Frequently Asked Questions

If your question isn’t answered below, please reach out to us!

What Is Plein Air Painting?

Plein air is a French term for “outside or outdoors.” The French coined the term plein air painting (technically: painting en plein air), which means painting outside in nature.

There is a huge movement of painters participating because it’s fun to paint on location (though it is different from studio painting), fun to paint with others and make friends, and fun to travel to beautiful spots to create paintings. The convention is all about plein air painting, teaching painting, going outside to paint, and offering supplies.

Who puts the convention on?

The convention is a production of PleinAir magazine and is produced by its parent company, Streamline Publishing. We put a lot of effort into creating a wonderful experience for those who honor us with their attendance. Our primary goal is to keep you growing as an artist, and keep you inspired and meeting lots of new friends.

Who is the host or MC of the convention?

Eric Rhoads, the publisher of the convention, is your host and MC. Eric is not only publisher and founder of the magazine, he is a plein air painter. He started plein air painting when his wife became pregnant with triplets (yes, we said triplets!). She could not tolerate the smell of paint, so he had to move his painting to the garage. But that still wasn’t good enough, so he went outdoors to paint. At the time he did not know the term plein air, nor was the Internet around, and there was almost no one teaching plein air painting. Because he struggled to learn, and because it was more difficult than studio painting, he started the magazine and the convention to help others learn faster and to inspire them to paint.

What exactly is the Plein Air Convention & Expo like?
When most people think of a convention, they think of a giant political convention like they see on TV. It’s not that. It is a large gathering, but only a fraction of the size of those big conventions, and everybody there wants to learn, make friends, connect with others, and get better at painting.

Before the convention we offer three optional pre-convention workshops, then we start by opening our giant Expo Hall of art materials, which tend to be plein air-specific. We offer a free orientation before the convention to let you know what’s about to happen and how to make the most of it, and, if you want, we connect you with some new friends so you can have a buddy or two for lunches and dinners. The convention starts with an opening ceremony where we tell you what’s going on, we give a Lifetime Achievement Award, have a couple of speakers, and we present the PleinAir Salon Grand Prize for the year. And this year we have a fun onstage painting demo. Then we have a cocktail party and some heavy hors d’oeuvres (you won’t need dinner).

The following morning we start with Art Marketing Boot Camp, which begins at 6:30 (stand-up breakfast at 6:15) and goes till 7:45. We have Home Room at 8 (we make announcements and give away prizes in Home Room), and after that you go off to one of four stages. You can move freely among all the stages. In the early afternoon, we all go painting together (which is a blast). We repeat this every day. And later we have more sessions if you want to fill your evening.

On Saturday we do a closing ceremony and announce where we’re going the following year, and offer you a discount price that’s good on that day only. Then we go out to paint again, and we’ll have a closing party that night. Sunday is a full day of painting, with no indoor sessions, and the Expo Hall is closed. We will go to Wine Country to paint. In all cases, when we go outdoors to paint, we have faculty there to work with you in the field (which is why we call them field painters).

What is included in the price?

It’s hard to put a price on a great education and a transformation. Why is Harvard more expensive than a small community college? It’s because of Harvard’s faculty and the quality of its students. We seek to bring you the finest painters in the world to teach you. They are our version of Harvard level in the painting world. Sometimes we have to fly in people like Joseph Zbukvic, the world’s greatest watercolor artist, from places like Australia. Or Marc Dalessio, one of the best plein air painters on earth, from Italy. To have enough faculty to give you a lot of variety to choose from and a lot of stages, and enough to work with people when we are out painting, takes a massive effort at great expense.

What is the value of experiencing a transformation as a painter, having a life-changing experience, having access and a chance to talk to the best painters in the world, all in one place? Having an Expo Hall with dozens of plein air-specific art materials companies? Having your life changed? Priceless.

