Plein air artist Hai-Ou Hou painting outside in China next to a river.
Hai-Ou Hou in her “outdoor studio” at a plein air event in China in 2019.
Artist painting outdoors while Tibetan men watch
Hai-Ou Hou in another of her “outdoor studios” painting in a small Tibetan village in August of 2019.

How did you get started and then develop your career?

Hai-Ou Hou: My artistic career started the only way it could have in China at that time; by getting accepted into an arts university, then graduating and accepting a teaching post. I taught painting at the Hubei Fine Art Institute for several years before immigrating to the United States. My first years in the States were very difficult. I often couldn’t afford to buy art supplies, and when I could, I often didn’t have the time to paint because I was working two jobs. But eventually, several commercial galleries began showing my work, and I managed to gain some exposure.

Later, I earned my MFA and opened my own commercial gallery, but a real surge in my development as an artist came with discovering the plein air art community. Participating in plein air events and shows throughout the country and abroad catapulted my artistic development and career. I also returned to teaching by giving national and international workshops and by opening and operating the Chesapeake Fine Art Studio, which offers instruction from many fine artists.

How do you describe success?

Career success comes as a result of acceptance by one’s peers and the public. Financially supporting oneself through art is certainly one form of success. But artistic success is far more subjective. Most would agree that skill and technique are essential, but I think that artistic success is more about the process of creating. Unlimited exploration, disciplined execution, and aesthetic refinement is essential to artistic success. And I count personal success as having the motivation and freedom to do it.

How do you find inspiration?

I find my inspiration in Nature and in travel. My favorite studio is the outdoors; nothing beats the beauty and wonder of nature. And in travel, especially foreign travel, I always interact with new customs and people. To be sure, they are subjects to paint, but what I really want to express through paint is my own feelings I experience from those interactions. Whether it is the homeless man in London or the untouchable in Delhi, the monks in Tibet or the peasants in Guatemala, I paint as quickly as I can to capture their character and my feelings together on the canvas. What fun!

What is the best thing about being an artist?

Freedom and fun; those are the best things about being an artist.

Portrait of homeless man in India as he sits for his painting.
Hai-Ou Hou, “Old Dahil” (portrait of a homeless person in India), 16 x 12 in., plein air oil, 2019
Oil painting of a man tending cows in Tibet with mountains in the background
Hai-Ou Hou, “Tibetan’s Daily Life,” 12 x 16 in., plein air oil, 2018
Plein air oil painting of buildings in Moscow, Russia with pink flowers in foreground
Hai-Ou Hou, “Moscow Russia” (workshop demo), 11 x 14 in., plein air oil, 2018
Oil painting of Tibetan woman working in a field
Hai-Ou Hou, “Morning Work – Tibet Woman’s Daily Life,” 11 x 14 in., plein air oil, 2018

To see more of Hai-Ou Hou’s work, visit:


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