Plein Air Arts Festival takes painters outside
September 15, 2015
By Angelica Ingram
John Mullenger sets up his easel as the bright sunlight creeps up over the tops of the trees nestled alongside the historic Irondale Church in Highlands East.
The painter begins sketching the building, a practice he typically does before picking up a paint brush, and realizes the light is all wrong.
Mullenger picks up his art supplies and moves over to the eastern side of the building, out of the sun and completely in the shadows, a much better position for lighting purposes.
Situated next to him is John Christie, who has begun painting the very top of the church, focusing in on the picturesque bell tower.
The pair are returning participants of the annual Highlands East Plein Air Arts Festival, an event they enjoy for a multitude of reasons.
A plein air painter for the past seven years, Mullenger travels from Burlington to participate in the event and looks forward to it every year.
“It’s post Labour Day weekend so it’s quieter in the area,” he said, on one of the festival’s benefits.
A retired business professional, Mullenger describes himself as a self-taught painter who is making art his semi-retirement career.
A member of the Ontario Plein Air Society, Mullenger estimates it can take him anywhere from two to four hours to complete a piece.
The artist is drawn to the plein air style because of the way scenery and landscapes are captured, he said.
“I like being outside, that’s the main thing,” he said. “I can look at a painting and tell you if it’s done plein air or not. It just has a freshness to it that you can’t get in the studio.”
An initiative of the municipality, the festival is an extension of a similar event that was organized by local artist Tracey Green.
This year the festival took place from Sept. 10 to 13 throughout the eastern portion of the Haliburton Highlands, as painters captured area attractions such as Furnace Falls, the Essonville Church, Greens Mountain and more.
However not all of the artists chose to paint historic sites or locations, instead opting to wander the municipality in search of a breathtaking landscape or hidden treasure.
That is the beauty of the Plein Air Arts Festival, as the opportunities are abundant and endless. It’s what keeps artists like Christie and Doug Ware coming back to the event.
An artist for most of his life, Ware’s painting of Earle Barn was chosen to grace the cover of this year’s festival brochure.
Ware has been painting since high school, going on to work with advertising firms.
“I’ve been doing it practically all my life,” he said.
He enjoys participating in the Highlands East festival because it is well organized and he has made friends with the other artists.
But most of all he loves the venue.
“It’s perfect,” he said. “It’s a great area … it’s close, it’s three hours form Ottawa and a few hours from Toronto.”
While most people worship the sun, plein air painters say too much sun can be a bad thing, as it affects their work negatively.
“It’s hard to adjust the values and the light, that’s why you need shade or an umbrella,” said Ware.
Site selection is done with many things in mind, such as lighting, value, contrast and drama, said Mullenger, who uses oils and pastels to create his pieces.
Set up outside the historic church in Irondale, all three painters have seen and painted the site before, but that doesn’t stop them from revisiting it this year.
“I got here [last year] and had about half an hour to set up and paint,” said Christie. “I just did a really, really quick painting … so I wanted to come back.”
Although they all love plein air painting, the artists do admit there are drawbacks.
“You mean besides the mosquitoes and the cold and the heat and the rain?” joked Christie. “No there’s no negatives.”
But mosquitoes and elements aside, nothing beats capturing the beauty this world has to offer.
“People will say why do you paint plein air?” said Christie. “Well, when I’m in my studio I paint a painting of something. When I’m outside I’m painting this church, but I’m also painting the sound of that crow and I’m painting the cool and the dampness and all those things affect how I feel and they affect my painting.”