Artist Pat Hillcoat on painting En Plein Air

Nothing is more rewarding to Pat Hillcoat than painting on location — en plein air. “Being outside puts you closer to the subject,” the Muskoka artist says. The result? “A painting with a more realistic feeling.”

For the past 15 years Hillcoat has made Muskoka her home. A career in technology led her away from her training as a commercial artist, but upon retirement she returned to the easel and began teaching. Then 10 years ago, Pat joined the Muskoka Brown Baggers painters, whose primary focus is painting outdoors.

It’s hard for Pat to pin down a favourite subject.  “I most often paint landscapes — the scenery I’m seeing — but I also enjoy painting houses, barns and downtown buildings. Living in Muskoka gives me the opportunity to visit and paint in the same locations as my Canadian icons, including Tom Thomson.”

Pat Hillcoat, Lake Vernon in Huntsville

Hillcoat finds painting with other artists during Plein Air competitions — a.k.a. ‘paint-outs’ — especially fun. People approach and talk to the artists, show interest — sometimes they’ll buy the painting right off the easel. While wintering in Florida, Hillcoat participates in many Plein Air events similar to the kind made popular on Makeful TV’s Landscape Artist of the Year Canada. “I would never have seen half the places I experienced if not for painting outdoors.” These competitive paint-outs in Florida have resulted in a win for Hillcoat and a painting featured on the calendar cover.

Pat Hillcoat collage

One of the artist’s favourite experiences was participating in the annual Huntsville Plein Air charity event, where she painted the docks and several buildings in town. One of the bidders commissioned Hillcoat to create a painting.  She’s always open to commissions, both here in Muskoka and in Florida, and Hillcoat is keen to paint cottages and seasonal homes.

Seven Main Cafe, Pat Hillcoat

At times, Hillcoat paints small sketches outdoors to use as reference for larger studio paintings. She enjoys the challenge of working in variety of mediums — acrylic, oil, watercolour and alcohol ink. Hillcoat considers her painting style realistic, but softer and less detailed. The artist sums up her work this way. “Around every corner is a picture to be painted — it’s impossible to capture the beauty of everything you see. Each time is a new beginning.  I try to capture the mood ‘elusive and free’, hoping for a painting that reflects ‘my perspective’ . If YOU like my creation, it truly is a work of art!”

Artist Pat Hillcoat

On most Mondays you’ll find Pat painting outside, during the summer in Muskoka, and the winter in Florida. If you see her, stop to say hello. She would love to meet you and answer your questions about painting en plein air.

More Info:

Pat Hillcoat shares her joy of plein air painting with other artists at workshops offered throughout Muskoka. To learn more about her art and workshops, call 705-645-8411, email: or visit

Wendie Donabie

About the Author: Muskoka writer and visual artist Wendie Donabie paints pictures with words and flavours her creations  with alliteration, similes and metaphors. When words won’t do the job, she turns to her easel and paints what stirs her heart and soul – most often her love of the natural world. Wendie has published work in magazines and in poetry and literary collections. At this time, she is working on a murder mystery set in a forested resort area somewhere in North America. Wendie is co-founder of Muskoka Authors Association, operates Heron’s Nest Studio Gallery and is one of the organizers of  ARTrail Muskoka. Follow her on Facebook, Instagram and

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Images & illustrations courtesy of Pat Hillcoat.

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