by Allison Malafronte
It’s time for my favorite En Plein Air post of the month: “A Conversation With”! This month I had the pleasure of interviewing Lynn Gertenbach, the accomplished landscape painter and instructor from California. Lynn was one of the first artists I interacted with when I first came to American Artist nearly five years ago, and I remember thinking that if every artist is as professional, thoughtful, thorough, and talented as Lynn, I would be one happy editor.
I had a chance to meet Lynn in 2005 at American Artist’s Art Methods & Materials Show, in Pasadena, and she was just as delightful in person as she was on the phone. I also had the pleasure of meeting the artist and former actress Ariana Richards at that event, and I got to hear about the inspirational role Lynn played in her development as a painter and how much Ariana looks up to and appreciates Lynn as a mentor.
It seems Lynn has inspired and encouraged countless artists through her paintings and teaching. Her light-filled landscapes offer viewers an uplifting, hopeful window into the natural world, and her workshops, classes, and instructional DVDs help artists better understand her technique and style. In this interview, Lynn shares the advice and tips she offers in those educational programs, discusses the role plein air painting plays in her finished studio work, and talks about her involvement in two organizations very close to her heart: The Plein-Air Painters of America and the California Art Club.
Arizona Sundown (Plein Air Sketch)
Allison Malafronte: What led you to landscape painting? Who were some of your most influential teachers/instructors?
Lynn Gertenbach: One of my early teachers was the Russian painter Sergei Bongart. His bold use of color and alla prima brushwork appealed to me, and he has had a lasting influence on my work. Viewing the work of Nicolai Fechin, Monet, Turner, George Inness, and many of the great Russian painters has also greatly informed my style.
I have found that painting landscapes from life has been my greatest "teacher" and is the most accurate way to learn and portray color and depth in painting. As artists we also have the ability to move objects in and out of a composition according to what we want to say with our work. One cannot do this when working solely from a photo. However, doing small nature studies en plein air and then working from those to create large compositions in the studio works very well. The immediacy that plein air painting requires also produces more freshness of color and spontaneous handling of paint.
AM: You are able to achieve such beautiful light and luminism in your paintings. To you attribute this to a certain technique, or do you think it derives from carefully observing and interpreting nature?
LG: Creating luminism and light in my work has required not only careful observation in nature but also working with warms and cools on a light canvas, using overlaying techniques until the desired effect is achieved. Again, doing quick color studies in nature gives one a library of color-reference pieces that can be used while working in the studio.
|Heritage Oak (Plein Air Sketch)
by Lynn Gertenbach, oil, 30 x 40.
AM: How much of your work is done en plein air and how much in the studio? How important is it for you to work from life?
LG: I work perhaps a bit more in the studio these days, only after having worked years outdoors. I would say that I spend at least one or two days working from nature, and since I like to work large, I use my studies for working in the studio. In many cases, I also use digital photography and view the images on a laptop placed next to my easel. This offers me the longest work time, since I can capture a particular light that doesn't last long outdoors.
AM: I understand that you have a waterlily garden (a la Monet) in your backyard that has been the source of several of your most popular paintings. Please describe this garden and how you went about designing and creating it.
LG: One of the features of my current home is a large, 13-x-30-foot waterlily pond with a footbridge that leads back to the house. I had it redesigned with a terraced waterfall, and I do numerous paintings of it using a large rolling umbrella to stand under. It changes almost every day, due to the variety of waterlilies and plants of each season that I have put in. Now there are 28 koi fish, which are rapidly growing. I'm fascinated with water and the play of light upon it; it's a constant challenge and joy to create various light effects in my paintings.
|Illumination (Studio Piece Based on Plein Air Sketch)
by Lynn Gertenbach, oil, 30 x 24.
AM: What are some of your favorite landscapes in this country and abroad and why?
LG: There are many landscape locations that I enjoy, and most of them are in California, as there are endless sources of subjects and moods here. The last light coming through groves of eucalyptus trees in Santa Barbara county, the majesty of Big Sur, and the subtle shades of autumn in Malibu Creek State Park are just a few of my favorite subjects. Of course the Tuscan region of Italy and the Dordogne Valley in France are other favorites—the light falling upon the ancient villages produces enchanting subjects for paintings.
