Masters of Light: 4 Plein Air Painters
Plein air painting encourages artists to step into nature and utilize the beauty they observe amongst the landscape’s ever-changing light. The technique has been around for centuries but was made famous by French impressionists and the invention of transportable paint tubes and box easels. Those innovations, along with the desire to paint changing light, allowed people to paint en plein air, the French expression for “in the open air.” Here, we introduce you to four of our region’s finest plein air painters.
What attracts you to plein air painting? It’s a way to connect directly with nature. When I’m inspired to paint a scene, I try to capture the emotional aspects I’m feeling and share those with the viewer. The challenge of “chasing the light” is exhilarating; you usually only have about two hours before your light has changed.
How did you develop your artistic skills? Growing up in Portland, Oregon, there were many rainy days. My parents bought art supplies to keep [my siblings and me] busy, and I always loved to draw and paint. I went to college in Portland, received my degree in graphic design, and then had a 14-year career as a graphic designer and art director in television. I went back to school at the California Art Institute in Los Angeles and studied painting for an additional four years and have been painting full-time ever since.
What is your most notable achievement? In 2005, I won first place in a show called “Plein Air Painting in Sherwood Forest” in Chico. I’ve also achieved signature status in the American Impressionist Society (AIS) and the National Oil and Acrylic Painter of America (NOAPS).
What advice do you have for someone just starting out? Draw and paint as much as possible and take workshops from artists you admire. I learned discipline as a graphic designer, which I apply now. I never ask myself if I’m “in the mood to paint”; it’s my job, so I just do it.
Where is your favorite spot to paint? Auburn at the confluence, all of Gold Country, Lake Tahoe, Hope Valley, wine country, and the Monterey Peninsula.
Where can your art be found? By appointment at my Loomis studio; the Patris Studio and Art Gallery in Sacramento; Fairweather House & Gallery in Seaside, Oregon; and Wild Moon Gallery in Tillamook, Oregon.
What attracts you to plein air painting? I was attracted to plein air painting while living in Irvine and taking a community college course with artist Jeff Horn. Also Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain had become my favorite book and I wanted to practice the medium as much as possible. I developed a sketchbook habit and then was introduced to Urban Sketchers. Plein air drawing and painting really clears and focuses your mind and makes you more sensitive to your surroundings.
How did you develop your artistic skills? For many years I painted outdoors in oil, but the equipment became too heavy for me. Now I go out with a light sketchbook, micron pen, watercolor set, camera, and folding chair. I relax and enjoy the scene and complete oil paintings in my studio from my sketches and photos.
What is your most notable achievement? Nine months of the year, I sketch once a month with the Yolo Art & Ag Project, which schedules artist visits at private ranches in Yolo County. At their annual Harvest Festival, I won the Farmers Pick Award as well as numerous top 10 recognitions.
What advice do you have for someone just starting out? Develop a sketchbook habit and watch your skills grow!
Where is your favorite spot to paint? I love to sketch the Napa Valley and while on European vacations.
Where can your art be found? Online at dailypaintworks.com
El Dorado Hills, mikebagdonas.com
What attracts you to plein air painting? My love of the great outdoors, specifically our fantastic National Parks and breathtaking Western landscape. I’ve always enjoyed travelling and hiking, and plein air painting gives me an outlet during my travels to record the beauty I’ve seen through my own eyes and painting ability.
How did you develop your artistic skills? From a lot of hard work and perseverance, including practice and study with numerous master artists.
What is your most notable achievement? Having an article written about my plein air paintings using a palette knife in Plein Air magazine in 2013 and being selected to show my plein air paintings in numerous prestigious galleries, art museums, and other special venues throughout the U.S., such as the Kolb Studio on the South rim of the Grand Canyon.
What advice do you have for someone just starting out? Study, study, study and remember that artistic endeavors aren’t necessarily achieved by God-given talent but by hard work, perseverance, and your own desire to record a tiny bit of human history!
Where is your favorite spot to paint? The Sierra Nevada Mountains south of Lake Tahoe and the California coast above Big Sur.
Where can your art be found? My art is currently being shown exclusively at the New Masters Gallery in Carmel.
What attracts you to plein air painting? Painting outside helps train my eyes to observe the effect of sunlight on a landscape. As I observe the scene and quickly work to mix the colors as they appear, the result is a harmonious painting. Because the light changes quickly, I’m forced to stay focused, work quickly, and trust my instincts. Being surrounded by nature also allows me to experience a scene with all my senses. I especially enjoy locations that are quiet and peaceful—except for the sound of birds singing or leaves rustling. Mornings are my favorite time because the day is fresh and new; evenings are also nice because the sun casts a beautiful warm glow over the landscape; even gray days can produce a beautiful scene where colors appear more saturated in the [dreary] atmosphere.
How did you develop your artistic skills? Through instruction, consistent practice, and a desire to grow as an artist. I’ve studied under a number of professional artists, taken advantage of many videos and blogs available, and have a growing collection of books that teach and inspire. These resources—along with the practice of daily painting—have helped me to increase my abilities as an artist.
What is your most notable achievement? Several years ago, I applied to participate in a [prestigious] Los Gatos plein air event and was honored to be included alongside nationally known artists from all over the U.S. It was both challenging and rewarding, but I’m glad that I didn’t let fear hold me back.
What advice do you have for someone just starting out? Find a group of painters who organize regular paint outs in your area. Plan ahead and have your gear loaded the night before so you’re not scrambling for materials at the last minute and wasting precious morning light. Don’t pressure yourself to produce a finished work of art; you can use your study back in the studio to develop another painting at a later time. Also, the glaring light makes it difficult to judge color correctly, so I find it helpful to use an umbrella or stand in a shaded area.
Where is your favorite spot to paint? Some of my favorite local areas to paint are the rocks underneath the Rainbow Bridge, along the American River, or even my own backyard!
Where can your art be found? My work is shown locally at the Gold Country Artists Gallery and Auburn Old Town Gallery.
By Emily Peter-Corey
Artist photos by Dante Fontana © stylemediagroup. Artwork photos courtesy of the respective artist.
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