Friday, July 29, 2016

A Wonderful Plein Air Painting Workshop

Kathie and Mary Jane respond to a student's questions
The Windmill Gallery's porch provides shade for one student.
     Taking painting classes and workshops always inspires and motivates me as well as improving my skills and range. In May of 2015, I set myself a particularly tough challenge by participating in a two-day plein air workshop in the north-central Florida countryside near Gainesville. We set up outside a former art gallery, the Windmill Gallery, on a highway near the Paynes Prairie preserve on a rise overlooking Orange Lake--a uniquely long view given our mostly flat Florida terrain.

Kathie Wobie, Mary Jane Volkmann (left to right)

     Two excellent painters led the workshop and proved to be super teachers, Mary Jane Volkmann and Kathie (Kathleen) Wobie. Somehow, events last year caused me to forget that I had never told you about this experience, so I'll hit some of the highlights now. The sketchy nature of the few notes I have from those two days remind me of the quick (yet manageable) pace Kathie and Mary Jane set, with a wealth of helpful exercises for us--usually preceded by brief demos or specific, targeted information fitting the purpose of each. Called "Color and Dimension", the plein air workshop helped us explore light, color, and perspective to give our landscape paintings a sense of immediacy and distance. 
Overlooking Orange Lake in the distance
A view from one shady (but bee-filled) spot I used

     We were encouraged to use a limited palette with two blues, two reds, and two yellows (a cool and warm hue of each), white, and black. Students, who had a range of skill levels, could use either oil or acrylic paints. As an acrylic painter, coping with the paint's fast drying time outside was difficult. Beyond that, the main challenge for me was to work boldly and quickly before the light changed (or the teachers called "time's up"). I am truly a studio painter at heart, used to taking my time with a painting over a period of weeks or even months. Among all my other workshop discoveries and new approaches, I now have better tools for making color sketches on site to take back to the studio and an increased capability to work quickly on early stages of a piece to produce greater unity and vitality.

     So far, I have completed just one of the works (see earlier post) started at the workshop, the largest I worked on there, and feel it differs from my other work in an interesting way. Other workshop pieces, though extremely useful as learning exercises, are unlikely to be worth further development. But above all, the growth and insights I brought home from the experience are valuable on many levels. Mary Jane and Kathie are a kind, inspiring, gifted teaching team for whom I am truly grateful.

Question of the day: How many of you also love life-long learning?


  1. Mary, sounds like an inspiring and valuable workshop. We can never absorb enough in such a short time, eh? Your painting is beautiful and very masterful. I love the colors and distance. You did well!
    I like Plein air painting but don't get out there very often. Maybe today after reading your posts!

  2. You always brighten my world, Jo; thanks for your encouragement. I do love an opportunity to learn, and Mary Jane and Kathie provided a truly excellent learning experience.