Simple stories. That’s how Shawn Cornell describes his plein air paintings. His artist statement doesn’t wax poetic as so many do.
“My paintings are neither cutting edge nor deep in metaphorical meaning, they’re simply stories about brief moments that I experience and witness during my excursions,” he writes. “Hopefully, these stories connect with the viewer, sparking a fond memory, a sense of familiarity or a bit of humor.”
Cornell, a St. Louis-based artist, will be in Vail on June 29 and 30. On the 29, he’ll give a free discussion at the Vail Public Library. On the 30, he’ll lead a plein air workshop beginning at 10 a.m. at Mayflower Gulch. The workshop is the first sponsored by the new Vail Valley Art Guild, which started in November of 2013. The groups first meeting took place in December and 12 artists showed up.
“Six months later, we have 60 members and will be sponsoring our first artist-led workshop,” said Karen Kalfas, one of the founding members of the Guild who first saw and fell in love with Cornell’s work a few years ago at a local art festival. “Shawn Cornell is a renown plein air artist from Missouri; he has come to the Vail area for the last several years with his wife, Elizabeth, to show his art at local art festivals and fairs and paint our beautiful outdoor scenery. Shawn has received many awards for his paintings, and was written up in the February/March issue of Plein Air Magazine.”
The cost for the workshop is $65; a maximum of 12 people can take part in the workshop.
“The fact that Shawn has so graciously accepted taking a day to paint with Vail Valley Art Guild, and spend an evening talking about his craft is another facet of this artist’s courteous and considerate personality, as he has waived all fees to himself, but instead offered any money collected to help grow our new, fledgling art guild,” Kalfas said.
The story of an image
For Cornell, it’s Officer’s Gulch near Copper Mountain that’s a must-paint destination when he’s in Colorado.
“Officer’s Gulch is at the top of my list,” he said. “It’s a location that my wife and I haven’t missed painting during all of our adventures in Colorado. The variety of subject matter is wonderful, and last year we even stumbled across a herd of mountain goats.”
While he’s done a few paintings in Eagle County, most of them were during the Vail Art Festival to entertain the fairgoers, he said.
“In Wolcott, I tried painting a herd of goats,” Cornell remembered. “They were so busy moving about that I finally gave up on them.”
Cornell uses a very limited color palette — titanium white, ultramarine blue, cadmium red and cadmium yellow — to paint his strictly plein air pieces.
“There are many reasons I prefer this palette,” he said. “One in particular is to simplify my life by simplifying my choices of colors to mix,” he said. “For me, fewer choices doesn’t mean fewer results, it means few decisions I need to make. During my workshops, I’ll go into greater detail and give some demonstrations of why I prefer using a limited palette.”
Cornell calls plein air painting “interactive.”
“Things are happen when I’m out painting and I want to make sure that they are recorded and kept with the image,” said Cornell, who documents each painting with its location, date, time of day, weather conditions, and brief observations about the day. People refer to the documentation as the painting’s birth certificate
“I can give an image the illusion of dimension on a flat plain, but to give that image true depth, it needs its story,” he said. “A painting’s story will carry a great weight towards the final appeal of that painting. It gives the viewer a venue to be with me as I created the painting. It allows them to see beyond what I was depicting on canvas. For me, the story can be just as important as the image.”
Generally Cornell leads three-day workshops, so the June 30 event will be an “abbreviated version,” he said.
“Sunday evening will be an informal meet and greet, and a show and tell,” he said. “On Monday, we’ll do lots of painting. I’m a believer in the school of ‘learning from doing.’ So, we’ll be doing everything from a 15-stroke painting to nothing longer than an hour painting. Mostly, we’ll be having fun slapping around paint and enjoying the beautiful scenery surrounding us.”