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Avid outdoor artists showcase paintings at Harmony Hall


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Courtesy photo. Barbara Steptura’s painting "Captain Dan's Catfish Killer."

Courtesy photo. Barbara Steptura’s painting "Captain Dan's Catfish Killer."

Published on: Tuesday, July 23, 2013

By Wanda Jackson

Artists have painted outdoors for a long time. Among the most celebrated who advocated this “en-plein-air” painting style were French impressionists: Claude Monet, Camille Pissarro and Pierre-Auguste Renoir.

The popularity of en-plein-air painting has endured fromthe 19th  century into the 21st century.

Three modern-day en-plein-air painters are showcasing their works featuring rivers, creeks and waterways in the Washington, D.C., area.

The exhibit, “Water Work,” will be displayed through Aug. 2 and was conceived with the “idea of how water with its beauty, commercial benefits and environmental impact, touches all of us,” according to the artists — Lynn Mehta, Barbara Stepura and Sally V. Parker.

Similar to the first impressionists, the movement of light on and near water provides these artists with the inspiration for their works as the action of refracted and reflected sunlight creates facets of gem-like quality and energizes even the deepest shadows. The artists work in a variety of mediums, including oil and watercolor.

“We love getting out into nature to study the effects of light on the landscape,” Parker said. “It is amazing how, by standing still and observing, one can see so much that is otherwise missed.”

Parker’s painting process begins with a small value study in pencil, then with oils she lays the basic shapes and values.

“I rarely finish a painting in one session, so I take several photos,” she said.

Painting en plein air “usually allows for only about two hours of painting time before the light radically changes,” Parker said. “If I cannot return to the site, the value study and the photos help me to complete the painting in my studio.”

Landscapes in Mehta’s paintings feature mostly “docks and waterways along the Potomac and through Southern Maryland.”

“Some of them are just moments in time along the shoreline,” Mehta said.

Stepura’s paintings depict waterways such as Mattawoman Creek and the Potomac River.

“Several depict life on and near the water, such as recreational and commercial fishermen,” she said.

Viewers will see “many boats including sailboats, fire boats, working boats and dinghies” and one of her favorite paintings “depicts an Oyster Tonger on the Cheseapeake Bay.”

“The challenges of en plein air painting are some of the things that make it so exciting,” Stepura said. “The freedom of being outside challenges the painter to select subject matter from the 360-degree world. It takes inspiration and an incredible amount of focus. Painting quickly is another challenge, as changing weather conditions, sun angle and shadows have a great effect on the subject.”

The artists said they hope each viewer will be able to experience the beauty of the landscapes captured in their paintings.

“I want viewers to be able to connect with that moment that I have tried to capture in paint,” Mehta said. “There is a universal connection to landscapes, that, we all share this one place, the world around us.”

And, Parker added, “We never know how long this fragile, complex ecosystem will support us.”

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