Plein Air Painting: Taking Your Paints Outside

Last week I was gifted with a ‘plein air’ watercolor workshop given by Lynn Onley. Plein air painting is a familiar concept today, but in the late 1800s when the Impressionists ventured out of their studios into nature to investigate and capture the effects of sunlight and different times of days on a subject, it was quite revolutionary. We met at Porteau Cove, which is situated overlooking Howe Sound, 38 km north of Vancouver on the Sea-to-Sky Highway on the way to Whistler. Interestingly, I learnt that an old ship has been sunk in the bay, so as well as attracting outdoor enthusiasts, scuba divers and marine biologists come here to explore  the depths of the ocean. A pebble beach slopes gently into Howe Sound in Porteau Cove. On summer days when the tide is low and the sun high, the warm rocks heat the incoming waters, making swimming here a pleasure. Lynn Onley who gave the workshop, is the daughter of Toni Onley, one of Canada’s most celebrated artists. His landscapes have always provided a special significance for Canadians in reviving an appreciation for our surroundings. Lynn Onley following in her father’s footsteps is an accomplished artist herself. I felt very privileged, and excited to have the opportunity to learn the art of watercolor from Lynn Onley as passed down to her from her celebrated father Toni Onley.

 Lynn Onley Porteau Cove 2010  
The view of the scene I painted with instruction from Lynn Onley
Lynn Onley Porteau Cove 2010
Lynn Onley painting Plein Air in Porteau Cove using her father, Toni Onley’s paint box

Lynn Onley painting Plein Air in Porteau Cove using her father, Toni Onley’s paint box and his wood and canvas folding chair.  The first step is to lay in the color washes for the sky, and while still wet take tissue and blot to make the clouds.  The next step is to paint in the mountains, using the ‘soup’ as Lynn calls it, which is the remaining mixture from the sky as the base to add the next colors to.  Lynn showed us how to mix Alizarin Crimson with Sepia, to tone it down, to paint in the slab-like chunks of red granite showing in the mountains.

 Lynn Onley Porteau Cove 2010 
Lynn Onley demonstrates watercolors techniques

Then Lynn added in the ocean, and next the shore, and then trees.  At this point you can continue to add more detail, or take the painting home to finish.  I had to leave at this point with my water color still needing more work.  I took it with me on my trip to Desolation sound and added in more detail, working from memory and being further inspired by the colors and light in the more northern atmosphere of Desolation Sound – Desolation Sound is at the 52nd Parallel, while Porteau Cove is at the 49th Parallel.  Thanks Lynn for the inspiring day!!

Porteau Cove 2010 Patricia Gray 
My finished watercolor of Porteau Cove after a morning of instruction from Lynn Onley.
11” x 15” on 140 lb watercolor paper , Windsor Newton paints

A pebble beach slopes gently into Howe Sound. It was low tide so the green moss on the rocks usually below the water line was showing.  We started painting at 10:00 AM, and the sky, cloud formations, and shadows on the water were constantly changing as the sun and tide line changed.

Porteau Cove 2010
The dock at Porteau Cove.

Porteau Cove 2010
The granite mountains above Porteau Cove on the highway to Whistler.

 Porteau Cove 2010Porteau Cove 2010

These pictures are of the beautiful tree I sat under while painting at Porteau Cove.  I took these pictures as inspiration – possibly for my next water color.

Van Gogh, in a letter to his brother, claims to
“devour nature ceaselessly,”
and finds himself  
“in surroundings which entirely engross me,
which so order, fix, regulate, renew and enlarge my thoughts
that I am quite wrapped up in them.” 

Toni Onley Toni Onley

Toni Onley 1928 – 2004, one of Canada’s most celebrated artists, painting Plein Air.

Porteau Cove 2010
Map of Porteau Cove

Patricia Gray Inc is an award winning Interior Design firm  in Vancouver, Canada who blogs about Lifestyle and WHAT'S HOT  in the world of Interior Design.
2010 © Patricia Gray | Interior Design Blog™


  1. amazing :) I love watercolors, one of my favorite mediums to use!


  2. Wow that is awesome! I'm doing myself some paintings too, but you're really good at it!
    I would love to follow a workshop like this one day. It's on my bucket list ;-)!

  3. Thanks for the lesson. Recently bought watercolor tools for rendering my landscape designs.

    Playing with it now before taking classes.

    Have a great weekend.

