Artists Compete with Paint in the Great Outdoors

Article excerpt

THE afternoon before the Quick Draw, the final event of last year's inaugural Kauai Plein Air Invitational, Oahu artist Susie Anderson and her husband drove to the Kala­lau Lookout, a scenic spot they hadn't visited in 30 years. As they enjoyed a spectacular sunset, they started chatting with a Hollywood videographer, Wayne Williams, who was shooting footage there. Discovering they had a lot in common, the three talked until the sun disappeared.

In the morning, Anderson arrived at Kala­paki Beach for the Quick Draw, chagrined to find it was gray and rainy - the worst possible conditions for painting "en plein air" (French for "in the open air"). Still, she and the 12 other artists participating in the invitational had to create a painting there, before an audience, in just two hours.

According to Anderson, plein air artists usually take their time selecting a subject, work in quiet solitude for as long as the light allows and try to finish about 80 percent of the painting with no guarantee of bringing home a "keeper." They return to the studio to correct any problems and put on the finishing touches at their leisure.

"With the Quick Draw you don't have such luxury," Anderson said. "You go the site, hoping to find an inspiring view right away. You set up your equipment, wait for the shotgun start, paint feverishly for two straight hours and stop when the 'all-brushes-down' whistle blows, whether or not you're done. Then you sign the wet painting, pop it into a frame and deliver it to the exhibition as is. It's very challenging and nerve-wracking - a true test of your skill."

To Anderson's delight, her new friend Williams showed up at the Quick Draw to carry her backpack, hold an umbrella over her head, and provide support and camaraderie.

"He was my cheerleader, he made me laugh, he gave me the inspiration I needed to succeed," Anderson said. "I was happy my painting of the historic Kala­paki footbridge sold at the exhibition that afternoon. I believe the buyer sensed the positive energy I felt that morning, despite the gloomy weather."

Barbara Kennedy, Wai­oli Mission House's longtime docent, came up with the idea for the Kauai Plein Air Invitational in mid-2009, as nonprofit entities across the country were feeling the effects of the economic downturn.

"Budgets for Grove Farm, Wai­oli Mission House and Maha­moku Beach House museums were hit hard," Kennedy said. "Many meetings were held to come up with fundraising options so we could continue to preserve the sites and their valuable historical collections."

Meanwhile, two of her friends returned from a plein air invitational on Maui, thrilled about the experience and the five original paintings that they had bought.

"I thought, 'That could work on Kauai to aid the museums and support local artists,'" Kennedy said. Her mind began to race. An esteemed group of island artists representing all genres could be invited to participate. For a full week they would set up their easels throughout Kauai. Passers-by would stop, "talk story" with them and learn about their background, tools, techniques and favorite subjects. The event would culminate with an exhibition and sale, with a portion of the proceeds benefiting Grove Farm, Wai­oli Mission House and Maha­moku Beach House.

"Visitors always want to take a part of Hawaii home with them," Kennedy said. "An original painting is more meaningful than a T-shirt or macadamia nut chocolates; it's something they can enjoy and share for years. Also, development alters views. The scenes preserved on canvas today could have historical value tomorrow."

Planning the inaugural Kauai Plein Air Invitational began in earnest in early 2010. Kennedy estimates 275 people attended the event last June. Twenty-seven paintings sold, raising more than $23,000 for the museums. …