Robert Barber of State College, Pa., will be walking around downtown Annapolis today with no touristy, leisurely gait. He'll be staking out an outdoor scene worthy of the top prize in the sixth annual Paint Annapolis competition.
The artist, who has won the competition three years in a row, does not think it will be hard to find.
"The thing that I enjoy about painting in Annapolis is that every block has 12 paintings in it," Barber said.
The Mid-Atlantic Plein Air Painters Association will host the competition from tomorrow through Sunday in Annapolis. Twenty-five artists will complete two paintings in three days en plein air, which is French for "in open air," and then sell the paintings in a public show on Sunday. A portion of the proceeds benefits the Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts and the painters association.
Plein air painting started in Europe and the U.S. in the mid-1800s when art supplies became more portable, but it was the French Impressionist painters who popularized it. Plein air painting has enjoyed a renaissance since the 1980s, when painters in California and the Southwest started hosting competitions. In the past five to 10 years, many states and cities have started their own plein air associations and events, said Steve Doherty, editor and publisher of American Art magazine.
Still, it will take time to know whether the popularity of plein air painting will have any significance in art history, he said.
"It has all the markings of a movement," said Doherty, who helped judge the 2004 Paint Annapolis competition.
The Mid-Atlantic Plein Air Painters Association, which is based in Annapolis, has discussed adding chapters in Baltimore, Alexandria, Va., and State College, said Lee Boynton, president of the association. The association has held small "paint outs" in the region, but it has not tried to replicate the Paint Annapolis event in other cities.
"Annapolis has been enough of an undertaking," Boynton said.
The association did advise Easton on developing its own event. Barber took the top prize in the third annual Paint Easton event in July, an event that has eclipsed its Annapolis parent in sponsorship and fame.
Paint Annapolis has grown from having $1,500 prizes in 2004 to $5,000 in prizes this year. In contrast, Paint Easton has more than $11,000 in prizes, a slick Web site and wide coverage in local and regional magazines. The Easton event also folds in other events, including a play, a concert, an art trivia night and painting workshops.
The event in Easton was organized by the city, art galleries and businesses to be a marquee tourism event for a small town, said Sharon Lettig, former president of the painters association. Paint Annapolis, on the other hand, was started by artists and continues to be run by artists, she said.
"It's really not about the money," said Lettig, who is a competing artist and chairwoman of the art department at South River High School.
The works of the 25 artists who participated in Paint Annapolis last year generated $14,000 in sales. Maryland Hall received 30 percent of that money, and the painters association received 10 percent. The sale normally attracts about 300 people, Boynton said.
The association is trying to expand Paint Annapolis with new events this year, Boynton said. For the first time, there will be a $100 ticket-only preview sale from 2 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. Sunday before the public reception. The ticket price will go toward the cost of the painting.
Also new this year, models in Colonial costume will pose for four-hour sessions in a "quick draw" competition Saturday in the downtown historic district, Boynton said. The theme is a nod to next year's 300th anniversary of the city's charter. Annapolis officials are offering a $500 award for best historical-themed painting, Boynton said.
The second annual high school competition also has been expanded to include private schools. Students will paint on Saturday and display their works from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday at Maryland Hall.
John Ebersberger likes the event because it brings artists together, and it shows how strong the arts community is in Annapolis. He plans to paint roses growing over an arbor on a little lane in Annapolis.
"It's a motif I'm familiar with and enjoy painting," said Ebersberger, who is also a founding member of the painters association.
Barber says he enjoys the conversations he has with passers-by when he paints. It provides him with short breaks during the marathon painting sessions. He tries to paint quickly when the sun hits the right spot and take notes on shadows as quickly as possible, just as the French Impressionist master Claude Monet did. Once the light changes, he focuses on other parts of the paintings until the light hits just right again the next day.
"I like to say if it was good enough for Monet, then it's good enough for me," Barber said.
For more information, visit the Mid-Atlantic Plein Air Painters Association Web site at www.mapapa.org.