The Plein Air Lifestyle: Why You Should Consider It

Stephanie painting at shore

Morning is so much sweeter when you paint it. No better place than along the shores of Lake Michigan inside Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.

So excited to get outside and paint, I loaded the dog and all my supplies and headed off to a quiet beach in Leelanau County. One with a bit of shade, so I’m not a sitting duck under the sun’s brutal rays. Everything is set up, I’m getting ready to paint, but wait … there’s no paint. I forgot my little toolbox of paints. How could I forget that? I assumed it was already in my car, but no, I had taken it inside the cottage and forgot it there. Can’t get very far without paint, so home we trekked to retrieve the paint.

Sunrise Shore

A morning well spent painting the sunrise over Lake Michigan inside Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.

This is part of plein air life. I’ve arranged my entire setup before only to have a storm roll in. Or had my dog dig a nice little bed for himself in the sand, dumping heaping amounts onto my equipment. It’s certainly not convenient. It’s filled with potential disaster. So why do we do it? Why do any of us do it? And with such enthusiasm?

It’s about the lifestyle. The time outside. The birds singing. The opportunity to be so intimate with nature. To study her, and know her. But most of all, to enjoy. Just as fishing and golf are excuses to be outside, so is plein air painting. The joy outweighs it all, all the trekking with equipment just to arrive missing an important element. Or to have the winds pick up and thwart your efforts.

But there is another reason we work outside from nature: because nothing will teach you more about how to paint than working from nature.

My studio and plein air approach are very different. When I’m outside, I’m studying nature as close as I can. In the studio I often play with interpretation, seeing how many different ways I can change a image and push myself to do more. Experiment. In nature, I am working to honor what is. To be true to what is before me, from time of day to light and shadow. To honor what is real. And above all, to listen to the song of the birds. It’s a “full senses” experience that I hope you get to experience.

Drop me a line if you’d like a lesson or to learn more about how you can experience this joy for yourself. You Tube and Vimeo are filled with how to’s. And of course, I have my first hour-long tutorial done by Up North Media.¬†There are plenty of ways to get started; the key is in putting in the time.

I hope you all are enjoying your summer, and whether you’re painting outside or not, I hope you’re getting to spend that time in nature. Letting it do what it does: heal, enchant, delight!

As always, I enjoy your feedback, and the best conversations are happening on Facebook and Instagram. And personally, I’m loving on Instagram and Instagram stories a lot lately. I hope to see you there!


Muchacho Libre

My painting buddy is really much more about the ball!

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