What is Virtual Plein Air Painting?

You probably know what a Plein Air is, but have you heard about the Virtual Plein Air? If you are a digital artist and regularly use a standard graphic tablet with laptop/PC, you may not have the opportunity to travel around the world to train painting landscapes with your digital media, as the traditional painters do.


Of course, you can get yourself a standalone graphic tablet (Cintiq® Companion 2nd generation) or a tablet computer (like iPad) so you won’t be chained to a desk and have a possibility to work on the tablet whenever you go.

– But what if you can’t go outside? The weather is bad – it’s raining or snowing, or you would like to paint some mountains, but you live in a big city in lowlands?

There are a few solutions to this problem:

  • One of them is simply to find some photos from the internet. EarthPorn is one of the best websites where you can find amazing photos of landscapes. More websites with useful photo resources you can find here: best photo resources for drawing.
  • The second one – where the name comes from – is related to virtual travels on Google Maps.

If you are one or the rare people who don’t know what Google Maps is, here’s an explanation:

Google maps is a web mapping service that allows you to search for objects, view maps, aerial photographs of the Earth’s surface, 360 ° panoramic views from street level, street traffic intensity and route planning by car, public transport, bike, on foot, by plane or by ferry. It was created in 2005 by Google. It’s free for non-commercial users.

For more than a decade, the Google’s street view cameras have been recording the world around us. The crew has traveled almost to every corner of the planet – from the big cities, rural areas to the tops of mountains. They recorded even parts of the underwater and the International Space Station!

You can help Google by Contributing street views on your own.

I love checking out cities from different countries on google maps, and other places (especially islands) to which I’m not able to travel. I do this mostly in winter, sometimes I don’t see the sun for a whole week, only at weekends I’m able to enjoy the sunlight for a few hours (when the weather is relatively good). Usually, in winter evenings I’m “visiting” the Pacific islands, and learning about their history and culture from wikipedia.
For example, have you heard about the Nightingale Island? Nightingale has been said to contain pirate loot. Captain John Thomas, on an expedition to the South Atlantic, supposedly left a fortune of Spanish doubloons and pieces-of-eight in caves on Nightingale for safekeeping. However, no recovery of this treasure (if it is there) has ever been confirmed.


Google maps is an amazing service. Not only it’s been used as a map, but it’s useful in other situations – and now I will provide more pieces of information about the main topic – the Virtual Plein Air painting.


What is Virtual Plein Air painting?

Virtual Plein Air is an act of painting artworks based off google street view.
It originates from the term Plein Air (fr. en plein air – outdoors) –painting outdoors, in direct contact with nature. Open space under the open sky as a place and subject of the artist’s work.

It’s mostly practiced by digital painters – they search for an interesting view on google street view, take a screenshot and use it as a photo resource for drawing.

In comparison to photography,  you don’t have to worry about the copyright law if you use a screenshot from Google’s street view for your painting. You can read the general guidelines on using Google’s maps here: permissions.

Virtual Plein Air Painting groups

You can share your artworks in various groups. Here are some of the Virtual Plein Air groups, include in the post also the Geographic coordinates.

Virtual Plein Air– a Facebook group. The group was created by Timothy Rodriguez’s. Artists from all around the world share their artworks fere.

VirtualPleinAir.tumblr – a tumblr blog dedicated to virtual plein air paintings. I can see here beautiful artworks from various artists. You can upload here also your own painting (and a link to the geolocation).



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