Painters’ Plein Air Playground

Mentoring fellow artists, 29th Annual Greene-Grelle Workshop offers invaluable tutoring during two-day outdoor event

NORSE – For an artist, being able to connect with the masters of their craft, being able to ask them questions about materials, receiving their constructive critiques is invaluable to improving their skills.

For the past 29 years, Bruce Greene and Martin Grelle – two nationally-renowned members of the Cowboy Artists of America and part of the outstanding Bosque 7 – have welcomed fellow artists to Bosque County to their two-day plein air workshop every fall to offer them just that.

“We are blessed with beautiful weather this year,” Greene said in the welcome around a morning campfire with coffee brewing Nov. 7. “There have been some great color changes in the past few days.”

The French Plein Air means “in the outdoors,” and the 21 participants to the workshop spread out on Greene’s ranch in the beautiful Norse area – with the foliage all dressed in beautiful gold, bronze, amber, ginger, burnt orange, berry, sienna, and all other fall colors for the occasion – finding the spot that inspired them to paint.

“Set up at a spot that catches your eye, what appeals to you, and take a stab at it,” Greene said. “Try to capture it.”

There was lots of subjects to choose from, including the old barn and the animals roaming the property, like the photogenic chickens and horses Pokey, the grey and Stogey, “the color of a good cigar.” Several chose the tepee Grelle had set up, while others trekked to the stock pond.

As the artists set up their easels – some classic wood, others more modern and light weight tripods – Greene and Grelle visited with each participant individually, giving pointers and guidance.

It is the artist’s challenge to translate observation and accompanying emotion onto the canvas.

More often than not, both Greene and Grelle will advise artists to be bolder in their decisions about color, composition and brush strokes; urging them to let their gut-feeling and emotions prevail instead of being careful. This boldness increases the excitement a painting evokes, and draws more viewers’ attention.

So, Greene and Grelle talked about effective composition drawing the viewer from the focal point, to the edges and back – to all parts of the canvas, light – good and bad, the paramount importance of values, use of colors, the color palette, measuring ratios, keeping freshness, energy and life in the painting and translating emotion onto the two-dimensional surface.

According to workshop coordinator Punky Penberthy, the limited spots on the highly sought-after Bosque Art Council workshop were sold out within 11 minutes of registration on the Bosque Arts Center website. Together with artist Kathy Tate and Janie Greene, Penberthy met the art students catering needs, using local restaurateurs.

Participants came from as far away as Utah, San Antonio, Pinehurst, as close by as Clifton and Meridian and everywhere in between to be part of an exceptional, growing experience.

The BAC flyer announcing the workshop said the following of the hosting Cowboy Artists of America:

“Bruce Greene has been involved with art and learning all his life. From classes at the Museum of Art in Dallas as an 8-year-old to workshops with the Cowboy Artists of America, Bruce has honed his craft to perfection and in the process picked up the skills to pass along that hard-earned knowledge.

Today, he is a renowned, award-winning sculptor and painter whose work is represented in both private collections and public places, including Baylor University, The Ballpark in Arlington, and soon the Alamo.

“Bruce has twice earned the CAA’s Ray Swanson Memorial Award, given for artwork that best communicates a moment in time and captures the emotion of the moment.”

“Bosque County born and raised, Martin Grelle in has continued to call home the town that nurtured his budding talent as an artist,” the BAC flyer said.

“Martin considers himself fortunate that two CAA giants – Melvin Warren and James Boren – moved to Clifton during his formative high school years. Within a year of graduating, Martin exhibited in his first one-man show.

“In the 40-plus years since that time, he has produced some 30 one-man exhibitions – including annual shows at Overland Gallery in Scottsdale, Arizona from 1989 through 2014 – and has won awards of both regional & national importance at shows around the country.

“Grelle was invited into membership with the Cowboy Artists of America in 1995, fulfilling a dream that began in the early 70’s when he first met Boren and Warren.

“Among his many honors, he has received the Briscoe Museum’s Legacy Award for his impact on the world of western art as well as the Spirit of the West Award from the San Dimas Festival of Arts.

