Painting ‘outside’ the lines: Local artists take their hobby outdoors

Many artists paint in a studio, and Donna Forgacs is no different. But what she really enjoys is stepping outside and creating works of art through a style known as en plein air, or “in the open air.”

Forgacs, who lives in Danville, paints with her husband, Joe. She has always had an interest in art, even from her childhood.

She has been retired for about 10 years now from her career as a Boyle County extension agent, and she finds herself painting more frequently, which was a goal as retirement approached.

“I got my studio ready while I was still working, and I jumped into painting as soon as I retired,” Forgacs said.

Now, she finds herself using that studio less than she had planned. She says about half of her work is done outdoors, or en plein air.

The en plain air method is so popular with Forgacs and others in the area that a small group has now grown into a larger regional one known as Plein Air Artists of Central Kentucky.

“We’ve been around about six years now, but at one time we had no plein air group in this area. Some of the artists started talking, and we thought it would be awesome to paint outside and to learn how to do that,” she said. “There were eight of us that got together at my house. We started making plans, organizing, and figuring out what to do.”

The group has grown, and now features more than 80 artists from around central Kentucky, and Forgacs said new members are always welcome.

“I think everybody loves the way we’re established because there’s so much freedom in the group, and we lift up and encourage each other,” Forgacs said. “That’s one of the main goals, so that we don’t put each other down. It’s really hard to come outside and paint, and scary for the first time to try to learn how to do this. It’s not anything like painting in the studio, so we need all the encouragement we can get.”

She said freedom is a key for members, and that allows them to attend when they wish, and paint as they wish. As an example, she said the warm temperatures of summer can get painters out earlier in the morning to finish their work before the heat gets bad later in the day. Conversely, those who might like to sleep in can get a later start and paint as long as they like.

The club does not charge dues – membership is free – and new members are always welcome. Forgacs said members take turns with some of the organizational duties, including membership. This year, the contact person is Pat Williams, and anyone interested can email her at to join or get more information about the group.

On Wednesday, Roger Snell, a painter and member from Frankfort, was coordinating an event which was hosted at the home of Stuart and Kathy Wilson on Secretariat Drive in Danville. The Wilsons’ home backs up to a field of more than 400 acres of sunflowers, and the artists came to paint the flowers with an up-close view from the Wilson property. Wilson said the land and the sunflowers are owned by Peterson Farms, a commercial farming operation that has had various crops there over the years.

Virginia Golden, a representative of Peterson Farms organic team, said the sunflowers are being grown for their oil, and are 100% certified organic.

“We’re very proud of that because it’s taken a lot of work to get there and keep it that way,” Golden added.

“You never know driving by on the street that all of this beauty is back here,” Forgacs said.

Snell agreed the view of the sunflowers was breathtaking. In fact, he has a new devotion to art that began about four years ago following a serious health issue in 2017. The near-death experience helped him focus on celebrating the beauty of Kentucky, life, and second chances, according to Snell.

“My biggest hurdle to overcome was fear,” Snell said. “The fear of failure, of painting in public, of painting outdoors with outstanding artists, and of taking that first workshop.”

Snell has overcome that fear and gone on to sell his art, with the first sale coming within one year of his recovery in 2017.

You can see some of the sunflower work by Fogacs and Snell, as well as other en plein air work by local artists and others from around the region as part of a special exhibit being held at the Art Center of the Bluegrass. The exhibit runs Aug. 7 – Sept. 11, and art will be displayed in the Grand Hall in the downstairs of the center, as well as online, according to Brandon Long, visual arts director of the art center.

“It’s a big event we’ve been doing for several years now, and it’s really great to have a great group of local artists from all around the region to come together,” Long said. “It’s great for people to come and see a new perspective on their landscapes. It’s fun to get that local feel for it. It’s wonderful to see so much energy come from this group of artists.”

Long said there will be art from about 20 to 25 artists in the exhibit, and some of the work will be for sale, with the sales being handled by the art center.

For more information, or to view the exhibit, visit