Doug Clarke | My Week at the Farewell Coastal VA Plein Air Festival

My first plein air event of the season, also the farewell Coastal VA Plein Air event, after which of running seven years. I’m happy to say, that I’ve competed in every event too! This one was going to be difficult as I had no time off from my day job as a teacher and would have to be very organized with my time.


Doug Clarke painting day 1 on Coastal VA Plein AirStamping begun Tuesday afternoon which gave me a night to begin painting. So I got rushed home prepped some panels, destroyed a few old paintings to reuse good panels and ran to get my canvases stamped. My goal was to get six paintings done at the very least. After seeing welcomed old faces at the stamping station, I rushed off to catch a parking spot on Colley Ave before the night life kicked in and the streets would be packed. After scouting a vantage point, I began painting a 16x20, it would be my largest for the event and it would take two sessions to complete it since the lights do not stay on usually past 9:30pm. The people at the NARO were gracious and I bought some of their delicious popcorn, Norfolk’s finest! Soon after paint began to fly in a mad dash to get most of the block in and major parts to the painting. Sure enough, lights went out and it was time to pack up and head home. When I got home, I had to figure out which frames I could use and plan my panels to be painted.


Doug Clarke | Day Two Painting at Coastal VA Plein Air 2023Wednesday was a beautiful day but a full schedule for me. Day job teaching and then a small break before teaching the first day my evening oil painting class, sometimes schedules conflict and you gotta make it all work out somehow. After my day class, I raced down Military HWY looking for something urban and fun. Lot’s of old billboards and run down storefronts and auto lots. I was tempted to go see if I could paint an old 69 Datsun convertible, but situated in a busy parking lot would be too dicey. I took photos and filed it under “Paint this later”. After running Military HWY to an end, I veered left onto Tidewater. Maybe I would find an old vintage restaurant sign or something? Sadly, no luck, so I made a U-turn to get a second look at a run down auto lot. Swerving in the parking lot and making a quick scan, I noticed it would be a better vantage point from across the street. Jumped back on the road and into the adjacent lot and got out and looked at the light and composition and thought, “Maybe….”. Looked over to my left and saw a taco truck in the bright sunlight. How did I miss this? Drove over and saw that with in a few minutes it was busy with cars rolling up and rolling out. In a few minutes I was setting up and getting ready to paint, armed with a fresh Jarrito’s Mandarin Orange Drink. After 45 minutes, I had an almost done painting, but it was time to run back to my school to teach the first day of my evening oil painting class. Class proved to be really fun, but my brain was zapped after doing a 3 hour portrait demo with a limited primary color palette. So no nocturne painting, time to go rest up for tomorrow.


Doug Clarke | Day 3 Painting at Coastal VA Plein Air 2023Thursday provides even better weather and I’m off to finish the taco truck after school is out. Luckily for me, the truck stays in the same location. I finish off the painting session in about 25 minutes and discover a sizable crowd behind me, which almost never happens. So cool when that happens! However, there is no time to waste as I have to finish some more paintings! I head down to the waterside area of Norfolk to a hidden neighborhood and paint an old skipjack boat. Luck pans out and I have a great session and awesome light. (Note to self to come back to this location with a bigger canvas later this summer). I finish off and head out to try to get the American Rover or something else by Waterside. As luck would have it, the American Rover was still docked and inquiring the ticket booth, I had about 90 minutes to paint before the sunset cruise. It didn’t take long to find a spot similar to the one I had painted 10 years ago, however, the winds were picking up. The sun was setting up to be a really beautiful and I had a good chat with the captain before they set sail, leaving me to finish up with docks before heading out. Once the sun set, I returned to the NARO for a finish up my nocturne session. I scored some popcorn to wait for the last light to fade so I could get my eyes to settle to the nighttime. Managed to finish up after another two hours and turned around to paint the new José Tequillas (formerly the Red Dog). Got a good block in and headed home at 11:30pm, but not before meeting the manager.


Doug Clarke | Day 4 Painting at Coastal VA Plein Air 2023Did I mention I’m still teaching during the day while all this is going on? I’m starting to feel a little ragged at this point. I get out of class and head home to get some more gear before going to a spot off the Elizabeth that still has a skipjack with a cool scene behind it. Found a great spot to park and the light was proving to be just as great for a sunset as yesterday. Sometimes there is a painting that just flows and this was one of them. Two hours went by easily and a lot of people stop by to check out the various stages of the progress. Wrapped up before the sun set, signed the painting and packed up. Headed back to Colley Ave to finish up the José Taqueria painting. More people were gathering in around and made it easy to fill up the scene with figures. However the red and blue lights casting light on the restaurant were not on and I had to go to the hostess and name drop the manager to get them back on. A party at one of the tables were happy I included them into the painting. After an hour an half, I finished and packed up to paint Kelly’s from across the street. Once again, I got into my “flow state”, I was able to knock out a good composition and capture the evening glow complete with late crowd on the patio. Just as I was signing my name to the painting, the lights went off and it was time to go home. There would be no time to paint before the show.


Doug Clarke | Day 5 Painting at Coastal VA Plein Air 2023After getting up early in the morning to frame the paintings, I raced to get to the show before a nasty storm drop an avalanche of rain. As luck would have it, I squeaked in my work before the doors locked for judging. After having a dismal lunch at chain restaurant, I went back to set up before the show opened up to the collector’s preview. If you haven’t been to a plein air event, some of them will have a collector’s preview that they sell tickets to. Ticket prices go towards a painting if they buy one, which is incentive enough to help the artists showing work. I sold two works, and then the awards were announced. Sometimes luck goes your way as anyone can tell you, art shows are subjective and the judge and the audience and artists do not always see eye to eye on the best paintings. My NARO painting won best nocturne and I was happy with the award! And so ends the seven year run on the Coastal VA plein air, which I have been lucky enough to have participated in all of them. Most impressive for me was that I was still working full time and then running out to paint. Getting six paintings in was quite an accomplishment for me. Hopefully, the next event will be just as productive.