‘A race with the light:’ Plein Air Event scatters painters across the valley next week
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — The final weekend of the Main Street Steamboat Springs Farmers Market will have one special addition.
As people walk the aisles of produce and local products, they will come across artists participating in the Steamboat Art Museum’s Plein Air Event quick draw. From 10 a.m. to noon Saturday, a few dozen artists will quickly complete a painting before putting them up for sale until the conclusion of the market.
“Some people feel that it is a very quick, easy way to make a painting. You stand there for a few hours, try to put something down, see if you can capture it, pop it in a frame,” said Steamboat artist Susie Jackson, “but it’s much more than that. Any painting that takes two hours to do, has really taken 10 to 20 years experience behind it to know your colors, your pallet, what brush to use. … You really have to know your stuff. It’s a race with the light.”
The quick draw opens up the 2020 Plein Air Event, which is bringing nearly 50 local and visiting artists to Routt County for open-air, outdoor landscape painting. With artists scattered across the county, the painting portion of the event is naturally socially distanced.
“Many of the other Plein Air art festivals around the country have either been cancelled or are doing it virtually,” said Rod Hanna, president of the Steamboat Art Museum board of directors. “The fact that we’ve taken on the challenge of doing this, with certain social-distancing protocols, is pretty exciting.”
Jackson’s specialty is plein air painting. She loves how difficult it is to capture what’s in front of you, since the scene is constantly evolving. This year, Jackson expects the heavy smoke that’s inundated the valley to appear in her paintings, but she hopes it lets up a little.
“Some smoke, it creates atmosphere, and that can be a good thing,” she said. “But it’d be nice to have some bluer skies.”
One of the beauties of the festival is the ability for passersby to walk up to the artist, converse and watch them create in real time. This is not being discouraged this year, despite the pandemic, but people must wear masks and keep their distance from the artists.
“You can walk right up to the artist and ask them how they do it and what they’re doing and why they’re here,” Hanna said. “That’s part of the charm of this. While they’re actually painting, you visit with them and look at their technique and how they’re creating their work of art.”
David Harms, a returning artist to the Steamboat plein air event, enjoys speaking with people while he paints, busting out his acting and performing chops to be as charismatic as possible with those he interacts with.
The Coloradoan got his start in landscape painting about 20 years ago with plein air.
“I first cut my teeth as a landscape painter in the late ’90s, early 2000s, doing plein air paintings,” Harms said. “I was heavily influenced by a local legend, Michael J. Lynch, who’s been a mentor and a forerunner for a lot of current, contemporary guys. I lucked out and bumped into him back in the day. His first advice to me was, if I was going to be a landscape painter, to go outside and paint a lot. So, I gravitated toward that.”
Harms’ work appears in the Wildhorse Gallery in Steamboat; however, many of the artists that paint in the Plein Air Event are still breaking out in the industry.
“It gives developing artists an opportunity to not only meet with other artists like themselves … paint, to have their paintings on display in a gallery setting and actually make some sales,” Hanna said. “From an artist’s standpoint, that’s the real benefit of participating in these. We want to present developing artists with this opportunity by staging this festival.”
When the week is done, the artists head inside to sell their pieces at the Steamboat Art Museum beginning Friday, Sept. 25. The space only allows 35 people in at a time, so that part of the annual event will look a lot different.
At the exhibit, people can meet and get to know Joshua Been, featured artist and judge of the 2020 event.
Been is from Salida and has been the featured artist at the Sedona Plein Air Festival, which is where Hanna met him.
“He’s very accomplished. He teaches workshops,” Hanna said. “He’s very much sought after at these festivals.”
Shelby Reardon is the assistant editor at the Steamboat Pilot & Today. To reach her, call 970-871-4253, email sreardon@SteamboatPilot.com or follow her on Twitter @ByShelbyReardon.
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