Tag Archives: plein air painting

Plein Air Painting on the Sunshine Coast

I recently had the fine luck to return to  the fabulous Joe Creek Artist Retreat in Roberts Creek, BC for a week of plein air painting. The place is magic. It’s run by my friends; the equally magical Kendra Fanconi (playwright and human being extraordinaaire) and her hubbie Eric Rhys Miller, founders of place-based theatre company, The Only Animal Theatre Company. You must go! (Tell them I sent you!)

This was my second visit to the Magic Cabin at Joe Creek. Two years ago, following treatment and surgery, I got out there with family to work on some pieces for my first intensive plein air experience since being Gwaii Haanas National Park Artist In Residence and being diagnosed with cancer. A spell was cast over me, and I was instantly in love with everything about Joe Creek, Roberts Creek, Gibsons and the Sunshine Coast. I’ve been waiting two years to return, and this March was time!

I was able to produce 11 pieces during the time that I was there. I had a goal of 14 finished pieces but I had a bad chest cough and cut my painting thumb, necessitating a quick visit to the hospital in Sechelt. Two weeks later, the thumb is well on the mend, with no nerve damage and just a bit of extra sensitivity!

My purpose in getting out of doors to paint is always to learn. I find that being in the place, dialling in the shapes, colour and quick light one of the best things that a painter can do to learn about the world around them. It’s a lot of work, lugging gear, setting up and working quickly to capture the light…but the results are well worth it. Upon returning to the studio, I feel fresh, loosened up, less fearful of my mark-making and empowered!


Joe Creek Waterfall, ©Janice Tanton 2016. OIl on linen panel. 6×8

Painting Sunsets En Plein Air

The sunset pieces are a new thing for me. With only 3-4 minutes to really watch and see what unfolds in the sky and water, a good sunset plein air painting can be one of the greatest challenges for a painter. I didn’t attempt it until later in the week. My son and daughter were with me, and we went out in the evenings to enjoy the view. I realized, just watching one night – that this could be one of the best learning opportunities I could get, and so the next night I set up, premixed from memory what I thought I had seen in the landscape and nervously awaited the fireworks. It was one of the biggest painting rushes of my life, and I am thrilled with the results. In the future, I’m going to make a practice of capturing every coastal sunset that I can. It’s my new drug! Tell me what you think!


Sunset at Roberts Creek #1 ©Janice Tanton 2016. Oil on linen panel. 6×8


Sunset at Roberts Creek #3, ©Janice Tanton 2016. Oil on linen panel. 8×10

Sunset at Roberts Creek #3. ©Janice Tanton 2016. Oil on linen panel, 6x8.

Sunset at Roberts Creek #2. ©Janice Tanton 2016. Oil on linen panel, 6×8.


Joe Creek – Rock Table, ©Janice Tanton 2016. Oil on linen 6×8


Joe Creek – Running Water,©Janice Tanton 2016. Oil on linen panel 8×10.


Grey Day At Sergeant Bay, ©Janice Tanton 2016. Oil on linen panel. 8×6


Sergeant Bay, ©Janice Tanton 2016. Oil on linen panel 8×8


Porpoise Bay, ©Janice Tanton 2016. Oil on linen panel 6×8


Roberts Creek at Low Tide, ©Janice Tanton 2016. OIl on linen panel 9×12.

The Artist’s Window -Creating Onsite vs.The Studio.

"Window - Near Marco Island" - ©2012 Janice Tanton. Oil on linen. 6"x8"

“Window – Near Marco Island” – ©2012 Janice Tanton. Oil on linen. 6″x8″

The Site

There is a big difference in working on site, with all of the sensory input of the moment. Sound, light, colour, smells…they all ADD to the moment of rapture when creating the work, and for me as an artist, there is nothing quite like that pure energy of creating the “feeling” of what you have in that one moment and place.

This painting, a small 6″x8″ work, was done alla prima, plein air on a secluded location near Marco Island in Gwaii Haanas. Nothing that I do to it can ever convey the moment – the smells, the calls of the birds, the feel of the mossy ground upon which I sat or the small black and yellow caterpillar that I remember crawled across the root of the tree where I sat.

For me, this painting will always contain all of those sensory experiences. Even the sense of urgency that I would need in order to get the painting done in a timely manner to join my travel companions – these are all the things contained within this painting.

Sadly, we can’t always be in all those places for the length of time that we desire. This was the case in Gwaii Haanas. There was so much to see, and I could have spent years just in one place on Haida Gwaii creating and painting what I felt, what moved me – the sights, the sounds and the spiritual supernatural that is ever-present.

For completing this work, the studio is the best way to be able to continue to convey the feeling, the spirit and sense of the time spent in that place. As artists, this is our task, and it’s not always an easy one.

