The Chase

Plein Air Paint Out

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Something Trish Harding told me nearly a decade ago resurfaced recently, and it explains a lot about why the prolific painter is so passionate about the Plein Air Paint Out (PAPO)—an event she’s been organizing every summer for the past 13 years that sees scores of artists taking to the streets of downtown Bellingham to ply their creative trade.

“I love to paint—and to see other artists paint—outside,” she said at the time. “You have to be totally in the moment, because in the next moment everything changes; the clouds, the birds. It’s like a sundial, almost. You have to go with the air, the rain and the wind. You chase your painting, if you have to.”

While the imagined vision of a paint-speckled artist following after and finally catching up with the product of their creativity through the sidewalks, alleyways, curves and corners of the urban core is an amusing one, it’s not that far off from reality. In 2015, a vicious windstorm actually had participants scrambling to keep their easels, canvases and painting supplies from blowing away. But despite the worrisome weather, Harding said it was one of her favorite days ever when it came to painting outside.

“The streets were teeming with people almost playing in the wind gusts,” she said. “Everybody was talking to each other on the streets and all seemed so excited. We never did get any rain, but my oh my, what fun it was.”

Because a major element of the Plein Air Paint Out is drawing attention to the wealth of local artists who live and work in Bellingham, the aforementioned dialogue that takes place when pedestrians come across the painters—whether they’re drafting an outline under a blue summer sky or holding a paintbrush in their mouth while they struggle to keep a hold of their creation—is important to the event’s success.

In fact, before signing up to take part in PAPO 2018—which this year takes place from 10am-4pm Aug. 25-26—artists need to have signed a release stating, among other things, that since the mission of the event is for the community to see all of the artists on one day in the downtown area, they must choose a spot that is visible to the public.

Whether you’re one of the artists that’s been part of the Plein Air Paint Out since its inception, are new to the concept of painting in public, or are a patron of the arts who is eager to engage with artists in your community, there are a few other things about the unique event and following exhibit at Studio UFO to keep in mind.

For instance, all the entries must be original and mostly finished on the day of the Plein Air Paint Out. Additionally, paintings must be reflect the uniqueness of downtown Bellingham on paper, board or stretched canvas, and be ready to hang by early September. All works must be for sale during the exhibit, and artists will get 70 percent of the profit.

“Studio UFO also reserves the right to photograph entries and artists in action and use photographs for the purposes of documentation, education, publicity and to encourage public interaction with the arts,” the prospectus reads. “You give that permission by your entry.”

It should also be noted that in addition to supporting the Plein Air Paint Out artists by stopping and talking to them about their rain-or-shine endeavors and how they merge art with their everyday lives, viewing and purchasing their finished works is another way to ensure they stick around, chasing their visions for the long haul.

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