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Plein Air brings art to the Plaza, beyond

AT THE PLEIN AIR QUICK DRAW on Tuesday, artist Michele Usibelli captures a street scene. (Robbi Pengelly/Index-Tribune)

AT THE PLEIN AIR QUICK DRAW on Tuesday, artist Michele Usibelli captures a street scene. (Robbi Pengelly/Index-Tribune)

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Brush in-hand, Joshua Clare frowns at his canvas. His eyes jump quickly between the strokes of paint and the Mission San Francisco Solano across the street – he’s not satisfied.

“This is really small, I’m having a hard time because this (canvas) is so stupidly small,” Clare laughs. He prefers to work in bigger format, but with only an hour-and-a-half to finish his piece at Tuesday night’s Quick Draw on the Plaza, he had to work small to get it done in time. In less than an hour, his piece will be put up for sale, alongside dozens of other artist’s paintings of scenes from the farmers market and Plaza.

Clare is one of 36 juried artists selected to take part in Sonoma’s annual Plein Air Festival, which included the Quick Draw on Tuesday.

After that, artists spent the week capturing whatever Sonoma scene they’re drawn to paint. For the benefit of arts education programs, all of the artwork created during the week will be available for purchase during the art sale and fair this Saturday, Sept. 21, on the Plaza.

Clare, 31, admits it’s difficult to decide which part of Sonoma to paint.

“It’s my first time here, it’s really beautiful. In fact, it’s kind of a lot of pressure, because there’s so much great stuff to paint,” he said. “I feel like if I stop to paint somewhere, I’ll miss something even more beautiful somewhere else.”

Plein Air Founder Keith Wicks, a plein air painter himself, said it’s never a challenge to get artists to come to Sonoma – with bucolic barns, small-town street scenes and rolling hills from the vineyards to the ocean, there is no shortage of visual stimuli to inspire an artist’s work. Clare, who lives with his wife and two children near Provo Valley in Utah, makes his living painting plein air scenes, and regularly takes part in festivals around the country. He says it’s the best way to get to know a new town.

“If you paint a place for a week, you come back to that place and pretty quickly know your way around. It’s such an intense experience of trying to see everything and be everywhere,” he said. “After two years of doing a festival, you feel like you own the town.”

Like most of the artists, Clare expects to paint eight to 10 pieces for Plein Air, the best of which will be on sale during the art exhibition and sale from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday. For each sale, 60 percent of proceeds stay with the artist, while 40 percent go to the Plein Air Foundation, which funds art education at the Valley’s public schools, as well as at the Sonoma Valley Museum of Art, Arts Guild of Sonoma and Sonoma Community Center.

“Plein Air has made all the difference in the world to our art programs,” said Louann Carlomagno, superintendent of the Sonoma Valley Unified School District. “How fortunate that we live in a Valley so dedicated to supporting art in every classroom.”

Clare says he didn’t know the festival doubled as a fundraiser for arts education, but when he found out, he was even more excited to be involved.

“Our high school had a really crappy art program,” he said. “Helping support art in high school, that’s a big deal. I super wish I had someone to teach me drawing and painting when I was in high school.”

Saturday’s event is free to attend, and will also include art projects for children, live music throughout the day and painting demonstrations in oil and acrylic with various artists.

Get all the details at sonomapleinair.com.