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  • Writer's pictureLucy

Art on the Road

For the past five weeks we've been on the road in our RV exploring Southern Colorado. I packed my travel easel/pastel case and planned to do some plein air painting (capturing nature scenes outdoors).

Also in the RV was my travel sketchbook with watercolors and pens that I've used for years for quick on-the-scene sketches.

We ended up spending a lot of time in the "Switzerland of America"– the San Juan Mountains and the Weminuche Wilderness located near the towns of Pagosa Springs, Durango, Silverton, and Ouray.

If you've spent any time in this part of Colorado you know the mountains are steep, dramatic, and majestic.

Oh! And BIG.

So BIG (in every way) that I had no idea how to capture them or where to set up. But I was able to take some photos. 😊

In the end we did a lot of exploratory hiking / driving and I managed to do some quick sketches which felt quite inadequate compared to the stunning scenery.


Overall I was feeling pretty deflated by it all. But then I had the idea that I when I got home I would use these sketches along with photos I took to paint some landscapes in the studio. The sketches would help me remember the feeling of the moment I was there while the photos would provide more detail. Together I thought I would be able to work on my set up, technique, and finishing in a more controlled environment so that when I do go outside again I'll be more prepared.

But that felt a little like cheating somehow.

That is until I read this post by the THE SYNTAX OF COLOR on the evolution of plein air painting. Apparently, like many people, I assumed plein air painting started with the Impressionist Painters in the 1860s. But I was wrong.

At least 80 years earlier art students who studied in Rome went outside to observe and capture nature by sketching and painting.

...venturing out of doors to execute plein air work was the means to build a visual vocabulary of what appeared in nature. Simply put, plein air work became reference material. Plein air renderings provided key compositional elements and color notes that would be used to create studio pictures.

So my idea wasn't "cheating"! Artists have been doing it for a long time! Although these early outdoor painters wouldn't have photos for reference materials the overall concept is the same.

We are back in New Mexico now and after we settle in I will head into the studio with my sketches and photos and experiment with landscapes. Stay tuned for progress reports!

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