“Martin and his wife, Joyce, live on a ranch a few miles outside Clifton.”

Artists of all levels of expertise signed up – from established artists to beginners and hobbyists. Both Michelle Henrich from Humble and Maureen Killaby from Lindale have been selected for the Bosque Arts Center Classic art show and sale in the past, showing their advanced skill level.

Many of the participants were return guests, knowing the masters’ workshop will help them further improve their art and skill.

Nevertheless, some lucky first-timers like Shane Retzloff were able to secure a revered spot. Texas Tech Landscape Architecture graduate Retzloff bought an easel, oil paints and brushes just prior to the workshop, and impressively put down his first ever oil painting during the glorious fall days in the Bosque County countryside.

With the wind rustled the drying autumn leaves, the group gathered during the middle of the day to hear critiques of works they brought with them. Many jotted down the constructive comments in their notebooks for future reference.

Both artists and the masters find the critiquing sessions very beneficial, and productive.

For example, once-professional roper Blu Dornan from Stephenville showed two red Indian Ink drawings. They reminded Grelle of works done in the 50s and 60s, with the drama and impact of the works reminiscent of Charles M. Russell.

“That takes some courage to do that,” Grelle said. “You hardly see this type of drawing; it takes me back to some of our heritage.”

First-timer to the workshop Ronnie Reaves from Sulphur Springs had been quite nervous coming to the workshop by two such nationally acclaimed and successful artists. But soon realized he had no reason to be anxious, that all comments were meant to build up the artists and help them. And nobody has failed the workshop in its 29 years.

Reaves had worked with water colors a long time ago, but always wanted to venture into oils. With his retirement just a year-and-a-half ago Reaves picked up painting again. He was therefore very pleasantly surprised by the positive comments his painting received. His art tutor Killaby had recommended he take the workshop, and learn pointers from some of Western Art’s best artists.

Plein air painting comes with added challenges for an artist. It is a high energy exercise with rapidly changing light conditions, struggling with wind, back-lighting on the canvas from the sun.

“It is really hard to paint outside; it is a true challenge,” Greene said. “But it’s real, and the painting gets an intangible that you can’t get painting from a photograph. It is what makes it come alive.”

Greene credits his authenticity to annual trips to the JA Ranch in the Palo Dura Canyon.

“We ride a lot of miles in rough country,” Greene said. “It seems necessary, to me, order to depict the contemporary cowboy with accuracy and feeling. My good friend, Red Steagall, calls it ‘getting the dust in your nose.’ For me, that dust makes the difference.”

During his demo, Grelle raced to catch the light on the tepee tarp late Saturday afternoon, while battling the low sunlight in his eyes. A shade umbrella was brought in to help him out. Eleven-year-old Makenzie Bachhofer came with her mother to see Grelle transform the blank canvas into a master piece in the making, probably worth thousands of dollars.

On the other hand, both Greene and Grelle have always generously donated their artwork to BAC fundraising auctions. So, this “Catching the Day’s Last Rays” tepee might end up supporting the Clifton cultural center.

What the workshop participants saw in both Grelle and Greene painting demonstrations was masters at work; magicians conjuring up a composition of light and color, capturing the essence of the moment, whether it was a tepee at sunset or sketching horses in the corral in the morning. If they did not know it already, they know now that they were immensely fortunate to have received invaluable guidance from both CAA artists. And additionally all the information from fellow artists – from types of canvas to paint brushes, to exchanging addresses – proved beneficial during their two days in Bosque County.

“Both of us had people who helped us when we were desperately seeking answers on how to do this life,” Greene said about why he and Grelle continue to offer the annual workshops. “We were so blessed to be able to work with the best, and to build up a network through the CAA. You seek mentors. So the question is more ‘how could we not?’”

Greene and Grelle like to emphasize that making beautiful art is not something that “just happens.” Someone might have a gift and a talent, but mastery is achieved through practice, practice, and more practice; something both masters have worked at over the decades, never slacking off, always honing their skills.

Watching both artists during the workshop, Greene and Grelle make painting look easy, effortless. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Photos by SIMONE WICHERS-VOSS

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