Plein Air Painting Explained

Plein Air Painting Explained

Plein air painting is a method of painting I’ve come to love for it's combination of time in nature and documentation painting. As someone who often feels overwhelmed by how busy life has become and the excess noise of social media and the digital world, there are few moments that can calm my soul the way painting in nature can. 

 

What is Plein Air Painting, Anyway?

Plein air painting, a French term meaning "in the open air," involves painting outside, in the midst of the landscape I am painting. This method, which was popularized by the Impressionists, allows me to experience and convey the natural world in its most immediate and dynamic form.

I first began experimenting with plein air painting as a practice when I was a student at Savannah College of Art and Design. I would ride my bike to the "Rail Trail" on the outskirts of Savannah, carrying a small collection of art supplies in my basket, and paint the marsh grasses as the sun set. Observing how the changing light made the grasses glow, I became fascinated with documenting the subtle shifts in color and suddenly had a keen realization about what the the french impressionists were doing.

That period of my life was marked by a deep desire for simplicity. I found the practice of packing only the essentials into my bike basket for a painting adventure felt both liberating and empowering. From there I adapted the practice, and to this day, I prefer the method because of the calm it brings me as well as the teachings and practice I get from painting on location.

Below are photos from my first of many sessions along the marsh many years ago: 

 

The Benefit of Nature
When I set up my easel outdoors, I am able to immerse myself in the environment. The fresh air, the sounds of the sea birds or wind, and the ever-changing light all become part of the painting process. Each brushstroke is a direct response to the scene unfolding before me, creating an authentic connection between the artwork and its natural setting.

Capturing Fleeting Moments
One of the joys of plein air painting is capturing a specific moment in time. The light changes rapidly, shadows shift, and colors evolve, challenging me to work quickly and intuitively. This spontaneity brings a unique energy to my paintings, making each one a lively and whimsical snapshot of a beautiful, fleeting moment.

 



The Challenge and Reward:

Plein air painting is as challenging as it is rewarding. Carting my materials, finding the perfect spot, and dealing with the elements all add layers of complexity. But these challenges push me to be more resourceful and creative. The reward is a collection of paintings that are dynamic, intuitive, and deeply personal.

Crafting a Narrative:
Each plein air painting tells a story. Whether it’s the shifting light of a single day or the changing seasons in a familiar location, these works document my journey and observations. I often return to the same spots, capturing the subtle and dramatic changes over time, weaving a narrative that’s as much about the passage of time as it is about the place itself.


Curating Plein Air Collections 
I curate my plein air paintings into arranged series based on location and theme. I frame them in beautiful, handmade white frames that enhance their elegance and color. These collections offer an eye-catching and cleanly styled artwork series, helping to bring a healthy contrast and fresh look to wall spaces. 

Throughout July I will be curating a new series of plein air paintings to be released in August, so stay tuned. Follow me on Instagram to see more of my latest plein air series coming to life. 

 

For more information about how to arrange plain air artwork on your walls, see this post.

Check out my other plein air adventures, like this 30 day painting challenge in Maine here or this plein air painting adventure to Panama here.

Check out my current inventory of plein air paintings here.


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  • Check out my 2024 events list and mark your calendar. I update this list as things are added, so come back often. 
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