By Nancy Edwards
Sitting at an easel on one of the many docks of Viking Village in Barnegat Light, New Jersey, an artist is surrounded by natural daylight, the aroma of salt air, the sites, and sounds of birds, boats, and the operation of this working fishing village founded in the 1920s. It is a painters’ dream location, everything providing inspiration for the artist to transcribe onto canvas.
For artists, en plein air painting is about leaving the four walls of their studio behind and painting outdoors on location. This allows the artist’s senses to be one with nature, experiencing not only the sights they are painting, but hearing the sounds, touching the textures, feeling, and smelling the gentle sea breeze around them. And lastly, for those painting plein air at Viking Village, imagining the taste of fresh seafood on the tip of their tongue. This style of painting, for artists, is a more personal experience, usually resulting in better work.
The history of plein air painting can be traced back for centuries. But it was truly made into an art form by the French Impressionists. Monet, Pissarro, and Renoir were major advocates of this art form with much of their work being done outdoors.
As the painting experience proceeds, a plein air artist must keep in mind how the light and shadows change as time passes. Often a plein air painter may start a painting on site and then utilize photographs to capture specific details to complete the painting back in the comfort of their studio.
Most artists work alone in their studios. Though, it is not uncommon for artists to gather at a location and paint together allowing them to not only learn from each other through critiques, but to share in the comradery. Recently, a group of artists from Pine Shores Art Association in Tuckerton painted en plein air at Viking Village.
“There are lots of varied reflections on the water; boats of every shape and size; interesting docks and waterfront buildings; and lots of marine-related activities on and adjacent to the fleet,” says artist Paul Hartelius of Manahawkin. Watercolor painting is his favorite medium, but he also enjoys oil and acrylic painting, pastels, drawing in charcoal or pencil, and photography. Hartelius is the 2023 recipient of the Ocean County Cultural and Heritage Commission Special Award for Advancement of the Arts.
LBI native, Carol Freas, paints in watercolors and has a passion for combining art and poetry. “I’ve been an active member of Pine Shore Art Association since 1987 and an instructor there and at the LBI Foundation of Arts and Sciences in Love Ladies,” says Freas. She enjoys painting shore birds and familiar scenes that capture the lure of LBI: people enjoying the beach, children playing in the water, seashore gardens, and notable and historical buildings.
“Viking Village is a dynamic spot, with wildlife, marshes, the lighthouse, wandering visitors, scallop and fish sorting, and a fleet of colorful ships and mariners. It is a never-ending source of inspiration,” says artist, Irene Bausmith, of Manahawkin. “Living on the bay, my appreciation of birds, wildlife, and the marshes, has soared. My artwork reflects the joy I find in painting, often plein air, the Island, its estuaries, and marinas.”
“Being one with nature is what excites me most about painting plein air,” says Barnegat artist, Nancy Edwards. A former president of Pine Shores Art Association, Edwards’ preferred medium is watercolor though she also paints in oils and acrylics. She has a passion for painting and photographing nature and animals. Edwards particularly loves to paint pet portraits.