Plein Air Painting - An Introduction


Spring into plein air season!

Weather notwithstanding, spring has nearly sprung! Soon the days will be warming up, the sun will be out longer, and painters will be heading outdoors in droves for a bit of plein air painting. Over the next few days, we'll be discussing the ins and outs of painting en plein air, where to do it, what to bring, how best to travel, and more, so stay tuned, stay informed, and learn all you need to prepare for spring painting season!


Claude Monet

What is plein air painting?

If you're at all familiar with art and painting, even peripherally, chances are you've heard of "plein air" painting. Despite appearances, painting en plein air is not just a snooty phrase tossed around by painters who are trying to be impressive: it's a real thing, practiced for hundreds of years, and one most likely in practice today by many artists who just aren't aware of its fancy French name.

The term en plein air is simply French for "in the open air," meaning plein air painting is just creating art outdoors. Now, you'll be thinking, "What about cavemen? What about Australian aborigines? What about all those outdoor megaliths and Egyptian statues and everything that's been around for thousands of years before France even existed?  Surely THEY didn't work en plein air!" Okay, technically that's correct.  It's just that the French coined the phrase for it back in the 1800's when painting outdoors really took off and its popularity skyrocketed.


John Singer Sargent plein air painting.

 Why the 1800's, you ask? A number of reasons, including an expanding middle class and a school of thought geared towards natural beauty, all led to an increased interest in arts and painting. But most importantly, access to needed materials was suddenly broadened by the creation of ready-made paints. Previously, since the beginning of time essentially, artists would have to painstakingly make their own paint, color by color, grinding pigments into binders – only making a small amount at a time, since there was no way to keep it fresh and prevent it from drying out. In the mid 19th century, however, there was a "big bang" in the art supply world, aided by the invention of metal paint tubes, that allowed manufacturers to create oil paints in bulk, sealing them up in tubes to stay fresh. Additionally, "moist" watercolors – the re-wettable pans we are familiar with today – were developed, providing a convenient, portable, and accessible medium.  Suddenly, artists and art enthusiasts alike could easily acquire necessary painting materials without having to make them from scratch – already pre-packaged for bringing into the field!Winsor & Newton Watercolor advertisement.


Coinciding with these new portable paints was the artistic views of such schools of thought as the Impressionists and the Barbizon school: most notably, that natural daylight is the ideal illumination, and aimed for depicting it accurately and tracking its changes. In a sense, these 19th century plein air painters didn't only paint outdoors, they painted a moment in time, the passage of time, and the feelings it left behind. Though highly criticized and even ridiculed at first, Impressionism and its spin-offs greatly aided the popularity of plein air painting, as they believed the best and only way to paint this movement of light over nature was to be right there in front of it whilst painting.

So in the end, a combination of technical innovation and popular thought in the 1800's brought outdoor painting to the masses, as it were, and there it has remained ever since. Boiled down to its essence, plein air painting is painting nature from within nature, and as such is an avenue open to any and all artists – whether they use a fancy phrase to describe it or not!


Notable Plein Air Painters:

Claude Monet

Winslow Homer

Pierre-Auguste Renoir

Georgia O'Keeffe

John Singer Sargent

Edgar Payne

 Stay tuned to the blog for more posts about plein air painting in the upcoming week! At Jerry's Artarama, we're determined to be ready for the spring plein air season, and hope you will be too. What are some of your favorite plein air topics or artists? Let us know in the comments below!



Famous Artist Quotes


Inspirational quotes by famous artists to spark your creativity!

Henri Matisse


"Creativity takes courage."

— Henri Matisse


The mind of the creative genius is a strange and wonderful thing. Not only have great artists created great works of art that have shaped culture and the human experience for centuries, they also have interesting insights as to why they do what they do. Perhaps some of these insights may help spur your own thoughts about art, and help you on your own creative journey!

Some artists see art as a type of dialogue:

Edward Hopper

"If I could say it in words there would be no reason to paint."

— Edward Hopper


Georgia O'Keeffe

"I found I could say things with color and shapes that I couldn't say any other way—things I had no words for."

— Georgia O'Keeffe


Pablo Picasso

"Painting is just another way of keeping a diary."

— Pablo Picasso


Vincent van Gogh

"The emotions are sometimes so strong that I work without knowing it. The strokes come like speech."

— Vincent van Gogh


The way they describe substituting a paintbrush for a pen demonstrates how similar the branches of the arts can be. It's not so much about being a painter or a writer; they are two beasts of the same species. We could also guess that creativity of all types essentially draws from the same well of genius.

Other artists have described the purpose of their work rather eloquently:

Alberto Giacometti

"The object of art is not to reproduce reality, but to create a reality of the same intensity."

