Painting the Town

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Laguna Beach is mecca for plein air painters who wish to capture the landscape’s beauty. (Photo courtesy LPAPA)

The Laguna Beach Plein Air Painting Invitational draws artists from across the country to capture this coastal city’s beauty.

By Sharon Stello

From its stunning ocean views to its picturesque canyon and hillsides, Laguna Beach has served as a muse from its earliest days as an artist colony. Impressionist and plein air painters, including Frank Cuprien, Anna Hills, Edgar Payne and William Wendt—who in 1918 helped form the Laguna Beach Art Association and the town’s first gallery, which later became Laguna Art Museum—were drawn to this seaside locale with their palettes and easels, depicting the scenic landscape on their canvases. Over the years, that landscape has continued to inspire artists from near and far.

Celebrating this legacy, the Laguna Beach Plein Air Painting Invitational returns for its 18th edition this fall, Oct. 8-16, with 35 nationally acclaimed plein air artists (including two from Laguna: Gil Dellinger and Michael Obermeyer) invited to compete for prizes totaling more than $20,000. After a week spent creating their works outside, with boundaries roughly set from San Onofre north to Huntington Beach and inland to Saddleback Mountain, the event culminates with a Collectors Gala and a Public Art Show and Sale.

Aside from watching the artists at work and viewing their finished pieces, which can range from landscapes to seascapes and cityscapes, locals and visitors alike may partake in public paint-outs and attend painting demonstrations, panel discussions and other activities planned this year. The nine-day invitational is organized by Laguna Plein Air Painters Association (LPAPA) whose executive director, Rosemary Swimm, has been involved since 2009. Here, Swimm shares how LPAPA’s flagship event has evolved over time and offers a glimpse into what’s planned this fall.

Laguna Beach Magazine: How has the invitational grown and changed through the years?

Rosemary Swimm: This event had its origins back in 1998 when LPAPA approached the Laguna Art Museum with an idea [and the first invitational was held in 1999]. Fourteen years of collaboration came to a close … [when the last event in partnership with the museum was held in 2012] and LPAPA has since presented this event. … Artists of the highest caliber clamor to be a part of this event, a part of LPAPA and Laguna Beach history. This annual nine-day fine art event celebrates Laguna’s cultural history and the tradition of plein air painting. … This year, we will be celebrating our 18th year presenting this prestigious event, known [in the plein air community] as the best plein air event on the West Coast. … The invitational did start out as a painting event with 50 artists all competing for top prizes. As the event progressed, additional elements were added—[a] Kids PaintOut, Next Generation PaintOut, Plein Talks, artists demonstrations, etc. We decided to decrease the number of participating artists from 50 to 40 to eventually 35 for a number of reasons, exhibition space being one of them. We will hopefully be able to increase our number of participating artists next year in a larger venue.


LBM: What makes the Laguna Beach area so attractive for plein air painting?

RS: It’s the light, the landscape, the history, the weather, the iconic landmarks and the people.


LBM: How are the 35 participating artists selected and what criteria are used?

RS: It is not an open application process; all of our artists are invited. Because our event is known as one of the best plein air invitationals in the country, we receive numerous requests throughout the year from artists asking to be placed on the consideration list. We have an invitational selection committee that … [includes] a minimum of two LPAPA board members; Mr. Jean Stern, the executive director of The Irvine Museum, who is considered to be one of the leading experts in the field of plein air; and myself. The artist consideration list is [composed] … of the top-selling artists from previous years as well as notable award winners from across the country and recommendations from collectors as well as artists. The selection committee reviews the work, the biographies, the awards, et cetera, of the artists on the list. It is a lengthy process that takes several months.


The Kids PintOut allows children from local schools to work alongside artists and create their own masterpieces. (Photo by Rick Lang)

LBM: What part of the invitational are you most excited about this year?

RS: There are so many fun and exciting events that make up our nine-day invitational. What always excites me is the arrival of all of our artists. We have 35 invited artists this year. We welcome all of our returning artists and are excited to welcome eight artists who will be participating for the very first time. One of the events that I look forward to every year is the Kids PaintOut and Cookie Reception [from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m., Oct. 10 at Heisler Park]. We have 48-plus children participate in this event, … [each] provided with their own plein air painting kit. Children from our local elementary and high schools work alongside our artists [who serve as] mentors in creating their own plein air work of art, and then this work is exhibited and offered for sale [through Oct. 16 in the LPAPA in Residence section of Forest & Ocean Gallery] with the proceeds from the sales going back to their schools. The joy on their faces as they complete their masterpieces is priceless.


LBM: In what ways do proceeds from the invitational’s gala and public art sales help support LPAPA’s mission?

RS: The invitational is our largest event of the year with all of the proceeds used to support the many LPAPA programs throughout the year. Funds are used to produce our educational programs, our workshops, our lectures and help … us in furthering our commitment to culture, creativity and the preservation of the arts, as well as continuing the plein air tradition in our community.

Beyond the Brush

For art lovers, these events provide a perfect way to take part in the Laguna Beach Plein Air Painting Invitational without setting up their own easel and canvas.


Collectors Gala
Oct. 14; Tivoli Too, Laguna Art-A-Fair grounds

This event offers the only opportunity to view all of the paintings—including the award winners—created during the invitational. Following an exclusive Champagne reception for sponsors and other supporters, the gala runs from 7-10:30 p.m., allowing attendees to meet the artists while also enjoying live jazz music and a buffet banquet, fine wine and other beverages. Guests will each receive a commemorative Art Catalogue featuring original works that the artists painted prior to the invitational; these selected pieces will also be displayed and available for sale at Forest & Ocean Gallery from Sept. 27 to Oct. 12.


Public Art Show and Sale
Oct. 15 and 16; Tivoli Too, Laguna Art-A-Fair grounds

After the Collectors Gala on Oct. 14, the Public Art Show and Sale runs all weekend, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday. Artwork sold during the gala will be replaced with new paintings for the general public to peruse and purchase—a total of 140 to more than 350 pieces, representing a mix of paintings created during the invitational and those completed before the event. Painting demonstrations are also planned on both days.

For more information on these and other events, visit

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