john macarthur


Kensington Maryland is the place to be for plein air painting on Labor Day weekend


The biggest plein air event in Montgomery County Maryland is held over Labor Day Weekend. On Saturday, participants get their canvas stamped in the morning and head out to capture a plein air painting within the Kensington Town Limits. The event is open to all comers. So sign up and then show up and get your "Art On!!!".

If you are new to this method of painting, this is a good event to get your palette wet. People in Kensington are aware and supportive. You have a wide range of subjects from Antique Row to St. Paul's Park. There are lovely older homes. There are gardens. Why, there is even a train station. The choice is yours.

Competition Rules: Your canvas or paper must be stamped on the date of the event. Doors open at 7 am for this purpose. You must return your artwork for judging and sale by noon the same day. (Note: If you do not wish to mark your piece for sale, you may note "Not for Sale").

Aha, you have 3 hours to complete your masterpiece. Your personal time begins when you get your support stamped. Successful artist in the past have had a good idea of where they wanted to set up before they got their canvas/paper stamped. If have a few weeks to decide. It is worth a trip to check out the area and make a decision about where you would like to set up.

Experienced plein air artists that have participated in other "Quick Draw" events should not confuse Paint the Town with those events. The Montgomery Art Association's focus is on inclusion and the experience of painting plein air. The clock is now ticking away a two or three hour deadline. You do not have to use all 3 hours, they are just there if you need them. 

New to painting outside? It has been a joy since pigs bladders were replaced with tin containers. It became very popular in the mid 1800's and was the hallmark of the Impressionists. Post Impressionists also found the outdoors the place to paint. Cezanne painted Mont Sainte-Victoire from dozens of angles and in every season. In a letter to his sister, VanGogh shared,"No matter what people say; we painters work better in the country, everything there speaks more clearly, everything holds firm, everything explains itself...".

Some tips from an old plein air guy. Once you have chosen a scene, block in the large shapes. Squint your eyes so details fade. You are looking for composition and value. Keep stepping back from your work. I usually prefer working back to front or distance to up close. You are outside, so remember atmosphere blues things down as they are farther in the distance. Things that are closer are usually a darker value than things that are farther away. Use a tighter palette. Colors? Most plein air artists work with a cool and warm of the primary colors and white. Depending on my subject, I add two or three other colors that I will need in the painting. For me, working analogous helps tie the piece together. Colors mixed from the base colors in the painting often work better than a stray color from a tube. Black? Sometimes I use it and other times I find a mixture of alizarin and viridian is more vibrant. Greys? Always use the complement of a nearby color. Greys should be alive and not dull. 

Light is so important. The impact on your painting is important. Know your light source and make sure you have it represented by shadows falling away from the source. It illuminates everything receiving direct light. Shadows are impacted by reflected light. Plein air is not a black and white world. 

Remember. You are painting outside. The area around you is your studio and leaving it as you found it is your responsibility. When packing up your gear, don't forget to include a trash bag. 

It is a wonderful way to spend a day. Art on!!!