Elena Grace Orwick painting on site. Elena will travel the world in the coming year, encouraging other kids to try painting.

After PleinAir magazine publisher Eric Rhoads announced the Plein Air Force program in mid-April at the Plein Air Convention & Expo (PACE), several people approached PleinAir staff, talking about how their efforts to promote plein air painting seemed to dovetail with the goals of the new grassroots program. But perhaps no one there exemplified the Plein Air Force spirit more than Michael Orwick. Consider his ambitious plans for the next year…. 

Children painting in Greece with Elena

Starting in August, Michael and his wife, Gaby, will travel the globe with their 10-year-old daughter (and successful gallery artist), Elena Grace Orwick, exposing children age 6-12 to the joys of plein air painting. “The more I listened to the idea of the Plein Air Force, and the more I read about it, the more excited I got — it was exactly in line with what we are doing,” says Michael. “I don’t know how much the Plein Air Force is aimed at children, but we are recruiting the next generation to art and to creative expression.”

A makeshift gallery of children’s art at the end of a day of painting on a Greek beach

The Orwicks’ project is called Studio Everywhere, and while it has a GoFundMe page, it’s pretty clear that the project is a “go” no matter how much money is raised. The entire family is captivated by the idea. So is the local media. “We’re going to travel the world and paint with kids,” says Michael. “It’s a crazy experiment to see what happens. No matter what, it’s going to be a fun and exciting adventure.”

The Orwicks gave the concept a test run last year, traveling to Greece and Bulgaria with art materials and a mission. “We set out extra paints and tables and the kids would just come over out of curiosity,” recalls Michael. “They just kept going, two tables with kids staying around and waiting for their turn to paint. It instigated communication with a bunch of kids who didn’t speak English. We met the parents when the kids introduced us … and we never ate dinner alone again. We realized that this works, and not only does it work, but it’s awesome.”

Elena painting in Bulgaria last year with other children

In his presentation at the rollout of the Plein Air Force, Rhoads emphasized that the program is about encouraging people to try plein air painting just for their own enjoyment and benefit. Michael Orwick hears this loud and clear. “People ask me, ‘What can I do to be a professional painter?’ I say, ‘Don’t. Just enjoy it. Don’t make it your job unless you need to. Just explore things in a different way and see things in a different way — through art.'”

Michael and Gaby are doing all the organizing for the trip, including working out a home-schooling curriculum for Elena that satisfies their local school system. But Elena is the key component for this effort. She already gives talks at galleries, and organizes benefits for her favorite charities. “Elena is a good leader, but more than that, she just likes to share,” says Michael. “She’s not judgmental; she just wants to help other children out a little bit. She shares and then steps out of the way and tells them to explore.”

Other children immediately jump into the fun and start to push the paint around.

Part of Elena’s education on this trek will lie in the day-to-day work of travel. She will be asked to figure mileage, convert currency, and help with language issues. Michael may paint some of the more striking landscapes he sees during the 10-month jaunt. Elena may paint the wind. “It’s about interpreting all your senses through paint,” Michael says. “I am really curious to see what she does. I’ll ask her how she will paint something, what the most important thing is about a subject, and she will talk about the wind, and smells, and how to incorporate those into the painting. And colors, for sure.” 

Elena has been known to paint flowers — with a flower. The joy she exudes when painting seems infectious. “It’s a great urge kids feel to create and laugh,” says Michael.


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