Destination Bandelier ~ Artistic Preparations ~ Part 1



The Challenge:

What have I gotten myself signed up for?!?!  This is going to be a fantastic adventure and will stretch me in so many ways:

  • Being on long-distance travel for an entire month focused on nothing but my art making!
  • Having a location, its characteristics, and its history as the primary subject/theme
  • Making art in a National Park!

So what is on my mind?  I’ve typically been a “studio” painter.  This means I usually make my art in the studio vs. in the natural environs on-site!  My current artistic processes have evolved into considered layer making and refinements over numerous creative sessions.

I have done some outdoor sketching on-site as depicted in this little sketch of a rural landscape:

2021 ink sketch of rural landscape…

I also take LOADS of reference photographs to work from IN the studio such as this small landscape painting of the view from my deck:

 Early 2022 landscape sketch of back field

Hmmmmm, I’ll be living and painting in a beautiful National Park!  And I don’t plan to paint in the visitor center every day!  So I need to build on these small beginnings and stretch my on-site painting “wings”!


New Focus Areas:

The proposal stated a goal of designing and completing two “immersive glimpses” pieces using my juxtaposition and layering techniques.  These will be my “studio” pieces, combining elements and ideas gleaned throughout the residency.  However, in order to research and capture the unique elements and characteristics of Bandelier National Monument, I plan to spend a great deal of time exploring and capturing those characteristics out in the park, and not just by camera!  One intention of the residency is public interaction with my process, so I also want to be out on-site where the people will also be exploring, so they can discover me discovering the park from an artist’s point of view. Sketching and making small painting studies on-site will be a major portion of my art-making activity!

However, there are some “gaps” in my current art practice I want to fill and rusty skills I need to hone prior to arriving at Bandelier National Monument as Artist in Residence for the month of November!  The primary “gap” or better said, “NEW SKILL” I want to establish is painting outside onsite aka Plein Air.  Plein Air in this usage is defined as – designating a painting executed out of doors and representing a direct response to the scene or subject in front of the artist.

The rusty skill I need to brush up on is what I am calling “Direct Painting”.  That is my term for painting a piece (onsite or in the studio) quickly and directly in as close to one sitting as possible… Quickly, at least for now, is looking like 2 hours or less to get a single piece 90 – 95% complete; Directly means mix the paint and put it on the painting without intending to go back over it again and again and again.

The benefits I am seeking from the Plein Air and Direct Painting focus areas are:

  • capturing intended essence/idea quickly and authentically
  • decisive focus and editing
  • confidence in exploring and expressing

The obstacles I want to overcome by working on these focus areas are:

  • being trapped in “precious” parts at the detriment of the whole
  • time consuming techniques, detours and rework
  • creating expected or impersonal depictions


Step One ~ Plein Air Practice:

There have been several events allowing me to get on-site at some lovely locations and begin making art while immersed in the environments!  Taking advantage of these Paint Out opportunities with The Artists in Middleburg has been fantastic!  Of course I’ve captured tons of reference photos from these places to work from in the studio at my convenience, but even better, is learning how to MAKE something ON LOCATION!  This started out in the form of watercolor and ink “sketches” at three lovely locations in the Middleburg, Virginia area.  We tend to be our own worst critics but each attempt is important and provides insights and lessons learned related to these new focus areas and helping to overcoming my known challenges!  Here are a couple examples of what I created…

 June 2022 watercolor sketch at Welbourne…

June 2022 watercolor sketch at Welbourne…


Step Two ~ Direct Painting Challenge

In addition to learning to paint live on-site, I also assigned myself the challenge to paint faster!  This entailed learning to “mix it and paint it” in a more direct fashion than before… so I took a lovely picture I got permission to use of a farm in the blue ridge mountains at sunset and challenged myself to paint it DIRECTLY!

Well, the first try took me 4 hours!  Still not finished, still took too long, still lots to do to get “there”… Hmmm, I caught myself falling back into old habits and got stuck picking at it!  Not an unpleasant result but not resolved enough to make me happy yet!

Greber Sunset First Attempt Artist Robyn Ryan

Direct Painting Attempt #1…

So I slept on it and challenged myself to try again with a time limit of 1.5 hours!  Interesting how the time limit drove me to be less picky and also more focused on what I wanted to capture!  Here is my second try completed within 1.5 hours… AHHHHHHH YES!!!!  I like this one better!  This direct painting challenge has promise!

Greber Sunset Second Attempt Robyn Ryan

Direct Painting Attempt #2…  Much Faster, More Direct, …Better!!!!


Step Three ~ Scoping Out the New Plein Air Set Up:

One of the fun things at these live on-site paint outs has been talking with other artists about what they bring and use when they paint Plein Air in all their various mediums (watercolor, oil, acrylic, etc.).  The diversity of options is overwhelming!  The primary medium is definitely a driver, but weight, cost, ease of packing and transport are just a few of the other considerations!  I admit it was quite fun “window shopping” all of the options I saw others using and on the web!

If this mode of Plein Air art-making “sticks” I can see investing more down the road, but for now, with local paint outs and the Bandelier Residency in mind, I’ve opted to invest in a En Plein Air Pro set up.  I bought the watercolor package (tripod, easel, watercolor palette tray, and duffle bag) along with an additional basic tray to use with my other media/palettes.

I need something that I can use both “in studio” and out on-site “en Plain Air”…  I need the necessary components to create my anticipated studies to fit into a backpack to facilitate my mobility to explore the Bandelier National Monument Park… and I need to not break the bank as I balance all of the costs of this Residency opportunity!

So here is what I initially ordered… at this point I already have ideas how I might supplement this configuration but I’ll share those tweaks in a later post to stick with the chronology of how all this transpired!  An exciting step making this initial investment!

The new En Plein Air Set up!  The grey thing leaning on the left leg is a watercolor palette & tray I can swap with the plain tray shown…


Next time I will share how I continued pursuing my new art focus area challenges for Plein Air painting and Direct painting during 10 focused painting days this Summer at Orkney Springs!

Destination Bandelier Related Posts:

#1  –  I’ve Never Done This Before…

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