The challenges of painting en plein air (painting in the open air rather than in a studio) are many – such as preventing your easel from toppling over in the wind, finding a spot on the beach that will be suitable for the next 3 hours and won’t become submerged as the tide rises, or just losing the view that you’ve been busy capturing for the entire morning. This is what happened on the first morning of Elena’s Fiji workshop: the tranquil coastal landscape was unexpectedly enveloped in a thick grey smoke as a local householder decided to burn all his rubbish in a big beach bonfire. This is where photography is invaluable – and particularly the big screens of iPads and tablets. Having recorded the original scene digitally, the painters could continue to paint unperturbed until the bonfire had subsided and visibility returned. When painting en plein air, you have to expect the unexpected and work around it.
It happened again a couple of days later on the beach at Bulikula. The striking coastal rock formation that was the morning’s painting subject was surrounded by the flat reef platform and rock pools of low tide. The painters focused on the rock rearing up from the varied hues of tan, ochre, orange and pale blue of the reef platform – but by the end of the morning, the tide had covered everything and the rock was now standing in a glass- calm sea of glinting blue water. Once again, photos came to the rescue.
Such challenges might upset many painters but Elena has the talent of remaining calm and positive throughout. She focuses on building up the painting section by section, moving along the line of students’ easels with suggestions and small brush strokes here and there, and then sitting down at her own easel to demonstrate a technique. The group she taught during the week were never worried, enveloped in an air of quiet concentration and application to the canvas.
By the end of the week everyone had at least 4 artworks to take home, some still needing more work but all good enough to show in an informal exhibition in the big bure at Daku. It was a most impressive closing exhibition and an admirably accomplished end to a wonderful week.