Paint Grand Traverse, a New Plein Air Festival in Traverse City

A festival described as both inaugural and annual takes some confidence to pull off, but it’s clear organizers at Crooked Tree Arts Center have something big in mind for their week-long Paint Grand Traverse event. The plein air painting festival will showcase 45 artists from across the country as they spend the week capturing signature Northern Michigan landscapes on canvas, on the spot. Here’s what Crooked Tree’s Megan Kelto told us is in store for the August 13-18 celebration of plein air painting.

So there are similar events in other scenic parts of the country, but it’s a first here. Can you explain what exactly happens at a plein air painting festival?

Artists spend up to a week in a place, exploring different locations, capturing the atmosphere, the lighting, the weather conditions of a landscape that they experienced that day. They’ll go out with their easel, find their vista, and maybe do one or two paintings a day. So they’re working much more quickly than a studio artist, who might spend months making a single painting.

And it can be kind of a spectator sport, too, right?

For sure. For example, the first Monday of the competition, we’re out on the Leelanau Peninsula, and we’ll have the artists painting at three or four locations, including Fishtown and Black Star Farms. So we’re encouraging spectators to come out, watch the artists while they work, and even talk with them.

Really? The artists don’t mind?

I mean, like any social interaction, you have to take your cues. If someone seems deep into another conversation or focused on their painting, you might want to give them some space. And, of course, you don’t want to block their light! But all of these artists are professionals who have done these kinds of competitions before. And that kind of banter and interaction is definitely a big part of it.

You mentioned it’s a competition. How does that part work?

The event culminates on Saturday with a big evening gala, sale and awards ceremony, and each artist can bring three to five paintings they completed that week. Above all, we want the artists to have great sales; we want them to go back and tell all their artist friends that Paint Grand Traverse is a must-do plein air event. (Gala tickets below.)

Any other must-see happenings that week?

We also have a cool event on Wednesday called a Quick Draw Competition, which will include the 45 artists, but also anyone else who wants to compete. The hook with that is the artists have just two hours to create a painting. So you can imagine that gets pretty intense. Then—while the paint is still wet—we do a quick sale and awards ceremony. Just based on pre-registration for that event, we’re going to have 70 or more artists out there competing that day. I’m sure it will be pretty incredible to see a whole field packed with easels.

More Event Details: Paint Grand Traverse

The six-day festival includes a variety of events for spectators, artists, art buyers, kids, and families.

National-caliber artists will participate and compete in the Masters Competition for major cash awards. New artists from around the country, including Oregon, New Mexico, Texas, Florida, and Massachusetts will offer new perspectives as they capture beautiful Northern Michigan landscapes on canvas. Local favorites such as Kevin Barton, Elizabeth Pollie, Lori Feldpausch, and Margie Guyot are also set to participate in the week’s outings.

Participating artists will paint on-site at several locations, including various wineries, Sleeping Bear Dunes, downtown Traverse City, Lake Leelanau, and Elk Rapids. All plein air paint out excursions are open to the public for viewing. Crooked Tree’s website and social media accounts will post up-to-date painting locations and event schedules for those wishing to watch artists at work.

The Quick Draw event will take place on Wednesday, August 15 at Fountain Point Resort on Lake Leelanau. This exciting, two-hour competition for plein air painters is a great event for spectators. Artists will compete for cash awards, and a quick sale will immediately follow the competition. Artists must pre-register in order to participate. This event is free and open to the public.

The week-long festival concludes on Saturday, August 18 with the Gala and Celebration Sale, which takes place at Crooked Tree Arts Center – Traverse City at 322 Sixth Street. This is your one and only opportunity to view and purchase the paintings created by the 45 featured artists. More than 200 pieces will be available along with fabulous food, wine, and live music. General admission tickets cost $20, which include one drink ticket and a strolling supper. VIP tickets cost $50 and include a VIP preview hour, champagne welcome, two drink tickets, and a strolling supper.

For more information, please contact the Crooked Tree Arts Center at 231-941-9488 or visit