Editor's note: This article was published in Grand Traverse Scene magazine's Summer II 2018 issue. Pick up a free copy at area hotels, visitor's centers, chambers of commerce or at the Record-Eagle building on Front Street. Click here to read GT Scene in its entirety online.
Ruth Kitchen loves plein air painting so much that she recently traveled to France to walk in the footsteps of the impressionists who made painting outdoors an art form.
But this summer she won’t have to travel much farther than her own backyard. The first “Paint Grand Traverse: A Plein Air Affair” will take place in Traverse City and the surrounding region Aug. 13-18.
Besides on-site painting opportunities for invited artists, the festival and competition will feature parties, live painting demonstrations, a first-timer painting session, a kids’ “paint out,” a quick-draw competition and sales of the week’s work.<\z13.5f”’Times New Roman’, serif”>
“As artists, we are searching for the ‘light’ and it is ever fleeting,” said Kitchen, of Traverse City, who volunteered as an ambassador for the event and will host one of the 44 artists coming from across the country. “I am excited to have a major event focused on artists and plein air painting.”
The event was organized by Crooked Tree Arts Center, which has locations in Traverse City and Petoskey, to celebrate the Grand Traverse region and its beauty and to put the region on the “artists map,” said Megan Kelto, Crooked Tree Arts Center’s associate director in Traverse City. Traverse City was the “logical choice” to host the event because of its airport, and many hotels and restaurants, she said.
“The plein air painting competitions are very popular events, and it’s a thing that’s growing,” Kelto said. “There have been new ones launched all over the country. They’re held in very beautiful places, like Sedona, Arizona; Door County, Wisconsin; Jupiter, Florida; and Laguna Beach, California. We think our scenery stacks against any of them.”
Invited artists — from 14 states — were selected based on their work, plein air painting experience and reputation, said Elizabeth Pollie, a Harbor Springs artist and Crooked Tree member who dreamed up the event and helped narrow down the field. Many are winners of major plein air competitions whose work is widely collected.
“I tried to put together a list of people that have a diverse style and approach,” she said. “I think that’s really important. Some have a thick, juicy approach, others have a soft, tonal approach. You’ll see those different voices on every easel.”
During the week, the artists will paint on site on the Leelanau Peninsula, Sleeping Bear Dunes, Old Mission Peninsula, Traverse City, East Grand Traverse Bay and Elk Rapids. They’ll sell their work at a “Gala Celebration and Sale” Aug. 18 at the Crooked Tree Arts Center in Traverse City.
“I think they’ll be super happy with the area,” Pollie said. “When you organize one of these you have to have sites that are paintable and that have more than one thing to paint. You have to be able to see it through an artist’s eye. It’s exciting for an artist to roll into a place and have a lot to paint.”
Oil and watercolor artist Aimee Erickson will fly from her home in Portland, Oregon, after shipping her frames in advance. She’ll travel with her paints — made of organic vegetable oil and other materials — in checked luggage.
“I like to travel to new places,” said Erickson, who won Best in Show at the 2017 Laguna Beach Plein Air Invitational. “I’ve been to the other side of Lake Michigan but never to Traverse City. It looks beautiful. I go by feel, what sounds like it’s going to be an adventure. Plus the times I’ve been in the Midwest, people are so friendly. It’s appealing.”
She and other artists will compete for $10,000 in cash prizes at the event. Masters competition awards will be juried by plein air painting luminary Ned Mueller, of Renton, Washington, the only Northwest artist designated as a Master Signature Artist by the Oil Painters of America and The American Impressionist Society.
Traverse City artist Sue Bowerman is still perfecting the art form but plans to take advantage of live demonstrations and other festival events open to the public. She’ll also volunteer as an ambassador at one of the outdoor locations for invited artists.
“It will be fun to watch what these really fine people are doing,” said Bowerman, a member, along with Kitchen, of the Plein Air Painters of Northwest Michigan and a smaller group that calls itself Magic Thursday Artists. “And I think it would be great if there were opportunities to paint alongside them.”
Pollie said Paint Grand Traverse will become an annual signature event for Crooked Tree.
“I can’t tell you what an exciting thing it is to have a high-quality art event come through the area,” she said.
Paint Grand Traverse events
Artists on Location: Leelanau Peninsula: Leland Fishtown, Ciccone Vineyards and 9 Bean Rows Farmstead – Aug. 13, 9 a.m.
Sunset Paint Out at Sleeping Bear Dunes – Aug. 13, 7:30 p.m.
Artists on Location: The Wineries of Old Mission Peninsula: Bonobo Winery, Grey Hare Inn, Chateau Chantal – Aug. 14, 9 a.m.
Live Painting Demo: Steven James Stannard – Aug. 14, 10 a.m. Crooked Tree Arts Center; free*
Membership Societies: Opening Celebration and “Small Wonders” Sale – Aug. 14, 6 p.m., Bonobo Winery
Artists on Location: Wineries of Leelanau Peninsula: Black Star Farms, Verterra Winery, L. Mawby – Aug. 15, 9 a.m.
Quick Draw Competition: Aug. 15, 4 p.m., Fountain Point Resort; free, advance registration to participate, sale of quick art follows*
Artists on Location: East Bay / Elk Rapids – Aug. 16, 9 a.m.
Artists on Location: Downtown Traverse City – Aug. 17, 9 a.m.
Live Painting Demo: Ned Mueller – Aug. 17, noon, Crooked Tree Arts Center; free*
Pint-Sized Paint Out – Aug. 17, 1 p.m., Crooked Tree Arts Center; free*
Fearless First-Timers: Aug. 18, 10 a.m., Crooked Tree Arts Center; $40 members/$60 non-members, registration required*
Gala Preview Hour: Aug. 18, 6 p.m., Crooked Tree Arts Center; $50*
Paint Grand Traverse Gala Celebration and Sale: Aug. 18, 7 p.m., Crooked Tree Arts Center; $20*
Visit paintgrandtraverse.com for more information.