Story and Photography By Carolyn Bowers

Last year’s outdoor painting event on the Southport waterfront was a huge success, and this year’s promises to be even better.

Building on last year’s tremendously successful Southport Plein Air Paint-Out and Wet Paint Sale, the City of Southport is sponsoring the event again this year — and that’s a good thing! Most of last year’s participants say they are looking forward to visiting Southport again and having another opportunity to capture its charm on canvas.

The 2014 event will be held over two days, April 11 and 12. Many artists are sure to arrive early enough the day before to scope out the area and decide where and what they will paint.

Last year more than 50 artists came from as far as 200 miles away, from Lexington, Raleigh, Durham and Jacksonville, as well as from the nearby locales of Wilmington, Sunset Beach, Calabash and Oak Island. Each artist painted his or her own interpretation of Southport’s picturesque scenery, including the waterfront, fishing boats, historic homes, Fort Johnston, Kezia Park, the yacht basin, Whittler’s Bench, Fishy Fishy and Amuzu Theater.

Here’s how the paint-out works: The artists choose wherever they would like to set up their easel within the city limits of Southport. They may not start painting until 8 a.m. on Friday, April 11. They may paint as long into the night as they can see what they are doing, and then resume their work on Saturday at 8 a.m. All brushes must be put down by 2 p.m. on Saturday, and the work and easels are then taken to the Fort Johnston Southport Museum & Visitors Center for the Wet Paint Sale. Each artist is responsible for giving his or her painting a title and a price.

A required registration fee of $20 includes lunch on Friday and an artists’ reception at the American Fish Company on Friday night. The registration fee is waived for students under the age of 18.

Last year’s paint-out and wet paint sale drew a tremendous crowd of onlookers who enjoyed watching the artists and asking them about their work. The artists were all very patient with the frequent interruptions, and they were enthusiastic in their praise for the town, the people and, especially, the rich diversity of subjects to paint.

Walt and Sarah Sheffield, both artists, came to the Paint-Out from Cary in 2013 to enjoy the town they love. Walt grew up in Wilmington “on Robert Ruark,” as he puts it. He chose to paint Whittler’s Bench, made famous by Ruark’s ageless classic “The Old Man and the Boy.”

Sarah, who painted the famous 800-year-old Indian Trail tree in Keziah Park, enjoyed the event, too. Legend has it that Indians bent the young tree to mark the trail to their fishing grounds. The tree took root a second time, which is what caused its fascinating and improbable formation. Sarah confesses that this experience took her out of her comfort zone. “These things (paint-outs) can be very stressful,” she says, “but this one wasn’t. It was a really good experience.”

Paulette Wright and her husband, also from the Raleigh area, celebrated their 12th wedding anniversary with her spending the day painting. “We stayed at the Brunswick Inn B&B,” she says, “and enjoyed it very much. Just as I set up my easel, I saw a lady picking up shells on the beach, so I painted her.”

Missy Ronquillo, owner of Pescado Y Amor, an art gallery, gift shop and painting classroom on Oak Island, called the day “amazing.” “It was my first one, and I will definitely do it again next year,” she says.

Susan Cheatham, from Oriental, chose the famous Southport landmark, Potter’s Seafood, to paint, while Bernie Rosage, Jr., who heads up OOPS (Onslow Outdoor Painters Society), painted one of the several historic homes along Bay Street.

About 12 artists set up on the lawns of several historic homes that face the yacht basin, Fishy Fishy and Potter’s Seafood for the quintessential picturesque view that was made even more famous by the movie “Safe Haven.”

Chappy Valente, an art instructor from Bald Head Island, held his class that day in downtown Southport. He and his students painted Cattail Cottage on Howe Street.

Last year’s event was for adults only, but this year the younger set will be encouraged to participate as well. That’s because Hannah Greer and Olivia Cunningham, two talented 10-year-olds, saw what was going on and joined in the fun. They set up an easel at Waterfront Park and collaborated on a painting of a steamship that cooperated by going by very slowly. When Southport Tourism & Economic Development Director Cindy Brochure, who was the person responsible for this event, saw the two girls, she said, “Next year I am going to add a children’s section.” Hopefully Hannah and Olivia will come back in 2014 and bring some of their friends.

The Wet Paint Sale that followed last year’s event was well attended. The general consensus was that the artists thoroughly enjoyed the day, the spectators appreciated the rare opportunity to watch and learn from the pros, and the quaint little town of Southport was the perfect venue. That made last year’s event a success by any measure. And this year’s promises to be even better.

Be a part of the Southport Plein Air Paint-Out and Wet Paint Sale

When: April 11 and 12, 2014
Where: Historic Southport
Information and Registration: (910) 457-7900; cityofsouthport.com (click on the event link on the April calendar)
Deadline: Online registration before March 30 will guarantee a listing in the Southport Plein Air Paint-Out brochure.