Your ticket to the convention gives you access to:

  • The convention orientation
  • The opening ceremony, which includes the PleinAir Salon Grand Prize Presentation, Lifetime Achievement Award Presentation, and a Special “4 Painters on 1” Painting Demo
  • Three mornings of Eric Rhoads’ Art Marketing Boot Camp
  • All-access pass to all main stage sessions and oil painting sessions
  • All-access pass to all watercolor sessions
  • All-access pass to all pastel sessions
  • All-access pass to to all Expo Hall sessions
  • A ticket to participate in the world’s largest paint-out each day for four days, paint-outs within walking distance, and indoor painting sessions
  • Breakfast each morning before Art Marketing Boot Camp
  • All keynote speakers
  • All demonstrations
  • The Expo Hall of art materials vendors
  • Book and video signings
  • Photos with faculty members
  • Opening cocktail party
  • The closing Homecoming “Hippie theme” dance
  • Evening speciality sessions
  • Critique sessions

What’s not included in the price:

You’ll need to cover your own hotel and meal expenses (other than breakfast on Art Marketing Boot Camp mornings), plus the cost of getting to and from the paint-outs. If you attend any of the three pre-convention workshop sessions, those require an extra fee.

The idea of a convention still seems pretty overwhelming. Tell me more.

Our convention in San Francisco is anticipated to be smaller than last year’s, probably about 750 people. That seems like a lot, but it won’t feel like a lot because people are spread out to different stages and spread out at painting locations.

The only time it might feel big is in the main stage sessions that everyone attends, and the key to that is getting in early and sitting close. But the big screens make everything easily viewed. Most sessions are not packed, and you’ll feel perfectly comfortable. You won’t want to miss out on all the amazing sessions, speakers, and artist demos. You’ll have a chance to see people who don’t normally teach or are never on a stage, and some we know will never return or will be hard to get again. We rarely repeat speakers and artists, and have never had the same lineup at any two conventions. Each is unique and special and a chance to connect or reconnect with the plein air community.

There are some faculty members I don’t know about. Why were they selected?

We consider it our job to give you the best possible faculty, and a lot of different approaches so you get the best overall education. Consider the convention a sampler of demonstrations and approaches. As the publishers of PleinAir magazine, we know who’s hot, who is becoming well known, and who is about to be well known. Therefore we select people based on their teaching ability and what they have to offer. Most of the people we select become famous. Of course, most of our faculty is already famous, some more than others. Some faculty are there to teach on stage, others to work with people when we go outside to paint.

You mention field painters. What does that mean?

We are here to help you grow, so we ask onstage faculty to help, and we bring in other faculty, people we call field painters. They are mentors who walk around when we paint and help people. Some may set up and paint so you can watch. They have bright hats and flags and you have a STOP HERE paper you can wave to get them to stop and work with you on your painting. This year, we also have special mentors for the Basics Course attendees, who will work with that group exclusively.

What’s the difference between taking a workshop and going to the convention?

In a workshop you typically pay a fee, fly or drive to the location, and pay for your own room. The workshop typically has 15 or 20 attendees, and you typically watch the instructor do a painting demonstration (demo) and then you paint and try to mimic what you’ve learned. One thing we often hear is that it is hard for everyone to see the painting.

The convention is the same in the sense that you fly or drive in, get a hotel, and pay a fee. The difference is that you can watch dozens of demos, sample dozens of different painting styles and approaches, and get a lot of variety and new ideas, all for about the same price as a good workshop. Then each day you can go out with the group and practice what you learned. And of course, a workshop does not offer Art Marketing Boot Camp, speakers, multiple demos, oil, watercolor, pastel, and some acrylic and gouache, five stages, or an Expo Hall.

Both are good; you have to determine what’s right for you. People tell us the convention is a much better experience because they have taken workshops only to find themselves bored with the instructor and stuck. At the convention, if you don’t like one demo, you can move to any of the others to explore. People receive inspiration from seeing fresh painting approaches they didn’t know about or think they would like. And they learn a lot about the plein air movement, and about art, from our speakers.

How can I possibly see what the painters are doing if there are so many people there?

We’ve actually been told that it’s easier to see the painting taking place at the Plein Air Convention than in most workshops. We have a camera zooming in on the action, and it will often show brushstrokes and detail you could not see in a workshop. And we project the video on giant screens in high definition. It’s a wonderful experience — and people must agree, because they keep coming back.

