Thursday, July 28, 2011

Plein Air Easton 2011

(Warning…long blog post…but a good one!)

Photograph of me working on "Old Point Dawn" which appeared on the cover of "The Star Democrat"...a local Easton newspaper.

Easton! How I love the sound of that word. Every year the town of Easton, Maryland hosts the biggest, most popular and well run plein air event on the East Coast. 2011 was the 7th year of the event and the Avalon Foundation has every aspect of running this mammoth undertaking down pat. No issue is too large or too small for this great organization.

Plein Air Easton is a competition with a $20,000 prize fund so it attracts some of the best painters from around the country. This year even included two wonderful painters from the UK. Admission is juried and I am proud to have even been juried in to the event for 2 years in a row.

The artists arrive on a Sunday evening and have their panels stamped. As I said before, this is a competition and any paintings that are to be considered for an award must be produced during the 4 days allotted for painting and must have a competition stamp. Actual competition begins after the panels are stamped and some artists could certainly be found out on the street on Sunday night!

(Please note that some of the images that follow were taken with my cell phone camera which is not the greatest quality camera but they are the only decent images that I managed to get from the event.)

The competition began for me early on Monday morning at a place called Tilghman Island which is a working fishing village at the end of the peninsula. I started painting at about 7:30 and 2 hours later had my first canvas packed up in my wet panel carrier.

“Crow Brothers III” 12 X 12 oil on canvas.

This was a good start for me. At last years event I scraped off both of my Monday paintings but I was pretty happy with this one. A number of people make their property available to the artists to paint on and, from Tilghman, I took a short drive to one such property, the magnificent Grafton Manor. Here I battled the rising afternoon heat and managed to come up with my 2nd painting of the day.

“Monday Afternoon” 9 X 12 oil on canvas.

Easton MD is on what is referred to as the Eastern Shore of Maryland. Plein Air Easton runs during the 2nd to last week of July and, as such…it is HOT…and it just keeps getting HOTTER! Temperatures were in the high 90’s with humidity around the same and dew points in the mid to upper 70’s! My plan, which I was somewhat able to follow, was to paint early in the day, head back to my host family’s home during the mid-day hours and then head out again in the evening.

Tuesday morning found me back early at Grafton Manor to have a look at a quintessential Eastern Shore motif which I had stumbled on the day before but felt would look better in the morning light. It seems that everyone along the shore has erected osprey nests just off of the shoreline and these ospreys barely tolerated my presence for the 2 hours it took me to paint them.

“Eastern Shore” 14 X 11 oil on canvas.

My plan to paint a stand of pines along the Choptank River on Tuesday evening was thwarted by Mother Nature dropping a strong thunderstorm on me. Ah yes…the vagaries of painting out of doors.

Wednesday morning found most if not all of the artists taking advantage of an invitation to paint at the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum which has a wonderful collection of old working boats and buildings just begging to be painted. I arrived early enough to still have the sunrise in front of me casting warm orange glitter on the calm water.

“Old Point Dawn” 12 X 16 oil on canvas.

No rain on Wednesday night so I managed to grab my pines which I loved in the late day sun. (Unfortunately, this is probably the worst photographed image of the lot but it is the best that I have of what I felt was my favorite painting of the week).

“Trappe Pines” 9 X 12 oil on canvas.

Painting within the Easton town limits was a requirement on Thursday and, fortunately for me, this field of banded Galloways is just within the Easton town limit. I remembered some paintings of the cows from last year and had ridden past them a day or two earlier, excitedly making a mental note to stop and paint them on Thursday morning.

“Banded Repose” 9 X 12 oil on canvas.

The event hosted a lunch for us on Thursday at a facility called Londonderry which boasts a picturesque river, manor house and some lovely gardens. Unfortunately I do not have an image of the painting which I did there.

Plein air events such as these are made possible by the very generous hospitality of local people who are kind enough to open up their homes to us for the week. I have stayed with the same couple for the past two years who call a magnificent waterfront estate home. I was particularly fond of their herb garden which lines the fence along the driveway. I have never seen rosemary like this in my life!

Every day when I left I lightly rubbed my hand over the tops of this bush for good luck and for the added pleasure of smelling the fragrance on my hand for the rest of the day! It is traditional for artists to leave behind a painting for their hosts as a token of appreciation. I painted the sunset from their lawn and left that behind for them. Unfortunately I do not have an image of this painting because it was my second favorite of the week.

Paintings are delivered to the Academy Art Museum on Thursday evening for the competition which opens during the collectors preview on Friday night. There is a great feeling of relief returning from the drop off as most of the week’s work is complete. We are allowed to submit ten paintings for the show (I only managed to get seven done). Two of the ten are chosen by us as our competition pieces. These are hung one above the other and in alphabetical order by artist through two rooms. I think there were 56 artists which means there were a total of 112 competition paintings hanging! The judge then makes his rounds of the room selecting from the displayed work which he feels deserve the awards. As these paintings are sold they are immediately taken off of the wall and replaced with another from our stock which were stored in two libraries upstairs.

The opening commences at 6PM on Friday night when the artists and their guests arrive. This is the first time we all get to see what we all have produced during the week and we are asked to vote on what we feel is the best piece produced by a colleague…The Artists Choice Award.

At 6:45 un-ticketed guests are asked to leave and the collectors (who have bought tickets costing $150 a piece!) are allowed in. Next to Christmas Eve this has become my most favorite time of the year. The people of Easton love this event and are very generous in their support of it. Red dots, which denote sold paintings, begin to explode all over the walls. My competition pieces sold simultaneously at about 7:15.

By the end of the first night I had sold 4 paintings!

Saturday is the Quick Draw. We have from 10AM until 12 noon to paint within a specified area of town. The Quick Draw is another very exciting event for the artists and the locals who can wander around and watch us work. For the second year in a row I am proud to say that I sold my Quick Draw before it was finished! At 12 noon it is brushes down, get the painting in a frame and rush over to Harrison Street where we all set up shoulder to shoulder for the paintings to be judged and awards handed out.

“Green Market II” 12 X 12 oil on canvas.

I am sorry to say that I was not able to equal my success at the Cranford event by winning an award. However I am very proud to say that my last available painting sold from the Academy on Saturday night! Eight painting in five days and all sold. I believe that I was the only artist who sold out which meant I didn’t have to wait until 5PM on Sunday to pick up any that were left over. I went to the hosted brunch at another magnificent estate on the river, returned to the house to fetch my belongings and bid farewell to my hosts and was on the road back to NY by 1PM on Sunday afternoon.

Plein Air Easton 2011! There is nothing to compare to it and I hope to be able to return next year for PA-E 2012!