Monday, June 22, 2009

Yet another bridge

A week ago I went out painting with Del again. It was a nice outing as far as the weather went (though a bit overcast and blustery) and we chose a nice place that was serine and peaceful up on the plains. I enjoyed Del's company (and Marge's) and I think that I learned a few things too. Unfortunately, I think I did the worst plein air piece of my life. It was a little frustrating to say the least -- but it didn't bother me as much as I would have expected it to. Partly because I have a tenacity and boyancy that always alows me to bounce back - no matter what.

One of the things that I learned was that I need to do more painting. Progress doesn't come from thinking about techniques or reading about painting from other people -- as helpful as that can be -- it comes from a lot of work and, plainly, I can use a lot more practice. Of the things that I need to work on -- one of them, certainly, is doing skies. That's one of the things that I'm going to try to concentrate on this summer.

When I got back from my outing I hid the painting that I'd worked on ... hoping that when I saw it in the morning I would find something good in it and not be so discouraged. The morning view only made my stomach churn. Oy. I remembered a scene in a recent movie about Van Gogh -- where he was so disturbed by a painting that he was working on out in the field, that he put his foot through it. I felt like that ... exactly like that ... but I'd painted on panel. Later, perhaps, I'll scrape it and paint over it. I don't think that there's any point in trying to salvage it from photos -- but it may be possible. I also have a picture of Del's beautiful work of the day that I could learn from. We'll see.

Get back on the horse ... right? That's what they say. I couldn't find any horses, so, I grabbed all of my gear instead, and headed out to paint. I knew exactly where I wanted to go. I found a great place to paint in the cemetary to the west of town. There was a statue that I thought would make a great studdy. It would be the combination of plein air landscape, still life, and figure painting. It was perfect. Unfortunately, that's exactly what the mosquitoes thought too ... the perfect place for a feast. Before I could even make one stroke I had to pack it in and head for other places rather than be the main course for vampire mosquitoes in the cemitary. I wondered if any of them had nibbled at corpes before alighting on me. Would I turn into some sort of un-dead? A zombie artist, roaming the streets looking for subjects to paint? Hmmm, with this night job, sometimes I feel that way anyway.

I went to Manito Park on the South Hill. It took me quite a while to narrow down my perspective subjects -- so many beautiful things there -- but I settled on an old stone bridge that Brenda and I had looked at last winter. I know, right, another bridge? How many bridges have I painted? How many bridges have I crossed ... how many roads must a man walk down before he knows he's a man? How many bridges does one artist need to paint before he knows he's an artist? Wait ... that's not how the song goes. The answer would be -- at least one more.

I was using my box easel ... and I sat on the tail gate of my truck while I worked. It was quite warm but I was able to hook my umbrella up and painted in the shade. It wasn't my best outing ever ... but it was a great start. Unfortunately, I didn't get a chance to work on it the rest of the week due to crummy weather. I had to work on it from the photos that I took. It's not a pollished piece, but I think it has the charm that decent plein air pieces will. It may be a study for a larger work, I'm not sure. One thing was for certain, though, I felt much better about things when I did have that decent outing.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009


I just flew in from San Francisco and, man, are my arms tired!

I had a nice trip to California – saw San Francisco, the coast down to Big Sur, and Yosemite – beautiful, wonderful places. I had a great visit with my son, Ben, who I haven’t seen in almost two years – sure wish that the visit could have been longer.

My thanks to Belinda for the whirlwind tour, for flying Ben and Stephanie out there, and for letting me join in and share the weekend. It was a great surprise for Ben.

I didn’t get a chance to paint … although I lugged my paint box all over the place. Ah, well, I took lots of pictures and will do some work from them. It’s not the same thing, but I will try to use the images mostly for reference and try to use my memory for the bulk of the work.

Even though I didn’t use my paint box, I’m glad that I took it. It was kind of like a trial run with security and all of that. I’m going to start planning some weekend trips to the coast this summer … fly out and rent a car while over in the Seattle or Portland areas – do some seascapes from life.

