Plein air painting can be intimidating! Packing up all the painting supplies, and hoping not to forget anything and heading out to places unknown to try to capture a likeness of a “real place” can feel daunting to an artist who spends most of her time painting alone in the studio. I don’t paint outdoors as often as I’d like, but yesterday I got to spend the entire day painting in the country with the Peace Watercolour Society, and I have the sunburn and bug bites to prove it!
The kids and I packed the van and headed out to meet the group near a lake in the community. The Peace River region where I live is a mix of farmland and aspen forest, rolling hills and river valleys, and we stopped on a quiet country road behind the lake to paint the view. The kids looked for wild strawberries and found a shady spot to read, as they didn’t agree with half a dozen artists that there was as much to see.
One thing about painting en plein air is that it can be hard to narrow down your subject. With a slight turn of the head, your vista expands and you wonder how you’ll fit it all on the paper! Working beside other artists is fun because you get to see how different each person’s frame and interpretation of the subject is. Some zoom in tight to a particular area, while others aim for a wide expanse of landscape. I’m a bit chatty when there are other artists to work with, probably from my years of teaching since I tend to feel that if there are other people around, I should be communicating what I’m thinking or doing.
The afternoon really flew by! We stopped for a short lunch, and drove to a new spot to paint, near a creek surging with spring rainwaters. The water was muddy, but the skies were full of puffy clouds, the sun blazed down and there were sandstone cliffs to explore! It was hard to settle down to one spot to paint, with so much to see. The countryside is so familiar in being my home for most of my life, and yet this was a place I’d never been, so it was both familiar and new at the same time.
I don’t have any great masterpieces to show you from my day in the field. Since I don’t paint outdoors often, my results are not usually very impressive, and I plan to use my plein air paintings as studies for studio paintings. Working in the sun means drying times change dramatically, my supplies are more limited, and my concentration is often distracted by weather, bugs or kids. It was such a good day, though! I can’t tell you how many times I looked around my landscape and the people I was with, and thought, “I have the best job in the world.”