Plein Air Painting
En plein air is a French expression meaning “in the open air.” It’s used in English to describe a painting style that occurs outdoors. Made possible historically by the manufacturing of paint into tubes, artists no longer had to mix their paints in the studio from chemical compounds, freeing them to travel outdoors for inspiration. When participating in plein air painting, artists become fully engaged with the fall landscape through perspective, composition and, most importantly, color! Watercolors are the most portable and easiest to clean up, but plein air painting can be done in any medium – oil paint, acrylic, pastels, etc. – and by any age.
In the Hilltowns of Western Massachusetts, there are many plein air painting groups that meet-up weekly or monthly to head out to beautiful locations to paint together. They are artists capturing the beauty of our regional landscape on canvas and in sketchbooks. Occasionally, a Paint Out is organized. Paint Outs are organized plein air events that invite painters of all skill levels to come and paint at the same location. Visit the Massachusetts Plein Air Artists Meetup page to find or organize a plein air outing in Western Massachusetts: www.meetup.com/painter-84
Plein Air Artists
There are many artists in the Hilltowns that are plein air painters. You can see their work on display at local galleries and artisan shops around the region. Many of these painters offer classes at their studios or onsite plein air painting workshops for self-directed teens and lifelong learners:
- Jacqueline Brodeur of Westhampton
- Lewis Bryden of Hadley
- Paula Gottlieb of Cummington
- Hilltown Plein Air Painters
- Christine Labich of Amherst
- Robert Masla of Ashfield
- Jim Murphy of Conway
Plein Air Painting Locations
Many artists love to paint en plein air in the Hilltowns of Western Massachusetts. Here are four favorite painting locations recommended by a few artists:
The William Cullen Bryant Homestead in Cummington
The Bryant Homestead’s beautiful views of the Westfield River Valley and the varied grounds and rich landscape offer compositions of fields, meadows, large trees, roads, barns, architecture, and old growth forest. Given William Cullen Bryant’s friendship with the 19th century Hudson River School painters, and his love of landscape painting, it’s a beautiful location to honor Bryant, Thomas Cole, Asher B. Durand, and New England’s historical art tradition.
Before heading out to the Homestead, be sure to stop at the Smith College Museum of Art to take a look at one of Asher B. Durand’s woodland interiors. The painting, on display in the museum’s permanent collection, is a great example of how the local landscape inspired artists. Durand’s paintings have an instantaneous quality to them – it’s almost as if you are there with him on the trail, looking down the same wooded path. Durand and Thomas Cole were certainly a part of a movement that inspired painting the landscape outdoors, or en plain air.
The Bullitt Reservation in Ashfield
The Bullitt Reservation offers a quaint country dirt road, beautiful fall views, and two lovely historic barns; a perfect quintessential New England landscape to paint.
Chapel Brook in Ashfield
Known in the summer for waterfalls and natural waterslides, this beautiful location has a deep woods feel and provides many interesting geological features to paint and explore.
Skinner State Park in Hadley
The summit at Mt. Holyoke is an easy place to set-up a plein air painting station and provides artists with stunning views of the Connecticut River Valley below. During the summer, the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation offers interpretive tours of the summit house where you can learn more about the art and natural history of the mountain.
[Photo credit: (c) Sienna Wildfield]
Excerpt from Learning Ahead: Cultural Itinerary for Western Massachusetts (Seasons: Sept/Oct), a downloadable bimonthly publication produced by Hilltown Families that sheds light on embedded learning opportunities found in cultural resources that exist within the geography, history, and cultural traditions of Western Massachusetts.