Oil Painting en plein air



Posted on 11/30/2019 at 10:10pm
Arriving at the entrance, my long skirt brushed against the lavender plants blooming on both sides of the renovated ancient stone maison where our group of Adventure-Artists was staying this past summer in the South of France. The fragrance filled the morning air as I paused to enjoy it for a moment, and gazed at the beauty that surrounded me. In the distance, there was a brilliant green field where majestic looking horses with short trimmed manes and tails that were grazing in the morning sun. Heavily-pruned gnarly mulberry trees provided a thick cover of shade in the cobblestone courtyard where our breakfast and dinner were served each day. The buildings here were constructed over 300 years ago, and a type of primitive sundial mounted high up on one of the buildings, spoke of the days long ago when time was not digital. That evening from the courtyard, I looked up at the full moon and shouted and pointed up to show anyone around me, “Look! An eclipse of the moon!” A woman with a French accent said to me, “That is just a cloud.” but I kept watching as slowly the moon gradually was covered by over one half. Hours later it slowly went away, the partial eclipse of the moon had welcomed us to France!

A narrow two-lane road that is lined with mature Sycamore trees shades the full length of the road, creating a lovely tunnel-like effect as we drove into the city of Arles. Roman buildings, are throughout the city in stages of decay, and also are the remains of giant arched tunnels buried deep beneath the city, where the Romans built structures using intricate architecture. All that remains of the coliseum dominates the city of Arles skyline. Narrow cobblestone walkways curve upward and away from the massive structure and meander past tall ancient buildings arriving at a lively central square, where the likes of Vincent Van Gogh and Pablo Picasso found inspiration.The bustling area is full of food stalls and sidewalk cafes offering up excellent ethnic food, hot and cold beverages that attract a variety of very interesting local characters. One evening while enjoying a gelato in one of those cafes, there was a man walking behind a man riding a black horse slowly down the crowded street playing the guitar. He strummed the instrument as the horseman invoked the magnificent horse to prance and dance as he made his way around the city square. The horse lifted each hoof high, as he bade it to do, and then in a strange but interesting way, the horse’s hooves clipped and clopped along perfectly in time with the music like castanets. As he rode by, the handsome rider looked down at me and smiled, as he bowed his hat he rode past. A magical evening to remember in Arles, France.


Posted on 11/30/2019 at 10:03pm

Issue 22 November 2019


Posted on 07/03/2018 at 11:00am

My recent trip to Peru was enlightening in so many ways. My innate fear of such a remote area
of the world was indeed overcome. Could intense sunlight and inherited DNA be what makes these Andean people have such a talent with color? Their abilities are everywhere, even in the poorest villages. Colorful fabrics woven on primitive looms by native women sitting outdoors on the ground and working throughout the highlands expressed so much beauty in such an arid, high desert environment. Skills of intricate designs in weaving by using natural dyes and yarns have been passed down for centuries at this extreme elevation of 12,000 ft.



The children wear their mother’s colorful handiwork. Woven one-of-kind hats with colorful pompoms attached, bright ponchos, leggings, and sweaters, that are mostly made from the wool of the Alpaca an animal that also makes this high desert their home. They can also sometimes be seen wearing special hats and sweaters made just for them.

When death comes, local people wrap their loved ones for burial in their finest cloth, the culmination of a life of connection with textiles. From an infant’s first breath to her last, beautiful textiles provide not only warmth, love and consolation but also a tangible sacred knowledge that they connect to a strong tradition of proud people stretching back for centuries.




