Katy Smith painting outdoors in Pismo Beach, California
Katy Smith painting outdoors in Pismo Beach, California

By now, you’ve probably heard about the friendships made at Streamline events such as Plein Air Live. California painters Lisa Martin-Hansen and Katy Smith met at Plein Air Live during one of the nightly Cocktail Hour Paint Along sessions, where everyone watches a reference video of an outdoor scene as we chat and, well, paint along.

Flash forward several months: Lisa and Katy now run a Facebook group called “Plein Air Club,” in which approximately 500 others have joined them to meet weekly to create art and help each other stay motivated and accountable along their artistic journeys.

In the following interview, Lisa and Katy share what has inspired them the most through Streamline’s Live events and their own Plein Air Club members, as well as their advice for others and what they’ve learned along the way.

Cherie Dawn Haas: So how did the two of you, Lisa and Katy, come to the decision to start the Plein Air Club Facebook group?

Lisa painting in Malibu
Lisa painting in Malibu, where they took a short video for the group to paint from.

Lisa Martin-Hansen: During the pandemic, we had attended the online Plein Air Live conference, where we had a chance to meet each other in a breakout room. We found that we were both from California and shared that we wished that we could paint en plein air together sometime soon. Our state was still under measures for people to be socially distanced and in a heavily populated state, painting en plein air can be difficult as people want to come up very close to you to look at what you are painting.

The other issue we had was that we are both working moms with busy schedules. We liked the Cocktail Hour Paint Along sessions of Plein Air Live and we decided that we could come up with our own short videos to use as references for our own plein air painting on Zoom. We wanted to meet weekly so that we could gain some momentum by painting regularly. Then it dawned on us that if we wanted to do this, maybe there were other people who would like to also do it.

We decided to create a Facebook group called Plein Air Club for communication purposes. Within a matter of 24 hours, we had a plan in place, a Facebook site, and 30 members! We house our reference videos and digital images on Facebook and provide a Zoom link for those who want to paint along with us. The reference videos are created by ourselves and everyone in the club has permission to paint from them. One year later, we now have over 560 members, and our Friday afternoon painting sessions still bring in 3-10 people on any given Friday with most of our group being regular attendees.

Katy Smith: The main reason for starting the group was to have accountability to paint regularly and to stretch ourselves by painting from videos with changing light/shadows, vehicles moving, and people walking. We hoped to get better at quick gesture drawing and learn to not chase the light: two things that would directly transfer over to our plein air work.

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Cherie: The group’s first anniversary is coming up in July. What have you learned from each other, and other members within it?

Lisa: Our club has members of all ability levels and so we are constantly learning from each other. First, we encourage each other and will oftentimes seek out composition advice, questions about value, and other artistic questions. We have learned how to face challenges together, and have been much more productive as a team supporting each other than many of us would have been individually on our own. We’re getting our brushstrokes in!

Additionally, I’ve learned that many of our group members have faced and overcome significant challenges in their lives. I’m inspired by these talented and dedicated individuals. We have people who have faced family issues, cognitive disabilities, and cancer and yet they are here. We are here together learning, growing, and challenging ourselves.

Katy: Lisa said it well. These are my friends. I hate it if I have to miss a week, so I rarely do, even if it means I am joining in on vacation from Carmel or Disneyland, or I’m driving home from grocery shopping or picking up kids from school. These friends have seen me through some hard things this year, cheering me up and cheering me on. We all do that for one another. Any one person’s success is a proud moment for all of us.

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Cherie: That’s wonderful to hear! What advice do you have for people interested in starting a Facebook group? Do you have any etiquette suggestions for being a member in an artist Facebook group?

Lisa: We found that by requiring membership questions, you can weed out a lot of the possible “bad eggs” that might try to infiltrate a private group. What has also been helpful is having an activity (our Zoom painting sessions) that brings us together. It’s been so helpful to have a buddy to help monitor membership, postings, and activities. Katy has done some creative things with the group, such as making a space for reference photos and videos that is pinned to the top of the page so it can always be found.

Katy: I would suggest that if anyone wants to start a similar group, to have a plan going in, but to hold the plan loosely so it can evolve as the group grows and changes. Initially most of our membership heard about the Plein Air Club through the PleinAir Live Attendees or Dreamline Artists groups, but as time goes on more and more people indicate that they found us through a Facebook search.

