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Painters capture essence of Laguna Beach during plein air contest

When it comes to plein air painting, Joe Gyurcsak heeds his intuition.

Gyurcsak, a resident of Mercerville, N.J., strolled near the Laguna Beach Lawn Bowling Club on Sunday, making mental notes of the scene — everything from the players and the trees to hillsides in the background.

Gyurcsak, 55, returned Monday, finding a spot on the grass at Heisler Park. He stationed his easel and began to paint the scene in front of him.

Gyurcsak is one of 35 artists from throughout the United States selected to participate in the 19th annual Laguna Beach Plein Air Painting Invitational, which showcases plein air landscape painters who scatter throughout the city to create their works while competing for prizes.

The nine-day event, which kicked off Saturday and is organized by the Laguna Plein Air Painters Assn., runs through Sunday and includes a Collectors Gala in which guests can buy original artworks created throughout the week.

Plein air, or “open air,” involves painting outdoors or representing, in a painting, the qualities of air and natural light.

“I was going to go to Crystal Cove [State Park], but I had a hunch,” Gyurcsak said when asked about his choice to paint the lawn bowling. “I knew people would be playing again.”

As the morning progressed, more and more players arrived at the club, some stretching their torsos, before rolling balls on the bowling green.

“I love the backlit situation,” Gyurcsak said.

The easel had an attached tray where Gyurcsak placed various paint colors to keep them within easy reach.

“You try and get the essence of the scene very quickly,” said Gyurcsak, who is a resident artist and brand manager for an art supply company.

He works with a limited amount of colors to make the process as simple as possible.

“The key is never stay in one area too long,” Gyurcsak said about applying paint to canvas.

This was Gyurcsak’s first time participating in the Laguna invitational. He began plein air painting in 1990.

Andy Evansen, who paints with watercolors, set up his easel on a patch of grass at Main Beach, steps from the basketball court. He was looking south toward Hotel Laguna and the city’s hillsides.

“It’s such a great time of day to be at the beach,” said Evansen, 51, of Hastings, Minn. “The light is amazing with the glare off the surf.”

“You do not have three hours to study the scene,” Evansen said. “Be aware the sun is moving, people are moving. Stay focused on what initially drew you to the scene.”

Evansen said he chose watercolor as his medium of choice while enrolled at the University of Minnesota.

“[Watercolor] is a comfortable medium right off the bat,” he said. “I was inspired by Winslow Homer, John Singer Sargent. Watercolor was a natural attraction for me.”

Watercolor requires a bit of planning before putting colors on the canvas, Evansen said. He first draws an outline of the scene in pencil.

For this particular painting, Evansen added a wash for the beach section of the scene. A wash is an application of paint thinned with water that can be used to create depth and perspective.

As Evansen drew the hillside and the top of Hotel Laguna, he left portions of the canvas blank so he could later add a bright yellow flag as seen atop the Main Beach lifeguard tower, and a nearby American flag.

“Always leave some of your previous wash behind,” said Evansen, a member of the Plein Air Painters of America who paints and teaches internationally.

For more information on the invitational, such as event listings, visit lagunapleinair.org.

bryce.alderton@latimes.com

Twitter: @AldertonBryce

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