Wednesday, September 25, 2019

State Fair Ahs! and Wows!

Photo Credit:  Cindy Moore
I cannot begin to tell you how many "Ohs!" and "Wows!" I heard over my shoulder at the 2019 Kansas State Fair.  As I drew, people crowded around me.  But, I was not the one who drew the crowds nor were the "Ohs!" and "Wows!" for me.  They were for the oversized pumpkins and watermelons!

Last year for the Plein Aire at the Kansas State Fair, I had chosen what I thought would be a quiet corner near the giant melons where I could be out of the way when the doors opened for people to enter the Pride of Kansas building.  It is a popular building, especially because everyone wants to watch the butter sculpting.  But, I had no idea how popular the giant produce would be.

Photo credit:  Larry Fenwick
Last year taught me better.  People love to see the huge pumpkins and melons, and although I wanted to draw the scarecrows, I knew to expect crowds of people eager to see the pumpkins and melons.  This year's display was especially attractive, with the entries resting on straw rather than the stark concrete and wooden pallets of prior years.  The scare crows in the background completed the setting, although there were only three entries in 2019.

Last year I had done a quick portrait of one of the scarecrows, but I had not chosen that drawing to enter in the competition.  I had enjoyed drawing him and had decided to draw a more complex interpretation of the scarecrows at the 2019 fair.  I was a little disappointed to find only three entries but stuck to my plan.
Drawing from 2018

I chose a corner between the honey display and the melons, and I did not set up my table and easel, instead using only my lap and a drawing board to reduce my presence to as small a space as possible, and it worked fairly well.

I chose to imagine a composition with the scarecrow on the hay bail and the scarecrow behind her as a couple.  One young girl studying my drawing was confused that it didn't look like the actual exhibition.  When I told her that the scarecrows snuggled at night, after all the people were gone and the building was locked, she was only more confused, and I admitted that I was only teasing.  She was not satisfied and told me that nice girls don't tell lies.  Her grandmother leaned over to assure her that I only meant a joke, but the girl was very displeased with me.  Oops!

Scarecrows and Watermelons
The pumpkins and melons weigh hundreds of pounds and definitely fascinate people.  Aside from the "Ahs" and "Wows" the most frequent comments were questions about whether the fruit inside would be good to eat, imagining what a feast they could have, and wondering how they were grown.  One man told his son, "We could just eat the heart of that melon and not have to fool with the seeds!"

I must confess that one lady standing behind me said a soft "Wow."  I ignored her, assuming she was referring to the melons.  Again, I heard "Wow," this time a little louder, and I glanced back at her and was told, "You are doing a wonderful job."  I replied, "Thank you.  I though you meant the melons."  She assured me that she was impressed with my scarecrows.  I decided that single "wow" was quite enough for a days work, competing against the giants around me!

You can Google 'Giant Pumpkins' and 'Giant Watermelons' to learn more about the size, seeds, and cultivation of these giants.  One of my favorite children's book illustrators, Wendell Minor, has written a children's book titled "How Big Could Your Pumpkin Grow?" for younger children.  Although it was published in 2013, you may still be able to find a copy if your youngster was excited by the giants at the fair.  An adult book you might enjoy is Susan Warren's Backyard Giants, The Passionate, Heartbreaking Quest to Grow the Biggest Pumpkin Ever, published in 2007, in which she writes about a passion she calls "...a charming corner of American life, as quirky and delightful as the big pumpkins themselves."

If you would like to see my drawing of the 2019 Kansas State Fair Scarecrows, you can continue scrolling down to last week's blog.  Remember, you can click on the images to enlarge them.  

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Why I Enjoy Plein Aire Painting at the Fair

Photo Credit:  Cindy Moore
Many people at the State Fair are surprised to see an artist painting or drawing, or even this year at the 2019 Kansas State Fair, an artist sculpting in stone.  Among the subjects artists depicted were ducks at the lake, merry-go-round  horses, midway scenes, fountains, all sorts of livestock, crops, and even scarecrows.  The scarecrows were my selection, along with a white rabbit.

Photo Credit:  Larry Fenwick
Neither of my pencil drawings received an award, but the judge, Naomi Ullum, was wonderful, taking the time to comment on every piece entered for judging, and finding positives in her critiques, as well as pointing out specific ways to improve the work.  I believe I benefited from her comments, as I'm sure that others did as well.
Photo Credit:  Larry Fenwick

However, the critiques and contact with other artists, even the possibility of winning a prize, are not the primary reason I enjoy Plein Aire Painting at the Kansas State Fair enough to confront the challenge of limited time, heat, (or last year's rain), transporting my supplies and equipment, listening to the squawking, crowing, and (to be polite) unpleasant odor of some of my models, (such as Miss Lucy the pig that I sketched this year) or other inconveniences of Plein Aire Painting.  Such things are simply the anticipated challenges of the plein aire experience.

