Richmond artist Daniel Robbins captured this scene on canvas at the 2021 Plein Air Easton, where he won multiple awards.

Talented Artists Descend on Easton to Paint “En Plein Air”

Those who visit the charming town of Easton, Md. can see why it would be inspiring subject matter to artists—the waterfront, the Eastern Shore culture, the quaint downtown area.

So it’s not surprise that Easton plays host to an invitation-only painting competition, in which some painters come from as far away as Europe. It’s known as Plein Air Easton, and for some residents, it’s the second-best weekend of the year behind only Waterfowl Festival.

From July 15-24  the welcome will be extended to 58 juried artists who come to Talbot County from as close as Easton to as far away as Norway. Undaunted by the certainty of weather that wraps mid-July on the Shore in a shroud of moist, high heat, they’ll set up easels on the streets, by the sides of rural roads, in small towns, and on the banks of rivers and streams throughout the area where onlookers can watch them paint. “People like to see the artists out there working,” says Nancy Tankersley, event founder.

“When I moved to Easton and heard the town was looking for an event to sponsor, I proposed Plein Air.” At the time it was a relatively new concept that had spread quickly from the West Coast to the East.

18 years later Plein Air Easton has become the largest event of its kind in the nation. “There’s a real welcoming atmosphere to artists that I’ve never experienced anywhere else,” Tankersley says.

The 10-day festival is an outdoor/indoor celebration of art beginning with a Friday night block party in Easton, followed by a week of exhibits, sales, and discussions also held in Oxford and on Tilghman Island. Saturday, July 24 is a big day for Plein Air. It’s Marketplace Day, where artists offer handcrafted works for sale and a Kids’ Place is set up for younger visitors.

Not to be missed is Saturday’s main event. With good reason organizers describe the Quick Draw competition as one of the most compelling experiences of the week. “Get there early,” Tankersley recommends. From 10 a.m. until 2 p.m., 200 competitive painters attempt to create a completed work in only two hours. 

Maire McArdle and Stephen Walker, husband and wife partners in Square House Studio, a fine arts/graphic design, writing, and photography collective, plan to participate in Quick Draw for the first time.

“For me, it’s a challenge because I’m not a practicing artist,” McCardle says. “But it also has the exhilaration of challenge and of community.” Walker, also a member of the Working Artists Forum whose work will be on display during Plein Air at the Local Color exhibit, has tried his hand at painting outside, with gratifying results. The owner of a nearby property spotted him on the side of the road and subsequently commissioned a painting of his land. For Walker, “the quick draw competition offers me the opportunity to hone my plein air skills and to challenge myself to paint outside of the studio.”

For Tankersley, McArdle, and Walker what makes the Shore special for artists can be found in its natural beauty, the nostalgia attached to farms and farmhouses, the waterways, sunrise and sunsets, and of course the area’s history. It’s why artists apply each year to come to Talbot County, set up an easel, and paint outside.

For a complete list of Plein Air Easton events and activities, visit flipsnack.com/avalonfoundation/pae2021-flipbookprogram/full-view.html.

-Niambi Davis