Plein air painting in Port Clyde, Maine

So, when starting a new business, what is the logical thing to do?  Spend four days taking a plein air painting class in PortClyde, Maine of course…


While I doubted my decision on the long drive up, I soon realized that Todd Bonita’s class ( was going to be fantastic.  Great instruction, beautiful views and an incredibly warm and talented group of people made 4 days of painting (already a blissful proposition) just amazing.


Plein air comes from the French phrase “en plein air”, which means “in the open air." Rather than painting in a studio, plein air painters literally haul their easel, canvas and gear out to their location of choice to paint in the elements. Doing a little research, I found that the popularity of plein air painting started to take off in the 1870’s because of the introduction of paint in tubes.  Before this, painters would mix their own paints with ground pigments and linseed oil – which would be difficult to pull off when hiking to your painting destination (trust me, it’s tricky enough with tubed paint).  French impressionists Monet and Renoir are a couple of the more well-known plein air painters, and Monet’s studies of wheat stacks in different seasons and times of day are a great example of what plein air painting offers that you can’t replicate in the studio.


The class started on the docks of fisherman’s cove right in Port Clyde.  Todd gave us pointers on everything from “studio habits” like how to arrange your paint on the palette for efficient color mixing (very helpful for me) to setting up gear for dealing with the challenges of outdoor painting to the basics of creating a good painting.   When planning a painting, Todd focused on the importance of first creating a good composition and then mapping out the values to make sure you include highlights, midtones and shadows.


Day 2 brought us to the Olson house where Andrew Wyeth (one of my favorite painters) painted the famous “Christina’s World” in addition to many of his other well-known works.  The painting was great, but for this part of the trip, the house itself was the highlight.  Walking through the house in the late afternoon made it clear why this house was such an inspiration to him.  This may sound like an over-statement, but it was just magical.  Below are a couple of shots that scratch the surface of the amazing light in this house:


Day 3 brought us to Monhegan island, which was beautiful.  Monhegan is a throw-back, with dirt paths instead of roads (the only cars are local pick-up trucks you can rent rides in) and a charm that screams New England.  Below are a few pictures: 


On Monhegan, I spent the day on the rocks painting a tidal pool and some great seaweed draped over the rocks.  I was completely absorbed in painting and realized when I was done that I was hungry (I forgot to eat lunch) and very sun-burned – but I was thrilled to be doing what I was doing.  Below is this painting:



To wrap it all up on the third day, we went to the Marshall Point lighthouse in Port Clyde.  Below is my last painting of the trip:


As the day wound down, we all packed up and said warm farewells with hopes we would run into each other again.  It’s hard to imagine all of Todd’s classes are filled with such great people, but I’m sure they all have the amazing views and excellent instruction.  If you have an itch to go outside and paint for 4 days, I highly recommend it!


Happy painting,