To paint en plein air, or in the open, is an art movement that began in the 19th century. Artists of the time took advantage of natural light, as well as advances in the type of paint available and the introduction of the box easel, to go outdoors and paint the actual visual conditions in front of them, rather than being confined to a studio.
Plein air painting has remained popular into the 21st century, with events taking place all over the world. This weekend sees the fifth annual Plein Air Paint-out in Ashcroft, which will play host to more than 50 artists from around the province.
Local artist Pauline Ogilvie and other members of the Ashcroft Art Club had long taken advantage of the scenery in the area, travelling to locations such as Hat Creek, Spences Bridge, Cornwall Mountain, and Clinton to paint outdoors in groups. “It was always an escape,” says Ogilvie. “When you’re painting outside you’re away from everything.”
On a trip to Victoria she encountered the work of Island artist Ken Faulks, who paints outdoor scenes, and was impressed with what she saw: “I thought it was very good.” She invited him to stop by and see her in Ashcroft if he was passing by, and on one visit she mentioned that she would like to see a plein air event in the area. “I wanted to see other artists enjoy the scenery that I’ve always enjoyed, and encourage local people to see the scenery, too; really look at it.”
Faulks took her up on the challenge, saying that if Ogilvie wanted artists here he could arrange that. “I thought we might have a dozen or so the first year, and we had more than 30,” she says. This year 54 artists are travelling here from Vancouver Island, the Sunshine coast, the Lower Mainland, and northern B.C.
The artists are all billeted with locals, and treated to an opening night reception, a potluck dinner, and a barbecue, co-sponsored and hosted by the Winding Rivers Arts & Performance Society. “The hospitality of the people here really attracts artists,” says Ogilvie. “It’s something you wouldn’t get in a big city.” Last year 19 of the 46 artists who attended the event were returning for at least the second time.
She notes that many of the artists find the scenery here very different to what they’re used to. “It’s a different palette; it’s not the greens and blues of the coast. They have to use a different palette of colours.”
They also enjoy the companionship provided by the plein air movement. “You can search out a plein air group in Budapest or Buenos Aires and know you won’t find any egos. What you will find is a safe, enjoyable environment with like-minded companions.”
The artists will be all around the area on Saturday and Sunday, May 28 and 29. Ogilvie is suggesting that artists might want to paint in the alleys of Ashcroft on Saturday morning, but they are free to go wherever they want; Barnes Lake is always a popular spot. She advises that while most artists do not mind people watching what they do, they are usually very focused when they are painting. “They might not want to make conversation.”
The event ends with a show and sale on Sunday evening, from 5:00 to 7:00 p.m. at St. Alban’s Church hall in Ashcroft. The artists— who are a cross-section from beginners to major artists—are only too happy to meet the public and talk about their works. And Ogilvie agrees that it can be fascinating for locals to see our landscape as others view it.
“Many people don’t appreciate the sparseness and beauty of our area. You have to enjoy it for what it is.”