This past weekend, Norma Torti, a New Hampshire seacoast artist specializing in representational oil paintings, led a group of students for a day of painting “en plein air” in the stunning 18-acre setting of Cedar Hill Farm in Essex. Weather for the daylong workshop was perfect. The light moved throughout the day, and Torti’s students painted as they were taught—“paint what you experience.”
October is the season for “plein air” painting on Cape Ann. It’s the increasingly popular style of painting, out-of-studio where painters are encouraged to paint what they see, quickly, in their own style. The goal, generally, is to capture the distinct feeling of witnessing plain and striking beauty in our surroundings. And it’s every October for the last five years that the Cape Ann Plein Air (CAPA) Festival has taken place, a judged competition with a purse that has brought the very best plein air talent to Cape Ann to compete in the one-week event. Organizers at CAPA have hoped participants every year since 2016 would soar beyond that goal and set new standards within the style. Last year, for instance, competition week was hit with terrible, extended rains and many of the artists took their plein air painting indoors—one finalist depicting the inside of a bar, where he’d holed up for the duration—showing that rain and gloom can offer an alternative, equally striking, perspective.
This year, CAPA’s festival has taken a bit of a COVID-19 twist. Last week, judges announced the 35 artists selected for the competition (as usual) and the event will kick off on Monday, October 5 (also, as usual). But there’s a new twist. First there will be three featured plein air demonstrations at locations to be announced. The week will also feature online exhibits and sales for the artists’ past work, as a way to introduce them to followers of CAPA. But those who want to see the finalists at work, in competition day by day at some of Cape Ann’s most scenic spots will have to wait until next year. The actual CAPA competition has been postponed untilMay, 2021.
Alas, thanks to teachers like Norma Torti, plein air painting was still, at least last week in Essex,a spectator sport.