Plein air painting, or en plein air (French for "in the open air"), is about leaving the four walls of the studio behind and experiencing painting and drawing in the landscape, capturing views in natural light. The practice goes back for centuries but was truly made into an art form by the French Impressionists. Since Monet's time the term has been used to describe people who take their easels outdoors to paint. This method contrasts with studio painting or academic rules that might create a predetermined look.
Plein air paintings are usually done quickly, in an hour or two. Changing light and weather elements generally result in loose brush strokes and less detail. French Impressionists may have romanticized the art form with the nineteenth century public, but in Montana painting "en plein air" can introduce less romantic elements. Cold wind, bears, snow, and frozen fingers add challenges the quick little painting doesn't tell. Artists who paint en plain air year round (not me) in the Northwest aren't just talented, they're survivalists too. Click on the painting "There's A Bear Behind Me" to see what painting in Glacier National Park can be like.