The art of the Quick Draw At Plein Air Open

The finished piece after a “little more unrushed studio time.”

Imagine that you are set up with your canvas, paints and easel perched in the middle of a bustling Tahoe City Farmers Market. Everything is moving constantly, yet you only have two hours to create a scene. As an artist, being in the middle of all of those people and moving parts, trying to concentrate and create some of your best work while the clock is ticking is one of the hardest things you can do.

Nancy Takaichi won Best of Show in 2016 for “West Shore Sports,” which she painted with “25-30 mph winds, many obstacles and snow flurries in June,” she said.

Such is the case with many plein air artists who attend the annual North Tahoe Arts Plein Air Open from June 12 to 16. The Plein Air Open gives artists a chance to connect, unwind and paint the Tahoe Sierra’s incredible scenery. This weeklong event includes organized paint outs at Blackwood Canyon and Sugar Pine Point State Park, a painting demonstration with Philippe Gandiol, artist exhibits, a Quick Draw competition and awards.

The subject of the 2017 Quick Draw.

With an educational background in painting, plein air artist Nancy Takaichi shifted gears and spent a career in marketing communications. However, a few years ago when she retired she picked up painting again. When she bought a home in North Lake Tahoe, Takaichi sought out fellow artists and found North Tahoe Arts. In 2015, she entered her first Plein Air Open. One of the events in particular – the Quick Draw competition – pushed her comfort zone of plein air painting.

“It was my first time ever being in a competition, I didn’t know what to paint. Everything’s moving and it’s hard to organize what the scene is. I won Best of Show but Quick Draw is another animal,” she says.

Takaichi adds that there are a few things she learned in her three years of entering the Plein Air Open (and Quick Draw Competition):

The result after two hours.

Unpredictable weather. “It seems like every time the event is in June there’s always rogue snow flurries. In that first year when I won Best of Show, I did a scene of a side shot of the West Shore Sports building with all of the bikes lined up on the side. There was a lot of activity going on; it was loud with the sound of cutting metal close by, it was windy but also sunny so I needed an umbrella, boats kept parking in front of me blocking my view. But dealing with all of those adversities, that ended up being the painting that won Best of Show”

People. Along with weather, car and pedestrian traffic, constant movement and shadows can affect a scene. Also on the West Shore, Takaichi was painting a scene of the post office, but many people came in and out. It started raining and car headlights reflecting in the rain puddles looked incredible, but were difficult to paint.

In a Quick Draw, focus on the big picture first. It’s difficult to get something substantial in a limited time frame. Takaichi suggests getting big shapes on the canvas first and then dialing in the details depending on how much time you have left.

Advance planning. “(For the Quick Draw) I try to get there early and walk around and figure out what to paint. I also set an alarm on my phone when there is a half an hour remaining so that I have time to run it upstairs (to the North Tahoe Arts gallery). I have to be careful to stay out of people’s way, and I’ll ask vendors how long they are going to be there,” she says, to ensure that her scene doesn’t drastically change in the middle of the competition.

For her, it’s the experience that keeps her coming back for more.

“To be able to take 4 to 5 days and just paint and focus on it without all of the distractions at home. I call it binge painting; it’s wonderful,” she says.

Plein Air Open
June 12-16
Exhibit & Sale | North Tahoe Arts Center | Tahoe City
June 14
9 a.m.-noon |Farmers’ Market Quick Draw Competition | Commons Beach
| Tahoe City

Takaichi will be teaching a three-day plein air workshop in August with Randall Stauss.