Friday, May 22, 2015

Plein Air Competitions and Quick Draws: A Primer

"Wayne Feed," oil, 16"h x 12"w, ©Jill Banks 2015 painted in Wayne Plein Air ($1250)
Plein Air Competitions and Quick Draws: What are they? What's it like competing in one?

Now seems like the perfect time for this post.

Wayne Plein Air 2015
I'm just back home from a week of painting the town in Wayne Plein Air as one of 30 artists chosen from around the country to find inspiration, create finished works and turn in a total (between us) of 245 pieces of art to be hung with care, ready for the opening gala reception at the end of the week on Saturday, May 16. What's astounding is that none of those beautiful pieces of art existed the week before. I'll give you an insiders look into life at one of these multi-day events.

Call for Artists and Collectors to Great Falls, VA
There's also the first annual Paint Great Falls (Great Falls, VA) plein air competition (May 28-30) and quick draw (Sunday, May 31, 10am to noon) coming up and I'm hoping to entice more folks to come participate (register) and watch as artists of all ages come out to paint (or draw) the town. Find out more about it at and register at the Art of Great Falls.

"Flowers To Go," oil, 12"h x 24"w, ©Jill Banks 2015. I painted this over two consecutive mornings during Wayne Plein Air. The first day, they happened to be paving this little stretch of road that morning. I had to tuck my painting and supplies away while they cleaned off the road. Luckily, one of the foreman warned me. ($1750)

"Painted Ladies," oil, 12"h x 16"w, ©Jill Banks 2015. Painted the last day of Wayne Plein Air ($1250)
What is plein air?
"Plein air" means "in the open air." Artists since the 1800s with John Constable in England and the Impressionists in France painted outside, creating what was in front of them, live -- under Mother Nature's changing conditions -- lighting, movements, weather, wind. This move outdoors was facilitated by the ability to put artists' oil colors into paint tubes and the invention of the French easel. Yea! Life got easier outside the studio. (It's still not easy.) Read a short history of plein air painting here.

"League Shop," oil, 16"h x 12"w,©Jill Banks 2015 painted in the town of Wayne PA. ($1250)
What are the Plein Air Competitions all about?
Fundraising, involving the community in art, art collecting, fun and hard work. There are many plein air competitions springing up all around the country (and beyond). Some are very low key ... you just show up on a given day (or days) and share in the fun of trying to capture your surroundings live. Others require you to register and the first ones to do so can participate. Both of these varieties are unjuried or open events -- no one chooses who participates. The Paint Great Falls event is first come, first served for the plein air competition that takes place May 28 to May 30. (There are still plenty of spots. Registration is open at Art of Great Falls.

"Hung Out to Dry," oil, 20"h x 16"w, ©Jill Banks. Found this location en route to a pizza place. ($1950)
For most of these competitions, participants are asked to paint in certain locations (within a specified radius or a particular place, like St. David's Church) on certain days. As the competition begins, blank paper or canvases are stamped. There are turn-in dates and times when work is delivered, usually framed and ready to hang or on easels ready for judging. In between canvas stamping and delivery, artists search for the places within the competition's allowed locations that best appeals to their tastes. (This might just be the
"Red Barn (Garrett Mill Farm)," oil, 16"h x 20"w, ©Jill Banks 2015. My first clear success for the week. ($1950)
toughest part. It is VERY easy to just search and search for the perfect spot and not leave yourself enough time to paint.)

Because these are competitions, prizes are awarded -- even when participation was not juried. Everyone should give themselves a hand for surviving the search/creation/framing aspects of
"Cooped Up," oil, 12"h x 16"w, ©Jill Banks 2015. Fun with the chicks at Willowbrook Farm (Sold)
the plein air competition. If you happen to be in the lucky few who win an award in a competition, wow! You really are lucky! (And you've put in a ton of hard work and time behind the easel en plein air in preparation.)

