"Plein Air" Defined
“Plein Air”, a French word, simply translated means ”open air”. The roots of plein air painting are found in 19th-century Europe. An Englishman, John Constable, believed that artists should forget ”formulas” and trust their own vision in finding truth in nature.
About the same time in France, in a small village called Barbizon, a group of artists focused their attention on a subject matter that had never been done before: everyday life and the natural world surrounding it. These realists laid the ground work for the next development: Impressionism. Plein air forever changed how artists see the world.
A true plein air painting is done on location, capturing the atmosphere of the moment. The majority of the painting must be completed on site with little to no work to be done in the studio. Most artists agree this is the true test of skill as it requires complete confidence in placement of color and brushwork in a short amount of time. For example, a sunset may only last 30-40 minutes. That would be all the time the artist has to capture the scene.