Four plein air events are scheduled throughout the region this summer.
In addition to the annual Adirondack Plein Air Festival in Saranac Lake from Aug. 14-19, the following events are also scheduled for this year:
¯ July 18-22: Keeseville Plein Air, as part of their Community Arts Festival
¯ Sept. 13-16: Salmon River Valley Plein Air Festival, Malone
¯ Oct. 4-8: Tupper Lake Plein Air Festival, Tupper Lake.
Plein air is a French term for “painting outdoors in the open air.” Instead of painting indoors in studios, day or night, artists take their paints and easels to outdoor locations. Natural light and scenic views, whether wilderness or farmland, industrial or village locations, offer unlimited subject matter. Plein air paintings have to be done fast because the lighting and weather can change during the course of a few hours. So rather than having days or weeks to contemplate their work, plein air painters work much more intuitively, painting what they see, quickly.
Nancy Brossard, one of the Adirondacks’ most prolific and well known plein air painters, said she loves to “share the joy of the moment with someone who buys one of my landscape paintings. Then we both share that special memory.”
A revival of interest in plein air painting began some 20-plus years ago around the world. Small groups of artists would choose a location and go paint as a group, sharing the experience. Painting competitions developed into festivals as artists learned that their audiences enjoyed the whole idea of being able to watch an artist at work one day and then be able to purchase the wet, framed painting the next.
Painters have been capturing the Adirondacks en plein air for centuries. In 2009, Sandra Hildreth, a Saranac Lake painter and one of the founding members of Saranac Lake ArtWorks, decided to organize a plein air festival for the Adirondack region. The Adirondack Plein Air Festival started out with just a few local artists who painted for two days and then hung a show of their work on a Sunday afternoon. A few people came to see it. Now, after 15 years, the event has a national reputation, a juried selection process, five and a half days of painting, gives out over $5,000 in prizes, and hosts a well-attended show and sale in the Harrietstown Town Hall in Saranac Lake that regularly sends some 80 paintings on to new homes with dozens of buyers. An artist can earn thousands of dollars at one of these festivals.
“The plein air festivals continue to grow more popular each year; even considering the challenges that COVID-19 presented in 2020 and 2021,” Hildreth said. “We are so excited for these events that brings artists and visitors to our region from around the country.”
The Keeseville, Malone and Tupper Lake festivals were all modeled after the Saranac Lake event and they also attract artists who want to paint Adirondack landscapes, from the High Peaks, to the foothills, from Lake Champlain to the AuSable River valleys.
“Success is a result of the hard work and dedication of many people, and the support of our local art and business community,” said ArtWorks board member and plein air festival competitor Ann Haskell.
Saranac Lake ArtWorks was established in 2008 and incorporated as a not-for-profit organization in 2020. Learn more at www.saranaclakeartworks.org.