Carmel becomes, once again, a plein-air art studio. After a two-year hiatus due to COVID-19, the legendary Carmel Art Festival will paint the city Friday through Sunday. At a time when many people are still reluctant to gather indoors, how appropriate to stage an outdoor festival where 60 juried artists from around the country paint across the peninsula while passers-by watch landscapes and seascapes shift unfold on the canvas.
The term “en plein air” is a French expression meaning “in the open air” and refers to the practice of painting outdoors with the artist’s subject in mind. Working with natural light, saturated colors, and sometimes changing landscapes as they paint, outdoor artists must contend with changing light, temperature, weather, and subject conditions. Thus, the piece is typically completed in one sitting.
The 27th Carmel Art Festival, sponsored by the Carmel Gallery Alliance, invites outdoor artists to paint until Friday and finally submit two completed paintings in the competition for first, second and third place until Friday 3pm. These winners will enter a “Quick Draw” prize winning contest on Sunday, giving them two hours to complete an outdoor painting. These paintings are sold through a silent auction.
“It’s a great honor to be asked to participate with all these other plein-air artists from around the city and beyond,” said local artist Delia Bradford, from the legendary Bradford family of artists, who has attended the festival several times. “It’s so much fun to see how everyone interprets a landscape that I paint all the time. There can be pressure to produce two outdoor images in a set time frame, but I just poured all the energy and excitement of the festival into my images.”
Bradford, who owns the Delia Art Gallery in Carmel, already has a few favorite spots in mind where the setting inspires her work and the conditions tend to be forgiving when painting outdoors.
“It’s a roll of the dice to see what the weather will be like when we go painting,” she said. “It could be sunny or foggy or windy or mild. This is a good way to make sure we’re really painting outdoors. If an artist submits a sunny painting and it’s been foggy for two days, that’s suspicious.”
Rather than fight the breezes along the coast, Bradford sometimes sets her easel inland where she typically finds sunlight and calm air. While she plans to paint with acrylics, other artists may choose pastels, oils, watercolors; whatever suits their skills, their subject and their aesthetic.
The art of the event
The center of the Carmel Art Festival is Devendorf Park on Ocean Avenue between Junipero and Mission Streets. All paintings completed during the festival are displayed in an open-air gallery adjacent to the sculpture garden in the park, which features ongoing sculpture screenings and full works from Carmel galleries including Stephen Whyte Sculpture Studio and Gallery, Dawson Cole Fine Art, Bennett Sculpture Carmel, Classic Art Gallery, Gallery Sur and New Master’s Gallery.
Founded in 1974 by Bill and the late Jennifer Hill, the New Master’s Gallery represents both established and emerging artists destined to become masters. It was Jennifer Hill who came up with the idea for an open air arts festival that she launched in 1993. Hill, who was also president of the Carmel Business Association, which later became the Carmel Chamber of Commerce, believed an arts festival would benefit artists, art galleries, and the broader arts community by combining competition with collaboration.
After Hill’s death in 2006, the late festival president Tammi Tharp, who lost her battle with cancer in December, created the Jennifer Hill Award. When presenting the award, Tharp typically chose a tranquil painting whose imagery depicts something calming, serene, perhaps a path to the sea, whose energy was a trademark of Hill. In Tharp’s absence, this year’s Jennifer Hill Award will be presented by one of this year’s judges, Bill Hill.
At the helm of the arts festival is President Hella Rothwell, a local real estate agent who has helped manage it since 2000. This year she has worked with Vice President Ellen Wilson-Whyte, senior program coordinator at the Panetta Institute, whose husband is noted local sculptor Stephen Whyte.
“I began my relationship with local art by creating websites for many Carmel art galleries,” Rothwell said. “The more I worked with them, the more I became exposed to and really looked at the art and developed a deep appreciation for the work. When the Carmel Art Festival wanted a website, I got even more involved in this volunteer work, which was so rewarding.”
In addition to Hill, the judges also include Patricia Terdlinger from Jones & Terdlinger, Sanya Micovic from the Classic Art Gallery and Tony Vanderploeg from Gallerie Amsterdam.
“It’s my first time as a judge,” said Vanderploeg, 92, who has owned Gallerie Amsterdam for 26 years. “It won’t be difficult because I will judge by how I react to the picture when I see it. I have learned that what most people like and dislike depends on their initial reaction. The festival is something that Carmel really needs because we have very talented artists who paint beautiful works that should be exhibited.”
Like the artworks
Each juried artist participating in the festival submits two exhibition images for judging at Devendorf Park on Friday between 11am and 3pm, where the judges have only two hours, from 3pm to 5pm, at to complete their challenging task of determining, among other things, a variety of mediums, subjects, perspectives and techniques, the first, second and third place winners who will be awarded $2,000, $1,500 and $1,000 respectively. In addition, the judges select three “Honourable Mentions,” painters whose work is recognized, and award $500 each.
“I am delighted to have been asked to be a judge for the Carmel Art Festival’s plein air competition this year,” said Patricia Terdlinger. “Having lived in a more isolated world for the past two years, there seems to be a renaissance in the appreciation of art and how it speaks to us on so many levels. It is always exciting to see the treasures that are created when the judged artists visit these special areas to capture the magic of this magnificent coastal region.”
This year, participating artists were invited to create a third painting of the Carmel business district on a 6″ x 6″ canvas provided by framer Randy Higbee of his Costa Mesa-based art and framing company of the same name, along with a frame for every. Higbee will be in attendance at Devendorf Park to judge the miniature submissions and award $100 each to his top three picks.
Also strolling through the open-air painting exhibit during the judging will be Carmel Mayor Dave Potter, who will present the painting that speaks of Carmel on his behalf with a $500 Mayor’s Choice Award.
“It’s incredibly exciting to have the Carmel Art Festival back after its hiatus,” said Potter, whose mother was an established multimedia artist. “We are a community of artists; We are known for our art, so an event like this that celebrates the nature and diversity of art is wonderful and most appropriate. It means a lot to me because it represents both my heritage and my homeland.”
Participating artists will vote among the entries to present a $500 Artist’s Choice Award. And the People’s Choice Award will not only come with $1,000, but also with respect and recognition from the viewing public.
Once judging is complete on Friday, the festival will officially open at 5:30 p.m. starting with the awards ceremony and the first opportunity for the community to purchase paintings and the 2022 event poster featuring the image “Twilight Showers” by artist Sally Jordan, the 2019 People’s Choice Award, whose work is represented by the Classic Art Gallery. Each time artists sell a painting, they are free to replace it with another painting, which must have been completed during the festival weekend, which continues with live music through Sunday afternoon. On Sunday from 9:00am to 12:00pm there will be the “Quick Draw” competition, where the winners of the festival competition will have three hours to complete another painting. The winner will receive a $500 prize.
Like last year, the Carmel Art Festival will donate funds to the Youth Arts Collective, which for more than 20 years has provided studio space and instruction, exhibition opportunities and scholarships to more than 800 young artists across the peninsula.
“As a not-for-profit public event,” Rothwell said, “the Carmel Art Festival was created to educate, inspire, and immerse people of all ages in the visual arts experience. We are very excited to continue presenting this wonderful weekend of plein air art.”