Artists worked to capture not just the light, but the essence of Beaver Dam this week, by participating in the Plein Air Festival hosted by the Beaver Dam Area Arts Association

The BDAAA invited artists from across Wisconsin to participate in its inaugural four-day outdoor event. En plein air is a French phrase which roughly translates to “open (in full) air” and plein air painting is the act of painting outdoors to capture the sunlight on a subject at different times of day. Jessalyn Braun, executive director of the BDAAA, said 20 artists signed up for the event.

To participate, artists had to have their canvas, board or paper stamped, and use oil, acrylic, watercolor, pastels or gouache as their medium. To qualify for the contest, artists had to paint within the Beaver Dam city limits and complete 95 percent of their painting on-site. Each artist is allowed to submit more than one painting and opt to just have their work judged, or also exhibited and sold, with BDAAA retaining a commission from the sale.

An award ceremony, exhibit opening and silent auction is set for Sunday from 1 to 4 p.m. at the Seippel Homestead and Center for the Arts, 1605 N. Spring St., Beaver Dam. Art from the plein air festival will be on exhibit until July 23.

There will be three merit awards, three monetary awards and a viewer’s choice award selected by the public as the best representation of Beaver Dam. The art chosen for the viewer’s choice award will be made into postcards to benefit the BDAAA awareness program.

Braun credited Wendie Thompson, president of the Wisconsin Plein Air Painter’s Association, for encouraging the BDAAA to host a plein air event.

She helped me coordinate it,” Braun said.

Braun said the plein air festival was held in conjunction with Beaver Dam’s 175th anniversary celebration.

“Every image coming in will be of Beaver Dam,” Braun said.

Sherri Thomas, of Larsen, Wis., said she likes to participate in plein air competitions and Beaver Dam’s drew her because her in-laws live here.

“It’s just a pretty little town,” Thomas said. “It was hard to pick where to stop and paint first.”

She chose a spot next to the river downtown, with the water tower rising in the background. She has been painting for seven years, and started with watercolors, but opted to use oils for the plein air competition.

“Oils are really forgiving,” Thomas said. “And the colors are vibrant.”

Sandy Braman of Beaver Dam chose a view of the lake from Waterworks Park that includes a shed in a lot next to the park.

“I drove around last night and liked the rustic look of the shed,” Braman said Wednesday. “I like doing outdoor scenery.”

Braman, who grew up in Beaver Dam, said she lived in Ohio for 40 years and moved back three years ago after she retired to be closer to family. She said she joined the BDAAA to meet new people and try new things. She opted to paint with oils, but said she also paints with acrylics and watercolors.

Barbara Hayden, of Oconomowoc, said she had not been to Beaver Dam in years.

“There are so many things I want to paint,” Hayden said.

She started outside the Beaver Dam Area Chamber of Commerce at the old depot on South Spring Street, and said there are four things she wants to paint around the depot and Williams Free Library, home to the Dodge County Historical Society.

She also chose to paint with oils.

“It’s good for all weather,” Hayden said.

She said she painted for a long time using watercolors, and began using oils about five years ago.

“We are trying to capture the light,” Hayden said.