Kathleen B. Hudson was happy to find a day with no thunderstorms in the forecast.
The Lexington artist was attending a Plein Air painting event in the Rocky Mountains in 2016 and had spotted a perfect subject to paint: Timberline Falls, where the water cascaded down the mountain in the open sunlight. But getting there was a 10-mile round trip hike up and down the mountain with all her gear, and the timing to do that and make her meticulous painting meant she needed to have a perfect day to do it.
And it seemed to be a perfect day, starting before dawn with her hike up to the falls, and then approximately five-and-a-half hours of painting.
“It’s exciting to be out have that feeling that a painting is coming together while you’re working on it,” Hudson says, recalling that day.
The only hitch was that when she was done, she did not have the right-size panel carrier to take her still-wet painting down the mountain, but she Macgyvered it, using twine to secure the painting to her backpack. It was all going fine, until she ran into the tourists and the elk.
She came upon a pair of tourists who had gone off the trail to take pictures of an elk calf —a big no-no, Hudson knew, from her days leading wilderness hikes when she was a student at Harvard. She warned the tourists to leave, but then she was alone, having to pass the calf and unhappy mother elk to complete her journey. A TV show she has recently seen showed what angry elks can do to other animals, so Hudson waited a few minutes to continue walking.
When she did, mama elk followed, and Hudson knew her hard earned painting, and more, was in peril if the elk charged her.
Fortunately, after a few minutes the elk slowed and stopped her pursuit, and the rewards of the day reverberated into the future.
In April of this year, Hudson was urged to attend the Plein Air Convention & Expo in San Diego, where that same painting, “Bright Morning, Timberline Falls,” won first place and $15,000 in Plein Air Magazine’s annual painting competition.
It is an honor that has instantly raised Hudson’s profile and opened doors nationally and internationally, such as entrance to shows and competitions that would have previously been tougher hills to climb. But she has other hopes for the achievement as well.
“I’m hoping it will boost the profile of landscape and plein air painting in Kentucky, as well,” Hudson says, the latter form meaning painting outdoors, in front of the scene you are depicting. “I was the only Kentucky artist there. I hope I represented us well.”
One of the things Hudson enjoys about plein air painting is interaction with the public, as people are often interested to see an artist or artists painting out in public.
“You meet a lot of people who would never go to a museum or art gallery, and they are interested in seeing the process of what you are doing, and what the result will be,” Hudson says.
Folks interested in seeing the results of Hudson’s work can check out “Atmospheric Impressions,” an exhibit of her paintings on display through August at Artists’ Attic, where she maintains her studio. Images extend back to her days growing up as a home school student in Lexington, a situation that provided plenty of time for travel, adventure and honing her artistic skills.
A self-described perfectionist, Hudson has opted for a particularly demanding form of painting that calls for accuracy, from color and light to details like the halter on a race horse or the rigging of a ship. Oil painting itself is a fairly unforgiving medium, Hudson notes, requiring her to start a painting with a plan for how it will come together. Paintings such as “Bright Morning, Timberline Falls” are backed by meticulous notes and sketches as in a natural setting, things like light and shadow will shift as she works. Hudson geeks out a little bit, talking about things like techniques to accurately portray water and reflection.
Whether painting on site or in her studio, Hudson says a lot of research goes into her works, and she rarely paints a place she has not actually visited. New tools like video, even, now figure into her process, but she loves her medium’s connection to the past.
“The really cool thing is that a lot of the basics of oil painting haven’t changed in over 500 years,” Hudson says. “So I feel a real connection to that tradition.”
While she knew she loved painting as a teenager, she kept her options open through college, majoring in history and literature at Harvard. Hudson, 30, never took an art class there, though she did organize a sale and exhibit of work by herself and fellow students, across a variety of majors.
She figured she would give herself some time after college to get an art career launched, and if it did not work out, she would go to law school, or something like that. Affirmation began to come in things like membership in Boston’s prestigious Copley Society of Art and, of course, sales.
And those go well. In fact, one of the ironies of her Artists’ Attic exhibit is her big award-winner is not on display, as it was purchased by a collector in Texas moments after the San Diego event opened. But don’t expect Hudson to shed tears over her hard work being spirited away to other walls. Part of her evaluation of whether to paint a scene is, “would it catch my eye if I saw it at a museum.
“My paintings don’t feel like my children,” says Hudson, who moved back to Lexington in 2013 with her husband so they could raise a family near her relatives and his, who reside in the Dayton, Ohio area. “When someone buys one of my paintings, they’re saying they want to look at it every day. That’s a powerful endorsement of a painting, so it really doesn’t make me sad to see one sold.”
And besides, there are more painting adventures in Hudson’s future.
If you go
What: Paintings by Kathleen B. Hudson
When: Through Aug. 31
Gallery Hours: 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Mon.-Fri., noon-4 p.m. Sat., Sun.
Where: Artists’ Attic on the Fourth Floor of The Square, 401 W. Main St., enter on the Main Street side