En Plein Air in the Plain Air

Color my world.

I’d been looking forward to this trip for weeks. The first morning I awoke early to watch the mountains turn from lavender-teals to a variety of greens ranging from dark emerald, to soft olive, and then to bright avocado and eventually settling into a spectrum of veridians, cobalt and aquamarine-infused sap greens! I couldn’t help but remember a conversation I had with my mother years ago as we traveled by car through miles and miles of lush pastures and wooded areas in southern Missouri. As she and I were gazing out the window at nature’s beauty, she said something to this effect, “Isn’t that green beautiful?” and I replied, “Which green?” Even at my early elementary age I was visually able to separate the colors of green into different categories as one might distinguish the colors of the rainbow.  After a short flight from Dallas to Vail, I magically entered an environment so different from my own and I couldn’t wait to paint!

The history of plein air painting is connected to the Impressionist artists. You can read about this radical bunch of folks here. For the first time, paint was manufactured and put into tubes enabling artists to actually leave the mixing stations of their studios, stroll into the great outdoors and plop down their easel and set up shop. This type of painting has to be executed quickly as the environments’ colors change in the blink of an eye. For instance, once when I’d set up my easel on the edge of a cliff on the Pacific Ocean, I looked down to mix the perfect color of ocean waves, looked back up to start painting and the entire color scheme had changed because the sun had gone under some clouds! Another time, I quickly looked down to mix the colors of the sky and looked up and the wind had swept all the clouds away!

My good friend and life mentor, Judith D’Agostino, taught me how to take on this challenge during the years she lived in San Diego, California. She’s been a professional painter for years and has taught many students the joys associated with tubes of paint, mineral spirits and an assortment of brushes. Landscape has always fascinated her and her styles have oscillated between realism and abstract. After instructing me on what tools and materials to buy and how to pack it all up for travel, I began a love/hate affair as I resisted the temptation to chase the light. Attempting to capture the colors, form and emotions of a complex landscape on a simple canvas board proves to be arduous, but delightful! Judith lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico and paints full time. She’s painted beautiful landscapes from coast to coast and has been a guest painter at the Door County Plein Air Festival in Wisconsin . Working side-by-side her I’ve discovered painting en plein air is very formidable! Not only do you have to paint quickly, but you have to become indifferent to the sun and wind in your face and to ignore the conversations of passersby as they quietly chat about your work to one another within earshot. It is frightening to look up, after squirting out paint, and make the first brushstroke. How do you take in all of nature and attempt to communicate it on a flat canvas, mine no larger than an 8” x 10”?

If the oil paint didn’t take a week to dry, people would often buy these small canvases on the spot. Many people stop and gaze out into nature and watch me capture the colors and textures. They begin to feel connected to the painting because they share the emotion of looking out into nature’s beauty alongside me. It is similar to taking a photograph of a beautiful landscape, except that they watch the image grow slowly; they watch the rocks form and the water ripple with a few brushstrokes. It seems that they observe nature more closely, by watching a painting grow one brushstroke at a time.

Nature is marvelous. Go explore it. Even if the act of painting is more than you are willing to try, what about taking a pencil and a small sketchbook and doing a 10 minute sketch of a scene? Or what about gazing out at nature and writing a short haiku about the sounds or sensations you are experiencing? Or take a picture. Or just sit and stare and observe the world up close. Meditate. Breath deeply. Listen to the wind and listen to the quiet, still voice inside.

Tagged , , , , , , ,

13 thoughts on “En Plein Air in the Plain Air

  1. […] and Angela found my blog article, En Plein Air in the Plain Air and marked the “like” symbol at the bottom of my post. When I was notified of their “like”, […]

  2. Theadora says:

    Anita! As always, what a beautiful post. Inspiring!! I love the top shot. Is that you? And the landscape? Are we seeing your work? Nature is marvelous!! Signed with open eyes, T.

    • T’dora, mucho gracias! Oui, est moi. (is that correct?) Vail, Colorado. Yes, two of my paintings, each took about 1.5 hours. I’m fairly critical of them, but I don’t paint en plein air very often b/c it’s so darn ugly in Dallas, but I do love the times I can play in this way. I need to come to Paris to practice more!! I do hope we can meet one of these days…

  3. Really lovely paintings

  4. sherryhoupt says:

    Hi Anita! It’s fun to travel vicariously with you to the mountains. We did a Midwest trip this summer, and saw some beautiful sights, in the countryside and In Chicago. I filled my camera with visual notes and my mind with thoughts for future creations. Perceiving deeply…the catalyst for creating art and enjoying nature! Thanks!

    • Sherry! It’s great to hear from you! I’m glad you’ve had an enjoyable summer and that those images, in both your camera and mind, will inspire you for months to come. I’ll be eager to see you soon.

  5. Lena Hobbs says:

    Thank you so much for this blog. As I read I can feel the excitement of what you are seeing and in my imagination I can see what you see. That is how powerful your words are to me. You were able to capture your experience for others to enjoy. Mom

  6. belocchio says:

    Such good advice. We don’t stop enough to just LOOK. Nature provides us with a never-ending always changing landscape to admire. Virginia

Leave a Reply to anitajohorton Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Lost in Lisbon

A Place for Musings



Reade and Write

Mystery Reviews and Recommendations by Amy M. Reade

Fetching A Toothpicker

Notes of a Trailing Spouse from Chennai to Lisbon and Beyond

Educator Voices

A place to share and celebrate how we are pushing the boundaries, shaking up the system and challenging the status quo!

sonya terborg

innovation. inspiration. education.

lisa cooreman: teaching artist

lisa cooreman: teaching artist

A year of reading the world

196 countries, countless stories...

Coffee in San Diego

Independent coffee houses we love

The Dallas Whisperer

Answering Questions About Dallas

schooled in love

Where home meets schooling.

Art Teacher in LA

Art lessons for teachers


Have a dose of what life is really like living here – from my single-handed destruction of the Turkish language, random arguments with random relatives about everything from apples to vaginas to learning the secrets to making the perfect içli köfte! Highs or lows this is my observations from the melting pot of crazy that is my life in Mersin.

Live In Inspiration

travel . lifestyle . inspire .

What's up, Turkey?

a blog about Turkish politics and society

Inside Out In Istanbul

Discover the everyday extraordinary of life in modern Istanbul.

Curious Souls Get Together

We meet to watch and discuss inspirational TED Talks !


Stories and photos about life and the world

%d bloggers like this: