Students overlook a river on Oct. 27, at Lehigh Gap in Slatington. They use the scenery that they see in front of them to inspire their paintings. (Courtesy of Jason Travers)

Plein Air Painting encourages out-of-the-box artistry


Straying from the traditional classroom setting, art professor Jason Travers takes his students outdoors for every class. Though he’s been teaching this class for 20 years, this semester is the first time he’s offered it in the fall, opening the class up to an entirely new landscape.

His class, Plein Air Painting I, is a four-credit outdoor painting course where students take weekly excursions to local sites to find creative inspiration for their paintings. Enrolled students, at various levels of art experience, meet once a week on Fridays from 11:15 a.m. to 4:15 p.m.

Plein Air is a French term that means “in the open air” and refers to artists using outdoor scenery as their subject for painting.

Travers said he wanted to create an outdoor painting class to get students out of the studio and immersed in the outdoors. He said he was particularly motivated to create this class because most of his students do not travel past Fourth Street unless they are specifically encouraged to do so.

This class reflects his own research, which is focused on observational artmaking in the outdoors.

“I try to pass on my love of being outside and creating with the students in the course,” Travers said.

Students in Plein Air Painting I paint a river scene on Aug. 24, at Glen Onoko Falls in Jim Thorpe. Professor of Art Jason Travers began teaching Plein Air Painting I to take students’ artistic experience outside of the classroom. (Courtesy of Jason Travers)

Although he teaches the students about materials and techniques related to painting, he said emphasis is placed on students creating art on their own terms rather than technical training.

“The class is less about the products and the finished paintings and more about the anecdotes from the field trip,” Travers said. “I want to make students really remember how important it is to be outside the classroom and have real experiences.”

Each week the class visits a new destination. So far this semester, Travers brought his class to the Jacobsburg Environmental Education Center, the Appalachian Trail and the Ringing Rocks Park.

Travers said each location the class travels to focuses on a landscape element and usually is within a 30-minute radius of campus.

When weather poses an issue, the class shifts and instead visits somewhere closer to campus. However, Travers said he has not run into any weather issues this semester.

Y Lam, ‘24, said she signed up for Travers’ class this semester because she doesn’t have a lot of painting experience and wanted to challenge herself to paint outside.

“We traverse through hiking trails and environmental places, and it is such a breathtaking experience because you’re constantly immersed in greenery,” Lam said. “This class really helped me pace myself and to actually look at nature, not just for artistic purposes but to recognize it and the vastness of it all.”

In addition to painting outside, Travers said each student is required to keep a journal to document their experiences, not only in painting but also the stories and memories they make along the way.

Lam said she will walk away from the class knowing the local area better and with having made art and memories she is proud of.

Limei Shan, a modern language and literature professor, took Travers’ class in the summer of 2022. She said she had never previously seen a course or its curriculum structured in this way.

Shan said field trips were essential for her learning and training in art, which she pursued for fun.

“I had no idea what I could create using just a charcoal pencil and an eraser,” Shan said. “For the first time, I learned to use an eraser to show depth and give life to many rocks. I realized that no matter the tools we use, shadows are what make things look real, with light and dark always in the mix.”

Travers said he hopes each student remembers the sites they all traveled to by the end of the course.

“I get really excited when I hear about students, after they’ve taken the class, going back to these locations with friends and hiking,” Travers said. “Even if they never sketch again, they know that these resources are there.”

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