy artist will write and say thanks for not wasting my time.

, Other letters by Tricia, Related material on Internet art forum, Tricia Migdoll Website,
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World of Art

 Featured Artist: Peter Adams - CA, USA
'Grasping<br>Sycamore near Oakwilde Camp, Gabrieleno Trail, San Gabriel Mountains by Peter Adams, CA, USA
Sycamore near Oakwilde Camp, Gabrieleno Trail, San Gabriel Mountains

Oil painting by Peter Adams, CA, USA
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Clickback afterthoughts - The Painter's KeysAFTERTHOUGHTS

Please feel free to comment on anyone's remarks. If you add your email address right after your name at the end of your letter, we will include it. If you wish to write incognito we will honor that too. All unused letters are carefully archived for possible future use. We generally include ten or so letters in each "clickback" so you can expect about the same amount of reading. Readers really appreciate it when you tell us approximately where you are located. It would also be great if you could include where we might find some of your work on the net. We edit most letters for clarity and brevity. We are able to translate letters from most languages. Please address your letters to

You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 115 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2004. That includes Alex von Svoboda who wrote: "I was wondering what happened to John Pryce as he has not returned my recent emails." And also Dale Ducillo Lewinski of Connecticut, USA who wrote "I took watercolour lessons from John's brother Martin Pryce at the Newmarket School of Art." And also Molly who wrote: "In the middle of night on Gabriola Island--Wow--to plein air and--Wow--to John Pryce! Now maybe I'll be able to sleep and have sweet dreams."

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C. W. Nave - Artist's Web SiteC. W. Nave - Artist's Web Site

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Last modified: September 15th 2004 :: Copyright 2004 Robert Genn, All Rights Reserved