Painting outdoors, Twin Cities 'en plein air' artists are in their element

  • Article by: ANNA PRATT , Special to the Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 2, 2013 - 4:17 PM

A group of local artists meets informally each week to paint “en plein air” all over the Twin Cities. It tests their art skills — and their adaptability.

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Paul Boecher, left, and Tom Dimock joined a group of “en plein air” painters at Banfille-Lock Center for the Arts in Fridley last week. The members gather every Thursday to paint —rain or shine.

Photo: David Joles , Star Tribune

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Paul Boecher set up a mini-art studio on the tailgate of his pickup truck in a Fridley parking lot last Thursday morning.

To a passerby, the spot outside the Banfill-Locke Center for the Arts might not have seemed all that picturesque. But painting is about “finding new ways of seeing,” Boecher said.

Boecher is part of an informal group that meets each week to paint “en plein air,” a French term meaning in the “open air.” It’s a fun way to paint, socialize and get outdoors, he said, and it often calls for adapting on the fly.

On this day, Boecher and a couple of other core members of the group had intended to paint by the nearby Mississippi River, but an icy path made them rethink that.

The parking lot, where they could home in on the trees and houses around the center, was a safer bet.

The “plein air” group, which varies in size depending on the week, has been going for several years, year-round. It includes artists of all ages and backgrounds, and many of them initially met through the Roseville-based Northstar Watermedia Society.

The “plein air” artists venture into various places in the metro area and beyond.

This includes a mix of natural and urban settings, like Silverwood Park in St. Anthony, the Stone Arch Bridge in Minneapolis, Historic Fort Snelling in St. Paul, the Eidem Homestead in Brooklyn Park and the Coon Rapids Dam Regional Park.

One benefit of painting with a group like this is that “you feel more obligated to go out and do that as opposed to saying you don’t feel like it,” said Boecher, a retired art director.

Several of the artists are especially hard-core, sometimes braving the elements in the winter.

They bundle up, and they use oils or “open acrylics,” which don’t dry as fast as other paints, Boecher said.

A welcome escape

On Thursday, it was sunny and in the upper 30s, a welcome change from previous “paint outs.”

For Boecher, who shed his coat at one point, this translated directly onto the canvas, which was characterized by warm tones.

Looking at it, “I feel like I’m at the beach,” he said, joking that one thick dark line was the beginning of a palm tree.

A bonus, he said, was hearing the birdcalls all morning.

In a sense, “This is one way for me to travel to places I like to be. It’s an escape,” and a low-budget one at that, he said.

“Plein air” painting also has given him a greater appreciation for his home turf. “There’s some real beauty in our city,” he said.

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