Northern Wilds Magazine
Rocky cliffs and Lake Superior's rugged shoreline are ideal subjects for plein air painting. | SUBMITTED

Plein Air Artist Brings the Outdoors In

Most painters prefer to keep insects at bay and their toes warm while they work.

Lisa Stauffer is not like most artists.

From the heat of summer to the depths of winter, Stauffer prefers by leaps and bounds to explore the creative process outdoors. It’s a type of art known as ‘plein air’ and the centerpiece of this style involves getting outdoors.

“The reason to paint outdoors is to capture the feeling of that moment in time,” Stauffer said. “If we can communicate the feeling of the day, the wind, the temperature or the atmosphere, that can help us connect even more strongly to the subject matter and hopefully we can hone our skills to communicate that sense of being there to our viewers.”

For example, Stauffer explained, if the sun shining, birds singing or the feeling created by a warm breeze can be captured in a painting, that’s art in plein air.

“All this adds to the information we absorb while we’re painting,” she said.

Lisa Stauffer working ‘en plain air.’ | SUBMITTED

Stauffer will be among a collection of artists who converge on Grand Marais and the surrounding area in early September for a plein air competition. The event brings more than 70 artists from far and wide to embrace the beauty of Lake Superior and the many hills, rivers and lakes situated nearby. The competition area for the event is anywhere in Cook County, stretching from the Canadian Border to the Caribou River in Schroeder. The artists compete for cash and other prizes during the outdoor event, painting throughout the course of a week in various spots around Cook County. At the completion of the competition, their works are displayed at the Johnson Heritage Post Art Gallery in Grand Marias.

Stauffer is among the artists competing this year.

“It’s both friendly and quite competitive,” she said of the event. “Some people paint for fun and some people paint professionally. I think most of us are working to improve our skills and in that way we’re competing against ourselves, a lot of competition is in the mind.”

In addition to the competition, the Grand Marais Art Colony hosts a variety of classes and demonstrations throughout the week. Stauffer is also teaching a course Sept. 9 during the plein air competition, specifically a demonstration about capturing ripples and reflections on water. Stauffer said she aims to teach the course near Artists’ Point in Grand Marais.

“I think these mini-workshops are wonderful for painters who want to learn more about these topics or from a particular painter,” she said. “These are also interesting for anyone who wants to learn more about plein air painting by watching a painting being created.”

This painting of an old farm building showcases Lisa Stauffer’s eye for detail. | SUBMITTED

Cheryl LeClair-Sommer is also a plein air artist from Minnesota. She has traveled to various plein air competitions with Stauffer and views her as both an artist and a teacher.

“Lisa is free with her advice while being able to understand the innate skill level of an artist,” LeClair-Sommer said, “whether beginner, developing, or an advanced

Stauffer was born in Minnesota and these days she calls Duluth home. She does have a traditional studio in Duluth, though her idea of a space where artists can, or perhaps should work is often far beyond the confines of four walls.

“My traveling studio is actually my car driven into the great outdoors,” she said. “My easel and all my painting supplies are always in the back and ready to go when I want to paint.”

Stauffer paints primarily in pastel and she often utilizes a watercolor underpainting in her work. And while plein air involves paint and an artistic touch, observation of the natural world is essential. With that in mind, Lake Superior and Highway 61 are often a source of inspiration in Stauffer’s work, though her artist’s eye is always on the lookout for unique opportunities.

“We are surrounded by a great variety of subject matter here,” Stauffer said. “Bluffs, meadows, forests, farms, barns and architecture, historic towns and wildlife. It’s all wonderful stuff for someone who enjoys being out in nature.”

To view more of Stauffer’s work, visit:

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