The first time Helen Turner tried plein air painting on Kauai, a lot of the details went wrong.
The Kapaa resident and two friends, who together had dubbed themselves “The Ladies’ Painting Guild,” went past the arboretum at the end of Kuamoo Road, to a little natural pond with water lilies.
They brought wine, crackers and Brie cheese, as well as all of their supplies.
“So we trudged down there with all of our equipment and that first time, we brought all the wrong equipment and we got bit by mosquitoes, and we got frustrated,” Turner said. “But we kept doing it and the more we did it, the better we got.”
As they continued their adventures, Turner said the ladies were more focused on their art than they were on their wine and cheese.
“We didn’t have time to eat or drink, we were too much into the scene,” Turner said.
That was five years ago. Since then, Turner’s two companions have moved back to the Mainland and now she carries on the traditions of The Ladies’ Painting Guild with new friends.
She takes people into Kauai on plein air painting excursions, usually one or two a week.
“I just continued to go and now I take people out and teach,” Turner said. “If I don’t have teaching, I wouldn’t go out as much, so I still get to go out and it’s good.”
She also teaches life drawing for the Kauai Association of Artists, but she said she’s more of a facilitator than an actual teacher in that instance.
“I make sure the whole thing comes off,” Turner said. “I hire the model and make sure the room is open, get the snacks, and basically be the hostess.”
Turner started creating landscape portraits in New York more than 30 years ago, and she works mainly with oil paint and pastel mediums.
When she moved to Kauai in the early 1980s and started a family, she took up pastel drawing because it was easy to take breaks to care for her children.
“When you have babies, you can’t start something and leave out solvents and wet paint, it’s too toxic,” Turner said. “So I went to pastels because I could stop whenever I wanted and then go back to it.”
Recently, though, Turner has returned to oil painting because she’s found that visitors want art that doesn’t have glass on it to take home with them.
“With pastels, you have to frame it with glass on it,” Turner said. “With oil paintings, they can take a little canvas and it’s easier. It’s also easier to mail.”
Landscapes are Turner’s passion.
“I love landscapes. It’s so beautiful,” Turner said. “You remember that day you spent painting, that beautiful day, and you can hear the sounds and it’s special?”
Her goal, she said, is to capture Kauai’s rustic and wild beauty before it becomes overcrowded.
“I want it documented as much as I can before you can’t go down to the beach without condos all the way to the sand and all the people,” Turner said. “I try to paint the places that are still a little bit wild and hard to get to, like Polihale.”
Though she’s a veteran artist in various methods and mediums, Turner is finding ways to explore and her newest endeavor is live event painting.
“It’s plein air painting with people,” she said. “So about a month ago, I had a bride contact me and I said sure, I’ll do a live painting of your wedding.”
She used pastels and ended up drawing the ceremony and the reception.
“It was really fun and they treated me like a rock star,” Turner said. “And I was able to finish the painting the next day and they could take it home with them.”
Turner’s artwork is displayed at Aloha Paradise Gallery in Waimea and decorates the walls at Kauai Business Services in Lihue. But her work is mainly for sale online at www.helenturner.com. That’s where people can contact Turner for plein air lessons as well.
“A lot of times the lessons are really just having an experience painting outside in Kauai,” Turner said. “I gently guide and it’s relaxing, but it’s not so much about the finished piece as the enjoyment of making it.”