A “computer guy” by day, Brian Cragun’s second career not only brings him extra income, but it also gets him away from his laptop and smartphone for a few hours.
Fourteen years ago, at age 40, Cragun took a painting class to, as he put it, “scratch an itch.”
He started with watercolors and pencil before finding a home with oils. After studying with award-winning plein air artist Marc Hanson, Cragun fell in love with the medium.
Plein air artists paint in the elements or outside of a studio. Cragun has traveled all over the Midwest and West and found beautiful locations to finish more than 400 paintings, half of which have been sold through his website or at the SEMVA (Southeastern Minnesota Visual Artists) gallery.
Why appealed to you about plein air painting?
I love that everything is done in the moment, within those two hours outside. It opened up a whole new world for me. Instead of doing one painting every three months, I was suddenly doing a painting every Saturday morning. Some were good; some were stinkers. What I found out was that over time, it all averaged out to some pretty good ones with the stinkers. Plus, I was getting more practice.
How is plein air different from painting with a photograph in a studio?
You go out and you paint what you see, with your eyes. I was really encouraged to do on-location painting. I quickly realized that (on location) you see things differently. When you paint from a picture of a tree, inside that picture every pixel has the same amount of weight. There is something about your brain and your eyes; it merges shapes. It blocks out details. You see color in a different way.
What are some of your favorite locations?
I’ve gone back to Silver Lake a lot. There are some other plein air painters out there, so that’s a good place to go. I can usually find something. There are a lot of decorative bridges out there. I’ve been up to Elmo Park in the cities. I like to go to Oxbow Park. There was a field across across from Century (High School) I enjoy because it is such a rush to go out to the field when the clover was on and be surrounded with clover.
What to do in the winter?
I do some inside stuff, practice. I do some larger works. But I really do miss the warm weather. The paintings help me get through the winter season. I think that is why people love art with green things. I don’t think people want to be reminded of winter. They want to be reminded about spring.