Nothing evokes summer like the sight of artists creating works outdoors that reflect the warmth, color and easy ambience of the season.

This week, Evanstonians can view both local and out-of-state artists as they recreate the city’s outdoor scenery during the second annual Plein Air Festival.

“Plein Air” simply means painting outdoors in the “open air.” This type of painting was very popular among the French Impressionists of the 19th Century.

The festival is organized by Evanston Made, an organization that promotes arts-related events throughout the year.

One of the main features of the festival are daily “Paint Outs,” competitions for artists who produce one or more pieces at a designated site each day. At the end of the day there is a reception open to the public at which artists compete for awards for work they completed earlier in the day.

Monday’s Greenwood Beach paint out winner Christi Patterson, with art collector Mickie French.

As a finale, a Best of Show Award Ceremony, Art Exhibit and Festival will be held at Fountain Square downtown on Sunday, July 16, from 12-4 p.m.

There, the public will have the opportunity to bestow a Festival Favorite Award, as well as purchase their favorite pieces. And artists will be competing for best of show awards.

The first Paint Out was underway Monday morning at Greenwood Street Beach. Several artists braved the hot sun and sand to paint various compositions, inspired by the variety of scenery available at the beach.

Bob Holmes. Credit: Desiree Shannon

Bob Holmes, a resident of Wilmington, Illinois, is a veteran of Plein Air events all over the country, but new to Evanston’s festival. He is a retired middle school art teacher. He thinks that outdoor painting poses some challenges. “Indoor painting is a little bit easier because you have a lot more control than you do outside.”

However, he does believe the Plein Air style has its merits. “You learn a lot by going outside…and painting from life you learn a little bit more about color and atmospheric perspective…when you’re outside.” He said these lessons carry over into studio painting.

Jim Parks. Credit: Desiree Shannon

Jim Parks is a former Chicago-based actor and once even hosted a show on HGTV. He said “when I retired I did what I wanted to do the whole time, which was paint.” He set up a studio where he works in various artistic media. He admitted that creating art on the beach makes him “OCD,” because of the extensive material management required to set up a workspace outside.

Still, he appreciated the opportunity to participate in the festival, saying that its organizers at Evanston Made deserve recognition for launching such an impressive event. “Evanston artists are lucky to have it…they will make this festival a huge success in a couple of years.”

Other artists appreciate the openness and encouraging atmosphere fostered at the festival.

Kurt Ritterpusch. Credit: Desiree Shannon

Kurt Ritterpusch, who lives in Texas and creates work both indoors and outdoors, saw an ad for the festival in a magazine. He traveled back to Illinois, where he had spent part of his childhood in Highland Park, to participate this year.

“I feel really, really comfortable and really happy to be here in Evanston,” he said, adding that the festival’s organizers and participants have created “a warm and wonderful vibe.” He explained that other competitions he has participated in are not as receptive and welcoming to outsiders.

Lisa Degliantoni, one of the founders of Evanston Made, said the vibe Ritterpusch described is exactly what the organization is striving for.

She said, “we are really encouraging daily social events so…people get to know each other…we want to build community.”

“We have to be the funnest festival if we are going to be different,” she added.

Ritterpusch probably would agree that the festival hit its goal in this respect. He said next year, “I’m coming back!”

Desiree Shannon relocated to Evanston in 2022 from Columbus, Ohio. She has a journalism degree from Otterbein College of Ohio. During her undergraduate studies, she completed an internship with the Washington...

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