Enjoy all your local news and sports for less than 6¢ per day.

Subscribe Now

Paint the Town brings artists out of studios and into Marble Falls landscapes

Paint the Town

Artist Elizabeth Bartlett Culp of Midland paints a home on Brazos Street in Marble Falls during the 2023 Paint the Town Art Festival plein air competition. Culp returns to Marble Falls for the 2024 event from April 21-27. Staff photo by Suzanne Freeman

For one week in April, artists from across the country gather outdoors in Marble Falls to capture the visual heart of the Highland Lakes in bold brushstrokes and vivid colors during the Paint the Town Art Festival. The Highland Lakes Creative Arts event, which is April 21-27, 2024, evokes the spirit of French Impressionism as artists came out of their studios to paint everyday scenes en plein air

“The Impressionists started trends in art that we still see the results of today,” said Jeffrey Neel McDaniel, an artist traveling from the Garner State Park area for his second year in the Marble Falls competition. “The French Impressionists were painting local scenes and local people. Previously, the primary topic of art was mythology or religion painted in studios.” 

One of 35 juried artists competing in Paint the Town, McDaniel said leaving his studio to work in plein (plain) air makes him a better artist.

“When you’re painting in plein air, you’re trying to capture a place, a moment, an emotion,” he said. “It’s not so much what you’re painting but what you’re trying to say, what you are trying to communicate to someone.” 

Austin artist Bruce Bingham is making her sixth appearance at Paint the Town. She said painting outdoors is like sailing a boat. 

“You may go through a storm, have high winds, a rapidly moving sun, all those experiences of being outside in the elements,” she said. “It’s exhilarating. It challenges your painting ability.” 

To paint en plein air is to paint alla prima, an Italian phrase that means “all at once,” Bingham said.

“There’s a time limit with the sun moving so fast and changing the scene,” she said. “It’s very alla prima, very very direct. It’s quickly and directly painted. You don’t see a lot of refined portraiture in a plein air event.” 

Artist Elizabeth Bartlett Culp, who is competing for the second time in Paint the Town,has been practicing for this year’s Paint Out competition, which features pedigree longhorns at a local ranch.

All 35 artists will spend a day putting their version of the Texas State Large Mammal on canvas. A new prize for Best Longhorn Painting has been added to the usual lineup of Best in Show and first, second, and third places. 

“I’m not sure how to paint a longhorn if he’s moving around a lot,” Culp said. “If he’s lying down chewing his cud, I can handle that.” 

She has been practicing by painting longhorns from photographs.

Animals are a favorite subject for Marble Falls resident and regular plein air competitor Marla Ripperda, who has thousands of wildlife pictures from her trips to Africa that she uses as inspiration in her art studio.

“I’m more of a studio artist,” she said. “I like to have more time to mess with the painting.”

Artist Rita Kirkman of New Braunfels won Best of Show at Paint the Town several years ago for ‘Sunny Morning on Main Street,’ which was done in pastels. It was a companion piece to ‘Rainy Day on Main Street,’ which won the year before. Highland Lakes Creative Arts used the rainy day version for its promotional T-shirts the year ‘Sunny Morning’ was painted. The sunny version hangs in EDC Executive Director Christian Fletcher’s office at Fourth and Main streets. Image courtesy of Rita Kirkman

For plein air, Ripperda prefers to paint on Main Street in downtown Marble Falls, a change of pace from the solitude of her studio. 

“Where the people are is where I prefer to paint,” she said of the competition. “We all want to talk to people, to educate people about our art. I invite people to the reception and out to the pavilion for the pop-up.” 


The pop-up gallery is open from 11 a.m.-5 p.m. April 25-27. As the artists complete their works, they put them on display and up for sale. Entry to the pop-up is free. 


Tickets are available online at for a VIP reception and silent auction from 5:30-9 p.m. April 26 at Lakeside Pavilion, 305 Buena Vista Drive. Plein air winners are announced at the reception. 

Another local artist, Betty Bielser of Buchanan Dam, has been in every Paint the Town competition but one since it started 16 years ago. She was the first to use watercolor in the competition. 

“That’s the way it was for years,” Bielser said of watercolor. “It slowly became more popular. About three years ago, a watercolor actually won first place. I was elated. Watercolor was finally acceptable!”

