Karen Weihs Paints with Cobra in New Zealand

Painting in New Zealand, hosted by Plein Air Magazine, was quite an adventure! Eric Rhoads of Streamline Publishing and his team do a yearly fabulous plein air trip for painters and non-painters. This one was limited to fifty. Fifteen were non-painters. Chris, my non-painter husband, and I had a great time at each special place and event that was well-selected and exhilarating. Eric’s handpicked event staff were organized, articulate and efficient.

I can’t pick a favorite as they got better and better as the week went on, but if I had to choose, the sites up over Queenstown on the South Island were thrilling from the tips of the snow capped Shist (minerals) grey mountains to the rolling sparsely vegetation of golden hills graduating to the aquamarine water of the Waikitipu Lake. The lake is filled by emerald-colored burgs or streams that snake through mountains of exquisite light and depth, with mid-values and peachy-gold sunsets not seen anywhere in the world- so interesting. The food was remarkable and making new friends from all over was certainly a good part of the well rounded experience. We learned some native Maori words which were the the first settlers with a unique language of New Zealand. “Kia Ora” is welcome and “Wai” is water.

The group stayed in first class Millbrook Resort in Queenstown, and the lovely Langham Hotel in Auckland. There were no worries with the food and wine! Nor with towering vistas of The Remarkables Mountain Range, The Aspiring Mountain Range, Auckland Harbour, Otaga Wine Valley and Milford Sound. Painting in The Queenstown Botanical Gardens offered us a taste of the good life of the many recreational water sports and parasailers there, then treating ourselves to a famous Fergburger. Waiting in line an hour for mouthwatering fresh lamb burgers was worth it. And there was plenty of sheep around! The drive to paint the emerald water of Glenorchy was super fun because we were rewarded with a jetboat tour, imagine 12 adults whizzing 90 miles an hour through rocks of massive mountains and winding passages. Thrilling!

I took a limited color palette of all Cobra Oils, which are water soluable and clean up fast with soap and water only. I used very little gamsol that was provided by our hosts, and I am so glad the Royal Talens product is so versatile for my technique which is palette knife painting. I do use Cobra with my other favorite oil paint brands (that are regular oils) and that is the beauty of the Cobra product, that it can blend with any all oil products and any medium including cold wax medium. Cobra makes great mediums as well that interface with the paint and can also interface with other brands. When finished painting in the field, I just wiped my palette knife, palette and my blending brush with a baby wipe and off I went, clean up a snap. I was amazed how fast they dried.

Some of the trips highlights were (3) wineries like Mudbrick on an island called Waiheke just a short ferry ride from Auckland City on the North Island. I was taken with the skyline and did a quick sketch for a definite future harbor oil painting I intend to do one for my upcoming one-woman show in Charleston in June this year. The 360 view from Mudbrick was commanding, as it not only showed us surrounding islands, but the skyline of Auckland Harbour. The 3-course freshly prepared lunch and wine served was impressive. Painting happened in the packed day of visiting. Stellar day.

Two days of alternative to painting, magical creative days, were spent on movie sets. One was Hobbitton, the incredible property that had what Peter Jackson sought after for making of The Hobbit. Professionals painting there was a first for them as well. The other was WETA Workshop in Wellington where the props and costumes for The Lord of The Rings, Avatar, The Hobbit, and so many other movies are birthed. WETA Workshop offers a comprehensive design service that includes 2D and 3D design methods. The many warehouses at WETA were opened for our tour and the creator of WETA, Sir Richard Taylor gave us a personal tour himself with some of his staff. He is a friend of Eric’s and told me personally when I thanked him, that Eric was as hospitable to him in the states, so he was happy to see us and to return the hospitality by opening up areas most visitors will never see. Wearing his T-shirt he designed that said, “Be Creative and make Cool Stuff,” he said to our group inspiring messages that passionately explained his philosophy of the business. I quickly wrote down his quote, “The Art of innovation is to throw yourself at failure. Failure done gallantly is to aim at failure and miss.” Five Oscars (and so many other shiny awards too numerous to mention here), he held for us to see and snap photos in his board room. So, many nominations later, he has surely not ‘missed’ at all. We got a good look of the TV ongoing series staff’s design work thru Puketo Productions called Thunderbirds, and saw the award winning husband/wife duo’s work who make the ghost shells of the stars for animation and other needs. After the tour, we dined at the deco Roxy movie theatre that WETA owns that has additional display space for his sculptures and iconic images which WETA also designs. His staff which helps makes everything creative for the hundreds of clients is all about motivation. Wellington Airport greeted us with his sculptures of eagles and figures. He says when hiring, talent is the last thing he is looking for, he looks for fire in the belly, a body language of desire to work creatively so he can empower youth to achieve more than what they thought possible. Passionate, inspiring, thrilling, indeed.

Before the Invitational group arrived, my foodie hubby and I stayed in B&B”s with fabulous food like The Rees in Queenstown, Oliver’s in Clyde, a restored gold rush town, located in Central Otago, Pitches Store B & B in Ophir, inhabited by 50 residents near The Rail Trail, also in Central Otago. The best food that was so intriguing was at Wild Earth Winery where they smoked lamb shoulder in wine barrels custom designed by the main chef and prepared so creatively. I could go on and on about meeting fine people, hearing their history, their stories, seeing new sites to paint and explore. And every one has no worries, especially on the topic of politics. Yes, they think we are Americans a wee emotional. Did I mention I painted and enjoyed all the sheep? Eight sheep to a person! Thanks to Mr. Rees, the founder of Queenstown, for introducing sheep farming early on to NZ. We got to see them sheared at Walter’s Peak, a Rees family historical enchanting island, only accessible by steamship. Really hard working coal shovelers are below deck. After a fine lunch there, we painted the views there, I sold my painting. Helps expenses always.

Want a trip of a lifetime? Check out Plein Air magazine or Fine Art Connoisseur Magazine for their next offering. There are so many more stories and photos I could share, as well as the group’s. So, please visit Plein Air Magazine/Eric Rhoads Facebook page to see photos of this amazing trip. Or buy a Plein Air Magazine with the story. Cheers mates!

-Karen Weihs

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