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San Diego Painters, Plein Air Strategies, and Impressionist Influences, Past and Present

Plein air painting is a popular art form in the San Diego area, and for good reason! The bright colors and beautiful scenery are perfect for capturing the essence of a moment. This essence has been captured in ocean or desert settings, as early morning sunlight illuminates succulents and as natural light brushes an alleyway of stucco and telephone poles pink. It’s the feeling that inspires painters to paint. But what is plein air painting, exactly? And why did the impressionist movement start?

Historic influences

In the late 1800s, a group of French painters began to challenge the traditional studio setting, instead opting to paint outdoors, in what came to be known as “plein air” painting. Edouard Manet is credited as being one of the first painters to work in this style, and his fellow Impressionists, Claude Monet, Pierre-August Renoir, Camille Pissarro, and Edgar Degas soon followed suit. These artists discovered that painting in natural light allowed them to capture the ever-changing colors and shadows of the landscape. They also found that working plein air helped to create a sense of spontaneity and immediacy in their paintings.

Today, plein air painting is enjoying a resurgence in popularity, and there are many well-known San Diego artists who work in this style.

More Light Please

There are several ways to bring more natural light into your home, but one of the most attractive is to hang plein air paintings. Cathy Carey, Claudia Verciani, Jeff Yeoman, Maureen Blackhall, and Kay Kaplan are all artists who specialize in painting landscapes and cityscapes in plein air to capture the dynamics of the San Diego area. Their paintings are filled with sunlight, and they often capture a feeling of motion and energy. As a result, their paintings can help to brighten up any room. So if you’re looking for a way to add more light and joy to your home, consider hanging a few plein air paintings.

Many people feel a connection to plein air paintings because they evoke feelings of joy and happiness. They can also remind us of specific moments in time, or places we’ve been. Lastly, sometimes we just see a painting and it speaks to us on a deep level. We can’t always explain why, but we know that we need to have it in our lives. Whatever the reason, there’s no doubt that plein air paintings are cherished by many.

Adaptations to Modern Interests

San Diego has a significant plein air painting tradition. Once an art movement primarily concerned with rendering landscapes “en plein air” or in the open air, San Diego painters like Maureen Blackhall, Cathy Carey, and Jeff Yeoman have adapted the approach to fit their own interests, often turning their focus to the urban architectural cityscapes and open spaces just beyond the city. While the results are varied, these artists all share a commitment to capturing the energy and vibrancy of San Diego.

In recent years, San Diego has become increasingly urbanized, and plein air painters have been at the forefront of documenting this transformation. Maureen Blackhall’s paintings capture the city’s changing skyline in a way that presents past and present spring images. Cathy Carey’s paintings document the landscape around the city’s density and chaos, while also revealing its hidden beauty. And Jeff Yeoman’s paintings offer a bird’s eye view of San Diego’s vibrant neighborhoods as gifts of Americana.


These artists are not only capturing the changes taking place in San Diego, but they are also commenting on them. As the city continues to grow and change, plein air painters are becoming an increasingly important voice in the conversation about what kind of city San Diego was, is, and should be.

Plein air - Waiting to Sail by Maureen Blackhall
Waiting to Sail by Maureen Blackhall
Plein air - At The Foot of the Mountain by Claudia Verciani
At The Foot of the Mountain by Claudia Verciani
Plein air The Golden Suns of Treasure Island by Cathy Carey
The Golden Suns of Treasure Island by Cathy Carey

La Playa Gallery is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on weekdays and by appointment on weekends. Go to www.laplayagallery.com to learn more. La Playa Gallery is located at 2226 Avenida De La Playa, La Jolla, CA 92037. Phone 858-454-6903. Commissioned works and all purchase decisions can be arranged through Nicole. Local delivery is available.

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