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Plein Air Painting Is A Pandemic-Friendly Pastime

The pandemic has altered many arts activities, but painting plein air is one pastime largely unchanged.

“It sort of helps to feed your soul,” said Betty Siska, who organizes a group of local artists. “Especially because everyone’s lives have changed and there's so many restrictions on what we used to do before COVID hit.”

Plein air painting means to paint outdoors, and it was popularized by the Impressionists in the 1800s. The practice lends itself to social distancing, and members of the Cuyahoga Valley Area Plein Air Painters have continued to meet weekly since June, bringing along a mask with their arts supplies.

“Being outdoors, and, you know, being able to safely socialize and having contact with other people, it's just been so psychologically healthy,” Siska said.

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Betty Siska paints with pastels in Akron's Glendale Cemetery with the Cuyahoga Valley Area Plein Air Painters. [Carrie Wise / ideastream]

Siska picks a different scenic spot in Northeast Ohio for each of the weekly painting sessions, held Wednesdays through the end of October. This local painting group evolved from another Medina resident Dave Fawcett helped start years ago, with the same intent of gathering to create outdoors.

“Much of my painting may not be totally true to the scene, but it's more of how I feel about what I'm looking at,” he said.

Dave Fawcett’s granddaughter, Amanda, ended up joining him this year for the weekly painting sessions after she returned home early from the Peace Corps due to the pandemic.

“It’s been my Wednesday ritual, and it’s the only thing close to routine at all that I’ve had this summer,” she said.

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Amanda Fawcett regularly joins her grandfather, Dave Fawcett, to paint with the Cuyahoga Valley Area Plein Air Painters. [Carrie Wise / ideastream]

Group members live in several counties around the region and the painting sessions are open to anyone – amateur, professional or somewhere in between. The group posts weekly updates about painting meetups to the Medina County Art League’s Facebook page

“Plein air painting allows me, really challenges me, to loosen up my style and adjust to the changing light and paint quickly to really capture a scene,” Amanda Fawcett said. “To finish a painting in two hours is something completely new to me, because otherwise I'd be spending like several hours just pouring over a piece.”

Bob Maurer of Canton has been painting outdoors for decades. It’s how he was taught, back in 1972.

“There's just some unknown quality, that just sitting there, you just capture more of the scene, what's important in the scene, and it’s so much easier to see it than through photographs,” he said.

On a recent Wednesday morning, seven artists scattered among the mausoleums and gravestones at Akron’s historic Glendale Cemetery. Maurer spent his time seated in front of its Civil War Memorial Chapel. First, he sketched the building and then he added watercolors. After completing the painting, he said he’s not sure what he’ll do with it.

“It’s just one of the hundreds of other paintings that I have no idea what to do with, I just have to do,” Maruer said.

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Bob Maurer's plein air painting from a session at Glendale Cemetery with the Cuyahoga Valley Area Plein Air Painters. [Carrie Wise / ideastream]

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