I’m coming alone, and I don’t know anybody. Will I feel comfortable?

We think so. We have a lot of stories and other evidence that people connect and make friends. In fact, two people met in a dinner group we put together and ended up getting engaged and then married a year later. Now we can’t promise that we’re The Dating Game, but we do have an orientation where we put people together in meal groups so they can get to know other attendees. We also find that the lounges and lobby areas where people gather are a great way to get to know people.

Though you still have some responsibility to reach out and introduce yourself and create a conversation, we’re all there from the same tribe because we love painting, so we already have a lot in common. All you have to do is ask someone to pull out their phone and show you their work … and the conversations and friendships begin. This is a place where lifelong friendships can be made, and discoveries of people in your own area that you never knew before.

I’m a complete beginner who is just starting painting, and I’ve never painted outdoors. Is this convention for me?

We have had hundreds of beginners, and even people who have never before painted, show up and be overjoyed that they attended. We recommend you take our optional pre-convention Basics Course, which will outline everything you need to know to be a plein air painter and to understand what is going on. It has painting demonstrations, materials discussions, practice sessions (not painting), and this year everyone who attends the course will have the option to paint together and have instructors working with you each day we go out painting. We think you’ll have a blast.

I’m a painter, but not a plein air painter.

We have figurative artists on the agenda, and there are often people inside the convention venue painting still life and portraits. Many figurative painters have found that plein air painting is an important discipline because it teaches color, form, and light.

I’m a landscape painter, not a city painter — what will I be painting?

When you think of San Francisco, you definitely think of cityscapes like streetcars, the trolleys, Coit Tower, the hills, Chinatown, the world’s crookedest street, Fisherman’s Wharf, and the tall, hilly streets. We’ve chosen our paint-out locations carefully, and you might be surprised to find out that they are are mostly landscape-focused. We will be painting the Golden Gate Bridge, and it’s surrounded by beautiful landscapes. And we have to paint vineyards in Wine Country. The other locations we will announce will make you happy.

What hotel is hosting the convention?

The Plein Air Convention will be held at a 5-star hotel in the downtown area. Please know that the rate we got for the hotel is exceptionally low for downtown San Francisco. Make sure to use the registration link we provide when you register or ask for the Plein Air Convention rate when you phone.

We don’t list the hotel on the website for a reason: A couple of years ago, our hotel booked up and sold out within days of our announcing the convention. Others who tried to get rooms could not get them. Then, on the day of the convention, over 300 rooms were cancelled by people who were holding them but decided not to attend. Not only did this prevent people from getting into the host hotel (which is always the most fun and convenient place to stay), but because we have to guarantee a giant block of rooms, we could have gotten stuck paying for all the cancelled rooms. We were facing paying for 300 cancelled rooms for four nights. So now, we ask that you book your seat first, then use our link to get access to the hotel information and discounted rates we have negotiated.

Why should I stay at the convention hotel instead of another hotel in the area?

Stay where you wish, but keep a couple of things in mind. Art Marketing Boot Camp begins at 6:30 a.m., with breakfast at 6:15. You don’t want to roll out of bed  and have to walk or commute to the hotel. It would be better to roll out of bed, come downstairs, and just attend sessions — and you can sneak up to your room for a nap or a break. And since lots of the fun takes place in the evenings when we’re sitting up talking with friends or playing music, the last thing you want to do is have a couple of drinks and then have to commute to your hotel. Also keep in mind if you are driving or within taxi distance, you could get stuck in traffic, even over a short distance, and that could make you late. And though there are lots of nice hotels, most ot those we’ve checked out nearby at a lower rate are pretty seedy. Our boss, Eric, went online and booked a hotel that looked nice, but it wasn’t; it was an unpleasant experience and he did not feel safe. The convention hotel is probably your best bet. Even some locals who live 30-45 minutes away have booked rooms in the hotel because they don’t want to commute and spend valuable time in a car.

Do I have to have a car?

No, but you might want one. Let’s explore your options: A lot of people like to drive to the convention and carry all their gear. If that’s you, then you’ll have a car. You can drive to our painting locations, and if you want to stay on and explore and paint the area, you have that freedom. Painting locations will be around town, and typically 20-30 minutes away or less.

