Kristen Olson is new to the Susan Kathleen Black Foundation, so she thought she had better be super-organized going into the Dubois workshop. “I tried to plan out a schedule of plein air locations to paint, different each day,” she said. “Well, that’s not going to work.”
The California artist asked Pam Cable and Wanda Mumm about possible spots to paint, and Mumm dutifully sent along a list. But she also let Olson know that 1) the weather in Dubois is changeable, and 2) an instructor never knows what else is scheduled on a given day or who else may be going to your spot or another. Plans are easily wrecked by a particularly enticing demo by a painting legend inside Headwaters that drains away most participants, or a particularly threatening thunderstorm that is churning in the West and barreling our way. Olson heard this and accepted it. She wouldn’t have that extra bit of security provided by a detailed itinerary.
What this meant for Olson was, it’s business as usual.
“I like to be open to whatever,” she says. “I let each location dictate a specific lesson. Every painting has to have the fundamentals—line, value, color, edges, and so forth–that you have to address, but when you look at a scene… you have a feeling for it. You may go to paint a glacial lake, but when you get there, the light on a boulder or something very different gets your attention. I am going to be open to anything, because that kind of thing happens a lot. When I go to Dubois, I will see things I’m expecting to see, and I will also be actively looking for visual surprises.”
Olson teaches, and she is both wide open and capable of zooming in on specifics. She will happily teach people working in any media, be it pastels, oil, watercolor, or acrylic, and she sometimes organizes entire workshops on one light effect, such as reflections in water, or reflected light and cast shadows on a river. “The challenges—how do you visually describe a large glacial lake on an 8″-x-10″ canvas? How can you create a sense of vastness?”
If you find yourself really enjoying Olson’s company, instruction, or art, thank Wayne Brazil. That SKBer took a workshop with Olson in Laguna Beach and told her all about the Dubois event. Brazil got Olson sufficiently excited about SKB that Olson contacted SKB about being an instructor. It all worked out, and now Olson is ready to see Wyoming for the first time—and to see her art career come full circle, in one sense.
“I grew up loving Robert Bateman’s work,” says Olson. “I remember one of Bateman’s paintings of an owl in a tree, with a lot of mist and moss. He is great at capturing weather, especially the cold and misty. I think his edgework and compositions are amazing. His work is very delicately executed and very well thought out. There are a lot of wildlife painters out there, but the ones who spend a lot of time outdoors, you really appreciate. You can see it in their work. I learned a lot from looking at his paintings as a kid. So it’s full circle, to be teaching at the same place as him.”
Olson has always loved painting horses, so you will probably catch her painting one sometime during the Dubois workshop. She will also enjoy helping wildlife artists paint en plein air, learning the landscape in which Wyoming’s wild animals live. “It’s important to be able to understand the environment that the animals you are painting might be in,” she notes. “When I think of a rattlesnake, I picture one on a dusty trail, because that’s where I’ve seen them. For me, a rattlesnake is always on a dusty trail. It’s the animal in its environment. It’s not just against a black background. I could look an animal up on the Internet and render it, but it wouldn’t have the same feeling. Animals need their environment–literally. It’s essential for them to live.”
Of course, for plein air painters like Olson, painting outdoors is its own reward. “You are in one place for a long time, experiencing life through painting,” she says. “It’s great to really be there and see it and note the passage of time. It’s not just a snapshot. It breathes life into your paintings—both the practice of plein air painting and the reference you get from it.” Ω