PPAA Mission Statement

“The Prairie Plein Air Artist’s mission is to facilitate opportunities to paint en plein air!”

What is plein air painting?

The development of plein air painting in France in the mid-1800s was influenced by three new technologies—the railroad, the camera, and tubed paint.  Newly-laid rail lines took artists on day trips away from the Paris salons and into the French countryside.  If the camera and the wonder of photography stirred the competitive juices of the painters, the availability of paint in a tube allowed them to capture what the photographers could not—tactile color.

Thus, the plein air artist works “en plein air” (French for in the open air).  According to Eugène Boudin, the protocol for a plein air study (what the French call un étude) was that it would be done outdoors with a portable easel in two hours—though no more than a half hour if the study were a sunrise or a sunset.  This would require a concentrated look at the subject as the light at that moment finds it.

This is what Monet was after in his series of paintings of a haystack at different times of the day, in different weather, in different light.  If this is the goal of the plein air painter, western North Dakota is as good a place as any to pursue it, tracking the sun’s daily arc from east to west, and its seasonal move between north and south.

Who are the Prairie Plein Air Artists?

In 2013 a group of Dakota artists interested in working “en plein air” began meeting at various outdoor locations.

During the course of the spring, summer and early fall, they can be spotted at their outdoor easels in places such as Fort Lincoln, McDowell Dam, Crown Butte Dam, the Heart River and elsewhere, thanks to the organization of Larry Maslowski.

They prefer to meet early or later in the day when the sunlight and shadows are more pronounced. Within the group a variety of mediums have been used : oil, acrylic, pastel, water color, colored pencil and pencil and we have artists of all skill levels from beginner to more accomplished.

Prairie Plein Air Artists welcome artists of all levels who want to paint “en plein air”! Please join us!

How We Do It- Our “Paint Out” Format

If you follow the painting trends across the country, you already know that there is a growing interest on the part of artists to paint “plein air”.  Plein air loosely means painting outdoors or in the open air. This style or approach is born in part out of the impressionist movement early this century. It requires painting on location. We refer to these outings as “Paint Outs”.

While there are two general approaches to plein air painting; on our group “paint outs” we use the first method:

First method, set up on a site at a time when the light/shadows will be most dramatic usually earlier in the morning or later in the day towards evening and render a painting within a relative short period of time generally up to 2 hours. The time is limited because the intent is to capture the scene (light/shadows/mood/colors) at one particular moment in time and if you spend more time then that the scene changes forcing you to chase the sun/shadows which becomes counterproductive. The resulting painting can be considered finished or you can put finishing touches on back at the studio with the aid of a photograph/memory/or sketch. These paintings are often considered to be “studies” which can be used later in the studio to paint a larger (grander) painting referring to the study for color/mood etc.

Second method, find a site you wish to paint and return to the site at the same time of the day over a period of 2-3 days. The goal here is to have a finished painting. This allows the painter to paint in a larger format.

Starting to paint in this style does require some learning and adjusting. First you are using new and different equipment (you have to be able to carry everything you need for short distances), you have to contend with sun, wind, weather, bugs etc, and you have to work rapidly and efficiently to catch the light within the 2 hours.

PPAA welcomes artists of all experience levels and all forms of medium to participate in our “Paint Outs” with us. These “paint outs” are not demonstrations, or workshops, however, our members are ready, willing and able to share their knowledge and experience with you!