plein air painters - John Hughes
In the high Uinta Mountains of Utah, John finds peace and solace.

In today’s world, more than ever, the need for beauty is an essential element for plein air painters (and everyone); and time away from the chaos through the arts, is time well spent.

From my earliest days as a young child growing up in the Bronx, and then in Westchester County, New York, I somehow recognized the need for solace and respite from life’s pressures, even back then.

I remember my parents buying me a winter coat one year, when I was around 8 years old, and I insisted that it had to have a hood. To my young mind at the time, a hood would be the perfect place to hide, even if only for a few seconds, to get away from an unusually cruel elementary school teacher!

As I think back, some things never change; they just get different in many ways. Long gone are the days of needing a hood to hide behind, like a turtle retreating into its shell. These days I am not at all concerned about venturing out into the world, but there is still that need at times for finding the kind of peace that only solitude can provide.

As a landscape artist, that place for me and many others, is out in nature. Working alone in a field, in a canyon, or perched on the side of a mountain practicing my chosen craft is where I find some of life’s most satisfying moments.

For those of you who are practitioners of painting the landscape, I have no doubt that you can relate. Nature provides the perfect respite for the weary soul and a welcoming place where time seems to stand still as we take in the light, the smells, and sounds of a pristine setting.

Truthfully though, I have also sought out and found this same kind of solace in the canyons of large cities, painting the hustle and bustle of urban life while tucked away in some corner of a sidewalk, just far enough so as to not be noticeable.

City dwellers are an interesting group. They will pass you by without even a nod, as though you were just another pigeon or fixture on a light pole. It’s just the kind of anonymity that I crave to be able to get some work done in such a busy environment.

Painting on location in the Bronx
Finding peace and solace is also attainable while working in the Bronx

Wherever you may find it, don’t forget to make time for yourself to enjoy something you love, like painting a joyous landscape.

How do you find solace as a plein air painter? Share your thoughts in the comments below.


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John Hughes teaches landscape painting classes for Salt Lake Community College and the Scottsdale Artist School, along with private art workshops and classes. His work is represented by Montgomery Lee Fine Art (Utah) and Mountain Trails Gallery (Wyoming). Hughes is a member of the Plein Air Painters of Utah, Rocky Mountain Plein Air Painters, and the American Impressionist Society. John’s work and art advice has been featured in Plein Air magazine, Fibonacci Fine Arts Digest, 15 Bytes magazine, Outdoor Painter, and Artists on Art. His work was recently featured in the book "Painters of the Grand Tetons" by Donna and James Poulton. He now maintains a studio in Taylorsville Utah, where he resides with his wife Teresa, four children, and two grandchildren.

8 COMMENTS

  1. My solace comes right after my easel and the scene stretches out in front of me with endless possibilities. I take a breath, soak it all in, and begin. Everything is perfect in that moment. Time stands still.

  2. Painting about 11:30 at night with light on my canvas and pallet a group of “happy” ladies walked by. I heard one say, “ Oh, what’s he doing?”, “He’s just a night painter”.
    You never know what will happen pleinair.

    School bus dropped kids near my painting spot in the Avenues. They flocked around me and after a while one asked what I was painting. Insecure I pointed at the red house. This kid, about 6 years old, said he liked it, how much and would I take a check.

  3. The paradox of plein air painting – you are unaware of any physical needs and yet you feel very alive. While I paint I’m never thirsty, hungry or tired. Everything falls away and afterwards I feel invigorated, like having an instant holiday. Once a seemingly homeless guy came up to me, apologised for the interruption and asked if he could watch me paint, I agreed and carried on, though I felt a bit concerned, being on my own, but he seemed harmless. After being quiet for a while he asked if I would mind him standing where I stand while I paint. The way he said it made me smile and I said yes. He stood behind the easel, looking back and forth between my painting and the scene and he looked like I gave him a million bucks. I think he felt what we all feel when we paint outdoors, like we are part of the scene and the painting all at the same time, like Alice in wonderland. Here and yet not here, a very special place indeed.

  4. Painting outdoors, entrances me. I can tell how quickly my brain settles in to the task. I am truly addicted to this feeling of high engagement, every neuron lit, receiving and interpreting without consciously realizing how quickly I’m working . That’s when I’m truly happy and satisfied, the world melts away, and it’s just me and the painting.

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