Plein Air Festival begins today

SARANAC LAKE – The fifth annual Adirondack Plein Air Festival begins here today and continues through the weekend.

The festival will conclude Sunday with a Show and Sale in the Harrietstown Town Hall, 39 Main St., from noon to 4 p.m.

About 60 artists will take part, mostly from all corners of New York state but with a few from Vermont, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Colorado and, new this year, Ontario and Quebec. This event is organized by Saranac Lake ArtWorks and supported, in part, by donations from the business community and individuals.

Plein air painting, which became possible in the 1800s when artists’ oil paints became available in tubes, is experiencing a major revival in the art world. Prior to paints in tubes, artists had to work with powdered pigments, mix them with a binder like linseed oil and then store them in some kind of a container – not exactly ideal for taking out of the studio. Paint in tubes must have been very liberating for artists – it was the French Impressionists who made plein air painting popular. Their paintings are much brighter and more colorful than the mostly somber traditional art forms of the mid-1800s. They also developed the “French easel,” a folding box that holds the paints, with extendable legs, and the cover of the box, when open, becomes the easel. Basically the same style is used today by many plein air artists.

Today is the festival’s “Paint the Town” day, and artists will be out in the community painting whatever scenes and structures strike their fancy. The whole challenge of plein air painting is to find interesting subject matter, then set up and do a painting in a number of hours. Artists will warm up by doing small, 5-by-7-inch village paintings. If anyone is interested in having a painting done of one’s home or business, call Sandy Hildreth at 518-891-1388. Your address will be put on a list of suggested locations, so leave your name, number and address on the answering machine. There’s no guarantee your location will be painted, nor will you be obligated to purchase the painting.

To see what the artists accomplished, come to the Silent Auction at 4 p.m. Thursday in the Adirondack Artists’ Guild, 52 Main St. It’s also a Third Thursday Art Walk day, so the guild’s gallery will be open until 7:30.

On Friday the artists will be out in Paul Smiths for the “Paint the VIC” day, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. If you haven’t been there in a while, the trails are well groomed, the orchids are blooming on the Boreal Life Trail, and you will find artists clustered around the many scenic viewpoints on the property. The Butterfly House happens to be celebrating its 20th summer. Painting nature outdoors opens a whole new range of challenges: changing light and weather conditions, and various ways to interpret the bogs, marshes, forest trails and babbling brooks of the VIC. There will be a free reception there from 5 to 7 p.m. for “The Plein Air Invitational,” a show of paintings previously created at the VIC.

On Saturday the artists will be a bit harder to find as it’s “Paint the Adirondacks” day – they will be free to choose any location they wish. If you have a favorite view, you might want to go check it out and see if anyone is painting it. Expect to see a number of paintings in the style of the Hudson River School of the 1800s – an American style of art that focused on the grandeur of the natural landscape, panoramic views and stunning sunsets. While plein air artists have their own, different styles, they, like the Hudson River School artists, are inspired by this Adirondack landscape.

New Brunswick artist Bruce Newman is the juror of awards for the Show and Sale Sunday. Each of the artists is invited to submit three framed paintings that must have been completed at the Plein Air Festival. More than $4,400 in awards will be given out, and there will be a $100 People’s Choice award. There’s no admission fee.

The Adirondack Artists’ Guild will be the event’s headquarters, and the Silent Auction of village paintings will be set up in the gallery there. There will also be handouts with the schedule, maps and directions to the various painting locations. For more information, call the gallery at 518-891-2615 or visit