By Alexa Chipman June 8, 2017
California has a rich tradition of fine art, and wine country’s Sonoma County is a paradise for plein air painters, wood turning and photographers. From fanciful multimedia collages integrating family photos with textured oil painting to impressionist vineyards, you will find artists that spark interest in their work and speak to you personally.
Landscape painter Paula Matzinger (30a in the 2017 Art at the Source)
The annual Art at the Source in spring and Art Trails in autumn are open studio self guided tours with numbered locations throughout the county. Usually the first two weekends in June, Art at the Source is a unique opportunity to visit the artists to ask questions while viewing their work, rather like a casual art opening. Nibbles and drinks are generally provided, ranging from simple crackers to elaborate Sangria pitchers and charcuterie boards.
Locations are often clustered, allowing quick stops to see a variety of mediums. In the space of a few blocks might be mosaics, watercolor birds, abstract oil paintings, recycled metal sculptures, and a printmaker. The truly exciting part of open studios is journeying to the obscure artists who are alone deep in the countryside. I have experienced areas of Sonoma County that I did not know existed, ranged up and down hills for spectacular vistas of foggy woodlands, vineyards spreading across valleys, and barns resting in ancient orchards. The one thing artists have in common is an appreciation of beauty, and their choice in home studio reflects that.
Both open studio trails offer a magazine style guidebook to help choose where to go—either by location or sample artwork. What I recommend is going through and notating anything you have an interest in, then going to the provided map to see if your choices are grouped in any way. This year I spent most of the time in Sebastopol and Graton; in past years I have found myself in Santa Rosa and as far out as Monte Rio. Plan to be on the road for a few hours before circling toward one of the towns for lunch. There are all sorts of possibilities with small farm-to-table restaurants. I have made culinary discoveries from being in the middle of nowhere on Art Trails looking for a place to eat and turning on my phone to search for the nearest café.
Botanical artist Victoria A. Kochergin (8a in the 2017 Art at the Source)
Even if you don’t have time for a full day, find artists near you to stop by, or look for the big yellow (Art at the Source) or blue (Art Trails) signs with numbers and arrows for an unexpected treat. I was busy one year and did not have time to formally plan, but happened to have a half hour available and spotted one of the blue signs. I followed it and found a fantastic photographer who mostly covered the Point Reyes area and ended up purchasing one of his pieces that I have in my room to this day.
If you enjoy art or leisurely drives through beautiful countryside, I highly recommend an open studios tour. Some artists have demonstrations, hands-on opportunities, and live music; you never know what you will find. If your budget does not allow for large pieces, try to purchase a few greeting cards; the artists have to pay a hefty entry fee to be included, and it is important to support them.
Art at the Source
June 3-4 and 10-11, 2017
October 14-15, 21-22, 2017