Many of us, locals and visitors alike, appreciate the natural beauty of the Eastern Shore, especially the close proximity to bodies of water—the joke often said, you can’t really ever get lost, just drive straight in any direction and you’ll reach either the ocean or bay—and the enviable lifestyle of springs, summers, and falls spent largely outdoors. We catalogue our experiences away in our minds, fond memories to reflect upon months, even years later. Or we take hundreds of photos compiling them into books with family and friends in the staring roles. There is yet another way to capture the beauty of the human experience or breathtaking scenery for all time, and that is through painting en plein air, occurring at Plein Air-Easton! this week, July 14th – 22nd, 2012.

The 8th Annual Plein Air Competition and Arts Festival in Easton, MD has invited 58 artists out of hundreds of the nation’s most talented plein air painters to put their artistic skills to test in this celebrated competition. The painters travel around the peninsula, stopping in small waterfront towns like St. Michaels, islands like Tilghman’s Island, or the home base of Easton to portray Eastern Shore life. From watermen to historic homes, boating to wildlife, if these artists bear witness, those poignant moments will be remembered for all time—often as adornments in a place of honor on the walls of the art patrons who purchase them.

What these artists do is observe, putting brush and paint to canvas, depicting life, or the subtle changes in scenery, as they’re happening. These artists are conveying the light as it reflects off of the water, a woman’s fondness for tending her garden—though she is simply a detail in a landscape, her face never shown; a house’s personification of majesty as the sun sets; the feel of the breeze as it inflates the sail of a boat—all effectively and intimately conveying the senses, which is the intention behind the style of plein air painting.

Historically speaking, the term is French and is translated to mean, “open air.” When painters began taking easels and supplies into the great outdoors to paint Europe’s beautiful lakes, gardens, winding roads and seascapes in the 19th Century, it was considered revolutionary. It’s often associated with the Impressionists, although many consider it to be the forerunner of the movement. Nowadays, plein air festivals are quite commonplace as the appreciation for painting out-of-doors has certainly withstood the tests of time.

During the Easton, MD competition roughly 600 oil and watercolor paintings will be created. The artists themselves will be competing for the $5,000 Timothy Dills Memorial Grand Prize, or specific honors such as the Vanishing Landscape Award, Best Architectural Award, or the Best Marine Award. Patrons have the opportunity to purchase the paintings.

Aside from watching these painters at work, those who appreciate the beauty of the landscape, the history of the region, the quaintness of the many small towns, and art in general would certainly enjoy the festival atmosphere throughout the week. Artists working with various mediums will demonstrate their processes at open galleries in Easton. Watch basket weaving, hammered metal jewelry and sculpture, bronze sculpture, and various forms of painting, as they are made. Entertainment features include Billy Bragg and a production of H.M.S Pinafore. Quick draw challenges are popular competitions where the spectators really set the stage for the artists. A Children’s and Next Generation Quick Draw will also take place. The arts festival spirit really encompasses the whole town of Easton, MD. Visit and partake in the shared sense of creativity and celebration of the beauty of the Eastern Shore and the Chesapeake Bay region.

The Plein Air Competition and Arts Festival is made possible by the Avalon Foundation, an organization bringing arts and culture to the Eastern Shore, and many additional sponsors.  For detailed on-site information visit the Red Hen Coffee House and Café 1 Goldsborough Street, Easton, MD, or visit Plein Air-Easton! online.