Plein-air painting in the mens visiting area during lunch time

Teaching art 4 – plein air painting

This exercise was led by John but I came along to document and play a supportive role as John would be starting a canvas of his own. The students were uncomfortable about painting out in the prison environment. Quite a crowd of onlookers grew around them which was understandably disconcerting for them at first. After a while the painters realised that rather than being critical people were just curious about what they were doing. After the session the students said they were more comfortable about the idea of going out and would begin to incorporate it into their regular routine.

They wanted to paint the scene just inside the mens visiting area. There various people had set up shop, selling goods produced in the prison such as hats, gabi’s, coffee sets, wooden crosses and so on. In terms of painting there was a lot going on in the small space which would make for interesting imagery. It is forbidden to take photographs in the visiting area while there are people there with their families, the same rule applied for painting. This meant there was a tight window of time, about an hour and a half, for the students to get as much done as possible.

The students set up their easels and began to sketch straight onto the canvas. Next they blocked in various areas in burnt umber before following with colour. Unfortunately time did not allow for too much more to be done, visitors began to arrive. John took some photographs on his phone of each painters view for them to refer back to later.


It was interesting to observe some of the interactions that took place during this plein-air session. The students in this group seem to command a high level of respect from the prison community. For example Habtamu is the librarian. A member of the crowd held his palette and extra brushed for him as he painted. Chalew is the elected head of the prisoners, the president for want of a better term. People stood and watched him work at a respectful distance, not invading his space or causing disturbance.


The view from John’s position

John painting plein-air

blocking out. The hat seller made particularly interesting scene

blocking out over pencil sketch.

Painters at work, attracting a crowd of onlookers

The scene being painted by 3 students of the shop keepers in the mens visiting area.

plein-air painting in the mens visiting area. Students setting up on portable easels.