Monday, December 06, 2010

Extreme Plein Air, Part 2: Salt Water Media

This is a page of videos showing renowned U.K. artist Kurt Jackson in action. The first film shows him sketching off the coast of Cornwall, first aboard the Greenpeace vessel Esperanza, keeping an eye on commercial bass fishermen who have been catching dolphins in their nets and killing them, next on an inflatable speedboat which approaches the trawlers to disrupt them, and finally on a more traditional line-fishing boat, which is dolphin-safe.

His paintings on solid ground are also unusual. Some are realistic, some quite abstract, and sometimes the tangled shrubs & branches are reminiscent of Jackson Pollock. He paints on a large (sometimes five feet or more) canvas spread out on the ground and held in place by rocks. He has followed rivers from their source to the sea, painting along the way (sometimes from a boulder in the middle of the stream). He makes notes on the canvas about the experience, noting the weather, wildlife, historical features, botanical species, etc. He uses various and mixed media, from watercolor, ink, oil and acrylic to collage, etching and sculpture. He has painted inside the tin mines of Cornwall and Spain.

He has donated paintings and prints to be auctioned off for the benefit of causes such as WaterAid, Friends of the Earth, Oxfam, Greenpeace, among others.

This painting is entitled Every hedge has an eye, every ditch has an ear:

Saturday, October 09, 2010

Sketchcrawl # 29 - Saturday October 16th

This page from the official SketchCrawl website has information about how easy it is to participate. This regularly-sceduled global event began back in '04.

You can view the results of past events: sketches from all over the world of architecture, people, plants & animals, food & drink, landscapes and even the sketchers themselves.

There are no rules:
-Anyone can participate, be it to draw for 20 minutes or the full day .
-Any level of ability is welcome from veteran artists to first time sketchers.
-Any age! Try it with your kids!

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Mark Daily - Notes for Outdoor Painting

This is a page by Mark Daily, an instructor at the Art Students League of Denver, that I happend across today. It discusses his outdoor painting class and has lots of helpful information.

Here are two samples: "... doing an oil painting is like writing a novel without an editor. It's really open-ended. By comparison, doing a woodblock print forces you to make an enormous reduction of facts. You must limit yourself to JUST ENOUGH. There is tremendous value in trying to do this. If you can't get a handle on the essentials of what you are attempting to portray, your results will be very poor, without character. Our best painters are not considered great because they render details better than everyone else. They've built details upon a solid design and fine drawing...Simplicity is an important addition to your fundamental artistic understandings."

"...your artistic development should advance as your skills advance. Artistic development is the more important part because it’s the process of taking responsibility for the what and why of your subject matter. It is a difficult process because there’s no way to know for sure if things are going in the right direction, there’s no one to reassure you. Those 'what' choices are near the heart of you- what has meaning for you. Notice thoughts which inspire you. Pay attention to what you enjoy and stop to record it. Find a way to keep these mental notes on yourself from evaporating, from being lost in the shuffle. A moment, a place, an emotion, a theory, an opinion, whatever; it provides a connection to what in the future might be a painting- the bits of inspiration come from many sources. They will keep coming and they are unique to you."

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

"En "Plein Air" in the Scotchman Peaks

en Plein Air (official trailer) from Wildman Pictures on Vimeo.

You could call this "Extreme Plein Air."

Just 60 miles south of the Canadian border, Scotchman Peaks roadless area spans the Idaho-Montana border. Educational film company Wildman Pictures went there with a small group of painters to make a documentary about a five-day plein air adventure.

It should be completed and released this fall.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010


The Guerrilla Painter has been working on a plein air panorama for the past several weeks. He goes up to the highest point on the ranch and paints a slightly different view every evening. Eventually, twenty-some paintings will form a complete 360* panorama of the surrounding landscape. The full moon was rising a few nights ago, and he said, "This is the first time I've had a sunset and a moonrise in the same painting."

He's noticed the difference each evening in the location (about 10 degrees longitude in a month's time) of the sunset and moonrise. There's nothing like painting outdoors to make you notice things that you usually don't even see.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Thank You, Dr. Estes

The Guerrilla Painter and I watch the news, sometimes more than I'd prefer. Of course, it's good to know what's going on, but lately things just seem to keep going over the top. It was good to be reminded recently of these words for Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes:

"One of the most important steps you can take to help calm the storm is to not allow yourself to be taken in a flurry of overwrought emotion or despair — thereby accidentally contributing to the swale and the swirl. Ours is not the task of fixing the entire world all at once, but of stretching out to mend the part of the world that is within our reach. It is not given to us to know which acts or by whom, will cause the critical mass to tip toward an enduring good.

