Meet the Northeast Ohio Artist Who Did an Oil Painting Every Day for an Entire Year

Hudson-based painter Michelle Darvis spent every day of 2014 creating 365 paintings outdoors in Northeast Ohio. On January 1, 2014, she painted her first ever plein air oil painting, and continued to paint a new work outside each day until December 31. Through a root canal, a tornado, minus forty-degree windchill and even her own wedding, Darvis never missed a day. Throughout 2014, Darvis painted local landmarks like Lake Erie, Tower City, Cleveland Museum of Art, MOCA Cleveland, Little Italy, Playhouse Square’s GE Chandelier, Akron Civic Theater, The William G. Mather, as well as suburbs and local businesses.

A Year in Plein Air was originally exhibited at Hudson Fine Art and Framing Company last January. The entire collection has since been shown in Monterey, CA and Scottsdale, AZ. On Saturday, Nov. 28, the works return home to Hudson (on view through the end of the year).

Hudson Fine Art and Framing Company's show will be the final time the works will be on view together (many are already reserved). In celebration, the gallery hosts an opening reception from noon to 6 pm. this Saturday, Nov. 28. The opening is in conjunction with Hudson’s Holiday Art Hop. Hudson Fine Art and Framing Co. will be providing apple cider and donuts, as well as an opportunity to create your own “scratch” ornaments to take home for your tree.

Darvis studied drawing and painting at Kent State University, graduating in 2007. Plein air oil painting has become the foundation of Darvis’ larger mixed media studio work.

Just days before the opening in Hudson, Michelle Darvis took time to discuss the entire experience with us.


Scene: How did you first decide to paint this yearlong series?

MD: On New Year’s Eve going into 2014 I decided to myself that I was going to try to paint one painting outside everyday for a year. I told my friends and family on January 1st, 2014. I am not the type of person to make resolutions; I just wanted to see what I could do. The idea came from hearing people in other professions saying ‘do what you do everyday.’ Artists often tell other artists to paint everyday and I thought, ‘What if I truly did? How much would I improve?’ The idea that we only have today, none of us can truly count on tomorrow.

Can you tell us about the biggest challenges, as well as the best moments along the way?

MD: I had never plein air painted with oil paint before so it was quite a mess the first few days. My turpentine froze, I underestimated the amount of titanium white I would need and I could barely set-up my easel. Some of the best moments would be when I was painting deep in the woods and someone would come along and be like ‘Wow! this is such an amazing place and you have captured that in this painting.’ Plein air painting is now a part of me. If I go a couple of days without it I miss it like a dear friend. I can stand for five or six hours and get lost in my painting; which I could never have imagined when I first started.

It is the exact opposite from painting in the studio. Your supplies are everywhere and there are no back-ups; the weather and light are always changing, bugs are flying into your painting, distractions and opticals are all around. And then the sunlight becomes just right and you start to ignore all the things around you. Honest observations can only be made by directly viewing a subject. When I take a photo now and try to create a painting from it I am left with more questions than answers. Where is the warmth? Where is the reflective chroma? What dose it feel like to be in this place? I think we can all relate to experiencing a glorious sunset, pulling out our cameras and seeing that it just can’t come close to capturing the experience. I want to make people feel that when they see my paintings.

How difficult was it to find time to complete a painting every single day?

MD: It was the most difficult thing I have ever done in my life. The preparation of each painting is much more that people think. Going to the store and buying art supplies, paper towels, soap etc; cleaning your brushes, organizing and packing. Plein air painting is really an outdoor sport. You need lots of water to stay hydrated; you need the proper clothing and footgear. You have to get used to being uncomfortable and painting paintings as if they were the only thing on your mind. There were days when my easel fell over, I forgot ‘that one color’ that I needed or my favorite brush. I painted in -40 degree wind chill having to go to my car and warm up every 10 minutes. There were days when my husband had to hold down my entire easel for hours to keep it from blowing away.

On top of the great outdoors there are also daily things and big events we have in our lives that can be obstacles. On January 1st, 2014 I was engaged and knew I would be getting married in August. I had to paint while planning not only my wedding but also during my sister’s wedding which was in December. I painted on my wedding day, my wedding shower, my rehearsal dinner night. There were also unexpected days like a root canal, which I painted 30 minutes afterwards. Birthdays, holidays, it was hard to find time but if it is your passion you make it happen. I no longer need to think of how to get my equipment prepped or where is the best place to set up in different weather conditions, that is all engrained in me. I can plein air paint at the drop of a hat now. There is no ‘getting in the zone’. I open up my poached box, which I always have packed and ready, and I am there. It surprised me to learn that creativity takes discipline.

Did you plan to paint particular places on certain day or was it spontaneous?

MD: I always wanted the day to decide the painting until the last three days, which I planned. There were a few days that I knew what I wanted to paint, Kent State’s Victory Bell on May 4th, Peninsula’s G.A.R. on Memorial Day. Most days I would set out looking in favorite locations like the Cuyahoga Valley National Park. I wanted to capture the everyday life of people in our area. There are so many local landmarks that have a lot of meaning to the people of NE Ohio. I painted Tower City, Lake Erie, Cleveland Museum of Art, MOCA CLE, Little Italy, Playhouse Square’s Chandelier, The Civic Theater, The William G. Mather and lots of suburbs and local businesses. On day 183 which is the halfway mark I stood in Voinovich Park at the E. 9th Pier and painted ‘Cleveland Skyline.’

How were the works received in California and Arizona?

MD: Beyond my wildest expectations! Doing an exhibit with Plein Air Magazine was life changing. It was an honor to be a part of the Plein Air Convention in Monterey-Carmel and I met my plein-air heroes like Quang Ho, George Carlson, C.W. Mondy and Eric Rhodes. A huge attendance, It was very well received by more than a thousand people that attended! Arizona was absolutely amazing, I had never been and Scottsdale was the perfect place to exhibit. The Phoenician Resort purchased a painting for their permanent collection which was an honor and we have sold more than half of the collection! The final paintings will be available for purchase starting at the Opening Reception November 28th. Each 8 in. by 10 in. oil painting is $350.


The exhibition remains on view through the end of the year during regular business hours: Mondays through Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. (Thursdays until 7 p.m.). A Year In Plein Air was generously sponsored with oil paints by Gamblin Artists’ Colors, canvas panels by RayMar Art and Brushes by Escoda Brushes of Barcelona, Spain.
(The Hudson Fine Art And Framing Co.) 160 N. Main St., Hudson, 330-650-2800,
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