Plein air presentation at Lake Tahoe Community College, Tahoe Art League begins season |

Plein air presentation at Lake Tahoe Community College, Tahoe Art League begins season

Autumn Whitney
Lake Tahoe Community College art educator Phyllis Shafer will give a presentation on her plein air paintings and more on Thursday, May 11.
Courtesy / Phyllis Shafer |

Now that the snow at lake level has melted away, it’s once again pleasant to sit outside and take in the scenery — which means it’s time to break out canvases, sketchpads and nature journals.

On Sunday, May 14, Tahoe Art League kicks off its spring and summer plein air painting outings, but prior to the first meeting local artist and Lake Tahoe Community College instructor Phyllis Shafer will give a presentation about the practice and how she got involved. The presentation, “Nature Divine: Landscape Paintings of the American West,” focuses on Shafer’s artistic journey, her approach to plein air painting, advise for those getting started and more.

“If you’ve ever had me as a teacher and you never knew how I got my start as an artist, my slide lecture is going to focus on some of the work I did in the ‘80s and ‘90s when I was living in New York City and the San Francisco Bay Area,” said Shafer, who specializes in two-dimensional art.

“I think a lot of my students know what I do now, but I don’t think they understand the roots of where it came from. I also don’t think they understand how long and complex my career has been. They walk into a class and they know you as the teacher at Lake Tahoe Community College, but I don’t think they know me as the artist living on the lower eastside of Manhattan or in east Oakland — there’s a history there that they’re probably unaware of.”

Shafer attributes her interest in art to growing up in a family that was constantly creating and crafting, but one of her biggest influences was a high school art teacher she referred to as dynamic and inspiring.

At the start of her artistic career, Shafer focused on painting surreal fantasy landscapes prior to catching the plein air bug.

“I happened to see a show of plein air paintings by a group known as The Sonoma Four — they were four painters that lived in Sonoma County — and I was just so amazed by the energy and the freshness in their paintings that I began to sneak outside and start painting.

“During my education at the University of California, Berkeley, plein air painting was not something you did — that was considered a pastime for little old ladies. I felt like it was my dirty little secret,” she noted.

In 1994, Shafer moved to South Lake Tahoe to teach at LTCC, and grew her plein air experience from there.

“When I got the job here I thought, ‘Wow, I’m living in this incredible natural world — incredible Sierra Nevada Mountains — and I have summers off. It would be really ridiculous to stay in my studio and do fantasy landscape paintings when I have it right outside my door.’

“Consequently, my landscape paintings still carry a thread of that surrealistic fantasy element where they started. It’s always been a little bit of a combination for me of direct observation and a fantasy element,” she said.

Shafer’s presentation takes place in the LTCC board room on Thursday, May 11. TAL will host its member meeting at 6 p.m. prior to Shafer’s talk at 7 p.m. The event is open and free to the public, and all are invited to attend.

TAL begins its 14th season on May 14 at Rabe Meadow. Learn more online at, or contact

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