Artists Evgeny and Lydia Baranov
Artists Evgeny and Lydia Baranov working on "Campo Santo Stefano in April", Venice, Italy, 2011

Be inspired by plein air artists Evgeny and Lydia Baranov, a married couple who have won multiple awards in the PleinAir Salon, have been published in multiple art magazines, and have dedicated their lives to painting in Europe and beyond.

Written by Lydia Baranov

Plein air painting has attracted us since childhood. As a married couple of professional artists (former architects), we started experimenting in collaborative painting in 1991. Later, in October of 1995, we planted the first seed for our tradition of annual plein air trips to Europe by visiting France and painting in the park of Versailles as well as in the streets of Paris.

Since that time, we have been taking between one and three European plein air painting trips every year, excluding 2020, of course. The scope of our travels has been quite broad — while appreciating the excitement of exploring new places, we enjoy returning to the old and beloved ones even more.

"Campo Santo Stefano in April", oil on canvas, 30x40", plein air, Venice, Italy, 2011
“Campo Santo Stefano in April”, oil on canvas, 30×40″, plein air, Venice, Italy, 2011

So far, the destinations covered include multiple trips to Italy (Venice, Malcesine, and Greve in Chianti), France (Paris, Honfleur, Chartres), Belgium (Bruges), Netherlands (Hoorn), United Kingdom (London, Mevagissey, and Scottish Highlands), and Germany (namely, Bavaria), with the total count of 55 trans-Atlantic trips in 27 years, so far!

"Trois Blondes d'Aquitaine", oil on canvas, 24x24", plein air, Normandy, France, summer 2022
“Trois Blondes d’Aquitaine”, oil on canvas, 24×24″, plein air, Normandy, France, summer 2022

The next plein air voyage, planned for spring of 2023, is Venice, and it is to be our tenth to that destination. Each trip usually lasts about three weeks, and the number of completed medium-sized canvases (24” x 24” to 30” x 40”) varies between eight and 12. Each of them customarily requires more than one session, thus two or more pieces are usually in progress, as we need the right light, weather, and time of the day to finish what we started.

"Lake Garda in Blue and Yellow", oil on canvas, 24x24", plein air, Malcesine, Italy, autumn 2022
“Lake Garda in Blue and Yellow”, oil on canvas, 24×24″, plein air, Malcesine, Italy, autumn 2022

It is important to emphasize that each of us does not specialize in specific elements — when necessary, we go over each other’s work, switching back and forth, left and right, while we work simultaneously on the canvas. Our main objective is to convey the mood, complex rather than momentary; thus we avoid the label of “impressionism.” The specific techniques and even elements of style have to be dictated by the specific needs of each piece.

Besides the challenges of plein air work on fairly large canvases, tending to sail away at even a slight gust of wind, there is, of course, the transportation of finished works between the continents. Our canvases travel in a roll as carry-ons, and our stretcher planks are either packed in the checked luggage or kept in place at our various European destinations, courtesy of our hosts.

"Hot Summer, Honfleur", oil on canvas, 24x36", in progress
“Hot Summer, Honfleur”, oil on canvas, 24×36″, in progress
"Hot Summer, Honfleur", oil on canvas, 24x36", plein air, Honfleur, France, summer 2022
“Hot Summer, Honfleur”, oil on canvas, 24×36″, plein air, Honfleur, France, summer 2022


Challenges Along the Way

The three plein air trips we took in 2022 were not the easiest ones. In Honfleur, Normandy (March and April), we had to put up with a record cold spring, when it was hard to figure out what to call the specific types of precipitation we were to expect and deal with every next moment — rain, hail, flurries, or wet snow — all brought by gusty northerly winds. The same place met us with a record heat wave in July and August, with temperatures reaching the high 90s, something we are not used to at all — imagine trying to find an engaging painting spot out of direct sunlight and with at least some air movement, in the shade of, say, a horse chestnut tree, or the wall of an old building, to make it possible to stand there for a full plein air work day.

"Dazzling Haze, Malcesine", oil on canvas, 24x30", plein air, Malcesine, Italy, autumn 2022
“Dazzling Haze, Malcesine”, oil on canvas, 24×30″, plein air, Malcesine, Italy, autumn 2022

Malcesine, Italy, in September and October, was a pleasant change, as far as the weather goes — comfortably warm and with a variety of sunny and hazy days. And yet the emotional burden we both have been carrying ever since the dark day of February 24 made it most difficult to concentrate fully on the work. It seemed tempting to forget all about painting and just stay inside and stare into the computer screen 24/7, following the tragic news of Russia’s horrible, disgraceful, unimaginable invasion into Ukraine. Inspired by the courage and will for life of the Ukrainian people, we appreciated, even more gratefully, the chance to travel freely and work passionately, rather than whining helplessly. We all do what we can and what we have to.

All in all, we brought back 24 purely plein air canvases from our three trips in 2022. When we arrive home, there is always the overall feeling of accomplishment, although somewhat bittersweet — this bright fragment of life is over, and the making of plans for the next one begins. Yet we keep the precious memories of the trip, such as this one: As we were working on the very last piece of the summer trip to Normandy, an elderly couple, both lifetime Honfleurais, watched our work in progress, and the lady commented that she could see in it “l’âme même d’Honfleur.” Flattered to the point of blushing profusely, we could not help but name the piece accordingly: “The Soul of Honfleur”…

"The Soul of Honfleur", oil on canvas, 24x24", plein air, Honfleur, France, summer 2022
“The Soul of Honfleur”, oil on canvas, 24×24″, plein air, Honfleur, France, summer 2022

When we were about 20 years younger, we participated in various art contests and got a number of prestigious awards, including First and Second places, Best in Category, etc. Throughout our career, there have been many magazine articles on our work (Art of the West, Southwest Art, The Artist’s Magazine, American Artist, American Art Collector, PleinAir Magazine), as well as newspaper articles in the U.S.A., Canada, Italy, Netherlands, the UK, and Belgium; also, besides gallery advertisements in the above-mentioned printed magazines plus Art and Antiques and American Art Review, we had advertised ourselves in each and every issue of the latter between 2001 and 2010.

As far as staying young, our plein air painting travels to Europe, with all the challenges they involve, are the most effective prescription.

Working on "The Street of Magic," oil on canvas, 30x24"
Working on “The Street of Magic,” oil on canvas, 30×24″

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