by Judith Meyers
Plein air painting as visual poetry
As poetry is to literature, so is plein air painting to painting in general. The plein air painter must distill the cacophony of visual information to find the essence of what he is seeing and experiencing in that moment in time. The external conditions, such as temperature, wind, sounds, atmospheric conditions, and light, (especially the ever changing light) play as important a role in the results as the subject. Time is limited by conditions. Every color selected, every brushstroke taken has to be directed to the capture that one beautiful vision; tangible evidence of the artist’s unique vision of the world.
No, “plein” air is not miss-spelled
The title Plein Air painting was borrowed from the French equivalent meaning “open (in full) air “. It pays homage to the creators of the plein air movement, the French Impressionists. When this revolutionary group first displayed their work, a newspaper reporter coined the name “impressionists” because he said their paintings looked unfinished, like they were just a mere impression of the subject. The group liked the name and allowed themselves to be known, from then on, as The Impressionists. What gave these intrepid artists their start with painting outdoors as opposed to in the studio was the invention of paint in tubes! Prior, artists had to make their own colors from pigment and oil in their studios. Simultaneously, an unknown painter invented the French easel box. This allowed the artist to carry his paints, canvas, easel, and other supplies in a box that folded up to the size of a briefcase. Such a functional design, many plein air artists still use the French easel box to this day.
Plein Air Renaissance
Painting is a singular activity. However parallel painting with a group adds a rich dimension to the experience. As a result, plein air painting clubs have been forming all over Connecticut and elsewhere. Having like-minded folks to share thoughts, criticism, ideas, locations helps to get all of us out and painting! CPAPS was started by a group of paintings friends 25 years ago. Today we number over one hundred! But, this plein air renaissance is not limited to Connecticut. When Plein Air magazine was first published, it did not attract a significant enough readership to stay in business. A few years later, the publishers tried it again. Today, it is the hottest selling magazine devoted to painting! Through exposure, more and more people are being drawn into the plein air experience. Statewide and nationally sponsored paint-outs are popping up all over the country. These paint outs offer artists the opportunity to socialize with others from different areas of the country, to share experiences and ideas, to be out in the natural world, and to learn. they also provide opportunities for those interested in competing for prizes and developing name recognition.
Whatever the motivation or expectations, the singular draw for people to engage in plein air painting is that one can never have too much beauty in their life.