In the smallest villages, round beautiful faces smile easily, and the women wear a variety of strange hats, some tall, some rather flat but highly decorated, and all were very different. I wondered if wearing them was dependent upon the village or life status, Many of the indigenous Andean women wear a very thick layer of skirts, up to 10 at a time. I was told that when the one underneath gets dirty, she removes and cleans it, and puts it on top of the others. They simply squat to urinate, no need looking for a bathroom. I was amazed when native women told me that when babies are born in her village in the Highlands of Peru, they are not allowed to see the sun for the first 5 months of life. She asked me if I would like to see her baby, and she untied the knot at her neck and nestled inside at the bottom of the colorful wrap on her back was her comfortable sleeping infant. She told me the child was almost 5 months old and will be allowed to be exposed to the sunlight in another week or so. The sunlight in the highlands is unbelievably bright. There is very little shade, and although it was the beginning of their winter when we were there, the sun was very hot during the day but the air was low humidity, comfortable and cool, it would warm to about 60 degrees, and at night the temperature was in the 30’s.

The city of Cusco is a bustling village steeped in history that goes back further than the Inca and sadly polluted with old buses spewing toxic gases as they roar up and down the steep, remote mountainous area in this city of about 500,000 residents. Religion is an emotional, deeply sacred thing to them. Although they are Catholic they still hold ancient pagan-like manifestations with idols and rituals from times long before the Spanish arrived. Arriving during one of their most important festivals, I watched as parades of bands, and many types of floats with towering, very heavy decorated religious manikins and dressed-up statues were carried through the streets by rows of men in colorful dress shirts, swaying back in forth in a dancing motion and sweating profusely as they walked in unison for hours around the plaza.

Painting in the highlands was a challenge but I managed to paint two Plein air

“Plein Cusco” Oil on Linen 10″x10″

paintings while there. One day when most of the streets were closed for the festival, I unfolded my stool on a street where not too many people were walking and set up to do a painting. I worked quickly, as I always do, trying to ignore the crowd that began to form around me. It was the most people I have ever had surrounding me while I worked. I glanced around once or twice to smile at them and they would smile wide and nod affirmatively, most of them staying to watch me the entire time I painted. Their kind encouragement kept me going and gave me an incredible rush of excitement.


Another plein air painting was completed on the street from the entrance to the hotel I was staying. A native woman was setting up her daily meal to be served to passerby’s in a doorway on a busy Cusco street. I was amazed when a crowd soon formed to purchase and eat her meal while standing near her. Within an hour, her food buckets were empty and she was done for the day. I was lucky to capture her. A moment in time, in a changing world.


“Everyday Plein Cusco” Oil on Linen 10″x10″




Posted on 11/29/2017 at 9:46am

Trevi is a hilltop village in Italy with a history waiting to be discovered. Whispered Roman-era stories from the past share that a navigable waterway in the valley linked this and other villages in this Umbrian region to the metropolis of the city of Rome by boat. That storied river is now only a narrow, gentle stream running lazily through the verdant valley and no longer can carry even a small canoe. Trevi still has very interesting architecture. As I look at the gigantic carved “rock” entryways to buildings that appeared perfectly designed with fine sculpted detail, I wondered, “How did our primitive ancestors in history create them and place them perfectly on this high mountain?” With my backpack heavy with painting supplies, I came upon one of these massive entryways on a bright and sunny day.  A  placard printed on the wall next to it assured me that the structure was erected in the 16th century. Perhaps the building itself was added on to, but the entry-way looked so much older. Perhaps the building was destroyed earlier and the entry re-used, or perhaps the whole structure had been renovated at some point, leaving the entryway as it had been, just as we re-use materials from old buildings today.

On either side of the stone entry were carved two heads, a woman’s head on the left and a man’s head on the right. The man had distinctive olive branches in his hair, a sign of the Romans, 27 BC to 476 AD. Remember, this was labeled as a ’16th century Palace’ so I continued through the small door that was encased in a much larger door and opening. I walked silently into a well-worn entryway, the darkened corridor beckoned me toward a daylight-illumined area ahead, and there I found a small enclosed interior room that was open to the sky above. Not a typical courtyard, but the building totally surrounded it with the 4 open floors visable from inside high above that allowed this amazing interior room to enjoy the light of the sky. It was in a very sad state of decay and neglect with building materials, broken bricks, and dusty objects strewn everywhere. The walls were stained, cracked, and peeling from countless years, but you still could see the “bones” of the structure. Arches were everywhere, and shining through from beneath the mold, mildew and crumbling surfaces, were the remains of a beautiful robins-egg blue painted surface that lifted the distinctive, architectural arches throughout the ancient space and gave it an albeit, worn dignity of prior honor.

