“I am here for coffee and stamps” says an energetic artist at 7 am on a bright Tuesday morning. Sporting a fishing hat, chambray shirt, and hiking boots, she looks like she is heading for a rowdy hike rather than a four-hour painting session. Welcome to the Eastern Shore Art Center’s Plein Air Fairhope! The 2nd annual, five-day event celebrates the tradition of painting “outdoors” with over 40 artists from all over the US. Popularized by impressionists in the 1860’s, plein air painting highly contrasts from studio painting. Armed with a travel easel, stool, tube paints, snacks, and sunscreen, artists are tasked to complete a beautiful, scenic piece of art in one sitting. While this may be a sedentary activity, it is stimulating for the mind and soul. Other than toning the canvas, every stroke of a plein air painting should be completed outdoors, in one sitting, allowing the artist to capture the world around them.
While she has her canvases stamped, a Mobile artist speaks about scouting out “hot spots”. “We drove around on Monday seeking out farm land and shady spots by the pier” she says with her 8 year old daughter, who is having her sketchbook pages stamped, too. During Plein air “Paint outs” like ESAC’s, artists have their canvases stamped every morning of the event to ensure that all pieces have been completed during the event. In addition to painting, artists can attend gallery talks from Plein Air artists and participate in the “Quick Draw”, a public event that allows everyone 90 minutes to create a plein air piece. Bryant Whelan, ESAC Executive Director, not only hosts the Quick Draw but participates. “Basically, you create a good layout and once you have that, you have the bones for your painting” she explains as she sketches by the pier.
After five days of scouting and painting, artists submit framed work to the art center, placing often wet pieces directly on the gallery walls on the very day of the show opening. Enjoying the smell of oil paints, Adrienne Clow, head of ESAC marketing and exhibits, and Reanna Watson, ESAC Academy Director, work to inventory, label, and arrange the pieces often right up to the doors opening for the November Art Walk. Baldwin County bay views, restaurants, dairy lands, and residences are on exhibit in pastels, watercolors, acrylics, and oil. Visitors and locals flock the exhibit to identify the buildings, landmarks, and scenes that the shape their community.
As ESAC plans Plein Air Fairhope 2021, they continue to look forward to celebrating the surrounding community and the skill of painting outdoors. From November to December 19th, Plein Air 2020 work will be available to visitors.