plein air paintings by Steve Hill -
Steve Hill, "Croatian Island Port,” pastel, 11 x 14 in., Plein air

I love painting outdoors in the gorgeous region of Croatia, which encompasses some of the most interesting old architecture, rugged terrain, seascapes, people . . . and especially old colorful wooden boats that abound in the Adriatic Sea’s turquoise waters.

I definitely feel a strong connection to that part of the world. My wife, Judy, is half Croatian and still has family there. Everywhere I’ve painted has an almost mystical feel, steeped in the long influential history of the people who have made up the population, including Greeks, Romans, Turks, middle Europeans (Marco Polo was born in Korcula City on that island) and invaders (Napoleon comes to mind) who have trampled the territory we know as Croatia. There are over 1,100 islands that belong to this former Yugoslav republic, and my goal is to paint as many as possible!

There’s so much to paint, and I am sucked into all of it, including trying to present the shadows under the colorful old wooden boats in the bays and harbors. My students always say, “How do you paint that transparent turquoise water and make a boat look like it’s floating and suspended?”

My answer to that is: “I paint everything that’s a boat, put it into the water, loosely paint the reflections and make it all look wet!” Easy peasy.

plein air paintings by Steve Hill -
Steve Hill, “Moorage on the Adriatic,” pastel, 11 x 14 in., Plein air

My water demos do just that, as I carefully explain that it’s still all about the form, shape, motion (water-in-motion) that I’m after, as I use some of my tried and true techniques of color-layering to achieve the liquid illusion. “Smoke and mirrors” come to mind as a good method to achieve all of that, but it really boils down to the basics: paint the big shapes first, forget about the surface details in the water and start with the bones, the anatomy of the overall painting. Little details always sneak their way in, but I hold them off until the very last moment and just keep everything loose! Color layering is the secret and it’s what I emphasize during my demos.

There’s nothing like painting “live” water, reflections, and objects en plein air to keep you honest. As most painters have discovered, you can pick a certain boat to feature in your painting, even in a crowded marina, start the painting, only to have the owner come sail it away.

plein air paintings by Steve Hill -
Steve Hill, “Tending the Nets, Lumbarda, Croatia,” pastel, 9 x 12 in., Plein air

“Tending the Nets, Lumbarda” (above) was exactly that. I picked that fishing boat to do a “water and reflections” demo in 2015 and sure enough, the fisherman/owner hopped aboard just as I was starting the painting. I thought “Oh no!! He’s going to take my boat away!” Instead, he started to mend his nets, so I simply used him as a quick-study model, hence the title.

This is what plein air painting gives you, the chance to be surprised, and Croatia provides the perfect stage for that!

plein air paintings by Steve Hill -
Steve Hill, “Dubrovnik Promenade,” pastel, 16 x 12 in., Plein air


Steve Hill is teaching his fourth plein air pastel painting workshop on Korcula Island, Croatia, September 18-27, 2018, and will be doing a fifth workshop at Dubrovnik and Cavtat, in September 2019. “My 10-day tours are made possible by Lynda Milina, who has been guiding groups in her native land for more than a dozen years,” Steve says. “With her friendly, knowledgeable demeanor, she makes my job doing live painting demos and giving instruction to the students a breeze. Everywhere we go on that large island, locals greet her with a loud salutation (Hey Lee-nda!!) and a wave. There’s the comfort of the bed and breakfast (Lovric’s) that is our group’s ‘base camp,’ where the nightly dinners are legendary, with gourmet foods lovingly prepared by chef and owner, Silvana.”

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