Painting for just plein fun — and a little competition

NEWPORT BEACH — Among the frozen bananas, bustling stores and multitude of languages spoken by tourists from around the globe, Balboa Island summers bring another perennial: the Brush Off.

Plein air artists, who do their work outdoors, come from across the country to paint island scenes. Canvases capture the intimate community from many angles, from a neighbor's white picket fence topped with sunflowers to a view of the island as seen through a hazy green lens.

The plein air artists have been out and about on the island since Tuesday, but at 4 p.m. Saturday, they will gather along Marine Avenue and compete against one another in the annual Brush Off.

At 6 p.m., the paintings will be taken into the nearby Debra Huse Gallery for judging by Jean Stern, director of the Irvine Museum.

"People get to see the artists and interact with them," said gallery owner Debra Huse, a Costa Mesa resident and painter who participates in the Brush Off each year.

During the four days leading up to the event, artists were scattered around the island. Passports were given out by the Debra Huse Gallery, which sponsors the event. Residents and visitors scoured the neighborhood in search of signatures from all 13 painters to put on the passports.

Those who have a full passport can enter it in a drawing by Saturday afternoon for the chance to win an item donated by Balboa Island shops. The grand prize is a painting from local artist Greg LaRock.

Gavin Brooks came from Maryland to attend the event, and looks forward to visiting different areas for her plein air artistry.

"It's sort of like being in NASCAR, being in different venues," Brooks said, laughing.

Other artists hail from Hawaii and Florida, while others are from Southern California cities, such as Long Beach, Santa Ana, Costa Mesa, Orange, Oceanside and Los Angeles.

An earlier version of this story incorrectly referred to Terry Masters as she.

Terry Masters breezed in from Palm Springs — "where it's too damn hot to paint," he says — and was happy for the change of pace on Balboa Island.

"For me it's just a nice break from the heat, plus it's a beautiful place to paint," he said.

This year is the sixth that the gallery is hosting its Just Plein Fun event, said Linda Johnson, who runs the Debra Huse Gallery.

The event is an enjoyable one for residents and visitors alike, Johnson said.

"That's why we call it Just Plein Fun," she quipped.

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