I am sharing the photographs in this blog to explain why I look forward to participating.  It's the children who stop to watch and ask questions.

Photo Credit: Larry Fenwick
(c) Lyn Fenwick, work in progress
Once, I was a volunteer at some now forgotten fund raiser where my assignment was a booth with  white plates that could be decorated.  I don't remember if the plates had designs to complete or what materials were used to decorate them, but I have never forgotten one little girl.  She was with her grandmother, and she had walked by my booth more than once, asking her grandmother to buy a ticket for her to decorate a plate.  Finally the grandmother agreed, and the little girl began her decoration with such excitement.  Her grandmother watched the child's eager beginning, but quickly spoke up.  "Now, dear.  You can draw better than that!  Stay within the lines."  The child's happy face crumpled, and slowly, with little interest, she colored in a few areas and announced that she had finished.  Even that did not please her grandmother.  "But you aren't finished," she said.  "You haven't colored in all the spaces."  The little girl said she didn't want to do any more, and they left my booth with a plate that had pleased neither of them.

Photo credit:  Cindy Moore
I hope I never again see a child, eager to draw a picture or paint a plate, being told to stay within the lines.  I participate in Plein Aire at the fair for the children.  To answer their questions.  To praise them when their parents say how they love to draw.  To explain when they ask 'why I did this' or 'how I did that.'  To say 'Of couse you can' when anyone says "I can't draw," whether it is a child or an adult--but especially if it is a child.  So many adults say, "I can't draw a straight line," but aren't straight lines irrelevant in most drawings!

This year at the fair, one little boy had been standing quietly beside me, watching me draw for quite a while, so finally I stopped and turned to him.  He still couldn't find his words, so eventually his mother leaned over and said, "He wants to know if you can tell him how to learn to do that."  He nodded his head.

Photo Credit:  Cindy Moore
Immediately, I replied, "Yes, I can," thinking quickly what to tell him.  I said, "When you get home, take a plain piece of paper and draw something.  Do the very best you can, and when you finish, get another piece of paper and draw something again.  Whenever you can, keep doing that, and each time you will learn something.  You will keep getting better each time, because as you draw you will be learning."  He listened and nodded as I spoke to him.  "Can you do that?" I asked when I had finished my impromptu advice.  He was smiling and nodding with such enthusiasm that I was sure he would sit down with a clean piece of paper soon after he got home.

His mother asked if he would like for her to photograph the scarecrows he had watched me draw, so he could do a drawing of them for himself.  He nodded.  As they were about to leave, I asked, "If I come to the fair next year, will you find me and tell me what you've been drawing?"  He was beaming as he nodded.

Photo credit:  Larry Fenwick
There are more stories I could share, but never will you hear me tell a child to stay within the lines.  That little boy, the children in the photographs in this blog, and the many others who stopped to watch as I worked, are why I go to the fair to participate in the Plein Aire competition.  It's why I hope to go next year and more years after that.  If I can inspire one child to be curious about art or if I can encourage one child to feel good about what they draw, then I will have my blue ribbon from the State Fair.  And next year, I will be watching for that little boy.

Remember, you can enlarge the images by clicking on them.

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

State Fair Jelly

After three straight years of late frosts spoiling the sand hill plum crop, 2019 had a surprise for me...and for a lot of others!  There had been a late, light frost, and I assumed it would be another year without plums, but I was wrong.  Was I ever!!

Our pasture, which is unplowed prairie, has not been grazed since my father's death, and the sand hill plums have nearly taken it over.  I picked from the road one morning, where bushes have grown through the wire fence, but the next day my husband and I drove into the pasture to an area of abundant bushes with especially large, ripe plums. My husband had been scouting for the best plums, and without needing to push our way into the bushes amidst all the thorns, we were able to pick enough plums before the morning sun became oppressive.  Since protection from the thorns requires long sleeves and jeans, it gets very hot to pick later in the day.

I made six batches in order to have jelly of our own for a few months and jelly to share with friends. I was the Production Chief, but my husband was the Chief of Shipment and Delivery.  We shared not only with local friends but also with out-of-state friends who had never tasted sand hill plum jelly, and  I used every jelly jar I owned.

We let local friends know that our pasture had abundant plums to share, but this season plums could be seen in pastures and along many roadsides, and only one couple took us up on our invitation to pick.  I heard that some of the local grocery stores had run out of pectin because so many customers were making jelly.

State Fair Jelly still on the drawing board  (c) Lyn Fenwick
But, this blog is not really about making jelly to enter in the state fair.  The title of this blog post, "My State Fair Jelly" does not refer to entering a jar of my jelly in the Kansas State Fair.  Rather, my jelly entry was made on paper.  Last year I entered a pastel painting in the Professional Artist competition, and I enjoyed the experience so much I decided to do that again.  When I draw or paint I must have a reference, either an actual model or still life arrangement or various photographs from which to work.  Sometimes a single photograph is sufficient, if I know the subject(s) well enough to capture more than the photograph shows.