One of the most calming and powerful actions you can do to intervene in a stormy world is to stand up and show your soul. Soul on deck shines like gold in dark times.

I too have felt despair many times in my life, but I do not keep a chair for it; I will not entertain it. It is not allowed to eat from my plate."

This is from her essay Letter to a Young Activist During Troubled Times, which was written shortly after 9/11.

Saturday, August 07, 2010

Paintings: Jim Biggers and Mary B. White

We're finally getting around to hanging ten of Jim Biggers' landscape paintings here in the show-room. They make an impressive grouping since they average 20" each (plus the frame). We don't know if they are plein air or not. They depict various locations on Phantom Canyon Ranch, some from high vantage points and others down in the canyon. They were done in 1984.

In addition, there are three large plein air acrylic paintings by .Mary B. White, who is an old friend and former schoolmate of the Guerrilla Painter.

Come and see them at 3121 Kintzley Court, LaPorte, Colorado, 9-5 Mountain Time (11-4 on weekends). We are at the south end of the west building

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Bob Dylan, Plein Air Painter

This website has the 2010 edition of Bob Dylan's Drawn Blank paintings, and it seems like they (at least the drawings) were done outdoors. Some of the earlier collections (2008-9) also included outdoor scenes. He's been drawing, sketching and painting since the 70s, as a practice to "relax and refocus a restless mind".

“The first exhibition I saw at the Metropolitan Museum of Art was of Gauguin paintings and I found I could stand in front of any one of them for as long as I'd sit at the movies, yet not get tired on my feet. I'd lose all sense of time. It was an intriguing thing.”

Friday, July 09, 2010


As I was driving out to the county road a few days ago, I went over the cattle guard and drove past a shrub rose I had planted several years ago. It was in bloom, and I'd been enjoying seeing it there for more than a week. As I drove by, I was wondering if it would be worth a closer look or not. Maybe the blooms were starting to fade and fall off, maybe there wasn't much there to see.

Sometimes you think you know what your surroundings look like, so there's no point in looking again...

I decided to give a half-hearted glance and was stunned to see a bright Western Tanager. Wow! I'd never seen one before (except on the cover of my Western Birds book), so it completely took my breath away.

It reminded me of the time we'd been watching for the mountain lion. One night, the dog had been barking, but every time I checked on the lambs, they seemed unconcerned. Finally we went to bed. The dog barked again, and I thought, "Oh, well, might as well check on them one more time, I guess..." That's when we saw him attacking a lamb and were able to shoot him.

I guess you never really know unless you keep looking.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Eugene Boudin on NPR

What a fun story on NPR this morning about Eugene Boudin (1824-1898). He began life as a sailor and is famous for his beach and harbor scenes, full of light and scudding clouds. One of the earliest Impressionist painters, he taught Monet to paint outdoors.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Cholla, the Painting Horse

It's not easy if you have hooves instead of hands. I guess he enjoys the challenge...

Here is his website. He is a Quarter Horse/Mustang who lives in New Mexico. In 2004, after he watched his owner paint the corral fence, she offered him a paintbrush and he's been painting ever since.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Alexander King and Doc Reser

One of the many things I love about the Guerrilla Painter is that he has miles of old books lined up on shelves everywhere. In one of them that came to our attention recently, there is a description of a plein air painter that really made an impression on me.

The book, written by Alexander King and published in 1963, is entitled Is There Life After Birth?

King lived from 1900-1965 and was an illustrator, painter, art editor (for Vanity Fair and Life magazines) and raconteur.

In the last chapter of this book, he recalls the summer he spent living in Haiti in the mid-thirties, in a large house in a mountain village not far from Port au Prince. He ponders whether any of the people he had come to know there, while obviously living comfortably, were truly happy. He eventually decided that there were a few who were. One of them was Doc Reser, originally a member of the United States occupation forces who had stayed on to become chief supervisor of the native insane asylum. His sense of fulfillment came from befriending his staff and patients, who were on the bottom rung of status-conscious Haitian society. He did what he could for them, and he knew it made a big difference in their lives.