Many plein air artists prefer working in oils because it’s easier to fix mistakes. Bielser admits watercolor has its challenges in the elements. 

“It depends on the humidity,” she said. “I have painted in the rain, and it really doesn’t work very well. Then, there are times when the weather is so dry you can’t put a wash on your work because it dries before you’re finished. You’re constantly adjusting the water content of your paint to the elements.”

No matter what medium an artist uses, painting in the great outdoors can be demanding. 

“I have painted in the cab of my car with the steering wheel as an easel because it was raining so hard,” Ripperda said. “I’ve had paintings blow into the sand. I’ve learned to take blue painter’s tape and tape my easel to a light pole or stationary object. You learn by experience.” 

Experience is not just for juried artists at Paint the Town. Event co-chair Erin Hinzmann emphasized the importance of community engagement at the festival, including an art session for high school students as well as a Family Art Day.

“There aren’t many plein air shows that serve a student population,” Hinzmann said. 


Around 70 students from Marble Falls and Burnet high schools and Faith Academy of Marble Falls will participate in Student Art Day at Lakeside Parkon April 24. Eighteen of the plein air artists will be on hand to give a watercolor demonstration to the students, who will be provided with the art supplies needed to create their plein air works.

“They go home with art supplies so they can keep creating,” Hinzmann said. “That’s what this is all about. All the proceeds of the whole event are used to buy art supplies and put them in the schools. Students with art and music have better grades in math and science; they are more creative, empathetic workers. Our mission is to get art back in the schools and build art tourism.” 


Also in that vein, Paint the Town is hosting a Family Art Day from 11 a.m.-5 p.m. April 27 at Lakeside Pavilion. Families can join the artists for free activities, including watercolor, acrylic, and finger and bubble painting. 


The public is invited to join the Quick Draw competition from 10-11:30 a.m. April 27. The 90-minute event is free for registered plein air and student artists and $15 for the general public. The winner is automatically entered free in the 2025 Paint the Town competition as a juried artist. 

Prints of the winning art in the main competition are available for $20 each.

“Part of our mission is to have everyone go home with a piece of art,” Hinzmann said. 

Several local residents take that mission seriously. Judy Miller, owner of OutBack Patio Furnishings in Marble Falls, and Christian Fletcher, executive director of the Marble Falls Economic Development Corp., each make a point of buying at least one work of art a year. Miller hangs her purchases at the store and in her home. Her works include paintings of downtown fixtures RBar, Uptown Theatre, Jardin Corona, and Choccolatte’s. 

“I love it!” she said when asked why she buys one or more paintings a year. “I love the art, and I want to support it. The paintings are really good, but I am running out of room.” 

Fletcher has an entire wall in his downtown office dedicated to Paint the Town pieces. 

“I love Paint the Town,” he said. “It’s one of my favorite events. I love the the idea of people coming into our community and giving us their perspectives on what they think is interesting or cool and unique. They interpret our community differently.”

He holds himself to one painting a year because of space. His pieces feature the old and new U.S. 281 bridges, a view of Main Street from Second to Third streets, and a simple landscape painted during a full moon. 

Meeting the artists is another draw for Fletcher, while the artists look forward to meeting members of the community. 

“One of the coolest things about this event is to meet the people,” McDaniel said, adding that, until last year’s Paint the Town, he had never been to Marble Falls. He prefers painting nature over buildings and chose a scene at a park just below Wirtz Dam for his subject in 2023. 

“Plein air is credited with the establishment of our national park system,” he said. 

In the 1870s, artists from the Hudson River in New York State traveled west and painted the amazing landscapes they encountered, bringing the scenes back east for public viewing, raising awareness and interest in land conservation. 

“Plein air became a very popular genre of painting for a lot of artists,” McDaniel said. “You see the light and color and compositions firsthand. Even with amazing cameras, it’s very rare you’ll get the exact color.”

Whether capturing landscapes or street scenes, painting is about light and emotion, he continued. 

“The sun rises 365 days a year, but 365 times it’s different,” he said. “Sunset or sunrise, you have a shortcut to connecting to someone emotionally. At sunrise is the beauty, the feelings the scene represents: optimism, hope, potential. With a sunset, you get serenity, peace, and calm.” 

All that on what started as a stark white canvas of picture-perfect potential in a small lakeside community that cherishes its art and artists.