Landscape painters rely on the open spaces and beautiful places of Colorado for their livelihood, and this week’s Wild about Colorado Plein Air Art Festival is a chance for artists to give back to the lands that support them.
The festival, which begins today, features workshops, hikes and other activities that connect artists to the wild places in Summit County. Each activity has a suggested donation amount, and proceeds from the events and a portion of art sales benefit the land conservation programs of the Continental Divide Land Trust.
Intimate spaces in oils
Fourteen artists who specialize in plein-air artwork will be painting in and around Breckenridge over the next four days, and each evening, their work will be displayed for sale at the Carter Park Pavilion.
The festival is also a chance for aspiring artists to learn plein-air techniques through a series of workshops. “En plein air,” literally “in the open air” in French, simply refers to painting outside, exposed to the elements. The painting workshops provide a multimedia approach to plein-air art and are open to the public.
“Outdoor painting became popular with the Impressionists, when they were able to put paint into a tube,” said Kim Barrick, an award-winning oil painter and native of Colorado who will lead the first workshop on Thursday. “Before that, you mixed the pigments and oil in the studio.”
The portable nature of paint in a tube allowed artists to travel further from their studios without sacrificing the quality of their work. Barrick’s workshop is open to all levels of painters and will use local gardens as a backdrop.
“I’m going to be painting in gardens in Breckenridge,” she said. “If you’re interested in painting flowers and painting outdoors, it’s the workshop for you, and 100 percent of the cost is going to the Land Trust.”
Barrick’s work was featured on a poster for last year’s Breckenridge Music Festival. The poster — a painting of columbine flowers growing at the base of a cluster of aspen trees — showed a different side of the plein-air style.
“When you think of plein air painting, you think of sweeping landscapes, but you can paint some intimate places that show some of the small things that are really beautiful,” she said.
Artist Ann Weaver will teach a second workshop on Saturday morning at the Carter Park Pavilion. This workshop is also open to all levels of painters, from beginners to experts.
“The workshop is watercolor,” Weaver said. “It’s a great time and a beautiful setting. There are tables, so we can spread out. I show my landscape technique — mountain ridgelines, trees, wildflowers, those kinds of things.”
Weaver, a former Summit County resident, has painted commissions for the town of Silverthorne, as well as posters for local events and a mural for the Breckenridge library. She said the most challenging thing about plein-air painting isn’t technique or choosing the perfect color palette — it’s the weather.
“I know you’ve had a lot of rain, and probably when we start every morning, it will be fairly chilly, like 40 degrees,” she said. “That is a real challenge when you’re painting outside. As the day goes on, the wind can pick up — it’s almost all weather related. We have beautiful days, too. It’s all good, I don’t mind painting in bad weather.”
Another challenge is finding just the right scene to paint from the overwhelming number of possibilities available at each location.
“You can spend too much time looking, and then you run out of time,” she said. “The light changes, and it can be a problem. You’ll learn how to prepare yourself for painting outdoors.”
Though the variety of places available to paint in the Breckenridge area can challenge an indecisive painter, it’s also what makes the Wild About Colorado Festival special for artists, Weaver said.
“There’s water, forest, mountains, wild flowers, beautiful trails — so there’s an amazing amount, and that doesn’t even count buildings,” she said. “If you want to paint downtown Breckenridge or downtown Frisco, you can do that, too. There’s lots of potential, and the paintings that come out of it are just fabulous.”
Connecting to the environment
Barrick said one of the things she loves most about the Wild About Colorado Festival is the way it connects artists and environmentalists with a shared goal.
“When an artist stands outside and paints something, people notice, ‘Oh that’s beautiful,’ ” she said. “Artists have this little tiny piece of influence on the greater world by looking for beautiful things, and other people notice that we’re looking. If you learn to love something — if you know something and if you love it — you’ll take care of it, you’ll protect it.
“Instead of picking the flowers, I get to pick them onto my canvas instead of destroying the landscape, and they’re there for everyone else.”