When I talk to Maria Yadegar it is a dull, drizzly day, certainly not the sort of day to pack up the paints and venture outdoors. But being outdoors and painting plein air is exactly what Maria loves.

Made into an art form by French impressionists, plein air, from the French expression ‘in the open’, is the practice of painting an artwork outside from start to finish.

‘It’s such a release. I get so absorbed,’ explains Maria. ‘Once I start painting, I forget everything else. If I want to de-stress, I go out and paint, I don’t care where I go.’

The artist from Greatham near Petersfield returned to her passion in 2020 following her experience as a wild card on Landscape Artist of the Year in June 2019.

Great British Life: Chasing the light, Isle of White. Chasing the light, Isle of White. (Image: Maria Yadegar)

‘I really hadn't done that much outside except for sketching,’ she admits. ‘I got a random call and the following week found myself at Herstmonceux Castle in East Sussex at 7am in the morning. It was a bit like today, very windy and wet. I found myself in a field at the back of the castle with a very uninspiring view, but I had such an amazing time and met so many other great artists. We threw ourselves into the day and went with it. A lady lent me some of her husband’s fishing gear to hold down my poor little field easel, which was getting blown around; canvasses were flying across the field. Looking back, it was quite surreal. I think a lot of people would have come away from it and thought “I won’t be doing that again!”’

But she did and was selected again the following year. ‘The conditions couldn’t have been more different, scorching hot and not the whiff of a breeze,’ she adds.

Although Maria didn’t progress further in the competition, it ‘kick started’ her interest in plein air painting. She decided to start painting full time, exploring landscapes but had to rethink her medium and technique. ‘I was painting in acrylics but once you start painting outside they are hard to work with as they dry quickly. I attended an oils workshop and immediately feel in love with them. They are so buttery and beautiful and the colours are just amazing. – they are much more suited to painting outside because they take forever to dry.’

Great British Life: Summer, Idsworth Valley. Summer, Idsworth Valley. (Image: Maria Yadegar)

Her propensity for art was evident at an early age but encouragement was somewhat lacking and Maria fell into the pressure of getting a ‘proper job’ as a PA. Then family life took over - a daughter, then twins and assisting her husband running a learning disability care home.

‘I can remember even from a very young age saying to my friend, “the sky is not like that, why are you doing it like that?" when she had drawn a blue line. I couldn’t understand why they hadn’t noticed it,’ says Maria. As her girls got older, she began to think about her own aspirations.

The 56-year-old finds inspiration when walking her dogs and likes nothing more than going to new places. Favourite spots include the Idsworth Valley near Petersfield and West Wittering in East Sussex for its ‘amazing sunsets’. Her paints accompany her wherever she goes. This year there are plans to go to Italy and then to Stoke on Trent – a contrast we both agree.

Great British Life: Bright pink Camellias. Bright pink Camellias. (Image: Maria Yadegar)

‘Sometimes I have a place in mind, but sometimes I'll just go out driving and stop if I see something that catches my eye. It’s normally involving colour or light. I will literally just set up wherever I am. Sometimes I'm on the roadside balanced on a ditch or I’ll be on the beach. You must get set up quickly because if there’s something you’ve seen that’s to do with the light, it can change quickly. It might change for the better, but sometimes the clouds can descend. Autumn has such amazing colours and the winter light can be beautiful on some days – especially late afternoon or early morning, but for me, there is no time like spring. After a long wet winter, I wait with anticipation at each little bud unfurling and hunt the grassy banks and hedgerows for signs of spring.

‘Working ‘alla prima’ (all at once) with wet paint you have to layer the colours thinly at first, then add thicker paint to keep them vibrant. I usually do darks first, then add blocks of mid tones, finishing with lighter colours.'

Does she find that the elements can scupper her plans? ‘Oh yes. Just before Christmas, I was painting on the top of old Winchester Hill which is one of the highest points on the South Downs, it's very open and the wind was gusting in all directions. A man walked past and joked, “You can take a picture of that you know.” But it's not the same.’

Great British Life: Rainbow Tulips has just been shortlisted for this year's RA Summer ExhibitionRainbow Tulips has just been shortlisted for this year's RA Summer Exhibition (Image: Maria Yadegar)

She describes plein air painting as being in the moment. ‘Nothing compares to it. Photographs are very flat, you may not have been there, you don't know what it feels like, you don't know what it sounds like. I'm trying to evoke the emotion that I'm feeling while I'm standing there - looking at the landscape, hearing the waves crashing on the beach or noticing beautiful flowers.’

Maria has just found out her painting Rainbow Tulips has been shortlisted once again by the Royal Academy for their Summer Exhibition, following on from her landscape West Beach, Hayling, which was shortlisted in 2022. A floral study ‘Crab Apple Blossom’ was longlisted for the Hollybush painting prize and last year she exhibited with Art For Youth at The Mall Galleries in London. Whilst the inclement weather prevails, Maria is working on a new series of florals titled Primavera.

' I can't wait to be back out in the landscape, surrounded by nature with the wind in my hair and the sun on my face.'