/Welcoming gatherings, en plein air
The Haliburton Highlands Plein Air Group, organized by Harvey Walker, will meet the last Sunday of each month and is open to all artists to paint, sketch or just watch. The group is open with no dues or commitment, and locations will change – this one is at Scott’s Dam. /Photo by Harvey Walker

Welcoming gatherings, en plein air

By Sue Tiffin

“It’s the difference between live music and a studio recording, not as polished but heartfelt,” said Harvey Walker, artist, in describing the experience of plein air painting – painting outdoors.

Walker paints outside at any time of the year, regardless of weather and is inviting others to join him.  On the fourth Sunday of every month, Walker will be at a different location throughout Haliburton County alongside others who want to join the Haliburton Highlands Plein Air Group on a casual basis – no commitment, no dues, no membership.

“If it works, come, join us, enjoy being outside and painting outside,” said Walker. “What I’d like to see is even just visitors – people that think they might want to one day, or they want to sketch, or they want to just watch what we’re doing. That’s all valid for an excuse to get outside and enjoy the highlands for a morning.” 

Walker said about two dozen people are currently on a mailing list that will share a meeting date, time and place, including artists from out of town who are looking for new spots to paint. While there are en plein air painting groups elsewhere, in Huntsville, for example, Walker doesn’t know of any in this area but thinks they’ll be beneficial.

“A lot of time it’s motivation, and that’s my goal by starting the group,” said Walker. “Sometimes it’s like going to the gym. If you’ve got a friend that expects you to be there, you’re going to put more effort into going. It’s a lot easier to say well, it’s too cold, too windy, I’m not going – but if you know somebody else might be there or is likely going to be there, you might show up.”

He notes that plein air painting isn’t always easy, but has value to artists.

“It’s totally different than sitting in a studio and putting the music on and sipping on a coffee while you’re painting,” he said. “Because of that, it’s more connected to the environment. You know whether the wind is blowing from the north or south and how strong it is, and how strong the sun is and if it’s minus 10 degrees or plus 40 degrees, you feel it. That finds it’s way into you and therefore into your painting. The ultimate goal of plein air painting, whether you’re doing it with a crowd or whether you’re doing it by yourself, is to view the world as it actually is, not distorted by a camera. The camera does not have the same capacity to see things as our eyes do.”

“And by being there and seeing it, it actually also transfers over to when you do go into a studio and paint from a photograph,” said Walker. “It’s not that one is a right way to paint and one is a wrong way to paint, it’s an exercise at seeing things. Observation skills, basically.”

Walker said all are invited, regardless of skill level.

“Every time you paint, you paint for yourself,” he said. “There’s no skill level required. It’s not a class, there’s no instruction. If you want to ask the person next to you a question, or share tips, that’s going to happen naturally. Artists are very free in saying this is the colour I just bought and I love it, or this is the type of brush I used.”

Walker said spectators are welcome as well. When he’s been painting on the sidewalk or in Algonquin Park, he’s had people come to watch him or ask questions, and said it’s a good chance to get to know people and to be able to share more about the area. 

While Walker does teach courses through Yours Outdoors and at his studio in a suburb of Carnarvon, he also loves to be outdoors, whether in July or January. 

“It is a little more challenging in that it’s a little less comfortable but because of that, it’s a little more enjoyable,” said Walker. “It’s the extreme sport of painting.”

The next meeting will be April 24 at 10 a.m. until about 1 p.m. in the Scott’s Dam Road area. Locations will be close to parking spots, a short stroll from car to site. 

To join the mailing list, email harveyjwalker@hotmail.ca or phone him at 905-435-7785.