Strolling down Beach Boulevard on a Wednesday morning, you are likely to encounter a pack of wild painters, painting “en plein air,” the French expression for “in the open air.” In Gulfport, experienced artists as well as enthusiastic novices come together to enjoy nature, community, and the challenging task of painting in public.
French impressionists created the practice of plein air painting, born from their desire to paint light, and to capture its evanescent qualities. When painting outside, the inherent challenges of a changing environment are compounded by inevitable distractions. Yet, the energy of the community and the connection to nature provide a special kind of magic. Accomplished Gulfport painters find the practice to be a worthwhile endeavor to stretch their artistry.
Gulfport Plein Air Painters
The Gulfport Plein Air painters are out and about from November to May. They choose a different location each week.
“I enjoy plein air painting, because I do my best work in nature, painting outside, immersed in the landscape,” says group organizer Nancy Poucher. “It provides engagement, interactive relationships, connection, and a sense of awe, which hopefully comes through my pastels onto paper.”
Fleeting light isn’t the only hurdle to painting outdoors. Inevitably, painting in public, outdoors provides distractions, whether it be curious onlookers, gusts of wind, or simply a change in temperature. In addition, the transient nature of the practice forces artists to condense materials into something portable. It pushes them to use only what’s necessary, therefore streamlining their process. Gulfport’s Plein Air Painters use a variety of mediums, from pastels to acrylic and oil paints to watercolors.
Plein Air Etiquette
Painting outside in a coastal vacation town definitely invites human interaction. However, there is not an agreed upon “etiquette” for interacting with a working plein air painter. Painters who require uninterrupted focus often display a little sign. Some painters may wear a t-shirt with answers to many common questions printed on the back.
Most painters, though, welcome the interaction, and some continue to paint while chatting. Professional artists who sell their work often welcome the opportunity to market an upcoming gallery opening or show.
“I like to challenge myself to stay focused,” Poucher says. “I invite the opportunity to talk to people about art, but then I have to dive back into my flow and stay focused, or I won’t finish the painting in time.”
The finite time frame for painting invites a spontaneity and freshness to the art without room for overthinking and meddling. Kim Wilder paints lifelike pet portraits professionally. She reminds herself “the goal isn’t to create a detailed realistic painting of the landscape; it’s to capture the essence of the scene and the light.”
Arts All Around!
The Gabber Newspaper covers live theater and art across South Pinellas and, when we find something worth the drive, in the Tampa Bay and Sarasota areas.
Painting Around Town
Brenda McMahon Gallery (2901 Beach Blvd. S., Gulfport) offers paintings of iconic Gulfport landmarks such as the “green building with the purple doors” (formerly called the Toy Factory) or the historic Gulfport Casino, painted by plein air painters such as Poucher and Jane Haskins.
Deserie Valloreo, a plein air artist herself, also provides a space for local plein air artists to connect with art enthusiasts and collectors at the DRV Gallery (5401 Gulfport Blvd. S., Gulfport).
Valloreo explains how plein air can also be a great practice for beginners.
“I refer to plein air as bootcamp,” she says. “It challenges the artist to ramp up their skills quickly. Painting with a plein air group provides an avenue to give and receive feedback on your work while building relationships with other artists in the community.”
In the coming months, there will be many opportunities to see Gulfport and visiting artists’ plein air artwork. During the month of February, Catherine A. Hickman Theater (5501 27th Ave. S., Gulfport) will host the Gulfport Plein Air Painter’s show, Colors of Gulfport.
The Gulfport Merchants Chamber have the third annual In Plein Sight event scheduled in April. Artists from throughout the region will spend a week painting beautiful Gulfport landscapes, and the week culminates with a show and competition.
“When I paint the same scene with a group of artists, I love to see how we each bring our unique styles and palettes to the canvas or paper,” artist Paula Roy says. “When you’re really familiar with the artists, you can pick out which pieces were done by which artist. I love how individual this work can be!”