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Nothing plein about it

With boots, brush and canvas, impressionistic artists corral unpredictable skies


Purchase plein air paintings in Victor this weekend.
  • Purchase plein air paintings in Victor this weekend.

Donna McFarland, a 20-year veteran watercolor painter, has a special affinity for one particularly physically and artistically demanding genre.

"You get to use all your senses when you paint outside," says McFarland. "Plein air painting is a whole-body experience."

McFarland, from Colorado Springs, and scores of local and national artists will descend on the small mountain town of Victor this week to face the elements, most notably rapidly changing natural light, to capture images on their canvases.

Artists have always painted outside, on location, but it wasn't until the mid-1800s that it became a method of study to capture the variations of color that natural light had on subjects. Due to weather restrictions and changing light patterns, it was important that the artists worked quickly. Using fast brushstrokes to lay on unmixed paints, they essentially sketched the subject on the canvas; viewers were left to "finish" the painting when they saw it.

At the time, it was a revolutionary concept in art, and some considered these to be "unfinished" paintings, or "impressions." The artists disagreed, and began to show their work independently, giving rise to the impressionist movement. With the invention of paint in tubes and the box easel in the late 1800s, it became easier and more common for artists to hike around the countryside and capture landscape scenes.

At Victor Celebrates the Arts, artists will be showing and selling their plein air paintings. One week prior to the sale, artists are peppering the 10-mile radius around City Hall. Their goal: to artistically capture the history of Victor and the striking nature of its mountainous region.

"I love the beauty of the mountains ... and the colors of nature. There is so much history in Victor," McFarland says. "The old mines and buildings seem to tell a story of what it was like, and invite you to capture its wonder."

Dani Tupper, artist and plein air instructor, says practicing the technique helps artists of all stripes grow.

"Whether you are a realistic, impressionistic or abstract artist, "being there' helps you see, feel and put something of yourself into your work," Tupper says.

"The town of Victor offers a vast variety of subjects, and each artist gives his interpretation to the scenes he chooses to paint. I think you could spend a lifetime painting just in the 10-mile radius that the art show requires."


En Plein Air show and art sale

Elks Lodge, 367 N. Third St., Victor

Saturday, Sept. 2, and Sunday, Sept. 3, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Log onto, call 719/593-1919 or 303/781-2643, or e-mail for more information on the full schedule of Victor Celebrates the Arts events through Sept. 4.

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