Plein Air, What’s That?


Clematis, acrylic, 14″ x 9″

A friend of mine shares with me several art magazines that she has finished reading.  Since these magazines are just too good to throw away I then pass them on to others.  There was an interesting Publisher’s Letter in the November 2014 issue of Plein Air Magazine that I read recently.  The author, B. Eric Rhoads, was advocating that we plein air painters need to do more to promote understanding of the term plein air and awareness of this way of painting.  I had supposed that many people understood this term, although I didn’t come across it until I was middle aged and was in an art class that met outdoors and the teacher explained that the term was French and had originally been used to describe what the Impressionists did, paint outdoors what they saw in front of them.

I recently tried, unsuccessfully, to sell several paintings on eBay.  My daughter, who was helping me through the process of putting the images online and describing them, did not want me to use the words plein air to describe my paintings because, she said, nobody would know what that means.  So maybe Mr. Rhoads is right.  As a painter who prefers plein air painting, maybe I need to explain what I’m talking about.  To being with, above is my most recent plein air effort.

When I think about my own plein air experiences, here are a few that come to mind.  My first plein air experience in a college art class.  We were out in a field and I painted two of my classmates painting.  (Plein air paintings can also include the figure.) Sketching in a park in France and all of a sudden being surrounded by a group of soldiers, curious to see what I was doing.  Painting in a barnyard while a cat tried to crawl into my lap.  Painting with one hand while holding onto my easel with the other as the wind increased.  Drops of rain dribbling onto my painting as a sudden shower came up. Parked off the road in a remote rural area painting in my car when suddenly at my window the face of a highway patrolman appeared wanting to know what I was doing.   Starting out painting in comfortable shade only to have it soon disappear and feel the hot sun beating down.  Painting while my chair sat on a concrete surface only to have my glass water jar fall and shatter.  Painting in the mountains while husband was in meetings concerned because he did not know exactly where I was.

It has all been an experience I wouldn’t have missed for anything.


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