By Jenn Watt
May 10 2016
Painting outside or in plein air is a longstanding Canadian tradition and one that shouldn’t come with any snobbery or competition says local artist Gary Blundell.
Blundell is the co-ordinator of the Highlands East Plein Air Festival scheduled this year for Sept. 8 through 11.
“A lot of plein air events have become like television competitions almost. … I’m not a fan of that kind of concept” he says. “I want it to be more inclusive. I want people to feel that they’d like to have a go at painting outdoors and do it without feeling they have to be under the pressure of competing.”
Creating art outside and experiencing the landscapes of Highlands East should be joyous things and the annual arts festival seeks to embrace those notions. This year the inclusion of instructors and their students will add to that premise as will Plein Air Month at the Rails End Gallery in Haliburton.
Gallery curator Laurie Jones is a plein air painting enthusiast and has been busy organizing complementary programming in the village for anyone with an interest in getting outside with a paint brush.
“Last year we received some funding from HCDC [Haliburton County Development Corporation] to create pop-up plein air kits. You can come to Rails End and borrow a kit which has an easel the paints the board the brushes the jar of water the apron: everything you would need to walk out into the park and create a painting” Jones says.
Anyone can borrow a kit so long as they use it near the gallery likely somewhere in Head Lake Park. (Rails End asks for a small donation in exchange.)
The gallery is also offering workshops with Gary Blundell on acrylic and pastel Friday and Saturday June 3 and 4.
“When you’re in this group environment with an excellent teacher everybody picks up something” Jones says.
At the end of the month the gallery will be filled with pieces painted outdoors.
“We’re going to tell people if you created your piece in June bring it back into the gallery even if you’re a beginner we’ll put it up” Jones says.
Participants in Plein Air Month get $10 off the $100 entry fee in the plein air festival.
Jones says the festival not only offers a variety of picturesque locations to paint but introduces artists of all skill and experience levels to one another.
“[Reeve] Dave Burton cooks the barbecue … Everybody sits around and talks about painting. There’s a social component of mixing up with artists who come from outside the region” says Jones of the social events organized during the festival. “It’s quite cool. It’s magical.”
While the cost to enter may seem a bit steep at $100 Blundell points out that most artists make that back during the art sale on the last day. Artists are able to place works they’ve made during the previous three days (and a few others if they wish) in an exhibition in Wilberforce. In past years the community has been very responsive to the event with nearly all artists selling works.
Although the plein air festival organizers are not cultivating a competitive atmosphere there is a $200 prize for one participant whose work will adorn the following year’s pamphlet.
Blundell says the plein air festival is ideal for those just starting out since all ability levels are reflected in the field of artists. And because it is not a contest there isn’t the motivation to outdo each other.
“It does help to have some people who know the ropes a little bit and you don’t feel that they’re competing against you” Blundell says.
To sign up for one of the workshops at the Rails End Gallery go to railsendgallery.com.
To sign up for the plein air festival in September email Blundell at firstname.lastname@example.org or go to highlandseastpleinair.wordpress.com.
Arts students (those registered in an arts program last fall or more recently) pay half price to participate in the plein air festival.