On Location | J. Chris Morel

By Bonnie Gangelhoff; Photos by David Cox

What do you like about plein-air painting over creating landscape works in the studio? Painting on location is the way to learn how to paint landscapes. It’s part of paying your dues. You see basic shapes and colors from photos, but you don’t really see what’s out there. You can’t get the feeling of seasons—whether it’s snowy or wet or hot. I have done hundreds of paintings standing in the snow, and you can feel the chill in the painting that comes from being out there.
What appeals to you about painting in Llano de San Juan? It’s off the high road to Taos at 8,000 feet, and it’s classic northern New Mexico with old adobe architecture, farms, and churches. I like the timelessness of it and the history. You are way off the beaten path. It’s very rural and beautiful.
What are some of the challenges of painting on location? The weather, the wind, and finding a spot that speaks to you. I think the selection of a spot is the most challenging. You have to coordinate it with the time of year to get the quality of light you are looking for. And you have to do a lot of scouting because you also want a location where you are not going to be run over or harassed.
What is your most memorable experience while painting on location? I had a collector with me on the Cimarron River in late winter. I had my easel on an ice shelf. The ice cracked, the legs of the easel fell sideways, and the painting went into river. It then drifted under the ice shelf. I waited for it to come up, pulled it out, and continued to paint. Another memorable time was when I got a drive-by critique. I was way up in the mountains about 9 in the morning and a guy passes by in a car and yells out the window, “Hey bro, your painting sucks!”
What misconceptions does the average person have about plein-air painting? One misconception is that people think there is something terribly special about a painting done on location, when really artists have been doing it for generations to improve their craft.

Brazos Fine Art, Taos, NM; Galerie Gabrie, Pasadena, CA; www.morelart.com.

Upcoming Shows
Plein Air Easton, Easton, MD, July 20-26.
Maynard Dixon Country, Mt. Carmel, UT, August 26-30.
Miniatures & More, Albuquerque Museum of Art and History, October 24-December 6.
Featured in June 2008