BY MARGARET MAGNUS
Meher Mount is often a source of inspiration to artists. That’s why painter and art instructor Jennifer McChristian has been conducting day-long en plein air painting classes here since 2009.
“I can’t put my finger on it, but there’s something mystical about the place,” she says. “I feel so happy every time I go there.”
En plein air or plein air painting is a French term meaning painting in the open air. Before plein air, “artists were working mostly indoors in studios,” said McChristian. In the outdoors, she explains, artists work quickly, painting intuitively. All the senses are heightened.
“Going outdoors allows artists to capture the fleeting light. It’s more spontaneous. There is movement. It’s not the details,” she says. “There is the essence because there is less time to be precise, hence more impressionistic.”
PLEIN AIR CLASSES
Meher Mount is one of the sites for the five-day plein air painting class McChristian conducts in the Ojai area each year for classes ranging from 10-12 people. Many of her students are from the area, but some come from as far away as Canada and the United Kingdom.
The artists’ levels of experience vary, she says. There are younger artists who want to develop their expertise. There are professional artists who want a refresher or to get back to plein air painting. And there are retirees who never had the time, but always wanted to paint.
Students come to learn a little nugget of painting truth to apply to their work later one. The workshop is about learning. “I encourage students to make mistakes,” she says. “That’s how they learn.” It’s a relaxed environment, and they more relaxed they are, the better the work.
"I FELL IN LOVE WITH THE PLACE RIGHT AWAY"
McChristian learned about Meher Mount from her husband Ben Fried’s cousin Steve Edelson, a co-owner of the Ojai Ranch House, a well-known restaurant in the area.
When she visited Meher Mount, McChristian said, “I fell in love with the place right away. It’s one of my favorite places to go.”
One of her criteria is having a variety of things to paint – nature, views, architectural features. There are not a lot of buildings, but there is the old chimney, water tanks, and old farm equipment at Meher Mount. “One time, Buzz [Glasky, Manager/Caretaker] had the tractor out, and we painted it.”
“We always find something new to paint.”
PAINTING IS A SPIRITUAL EXPERIENCE
Jennifer McChristian, an award-winning artist, graduated in 1990 with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree with honors from Otis College of Art and Design, Los Angeles (formerly the Otis Art Institute and Otis-Parsons).
She started her career as an animation artist working for Walt Disney Studios and Nickelodeon. Then one day on a hike, “I realized I wanted to start painting the outdoors. I started taking classes and loved it,” she said. Since 2000, McChristian has devoted herself to painting full time – both in the studio and en plein air.
“Painting is somewhat of a spiritual experience for me. Although challenging at times, the end result evokes within me a sense of elation, nostalgia and harmony.”
For more information on the artists Jennifer McChristian and her classes, go to: www.jennifermcchristian.com.