Southwest Wake News

In Fuquay-Varina, artists get inspired by the outdoors

Ariel McIlnay and Colby Pennington, both 16, perform during the Fuquay-Varina Arts Council’s Spring for the Arts Festival on Friday.
Ariel McIlnay and Colby Pennington, both 16, perform during the Fuquay-Varina Arts Council’s Spring for the Arts Festival on Friday.

With a few swipes of her pastel stick, artist Pam Hedrick tried to capture the beauty of the old log cabin playhouse at the town’s museums complex.

Greens, golds and browns filled her canvas.

Twenty-six artists took part in the Fuquay-Varina Downtown Revitalization Association’s third annual En Plein Air Paint-Off competition on Friday.

They took their brushes and paints to different blocks in the Fuquay and Varina downtown areas to paint “en plein air” – French for “in open air.”

And they competed for a chance to win up to $500 in prize money and a chance for their work to become public art. The four winning pieces will be enlarged and hung on downtown buildings for up to three years.

The public will get a chance to buy the art at an auction June 7. Half of the proceeds from the event will benefit the Fuquay-Varina Downtown Revitalization Association.

The competition has come a long way from its first year, when six artists took part, said Naomi Riley, executive director of the Downtown Revitalization Association.

That year, Riley had to recruit artists to participate. This time around, the group received 41 applications from artists all over North Carolina and Virginia, she said.

“I think we are getting the word out that downtown Fuquay-Varina is starting to really embrace the arts,” Riley said.

Hedrick was one of the first-time artists to this year’s paint-off. She has a studio space in Raleigh, where she works primarily with acrylics and watercolors.

To paint outdoors, she switched to pastels. While painting outside can be a challenge, there are benefits as well, Hedrick said.

“You can hear the birds, feel the breeze, hear everything going on around you,” she said. “It’s not solitary.”

Russian-born Alla Parsons traveled from Danville, Va., where she teaches oil painting, to compete in the paint-off.

“I like that you can see the colors,” Parsons said of painting outdoors. “In photographs you can’t really see the change of the colors.”

One new feature of this year’s festival was an en plein air children’s exhibition. Kids got the chance to paint outside.

The paint-off is paired with the Fuquay-Varina Arts Council’s Spring for the Arts Festival.

The festival kicks off the art council’s Art After Dark series, a gallery and art tour held in Fuquay-Varina’s two downtowns on the second Friday of every month from April until December.

Spring for the Arts featured craft vendors, pottery demonstrations, music and dance performances.

Singer Ariel McIlnay and ukulele player Colby Pennington, both 16, performed in front of KnB’s Marketplace.

“I think it’s great that we can bring music and art downtown,” Pennington said.

McIlnay said she’s grown up in Fuquay-Varina and has seen the town change when it comes to the arts.

“It just feels like it’s slowly blossoming into a big community thing,” she said.