We're just getting warmed up for the 11th Annual Plein Air Convention & Expo! (PACE)
We're just getting warmed up for the 11th Annual Plein Air Convention & Expo!

Hello from PACE in the stunning Great Smoky Mountains! This week, we’re coming to you daily with favorite moments from the 11th Annual Plein Air Convention & Expo. The excitement has been building for weeks up to this moment, with painters joining us from all over the world for a week of demonstrations, paint-outs, parties, and more.

Only photos can convey some of the sessions and, um, activities, we’ve seen so far, and it’s just the beginning! Read on for highlights from the painting demonstrations and PleinAir Salon announcements, but first, here’s a glance at what you might have missed:

Eric Rhoads on silks at PACE
Eric advises that if you’re not having fun, you’re not learning ~ so we’re having FUN!
A fun moment from the Opening Ceremony
We like to get on our feet at the Opening Ceremony!

The Opening Ceremony itself is so enjoyable ~ the energy is so high that you can feel it even before the doors open to the celebration. This year, it included a special Lifetime Achievement Award presentation for Kenn Backhaus, our 2024 “Breakout Artist of the Year” with Kelly Kane announcing Justin Donaldson as the winner, some “Plein Air Games” that you’d have to see to believe, and a moving artistic performance and inspirational talk titled “Never Give Up” by Richard Hight. We also welcomed student painters who came on scholarship, and Eric announced that next year we plan to bring 100 students under the age of 25 to PACE, investing $100,000 to support the next generation of plein air painters.

Eric Rhoads, Kenn Backhaus, and Kelly Kane
CEO and host Eric Rhoads, Lifetime Achievement Award Winner Kenn Backhaus, and PleinAir Magazine Editor-in-Chief Kelly Kane
Mary Garrish used her shoe on the canvas at one point as she painted in a games of Musical Easels with Carrie Curran and Mark Shasha
Mary Garrish used her shoe on the canvas at one point (if you know, you know) as she painted in a game of Musical Easels with Carrie Curran and Mark Shasha
Richard at PACE
Richard Hight had us laughing out loud as he recounted the childhood story of how his dyslexia helped him realize he was born an artist. He reminded us that “you’re responsible for your own success,” and gave advice to get the most out of PACE by pushing yourself out of your comfort zone. “What makes you different can make you great,” he says.
PleinAir Salon PACE
Congratulations to our PleinAir Salon winners! And thank you to the artists who represented those who couldn’t be with us this week.

In a much-anticipated segment, we also announced the winners of this year’s PleinAir Salon, which had nearly 11,000 entries from almost 3,000 artists from 73 countries. The top prizes went to Camille Przewodek (Grand Prize, $15,000 cash and the cover of PleinAir™ Magazine); Steven Walker (Second Place, $3,000); and Charles Newman (Third Place, $1,500).

Earlier, day 1 of PACE began bright and early with pre-convention workshops by Joe Paquet, Amit Kapoor (all the way from India), and Aaron Schuerr, as well as the “Basics of Plein Air” workshop with Carrie Curran, Barbara Tapp, Robert Masla, Scott Boyle, and Laura Pollak.

A moment for taking notes and reflecting during Joe Paquet's pre-convention workshop
A moment for taking notes and reflecting during Joe Paquet’s pre-convention workshop.
Amit Kapoor watercolor paintings
A selection of Amit Kapoor’s watercolor paintings on display for students to view up close. “Amit Kapoor is so patient,” said George Patrick, who took Amit’s pre-convention workshop. “He’s a natural artist. He speaks with his art.”
Aaron Schuerr pastel painting - PACE
“When you’re painting en plein air, you have more or less nine minutes before the light changes,” said Aaron Schuerr. “Keep it quick.”

Another word from the wise: In Joe Paquet’s session, he reminded us (and this is for you, too) that “the moments of greatest happiness” happen while painting on location because “you’re ‘awake’ to the present moment.”

Joe Paquet's workshop began with candid advice for painters.
Joe’s workshop began with candid advice for painters.

From Online to In-Person at the Plein Air Convention

First-timer Gretchen Wurth said she knew she had to come to the Plein Air Convention when it was announced that the location is practically in her backyard; her husband even insisted on it after seeing her enthusiasm for Plein Air Live, Realism Live, and Watercolor Live. “I’m just so excited,” she said. “I’m overwhelmed to be here because it’s so cool to meet and talk with everybody that you see online, including Eric Rhoads.”

She added that even before PACE officially began, it felt welcoming and friendly, even though she was intimidated at first because of all the “big players” here, including some amazing artists from around the country and even the world.

PACE faculty
We’re learning from more than 75 top expert artists who are on our faculty this year!

“It’s plain and simple,” said third-timer Tom Mitas on why he returns to PACE. “This is a great place to paint with a huge number of really qualified teachers, so I love coming back. It’s just a pleasant, pleasant, pleasant time.”

First-timer Ray Richardson joined us this year as an attendee and a volunteer. We met by chance in the art gallery, where he told me that here at PACE, he’s encountered “the nicest, sweetest people” he’s met compared to events like comic book and sci-fi conventions. “This is a whole nother level,” he laughed, adding that since PACE was only three hours from his home, there was no way he could miss it. “If anyone’s on the fence about coming,” he said, “don’t hesitate. If you get an opportunity to do it, go for it because you only live once and this can really change your life. It’s a great experience, even as a volunteer…it hasn’t even officially started yet, and it’s already awesome.”

Indeed!

We closed the evening with a lively cocktail party in the Expo Hall, giving us a chance to get a first look at the incredible variety of art supplies – including some brand new plein air products on the market – and a chance to get to know each other better as we kick off the week.

Stay tuned here and watch live updates on Instagram!


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