- All photos are either submitted by Sanders or taken from Instagram
- Benny Sanders painting outside (or en plein air if you will)
Editor's note: For centuries, painters have lugged their easels,
It's a gray morning, on January 17,
Sanders is looking calmly out at the brownish river flowing by, standing next to his canvas and painter's palette/paintbox, jerry-rigged to a tripod.
Standing 10 feet away from Sanders on the river bank, is Harrison Center-based painter Justin Vining, his
It would be hard to mistake a Vining painting for a Sanders painting. Both Vining and Sanders are part of what might be thought of a
Painting in the open air isn't a new thing, of course. It took off in the mid to late 1800s in France, under the influence of painters like Monet — now labeled Impressionists — who were more interested in capturing the quality of light in a natural setting than the concrete appearance of things.
Impressionist-influenced painter T.C. Steele, the most important of the Hoosier Group painters, made Southern Indiana his home in the late 19th and early 20th century and depicted the rolling hills of Brown County in his work. He used those hills as his
The particular show that brought
Sanders was inspired to paint outdoors after meeting Vining at his place of work, Milktooth, where he works as a coffee specialist.
"He actually came to Milktooth," says Sanders. "He was painting in the morning and I was working. This is like right when I got interested in oil painting. I went out and talked to him. He was painting the building next to it. He said, 'I've been seeing this glare in the window; I really want to paint it.'"
Sanders graduated with a BFA in printmaking in 2006, but he didn't start painting with oils until this summer. After meeting Vining at Milktooth, Sanders asked to tag along on his
Sanders' subjects, most often
The idea of getting out of the studio had a real appeal to Sanders.
"Being stuck in a studio is really like being stuck in your own head," he says, taking a pause from his painting at the riverbank. "Where you're not actually experiencing something if you're painting from a photo. I guess it's a little different if you're painting from a model. But if you're painting from a photo or painting from a laptop, or just imagining something that's more like painting inside your own head rather than getting out and having an experience and having the weather affect the way you paint. Having the sky change every three seconds. Like right now, I'm pretty much done with my painting, just painting the sky changes. Just kind of enjoying being out rather than worrying about having shows or making money."
Vining and Sanders have many interesting
"And the bull comes out," says Sanders. "And he's just staring at us.... We're on the other side of a fence that's just rotten. At the same time, Justin saying that he'll get used to us. Then I back away. Then he takes his head and starts rubbing it furiously on this tree. And I didn't know if this is good or bad, and then he starts bucking, going around in circles. And then he comes up near us and I took off. And Justin's asking me 'Are you going to be okay?' And I'm like, it's not okay, we have to get out of here."
"The farmer was named Randy," adds Vining. "We named the bull Randy as well."
Encounters like this aren't uncommon for Sanders and Vining. The two have painted together nearly every day for the last year, and it's radically changing their work.
For Sanders — who has swept into the Indy arts scene with force — the next change is settling into his new studio/gallery space. His gallery is located in the former space of a former clothing store called Stud Styles, not too far from the Big Car mothership Tube Factory
Sanders is transforming the drab retail space located next to a "Cash for Gold" store. He's put gallery panels on the
"I love this new interest in figurative work, even this
"Randy's Farm" at South Mann Road
"Justin brought up in conversation that he wanted to paint an Indiana farm/barn scene. He seemed to be reserving this conversation thinking I would have found it, well, too stereotypical. I was actually stoked on this idea. While painting, we were approached by the friendly farmer who mistook us for land surveyors, farm hands who were envious of the profession we had chosen." -Benny Sanders
Plein Air Problems // Light rain, understanding how to mix a decent green
"White River Bend" at White River Municipal Gardens
"Justin received a recent commission request for a painting at Riverside High School (former Naval Armory) and wanted to scope the area. High winds and rain drove us across the river to a hill large enough to block blasting gusts from the northeast at Indy Parks' Municipal Gardens. We painted on a small docking raft used to load water skiers in and out of the water, which gave us an expanded view of the river. While I'm painting, I periodically stepped back at a room's length, and on this day I almost fell into the widest part of the river." -Benny Sanders
Plein Air Problems // Light rain, heavy winds, almost fell in the water
"On the Bridge" at College Ave and Fall Creek
