Marcellus artist Eric Shute paints his watercolors en plein air

AUBURN, NY (March 8) – You can usually find Marcellus artist Eric Shute outdoors, painting with his watercolors. “I am most often attracted to natural motifs: rock ledges, trees, streams, and waterfalls; partly because I love painting outdoors but also because I am fascinated by the effects of sunlight on the objects,” he said.

The artworks included in his solo exhibition, “The Way I See It: Finding Beauty in Unexpected Places,” all depict objects in nature. The exhibit of watercolor paintings opens March 23, 2024, at Schweinfurth Art Center in Auburn, and runs through April 27.

“I paint in watercolors, oils, and acrylics, but my favorite medium is watercolor,” Shute said, adding that the medium allows him to blend colors and create a soft, atmospheric quality. “I love painting plein air and watercolor is, for me, so much easier to handle outside. All I need is a sheet of paper and my paint box and brushes.”

He tried painting outside with oils but found the cleanup needed to put everything away took all the joy out of the experience. “I have a studio in my home, and that is where I will use oils or acrylics: the pace is slower and I can take more time developing the image,” he said. “I paint mostly large-scale abstracts in the studio.”

Shute prefers plein air painting over painting from photographs, and he can usually tell the difference in finished work. “In life, the colors are more vibrant and varied,” he explained. “You have to learn to paint the visual experience rather than simply report what you are looking at. This is the problem with painting from photographs, it’s easy to start ‘reporting’ all that detail you see rather that interpreting and simplifying the scene.”

However, painting from a photograph is a great way for watercolor beginners to start, he added. “Painting from photos is great practice, especially for the beginner, because the image never changes and the light is always the same,” he said.

Shute, a Central New York native, has a degree in advertising and illustration from Mohawk Community College, a bachelor of fine arts from Syracuse University, and a bachelor in education from the State University of New York at New Paltz. For the last several years, he has been teaching watercolor and plein air painting, including at the Schweinfurth.

“It’s kind of like learning to ski,” he said. “It’s not difficult to learn to ski but it takes a lot of practice to learn to ski well.

“There are basic fundamentals I teach that are used in every watercolor,” he continued. “It’s not difficult to learn them, but to learn to do them well in a painting when decisions need to be made quickly takes a lot of practice. But like skiing, you can have a lot of fun while you’re practicing.”

Shute enjoys sharing his knowledge with his students. “I love seeing how students approach a skill. It’s often in a way I hadn’t thought of, and I learn something each class,” he said.

“I also like being really prepared with a lesson so there is little confusion about the skill being taught,” he said. “This requires me to practice and fully understand the best way to explain and execute the skill, which in turn helps me to become a better painter. I think a good watercolor is more about how the paint is applied to the paper than whether the tree looks like a tree.”  

About four years ago, Shute began participating in Plein Air Paint-Out, an annual competition held every August in Old Forge, NY. “I was very hesitant to do it, Shute said. “I am never sure that a painting I start will be a success or one that I want others to see. It turned out very well for me and I am considering entering others this summer.”

His goal with all his work “is to evoke a sense of peace and mindfulness, inviting viewers to take a moment to appreciate the beauty and tranquility of the natural world,” he said. “My hope is that my work will bring a sense of calm and serenity to those who view it.”

The Schweinfurth Art Center is funded, in part, by the New York State Council on the Arts.

If you go …

WHAT: “The Way I See It: Finding Beauty in Unexpected Places,” a solo exhibit by Syracuse artist Eric Shute
WHERE: Schweinfurth Art Center, 205 Genesee St., Auburn, NY
WHEN: March 23 to April 27, 2024
HOURS: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays and 1 to 5 p.m. Sundays; closed March 31 for Easter
ADMISSION: $10 per person; Schweinfurth members and children 12 and under are free. Joint admission tickets to the Schweinfurth and Cayuga Museum are $15 per person, a savings of $5.
OPENING: 2 to 5 p.m. Saturday, March 23, 2024; admission to the opening is free