One of the most popular events of the week is called Quick Draw. During this two-hour open competition, 190 artists with all levels of ability – from professionals to amateurs – take their easels to the streets of Easton to swiftly create plein air paintings. At the end of two hours, the paintings are judged and sold. Quick Draw canvases generally sell for between $300 and $600.
This summer, Scott Patterson – a Maryland state's attorney -- and his wife were at the local farmer's market when they came across an artist doing a Quick Draw painting of the market stalls. "We were just shopping and saw the artist working on the painting about the very experience we were having and had to buy it," Patterson said.
What makes plein air work so appealing is that it's visceral. You can feel the emotion and atmosphere on the canvas.
While there is no "right" approach to plein air, this work is generally created using quick, broad strokes. Plein air artists forego the traditional method of building up paint on the canvas. These works are usually, but not always, done in a single sitting, although many artists tweak the work later in their studios.
"Any competent artist can create an image that looks like a photograph. But to become a great artist, you must take what you see and add to it," explained Tankersley, who began her artistic life as a portrait painter. "Plein air work forces you to interpret and bring vision to what's before you."
Artists become passionate about plein air because working outdoors with natural subjects in shifting light forces a focus on the present in a way no other experience can.
"Plein air requires great flexibility from the painter because, unlike studio work, you have absolutely no control of your environment," noted Tankersley. "It's invigorating and inspiring, but also risky."
And plein air work becomes riskier still when artists are asked to do it publicly, at a festival in front of thousands of people.
So, what drives artists to eschew the comforts of their studios and attend a grueling week-long plein air festival? "It is the pinnacle of what you want to achieve as an artist," DeWaard explained philosophically. "You're out there trying to see if you can capture a fleeting moment of life before it changes on you."
For more information on Plein Air – Easton, go to www.pleinaireaston.com.