Get some air

Up here, plein air painting is very much a thing

Phyllis Shafer paints outdoors—as do many Tahoe artists.

Phyllis Shafer paints outdoors—as do many Tahoe artists.

Tahoe dwellers tend to be passionate about their surroundings. Actually, who isn’t? It’s hard to argue with the region’s appeal. Even a lot of us committed high-desert dwellers could never get enough of the pine-scented air, the enormous, clear lake that you can swim in as you stare off at snowy peaks in August, or the miles and miles of trails to bike and hike on. It’s easy to see why plein air painting is big up here.

Phyllis Schafer is easily the region’s most established painter. She spends hours at a time at an easel, ideally one set up off a trail, miles from the car, rendering places like Fallen Leaf Lake in precise bands of color that show off the natural world’s tiny details and sweeping vistas.

“It’s like we’re all attending the same church,” Schafer said, describing the role of plein air painting in Tahoe culture. “We know the pines, the changing of seasons, the way certain things look, the quality of the water in the Truckee River. People know what the trails are like at each time of year and when things are blooming.”

Plein air fans in Reno will be able to see a Schafer exhibition at Stremmel Gallery in 2019. Meanwhile, the opportunities to see—or make—plein air paintings in Tahoe are numerous. Several Tahoe Art League members embark on plein air painting sessions together. North Tahoe Arts hosts the North Lake Tahoe Plein Air Open, a weeklong gathering to paint, show, exhibit and view plein air works, June 12-16. And Sierra Nevada College offers a weeklong workshop, June 11-15, with Lori Hanson, another well known Northern California painter.