Kristin Gjerdset, 849, of West Allis sat on the ground in the Wisconsin State Fair’s House of Moo, staring intently at a cow resting before her. On her lap, she balanced a canvas; in her hand, a small paintbrush.
Around her, fairgoers milled about. Children noticed her and sidled up to peek at her work, before their parents nudged them to move along. House of Moo workers tried to sweep up the dirt and hay around Gjerdset the best they could, though the artist did not seem to mind.
“Some people stand, but I’m a sitter,” she said. To her left, colored pencils and paints, on her right, a stuffed purple backpack from which a small green flag featuring a painter’s palette and brush protruded.
Across the fairgrounds, 29 other artists dotted the landscape Monday, setting up shop with their little flags on display. They painted and drew from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. in the open. It’s called plein air painting, French for “open air.” Everything the competitors do must be on scene and within the time frame of the contest.
Some arrive in the morning to work all day. Others wait for the fair to light up at night. An ambitious few do both. Then, they frame their submissions for judges, who select winners in five categories, including Best Dairy Animal and Best Fair Landmark.
A block south of Gjerdset, Judith Reidy of Hales Corners held her breath as she painted the massive arc of the WonderFair Wheel with a thin brush. Inch by inch, she worked her way around, stopping to sigh in relief and start again.
Many competitors paint two pieces on the first day, and a “quick paint” on a smaller canvas for the second day of competition. The quick-paint competition lasts only two hours. Then the art is up for sale to fairgoers. The artists ages range from 17 to 75, said Larry Schultz, contest superintendent.
Across the fair to the east, Wendie Thompson, 63, challenged herself. She stood with her pop-up easel and case of pastels beside the loading area for the sky glider, watching people jump on and off the ride.
She sketched a rough outline as riders hopped off the glider’s seats, hustling to get out of the still-moving ride’s way. As the chairs moved in and out of the shadows, Thompson’s scene changed, second-by-second. Green in the sun and green in the shadows were completely different. But Thompson has years of experience.
Check out videos: