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Refreshed by a dirt road

Going nuts with work. Grab sketch gear. Grab water. Drive to end of earth.

Okay, maybe not THE end, but close enough. I found a dirt road that was suitable only for my jeep:  Rocks, very narrow in places with occasional steep drop offs to one side of the jeep or the other. Cool. It’s been too long since my jeep and I have enjoyed the solitude of a remote trail. There were not any recent tire tracks from other vehicles. Nice. It was scenic, but not dramatically pretty. The road is used by the Forest Service to fight fires and by the power company to service large power transmission towers. There were also signs of bird hunting (spent shotgun shells). Still, it was quiet and off the beaten path. My jeep thanked me for getting it off pavement. I drew its portrait, then drove home, refreshed.

FYI:  That’s Superstition Mountains and Weaver’s Needle in the distance.

Happy Trails

My jeep along Fire Road 285 north of Phoenix (watercolor, 7x5in, 2011)
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Backyard still life

Busy preparing classes and teaching. Result:  Drawing has slowed considerably; oil painting has essentially stopped. Temporary but necessary. I draw outside as much as I can, but we are having an “Indian Summer” in Scottsdale with above normal temps for late September. I just finished this drawing. It’s 5:30pm and 109◦F (almost 43◦ C). Good thing I was next to the pool.  🙂   I will pick up the outdoor drawing when the average daytime temps fall below 100 (38C).

Backyard still life (pencil, 10x8in, 2011)
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Project Update: A tribute to Phoenix mountains.

I’m running behind. I finished Superstition Mountain then 80 million things happened. Ok. Ok. Not 80 million, only 30 million. I will not post the paintings until all four are finished. Do you want to see  Superstition Mountain? Then join me at Village Coffee Roastery this Saturday about 9:ooam. ( 8120 Hayden Rd, Scottsdale, Arizona). Until Saturday, enjoy this sunset scene from Ironwood National Monument in Northwest of Tucson. This trip was with some artist friends from Jerome in 2004. I have been coming here since 1971 and have spent one-hundred or more days and nights in this area. This trip was memorable for the number of young desert tortoises. I counted about six. That is six more than I’ve seen here, ever. Wonderful news. I also met one rather upset diamondback rattlesnake. I inquired as to the reason for his or her problem, but an answer was not forthcoming.

Sunset over Ironwood National Monument (oil, 7x5in, 2010)
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I Drank Paint-Tainted Water and Lived!

Water and Other Supplies for Your Watercolor Sketch Kit.

Yes, I have sipped the water in which I washed my paint brushes. Okay, it was only a little bit of paint, but I still did it. It was hot and I was dying of thirst, but why did I do it?

I did it because I love convenience and portability, and I was thirsty. All of my supplies, except a water bottle, can fit in one pocket of my cargo pants. So not only must travelling artists consider painting supplies, they need to think about their wardrobe.

Small is good. That’s my mantra while I travel. Why? The act of painting is just one part of the process. One must also think about transporting supplies and paintings. Large paintings are fine if painting is the primary purpose of the trip, but large paintings can present logistical problems. That means more planning and less convenience. I rarely paint larger than 5 by 7 inches when I travel, usually smaller.

Why do I think small is good? It is because I do not consider travel painting as exactly the same as painting on location, en plein air. For me, travel paintings are done in the context of travel. Conversely, travel is one within the context of paintings on location. It is a matter of purpose, but it means that artistic factors such as lighting and viewpoint, may come second to other factors such as itinerary and train schedules. The need to accommodate the other factors has lead me to my “Small is good.” mantra.

Here are the ten supply items I have considered and refined over the years.

