en plein air

Plein air with San-Cap Art League

I have discovered the joy of en plein air painting since migrating to Florida for the month of March. Painting en plein air is a French expression meaning “in the open air.”

For those not familiar with plein air it is about leaving the four walls of your studio behind and experiencing painting and drawing in the landscape. The practice goes back for centuries but was truly made into an art form by the French Impressionists.

Before leaving for Florida I was noodling around to see if there were any workshops in the area that I could attend. I stumbled upon a group called Sanibel-Captiva Art League and they had posted their schedule of weekly paint outs in the area. As always, I went through some hesitancy of attending a paint out based on not knowing anyone, not being able to find the paint out location, or many other reasons that could prevent me from stepping out of my comfort zone. I am so happy I did.

The group of painters is diverse in their backgrounds, painting mediums they use, and their skill level. What they have in common is their warm welcome, their love of painting and their love of painting surrounded by a community of other plein air painters. There is an artistic energy, enthusiasm for deciding to where to set up a painting space, and a sense of solitude but yet unspoken support that passes between each easel or camp stool as everyone engages in their focus for the morning.

As each weekly painting ended I found myself asking “Why have I not done this before in Minnesota?” Maybe in Minnesota I did not consider plein air because of the weather. Maybe I did not do plein air because of the hassle of packing up materials. Maybe it was my inner critic not wanting to paint in public. No matter what the reason I had limited my painting to indoors. I discovered the beauty of painting outside!

The best advantage of painting plein air is that all the senses are engaged. Sight, smell, sound, and touch are simultaneously involved. I  consider this as making a first-class memory. Between the singing birds, the gentle sound of a cooling breeze, or the pleasant sound of the public enjoying the space as well I could hear the scratch of the brush moving across a canvas, the swish of water as a brush was being cleaned, or quiet voice of two painting companions exchanging thoughts. When I paint en plein aire I am fully experiencing three-dimensional life.

Plein air painting has brought life to me, not only is it exciting to be learning but it is so enjoyable to explore and find special places in nature to just sit for a couple hours and enjoy, it is very enriching. Not being a full time resident of the area, the plein air community has introduced me to some local favorite beaches and other locations that I may not have found on my own.


Blind Pass Beach. Watercolor. 15″ x 20″ Kathy Grundei (2018)


Thanks for reading!