Artists flock to Suwanee to work magic outdoors

Staff Photo: Jason Braverman. Vickie Johnson paints a historic home along Stonecypher Road in Olde Town Suwanee on Friday afternoon as part of the Suwanee Plein Air Event.

Staff Photo: Jason Braverman. Vickie Johnson paints a historic home along Stonecypher Road in Olde Town Suwanee on Friday afternoon as part of the Suwanee Plein Air Event.

SUWANEE -- Vickie Johnson looks from the quaint old house to her canvas and back again, placing a brush stroke here, a flick of color there. She is sitting with her easel on the side of the road, with two students not far away attending to their canvases and glancing occasionally in the direction of the same house.

The birds chirp, the sun peeks in and out of the clouds, and Johnson is smiling. It's a nice Friday and she and her art students are painting en plein air, a French expression meaning "in the open air."

Suwanee is hosting its first Plein Air Event this weekend, with local artists creating in the beautiful settings that Suwanee offers. Johnson, president of the North Gwinnett Arts Association, loves to paint trees and old buildings. On Friday, painters Carol van Dyck and Joan Terrell chose the Harvest Farm Community Garden as their setting, capturing flowers, iron structures and even a scarecrow on their canvases. Some artists chose the Suwanee Creek Greenway, some chose Sims Lake Park and others Martins Farm Park in which to settle for a few hours and create their outdoor masterpieces.

Artists working in any medium were invited to participate in this two-day event, which concludes today. Photographers, sculptors and sketch artists searched throughout the city to find the perfect spot in which to interpret nature and scenery.

"Plein air art is different, because we have to work quickly," said Johnson, who used to teach art classes at Collins Hill High School and now teaches at Central Gwinnett. "The light changes, the wind blows; no subject will look the same tomorrow or yesterday as it does today."

Carol van Dyck, who unintentionally chose to paint Mayor Dave Williams' family's garden plot at Harvest Farm, spent more than two hours creating a detailed watercolor recreation of the colors, textures and filigree iron work. She joined NGAA in November last year.

"I finally decided to make a career of my art," van Dyck said, having left a job as an office manager in midtown to devote more of her time to painting. Some of her paintings were recently exhibited at Cobble Creek Studio in Snellville.

Painting outdoors is vastly different for van Dyck than painting in her studio.

"The light, the detail, they're just fantastic. You can go off on a tangent working outdoors; it's not like working inside."

Joan Terrell, who came from Hoschton to participate, also chose Harvest Farm as the setting for her outdoor creation. She painted in oils, capturing both the beauty and realism of a farmer's plot with a scarecrow propped in the corner.

"You have to work really quickly to capture the light," Terrell said, dabbing colors here and there to create an uncanny likeness of her subject.

Anita Stewart, owner and instructor at Anita's ArtsCool in Buford, has dreamed of having just such an event in Suwanee for years.

"Lucy Brady (another Suwanee artist) and I would come to the Farmers Market and paint, just enjoying the scenery and meeting the people, but we never did really have a place to display our art," she said.

Now, all the participating artists will have their plein air creations on display at Suwanee City Hall for three weeks following this weekend's event.

Georgia State University art professor Tim Flowers will judge all the artists' creations at 4 p.m. today, and winners will be named at a 6 p.m. reception at Ippolito's in Suwanee Town Center.

The 5th annual Buford Plein Air Festival will be held next weekend. Painting begins at 9 a.m. on both days. Judging and a wine and cheese reception are scheduled in Buford next Saturday from 7 to 9 p.m. For details, visit www.tanneryrowartistcolony.com.

For more information about the Suwanee Plein Air Event or about the North Gwinnett Arts Association, visit www.northgwinnettartsassociation.com.

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