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En Plein Air (Early History)

California Plein Air

Plein Air Sac

Make a Difference



Plein air painting ("en plein air", in French) refers to the act of going outside to paint what is observed in the natural world. Plein air painters set up their easels in

parks, wildlife reserves, suburbs, and even urban settings. But, it wasn't always like this.

Plein Air painting has its roots in the evolving artistic traditions of Western

European landscape painters. Up until the middle of the 19th century, most landscape painters would first go outside with graphite and paper, oil and paper, or inks and watercolors to capture a "sketch" of the images they wanted to paint. Then, the artist would return to the studio, where a new painting would be completed. This meant that the painter could spend more time developing their composition and refine the painting's aesthetic. This, however, would change dramatically with advancements in painting technologies and the arrival of a new kind of painter ready to exploit them.

For most painters prior to the mid-nineteenth century, it was common to make their own paints in the studio with dry pigments and some type of medium and binder (i.e. egg, oil, water). However, in 1841, companies like Windsor Newton introduced tin paint tubes. This meant that artists were no longer required to spend hours mixing and storing pigments and that they could venture beyond their studio walls if they desired. Alongside the new "ready-made" pigments, advancements in brush making, and pre-stretched canvases, propelled a number of artists to re-think their ideas of art.

For painters like J.M.W. Turner (English), Claude Monet (French), and Camille Pisarro (French), the innovations in painting technologies meant that they could pursue their unique expressions of landscape painting. Turner would go on to create works full of sometimes violently explosive and gestural dashes of paint on the canvas. Monet (often referred to as the father of Impressionism) would rethink light, shifting his color palette to explore how light is diffused in atmospheric effects. Pisarro carefully constructed his paintings with a vast array of tiny dabs of paint. Of course, there were many, many more artists, who joined in what would become foundational to the birth of Modern Art.


Painting en plein air wasn't the exclusive domain of Western European artists in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Many thousands of miles away, in the newly formed state of California, painters began taking their paintbrushes, easels, and paints and venturing to strike artistic gold in the immense natural beauty of "The Golden State".


California Impressionism, as some came to call it, adopted the exploratory impulses of the Impressionists in France and pushed the style even further with striking color palettes and bolder brushwork. Leading the charge of this movement were determined individuals who organized into painting groups like the Society of Six, lead by Seldon Connor Gile. Gile was a self-taught taught artist who was inspired by not only the Impressionist style, but that of another French style called Fauvism (from the French, "les fauves", meaning "the wild beasts"), known for its vibrant color palette and loose brushwork.

From the artistic vision of these early artists a foundation would be laid for exciting, innovative painting that would continue into the second half of the twentieth and now into the twenty-first centuries. Artists such as Wayne Thiebaud and Greg Kondos were known for their love of exploring the many varied landscapes of California and beyond. So much so, that today there are a number of plein air meetups, societies and cooperatives.


When Youth Connections Unlimited (YCU) set out to create its first community art festival, they did so looking to California's artistic roots to see how they could bridge the past with the present, to build a brighter future for youth arts education. After researching the new program, the rich history of painting en plein air, captured the attention of the YCU program leaders and compelled them to act.

Plein Air Sac is a community arts program that encourages partnerships between artists, businesses, and civic leaders. The program's mission is to advocate for youth arts education by promoting local artists, receiving sponsorship from community businesses, and partnering with local charities.

A plein air painting of a farm off of South River Road in Sacramento
Jason Richardson, "Farm Off South River Road"

The program was officially launched on July 14, 2021, and currently has six planned painting events that will run through the beginning of September. The program will culminate in a juried art show October 2nd and 3rd, in Midtown Sacramento.

The program is administered by Youth Connections Unlimited and Blue Bushel Creative & Marketing, Inc. Youth Connections Unlimited is a Sacramento based nonprofit organization, registered as a 501(c)(3). YCU has a specific purpose of developing programs that serve at-risk and high-risk youth in the community. Blue Bushel is a California Corporation that offers digital marketing and advertising services.



In addition to signing up artists, Plein Air Sac is also seeking "Friends of Plein Air" to assist us in reaching our program goals. As a Friend, individuals or businesses make it possible for us to continue advancing the goals of Youth Connections Unlimited, to expand youth arts education opportunities to underserved communities. To learn more about sponsorship opportunities, please visit our Friends of Plein Air page on our website.