How Do Juried Plein Air Competitions Select Artists?
"Snowballs at Strafford," oil, 10"h x 8"w, ©Jill Banks 2015. Found my view by looking up. ($650)
Wayne Plein Air was a juried competition. Artists were asked to submit photographs of their work (online or on a CD) they created en plein air (vs. a studio piece or one created with the use of photography). A juror then selected from the pool of applicants the 30 artists accepted to compete. The artists chosen were phenomenal. What a great group! Proof was everywhere in the gallery (the exhibition continues at the Wayne Art Center through June 27).

How Do Groups Raise Funds through Plein Air Events?
  • Sales of artwork
  • Ticket Sales for receptions/openings 
  • Sponsorships (These events are great for the community at large.)
Plein Air Easton, coming up on its eleventh year in 2015, is the largest and most prestigious juried plein air competition in the United States. In 2013, Plein Air Easton art sales totalled $325,000 with 313 paintings sold in 2.5 days. At the Collector's Preview Party they sold a painting every 45 seconds. Incredible! All that success means that competition is fierce for an artist trying to jury into Easton.

A report from Wayne Plein Air folks is that over 50 paintings were purchased during the opening weekend of the 245 we painted and turned in.  With over a month to go for the exhibit, the Wayne Art Center and the artists may just have a very successful event to celebrate. For Wayne Plein Air, the Wayne Art Center receives 40% of each sale.

What is the Quick Draw?
$10 and a Little Ambition (The Quick Draw)
I LOVE the quick draw -- a timed event generally in a very specific spot. Many plein air competitions include a quick draw that is open to the competition artists and anyone else who would like to join them in creating artwork on the spot.

Paint Great Falls has a Quick Draw component on Sunday, May 31 in the Great Falls Village Centre The Village Green is one of the most popular areas for the townspeople to gather for events.  A Quick Draw Competition for a $10 fee will take place on the Village Green on Sunday, May 31st from 10am-noon, registration opens at 9am.  Artists will paint anywhere within the loop of the Village Green starting at 10am.  Artists will display their completed paintings on easels promptly at noon for judging and selling at the Gazebo through Sunday evening.  Any paintings sold will contribute 25% to The Arts of Great Falls.  Awards for the Quick Draw is $300 for the adult winner and two $50 awards to youth. 

Come Be a Spectator, May 31, 10am to Noon
For those not participating as artists, for two hours you get to see artwork take shape and potentially purchase a piece of the town after Armand Cabrera chooses an adult winner and the two youth awardees. And here's a hint: watch but don't talk or stand too close to the artists during those two hours. They are concentrating!

I've participated in a lot of these quick draws and they are just plain fun for artists and spectators. Wet paintings and drawings are set up on easels right away ... all in a row. For the adult division, you should have frames ready, wired and ready to pop in your art to set on the easel and be hung. For the young ones, framing is not expected.

Hints for Participating in a Quick Draw
Even though you'll be starting with a blank stamped canvas or piece of paper at the allotted time, that doesn't mean you have to start thinking about what you'll do at 10am. I will have picked out my place, area of interest, created a very rough sketch to place by my side, have my palette (or tools ready) and might mix up some of the main colors to use in the scene.

"Two Tents," oil, 10"h x 8"w, ©Jill Banks 2013 created during Mountain Maryland's Quick Draw
Choose your canvas size. Paint or draw in a size that you are comfortable completing in two hours or less. If framing is necessary, have a frame ready for either orientation (portrait or landscape) you might choose. (A square canvas could make this easier.)

Check out the site beforehand. Even sketch there at the same time of day. (I don't do this but you can.) The
A scene from the Mountain Maryland Plein Air quick draw event. All pieces were completed in two hours and then immediately set up on easels for judging.
caveat is that what a place looks like one day doesn't tell you what it will be like another. During the Quick Draw for Mountain Maryland Plein Air during my first year there, I'd selected a kiosk as my focal point and for my sketch getting ready during the hour before the horn blew to start. As I sat there, a tent went up blocking my view ... and my painting became "Two Tents." Stuff always happens.

Have fun!

Look up, down, in front of you, behind you ... a step away left or right, standing up or sitting down to choose your spot. It's a funny dance but the view sure changes with each shift.  It's worth the effort.

