It’s French for ‘In the open air’ and it’s drawing painters outdoors
Artist Bob Raser calls plein air art the original “green movement” and plein air artists the “real environmentalists.”
Rather than photographing a landscape and bringing a frozen image back to the comfort of a carefully lit and temperature-controlled studio to leisurely paint it, plein air artists place themselves in the center of their subject for the duration of time it takes to complete the painting.
Though painting outdoors was not new, the movement really took off in the mid-1800s in France with the invention of paint tubes and portable easels, which freed painters to work on location. Impressionists Renoir and Monet did much of their work outdoors. The experience is quite different from studio painting.
“When you sit in one place for two or three hours you know exactly what those plants look like, what it smells like,” says Raser, a member of the Allied Artists of the Santa Monica Mountains and Seashore. “Wind, hot sun, noise, bugs—it’s all part of the plein air, great-outdoor painting adventure. Some artists call it an extreme sport.”
Raser begins each of his paintings by getting the lighting set on the canvas because that will change over the course of his hours on site. Then he fills in the plants and landscape and fine-tunes the colors, all the while breathing in the nature around him.