I decided that this would be a perfect place to paint, away from the bright Umbrian sunshine with nothing to distract me. As I painted in silence in this interior space with natural light coming in, I asked myself, “What were these 3 large square marble vats lined up against one wall together, used for?” I thought of horses, and wondered if they could have made there way in for water and food. But then suddenly, a flash of questioning, “Could this possibly be originally the Palace laundromat?” Located close to the cistern were pipes running everywhere into the centrally-located marble-bordered vat from the roof, and another trio of tubs with one probably for washing, then two for rinsing. A long piece of slanted marble located all along the far end of the tubs was for scrubbing and wringing.
All the mysteries came alive as I listened intently and “heard” in my mind voices, laughter, and singing. What a delightful place to be! I believe that the people who did this work would have enjoyed to come here to do it. Sound echoed and reverberated throughout the space in my mind as I painted…Oh to step into a moment when history is felt once again! I painted the remnants carefully as my mind carried me through a forgotten time of history and I reveled in the enlightenment I received.

“Palace Laundry” Plein Air 16”x20”

Copyright 2017 Sharon Rusch Shaver


Posted on 06/22/2017 at 2:44pm

Steamboat Lake 10″x10″ Plein Air

Rocky Mountain High 8″x10″ Plein Air

Valley Cottonwoods 6″x12″ Plein Air

The Aspens 8″x10″

My Home 10″x10″

Never Leave Me 6″x12″ Plein Air






Posted on 06/22/2017 at 2:06pm

I now see the beauty and variety of Colorado’s harshest landscape. In early spring when the snow is quickly melting, high in the Rocky Mountains there is wild, fragile-tundra where only the most rugged of plants grow, and animals who live there have a tenacity that is unbelievable. I painted in my rental car. The wind was blowing up to 70 miles an hour and it felt as though it was going to lift and carry me off. I worked an hour or so on this painting as the car was buffeted, shook, and bounced up and down as the bully-wind roared outside.

Wind blowing and rocking the car!


“The Colorado Rockies” Oil on Linen, Plein Air, 8″x10″






Posted on 06/17/2017 at 4:18pm

Milkweed Blooming

A single butterfly with faded, worn-looking wings fluttered in front of me as I took my morning nature walk on a cool, misty-morning early this spring. I watched as it landed on one of the newly emerging 4 inch tall, thick, young shoots of milkweed plants beginning to grow. Looking closely I was shocked to see it was a Monarch Butterfly, but there was no bright, orange-golden glow that glistens in the sun on the velvety surface that I had always noticed on their delicate wings. It had somehow faded to a dull, cloudy, almost colorless shade of grey.

I watched mesmerized for several minutes after I recognized what she was, another creature that is facing undeniable changes in their environment. Shocked at her sad-looking condition, I stood quietly as she ignored my presence and fluttered directly to one of the small newly emerging milkweed plants, lighted upon one of its perfectly formed, blueish-green, thick leaves for a few brief seconds, then continued to another freshly emerging plant just like it, ignoring all the other spring weeds and grasses growing everywhere alongside the path where I was walking. She was going from one to the next of the small, non-blooming young milkweed plants. I was mesmerized.

What was she doing? Why was this faded, old-looking Monarch Butterfly going to each one of these very young plants and just touching each of them? The next day I walked back to the wild garden I have created once again on an acre of land by mowing narrow paths through portions of it, and there she was again, the only butterfly anywhere around doing the exact same thing she was doing the day before. I could only guess what she was doing, but it seemed very necessary to her.

