June 14, 2024

Artists to paint Big Sky landscapes, teach plein air fundamentals

Second annual Paint Under the Big Sky festival aims to build outdoor painting into Big Sky’s growing art scene 


In June, more than two dozen painters will visit Big Sky to practice “en plein air,” the art of painting outdoors, as they capture Gallatin Canyon landscapes. As part of a competition for the second annual Paint Under the Big Sky event, they must paint between Spanish Creek and Taylor Fork, including Big Sky, during the month of June.  

The painters’ completed works will be sold in the Big Sky Artists’ Studio and Gallery from June 29 to July 31, according to a press release from the nonprofit Big Sky Artists’ Collective. The gallery will launch on June 29 from 5 to 8 p.m., including awards to top artists.  

Plein air artist Annie McCoy prepares to paint along the Gallatin River. COURTESY OF BIG SKY ARTISTS’ COLLECTIVE

“Plein air painters have become an important historical resource to record and capture local scenery with emotion and passion for future generations,” the press release stated. 

Interested artists can register through the event website. Competition classes are divided into “experienced” and “open” categories.  

In addition, 36 kids aged 6 to 15 years old will spend June working on a plein air painting. The program, Plein Air Kids, is free and registration is open online. The Artists’ Collective will provide free art kits, which must be used to be eligible for the kids’ gallery. 

The children’s works will also be judged and awarded, on June 29 from 1 to 4 p.m., and sold for $30 apiece, with $25 going to the young artist and the other $5 for supplies.  

A few adults can learn plein air, through the Let’s Try Plein Air program open to six beginners, age 16 or older. Registration is already full, but the class will be offered again in the fall. Local painter Annie McCoy will guide the beginner program, from June 7 to 9.  

Building a new art tradition 

In April, the Big Sky Resort Area District granted $10,000 to the nonprofit Artists’ Collective for this summer’s Paint Under the Big Sky, to help the program expand. The grant came from BSRAD’s Opportunity Fund, after the BSRAD board reviewed the application for $12,115 on April 17.  

“We decided that PUBS last year, even though it was on a small scale, we wanted it to go big,” McCoy said, explaining the grant application to the BSRAD board. 


The press release stated that programs are offered for free thanks to BSRAD’s “generous support,” but BSRAD board members still expressed hope that this event would transition away from public tax dollars in future years.  

Maggie Shane, gallery director and president, also spoke to the board explaining why the one-year-old nonprofit applied for Resort Tax funding. 

“The gallery is all volunteer, we have no staff, all of the artists work at the gallery. And we give 90 to 70% back to the artists, so a little bit of an ask to help us get this off the ground,” Shane said.  

McCoy said Livingston has benefitted from a popular plein air festival, as well as other Western mountain towns with established painting festivals. The Artists Collective hopes that Paint Under the Big Sky will grow into a significant attraction for Big Sky, bringing new visitors every year in June and September.  

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