Against the Odds

By Paul Rickard

In the history of California Plein Air painting, the work and activities of the renowned artists who lived and painted the vistas of Carmel, Laguna, Los Angeles, and the High Sierras is well documented and recorded in the historical record. In contrast, in the far north of California in counties like Humboldt, art and artistry have evolved in isolation and against the odds. Five artists, Jim McVicker, Steve Porter, Jody Bryan, Ken Jarvela, and Paul Rickard – who call themselves the Humboldt Open Air Watercolor Painters, have banded together to create a unique school of atmospheric watercolor painting.

Over the decades, these five painters have quietly persevered in the land of rain and fog, alone or together, in the studio and on the precipice. Drawn together in friendship, the painters continue to inspire one another to push, probe, and ponder the often chaotic and spontaneous avocation of watercolor painting. For them, the practice of art is an open-ended journey of exploration, to be shared and savored, unfolding daily with the droplets of paint, changing tides, and clearing skies.

In November of 2019 the group will show their collective vision of the Humboldt Landscape at the Morris Graves Museum of Art in Eureka, California. The show is titled “Through Humboldt Fog.” Now in their 60s and 70s, the painters will return to the windswept coast, tallest trees in the world, mountain peaks, and raging rivers to prepare for this major show.

The artists come together from varied backgrounds, but each shares the fire in the belly to interpret the beauty of the Humboldt Landscape.

“Trinidad” by Jim McVicker

Jim McVicker
At the age of 21, upon seeing nineteenth century French landscape paintings, I had an awakening to art. The beauty and sensitivity I saw in those works changed my perception of the world. I started studying art history, painted copies of French Impressionist landscapes and enrolled in life drawing and painting classes at Chaffey Community College. In 1975 I decided to become a full-time painter. I was 24 years old.
I moved from Ontario California, where I was raised, to the northern part of the state. After a year I settled in Eureka, California. I was drawn to the beauty, the art community, and the chance to live a quieter more rural life.

I met and worked with several very accomplished artists, painting landscapes every day on location, or painting in the studio always working directly from the still-life set up or models. I learned from direct observation of nature, by looking at and studying great art from the past and working alongside artists more developed than myself.

In 1984 I met my wife and fellow artist, Terry. We live a wonderful quiet life in Loleta, California. It’s a small rural town just south of Eureka. We have studios on our property and I continue to paint daily following my passion for painting from life, trying to capture the light, atmosphere, space, and the mysterious beauty all around us.


“Founders Hall—HSU” by Paul Rickard

Paul Rickard
I can’t remember when I started to draw – but I never stopped. I am self taught – whenever I had a bit of time and space, I sketched and experimented with a variety of mediums. I carry a sketchbook wherever I go and have made use of this skill at many points in my life. As I traveled the world in my twenties, I sketched the vistas and people as I went. In two years in the Peace Corps, Solomon Islands, I made daily ethnographic notes and drawings that became the basis for my Masters Thesis in International Affairs. These notes and drawings were also used in the two academic articles I wrote and were accepted for publication in Ethnobotany.

Since June of 2012, I began to paint on location watercolors and haven’t come up for air. I begin early in the morning, finishing paintings from the day before. In the mid-mornings I often venture out to paint on location at the marshlands, Humboldt Bay, or Trinidad. My wife Nancy and I host a weekly Sunday Paintout open to the Humboldt Community. Since our founding in 2012, we have hosted weekly paint outs and now have 200 members. I teach watercolor painting through Humboldt State University’s OLLI Program and recently taped a television show titled the “Wonders of Watercolors.” In January of 2019, I will travel to Central Asia at the invitation of Bhutan to paint the top of the world. In May 2019, I will teach a workshop through Studio One in Big Sur. I have received awards for my art in the medium of watercolor in Humboldt, Mendocino, and Santa Cruz Counties.


“Manila, Humbold Bay” by Jody Bryan

Jody Bryan
Jody Bryan attended Otis Art Institute, Chouinard Art Institute, UCLA, and CSULB, always studying drawing and painting. She taught in the Long Beach Unified School District and established a graphic design and screen print Business in the 1970’s. That Business is still very much ongoing, but leaves ample time for painting.

Jody writes, “I have loved painting with watercolor since that first introduction at Otis with Noel Quinn. To render objects realistically is a skill that many seek to master, but for me that is not what art is about. I want to translate each subject into a unique vision that allows viewers to see in new ways, too. I want to interpret the world, not mirror it.”

Jody has been a member the Representational Art League and the Humboldt Open Air Watercolor Painters. She has shown at Piante Gallery, Morris Graves Museum, and the Mendocino Art Center. She has received awards for her art in both Mendocino and Humboldt Counties. Jody joined the Humboldt Artist Gallery at the Morris Graves Museum of Art in 2013. Together with Paul Rickard she began the Sunday Community Weekly Paintout, which now boasts over 100 members in the community.


“Fall Colors” by Steve Porter

Steve Porter
I have always done some form of art from early childhood. The first award I received for art was at the age of 12 for landscape painting in a beautify Pasadena project.

The jobs I have had were always an art form:
Dental Technician
Interior Design
Television Camera Operator
Video Production

I have shown at the HSU 1st Street Gallery, Sewell Gallery, and countless others. In 2018. I was chosen Artist of the Year for Coast Central Credit Union with six thousand calendars in circulation.


By Ken Jarvela

Ken Jarvela
Ken Jarvela has painted continuously since 1979. He has sought to capture the wilderness and mountain regions of the west, often backpacking in with canvas and supplies. He has painted on location by moonlight, along rivers, mountains and marine habitats. Ken currently shows at the Erickson Fine Art Gallery in Healdsburg. Ken is tireless in his search for the iconic vistas that embody the spectacular landscape of the west. Ken often shares that: “We all see the landscape. I want to represent and share it.”

In 2018 Plein Air Magazine shared a photo of Ken packing in canvas and supplies to the Trinity Alps. Ken received a best of show award for the RAA in the 1980’s. A large mural of the Lost Coast by Ken Jarvela can be seen at the Arcata Airport.


  1. I’ve so enjoyed following Paul Rickard’s plein air adventures over the last few years via his Facebook page. Thanks for sharing the adventures and varying styles of his group!


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