Painting en plein air, or “in the open air,” was first adopted by the French Impressionists in the 1800s. But, the tradition lives on today, and many contemporary realist artists around the world are still taking the great outdoors to paint. With a deep admiration for the natural world, Los Angeles-based artist Richard Oliver captures California's stunning landscapes in oil paint.
From the Santa Monica mountains to the coasts of Malibu, Oliver captures each outdoor scene with striking, realistic detail. He positions his easel, canvas, and oil paints in front of the landscape he wants to depict, allowing him to fully immerse himself in the environment. Oliver then gets to work, creating paintings that perfectly match the outdoor terrains.
Oliver has certainly found his forte, but he wasn’t always a plein air painter. “I initially started plein air painting because my studio work had become a little stale, and I wanted to learn to mix colors from life and respond to my environment,” he tells My Modern Met. “Little did I know how much more depth plein air painting had to offer me.”
Held up and photographed against the landscape that inspired them, Oliver’s paintings capture and blend into each scene with perfect proportion, tone, and color. His lifelike works are seriously impressive, but the artist assures us that it took time to master his craft. When he first started working en plein air, Oliver struggled to paint how he’d like. “As a practicing artist of 30 years it was a massive blow to my ego, and I was forced to eat a lot of humble pie,” he reveals. “Slowly and steadily, with persistence and consistency, I started to learn more and have tiny wins each time I went out. I had to learn to see the constant failures more as lessons rather than take them so personally.”
Each time Oliver goes outside to paint, he sees it as a welcome challenge. “I had discovered what was missing in my studio work,” he says. “Cherishing the small improvements while being outside of my comfort zone, or finding comfort in the uncomfortable was a worthy skill to develop.”
The determined artist also noticed the mental and physical health benefits of painting in nature. “It gives me peace and solace,” he reveals. “To immerse myself in the impermanence of life, to see the light constantly change, the clouds come and go, to witness the seasons move from birth to decay and back again. To learn to align with the flow of life eases the struggles and soothes the existential fears that rumble deep within us all.” Oliver adds, “It rejuvenates the soul to be out in the magnificence of nature and to realize and cherish the fragility and vulnerability of our lives is a gift we often forget when we’re busy with our daily chores.”
Check out Oliver's beautiful landscape paintings below and find more from his portfolio on Instagram. If you’re feeling inspired to try out this type of art for yourself, here's everything you need to know to get started painting en plein air.