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Bluffton in Plein Air

The masterful strokes of Mark Boedges

Story by Carolyn Males

By the time I find Mark Boedges at noon standing at the edge of Dubois Park in Bluffton, he’s surrounded by a small crowd: two artists, two onlookers, and a miniature schnauzer. In the two hours he’s been standing at his easel, Boedges already has painted in the buildings along Lawton Street looking west and sketched out abstract shapes of trees in oils. I’d missed his earlier deliberations on whether he should include the golf cart parked at the corner building, the green trash can at the curb, or the white SUV parked in front of Eggs ‘N’ Tricities. In the end, he’d decided to go with the first two but nixed the car. Now as he lifts the palette knife to render the vertical lines of the white pergola’s columns, his new fans nod in approval. Even the dog seems pleased. Meanwhile, a man comes up and presents the artist with a baggie of homemade muffins, a gift from his wife who’s taken classes from the painter.

Being surrounded by appreciative onlookers isn’t unusual for the nationally acclaimed, award-winning painter. In fact, he has such a strong following that his landscapes seem to fly out of galleries. That’s certainly been the case here where three of his Bluffton paintings (The Promenade, Church of the Cross, and a street scene) were recently snatched up by collectors before Red Piano Art Gallery owners Ben and Lyn Whiteside could hang them on the walls.

Next, we all watch as Boedges considers the palm trees in the distance across Calhoun Street. The morning had started out sunny but now heavy clouds have moved in and the light that had dappled the fronds has turned flat. This is the Vermont painter’s fifth trip in two years down here and he’s fallen in love with the area’s vegetation, history, and beauty. Should he paint in the palms now? He shakes his head. He’ll wait until next week when he’s back in his studio. Meanwhile he’s made color notes on his canvas as he’s gone along. The live oaks near the park might be slashes of green at the moment but a photo he’s snapped with his iPhone will serve as a memory jogger as he finishes the canvas up in Vermont. But in the end, it will be his interpretation of the image etched in his mind that will determine the final result.

Quotes from a master painter

“My goal when I go out to paint is that I’m always looking for a masterpiece. I’m not the kind of artist who goes out to do a core study. I’m out there to get a piece of fine art.

As much as I want dead-on realism, I’m not trying to be photo-real. If you were to stand there and hold up my painting at the scene I’m painting, you’d be ‘what the hell was he looking at?’ It shouldn’t be a copy.

There’s no doubt that there’s a kernel of talent, sensitivity, and engagement with the world that makes an artist. But everything after that is how good are you with dealing with your failures. In fact, it’s a series of failures. It’s years of failures. How can you fail enthusiastically? That’s the biggest thing.

What makes a master? Someone who’s made every mistake you can probably make. Someone who has painted more good paintings than bad ones.”

Find more Mark Boedges work online at or

When you’re a plein air painter, you must contend with Mother Nature’s fickle temperament. Boedges learned early on how to roll with what she throws in his path. Being a self-described practical Midwest son, he’d started out in Texas as a computer engineer during the height of the Y2K bug scare. But a couple of months in, he bolted to the University of Colorado where he took up fine art. Inspired by his majestic surroundings but not so much by his coursework, he grabbed his paint brushes and ventured out on his own toward the Rockies and Indian Peaks Wilderness. Six years later, he would move to Vermont with his wife Rebecca and focus on the leafy mountain vistas there.

But it was plein air events, brutal outdoor competitions where Boedges “cut his teeth” that would train him to quickly scope out places, focus on unfamiliar scenes, and bring them alive in oils. As a young painter, Boedges understood that no matter how much talent you have, making it as a successful artist meant facing challenges head on and being willing to fail. “It means showing up blind to an area, usually one I’ve never been to, along with fifty other painters—and they’re all good. Then it’s like ‘Paint! Go!’” he says. “This is not generally how you want to create fine art.” Nevertheless he did, winning top prizes.

Meanwhile as the painter racked up accolades, Ben Whiteside had begun a successful campaign for Boedges to take a break from mountain terrain and train his artist’s eye on the flat, lush landscape of the Lowcountry.

Now as the clouds grow more ominous, the onlookers thank him for letting them watch before scurrying off. Raindrops are starting to hit the pavement and Boedges quickly packs up, carting paints, turpentine, canvas, easel, brushes, palette knives, and rags to his car. Before he goes, he gives me a peek at a painting of the ruins at Palmetto Bluff he’d started the day before. I’ll have to wait a few more weeks before I see these and the other three Bluffton buildings he’s painted completed and hanging in the Red Piano. I suspect once they arrive, I’d better get there quick.

(click on gallery thumbnails for larger photo)