In a recent Plein Air Today newsletter, we shared advice on how to start a plein air group; as with anything that’s worth doing, though, challenges are to be expected.

Barbara Rallo, co-chair of EnPleinAir Texas, and Mary Longe, organizer of Plein Air Painters of Chicago (PAPC), shared their experiences here so you can go into it with an extra level of preparation.

The first, and perhaps biggest, challenge is one so many of us face when it comes to pursuing our passions: time.

Mary Longe pointed out that it takes time to organize and manage group activities for artists, and she has some great advice based on what the PAPC community has learned. “Always, everyone wants to paint. We remind each other why we are together and make it easy for someone to say no and turn down a volunteer project. We also know that everyone’s time is valuable and we have begun to pay people with certain skills such as web design and other tech tasks.

“Another type of challenge relates to the complexity of growth in a group of artists. At the beginning [of PAPC] all participants could be included in shows. And in fact, we remain committed to having our annual show be inclusive. As our group has grown, however, there are a couple of factors that have come into play … first, there is just not enough wall space for paintings in some venues. For example, we were just asked to show in a high-end (meaning people who have money and do spend it on art) retirement community. It has 63 linear feet of space and they don’t want pieces double-hung, so there is room for only 35 paintings. We made a decision that we will never jury ourselves. In a case like this one, the arts committee from this facility would be the jury. So, in our evolution, we have embraced mounting shows using an online jurying app, having the sponsoring organization jury, and charging our members a minimal submission fee to cover costs.

“Relatedly, with a large group we have very disparate levels of experience among our members — professional or seasoned artists command more for a painting than a newbie, and I’ve been told frankly that they’ve worked hard to get $1,000 for a 9” x 12” and don’t want it next to the $100 painting. To deal with the cost differential, we decided to think of it in a couple of ways. First, to use a cliché, ‘a rising tide raises all boats.’ Including mature artists adds credibility that extends to all of our artists.

“On the other hand, for 2022, we’ve decided to hold a show honoring what we now call our ‘Masters.’ These are artists who we invite to provide demos and critiques for the group. Our criteria for their participation as a Guest Artist/Master is that they teach, have gallery representation, and have street cred as a plein air artist. Where the average price in our annual show comes in around $250, we anticipate an average price for the Masters to be eight to ten times that.”

These are great things to consider when starting a plein air group that sees professional growth, but there are other things to consider for smaller, more casual groups as well, including the age of your membership.

“Older and often more established artists may have a hard time carrying their plein air supplies and being out in the elements,” Barbara Rallo said. “I think it is smart to encourage ‘sketching’ outdoors for those new to it, or for older artists who can’t carry easels and all the equipment. It brings happier outcomes much quicker — therefore encouraging them to continue to paint outdoors.”

She added, “Even if I have a bad day outdoors, I tell myself I’m ‘practicing’ by sketching and getting better. Our brains are taking in so much more when we sketch from life rather than photos. Sketching improves our painting skills — it’s a win-win.

“Any artist (young or old) who has never painted much outside may find it stressful, so much packing up and carrying, wind, heat, cold! It’s not always ‘fun’ when you can’t bring home a successful painting from all that effort! I am a plein air sketcher — and do watercolor washes over ink sketches. It is spontaneous, and is much less stressful than when I’m trying to do an actual ‘painting.’ It’s fun!”

Despite any challenges that arise, those who have carved the way before you are likely to encourage you to take the first step to start a plein air group in your community. The benefits include professional networking, lifelong memories, and new friendships and experiences.

“I love painting plein air,” Mary said. “I appreciate that I can do so with other artists. I’ve learned so much from group members, and many have become really close friends.”

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– Educational and fun art conventions, and much more.

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  1. I liked ‘just asked to show in a high-end (meaning people who have money and do spend it on art) retirement community.’ I live in one, no they don’t. You’re invited to entertain them which is great. They’ve down sized several times to get where they are and still have to dispose of the rest- soon. It’s not dark yet but it’s getting there.


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