A Plein Air Painting Workshop with Lori Putnam in Staithes, England, Pt. 1

This summer I had the privilege of traveling to the UK to paint with Nashville oil painter, Lori Putnam in the historic fishing village and former artist colony of Staithes on the North Yorkshire coast.

For Part 2, go here.

A stone carving on a brick wall states, "Welcome to Staithes" with raking afternoon light shining across the weathered stone
Established in the mid-fifteenth century, Staithes was home to a colony of artists known as the Staithes Group from the end of the nineteenth century until 1907.

If you are familiar with contemporary British plein air painting, you may have heard the village of Staithes mentioned as a popular destination for painters or you may have seen the iconic views of the earthy orange tiled roofs on whitewashed walls that rise up the steep cliffs in paintings and photos on Instagram. Staithes is one of the many villages that line the North Yorkshire coast of England, and the town did a bustling trade in fishing (and sometimes smuggling) for centuries. But in the late nineteenth century, Staithes became a popular tourist destination, eventually attracting a small group of landscape painters that would come to be known as the Staithes Group. During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries in Britain, artists' colonies began forming in coastal towns across England with the Newlyn School being the most famous. Though the Staithes Group was short-lived, the village continues to attract artists drawn to its beauty and artistic past.

A painting of Staithes fisherfolk by Dame Laura Knight. She and her husband Harold Knight were the best known members of the Staithes Group.

Staithes Beck. The beck or stream rises and falls with the tide throughout the day.

Seeing painters I admire plein air painting in Staithes put it high on my bucket list, so when Symi Jackson of Workshops in Yorkshire posted on her social media in early 2021 that there were openings in the Lori Putnam Staithes workshop for the following year, I jumped at the opportunity.

Lori Putnam (For Lori's artist's site go here and to learn about her classes and online teaching go here) is an award-winning professional artist based in Nashville, TN who has painted in North Yorkshire a number of times. I've followed her work for some time, and, having watched her demos, I knew I liked her teaching style. The combination of the right teacher in the right place seemed like an important opportunity that I didn't want to miss out on.

The blue door of the Smugglers located above the Staithes Gallery.

The workshop was June 6-10, a full week, of plein air painting with all the attendees meeting up in Staithes on the Sunday night before the official first day. Symi had arranged for our group to stay in various accommodations around the town. I stayed with a number of other people in the Smugglers' Inn which occupied three floors above the Staithes Gallery on the High Street. The room included a large meeting space which is where we gathered every morning and evening as a group. We settled in and went to dinner all of us excited for a week of painting.

The view from an upper back window at the Smugglers.

A seagull is perched on a chimney in the village. the sky behind is overcast.
A seagull sits atop chimney pots on our misty first morning.

Day 1

The initial weather forecast for the week was a little disappointing with a lot of rain and cold predicted, the weather would turn out more favorably, but on Monday morning it was drizzling and chilly. We began our workshop indoors with Lori going over her plein air supplies and giving us a brilliant demo on how to approach a painting in overcast weather where the strong shadows and light that artist often look for are not present. I like painting when it's overcast and often do as Virginia gets a fair amount of rain although not as much as England, so I found this demo incredibly useful. Plein air painting is all about solving problems, and Lori solved this one beautifully.

A woman is painting buildings inside a sunlit room in Staithes
Our instructor for the week, Lori Putnam, explains her process as she paints the High Street from a window in the Smugglers' Inn.

A seasoned professional. Lori can create compelling work under less than ideal circumstances. A reminder that artists can get creative when the weather doesn't cooperate.

Symi Jackson's dog Max keeps watch as we study together.

After the demo, everyone ventured out on their own. I decided to explore the town since I had arrived in the evening the night before and hadn't had time to get my bearings.

Below you can see a number of photos I took as I walked around the village.

A store front painted dark red has union jack bunting hanging above its windows
Jubilee bunting hangs throughout the town in the wake of the late Queen celebration weekend.

An old fashioned butchers shop front with jam jars stacked in the window.
A butcher's shop offers traditional service to locals and tourists. Symi and Joe treated us to some delicious meat pies from here.

This adorable candy shop would make a wonderful subject for a painting with its pastel-colored store front.

The boat ramp at the harbor is lined with colorful boats.

Fishing boats sitting in the harbor with their orange buoys. Staithes continues to be a working fishing village although on a smaller scale than in the past.

The famous Cod and Lobster where we enjoyed a number of meals.

The footbridge over Staithes Beck. It's one of many iconic images of the area.

After dinner, some of us were still in an exploring mood and took a long walk up the public foot path to check out the views from one of the towering headlands. Below you can see some of the breathtaking images.

A magnificent view of Staithes harbor from the public footpath that runs along the coast.

A beautiful horse greets us as we walk past a farm situated high on a cliff.

The violent North Sea. Laura Knight is said to have been so distressed at the frequency of funerals for local fishermen that it was a factor in her move to Cornwall.

Day 2

While still raining on the morning of day two, the forecast for the week was starting to look more promising. Students could choose to go painting outside, or to remain at the Inn and sketch a local fisherman who had agreed to stop by for a few hours. I do enjoy sketching people and I love to get a perspective on the places I visit from local people.

Symi Jackson graciously sat for us as we warmed up for our session with the model. This is one of my sketches. Graphite in a Fabriano sketchbook.

Our model, a fisherman named Sean, shared stories of his life and work. He became a friend to the group and our relationship with him continued throughout the week.

My efforts. Graphite on laid paper in my Fabriano sketchbook.

After lunch, the weather turned gloriously sunny, so I ventured out to the harbor where everyone had gathered to capture the scenery around the beach.

I loved this painting session even though my painting was definitely a struggle. The sounds of tourists strolling around chatting, the sound of seagulls crying, and dogs running on the beach was exactly the quintessential coastal painting experience I was hoping for.

We ended the day, as we often did, with a pub dinner and lots of discussion and laughter.

A spectacular sunset viewed from the Cod and Lobster. A testament to how far north we were, the sun didn't set until 9:30 and twilight lasted easily until 10 pm or after.

The sun sets behind the ancient natural forms that protect the little town from the sea.

We were just getting warmed up, however. The next three days would be packed with painting and a visit to another beautiful nearby town.

For Part 2 go here and stayed tuned for Part 3 of my trip to Staithes where I'll share some more incredible images, and some of my insights from the experience. Enjoy this beautiful video of the trip created by the team at Workshops in Yorkshire. Click the link below to view on Instagram:


Lori talks about the experience of painting and teaching in Staithes for a short video produced by Workshops in Yorkshire.