What is Plein Air Painting?
With the sun out and grass ready for sitting, the summertime is a great opportunity to try your hand at plein air, or “open air”, painting. Oddly enough, this method of painting first became popular with the invention of tubed paint, which allowed artists the convenience of pre-mixed paints that wouldn’t dry out in the sun. Groups such as the Barbizon School and the Impressionists took kindly to this method and soon adopted it for most of their works.
Unfortunately, due in part to the ease and accessibility of digital photography, plein air painting has come to be somewhat of an under-appreciated art form. However, we at Winged Canvas have a soft spot for underdogs, so here are a few reasons why we think you should try bringing your canvases outside!
1. Plein air is quick.
Painting outdoor scenes can be an immersive experience like no other. Back in the 19th century, Impressionist artists painted en plein air pieces quickly in order to capture the transient effect the moving sun had on properties of light and shadow. If you’re one to spend a ton of time fixating on small details, perhaps painting a changing and fleeting landscape could be a welcome new challenge!
2. Real Life is 3-Dimensional
There is something in the act of painting from life that feels connective in a way photographs or reference images can’t quite achieve. Sitting on the grass with your canvas and paints sprawled around you is like a meditative experience. It can truly put you into the good kind of sensory overload. The sights, sounds, smell, and even feel of the earth beneath you can add a whole other dimension to your work that is inspired and authentic.
Winged Canvas staff and summer students in their gorgeous borrowed 'studio' in Unionville.
3. Painting on location filters distractions.
As a chronic procrastinator, I tend to put off doing even the things I enjoy (such as painting), and become easily distracted during the process. However, I find that painting en plein air brings distractions into a new and even productive light. Catch yourself captivated by a bird’s strange tune? Paint the bird! Freaked out by the ladybug that just landed on your knee? Paint that too! Additionally, the fact that you potentially drove/walked/biked you and your supplies all the way to that scenic sweet spot is often motivation enough to stay put, focused and ready to create something amazing.
4. The 'en plein air' experience is evocative.
Sing, O’ muse of Monet! There are few things which stroke our artistic egos better than painting in the style of the masters. Conjure up the metaphorical spirit of Cézanne for support and guidance as you paint your own Mont Saint-Victorie (aka, that medium sized hill behind your house).
Winged Canvas PA Day Painting students at a local parkette with instructor Fei Lu.
5. Outdoor art is good for you.
Art is good for the soul, but who says artists can’t be active as well? Kick that holed-up in the studio stereotype in the butt and go get your vitamin D for the day!
6. You get raw artistic license.
Although painting from an already photographed reference is easy and convenient, it doesn’t offer you as much in the way of artistic license. The great thing about painting from a raw scene is the ability to decide what goes on the canvas in terms of subject, cropping, colour, and more. Not to mention, the time you spend observing the natural landscape creates a magical, captured moment of your own creation.
Go out there and paint the world as you see it!
We at Winged Canvas are are all for painting en plein air, and hope this piece inspired some curiosity about the method in you! Our Summer Art Camps and PA Day Painting Camps are the perfect opportunity to get outside in this great weather and receive some instruction and fresh perspective.
Winged Canvas founder Fei Lu is a 'traveling artist' and a huge advocate for plein air painting. She's always eager to help newcomers discover their plein air potential. Check out some of her plein air landscapes and her Instagram for inspiration.
Any teacher now can facilitate world-class visual art lessons — even with no art experience! Get our art courses designed for classrooms, complete with step by step video lessons, assessment tools and handouts you can use every year.
If you're an educator, you're eligible for special pricing — 50% off our regular course price! Art Projects for Your Classroom