On a given Friday in recent months a crew of enthusiastic painters gathered at Whiteman Cove, between Joemma State Park and Camp Colman. The number may fluctuate depending on other commitments and the weather, but what drew them together is the feeling that nothing can match the experience of painting outdoors, or in plein air.
The Plein Air Painters group formed three years ago when Chris Bronstad taught a drawing class at The Mustard Seed Project. Ray Steiner was one of the participants. He and Bronstad share a love of painting and hiking, and the decision to start a plein air group flowed from there. “It’s informal, come as you are, come as you can,” Steiner said.
They have met at many sites over the years: Penrose Point State Park, Longbranch Marina, Lakebay Marina, North Herron Island Road and at a private rose garden. But most recently the Joemma site has been a priority. There is a row of madrona trees marked for removal as plans progress for the Whiteman Cove restoration by the Department of Natural Resources. “We want to memorialize them before they are gone,” Bronstad said.
The painters come from a variety of backgrounds. Some paint professionally and have shown and sold their work. Others consider themselves hobbyists. Their media choices range from watercolor to acrylics to oils.
Patti Nebel, who lives near Joemma, trained as a sculptor. She joined the group about a year and a half ago, when she decided to expand her repertoire. “I love trees,” she said. “At some point I will be too old to lift 25-pound bags of clay and I want to keep going.”
Her husband Jerry joined recently. He has no formal training but has carried a sketch book with him for years. “It’s more a therapy than a passion,” he said. “With plein air there are hundreds of places to paint and contemplate. If you wait, you’ll see deer, eagles, herons. People stop and visit.”
Brian Duncan of Home is new to the group. He has painted on and off since high school and is retired from a career as a draftsman. “I’m starting to remember what I forgot,” he said. “When I’m done, I feel so good. But it also takes a lot out of you. It’s very therapeutic.”
Delia McGinnis of Longbranch describes herself as a hobbyist. “I just love it. It’s a way to fortify my soul,” she said. McGinnis is also past president of the Two Waters Arts Alliance, the sponsor of the upcoming Art Walk in Key Center.
Jaqueline Hickey of Vaughn has a studio and does commission work. She started in oils and began painting with watercolor in the late 1990s. Of painting in plein air she said, “For the color you have to be there. Painting from a photograph is not the same.” Myrna Binion agreed. “The beauty of the area is beyond compare,” she said.
Leila Luginbill, from Home, is a watercolorist who has painted since she was a child. She did a lot of drawing as a biology major and teacher and took up painting when she retired 10 years ago. “It is so relaxing. I love sitting out here, and I love the shadows of the early morning and late afternoon,” she said.
Bronstad, who paints in oils, described painting as a squall came up, requiring him to hold his canvas on the easel. As the storm grew near, he decided to head home. “But I got a good start,” he said. “That’s what plein air is all about.” He has been known to stay out long beyond the time the others went home. Steiner remembers him remaining to paint a sunset and the dark setting in so that he had to use his headlights when he finally ended his day.
The entire group will be the “featured artist” for the Key Center Art Walk, the Two Waters Arts Alliance event scheduled Aug. 4. Paintings will be on display at Blend Wine Shop in Key Center for the month.
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