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Culture » Arts & Entertainment

Utah's plein air art festivals

Where to go to view—or attempt—the tradition of outdoor painting


  • Midway Art Association

In early 1860s France, four young art students discovered they shared an infatuation for painting landscapes and contemporary life. Together they would visit the local countryside, pull out their paint tubes and box easels and paint in the open air, or "en plein air." Their desire to beautifully express light and its transitory qualities soon became known as Impressionism, and sparked an adoration for painting outdoors.

Today, artists working in the plein air tradition gather together to share their passion for painting at events called "Paint Outs." These outdoor art galas are popular with not only established artists and patrons, but also amateur enthusiasts and aspiring newcomers.

Luckily for art-lovers around the area, many galleries, communities and towns host plein air art festivals in the summer and fall. Included at many of these celebrations are competitions where participants create artwork in a designated amount of time and at a specific location. For Utah locals, here are some of the most beloved plein air art gatherings.

Wasatch Plein Air Paradise – Midway, June 22 - July 6. This event, hosted by the Midway Art Association (MAA), is a favorite amongst professional artists and experienced art collectors. The festival highlights a Main Plein Air Competition as well as local Paint Outs, and a live auction on July 4 at 11 a.m. It also features a 90-minute "Quick Draw & Auction," which is a favorite of attendees as they watch artists complete a masterwork in mere minutes.

According to Jerry Watterworth, President of the MAA, "The Midway Art Association is pleased to host the 17th annual Wasatch Plein Air Paradise in beautiful Heber Valley. ... With artists from throughout Utah and surrounding states, we offer a range of competitions for all skill levels, from professional artists to amateurs. ... All are welcome for this wonderful community event." midwayartassociation.org

Spring City Arts 2024 Plein Air Competition - Spring City, Aug. 24 – 31. One of Utah's longest-running plein air events, this competition is celebrating its 18th year. "We usually get around 100 painters competing in the event, and it really is a lot of fun." Said Chris Anderson, Mayor of Spring City. Artists have their canvases stamped and then they set off to paint their creations, inspired by the landscapes around Sanpete County. This year, all events are expected to take place at Spring City Square, the block where the Spring City Hall, Activity Center, Bowery and playground are located.

A reception, open to the public, will be held at the Spring City Gallery at 7 p.m. on the evening of Friday, Aug. 30, with a preview of the competition paintings and announcement of the winners. The main event happens on Saturday, August 31st, when all finished artwork is displayed at an open exhibit. The Saturday event also includes a "quick draw" competition, with those pieces being auctioned off at 4 p.m. Participants and attendees will also have the opportunity to visit with local Spring City artists. springcityarts.org

Plein Air Utah 2024 Rendezvous and Retreat - Heber City, Sept. 18 – 21. This four-day event is renowned by local artists as an immersive, entertaining experience. Morning and afternoon plein air painting sessions with demos and coaching are held each day at various locations. Plein Air Painters of Utah lead the instructions and their pieces are available to view 3 to 6 p.m., Wednesday - Friday. On Saturday, artists can set up to paint on the town square and network with the public. Attendees can also visit the Midway Town Hall to view and buy paintings. Utah artist Beckie Rock said, "Plein Air Utah is a unique experience four days of instruction from Utah's best Plein Air Instructors, with the opportunity to sell your work on Saturday. No other workshop can compare to the networking you will create with so many incredible artists." pleinairutah.com

Escalante Canyons Art Festival – Escalante, Sept. 20 – 29. This festival is hosted in Utah's canyon country between Bryce Canyon and Capitol Reef National Parks, along Scenic Byway 12. The gala highlights plein air studio competitions, art exhibits, on-site sales, workshops, demonstrations, live music, guided walks and an arts and crafts fair. Sept. 20 will teach lessons on landscape design and Sept. 21 features a group painting excursion. Then on Sept. 26, artist Melody Greenlief will teach landscape watercoloring. Greenlief explained, "I will paint a landscape watercolor painting from start to finish and varnish it while discussing techniques and materials, including how to mount watercolor paper, varnishing watercolor paintings and supplies. I will be happy to answer any questions that attendees may have." escalantecanyonsartfestival.org

All of these events allow the aspiring painter, experienced dealer and art enthusiast to enjoy Utah's magnificent landscapes and surroundings. However, whichever festival you decide to experience, you will want to be as comfortable as possible. Wear casual clothing and good walking shoes. Be sure to bring a water bottle, insect repellent, sunscreen, sunglasses and a hat. Artists will also want to bring an umbrella as well as some stakes to hold their easels. CW