Crazy for Plein Air
When Anderson Artists Guild member Yvonne Park heard about a plein air workshop being offered in Edisto, South Carolina, in 2018 and again the following year, she signed up for both. “Edisto is my favorite place, so I went and I loved it,” she said. “I didn’t have the right equipment, but it was fun. We painted around marshes and on Botany Bay. It got me hooked.”
Plein air comes from the French expression en plein air (in the open air). This practice of painting and drawing outside became popular among the French Impressionists, for whom capturing the quality of changing light was central. Today, plein air competitions draw thousands of artists across the world.
Park is one of those enthusiasts. A big area event is the Plein Air Festival in Blowing Rock, North Carolina. She first attended in 2019, when one of her oil paintings won second place in the nonprofessional category.
Artists have their canvases or panels stamped (Park uses panels, which are less bulky to transport), then fan out across town to paint wherever they like. For Park, that has traditionally meant heading to one of the mountain overlook sites. “A lot of us get together and paint,” she said. “We’re painting the same scene, but none of the pieces look the same.”
As the artists paint throughout Blowing Rock, fans watch them at work, sometimes even buying a painting off the easel. Mostly, though, the artwork is sold at a Wet Paint Sale on Saturday after three days of painting plein air. Artists can submit their two best pieces, which must be framed. For the three years she has been attending, Park has sold everything she submitted.
Three prizes in each category (professional and nonprofessional artists) are also presented.
Because of this event’s growing popularity, registration is now limited to 100 artists. For more information about the Blowing Rock Plein Air Festival, visit https://www.blowingrockmuseum.org/offerings/blowing-rock-plein-air-festival-2021.
Park has found that painting plein air has given her a new focus, and most of the work she’s selling now is from these events. “The big difference I am finding between painting outside and painting in a studio from a photo is that when you take a picture, it doesn’t capture all of those colors and light and shadows,” she said. “Plus, because the light changes so fast outside, you have to paint very quickly, and that makes the painting nice and loose.”
Spending all day painting outside requires some preparation, and Park totes a well-stocked cart that contains not only a camera tripod with a special attachment for holding her panel, but also paint, brushes, a palette knife, a screwdriver, a hammer, paper towels, sunscreen, wasp spray “in case a weirdo attacks you,” water, and lunch.
And she’s ready for the unexpected. This year at Blowing Rock, the weather wasn’t so great, so her husband stood over her with an umbrella when it rained.
He was an even greater help the year before when they were turning in Park’s work on the last day. He was walking ahead of her with one piece while she trailed with the other. Suddenly, she fell, breaking both her right ankle and left arm. “My painting flew past him and landed on its back,” said Park. “He took both pieces in to register them, and then we went to urgent care.”
Because she’s left-handed, Park was unable to paint for months, and she had to miss plein air events in Edisto and in Duluth, Georgia, that she had been planning to attend. But she’s now healed and ready to continue painting in the great outdoors.