Echo of Estes by Josh Tobey
One of the great things about Southwest Art’s move from Texas to Colorado is just how easy it is now to get into the mountains. Boulder’s well-known Flatirons are just outside my window, and the majestic peaks of Rocky Mountain National Park are only an hour’s drive away. For me personally, my surroundings couldn’t get any better than this. So I was happy to be able to attend the recent Rocky Mountain Plein Air Painters annual national show and paint-out in nearby Winter Park. More than 50 artists from across the country spent a week roaming the terrain in search of the most breathtaking vistas to capture on canvas. When I spoke to some of them during that week, I learned two things: cell-phone reception in the area is spotty at best, and plein-air painters are by necessity a hardy bunch. When I reached Darcie Peet, for example, she was struggling to keep the wind from absconding with her canvas. And when I got through to Karol Mack (one of the founders of the Rocky Mountain Plein Air Painters organization), she was scrambling up a hillside in search of a better cellular signal.
And those are some of the more minor challenges that plein-air painters face. When senior editor Bonnie Gangelhoff and I moderated a panel discussion among the artists at the end of the week—just before they put their best works on display at Winter Park’s Elk Horn Art Gallery—we heard about even more harrowing on-the-job experiences, from being approached by a bear with a taste for white paint to being quietly surrounded by a large herd of elk to being nearly run off the road by passing vehicles. And then there’s the constant stream of curious on-lookers who, upon encountering someone with a paintbrush standing in front of an easel, have the puzzling tendency to ask, “Whatcha doing?”
Still, there wasn’t a painter in the bunch who didn’t feel incredibly fortunate to be making a living by venturing outdoors to paint. Many feel they are fulfilling an important responsibility by documenting the land at this particular point in time. Most believe passionately in the importance of sharing the beauty of the landscape with those who view their works. And all no doubt agreed with painter John Potter, who spoke eloquently of his belief in “the quiet dignity of the natural world” and the peace and joy that comes from immersing oneself in it. And even if you can’t get out into nature as often as you’d like, you can have a bit of the same experience by enjoying plein-air work.