CVPA Painters take on the Floyd Plein Air Festival

Paint Brushes

Rolling hills, abundant farms, and sunlit moments on the Blue Ridge Parkway will give inspiration to two Radford University College of Visual and Performing Arts painters during the Floyd Plein Air Festival. Ken Smith, associate professor of art, and Karen Sewell, Department of Theatre administrative assistant, are among the 25 artists juried into the Aug. 14-19, 2017 festival in Floyd, Virginia.

Partnered with the Floyd Center for the Arts, this event grew out of a successful Plein Air weekend held in 2016. It is now a weeklong event where the artists will spend time outside, painting and drawing the landscape as they physically experience and view it. The public can attend events showcasing the results of the artists’ efforts, which will be for sale.

Landscape by Smith
"Sheep Gap" by Ken Smith

Smith teaches graphic design and illustration, but his fine art paintings tend toward historical and military figurative work. Much of this he does in his studio in Pulaski, Virginia. Working en plein air is a new challenge for the award-winning artist.

“I’ve been dabbling with outdoor painting for years, but I’ve only recently begun to make a serious effort to become at least ‘competent’ at it,” he said, “It’s nothing like painting at home in the comfort of the studio. It’s hot, and buggy, and the light changes continually, and you have to haul your whole studio out into a field somewhere–definitely not an exercise for the faint-of-heart!”

For Sewell, who has painted throughout her life and is a founding member of the Floyd Artists Association, the challenges of plein air are similar to Smith’s thoughts about environmental conditions.

“Plein Air is immediate and challenging because of the ever changing light,” she said. “I have to be able to capture the essence of the scene or anticipate the changes that are taking place and be able to put those to canvas quickly and believably. I like that challenge because I feel that it can further my learning experience, observation skills and painting abilities.”

Not only will the artists deal with changing light, but also with the weather and different locations. The schedule includes time for them to paint at various spots along the Blue Ridge Parkway, Chateau Morrisette Winery, Riverstone Organic Farm and in downtown Floyd.

But the festival is not a solitary experience for the artists. Sewell took part in last year’s Plein Air Crush Weekend at Chateau Morrisette.

Karen Sewell
Karen Sewell painting en plein air.

“I painted part of the day alongside a fellow friend and artist, and it is always fun to share those painting experiences and to see the difference in how other artists view the same scenery,” she said. “It’s not just the learning and development of my art, but the camaraderie of artists talking art that is just hard to beat.”

The week also has a competitive side. Participating artists can win more than $3,500 in prizes for the “Best in Week” and Quick Paint Competition. Nationally renowned plein air painter Valerie Craig from St. Davids, Pennsylvania, is the juror for these events.

And then there are the public aspects of the festival including a welcome event and painting demonstrations. Tickets are available for a dinner with the artists and several receptions featuring the artists’ works.

Visit or email to learn more about the Floyd Plein Air Festival 2017. Go to to view examples of Smith’s art, and to see Sewell’s work.

Aug 9, 2017
Leslie King