Publisher Eric Rhoads with PleinAir Salon winner Kathleen Hudson (left) and Karen Ann Hitt (right)

As the curtain closed Thursday night on the 6th Annual PleinAir Convention & Expo in San Diego, California, I was left with one prevailing thought that characterized well the entire week of fun, new friends, and exhaustion.

My introduction to the world of plein air painting was — to say the least — a trial by fire: the 6th Annual PleinAir Convention & Expo (PACE) at the lush Marina Sheraton in San Diego, California. I had been told for weeks to expect an intense, fast-paced environment in which hundreds of artists, masters and beginners alike, hustle and bustle around exchanging business cards, nostalgic stories, go-to techniques, upcoming projects, and laughter. I certainly got what was expected, but there was a great deal more that could have only been experienced by being there, in the eye of the storm.

As attendees began filing into registration on Sunday, April 23, there was an overwhelming sense of excitement and energy for Quang Ho’s pre-convention workshop and the week of events to follow. Whether they were from Canada, Rhode Island, Hawaii, Texas, or Australia, each person was glowing with happiness — as if they had been waiting a lifetime for this special week. It was a pleasure meeting every one of them as I handed each a blue registration bag stuffed with tons of free samples and art goodies. We were all in for a treat.

Michael Godfrey dazzles the crowd on the main stage during his landscape demonstration

Monday was when PACE17 really began cooking. Donning a rainbow-splattered jacket and an afro wig, PleinAir Publisher Eric Rhoads jumped on stage to kick off the Opening Ceremony and introduce six painters who would compete in Plein Air Wars for prizes worth over $7,000. It was lighthearted and completely ridiculous — that kind of fun you’re only comfortable with among close friends.

Well over 1000 people attended PACE17 in San Diego, California

The ceremony continued with an only slightly more serious tone. After outlining some of the nuts-and-bolts of the convention, Rhoads introduced the staff and faculty before taking a moment to honor PACE’s youngest faculty member ever: Kyle Ma. At 16, Ma represents the bright future of the plein air movement, and his introduction electrified the crowd. As Rhoads suggested, it’s vital for us to support and welcome the younger generation of painters.

16-year-old Kyle Ma during his highly-anticipated demonstration

A highlight of the Opening Ceremony was a presentation by award-winning artist Dena Peterson, who talked about her participation in the upcoming film “Loving Vincent.” Delving into the life and death of Vincent van Gogh, each of the film’s 65,000 frames was an individual oil painting created by one of a team of more than 115 painters — among them Peterson herself.

PACE17 featured the first ever sculpture room. Marsha Brook seen here working on a bust

Finally, the ceremony concluded with the presentation of a Lifetime Achievement Award to prolific painter and signature artist of the California Art Club Karl Dempwolf. Before he came on stage, the crowd was dazzled by a short film that detailed Dempwolf’s childhood, adolescence, and adult life before highlighting his achievements as one of plein air’s most influential artists.

Stefan Baumann offers expert insight during one of the convention’s “paint-outs”

Tuesday and Wednesday were “sponge days,” as I called them. Beginning at 8:30 a.m. and lasting through 8:30 p.m., attendees had dozens of workshops and demonstrations to choose from. Minnesota native Dan Mondloch displayed his techniques for conveying energy in watercolor; Scott W. Prior gave lessons in painting urban spaces; Michael Godfrey detailed his use of plein air in the studio; susiehyer hosted a nocturne focus session at the Marina; Jeremy Lipking detailed his unique approaches to landscape and the figure; and John Burton and I had a raucous time while he demonstrated his 15-minute gouache paintings.

Attendees watch Jeremy Lipking paint outside the Marina Sheraton
Jeremy Lipking demos in the presence of hundreds

Many also chose to practice with their recently acquired techniques and tools during the daily paint-outs at various locations around San Diego. Artists had the opportunity to paint beginning at 4:30 p.m. on Tuesday, with the paint-out times getting progressively earlier as the week advanced. Attendees were invited to paint all day on Friday at the beautiful Cabrillo National Monument in Port Loma. Other paint-outs were held in Balboa Park, Old Town San Diego, and at the Sheraton Marina/Spanish Landing Park East.

Who’s that?? It’s the prolific James Gurney!
Quang Ho talks with attendees about his favorite brushes in the Expo Hall

While I could use a number of pages to describe each event, person, or sponsor, and how thankful I am for their introductions, inclusion, education, and fun, there is a more important point that I seek to communicate — echoing a point Eric Rhoads made during the emotional Closing Ceremony on Thursday afternoon. If there were only one thing I could take away from the Plein Air Convention & Expo — one thing to encapsulate all the fun, exhaustion, education, friendship, and happiness — it would be this: family. Plein air is so much more than a gathering of like-minded art nerds who share a passion for painting outdoors. It’s so much more than a culture. It’s family. They laugh, cry, succeed, and fail together. They support one another unconditionally and without judgment. They love one another.

Watercolorist Dan Mondloch helps an attendee with her painting

I wasn’t sure how I was going to be received by the plein air crowd at PACE17, but everyone opened their hearts without a second thought and embraced me like I had been part of PACE for years. As I shook hands with a number of other first-time attendees, they echoed the same thoughts; they were nearly in shock at how thoughtful and supportive everyone was.

Dan Marshall, faculty, during the “paint-out” in Old Town, San Diego

The Plein Air Convention & Expo was, by far, one of the most fun and rewarding things I have ever done. Everyone and everything was simply amazing. As Eric Rhoads discussed in his Sunday Morning Coffee blog this week, there was, perhaps, one letdown: leaving. I am happy to be home (even in snowy Minnesota), but I find myself already sorely missing my colleagues and newfound friends. What could possibly top PACE17? I hope to see YOU in Santa Fe, New Mexico, in April 2018.

Are you interested in PACE18 in Santa Fe?  If so, you can learn more by visiting  Don’t wait too long, however, as super early-bird registration is only available for a limited time, saving you $500!


  1. Great job Andrew. You expressed my sentiments well. It was a memorable event. It was a pleasure to get acquainted and I’m sure I’ll see more of you out in plein air.

  2. As a first timer myself I completely echo your sentiments! It was an epic experience. My take away, besides a love for the Plein air community, is:

    Review my notes while they are still fresh in my mind.
    keep up with the contacts I’ve made.
    Be visible. Out of sight out of mind.
    Plan better for the business side. Uhg…
    Keep painting. Miles and miles of canvas.

    For the #PACE18 convention in Santa Fe I will come with a plan. This year I was overwhelmed and missed some demos that I wanted to attend because I was going with the flow. The fast paced current of the event swept me away and I just floated along. To have a more tailored experience for my particular goals I will review the faculty and determine who is first priority for me to see.
    I will come with specific goals for what I want to get out of the event. This first time for me was all about opportunity and seizing the moment. Next time will be more focused.

    I look forward to seeing everyone next year and maybe even before out in the Plein air.

    Thanks for the great recap!


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