David Brand, John Hughes, David Dean, Tom Howard, Kimbal Warren
David Brand, John Hughes, David Dean, Tom Howard, Kimbal Warren

Painting on Location > In September 2020, a group of four professional Utah artists from the Plein Air Painters of Utah were invited to stay at the ranch of a wonderful couple in Star Valley Wyoming. This gave them a chance to not only share artistic knowledge with each other, but to impart some of that knowledge with a great guy (David Brand), who has been studying to fulfill his dream of infusing his paintings with the kind of quality that he admires in the work of others. It was truly a week of painting and relaxation in an area with some spectacular landscapes to inspire the group.

Keep reading to learn how they influenced each other and what their host had to say about his week painting with the group.

Some Background

Landscape painting has sometimes been jokingly referred to as a “loner sport” and could be described as a discipline for those who feel totally comfortable being away from other people for long periods of time.

From my perspective, and from what I have observed of other painter friends over the years, I think that’s a pretty accurate description on one level, but a bit too myopic on another. It’s been my experience that, although we tend to be creatures who love our solitude, we also love the comradery of other artists and people in our lives; but perhaps not all of the time.

Of course I can only speak for myself and amusingly, I am reminded of the original Frankenstein movie, where the mad scientist is interrupted as he is trying to revive the Monster, by his well-meaning fiancé and others, on a cold rainy night. After they pound relentlessly on the castle door, he is visibly frustrated as he tries to get rid of them in a semi-cordial way! Of course, he was trying to get back to “his important work!”

Admittedly, I sometimes feel like my studio is a bit too much like Dr. Frankenstein’s “laboooradtooory,” especially when I’m absorbed in a large painting project. But the hermit in me does have another side as well, and I’m sure that I am not alone in this. As a matter of fact, I’m the kind of grandpa who would drop my brushes in a cool minute to go hang out with my two awesome little granddaughters, if called upon to do so. Truth be told, many of my artist friends are the same way; family and friends do make up a huge part of our lives just like most people out there.

This brings up the benefits of painting on location with other artists.

Sunrise on the Ranch
Sunrise on the Ranch

Waking up every morning in this quiet rural environment was a real pleasure, as we had time to collect our thoughts, watch the sunrise and prepare for what the day had in store for us.

Photo of a rural landscape
The local scenery

Star Valley is a 45-mile-long area between the Salt River Range and Idaho’s Weber mountains to the west. This beautiful farming community is also about an hour and a half drive from Grand Teton National Park. This trip also gave me a chance to stay for a couple of days prior to attend the Jackson Hole Fall Arts Festival with another great couple, Roberta and John. This dynamic duo graciously allows me to stay in their beautiful home anytime I’m in town; but that will have to be the subject of another article on special people who consistently support the arts.

Our hosts, David and Chris Brand, were awesome, and each morning and evening we were treated to a large, home-cooked breakfast and dinner, before and after our trips into the field. By the way, the food was amazing, thanks to Chris’s volunteer efforts!

Photo of David and Chris
David and Chris

“It was a pleasure to host John, Dave, Tom, and Kimbal at our little piece of heaven in Star Valley Wyoming,” said Chris. “They were very appreciative of my cooking efforts, and it was fun listening each evening to all of them talk about their art, along with discussing painting videos that we’d watch after dinner; they were all gracious guests. The weather couldn’t have been better for our fall getaway, and it made for a memorable week. Hopefully we can repeat it again next year.”

“I was excited when these fabulous professional painters came to our family ranch in Thayne Wyoming for a week of painting,” said Dave. “Star Valley is the most beautiful farming valley in the whole country, in my opinion, and it was the chosen setting for these guys that week. I witnessed beauty after beauty produced hour after hour, for five full days by these four truly gifted painters. I also had the opportunity to paint alongside them at several different locations throughout the valley. Man, oh man, what a treat. I think I had more fun than all of them put together. My gratitude goes to my in-laws, Paul and Jeanne Huber, who purchased this fabulous property over 60 years ago, and to my sweetheart, Christine Huber Brand for cooking, cleaning, baking, chopping wood; all the jobs of running a house for five old men who are very grateful to her.”

Painting on Location and the Artistic Benefits of Hanging Out with Other Artists

When artists do come out of their places of hiding, they usually do it in a big way, setting up by the sides of country roads and on busy streets, often attracting crowds of onlookers to interact with and strike up conversations. Mostly on this trip though, our group had only each other to talk to, and share stories along with ideas.

The nice thing was that we had no real plan for painting locations, and every day we wound up wherever the wind took us, with any combination of painters. It was really a no-pressure situation that was filled with laughs and art conversation around the breakfast and dinner table.

Some of the group painting along the Greys River
Some of the group painting on location along the Greys River
John Hughes painting on the Greys River
John Hughes painting on the Greys River

On a personal note, I was especially interested to see what types of locations and the various arrangements of subject matter different members of the group chose and why. By doing that I feel like I expand my artistic viewpoint and appreciation, as I’m exposed to ideas that I might not think of on my own.

