In the fall of 2022, an eclectic group of world-renowned painters gathered together in Zion National Park for a weeklong plein air painting retreat and workshop. Organized by artist Ryan S. Brown and the Masters Academy of Art, the painting retreat was made possible through the generous donation of two luxury homes in Zion from Tori Johnson.

“The idea started from conversations I had had with McCall Johnson (daughter of Tori Johnson) while painting together in one of my workshops,” Ryan said. “She mentioned her mother had homes in Zion National Park and that it might be possible to use them for a landscape workshop. Even though I grew up in Utah, I had never visited Zion before, so the idea was extremely exciting for me.”

Plein air painting - Zion National Park
Ryan Brown painting on location

Over the next few months, Ryan, with the help of Debbie Williams and McCall, began to plan the event. Initially, the goal was to invite 10-15 artists to come together for plein air painting. But having experienced events like this in the past through his participation in the Hudson River Fellowship in the Catskills, New York in 2007 and 2008, Ryan knew how magical experiences like these could be. They decided to open it up as a workshop as well to allow more people to be a part of it.

“The best thing about being an artist is the people,” Ryan shared. “Almost every artist I’ve met and spent time with has been amazing, generous, brilliant, and kind. So all I had to do was reach out to some of my friends, who just happen to be some of the best artists in the world. It was easier than I thought it would be to fill up the two homes with amazing artists. I think everyone was immediately able to catch the vision of how special this could be.”

The list of demoing artists included Ben Bauer, Ryan S. Brown, Zoey Frank, Sebastien Jupille, Kim Lordier, Gregory Mortenson, Scott Tallman Powers, Travis Schlaht, Lynn Sanguedolce, and Patricia Watwood.

Once the roster of demo artists was finalized, the group began advertising the workshop. With such a stellar group of instructors, the workshop quickly found people who were eager to attend, many of whom were already well-established artists in their own careers.

Plein air painting - Zion National Park
The group of plein air artists at Zion National Park

The event took place October 17-22, 2022. Each day followed the same regimen. On the first day, artists met at Zion Canyon Mesa, an arts and humanities organization whose location commands an incredible 360º view above the town of Springdale just outside the Zion National Park entrance. Artists painted and watched their first demonstration that afternoon. That evening after the painting session, the group met at a campground inside the park for a welcome dinner which offered the chance for everyone to get to know each other.

“It was the perfect start to the week,” said Stacy Minch. “I think all of us knew pretty quickly that we were in for a pretty spectacular experience.” Each day was scheduled with a specific location and a demo. The group painted together from 9-12 each morning and 3-6 each evening.

“To my detriment, I feel like I should have been painting more but I was just watching,” said Gregory. “Every demo was just so inspiring.”

“It was like constant little explosions of insights and inspiration hitting you from all around every day,” said Ryan. “The landscape alone was overwhelming and beautiful. Add to that being able to see all the various approaches to painting and the unique decisions of each artist, it was really incredible to see.”

Each evening the group of artists would gather in one of the homes for a communal dinner. The artists would reminisce about the day, and share their insights, frustrations, and comical moments. “As we were planning the event, we knew that having our dinners together would be a really important bonding opportunity,” said Debbie Williams, one of the artists who was integral in planning the event. “Having the group all together each night was maybe one of my favorite things. I felt like I was able to develop true friendships with each artist.”

art retreat
Enjoying a casual evening after a long day of painting

On the final Saturday, the group met for their last demo, performed by Zoey Frank. “We had perfect weather the entire week, but about 10 minutes before Zoey’s demo was finished, there was a gust of wind,” said Ryan. “At the tail end of everyone cleaning up, the first storm of fall blew in. The timing couldn’t have been better.”

That evening all of the artists met again, including the workshop participants, for a final showing of all the work that had been produced throughout the week. Dozens of paintings were laid out in one of the homes and the public was invited to view the works. The paintings were sold and traded as everyone involved tried to soak in the totality of the week.

Plein air painting - Zion National Park
Pausing to pose and creating more memories

“I’ve never been with a more grateful group,” said Ryan. “I think we all knew how special and rare the week was, and it was a feeling I’ll never forget. I can’t overstate how lucky I feel to know these people and call them friends.”

Although another event is not yet planned, Ryan says he has plans to do more events like this in the future. “It is absolutely my favorite thing to talk to and paint with other artists. And to be able to do it in spectacular places makes it all the better.”

For those that would like to see more about the event and hear more stories and insights from that week, you can see them on the Masters Academy of Art YouTube channel.

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