Anyone who's watched clouds roll across Long Island's wide skies knows how quickly nature's mood can change. That's part of the challenge and the joy for plein-air painters who ply their craft outdoors. Dozens of them were in and around Patchogue last weekend, participating in the Patchogue Arts Council's sixth annual "Paint the Great South Bay" event.
Linda Prentiss sat in a shady spot in the sculpture garden on Terry Street Saturday sporting a Van Gogh-esque straw hat. She'd traveled from Ronkonkoma earlier in the day to get a few extra hours of work done before dark. By 5 p.m., her composition, featuring a tree and a picturesque arbor in deep tones of green and brown, was largely complete, even though her view kept changing as the sun shifted, more artists set up easels and people dropped by to watch.
"I'm used to painting outside," she says, "so I know how it changes. I work first on the structure, and as the light changes, then I worry about how the light hits it." Prentiss plans to paint a few times in different locations during the weeklong event, and had several canvases prepared. "I thought I'd start out small, so I could get into the swing of it, and I'll end up big. I'm saving my 18-by-24-inch canvas for the beach." It'll be up to her which of them she'll submit for the "Wet Paint Sale" and exhibition that runs Sunday through Sept. 1.
THE BORDERS OF THE GREAT SOUTH BAY
While the title "Paint the Great South Bay" conjures images of dunes and seascapes, Beth Giacummo, the arts council’s executive director says, "It can be anything south of Sunrise Highway that's done outdoors, from Smith Point beach to the Fire Island Lighthouse." Artists must register and bring whatever they want to paint on — paper, board, canvas, or anything else — to be authenticated. They have the whole week but must take a selfie showing themselves at work, to ensure that each painting was made specifically for the event. Paintings sell nicely at the exhibition, Giacummo says, and "every year a viewer will come in and say, 'Oh, I know exactly where that spot is. I have to have it.' "
Limited to 40 registrants, this is the first year all the slots have been filled. Artists from all over Long Island, including novices and professionals, young and old, energize both one another and the community. "By having something like this, artists can paint, and then the public comes in and interacts," says Patchogue's Gina Lento, who organized the first event in 2014 and still manages it, fixing a line on her own canvas. "It's symbiotic. Look how Patchogue has grown. It's always good to have the arts and everybody working together."
Put aside the romantic notion of artists alone in a garret, suffering for their work. Here they wave, talk to passersby and check out each other’s progress. "It's great for the artists," agrees Lori Devlin, arts council president and a member of Patchogue's board of trustees. "It's like a creative networking."
Pauline Dubick-Hazard from East Patchogue was more focused on the bunch of coneflowers in front of her. Instead of dark brown dirt, she was blocking in a vibrant red background, planning to make the blooms pop with psychedelic colors.
"I'm thinking of contrasting with the greens and then bringing out the bright pink and gold," she explains. Dubick-Hazard signed up, she says, because, "it forces me to dedicate the time to creativity." She'll paint several days this week, while her husband's making dinners. She adds with a smile, "He's a pretty good cook."
As the sun dipped behind the United Methodist Church's spire across the street, soft fog settled in, eliminating shadows and blurring outlines throughout the garden. The artists didn't mind. They even welcomed it.
"I took a photograph," says Dubick-Hazard. "I can refer back to it if it gets dark."
WHAT "Paint the Great South Bay" exhibition, reception and "Wet Paint Sale"
WHEN | WHERE Sunday-Sept. 1 (reception 1-5 p.m. Sunday), Museum of Contemporary Art Long Island, 20 Terry St., Patchogue
INFO Free; 631-627-8686, patchoguearts.org