About twice a month, the Apple Pie Painters gather outside with canvas, brushes and paint. The outdoors becomes their studio.
They are plein air painters, and the 10 of them have painted the environment as they see it first hand. En plein air, or "in open air," is a tradition that dates back more than 100 years and still finds relevance in the modern art world. Many artists practice it regularly in the Lowcountry year-round. With spring arriving, many groups or galleries start getting more involved, having demonstrations or classes.
What may seem simple at first -- oh, it's just painting outside? -- can quickly become complex. But once comfortable with the circumstance, the artist can take their work to another level, plein air painters say.
Plein air painting first became en vogue during the Impressionist movement. Aided by developments in ways to transport paint and easels, artists such as Claude Monet advocated painting outside as a better way to capture a scene.
The Apple Pie Painters gathered recently in the garden of member Judy McElynn. There, in the morning hours, they painted what was before them -- flowers, sculpture, foliage. They could have just worked off of photographs or gone off memory. But they came to see how the light played off a petal, and to discover the colors that memory can't remember. A photograph, for instance, doesn't capture the full scale of colors that the eye can pick up. It doesn't allow to you see a scene from different angles or different shades of light. It doesn't allow for the best sense of depth or perspective.
"You're able to grasp the visceral reaction to the environment," McElynn said. "With a photo you're just reacting to what the photo has already captured."
With the world as a subject, plein air painting can be a bit overwhelming. The key is to focus on a particular scene and to capture that as conditions change. Apple Pie member Marilyn Dizikes brings a viewfinder, a small piece of cardboard with a rectangle cut out. It helps her focus on the subject. She usually sketches the subject before painting. It serves as a reference while working.
Dizikes, who also teaches plein air painting, suggests taking a class or pairing with a seasoned open-air artist to serve as a guide.
"It can be intimidating. You have all these options," she said. "But it can be very liberating."
Dizikes, for instance, also paints abstract works. While the results might look different, the two styles of painting play heavily off each other.
"It inspires my other work," she said. "I can see color combinations in nature that I will use in my abstract pieces."
The Apple Pies were formed in 1998 among a select group of like-minded painters to share experiences and exhibit together. Other groups since then have opened up to the general plein air public. The Lowcountry Plein Air Society formed three years ago and has grown to about 70 members, said founder Barbara Benedict. About a dozen members gather regularly in places such as Spring Island, Fish Haul Creek Park and Honey Horn. They'll have shows in the fall at the Coastal Discovery Museum and Lemon Island.
"There's a tremendous amount of artists interested in plein air painting," she said.
The Artists of Sea Pines, a group exclusive to the Hilton Head community, was recently formed and will have plein air painting demonstrations monthly. The first will be Sunday at the Sea Pines Heritage Farm.
"It's the perfect time and the perfect place for it," said organizer Rosemary Kimball.