Plein-air painters get used to all sorts of weather. Because of the nature of their studio — outside, in the plain air — they operate without a roof over their heads. Unless, of course, they choose to bring one of their own.

“During the Paint du Nord Quick Draw competition in Duluth, Minn., we painted in a huge rainstorm,” watercolor artist Jan Vogtman remembers. “The competition lasted two hours, exactly — they blow a horn to start and stop.”

Told to paint what she saw, Vogtman took the challenge literally.

“My painting shows all the artists painting around me with colorful umbrellas.”

Another time, the Troy, Idaho, painter joined three artist friends in the wilderness, keeping a watchful eye as a memorable storm took an hour to build up.

“When the wind and rain came, we huddled in the car, ate lunch and had a few beers. But the storm had no intention of stopping anytime soon, so we gave it up and went home.”

Even Vogtman’s trip to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, had its moments. While the weather was grand during the Andy Evansen watercolor workshop she took there with a friend, sunny skies disappeared on the way back.

“We got stranded in Seattle during the Big Blizzard and got home two days later than planned.”

Weather inconsistencies, however, are so much a part of plein-air painting that one comes to accept them as constants. So is the matter of travel. Because landscapes do not transport themselves to the artist’s studio, it’s up to the artist to transport herself. And for Vogtman, who lives on Moscow Mountain, four miles from the nearest city of Troy, population 600, getting together with plein-air artist friends for an afternoon of painting often involves significant time in the car.

“Because I live rural, my travel time is normally one hour each way.”

Vogtman discovered watercolor 24 years ago while working at the University of Idaho. Side by side with students barely out of high school, she took as many university level art classes as she could while maintaining a full workload. 

She discovered plein-air in 2009 and since then has competed in regional plein-air competitions as well as the event in Duluth. She is a member of the Palouse Watercolor Socius, the Idaho Watercolor Society headquartered in Boise, and the Northwest Watercolor Society in Seattle. 

And while art is something she was interested in from a very early age, it was not something she was able to focus on until she was an adult and had a “real career” in the business and academic worlds. That’s just the way things were when she was growing up, even though all her A’s in school were in art, not math.

Vogtman recalls the time she entered a drawing competition sponsored by the Minneapolis Art Institute in her hometown.

“I was maybe around 12 years old — and when I saw this competition in the newspaper, I entered. I think the amount of the prize was $250, which had to be used for classes.

“My parents could not afford to send me then or at any time for art education. I was told I could not collect the award.”

She went to school to become a secretary. In a career spanning 36 years, Vogtman worked up to executive assistant to the vice president of Northern Europe for the Control Data Corporation in Minneapolis, and later, upon moving to Idaho, served as the coordinator of the Executive Speaker Series, reporting to the dean of business and economics at the University of Idaho. On retiring in 2000, she challenged herself to dive into the art world, returning to her childhood passion.

In addition to plein-air, Vogtman paints in her studio, a daylight basement of her home where furry forest friends peek through the window and watch. 

Most recently, she has added teaching workshops to taking them herself, conducting an introductory course for 20 students at the Center for Arts and History in Lewiston. She has had a studio at the Artisan Barn in Uniontown, Wash.; earned her merit membership with the Idaho Watercolor Society upon being juried into three annual shows; and served as treasurer of the Palouse Watercolor Socius.

What started out as a hobby has become a business. And what’s perfect about that is how the non-art experience blends and melds well with the brush work of paint.

It’s unexpected and not something that could have been predicted when she exchanged an art scholarship for business school. Life, though, like weather for the plein-air painter, is never static. The best stories — and often paintings — involve stormy days.

Carolyn Henderson is a freelance writer who co-owns Steve Henderson Fine Art and SteveHendersonCollections.com with her husband, Steve. She welcomes correspondence at carolyn@stevehendersonfineart.com.

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