Those of us, who paint plein air, pursue this path for the love of it. Painting and sketching on location in the “open air” is foremost an affair of the heart. The quick sketch an artist designs to gather information for a personal painting is not usually a “Quick paint” in a park. The plein air sketch may be a finished piece or it may serve as a means to an end which is only present in the mind’s eye of the artist.
I’ve participated in several invitational Plein air painting events since the late 90’s. My first two events were in Tucson, Arizona. I participated in the very first Door County Plein air which was sponsored by the former Birch Stone Gallery. I traveled to Estes Park, Colorado to paint with the Rocky Mountain Plein Air Painters. This was my second time at the Door County Plein Air Festival. I also regularly participate in the Cedarburg Plein Air. My work in these events has been awarded with “Best color”, Best in Show twice, Second place and an honorable mention or two. My experiences have given me some insight I’d like to share.
A plein air competition has its own personality. Some are very structured; others are very laid back. The quality of the work in an invitational show is exceptional. An open show can be uneven but the best and brightest still rise to the top and many new artists are encouraged to join in the creative process. Each style serves a bottom line – to make money for the sponsoring organization and to create a climate where the artists are also rewarded.
Competition, defined by Webster as rivalry, a match, official participation in an organized sport (art?), and an opposition, is a word you might not think of as synonymous with the creative process. But there it is, present in the description of most plein air events. Ideally, competition pushes individual achievement and excellence. Conversely, competition can be the dark side of the same event.
In my experience “open” shows can be positive and lucrative events for both artists and the sponsoring organization. Plein air competitions in New Harmony, IN and Cedarburg, WI are well funded events with substantial awards and opportunities for all. Sedona is an invitational but the mix of artists is spread evenly between local, returning and new artists. As such, these events bring attention and potential sales to all members of the community.
Perception is everything. But perception does not always match up with the truth. The reality for many of the plein air artists who travel to invitational events is that often only their expenses are covered by their sales. The lure of participation in the Invitational show is the recognition and the marketing opportunities it provides. To stand out in a crowded field and to meet personal professional goals, artists (who are often reserved and private) will agonize at auctions, smile through both success and failure and entertain while they paint. The opportunity is great but so is the risk.
Several times during the course of the week I was asked if “I was having fun?” I think I may have startled a few folks when I answered honestly, “No”. It was a week that was exhilarating, intense, challenging, engaging and sometimes frustrating.
It was a week to remember.
Bonnie’s studio is open by appointment. Her studio is located at 11249 County Road ZZ, Sister Bay. She is represented by Bonnie Paruch Studio of Sister Bay WI, and Edgewood Orchard Galleries of Fish Creek WI.
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All artwork copyright Bonnie Paruch, PSA
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