A red farmhouse overgrown with foliage, sailboats resting in the water on a misty morning and a crowd milling about under a red-and-white striped tent at a bluegrass festival. These are just a few of the images plein air painter Charles Dickinson has captured during his various travels along the Eastern Seaboard.
“I am primarily a plein air painter, which means I prefer to paint outdoors from life looking directly at my subject,” he says. “I have been painting outdoors for almost 40 years now, and I feel fortunate that I never had to work in another field.”
Dickinson attended the Paier College of Art in Hamden, Connecticut, and earned a scholarship to study at Lyme Academy College of Fine Arts in Old Lyme, Connecticut, where he studied painting and sculpture.
“I feel lucky that I have been exposed to painting and drawing my entire life. Creating with pen, pencil, paper or paint was a normal activity in our household,” he says. “Art was not encouraged or discouraged. It was just a part of what we did. I learned a great deal watching my brother, father and grandfather paint and draw.”
Dickinson’s grandfather was Sidney Dickinson, a prolific portraitist who painted notable politicians, photographers, authors and architects. His work is currently owned by the Smithsonian American Art Museum, Harvard University and Figge Art Museum among others.
“When I was in my 20s, I learned that my grandfather’s second cousin, Edwin Dickinson, was a well-known professional artist as well,” Dickinson says. “They both taught at the Art Students League of New York as well as had great success in their lifetimes. I could see that dedication could bring success.”
After years of hopscotching from New England to various Florida locales in the summertime, Dickinson settled on a permanent relocation to St. Augustine in 1993.
“The beauty of St. Augustine is an endless source of inspiration,” he says. “The choices are endless … history, wonderful architecture, several marinas with a variety of boat subject matter, two beaches, bridges, churches, fine oak trees, the river, fishermen and areas of decay and areas of growth, which all make great painting subjects.”
Over the years, Dickinson’s work has garnered a lot of attention. He regularly exhibits along the East Coast and has created commission pieces in a variety of themes.
“I had one patron who commissioned me to paint in really interesting places like the New York Stock Exchange and construction sites,” the artist says. “He ended up with about 92 of my paintings over a four-year period. I am grateful that people like my work enough to ask me to create something specific for their collection.”
Dickinson says that being a plein air painter has its ups and downs.
“Since I am an outdoor painter, the public can see me painting,” he says. “That leads to many commissions for house portraits and specific landscapes from people who connect with my work. I like to paint, which means as long as I am slapping paint on a canvas I will be happy.”
Working outside can also present a few hurdles such as inclement weather, pesky bugs, wind strong enough to pick up an easel and even the constantly changing light. But none of these are difficult enough to deter Dickinson.
“I consider painting a cradle-to-grave activity,” he says. “Supporting yourself as an artist is a challenge because art is subjective. It requires great discipline to make sure you have the painting skills to express yourself and stay inspired.”
Charles Dickinson’s work will be on display at the St. Augustine Art Association’s annual “Honors Show” through April 30. The opening reception is from 5 to 9 p.m. tonight, with an awards ceremony at 7 p.m., at 22 Marine St. The event is free and open to the public.
For information, go to charlesdickinson.net.