About the Windsor & Essex County Plein Air Artists
It always surprises me when people ask me what I mean by Painting en Plein Air. En Plein air is a French expression which means “in the open air”, and is particularly used to describe the act of painting outdoors. I often think that many know to whom I’m referring when I mention Canada’s “Group of Seven.” The reality is that many haven’t any idea what or who I’m talking about. Plein Air Painting is celebrating a revival around the globe. Just do a Google search on Plein Air Painting and you will get over 3 million hits, and the Windsor & Essex County Plein Air Artists won’t be very far down the first page.
It’s not easy, but it is extremely rewarding. You learn to work quickly. When painting en Plein Air, light and shadow are constantly changing. You can’t chase the light, you must make a decision on when to capture that one moment. The artist must always be aware of where the sun will be at any point during the day. Then again, you might be painting at night or on a cloud covered day where shadows are scarce. That’s when Plein air gets really interesting. What effect does the available light have on the scene?
You maybe a studio painter, and think that plein air is not for you, but the act of painting from life outdoors will improve your studio work. We must warn you that painting outdoors from life may just spoil you from ever painting from a photograph again. The experience becomes a memory not soon forgotten. Ask anyone in our group and they will tell you that there is no greater joy for us, then when we are able to paint outdoors, and introduce others to painting en Plein Air.
Our group, The Windsor & Essex County Plein Air Society, was established in 2009, and is devoted to educating and promoting plein air painting. The core members of the group have painted together since the mid 1990’s. We meet weekly on location, usually on Mondays, at various locations throughout Windsor, and Essex County. The group is open to anyone, and is free to join.
Elizabeth Gaye MacDonald
Co-founder, Windsor & Essex County Plein Air Society
About the Founders
Margaret Dawson – Van Der Veen is a native of Windsor, Ontario. Her life’s journey took her across Canada, and while in the military to Europe. She met and married Don Dawson while in France. She and Don lived many places in Canada and Europe, including France and Belgium. In 1994 Don was diagnosed with cancer. They returned to Windsor, where he passed a year later. Margaret remained in Windsor and taught painting through the Department of Parks and Recreation programs. In the fall of 1996 she met Bob Van Der Veen, they married in 1999, and they took to the road in a motorhome to start a new chapter in their lives.
Art has always been her passion. With over twenty-five years of painting in watercolour, Margaret feels most at home in that medium. She also challenges herself with new subjects and media, most recently water based oils and acrylics. As an international artist Margaret exhibits in juried, group and solo shows, and has many awards for her work. Her work can be found in Private and Corporate collections in Japan, England, France, U.S.A and Canada. She owned and operated her own gallery in Port Stanley, and has travelled extensively for her art. Some of her most memorable times were spent sailing with her husband Don on Lake Ontario and in the Bay of Quinte area. Her intimate knowledge of sailing, love of the water, and sound of the wind in the sails is felt in her nautical paintings. “GAM on Yachting” magazine often features her work on its cover.
Elizabeth Gaye MacDonald (nee Clarke) was born in Grosse Point, Michigan. In 1964, her father left the city life behind and returned to the country of his birth, Canada. He found a small farm-house on the outskirts of Harrow, where they thankfully embraced rural living. In 1976 she met her husband Sheldon MacDonald. He is very supportive of her art, and they have a wonderful solid marriage.
Having a passion for art, but the greater need for food and shelter, Elizabeth turned to a clerical career. For twenty-two years she worked her way up the corporate ladder. She was well-respected in the accounting industry and is an alumnus of KPMG an international accounting firm. When her mother passed in 1991 her then frail father came to live with her and her husband. Life took a dramatic turn. She re-thought her priorities and left her successful career to care for her father full-time. Little did she know that her father would be instrumental in her returning to University to get a Visual Arts Degree.
Insatiable curiosity, a thirst to create, and a fearless positive attitude towards any project at hand drives her to try new things. Employers, professors and friends refer to her as being multi-talented. Be it a multi media installation that brings light to the plight of the elderly, large 4′ x 5′ figurative watercolours, 4′ x 5′ mural photographic prints, figurative or abstract intaglio etchings and mono prints, or an intimate watercolour landscape, she is at home in many genres.
Her most rewarding experience to date came in 2009 when she returned to her love of watercolour Plein Air painting. She and a long time friend co- founded the “Windsor & Essex County Plein Air Society.” Using the social media Facebook, she started to invite her artist friends to join them on weekly outings. Their mission is to share with others how painting from nature can rejuvenate the spirit, and soothe the soul. In two short summers as at October 1st, 2010 the group has grown to 41 members. While not all of these members join the paint outs each weekend currently has between 6 – 9 members in attendance painting on location, and this number continues to grow each week.
Elizabeth or “Gaye” as she is called by her closest friends, has shown her work in juried shows, and won awards for her photography and paintings Other achievements include curating the group show “Ink a tribute to John Pufal”. Working as part of a team she helped organize, promote and participating in staging the largest BFA graduating class exhibition in the 50 year history of the University of Windsor School of Visual Arts. She placed the call to artists, photographed, framed and cataloging art for the WPF international juried exhibition “Evolution.” Was involved in organizing, Windsor Printmakers’ Forum, annual contribution to VITA (Visitor in the Arts) a joint project between Art Gallery of Windsor, Artcite, University of Windsor School of Visual Arts, and other area arts organizations. She has also participated in “Artscene” a project of Artcite, and was part of the University of Windsor Art in the Park student show for 5 consecutive summer and winter shows.