  1. Watercolor paper. I prefer paper made for watercolors. I buy the smoothest paper available. I almost always get pre-made watercolor postcard pads. Good art stores tend to have bigger selections. All pads are not the same. Feel the paper to make sure it is to your liking.
  2. Watercolor kit. I use a kit because it combines paints and palette. I find it much more convenient than carrying separate tubes and a mixing palette or tray. There are several brands. Mine has 12 color cubes (cakes), including white. Replacement cubes are available at good art suppliers and online. White is useless. I should email my kit manufacturer and ask about the white. I have other cubes to replace the white. I will do that one of these years. You can easily make your own kit. Just get a small rectangular plastic box with a lid. Squeeze the colors you want into the box and let them dry. Now you have a kit that is field-ready. Some kits come with water bottles, mine does not. Kits without water bottles usually have more paint cubes. Mine came with a brush, but it was not very good.
  3. Water bottle. My kit does not have a built in bottle. I carry a bottle of water that doubles as a source of drinking water. No, I do not drink the water, not usually. Sometimes I do not carry water and rely on whatever liquid I can find. I have painted with a glass of water, tea, cola, beer, and water from fountains and canals.
  4. Water cup. This is where I dip my brushes. Anything that holds water and has a wide top will do. When I pack ultra-small, I have a little plastic container from the art store. It’s about one inch in diameter and one-half inches tall.  I have been caught without a cup once or twice. In those situations, I used the cap of the water bottle. Not ideal, but it works. When I use my backpack, I throw in a home-made container. I cut the bottom off a small plastic water bottle. It’s two or three inches high, and surprisingly indestructible.
  5. Brushes and brush holder. I paint small, but carry a big brush. It’s too easy suckered into slow, detailed paintings with a small brush. That can work against you when you want to capture a scene, but do not have much time. My brushes: Kolinsky #8 round, Synthetic #4 round. Number 4 is small, but I rarely use it, and those paintings take longer. My Kolinsky was expensive, but it is very durable and I keep it in a sturdy, breathable brush holder.
  6. Brush holder. Brushes get bent and beaten up unless they are in a container. Plastic tubes are popular. I use a wooden sushi roller that I bought at a Chinese grocery. I cut the roller so it is just big enough to wrap around my brushes and not much longer than my big brush. Without modification, rollers will wrap around brushes several times and can be too long, adding unwanted bulk to travel kits. Similar products are available in art stores. I secure the wrapper with two sturdy rubber bands. I prefer wooden rollers because they permit air circulation, helping the brush to dry while protecting it, and they can be modified to fit your brush.
  7. Pack or Cargo Pants. My painting supplies, except water bottle, fit into one pocket of my cargo pants. However, a pack of some sort is much more convenient than carrying loose painting supplies. I have a multipurpose backpack for my supplies. It has enough room for my laptop computer and lightweight sweatshirt or jacket and a hat. My backpack gives me some flexibility as it is adaptable to the purpose of my outing. I may want to stop by a café for coffee and check my email and I often go out in less than ideal weather.
  8. Paper towels or rags (optional). I do not carry towels or rags. To clean my brushes, I dip them in clean water in my water cup, then shake them dry. Sometimes I use napkins if I am in a place where they are available.
  9. Pencils, eraser, and sharpener (optional). I carry two soft pencils (2B) because I like to draw a quick sketch of my subject before I paint. I will often use a pencil sketch in combination with a photo when I do not have time to complete a painting. Erasers and sharpeners can be useful at times.

10.  Ink pen (optional). I draw ink lines on my paintings. It is my travel sketching style. I use a pen with a hard, durable tip and permanent ink.

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Artist’s shocking revelation: I am rarely in the mood to draw or paint

Not in the mood? Cannot Draw? Let me dispel those and other bullshit ideas.

These are my thoughts, in no particular order, as they apply to the philosophical, procedural, and practical issues of painting on location.

Michael, which is the greatest rule for painting on location? Michael replied: “Enjoy where you are and what you are doing with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest rule. And the second is like it: Do not worry about what your neighbors think, just do it. Everything else is secondary to these two rules.”