AM: You have recently put out an instructional DVD with Liliedahl Video Productions titled “Illumination.” Please give us an overview of how this collaboration came about and what is covered in the video.
LG: Liliedahl Video Productions has produced two DVDs on my work. In the first one, titled "Illumination," I demonstrate how to capture sunset light illuminating a rising cloud in a three-hour, step-by-step demonstration. I used a small 8"-x-6" study done on location and enhanced it, enlarging it to 24" x 20". I painted the original study at the Malibu Lagoons wetlands watching an enchanting sunset light up a thunderhead cloud. Working with this type of fleeting light on location, I only paint on very small panels—usually 6" x 8"—to get the most important message of light down first. I use the alla prima method favored by the Impressionists, working wet-in-wet, warm into and over cool, and working thin into fat brushwork. I stress the importance of not “over brushing,” so as not to create a muddy or chalky effect. Using no more than one or two strokes with a color on your canvas before using another color will usually keep that fresh, clean look and will retain the integrity of the color luminosity.
I find it takes repeated effort to achieve the knowledge of painting a particular subject. Hence the reason why Monet produced so many haystacks and water ponds. One finds a whole world to explore within a particular subject, and it makes an artist more creative in how to approach each piece in a new way. In my second, most recent DVD with Liliedahl, I explore and demonstrate in five hours how I paint a model seated on the bridge on my lily pond.
|Bridge in Rideaux (Studio Piece Based on Plein Air Sketch)
by Lynn Gertenbach, oil, 24 x 30
AM: You have had several one-woman shows at important galleries throughout California and abroad. What advice would you give to an artist looking to achieve this level of recognition?
LG: One thing I tell artists working toward successful exhibitions is to paint a lot, and then to decide on one or more cohesive themes for their work. I discovered early on that by putting everything you've done into a portfolio to show a gallery only confuses them. An artist should show a particular series to create a look of continuity and should also research the gallery to see what type of work they show. The work you present should harmonize and also add variety to the other stable of artists they already have. The other piece of advice I give is for artists to never give up and to never, ever get discouraged. No matter how many rejections you get–and we all get them–just keep painting, knowing inside that you have been given something unique and special to say that no other artist has. We are all individuals with our own message of inspiration and greatness to share with the world.
AM: Have you found that joining organizations such as the Plein-Air Painters of America and the California Art Club has helped you as a painter and in your career? In what ways?
LG: Joining the Plein-Air Painters of America upon its inception in 1986 was one of the best things I've done in my career. It has not only allowed each member to be part of a wonderful family of artists, but it has also enhanced our careers immensely. It offers the opportunity to exhibit in museums, galleries, and other venues that as an individual painter I may not have had. This group of painters has been the greatest gift in my life, proven to me once again when I recently lost my husband. Many of them donated a painting to sell in Catalina to raise money for his hospital bills. Does that tell you what a treasure these artists are to me?
|Hiking Trail (Plein Air Sketch)
by Lynn Gertenbach, oil, 11 x 14.
As a member of the California Art Club since the 1970s, I have seen it rise to become one of the premiere art organizations in the country, thanks to the efforts of Peter and Elaine Adams. It is the oldest art club in California, now in existence for nearly 100 years. The membership was only around 80 when Peter Adams became president, and now, only 15 years later, it has grown to more than 3,000. The advantages of membership are numerous. Great effort is given by Peter, Elaine, and their staff to provide venues of every type for its members, both of signature and artist status. The Gold Medal show has risen to become one of the most recognized events in the art world, with its host venue now being the Pasadena Museum of California Art. The opportunities for me to find out about upcoming shows and paint-outs with other artists have benefited me significantly. Apparently galleries and collectors find an artist's work validated more by membership in this and other organizations.
AM: Please describe your involvement with the California Art Club’s mentor program. Why do you think these kinds of programs that encourage and inspire the next generation of painters are important?
LG: When the mentor program began at the California Art Club Peter Adams chose me to mentor Ariana Richards. It was such a rewarding effort, since our painting events worked to benefit each other equally. She has gone on to become a very successful figure painter, as well as an excellent landscape artist. These programs are necessary in order for artists to pass on a legacy of their knowledge to the younger generations and to preserve the traditional art form.
For more information on Lynn Gertenbach, visit her website at www.lynngertenbach.com.
Allison Malafronte is the associate editor of American Artist.