Plein air is the "new golf," at least according to B. Eric Rhoads, publisher/chairman of PleinAir Magazine, also a sponsor of the Plein Air Camp Hill Arts Festival. The magazine hosted the Third Annual Plein Air Convention and Expo in Monterey, California, last month, breaking the world record for the most plein air painters painting in one place at one time – more than 700 painters from 12 countries together to paint and learn from the best. Some painting this weekend in Plein Air Camp Hill were there.
Rhoads says plein air is the "new golf," because artists can be outside without doing anything physically strenuous. Artists and others have left careers, seeking less stressful environments and to express themselves again. Some like Susan Nicholas Gephart of Bellefonte, PA, have a deep passion for and connection to the earth and likes to paint atmospheric conditions. "Plein air grounds people, gives them a sense of purpose and brings all their senses back to life – breathing, seeing and smelling. It takes people back to their childhood. It rejuvenates them," she said.
Although there have been a few early season events, Plein Air Camp Hill really kicks off the summer plein air season, and many Plein Air Camp Hill artists have already been juried into competitions, festivals and "paint outs" including the 7th Annual Mountain Maryland Plein Air (Cumberland), June 2-6; Paint Annapolis (MD) International Plein Air Competition & Exhibition, June 8-15; Gettysburg (PA) Fest Plein Air Paint Out and Quick Draw, June 11-14; Easels in Frederick (MD), June 15-20; Ellicott City (MD) Paint Out, July 10-12; Plein Air Easton (MD), July 11-19; and Solomons (MD) Plein Air Festival, September 15-20.
Plein air painters often travel in groups to festivals or specific destinations just to paint together. When thinking about how that works, one realizes that you can have a dozen artists within blocks of each other, and each will see something different, as in this week’s informal nocturnal “paint out” with some of the Plein Air Camp Hill painters fanning out in the streets near the state Capitol building. Some may have painted the Capitol, some churches, one a restaurant, one just a door. Susan Nicholas Gephart tackled her first city street scene ever. Nocturnal painting is becoming increasingly popular, even as formal festival events, and painters wear little headlamps like miners to light their canvases.
Some like Elissa Gore of New York City, a former art professor, make their living on their art and may be taking photos in addition to painting at festivals that they will later paint for corporate art collections. “Look at my car. I look like I live in it,” Elissa said this week. "We’re kind of like gypsies traveling around," said David Diaz of Annapolis, who offered Elissa advice to make her nocturnal painting by the river just a little better when she asked him what he thought. "I'll always help if someone asks," he said. That's one of the things that make these painters special. It’s like a brotherhood. Sure, they compete, and this year’s competition is destined to be hot with more “wins” under some belts since last year and talent new to the festival. But they will help another painter in a heartbeat.
Some like Jonathan Frazier of Dillsburg, PA, love to paint along the Susquehanna River, especially gorgeous sunsets, although he and others will paint just about anything. Brienne Brown of Julian, PA, likes architecture, angles and people. Beth Bathe of Lancaster was looking for a white barn to paint this week. Many have SUVs with hatchbacks that can shield them from the rain while plein air painting.
Much like golf, there is strategy. Artists have to be ready for rain, wind, and weather conditions that can change in a heartbeat. They’ll paint under umbrellas in competitions. They’ll paint as the weather changes from sun to rain, as some did this week in Camp Hill's Negley Park, capturing the sky’s changes right up until they have to run for their life to make it to their car. Painters like Julie Riker of Camp Hill, PA, who has even painted in the middle of a stream, know exactly where she’ll paint in a competition if it rains – under a bridge or business’s awning, for example. “We push ourselves, always stretching to see what we can do to make a better painting."
Please check out the 2015 Festival page for further information and schedule updates.