Initially people would only post about the Zoom meet up and share paintings from references within the group, but as more people are getting back outside after Covid restrictions started to lift, we have had more posts of people painting on location.

As far as etiquette in a Facebook group for artists, the two things that I try to follow are:
1. Always give more than you take.
2. Never give a critique unless it’s asked for.

"Spring Dazzle" by group member Joanne Loberg
“Spring Dazzle” by group member Joanne Loberg

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Cherie: What are some of your “rules” for the group and/or Zoom meetings?

Lisa: We try to stay away from polarizing discussions – politics in general, although that is not a hard and fast rule. We are gentle with criticism and feedback as we are all at different levels artistically. Official group membership rules include: Be Kind and courteous; No hate speech or bullying; No promotions or spam; Respect everyone’s privacy; Have fun painting.

Katy: I have to brag on the members – I am an admin/moderator for 3 different art Facebook groups and Plein Air Club is by far the easiest to run. I rarely ever have to remove posts and have only ever removed one person.

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Cherie: In addition to having the Facebook group, you also have weekly Zoom meetings. Can you tell us a bit about how you run them? Is there a specific format for the time frame each week, for example?

Lisa: We generally follow this pattern: The Zoom link is on the Facebook site. We begin at 3:00(ish) Pacific time and do introductions, and some general chatting before digging into our actual painting session. Most of us are scrambling to set up our gear and so that ten minutes allows for that.

Then we paint from 3:10-4:15, sometimes going as late as 4:30. The way we paint/sketch together is that I use my Zoom account from work (which has unlimited time flexibility) and begin the session.

We often choose a video together or even sometimes a digital photo reference if we’ve run out of member-posted videos and I share that on my screen as we did in Plein Air Live during the cocktail hour. Katy is known for being the main video contributor with lovely scenes from the California coast. However, we’ve also had some great videos from other parts of California, Florida, Minnesota, and Georgia by other members in our group.

After the session is over, we encourage everyone to post their finished, or close-to-finished work on the site. As much as I’d like to drink wine during our session, I learned from a workshop with Lyn Boyer that alcohol doesn’t usually improve a painting! Plus, I think we’re generally too busy with creating art to make it an official cocktail hour.

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Cherie: Can you share a memorable moment from the group? Anything particularly funny, surprising, or heartwarming?

Katy's daughter, Adeline, plein air painting in Pismo Beach, California
Katy’s daughter, Adeline, plein air painting in Pismo Beach, California

Lisa: Periodically, we have Katy’s daughter joining in on the painting activities. It is interesting and heartwarming to hear such a young soul exploring her world through art. She is uninhibited and creative. She’s definitely inspiring.

Katy: Yes, my 7-year-old daughter, Adeline, loves the Plein Air Club. She is always the first one done with her painting and proudly shows it to the group before leaving us slower painters to finish up. It has been such a joy to see her grow as an artist through her participation with the group. She is able to give really great specific feedback and encouragement on other artists’ work now. I love that she has the confidence to speak up in the group knowing that she is welcome there. Most groups would not welcome a child the way Plein Air Club has. It’s a special time for the two of us to spend together doing what we both love.

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Cherie: We hope to see you both again at the next Plein Air Live (or even one of the other upcoming Live events we have for pastel and watercolor painters)! Can you share your favorite part of experiencing Plein Air Live? What advice would you share with someone who’s coming to one of Streamline’s Live events for the first time?

Lisa: I would advise that if you are a new attendee, come prepared with a notebook to write down the most important pieces that you glean from each of the sessions. Each session is packed with helpful information, which can get overwhelming if you are simply trying to paint along. I know that my memory is short – especially when there is so much information coming in, so having a notebook has been really helpful for me to go back and review the basic tips and procedures.

Katy: I am all signed up for Pastel Live, Watercolor Live, and Plein Air Live. I told Eric Rhoads awhile back that I’d attend any Live event he had and I haven’t missed one yet. My advice to a first timer is to do Beginner’s Day even if you’re not a beginner. It will give you a chance to become familiar with the program.

Sometimes I take notes or screenshots and other times I sit back and just soak it in and follow along with the chat. But, I think my favorite way to participate is to paint along with as many demos as I can. The reality is that life is busy and I can’t guarantee that I will get to rewatch everything again before my replays are up.

