The act of painting en plein air, or “in the open air,” has its modern origins in the Barbizon school of painting established by Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot and was further advanced by the French Impressionist painters. As art materials became more portable, more artists began to work directly from nature, creating paintings that better represented the true appearance of light as reflected in the landscape. By the midpoint of the 20th century, the popularity of painting en plein air had become eclipsed by modern abstract expressionism. As the end of the century approached, an interest in classical painting techniques began to reemerge and with it a renewed interest in the act of painting on location. Plein air workshops, exhibitions and festivals started popping up across the country and the popularity continues today.
Plein Air Pastel: While oil paint continues to be the most popular medium within the plein air movement, watercolor and pastel have resurfaced to claim a part of their historic plein air rights. This was made very evident at the third Annual Plein Air Convention & Expo held recently in beautiful Monterey, California, an event sponsored by Plein Air Magazine under the leadership of Editor-in-Chief, M. Stephen Doherty, and Publisher, Eric Rhoads. This year, to address the concerns of plein air painters who worked in various media, they created concurrent demonstration tracks for oil, watercolor and pastel. Convention participants were able to attend any of the presentations no matter the medium. Although pastelists had presented at previous conventions, this year’s full roster was was a first. Stage demonstrators included pastle artists Jane McGraw-Teubner, Clark Mitchell, Lorenzo Chavez, Joseph Gyurcsak, Aaron Schuerr, Urania Christy-Tarbet, Peter Adams, Brenda Boylan, and myself.
Camaderie and Class Time: Like any gathering of like-minded people, the convention provided an opportunity for camaraderie, education and celebration. There were vendors in the trade show providing new as well as established products at bargain prices. An exhibition space for the work of established and aspiring plein air painters generated numerous red dots. Presentations included “Marketing Boot Camp,” which provided artists with tools to further their careers, as well presentations throughout the event that honored individuals for artistic achievement. Of special note were two historical presentations, one by Elaine Adams on the “California Art Club”, and the other by Jean Stern covering 20 years of historical plein air painting from the Irvine Museum.
Each day was structured with afternoon on location painting in the stunning vistas surrounding Monterey. It was an awe-inspiring sight on the first afternoon at Asilomar Beach to look out across the 700 painters and realize that many of them were fellow pastel plein air painters!
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