Paint Grand Traverse Recap

Heather Martin

After days of anxiously packing, unpacking, and repacking (and unpacking and repacking)...I was ready. Ready to fly back to Michigan for a juried plein-air event in Michigan. While the mitten state isn’t new to me (I had grown up there for the first 18 years of my life), seeing it with my new “art eyes” and painting its beauty was.

Just being accepted to the Paint Grand Traverse event was such an honor. It's set in one of my favorite cities in all of Michigan, Traverse City. Known for its mouth watering cherries, fantastic views of Lake Michigan, and an abundance of popular breweries and wineries, there’s a reason why this city has gotten so popular!

After a long day of traveling (two flights and a 2 hour drive), we stopped over at a family friends house to paint a commission. They were kind to give me full creative freedom, and offered me a unique perspective from their pontoon boat.

The next morning, my ever-supportive mom and I were on our merry way to Traverse City. After checking in, I had tried to squeeze a painting in. In hind sight, I should probably take out the group of people, but it was an experiment worth trying.

Gathering at the Lake 9"x12" 

I headed back to the Crooked Tree Arts Center for the orientation, and met the other incredible artists. These events are tough for me, because I am naturally extremely shy and introverted. Everyone was so welcoming and friendly at the event though

Photo credit goes to Paint Grand Traverse

The first OFFICIAL day was Monday. That’s what I told myself anyway, so that I could kick the first painting under the bed and pretend it didn’t exist. We all ventured to the infamous Sleeping Bear Dunes. Specifically we went down the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive and ended up at the most insane dune I’ve ever seen!

The drop off was so steep and high that the first thing visitors saw was a sign warning people to not go down if they can’t make it back up, otherwise the rescue is $3,000 by helicopter. No photos can do it justice, but I"ll try anyway.

Being that high and seeing teeeny tiny sailboats below gave me a bit of vertigo, so I stayed safely on the boardwalk. In fact, my first painting was facing toward the land. Honestly though, I just really loved those wildflowers. 

Morning Light on the Dune 18"x24" (sold)

The next painting was from that same spot, just rotated over a bit, and I snuck in a corner of blue for the water. The shadows on the sand were so gorgeous, I could have painted them all day. 

View from the Top, 12"x16" (available)

Oh wait...I did.

Sleeping Bear Dreams, 8"x10" (sold)

This was painting #3 of the day, and when I saw this group of people putting up a hammock overlooking the lake, I knew it had to be painted. The girl was so nice, and agreed to sit still for a moment while I painted her.

The next two pieces were small paintings for the Small Works show the next day. I spotted this small clump of birch trees in an open meadow, and fell in love with the soft greens. 

Meadow Birch Trees, 6"x8" (n/a)

The next painting was back at the dunes. The sun was setting, but the clouds were thick, and the lighting came in rare sporadic bursts. I enjoyed studying the colors of the brush though. At the same time, I painted this postcard sized piece of the water and clouds.

Dune Violets, 8"x6" (sold)

Setting Sun, 4"x6" available

Six paintings on the first day may have been overkill. Adrenaline, anyone? 

Day two was set at Leelanau County, and we went to visit the historic Fishtown. What a cool place this is! Everything was going great until the clouds and boats decided to roll in.

Fishtown Reflections, 12"x16" (not available)

For the second painting, my mom was a good sport and wandered around with me across town in search for the perfect spot. I wanted to find something that was interesting even under gloomy grey skies (in fact, it had even started raining at one point). 

Wildflowers and Sand, 12"x9" (sold)

That’s when we came across this tiny beach with a tattered fence and long grass pushing through dotted with wildflowers. The small white flowers made me really nostalgic, and I remember squeezing the air out of their puffy balloons.

Wednesday was better. We drove to the Old Mission Peninsula, and were given a list of recommended destinations. After scrolling through them all, the Old Mission Lighthouse seemed like a great place to start, being all the way at the top. 

This lighthouse has been painted and photographed numerous times. It’s so picture perfect. I mean, come on...there's an apple tree and everything! The morning was very overcast, and had moments of bright light and dark clouds, so I combined the two for this scene to help it stand out from the other versions. 

