This year, April 12-15, 2023, the artists come to town to participate in the annual First Brush of Spring Plein Air Paintout. 150 or more travel from near and far to put paint to canvas (or pastels to paper, or whatever their choice of artistic medium might be). They scatter about, scanning locales around town for inspiration. Some will settle on a local landmark, while others set their sights on a single flower or a complex landscape.
I can’t paint, but watching others who can is a captivating experience. For that reason, one of my favorite times of year in New Harmony is when the First Brush of Spring Plein Air Paintout takes place. It is a joyous and endlessly fascinating few days.
From early in the morning until late at night, easels pop up all over New Harmony. While the artists are creating their masterpieces, the rest of us enjoy the spectator sport of cruising through the streets and river paths in golf carts, on foot, or on bicycles to see who is painting what. We attempt to see through the eye of the artist, viewing what lies in front of them, then studying what they choose to put on canvas. Styles vary from realism to impressionism to “How are they seeing that?!?”
It’s a time when Spring flowers, bushes and trees are putting on a show with gorgeous color. From delicate dogwood to tree peonies and lilacs, painting-worthy subjects abound. One morning, there might be a little fog thrown in for drama. There is no shortage of places or things to paint.
There are three particularly noteworthy events for those of us who like to stalk the artists.
First is the QuickDraw competition — a race to see who can produce the most compelling artwork within the short time period allotted. We love to chat with the participants early in the day to find out what they are thinking about painting for QuickDraw, then we catch up with them, quietly, respectfully, as they work to meet the deadline.
Next is the Field to Finish Competition. It contrasts field studies done by artists with their completed work of the same target subject. Interestingly, a few times we’ve found that we like the field study the best! The exhibition is always interesting.
And on Saturday morning, the show and sale is held at a location in town. That’s when you look to see how the paintings you watched in progress actually came out. It’s a thrill to watch as the paint gets artfully applied, meet and chat with the artist, then purchase the finished product. The artists are allowed to display and sell not only works completed during the paintout in New Harmony, but also other works they have created, which means there is diverse subject matter — the familiar and the not so familiar. It is a great way to start, or add to, an art collection or just learn more about the process of creating these works.
If you are an artist and love plein air painting, you must come to our lovely town. Those who experience New Harmony for the first time are easily recognizable with a look of wonder on their faces. And did I mention prize money? Full details are available on the website of the Indiana plein air painters. They work with the Hoosier Salon to make this event a reality.
By Mary Beth Guard, Co-owner of Capers Emporium and the A.C. Thomas House B&B.