It’s all about the light…the Maui Plein Air Invitational Event

It’s all about the light…the Maui Plein Air Invitational Event

It’s always a great time to go to Maui, but February is one of the best months to go.  It’s the time when a lot of people are escaping the harsh cold winters of the mainland, (rain, snow, hail, and freezing weather!), more than 3,000 humpback whales are visiting the islands and putting on their mating shows and birthing their babies,  and for those of you who love art, it is the time of the Annual Maui Plein Air Invitational Event.

Prior to 1840, paints were made by mixing dry pigments with linseed oil in artist’s studios.  Plein Air, a French term for painting outdoors, first came about when paints were finally made portable and could fit in tubes, which allowed the artists to go outside to capture the natural light which was so different than painting indoors in a studio.  The artists try to capture a moment in time, as if you could tell what time of day it was by the position of the sun and the length of the shadows.

A group of talented artists for Maui Plein Air

Every February, for a week, approximately twenty-five or so artists are invited to come and showcase their talents in creating their interpretation of the beauty of the Hawaiian islands and of local island life.  It hosts approximately five to ten artists from the neighboring Hawaiian islands, and another fifteen or so who are from continental United States, China, Australia…who knows?  Every year, there are fresh, new faces, giving a unique and different perspective on familiar island scenes.

The artists paint all over the island all week long.  There are three set locations on specific days and times so those who are interested in watching them create their works of art can watch this talented group in action.   This year they painted at three beautiful set sites: Kapalua Bay Beach and the Montage, Lahaina Harbor, and Canoe Beach.

Kapalua Bay Beach for the Sunset paintout
Lahaina Harbor
The Montage

One might dream that an artist has the best life possible…get up whenever you want, spend the day leisurely painting, stop for a nice lunch by the ocean, and end your day whenever it suits you.  Having hosted an artist for the last several years at my house during the plein air event, I know that their life is not quite as easy as all that.

The best light is just after sunrise, when the sun first comes up, and again in the late afternoon, the golden hour, when the sun is low in the sky and just starting to set.  That’s the time for long shadows and nice contrasts which make the paintings more interesting.  Since it’s their job to capture the light, the artists want to be set up and ready to go just as the sun comes up.  They are often out the door and on their way by  six am.  As the sun rises, shadows and shapes change, so they are always having to adjust as the sun moves in the sky and changes it’s reflections.  It’s really quite amazing to watch them start with a totally blank canvas, and within two to three hours, have them put a finished product into a frame set for sale.

Mark Brown, from Oahu, painting at Canoe Beach

Some artists create additional challenges for themselves, painting subjects that move, or night scenes, which create a whole new set of issues for sources of light, and shadows.  This turtle painting had four turtles, then three, then two…some turtles became rocks because they kept moving so much!

Hiu Lai Chong, from Maryland, painting amazing turtles on the beach
Carl Bretzke won multiple awards for his night scene

Of course, having a collection of artists together, one must make some time for socializing, dining, and mingling together to learn from each other.  So they are pretty much out the door by 6am, and back home by 10pm, heads hit the pillows, to start all over again the next day, creating 7-20 paintings over the next week.  Gee…when do they sleep?

Another interesting factor they must contend with is mother nature!  Even though the weather is a beautiful seventy-five degrees, it’s still winter in Hawaii, and the artists are often painting by the ocean, which means, gusty winds, angry ocean waves, salt water in your face, blistering sun beating down on you while you stand in the sun for six hours of the day, blowing sand from the beach stinging your bare legs, and dozens of people watching over your shoulders watching what you’re doing.  There were so many stories of paintings blowing off easels, artists with oil paints on their faces, legs being pelted by the stinging sand, and an artist or two taking a break to cool off by jumping into the ocean, and forgetting their cellphones were in their pockets.

Many are inspired by the roar of the ocean resulting in many wonderful oceanfront paintings…

Aaron Shurrer’s beautiful pastel, braving the ocean wind and waves
Mary Pettis, from Minnesota, fighting sun, wind and sea to capture it’s beauty

There are several chances to buy the freshly painted works of art throughout the week, but it culminates at the end of the week with a gala showing of four pieces by each artist. The event is open to the public and celebrates with wine, music, and food, where you too can purchase a piece of rememberance of Maui.  As paintings are sold, new ones painted during the week replace them.

First time invitee to the event was my house guest, Leon Holmes, from Perth, Australia.  Lucky for him, he won best in show this year for his amazing painting titled “Heading East.”  Not only did he win the grand prize but his painting was auctioned off to the highest bidder.  Congratulations Leon!

Leon Holmes, from Australia, takes home the prize for Best In Show!
Best In Show – Leon Holmes…Heading East”

Thank you to Lois Reiswig, the Maui Arts League, and all of the volunteers who work hard to put this annual event together.  For more information about this wonderful event, you can visit  They also have a page on Facebook.  If you have a chance to visit Maui, coordinate your trip next time during the Maui Plein Air Painting Invitational.

Here are just a few photos from this year’s plein air event:

The first exhibit and sale of paintings from Lahaina Harbor

Bidding during the silent auction
Hiu Lai painting at Canoe Beach
Greg Barnes, from North Carolina, creates a pastel at the Montage
Painting the Hawaiian model
Debra Huse, from California, paints the artists
Mary Pettis paints at Canoe Beach
The final night gala event
Wine, food, music and art at the Friday night gala event
Upcountry, by Michael Clements
Mala & Honu, by Debra House
Honolulu Bay by Leon Holmes
“Dying to Stay in Maui”
Maui Light by Randall Sexton

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Monie Thompson