The saying "it's like watching paint dry" generally describes the most boring of experiences. With an event that entails the act of witnessing paint do its thing, it would be easy to dismiss a plein air festival as having little to no appeal to those who aren't festival artists.
But, for the past 11 years, thousands of people -- many of whom are repeat attendees -- can't wait to watch the Featured Artists create paintings for the Door County Plein Air Festival (DCPAF). During the last full week in July when the DCPAF is scheduled, our peninsula's hotel room occupancy average jumps an additional two days. Calls to PenArt regarding the following year's festival occur just as soon as the current festival closes. Purchasing the Holy Grail of event tickets, the all-access DCPAF Palette Pass, is secured months in advance. Why? Because the attraction of the DCPAF is as much about the Featured Artists as it is the paintings.
Most successful plein air painters have these characteristics in common: the ability to carry on a conversation while working, a delight in sharing their process, a passion for the outdoors, and a laundry list of humorous plein air "war stories." To be a plein air painter, you need to go with the flow of both the paint and unpredicatable circumstances. Weather, imperfect terrain for set-up, the eyes of a gathering crowd; it's all in a day's work.
The selection of our Featured Artists occurs the November before the event. Much goes into determining who will receive an invitation. It goes without saying that the work must be top-notch, but to be in the DCPAF an artist must also be approachable. It is a festival after all, and that means that the creative spirits should be genuine and happy. There are serious aspects to the DCPAF, with prizes to be won and paintings to sell, but the passion for plein air painting and its celebration of beauty must come through. If it's not there, you might as well just watch the paint dry.