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As cyclists, runners and rollerbladers breeze by them, two men stand nearly still just a few steps off the busy Mississippi River Trail.

So far on this sunny morning in Leach Park in Bettendorf, the artists say dozens of people have passed by and, depending on their speed, issued a double-take at their set-up, complete with easels, brushes and plenty of paint. Some passersby have asked, “What are you guys doing out here?”

David Anderson and Brad Bisbey are out here practicing one of their favorite outdoor exercises: Plein air painting.

Plein air, the French term for outdoors, is a preferred style of painting for these Moline residents.

Anderson and Bisbey, both lifelong painters and instructors, paint weekly at sites such as Credit Island, Sylan Island and Scott County Park.

“I love it,” Bisbey said. “It’s about getting outside and experiencing it.”

It’s also about finding — and showcasing — the Quad-City area’s natural beauty.

“We don’t have the mountains or oceans, but what we do have here is beautiful,” Anderson said. “It’s up to the artist to discover that and show it to people.”

Anderson was a combat artist while serving in the U.S. Marine Corps during the Vietnam War. He has made painting more of a priority since he retired in 2010 from Deere & Co.

In previous years, Anderson, who paints outside year-round, has worked on a piece on the course of the TPC at Deere Run in the middle of the John Deere Classic.

He keeps a sketchbook in his car and, if he passes a particularly interesting landscape, or country road, he’ll often pull over to take notes and return to the site later.

“Anything is fair game,” he said. “If something sends a shiver up my spine, that’s probably a sign I should stop and paint it.”

Anderson and Bisbey are gearing up for the second annual Plein Air Paint Out, set for Saturday, July 21, and presented by Beréskin Gallery & Art Academy.

The all-day event invites people to paint outside along the Bettendorf riverfront, anywhere from Leach Park to Bereskin Gallery, 2967 State St., Bettendorf.

About 40 artists are already signed up, including Anderson and Bisbey, and some artists are coming from as far as Chicago and Minnesota, according to gallery owner Pat Bereskin.

“We live in a beautiful area,” she said. “It should be recorded to show the quality of life we have around us.”

After discovering Leach Park, Anderson said he might come back here for the event later this month. He imagines painters will be spread out along the bike path because, “Something different speaks to different artists.”

“There’s so much I want to paint here,” he said. “You have to just pick something and go for it. But you can always come back.”

Anderson’s easel is pointed toward construction surrounding the I-74 bridge and his almost-finished painting shows a group of cyclists turning the corner of the bike path coming toward him.

He started this painting a few days ago and returned at the same time of day to replicate the sunlight.

“To get the full feeling of the environment, you have to be there,” he said. “You’re using all of your senses and you’re making an emotional connection that hopefully people can see when they look at the final painting.”

Bisbey’s painting is focused on his view of the Mississippi River and a few buildings across the river in Moline. It's a much more inspiring view, he said, than his home studio. 

“There’s nothing like being in the exact spot you're painting,” he said. “I like to see and feel the location. It’s something you don’t get from seeing a photo of a place.”

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Amanda Hancock is a reporter covering food, arts and entertainment in the Quad-Cities (and beyond).