The sight of an artist painting outdoors is special, with its way of imbuing the moment with gravitas and an enhanced appreciation for the surrounding scenes. Even those without an artistic bent can share in the experience with vicarious pleasure in watching the creative process unfold.


On Saturday, August 24, there will be a multitude of chances to enjoy this experience, as the streets and shorelines of Benicia will be dotted with artists at their easels, most likely taking part in Benicia Plein Air Gallery’s annual Paint-Out art contest.


“This is our fourth year, so we’ve gotten better at knowing what we’re doing,” says Iris Sabre, one of the founding Benicia Plein Air Gallery artists helping to organize the competition. She says the gallery anticipates as many as 40 painters will take part, and past paint-outs have included artists from all over the Bay Area. “It’s a very exciting event, seeing so many artists painting throughout the day.”


The phrase en plein air means “in the open air” and refers to a style of painting outdoors that began in the 1800s. Until that time, painting was mostly confined to the studio, but innovations in the box easel and prepared paint in tubes aided the move to the outdoors. Claude Monet was among a group of French painters who shared new approaches to art, painting the effects of natural light en plein air with broken color (opaque paint mixed optically on the canvas) and rapid, spontaneous brushstrokes in what later came to be known as Impressionism. In the United States, there’s been a resurgence of interest in outdoor painting, and paint-outs are growing in popularity nationwide.


The Benicia Plein Air Paint-Out contest rules state that the artwork must be created in the Benicia area on the day of the event. On the morning of the 24th, participating artists will check in at the gallery to have their blank canvases and other substrates stamped, and then they’ll set out for a day of painting all over town.


The finished and framed pieces are due back at the gallery by 2:30 pm to be hung and judged by acclaimed artist Carolyn Lord, whose plein air watercolors have gained national recognition. The awards ceremony takes place at 4 pm, and then the artworks will be on display and offered for sale until 6 pm. The gallery will offer light refreshments for the public to enjoy while viewing and purchasing the art.


The event is open to all artists ages 18 and up. The winner will receive $250, second place $150, and third place $100, and Benicia Plein Air Gallery will hold a month-long exhibit of the award-winning paintings. Interested artists can visit the gallery’s website for information and the registration form. Registrations are due by the day before the event, August 23, and the entry fee is $40.


Benicia Plein Air Gallery, located at 307 First Street, is open Thursday through Sunday from 12 to 6 pm. More information is available online at