By Gina Malone
Artists spend a lot of solitary time working in their studios and many find getting outdoors to create a way to change up routines, engage with the curious public and spend time with fellow artists. Asheville Urban Landscape Painters (AULP), a plein air painting group, aims to further opportunities for regional artists to gather for painting sessions and learning opportunities. “Our artists find great benefit from coming together each Tuesday,” says AULP director Sue Dolamore, “to learn, practice and enjoy the beauty, history and friendliness of our local communities as they paint outside at local parks, neighborhoods and public sites.”
The group got its start in 2013 under the direction of Lisa Blackshear. “When I first created it with the help of Asheville Area Arts Council’s grant,” she says, “I was amazed at the outpouring of interest from the community. In Sue’s hands, the project has continued to grow, with more activities and links to other organizations. It has become an empowering organization for artists who frequently work in isolation.” Last year was AULP’s first as a self-sustaining group, meaning they now have enough members to fund themselves through donations.
“My husband James and I became involved in 2015,” says Susan Dawkins, “when we left Charlotte and corporate life behind and moved to Clyde. As newcomers, we love exploring the beauty of this area we now call home in the company of other artists.” Brian Murphy also found the group when he moved back to Asheville a few years ago. “It’s very inspiring,” he says, “and pushes me to learn and grow as a plein air painter.”
All of AULP’s events—paint-outs, demonstrations, workshops and figure sessions—are free and open to the public. Donations to compensate instructors and models and to pay for facility rental costs, however, are always appreciated.
Many artists find the camaraderie beneficial. Rhonda Care says she became involved with the group for a number of reasons, but mostly for the practice of painting. “I began painting classes as a very mature adult,” she says, “and it’s great and freeing to just get out and paint and try to synthesize what I’m learning with some open-mindedness to experiment.”
Lisa Murphy joined two years ago for the experience of painting outside and as a way of networking with Asheville’s art community. “I have learned that it is not an easy undertaking, but the help and advice from other artists has been great and I have discovered wonderful local sights and locations— more than I ever imagined!” Sessions last three hours and during that time, passersby are drawn to watching the artists at work. “They enjoy seeing the great variety of styles, techniques and viewpoints in the creation of a finished piece of art,” says Dolamore. Mediums include oils, watercolors, acrylics, pastels, ink, pencil and mixed media.
Popular gathering places include Charles D. Owen Park in Swannanoa, Asheville Botanical Gardens, French Broad River Park and Pack Square. “Our area has endless beauty and countless places that are good for plein air painting,” Dolamore says.
Partnerships with other organizations have proved fruitful as well. Recently, the group painted at Eliada, with artists contributing paintings for a silent auction that raised more than $3,200 for the organization providing care, services and education for children. AULP has also collected art supplies to donate to Aurora Studios, a local nonprofit offering collective art space for those affected by mental health needs, homelessness and addiction, and welcomed to their plein air sessions artists from Open Hearts Art Center, a nonprofit art education program.
To learn more about becoming a member, visit ashevilleurban.com. For notifications about events and to see work of participating artists, find the group on Facebook at Asheville Urban Landscape Painters. Upcoming Tuesday events include a sketch crawl at Grove Park Inn (January 2), a figure session at Murphy Oakley center (January 9), a painting session at Eliada (January 16) and Perspective Drawing, a mini-workshop with Michael Robinson (January 23).