Among many big sporting events this summer — in addition to the FIFA Women’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand, the US Open Tennis Championships in Queens, N.Y., and the San Francisco Marathon on July 22-23, there’s one that involves paint, brushes, canvases, easels and plenty of creativity. It’s Art Battle San Francisco, at Potrero Hill’s Great Northern on July 19.

In the timed, three-round painting competition, artists are athletes in their own right, putting their skills to the test and remaining calm under pressure in front of a live and online audience, who vote for winners in preliminary and final rounds. After the competition concludes, the paintings are up for grabs in a silent auction, with 50 percent of proceeds going to the artists.

“We see Art Battle as the democratization of art—as an incredible opportunity to allow people, patrons, collectors and also other artists to very directly see the progress of artists as they are working,” says Art Battle co-founder and president Simon Plashkes.

Founded in 2001, Art Battle has become a fixture in San Francisco and cities such as Oakland, Portland, Seattle and Chicago, as well in Canada and Australia; some 25,000 artists have participated in more than 3,000 competitions. An Art Battle event features a dozen artists, who are given 20 minutes to create an artwork. They stand near each other on a stage as they speedily work on their pieces.  

As Art Battle SF host Dragon King explains, “It’s very intense since you only get a certain amount of time. But having people cheering you on can help you remember to breathe a little bit and to just kind of help you remember, ‘Oh, I’m here because I’m showing my art to all these people and maybe having a little fun.’” 

L-R, Dragon King is co-hosting Art Battle SF this week with Michael Anthony. Of hosting duties, Dragon King says, “It involves reminding [audience members] to keep walking and not be too stagnant so that people get an equal opportunity to see each painter paint live.” (Photo by Shreyas Derek Cousineau) 

Dragon King, who also contributes to the production of Art Battle SF, along with co-host Michael Anthony, looks forward to hyping up the crowd on Wednesday night. 

“Sometimes we’ll go into the audience with a microphone and be like, ‘Are you here to support anyone specific? What do you think about the painting so far?’ And just kind of engaging with people and making this live painting experience as interactive as possible and as fun as possible,” says Dragon King.  

Some artists in Wednesday’s Art Battle SF, such as Nick Noyes, Samuel M. Walker and Jason Henry, are from outside the Bay Area. But the majority, including Anna Aksionova, Ilse, Tommy Perkasso, Briana Brommage, Tiffany Conway and Mona Farrokhi, are local.  

Art Battle SF producer Adryon Ketcham says, “I choose artists that are from San Francisco and the Bay Area first, and then I’ll kind of go outside that.” 

Plashkes and Ketcham aim for inclusivity when it comes to selecting artists, encouraging submissions from all backgrounds, identities and art styles. 

Plashkes emphasizes, “We’re putting on a show and a performance, so of course we want to book based on quality. But we’re also happy to take a chance, especially if there’s excitement for a particular artist. We want to give people an opportunity to shine.”

As a result of the inclusive selection process, applications from artists of varying means and experience levels are welcome.  

“People will reach out and ask about Instagram followers or say, ‘Oh, I don’t sell inside a gallery.’ We don’t exclude you because of those things,” says Ketcham. 

For San Bruno-based artist Mario Guitron, Art Battle SF will mark his first time as a contender, and he’s excited about being selected. 

Says Guitron, “My cousin competed [in a previous Art Battle] and actually won, so it was like, ‘Oh, cool. I want to do that someday.’ So I just thought I would take the leap to try it out.” 

Encouraged by his three daughters, San Bruno-based artist Mario Guitron, an Art Battle contender this week, has been practicing doing timed sessions in his studio. (Photo courtesy Mario Guitron) 

On Wednesday, Guitron and fellow artists will be provided with a canvas, acrylic paint, an easel and other basic equipment. They must follow Art Battle guidelines, such as bringing only their brushes or other non-mechanical tools. Reference material and pre-made stencils are not permitted at the easel.  

As the artists paint, attendees are encouraged to walk around the stage’s perimeter, observing, cheering and casting their votes via the Art Battle app. 

Dragon King explains, “The paintings are in the center of the venue, and there’s kind of this whirlpool effect of people walking around. Before each round, we say, ‘OK, we’re gonna walk clockwise. OK, we’re gonna walk counterclockwise.’” 

The audience is able to witness the artists’ progress. Something that wasn’t on a canvas on one go-around may appear on a subsequent view of it. 

As Plashkes notes, “You have repeated ‘aha’ moments where you come around the corner and see the progress that an artist has made. It’s very satisfying as a spectator to have that experience. And it forces the whole event to be kinetic.” 

For some artists, having spectators so close may be intimidating or nerve-wracking. Guitron, though, is up for the challenge. 

“Being in front of people is something that I’m not afraid of. I used to be the emcee of a hip-hop band; some of our biggest shows in the city were at some of the biggest venues in the city. … so the crowd part doesn’t really spook me,” he says. 

The battle will be live-streamed, accommodating people who are unable to attend in person, as well as expanding the event’s overall reach.  

In fact, people anywhere can see winners of Art Battle events across the world by going to the website’s “Browse” feature, where they’ll find the current top-100 Art Battle champions as well as other statistics. The Art Battle app enables people to vote, follow artists and participate in silent auctions. 

Voting on Wednesday is open to people at the Great Northern and those streaming the competition on phones, tablets or other devices. Competing artists also participate, and their votes have greater value than those of non-artists and online spectators.

Plashkes says, “All of that is out of an intention to see that the best art wins, rather than it boiling down to a simple popularity contest.” 

Dragon King, Art Battle co-host and co-producer, says, “I love setting up the canvases, hyping up the crowd and showing up in my drag. Sometimes people will ask me why I’m dressed like that, and I get to have these fun conversations about drag and queer culture.” (Photo by Andrea Ronquillo) 

Dragon King says there have been efforts to get more local queer artists to compete in Art Battle SF: “Honestly, I’d say the thing I look forward to the most is when I see one of those queer artists having a really good time and sometimes even making it to the final rounds. I’m like, ‘Yeah! You show them!’  I’m like a proud dad in that moment.” 

For Guitron, though he’d be “totally stoked” to make it to the final round, it’s all about the fun of participating in the event. 

“I don’t expect to come out with a championship belt or to sell the piece. It’s not like everything’s riding on it. … It’s more about the experience and seeing how far I can go.” 

Art Battle SF, an event for ages 21 and older, is at 8 p.m. (doors open at 7 p.m.) July 19 at the Great Northern, 119 Utah St., San Francisco. Tickets are $26 at