Here’s what my fellow artists had to say:

Tom Howard painting on the ranch
Tom Howard painting on the ranch

“Plein Air Painting is often an isolating activity, where you’re out working in some remote location, or it can be very social, where artists are feeding off of each other’s painting energy. As the five of us worked along the banks of the Greys River, I noticed that Kimbal and David were sharing ideas. We all grew from watching one another in action. Painting with our group that week, was all of that and more. It was a time of comparing notes, sharing ideas, and it was energizing as well. For every painter it is an individual activity, but painting with others means that you have a group synergy, safety, and little built-in tutorials (impromptu or otherwise) with which to feed yourself.” ~ Tom Howard

David Dean painting in Smoot
David Dean painting in Smoot

“When a group of artists unite to expand their vision and also the vision of their fellow artists, it’s not only beneficial, but magical if you will. Some of the magic happens when you get to witness firsthand that moment when the spirit enters a painting with just a few last significant brush strokes. Many paintings have been ‘born’ due to subtle suggestions from other members of the group, while others fall short, but you learn from those, too.

“Another magical thing that happens when painting in a group is the gathering of curious spectators and an opportunity to engage them in conversation about art, which is always a favorite subject of artists.” ~ David Dean

Kimbal Warren painting on a Star Valley country road
Kimbal Warren painting on a Star Valley country road

“This year when most shows have had to be cancelled, it’s been especially important to meet up with good friends who are like-minded and enjoy painting out of doors. It’s an opportunity to be there for one another, look at the work and give each other critiques, or just small tips to improve our work. Typically, it’s a relaxed atmosphere, and you’re just there to learn from one another. It’s also an opportunity where you can strive for a finished painting, or just do simple color studies; there really is no pressure.” ~ Kimbal Warren

David Brand painting in Star Valley
David Brand painting in Star Valley

“Painting alongside these artists was great fun and educational. Not only were they good company, but they are all seasoned teachers. Observing their techniques and brush strokes, while painting shapes of the right value, in the right spot is what it is all about. I was able to see and absorb it all. It was a priceless gift for a few meals and beds in our family ranch home in Star Valley Wyoming. Painting out alongside these guys helped me in so many different ways. It was truly an activity that I would welcome again any time.” ~ David Brand

Plein Air Paintings from the Trip

Oil painting of a rural landscape
John Hughes, “Star Valley Barns,” 9 x 12 in., oil, johnhughesstudio.com

“Star Valley Barns” was painted on the side of a country road, which depicts some barns and farm implements in an area where time seems to have stood still. Whenever I paint in Star Valley, I revel in the peaceful calm of a place that is not in a hurry, where people you don’t even know wave to you when they pass by. When painting on location, occasionally a local farmer will pull up and talk to you for a while, and it’s always an insightful experience. This painting also says something about the end of summer, with its last few comfortable days before severe cold envelops this area in a blanket of snow during the harsh months of winter. These are moments not to be forgotten, but cherished for a lifetime.

Oil painting of a rural landscape
Tom Howard, “Farms and Wilderness,” 6 X 9 in., oil, pleinairpaintersofutah.com

“This view (above) falls right in line with so many scenes I’ve painted in the past. I love to find that interface, where the farmer and rancher lives and works, and where wilderness begins. It harks back to my childhood, and the places where I would spend my days as a boy, seeking adventure in the Bear River Valley of Northern Utah.” ~ Tom Howard

Oil painting of a rural landscape
David Dean, “Smoot,” 9 x 12 in., oil, daviddeanfineart.com

“The physical conception of a painting, is in the initial composition, which can vary a great deal between artists. In a group situation, coming to an agreement on where to paint isn’t really an issue, because within each scene is a hundred scenes, and within those hundred, are a hundred different ways to interpret them. Every artist has his or her own ideas of how to compose, and for this reason no two paintings are ever the same.” ~ David Dean

Oil painting of a pond with trees
Kimbal Warren, “Pond in the Pines,” 8 x 10 in., oil, kimbalwarren.com

“This study (above) was painted in an area just outside of Afton, Wyoming. I liked the deadfall along the bank and the quaintness and especially the quietness of the area. Autumn was just beginning to show its colors and it was a beautiful autumn day to remember.” ~ Kimbal Warren

Oil painting of a pond with trees with American flag
David Brand, “The Pond,” Oil

“After my artist friends from the Plein Air Painters of Utah had all left the ranch for home, I painted this pond up on Star Valley Ranch Golf Course. I have spent over thirty summers and falls here, and some winters as well. It is without a doubt a most beautiful valley.

“Pioneer families sweat and labor every day to maintain this place of tranquility, filled with artistic compositions. I love being here and painting all the glorious scenes and of course, golfing with Chris. I have played this 3-par course over 100 times, but this time I went out with my paints instead of my clubs.

“Artists who come to Star Valley to paint are captivated by the majesty of the mountain range and the fields of golden grain waving in the hot afternoon sun. It got a bit hazy due to the smoke from Oregon fires that were blowing east into western Wyoming. There were reflections in the water and some ducks, but I decided not to tackle them since they kept on moving. I was mostly attracted to the leaves, which were turning a light tan/green hue, with sunlight coming through. Forty minutes later I had a little oil sketch of the 18th green from across the pond and I was a happy man.” ~ David Brand

What do you love about painting on location with other artists? Share it with us in the comments below.

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  1. Dawn G Lundquist January 7, 2021 At 2:15 pm
    There’s a certain joy to painting with like minded friends. Artists are a special breed, we see differently than regular people. One phrase I hear often is “ Wow,look at that,” when the sun strikes a spot only artists see. There is a comradeship rare and delightful that we all experience and cherish. I love my Plein air friends!


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