Spreading the message of the Plein Air Force is one thing, but actually getting people to try painting outdoors is another. The Paint the Peninsula plein air festival, in Port Angeles, Washington, is going that further step by eliminating a major hurdle … 

Kat Sowa on location 

For their Panache! Plein Air Contest and Exhibition, the organizers of the event are selling pastel plein air kits for a $5, a price that also includes the entry fee for the competition. It is an open competition, and organizers are targeting everyone from age 6 to 96. “We’ve had grandmothers say they will be participating, and they’ll be doing it with their grandchildren,” says Anne Dalton, the chair of Paint the Peninsula. The plein air kits have a selection of pastels, some pastel paper (9″ x 12″), blending tools/smudgers, and some basic instructions. The paper is the exact size that submissions in any media must be. All work will be hung in a large space that gets significant traffic due to the border crossing with Canada (Vancouver), offering participants good exposure. More than $800 in prizes will be awarded. There are separate age groups for children and adults in this open category. (Twenty-eight artists have been invited to participate in the Paint the Peninsula professional event, which will be held Sept. 7-13.) 

Dalton says the efforts of Panache! to get more people involved in plein air painting resonates with some of the event’s sponsors. “They want to take it to the community, take it a step further by putting the materials in the hands of people who want to try it,” she says. “The sponsors want more people exposed to art, and this does it. We want everyone to have the opportunity, not just the invited artists.”

Suze Woolf working at Hurricane Hill

The plein air kits are available at Port Angeles Fine Arts Center, but Dalton says they are working to make the kits obtainable elsewhere—at farmers markets, bed & breakfasts, hotels, and the like. Panache!, like its parent event Paint the Peninsula, seeks to be highly visible. Dalton knows the value of this. Her first exposure to a plein air event occurred about five years ago, when she came upon artists painting in a plein air event while she was on vacation. “We were out hiking and we met some of the artists,” she recalls. “They told us what they were doing and we were so excited that we rushed to the gallery to see what they had painted. The paintings were all wonderful. We came back every day to see what they had added. It made my heart pound to meet the artist and see fresh work everyday.”

The Paint the Peninsula sprang out of that experience. It’s now in its third year. And now, Dalton and the rest of the organization is making it possible for others to experience the thrill of plein air painting. “It’s a way to enjoy the outdoors in a different sort of way,” she says.


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