Friday, June 14, 2024

Plein air painter enchants valley with live local landscapes


CHELAN – Snohomish-based painter Rowan Carey has been an artist since early childhood, always having enjoyed drawing and painting. It wasn’t until more recently, however, that he decided to make a drastic change, transitioning from a 16-year career in excavation to one of full-time art production.

Rowan started on this new path about a year and a half ago, and hasn’t looked back. Most recently, he’s endeavored into newer territory, the art of plein air painting. Plein air painting stems from the French term, en plein air, which translates to “in the open air.” Having its roots in French Impressionism, the original practice of plein air painting drew upon a desire to depict natural light as it transforms a setting, a feat made possible with the convenience of easily transportable box paints.

He cites inspiration from painters like Scott Christensen, Clyde Aspevig, and Edgar Alwin Pain.
“Edgar Pain,” he shares, “he was a guy that would go hike up in the mountains and paint, you know, big paintings…I’m trying to kind of emulate that sort of style and lifestyle where I’ll throw all of my plein air gear in a backpack, go hike up to an alpine lake and paint it and then take that stuff and use that plein air painting as maybe a study to do a bigger studio piece, but [it will] have that plein air feel…”

Of his enjoyment for employing this painting style, Rowan explains, “It makes for more of a spontaneous style of painting, depending on location, whereas in the studio I tend to get a little too tight…that’s why I started doing plein air painting on location…three years ago might have been my first [attempt at] plein air painting. I actually did it here on the other side of the lake…my first plein air painting was in Chelan, now all this is kind of coming full circle here…I’m passionate about the landscape over here.”

He and his own family do not live here, but they do have family in the area that they spend as much time with as possible. This connection has lent Rowan the opportunity to become more familiar and enchanted with the local scenery, and inspired to focus much of his attention here. Over the summer while visiting, he posted pieces on social media that garnered sudden community attention and interest. At this point, his pieces are selling quickly, and he’s now being offered more consistent live-painting and showing opportunities in the valley. Fielding Hills Winery recently hosted Rowan on Saturday, Oct. 7 to help raise funds for District 7 Fire and Rescue which was an immense success, the event raising over a startling $3,000.

Rowan is largely self-taught, having not studied art formally post-high school. Around 2012 he decided to pick painting back up more seriously, endeavoring first into primarily still-life work. He mentions painting a lot of pictures of bottles for a time, his work once often decorating wineries, though he eventually grew to desire opportunities to depict more vibrant subjects. At this point, when not working on location, he paints almost exclusively in his studio, focusing on landscapes and wildlife.

He works primarily in oil paint, a medium which typically requires immense patience and dedication, one small brushstroke having the capacity to dramatically alter a piece. In this way oil paint is also very forgiving in its malleability. That said, it dries very slowly, sometimes requiring an artist to wait for extended periods of time before being able to add more detail. Working in this medium is maybe not for the faint of heart.

For all of this, oil paint lends itself very well to Rowan’s work in the studio, where he is enabled to spend extensive time working on each painting. He often has at least forty hours in each of his studio pieces. That intensive amount of time spent on a piece does not deter him from working on many things simultaneously, however, and clearly he is passionate about consistently getting outside of his studio as well to work en plein air.

“A lot of times I’ll have different projects going on at the same time. I might get a little bit burned out on one, go on to another one, or I’ll have a really big painting going and I don’t want to paint big so I do a small little study. Sometimes, I’ve got a run of small ones and I’m thinking I want to paint big… I’ll have a commission going and then I’ll have just my stuff that I’ll want to paint at the same time, kind of go back and forth between the two…”

At some point Rowan and his wife hope to move to the Chelan Valley permanently, potentially after their children are grown. That said, they visit as often as possible, and have interest in maybe owning a gallery one day. In the meantime, Rowan plans to continue toward his dream of painting as much as he can for a living. Clearly immensely passionate about his work, he is unwavering in his dedication, and about what the act of painting brings to his life.

“Art is not a stable business,” he said, “but it’s still fun, it’s still the dream.”    

Katie Lindert: 509-731-3211 or



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