FAIRVIEW HEIGHTS — They call what Lon Brauer does "plein air" painting.
That means that Brauer hauls his canvas and paints out on location and paints the scene he sees, trying to capture a moment in time before the light changes.
"You're chasing shadows," Brauer said. "Since the light is moving all the time, you have to paint quickly."
Brauer, a Granite City painter, won best of show at the Midwest Salute to the Arts in Fairview Heights this weekend. He spent 30 years as a commercial photographer, shooting products for catalogs, before digital photography essentially put him out of business.
But it was a chance for him to refocus on what he'd loved since the first grade: painting. Brauer started doing art shows about three years ago, and his sales are beginning to pick up, with multiple best-of-show wins and last year's best-of-category at the Midwest Salute to the Arts.
He uses an impressionistic style: making abstract marks with paint that appear like nothing more than splashes of color very close up. But back away, and the picture takes shape.
Recently Brauer attended an invitation-only "plein air" painting event in Wisconsin. He did 20 paintings in five days, a pace even he admits was pretty hectic.
At that event in Door County, he painted the same scene twice. It was Reiboldt Bay, and he displayed the painting from 9 a.m. just above the painting at 10 p.m. -- and they couldn't be more different, yet somehow the same.
At 9 a.m., the colors are all greens and blues, while at 10 p.m. the colors are dark browns and black. In the morning, he was painting sunshine; at night he painted with a light on a headband around his head and two clip lights on his canvas.
"The environment changes constantly, and you're trying to capture a part of that particular moment in time," Brauer said. "You have to make certain compromises when making plain air... (but) there's an immediacy about it. You want that spontaneous, fresh feel."
That spontanaeity might come at a price. Brauer recently painted the surf at Galveston, Texas, and laid the painting on the roof of his car to dry in the sun, setting the paint before heading back home. Only problem: He forgot the painting was on top of the car. Like an errant coffee mug, it flew off and was gone.
So returning to Galveston is definitely on Brauer's to-do list, along with going out west to paint the mountains. "I want to learn how to paint the surf," he said. "It has all that motion... how do you keep that sense of moment?"
The Midwest Salute to the Arts concluded its 25th anniversary celebration Sunday with what director Sharon Kassing described as a great year. No crowd estimates were immediately available for the warm, sunny weekend, but Kassing said the crowds seemed strong and so were the art sales.
Contact reporter Elizabeth Donald at email@example.com or 239-2507.