Get Ready to Swoon Over These Dreamy Plein Air Martha’s Vineyard Paintings

Photography by Jim Bathie

Text by Katie Ellis

Few places across the United States conjure a more immediate romantic notion than the idyllic island of Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts. There’s something undeniably magical and majestic about a towering coastal lighthouse anchored near a sparkling shoreline surrounded by tall island grasses blowing in the breeze. Artist Nancy Motley Walton has found a way to capture a piece of that magic in her plein air watercolor paintings by the sea.

Photography by Jim Bathie

“Sometimes I’m in control, and sometimes the paint’s in control,” she says. “That’s how you come up with these wonderful results.” Nancy has been working in watercolor since 1991. “I started my journey into painting in my early 30s after being in the field of decorative arts working primarily with oil,” she says. “When I started in watercolor, I was hooked.” Over time, she’s worked to develop her own style as a representational painter, drawing upon the knowledge that was shared with her via other talented and internationally renowned artists.

Photography by Jim Bathie

While Nancy often paints in her studio, she finds a different type of creative energy and joy when she takes her easel outdoors. “I love working in my studio, but I’m also very much a people person,” she says. “When I’m out painting on the Vineyard and people want to come up and talk with me, I love it. I enjoy talking with people about my work.”

Beneath the warm island sun—and sometimes the moody sky of a looming storm—Nancy has painted the Edgartown Lighthouse countless times, and each time, she finds new inspiration in the familiar setting. “I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve painted that lighthouse, and I still love it every time,” she says. “It’s different every time; my head is in a different place, the weather is different . . . They’re all a little bit different.” 

Photography by Jim Bathie

One of the best things about painting en plein air, Nancy shares, is discovering the story that is so often attached to a purchase of one of her pieces. “To the people who are buying these paintings, it is very often sentimental and something emotional they see in that painting,” she says, noting people have recalled the featured location as one for engagements, weddings, or other special memories. 

Photography by Jim Bathie

Her portfolio is not built solely on beautiful lighthouses, however. Nancy has enjoyed painting in beautiful settings across the world. “Despite all of the stuff that’s so scary and sad and negative, I feel that this is a really beautiful world that we live in,” she says. “When I’m in my everyday wandering, my eyes are always open for something that I might want to paint.” 

From a tiny weed in the sidewalk to a sunbeam bursting through the clouds, Nancy finds beauty all around her. When looking for her next subject, light plays the role of the main character. “The light is always what catches my eye. That’s ground zero for all of my paintings,” Nancy says. 

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