Artists from across the country venture to Steamboat Springs for plein air art competition |

Artists from across the country venture to Steamboat Springs for plein air art competition

This is a photo of local artist Chula Beauregard's "Autumn Bounty" piece, which won first place in the 2015 plein air event.
Courtesy Photo

If You Go...

What: Opening Reception, Awards and Sale

When: 5 to 8 p.m., Friday, June 17

Where: Steamboat Art Museum, 807 Lincoln Ave.

If You Go...

What: Quick Draw and BBQ and Silent Auction

When: 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Where: Wolf Run Ranch, Routt County Road 33

Tickets: $35 per person. Purchase in advance at the museum or call 970-870-1755

— Next week, 40 plein air artists will set up their canvases on easels to study the subjects before them as part of Steamboat Art Museum’s annual plein air art competition.

From various places around Steamboat Springs, artists will create images based on their perceptions and artistic vision, but time is not on their side.

“We all use shapes and brush work to guide a viewer’s eye through the painting,” said Steamboat artist Bonnie McGee, who won the Best of Show award at the Plein Air Artists of Colorado show in Denver in 2014. “Unlike studio painting, where you have the luxury of time, in plein air, the clock is ticking, so you must work quickly and decisively. That makes it very intense and focused and brings an immediacy to the paintings.”

Local and regional artists from across the country will converge on Steamboat Springs June 11 to 17 for the non-juried painting competition. Artists have to paint within 50 miles of Steamboat and will be at different locations each day.

“The reputation for this event is building, and we have twice as many artists compared to last year,” SAM Executive Director Betse Grassby said. “We have a higher caliber of artists involved.”

On Friday, June 17, SAM will host the Artists’ Reception and Awards Ceremony with the new works on display at the gallery. Awards include cash prizes and three awards of excellence from Historic Routt County, the Community Agriculture Alliance and Mainstreet Steamboat Springs.

The museum will host the traditional Quick Draw, Auction and BBQ event Saturday night at Wolf Run Ranch on Routt County Road 33. Artists will have two hours to start and finish a painting on location at the ranch. Those finished pieces will be on display and can be purchased during the silent auction. The event will also include a catered barbecue, bar and live music.

Tickets to the Quick Draw BBQ and Auction are $35 with proceeds benefiting the nonprofit Steamboat Art Museum.

While artists may have an idea of places in Steamboat they want to focus on, David Harms, Denver artist who is part of the Plein Air Painters of America, said that may change once an artist is on site.

“For me, I find my subject when something strikes me at the time,” he said. “I rarely go out knowing what I will find. But those moments where you see a scene, it could be a combination of shapes in a cloud formation or a shape within a grove of trees, that simply says to me ‘Oh! I have to get that down on paper.’ It’s just whatever hits me,”

Under time constraints and ever-changing conditions, artists must work at a certain tempo to get the piece done, Harris explained.

“The process is as individual as the artists, but we all paint outdoors, beset by mosquitoes, in the wind, rain or sleet,” McGee said. “As the sun arcs, the shadows and light change. We try to block in the major elements before the light changes. As an oil painter, that means laying in thin washes for the dark masses and then layering thicker paint over the lean.”

The plein air process of painting is worth observing in McGee’s opinion.

“It’s more interesting than watching paint dry,” McGee said. “People will get to see the entire process by which a painting emerges from a blank canvas. Steamboat offers an incredible variety of inspirational vistas. What better place is there to paint?”

To reach Audrey Dwyer, call 970-871-4229, email or follow her on Twitter @Audrey_Dwyer1

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