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At the Brush Creek Art Walk, a truly heated competition

Here’s a fun game for today: Go down to Brush Creek and play spot the artist. (There’s one there. And there. And there.) Then go up and talk to them.

About 65 artists set up easels and canvases Friday and Saturday — and will again today — to paint landscapes on the banks of Brush Creek from the Country Club Plaza to Elmwood Avenue.

So go to the Plaza, sure, but organizers of the first Brush Creek Art Walk competition this weekend also encouraged folks to head east.

The city has built walkways and added landscaping along four miles of the stream, but few except residents of the immediate area seem to know the extent of the work.

Vanessa Lacy of Kansas City didn’t. When she decided to participate, she took photographs near the Plaza to help her decide where to paint. But when she saw the arches of the Benton Boulevard bridge over Brush Creek and the surrounding scenery, she changed her mind.

Plus, she found a spot on a rise above the creek with several spreading oak trees.

“I can sit here for six hours and that shade won’t go anywhere,” said Lacy, an art teacher at Kentucky Trail Elementary School in Belton. “I really didn’t know this existed.”

Lacy, who has an art studio in the Livestock Exchange Building in the West Bottoms, focused on a few architectural details, framed by trees, of the 1920s bridge.

“It can be overwhelming to do a landscape,” she said. “You have to find the one thing, the focal point.”

Artists Anne Garney and Gregory Summers co-founded the “en plein air” art competition, which they plan as an annual event.

To participate, artists must register their canvases and paint outside along the 4-mile stretch of creek.

At least 50 of the paintings will be chosen for a show Aug. 23 at the University of Missouri-Kansas City Gallery of Art, and several prizes will be awarded, Garney said.

Temperatures were pleasant early Saturday but warmed quickly after noon, and the high today was forecast to be over 100.

Visitors today should stroll early, Summers said, or relax at a concert from 4 to 9 p.m. at Theis Park, 47th and Oak. Five bands are scheduled.

Tina Garrett of Lee’s Summit said she planned to be out early again today and hoped she remembers her umbrella for relief from the sun. Her spot next to the creek bank was shade-free.

A portrait artist and illustrator, Garrett jumped at the outdoors opportunity. With her back to the Benton Boulevard bridge, she concentrated on the water and the creek’s edge, dotted with wildflowers.

“I thought this would be a good challenge for me, outside my studio, outside my comfort zone,” Garrett said. “I paint people, and they’re rounder and softer and pink. Out here, things are green and spiny.”

Nearby, Chris Willey of Kansas City, a retired art professor at the University of Central Missouri and a veteran of plein air painting, particularly liked the idea of painting with other artists around.

“We hang out alone way too much,” Willey said.

L.D. Herman of Gladstone set up on the other side of the bridge from the others, the east side, with a view of the bridge and a three-level waterfall on the opposite bank. Herman, who is retired, said he has ratcheted up his painting schedule the past year and a half.

Herman focused on the bridge and said he might come back another time to paint the waterfall.

“The bones of that bridge are really neat,” he said.

Herman was impressed with the setting, having spotted herons and watched a gaggle of geese march down the walkway Friday morning and return on the water several hours later.

A few feet from Herman was Garney, painting the waterfall and part of the bridge. She coughed a bit after taking a sip from her soda can.

“I think I just drank a bug,” she said. “Hazards.”

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