Sunday, November 02, 2008

Plein-car, plein-van, plein-camper

Sometimes your best painting buddy is your vehicle. If the weather turns chilly or breezy (or even if it’s just too sunny) all you have to do is find a place to park where you can paint out the window. If you have a hatchback (or a camper shell), you have more options for finding a view. The Guerrilla Painter does this all the time, and he finds that listening to the radio helps him concentrate (of course, I’d want to avoid the news, which has been way too interesting lately).

Often, it’s while I’m driving that I’ll notice something worth painting, so it’s easy enough to just find a place to pull over. It’s a good habit to keep your gear in your car, ready for any opportunity. It only takes a few minutes to shift into "right-brain" mode and notice colors, shapes, lines, value contrasts. Maybe you find yourself waiting for someone, or there’s just a few more minutes of daylight with the sky turning colors, or you notice an intriguing architectural detail...

Sitting in a car can also help you focus by protecting your privacy & keeping annoying onlookers at a distance.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Keep Them Wild

We recently had to kill a mountain lion who had been preying on our lambs and hens. It turned out that he was missing one of his canine teeth and had a gum infection, so he might have been having trouble bringing down deer.

This really got my attention, because the Guerrilla Painter has been living here for 30 years and cougars have only been seen twice (up in trees). This one was coming around the buildings, sometimes in the daytime.

I did some reading, and it appears that the cougar population has been increasing at the same time that people have been moving into their habitat. They are by nature reclusive, but they will follow the deer (and raccoons). Sometimes people allow deer in their neighborhood, or raccoons may be attracted to dumpsters, and if a cougar follows them there, it can become habituated to humans and possibly become a threat to pets and people.

I used to live in a foothills neighborhood with its own year-round resident herd of mule deer, and they were so much fun to watch. It never occurred to us to chase them away. Cougars (and their tracks) were seen only occasionally, and we expected that they would remain aloof. But that isn’t always what happens.

Keep Me Wild is a program that California has implemented to reduce wildlife/human conflict. There's no place to relocate problem predators in California, so prevention is the only good solution. Sometimes it's counter-intuitive to chase deer off your property, but it keeps them (and the rest of the food chain) wild. If you see a predator, you might be saving its life if you blast it with bear spray, an air horn or rubber buckshot.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Medicine Bow Mountains

Often, it seems that a painting experience turns into a story. That’s what happened when we went up to Saratoga Wyoming for the weekend.
On the way there, we took a shortcut through the Medicine Bow National Forest and stopped to paint. There were aspen trees, distant mountains, and some old ranch buildings, but I settled on a hillside of sagebrush. There was an interesting pattern of amber-colored tall grass, blue-green sage and lavender clouds.

About halfway through, when we’d been sitting quietly for maybe an hour, a young mule deer buck wandered into view. His antlers were in velvet, so it was hard to tell if he had one or two points. He browsed for awhile, less than 50 feet away. Then off to my right I heard something that sounded like a house cat. “Meow...” But what appeared was not a cat but a fawn, walking toward the buck. When it reached him, they sniffed each other, and the buck, wide-eyed, snorted and bolted away. It was like a teenager being approached by a baby sibling while he was busy being cool.

The fawn went off in another direction to find its mom. A case of mistaken identity, I guess.

Saturday, July 19, 2008


Sometimes a "sketch" is a very involved drawing used as a preliminary study for a painting, but I like to think of it as a minimalist composition, just the essence of something.

I've started to "go sketching" instead of going painting, packing just a pencil & eraser instead of water, paint & brushes. I'm not sure it's always quicker or easier, but it does give you more of a feeling of freedom. You can erase, you can make it small & simple. You know it's not supposed to be a finished product. And if you happen to be in a crowded environment (or anyplace public) you can be unobtrusisve.

It's especially effective when doing animals, since they're liable to turn or walk away. You can capture the outline of their head or their back. Even flowers can move, too, if it's breezy or if they're the kind that folds up at night.

You can still get the same quality of focus as when you're painting, maybe even moreso, since there's not so much standing between you and your subject.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Work From Home

The price of gas being what it is, and what it's likely to be in the future, it's a good thing you don't need to drive anywhere to go painting.

The Guerrilla Painter is especially adept at making paintings out of the simplest things. Once he painted a salt block. Once, we were driving home from California and we stopped just east of Sacramento to paint. I thought, "There's nothing here...There's a dirt road, some telephone poles...what's to paint?" His painting turned out beautifully, lots of depth & texture.

