PORT ANGELES — Shuang Li, a former graphic interface designer, left high technology for her original dream: making art.
Preferably outside, away from any screen.
“I had enough of that,” Li said of her tech job in Seattle.
“I really love painting outdoors. I go pretty wild when I find the ideal place.”
Li, 61, is among 22 painters lighting out across the land this week to create art en plein air, as Monet and Van Gogh did. Together these visiting artists will display their art to the public — fresh from the field — in a series of free events during this week’s Paint the Peninsula competition and festival.
A watercolorist born in Beijing, China, who now lives in Escondido, Calif., Li did her first Paint the Peninsula last summer. During the week she finished 12 canvases, including a watercolor of the Clallam County Courthouse; she also painted forests, sea stacks and rivers, and won a couple of awards, including a People’s Choice prize for “Morning Light,” her ode to Salt Creek.
Alongside scores of paintings by her fellow travelers, Li’s work will be on display at the Port Angeles Fine Arts Center, 1203 E. Lauridsen Blvd., today through next Sunday, Aug. 26. Admission is free and gallery hours are extended from 9 a.m. till 8 p.m. during the week, so the public can see each day’s crop.
Art lovers can also catch outdoor painting demonstrations Tuesday and Wednesday, an awards party Thursday for the canvases painted in Olympic National Park, the Paint Out on Friday at City Pier, the gala awards party Saturday at the fine arts center and, finally, the Petite Painting Show next Sunday, Aug. 26.
All activities are free except the awards gala, where $15 includes hors d’oeuvres and desserts. Proceeds from this event, along with a portion of art sales, benefit the nonprofit Port Angeles Fine Arts Center.
All week, the center will be a place to vote, added Executive Director Jessica Elliott. People’s choice balloting will be underway, and everybody is invited to cast a vote for the paintings they find most stunning.
“An art gallery can appear so unapproachable. We want to welcome people; we want their input,” Elliott said.
“There’s so much art being put up each day,” and it can’t all fit, so the fine arts center is opening an online art shop.
At https://www.paintthepeninsula.org/ people can look at all 22 artists’ creations — including the paintings taken off the gallery walls to make more room for incoming work. The site will stay open all week and into October.
Richland artist Melanie Thompson, who is making her fourth trip to Paint the Peninsula, recalls last year’s trip to Ruby Beach, where she painted the lifting and descending fog.
“Hurricane Ridge keeps calling my name,” added Thompson, who won 2017’s Spirit of the Peninsula prize of $1,000 for her portrayal of the Ridge at twilight.
She travels a relatively short distance to get here. D.K. “Deke” Palecek comes from Kaukauna, Wis.; Simon Winegar, J. Brad Holt and Rachel Pettit are from various cities in Utah; Jean-Pierre Jacquet of Greenwich, Conn., and Devin Roberts of Pleasant Hope, Mo., are competing for the first time.
Others returning include 2017 Best in Show winner Bruce Gomez of Denver, Yong Hong Zhong of Lake Oswego, Ore., Jim McFarland of Victoria, Susie Hyer of Evergreen, Colo., and Richard Sneary of Kansas City, Mo.
Fine arts center volunteers take the artists on tours of the North Olympic Peninsula at the beginning of the week. Then they choose their locations, with options such as the farm fields in the Dungeness Valley, the waterfalls out west and the beaches, boat havens and brick architecture in Port Angeles and Port Townsend.
This time out, Elliott said, artists will be encouraged to seek an even more diverse itinerary, to potentially include the Elwha River mouth, the Hoh Rainforest’s Hall of Mosses and the farms in Chimacum.
The competition side of this includes the $300 people’s choice award plus 13 other categories. Best in show comes with a $2,500 prize; the artists’ choice brings $1,500 and best nocturne, or nighttime painting, wins $1,000.
“Aren’t they cool? I love doing them,” D.K. Palecek said of the nocturnes. Working after dark “really blows your mind,” and she, like her fellow Paint the Peninsula artists, doesn’t limit herself to realism.
“You can paint something any color as long as you get your values right,” she said.
Painting outdoors “is a great way to grow as an artist,” added Winegar, who’s making his first-ever trip to Washington state. “It takes you to new and crazy places.”
Steve Hill is with him on that. A longtime Lopez Island resident, Hill recently took part in the Pacific Northwest Plein Air competition in the Columbia River Gorge. A slogan for that place is “80 miles of wow.” The painter agrees with that, and expands it for the Olympic Peninsula. This, he said, is “150 miles of wow.”
Paint the Peninsula activities are open to the public at the Port Angeles Fine Arts Center and at nearby locations. The nonprofit arts center opens its gallery for extended hours during Paint the Peninsula week, hosts two awards parties and invites the public to partake in people’s choice award voting.
Admission is free to these events unless otherwise noted. To find out more, see https://www.paintthepeninsula.org/, visit the Paint the Peninsula Plein Air page on Facebook or phone the arts center at 360-457-3532. Also during the week, art lovers may phone the center to find out which painters are working where.
Diane Urbani de la Paz, a former features editor for the Peninsula Daily News, is a freelance writer living in Port Townsend.