Meet the Artists

Pam Ruschman and Lynn Rix

Questions & Answers with Pam Ruschman

What was your first art experience or when did you know you wanted to be an artist?

 

 I always enjoyed being creative as a child. My first memory of an art experience is playing outside and building small villages out of mud, sticks, leaves, moss and any natural materials I could find.  Art is one thing in life that seemed natural and comfortable to me. 

Tell us about where you grew up and if that had any influence on your viewpoint as an artist.

I grew up on a working dairy farm in the beautiful, driftless region of southwestern Wisconsin. I spent much of my time outside playing, exploring and caring for the animals on the farm

 

Inside the farmhouse, my mother Ursula, who emigrated from Germany, filled each room lovingly with reproductions of the masters – Vermeer, Degas, Renoir, Rubens, Van Gogh. These paintings and sketches had a huge impact on my appreciation for fine art. The livestock and landscape of Wisconsin are an ongoing theme in my paintings.  It is what I love and I hope my paintings honestly reflect Wisconsin in all her glory.

Did you have any formative art teachers, schooling, or coursework that helped to chart your path as an artist? 

My love affair with oil painting began in high school when my art teacher, Mr. Schlumpf, gave me my first Utrecht painting set.  I remember it vividly.

 

Explain the various adaptations that you must use to survive painting “en plein air” in a frigid Wisconsin winter.

 

I have my winter plein air gear ready to go at any time.  I have three essentials.  The first essential items are boot cleats, as we often hike a distance to our painting location. The second is a balaclava, used to protect the nose, mouth and neck area.  Winds can be fierce in the winter so I believe investing in a good water/windproof jacket and pants is the third essential. 

Questions & Answers with Lynn Rix

What was your first art experience or when did you know you wanted to be an artist?

Tell us about where you grew up and if that had any influence on your viewpoint as an artist.

I grew up on a lake in Waukesha County in the fifties. Growing up on a lake in the country with my particular parents has had a huge influence on my viewpoint as an artist. Both of my parents valued nature and doing things outside. I spent most of my free time outdoors--in all Wisconsin seasons! The lake and surrounding countryside were my playground and my quiet place. I am sure that is why I am a plein air artist instead of a studio artist.  I find painting outside to be more inspiring, invigorating and at the same time more relaxing than painting in the studio.

My mother entertained us by doing creative projects. We always made homemade presents for our grand-parents and family. My mom and some of her friends started a puppet theatre when I was small. We have a photo of me at about four years old watching them create. I imagine that was most likely my first “art experience.”  

My parents also instilled in me the love of problem solving and creative thinking. As an artist, especially a plein air artist, I have to be willing to take risks with my paintings as the scene I am painting is continually changing. I have to solve problems as I create my own vision of what nature has put in front of me.  I am more often than not frustrated with what I am doing, but have found enough joy that I want to “try again another day.”  Never bored, always challenged, always learning—these are traits I learned from my parents.

Did you have any formative teachers, schooling, or coursework that helped to chart your path as an artist?


In 1995, my husband, our daughter and I moved to the south of France for a year. My daughter went to school, my husband was living his college dream, and I was having an adventure. That year would change my life completely. I was surrounded by art and artists both past and present. One day, I was returning from French class and looking in an art gallery window when a British man stopped me and asked if I would be interested in looking at his art. I said sure. He quickly returned with three paintings. All were a bit different, all mesmerizing, and all were painted on the streets of the historic local villages.

I told him I wasn’t interested in buying them but would be interested in learning how to paint. Would he teach me? His answer changed my life. I began painting classes with my first mentor, Mitch Waite: first in his garret apartment from photos and then out on the street.  I was very fortunate that he was a self-taught artist as it kept all of his lessons very simple, direct and full of common sense. I was on my way to becoming addicted to creating on canvas.

   

Are there any other artists, historic or contemporary, that have been influential for your work, especially for winter plein air work? 