Will she be carrying location information to her species, that there are healthy, wild, milkweed plants growing here? The next day on my return to the garden, she was no longer there, and I have not seen another Monarch Butterfly in the past few months since that early spring day. Summer is already heating up in Tennessee. The milkweed plants growing in my yard that the old Monarch Butterfly carefully touched, are now several feet tall and starting to get their lush fragrant blooms. I wonder if those sturdy young shoots could feel her delicate legs touching each of them as they were beginning to grow. Now, I am here painting these wonderful plants and I can feel their power as they stand tall next to me.

I look forward to seeing all the beautiful, delicate young butterflies as they flutter past me going through my wild garden of native plants later this summer. I realize the wildlife in our world is so threatened by our ignorance. I have heard that milkweed is very important to the life-cycle of Monarch Butterflies. We mow thousands of acres into lawns, to create perfect carpets of green. We spray and pull the weeds that will continue to limit nature’s diversity, and these wonderful living creations have all but disappeared from much of the landscape. I did not plant these milkweed plants. They simply started growing when I stopped mowing part of the yard. I hope she went to tell other Monarch Butterflies that these healthy plants are growing here, and I wish I could tell her, “I will always let the milkweed plants grow for you and your species.”

“Milkweed” 10″x10″ Oil on linen Copyright 2017



Posted on 09/30/2016 at 12:50pm
Sharon Rusch Shaver

Sharon Rusch Shaver

We talked all summer about taking out our small skiff for an evening ride just before the sunset, but it seems like we always have too much to do these days. Our old ’77 Ford truck, loaded with the little boat called the “Andrea Dory” and all the things we thought we needed, was waiting patiently on the hillside.

Old ’77 Ford Truck and the Andrea Dory

Never caring much for fast, noisy boats on open water, we have always enjoyed a leisurely ride on calm rivers and creeks with nothing but a battery-powered trolling motor to propel us silently along. One day we looked at each other and at that little boat and knew that it was finally a perfect evening to go.

The truck ride to the boat entry is located a short drive down a beautiful, tree-lined road, one of the very few still standing tall in this area of middle Tennessee. Our guiding mascot at the front of the boat watching intently was my sweet little Maltese, Sunshine, who was very alert and excited as we pushed off from the shore. Motoring slowly under a low bridge brought us into the shallow, glistening, calm creek waters where rarely anyone ventures. The trees gently bending over the waters edge created soothing reflections, giving us a welcome embrace. I brought my small paint box and set up quickly once we arrived in the best area where Dan the Man wanted to cast his fishing line. The evening sun was casting a brilliant glow on the rock wall created by eons of storm waters in this shallow creek in Middle Tennessee. Moments passed by, but with the stillness and floating silence, time seemed to slow down.

I painted quickly that last fading bit of sunlight with colors so brilliant.

A strong healthy catfish was caught and released.

A Great Blue Heron flew by looking for its night perch.

Our little mascot fell asleep.

There are only so many moments in our lives that we want to remember and hold on to. This is one of mine. The paintings I do of these creeks in Tennessee are near and dear to me. I will always cherish these gifts of the nature spirits. There is no way to capture all of my favorite experiences on canvas and with my words, but for a reason that I am not so sure about, I will always continue to try.








Posted on 07/15/2016 at 1:18pm

The artists that join me on adventures to interesting and beautiful destinations to create and paint are at many different levels of experience. Studio artists who have worked for many years from photographs and those who have never tried painting directly from nature will have the most success and fun if they can let go of preconceived notions when they do plein air with oils.

One technique I use and share in my workshops is how I begin a painting. I try to capture my strongest dark values first, and then once I have my composition loosely worked up with the help of special artist tools and various tricks-of-the-trade, I can begin to work my subject’s detail by still continuing in the value study only, by then adding some highlights with additional tools.

Working quickly, I am creating a balance in the details through my value study right from the start. That early work on the painting helps me to do even the most difficult compositions with relative ease of accomplishment. Working the first 15 to 30 minutes this way gives me much better results later in the painting.

