Thaw Malin commits the scene to canvas. Photo by Alan Brigish
Clouds race across the sky on a blustery day at Crab Creek at Quansoo as Thaw Malin commits the scene to canvas. Photos by Alan Brigish

Five paintings, five days, al fresco

By Hermine Hull - September 14, 2006

"Five Paintings in Five Days" is the name of the exhibition and the point of an exercise for a group of Island plein air painters. Thaw Malin's wife, Karin English, suggested the idea to Thaw and Marjory "Cheri" Mason, his frequent painting partner. They began calling friends of theirs and here we are.

Thaw, Cheri, Jackie Mendez-Diez, Ruth Kirchmeier, Liz Taft, Max Decker, Monte Becker, Leslie Baker, Marsha Winsryg, and I will be exhibiting our paintings together this weekend at Periwinkle Gallery and Pik-Nik Gallery, both in the Arts District of Oak Bluffs. They will be on display all day Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 16 and 17, with an opening reception from 4 to 7 pm on Saturday evening. Our opening will coincide with openings at the Dragonfly Gallery and the Firehouse Gallery, making a very festive neighborhood presentation.

We have set ourselves the task not only of painting the required five paintings, but of three of them being done at assigned places. Everyone has to paint a view of the bridge across Crab Creek at Quansoo, West Basin at Lobsterville, and the Tisbury Water Works.

Liz Taft at her outdoor easel. Photo by Alan Brigish
Liz Taft at her outdoor easel on the group painting outing to Quansoo Monday morning.

As a painter, I have always been fascinated with the process of creating a painting. I have always wondered what attracts one person to stand here and another to choose a spot farther down the path, looking backward. How does one decide whether to leave in the row of fence posts or take them out, to face the water or to focus on a big clump of cedar trees? One artist will put in every blade of grass and every leaf, while another will make the sky a flat gray-blue above a treeless hillside. There are the choices of medium, of thin or thick paint, straight-out-of-the-tube bright colors or subtly mixed grays. Of course, the weather is always a factor. So is the light.

Cheri, Thaw, and Monte like to go out at daybreak and sunset, when the light is the most dramatic, but the most fleeting. They stay for fairly long periods of time with a break in midday. I gather they like a lot of interaction; Thaw told me they talked this morning about different paints, styles, observations about each other's work. He found it "an incredible connecting point."

Ruth, Leslie Baker, and I frequently paint together at a comfortable hour after a nice leisurely breakfast at home, maybe even after a nice leisurely lunch. Our habit is to head out to our separate spots, set up our easels or stools (Ruth usually does oil pastels on a drawing board; Leslie and I paint in oil using a French half-box easel,) get to work, do our paintings, pack up, and go home. We talk in the car but usually work in comradely silence. We don't stay out for six hours at a time. A small sketch or study doesn't take all day.

Typically, most artists work alone. So the experience of getting out of the studio and into the fresh air can be stimulating, kind of a "day off" sort of feeling. You get to be outside and be painting. What could be better? It is also a challenge and a set of necessary skills to learn. For example, you have to learn very quickly how to focus or else you will spend the whole time walking around trying to decide what to paint. It's all good: so just set up your easel, edit your composition, and start your painting.

One of the things that sparked this idea for Cheri and Thaw was the stimulation of working with like-minded painters. They look forward to having different artists to paint with, to get all of us together to form a larger pool of friends to paint with. There is always something to learn from one another. Cheri had said that after 20 years in her studio printing monotypes she "feels alive going out all summer." As we all agree that nothing is more beautiful than the light in September, we plan to make this week of painting and exhibiting together an annual event.

I look forward to some of these conversations. Liz Taft is always telling me that I should get outside more to really observe the landscape - the light, the true colors and values. Max Decker is such an amazing young painter. I have known and admired Monte and Jackie's work for many years. This promises to be an interesting show of work, hopefully the first of many.

Hermine Hull is a painter and The Times West Tisbury correspondent.