By Bonnie Gangelhoff
Photos by Heather MacArthur
What do you prefer about plein-air painting over creating landscape works in the studio? I think it’s the energy and emotions that transfer to the painting on location. It’s more of a spontaneous interpretation. You don’t have time to mull it over. Sometimes that first interpretation is the best. And the colors are right there in front of you, as opposed to working from photographs.
When you’re outside you have to learn to edit, because you have 360 degrees of subject matter. You may have 100 paintings around you. That is the hardest part—defining what it is you want to paint. You have to determine what you want to say to the viewer and what you want to fit into this 9-by-12-inch or 8-by-10-inch space.
Why do you enjoy painting in the Rocky Mountains? It’s the clarity of the air and the clarity of the colors. Our distant blues are so pungent. And with the atmosphere in Colorado there aren’t all those layers of humidity, so the mountains can seem very close.
What are some of the challenges of painting on location? The changing light. Also, hearing things rustle in the bushes and wildlife scurrying nearby. The weather is challenging, too. You have to keep an eye on the horizon. If you see a thunderstorm coming, you have about a half hour of good weather. One nice thing about Colorado is that you can be standing in the snow painting a scene, but because the air is so dry, it may be 45 degrees and you are stripping off your coat.
What are your most memorable experiences while painting on location? Once in Rocky Mountain National Park a bear just walked by our easels—sauntered right by us. We just walked backwards toward our car. He didn’t seem to see us. He might have smelled the cadmium paints. Another time we were painting in a huge field in North Carolina when all of a sudden six horses came charging down the mountain. We hopped the fence and saw one of the horses stick its nose in the paints.
Do you think the public has any misconceptions about plein-air painting? I think people are always amazed that we have to finish a painting in just a couple of hours [because of changing light conditions]. They think we work all day. Also, people may think plein-air painting is about going to exotic locations. It’s really about painting what’s around you and making it beautiful. Each place we go, we approach it with the same eye, whether painting Tuscany or the cornfields of Iowa.
She is represented by: Scottsdale Fine Art, Scottsdale, AZ; Wild Horse Gallery, Steamboat Springs, CO; Fairmont Gallery, Sonoma, CA; www.jeannemackenzie.com.
Featured in June 2008