The Wine Country winery we selected is exactly an hour away, and we will be painting there all day on our last day — a full day of painting. And it will be worth it. If you don’t have a car and can’t carpool, we are looking into a transportation-for-fee option. You can also Uber or Lyft to the location.

If you fly in or don’t want to deal with a car or parking, there are other options. First, we offer a way to connect you with others who have cars so that you can rideshare -— go to the Help Desk. Also, sharing is more fun than being by yourself. And of course, you can Uber or Lyft for pretty low prices to the locations in town, cheaper than a taxi. Just get the Uber or Lyft app on your phone.

Because of the city, and its parking issues, we hired a parking and traffic expert to help us pick places that will have the best parking options (some is paid parking, but all locations offer free options as well).

Why did you pick San Francisco?

We did a survey of places our attendees wanted to hold the convention, and San Francisco was the number one place requested. We had tried for years to book it, to no avail because the expense was just too high, and we knew people would not pay $500 a night for a hotel room. So when we found a hotel that was prepared to offer us a great rate ($219, an unheard of rate) we jumped at the chance.

We have arranged a 20 percent discount on meals and alcoholic beverages in the hotel. And there are dozens of inexpensive places to eat within a block or two. Chinatown is just a couple of blocks away; the food is amazing and cheap. The reality is that there are people living in town who cannot afford expensive food, and there are plenty of inexpensive places.

I’m not a big fan of being in a city alone. I’d like to stay in the hotel the whole time and not spend time around town, but I hate to miss the painting. Any ideas?

Sure. Stay in the host hotel where all the sessions take place, do your meals in the hotel, and participate in all sessions at the hotel. And then for painting, we’re offering an optional painting arena where we will project a video of each day’s painting location so you can paint moving clouds, blowing trees, and hear the sounds. It’s indoor plein air painting and the next best thing to being there, while making you feel safe and comfortable.

Tell me about the art show. Can I put my paintings in? Who will be there to buy? Will my paintings sell?

We do the art show for several reasons. First, to give people a chance to let others see their artwork. Second, to sell artwork. Each year the show features faculty and attendee paintings, and each year a lot of them sell. We’ve previously had sales of about $60,000 in a show. We do promote to the general public to get them to visit, but most paintings are sold to other painters. There is an easel fee because easel space is limited. You can put your painting on an easel (framed, please) and once the painting is sold, replace it with a new painting. Last year two different painters sold six or eight paintings each. There is a sales commission (read more when you register for an easel). Unsold paintings will need to be picked up before the convention ends.

Purchase an easel

Art Show Terms and Conditions

I want to learn to sell my artwork on a regular basis. Can you tell me about Art Marketing Boot Camp?

Many artists dream of selling their art, supplementing their income or making their living as a painter. Many look at it as retirement income. Some want to add just an extra $500 or $1,000 a month, others may want to make a full-time living. Art Marketing Boot Camp is designed for any artist who wants to learn the ropes about art marketing and business. Each year, for three mornings from 6:30-7:45, Eric Rhoads, our in-house art marketing expert, teaches a different Art Marketing Boot Camp session. He never repeats content from year to year, and it’s different each day. His goal is to teach you how you can make your paintings sell.

I see you have early morning and evening sessions. That’s a long day. Do I have to attend everything?

Our goal is to overwhelm you with options. Some people want to be busy from early morning until late at night. For those people, we have lots of sessions to choose from. But some folks want a more relaxed pace, so they pick and choose, skipping some sessions. Some skip evenings, others skip early mornings. Some skip both. You can choose to skip our painting sessions daily, maybe go take a nap, go shopping, or visit a museum. We want you to enjoy the convention as you wish.

Tell me more about the “4 Painters on 1” painting demo.

We want to have some fun, so we thought it would be cool to put a big canvas on the stage, start the clock, and have four different painters, with different styles, painting on the same canvas to create one unique painting. We selected some fun people, brilliant painters, and we think it will be fun, entertaining, and historic.

Tell me about the Future of the Plein Air Movement session.

