Painting in nature is unlike painting anywhere else.

Ever-changing light, shadows, wildlife and, of course, pesky summer storms can wreak havoc on artists’ plans — but they wouldn’t have it any other way.

Five young students, ranging from locals to Texans, learned the trade from professional plein air painters last week at Schwabachers Landing.

Artist Jeanne Mackenzie, one of the founders of Rocky Mountain Plein Air Painters, helped lead the new workshop, titled Morning with the Masters: Youth Paint Out.

“I’m excited that we’re doing more youth outreach for the arts,” she said. “They’re enjoying everything the park has to offer, and it’s a new experience, something they can take back home.”

Plein air painting is the practice of painting outside, often shaded by a large umbrella to diffuse the light. People have done it for centuries, but artists like Claude Monet and Pierre-Auguste Renoir turned the technique into an recognized art form.

Bridget Bottomley, events and outreach coordinator for the Grand Teton Association, said the workshop is the first of its kind and the brainchild of a partnership between the Grand Teton Association and the Art Association of Jackson Hole.

“We’ve been working for years to come up with some program during Plein Air for the Park that engages our youth, not only in our community but all over the country,” Bottomley said. “If we can get the youth engaged through art, we can make that leap or that connection to nature.”

Plein Air for the Park is an annual fine art show and sale that hosts artists who paint outside in Jackson Hole and Grand Teton National Park. Forty percent of the proceeds benefit the Grand Teton Association, which supports educational, interpretive and scientific programs in the park.

Bottomley described the youth paint out as a way to “bring it all together and instill something really special at this critical age.”

“There’s a short window of time where you have a chance to capture that in a young person,” she said.

At midday, the artists — all girls — were lost in their paintings. Not even the gawking tourists at Schwabachers Landing disturbed their concentration. The only sound was birds chirping.

Young artist Maggie Ployhar focused her painting on the reflection of the mountain range.

“I saw the reflection of the grass in the water, and I wanted to paint the rocks,” said Maggie, 12. “I thought the mountains this way would be fun.”

Maggie’s family has made an annual trip to Jackson from Texas a tradition.

“I’ve been coming to the Tetons since before I was born,” she said. “I came here when my mom was pregnant with me.”

It was only Stella Davis’ second time painting, but you’d never know by looking at the 13-year-old’s canvas. She has an interest in art, Stella said, because of her grandma, who also paints.

“My grandma always paints things and gives them to me,” said Stella, a Jackson Hole resident. “I wanted to paint something for her.”

Plein air painter Debra Joy Groesser stood by to help the students. She picked up plein air painting in a workshop 20 years ago, and little did she know how much impact the experience would have.

“It was such an epiphany for me,” Groesser said.

She used to shoot rolls and rolls of film and paint from photos. Painting outside helped Groesser realize “how important it is to paint from life.”

“You see so much more,” she said. “And the paintings are much more believable.”

A small price to pay, Groesser said, for “battling bugs, the sun and racing clouds.”

Mackenzie said that painting the Tetons is a unique challenge.

“The locals know their mountains,” Mackenzie said.

She and other out-of-state artists often use topographic maps to get the right perspective and depth.

“Painting the Tetons is like painting a portrait,” said Groesser, who is from Oklahoma. “People know when it’s wrong.”

Students began by learning techniques and making a basic sketch of how they wanted to capture the scene.

“You have 360 degrees to work with, and you need to narrow the field,” Mackenzie said. “What’s your focal point? What do you want to show your viewers?”

Then they started to paint acrylic on canvas. Supplies were included, and the program was open to middle and high school students at a cost of $35.

The workshop, Bottomley hopes, will grow in years to come.

“It’s only up from here,” she said.

Bottomley hopes the workshop, although only a few hours long, had a large impact on how the students view art and nature.

“They will eventually become the stewards of our national parks and of our public lands,” she said. “We need to engage them now.”

And perhaps, the stewards of plein air painting, too.

“It can become a lifelong love for them,” Groesser said. “It did for me.”

Contact Kylie Mohr at 732-7079, or @JHNGschools.

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