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Outdoor Festival in Evanston


An outdoor painting festival, art exhibition and sale are planned for the weekend of July 14-17.

“En plein air” literally means “outdoors”, and the phrase “plein air” tends to refer to painting outdoors.

Mark Cleveland, an accomplished plein air painter, paints on Dempster Street in Evanston. Credit: Photo by Gay Riseborough

Plein air painting is considered to be of French origin, with probably the best known plein air painters being Paul Cézanne, Claude Monet, Vincent Van Gogh, Pierre-Auguste Renoir and Camille Pissarro.

At the beginning of the 20e Century, in California, the land of (almost) perpetual sunshine, a great movement emerged called California Impressionism, or, California Plein Air.

A regional variation of American Impressionism, the California movement promoted a light and airy Impressionist aesthetic that coincided with that region’s population boom.

It was prominent the first three decades of the century but faded with the Depression and Modern Art movements. Now there is outdoor painting all over the West.

Evanston’s Party

Sponsored by Evanston Town Centre, Evanston Made and assisted by the Evanston Arts Council, it is believed to be the first such event in the town.

Landscape painters will work directly on site, in different locations. The five most common sites will be listed for the public, but who knows which places independent artists will choose to paint?

Around forty painters are expected and artists can sell directly from their easels.

The Evanston Festival is the brainchild of Evanston artist Mark Cleveland, who is a plein air painter and, now, festival director.

During the pandemic, Cleveland began painting its neighborhood and local sites. He was so successful in showing the resulting work online that it led to a window-only exhibition at 1100 Florence. There he sold six pieces of paintings in seven display cases. Cleveland will give a talk for artists, “Stepping into the Light – Getting Started in Plein Air” at Space 900, 816 Dempster Street, at 9:30 a.m. on Saturday, July 16.

An outdoor painting by artist Don Yang is featured here. Credit: Image by Don Yang

For those interested in trying painting outdoors, a one-day outdoor workshop will be held Saturday, July 16 at the Evanston Lighthouse campus. The workshop fee is $125, but the Evanston Arts Council funds five scholarships for BIPOC participants. For more information or to register, visit the event website: evanstonmade.org/call-for-artists-evanston-plein-air-festival.

The workshop will be taught by special guest, Chicago-based master painter Don Yang, who is also an exhibition judge. Yang trained at the American Academy of Art in Chicago, where he has taught since 2002. He is an accomplished portrait and figure painter as well as a landscape painter.

Yang will judge the submitted paintings on Sunday, July 17. Two prizes will be awarded: “Best in Show” and “People’s Choice: Fest Favorite”. Visitors can see the paintings in competition and vote on the Place de la Fontaine on Sunday July 17, from 12 p.m. to 3 p.m.

Saturday 16e, the Main-Dempster-Mile offers music to complement events further north. From noon to 4 p.m. they will be holding what they call their Front Porch concert series. Three owners have offered their porches and yards where local bands will play for visitors.

Their performances will take place at noon, 1:30 p.m. and 3 p.m., with no registration fee. Further information is available on the Main Dempster Mile website: www.maindempstermile.com.

Also on Saturday, from 4 to 8 p.m., the Main Dempster Mile Association will offer a traditional music festival in “Train Station Alley”, 600 Main Street, the alley between the two train tracks. There will be music, vendors and a classic car mini-show hosted by Evanston classic car owners. Attendees can also enjoy Evanston’s DIY wall map there.

A call for plein air painters went out in March this year via Patch, the Roundtable, social media and the Evanston Made newsletter and the downtown Evanston newsletter. Entrants were required to submit two examples of outdoor paintings/works.

“There are many artists all over the region who make the outdoor festival circuit,” said Lisa Degliantoni, the manager of Evanston Made, who handled all of the marketing and promotion, permits, registration forms and financial reports. “The biggest issue has been getting businesses to open their restrooms to festival-goers. So don’t worry, there will be a potty card.

The painting must take place within the city limits of Evanston and a $25 registration fee was charged to those who registered. The event sponsors hope it will become an annual event. Artists will check in and register up to five blank work surfaces at Blick Art Materials at 1755 Maple Ave. Gift bags will be given to the artists who do so.

Only paintings with a visible inscription on the back will be accepted for review at the Awards and Exhibit Tents in Fountain Square on Sunday, June 17. All works must be for sale and subject to a 30% gallery fee. After the event, all competition paintings will be displayed in the third floor gallery of the Evanston Public Library.

During July, an accompanying exhibition at Space 900, 816 Dempster Street, features primarily outdoor cityscape paintings of Evanston and Chicago by artists Mark Cleveland, Sarah Kaiser-Amaral, and Joe Taylor. Titled “True Grit,” the show is open Thursday through Sunday, 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.

There is an active group of plein air painters in Chicago, Plein Air Painters Chicago, which is associated with the Palette and Chisel Art Academy on Dearborn Street. They meet every Saturday morning at a different place to paint.

Many professional painters make the circuit at outdoor summer festivals, of which there are many across the country. Perhaps the most famous in the Door County, Wisc area.