Plein Air workshop moves to the mountains of Whistler 

The annual Federation of Canadian Artists' event will take place from Sept. 16 to 21

click to enlarge PHOTO SUBMITTED - Scenic view Artists from around the country will take part in the Federation of Canadian Artists' Plein Air workshop Sept. 16 to 21.
  • Photo submitted
  • Scenic view Artists from around the country will take part in the Federation of Canadian Artists' Plein Air workshop Sept. 16 to 21.

It sounds like a landscape painter's dream.

From Sept. 16 to 21, artists from across the country will descend upon Whistler to head up the mountains and into nature with their paints and canvas in tow for a weeklong Plein Air ("open air") workshop, hosted by the Federation of Canadian Artists.

"It's open to any level of painter," says Susie Cipolla, a local artist and organizer of the workshop. "Plein air painters typically paint outside, which is quite different (than painting in a studio). There's a whole other element when you're outside braving the winds, rain, cold and dragging your gear up to the perfect spot."

The FCA workshop has taken place over the last dozen years on Gabriola or Salt Spring Islands. When Cipolla, a long-time Whistler local, took over as chair of the committee organizing the event this year, the event moved with her. She's hoping this year will be successful enough for the FCA, a not-for-profit organization, to keep it here permanently.

"It's very different," she says of the locations. "Salt Spring and Gabriola are small communities. They're very laid back. The scenery and landscapes you would paint are seashores and cottages on the beach. Here, we have these massive mountains and lakes and rivers and the architecture in the village. Whistler Blackcomb has been very generous with our heavily subsidized lift passes. Over five days of painting, part of it will be going up the mountain two of those days and painting. It's very unique."

The rest of the itinerary for the workshop is similarly compelling. Just over 50 artists had registered by last week, including a dozen "signature FCA members" who have received special designation for their accomplishments. They will be broken into groups to learn from instructors — who include Utah artist Michael Workman, illustrator, painter and former Whistler resident Brent Lynch, plein air colourist Camille Przewodek and California-based water colour artist Michael Reardon — and paint in lush locales like Green Lake, Nicklaus North, North Arm Farm in Pemberton, in the village and on Whistler Mountain.

"The beginners are usually quite overwhelmed in the beginning then they realize it's not a competition and they're not here to make a masterpiece," Cipolla says. "They're here to have fun, learn, experience painting outside and experience the wonderful locales we have to paint at. The accomplished painters will just dive right in."

In the evenings, the groups will come together for exclusive, unique events that draw on Whistler's wealth of artistic talent. For example, one session features a photo display by Blake Jorgenson while another evening, will include a "90-minute painting challenge" in which nine FCA signature artists will paint the same image.

"It's going to be fascinating to see how nine different, well-established artists (create) nine completely different paintings from the same picture," Cipolla says.

While those events are closed to the public, on Sept. 21, locals will get a chance to see the culmination of the artists' work at a one-hour show and sale from 5 p.m. until 6 p.m. at the Squamish Lil'wat Cultural Centre.

"It's great," Cipolla says. "On Salt Spring or Gabriola, we would have people there right when we opened and rush in and buy three pieces. The work is inexpensive because it's what people have done all week outside and they're experimenting. There will be some really nice pieces."

While some of the less experienced artists might shy way from showing their work, they're all encouraged to participate. Each painter will have a small space (in this case, a banquet chair) on which they can display as many pieces as they want. In the past, most of the work has sold in the first half hour. "It's pretty casual," Cipolla adds. "People mill around and basically take it all in and purchase if they want to."

If you can't wait that long, some pieces by FCA signature artists are currently on display in a small exhibit in Millennium Place's foyer. "We have a fairly small display," she says. "That's the work of seven senior signature members of the FCA. It's a variety; it's not all landscape."

There are still a few spaces left for the $695 workshop. Registration is available online at or over the phone at 604-681-2744.

"We're hoping that it will be in Whistler again next year," Cipolla says. "We feel Whistler has so much to offer that when people see what they're getting this year and the business support and the value-added experience that we offer, our numbers will grow next year and we will be allowed to keep it here. This is a test year."

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