Sunday, June 19, 2016

En Plein Air Paint Out

Last month in May, and again this month, I have participated in an en plein air event hosted by our local university. The paint out was held at a rural heritage property, The Coutts Centre, and attracted artists from cities and towns in every direction. 

The Coutts Centre is an oasis in the middle of the prairies. It is located in an area of low rolling hills and affords a vista of the Rocky Mountains in the distance. There are several heritage style barns and outbuildings, and a couple of picturesque low wooden houses. The property is especially known for its extensive gardens: flower gardens, a herb garden, vegetable and berry gardens, a rose garden, and a garden of natural prairie grasses. There are woods with little hidden nooks, fruit trees, a pond, rock walls, a patio, and many art sculptures throughout the property. In short, it is a painter's paradise. 

I am not an experienced plein air painter. Although I began oil painting as a teenager, and have painted from time to time ever since then with multi-year breaks in between, I have only attempted to paint en plein air, outside on location, a few times. So when I signed up for these two paint outs, it was with feelings of both excitement and trepidation. I felt excitement because it is intensely pleasurable to be standing in the landscape painting it - a very different experience than painting in studio. It was also a chance to meet some of the other artists who live in my region and see their work in progress. At the same time, I felt a certain level of trepidation, because plein air painting is difficult: the wind, the bugs, the shifting light, and the way the paint colours look different out in the sun, and how the paint dries so fast. 

This photo below shows my plein air painting in progress at the May paint out.

You can see the beauty (and complexity!) of this scene. I was working on a 20 X 20 inch canvas, which I found was a bit ambitious for one day of painting. In this image, you can see that at the moment I took this photo, the shadows were dancing across my canvas. The sun had moved across the sky from east to west, so all of the shadows I had seen when I composed the painting in the morning were now in different places by late afternoon. Also, the wind blew my easel over three times, and I found myself holding the canvas steady with one hand while I painted. I have brought this one home to complete in the studio, and am still working on finishing it. (I spent several sessions just trying to correct the errors of perspective that you can see here.)

Last weekend, I went to the Coutts Centre for another paint out. I chatted with a number of artists who had been there the previous month, as well as some new folks. It was interesting to see the array of styles and strategies. 

This time, I set up by the pond, in a spot that was well protected from the wind by a copse of trees. This position provided a long view across the pond and lawns toward the main house. Another artist set up across the pond from me, and painted me painting! I, however, did not include any people in my composition. Here is a photo that shows the scene and my set up:

You can really see what a lovely spot it is. You also can see the woman in pink who is painting me. This time I used a smaller canvas, 11 X 14 inches, which was more manageable in the time available. This last photo shows the painting in progress at an early stage:

Although plein air painting is challenging, I have found that I really love it. In my upcoming period of leave from work, I am going to try to do some plein air painting. There are many beautiful locations near where I live, and also we will be travelling this summer. I would like to find some painting companions near home. Maybe I will sign up for another organized event. 


  1. I greatly admire your talents (and am envious)! I would love to see your completed works of the above.

  2. Thank you Donna. I am still working on the first one. The more recent one is finished though, and I will take a photo of it and post it.