Plein and Simple with Carrie Curran
Writer Lara Piu
Photography Courtesy Carrie Curran and Hermosa Inn
She’s here for the soft morning light, and while it took a six-hour drive, travel planning and rearranging her busy life, no inconvenience can match artist Carrie Curran’s love of painting plein air.
“It’s so freeing,” Carrie explains. “It just feels so good to be alone with my paints and breathe in the fresh air.”
A French term that translates to outdoors, plein air artists paint in the great outdoors. The technique, used by famous impressionist artists like Monet and Renoir, is popular again thanks to a national movement driven by artists like Carrie.
Today she is at a beach in La Jolla, San Diego.
“I love schlepping my easels,” she says.
Carrie has a collection of them, each suited for specific natural settings.
“When you’re outdoors and just creating in the air and seeing the colors exactly how they look—it’s powerful.”
Known for her oversized, floral canvas oil work, Carrie’s art has movement, life and texture. You can smell the breeze as you step into her world of loving-on beaches, mountains, deserts and other natural settings—a love, she suspects, that comes from growing up on an Indiana farm near the Indiana Dunes on Lake Michigan.
“I still return once a year to paint the dunes in the summer,” she says.
Carrie’s mom, who is also an artist, taught classes in her studio in the family home. When Carrie was a girl, her family spent summers in Saugatuck on their boat. She and her mother would paint and sell their wares to tourists in the popular Michigan town. It’s likely that her parents taught her to become the trifecta artist is that she is today—she can paint, she can teach and she’s a svelte businesswoman.
“It’s been in my blood,” she jokes, adding that her dad was also a businessman. “I have that right brain, left brain thing going on.”
Carrie earned a business degree from Valparaiso University, and afterward dove deeper into art training at Scottsdale Artists’ School.
In fact, her art education passion has been apparent for a long time. In 1988 she joined the Phoenix Art Museum as a docent—that’s where Carrie trained perhaps hundreds of volunteer moms to teach art in school classrooms through the museum’s Art Masterpiece program. She also met the recently departed Jane Wingfield there; Jane was her mentor for many years. For more than a decade, Carrie served as a representative for the Arts in Education Outreach program through the Scottsdale School District.
In 1994, Carrie launched a program called Fine Art for Children, holding summer, school break and after-school art camps for kids. In 1996 she opened C. Jackson Gallery on Main Street in Old Town Scottsdale, and later joined Scottsdale Artists’ School to continue studying with artists from all over the country and to teach oil painting classes.
In 2003, Scottsdale Artists’ School asked Carrie to establish, direct and teach Youth Academy, a program that’s now well known in the arts community throughout Arizona. The school is designed for artists to develop their artistic skills at a deeper level, much in the fashion Carrie pursued after college herself.
“It was an incredible opportunity. I got to work with these amazing artists from around the world, ones I admire,” she says, adding, “I don’t know how I did it all,” she jokes, “because I also was raising three kids at the time.”
Even with all of her accomplishments, 2010 marked perhaps Carrie’s most significant career milestone with the creation of her own art school, Carrie Curran Art Studios. It was the first wine and paint destination in the Valley.
“I had been teaching classes like that for private groups,” she recalls, noting that the “sip and paint classes” were a hit from the start, and at the time were trending in other cities.
Today, from its well-lit studio that looks onto Lake Marguerite in McCormick Ranch, Carrie Curran Art Studios offers a comprehensive selection of children’s and adult art classes. In a full-circle on several levels, Carrie co-owns the studio with daughter Maggie, who earned an art degree from Northern Arizona University.
“People often say that they consider our Young Vincents’ program and the academy among the best in the Valley,” she suggests.
Recently, her students have begun asking for more.
“These women who have been coming for years are now asking to learn how to do watercolor,” she says.
Carrie takes great pleasure in seeing her students flourish.
“I never have the time to stop and think about it, but its fun to learn about what my students are doing now,” she says, explaining that she’s often pleasantly surprised to hear stories of former students’ successes. “Once I was walking in the grocery store and a woman stopped me and asked, ‘Do you remember my son? You taught him and now he’s an artist in LA.’ There are a lot of little stories like that.”
You can also find Carrie at Hermosa Inn where she’s been an artist-in-residence since 2013. Built originally as Lon Megargee’s home and art studio, the inn carries its artistic legacy forward through artists like Carrie’s residencies. This fall, the inn will expand its cultural heritage with the introduction of Palette to Palate, a three-day art and culinary retreat. There will be a culinary demonstration by executive chef Jeremy Pacheco, who will also host the inaugural Unmistakably Arizona Harvest Dinner, a collaboration of Arizona’s premier culinary talent, produce, dairy and wine.
The highlight of the retreat will be art workshops taught by nationally acclaimed artists, including Carrie, who will teach Discover the Joy of Plein Air Painting November 10. In this workshop, Carrie will lead guests through the hotel grounds help them cultivate “an artist’s perspective” of the outdoors. Then they will create a small field study in oils as Carrie guides their composition, value and color.
It will be a culmination of everything the passionate artist and teacher loves. “I am honored to be invited by to teach Discover the Joy of Plein Air Painting, and I hope to create an interest in the plein air movement through this retreat.”