Steve Puttrich winning an award during a recent painting competition
Steve Puttrich winning an award during a recent painting competition

How to Prepare for Plein Air Painting Competitions > Recently, Mary Longe shared an article on how to “recharge” your plein air painting experience. Here, she expands on that and explains how you can prepare for painting competitions so you can plan for fun and success.

Preparing for Painting Competitions

By Mary Longe
(Former Director of the Plein Air Painters Chicago)

Local art events are sometimes available to walk-in participants, and national events have dates posted on websites when registration or applications open … many early in the calendar year. Your budget and available time will likely determine how many events you’ll participate in a season.

Considerations and What to Bring

  • Determine your personal goals for the season, for competitive events in general, and each specific event.
  • Make housing plans early – the most convenient, interesting, inexpensive fill up first.
  • Keep track of the quantity and size considerations of surfaces and frames for the events. For efficiency, estimate the number and size and place bulk orders. If it’s your first time, buy supplies just for that one event and make adjustments after your experience.
  • Carefully pack and double check your usual plein air kit. Remember to bring an umbrella, hat, sun screen, bug spray, wet paint carriers.
  • Create and practice quick framing. Stick to one size, prewire a couple of landscape and portrait frames, and bring a screwdriver, framing or staple gun.
  • Pack nocturne lights – you just might try it with other people out.
  • The act of making art can and often is very emotional. Expect tears at times.
  • For rain or snow – boots, feet warmers, canopy tent, or create an awning from your trunk lid or tailgate using a plastic tarp, dowels, and spring clamps
  • For comfort – camp chair, snacks, wine, cooler, extra clothes.
  • For peace of mind – extra tripod, paints, mineral spirits, brushes packed separately, tools including wrench, screwdriver, hammer, pliers, spring and small c-clamps, duct tape
  • If you are flying to an event, read up on best practices for traveling with your gear. (Read “How to Fly with Art Supplies” here and get the free Plein Air travel sticker)

Before Each Event

  • Check the weather.
  • Double check where and when to get surfaces stamped and submit paintings for all competitions within the event.
  • Locate the closest hardware and art supply stores.
  • Research: What has won in the past?
    What are the iconic scenes of the area?
    Chambers of commerce, park districts and travel bureaus will offer insights, plus your own on-the-ground explorations. Consider, how can I take advantage of this information?
  • Identify the selling and self-promotion opportunities. Is there an opportunity to sell other merchandise, prints, stationary, etc.?
  • Complete and submit the best photos of yourself and paintings when requested by organizers for their show promotions – get recognized prior to the event, so the public will want to find you.
  • Know how many paintings to bring to replace paintings sold at events.
  • Update your website; place a QR code on your pochade box; and bring business cards.

During Painting Events

  • Arrive early to scout sites; don’t use precious painting time. Make a list of possible sites.
  • Calculate for each how the sun will affect it – would it be better in the early morning, late afternoon or as a nocturne?
  • Paint, and even if you feel the urge, don’t hurry. If allowed, go back multiple days to the same location. Volume of paintings is less critical than quality.
  • Interact with the public. No matter the reason for an event or the type, the public is a major stakeholder and depended on for sales, support of sponsors, donations, and ongoing support of the event. Sure, wear your earbuds or whatever you do to keep people from interrupting, but be polite and engaging. Consider conversation a time to take a step back and make a fresh assessment of your painting.
  • Participate in the organizer’s programs to promote receptions and sales. Some events distribute cards for artists to hand out to the public that say something like, “I just painted your house or car ______, check out my paintings at (website). (Artist Name)”
  • Take advantage of the social occasions. Arrange to connect for meals or perhaps to paint with other participants. Learn about their favorite events, and what works for them and doesn’t. You might find people to paint with in other places.
  • Abide by the rules.
2022 Cedarburg festival painting competitions
Winners of the 2022 Cedarburg festival. Best of Cedarburg First Place went to Don Yang, one of the Plein Air Painters Chicago Master Artists, and Dean of Fine Arts at the American Academy of Arts.

During Show Times

  • Come to the event to see all the work created.
  • Dress presentable, like you are going to an art show, and bring your business cards.
  • Engage (share your story about your art) with the public and potential buyers.
  • Take notes of what art you are most attracted to and moved by. See if you can meet and talk with these artists about their work or approach.
  • Purchase work that you can’t live without. A lot of art is sold to other artists.
  • Use this time as a growing experience.
  • Access the work that won awards for this event.

After Events

  • Talk with judges and jurors – do they have comments about your work?
  • Assess your experience –what would you do differently? How were your preparations? Did it meet your expectations? Did it meet or further your objectives? Was it fun? Was the cost worth it? Will you return?
  • Assist the organizers and take time to respond to their satisfaction surveys. Give them ideas or spill your misgivings.

It took me about two years of plein air painting to rustle up the courage to apply for entry into the Cedarburg WI, Plein Air Festival. By then, I’d painted in every month of the year and participated in weekly meetups and exhibits with the Plein Air Painters Chicago. Looking back, any hesitation I had prior was far outweighed by the confidence I gained as an artist from the competitive experience.

Ready for your own new experience? Go on, try it.

Related Articles by Mary Longe >

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