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.
The view of the scene I painted with instruction from Lynn Onley
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 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!!
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.
The dock at Porteau Cove.
The granite mountains above Porteau Cove on the highway to Whistler.
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 1928 – 2004, one of Canada’s most celebrated artists, painting Plein Air.