As a part of the 2013 Death Valley Campout Festival, I organized a plein air paint out for the morning of November 6, the first day of the Encampment, http://www.deathvalley49ers.org/art-events/. The group met at 8 AM at the 49ers registration booth and car pooled to Zabriskie Point, which I chose for its relative ease of access and panoramic beauty offering limitless painting compositions.
Plein air artists paint from life, in the outdoors, in open air (en plein air) with natural light and the artist sitting in front of the live subject. Artists complete a painting in a few hours, in changing light with only minor refinements that may be made later in a studio. Photography is discouraged if not forbidden in plein air painting. In addition to artistic skills, the major challenges include:
Ability to deal with the changing light and environment
Working in one sitting with a relatively short time and limited, portable equipment.
Choosing a composition and focus
Producing value sketches and designing the painting
Capturing the spirit of being in the presence of the subject
Finally, one of the greatest challenges is the distraction by on lookers who insist on telling you about their own painting experiences or that of their children.
All of the artistic ingredients for plein air painting are present in Death Valley; it simply doesn’t get any better.
Each artist found a position and view, set up portable equipment and worked until shortly before noon. In previous years a nearly ideal painting location lay behind the tourist wall, which provided shade to a large flat mound where easels could be located out of the tourist traffic. However, recent rains had washed out a large area of the dirt mound causing some of the wall to collapse, so most artists chose to remain on the safer side of the wall.