To Paint A Snowdrift, Stand Knee-Deep In Snow

Featured painting is by Stephen Quiller, (c) 2016, Flickering Late Light Along the Ridge Trail
Featured painting is by Stephen Quiller, © 2016
Flickering Late Light Along the Ridge Trail

It you feel the ice-cold snow in your boots, you know you are in the right place. This is the mindset of a “plein air” painter.

The phrase “en plein air” is French for “in the open air”. As an artist, it means that you plunk yourself in the middle of your scene. You are at the mercy of rain, snow, wind, bees, and more. But for the plein air artist, being immersed in the environment is the main thing.

The superbly talented Stephen Quiller, of Creede, CO recently said that one of the most valuable elements of painting outside in the open air is that you “start to see things differently”. As an artist, an environmentalist, and student of nature, Quiller is committed to sharing the fragile majesty and breathtaking color of the great outdoors with his students, art patrons, and the world.

When you paint outside, rather than in the comfortable confines of an artist’s studio, you begin to notice the light change through the effects of weather and time of day. You observe the outrageous diversity of nature in the awesome enormity of ancient structures like granite boulders, or in familiar elements like a bird’s nest.

painting of a nest hidden in weeds and grasses with a clutch of duck eggs.
“Judy’s Duck Eggs”
A watercolor painting by Jane M. Mason

Wild Calla Lilies at the Big Sur, CA. Watercolor by Jane M. Mason, © 2016
Wild Calla Lilies at the Big Sur, CA
Watercolor by Jane M. Mason, © 2016

Contemplating, experiencing, and celebrating the natural world is the gift of being outside in the elements. As Quiller said, the rest “is all frosting on the cake”.

I see painting en plein air as a collaboration with nature while “reading” and interpreting the scene. For me as an artist, it also creates a “muscle memory” of sorts.

Even years later, when I look at my completed painting, I can recollect the bird sounds, wind, and feel of the sun on my face. I am transported back to my determination at that session to paint what I actually saw and not what I thought I saw.

“I prefer every time a picture is composed and painted outdoors. The thing is done without your knowing it”.
American artist, Winslow Homer (1836-1910)

Quiller is a master of color.

Someone inexperienced with his style or point of view may find his paintings to be unrealistic. They may seem to portray colors differently than you or I might experience them.

Flickering Late Light Along Ridge Trail
Flickering Late Light Along the Ridge Trail
22″ X 30″ acrylic and casein, by Stephen Quiller. © 2016.
This painting will be exhibited in China in 2017.

That is the beauty of being an artist and specifically a plein air artist. Actively experiencing nature gives you the authority to interpret it.

When you stand knee-deep in a snowdrift, it can be a delight, or exhausting, or freezing.

And, I’ve found, as in this powerful brilliant painting by Stephen Quiller, it usually contains a visual surprise.

“All pictures painted inside in the studio will never be as good as the things done outside”.
French Post-Impressionist artist, Paul Cezanne (1839-1906)

You may discover a streak of sunlight in dark woods. Pink light filling the air. Or a sparkling pattern of glittery light dancing across the snow. That’s part of the fun: always learning something new.

You, as the plein air artist can interpret the color, light, value, and energy in whatever way you choose.

View of Dry Gulch #2View of Dry Gulch
#2- 34″ X 24″, acrylic and casein
by Stephen Quiller. © 2016

Even if you are not a painter, my recommendation–as soon as you finish reading this–is to step outside and wrap yourself in the complexity and joy of being outside.

As Quiller says, “the rest is frosting on the cake”.

In addition to his wonderful paintings featured on his website, Stephen Quiller has a line of paints, palettes, videos, and books. He also offers a number of art workshops throughout each year. Please visit his website, to see more about his enthusiasm for the earth, painting and plein air painting.

And, I invite you to visit my website to see my videos, paintings and prints available through And watch our videos on our channel on YouTube

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