Just the words “painting en plein air” evoke images of Monet and Renoir with their easels perched on the banks of the Seine River or the hills of Montmarte using quick brush strokes to capture a scene before the light escapes them. Here in Sonoma, art lovers can see the process up-close when 36 of the country’s most decorated plein air artists arrive for a week of painting in support of arts education across the Valley.
“The schools now have murals – inside and out – where there once was no money for art,” said Valley artist Keith Wicks, who created the Plein Air Festival after learning his young daughter would only receive one-hour per month in art class at school due to budget cuts. “Now the schools are brighter and more colorful. (This funding) has brought light and creativity back to the students.”
Now in its 11th year, Sonoma’s Plein Air Festival launches on Monday, kicking off a week of artistry that culminates with a lavish gala on Friday, Sept. 20, at the Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn, before a free, day-long art festival and sale on the Plaza on Saturday, Sept. 21.
As soon as the artists arrive, they get to work, painting anywhere from 10 to 15 pieces during the week. Scattered across the county, the artists can be spotted hovering behind an easel capturing raging waves at the coast, or docile farm scenes on Sonoma’s back roads.
“We really encourage them to go anywhere they want to go,” said Wicks, who explained artists are given a list of private properties, gardens and other places they can access. “As long as it’s in Sonoma County, they can go wherever they like.”