I began going through my reference images for ideas, and I came across a photograph I had taken a few years ago of canning supplies ready to make sand hill plum jelly.  I decided to create a still life painting using an arrangement of canning supplies.  Unfortunately, I had already discovered that, after my last canning using my Mother's beautiful 1940s canning equipment, I had put her equipment away somewhere that I can't remember.  My own 2019 jelly was made using modern, less picturesque equipment, so I had to rely on several photographs of Mother's equipment, with variations and additions that included a jar of my own jelly, mugs from my collection, and a 'church ladies' cookbook, altered by my imagination but representative of the type of local cookbooks produced during the past mid-century.

State Fair Jelly framed (c) Lyn Fenwick
I finished with time to get my pastel painting framed, and off to the 2019 Kansas State fair it went, the name for my entry suggested by my husband.

No prize for my work, but I still enjoy the experience of having a goal, showing my work, and participating with other artists.  I confess, it was rather disheartening to hear the judge declare strongly, "I hate still lifes," during the critique of his selections for awards.  One of those winners was a still life, so obviously he was willing to override his "hatred."  There were many wonderful  works by talented artists, and what appeals to all of us is subjective.  I didn't make it back to the Fine Arts exhibit to observe the reactions of visitors, but I'm sure that many of the paintings were appreciated by those who toured the exhibit, and that is, after all, the pleasure we artists enjoy having given others.

Remember, you can click on the images to enlarge.

Thursday, September 5, 2019

A New Location for Art at the Kansas State Fair

(c) Lyn Fenwick,  Title:  Fresh Yellow Squash
This week the 2019 Kansas State Fair opens, and once again I have an entry in the Professional Artists display and competition.  Last year was my first year to participate in that category, and the pastel at the top of this page was my entry.  I didn't bring home a prize but I had fun entering.

In the meantime, my six portraits of characters from Willa Cather's My Antonia were selected for publication in the Willa Cather Review, Vol. 61, No. 2, Spring 2019, together with my essay describing how I searched Cather's novel for descriptions of each character to be sure that my imagined portraits were consistent with Cather's descriptions of each of the six characters.  I have a dislike of illustrations done for books that do not honor the descriptions of the author whose book is being illustrated, and I did not want to commit the same disrespect by straying from Cather's descriptions.  I gifted a copy of the Spring Willa Cather Review titled "After Antonia" to the Filley Art Museum in Pratt, Kansas, and I have been delighted when visitors to the museum have told me they enjoyed my portraits and essay.  I am particularly pleased when they tell me it has encouraged them to read My Antonia, either for the first time or to reread it after several years.  I was especially delighted to learn that Mrs. Filley is a long-time Cather fan and had received her copy of the Spring Cather Review with my portraits inside!

Lyn's "models" at the 2017 Plein Aire
The success of my acceptance for publication in the Cather Review encouraged me to enter the Kansas State Fair Professional Artists Show again.  Many of you who follow this blog are also fans and collectors of  a water color artist with ties to Pratt, and Darren Parker has shared with me his intention to enter the State Fair Professional Artists Show with one, or possibly two, of his watercolors.

I am writing this blog before the judging for the particular purpose of letting readers know that the Professional Artists' works have been moved to a different building.  You will not  find the Professional Artists work nor the Plein Aire art displayed in the Oz Building as it has been in the past.  (This change also moves the photography display.)  

Lyn drawing at the 2018 Plein Aire at the Fair

To view the art, go to Lake Talbot East/West located on 23rd Avenue, between Fort Hays Blvd. and Fort Leavenworth Blvd.  For some of you with 4-Hers,  you may identify the two buildings as being across from the 4-H Centennial Hall, the two buildings formerly the Boy and Girl Scout Buildings.  The Professional Art will be in the former Boy Scout building and the Plein Aire (and photography) will be in the former Girl Scout building.  The announcement of prizes for the Plein Aire will be at 6 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 7, and will remain on display through the remainder of the fair.

The Plein Aire competition requires artists to create their work on the fairgrounds, inspired by subjects they can view at the Fair.  They must do the work only at the Fair and within the hours specified--on Friday noon to 7:30 p.m. and on Saturday 7 a.m. to 3 p.m.  Visitors to the Fair are encouraged to watch for artists at work and to pause for a visit if they wish.  Children in particular seem to enjoy watching and asking questions.  Artists work in a variety of media, from acrylics and watercolor to pencils and pastels to paper mosaics or any other creative medium they wish.  No more than two entries can be submitted for judging by any one artist, although an artist my wish to complete additional work from which to select their two entries.  

Maybe I will see some of you at the Fair, and I hope you visit the new location in the former Boys and Girls Scout buildings to view the art on display.

Remember, the images can be enlarged by clicking on them.  Look closely for the cat and mouse in my "Fresh Yellow Squash" pastel painting.