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Painting The Shore

Artists from near and far interact with the Eastern Shore landscape through their painting.
By Kathi Ferguson

We all know that the Eastern Shore is a special place, claiming a natural beauty all its own. But through the eyes of an artist, the area is a magical source of inspiration. On any given day, particularly during the spring and summer months, plein air painters set up their easels in towns, on farms, along roadsides and beside the countless waterways across the region, attempting to translate that inspiration onto canvas
The term en plein air has long been associated with the act of painting outdoors or ‘in the open air’. The movement can be traced back to the late 1800s when the Impressionists ventured out of their studios to develop a deeper understanding of capturing the effects of the ever-changing light, atmosphere, and weather in their paintings. Rediscovered in the 1980s, plein air painting has become the fastest growing art movement in the United States.
Artists are drawn to the landscape for a number of reasons – dramatic vistas, vivid color, and interesting shapes, just to name a few. Nature becomes a painter’s resource, for which there is no shortage here on the Shore. “I have been painting here ever since moving to Talbot County seventeen years ago,” says award-winning local artist Diane Dubois Mullaly. “The entire region is made intriguing by its mix of waterfront, maritime and rural inland farm landscapes, punctuated with charming old towns, barns, and gardens. What has always moved me is the big open sky, its interaction with our estuaries and marshes, the play of light on sailboat sails, and the feel and look of the atmosphere and clouds. It all speaks to me and I simply have to paint it!”
Not only does the region inspire local talent but the allure of painting here draws nationally known artists from across the United States, spawning an increasing number of plein air events and competitions. Professional artist Ken DeWaard has been travelling from his home in Hope, Maine to compete in Plein Air Easton every year since 2004. “I find the area for a painter delightful,” he says. “Variety and lighting always play a big part in what gets my creativity going. Whether it is the vast fields, the lush village gardens, of the character of Tilghman’s Dogwood Harbor, nowhere quite compares to the uniqueness of the Shore. I am still amazed that after coming back again and again to the same place, I always find something new to excite and inspire me.”
Held annually in July, Plein Air Easton is now in its fourteenth year and has evolved into the most prestigious juried plein air painting competition in the United States. “We realized at the time that the buzz about Easton as an arts town was building,” says professional artist and a founder of Plein Air Easton, Nancy Tankersley. “As a plein air painter myself, I knew that when people saw artists painting outside, it would generate interest.” In this and other competition events, artists spend several days painting throughout the respective areas before displaying their works to be viewed, judged and awarded. The paintings are also available for sale to the public. Other plein air competitions have sprouted up in the region such as Paint Snow Hill, and Paint the Town (sponsored by Chestertown River Arts).
Painting “en plein air” is not just for the professionals. It is an avenue open to any and all artists. The experience of capturing our area’s scenery can be enjoyed by all ages and levels of artists through a variety of plein air workshops, classes, and organized painting groups.   
Embracing the challenges that outdoor painting presents is a lesson like no other. Scenes will change rapidly as the sun moves across the sky or hides behind a cloud, you will contend with inconveniences such as sudden rainstorms, wind, insects, and the heat and humidity that are common during Eastern Shore summers. But being in the moment with nature while in the process of creating your personal perception of the landscape makes it all worthwhile.

Plein Air Painting Tips
By Kathi Ferguson

Despite its benefits, plein air painting can be intimidating at first and good planning is always helpful. Here are some things to consider before setting out on your painting adventure.
Finding a Painting Location. It is a good idea to plan your locations before heading out. Many artists spend time scouting out locations and noting them, saving them time from riding around looking for that ideal spot. Remember, that “ideal spot” can be right in your own backyard and can be a good place to begin if you are just starting out.

Prepare a plein air kit. Have a folding easel, folding chair, and a selection of art supplies easily accessible. Also bring water, insect repellent, sunscreen, paper towels, and large plastic bags in case it rains. A camera is useful for recording the scene in case you want to take your painting back to your studio to complete it. 
Paint with other artists. Seek out a painting group. The Eastern Shore offers many that organize “paint outs” on a regular basis. It is a great way to meet and learn from other artists. You may also want to consider taking a class or workshop.
Have fun! No one ever claimed that painting the landscape was easy. For the plein air painter, it is all about the experience of painting in the open air. Go out and enjoy it.