"Into The Woods - Bag Harbour" ©2012 Janice Tanton. Oil on linen panel. 11"x14"

“Into The Woods – Bag Harbour” ©2012 Janice Tanton. Oil on linen panel. 11″x14″

The Studio

This piece is a different “window” for me. It is the first piece that I created offsite from Haida Gwaii, and in the controlled space of the studio – a comfy chair, a bathroom, a hot cup of coffee in my hand and all the time in the world.

With decent photographic reference, I’m still not able to get a clear idea of the full colour range afforded by the jungle of Bag Harbour, or the life, the energy or the timeless urgency of the place. Having been there, I’m connected to the time that I had there, but the time it takes to snap a photo vs. sitting on the ground, feeling the energy, observing the colours for an hour or more and creating a work onsite are never the same.

It’s still full of memories for me, and hopefully, I can open this window in my studio and let those feelings all spill into the painting.

I have a question…okay….maybe I have three questions:

As an artist, do you prefer the studio or painting onsite? Why? What are the merits of both?

Spring Painting in Kananaskis – Moose Mountain

"Moose Mountain - April" ©2012 Janice Tanton. Oil on linen. 8"x10"

"Moose Mountain - April" ©2012 Janice Tanton. Oil on linen. 8"x10"

I’m thrilled that spring is (almost) here in the mountains. It makes for a better experience when outdoor painting.

Don’t get me wrong – I love Canadian winters and the cold weather, but I’m very happy when the weather isn’t -30 and the wind isn’t freezing my paint and my hands. Today, I had the chance to get out to Kananaskis Country and hang out at the log shelter for the Jumping Pound Demonstration Forest. Usually there’s no one else but me there, but I was joined by a lovely Swiss family from Cochrane today. As I was finishing the painting, they arrived and had a lovely picnic BBQ and even asked me to join. What a lovely day – something I’ll always remember when I look at this piece.

Here was my setup and painting location. Go ahead…..drool!

Moose Mountain plein air painting location - Janice Tanton, Kananaskis Country

Moose Mountain plein air painting location with Janice Tanton, Kananaskis Country, AB.

Paint Fast, or Die! – How To Survive Painting Boredom & February In The Mountains

Deck Plein Air Painting Setup

Plein Air Setup on my deck.

I’ve been working on some very large pieces for a couple of months for the CAMP body of work. The works – some of them 8 feet long and 4 feet high,  require multiple layers of glazing, attention to detail and draftsmanship and an eye for subtle light and form. I’ve gotta say it…”UG…it’s boring the heck out of me and my Artist ADD has kicked in.”

To freshen up, and begin to feel as though I’m getting something done, I’ve taken to some quick alla prima plein air landscape work this past week. It’s a good feeling to hit the hay at night feeling like I’ve finished a piece!

One of the reasons I love painting outside is that it forces you to see and to paint quickly. Choices must be made in a split second if you’re working on fast-moving clouds, mountain sunrises or prairie sunsets. Not only that…but the mountains in February are damned cold, by anyone’s measure. Your fingers and your paint freeze and thicken up, so you MUST work quickly. You must look only at colour and shape and the rest will follow.

The plein air paint setup that I use isn’t yet what I’d call ideal, but I’m okay with it. I have an easel from EasyL which I find a bit wieldy for instant setup and capturing that quick moment. I’ve had it for quite a few years. This one that I have – The Versa… is too big for a quick “up and down”. I’m looking forward to the small pochade setup. I’ve got the tripod already, so have just ordered the small 8×10 box which should be easier to setup, pack in and out and move quickly.

I have a couple of Jullian French Easels, which I find incredible if you are going to spend any time on one location with one painting. It packs a lot of equipment but is way to heavy to carry in and out of remote locations. Great for teaching outdoors, or in the studio though.

Here are a few of the first attempts at cold weather painting that I’ve done:

February Sunrise from My Upper Deck ©2012 Janice Tanton. Oil on linen panel. 6"x8"

"February Sunrise from My Upper Deck" ©2012 Janice Tanton. Oil on linen panel. 6"x8"


"Evening Sunset at Siksika" ©2012 Janice Tanton. Oil on linen panel. 8"x10"

"Evening Sunset at Siksika" ©2012 Janice Tanton. Oil on linen panel. 8"x10"


"Grassi At Three" ©2012 Janice Tanton. Oil on linen panel. 8"x8"

"Grassi At Three" ©2012 Janice Tanton. Oil on linen panel. 8"x8"

This last piece was done in the studio, from a photo and memory I had of an evening we spent camping on Agawa Beach in Ontario. Although it’s technically not a plein-air piece, the memory of the evening was so vivid and strong for me, that I feel it has translated well to this alla prima studio piece and I like the light in it. Having the chance to use some juicy, wet brushstrokes is wonderful!

"Agawa Evening Sunset"

"Agawa Evening" ©2012 Janice Tanton. Oil on linen panel. 8"x10"