Pandemic painting pals tackle January blahs with chilly charity challenge

·5 min read

It might be easy to coast into January keeping a whisper-thin to-do list, with one eye on the fireplace and the other on the calendar, hoping spring will rejuvenate motivation — but not this group of P.E.I. artists.

Instead, they've committed to each creating a small sketch or painting every day in January, working from real life or outdoors. Every day they auction off the work online for between $25 and $50 each, and at the end of the month will donate half or more of the proceeds to a local charity.

"I look forward to learning from this experience and to see what door this takes me to. It is great doing this challenge with friends as it helps me to be accountable to the other gals," said artist Kim Jabbour.

Three of the group's four members, Gloria Wooldridge, LiliAnne Webster, and Jabbour met in 2019 while taking part in a plein air, or outdoor, art competition that took place over five days in eastern P.E.I.

This style forces you to see what cannot be seen in a photo. — Kim Jabbour

"We committed to take part every year going forward and of course we were all set to do so last summer, fees paid, and then it was cancelled due to COVID," said Woodridge.

But they didn't let the pandemic stop them. They decided they would meet up, safely, to paint outdoors as much as possible.

"We called each outing a 'Best Day Ever,' agreed on a location, and embraced the sunshine, the fellowship and the challenges of painting outside with the supplies we bring, in public," Wooldridge said. "Painting outside is totally different and a fantastic way to really see and appreciate this beautiful Island we are so privileged to call home."

'Plein air is totally different'

The group met more than 20 times in the summer and fall of 2020, adding artists Lori-Ann Lingley and Barb MacLeod along the way.

Gloria Wooldridge
Gloria Wooldridge

"I always tried to challenge myself by trying to learn new skills that stretch me as an artist, but also as a person," said Webster. "In encouraging each other to paint, to stretch and to learn, we have forged a deep and meaningful friendship. Each of us have set out on this journey for personal reasons, but have been unified in our desire to paint our beautiful Island. Every time we are together, painting outdoors, something magical happens."

Webster adds, not every piece is a masterpiece, and not every piece gets sold, but every piece of art they produce awakens a desire to create more and better.

"I still paint using photographs as a reference at times, but painting outdoors has enhanced my abilities and skills of observation," Webster said.

"Plein air is totally different. Not only do you have to endure the heat, cold, wind and bugs, you have to rely on your eyes. This style forces you to see what cannot be seen in a photo," said Jabbour, who has been painting since 2004, but not outdoors.

"We are forced to paint faster because of the changing sun, shadows. It is somewhat addictive!"

"What a learning curve. It's a totally different thing to compose a picture from real life, rather than from a photo!" echoed Lingley.

'We have become a sisterhood'

Not only have the women stretched themselves artistically, they have made new, strong bonds during a time when many were struggling to maintain friendships during the pandemic.

"These women have aided me in becoming a better artist and have encouraged me deeply. I can truly say we have become a sisterhood," Webster said.

Lori-Ann Lingley
Lori-Ann Lingley

"The kindness, patience and encouragement from these artists has been a blessing in my life," Lingley said. "I would strongly recommend anyone to step out of their comfort zone and try something new. You might make new friends and find a creative outlet that feeds your soul."

Now, the group has been inspired by a contest offered by Strada art supplies to paint or sketch daily in January in an effort to win one of five easels. They added their own commitment to a local charity that helps women at risk, Open Door Outreach.

The women post their art daily on Instagram, for prices between $25 and $50 — far below what some of their art usually commands — and many of the pieces have been snapped up quickly.

Their work can be seen on Instagram at @liliannewebster @la_art_pei @kimjabbour and @g.Wooldridge.art.

'Champion and encourage each other'

Painting outside in blustery January weather is a challenge in itself, the artists say.

LiliAnne Webster
LiliAnne Webster

Wooldridge, for one, had to seek refuge in her car to paint a few times, noting rain and watercolours don't really mix.

Jabbour said the voice in her head reminds her daily to paint faster, not get bogged down on detail and to have fun — after all, the works are meant to be quick studies, not masterpieces.

Lingley said she is finding the commitment to paint every day in January "exciting and challenging," although she's less inclined to work outside.

"I'm constantly looking around the house to see what I can try next that might be fun and interesting," she said.

The group plans to keep up its physically-distanced meetings all winter, joining up for camaraderie and to get out of the house during the pandemic, and to mentor one another artistically.

"We all learn from each other all the time — this is the best group of ladies. We champion and encourage each other. I am a better artist because of them," said Wooldridge.

Sound inspiring to you? The Best Day Ever bunch says, there is always room for more — two metres apart, of course.

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