The good, bad and ugly of plein air

At the end of August I went away on a plein air painting weekend!  It was a wonderful opportunity to be out in nature painting and learning something new and quite honestly we needed a weekend away and if I had not committed to this I guess we would have just sat around at home…hubby and I have not had a weekend like this in a long time. So as that famous idiom goes – with one stone we kind of hit three or four birds. It was a bonus!

I have been on an art retreat before, and painted outside, but our studio was set up and we spent a couple of hours outside looking for the ‘painting’ in the scenery and started outside but then it was completed in the studio again.

So this weekend was a completely different experience, that’s why I call this the good, bad and ugly. 

I really enjoyed it. It was humbling, and scary.  I felt both overwhelmed and stressed at the same time.  Just as the breeze changed or the sun started feeling warmer I felt uncomfortable and quite happy and excited all at once.

On the first day after the morning session I went to the room happy with my progress and surprised with what I had painted.


It’s lovely to be outside and I imagine myself painting in this peaceful place and creating something really beautiful….but at the same time there were bees and the sun started burning into my back and I was wishing I was back in art class.


The afternoon when we finished I felt just as happy with my painting and equally surprised with what I had accomplished that day.  But I didn’t quite enjoy that experience as much as the morning one. Finding the ‘painting’ in the scenery in front me was a lot harder in the afternoon.


Painting outside sharpens your memory, I learnt more about really seeing what was in front of me, about natural light and shadows and the real colour of things in the scenery. 

Painting in art class from a photo and with controlled light is a bit like painting in 2D, being outside is more like 3D. I was forced to see real life and real colours. Also the photos are as good as the printer or the ink in the machine so the colours are not always exactly the same as what is outside.

I felt like a part of the scenery.  Although you can’t touch the scenery (well I could actually touch everything in mine if I wanted to) being outside made me feel more connected with my art and with nature.  With the breeze and the sunshine its a romantic scene in my artistic mind. 


I wonder about Van Gogh…and I remember a book I bought, I don’t think I ever intended reading this book but bought it because it was about Van Gogh.  I searched for it at home, it’s a book of letters that he wrote to his brother.  Looking through his letters I  wanted to find something where he complains about the wind or the sun or the cold or anything. Maybe he never complains and that was why he just created beautiful masterpieces!

But then I found this, and it had me in hysterics – 

The politeness of the populace of the Hague towards painters is, however, demonstrated by the fact that a fellow behind me, or probably at a window, suddenly spat a wad of tobacco onto my paper – life can be very trying at times. _ Letter 262

Loud laughter from me, there I found something he moaned about.  He sounds very funny and I might not read the whole book but I must really make an effort to go through some of his letters.

And what about Monet, did he perhaps complain about painting outside?

Now that I am home with my two finished paintings I feel I don’t like them as much, like they need to be fixed, like something is missing, maybe it’s the magic of being outside that has faded and gone away.

None of my paintings are a masterpiece but I feel the ones I do in the studio are more a masterpiece than these two that were painted outside.


The actual process of painting outside was too quick due to the changing scene and shadows and time just runs away!  I feel like I should have stayed outside longer and persisted and continued painting, but I know I would not have coped with the heat and longer hours. All those hours painting I tried maybe 3 different brushes but that weekend only one brush worked for me, soft eve series size 1, I’m not even sure how that was possible. 

It was a good learning experience and I really did enjoy it. I will do it again and will paint in oils again or try water-colour, hopefully be more prepared for the challenge next time.  I would like to try this near water, near the ocean it won’t be bees it will be sand flying into the canvas giving it a real 3D effect.  

a huge thank you to Sanchi for teaching me

or rather let me sign off the way Vincent used to, which was usually –

With a handshake, Yours sincerely,


Stormy Sea

Palette knife, I made a huge mess and had paint all over myself, but it was one of the easiest little paintings I’ve ever finished. Had a bit of a nervous laugh in art class with the ships and sails 😀

I simply love it. My stormy sea. ♥

photo 1


Few changes

Last year I painted these at an Art Retreat

Something was bugging me about both of them, made some changes and feel happier now with how they look. I still dislike that big tree, it’s so blah…hiding this one behind the piano


photo 3

Paintings @ Art Retreat

So here’s my work from last week, they are all small paintings – one painting a day!

Proof again that we did not play we worked very hard all week @ the Art Retreat with Tina.

Day 1

Day 2 – painting outside

Day 3


Day 4 – My favorite

Until next year ….