I sure wish that Tim was there. Tim, you were definitely missed. I hope to see you by the end of the summer.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Painting at the River again

Tuesday, May 26, 2009
It was a little later in the afternoon than I usually like to go out and paint, but I was well rested and determined to get some painting done this week. I also figured that if I started something this afternoon that I couldn’t finish, I could make this one of those projects that takes a few days – going out at the same time each day. At least it would save me from wandering around looking for a place to paint for the next couple of days.
It took me a while to figure out exactly what I wanted to do. I had thoughts of going down town and painting some kind of urban landscape … but the thought of being in the city just then was not at all appealing to me. Painting in the city sounds like fun … dealing with the traffic doesn’t. I finally ended up down at the Bowl and Pitcher again … but this time on the other side of the river.
It was another perfect day for it. One thing about Spokane summers, is that they have more perfect days than anywhere else I’ve ever lived – bar none. It’s not too humid, it’s not too hot, not that many bugs. One of the things that one must deal with is the wind … but down in the river valley, it wasn’t too bad even though it was quite blustery up on the Western Plains.
I scouted out a spot relatively quickly and sat down with my Pasche` box. Just as I did, I noticed some movement on the distant shore. A couple was spreading out a blanket for an afternoon picnic. What a perfect spot for it.
I was only about an hour into it when the shadows began to change a little too much. I had it blocked in pretty well by then and it was a good place to stop for the day. I took some good reference photos just in case we have some uncharacteristically inclement weather in the next few days.
Wednesday, May 27, 2009
I got a late start today … due to some decent sleep – (boy, I’m not going to complain about that!) … and didn’t get down to the river until around 4:30. It wasn’t quite the same conditions as yesterday when I first arrived – kind of overcast and hazy – but it cleared up and became one of those beautiful days that I was on about yesterday.
Music -- that’s what was missing from my painting experience yesterday. I think that it would have made a huge difference. It’s not that yesterday wasn’t a nice experience … I just had a lack of deep concentration. Over the years I’ve come to realize that I’ve probably got attention deficit whatever … I can’t remember what it was called … wasn’t really paying attention. Music seems to help me focus. Sometimes I get caught up in emotional struggles while I’m working on things and forget to put something on to help me sort through those things – drown out all of the other voices in my head.
I didn’t recognize the symptoms yesterday until I was on my way back up the trial to my truck. It was true that the shadow change was too drastic to do much more … but the unsettled feeling that I had the whole time would have been sedated with a nice tune or two.
Today I put in the earplugs, turned on the iPod, and went to work. Immediately I settled into myself(s). I felt more relaxed and alive than I have in a while. Some wonderful sights befell me as I worked … rafters and a kayak or two racing through the white water, flocks of small birds flying about. These things mixed with the ambient noise of the rushing water over the sound of my music made it a true delight. Swarms of swallows (swarms? … flocks? I don’t know … crows go in murders, geese in gaggles, what do swallows fly in?) Anyway, they were flittin’ about like crazy. With the shade creeping into the valley, the bugs were probably coming out … and, thus, the birds in hectic but beautiful flight patterns on the dark background of trees.
It was much later than yesterday when I quit … the sun had long since gone past the point where it was useful in the light areas, but I was able to establish much of the things that were in shadow anyway. I hated to leave and took my time in the area, soaking up the evening air and watching the river.
I’m wishing that I hadn’t made an appointment tomorrow afternoon with a trainer at the fitness centre. It will be Friday before I can return to finish this work.
The Spokane River is a wild, emerald necklace in places, weaving and raging through the Spokane area. There are wide, slower places, there are waterfalls, and there are rocky canyons, which is exactly the way I would describe this particular part of the Aubrey L. White string of parks. This particular part of the park system is the Riverfront State Park and is locally known as the “Bowl and Pitcher”. Someone at some time in the distant past thought that the rock formations resembled those articles and the name stuck. It’s as good a name as any, I suppose, and has a certain poetic flair – it will certainly work for part of the title for this painting – something like “Light and Shadows at the Bowl and Pitcher” or “Afternoon Light on the Bowl and Pitcher” or “Bowl and Pitcher in the Afternoon Light” ... who knows, I may borrow the title of one of the songs that I was listening to … “Dance With Life (Brilliant Light) “ by Bryan Ferry – make it something like “Dancing River of Life”
