Eric Rhoads, the publisher of PleinAir magazine, unveiled a new program at the Plein Air Convention & Expo earlier this month called the Plein Air Force. Attendees—and everyone else—were wondering what he was up to, as somewhat cryptic notes were posted online and served up in emails over the last few months. After some on stage theatrics with Rhoads and others coming on stage in bomber jackets, Rhoads announced his plan…and now we know: the Plein Air Force is a program to help painters spread the word about plein air painting, and in the process, everyone benefits. How?
“Because plein air painting has become a major part of my life, and probably your life, shouldn’t you and I try to find a way to help others find it?” Rhoads asked. “That’s the idea behind the Plein Air Force. It’s an orchestrated effort to enlist you to spread the word about plein air painting in your town. Helping increase awareness while others learn about plein air painting and plein air collecting. Think about what we can accomplish together: We can bring joy to thousands of people by bringing plein air painting to them.”
The front door of the PaintOutside.com website, which is aimed at people who know virtually nothing about plein air painting
The Plein Air Force has many components. There is a website for experienced painters (www.pleinairforce.com), where they can get tools such as speaking scripts for plein air painters to use when addressing civic, church, and art groups, easel stickers and brochures to help spread the word. The biggest effort, however, is a documentary Rhoads wrote and produced about plein air painting called “Between The Lines: Revolutionaries in the Art World.” The documentary is designed to be played by painters speaking at various events to help others get the encouragement they need to consider painting as a hobby or career. The 40-minute “PBS style” documentary starts with the history of plein air and ends up discussing the modern movement and how the viewer can learn painting. It points consumers to a website (www.paintoutside.com) designed to help newcomers learn how to try plein air painting. This site offers resources for learning to paint, free painting lessons, and a directory of artists so people can find local people in their market as instructors. Anyone can sign up for free. Also the site offers a listing of “paint buddies” by area, which is a tool for painters to connect with other painters when visiting different areas. Rhoads asked all existing plein air painters to sign up and register themselves, or at least join the plein air force.
“The whole thing is about encouragement,” Rhoads said during the program’s rollout, which featured top artists and convention staff marching onto the stage in pilot regalia.
The homepage for the Plein Air Force website
PleinAir magazine has put together a full line of resources to help in this effort, but by far the most important component of the program is the “enlistees.” When artists take the time to address groups, when a plein air painter is willing to pause when working on location to explain what he or she is doing and share the URL for PaintOutside.com, the Plein Air Force is succeeding. At the convention, Rhoads made it easy for attendees to sign up for the Plein Air Force, and the crowd was quite responsive. He encourages all painters to go on line to “enlist” and suggests just one hour a month devoted to helping others find plein air will “change lives.”
And why not? As Rhoads pointed out, informing the general public about plein air painting—explaining what it is, how it’s done, and what it does to the artist and to the viewer—creates more appreciation for the genre…and also more collectors. This effort is a tide that raises all boats—including those newcomers who try plein air painting thanks to the efforts of the Plein Air Force.
Eric Rhoads addresses new enlistees at PACE.
Explained Rhoads, “Painting plein air has changed my life. Chances are it’s changed yours too. Think about the lifestyle of plein air. You’re painting and you are using your creative abilities. You are spending time outdoors, in nature. Rather than taking photos like most people do, you become one with the scene. And you have paintings to show for it and remember it by. It’s my goal to help others have that same experience. I think plein air painting makes life very fulfilling.”
A light-hearted video was produced by PleinAir magazine to introduce the program to plein air painters, and another one was made to introduce the concept of plein air painting to the general public. The videos for existing painters are on pleinairforce.com, and the documentary is on paintoutside.com and on pleinairforece.com. Charter members of the airfoce (those in attendance at the convention) were given DVD that enlistees can use in their own programs, though all of the content is also available on pleinairforce.com. Rhoads says his request is that enlistees in the Plein Air Force devote one hour a month to this cause. “Convert one person a month,” he says. “We don’t want you to work too hard, you already have enough to do. But we want to help you get out in the world and spread the word about plein air painting. It’s all free, compliments of PleinAir magazine.”
Eric Rhoads leads the Plein Air Force staff onto the stage at the Plein Air Convention & Expo during the launch of the new program.
Of course, many plein air painters are already doing this. Many artists take the time to explain why and what they are engaged in out there in the sun, wind, bugs, and wild. Many are communicating why this activity is so addictive. “The goal is to help people improve their lives through a plein-air painting lifestyle,” says Rhoads. There’s plenty of room for everyone, from the stars of the plein air world to the journeymen and the hobbyist and the newbie. It’s about sharing. “By having a formal program and a place to encourage people to try painting and get free lessons, we’ll encourage more people who don’t think they have any talent. This will enrich lives.”
“This life of plein air is too good to keep to ourselves,” concludes Rhoads.