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Painting at the Basilica

Almost every Tuesday of the year, I join my fellow artists to paint with the Asheville Urban Landscape Painters. The group paints “en plein air” in the Asheville area. Lisa Blackshear, who had the desire to paint outside with other artists on a regular basis, founded the group. She had a spark of brilliance with the idea to invite local plein air painters to demonstrate their skills and follow that up with painting practice for all after the demonstration. This format has appealed to so many at all levels of experience. I first heard about it from a fellow artist in a basic painting class that I was taking at the local community college.

Today, the group will be painting at the Basilica of St. Lawrence. A grand church in downtown Asheville that was designed and built in 1905 by Spanish architect Rafael Guastavino along with his fellow architect R. S. Smith. Just about 2 years ago, the group also painted there. It was the first time I attempted to paint architecture. I remember that I was extremely intimidated by the idea, partly because of my lack of experience and partly because the structure is so grand. Another contributing factor was the downtown location and the possibility of onlookers, with which I was not yet comfortable. When I woke up that morning, I was feeling the fear and I wanted to talk myself out of going but could think of no reasonable argument so I packed up my stuff and pushed myself out the door.

I arrived in the area and decided to set up in a somewhat concealed and shadier corner of a parking lot nearby. Two other group members were in the same area, which provided some friendly support. I remember looking at the church and thinking, “How am I going to do this?” The perspective, the details and the values provided many challenges. Then, what do I do with all those angels and figures standing around on the top? In any case, I found my focus and began to relax into the work of doing it. For all that thinking in the beginning was just noise and once I settled into the process, with brush in hand, the Basilica showed up on my canvas. It is like magic to see this happen.

That painting turned out to be the first one that ended up in what is the beginning of a collection for one of my friends. I gave it to her as a gift during a big transition in her life because this Basilica has a special meaning for her. She has since bought another of my paintings and has asked for the commission of a third. She is my first collector!

As I go back to the Basilica again this morning, I am also happy that Lisa, who established this group that has been my foundation in learning to paint, will be presenting her first demonstration. I have watched Lisa grow so beautifully as a fine artist since she formed the group. She was changing her artistic direction after a career in illustration to fine art painting. She has been disciplined, diligent and comprehensive in her practice and her work has taken on a unique and beautiful style. She has played with various methods and found her way. Not only do I admire her artistic work but she has become a wonderful friend.

Today, I look forward to Lisa’s presentation and I hope to have some new ideas to ponder and play with. As the group’s current coordinator, I often spend my time taking photos and socializing on days when we have a featured artist but the Basilica does call for another session, if not today, then soon.

The Asheville Urban Landscape Painters group continues to grow each year, with new featured artist demonstrations each month and paint outs every Tuesday, though the year. Funding to pay our fine featured artists is provided by a grant from the Asheville Area Arts Council and Art in the Park Community Grant. This generous support allows us to offer these demonstrations to the public at no charge. Everyone is welcome to join us to watch, learn and paint. If you would like to know more about our activities, contact me or visit the website at

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