Plein air artists are showcasing their work at the Niagara-on-the-Lake Public Library through the month of December, beginning with a reception held last Saturday.
Plein air painting, simply put, is painting outdoors. Artists gain inspiration from nature, through experiencing different landscapes and changing lighting. Some well-known plein air painters are French Impressionists Claude Monet and Pierre-Auguste Renoir, as well as with Canadian artist Tom Thompson and the Group of Seven.
Sandy St. Laurent, one of the group’s members, felt the reception was successful, with a good crowd. It was her first showing of her work and was thrilled to have sold one of her own paintings out of three paintings sold that afternoon. St. Laurent has been painting for about three years, since her retirement but joined the group two summers ago. She met the group’s founder, Cindy Sheridan, through art courses she was taking at the Niagara Pumphouse Arts Centre. She describes the group as being encouraging and supportive toward each other, and welcoming to artists at all levels.
She enjoys painting outside, she said, with sunshine and nature, and is anxiously waiting for summer to arrive. “Once you are bitten by the plein air bug, that’s it.”
Sheridan has been painting the landscapes of Maui since November. After taking some fine art courses at Brock University and participating in workshops at the Pumphouse Arts Centre, she was introduced to plein air painting and enjoyed it so much that she started looking around the region to find other artists with a similar interest. She decided to start her own group, and began to recruit members.
She has found a nice community of people to share her passion with, she says. She sends out a weekly newsletter to about 60 people, with eight to 10 artists coming out regularly each week. Sheridan explains she finds plein air painting both challenging and enjoyable. “It’s difficult and intricate, as far as learning the technical abilities to paint well.”
She also enjoys the social aspect of it. “It is nice to be with a group of artists, to learn from each other and bounce ideas off each other.” She says painting a beautiful lake or spending time in a forest offers a more enriching experience than spending that time alone in a dark studio. “It is a meditative thing to do, very peaceful, very tranquil.”
Janice Opie met Sheridan at a Niagara Pumphouse Arts Centre workshop, and joined with her to start the Niagara Plein Air Artists. After painting with the group for two years, Opie decided, “an art show would be fun and enriching to our growing relationship with each other,” so she arranged the art show and reception at the library.
A self-taught artist, Opie has taken workshops with local artists as well as explored many different disciplines, such as crafting chain maille jewellery, painting silk and casting cement waterfalls.
Having explored other media, she contends her first love is fine art, especially watercolours.
The “weekly Friday plein air sessions are now a part of my life style,” she says, and she has developed a special relationship with the other members to the point that she sees them more than her other friends and family.
The attraction for Opie is threefold. She likes to be in nature, with other people and doing what she loves, painting. There is a strong connection to the Niagara Region in all of the group’s paintings, she says.
“Even if it’s a flower, it is still from the Niagara Region.” The group paints in places such as Charles Daley Park and Dufferin Islands, so the scenes are recognizable and familiar to the observer. While most of the paintings on display at the library were painted in the summer, the group still gets together during the winter months. Opie says she is grateful to venues such as the Niagara Falls Historical Society and Heartland Forest for opening their doors to the artists until the warm weather returns.
The Niagara Plein Air Artists’ reception on Saturday afternoon was “very successful in terms inviting and sharing our art with the public, selling our art and most importantly, an experience that the participating artists shared with each other,” Opie says. She has formed a “unique relationship [with the group] and the show has taken it to a whole new level.”
The Niagara Plein Air Artists’ show is on display in the Rotary Room at the Niagara-on-the-Lake Public Library until Dec. 31.