— Alberto Giacometti


Pablo Picasso

"Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life."

— Pablo Picasso


James McNeill Whistler

"An artist is not paid for his labor but for his vision."

— James McNeill Whistler


It seems they are saying art is a way of sharing a perspective, through a visual medium, one that can last forever.

Piet Mondrian had a peculiar take on it. He classifies creating art almost as a spiritual experience, as though there is a greater Being doing the work. It is an incredibly passive stance.

Piet Mondrian

"The position of the artist is humble. He is essentially a channel."

— Piet Mondrian


Although, in a way it echoes what these other famous artists have said:

Rembrandt van Rijn

"Painting is the grandchild of nature. It is related to God."

— Rembrandt van Rijn

Other artists have described their subjects. Of course, it would be difficult to take what they say literally:

Jackson Pollock

"Every good painter paints what he is."

— Jackson Pollock


Frida Kahlo

"I never paint dreams or nightmares. I paint my own reality."

— Frida Kahlo


If so, we would have to infer that Pollock is a series of paint splatters, Kahlo something much more macabre.

But Cézanne truly enlightens us on the origins of art.

Paul Cezanne

"A work of art which did not begin in emotion is not art."

— Paul Cézanne


By using the term "art", Cézanne broadens the topic beyond just painting, although he was a very famous painter. Instead, he includes all forms of creative genius. If they all draw from the same well, it must be a deep water made of intense feelings, as light and dark as the end results.

What do you think? Do any of these famous artist quotes resonate with your beliefs about art? Are there other quotes that do? Or do you have an art quote of your own? Let us know in the comments below!


A Jerry's Online Street Team Art Project with Vincent Giarrano

Professional oil painter Vincent Giarrano uses Charvin Extra Fine Oil Colors in this impressive project!

In our Artist Spotlight post about Vincent Giarrano, we learned about this award-winning oil painter and his background, and admired a selection of his atmospheric oil paintings of city life.

In this post, Vincent guides us step-by-step through the creation of one of his luminous still life paintings, explaining his process as we go. So settle in, and watch a master oil painter at work!


"Lobster with Bowl of Apples," a Charvin Oil Painting by Vincent Giarrano


  • I start by putting on a ground; paint thinned with turpentine. I use a brush and then wipe it around just lightly. I like a sort of a warm earth tone, usually ultramarine blue and burnt sienna.


  • With the same mixture I sketch out my subject. It's more of a plan than a tight rendering. Through the painting process I know it'll be changed or lost. It's enough of a guide that I can concentrate on my shapes of color instead of the subject as a whole.


  • Depending on my subject, I choose something to start with. In this case the background; that way I have a better sense of relating the rest of the painting to something correctly. It's also the furthest thing back, so I'm getting logical placement of one thing in front of another. For this painting I used a new medium; Charvin Extra Fine Painting Medium.


  • My process for this painting is to finish as I go. I concentrate on painting things only once, however if something is wrong I can always change it. I overpaint shapes slightly so I don't wind up with gaps between color notes.


  • I paint some of the table next so as to take advantage of working wet into wet with the background. Next I move onto the apples for the same reason and also because I'm still working from back to front.


  • I'm concentrating on keeping my color notes clean and also painterly, so I use as few brush strokes as possible; one or two and then back to my paint palette.


  • As I paint, I consider my edges and choose what I feel works best; hard, soft or lost edges.


  • I work on the bowl next and use thicker paint as notes go lighter in value. The basic idea is light advances and shade recedes, so this goes along with thick paint advances or is noticed more and thin paint recedes or stays back.


  • I start painting the lobster next, finishing as I go and moving left to right; the better to see and relate to what I've done, being right handed. I'm going back and forth between the red notes and the dark notes. I focus on keeping my colors clean and painting the color and shapes I see. It's important to ignore what your mind might be telling you about shapes and colors and concentrate more on what your eyes are really seeing. I finish up by painting in the table with the same things in mind.


  • Afterward I look at the piece and decide if there's anything I missed or want to change. The only thing I do is add the shape of a table leg in the background on the bottom.

Vincent Giarrano reviews the products used in this painting:

 "I liked the Raphael Oil-Primed Panel a lot, nice surface, not too rough and I didn't need to prime or sand additional layers. The Charvin Extra Fine Oil Paints were real nice, slightly finer and creamier than my usual; Gamblin, Old Holland or W&N. I liked the Charvin painting medium and noticed a glossier luster/finish than what I usually use; it has a good flow/viscosity to it. The brushes were what I like, Vermeer Classic Mongoose Hair. My favorite are the flats."


 To follow Vincent's process, watch this enlightening time-lapse video of various stages in the painting of Lobster with Bowl of Apples, and let us know what you think of his amazing artwork in the comments below!

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