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ART BEAT: 'Gwinnett Parks Challenge' inspires local artists to paint

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Photo: Special Photo Locals participated in the "Gwinnett Parks Challenge" to create plein air art around the county. Tannery Row is hosting the opening reception Saturday.

With so many beautiful parks within its boundaries, Gwinnett County is a natural location to inspire a plein air event involving 100 artists and six months of artistic effort.

The "Gwinnett Parks Challenge" has been ongoing since March and will culminate in a showing of the winning plein air artwork at Tannery Row from Saturday through Oct. 7. The artwork will then be shown at various county offices until March 2013, and the winning artwork will become the signature piece for the Gwinnett Parks and Recreation's 25th anniversary celebrations.

An opening reception will be held at Tannery Row on Saturday from 6 to 9 p.m. The public is invited.

Plein air literally means "in the air." Artists go to a location and quickly create their rendition of a scene, with the results having a pleasant freshness and visually accessibility. The uniqueness of this "Gwinnett Parks Challenge" is in the overall concept. Artists who signed up for the event were required to visit specific Gwinnett Parks each month from March through August on the third Saturday of the month.

It all began on March 17 when artists gathered at Jones Bridge Park. Painting from 9 a.m. until sunset, they created plein air visions of this locale. In April, the artists visited Yellow River Park and George Pierce Park/Ivy Creek Greenway. May saw them at Settles Bridge, and in June they painted Little Mulberry Park. July's location was Freeman's Mill and August was McDaniels Farm.

Entries were submitted by Sept. 7 to Tannery Row. Pieces could be created by any painting or drawing medium such as oils, acrylics, watercolor, pastels, photography or computer generated art.

Such a long project obviously resulted in some tall tales.

"Obviously painting outdoors has so many different and unexpected challenges that we don't experience in the comfort of our own studios," said event representative Donna Biggee of the Tannery Row Artists Colony. "Plein air painting is not for the faint of heart."

"We get up at the crack of dawn," Biggee said. "We fight bugs, rain, wind, cold weather, warm weather and even wild animals. We travel off the beaten paths, stand on rocks or cliffs just to capture the perfect painting."

Artist Nancy Nowak was painting near the river at Jones Bridge when she was attacked by a swarm of bees.

"When she thought the worst was over, along came the maintenance group to spray the area for bugs, so she was inundated with a fog of bug spray," Biggee said." Of course, when she was sharing this story with two of us who were also painting, we asked simultaneously, 'Did you get a good painting out of it?'"

Winning artwork will be traveling to the Historic Court House in Lawrenceville, the GJAC, Bethesda Senior Center, Peachtree Corners Library and the Pinckneyville Park CRC from October through February. To find out more about the "Gwinnett Parks Plein Air Challenge," visit www.tanneryrowartistcolony.com.

Holley Calmes is a freelance writer and public relations consultant specializing in the arts. Email her at hcalmes@mindspring.com.