In plein air, or ‘open air’ painting, the artist works outdoors—rain or shine—no matter what the weather. In that case, participants in the fifth annual Paint Webster plein air competition in Webster Groves on Saturday, May 7, had better come prepared for the fickle St. Louis conditions.

    “That’s what plein air is all about. One of the artists said to me, If a painting was done in the rain, you can bet the artist was getting wet. If it was snowing, he was cold. It’s about getting outdoors and capturing what you see,” says Janice Seele, president of Webster Community Arts Foundation (WCAF), a co-sponsor of the event, along with Webster University.

    Capturing all that Webster has to offer was the goal for Paint Webster creator and chair Janet Hamill when she came up with the idea six years ago. “We wanted to promote Webster as an arts community, as well as a destination for people to come,” she explains. “Because the town has such a variety of interesting subjects, it just makes it a great opportunity for artists to get out on a spring day and see what they can do with the environment here.”

    Paint Webster is a free, one-day competition open to people of all ages and skill levels. While many professional plein air artists participate, amateurs and children also come to see what they can create. “We want to encourage anyone to come out and paint. It’s for any age—for professionals, for amateurs, for people who want to pick up a brush for the first time, or for those who haven’t picked up a brush in 10 years,” Hamill says.

    The competition begins with registration from 8 to 10 a.m. at Yucandu art studio. From there, participants are free to roam within the boundaries of Webster, painting whatever they choose. While the Old Webster and Old Orchard business districts are popular spots, “there are many parks, train stations and historical homes that offer great options for painting,” Seele says. “It’s just great to see the streets, fields and green areas filled with people painting for the sheer joy of it.”

    Participants are allowed to paint until 3 p.m. and then turn in their works at the Monday Club, where judges Victor Wang, a fine arts professor at Fontbonne University, and Lynn Bozzay, owner of Grafica art gallery, will make their decisions. First ($500), second ($300) and third ($200) places are given at a reception open to the public, along with a variety of other awards, including People’s Choice and Artist’s Choice, as well as youth prizes. While a special prize was presented last year for best floral painting, the awards have been expanded this year to also honor the best depictions of Old Orchard and Old Webster. The artists can sell their paintings at the reception, or later, at the Old Orchard Gallery where the art will be on display May 9 to 17.  

    Participation has grown over the past five years, with about 60 people partaking in 2010, but the nonprofit WCAF is doing all it can to encourage more novice painters and children to attend. Andy Throm, an art teacher at Webster Groves High School, will be present to offer kids tips and inspiration for their works. And for a second year, a free demonstration and workshop will be held on April 30 at the Old Orchard gazebo to make people more comfortable with plein air painting. The workshop, taught by professional artist Marilynne Bradley, begins at 10 a.m.

    With a small budget and a reliance on volunteers to run smoothly, Paint Webster aims to increase appreciation of the arts, plein air painting and Webster Groves, all in one fell swoop. For those who do not want to paint, there is still the opportunity to come to the event, walk around the town, and see art in action.

    “There’s something wonderful about seeing art created, and the immediacy of plein air painting is really unique,” Seele says. “To see a completed painting is one thing, but to see it through the artist’s eyes and see how an artist brings a painting into being, that’s a fabulous opportunity you don’t get very often.”

    For more information, visit paintwebster.artandair.comLN