By Diane Y. Welch
Solana Beach plein air artist Toni Williams recently received the news that she is a finalist in this year's acclaimed Borrego Springs Plein Air Invitational, sponsored by the Borrego Art Institute. Out of hundreds of applicants, county-wide, only 15 artists are invited to participate in the prestigious annual plein air art event that takes place from March 14-19 around various locations in the Borrego Springs area.
On the last day of painting the public are invited to an exhibition and reception where awards are given for outstanding work. All of the paintings on display have been completed during the six-day event.
“We love to think of it as fresh, glistening, wet paintings for sale and collectors love that,” said Williams. “It's brand new, fresh and it's done immediately, outdoors, not done in the studio.”
For pieces that do not sell they will be exhibited at the institute through April 5. Joli Beal, another Solana Beach artist will also be taking part in the event
News of the invitation came on the heels of Williams taking part in a three-day intensive plein air (painting outdoors) workshop in the desert. With a small group of six artists, Williams found herself immersed in isolated locations capturing the unique desert landscape.
The class was led by Mark Kerckhoff, a master at plein air technique, and although already an award-winning plein air artist herself—she placed first in 2010 Southwestern Art Association September Plein Air Competition —Williams said she learned a lot in those three days, tips that will help her for the Borrego Springs Invitational.
“In the desert, conditions differ from other landscape painting. The air is dryer so there is less atmospheric perspective; things in the distance have great clarity. Blues and purples are used—high key colors—to create a dramatic effect. It's magical.”
Williams has been a professional artist and muralist for 15 years. She is a member of several professional art associations: Rancho Santa Fe Art Guild, San Dieguito Art Guild, Oil Painters of America, California Art Club and the American Impressionists Society, as a “Signature Member.”
Her work has been in the Randall M. Hasson Gallery in Santa Fe, New Mexico and the Cedros Village Fine Art Gallery. Several of her pieces are currently on display at the San Diego History Center’s store in Balboa Park, the Rancho Santa Fe Art Gallery, the Offtrack Gallery in Encinitas, and the Ivanffy-Uhler Gallery in Carlsbad.
Growing up in Port Jervis, N.Y., Williams was raised in an artistic family. Her father was a master carpenter, crafting furniture and masonry, and her mother was in the arts and antiques business. As a child, Williams said she felt like she lived in an antique shop. In 1972, Williams moved to San Diego to finish her education at the University of California San Diego, earning a bachelor’s degree in visual arts and has lived in Solana Beach for 30 years with her husband Scott.
Williams said her work has been influenced greatly by turn-of-the-century San Diego plein air artists Maurice Braun, Charles Fries and William Wendt. She also paints the human form and has studied under the tutelage of friend and mentor Marileigh Schulte, and attended workshops with notable local artists Ray Roberts, Peggi Kroll-Roberts and Pat Kelly. Williams is giving her own plein air painting workshops, at various locations in San Diego, through the month of February, to benefit the Rancho Santa Fe Art Guild.
Looking ahead, Williams will take part in the San Clemente plein air competition in June and is applying to other California plein air festivals. “That's my focus, I'm very drawn to the arid and temperate climate of Southern California,” she said.
To view examples of Williams' art, visit
- To find out more about the 2011 Borrego Springs Plein Air Invitational visit http://borregoartinstitute.org.