As a father of four, Wisconsin artist Ken DeWaard knows how to coax results from challenging conditions. He's one of the country's leading plein air painters.
Painting en plein air – in open air – is work created outdoors with unpredictable weather conditions and interruptions, including everything from curious bystanders to blaring sirens.
DeWaard, like many plein air artists, gets a thrill out of adapting to the moment. "Plein air adds an element of spontaneity because you have no idea what the experience will be like," he said. "It's the excitement of being on the edge."
July 2010 marked the sixth year that nearly 200 artists from around the country, including DeWaard, arrived in Easton, Maryland, a historic town on the eastern side of the Chesapeake Bay, for the Plein Air – Easton festival.
During the past decade, plein air art festivals, which focus on work created outside in natural light, have sprung up around the country. Easton's festival is unique in that it's juried. Artists must submit their work in advance to a judge who chooses which 58 artists will participate in the weeklong competition.
Small, often sleepy, Easton thrummed with activity the third week of July as 6,000 visitors strolled the town's charming narrow streets. Dress included white linen, flowing summer dresses, and straw hats.
This year, the blistering 101-degree heat on the prime weekend of the festival sent visitors dashing in and out of air conditioned galleries and restaurants. But the weather didn't keep the artists from their work, though the competition did begin to take on the aura of an endurance sport.
"Producing in that kind of heat, trying to keep your stamina up was more than a bit challenging," says DeWaard, who produced 19 paintings over the course of the week. In previous years at the festival when extreme heat wasn't an issue, he produced an average of 24.