Artists get outside and get inspired in WNC’s green spaces

Plein air painter Lorelle Bacon at Art in Bloom. (Carrie Eidson/ Mountain Xpress)

When Pattiy Torno bought the space in the River Arts District that would become Curve Studios, the surrounding area was unrecognizable from the lush, meandering garden that weaves between the looming brick buildings today.

“It was a gravel parking lot,” says Torno. “There was literally no vegetation in sight.”

Almost immediately Torno and her tenants began converting the space into a series of interconnected gardens, with planters and outdoor seating areas where artists from Curve Studios and the RAD could find inspiration and relaxation.

“As an artist, I’m always looking at color, pattern and texture, and the garden is just another way to do that,” Torno says. “When you make work, it’s a fairly intensive process, and having a place to go and sit for your downtime is really important to me personally — and seems to be an asset for a lot of the creative folks here at Curve.”

Helen Sullivan, a plein air (or “open air”) painter in Old Fort, agrees that green spaces can be a valuable resource for artists. Sullivan began plein air painting after an art teacher recommended it as a way to improve her “artist’s eye.”

“It’s a completely different painting experience,” Sullivan says. “You’re really part of the environment that you’re painting. It is different than painting in a studio or a classroom — you almost have to plan for it as you would for a camping trip.”

There’s no season that is better for outdoor painting, Sullivan says. In the fall, the “colors are breathtaking,” but there’s nothing quite like “the starkness of a winter day.” In “early spring, it’s as if the whole earth is waking up,” and in the summer “everything is just so lush.” But creating art in an outdoor space can be overwhelming to the senses, Sullivan says — creating a challenging exercise in focusing your composition.

“Sometimes you have to take 100 photographs to get the composition that you want,” she adds. “With plein air, we’re trying to do that in a single painting.”

Both Torno and Sullivan agree that much of the thrill of creating art in a green space is sharing that interaction with others. For the past seven years, Curve Studios has also hosted an open-house Twilight Party where the public is invited to explore the garden and view open-air art demonstrations.

“It began as a celebration of how pretty the garden was and a desire to share that with our customer base,” say Torno. “It really was a thank-you to our community.”

Sullivan works as the volunteer coordinator of the plein air artists who paint during Black Mountain Center for the Art’s annual Art in Bloom garden tour. Torno has allowed the Curve garden to become a semipublic space, with RAD artists coming to paint or relax.

But ultimately, Sullivan says, it’s important to continue seeking out green spaces that are engaging and fresh to your eyes.

“There are some places that are very well-known, and everyone paints them,” she says. “But in our area you can go out and find places that are unique. It’s like a hunt for that very special place and that unique composition that is all your own.”

Though Art in Bloom was held earlier in June, you can still grab some inspiration by viewing the plein air paintings created during the event at Black Mountain Center for the Arts through June 20. For more information, visit Curve Studios will open its garden to the public on Sept. 21 for a benefit for Arts for Life. Visit their website for details at .

About Carrie Eidson
Multimedia journalist and Green Scene editor at Mountain Xpress. Part-time Twitterer @mxenv but also reachable at Follow me @carrieeidson

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