We wanted to gather top show organizers to talk about best practices for artists: how to get into shows, how shows work, how to succeed at a show, how to make your paintings sell, and all the little things you may not know about plein air festivals and shows that will help you if you decide to start doing them.

Is there a single-day rate to attend?

This event is “one price includes all,” and there is no single-day rate. Unfortunately, we cannot tie up seats that otherwise would be sold. The Expo Hall and art show are open to the public.

What is your cancellation policy?

No refunds on or after February 26, 2019.

  • Cancellation  1/1/19 – 2/25/19  = 50% Refund, less a $50 processing fee
  • Cancellation on or after 2/26/19 = 0% Refund

I’m a collector. May I attend?

Of course. Although most of our sessions are geared toward artists, collectors are welcome to attend. There will be some discussions about art history and collecting. Best of all, you can interact with the artists and watch them paint on paint days, and we have an art show where you can buy loads of paintings! Though you must register to attend the convention if you wish to attend sessions, you can visit the art show and the Expo Hall without a ticket.

I have a gallery. May I attend?

Yes, as a paid registrant. Many galleries have attended to connect with or meet artists, and to attend the Art Marketing Boot Camp sessions, which are worth the price of admission alone. Though you must register to attend the convention if you wish to attend sessions, you can visit the art show and the Expo Hall without a ticket.

Are videos of the sessions available for sale so I can see sessions I missed?

Yes and no. We do video each session, but we don’t offer the videos for sale. But when you sign up for the following year’s convention after the location is revealed on the last day (when we offer the lowest possible price), we will offer you access to the videos for free when you buy for next year. This is the only way to get access to the videos.

How do I travel with easels and paint?

You’ll need a travel case that won’t break when you check it on the airplane (or ship it). Oil paints are approved by TSA and Homeland Security, BUT you should label the outside of the box to say it contains vegetable oil-based paint (linseed oil) and that it has an approved flash point. Do NOT ship mineral spirits or solvents on the plane. We’ve created a label you can download and use during your travel right here. You will need to pick up whatever else you need locally, though some vendors in the Expo Hall may be offering samples or sale of mineral spirits.

I’m new to plein air painting and I don’t have any supplies. What should I bring?

If you’re already a painter, you know you cannot easily take your “studio” outside. Experienced plein air painters have developed condensed outdoor studios they can carry in a backpack or roller bag. This consists of a portable easel (there are many types) paints, canvas panels, shade umbrellas, and various tools.

Is there any activity at night?

The hotel lobby and lounge areas always have a lot of people hanging out, often till the wee hours. It’s the place to be and one of the reasons you want to stay on campus so you don’t miss the fun. We also have evening sessions, which are after dinner and often go till 10 p.m., plus we have an outdoor nocturne session.

What do you have for watercolor painters?

We have a water media track (watercolor and other water-based media) with some of the top water media artists in the world. This has a dedicated classroom and big-screen viewing for about 200 water media painters, and sessions will run the full length of the convention (after opening night). You will fully be a part of the convention and can come and go to all other sessions at the convention, and of course you have full access to the Expo Hall. You are part of the convention, you just have your own track.

What do you have for pastel painters?

We have a pastel track with some of the top pastel artists in the world. This has a dedicated classroom and big-screen viewing for about 200 pastel painters, and sessions will run the full length of the convention (after opening night). You will fully be a part of the convention and can come and go to all other sessions at the convention, and of course you have full access to the Expo Hall. You are part of the convention, you just have your own track.

I’m intimidated because I’m not as good as the painters there.

Actually, painters of ALL LEVELS are welcome and attending. There are lots of painters, at every stage from beginner, moderate, and intermediate to highly accomplished. As one pro said last year to a beginner, “We were all beginners, we all struggled to learn, we all had to practice, and we used to be intimidated too. You are with family. No one will judge you here.” You will be very comfortable. We’ve had dozens of people who had never painted before, and many more who had painted, but never en plein air. We made them all feel comfortable. They are not judged. Some bought their easels and paints at the convention and painted for the first time. We highly recommend the Basics Course, which will help you feel more secure.

What is the Demo Stage?

