Lester Salazar painting on location at Tradewinds Park
Lester Salazar painting on location at Tradewinds Park. “My work is transitioning from copying a photo to trying to capture the experience of the plein air session both visually and emotionally,” Lester says. “I’m working toward being a more well-rounded artist, which can only be good for my studio work.”

How plein air painting opened creative possibilities for a career-long studio artist

Lester Salazar’s love of drawing began as a child and led him to a career in graphic design, murals, teaching, and painting. He began to realize that his studio work (and its reliance on photo references) was creating “bad habits” and making it more difficult to get the right color, value, etc. Paintings were taking 15-30 hours to complete and his excitement was waning.

Serendipitously, he ran into the enthusiastic artist and co-founder of Plein Air Palm Beach, Ralph Papa, in 2016. Ralph told Lester how the group would get together and the artists would do a finished painting in a couple of hours. “I immediately thought, That’s what I need!,” Lester said.

“I joined the group and painted with them on their next outing,” Lester continued. “To paint with so many like-minded people on a beautiful day was quite an awesome experience. I even saw some old artist friends.

“I’ve got to tell you, going from spending hours and hours on a painting to trying to do one in a few hours is not easy. Decisions that I would normally spend a few minutes to a half hour on had to be made in a few seconds! Some brain rewiring was in order, but the excitement of learning a new painting process was invigorating.

I had a friend of over 20 years, John Stobart (1929-2023), who was a master oil painter. He once told me that one problem with being an artist is working alone for so much of your life. When he painted plein air back in the 1950s and ‘60s he rarely had anyone to paint with. It’s different now with so many plein air organizations around the country and the world.

Plein air painting has led me to study the entire painting process more deeply. I began attending Streamline’s online art conferences*, which provide huge amounts of information from established artists. I’ve found those invaluable in moving my work forward.

It’s great to be excited about art again and I’ve got plein air painting to thank for it!

*Editor’s Note: Streamline Publishing produces Plein Air Live, Pastel Live, Realism Live, and Watercolor Live. Join us by clicking any of these for more details!


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