Everyone’s been enjoying the wildflowers so why not the artists? When the painters come to Kern County next week for the annual Kern County Plein Air Painting Festival, you can bet taking in the colorful flora will be on their to-paint list.

Now in its fifth year, the festival bringing professional artists to create works reflecting the vistas of Kern County has continued to improve, according to David Gordon, executive director of the Arts Council of Kern.

"The caliber of artists has always been high but the event is getting known by the plein air world," he said. "It doesn't take as much work to secure the artists. We have them coming out of the woodwork."

Six returning artists (Lindsey Kustusch, Nate Ross, Wendy Brayton, Brandon Gonzales, Patty McGeeney and Dan Schultz) will be joined by eight newcomers (Aaron Cordell Johnson, Matt Sterbenz, Michael Chamberlain, Daniel Sauerbrey, Ellen Howard, Melanie Thompson, Kadin Goldberg and Durre Waseem) to the festival.

Starting Monday, the artists will take their easels and materials out into the county, finding the best scene to capture, embodying the style of plein air ("in the open air," as opposed to inside a studio).

As he has done for the past four years, Gordon, who is also known for his paintings celebrating Kern County, suggests a number of locations for visiting artists to explore.

"We always have Tejon Ranch, South Union — it's so cool with the eucalyptus trees. Kern Canyon; Rancheria Road, because of the flowers; Wind Wolves (Preserve). ... Bakersfield National Cemetery, because that area is so beautiful. Sunset migrant camp, Murray Family Farms ... Pumpkin Center — who doesn't want to paint Pumpkin Center?"

Even if artists end up in the same areas, their work can vary greatly, Gordon said.

"A lot are these places are so big you never know what you’re going to get. They see so many different things."

The arts council even received a request for artists to visit from John Moore of Moore Farms, which is near the bottom of Bear Mountain.

"He said, 'We would love to have your artists out here,'" Gordon said.

The desire to see the artists at work is understandable and residents will have two planned opportunities to do so, thanks to the increase in event sponsorship.

"Our list of sponsors has grown significantly. We have three public events that come with refreshments, including one in morning and one in evening."

The first is Monday, a kick-off reception at the Kern County Museum from 8:30 to 11 a.m. Guests can sip on Covenant Coffee and meet the artists who will then start painting on site.

Later in the week, the artists will head downtown, painting in the area of 19th and Eye streets from 2 to 5:30 p.m. Afterward, they will move inside at the nearby Bakersfield Art Association Art Center for a meet and greet event until 7 p.m. Attendees of legal age can enjoy a glass of wine and look at the artists' downtown-inspired works.

Everything leads up to the Awards and Sales Gala on April 13 in the Betty Younger Sculpture Garden, 1330 Truxtun Ave.

"I’m real excited about it this year," Gordon said. "This year we’re having a DJ and it's outside. ... The paintings were done outside so they should be shown outside."

The selection is also a nod to Younger, an artist as well as champion of the local arts community who died last month.

Each artist will present four works up for sale, three more detailed works and one "quick draw," which was completed in two hours or less. Those smaller works will be featured in a silent auction, with bidding starting at a reasonable $200.

The other pieces will be up for sale at the event that also features awards selected by juror Paul Kratte, a Bay Area artist. Participating artists will also be able to vote on an artist's choice award among their peers' work in the show.

Any works not sold at the gala will remain on display the Access Center Gallery through May 30.

Gordon encourages people to come out to see the work and experience their community through an artist's perspective.

"Their products are so respectful. They give us a new sense of pride in where we live. They take their talent and apply it to our environment."

Stefani Dias can be reached at 661-395-7488. Follow her on Twitter at @realstefanidias.

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