It’s been about 150 years since some of the greatest artists of the French Impressionist era transported their tubes of varying pigments, brushes, and a canvas out into the brilliant sun. There they created artworks true to what nature spread out in front of them.
The world has changed over the decades, but nature still has a say. The sun still rises and sets every day, offering a spectrum of contour, shimmer, and color across the earth’s varied landscape. It’s a landscape artist’s dream, past and present.
“Being outside offers ideal painting conditions. Natural light is the best way to view color,” said artist Nora Sallows of Wauseon. “Getting out in nature is fun. There is no greater inspiration.”
It’s termed plein air, a method of drawing or painting outdoors that comes from a French phrase meaning “in the open air,” conceived by those French Impressionists of long ago. Artists say the trend’s popularity has exploded over the last decade, and artists are making pieces from start to finish in the field.
“French Impressionists started it as a way to go out and gather studies and color references for landscape painting back in the studios, and it was possible for them to do that because someone invented tubes so they could fill them with paint and take that paint out on location,” said Robin Roberts, president of the Ohio Plein Air Society.
Ellie Miller, 87, of Maumee, has been a part of the Plein Air Painters, a group formed out of the Toledo Artists Club, for a few decades now.
Every Tuesday while the weather holds they pick a location — this year they have been to MacQueen Orchards, Toledo Botanical Garden, Harroun Park, Lourdes University, Swan Creek Metropark, and the rooftop of the Toledo Lucas County Main Library — settle in, and find a focal point for their latest piece.
“It’s my favorite thing to do,” the mostly self-taught artist said. “I love being outside, especially along a river where there is water trickling, peace, and quiet.”
It was a love as well for Jim White, who lived in Monclova Township with his wife, Mary, for more than 60 years, before his death in February. A commercial artist by trade, and a plein air painter for decades, he had a knack for offering a constructive yet friendly critique to a colleague and a special connection with children.
“It was his life,” Mary White said. “He liked painting outside, and when the children would come and watch him, he would give them the brush and let them make strokes, and some would even put their initials on the work.
The Toledo Artists Club plein air groups include the Plein Air Painters, the Monday Morning Painters, and the Urban Artists. For more information, call 419-531-4079 or go to toledoartistclub.com or ohiopleinairsociety.com.
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