This series of alla prima (created all in one sitting), plein air (painted onsite out in nature  oil pastel paintings was inspired by spending a couple weeks outside by several different campfires in the Catskill Mountains of upstate New York.


I was there participating in a couple of remarkable workshops at the Blue Deer Center; read all about my unusual adventures in my post about it: here.


Right before heading up into the Catskills, I’d explored Olana, the historical landscape masterpiece created by the famous American landscape painter, Frederic Church. I’d already been attempting to paint plein air while traveling to various client gigs; but had not yet found my groove. 


Perhaps inspired by Church’s impressive body of work (most of which is at Olana) and stories about how he completed an entire oil painting in 45 minutes while on a river boat sailing by the waterfall he was painting, I snagged some canvas panels and oil pastels before heading up into the misty mountains.


The first few days I simply settled in to camp life: it moves at a very different speed, and in rhythm with the natural world. It’s much easier to slow down, relax and engage in the world around us up there, an opportunity facilitated by no internet access! 


The nights are pitch black, making the stars are extraordinarily bright, and the air is quietly full of nature sounds: the nearby Saskawhihiwine River, cheerful birdsong, a crisp breeze rustling the leaves or a soft rainfall were always speaking to us.


By the 3rd day, I’d settled in to the space, rhythm of our life there, and company of my companions at camp. At that point, I finally pulled my art supplies out of my suitcase. I still didn’t know what I was going to paint, but had 5 canvases with me, so was determined to complete an entire series of …something up here! 


At first I’d thought about a series of landscapes a la Frederic Church, or some wildflowers from the nearby fields. But as we tended to spend long stretches of time sitting around the campfire and chatting, it became clear that capturing a likeness of the campfire and it’s containers could be a fine artistic challenge. 


I say “likeness” because the fire, she is constantly changing! Not only do the flames leap and dance about freely like a flamenco dancer,  but even the overall shape and structure of the fire shifts, and the color and position of the wood changes as existing logs burn down to coals and new ones are added. 


Thus, rather than an exact replica of each fire, these fire paintings are perhaps more like viewing a compilation of several different points in time of the same fire, all collapsed all together onto one 2D canvas panel. Almost like Picasso created different viewing perspectives on the same canvas; rather here I’m creating the same viewing perspective with different time points. It was indeed an exciting and extremely engrossing challenge.


For not only did it take me more like 4 hours per painting (vs Church’s 45 minutes), but I was literally not moving from the spot until finished. It was an intense artistic connection within my own body (eye – mind – hand; and physique from sitting still so long) as well as an intense connection with the fire itself as my artistic topic of interest.  


I can honestly say I have an entirely more intimate and appreciative experience of fire now. And greater confidence with just letting myself get into my plein air, alla prima painting groove regardless of who or what is going on around me!


And at the end we had a little fun with an impromptu art exhibition of all the pieces at one of the camp fire pits around which we spent so much time together.


Which fire painting is your favorite …and why? 

Let us know in a blog comment below! Or contact me directly!


Ready to have one – or all!- of these beauts on your own walls? All 5 pieces are currently available!  


You can purchase them thru my online gallery, (they are all 11×14, oil pastel on canvas panel). Right now I have the originals only; but would be thrilled to make prints available if there is interest – contact me with your requests! 


I’m excited to announce that 20% of all fire painting sales will be donated to the Blue Deer Center , a sacred site and school for learning about our ancestral wisdom, sacred fire communities, plant spirit medicine and the like: work that I believe is incredibly important in the world!


XO Hannah




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