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Cherie: Generally speaking, what’s your favorite thing about painting en plein air?

watercolor painting of palm tree
A 5 x 7 in. watercolor by Katy Smith from a Plein Air Club zoom meeting, featuring a video scene of Sarasota, Florida

Lisa: I find that painting en plein air brings so many benefits that I had not considered before. It is psychologically freeing to simply be outside in nature or in a different location. At the same time it is quite challenging to create a composition and to capture value, chroma, and the effects of light in a short period of time.

In our club, as we schedule these for Friday afternoons, it allows me to refocus on something other than my day-job. I set up my gear to paint into the evening or even throughout the weekend. Before this group existed, I would have gone for weeks at a time without painting. Now I regularly meet on Fridays and am so much more productive and have new friends as an added bonus!

Another benefit is that we learn from each other and we challenge each other in new ways. Maybe it’s using a new medium – watercolor instead of oil, or gouache instead of pastels. Other times, it may be discussing options for color, value, or composition.

I’ve even seen interesting new watercolor sets and brush types that I hadn’t considered before. Our plein air reference videos allow us to look at a scene and to consider how we can capture the light, the color, and composition in a short amount of time, however they have the added benefit in that we can go back (on our Plein Air Club Facebook site) and re-check or continue our work if we are interrupted or if we need to revise our work.

Katy: My favorite thing about painting en plein air is that I am able to really study and take in my surroundings to capture the beauty of life around me. I have a condition called Aphantasia, which means I am blind in my mind’s eye, so without a photo or painting to look at, I can’t visualize things I have seen or experienced that are no longer in front of me. My paintings become my visual memory. They are a journal of sorts for me where each one captures a very specific moment in time that I can re-experience when I see them again.

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Cherie: Anything else you’d like to add?

Lisa: I am grateful that Plein Air Live (versions 1 and 2!) allowed us to initially meet, to create this collaborative space, and to grow as artists and as friends. My brush time has increased exponentially. Our group members help us to stay motivated and to be inspired. I’ve gone from an occasional painter (and I mean occasional like painting once every three or four years) to painting every week. My style has been refined and I’ve learned so much about myself.

Painting of a beach
Lisa made her first professional sale with “Shell Beach, Looking North” (oil on linen panel), a painting she created during one of their group sessions from a video that Katy shared.

Our members help us to push ourselves, yet to also be kind to ourselves. I’ve learned to embrace painting over pictures that I’m not happy with – or trying to find ways to save them, re-envision them, or rework them. It’s all brush time! During the past year, I’ve been accepted into juried art shows and recently made my first professional sale of a painting. That piece happened to be one of those created during our Friday Zoom paint-alongs. It’s thanks to the influences of Plein Air Live and our Plein Air Club that I’ve been able to develop and grow as an artist.

Katy: It has been such a privilege to watch the growth in each one of the member’s artistry. We have all improved because of the time we have invested in learning and painting. We have tried new mediums we never would have. Experimented. Failed. Succeeded. I have a few paintings in the galleries right now from Plein Air Club. I love them, because I remember that I was with friends when I painted them. I am so incredibly proud of Lisa and excited for her making not only her first sale, but the first sale for the group using a Plein Air Club reference.


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Visit EricRhoads.com to find out all the amazing opportunities for artists through Streamline Publishing, including:
– Online art conferences such as Plein Air Live
– New video workshops for artists
– Incredible art retreats
– Educational and fun art conventions, and much more.

Learn More

> Subscribe to Plein Air Today, a free newsletter for artists
> Subscribe to PleinAir Magazine so you never miss an issue


Pastel Live banner

Visit EricRhoads.com to find out all the amazing opportunities for artists through Streamline Publishing, including:
– Online art conferences such as Plein Air Live
– New video workshops for artists
– Incredible art retreats
– Educational and fun art conventions, and much more.

Learn More

> Subscribe to Plein Air Today, a free newsletter for artists
> Subscribe to PleinAir Magazine so you never miss an issue

3 COMMENTS

  1. Thanks Katy, for mentioning your condition called Aphantasia. I have never heard of this before. I believe I suffer from it too, to a degree.

  2. I am looking forward to seeing more of what other plein air artists are doing! Thanks for sharing!

  3. Wow! This is fantastic! Thank you all for sharing your story and how you developed into such an enlightening group in just one year. I particularly like that you use video instead of flat photographs to paint from. You are an inspiration to us all and I look forward to hearing more about your group down the road. Perhaps one day I’ll even make it to California and visit, a bucket list item from this born and raised diehard Kansas. Lol. xxoo, Shirley Akers

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