So what is Plein Air? En plein air is a French term that translates literally as “in the open air.” The term “plein-air painting,” as it is currently used, usually refers to paintings that are completed on location.
Over the past 20 years, interest in plein-air painting has exploded in the West. Once considered revolutionary, when French Impressionists in the late 1800s, ventured out to investigate and capture the light of a given subject during different times of the day or season. Plein-air painters often contend that something is lost when a painting originates from a photograph as the sole reference material—that it just doesn’t convey the experience of actually being there.
Being a studio artist, going out into the open air seemed daunting, inspiring and adventurous all at the same time. Ever since I was 10 years old, I loved the French impressionists most particularly Monet and Renoir, so I gave it a shot. I sketched outdoors and tried to paint every now and then while in school and during summer vacation.
Years after, I painted whenever we went camping and somehow managed to finish a few paintings here and there. It was a challenge. With no training but pure intuition - just set up my easel and go! I realised I carried too much and after walking to find a particular site that interested me, I was bogged down with my gear. People were naturally curious with what I was doing and most stopped by to talk to me. It was nice, but could also be a huge distraction. Bug spray is important to bring as well as sunscreen! Bringing a bottled water was handy, primarily to quench your thirst and secondly to clean up brushes because at the time I was using acrylics. Having a camera records the scene and time of day. I had to paint fast, because once the sun moves, you will lose key light features that captures the landscape.
Two years ago, I joined East Central Ontario Art Association which is an art organization that promotes paint outs with a huge membership that spans Eastern Ontario, including artists from Metropolitan Toronto to the Quebec border and north past Algonquin Park, as well as some from as far west as the Niagara Peninsula. The largest concentration are residents of Scarborough, Belleville, Peterborough and surrounding areas.
This group opened up the flood gates to opportunities to paint out and learn new things! The opportunity to paint with fellow artists and learn more about managing your skills in the open air was exciting! I switched back to oils as my medium and I continue to learn more and more from every experience. I paint outside every opportunity and suddenly, I realised… I am addicted.