Art Retreat

Farms, gates, grass, mountains….so much to paint

Sunday                                                                                                                                     We took a slow drive to Clarens watching the colours and scenery change as we got closer. We finally arrived in Clarens at about lunch time. The mountain views took my breath away set against that beautiful blue sky with fluffy white clouds everywhere. We arrived safely and hungry and headed for lunch at the Artist’s Café. How appropriate is that for the two student artists 😛

We shared a delicious lunch and then took a lazy Sunday drive to Sunnyside. It’s chilly, hope it warms up during the week. Miss the two boys that I left at home, hope they are ok tonight.

day 1 our work is completed

Monday                                                                                                                                We started off with a walk down the farm road early In the morning as the sun was rising, the frost on the grass looked like gold specs. Shiny little treasures everywhere.  It was cold but the day warmed up and turned out to be an awesome art day.

There were eight of us in the class and we painted indoor’s today – we all painted the same scene from one of Tina’s photos. We all received the same size board and the same picture (stone building and a poplar tree with mountain on the left side). I knew we would all end up with completely different paintings…and so it was. The end result was eight very different beautiful little paintings of an old farm building. Absolutely amazing results from all the ladies. 

I’m looking forward to tomorrow, I think we are painting outdoors from a live scene, something I have not done before. 

looking for spot to paint

Tuesday                                                                                                                          Another beautiful morning in Sunnyside, the baby blue sky is just too beautiful for words. A typical African sky, never-ending blue not a cloud in sight.

Today we received tips on painting outside. It’s very different to having a static scene or photo next to your canvas. So after looking for a special spot in the valley we all split up and sat with a sketch pad and drew our scene. I took my drawing pad and water-colour pencils and sat staring at the most beautiful blossom tree (a pear tree) right in the middle of a green meadow. When my drawing was done I took the canvas outside and sketched the scene again.

And then it was time to put down colour and paint a scene that is moving (horses that would not stand still) the shadows move, the wind flaps your paper and the sun go’s from warm to hot. It was a lovely day and I learned a lot from painting outside. I need to go out more and paint from what I see in front of me…

What a great day!

talking about our work – positive criticism

Wednesday                                                                                                                         We got up early again and went out for a morning walk. I would love to live here, I ♥ love farm life.

We painted from another of Tina’s photos today, a pic with sunflowers, something different for Wednesday. I watched her as she painted the sky on her own canvas and would like to spend a day watching her paint, you can learn a lot from listening to someone while they paint. The week is coming to an end so fast.

Every night when we go back to our room I look up at the sky and its glistening with stars. The most awesome sight is that I get to see the milky way. Another breathtaking moment and it’s bed time.

demonstration on painting trees 🙂

Thursday                                                                                                                               It’s our last day! I can’t believe it, we’ve been painting every day from 09h00 till about 16h00. We stop for lunch and two tea breaks, that’s it. It’s possible to be tired at the end of the day – nice tired – but we are tired at the end of the day.

Tina started off by reading a story on woman’s intuition and then she demonstrated painting trees. That was the easy part, after that we had to paint our own blue gum trees. Again all of them turned out completely different. Awesome, I love blue gum trees.

The horses in the valley are there every afternoon but today one of them came close to us, close enough for me to touch him. I’m a bit scared of them but do love these beautiful gracious animals, need to finish the year with a horse painting. We said good-bye to our new friends and exchanged numbers and email addresses. Hopefully when we return to Clarens we will see all of them or at least one of these ladies. One is 92 years old, what a cute little white-haired granny 🙂

this is how you pack wet paintings for safe transport


Last breakfast in Sunnyside. I love the breakfasts here, today’s morning fruit was rhubarb (double yummy) I need to buy some and try this out at home, its delicious.
We stopped at a few little stores in town and even visited two galleries before heading home. Robert’s Gallery – one day I will own one of his paintings and Richard Rennie also would not mind one of his, he is a real character. It was a wonderful week, this was my first art retreat and I hope it’s the first of many more.

good bye to the farm

The Sunny Side Experience                                                                                                     I have been to this farm-house before, we stayed here a few years ago and quite a few times too. Nothing has changed, the accommodation and hospitality is still the same, so is the food.

We brought some Fry’s food to make it easy for them to accommodate the vegetarians. Breakfast is huge, lunch is three course and dinner is a variety of fresh farm vegetables. It was all good. But by day 4 (Wednesday) we gave up on the soup. We felt like naughty children being punished – every lunch meal and every dinner meal there was tomato soup. Enough! No more soup, please.

The farm is huge and beautiful, everywhere you look is a painting waiting to be painted. We are surrounded by mountains. Farm animals and real pure fresh air, it’s all very relaxing and good for the soul.

Tina resting her raised eyebrows

The Tina Experience                                                                                                                I have a new friend. Tina has been painting for years, she owns a gallery and teaches. This art retreat was a feast. Tina likes to teach and gladly shares her tips. We were spoilt with all the attention and the detail she put into each day. She’s a pro with landscapes and more so with flowers and she promised to do a workshop just on flowers. Just no raised eyebrows please Tina 😀 


Happy to be home and ready and excited to try out new things, new colours and techniques in my own art journey.