The Demo Stage is a fourth stage that accommodates additional painting demonstrations.  

What is the Expo Hall Stage?

This smaller, more intimate stage can be found in the vendor exhibition hall. It may have a mix of mediums being demonstrated, and all the artists will have videos for sale in the PleinAir Store in the Expo Hall. There is no screen or speakers for this stage.

What professional painters will be there?

Keep an eye on the agenda and the speakers page; these always change rapidly as we add new people. We will have onstage demos and panels, plus many brilliant painters in the field doing on-location demos, including some of the top painters in the world. We look all over the world for the best painters to feature in the magazine, and if they are on our stages you can trust they are vetted and some of the best.

Will there be critiques?

You are welcome to ask any faculty member for a critique, especially the days we are out painting. All have been asked to participate, though it is up to the individual painter. We will also have a formal critique session in the evenings, with paintings chosen by a drawing.

Do I have to pay for each workshop?

No. One price covers all educational events during the convention. We have three optional pre-convention workshops, and those do require a separate payment.

How can I cover my expenses?

First check with your accountant, but you may be able to write off the expense of attending a convention for professional improvement. Also, we have arranged for payment plans, which will expire as we get closer to the convention. And if you sell a painting at the show, it might cover some or all of your expenses. But consider this an investment in your career and your painting ability. You will see improvement.

Is anyone coming from outside the U.S.A.?

Yes! We have had from painters from faraway places like New Zealand, Mexico, Canada, Ireland, France, Australia, Europe, China, and Saudi Arabia who have attended and made this a truly international affair!

What is the attire?

Very casual. We want you to be comfortable, plus you’ll be painting, so it’s OK to wear paint clothes. The building will have AC on, so it may get cool in the main ballroom.

Is there convention merchandise for sale?

We have lots of new items in our PleinAir Store. Hats, shirt, patches, books, and some special discounts on DVDs.

What about painting around the hotel or in my room?

Some people will always want to paint in the hotel, outside official convention activities. First, know that if there is any damage or spillage, you will be personally responsible to the hotel, so you’ll want a dropcloth to keep paint off the carpet, and you should not clean brushes in your hotel room.

Can I show my paintings?

Sure. Bring ’em along and show them to whomever you wish. Some may bring paintings into the hotel after paint days. But you should also sign up for our art show so you can show and sell your paintings.

What will I need in the meetings (demonstrations and lectures)?

You may wish to bring a notepad to take notes or a camera to take pictures. Video and audio recording are prohibited. We have many videos for sale at the store from many instructors.

Is there a closing party?

Yes, plan to cut loose and dance with your new friends. You’ve worked hard all week and deserve some additional fun. This year we have a HOMECOMING dance with a San Francisco Hippie theme.

Special Information for Attendees

What to bring to the convention:

OUTERWEAR

  • Light raincoat/windbreaker
  • Warm clothes and items you can layer – we don’t know what the weather will do!
  • Plan to wear sturdy, closed-toed shoes during the paint-out sessions
  • Sunscreen
  • A good hat with a brim wide enough to keep the sun off of your neck as well as out of your eyes

ART SUPPLIES

If you are flying in: The TSA will not allow solvent in carry-on or in checked baggage.

Other items you can bring that must be checked and not in a carry-on:

  • Tube paints
  • Mediums for oil, acrylic, and watercolor
  • Palettes with paint on them
  • Containers with paint out of the tube
  • Sharp tools like knives, palette knives, razor blades, scissors

Items you can carry on

  • Brushes
  • Easels in backpacks
  • Clean palettes
  • Pan watercolors
  • Pastels
  • Canvases, panels, and paper
  • Drawing materials (pencils, pens, charcoal, erasers, conte)
  • Sketchbooks
  • Paint cups, trays, and empty vessels for water and solvents
  • Viewfinders
  • Bottles of ink (3 oz. or under)
  • Camera
  • Hand wipes
  • Plastic gloves if you use them

Take only what you know you will actually use and is relevant to the medium you work in to keep from having to pay for extra weight and lug around things you don’t end up using. When you check in your supplies, attach the label to your baggage containing art materials that is supplied here to alert the TSA of the contents.