Plein Air Easton 2014 - My Thoughts and Highlights

"A Morning of Reflection" | 14" x 11" | Oil | Sold
©2014 by Kim VanDerhoek

It's been a while since I last posted. My kids are out of school for the summer and I have been busy with their activities as well as several art shows. On July 9th I flew out to Baltimore, Maryland to be one of 58 participating artists at Plein Air Easton 2014. This was the 10th year of the event and the Avalon Foundation doubled the prize money for the show with the grand prize award at $10,000.

 "Dining Al Fresco" | 8" x 16" | Oil | Sold
©2014 by Kim VanDerhoek

Plein Air Easton is the largest and most prestigious juried plein air painting competition in the United States. In its 10th year, it is held annually in Easton, Maryland each July. Plein air painters produce art from life (as opposed to in the studio). Artists from all over the United States and beyond apply to this competition. The 58 competing artists paint throughout Talbot County, Maryland the week of July 12-20, 2014. The resulting original works of art were displayed in the Academy Art Museum where awards were announced and paintings were sold throughout the weekend.

"A Charming Pair" | 8" x 16" | Oil | Sold
©2014 by Kim VanDerhoek

If you don't know about Plein Air Easton it is the best plein air event in the U.S. right now. The community support for it is unrivaled with attendance between 6,000-8,000. The Avalon Foundation sells more than $300,000 worth of art during the two days that the show is hanging. The Quick Draw brings in hundreds of artists, onlookers and collectors.

Sounds like heaven, right? What's the catch you might be wondering. Well, this event is extremely difficult to get into. Artists must submit plein air paintings for a jurior to review and score. As you can imagine many painters from the U.S. and abroad apply and few are chosen. In fact, there are many absolutely amazing painters that don't make it in.

 It's a completely different way of life there where almost everyone owns a boat and knows how to sail. Here these kids are taking summer sailing lessons.

Also, the climate is incredibly challenging to paint in (especially for someone like me who was born and raised in the mild Southern California climate). Plein Air Easton takes place in July which is typically the hottest and most humid month of the entire year. Temperatures reach well over 100 degrees with very high humidity. If you've never painted all day in those conditions let me tell you they are draining and dangerous if you do not stay hydrated. Let's not forget about the bugs. Mosquitoes lay in wait (I'm not sure where they hide out but they are everywhere) day and night for the opportunity to make a meal out of unsuspecting painters, but, they are nothing compared to the Lyme disease carrying ticks that attack from both above and below, either leaping onto you from trees or creeping up your legs from the grass. Many East Coast painters have had Lyme disease and they are happy to scare the pants off of anyone brave enough to ask about the symptoms. Click here for more information about Lyme disease if you really want to get freaked out.

"Handcrafted History" | 16" x 20" | Oil | Available at
 ©2014 by Kim VanDerhoek

In spite of the challenges I've felt extremely lucky to be part of Plein Air Easton both last year and this year. This time around I learned a few things I'd like to share with you.

This year I arrived a few days early so that I could attend some of the pre-competition events that took place. One was on Tilghman Island and the other was in Cambridge, both beautiful places to paint. While I didn't sell work at the pre-competition events that took place, they did give me the opportunity to generate additional work for sale and to get warmed up for the rest of the week. While painting I was interviewed (click here to see the video) by Talley of the Avalon Foundation and he asked me what makes Plein Air Easton unique compared to other plein air events in the U.S. I wish I'd had a more thoughtful answer than the one I gave in the video. Since the interview, I've had a lot more time to think about that question and I'd like to give you a little back info. that leads me to my point (this is a really long post so stay with me if you can).

Dawn light that makes getting up when it's still dark out worthwhile.

While sitting with two of the main organizers of Plein Air Easton at dinner one night they shared with me their philosophy that drives the decision making process for the event. It's very simple and I was completely taken by surprise when I heard it. They told me what it all boils down to is one question and that is, will it make the artists happy? Wow. Spend a moment thinking about that. I expected to hear a slew of other Mission Statements about fundraising or community benefits, anything but what they told me that night.

 "Quiet Landing" | 16" x 20" | Oil | Sold
 ©2014 by Kim VanDerhoek

I tell you this because at the end of my time in Easton I had my answer to what makes Plein Air Easton special - and I can only speak for myself here so if you ask another artist their answer might be different. When I said in the video that the community support for the event is amazing what I specifically meant was that the people who enjoy and support Plein Air Easton treated me as though what I did was important, that it was special, appreciated and enhanced their community and lifestyle.

In my day to day existence as a painter it's pretty rare to experience anything more than a casual curiosity about what I do when I meet someone new. It's even rarer to meet a large group of people who find meaning and connection on a deep level to representational painting. For the twelve days I was there I felt as though what I was painting was a relevant and valid expression of the connection we share with our environment. In this time of social media and technology, making a deeper connection to our community and environment (something that was essential in the time of the French Impressionists) is as important as ever. Slowing down, creating with thought, deliberation and meaning has become uncommon in our fast-paced world. To be able to share those quiet moments in the landscape that I translate onto canvas with collectors and fellow artists is significant to me.

Farewell dinner with my Easton host family and roommates. I miss them already.

At the end of the event I was absolutely exhausted from waking up before dawn, creating all day and going to bed late. I learned that getting enough rest is essential because I don't make good painting decisions when I'm tired. Most of the time I listened to my body and rested when I needed to, with the exception of one day where all my paintings were a complete disaster. Lesson learned.