What's It Like to Compete in Multi-Day Plein Air Events?
Painting "Hung Out to Dry" during Wayne Plein Air
Everyone reacts differently. Some hate it, some love it. In between moments of frustration and jangled nerves, are opportunities to enjoy and capture fresh views, meet fellow artists, be appreciated for your talent and presence by townspeople, get inside looks at properties that wouldn't be afforded otherwise. It's celebratory. Places are appreciated differently because you were there.

Coming back from Wayne, my head is so full of all the neat moments and memories of six jam-packed days. I painted there the first night ("Wayne Feed") aided by a homeowner who turned on the lights on the gas pump, requested the Christmas lights be turned on, set up a ladder with a Coleman lantern so I could see my palette and painting in progress under the night's sky and offered all the enthusiasm over my progress that one could ever hope for. Days were filled with lots of such positive encounters, reactions.

I spent days around a pregnant sheep, an ornery goose, friendly dogs, chickens, gracious people. I LOVED the view, was grateful that this is what I get to do. One invitation led to another place to paint. While I was working at my easel, Randy took a walk around a gorgeous farm led by a young boy ... who introduced him to the resident donkeys. Watching the two of them was one of the highlights.

The downside is that it is really difficult to choose what to paint -- every day, every part of the every day. Paintings don't always cooperate. I take awhile to settle in to a place, to "get it" and to start painting well. Not everything turns out. (Odds of success are small in plein air painting.) I worry that there will be enough successful paintings to turn in during each receiving date. (For Wayne, we could paint from Monday night to Thursday and had to turn in that work by Thursday at 8pm, framed and ready to hang. Then paint on Friday and turn in work again by 8pm. Then paint on Saturday and turn in that painting by 3pm and get back by 6pm for the opening of the Gala.) It's intense but in the end, I was proud of the paintings ... and happy.

I stayed with a host family (Wendy and Larry Liss) who helped in every way possible including offering great coffee, homemade granola, a comfy room, an easel to put on finishing touches or look at my paintings at days' end and a table for framing. Great company too when I wasn't out painting!

There were bugs. I was covered with paint for days. It was very tiring!

Expenses are few. We met wonderful people who are great supporters. Artwork sells and new collectors added. I'd do it all over again in a heartbeat.  (I'll be going to Telluride Colorado in June for Telluride Plein Air. Can't wait!)

Excuse this very long post. Any questions about the Paint Great Falls and Quick Draw events, please email me at I'd be happy to help!

Paintings shown here from Wayne are available for purchase at the Wayne Art Center in Wayne, PA through June 27.

Thanks for reading!


Phone: 703.403.7435

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See the Events page for more info/updates

May 12-16:  Wayne Plein Air, Wayne and Philadelphia, PA. Juried as one of 30 artists nationwide to paint the area. Exhibit continues through June 26 at the Wayne Art Center
 May 30-31: Art on the Green and Paint Great Falls, Outdoor Art Show (under a tent) and plein air competition and exhibit, 756 Walker Road, Great Falls, VA. Art Show on the Green: Saturday, 9am to 5pm and Sunday, 11am to 8pm. Quick Draw (watch me paint or participate too): Sunday, May 31, 10am to Noon
May 26 - June 5: Salmagundi Club Non-Member Painting and Sculpture Exhibition, Salmagundi Club, 47 Fifth Avenue, NYC. "Green Pastures" accepted into the exhibition.
June 5-7: Rittenhouse Square: The Original Art Show, Philadelphia, PA. Sunday, June 7: I'll be the official demoist at the show at 1pm.
June 18-21: VA Beach Boardwalk Art Show, Virginia Beach, VA. Visit my booth right on the boardwalk.
June 29-July 5: Telluride Plein Air, Telluride, CO.  Juried as one of 32 artists who will spend the week painting this very cool town lined with Victorian houses, bustling street against a gorgeous mountainous backdrop.
July 11-12: Wickford Art Festival, Wickford, RI
July 18-19: Westport Fine Arts Festival, Westport, CT
August 8-9: Mystic Seaport Outdoor Art Festival, Mystic, CT
September 20 & 21: Alexandria King Street Festival, Alexandria, VA
December 3-6: One Of A Kind Show & Sale, Merchandise Mart, Chicago, IL

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