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Outdoor art competition under way this weekend

If Monet or Renior were alive today, they’d probably appreciate what’s going on in Evanston.

OK, that may sound ridiculous. But a style of painting popularized by the two impressionists, among others in the 1800s, is the style at Evanston’s first-ever “Plein Air” Festival.

Plein Air, in French, basically means painting outdoors, in the “open air.”

Fifty artists have their easels and water colors all over Evanston, putting in hours of effort culminating Sunday afternoon with a sale and competition on Fountain Square, when the paintings will be judged. The festival is sponsored by Evanston Made.

And while outdoor landscapes may not seem revolutionary now, back when formal indoor portraits or imagery of religious events were standard stuff for painters, going outside, capturing what you see, and adding a layer of imagination was ground-breaking.

“The emotion tells you what you want to paint,” said Carol Neiger, who was looking out over Arrington Lagoon along Lake Michigan.

Plein air artist Carol Neiger.

Neiger, who has at Evanston design studio, said “I’ve been painting my whole life.”

Neiger said she was “not trying to be photographic” with her plein air paintings. Rather, she said her work is about “being in the moment,” with the hope that the pictures remind viewers of something, whatever that something may be.

Jane Sloss was at the other end of the lagoon, painting as well.

Plein air artist Jane Sloss.

Sloss, an architect by trade, said outdoor landscape painting “is a good balance to architecture, which can be very exacting.”

Sloss also said that there’s a lot of imagination and emotion in her work.

“The difference between painting and photography,” she said, “is that the artist conveys the feelings and also makes choices” in what will be highlighted.

Both artists said the lakefront/park/lagoon area is perfect for outdoor painting.

“It’s one of the most beautiful places in Evanston,” said Neiger.

And Sloss said it’s “one of the places I have in mind I’d like to paint,” and came there specifically for the Plein Air event.

So keep your eyes out, and you may see an artist painting near where you live or play.

And that’s the “Plein” truth.

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