Inspired by the Chesapeake: Meet Walt Bartman, Artist and Instructor

The renowned artist's favorite spot from which to paint is an island in the Chesapeake.

Despite teaching art to more than 20,000 people around the world, renowned artist Walt Bartman finds the natural beauty of Tilghman Island his favorite spot from which to paint. 

Why Tilghman Island?

I first came to Tilghman Island in the 1980s and was immediately astonished by its beauty. There were endless subjects to paint in every direction. Black Walnut Cove at the mouth of the Choptank River is still one of my favorite spots. I do some of my best painting from the same spot relying upon the change of seasons, colors, and lighting for a unique scene. Every time I am there, I’m energized by the light and am equally drawn to the beauty of a sunset as I am the energy and strength of a storm.

Walt Bartman teaching near the waterfront
Walt Bartman teaching a painting workshop on the waterfront.

What have you learned from plein air painting?

As J.W.M. Turner, the most influential 19th century landscape artist, said, “Tie yourself to a mast.” Turner ‘s quote is enlightening. Being immersed in the rhythm of nature is the essence of painting in the “present.” The biggest lesson I have learned in mastering plein air painting is to realize your natural surroundings don’t give you a design; you must find one. Considering everything in nature is in motion and nothing remains the same, it is an incredible challenge I value most in making a painting.

How would you describe your art?

Painting is my passion. For the past 50 years, my painting has been the catalyst for my life. Nature provides an endless number of visual sensations to paint. You can never run out of ideas because no two days are alike. The distinguishing characteristic about working outdoors is that the subjects are bathed in color. I would call my style of painting representational but not literal or realistic.

Painting by Walt Bartman
Bartman's Tilghman Island workshops are offered four times annually. Painting by Walt Bartman

How are your workshops designed? 

My popular Tilghman Island Workshops are offered four times annually—June, July, August, and October—and run approximately three days each. Students of all skill levels are welcome and can work in any medium they prefer including watercolor, oil, acrylic, and drawing. I’m a landscape artist at heart, so there’s always a special emphasis on plein air painting. The workshops include instruction on drawing, composition, and the best use of color. Lectures are recorded so that students can focus on their craft and assess their work later. 

In what ways do you challenge students to “see more?”

In 2000, I was featured on CBS Charles Osgood’s “Sunday Morning” in a story about how I work with students to enable them to see painting as more than just making pictures. It is a record of their thoughts and awareness. I teach my students to think like artists and see color differently and hopefully, share my passion for painting. I’ve taught over 20,000 students in my lifetime, including Harry Cooper, Head of Modern Art at the National Gallery, and Mitch Rales, owner of Glenstone Museum in Potomac, MD.

Painting by Walt Bartman
Walt Bartman's career spans four decades, and he has taught more than 20,000 students. Painting by Walt Bartman

Where will you teach next?

In early September this fall, I will teach a workshop in Crete, Greece. We’ve planned two painting sessions, for example, in the Heraklion area. You can easily spend a morning or afternoon strolling around the Old Town, seeing the sites, and soaking up the atmosphere. Heraklion grew up around the sea, and still today, the old town focuses on the harbor. Every day we will be painting for a minimum of six to eight hours. There will also be the option for sunset and night painting. Closer to home there are numerous workshops at one of three studios in the area.

Where can folks learn more about your art and workshops?

Visit my website at to view my work and roster of fall workshops. 

Interview by Gwen Mayes

About the interviewer: Gwen Mayes is a writer, life coach, workshop host, and docent for the Annapolis Maritime Museum and Park. Find her at