Painting al fresco — under the shade of a majestic tree or an umbrella — offers creatives an experience far beyond the confines of a typical studio.
With mother nature as a muse, the great outdoors serve as both the perfect backdrop and flawless artistic subject for fresh work.
“Outdoor Creations” — a Boulder County Parks and Open Spaces exhibit that features plein air art from over 60 artists — will have its opening reception 5-8 p.m. Friday at The Great Frame Up in Longmont.
Through Dec. 30, visitors will have a chance to purchase and view art that captures the wonder and beauty of the Front Range.
“This year is a special year with it being the 10 year anniversary of the department holding an exhibit featuring county-owned open spaces,” said Karen Imbierowicz, partnership coordinator for Boulder County Parks and Open Space. “Since 2011, Parks and Open Space has held five en plein air exhibits, four photography exhibits and two woodworking exhibits.”
Last year — instead of artists painting scenes of area lands — woodworkers crafted bowls, vases, musical instruments, furniture and more out of salvaged wood from a diseased 140-year-old black walnut tree that resided outside of Hygiene.
Next year, Boulder County Parks and Open Space will invite shutterbugs to contribute to a photography exhibit featuring county-owned properties.
But for now, onlookers can revel in the various interpretations of flowered hillsides and snow-dusted peaks.
“It’s always wonderful to experience our treasured open space resources through the eyes of local artists,” Imbierowicz said.
From old barns to pristine vistas, the amount of notable and understated landmarks remains vast.
“I love painting outside and the event gets me into gear to paint even more,” said artist Lydia Pottoff, who has participated in several Boulder County Parks and Open Space shows. “Every time I go out, I see something new and exciting.”
Pottoff lives on St. Vrain Road between Boulder and Lyons, near Hygiene, so a jaunt into nature is always within reach, providing endless fodder for her intricate work.
“I have four pieces in this show,” Pottoff said. “Pella Crossing is literally right down the road from me … So, I paint there quite often. I am attracted to the reflections and the Front Range vistas. I also love Hall Ranch. The red cliffs are stunning against our skies. I paint there in the evenings to catch the glow of the setting sun.”
She also is known to embark on hikes — easel and supplies in tow — to picturesque spots to find just the right scene.
“I really love painting up in Rocky Mountain National Park,” Pottoff said. “There are so many spots that I haven’t hit yet. Last year, I decided to paint in oils when hiking in, since the gear is so much lighter than pastel. This gives me more options for hiking in. The Loch or Sky Pond would be on my bucket list.”
For Pottoff, the practice of capturing the grace of her surroundings provides moments of much-need peace.
“Painting plein air forces you to slow down and observe the smallest details of color, light and sound,” Pottoff said. “It is very meditative and has helped me get through the isolation of COVID.”
While a day spent outside putting paint to canvas may seem like an easy leisurely activity at first, it actually proves to be fairly complex and requires a great deal of skill.
“Plein air painting is really challenging,” said Greeley-based artist Dale Harding, who is participating in the show for the second time. “There are so many factors that can affect your work and because light changes so rapidly, paint time is really limited. Painting regularly from life literally trains your brain to become a better artist. You learn to simplify shapes, you become a more spontaneous painter with fresher brushwork and style and it helps to hone color and value skills. But — besides that — being surrounded by only the sounds and smells of nature is really invigorating.”
Harding moved to Colorado from New Hampshire five years ago and has since found the state’s natural surroundings to be greatly inspiring.
“I have four pieces juried into this show,” Harding said. “Two were painted at Walker Ranch, on two separate occasions about six weeks apart. One piece was painted at the Ron Stewart Preserve at Rabbit Mountain and one was painted along the Anne U, White Trail.”
Much of his work offers intrigue and the sort of vague storytelling that is up for interpretation.
“As much as possible, I like to include bits of history in my paintings,” Harding said. “Landscapes are great, but if I can add visual human artifacts in my work, that also brings the mystery. Who lived here? What did they do? What did they do for fun? Ultimately, I want to bring the viewer of my work into my painting. I purposely leave out detail.”
From a dirt road with a yellow “Not A Thru Street” sign to a scene of a slightly rusted vintage truck, his compelling work stirs up curiosity in onlookers.
“I give the viewer a chance to subconsciously inject their own personal experience into my painting to make it their own,” Harding said. “It’s a lofty challenge and I know I’ve been successful when someone’s gaze wanders around my painting for what seems a longer than normal length of time. I know their imagining or reliving their own personal artistic version.”
He’s a tour guide of sorts, inviting us into spaces that hold a bit of antiquity and a hazy mystique.
Harding looks forward to further exploring local spots that he has captured on canvas.
“I plan to revisit a number of park opportunities, simply because they offer so many options,” Harding said. “I’m partial to the higher foothills. Caribou Ranch and Heil Valley Ranch are among my favorites. Probably my next unfamiliar park to explore would be Betasso Preserve.”
This year, to mark the show’s 10-year milestone, a $500 Best In Show award will be presented to a winner in honor of Ron Stewart.
“Ron served as the Parks and Open Space director from 1999 to 2016 and was instrumental in the creation of the county open space program,” Imbierowicz said. “With the inaugural exhibit in 2011 and subsequent ones, Ron supported celebrating treasured county resources and local artists by holding this annual event.”
Organizers are also planning on honoring another local artist and instructor.
“At the exhibit opening we will be taking a few moments to recognize one of our former jurors, Molly Davis, who passed this year,” Imbierowicz said. “Molly served as a juror for this exhibit and was a passionate and caring friend, mother, artist, teacher and philanthropist.”
Davis helped found the nonprofit Preserving the Vision, which passed legislation protecting Boulder County Open Space. She also served on the city of Boulder’s Open Space Board of Trustees.
Artist Cathy Fletcher has crafted a painting for the exhibit in memory of Davis, entitled “No Matter the Weather: In Memory of Molly.”
A $300 award for second place and a $200 award for third will also be presented.
Purchasing art in the show is a great way to support the creative participants, a local business and Boulder County Parks and Open Space.
Artists will receive 65% of a sale. The Great Frame Up takes a 35% commission and of this, 10% is donated to the Boulder County Parks and Open Space Foundation.
An impressive 94 pieces are for sale.
“I hope my work adds an intimate and inspiring glimpse of the beauty that is right outside our doors in Boulder County, to the wall spaces of buyers,” Pottoff said.