It was wonderful seeing friends I met last year again and meeting new friends. It was very fulfilling being able to pursue my passion every day for more than a week uninterrupted (meaning no one under five feet tall asked me for a snack). My hosts this year were a blast to hang out with and they treated my roommates and I to a magical (I never use that word but it's the best adjective to describe it) last night in town dinner celebration that made saying goodbye heart-wrenching. While I was ready to see my two kids, my husband and my memory foam mattress (best mattress I've ever had), it was difficult to take off my Easton name badge (or as I refer to it, my backstage pass because it opens many doors) and return to being just me again instead of one of "the artists."

Backstage Pass

If I haven't bored you to tears and you're still wondering what the highlights were then read on, I'll try to keep them brief.

First, there was the paintout on beautiful Tilghman Island. Artists that arrived early could paint anywhere on the island on July 10th and at the end of the day we all hung our work and were fed a traditional Maryland crab feast at Harrison House. At the show artists selected their favorite painting and voted via secret ballot. The winner Ken DeWaard, received a cash prize for his beautiful painting "Tilghman Morning."

Pictured L to R - Doris and Bill Nielson,  Ken DeWaard, Al Bond who is holding Ken's winning painting and Buddy Harrison, Jr.

 The two paintings below are my paintings from the Tilghman Island paintout.

"Double Dipping" | 12" x 9" | Oil | Sold
 ©2014 by Kim VanDerhoek

"Retired" | 9" x 12" | Oil | Private Collection
 ©2014 by Kim VanDerhoek
Next we had a paintout in Cambridge with a tasty lunch and informal art show at Snapper's Restaurant. My painting turned out horribly so I won't be posting it ... ever.....

That night it was time to check-in at the Avalon Theater, pick up my artists welcome packet, my backstage pass and get my canvases stamped for the week. As always, the staff at the Avalon did a great job making the artist's orientation an entertaining and informative part of PAE. There were a lot of laughs, music and dancing.

This was my morning painting spot on Saturday.
My easel had the dock all to itself for a couple of hours.

Saturday we were set loose to paint where we pleased. I finished two paintings in the morning and then packed up my gear for the Sponsor's Dinner held on a large waterfront estate. Artists were encouraged to paint before guests arrived so that they could see us finishing up our work. Then we framed and hung our paintings on our easels for guests to view and purchase. I don't have a good photo of my painting from that night because it sold that evening to a nice couple.

The stunning location for the Sponsor's Dinner. A wonderful place to paint and relax.
Note the lighthouse in the distance.

After that it was a whirlwind of painting all over Talbot County, Maryland ending with the sold out Collector's Preview Party and show at the Academy Art Museum. John Sills was the grand prize winner with his lovely painting "Meditation" (42"x30"). The Avalon Foundation sold more than $300,000 worth of art during the two days the show was hanging.

L to R - Peter Trippi the judge for the show with 
John Brandon Sills and his wining painting.
 "Night Mooring" the Artist's Choice winner by Zufar Bikbov.

 Painting at Cutts and Case boatyard was another highlight for me. 

The guys at Cutts and Case make art in the shape of working sailboats. A wonderful painting location with very nice people working there. My painting near the beginning of this post "Handcrafted History" is from Cutts and Case.

 My Quick Draw painting. "The Avalon" | 9" x 12" | Oil | Sold

After the opening reception, the next morning it was time for the Quick Draw.

While working on my Quick Draw painting a huge truck parked in front of the building blocking my view of the lower half which I happened to be blocking in at that moment. I didn't realize it but there was a large crowd of people behind me watching me paint and when the truck parked they all let out a collective, "Awwww!" One of them was kind enough to track down the driver and ask him to move. I don't know which impressed me more, the bystander that volunteered to track down the driver or the driver who willingly moved his vehicle. To top things off my painting sold as soon as I took out the price tag and then about 10 more people came over to inquire about its availability.

Hundreds of people attending the Quick Draw at the end of the week.

After a long day painting and waiting by our easels we could finally relax. A few friends invited me out to dinner. Talking shop with other painters at plein air events is one of my favorite things.  I always learn a lot and have a few laughs.

Dinner with artist friends at the end of the week. From L to R - John Sills (the grand prize winner of PAE this year), Me, Rob Barber, Greg LaRock and Ken DeWaard.

Saying goodbye to friends. L to R - Louis Escobedo - Doug Clarke, Yer Za Vue, Me and Zufar Bikbov Artist's Choice winner.

Plein Air Easton wouldn't be the most successful and enjoyable event in the U.S. without the hard work and dedication of the volunteers and staff at the Avalon.

Pictured here - Al and Jess run things with efficiency and a sense of humor, a winning combination.

I wish I had a good photo of all the staff and volunteers that make Plein Air Easton happen. A HUGE thanks to Cindy, Suzy, Rose, Talley, Jason, Shawn, Chrissy, Jenn, Victoria, Al, Jess and everyone else I am forgetting, you guys are magic makers!

It's only been a week and I am missing Easton already, hopefully, I will get to return next year.


Unknown said…
Informative and delightful post! Lucky you to have been among the chosen to paint there!
I did the paint out a few years ago and had a blast. I had fun writing about it on my blog. Made good friends and yes, they do love that event in Easton. Thanks for sharing your perspective, Kim.
Unknown said…
Great write-up Kim! "Will it make the artists happy?" what a novel concept! Unfortunately an attitude that is a little too rare with these events.