By Lucy Lazarony
They meet. They paint. They chat and exchange ideas.
They capture the diverse beauty of Palm Beach County’s natural and historical settings amid the ever-changing light.
And three hours later, they leave with works of art.
They are the Palm Beach Plein Air Artists, and all levels of painters are welcome to join them on their next meet-up.
“There’s a magic to it,” says artist Ralph Papa of painting outdoors with fellow artists. “It’s a great joy and a great feeling when you come back with a work. And even if you’re not happy with the work, you still have the memory of the day.”
Plein air is French for “open air,” and the term is used to describe the act of painting outdoors.
Papa, who teaches at the Delray Beach Center for the Arts, organized a plein air meet-up group centered in Delray Beach in 2010.
Artist Donna Walsh established a plein air group for watercolor artists called the Palm Beach Plein Air Artists around the same time. Walsh was gathering painters on Tuesday and Papa’s group was meeting up later in the week and on weekends.
They decided to merge the two groups under the name Palm Beach Plein Air Artists back in May.
“I really like just being outside and painting,” Walsh says. “It’s always more fun with more people. It’s a pretty active artist community in Florida. It’s a good way to meet people and talk to people.”
And plenty of people who happen to be passing by stop and say “hello” to the artists.
“People enjoy seeing artists out painting. They always come over to talk to you,” Walsh says.
And the Palm Beach Plein Air Artists, whose premier sponsor is the Palm Beach Watercolor Society, really get around.
They meet every couple of weeks to paint locations all over Palm Beach County, from sculpture gardens and historical homes to busy downtown settings, from nature preserves and parks to the west to beaches and inlets along the coast.
Locations captured by Palm Beach Plein Air Artists’ brushstrokes include the gardens of the Society of the Four Arts in Palm Beach, the historical Dubois House at the Jupiter Inlet and the Delray Beach Center for the Arts during the Delray Affair.
Painting outdoors in South Florida can mean dealing with ants and mosquitos, heat and humidity and, come summer, booming afternoon storms.
“It’s part of the challenge,” Papa says. “Sometimes the most difficult circumstances that you’re involved with create the greatest paintings. And you’ll remember the obstacles you overcome.”
As for the rain showers of summer, Papa says he enjoys painting when a storm is on its way.
“I actually love the summer,” Papa says. “You get the afternoon storms, the excitement of a storm brewing off the ocean.”
And when a storm arrives, you dash for shelter and keep painting, Walsh says.
“Even if I can’t complete a painting outside, just the experience of being there. There’s a challenge with the light, ever changing,” Walsh says. Visitors to the area are welcome to join the Palm Beach Plein Air Artists for meet-ups during their stays in South Florida. Their next meet-up is Aug. 19 at the Boynton Beach Mangrove Park. To join, visit their website at www.meetup.com/palmbeachartists/.
And Papa checks out other plein air meet up groups whenever he travels.
“If I go to a new area, I Google plein air and some of the locations,” Papa says.
“It’s a great way to meet people with similar interests and exchange ideas, and you can do it all over the world.”
Palm Beach Plein Air Artists
Where: Boynton Beach Mangrove Park, 700 NE Fourth Ave., Boynton Beach
When: 9 a.m. Aug. 19
For more information and to RSVP, visit the website www.meetup.com/palmbeachartists/.