Thursday, March 1, 2018

Pretty in Plein: Area Artists Inspired by Nature

For most of the year, Sharon Hammer Baker can be found outdoors, translating what she sees in front of her to her canvas.

“I think my favorite part of painting outside is the direct connection with nature,” she said.  “All the senses are involved  ̶  the feel of the wind, the smell of fresh air, the vivid or subtle colors, the ‘sound’ of silence or of a bird’s song, sometimes even distant traffic.”

Hammer Baker is one of many area artists embracing painting “en plein air,” a style focusing on painting outside, rather than in a studio. American Frame recently launched a collection of frames based on plein air painting.

“Photos flatten and distort color and a studio is safe and comfortable, lacking the challenge of constantly changing conditions,” Hammer Baker said.  “I enjoy the challenge of working out how to capture that on paper or canvas.”

Hammer Baker produces most of her art outside during the warmer months but manages to get outside occasionally to capture winter scenes as well. Recently, she attempted to paint a snow-covered field, but had to resort to sketching the scene from her car and recreating it in her studio.
“Some plein air painters work outside in all conditions,” she said. “I'm not quite so hardy!”
Initially, Hammer Baker shied away from the plein air style, preferring to paint from photos, but challenged herself to try painting in real time outside about six years ago at a local garden center.
“I was lucky to find they were very receptive and eager to have me work there,” she said. “I went on off hours so as to not disturb their customers or staff. And with each painting I found my confidence and skill growing.”
Those initial sessions ignited a spark in Hammer Baker, which she turned into a pastime for other art lovers. That same year, she approached the Hancock County park district about forming a plein air painting group.  As a result, she helped create Art in the Parks, a series of gatherings for artists to paint in Hancock County parks.
She said she’s particularly inspired by flowers, especially wildflowers that grow near her home.
“I have a spot in Hancock County where wild hyacinths bloom that I’ve painted every year for the last four years,” she said.  “It's a challenge to return to the same place and capture what it looks like on that particular day. The evolution of nature is fascinating.”

Landscape Artist Barbara Houdeshell has been painting in the plein air style for about 18 years, after being inspired by her love of nature.
“It’s a magical, visceral experience,” she said of plein air painting. “We live in such a busy world and I feel it’s my calling to capture the spirit of those special moments and share it with others.”
Though most of her paintings are done outside in one sitting, she occasionally revisits a site to paint it over several days, arriving at the exact same time to capture the same sunlight and shading on trees and other objects.
“It’s all about light and color and your personal response to a location,” she said.  “When painting on location, you are able to see the true color of light and shadow and how light behaves in diverse situations.”
The downsides, she said, are unpredictable weather, bugs, and interruptions by people and animals. But some wildlife encounters have been pleasantly memorable.
“Once, while painting in Colorado, I had a mountain bluebird land on my easel,” Houdeshell said. “We shared a fleeting moment together before he left for other parts of the mountain.”
Houdeshell now splits her time between Ohio and Colorado, where she draws inspiration from the mountainous landscapes for her art. She sells her work through her company, Bear Creek Fine Art, and is a member of Ohio Plein Air Society. She said her experiences with plein air painting have changed the way she paints.
“It’s taught me to paint faster and only focus on what’s important and leave out the rest,” she said. “I think this philosophy has great benefits in other areas of life too. Artists who paint outdoors must be problem solvers due to the different situations and difficulties they encounter. It forces you to come up with a variety of creative solutions.”

She loves painting in nature so much that she now rarely paints indoors, except to reproduce some of her smaller plein air studies as larger paintings.

“I’ve painted outdoors, from life, for a long time and now it’s very hard to paint in the studio,” she said.

Above all, painting from nature has helped her to pause during her day-to-day tasks and take in what’s already around her.
“I think the biggest thing it has taught me is patience and appreciation for the special fleeting moments in a day,” she said.  “Life is too precious to let them pass by.”


Laura Jajko
Laura Jajko is President of American Frame and a longtime contributor to "A Good Frame of Mind." Here, she delights in bonding with others over her love of art and framing. With more than 40 years of practical experience, she brings a unique perspective in a straightforward style that she hopes will spark lots of interesting and relevant dialogue in our online community. Connect with Laura directly here on the blog or follow her on Twitter @LauraJajko.





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