Plein-Air Painting

By Staff

Besides simply walking, humans have conjured myriad excuses to be in the great outdoors: We collectively golf, hunt, fish, birdwatch, photograph and more. some people, armed like they’re going on holiday, go stand someplace and point pictures. They’re called plein-air painters.

by Suzette Gertsch 


It’s cold, it’s early and what am I doing out of my cozybed? OJ glass in one hand and field easel in the other, I’m loading the last ofmy painting gear in the Honda. Stop, think through the list: canvas panel,easel, paint and brush bag, turps, granola bars, plenty of water,miscellaneous, and oh yes, the umbrella.


The sun will be up and over the Wasatch east hills inless than 15 minutes. Where is that sunscreen? At best I’ll get a terrificlittle 9×12 hummer for the gallery. At worst (depending on the season) I’lldeal with flies, pies, wind, rain, snow, or passing cattle and cowboys, which Iexperienced last August in the North Fields. Last summer, my friend Debbie T.reported a foul and strange smell while painting in the pines above SnakeCreek, only to discover a rotting deer hide, dragged cheerfully to her side byher dog. On another occasion, while shooting photos for a potential site, Isank into a three-foot hole of oozing sand.


I’m off for a precious two-hour date with nature. Paintingis my occupation, and painting en plein air is my outdoor passion.


Most of us hardy plein air artists can thank (or, on cowpie days, curse) John G. Rand, who in 1841 invented the collapsible metal painttube. Before this time, artists had used pig bladders to store their oilcolors.


What the Impressionists (who coined the phrase)encountered in the great outdoors challenged and fascinated them, and does thesame for the modern plein air artist. Something remarkable happens when Iabandon the studio, and stand, saturated in nature with all its variables andwonders. I become quiet, focused, intense… birds chirp from the trees, whilethe ambient light washes across the pasture or the river. Colors becomebrilliant, dazzling, as I connect with "the now of the moment" asEckart Tolle might say it. This is really living. This is really connection.This is really me!


So much time has passed since those first Impressionistswent about inventing plein air with their dabs, dots, and the"painterly" quality of their impasto brushwork. The snarling insultsof the early critics changed to envy and admiration, as the new unconventionalpaintings captured the public’s interest.



Plein air painting has become a mainstream activityacross the country and the world, complete with associations and competitions.Heber Valley has become one of the most popular rendezvous points for plein airpainters in Utah. "Wasatch Plein Air Paradise 2008," sponsored by theMidway Art Association, is the largest of Utah’s plein air competitions.


Consequently I’m doing my "painting push-ups"for the next big competition in June. Competitive painting? Here’s how itworks: Artists from all over Utah arrive at the Midway Town Hall on Thursday,June 26 to have painting surfaces "stamped." That initiates the raceagainst time to find the perfect plein air setting in Wasatch County, withframed entries due back at 5 p.m. on Saturday the 28th. When it’s all done,they and the public can enjoy the actual art exhibition and sale on July 3-4amid traditional Fourth of July events. Two short "paint-out"competitions will also take place July 3 and 4.


John Hughes, Steve McGinty, Bonnie Poselli, KateStarling, George Handrahan and Ken Baxter are among the well-known plein airprofessionals who have participated in the competition either as jurors,painters or both. In 2007, over $10,000 in purchase awards and prizes went towinning entries and artists of all levels. I’ll probably be out in the northfields having the time of my life….in plein air paradise!  u


Sue Gertsch is president of the Midway Art Association.


Contact:; tel. 801-755-6730


Main Competition: June 26-28


July 3-4 : 5-hour Paint-out Competitions


July 3-4: Art Exhibition and Sale, Midway Town Hall,10a-7p on the 3rd, 8a-2 p on the 4th


July 4 Artists Award Reception, 1 pm.





This article was originally published on June 1, 2008.