Plein Air Festivals: Tips from the Pros

Advice From Artists

On getting psyched: "If I haven’t painted much in a while, I don’t want to start cold. I try to paint three or four times before the event to get in the zone."—David Haskell (www.dhaskellart.com)

On packing: "Duplicate as closely as possible what you like when painting in the studio, yet be able to travel light and set up quickly."—Raleigh Kinney (www.kinneywatercolors.com)

On preparation: "Being methodical in your preparation and attending to the details will free your creative energies so that you can get the most out of your experience."—Glenna Hartmann (www.glennahartmann.com)

On locations: "Link up with a local artist as soon as possible. They know the best locations, and their studio may be available in rain or wind."—Vicki McMurry (www.vickimcmurry.com)

On selecting for the show: "Ask a couple of friends to take a look to get a second opinion on which to show. Don’t hang anything you wouldn’t hang in a gallery."—Kate Starling (www.kstarling.com)

On pricing: "Keep prices the same as gallery prices. I feel the years of practice to get good at painting en plein air should be rewarded just as much as the practice for studio paintings."—Clark Mitchell (www.cgmitchell.com)

On dealing with the public: "It’s very important to meet the folks who will be buying your art. Patrons love the feeling of having a personal experience in meeting their favorite artists."—Bonnie Posselli (www.bonnieposselli.com)

When it’s over: "Make a few final notes about new painting ideas for next year, in the event you’re lucky enough to be invited back again."—Cody DeLong (www.codydelong.com)

Advice From the Organizers

Marilyn Demos Fravel, executive director of the Sedona Art Center, which organizes the Sedona Plein Air Festival featured in the article, has many suggestions for first-timers:

  • Contact other participating artists you know prior to your first event to get the lay of the land before arriving.
  • Be on time for event orientation.
  • Consider arriving a day early to scope out the scene and develop your questions for the orientation session.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for guidance, as the staff and volunteers are there to make your experience fun, comfortable and rewarding.
  • Let your patrons know about your participation and encourage them to join you at the festival.
  • Get plenty of rest before the festival, and check the weather report.
  • Read all festival information carefully and keep up with timelines, deadlines and updates.

These festivals aren’t just a week of painting and schmoozing with other artists. Fravel has high expectations of artists, as do all organizers. "We expect fine, fine artwork, with a variety of subject matter. We also expect the artists to have a comfortable interface with the public while painting and at events." Among other things, she expects artists to participate in promotion by mailing festival information to people on their mailing lists.

I asked other event organizers for tips. Here are a few more:

On preparation: "Come rested and organized for a busy time. Ask lots of questions of the organizers so you understand how the event works, come to the socials or welcome parties, and make an effort to meet other artists that may help you find good spots or share tricks of the trade. Don’t be shy or suffer in silence. This is an intense, professional experience and needs your ‘A-game’ to do well."—Karen Kile, executive director, San Luis Obispo Plein Air Painting Festival

On professionalism: "Follow the rules and read the literature. Read it twice, if you have to. And although you’re an artist, you’re also a businessperson, and professionalism is important."—Hylla Evans, Sonoma Plein Air Foundation

Michael Chesley Johnson is an artist, workshop instructor and website designer. He lives in the Canadian Maritimes where he paints and teaches at Friar’s Bay Studio Gallery. Visit www.michaelchesleyjohnson.com or www.friarsbaygallery.com.

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