But I cannot draw! —– So what? Travel sketching is about recording memories. Please do NOT tell me “I cannot draw.” I don’t care and it pisses me off (I will nod and smile outwardly if we are together). I do not care if you cannot draw. Just do it.

But I really can’t draw. —– Think sketch, not Mona Lisa. Try this: Squares and rectangles with dots look like buildings with windows. Pointy triangle-like shapes look like mountains. Bubble-like circles look like clouds or smoke. Bubble-like circles or triangles with sticks on the bottom look like trees. A short vertical line with small circle on top looks like a person in the distance. Trust me: Right now, draw a tall skinny triangle. Now put a little line coming out of the bottom. Add a little green and you have a tree!

My drawing will never look like _____. —- We are not taking a freaking photo here. Don’t worry if your sketch does not look like the Eiffel Tower. I sketch every day. My lines are not always straight. Besides, you can always take a beginning drawing classes if you are so inclined.  Travel painting on location is easy when you realize that your painting does not have to look exactly like what you see. It gives you freedom that photographers do not have. I don’t like everything I do, but it will still give me a nice memory. Besides, the Pareto Principle (the 80/20 rule) applies to all artists. About 20 percent, or less, of our work is “ok.” Even less work can be called “good.” An anonymous, but well-known, nature photographer once told me that he threw out 90 percent of his photos, and about one percent of the rest made it to print.

I am embarrassed to draw in public. —– Be prepared to attract on-lookers. They can be intimidating, but they are usually very nice. Painting in public is performance art. Passers-by will be interested in what you are doing. It is part of the reality and fun of painting on location. I once had a brief, but meaningful (I think), conversation about painting with a young French woman. Neither of us spoke the other’s language. As a rule, I am no afraid of street people. Those with some forms of schizophrenia can be off-putting, but they can be quite interesting conversationalists as well.

I am embarrassed to show people what I draw. —– It took me a while to get comfortable showing my sketches to passers-by and friends, but then I realized that I am the only critic that matters. I am sketching a lighthouse in a cold fog for Christ’s sake, not painting the Mona Lisa in the comfort of my studio. 99.9 percent of the people I meet on location are nice, but I give you the permission to say “f you” to anyone who is rude enough to voice a negative opinion in public.

What should I draw? —– Paint what you like. If you don’t, painting will be a chore and your work will look bad.

The Tao of Painting —– I personally do not look for something to paint. It finds me. In the meantime, I enjoy where am, take a walk, have lunch. When I see something I like, I sketch it. Finding a shady spot where I can sit down is an added benefit. I’ve changed views just to get a decent place to sit. I’ve also moved chairs, tables, and other objects to suit my need for comfort. That makes up for all the times I’ve sweated bullets in uncomfortable places (with ants).

Moods and Muses —– Painting creates my mood. I am rarely in the mood to draw or paint. I’d rather sit and enjoy the view with a friend and a good wine, lots of wine. I am not sure what a muse is. I think it is a fantasy invented by a horny guy who should have been writing or painting instead of thinking about sex.

Painting takes such a long time. —– Painting is nice, but it’s not the only thing I do. I have a schedule, and a life. I have never spent more than 30 minutes on a travel painting; 15-20 minutes is typical. I have other things to do; be a tourist, other work, have lunch, see friends. Sketches are BRIEF. Try this: Do a pencil sketch, take a photo, paint later. Eventually you will get faster.

My next post will have some ideas on what supplies you should carry as you travel.

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Landscape Under Foot: Plein Air show at Phoenix Airport

The exhibition features ten artists from all across Arizona. I suggest a visit if you are passing through the airport. The exhibit space is out of the way in Terminal 3 (behind Starbucks), but worth locating. The artists represent a good sample of contemporary Arizona regional painters.

Location:  Terminal 3, Level 2, Garage cases (4), Through Sept. 26, 2010

Phoenix Airport Art Collection:  Sky Harbor art museum