 

I am drawn to impressionist work, both historic and contemporary. My historic favorites are Camille Pissarro and Aldo Hibbard.  Both painted winter plein air; both were caring, giving mentors to other artists. I wish I had known them both and been able to paint beside them. Some contemporary artists who have influenced me are Daniel Gerhartz, Chris Magadini, Rosalie Nadeau, and Lori Beringer among many other friends in the plein air world. 

 

It was Pam Ruschman who got me outside to paint my first winter plein air painting. She invited me to paint with her at Schlitz Audubon Center while her son was in preschool. We started out in the fall, painting one morning a week. Then winter hit, and out we went on a beautiful, sunny, December day. I was hooked!  I have not painted a winter studio painting since.

Questions & Answers with Pam Ruschman (cont'd)

 

Are there any other artists, historic or contemporary, that have been influential for your work, especially for winter plein air work?

 

I adore the snow-covered landscape.  Many historic artists have influenced me including Aldo Hibbard (American artist 1886-1972), Tom Thomson (Canadian artist 1877-1917) and John Twachtman (American artist 1853-1902).  Hibbard is my “rock star” winter plein air painter.  He braved all elements and was determined to capture the beauty of winter. Contemporary influences are Kewaskum (WI) artist Daniel Gerhartz and Plymouth (WI) artist Lori Beringer.

Do you have to make any adaptations for working with oil paints in winter? 

 

 The oil paints don’t freeze in winter.  However, once paint is applied to the canvas, it can become difficult to move around in single digit temps.  I use my palette knife more often, creating the winter landscapes by blocking in large areas of color.  Painting in the winter forces you to make quick decisions which keep paintings spontaneous and fresh. 

 

What is most compelling or interesting for you about the Wisconsin landscape in winter? 

The glory of painting the winter landscape is that two days are rarely alike.  I am especially intrigued by the long, blue/violet shadows on sunny days and the subtle hints of color on gray days. While painting along the frozen shores of Lake Michigan, I am mesmerized by the peach ribbon of light that often appears across the horizon and the ever-changing color of the lake.

 

 

Does having a painting companion in winter make it any easier to get out to paint the winter landscape?

 

 Absolutely!  It’s wonderful having a painting friend who shares the same passion for winter.  Lynn and I have

shared many laughs and provided much needed encouragement to one another.  This exhibit is not just about our passion for winter, but our friendship and new discoveries as well!

Questions & Answers with Lynn Rix  (cont'd)

 

Do you have to make any adaptations for working with oil paints in winter? 

 

Oil paint will never freeze, but it does change consistency as the thermometer drops, becoming a little like painting with toothpaste and sometimes it acquires an added grit of ice crystals.   I find that a little more use of a medium such as walnut oil or linseed oil helps, and I use the palette knife a lot more. The biggest adaption is the time constraint. The colder it is, the shorter the time in front of the easel.  No lingering around making small tweaks. When the paint becomes completely unmanageable or I get cold and dehydrated, it is definitely packing up time!

 

Explain the various adaptations that you must use to survive painting “en plein air” in a frigid Wisconsin winter?  Do you have any variations on the Hibbard mitten?

 

Keeping my body warm is not only a safety measure but a comfort measure. My survival clothing includes silk long underwear, turtleneck, fleece top and bottom, insulated bib overalls, parka, face mask, ski hat and hat with visor. Wool socks and heavy duty boots with cleats are also a necessity.  My hands are my weak point. Because of skiing for so many years, my fingers have been frost bitten too many times to count. Add in some arthritis and you get pain. I have tried gloves, mitts, and hand warmers. These work on days above freezing, but when the temperature goes below zero and the wind kicks in, my hands hurt! 

A few years ago, I came across an article on the Hibbard Mitt. Aldo Hibbard (American, 1886-1972) used wool socks with a slit cut out, layered over mittens. I tried this with limited results as it was so unwieldy. I then came up with an idea that worked! I cut one of my old hand-knit wool sweaters with an allover pattern (with lots of carried yarn in the back giving it more thickness) into a thumbless mitten.  Layering this wool mitt over a mitten liner with a pouch for a hand warmer has proved to keep my frost-bitten fingers warm.

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