Plein air painters capture beautiful landscapes on canvas

Man stands facing away from camera as he paints a bridge over water scene on a canvas and easel

Tom Gilbert lifts his hand-held viewfinder and scans his surroundings to find a framing that might inspire a painting. It’s half past 5 p.m. on one of those comfortable summer nights that’s so picturesque, you let a small part of yourself believe it might last forever if you stand there and breathe it in long enough.

“Once you’ve painted outdoors for a while, it’s so much better than being in a studio to me,” says Gilbert, who is joined by a handful of other artists who have met at Vilas Park for a Dane County Plein Air Painters outing. They’re painting en plein air, which is a French expression meaning “in the open air.” Plein air painting dates back to the 1800s and became a fundamental element of impressionism.

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An October 2021 Plein Air outing in Vilas Park (Photo by Kenton Fowler)