This month, 29 artists from California to Quebec will converge on Acadiana to paint, as the French would say, plein air or outdoors.
The week-long marathon not only requires them to compete against each other, but against the sun, wind, rain — and insects.
“I live for this event,” said New Orleans artist Mary Monk. “It’s heaven.”
Founded three years ago by Jerome Weber, the third annual Shadows-on-the-Teche Plein Air Competition will take place March 11-18.
Artists are selected to compete and can choose anywhere in Acadiana to paint — with permission — and can win prize money and sell their paintings. Seventy percent of the sale proceeds go to the artist and the remainder to Shadows-on-the-Teche, whose staff assists. At 6:30 p.m. March 17, the paintings from the competition will go on exhibit at the Shadows Visitor Center, 320 E. Main St., New Iberia. The winners will be announced and a silent auction of the paintings will be conducted.
“There’s a different quality to a plein air painting,” said Jeromy Young, a returning participant and owner of Frame Shop & Gallery 912 in Lafayette. “There’s an immediacy, a boldness. You can tell if artists really know how to paint. Shadow, light, value — they have to be really good at it.”
“There are artists who do that exclusively and are highly competitive.”
For Young, who characterizes himself as a studio painter, it’s a little bit about the competition but more about exploring. He painted the 1810 Robin House on La. 31 near Arnaudville last year and plans to return there this year.
“It hones my skills and forces me to lay down paint in a bolder way,” said Young. “Insects fall on you, your chair breaks, and the light’s different by the time you finish. It’s not easy.”
Artists must finish their painting on site, said Weber. “You usually have about 2½ hours because the light changes. If necessary, they have to go to the same spot several days in a row.”
The only plein air competition in Louisiana, Weber founded the event after visiting a similar one in Easton, Maryland.
“I didn’t realize there were competitions,” he said. “You saw artists painting all along the shore, and every artist had five or six people watching him paint.”
The Shadows was the only organization who responded to Weber’s proposal and Plein Air Magazine helped him with the structure.
“You need a good judge — we’ve had Phil Sandusky, Roger Dale Brown and, this year, Erik Koeppel. It’s fledging,” he said.
Spectating is part of the process.
“If people would come and watch, they’d get attached," said Weber, who, while he doesn’t compete in his own event, has painted plein air during New Iberia’s Symphony in the Park.
“I had several hundred people watching me and the painting sold before it was two-thirds finished,” he said.
There are tricks to the trade, such as painting architectural elements first and some artistic license is permitted. There is no time to fix or adjust, however, which contributes to the adrenalin rush.
“Nature is clearer, brighter, and crisper. Everything’s more vibrant in life,” said Weber. “Artists use slickers and rain gear if it rains. It’s like a sporting event. There’s a camaraderie.”
Lafayette’s Andrea Schellman is returning for the second time.
“Yes, there are bugs and it’s hot,” said Schellman. “You have to be a little fearless. I choose carefully, you don’t want to be too isolated, and turpentine’s heavy. How far can you haul your stuff? Absolutely women should try this. It changes everything about how you paint.”
The Crescent City's Monk is one of the fearless ones. She was once reported for painting by the side of the road on the way to Avery Island.
“Where I live, it’s road or ditches,” she said.
The risk paid off. Monk’s taken a first place and a third in the past and has nothing but praise for the event and its organizers.
“I’ve been in ones I didn’t like,” she said. “They’re more restrictive. You have to paint the same thing at the same time as everyone else. I love the area, and here you get to choose your location, so they end up with really good painting. The way they run the competition is the most impressive thing. It isn’t the prizes.”