Bluff Strokes Mississippi River Art Workshops Paint Dubuque

What is Bluff Strokes?

Bluff Strokes is a competition amongst plein air (in the open air) artists, who will come paint Dubuque for the week of October 8-14, 2017.  We will award approximately $10,000 in prize money.  Each artist has their favorite scenes to paint:  landscapes in the rolling hills, historic downtown buldings, river scenes or the Arboretum. The artists who came in 2016 were blown away by the variety that Dubuque offers. Come see them paint and then view (and purchase) their artwork on Friday, Oct 13 (6-9pm) at our Patron Preview Party and the Public Sale on Saturday, Oct 14 (9am-7pm).  Click the Patron Events icon under "Public Info" to learn more.  

Last year, we sold over 125 paintings at the Patron Party on Friday and Public Sale on Saturday.  Our median price for the original art (all works are FRAMED!) was $325. The prices ranged from $95 for the novices to $600 for a few of the more accomplished artists.  Some customers said it was the first piece of original art they've ever purchased.  That makes us so proud!  But when the show is over, the art is GONE!  When the artists leave, so do the unsold paintings.  So come see what they create this year!  Original art, created in one week, in your hometown.   You will treasure it more than any reproduction!

 DK Palecek   

Steeple Square (formerly St. Mary's at 15th & White) provides a fabulous venue to show off the finished (and framed) artwork.  


A Very Brief History of Plein Air Painting

In the 1840’s an invention was introduced that revolutionized two quite different human endeavors – tooth brushing and landscape painting!  Today it is hard to imagine life without the common toothpaste tube, but this same flexible metal storage tube was also adapted to store and distribute pre-mixed paints for artists, who could now easily carry them outdoor locations.  Previously, artists had to store paint in clumsy animal bladders and mix colors in their studios; landscapes were mostly painted in the studio, sometimes from charcoal field sketches.

With the advent of the paint tube, artists could assemble small portable painting kits and create finished canvases in direct contact with nature.  This outdoor painting activity was pioneered by French painters such as Corot, and came to be known the French name “en plein air,” or “open air” painting.  Starting in the 1880’s, French Impressionism became the dominant force in plein air painting, led by artists such as Monet, Cezanne, Renoir, and Degas.  Mary Cassatt, an American artist, helped popularize the movement in the US, and Impressionist groups formed throughout the US in such places as New York, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, New Mexico, and California. 

The movement probably peaked in 1915 with the prestigious Panama-Pacific Exposition in San Francisco, but its demise had already been triggered; in 1913 a group of young artists organized the “Armory Show,” an exhibit of modern abstract art at the 69th Regimental Armory in New York City.  The show was the first introduction of the American public to European abstract art and changed the focus of art in the US away from representational toward the abstract, socially conscious, and conceptual.  By 1925, plein air painting was declining along with representational art in general, and by the 1940’s and 50’s it was of little interest to artists, collectors, art schools, or museums. 

However, even during this time of decline, there were a few artists around the country who felt called to do their work in immediate response to the natural world around them.  From John Preston, Iowa Plein Air Painter: “When I attended art school (in the 1970’s), all of the other students wanted to do their work in the studio and to make a statement, whether political or personal.  All I wanted to do was work outside in the open air.  There were very few of us around the country doing that and we had to rediscover a lot of the old techniques ourselves.”

A resurgence of plein air started in the 1980’s.  In 1986, Santa Catalina Island (off the coast of California) artist Denise Burns invited a group of interested artist friends to Catalina to paint en plein air, resulting in the first Catalina Show.  Over time more artists grew interested, leading to the emergence of such events as the Carmel Plein Air event in 1994 and later the Laguna Beach Plein Air Painters Invitational.  Since then plein air events have been proliferating around the country.