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Finding Your Tribe

"Success happens in clusters." -Julia Cameron; The Artist's Way

We artists need each other. It's a simple fact. While many artists may appear to be singular successes, with no apparent peers, it's an illusion. We thrive with a sense of community and common purpose.

Think back to the Impressionists who came into their own success as a group after hosting the Salon Des Refuses. Alone, they would not have made an impact, nor had the courage to buck on the establishment and open their own exhibition. Also, the Hudson River School, a group of painters who made an impact not only with their paintings but with their activism, preserving the land, and becoming America's first environmentalists. There are countless examples.

My tribe, is the group of plein air painters that I lead every Wednesday here in Florida, that meets in historic downtowns, wetlands and beaches, and paints. We do other things as well, like encourage each other, build community, understand the importance of Mangroves to preserving our coastline with sea level rise, and we do things about it.

I respect these painters. They are dedicated and challenge themselves weekly to improve their skills, and are not afraid to fail. I've seen people lose paintings into turtle ponds and have to fish it out with a net. Many artists struggle through the first 4-5 paintings before ever getting anything half-decent. It's really hard to capture the light and landscape in one quick shot. But every week we show up and try again.

For me, this week marks the end of the 2022 season of Plein Air Adventure. I've been leading a weekly plein air class now for 22 years. Its hard to believe it's been that long, but it has. There were a few weeks without classes but very few. We even met during quarantine in 2020. We spaced ourselves apart, and put signs on our easels asking people to please stay back 6 feet.

When I started painting in plein air in 2000, there was only a small handful of people. But that group in New York became the Wallkill River School in a few short years and swelled to more than 50, and within ten years 200, and when I left it was still going strong and organizing a yearly plein air festival, with other events and people I had never met.

I've become close friends with many of the people I paint with; not just in plein air, but in my classrooms as well. When you allow yourself to be vulnerable in front of other people, and they support you through it, it builds trust. In an environment of trust, we feel safer and can be brave and attempt things a little above our skill level because we know that even if we fail, our peers will be there to help us.

Taking classes is a great way to find your tribe. I encourage my peeps to connect and paint outside of class. Our Plein Air Adventure class has its own facebook group where members post their paintings, and painting dates. Connect with other artists, even if it's once in a while.

Clubs are another great way to find your tribe. I'm current president of the Pastel Society of Tampa Bay, and joined so that I could meet other pastelists when I moved to Florida. I was grateful to be surrounded by like-minded artists, who were fun, and did fun pastel games at our meetings. Our pastel society is just one of many across the nation, and there are even more pastel societies around the world.

Next month, I'll be heading to Santa Fe for an international convention of all these pastel societies called IAPS-International Association of Pastel Societies. I'm really looking forward to meeting artists I've only read about, but also the other presidents of societies. Many of us Florida presidents have decided we are going to stand out in tropical clothing and wear sunglasses and hats together.

Tribes are all around you just waiting for you to join. Find your tribe by doing things with like-minded people. Not all members may be friend material, but the more you put yourself out there, the more people will react in kind and true friendships will be born.

If you want to get a taste of what it feels like to be part of our tribe, join us for our last plein air class of the season this Weds. 9am at Fort Desoto Park. Email me and I'll send you map directions.

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Congratulations on your 22nd year of Plein Air Adventure Classes! Although we didn’t get a chance to meet when I was in Florida this past winter, I hope I’m still part of your ’tribe’ ??? Ali 💜


thank yu for this, Shawn. your energy, insight, expressiveness and honesty are truly appreciated. i always taught my son to put the good stuff out there always because one never knows when a word, a sentence, a single interaction will change someone's life. you are a testament to this sentiment: your kind words, your sincere sentences, your supportive instruction, your amaaaazing talent are an inspiration...and you have truly changed mine.

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