How to start a plein air group
The Thursday EnPleinAirTEXAS painting group out on the Field Ranch near San Angelo in 2021; L-R: Barbara Rallo, JoNell Richardson, Debbie Carroll, Trish Aylor

There’s no doubt being part of a community has incredible benefits. We often hear of successful plein air painting societies and associations, but what if you don’t live anywhere near an existing group that meets in person? Maybe it’s time to consider starting one yourself. Keep reading to learn how to start a plein air group, and stay tuned for an upcoming newsletter on the challenges you may face.

“Gather a few like-minded artists together for lunch and talk about why you want to do this,” said Barbara Rallo, co-chair of EnPleinAirTEXAS. “Be honest about how daunting painting outdoors seems to artists who have never done it before and how important support and encouragement are for the success of the group.”

To start, perhaps simply pick a date and location, and then promote it as a casual paint-out. Getting the word out is crucial — consider setting up a public Facebook event and putting up fliers at local shops, libraries, colleges, etc. Another idea is to host a plein air class through your local library or community center.

Either way, make sure to gather contact information from the folks who show up — you’ll want a reliable way to get in touch with them about future events, and they could become the founding members of your new plein air group.

“A group exponentially brings the opportunity to connect, learn, grow, and sell,” said Mary Longe, organizer of the Plein Air Painters of Chicago (PAPC). “There are several types of plein air groups, and if you know what you want to accomplish, you can create it.

“PAPC was started in 2003 by a band of artists who wanted to paint together, and did. That is the simplest and least complicated group” — people with similar interests identifying places and painting together.

“Over time the group grew,” Mary continued, “adding people with diverse education, training, and experience in art and plein air painting, but there was frustration with the lack of direction and an appetite for more activities. After several meetings, we determined that we all wanted to paint, and no organization or bureaucracy should get in the way of that. Bottom line, we decided we were and are about four things — painting, improving painting, bringing visibility and selling our paintings, and camaraderie.

“Because of our growth, we chose to become part of the Palette and Chisel, which now handles our finances and covers liability … Our governance structure now includes committee leads for painting locations, education, exhibits/events, finance, and membership.”

In addition to camaraderie, PAPC members enjoy paint-outs, workshops, critiques, guest artists, annual exhibitions, and pop-up sales.

The benefits of being in a plein air group range far and wide, as any member will likely tell you.

“The support that has come from a small group of artists painting weekly together outdoors, or in someone’s studio, is amazing,” said Barbara Rallo. “We begin to feel like family, with encouragement and sharing of skills and ideas.

“We have a monthly group, PASA (Plein Air San Angelo), who gather for lunch and bring paintings we are working on, or have done — we have a volunteer ‘show & tell,’ talk art, encourage each other and especially new artists. Only a small percentage of that group wants to paint outdoors on a regular basis, but the monthly gathering keeps us all connected and encourages some of them to eventually join us outside!

“It has truly helped our San Angelo art talent to grow, and very new artists feel welcomed — not intimidated — by the group. Nurturing artists, especially new ones, is what we should all be about. I feel strongly that sketching en plein air is just as important to the growth of the movement as making a finished painting. More people will come into the fold when they can have little successes along the way.

“A group show is in the works to give us an incentive to make progress and finish paintings. We may all never be on the plein air circuit with the artists who do that for a living, but we are becoming better artists and have a strong support network and we are happy watching our group get stronger — seeing the fruits of our gatherings.”

Related Article > The Challenges of Starting a Plein Air Group

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