Budding Artists Inspired by Plein Air Festival’s Impromptu Education

Trevor Knapp with his oil painting by Kami Polzin, which he purchased in the 2009 live auction. Photo by Knapp Family.

If someone came up with a to-do list for the 2010 Door County Plein Air Festival, July 19 – 24, Trevor Knapp, 19 of Green Bay, would know how to get it done. His “list” from the 2009 outdoor painting event looked like this: watch favorite artists paint – check; participate in Quick Paint competition – check; purchase a painting at the live auction in Fish Creek – check.

Knapp is a self-taught mixed media artist who creates abstract graffiti-inspired portraits. Although his style is a far cry from plein air landscapes, the expertise of the artists of the Door County Plein Air Festival, hosted by the Peninsula School of Art in Fish Creek, has captured his attention. So much so, that he “followed” artists such as Colin Page from Maine, Kami Polzin from Minnesota, and Canadian John Stuart Pryce every day during last year’s festival. This year, Knapp will balance his evening job at Northern Grill in Sister Bay with the opportunity to watch festival artists execute their various styles.

“I learned a lot from watching them paint,” Knapp said. “It was interesting to see how they started and finished a painting, and how their styles were different.”

Knapp was impressed with how easy it was to talk with the artists and their willingness to share.

“Colin Page was really friendly, and we talked quite a bit,” he said. “I hadn’t experienced anything like this before, where you could talk to the artists and get to know them while they worked.”

Knapp found another opportunity to expand his artistic skills during the festival, by “practicing” his plein air technique during the open Dockside Paint Out competition, painting alongside festival artists.

Spectators join the Festival artists on the breakwater rocks near Anderson Dock in Ephraim during the Sunset Paint Out.

“It was incredible to be with the artists and to paint in public,” he said. “People would walk by and be very encouraging.”

After spending half of the week discussing art with Kami Polzin, and watching the artist at work, Knapp decided he wanted to purchase one of her paintings. Bringing $325 savings in tip money, he attended last year’s Quick Paint Auction in Fish Creek’s Clark Park.

“I was bidding against a couple of people, and it was quite a rush,” he said. “I was getting toward my limit with my final bid, so I got pretty lucky.”

Due to his exposure to plein air painting during the festival, Knapp is thinking about taking plein air classes at Peninsula School of Art. Of particular interest are those taught by artists he became familiar with during the 2009 Door County Plein Air Festival.

Colette Marshall from Michigan has timed her summer vacations to coincide with the Door County Plein Air Festival since it began in 2007. After viewing Marc Hanson’s paintings during last year’s festival exhibition, Marshall was determined to take a workshop with the artist.

This year, Hanson’s “From Vision to Final Work” plein air workshop at Peninsula School of Art is included in her vacation. She is taking his three-day class, which began July 15.

Painting since 2006, Marshall’s goal is to paint plein air works that are “meaningful and memorable” by the time she and her husband retire. By taking classes and talking with festival artists – like Milwaukee area artists Shelby Keefe and Lori Beringer – she feels that she is off to a good start.

Colin Page, the First Place Award winner of the 2009 Door County Plein Air Festival, fields a question from a passerby. Photo courtesy of the Peninsula School of Art.

“Being in Door County has initiated my journey as an artist,” she said. “It’s been very important to me that the [Peninsula] Art School is here.”

A memorable painting tip came from featured artist Mary Ulm Mayhew of Newburg during a previous Door County Plein Air Festival.

“I asked Mary to tell me the most important thing I should know as a new artist,” Marshall said. “She told me not to ‘muddy’ my colors.”

By watching the festival artists work, Marshall said that she has “learned the richness of the variety of styles and the variety of ways to paint something on site.” Door County artist, Bridget Austin, inspired her to work in watercolor and ink; while Lori Berginer’s loose, Impressionistic style, influenced her as well.

For Marshall, taking in the festival is nothing short of a heady experience.

“It’s a right-brained experience – you don’t have the words,” she said. “It’s intoxicating, like wine. I get a high being around the artists, the beauty of the landscape, and they’re right there with you painting it – come on, what is better than that?”