What Is the Plein Air Project?
Welcome to the Plein Air Archive, a website documenting my ongoing Plein Air Painting Project. At the heart of this project is an invitation. “Come paint with me,” I ask friends, colleagues, peers, and even a few near-strangers. I bring what we need: the paint, the paper, the table where we sit, often a snack. My guest’s only responsibility is to show up. We’ll usually settle together on a location—a park or other natural spot in the Chicago area, for “plein air” is defined by the act of painting outdoors. Once settled, I set up my folding table and we sit side by side on little folding chairs. I unpack the watercolors, the small blocks of paper, the brushes. Since 2017, I have hosted more than a hundred such painting dates, all of which are documented in this archive. The conditions which define the experience—the act of making art side by side, sharing conversation, closely observing a view—nurture a vulnerability, a presentness, an intimacy that feels meaningful and new.
When I started this project, I had no idea that these shared painting dates would become as much the artwork as the final paintings they inspire in my studio. I also had no idea that I would be archiving the project in this fashion. This accounts for the variation you will encounter on the pages that follow; pages documenting my earliest painting dates lack portraits of my companion for the day, or of our location. Happily as time went on, I made a point of photographing them at work. The project came to a temporary halt when the pandemic hit, but I soon found a workaround and began to host dates online, mediated by Zoom and FaceTime. The vulnerability and communion of conversing and painting together persisted, continuing to provide much needed connection. The project is ongoing. I’m curious to see what happens next and to share it here, expanding the archive as the project evolves.