Almost two years ago my plein air buddy, Nancy Vance, sent an email to see if anyone was interested in a painting retreat in Scotland for 2016 organized by artist, Michael Chesley Johnson. Nancy had enjoyed painting with Michael in the western US, so she found five willing participants. Three of us decided to not only do the retreat in Scotland, but a workshop with Michael in Canada and Maine in 2015.
For years I’ve wanted to paint on vacations. I’d throw some sketching supplies in my suitcase but they rarely came out on the trip. There was usually a busy schedule that didn’t include time to paint and no one to paint with. Painting trips take a bit more preparation and packing but they are definitely work it.
For the workshop in Maine, we rented a house and a car. Then we met Michael at painting sites that he knew well near his studio in Campobello. Michael’s instruction was top-notch and his critiques were very helpful. That workshop hooked me on painting trips. You really absorb more of the experience when you try to capture a view on canvas. I came away with a deeper sense of place than I’d had in most of my travels.
There were challenging elements – fog that came and went, tides, and changing light. A photography class with unwieldy gear passed by on a narrow pathway where we were painting and the easels almost went flying over the rocks!
The pieces I painted were learning experiences – not as refined as studio art, but implanted with memories.
In June 2016 we were off to Scotland. Five of us traveled from Ohio along with artists from Massachusetts and Tennessee. Malcolm Evans, who runs painting tours all over Europe with his wife, Scottish pastelist, Margaret Evans, was the driver of our mini-bus.
We stayed in time-shares in the countryside near the sheep and ducks and doves and pheasants se we did some painting around that location.
In Maine I painted with oil and travelled with all that gear. Last winter, Nancy convinced me to give pastels a try. Now I’m hooked, so the pastels went with me to Scotland – a little less hassle than tubes and brushes but, unfortunately not water repellant.
I also packed a set of water soluble graphite pencils with a little pad of watercolor paper and a water brush. It all fit in my purse and was handy in spots where I wanted to capture something I saw but couldn’t bring all of my gear.
The group traveled well together. The weather was lovely the week before we came, but we had mostly cloudy/rainy days. Still we kept our sense of humor. Ten artists plus a few spouses on a mini-bus also made it necessary to tighten up on the gear. In most cases there was enough time at a site to get a solid start, but some folks didn’t get to finish painting.
When it was too wet to paint we sketched or worked in the studio. One day it rained so hard that all we could do was take photos (and shop). Our biggest challenge was figuring out how to eat three-course gourmet meals every night and still be able to fit in the airplane seats for the return trip!
Just to insure that we’d be tempted to come back to Scotland, the last day was glorious. We went to Glencoe and painted at two sites where people from all over Europe were hiking and bagging Munros (I picked up a little local lingo, but you can Google it.) As we painted landscapes, younger, braver folks were jumping off the cliffs above and gliding around with their para sails. That’s an image that will make me smile every time it drifts into my mind, even if the painting wasn’t one of my best.
Our paintings are filled with lochs and mountains, cottages, bridges, and sheep. Now Scotland is in the rear-view mirror and it’s time to anticipate the Central Ohio Plein Air retreat to Lake Erie in September. Whether it’s an Ohio trip or an international jaunt, if you’re planning a painting trip, my art supplies will be packed and ready to roll!