Plein Air Painting Outdoor Painting Art

What is Plein Air Painting?

Plein air painting is about leaving the four walls of your studio behind and experiencing painting and drawing in the landscape. The practice of painting outside goes back for centuries but was truly made into an art form by the French Impressionists. Their desire to paint light and its changing, ephemeral qualities, coupled with the creation of transportable paint tubes and the box easel—the precursor to theplein air easels of today—allowed plein air artists the freedom to paint “en plein air,” which is the French expression for “in the open air.”

How Painting Outside Works

Outdoor painting gives artists the opportunity to paint the landscape in an immediate way—from direct observation—responding to changes in light, air quality, weather, and time of day. Many advocates and artists who have taken up plein air painting are committed to creating stirring landscape paintings that are derived solely from nature itself, in an alla-prima style (which means producing a painting in one session outdoors). But practitioners can also find it useful to work from a variety of sources for a plein air painting, including initial pencil sketches, photographs, and research.
Sketches allow painters to improve the overall design of a painting and quickly capture color notes in the landscape. A plein air painter can also use photographs to help design a painting, though they usually come into play after the artist has left the outdoor painting site for the comforts of the studio. An artist often utilizes photographs to capture details—like the particular texture of grass or the shape of a river bend—but most painters stay away from using photographs for color and value indicators.

Why Try Plein Air Art?

Today, plein air painting is a flourishing trend in our art world, popular in no small part because it’s just plain relaxing. Artists come together for “paint out” excursions, workshops devoted to the practice occur all year-round and coast to coast, and landscape painters are finding that plein air painting is as rewarding and powerful an experience as it was for the first plein air painters all those years ago.

To ignite your plein air art excitement, first delve into one of the most in-depth resources on the subject, Plein Air Painting—where 30 top plein air painters give their take on the outdoor painting experience and the hard-won advice that allows them to enjoy every minute of it.