Maybe there's nothing around except trees. Try to use them in a composition that has rhythm & life, in a relationship you've never seen before. It's like what the author of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance told his writing students. What makes this thing unique? Part of what makes it unique is your point of view, your vision.

Think globally, paint locally.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Artist Trading Cards

Artist Trading Cards have been around since at least 1997. A simple concept...artists use any medium (paint, print, sketching, collage etc.) on a 2.5"X3.5" card (cardstock or any other thin support). They put their name & contact info on the back, trade with each other and collect them. There are trading shows and websites, or maybe the art students in a school will trade with each other when they graduate so they can remember each other ("...I knew her when...")

Some people might sell them, but the concept isn't about making money. It's about creating links.

This seems perfectly adapted to painting outdoors: using a lightweight, conveniently sized support to make something specific to your own neighborhood & landscape and then trading with others around the country or world.

Friday, May 09, 2008

A Lot Like Work

Sometimes it seems that painting outdoors is an awful lot like work.

Recently we were on the west coast, and we went painting on the seashore. The weather was perfect (northern California, breezy, sunny and mild) and we were in a state park, so it was picturesque and not too crowded. What could be easier than doing a watercolor of some small, windblown eucalyptus trees with bright iceplant blooming on the sand next to a fallen log? Well...
I started off in the routine way, framing the scene in my composition finder, marking divisions on the side of the paper, sketching in the trees, log and foreground grass. Then I looked more closely at the tangle of branches, and the "monkey mind" started in with its complaints:
"Look! There's some little birds swimming on the water...wouldn't it be more fun to watch them?"
"Ouch. What's that? My finger is bleeding. Bleeding!"
"Listen to those people having fun. Wouldn't it be more fun to just go wading? You're just an outsider, sitting here trying to paint these trees."
"Um...there's a truck on the beach with big numbers '911' on its side. Something must be wrong." "Are you sure you have enough water? You're going to get thirsty."
"This concrete ledge is starting to feel awfully hard..."

Finally, the voice quieted down and even went away as I kept focusing on the scene. I was feeling grateful that I wasn't a professional painter. It wasn't easy to paint it, but I did manage to cover the paper and even make it resemble what I was looking at. It took three hours altogether (and the concrete was indeed feeling very hard), but it was rewarding work. Maybe that's a good thing to say to the monkey mind's complaints: "Don't worry, nobody has to look at this, and eventually hard work will pay off."

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Versions of Truth

When you're painting from life, there's a funny kind of dual reality happening. You're painting a scene, but it's a *painting* look at your trees, your telephone pole, your outhouse, whatever, and you try to sketch them out accurately, but at the same time, you're creating something altogether original.
Recently there was an article in The New Yorker called "Just the Facts, Ma'am" comparing history and fiction. They each have their own kind of "truth," and the facts of history can be as misleading as fantasy if they aren't understood in context. Every historian has a point of view, historical sources are incomplete and were written by people who were not under oath and cannot be cross-examined.

It reminds me of the difference between a painting and a photo of the same scene; the photo might be factual, but the colors might be off, the dark values might conceal subtleties, the details might overwhelm the view, and even the perspective can be distorted by the camera lens. The artist brings his/her imagination and judgments to the work, creating a more meaningful version of "reality."

Or, it's like the difference between a realistic painting and a more expressive version. Like Wolf Kahn here, who gives color a life of its own. He probably has a head start since he uses pastels, and all the colors are there for the choosing, no need to mix the color you want. You can try any color just by holding it up to the painting. Let's see, lavender and...lime green? ...and...coral!

Friday, March 07, 2008

Artistic License

Artistic License for Guerrilla Painters

This is to certify that___________________________________________________________________________
is entitled to operate an artistic vehicle and to participate in creative pursuits including, but not limited to, sketching, drawing, painting, collage, color mixing & charts, visiting galleries & museums, reading books and studying nature.

The imagination may be fully engaged. Ideas & concepts may evolve & change. New brain cells are a possibility. It is important to maintain awareness, whether the eyes are squinting or wide open. Lines may be crossed or become blurry. Perspective may not always exist.

The holder is entitled to make friends with the Mysterious, the Ambiguous, & the Unfamiliar, and acknowledge unexpected Juxtapositions.

The work deserves your wholehearted attention. It is entitled to its own individual character. It may be criticized but not humiliated, neglected or abused. It is best to play with your work (if you don’t, it will go to someone who will). Please spend time regularly. Listen & look. Entertain Spontaneity.