TRAVERSE CITY — Challenge is a part of the landscape for plein air painters.
Even without biting and stinging insects, heat or cold, rain, and easel-flattening wind. Even without schlepping equipment to that hard-to-hike-to spot and standing there for hours. Even without the sun changing the light every 15 minutes, landscape painting in real time means interpreting what’s happening and getting it down quickly.
“It’s fun, but it’s hard work,” said Barbara Reich, painter, Crooked Tree Arts Center-TC instructor and Leelanau County resident. “When you stand, and look, and try to put it down on paper, or on canvas, you remember if it was real hot that day, if the bugs were biting.”
Studio work is a “different animal,” she said.
But COVID-19 threw additional wrenches at plein air painters and art world organizers when it became apparent that the summertime circuit of “paint outs” — high-intensity events that bring artists, spectators and buyers together — wouldn’t safely happen.
Crooked Tree Art Center’s Paint Grand Traverse, only in its third year, initially canceled the summer art celebration in May. But then, borrowing a few brushes from its artists, organizers took an out-of-the-paintbox approach.
“We saw our regional numbers (of COVID-19 cases) were not as high, and thought ‘how can we do this and still keep our numbers down?’” said Kristi Wodek, CTAC-TC’s education and outreach director. “We knew not everyone would want to come, and we opened it back up.”
This year, 40 juried artists will participate in Paint Grand Traverse’s hybrid, two-day paint out Aug. 8-9. Event alterations include the shorter two-day time frame, more local artists and no event-organized homestays, no GPS check-ins to intentionally draw spectators, and no large-scale gatherings. Additions include online chats, exhibitions and socializing.
The Pint-Sized Paint Out kids activity, which would normally happen live and altogether, now runs online Aug. 8-16.
Plein air principles are unchanged, assisted by selfie technology. Documenting the work’s authenticity — as the method is rooted in immediacy and integrity — remains the expectation.
“It’s about painting a moment, the right-here, right now,” Wodek said.
The right now has changed things for artist Lori Feldpausch, who usually spends the season traveling to paint-outs in art-loving communities around the country like Santa Fe, New Mexico, Door County, Wisconsin and Carmel, California.
This year she is staying close to home and participating in online art events in Northport, Glen Arbor and Leland.
That her hometown now boasts a national-scale plein air event is no surprise to the painter, who relocated from downstate for the art five years ago.
“We have such beautiful scenery, we were always up here, so we moved,” Feldpausch said. “The success (of Paint Grand Traverse) says something about our community supporting the arts and the arts center. We’re fortunate because it is a lot of work to put these on.”
The intense reorganizing effort brought new things to light — things they may not have discovered otherwise, Wodek said. Virtual galleries opens up new sales opportunities for the artists, and the virtual Pint Sized Paint Out means kids from across the country can participate, she said. They also got a $300 donation for kids’ prize money.
Some of new elements will carry forward into next year’s planning, pandemic non-withstanding, along with a rekindled appreciation for what’s in front of us, she said.
“There is uncertainty, but we can use what we have,” Wodek said. “Despite all the unknowns, we’re being reminded that you don’t have to go far to be inspired or to create.”
Reich said she rediscovered her own backyard.
“I’m an avid gardener — and it seemed that I always spent so much time getting to a particular location to paint — but this year I had the opportunity to paint some things that I love, that were dear to my heart. It’s been very satisfying.”