    Garden & Be Well, XO Tara

  4. Great post, Patricia! I also paint but I´ve never used watercolors. This was an useful lesson!

    I´m glad that I found your blog! The picture here show a beautiful part of life and it´s so inspiring! Your ideas and the way you see things just help us to find our own creative side.

    Have a nice weekend!

  5. Diane30/7/10

    I really envy you this wonderful day with Lynn. She’s a terrific person and a credit to her father.

    Your painting is a little beauty!

    Xxx Diane

  6. Lanell30/7/10

    envious! I paint 'Plein Aire' sitting inside a zippered screen tent! Here in South Texas it wouldn't be possible otherwise. Lucky You. That's beautiful country up there, but....alas, it isn't Texas...enjoy

  7. Oh, this is just lovely! My husband is the artist painter in the family. He would've enjoyed this post. I am very good at painting walls

  8. This looks like a wonderful way to spend an afternoon and your painting is lovely.

  9. So much fun!

    I may get my old watercolours and Fabrianno paper out of the drawer and visit the beach this weekend for some artsy fartsy time.

  10. luvd the 1st landscape, n d water effect is too gud!!!

  11. You are very talented dear. Very nice paintings

  12. I think one can make great paintings using these watercolors. This is great.

  13. What a lovely experience for you! I'm always drawn to watercolor, but have always painted in acrylic or oils. Watercolor has always scared me a bit, but I think with the kind of instruction you had, I might get over that! I love your painting...my colors!

  14. Patricia,
    You continue to teach & inspire me everytime I visit.
    Thank you so much for that.
    xo Lisa

  15. What a wonderful experience. I took a plein air class in the spring and although quite challenged, I really enjoyed my time. We painted some scenes around the Texas hill country and I loved watching my instructor paint. It is such fun and so inspiring to observe a really talented artist. Your watercolor of Porteau Cove is really lovely, Patricia.

  16. Patricia,
    I wish I had one paint brush's worth of your talent!

  17. I find this so incredibly inspiring. I do not have this talent, but my son is a budding artist. My hope is that he will enjoy going into nature in this manner and capturing its beauty.
    ~ Elizabeth

  18. very nice post and paintings. Thanks for sharing.

  19. How lucky to have instruction from Lyn Onley. I am planning a trip to Italy and will be taking my waterclour paints with me. Or I will just take lots of pictures.

  20. Great post, Patricia. Keep doing quality work like this.

  21. Just discovered your blog. Love it. I'm an oil painter and used to do to watercolors. Looked like you had a good time. Nothing better than plein air. Hope you'll do more and let us see.

  22. Folding Tables7/8/10

    Hey nice work i like keep it on ...thanks for sharing

  23. Watercolor is more familiar concept now, and the pics are really awesome...great effort kept on each & every paint & it's inspiring for the new learners.

  24. Perfection Patricia, you are very talented!! As Ivan said I may do some watercolors again, and I love Fabrianno Paper!

    Be sure to enter my latest Giveaway!

    Art by Karena

  25. I'm a Vancouver native and didn't even know there was a shipwreck in the bay! Cool. Loving the view in your photos.

  26. Nice pictures and an excellent blog. I like very much your work.
    Looking all fotoblog Teuvos images


    and yours coments thanks


  27. i am with renae... you are so talented... i just buy the art... and love every one as if they were my children... xx

  28. Great compilation. Thanks for inspiring. Keep it going

  29. Manuel28/8/10

    Some amazing painting there, Patricia.

  30. God has created another Artist. Welcome to a new view on life. Go Girl. It has been a blessing to me painting, I love it. You are doing great.


  31. i love your blog! it's so inspiring!

  32. i must say,
    i envy you the beautiful part of the world you like in.
    i would be painting too
    if i had the magnificent vistas that are so near to your home.

    hug x

  33. wow beautiful scenery...great photos and history

  34. great painting! i love watercolours :)

    check out my fashion illustrations at http://illustrated-moodboard.blogspot.com/ :)

  35. Anonymous20/9/10

    How glorious to be able to paint in such beautiful surroundings.
    Lovely painting.

  36. Amazing pictures as they really catch the attention of visitors. Next resource as Global Interior Design - Interior Design London

  37. You are an inspiration to us all, Patricia!

  38. Hii Patricia!! I read your post and i really enjoyed it. You encouraged me more like anything. Thanks for the wonderful thing you shared with us!!!

  39. The above paintings are fabulous! Thanks for telling us the best usage of watercolor. interior painting Seattle


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