But the part that I paint is only a fraction of the story. Surrounding the river are cliffs and hills where people hike and run and bike. There are houses and roads hither and thither, sprinkled throughout the heavily forested area. Wildlife is abundant – I’ve seen Eagles and Osprey, woodchucks (didn’t see them actually chucking wood, though … so I can’t tell you how much wood a woodchuck could chuck – or if, in fact, they can chuck wood – I’ve seen dip-shits, too – but, there again, I don’t know how much shit a dip-shit can dip, if a dip-shit can dip shit), marmots, deer, elk, moose, snakes (yikes), compies, and veloceraptors, you know, the usual stuff. There are probably bear and cougars in these hills too, if the dinosaurs haven’t eaten them all.
Friday, May 29, 2009
On Thursday I went to figure drawing and used my little pasche` box for one of the twenty minute poses – thinking that the modle would come back to that pose as they usually do … she didn’t. I may finish the little thing from memory.
Friday I had to work at the gallery – I brought my little paint box and worked on the Bowl and Pitcher piece from memory. I didn’t do much, really, just re-roughed in the background to save time the next time that I go out and work.
Sunday, May 31, 2009
Finally, I made it back to the river today, and was pleased to have very similar weather to the other outings. While I was working, a young lady with a red top came down to the river. She wandered about, taking pictures with her cell phone and exploring the area. I’m not sure if she saw me or not (I’m not sure how she wouldn’t have been able to, but she either didn’t acknowledge me or I didn’t hear her when she did, as I had on my earphones). The thing is that she struck some very nice poses and I snapped some pictures of her, thinking that I might put her into the composition. At one point she stood on the rock in the foreground of my composition and put her hand up to block the sun from her eyes as she looked up river, into the sun. The red top against the primarily green background would have been quite the accent.
But then what is the painting about? It would no longer be about the beauty of the wild river raging through a rocky canyon … it would be about how a person relates to nature. If she were on the other side of the river it might be something different. As with the couple that I saw picnicking over there on my first journey down to the water’s edge to paint. Having figures in a landscape is a dicey thing. They are great for scale, but it really depends on what you are trying to portray; what your statement is. My ideas are more of a focus on the beauty and tranquility of fleeting moments and have nothing really to do with humanity – not exactly, anyway. My concept is that I would like people to look at these landscapes and feel themselves in the moment, alone, communing with nature.
I do like the pictures that I took of the young woman and may use them in a painting that’s about her (I know - I should have gotten her to sign a model release form - even though her face is not recognizable from that distance). Some of her poses reminded me of some of the impressionist’s work of women on beaches and such. Ah, if only she’d been wearing a dress. Maybe I can hire a model for that kind of thing.
The sun seems to be getting quicker … or perhaps I’m a little slower. The whole scene changed on me in one sudden instant, or so it seemed. I packed up my stuff and just sat there for a little while. A blustery wind had begun shortly after my arrival (thankfully – it took the bugs away and reduced the heat a bit), and it felt great to just sit there for a little while taking in the beauty of the moment, listening to the birds and the rushing water.
It wasn’t done, but it was close enough to finish in the studio in very little time. I spent about an hour on it the next morning and was able to get it and the other river painting framed and hung in the gallery on Tuesday, along with some other pieces that I have wanted to frame for some time. Both are plein air pieces that I did a couple of years ago while traveling. One is of the Grand Canyon, done from about halfway down the trail into the canyon, and the other of a rock formation called “The Pulpit” in Zion National Park, Utah (no pictures of those here, though -- if you want to see them, you have to go down to the gallery - it might be worth your while -- bring your check book, too). I also matted, framed, and hung a couple of the figure drawings that I did last week. I framed a few more, but ran out of space to hang them.
I’m pleased with the final version of both of these river paintings. I reworked the first one and was amazed with the results. Del was good enough to give me some ideas after he viewed it on this forum. I couldn’t pull off exactly what he suggested – I need to figure some of that out still. That’s kind of a nice thought, though to me … to still have so much to learn; continually reaching and growing. After all, it’s not the destination that’s so important, really, it’s how you get there – the struggles, tribulations, and the setbacks are equally as important as the triumphs and victories.
I’ve been racking my brain for a painting to put into the show that Dr Harken is putting on this fall. He wants a "big, beautiful picture" for the auction. I’ll probably do lots of paintings this summer (and I hope that all of them qualify as big and beautiful) but I want to do one expressly for the show … and I think that I might just do a larger version of one of these Landscapes.