Often my students will want to dive right into using a palette of full color, trying to mix deep values that are difficult to achieve  because of their intensity. In order to hold down the values within a complicated composition, I have found it is best to hold back on most color for a little while.

I begin a painting using a mixture of French Ultramarine Blue and Cadmium Red, the deepest I can find, and in 15 to 30 minutes my plein air composition begins to take shape. I then squeeze out some Cadmium Yellow, a touch of Thalo Blue, Alizeran Crimson, and a few greens. (I like Sap Green, Veridian, and Winsor Yellow.)  Lots of color variety within a painting is great, but I try to hold back on most of those until I am sure my composition and value study are ready for me to plow ahead!

My experience painting plein air for over 30 years has taught me that if I go to full color mixing too soon, I sometimes lose my way, and the values can weaken quickly. As I start trying to bring my darkest values back again, areas thicken when I would prefer those to remain thin.

Below is a plein air painting that I worked on one afternoon this week. The Tennessee sun was low enough in the sky to let me work without the heat, humidity, and bugs bothering me too much. Plein Air is fun if you have determination, an adventurous spirit, and the ability to let go if preconceived notions of how to paint in challenging surroundings. Good luck!




“Summer Garden House” Oil on Linen 8″x10″ Plein Air Copyright 2016 SRS


I welcome questions and comments.


Posted on 11/04/2014 at 11:56am

The large jumbo jet rose into the sky from the state of Tennessee as I looked down from the plane in the clear, calm skies from my small cabin window at the vast network of farms that looked like an abstract painting with circles, lines and blocks, muted by blue atmosphere that stretched as far as I could see. Observing the ground from so high above, the world seemed so different from one which I inhabit. Goals and worldly pursuits faded to wonder.


When its final arrival roar of back-thrusting engines brought me back to solid ground,  I was feeling a bit like an adrenaline junkie who climbs the mountains steepest slope for the thrill of accomplishment and the view because I am now participating in my first plein air art event. When the bell rings, we grab our brushes and go to work. Artists from around the world are gathering in wonderful places carrying all of their required equipment to some of the most remote locations to paint. When the light is perfect and conditions tolerable, we all set up and work on a single painting. An artist will sometimes return day after day to the same spot to paint, hoping to capture what a photograph can never do, but during the competition you can only work for the required amount of time on the painting, and the artists must stop when the bell rings again. Good or bad, an artist just uses the best of her ability to produce the painting quickly. I found myself enjoying the mood and felt my painting was acceptable and sold quickly to a collector right after the event.

My good friend, who has a home in Colorado invited me to stay with her and participate in this very special event. She took me to all of her favorite locations in the Rocky Mountain National Park, located just outside the tiny town where she lives called Estes Park, Colorado (Park: Definition: in western states, this is a broad valley in a mountainous region) This historic village nestled between the mountains from the days of early explorers still contains a little of the charm of a bygone era that only a few Colorado towns still have, such as unchanged tall clapboard storefronts and structures built over a hundred years ago.  Those remaining in town are mostly tourist shops now, but they are a reminder from the days when this was a destination for travelers looking for a cool respite from city life in the historic log lodges built high in the mountains, and it still maintains its place as a rugged gem beckoning for continued protection today. When the woman explorer Isabella Bird journeyed through these same mountains during the late 1800’s on a horse that someone loaned her, she was impressed enough to write about her experiences there. One Lodge that remains in Estes Park from the early days is the Crags Lodge.

The paintings I completed while in Colorado were all completed using my plein air technique that I teach. I always do this type of  painting in less than 2 hours.  The light that brought me to the spot that I thought contained the most interest for me, changes so significantly after a short period of time, so I must work very fast. I enjoy the challenge of working quickly, and that is what I help artists to do who join me while traveling to Europe.

I will be conducting another workshop for artists to Europe in spring of 2015. We will be heading to an Irish Castle. Join us!







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