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My First Attempt at Plein Air: STEMS 2024

Updated: Jul 10

According to Google AI (lol), "Plein Air" painting can be defined as the practice of painting complete works of art outdoors, with the subject in full view.



In May, I decided to participate in my first plein air competition in hopes of building my confidence as an artist and ultimately learning to work faster. The catch? I had never even tried plein air painting before...ever.


Let's rewind the tapes...


Friday, 11 May 2024


This afternoon, I registered for the STEMS Plein Air Paint - artists have a whole month to paint (outdoors, on location - no studio work); selected pieces win prizes and are displayed in gallery shows. There are also two Quick Paint challenges, and one happened to be TONIGHT.


So, I flipped a coin and decided to go for it with about an hour to get packed up and drive out to the arboretum. I was buzzing with nerves on my way there, certain I’d make a fool of myself, but excited for the challenge.


I brought a TV tray and a tote bag in lieu of a traditional pochade box that the veteran artists all had in tow. My bag broke a few steps into my race for a spot, which meant I would need to stay closer than I’d hoped. I found a quiet spot by a small pond and set up - with shaky hands and a messyyy dump bag 🫠


As the first hour came and went, the sun beat down on me and backlit my view, making it hard to see but even harder to paint consistent lighting. What I had hoped to be the perfect golden hour spot turned out to be another lesson.



Throughout the second hour, I was certain I was gonna be taking an L. There was no hope for a finished piece. My perspective was off, my shadows were constantly moving, and I didn’t have time for the details that would make the difference.


Closing in on the last five minutes, I threw color where I could and let go of any plan. I was SWEATING. I haphazardly “packed” the broken dump bag, tucked the TV tray under my arm, and precariously balanced the painting between hands. It was at that moment, I thought…”let’s just walk out. Don’t even stop at the judging station. You can just go home and be happy you tried!”



But I was guided to the table and greeted with a big smile, when I reluctantly handed over my entry. I was pleasantly surprised by the messy, expressive pieces laid out. My painting was imperfect, but it was at home in the lineup. I didn’t look like a fool; I looked like an artist.


As we all explored the tables and wrapped up the night, I noticed artists huddling around my piece, looping back to take photos. I could’ve cried I was so proud of myself. Today was a good day and one worth remembering with a silly little post.



xoxo Sarah

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