Plein Air Painting: The Art of Outdoor Painting
Frank Serrano takes you to Estes Park, Colorado to share his top oil painting tips and techniques for painting plein air
Perfect your plein air painting skills as you learn the secrets to working directly from nature
Join Marcia Burtt, renowned acrylic painter of 25 years, in a start-to-finish demonstration on painting exciting, lifelike landscapes
The First Plein Air Painters & What They Were After
By Courtney Jordan, Online Editor
Claude Monet Painting by the Edge of a Wood by John Singer Sargent. oil on canvas, 1885.
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 the plein 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.”
En Plein Air: How It 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.
Artists new to plein air painting often take plein air workshops given by professional artists who make their living painting outside. You can also start your plein air painting experience from the comfort of your own home with two unique plein air painting DVDs, Mastering Plein Air in Oil with Frank Serrano and Mastering Acrylic Plein Air Painting with Marcia Burtt. Each plein air artist gives a start-to-finish demonstration on creating exciting, lifelike landscape paintings and tackling any plein air painting challenges that you encounter.
Practice Your Plein Air Art
Today, plein air painting is a flourishing trend in our art world. 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.
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Courtney Jordan is the Online Editor of Artist Daily. For her, art is one of life’s essentials and a career mainstay. She’s pursued academic studies of the Old Masters of Spain and Italy as well as museum curatorial experience, writing and reporting on arts and culture as a magazine staffer, and acquiring and editing architecture and cultural history books. She hopes to recommit herself to more studio time, too, working in mixed media.