Lakefronts star in first plein air art event in Columbia

A bright blue sky above both Lake Kittamaqundi and Wilde Lake was the focal point for many artists during Columbia's first plein air painting competition Sept. 9. While clouds rolled in and out throughout the day, the setting and weather were perfect for an event organizers hope becomes a tradition.

"The weather couldn't have been better," said Liz Henzey, director of Columbia Association's Columbia Arts Center. "It was a beautiful day where people just wanted to stay outdoors."


Fifty-nine artists from all over Maryland, as well as New York and Pennsylvania, set up shop around the two lakes and common areas to create their masterpieces for the event, which was held as part of Columbia's 50th anniversary celebration. Whether working in pastels, watercolors, acrylics, wood or any of a variety of mediums, the artists had from morning to late afternoon to complete their work for the competition.

On Saturday, Sept. 16, three winners, three honorable-mentions and three viewer-voted awards will be announced at a ceremony from 3 to 5 p.m. at the Columbia Arts Center, where the works will be on display for two weeks.


"There's something really neat about seeing our community in paintings," Henzey said. "Both lakes had a really nice balance [of artists]. Being near the water and seeing all the artists … was like being in Europe."

Monika Goldman, of Ellicott City, scouted out her area to paint a few days before the event, she said, pointing to a photo of her view taped to the top of her easel. Once an active artist, the plein air event was Goldman's first foray into painting after an absence of two years due to an accident.

"I had a lot of depression and thought 'I have to get back to it,'" Goldman said., who was working with watercolors "It is such a glamorous day and so much fun. People stop and it's nice."

With her block of wood and knives, Lorraine Imwold, of Catonsville, was planning to carve and press a site at the event.


"Carving is more about architecture and less about light and atmosphere," she said. "It is more about shape and dimensions."

As she looked over the various walkways, buildings and trees for a possible centerpiece, she chuckled.

"I'm the crazy person who decided to play with knives in public," she said. "No one else does what I do."

Several students from Wilde Lake High School, under the direction of art teacher Kevina Maher and teaching assistant Jan Venkatarajan, were excited to be part of the event, Maher said.

"I thought it would be cool to do but tight, as we just started school," Maher said, adding that the students were all in upper levels of art classes. "I like them to do activities outside of the classroom. They get to see other artists at work and it's fun."

Working outdoors does present challenges, however, according to Erin Gill, who traveled from Pennsylvania to participate.

"The light changes when you are outside," said Gill, who was packing up her pastels to move to another location after finishing her first piece. "It changes so much, you have a different picture."

Gill, who was born and raised in Howard County, was working with her friend, Kay Broadwater, an art professor at Towson University.

It's heartwarming to walk along Main Street in Ellicott City and see how well it has recovered from last summer's devastating flood. One gets the same impression walking through the exhibit "Paint It! Ellicott City 2017" at the Howard County Center for the Arts.

"When we got here, the sky was completely blue," Broadwater said. "Now, look at the clouds. It is a whole different scene."

Besides the challenge of working outdoors, Debbie Miller decided to challenge herself by using a different-sized canvas.

"I don't usually paint a square canvas," Miller said. "I usually paint a rectangle."

Her 12-by-12 square was in its beginning phase, she said, with tree branches faintly showing on it.

"I started with a water-based paint to dry fast and to sketch," Miller said, who will switch to oil paints to complete it.

"I think the fun part is adding more details," she said. "Creating a place for your eye to focus and then move around the canvas."

Many of the artists created several works at the event and then decided which ones to enter in the competition, Henzey said. Works submitted featured Columbia landmarks, joggers, wildlife, the lakes and restaurants. Coleen West, executive director of the Howard County Arts Council; and Desiree Holmes Scherini, an artist and art teacher, will be the jurors of the show. Most of the works will be for sale.

Though it was created to be part of Columbia's 50th anniversary celebration, the future looks good for the event, which also featured numerous family and youth art activities throughout the day.

"We're hoping to work towards it becoming an annual event," Henzey said. "We've had a lot of positive response to it."

Winners of the Color Columbia Plein Air Paint Out will be announced at a reception on Sept. 16, from 3 to 5 pm. at the Columbia Art Center, 6100 Foreland Garth in Long Reach Village Center.

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