Painting the town this weekend in Ellicott City

The picturesque historic district in Ellicott City literally gets in the picture this weekend as the third annual Paint It! Ellicott City finds dozens of painters setting up their easels around town.

Many of the artists will be scouting outdoor locations beforehand, because they know that the rules of this plein air paint-out mandate that they only have from July 6 to 8 to complete their paintings and watercolors. Although there's certainly pressure to get the work done quickly, the artists also enjoy interacting with a curious public.

"It's a good way to bring art to the community," says Beth Forbes, gallery and programs director of the Howard County Arts Council. "It's an opportunity to see the artists at work, which people would not see unless they visited artists in their studios."

Besides watching the artists at work, the public will be able to see the resulting artwork. The three-day paint-out will be immediately followed by a jurored exhibition running through Aug. 17 at the Howard County Arts Council.

Forbes says that some of the artists in this annual event favor depicting such familiar landmarks as the Firehouse, B&O Railroad Museum, and the bridge at the foot of Main Street; while others seek out the views provided by the hilly side streets.

"I love the landscape of Ellicott City. I know every alley and every street," said Heather Leatherman, 32, who in addition to being one of the jurored artists is also leading a workshop for artists seeking practical advice about working outdoors.

By way of subject matter, Leatherman is drawn to the hilly terrain and "how they built houses into the cliffs." As in the last two paint-outs, she'll spend her days depicting those hill-hugging houses along side streets. Then when she moves her easel to Main Street at night, she'll realize yet again that the bar crowd is not shy about expressing opinions.

"There are always people who are drunk and asking, 'What are you doing?,' " she said, laughing.

An Elkridge resident who teaches art at both Mt. Hebron and Oakland Mills high schools, Leatherman adds that she especially likes to depict parked cars on Main Street in her nocturnal paintings. Knowing that parked cars are eventually moved, she gave a humorous title to one of her paintings last year: "Two-Hour Painting: Paint Fast."

Leatherman prefers to use oil paint, because "it stays wet all day. I like the viscosity and the intensity of color."

Mark Coates is another oil painter returning for the third annual paint-out, but he's actually been painting Ellicott City scenes for around 40 years. Coates really likes the "varied topography," citing the geometric shapes of the houses and the sharp perspectives found on Court Avenue.

Although the buildings obviously will stand still for their picture, he knows that he has to be alert to changing atmospheric conditions.

'Nature of changing light'

"I think the big consideration is the variability of light and weather," said Coates, 56, a Baltimore resident who is coordinator of fine arts for the Howard County Public School System. "Even in good weather, you still have to deal with the nature of changing light."

Yet another returning artist for whom Ellicott City is familiar territory is Steve Stannard. While he's immortalizing its buildings and people in oil paintings and watercolors, he's also apt to be talking with pedestrians.

"People love to stop and chat. I'm not an artist who is antisocial. I'm a yakker," says Stannard, 52, adding that he often incorporates these people in the resultant paintings.

Professionally and personally, he has a strong connection to the town. Stannard is an architect. His office, which doubles as his studio, is located on Main Street; and when he goes home, it's just across the Patapsco River to the house in Oella that he's occupied since 1991.

"This town is most unusual," Stannard observes. "As an architect, I can say it's like no other place in terms of architecture. I've never run out of things to paint here."

Just as he knows he'll never run out of things to paint in Ellicott City, he also knows that you can run out of time to paint them. He actually enjoys that sort of pressure.

"You've got to work quickly. That brings a certain freshness and vibrancy you don't get (working) in the studio," Stannard notes. "The sun moves, the people move, a storm comes in: There are all sorts of challenges."

Stannard, Leatherman and Coates are among the participating artists selected by juror Matt Klos, a painter who is chair of the visual arts department at Anne Arundel Community College. The other jurored artists are Deborah Maklowski, Mary Jo Tydlacka, Sam Alger, Paul Moscatt, Bruno Baran, Barbara Nuss, Catherine Hillis, Duane Sabiston, Richard Dorbin, Hope Llanso, Roberta Staat, Greg Johannesen, Paul Bertholet, Stewart White, Ann Crostic, Janice Kirsh, Mick Williams, Lynn Mehta, Wiley Purkey, Jeff Wilson, Rita Curtis, John Brandon Sills, David Diaz, Lida Stifel and Pat Dillon.

Paint It! Ellicott City kicks off July 5, 6-7:30 p.m., with registration, artist and VIP welcome, and a juror presentation at the Howard County Welcome Center, 8267 Main St., in Ellicott City.

The all-day paint-out is July 6, 7 and 8 on the streets of the historic district in Ellicott City. On July 8, 10 a.m.-2 p.m., there will be a market preview at the Sunday Market in Parking Lot D. And on July 9, 6-8 p.m., there will be a gallery reception at the Howard County Arts Council, 8510 High Ridge Road, in Ellicott City, where the jurored artists exhibition runs through Aug. 17.

If members of the public would like to get in on the fun even more directly, a $10 fee will entitle them to set up and paint alongside jurored artists working in Ellicott City this weekend. The resulting work will be displayed during the Howard County Arts Council's July 9 reception and then be displayed for the rest of July at the Howard County Welcome Center. Call 410-313-2787 or go to

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