With over 8,000 square miles, Kern County’s diversity of landscapes and vistas is an artist’s paradise.

“We have everything to paint but a beach,” said Arts Council of Kern Executive Director David Gordon.

Indeed, from rolling hills peppered with poppies and a majestic river, to the expansive desert and cattle ranges, artistic inspiration is boundless.

It is also why inviting outdoor landscape artists to participate in the Arts Council’s Plein Air Painting Festival is never a hard sell. The term “en plain air” is a French expression meaning “in the open air” or painting outdoors, on-site with the subject in full view rather than within the confines of a studio. Plein air artistry came into vogue with the emergence of impressionism in the mid- to late 19th century and was the hallmark of masters of that period like Monet, Renoir and Van Gogh. The last few decades have seen renewed interest.

The Arts Council of Kern’s sixth annual Kern County Plein Air Painting Festival kicks off Monday, April 20, and concludes five days later on April 25 with a juried competition, sale and gala. Fifteen of the best plein air painters in California and the western U.S. will convene in Bakersfield, setting up their canvases on easels at beloved locations across the area.

“Painting is a fairly solitary pursuit so it is nice to meet others who share the same interest,” said Ben Young of San Diego, who is taking part this year. “If not for this kind of event, I would stay in my comfort zone and just paint the scenery that is close to me.”

It also affords art enthusiasts the rare opportunity to interact with acclaimed painters in their element. In the past, iconic places like Wind Wolves Preserve and the historic Tracy Ranch in Buttonwillow have served as sources of inspiration.

“These artists generate work that reflects our home in a positive, respectful way,” Gordon added.

They will be on their own for most of the week, except for April 23 where they will be downtown painting, followed by a reception open to the public at the Bakersfield Art Association.

“I will be looking for strength in draftsmanship, design, color harmony and the truly intangible emotional quality of a piece,” said this year’s judge Kim Lordier of Millbrae.

The festival culminates with the Paintings on the Paseo Gala that Saturday where guests will stroll through the Betty Younger Sculpture Garden for the award announcements. All proceeds from the painting sales will benefit the artists and the Arts Council.

While beauty is in the eyes of the beholder and art is subjective, this year’s participants, whether they are capturing our area’s rural or urban splendor, will be carrying on a centuries-old tradition of the great impressionists capturing natural light and movement.

“Attending a plein air event in your community opens up new ways of seeing your ‘backyard,’ a different perspective, an appreciation of things you may have driven past on a daily basis and not realized the beauty that exists,” added Lordier.

So if you drive by an artist during the festival painting away in earnest, take a moment to appreciate their view and extend some Bakersfield hospitality we are renowned for. 

Opinions expressed in this column are those of Lisa Kimble.