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They say to be a perfectionist, you have to practice every day. But does every day mean even in the dead of winter when it’s -11 degrees outside with a -40 degree wind chill? For the art exhibit “A Year in Plein Air,” it certainly does. Artist Michelle Darvis dealt with everything from paint dripping off of her canvas in the heat of the summer to below freezing temperatures in the winter. A graduate of Kent State University, Darvis, painted one 8X10 painting every single day for a year to complete her “Year in Plein Air” body of work. “It’s an old idea to do something daily, so I was really thinking ‘wow, what if I did this [and] how far would it get me?’”
It’s gotten her pretty far. In a single year, Darvis painted 365 scenes of the great outdoors in The 330. A native of the region, she says that Ohio is the perfect place to find inspiration. “I love our area. I was born and raised in Northeast Ohio, have never moved out of this area and I love everything about [it].”
Darvis painstakingly painted every single day — even on her wedding day and thirty minutes after getting a root canal. “The first couple of months some people thought I was crazy, but after a while everyone got on board and encouraged me.”
For most of the year, the scenes were randomly selected to keep the collection as natural as possible, painting different locations in all four seasons. “There were always ideas of what to paint, but I never made a schedule. I wanted it to be more organic.”
And what could be more organic than the great outdoors?
When viewing “A Year in Plein Air,” it’s not hard to tell what season the scene is capturing. Beginning in January, viewers relive the bitterly cold days of 2013, with mounds of snow and barren trees. In true Ohio fashion, the snow melts away and comes right back again. It was during the continuous snow storms that Darvis found that imperfections or mistakes, oddly enough, make for perfect art.
The turpentine used in Darvis’ oil paint isn’t meant to get wet. When in contact with water, the paint can clump, creating undesired textures in the paint. Nature fought against her as she painted, however she found beauty in the chaos. “I’ve painted in a blizzard and you can’t even stop the snow from hitting it,” she says. “Sometimes it would create this beautiful effect because it melts and you see this texture in the paint. I discovered that was really beautiful.”
As the seasons changed, the paintings showcased the beauty of the Greater Akron Area, though they never showed the effort behind the scenes. “There’s so much prep work that goes into paintings,” she says. “A lot of people will think this painting only took you so many hours, but they don’t know how much prep has gone into it. You have to go out and buy your paper towels and all your soap and all your tools. And then you have to wash your brushes, and prepare your pallet. It’s definitely a process.”
Darvis says that her paintings could take as little as twenty minutes to create, or as long as five hours. Her paintings recreate images from her backyard of flowers, downtown Kent, architecture, railroad tracks, beautiful lakes, blue skies and more of the beautiful nature that The 330 features.
Just by looking at “A Year in Plein Air,” one can tell that this colorful collection was created by an artist dedicated to saying thank you to the area that inspired her the most. With vibrant blues, twinkling yellow lights and an ombre sky, Darvis illustrates a Vineyard at peace in one painting. In another joyful purple, magenta, pink, blue and yellow hues bring the beauty and brilliance of a group of flowers to life — these same flowers used in Darvis’ own wedding. Whether the sun was shining on lush green hills or ice dominated the landscape, her paintbrush brought out the beauty in the scene. Even the winter looks less intimidating on paper as Darvis utilized a multitude of shades to reflect the color that bounces off the frigid surface.
“ Bridal Showers,” is one painting in the collection that truly exudes a wonderful and cheerful feeling. In a way, it personifies a blushing bride on her wedding day — much like Darvis on her own big day. On that big day in her life, Darvis took time away from the bustle and excitement to paint. Although the flowers and the sun aren’t as transparent as some of her other works, you are immersed in the scene all the same. With this painting, Darvis shows her appreciation of color with the display of blues, purples and greens, as well as a strip of yellow sunlight. Viewing this painting makes the mind think of hot summer days and lemonade, a refreshing and exciting feeling.
Not limited solely to nature, Darvis recreated scenes of the Kent Water Tower, downtown Peninsula, Taco Tantos in Kent and more local businesses easy for the local eye to recognize.
Darvis’ works of art were all sparked by emotions, memories and a sense of nostalgia. Each location reminded her of important moments in her life. “The second to last day I painted my parents driveway. At the end of the driveway, my dad [had] built a bench [where my parents would] wait with me at the bus stop,” says Darvis.
On her very last day of “A Year in Plein Air,” Darvis and her husband trekked to Lake Erie, where her late grandmother lived and where her grandfather took photographs of the sunset over the lake. “It was kind of like saying goodbye to the collection. The whole year I was so stressed about what was going to be the last painting. I wondered ‘should I go to the White House? Should I paint the Grand Canyon?’ trying to come up with something really dramatic. I realized that the most meaningful thing that I could possibly paint was my grandmother’s backyard.”Upon completion, “A Year in Plein Air” has traveled far and wide. The collection has been exhibited in California, Arizona and of course at home in Northeast, Ohio. Darvis is sponsored by top art supply companies, featured in many fine art magazines, including PleinAir Magazine, and selling her art on her website, MichelleDarvis.com. She also showcases her art on social media.
“ Social media is the new gallery,” she says. “You don’t really need to have your art in a gallery if you can have a proper website and social media. I love Instagram because it’s all visual. When I was doing ‘A Year in Plein Air,’ I would post a picture of me painting the scene. Then I would post the final picture and I tried to do that every single day.”
When at home, “A Year in Plein Air” can be seen at the Hudson Fine Art Framing Company. Darvis will continue to travel, showcasing and sharing her collection. “I definitely want to show these paintings to as many people as possible. I am still in the works for a couple of big locations,” she says.
Darvis says that “A Year in Plein Air” is just the beginning for her and she will continue to do pieces like this one in the future.
“ I call myself a multimedia concept artist because I don’t just work in oil or water color, I like to work in everything,” she says. “I like to work on big concepts like ‘A Year in Plein Air.’ This was one big work of art so that it’s not just oil painting, it’s almost modern art — the whole piece is finished when I paint that final piece. My goal is to definitely keep creating big series of work and the sky is the limit.”
/ Ashlyn Wilson is an editorial intern who is working on her journalism degree at Kent State University.