EN PLEIN AIR
The Viroqua, Wisconsin plein air painters keep Bakke Farm on their list of regional locations that offer beautiful rural views, and three painters came to the farm one Friday in August to catch a summer image.
Kathy Fairchild arrived first. Kathy comes to the farm quite often; she and her husband have a garden over beside the barn, and I had a feeling she had a few ideas on what she wanted to paint. She walked around, sketch pad in hand, trying out images that caught her eye. Deciding on an apple scene, she pulled her equipment from the car and headed to the trees in the front yard.
It wasn’t long after Kathy set up her easel that the others arrived. There is a fluid number in the Viroqua group, a mix of professional and amateur painters who gather for workshops and shows as well as several on location painting sessions a year. Friday’s painters drove down Bakke Lane, parked cars and emerged with artist paraphernalia in hand.
Painting outside, away from confining walls of the indoors, gives an artist the impulse of a direct impression, natural light and quickly changing conditions. In order to best take advantage of painting on location, each artist plans and stocks a paint box that can carry to the field essential tools, colors and painting surfaces. And of course, each painter’s requirements are individual, devised to suit the medium and style of each artist.
With the morning light still fresh and bright on Bakke Farm, the three women indulged in just a few minutes of greetings, no more: they had come to paint. Moving off in different directions, each settled in, unpacking the carrying bags that held paper, canvas, paints and brushes and any other studio tools necessary for outdoor painting.
Kathie Wheeler included a large umbrella with a step in stand that allowed ease of placement, and she set up down the driveway apiece, her view including the corner of the farm’s old tobacco shed.
A Viroqua area artist who studied in Chicago at the American Academy of Art, Kathie has led friends and acquaintances out into the field to paint for many years, her knowledge of and pleasure in plein air painting inspiring many artists, both in the Viroqua area and at workshops and shows around the country where she shows her work and offers instruction in plein air painting and portraiture.
The Viroqua plein air painters have also been inspired by Kenneth DeWaard, another Chicago artist who studied at the American Academy of At and has settled with his family in the Viroqua area of Wisconsin. DeWaard travels the world practicing and displaying his art and speaks highly of painting out of doors.
“When it comes to art and creating a painting there is nothing more rewarding and challenging than painting under an open sky, surrounded by the scents and sounds of nature, along with it’s ever changing color and harmonies to excite one’s creativity.”
It is a rich air that circulates around people involved in creative activity, and I have always enjoyed feeling the quiet intensity that can fill a space when a group of people are artistically engaged.
I have often felt it in classrooms, where my classes of children silently painted with focus and interest in the world of color emanating a soul satisfaction that was my reward for offering the opportunity.
It was interesting to feel that same satisfaction out of doors as I looked around and saw the painters at work.
Carla Christ sat on the ground, facing west on the edge of the mowed yard above the garden. She looked so self-contained that I didn’t venture into her zone, but I enjoyed imagining what she was seeing. I was curious and hoped she would show me her painting at the end of the session.
Carla by the greenhouse, Kathie down the road, and Kathy with the apples, it was a lovely creative morning at Bakke Farm.
When their scheduled time had passed, the painters packed up and headed out, their busy lives calling them to move along. Carla showed me her picture as she quickly headed to her car.
Her eye had been caught by the same hollyhock that caught my eye the day I hung my Sandra Snyder quilt.
And I loved the picture Carla had captured on her canvas, a picture with the clothesline, a charming view on a beautiful summer day.
Kathie Wheeler walked up the driveway, carrying her gear neatly folded away for travel. “Look,” she laughed, holding up her canvas. “That’s as far as I got!”
Unfinished, true, but there were no false strokes, and I would have hung that picture as it was.
Kathy Fairchild was the next to leave, and she showed me her watercolor painting, saying it wasn’t finished, she had a few touches she wanted to add.
Plein air painters do sometimes take a picture home to finish in the studio. Kathy indicated she knew just what strokes she wanted to add to her outdoor work. Sometimes painters take photographs to document the moment and location of an outdoor picture and then use the photos for reference in the studio.
A few days later, Kathy came back with her finished painting.
And she brought a second picture inspired that day on the farm. Ah, the hollyhock!
Kathie Wheeler must have finished her painting at home, too, because I saw it posted on Facebook, and I have already heard a number of comments from neighbors who recognized the image of our shed and also recognized the feeling one gets walking down Bakke Lane on a beautiful summer day. Kathie caught the image and the feeling, painting outside on Bakke Farm.