Thursday, October 22, 2015

Catherine Hillis is Best in Show at Piedmont Plein Air 2015

I won!  I won Best in Show during the September 2015 Piedmont Plein Air event.

Here's the winning painting:

"Slow Down," Watercolor, 20" x 16".

This watercolor does incorporate the many things I've been trying to accomplish in my plein air painting.  It's loose and juicy; there's a fine rhythm of motion and all the lines and values lead the viewer into the painting.  I found a way to instill my sense of humor into the piece.  You might notice that just to the right of the building on the left side of the picture is a speed limit sign, advising drivers to slow down...hence, the title.  There I was, set up with my easel and painting paraphernalia in a tiny alley only wide enough for one car and viewers kept speeding by, without realizing that this scene was quite beautiful.

I am now sketching Notans before every plein air painting.  I see the benefit of these little sketches because on my winning piece, I sketched some Notans before the event and worked out my design problems.  I'm now incorporating Notan sketching into my watercolor classes.

I'm grateful to the judge for selecting my painting...

I thank Julie Delgaudio for running such a fine show at Piedmont Plein Air in High Point, NC.  Even though Mrs. Delgaudio was "under the weather" during our week in High Point, she saw that artists were treated with the utmost respect.  The event was well organized, with volunteers repeatedly checking on the welfare of artists and some lovely meals provided, along with delightful housing at The Adams Inn in High Point.  It was MY PLEASURE to work hard for Mrs. Delgaudio, the "J" Gallery and the folks in High Point.

I had fun painting in this event and I think it shows.  Here's my nocturnal from Friday night painting the vintage Krispy Kreme location.

"Sweet Dreams," Watercolor, 10" x 20".

Friday, August 21, 2015

Plein Air Painting in the Summer of 2015

Queen Juliana Bridge, Curacao Plein Air Invitational, 2015

What a year 2015 has been.  I’ve participated in many plein air competitions this year and I’m pleased with the work I’ve produced in the field.  I’ve had fun, too, doing something I really enjoy, something I’m good at and it brings in income for my business.  February opened up with Plein Air Curacao.  I’d never been to this tropical island and what a beauty it is.  The staff of  Plein Air Curacao was remarkable to work with and they went out of their way to be sure artists were respected for their hard work and treated well.  They focused strongly on selling work for artists, and this is a great help to those of us who travel far to participate.  Plein Air Curacao is an event I highly recommend and the island is a must see experience for just about anyone.  Please go if you have the opportunity.  The highlight of the event for me was my Honorable Mention Award at the Quick Draw, presented by judge Peter Trippi.

The Old Florida, Winter Park Invitational, 2015.

Next, I traveled to the Museum of Gadsden in Gadsden, Alabama for the Plein Air Painters of the Southeast Invitational and I thank everyone I met there for the impressive organization in handling their plein air event.  Artists were treated with tremendous respect and the museum staff was organized to the point that our every need was taken care of, and the final sales event garnered many thousands of dollars.  I was impressed with the scenery in this little Alabama town and I’d especially love to paint in the historic district again and some of those Victorian homes.  There’s nothing like spring in the south, when the dogwoods and azaleas are in full bloom.

The Winter Park Paint Out Invitational was another great experience for me and sales in this event were also robust.  At this point, I’d encountered three great sales events and I was feeling pleased about the results of my work.  Winter Park was hot but the painting was great and I discovered the peacock havens in and around the area where large masses of the birds live and this brought a delight to me (and, hopefully, to my customers) to be able to capture these lively and beautiful birds in paint.  I always stop by to see the egrets nesting in this area of Florida, but this year the nestlings weren’t as plentiful.  On my very last day in Florida, I found the lovely wild gardens which are the subject of my painting “The Old Florida,” and I was delighted to meet the wonderful and generous artist who lives there.

 Night Creeps In, Finger Lakes Plein Air, 2015.

Sadly, I had to bow out of the Paint the Beach event in Daytona Beach and  I also had to let go of Plein Air Grand Marais and Plein Air Hudson, because I just couldn’t work out my schedule and finances to make these events happen.  I sincerely hope I will be invited to paint in these venues in the future, and I’ll plan my schedule a little better.  I’m so grateful to be selected for these competitive plein air events

I'm very proud of my Quick Draw painting from Camp Hill, Pennsylvania - drawn, painted and framed within two hours.  Advance preparation makes for a good painting. It was during this event that I began working on preliminary sketching and I do believe it lends the artist a good start.

Sit A Spell, Quick Draw at Camp Hill, 2015.

Finger Lakes Plein Air was a big discovery to me. The area is more rural than I knew, and Canandaigua Lake is pristine.  There’s plenty to paint ranging from rural landscapes to water scenes featuring the lake, and darling villages.  I enjoyed painting the lush greens in this event.  Now, I’m waiting to participate in the Piedmont Plein Air event in High Point, NC and the Brandywine Plein Air event in Pennsylvania.  New discoveries excite me and I know I’m in the right place when I’ve spent some time looking around, trying to select a location and…. I’ve got the tingling feeling that I’ve just got to paint. So, here's to plein air painting and I'm so grateful to have a job that I enjoy.  I  paint because I'm still having a good time, and it's a blessing to have the opportunity to paint our country (and even beyond), capturing history and spirit in watercolor paint.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Curacao: Painting the Island Way

Plein Air Curacao, February 27 - March 7, 2015

I was looking forward to painting in Plein Air Curacao’ with excitement and, admittedly,  some trepidation. 
It’s always a lot of work packing for a big painting event, but when you’re traveling out of the country, there are even more complications.  