"I wake up at 5:30 a.m. most days, and New Year's Day 2017 was no different. I got up and set out into the dark to catch the sunrise at College Ave and Fall Creek. It was below freezing. I was excited getting my tripod, easel box and paints set up on the east side of the bridge. As the sun began to rise I realized that the composition just wasn't meeting my grand expectation, so I moved to the west side of the bridge. With the sun on my back and looking into the dark water, I painted mostly from blind imagination. The cold started to seriously sink in and I had to head back to finish the painting in my studio. I later learned that Justin got up at 8:30 a.m., thinking he would be the first painter in the New Year." -Benny Sanders
Plein Air Problems // Darkness, freezing temps, high expectations
"Tow Path" at Tow Path between Butler and IMA grounds
"Justin and I had been excited about painting the first snow of the year. We had a large thermos of Tinker Colombian coffee and a spread of pastries from Amelia's. Justin mentioned that he had never been so comfortable painting. I held my tongue as I was actually working on a commission piece and had chosen the location based on their request. We ended up seeing three people we knew out on the path, including Hoosier Salon Gallery Manager, Michael Sinon. Considering everything, it was a perfect day to be a plein air painter." -Benny Sanders
Plein Air Problems // none
"Creekside" at Pleasant Run Parkway Creek
"I set out alone to this little creek ditch off of Bluff road and Pleasant Run with about 45 minutes of daylight left to paint. I love painting along this little stream that runs the east and west length of the city. There are bridges about every mile to duck under and paint if it starts to rain, it's not as trashed as the White River, and the only human traffic consists of after-school kids who duck down to smoke and bash things with rocks. It's hard not to feel like a real troll when you spend the best part of your days under seedy bridges, in polluted creeks and crossing busy streets with a load of equipment, outfitted in mud soaked and tattered painting clothes." -Benny Sanders
Plein Air Problems // No toilets, feeling like a troll
"Brookside" at Brookside Park
"We walked around Brookside Park for about 45 minutes, discouraged and trying to find the perfect place to paint. I have wasted so much time trying to find the perfect composition and could have painted twice as many paintings if I had just started painting. I didn't bring enough canvases for the day and Justin gave me a primed panel to paint on. I let him use my large mop brush, which seems to have impacted his entire painting style. I met Justin, just one week after I had started oil painting. I'm not a religious person, but this was one of those encounters that reached a spiritual level." -Benny Sanders
Plein Air Problems // indecisiveness, unprepared supplies, frisbee golfer
"Rock Walls" at Turkey Run State Park
"I recently took a trip to Turkey Run and Shades State Parks with my love, Hayley (not to be confused with Justin's wife, Halie). She is surprisingly patient with me in every facet of our life together and supports my in-over-my-head lifestyle. So while she hiked, alone, in the cold, for 4 hours, I painted
Plein Air Problems // Light snow, freezing temps, vulnerability
"Stuttered Islands" Holiday Park
"Justin and I headed out to paint with no specific destination and I blankly suggested the bridge at College and Fall Creek — which he accepted, then renegotiated, suggesting that we head north to Holliday Park. I had been to the park a few times, and we picked a spot with scattered islands that I had been wanting to paint. We forged our way onto a small island in the middle of the river by tossing large logs into the water to make unstable stepping bridges. Once on the island, the wind picked and it started to rain (as it does on most days we decide to paint). Sometimes it seems like nature is testing our breaking points, with winds blowing canvases off of our easels, freezing rain soaking into our gloves and the frozen ground transferring its unsympathetic temperature through our boots. All we can do is laugh and find a stopping point to move 100 yards north to paint under a bridge." -Benny Sanders
Plein Air Problems // Freezing rain, heavy winds, complicated composition
"At Work" at Heslar Naval Armory
"This is a photo of me at work, taken by Justin. He is one of the few people that I know who truly does what they love for a living and on his own terms. When I met him, he explained that he used to teach and has an active license to practice law but would rather be painting. Justin is always excited to give me advice on how to be a successful professional artist, he shares painting techniques and supplies, he sends me an average of seven photos a day that inspire him on Instagram. He is willing to drive, buy lunch, is always willing to lug our 12'x12' rain and snow tent pretty much up or down any ditch, and has my back if anyone tries to stab us when we're out there. He is usually first to act on most of these things, but I've got his back too." -Benny Sanders