A Celebration of the Creative Process: Plein Air Festival returns July 25-31

A welcome sight will soon dot the Door County landscape. It’s a sight as synonymous with the Door County art world as fish boils are with the county’s culinary history: plein air painters. 

Peninsula School of Art (PSA) will host its 16th annual Plein Air Festival July 25-31. The event – a celebration of outdoor painting and Door County’s vast and varied beauty – will feature prestigious artists from throughout the United States doing what they do best, along with artist talks, silent auctions and ample opportunities for the public to watch the artists engage in their creative processes. 

“This is a beautiful way for us to showcase what happens in a studio,” said Catherine Hoke, PSA’s executive director. “It’s a very personal journey, that process of creation. It takes a special soul to plein air paint. We’ve all dragged an easel outside, but it’s really hard. There’s some brutal weather – it could be a bazillion degrees, raining, or so windy it knocks your canvas right off the easel. There’s a lot of physicality to plein air painting. Artists who have the expertise to do this and be consistent – it’s a real talent.”

The festival will kick off with the 2021 Small Works Showcase at the newly renovated Peninsula School of Art, 3900 Cty F in Fish Creek, on July 25, 10 am – 5 pm. It’s a chance for the public to bid on a small painting by one of the invited artists.

After that, the artists will paint every morning, Monday – Thursday, in specific locations throughout the county: from The Farm in Sturgeon Bay to the Hardy Gallery in Ephraim and many more in between. The evenings will feature artist talks, lectures and a Sip and Stroll Sunset Paint event on Tuesday on the Sister Bay shoreline, complete with beverages and a chance to see the painters’ finished pieces on the lawn of the Dörr Hotel.

Though this year’s event will look a little different than its first 14, it will be a far cry from the mostly virtual event of last year. 

“We are so excited to bring back the festival, to showcase our new facility,” Hoke said, “but we are trying to do it responsibly. We are all ready for normalcy, but there are still issues, and we are trying to be respectful and navigate that.”

Hoke and the planning committee members have downsized certain events, forgone a couple altogether and found creative solutions to offer the public opportunities to participate in a way that makes them comfortable. So they’re skipping tents and buffets and working instead with local businesses to help ensure that people can spread out safely and enjoy.

The returning participants in this year’s festival are also looking forward to being back on the peninsula and interacting with the public. 

“When [artists] first come,” Hoke said, “I get a lot of feedback on how incredibly excited and engaged in the arts people here are – the sheer number of people who watch them paint. And they are blown away by the beauty up here and how much there is to paint. And these are artists coming from magical places like the Grand Tetons.” 

When these artists return home, they in turn spread the word about Door County as an arts destination. 

Hoke just asks spectators to be respectful of the artists as they paint. 

“We encourage people to interact and ask questions, but if you want a full art lesson, that may not be the place,” she said. “These artists have five days to create seven to 10 works of art [that] they want to put up on a wall. So there’s a lot of pressure, and it’s very public. To paint and talk, that’s a skill.”

The public is also asked to stand back and off to the side so artists have plenty of space to back up and see how their painting is shaping up. And if artists are wearing headphones, skip the questions to let them focus. The joy comes from watching the process unfold and seeing the myriad artistic interpretations of a scene. 

“You will have four artists with the same view and four distinctly different artworks,” Hoke said. 

The crescendo of the festival will take place on Saturday when the invited artists will participate in a quick-paint event in the morning throughout the streets of Fish Creek. Kids are also welcome to get an art kit and share their creations in the new children’s gallery. Then the public is welcome to tour the renovated campus, view and purchase fresh works in the galleries, and enjoy an ice cream treat, 12-6 pm.

Find out more and see the complete schedule of events at


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