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Nothing simple about Plein Air | Features

Paint Grand Traverse marks 5 years
By Al Parker | August 6, 2022

(Painting in the foreground by Spencer Meagher)

Artist Crista Pisano can’t wait to pack up her colors and palettes and venture into Traverse City when Crooked Tree Arts Center hosts its fifth annual Paint Grand Traverse, August 14-20.

“The organizers, staff and volunteers of Paint Grand Traverse at Crooked Tree Arts Center threw a wonderful event,” says Pisano, who usually finds himself painting landscapes in his home studio in Nyack, New York, on the Hudson River. “Last year, being my first participation, I received such a warm welcome upon arrival. I am also very excited to be returning to my host family, who opened their home to me and was so lovely ”.

Paint Grand Traverse (PGT) is an annual outdoor painting festival and competition. This year, 36 artists from 15 states come to the region to paint and participate in lectures, live demonstrations, youth activities, art sales and exhibitions throughout the week.

It is a hybrid event, which means that some featured artists are invited and others are selected through a competitive application process. Each year, the organizers invite to return the artists who have won important awards and sold the most works of art at the PGT of the previous year. They also invite artists who have performed well in other major plein air competitions across the country.

An online application procedure was held in January and jurors assigned a score to the candidates, with top scorers invited to participate.

“We have artists from California, Florida and New Jersey, so we cover coast to coast,” says Megan Kelto, vice president of the Crooked Tree Arts Center.

There is no lack of inspiration

With so many wonderful places to explore in Northern Michigan, different artists tend to gravitate towards different scenic spots during PGT.

“We have some artists who really enjoy painting architecture, bridges, structures or scenes with lots of activities and people, while others are looking for more pastoral points of view,” explains Kelto. “But some enduring favorites are Sleeping Bear Dunes, The Village at Grand Traverse, Fishtown in Leland, the views from Chateau Chantal over Old Mission and Clinch Marina.”

Colorado watercolorist Steve Griggs is returning for his third year with PGT.

“Paint Grand Traverse is a fabulous program,” says Griggs, who grew up in the state of Mitten and has works on display at Elk Rapids’ Twisted Fish Gallery. “It is well managed and they take great care of the artists. People come from all over the state to see artists paint. Everything looks festive and lively. It’s just a very fun event ”.

So what are your favorite painting places?

“One of my favorite things about Michigan as a whole are the ports, harbors and marinas,” says Griggs. “In the Grand Traverse area, I can find so many beautiful places to paint. I am particularly interested in the myriad of sailboats I see. Also, I love the wine region with its lush vineyards and rolling hills. But then, I also really like painting the pine and birch forests, as well as the sand dunes and beach areas. Since the peninsula is one of my favorite places on earth, I consider practically everything my favorite place or topic. “

The Weathered Shacks of Fishtown are a favorite spot for Illinois artist Spencer Meagher. (When not traveling, Meagher works in watercolor, oil, and acrylic in his studio in Mt. Vernon.) He will return for his third year at PGT.

“The scenery is great to paint,” says Meagher. “I can’t wait to spend another week in the beautiful area of ​​Traverse City.”

For Pisano it’s all about water.

“I love painting the shoreline and distant boats of Lake Michigan,” he says. “Exploring the colors in the water is something I can’t wait to paint again.”

Not just for artists

Although the subject of art may seem intimidating to some, PGT offers the possibility of making art accessible to the general public thanks to its relaxed atmosphere. The week includes about two dozen events, many of which are free and open to the public, and people are encouraged to visit any of the “featured painting venues” during the week and watch the artists at work. There will also be six free painting demonstrations at Crooked Tree Arts Center, where artists will discuss their process and approach as they paint.

The main event of the week is the Collectors’ Gala on August 19th. Ticket buyers have the first chance to see and purchase the paintings created during the week. It is also the time when artists receive awards for their efforts.

Another popular event is the Pint-Sized Paint Out for kids. Up to 100 young artists aged 15 and over in Hannah Park, TC Center, and many prizes are awarded. “The scene of all the kids through the park with their easels is really delightful,” says Kelto.

New this year is a free neighborhood party for the community, a quick paint competition for adults, activities for children, food trucks, live music, and the first public of the PGT exhibition.

“We at Crooked Tree Arts Center are so excited to celebrate Paint Grand Traverse’s fifth anniversary,” adds Kelto. “It is a great achievement. Whenever you launch something new, like we did with the first Paint Grand Traverse in 2018, you hope it catches on and resonates with the community.

Details for the week are at

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