Through Saturday, Oct. 12, approximately 60 artists from nine states can be found, easels upright and putting paint to canvas for the annual Bluff Strokes Paint Out, a plein air event entering its fourth year of capturing scenic imagery throughout Dubuque.

Plein air, which involves painting landscapes in open air rather than in a studio, is a rapidly re-emerging art movement, with artists often traveling to scenic locations for workshops and paint-outs throughout the country.

Bluff Strokes organizers hope that by sharing the scenic resources of Dubuque, it will establish the area as a significant stop on the plein air circuit.

“Our first year, we were hoping to attract just 12 artists,” said Wes Heitzman, co-chair of Bluff Strokes. “We ended up getting 45.”

With this year’s event drawing even more artistic support, organizers have capped the number of participants.

“In hosting our sale at Steeple Square, we want to be respectful of the artists being able to show all of their work in that space,” Heitzman said. “Each artist paints approximately seven pieces, so by the end of the week, we have about 500 framed paintings on display. And all of our artists end up selling a lot of their work.”

The concept of the event started when Heitzman’s wife Barbara, an artist, was on a waiting list to attend a workshop with John Preston, a renown landscape painter from Fairfield, Iowa. The couple reached out to Preston, inviting him to Dubuque. Finding the area an idyllic setting, Preston and the Heitzmans thought, “Why not bring the plein air experience to the Key City?”

“We thought it was a good place to host a workshop,” Heitzman said. “It’s also a great place to paint, whether you’re looking at the Mississippi River, the Millwork District, the arboretum or the downtown area. There is so much beauty here in nature and historic architecture. Dubuque has a lot of stories that can be captured on canvas.”

This year, artists will be able to compete for more than $10,000 in award money, as well as a $2,000 purchase award.

Themed categories will include River Overlook, Riverfront, Historic Dubuque, Working Dubuque, Rural, Arboretum/Garden and Poetic. New this year will be a Double Take category, awarded to an artist for capturing a unique vantage point that allows the viewer see something differently or find renewed interest in what might have once been seen as mundane.

The boundaries for creation also have expanded beyond Dubuque County this year. Artists will be permitted to paint in East Dubuque, Ill., and from Frentress Lake to O’Leary’s Lake, as well as the Wisconsin side of Lock and Dam No. 11.

A workshop for artists, “Being Present through Urban Sketching,” will take place on Saturday, Oct. 12, in support of the fledgling “Dubuque Urban Sketchers” and to help in launch an Opening Doors sketch program. It will be led by Chicago artist Kathleen Newman, a former Bluff Strokes judge and active in Urban Sketchers of Chicago. Information can be found at

Several events throughout the week also will cater to spectators.

A Nocturne competition is set for 5 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 8, capturing night scenes. And from 8:30 to 11:30 a.m. Wednesday, Oct. 9, artists will participate in a Quick Paint competition.

And as a nod to the 30th anniversary of the film “Field of Dreams,” an evening paint will take place from 6 to 9 p.m. Oct. 9, at the movie site in Dyersville, Iowa. Live acoustic music and food trucks will be at the location, as well as an appearance by the Ghost Players.

Co-chair Jillayne Pinchuk believes that such events showcase the accessibility of art as something everyone can appreciate, admire and own.

“Not only can people see and interact with the artists, but people tend to have an emotional connection and response to seeing a piece of art that reflects a place they recognize and are familiar with,” she said.

One of the missions of Bluff Strokes is to create a sense of value in owning original artwork, as well as supporting the artists that create it, Heitzman said.

Pieces painted throughout the week will be available for viewing and purchase from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Oct. 12, at Steeple Square, 101 E. 15th St. An advance patron viewing and sale also will take place from 6 to 9 p.m. Friday, Oct. 11. Patron Passes for the Friday event are $125 and will provide entry for two, as well as a $100 voucher toward the purchase of a painting.

The Friday event also will include wine, beer from Jubeck New World Brewing and food from Pete’s Thai Kitchen. Patron Passes can be purchased at River Lights Bookstore, 1098 Main St., and at Premier Bank locations.

“It’s something very doable for a lot of people,” Pinchuk said. “Buying that first piece of original artwork can be intimidating, but once you do it, it encourages you to explore more.”

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