Plein Air ~ My Way

By W.R. Jones


    Another night of below freezing temperature, another forecast of high winds and partly cloudy; do I really want to paint in this?  On the way to the grocery store to get something for breakfast I was listening to Frank Sinatra on Sirius.  I don’t know why I was listening to him, I don’t like his singing at all.   I don’t try to live rationally anymore.   He was singing My Way.  I felt he had a good world view going there.

    So, I asked myself, what and who defines “Plein Air”.  I googled it and the most common definition is painting in open air.  Well, what is open air?  How open does it have to be?  Does it need to extend horizon to horizon?  I think not.  Suppose a fellow is painting in a very narrow, steep walled canyon, would not that still be considered plein air?  OK, how about a narrow, steep walled box canyon?  Still plein air I believe, even though we have closed off open air from three sides.

   Before we get to that 4th and final side how about the sky?  We’ve all seen photos of the famous painters under an umbrella.   Is there any formal dimensional or material restrictions on the umbrella?  No, then why don’t we extend the size of the umbrella to roughly, oh say, the width of a hotel room.  No restrictions on material, we can replace those flimsy wire supports with 2×4’s and the cloth with roof tiles. 

   Now we have that remaining open side to deal with.  If we start pulling a curtain down from heaven, how far down does it have to come before we are no longer painting plein air?  Again, no formal definitions seem to be available.  I say we can pull it down until we have an opening left of, let’s say, the size of a hotel window. 

    Now I’m comfortably set up in my hotel room with the window open (to keep it a legit plein air piece).  What do we paint doing plein air?  Flora, fauna, bugs, and natural elements.  The potato and beans are certainly flora.  There is no fauna in this work.  I did learn something here.  I looked up the meaning of fauna to see if I was painting any; I always thought it was Mexican for a female Bambi; it is any animal.

    The paper on the bean can comes from trees and the can itself comes from natural elements.  We are good to go.  In keeping with the paint the wild west theme of this trip, I worked in an area with a goodly number of native Americans.  They were as plentiful as the buffalo on the prairie.  I saw quite a few at the reservation casino the night before.  I’m a pretty hard core gambler.  I was playing nickel slots but putting two and sometimes three in per pull.  I lost my sock full of nickels.  Now I have nothing to use to pound sand down a rat hole like mom is always telling me to do.  There was also another goup of native Americans running the checkout stands and the grocery.  They were pleasant.  I was afraid they would be angry about my trying to take over their land.  I think word may have circulated not to worry, grandpa has no more nickels.

    Like all plein air work you must expect the unexpected (does that make sense?)   My wife had taken my old geezer’s easy grip can opener from my camper.  I had to open the beans with a rock and that set of car keys someone left in the lobby.  I’m sure his car will start again after he wipes off the bean crud and pounds the key straight.

    Here is the only bright spot in and otherwise bitter recent birthday.  I got nothing even though I campaigned vigrously for months.  But Susan, a warm caring woman,  took pity on my panicked toss of a favorite brush into a stream and created a new brush for me.


   I used this brush to paint the potato, the table cloth, and my toenails.  It is a beauty.



This entry was posted in Humor, Landscape, Painting, Plein Air. Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to Plein Air ~ My Way

  1. I don’t know if you know this big fella but…A. Even though I have hated Frank Sinatra, a.k.a Chairman of the board, most of my life, I have finally matured enough to appreciate him for the great singing artist that he was!! B.The red paint coming off your birthday gift brush is starting to look like the beginning of a fine Crawdad painting!!! Crawdads are good eatin around these parts and a fine Crawdad painting could fetch some good money!!!!!

  2. Hey, forgot to add that I like your spud/beans plein airpainting, and damn right!…it can easily qualify as a plein air painting! Lets not fool ourselves!!!!

  3. wrjones says:

    David – having told the ladies I’m 6’4″, since I found out women prefer taller men, I like the “big fella”. It’s a numbers game; eventually I will find a blind woman who believes me. Maturity seems just out of reach for me.

    I remember using a string and piece of hotdog to entice crawdads out of a local park creek when I was a bit younger. This was in rural Iowa when security was somewhat laxer. A cousin and I were walking back to a picnic when we noticed an open car with a woman’s purse on the front seat. We decided this would be a great place to keep a live crawdad. Looking back at this with all the wisdom I have accumulated over the years; it might not have been the best of my ideas.

  4. Dianne Mize says:

    A mighty fine spud and beans painting, Bill, and no ants or blistering sun or sandy wind to deal with. I think you should market your plein air philosophy to Art News. They’d probably grab it and make you a national hero.

  5. Crawdad in a Purse would be an excellent name for a rock band.

    I like to stretch the definition of plein air, too. Basically it means painting outdoors. But hey, Monet had that little moveable studio so he could be protected from the elements while he painted outside. Painting the view from a window out to qualify too.

    Or painting with the window open, as you’ve so smartly noted.

  6. wrjones says:

    Dianne – we can start a new movement like the impressionists. The “Couch” painters finally realized what nonsense it was to be out in the elements instead of next to the TV, shower, frig, toilet, and drinks. Painting from the photos of those fools who do go outside, this new group shows uncommon sense.

    Diana – You can be the lead singer for “Crawdad in a Purse.” Let’s try to play the really rough cowboy bars.

  7. 100swallows says:

    Ah–now I see! Since in our languages over here we put the adjective on the other side of the noun, I had understood you would expound on your air plein philosophy. I thought you jumped out of a plein with your easel and paintbox and can of beans when you saw a good spot. And it seemed such a fine, vigorous approach.

  8. wrjones says:

    After watching a man jump with a total chute malfunction, I’ve always used a ladder to get down out of pleins. It is a challenge to find a carry on ladder that will reach when those things fly so damn high.

  9. 01varvara says:

    That looks like a can of refritos! Did you eat ’em straight out of the can cold, as most fellows do? I’ll wager the “plein air” wasn’t so “plein” an hour or so later. Was there a GREEN CLOUD?

    Glad I wasn’t there.


    I’ve had a bad case of “creative block” for a month or so. I think I’m back on track. NO!! I did NOT eat the refritos whilst your back was turned.

    HONEST… this time. :-D

  10. wrjones says:

    Vara, I am not primitive. I’m a refined painter. I heated those beans. I did eat the potato raw with a little salt. As a refined artist any gas leaking from me, however slight, has a light fragrance of Lilac.

  11. 01varvara says:



    I’m packing my military-grade gas mask and my waders…


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