Landscape painter makes art 'en plein air' - Korea Times
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Landscape painter makes art 'en plein air'

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Tahni Osterman paints a landscape 'en plein air.' / Courtesy of Otahni Studio
Tahni Osterman paints a landscape 'en plein air.' / Courtesy of Otahni Studio

By Chantal Terblanche

Tahni Osterman is not the stereotypical artist with a tortured, manic soul whose depression and cynicism fuels their creativity and need to make art. In fact, she is the complete opposite, finding some of her best inspiration in travel and beautiful sunsets.

Art has always played a big role in her life. Her grandfather was a pen and ink artist whose work mainly centered around farm life, buffalo and agriculture. Besides the influence of her grandfather, Osterman had two aunts who would, without fail, give her art supplies for her birthday. With all this artistic influence around her, it seemed like an obvious choice to study art further.

Osterman studied illustration through the graphic design program at Oklahoma State University, and she finished up her art degree with a study abroad landscape painting class in Tuscany, Italy. Before coming to Korea she did newspaper and magazine layout design as well as work for a wedding invitation design company. It was in Italy that she fell in love with landscape painting.

Even with all her training, Osterman believes that the greatest teacher has just been the hours, days and weeks of actually putting the brush to canvas. "For art, I can think of no better teacher than trial and error," she told The Korea Times.

Ever since arriving in Korea in 2011, Osterman has been actively building her body of work. Her first oil painting collection was centered around Namhansanseong, a mountain fortress southeast of Seoul. After a few years, she realized that she wanted to pursue her dream of making and selling her art. It was then, in 2019, that
Otahni Studio was born.

While balancing a full-time job as well as running a small business can be tiring, Osterman finds that painting acts as an outlet for the stresses of daily life and she finds the actual act of making art very rewarding.

Osterman finds inspiration for her landscapes in the mountains, skies and architecture of Korea, and how they all interact with each other. "There is something so peaceful and awe-inspiring about nature to get lost in, and personally I think that the geography of Korea lends itself beautifully to the practice," she said.

"For my style of art, the texture and patterns of the brushwork play a central role in the overall tone of the finished piece," she said. It is for this reason that she likes the freedom offered by larger canvases, which give her more space to be more expressive with her brushwork.

Tahni Osterman poses with a painting. / Courtesy of Otahni Studio
Tahni Osterman poses with a painting. / Courtesy of Otahni Studio

Osterman is heavily influenced by the works of Erin Hanson, the California artist responsible for the "open impressionism" movement. This trend is expanded from the original impressionism where the artist's goal was to capture light. Open impressionism goes further to capture the movements of the scene by using vibrant colors and thick brush strokes, evoking the emotions of a particular landscape.

"By pre-mixing the color palette, I am able to focus more on the subject of a painting while preserving the freshness of the landscape," Osterman said.

She also loves the works of W. Lester Stevens, an early 20th-century American painter who painted numerous landscapes and over 5,000 pieces in his lifetime.

Just as many artists do, her practice and style have both changed over time. When Osterman was younger her goal was to paint something exactly as it looked, as she thought that was what a real artist did. In recent years, her style has loosened up and taken more of an impressionistic turn. As she has gotten older and more experienced, she began to see more value in the overall tone and energy of a finished piece rather than creating a photorealistic replica of a place or thing.

While Osterman tries to work from life as often as she can, the logistics of hauling oil paints around the country can be tricky. She does, however, keep a painting kit ready to go by the door just in case the opportunity to do some "en plein air" painting arises. "En plein air" is the French term for painting outdoors. Osterman often starts a painting "en plein air" and then takes it back to the studio to finish it up.

Tahni Osterman paints a landscape 'en plein air.' / Courtesy of Otahni Studio
Tahni Osterman paints a landscape 'en plein air.' / Courtesy of Otahni Studio

She said her paintings have received varied reactions from Koreans. Her feeling is that the kind of painting she does is not as common here as it is in the West. As she told us, " Korean people usually seem intrigued when I tell them that I am an oil painter, and when people come across me painting outside there is usually a bit of surprise from them. They probably have not seen many people set up and painting outside before so sometimes I'll nod hello and hear them take a picture behind me." She hopes this style of painting will catch on and become more popular in Korea for hobbyists and professionals alike.

As many people with their own businesses know, pricing can greatly impact success. When Osterman prices her original paintings, she considers the size of the piece, because the larger the piece, the larger and therefore more expensive the canvas will be. Following this she has to calculate the paint, oil, mineral spirits, gloves, paper towels, soap, etc. needed for working on the painting. There are a lot of costs that people might not think about or realize that go into making a painting. Oil paints are some of the most expensive paints, and quality can vary greatly. Osterman takes her work seriously and, unfortunately, that can mean quite a bit of expense on professional-quality paints, brushes and canvases. If a customer asks for a commission, she asks the customer to pay half of the cost upfront as a deposit and the other half after completion. She doesn't charge by the amount of time spent on a painting because it is such a hard thing to calculate.

Osterman ended the interview by saying, "I think many people who make art are told growing up that it isn't going to be a realistic career choice. But with the development of personal websites, social media and internet shopping, this is probably the best time ever to pursue being an artist."

Osterman is most active on Instagram @otahnistudio but also has an online gallery and store at her website

Chantal Terblanche, from South Africa, lives here with her dog, Samsung. She runs the blog and the Korea Events group on Facebook.

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