"When I first caught sight of him he had just discovered the pleasures of painting. Since he had no art materials of any kind, he used to distill his colors out of flowers and roots, and his first brush had been contrived out of a swatch of his own hair, which he had fastened onto a kitchen match.

"There was a totally leafless tree out in the back yard of the asylum, and, as if by common agreement, the skinny, permanently molting chickens in the whole dreary neighborhood used to come to roost in it. It was a truly weird sight to see all that bankrupt poultry covering every branch and twig of that dead cottonwood tree, and the day I happened to drop by, Doc was sitting just a little distance away, doing a painting of this apocalyptic manifestation.

"As I watched him I could see almost tangible emanations of pure joy radiating from his pink countenance, which was puckered into folds of amiable concentration. His huge, freckled hand held his tiny brush in creative hesitancy above the piece of cardboard he had propped up against a convenient stone, and as I looked at him I was convinced that Adam, on that first day, in that first garden, could have known no greater happiness than this."

Saturday, March 27, 2010

The Magic Eye

A little while back, I went to hear Sarah Susanka give a talk at Colorado State. She's doing a tour for her latest book, The Not So Big Life. There were big postcards being handed out to each attendee with the above "Magic Eye" image, and it was fun to stare at it as we waited for the talk to begin.

You've seen these images. You unfocus your eyes and they become three-dimensional. What at first seems like a clutter of random colors & shapes turns into something else entirely. The one shown here becomes quite spacious, and, instead of feeling overcrowded, you feel like you have plenty of room to see or navigate through what must be close to two hundred beautiful little balls.

I guess her point was that if you look at things differently, your crowded and hectic life actually offers you plenty of space to breath, observe, choose and enjoy. She talked about her practice of meditation, comparing it to walking along a sidewalk with lots of pedestrian traffic. Just as you don't bump into everyone who's coming toward you, you don't have to identify with every thought that comes into your mind. Then, as we learn to sort our way through the jumble-filled ego, space is created, the atmosphere changes, qualities can come into focus.

Maybe this is what we're looking for when we go choose just a few things and make a composition. Of course, when we go painting, we're looking at a 3-D scene and changing it into 2-D. Maybe that's why what seems like a good idea in the beginning starts to look too busy or uncomfortable somehow. Looking at the scene in a different way, so that you don't try to capture it all, can create space.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Ayn Rand, of all people...

Ranting radical that she might have been, Ayn Rand nevertheless understood the spell of plein air painting. Recently, we came across this spot-on description in The Fountainhead of what it's like to be captivated by the process of painting, to be engrossed, to be in the zone.

"He could not say that he liked to paint. It was neither pleasure nor relief, it was self-torture, but, somehow, that didn't matter. He sat on a canvas stool before a small easel and he looked at an empty sweep of hills, at the woods and the sky. He had a quiet pain as sole conception of what he wanted to express, a humble, unbearable tenderness for the sight of the earth around him - and something tight, paralyzed, as sole means to express it. He went on. He tried. He looked at his canvases and knew that nothing was captured in their childish crudeness. It did not matter. No one was to see them. He stacked them carefully in a corner of the shack, and he locked the door before he returned to town. There was no pleasure in it, no pride, no solution; only - while he sat alone before the easel - a sense of peace."

A little later in the book, the architecht Howard Roark explains that his motive and reward is not the money, not the product, not the fame or the effect on people's lives. What means the most to him is the work itself, the doing. To come up with an idea and then take action to make it real.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Monday, February 15, 2010

The Mind's Eye

Well, like Antoine de Saint-Exupery says, "The essential is invisible for the eyes."

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Art Lab

Here's something new and different. You've all heard about the high vacancy rates in commercial real estate? What if a storefront became a temporary art gallery, rehearsal or performance space, a studio or classroom for sculptors, painters or photographers?

That's the idea behind Art Lab in Old Town Fort Collins, which began last summer:

"We’re on a mission to fill the empty retail space in Old Town Fort Collins with art, innovation, music and thought-provoking creativity. This concept is just taking shape, but watch the lonely store fronts in Old Town. You never know what you might see – ballet students, rock bands, videos, cartoons, robots…the list goes on and on."

The space is free for participating artists and for the spectators.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Ahmad Al Karkhi, Iraqi Painter

There was a beautiful story on NPR this morning about Iraqi painter Ahmad Al Karkhi. He had to flee his homeland in 2006, first to Damascus and eventually(after three years) to the United States. He has spent his time painting his memories of a peaceful Iraq and the people he remembers.