Refining Techniques and Personalizing Style

Ken Auster puts things into perspective for Susan Hale of Cedarburg (center) and Mary Ulm Mayhew of West Bend, while painting in downtown Fish Creek. Both Hale and Ulm Mayhew have participated as featured artists in the annual Door County Plein Air Festival.

Arthur Budge traveled from his home in Dallas, Texas, to the Peninsula School of Art in Fish Creek, to “loosen up” with Ken Auster, a preeminent plein air (outdoor) painter from Laguna Canyon, California. Budge was banking on the artist and educator’s international reputation to coax some loose, painterly strokes from the Texan’s tighter, realistic style of landscape painting.

“Ken got me out of my comfort zone, which is what I was looking for,” Budge says. “I wouldn’t have thought to come to Wisconsin to paint – not in a million years – but I’m real glad I did. It’s beautiful here.”

Budge was joined by six other painters juried into Auster’s recent four-day plein air painting “master” class, which began on June 5. The selection process ensured that each student would benefit from the advanced focus of the workshop. Painters who were invited to participate in the school’s Door County Plein Air Festival were automatically accepted.

Auster first gained national attention for his oil paintings of surfers in his native California. He then garnered international recognition for his impressionistic plein air works. The thrust of his recent workshop at Peninsula School of Art was to guide students in when to use their intellect in painting, and when to let passion for the subject matter take the lead. The workshop took place at various Door County venues to expose students to a full range of subject matter, including architecture, people, harbor views and street scenes. Auster provided a demonstration each day, followed by private instruction at each student’s easel.

A student’s oil painting begins to take shape.

Although the Peninsula School of Art offers painting classes for novice through advanced skills, this is the first year that a workshop of the highest level in plein air painting was scheduled. According to Cathy Hoke-Gonzales, Executive Director of Peninsula School of Art, the workshop seemed to be the next logical step in rounding out the school’s curriculum.

“The landscape of our peninsula has always been the muse for artists here,” she says. “The success of our Door County Plein Air Festival, coupled with the reputation of our school, has attracted both high caliber plein air artist/educators, and dedicated plein air students who trust our program to help them advance toward their fullest potential.”

Karen Cook, of Sister Bay, is the winner of the 2007 Door County Plein Air Festival Quick Paint competition. Cook wanted to study with one of the top instructors of the plein air discipline.

“Auster expresses some concepts in ways that allowed me to understand them differently,” Cook says. “The art school is presenting a rare opportunity for students with advanced skills in plein air painting to refine their techniques and personal style.”

June Maeder, of Little Sturgeon Bay, is also enthusiastic about her workshop experience.

“Auster is very generous in his sharing of techniques and concepts; he’s a wonderful teacher,” she says.

Due to the response from this first group of students, Peninsula School of Art will schedule another master class for summer of 2011, and plans to expand its plein air program with more workshops and additional nationally recognized artist/educators.

The Peninsula School of Art is located north of Fish Creek on County F. Fore more information call 920.868.3455 or visit