Roland with some burgeoning plein air artists

by Roland Lee

I was recently invited to be a guest artist at Bryce Canyon National Park during the annual Geology Festival. It is the first time an artist has been invited to present at the event, which is sponsored by the Park Service and the Bryce Canyon Natural History Association. It was my hope that my visit might kick-start a permanent artist-in-residence program there. I think we may have succeeded.

Anyone who has seen Bryce Canyon’s panoramic amphitheater of hoodoos and pinnacles can attest that painting there is both a challenge and a delight. My job was to paint out on the rim of Sunset and Inspiration Points for three days, answering questions about plein air painting and pulling off a few good paintings in the process. I think everyone was surprised at the reaction from the park visitors. The first day 135 people, including curious onlookers, eager kids, and several adult painters, stopped to watch, listen, and involve themselves in the process. Each day got better.

The interest by the young visitors was the most fun. The rangers came up with a folding table, and between my extra painting gear and materials cheerfully provided by a well-equipped adult artist, we were able to get everyone working. And the results were fantastic.

Roland at Bryce Aikens

After I explained that plein air painting meant you painted what was in front of you, one young boy decided to paint a picture of my backside — tripod, easel, and all — because that was his view. That brought a laugh from everyone. A mom and her son worked on a painting together. Families all joined in. Three siblings worked side by side. And a couple of college art majors picked up brushes and produced some excellent pieces.

I was thrilled to see that many had come to Bryce Canyon specifically because a plein air artist was demonstrating there. They had seen the advertising and came prepared to participate all three days. The first day caught us by surprise, but the next two days the rangers and park employees were prepared with extra tables ready for the artists.

Roland discussing his process and techniques

I also gave two PowerPoint presentations at the Bryce Lodge during the festival, talking about the history of artists in the national parks, and about my own 40 years of painting the parks. Having just concluded the centennial of the National Park System, it was nice to see that art is still alive in the national parks, and that the future generation is ready and willing to carry on the artistic tradition.

There are currently nearly 50 national parks offering artist-in-residence programs. Usually artists stay for a couple of weeks in lodging provided by the park, and leave a painting for the park collection. In addition, outreach opportunities are provided in the local communities. I’m sure this time next year, plein air artists will be able to add Bryce Canyon National Park to their list of residence opportunities.

Learn more about Roland Lee by visiting his webpage.

This article was featured in PleinAir Today, a weekly e-newsletter from PleinAir magazine. To start receiving PleinAir Today for free, click here.


  1. […] I enjoyed participating in the Bryce Canyon National Park Geology Festival. Painting outdoors on the rim each day at Sunset and Inspiration Points, I was able to share with park visitors the joy of painting en plein air. It was great to see several other artists, college art majors, and families with kids join in the fun, as they completed fun watercolor paintings of their own. I also presented two powerpoint presentations at the Bryce Lodge each afternoon discussing the history of artists in the national parks. Thanks to Dr. Larry Davis for the invitation, and to rangers Todd Cullings and Peter Densmore for helping with the demonstrations. See article in Outdoor Painter Magazine. […]

  2. Wowsers what a great response! Glad to hear they’re adding a residency there. We need more artists out and about painting, and it looks like you’ve inspired quite a few.


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