Steamboat artists win awards at PleinAir Moab art festival |

Steamboat artists win awards at PleinAir Moab art festival

Luke Graham
Local artist Bonnie McGee
John F. Russell

— Painting often is thought of as a peaceful, therapeutic endeavor done in the confines of a studio.

Of course, that’s not always the case, and for local artists Bonnie McGee and Susan Gill Jackson, Moab’s plein air painting competition was a bout of speed and extreme painting.

The two each competed in a pair of quick draw events set outside in Moab’s beautiful landscape and in conditions not always complementary to painting.

They dealt with bugs, dirt, wind and changing conditions in the competition.

“You have to work fast and accurate,” Jackson said. “But to be painting and outside doesn’t get much better.”

Each artist received awards for her work.

McGee captured the Special Recognition for Excellence in oil painting for “Convergence.” Jackson garnered an honorable mention and walked away with the prestigious Artists’ Choice award for “Bill’s Trail.”

The way it works in the competition is each artist picks an event in which they want to compete. McGee chose the quick draw near the Castle Creek Winery. Jackson chose the quick draw near Center and Main streets in downtown Moab.

From there, each blank canvas is stamped, a whistle is blown and artists have three hours to complete a piece.

“You have to think about painting the lights and darks,” McGee said. “In Moab, in the canyons, I got in the shadows first and then don’t mess with it.”

The ever-changing light and pressure of time were some of the obstacles, but in each competition, the wind kicked up, making painting even more of a chore.

Each entered the competition with different strategies. As soon as the quick draw started, McGee put on her iPod and played Brainwave Symphony music to help her relax.

Jackson’s strategy was to paint for a bit and then step away to talk with onlookers and passers-by.

For each, the strategies paid off in garnering recognition for their work.

“You’re staring at a scene for three hours, and that’s something that some people don’t get to do,” McGee said. “You have a strange familiarity with it. Mine became a very spiritual place.”

Each has done similar competitions in the past and said they would do this one again. Plein air art takes years to get good at, and each said the competition is a good way to keep the medium fresh and fun.

“Once you do plein air art, you will never look at the world the same way again,” Jackson said. “Not with the way the colors and depth play on each other. It’s pretty amazing to look at the world differently.”

To reach Luke Graham, call 970-871-4229, email or follow him on Twitter @LukeGraham

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