Leave the Light On, 16"x12" (sold)

By the time that peice was wrapped up, the sun had shown no mercy and we were ready to find some shady relief. I settled on this view of the turquoise blue lake through the woods. The dappled light and soft rustling of the leaves in the winds made it a scene that I really wanted to remember.

Forest Path, 24"x18" (sold)

It was insane how much the weather had changed, and by the end of this one we were freezing and hoping that the crazy strong winds didn’t carry away my easel. 

So off we went, back down the road to the Bowers Harbor Vineyards. There were multiple Vineyards on the list, but this one seemed to be popular. It was gorgeous, and the golden hour made the vines just glow! Something about the soft trees and humble wood pile made it really feel like Michigan.

Afternoon at Bower Harbor Vineyards 12"x16" (sold)

The next day all the artists ventured to Crystal Mountain for the Quickdraw Event.

Crystal Stream, 9"x12" (available)

I warmed up with a smaller piece of the creek. It was fun to study the water, and feel the flow of the scene.

We had two hours to complete the real deal, and I decided to go big. Big paper, big scene...go big or go home, right? 

Cottage Gardens, 12"x16" (sold) I don't think I got a great photo of this one with accurate color

After rushing back, and slipping it into a frame just as the judge walked by, I was happy to catch up with some family members! My step siblings came by with their kids, and my aunt drove up too. It was nice to see so many familiar faces and company during the event.

It was a pleasant surprise to be awarded an honorable mention for my piece! It was a great way to end an exciting day. 

Friday was centered in downtown Traverse City. I rolled out of bed early to paint some boats in the sunrise. After walking up and down trying to find the perfect spot (I know...this is a trend), I noticed a little dog looking out off the side of a boat. I didn’t think twice, and started setting up even though I thought they would probably be leaving any minute.

I often avoid doing sunrises or sunsets, because the colors change so quickly that you can’t really get much more done than a simple study. The coffee I drank must have been extra strong that morning, because I was able to crank this out quickly! It's a personal favorite, because of the calm waters and feeling of the piece. Plus...there's a dog.

After grabbing a quick lunch with family, I spent MORE time looking for the new “perfect” spot. I had stubbornly wandered miles around the city in flimsy flats with growing frustration and aching feet. Of course, as soon as I opened my easel, the storm clouds rolled in and it started raining.

After finishing, I decided surrender to the weekend. I was EXHAUSTED and could barely stand without leaning on something. A good friend that grew up with me stopped by and we had so much fun catching up. We walked around town, did a bit of shopping, and had some well earned cocktails!

Saturday was the big event, and I nervously dropped off my last paintings at the gallery. My dad and his wife dropped by just at the nick of time to see the finished body of work.

The middle part of the day was spent painting another commission for family friends at the Red Ginger restaurant downtown. It’s not a place I normally would have thought to paint since it's so clean and modern, but the green reflections in the window against the bold red paint made it surprisingly fun. 

Red Ginger, 12"x9" (sold)

The evening arrived, and I rushed back to our cozy air bnb to change and get ready for the main event. The staff was able to exercise their amazing Tetris skills by putting all the pieces up in such a beautiful fashion! 


The doors opened for the fancy pre-sale event, and I was shocked to find out that my forest scene sold immediately, followed by the large scale sand dune path. My brain is still screaming from the excitement! 

By the end of the night, my shy introverted self had talked to dozens of people. It was wonderful to connect with so many members of the community, and I was truly amazed by how much warmth and kindness everyone radiated. I was also elated to learn that a few of my pieces had found homes that night.

The following morning, I had brought in more of my work to fill up some of the empty spaces, and sold four more pieces! Eight pieces in total, my mind was/is blown.

THANK YOU to all of the patrons that have helped support my work. It means the WORLD to me, and I am beyond honored that you've given these pieces new homes. It really helps keep the fire going in multiple ways! And a special thank you to another wonderful friend that I grew up with, Katie, for coming by and seeing the work.

It’s a bit of a novel, I know. If you’ve made it this far, thank you! And thank you to everyone at Paint Grand Traverse for organizing such a memorable and seamless event. I hope to be back next year!

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