Concord artist explores the joys of plein air painting

Concord artist explores the joys of plein air painting
Nancy Roberts in her element – the great outdoors.

John NakanishiCONCORD, CA (Apr. 20, 2022) — Nancy Roberts has been organizing plein air paint-outs for about 25 years and currently plans events for the Contra Costa Plein Air group and the Concord Art Association.

If you’ve ever run into a group of artists painting at easels in a park, you were probably witnessing a plein air paint-out. The French Impressionists of the 19th century called it “en plein air,” which means “in the open air.” It was their desire to capture the subtle nuances of natural light combined with the availability of portable materials such as paint tubes and box easels, which helped start the movement that is alive and well today.

Roberts’ love of art began in her youth. Her mother was an artist and an art teacher, so her house was filled with art supplies and fun projects. Her mother was also a plein air artist, and Nancy often painted alongside her when they went on family camping trips.

“Painting outdoors with my mother was the beginning of my lifelong love affair with plein air,” Nancy states. “As an adult, I’ve just always been drawn to heading out into nature with my easel, setting up in some peaceful spot, and diving into ‘paint land’ for a few blissful hours.”

I decided to try it recently, and I discovered that painting outdoors requires a totally different mindset. First, you need to plan what to pack. Then once you set up, you deal with changing light conditions, inclement weather and even bugs.

Painting differently

Besides the physical challenges, you need to paint differently when outdoors. You must work quickly and deliberately – no taking a break to watch TV.

I asked artists what they liked about plein air painting, and the consensus was that being immersed in nature as well as being in community with like-minded artists is the big draw.

Concord Art Association board member Renaye Johnson sums it up nicely: “I like being outside, painting and drawing from life, meeting and talking with other artists, and watching their process.”

The joy of plein air painting

Roberts tells of “sharing the joy” of plein air painting with friends.

“It’s especially rewarding to introduce fellow artists to new places they’ve never experienced before,” she notes. “We have such an abundance of beautiful regional parks and protected open space here in the Bay Area. It’s plein air heaven.”

Roberts has organized plein air outings to Markham Nature Park, Lime Ridge Open Space, Todos Santos Plaza and Bayview Circle Park, to name a few. She will be at the Concord Art Association’s Plein Air Paint Out on May 13, scheduled in conjunction with the Concord Historical Society’s spring tea at the Concord Museum Event Center.

Roberts is a member of the Valley Art Gallery in Walnut Creek and is currently showing at several venues. For details, visit the Exhibits tab at

John Nakanishi is an acrylic painter and a ceramic artist. When he isn’t creating art, he coaches competitive soccer. Email comments and suggestions for future columns to

Read more Arts in Motion columns.

John Nakanishi
John Nakanishi

John Nakanishi is treasurer of The Concord Art Association. He is an acrylic painter and a ceramic artist. When John isn’t creating art, he coaches soccer for East Bay Eclipse, a competitive soccer club based in Moraga. He is also an avid trail runner, enjoying runs from 5 miles to 50K.