With its coastal seascapes, rolling hills, lush forests and sweeping vineyards, Sonoma County is a landscape painter's paradise.
So it's no surprise that both amateur and professional artists flock to the county's scenic spots to pursue the increasingly popular pastime of "plein air" painting, creating landscape art on-site outdoors.
"When you paint plein air, you get the whole sensory experience of being outdoors and painting. You have to capture the light at that particular time of day. The colors change for everything throughout the day," said artist Linda Barretta, 63, of Healdsburg.
"So it gives a whole completely different look to your work," said Barretta, an experienced painter who came to the plein air movement four years ago. "The work is so much more alive. I can look at any of my paintings and it takes me back to the day I painted it, and remember whether it was cloudy or windy or hot."
While many artists produce skillful landscape paintings in the studio, working from photographs, notes, sketches and memory, plein air enthusiasts insist something's missing.
"Painting plein air is different from working in a studio," said Camille Przewodek, 63, of Petaluma, an internationally known, classically trained artist and painting teacher. "It takes years to develop an eye for the colors, or be able to capture the light."
But there are perks to keep beginners going while they learn the art of plein air. The air is fresh and the scenery is exceptional.
"I go painting all over the Sonoma and Mendocino coasts," said Will McGuinness, 71, of Sonoma, who started taking lessons about seven years ago. (Will's first name is short for "Willajean," which she never uses.)
"I love wide vistas and large landscapes, with fields and trees, and mountains in the distance. It's beautiful out there," she said. "I'm out in the parks and the open spaces, and sometimes I come across some characters."
Barretta said passers-by often stop to chat when she's painting outdoors.