Now marking a quarter century since it was established, the Laguna Plein Air Painters Association continues to present an annual invitational as well as educational programs for artists.
By Sharon Stello
Established in 1996 by five local artists—Ken Auster, Jacobus Baas, Cynthia Britain, Saim Caglayan and John Cosby—the Laguna Plein Air Painters Association has spent 25 years preserving the movement of painting in the great outdoors. While the organization offers much throughout the year, from classes to mentorship programs for artists of all levels, the group is perhaps best known for presenting the Laguna Beach Plein Air Painting Invitational each fall.
This year marks the 23rd annual edition of the invitational, planned Oct. 2-10. Events include a Quick Draw Painting Competition on Oct. 3 and a Kids Paint Out and Cookie Reception on Oct. 4, both at Heisler Park; a meet-and-greet and a silent auction Oct. 3 at the Festival of Arts grounds; a Plein Talk with the Artists panel discussion on Oct. 4 and a Plein Talk with the Experts on Oct. 6; the Collectors Gala and awards presentation (a ticketed event) on Oct. 9; and the Invitational Art Show and Demonstrations with free public access Oct. 10. After taking most of the events online in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, several events this year will be offered both in person and livestreamed.
“Having to reinvent our event last year, we learned that going virtual allowed us to reach the masses all across the country, so we will be incorporating virtual elements in a number of our events [again],” says Rosemary Swimm, LPAPA’s executive director since 2009.
The invitational will feature 35 award-winning plein air painters from across the country, including three from Laguna Beach: Fernando Micheli, Michael Obermeyer and Jeff Sewell. Several others are coming from nearby cities including Rick J. Delanty of San Clemente, Gil Dellinger of Aliso Viejo, Debra Huse of Costa Mesa, Anthony Salvo of Newport Beach and Michael Situ of Irvine. The artists set up their easels around town and the public is invited to come and see them paint—watching firsthand as the scenic land- and seascapes unfold on their canvases—and hear about their experiences.
“I so enjoy having all of the amazing artists all in one place and watching them as they create their masterpieces,” Swimm says. “The camaraderie amongst these talented artists is a joy to watch. It is like having a big family reunion at times.”
With Laguna’s history as an art colony, it’s an ideal setting for the invitational and the plein air medium. Starting in the 1880s, artists were drawn to Laguna Beach to try to capture the beauty of the town’s coast on canvas. “Just like the early painters who came to Laguna for the extraordinary light, today’s artists appreciate that as well,” Swimm says.
In fact, the Laguna invitational is known as one of the premier art events in the nation, Swimm notes. “Being invited to participate is an honor [that] all of the best artists in the country hope to achieve at some point,” she says. “We strive to have the best of the best at our events and I think the artists appreciate that, because they know that they need to rise to the occasion and create their best in order to compete.”
Over the years, LPAPA has grown to include a membership base of over 700 members from all across the United States as well as 10 other countries.
“We have developed one of the finest educational programs: The Plein Air Project, which encompasses the Younger Generation, the Next Generation and the Now Generation,” Swimm says. “We have developed interactive programs for our artists. LPAPA has partnered with several other art-related organizations to educate the public on all aspects of the art world. We continually strive to embrace and celebrate the legacy of plein air and encourage all to become part of the legacy.”
Beyond the Canvas
LPAPA offers classes, scholarships, mentoring programs and more for artists of all levels in the community.
Helping the Next Generation
During the Laguna Beach Plein Air Painting invitational, it’s tradition to have a youth-focused event. “One of my most favorite elements of the invitational is the Kids Paint Out,” says Rosemary Swimm, executive director of the Laguna Plein Air Painters Association. “Seeing how our artists work with the children, watching the kids become absorbed in the whole painting process and the smiles on their faces as they create a work of art is awesome.” LPAPA also offers a variety of educational programs throughout the year to assist children and other up-and-coming artists. Even during the pandemic—through virtual presentations—LPAPA has organized many painting workshops and classes for anyone wanting to learn or improve their technique. “Having seen how popular our online classes were, we will be continuing to present a number of virtual programs as well as in-person events for all levels of artists,” Swimm says. Also, through The Plein Air Project, children in grades 4 to 12 and college students learn about the history of plein air painting in California, participate in a workshop or live demonstration and then try their hand at the art form.
LPAPA fulfilled a longtime dream of establishing its own permanent exhibition area when it opened a gallery in north Laguna in August. Previously, LPAPA had partnered with Forest & Ocean Gallery, presenting exhibits there before finding a place of its own. “Opening this gallery is the next step in LPAPA’s evolution,” Swimm says. Located along Gallery Row in the historic El Paseo building at 414 N. Coast Highway, the space will feature works by the organization’s artist members and host plein air events year-round. “It will be a showcase for the organization that had its humble beginnings in 1996 when five local artists formed the group as a way to enhance and preserve the plein air movement,” Swimm says. LPAPA Gallery’s inaugural exhibition, which ended Sept. 17, was dedicated to those five founding members: Ken Auster, Jacobus Baas, Cynthia Britain, Saim Caglayan and John Cosby. Running through Nov. 1 is the 23rd Invitational Catalog Exhibition and Sale.
A Guiding Hand
In addition to classes, LPAPA helps budding artists by providing mentoring and scholarships as they start out in this craft. “Every year when LPAPA holds its invitational, there is a program that we call the Next Generation, where our professional artists mentor college-level students and show them what is involved in creating a work of art for a major event,” Swimm says. “We have partnered with … Laguna College of Art & Design and, under the guidance of LPAPA Signature Artist Rick J. Delanty, students are taken into the field to create a work of art that goes on exhibit at our invitational event, and $1,000 in scholarship prizes are awarded to the winning students.” LPAPA’s other mentoring programs include group events that provide artists with painting instruction, tips, techniques and Plein Talks on the business side of being an artist. “It is important not only to create a great work of art, but also to know what to do after, such as how to photograph your work correctly, how to market that work and to develop your own branding,” Swimm says.