FAIRHOPE – With traffic passing nearby on Baldwin County 13 and 32, Susan Knowlton stood at her easel working to paint a cotton field before the sunlight changed.
Knowlton was one of 40 artists from five states taking part in the Eastern Shore Art Center’s second Plein Air Fairhope art project held Nov. 3 through 7. Artists painted scenes around the community.
The definition of Plein Air painting requires that all work be done at the scene, no finishing touches in a studio or working from photographs are allowed. The paintings had to be completed in the five-day limit in time to be judged by the ESAC judged on Saturday, Nov. 7.
We’re just painting whatever we can Plein Air,” Knowlton said. “I’ve got two already, but who knows. If this one works out, maybe I can sub it out.”
Each artist could submit two paintings for judging, Bryant Wheelan, ESAC director, said. The paintings will be on exhibit and available for purchase at the Art Center at 401 Oak St. in Fairhope until Dec. 19.
Whelan said that after local art events such as First Fridays were canceled for months and other activities, such as the ESAC’s Outdoor Art Show and White Linen Nights, were also called off due to COVID-19, everyone is glad to have an art celebration that can be done safely.
“It fires up the community. People are talking about it and we’re lucky that it’s been planned for the second year in November because the weather is so good,” Whelan said. “It’s also a real mood lifter for us. Everything we’re doing right now is swimming upstream. Everything is new. You can’t have business as usual. Plein Air was our first-time last year, so at least it’s not a new product to invent.”
She said the project also fulfills the Art Center’s mission to educate the public and support the arts on the Eastern Shore.
“There’s so much positive enthusiasm with Plein Air,” she said. “It’s just is. It gets everybody like ‘oh it feels like we’re actually making an impact,’ Our mission to the community revolves around education and inspiring with art, but we also really want to support artists. We want to get them publicity. We want to help them support their livelihoods with sales, so this is just like win-win all around.”
Adrianne Clow, marketing director, said each artist can exhibit two paintings done during the five days.
“We have 40 participating artists and we base that number on exhibit space,” Clow said. “That way they can put in two pieces each. In years coming, hopefully we can move into a larger gallery, so that we can do even more than that. Right now, it’s 40 and they spread out all over town.”
Whelan said Plein Air Fairhope also puts artists and the public in touch with each other.
“Everybody’s fascinated and wants to come and talk to them,” Whelan said. “Some people are cool with that and others are a little more shy. But it all contributes to Fairhope being more of an art colony. This is only the second year, but as it continues, I see people just to go around and watch the artists and then the art comes back here into the wet room where people come and they lay down the art and people can come and see what people have been doing.”
The wet room is the space at the ESAC where completed Plein Air paintings are placed to dry after completion.
Whelan said the event also promotes the area.
“The other thing that’s great about Plein Air that’s just a beautiful win-win all around is that when the results come back and people bring them in, we’re really kind of contributing to arts tourism as well because people are going to so many different areas,” Whelan said.
Plein Air painting is growing in popularity with many groups of painters taking part around the Gulf Coast, Whelan said.
“It’s a very, very long-standing tradition and there are lots of painting groups,” Whelan said. “You’ll have the Alabama Plein Air Painters. You have the Gulf Coast Plein Air Painters. You’ll have the South Mississippi Plein Air Painters and they kind of pick and choose where they want to go.”
Knowlton said she became interested in Plein Air in Florida.
“I got introduced to Plein Air about five months ago and I’ve kind of fallen in love with it,” Knowlton said. “It’s challenging because the light changes and you’ve got to capture things quick, but it’s been really good for me as an artist. It’s really pushed me out of my box. We get caught sometimes into painting from photographs, our photographs obviously, but it gets you out of the studio. There’s something about being out here. The colors are just different. A photograph just eliminates a lot of the beauty of the colors so you really can capture a lot of nuances.”