The unique charm and character of Toluca Lake and its environs are a source of constant inspiration for local artist and animator Michelle Lin. She captures everything from commonplace street views to architectural marvels and iconic landmarks in vibrant plein-air paintings, using an animated and expressive style that delivers fresh perspectives of the local landscape. We caught up with Lin to talk about her work, her favorite places to paint and the plein-air artist community she’s helped build.
After graduating college, Lin moved to Burbank and got a job at an animation studio based in Toluca Lake, where’s she’s been working for the past eight years and is currently an assistant art director for an upcoming Disney Junior program. She called the neighborhood home for seven years before relocating to Glendale about four years ago, but during her time in the area, she embraced the small-town vibe. “I love the quiet charm of Toluca Lake/Burbank, and compared to some other places in L.A., it feels much less hectic here. As someone who loves walking, I particularly enjoy exploring the neighborhoods and local businesses here,” she shares, adding that, as a foodie, she loves frequenting Lou the French on the Block (she dreams about their almond tarts), Hungry Crowd, Sushi Yuzu and King’s Deli.
Lin developed her passion for plein air after taking a painting class to hone her skills in 2016. She discovered that painting outdoors and from life allowed her to fully connect with and observe the scenes and environments she was capturing. “Plein-air painting absolutely deepens my relationship to the location I’m painting,” she explains. “Whether I’m traveling abroad or staying local, spending a few hours in a location creates stronger memories than if I were just passing by.” Through her studies, she also found that her medium of choice is gouache — opaque watercolor paints — “because of the vibrant colors, the ability to create graphic shapes and how convenient it is to transport and set up.”
Plein-air painting quickly became a personal creative outlet and a way for Lin to unplug from the world. “Since I spend most of my day job sitting at a computer creating art digitally, being outdoors and painting on the weekends became so rejuvenating and essential for my mental and physical well-being. I love painting a range of subjects like architecture, local landmarks and natural landscapes,” she says. On her walks around the neighborhood pre-pandemic, she would often admire the area’s “charming vintage signs, classic diners and Googie architecture” and scope out interesting locations that she wanted to paint. “In the Toluca Lake area, I’ve had a great time painting locations like the Lakeside Car Wash and Bob’s Big Boy, along with the many storefronts and restaurants on Riverside. Even just normal street views and houses in the neighborhoods can be interesting to paint.”
Around that same time in 2016, Lin became a core member of a burgeoning community of entertainment artists called the Warrior Painters, a group that connects artists of all skill levels and backgrounds who enjoy showcasing natural and architectural diversity through plein-air painting. “What started as a personal desire to improve my painting skills and hang out with friends turned into the amazing experience of building an art community both in person and online,” she says. Warrior Painters has since grown into a global online art community with more than 5,000 members, and Lin has been an instrumental part of its success, co-running all aspects of the group’s operation alongside founders and close friends Angela Sung and Kayleigh Ma and an administrative team.
The Warrior Painters host weekly in-person paint sessions in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle and beyond, along with virtual paint sessions, social media challenges like #PleinAirpril and exhibitions showcasing members’ work, like September’s “Away From Keyboard (AFK) Plein-Air Painting Exhibit” at the Animation Guild in Burbank. The group also has an online art school called the Warrior Art Camp where people can learn animation, game art, illustration, digital painting and more from professionals in the industry.
“I particularly love seeing people fall in love with plein-air painting, whether they are artist professionals or hobbyists,” Lin says. “Everyone is so supportive of each other’s art and personal accomplishments. We are thrilled whenever a student lands their first art gig or when members get to exhibit their work in an art show for the first time.”