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Artists Caleb Meyer, David Wilson, Robert Schlegel, Janet Sullivan and Silas Thompson, from, left, represent about half of the artists participating in Dana Gallery’s 13th annual Paint Out this week in Missoula and around Flathead Lake. Gallery owner Dudley Dana, background, stands behind a found-art sculpture that the artists started.

He invites community members to add to the sculpture throughout the month.

While many people spent the recent heat wave dipped in the water or sitting near an air conditioner, a select group of 13 artists fanned out to paint en plein air.

It's the 13th year the gallery has invited artists from around the country to come to western Montana and paint for five days during the summer.

"I haven't been blamed yet for the heat, but I think that's probably coming," said Dudley Dana, the gallery owner.

This year, they spent Saturday and Sunday in the Missoula area, and then went up to Flathead Lake for two days.

David Wilson, for one, said there were some advantages to the heat.

For instance, his paintings dried more quickly.

There was another effect as well, well-known around Missoula for expressionist landscapes and emotive color palette.

"One of the other things that's a big deal when it's this hot and bright, it distorts your perception of what you're looking at," he said.

"If you're not in the shade, and you're in the sun too long, your colors tend to be more saturated, because your eye perceives that it isn't dark enough or bright enough," he said. "When you take a piece out of the sun sometimes, you go, 'Whoa.' It's very bright and very dark."

This year, the gallery added an element open to the public.

The works the artists created will be up for the month at the Dana, along with another interactive element.

In the front of the gallery, there's a sculpture made of found objects, one started by the participating artists.

"It's a community sculpture where people can add to it as they see fit during the month of July," Dana said.

***

Robert Schlegel of Portland, Oregon, has participated in the Paint Out for the past 12 years.

Luckily, his son and daughter-in-law are staying in town near the Hip Strip, so he could break up his day.

He'd paint from 8 a.m. till noon, and then go rest while the heat reached it's peak.

He "couldn't get much done from 3 to 6," he said. "It's pretty brutal."

So he'd head back out from 7 to 10 p.m.

Schlegel is interested in the housing and structures that dot Missoula and western Montana a whole, so the Northside and Westside proved to be rich in subject matter.

"The ones I did up here are mostly structures around Missoula over by the Rail Link," he said.

He also rendered a cement plant in Polson, and little houses and properties in the St. Ignatius and Pablo areas.

Bystanders are naturally drawn to the uncommon sight of a plein air painter.

"Ninety-five percent of the people are great," he said.

When he was set up near a gravel road, people would slow down so they don't throw any dust his way.

When he was painting in Little McCormick Park on Toole Avenue, a lady stopped by.

"She said, 'Well, look what I have.' And she went to her car and pulled out a couple of little paintings that she'd procured at a garage sale some place. And she showed me," he said.

Wilson said people along Flathead Lake would check in with him to see how far he'd progressed.

***

Silas Thompson, a young painter from southern Idaho, opted for a shady forested area on the Ender Ranch in Ovando.

That may have helped with the heat, but it didn't make rendering the complex play of light and shadow any easier.

"The shade seemed to move about as fast as the light," he said.

Janet Sullivan of Missoula was the sole artist working in pastels at this year's Paint Out.

She said the heat's effect on vegetation aided her palette.

"The grass is starting to cure, so you have that stark white," she said.

Too much green is difficult to handle, she said, but with the lighter vegetation the colors underneath show through: Her rendering of a meadow ended up with almost a rainbow palette.

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