Art ‘en plein air’ comes to Hill City

By Carol Walker

The practice of painting in the open air, (en plain air) goes back centuries to the French Impressionists. The First Annual Black Hills Plein Air Paint Out, sponsored by Artists of the Black Hills and Hill City Arts Council, will headquarter out of Hill City, but artists will paint all over the Black Hills. It is scheduled from Sept. 25-29. Above, Tim Peterson demonstrates the technique.

“Why don’t you do it in Hill City?” was the question asked of a member of the Artists of the Black Hills (ABH) who was talking about a Plein Air event for this fall while in insideout Gallery. Members of the artists’ group were contemplating the sponsorship of the event centered in Custer State Park (CSP) the weekend of the annual Buffalo Roundup at the end of September, but everything was full in the park. Susan Scheirbeck, owner of insideout, suggested relocating the event to Hill City.

The woman took the idea back to the ABH and they confirmed it. That was the beginning of a partnership between the ABH and the Hill City Arts Council to bring the first annual Black Hills Plein Air Paint Out to the area on Tuesday, Sept. 25 through Saturday, Sept. 29. Though the event will headquarter out of Hill City artists will have the opportunity to paint anywhere in the Black Hills.

Organizers believe it will be a great weekend, piggybacking on all the CSP Buffalo Roundup activity. Next to the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, the roundup is the second busiest traffic time in the Black Hills.

“Yes, Hill City is a cool town, and yes, we have come a long way, but I think we always need to be thinking about having something new and fresh. This is an opportunity to steer some extra traffic to Hill City,” said Scheirbeck.

Wondering what Plein Air is? The practice goes back centuries, but was made into an art form by French Impressionists. With the creation of transportable paint tubes and a box easel, they were able to take their materials outdoors and paint “in the open air,” the English phrase for the French “en plein air.”

The Artists of the Black Hills group believes the area provides unlimited intimate scenes of Black Hills granite, meadows, trees, lakes, streams and wildlife. In addition, there are numerous vistas including Mount Rushmore, Crazy Horse Memorial, the Mickelson Trail and other places that depict our history. Artists who register on Tuesday, the first day of the paint out, will have ample subject matter with which to create works of art that will be offered for sale to the general public beginning Thursday of that week.

Artists of the Black Hills is an organization of currently 41 professional artists, artisans and galleries that want to establish “the Black Hills region as a prime source for art of the highest quality.” In existence for 13 years, the group sponsors an annual art show and sale at the Dahl Fine Arts Gallery in Rapid City, and it organizes and participates in other regional exhibitions. One of member, Jan Sohl, organized a plein air event in Silver City for several years but that was dropped a couple years ago. ABH members are enthusiastic about sponsoring another event and partnering with the Hill City Arts Council whose mission is “to nurture and support the arts and humanities as well as help to boost the creative economy by offering arts and music events.”

The ABH website states that “ABH is open to those artists whose work demonstrates a consistently superior level of competence in their chosen medium.” Tim Peterson, president of the group, said members jury the work of artists who join ABH.

“However, when it comes to this Plein Air Paint Out, artists at all levels are encouraged to participate. Water color, oil, acrylic, pastel, drawing, even sculpture is accepted as a medium. All we ask is that the work is done in the Black Hills that week. Individuals may work alone or alongside other artists. Art is a solitary profession, but this is an opportunity to get to know peers in the field. Novice artists have a chance to connect with professional artists,” said Peterson.

The roster for the event is limited to 35 people and registration cost is $60. For those who desire to paint in Custer State Park, a $20, seven-day entrance fee is required to get into the park. If the paintings sell by the end of the week, artists receive 70 percent of the selling price and 30 percent goes to the Black Hills Plein Air Paint Out.

Four awards will be presented at the end of the week including Best of Show, $500; People’s Choice, $100; Best Nocturne, $100 and Best Quick Draw, $100. People’s Choice will be determined by a vote of the people, but the other three awards will be chosen by jurors.

Nocturne painting is just as it sounds, painting at night, and it is a fairly new thing, according to Peterson. He said the colors on the paintings are usually more vivid.

“There is a real advantage to it. During the day the daylight changes and there are shadows, but at night the light is steady. You might be using the light from street lights or billboards or storefronts, and you have to outfit your easel with lights,” said Peterson.

The prospectus for the event will communicate all the details for the week and can be downloaded at and when complete should be sent to Artists of the Black Hills, P.O. Box 1751, Rapid City, SD 57709. From 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 25, registered artists will check in at the insideout Gallery at 150 Poplar St. in Hill City, with an artists’ reception scheduled for that evening.

On Thursday, Sept. 27 there will be a Hill City Gallery Walk open to the public, beginning at 5 p.m. Warrior’s Work and Ben West Gallery, Dakota Nature & Art, ArtForms, insideout, Jon Crane Gallery and Framing, Jewel of the West and Stage Stop Leather and Gifts are all participating. Artists may be doing nocturne painting at that time in front of the galleries.

Following the walk, at 7:30 p.m. Peterson will do a Gallery Talk at Warrior’s Work and Ben West Gallery. Also open to the public on Friday evening from 5-7:30 p.m. is the Artists’ Reception and Awards at the Hill City Senior Center. Hors d’oeuvres and beverages will be served.

Organizers want to welcome artists as well as the public to participate in this new event in the Black Hills. Peterson believes it will be an opportunity to forge new friendships around the arts.

“Plein air painting is so much fun. There is a kind of pressure to do the work and complete it in a specified amount of time. And I have enjoyed the friendships I’ve made in doing this type of thing, some of them for a lifetime,” said Peterson.