My frames were the greatest concern.  I needed to pack my frames tightly and box them so that I could transport them either on board the plane or in my suitcase with everything arriving unscathed.  I spent a fair amount of time packing and re- packing, taping everything tightly with bubble wrap.
My next concern was supplies.  I didn’t think I’d have access to art supplies in Curacao’, especially since I wouldn’t have a car.  I gathered my watercolor paper, trimming it to the size of the frames; I pulled together a chair small enough to fit in my luggage and my new easel, the “en plein air pro.”  This will be the new easel’s first use in the field.  Paints were placed into zip lock baggies, along with brushes, paper towels and my collapsible water container.  I checked my lists over and over again to be sure I had everything necessary to paint.

Clothing is truly important.  It has to be comfortable; it has to be durable; it has to protect me from the sun and the mosquitoes.  I’ll be walking for miles with my backpack, so I always take comfortable shoes, too.
Once I arrived in Curacao’, I was so relieved.  My airport transport was waiting for me as I exited the airport.  The staff and organizers of Plein Air Curacao’ were warm and helpful!  The city of Willemstaad was beautiful:  the colorful 18th century Dutch Colonial buildings that lined the inlet were just lovely.  As soon as I discovered the landscape, I could hardly wait to paint.
Our first evening featured a reception for the artists from Surinam.  Their exhibit was lovely and the people enchanting.  Each day after that was filled with travel around the island, receptions, lots of painting and robust sales.

I couldn’t be happier.

As for my “en plein air pro” easel:   it performed like a champ.  It can withstand the stiff island winds, as long as it’s weighted with my backpack.  I especially like how the top of the easel moves around from upright to flat so that I can paint my watercolors in any manner needed.  My favorite thing about this easel is how lightweight it is, fitting easily into it’s own backpack, and with room enough for paper, small palette, collapsible water container, and even my water and snacks for the day. There’s still more plein air painting to come during this year, and only time will tell how durable the easel will be.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Plein Air Curacao 

I'll soon be off to participate as an invited international artist to paint in the 2015 Plein Air Curacao event.  As always, I'm getting very nervous.  I think it's a good thing to be excitedly nervous as I approach exhibits and plein air events.  It keeps me humble to know what talented plein air painters there are out there in the world and how honored I am to be a part of each event I'm juried into.  I thank the judges and the sponsors who are believing in me and in my work and the MOST FUN of these events is to get to know the people and their location.  Plein air artists are lucky, lucky people.  We get to capture beauty and history and a unique segment of time that will live forever on paper and canvas.

I ended up purchasing the "En Plein Air Pro" easel, which will soon get a workout.  I'll write a review of the easel once I've used it in the field.  The whole set fits in a small bag which can be carried as a shoulder bag or a small backpack.

You can see my page and paintings during the 2015 Plein Air Curacao event.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Easel Envy

I’ve broken several portable easels during plein air painting the last few years.  I’m searching for the perfect set up for watercolor painting outdoors.  I have “Soltek” envy right now…..this easel looks perfect to me, except for the $500.00 price tag, especially after reading about the problems painters are having with the telescoping legs of this expensive piece of equipment.  But the sleekness of body, the resilience against wind and the lightweight quality of this easel is more than attractive to me.

Easels are personal and I’ve yet to find a favorite. I start out sane and organized but by the end of a day, I have paper towel rolls blowing away and paint brushes lost on the ground and my kneaded erasers are gone with the wind.   I lose equipment and drop pieces wherever I go.  I’d like to find an answer to the easel conundrum and find something that helps me stay organized. I'd like an easel with a shelf for my supplies that's portable.

Here’s a thought.  I read this interesting article about making a watercolor plein air easel to match my style:

I also like the en plein air pro at
 It looks easy to set up and lightweight and I especially like the shelf for supplies and  the way the palette has an opening for the water.  That just looks practical to me. Price is under $300.00.

So, “Easel Envy:”  I’m searching and would love to have input on the perfect watercolor plein air easel.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Catherine Hillis: My Name Belongs To Me

"My Perspective" Watercolor by Catherine Hillis

I've been teaching quite a while now and I've never felt the need to create boundaries for students until now.  Recently, I've had a student begin teaching classes in my neighborhood, using my name as one of her credentials.  And, I've had a former student (who is now teaching art to adults) post one of her recent paintings on Facebook, using my name (I guess they call that tagging) and crediting me for teaching her the "technique."  This painting is not one that I want to be associated with, my friends.

Oy vey.

What to do.

There's not much in life that really belongs to me.  My name, however, is mine and after these many decades of working so hard to become a relatively proficient painter, and building a good business in art ( try building an art business, my friends:  it's hard) , I want my name used to advertise....ME.

My kids don't belong to me; my body doesn't do what I want it to - so I guess it doesn't  belong to me; most people's houses belong to a mortgage company; but, my name is far!

So, please don't use my name without my permission:  I don't want it used as one of your credentials AND  I don't want it used for something I may not want to be associated with.

Artists, your credentials are those things that YOU have accomplished and not those things someone else has accomplished.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Plein Air Painter


       How I love painting on site.

A Little Cabin, Merrie Woods
There's nothing like capturing that moment in time.

People walk by and inform the painter of information....the wind blows and and the weather sets the tone for atmosphere....birds and animals create peripheral all works to make a great painting.

These little cabins were painted at Camp Merrie Woods, near Cashiers, NC.  It was a wonderful location and the campers all added their editorials.  They were delightful.  Please check out my website at for more information about my future plein air painting competitions.  And, come on by and see me!

Cabin at Camp Merrie Woods