I’ve signed up to take a plein aire class this summer – in Maine! Why? Because Texas in August is hotter than forty hells…and a cool ocean breeze sounds marvelously refreshing.
As I happily begin to gather paints and brushes, a portable easel and camp stool, I began to question why? What is the attraction of plein aire painting, in the heat, in the wind, with bugs, hiking over rocky places to find the perfect spot, when I could just as well sit in air-conditioned comfort and paint from photographs?
From my first sketchbook in Tennessee.
It came to me that I have been doing this for fifteen years and I never asked why! The first residency I received was at Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts in Gatlinberg, Tennessee. I planned to learn to make journals, but my fondest memories turned out to be sketching downtown in the early morning quiet, the little ducks in the creek running through town, or on top the mountain overlooking the town and breathing the mountain air. Even one sketch of a blue moth sitting on my tennis shoes as I sat by a creek with my sketchbook – that is what lived on in my memories. It’s time immortalized.
I loved that moth – he and I were alone in the forest!
I think one artist said it best: “It’s the desire to take an experience – the sights and sounds, the smells, all that you see and hear – and try to recreate it on a two dimensional plane so that it will live on.” I’ll always remember that day on the beach in Destin, Florida, with an apple fritter in one hand and paint brush in the other, or standing alone in Georgia O’Keefe’s country, realizing that for this one moment, life is perfect.
I’ve painted Alaska, California’s Monterey Bay, the mountains of Colorado, Georgia O’Keefe’s Ghost Ranch, the Texas Hill Country and now look forward to painting the rocky coast of Maine. I sincerely believe that this land where we live is sacred and incredibly beautiful. America, with every climate imaginable, is a country full of riches we take for granted: the Napa Valley, with grapes rich and juicy waiting to be harvested, the mesas of Arizona, where a storm cloud can be spotted two hundred miles away! The California coastline, which takes my breath away (when the fog isn’t rolling in like cotton candy across the water), the white sands and turquoise waters of the Florida Gulf Coast, the golden aspen dancing against the Rocky purple mountains’ majesty, I believe artists simply fall in love with the landscape! At least I know I did.
I’m amazed at those artists I have found who paint vivid colors into their landscapes. Instead of trying to find the right shade of green, these guys use colors like Alizarin Crimson, Dioxazine Purple, Indian Yellows and amazing blues to create works that shout “Come see for yourself!” How do they do that? I’m still trying to replicate what I see – they go beyond and paint what they feel!
I have painted alone on the beaches, studied with other artists under fantastic teachers, and still feel there is much to learn. So, I’ll pack my big hat and sunscreen, my bug spray, my camera and my easel, and thank God for the opportunity to see new places, paint new scenes and enjoy the journey! Hopefully I’ll be posting photographs from Down East in Maine. Watch for some new work, and perhaps lots of photographs to bring back to the studio!