Copper in the Arts

May 2012

Renee Lammers: Plein Air Copper Painter

by Anney Ryan

Wekiwa Springs Golden Hour at Wekiwa Springs

Photograph courtesy of Renee Lammers

In 2007, plein air painter Renee Lammers found herself surrounded by metal. She and her husband decided to leave Florida, in the midst of recession, and start a new life in Maine, setting them on a new path that would transform them forever. They sold most of their belongings and lived out of an Airtstream RV for two years, surrounded by aluminum walls, and the changing scenery.

En route to Maine, the couple stopped at the Boston Museum of Art. There, Lammers saw Frans Snyder's Still Life with Fruit, Wan-Li Porcelain, and Squirrel, a copper panel painting from 1616. She was startled to find the surface smooth, void of cracks, like other older canvas paintings. She admired the glow of the copper beneath the oil paint. The colors seemed unusually luminous and radiant.

That's when she decided - she would become a plein air copper painter.

Lammers had started painting with oil at four years old. She sold her first painting when she was only ten, for fifty dollars. At sixteen, Lammers studied Sumi, an oriental style of watercolor in Okinawa, Japan. There, professors saw her talent with oils and convinced her to stick with them. Years later, she grew into a plein air painter, and braved the elements to capture the perfect painting. In Florida, plein air painting was dangerous. Wild boars ran through the woods where Lammers painted. Rabid raccoons chased her. Copperhead snakes lurked nearby. Scorching temperatures left her with heat stroke twice.

In Maine, Lammers found herself surrounded by other plein air painters and respected by art collectors.

Today, Lammers keeps her process simple. She uses oil paints without any medium or turpenoid. Although she does rinse her brushes with turpenoid, wiping off any excess. To prepare a copper panel for painting, she first sands it down, then secures the copper panel to an easel with Gorilla tape.

Dirty Girl Dirty Girl

Photograph courtesy of Renee Lammers

Before painting, Lammers sketches a scene on a small sketch pad. When she's got the basic landscape down, she redraws the sketch on the copper, using either a pencil or archival felt tip pen. Then she paints the image on the copper with oil. Sometimes she scrapes away the paint to show the copper. As copper is an integral part of the painting, Lammers leaves specks throughout the painting. This way, both the painting and copper are represented in every work. Each painting dries for months.

When perfectly dry, she seals paintings with Gamblin's Cold Wax. This seals the copper from oxygen and provides a mat finish, a look preferred by gallery owners. This wax doesn't turn brown over time. It can be removed and reapplied.

Location is key to becoming a successful plein air painter. Lammers calls it "the hunt." Rather than look for objects to paint, she notices the quality of sunlight. Colors and paths draw her in. She likes to paint flowers, white hens, and white boats - all bathed in sun. Currently, she is experimenting with animals again, and attempting to create much larger 36' x 48' copper paintings.

When painting outdoors, she can move and delete objects. Painting from a photo, she says, causes her to become a slave, trying to replicate it flawlessly.

"There is a transfer of energy from me into the painting when I paint on location," she says. "I don't feel any energy surge from painting a photo. Plein air painting is very important to my growth and success as an artist."

For the past few years, Lammers has been invited to plein air shows in Florida, Georgia, California, South Carolina, and Maine. From May 15 to May 19, her paintings will be juried in the Wayne's Plein Air Event in Pennsylvania. Lammers will be juried into the Bar Harbor Art Show and is showing a body of work at the Coco Vivo Fine Art Gallery, Charlestown, South Carolina, in June.

Money has never been the driving force of Lammers' artistic endeavors. The real value of these events, Lammers finds, is meeting other painters, learning from them how to paint better and sell more.

"I've never thought of not painting," says Lammers. "Painting is a part of me. To be a professional artist is another thing. I only want to paint."


Renee Lammers, Bucksport, ME, (207)479-9553

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