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Outside the Realm-hiking the Inca Trail

September 13, 2018 by admin

I am still baffled by the fact that when I climb a flight of stairs, or walk up a steep hill that I am winded and my heart is going “boom-boom-boom” in my head, and yet it was only a month ago that I somehow coerced this old body all the way to the edge… and then just a little bit farther, to hike the Inca Trail.

I went into the “Camino Inka-Inka trail” hike with the attitude of no problem, I can do it, probably not from being physically fit, because I’m not, but more from that arrogant air that others did it, so can I!  Even after I read and heard stories of people turning back after the first day, and not able to continue, I thought that “well, it’s just a hike”.

To ever think that trekking the Inca Trail is “just a hike”, it is akin to saying that John Singer Sargent was “just another artist”… and he wasn’t!

But I still had that attitude, even after some failed attempts to prepare for my trip. First,  a hike up Mount Wrightson in Southern Arizona, where almost to the summit, I could not continue because I was cramping up in both legs. Then, there were two days of strenuous hiking in the front range of the Colorado Rockies. Lastly, a few day hikes in and around home, when just the weekend before Peru, I ended up with my first blisters on my toes after just a 2-hour hike on a well-used “chip” trail.

Still I had no idea!

I chose this “cover” painting for all that it says to me. Here, we look across the ancient Inca city of Ollantaytambo in the heart of the Sacred Valley. The day before we were to start our trek, our guide suggested  a “little climb” to the ruins on the east side of town called Pinkuylluna.  This is where the Incas had their storage facilities, high above, where the cooler winds and temps would help to preserve the grains for later use.

Our entire group of 16 were more than game for this little hike, and after grabbing daypacks, water and cameras off we went, winding through the narrow streets and alleys created over 500 years ago.

Somehow, and I don’t know how we did it, we totally missed the sign warning hikers against this trail up the mountain, and its dangers. And I still to this day think that Nick, our lead guide for the Inca Trail, was taking us here as a test to evaluate each of us and how we handled ourselves in an actual “live” situation.

It was NOT the easy hike that I had expected, and it didn’t take long, as I climbed the narrow switchbacks up the side of the mountain, before I realized I needed to rethink what I was about to do. This was “1/2 hour up”, said Nick. Well maybe for him, but my pace quickly diminished, and I needed constant stops to catch my breath, and my wits…

…but we kept on.

When we finally made it, I looked out across the Sacred Valley. The sun was creeping down slowly behind the Western mountains, and what a sight it was. Just across on the near mountains were the ever-incessant terraces of the Inca temple of Araqhama, and what is referred to as “The Fortress” which is quite wrong being more of a sacred area than a defensive structure.

The place was breathtaking, and here I felt ever inspired from what lay before me, and then all that lay behind. The people and civilizations that had come and gone as they too looked out on the fading light through their sacred valley. Here with the pilgrimage of the Inca’s ahead of me, across “Warmiwanusca” or “Dead Woman’s Pass” at 13,780′ all the way to Machu Picchu. I began to see that before me was not a hike like any I had done before. This was to be something I had to dig down deep into myself just to put another foot in front of the other.

This was a search of what I was really made of.

Later that evening, back at the last night of lodging in a bed for this journey, I quickly reassessed everything that I was putting into my backpack and if it was not essential for the trip, it was not coming with me. Out went the extra pair of pants, extra shoes, deodorant, wet paint carriers, (I went from 3 with 24 canvas papers, to 1 with 8) everything that we thought might be considered “non-essential”. My personal pack went from 14 kilos to 9.6 kilos (21.2 pounds). Much better, though still twice as heavy as the average pack that the rest of the group was carrying, but I needed my painting gear…

…or so I thought.

Besides my preparations for my journey with physical training, I was going to paint! But I needed to revamp my gear; it was entirely too heavy for an actual trek across mountains. My backpack I normally use with my Soltek easel weighed in at 37lbs (16.8 kilos) this was NOT going to work, and if you read my previous blog (Pleins 2 Peru) you’ll see how I slimmed it down. It wasn’t easy, but before I left for Peru it was half what I normally carried, which made me think it would be a cake walk.

We began this trip in the dead of winter, winter south of the equator, at least. As we waited in the lobby of our hotel, we heard from guides and hikers who had been turned back from their Lares Trek to Machu Picchu because of snows and impassible trail. Not what I was wanting to hear, because “surprise, surprise”, I had tossed out some of my warmer gear for some lighter layering. The predictions for the next four days on the trail were lows below 0 to 1-15 above (centigrade) This, I was expecting, and thought doable, but the threat of snow was not good news. However, the day the 16 of us began, the sun was out, no winds and about 4 degrees.

I want to mention the group of fellow hikers on this journey. There were 16 total, along with Nick and Miguel, the two guides from G Adventures. We flew down to Peru with good friend Phyllis and Gary from Nebraska, and there in Lima Peru we met the rest of the clan. 12 others from around the globe, mostly from Europe, but one fellow American, a Megan Summers who was no relation… at least not to my knowledge. There was Olly and Emily from England, along with Kieran and Steph. Also, from Great Britain was Ruth, who like Megan, was traveling alone. Then from Norway) were Christian and  Christina, and slightly closer to the Atlantic were the four Irish girls, Yani, Jane, Helen and Maggie.

What I noticed about the 12 other hikers we met up with was that everyone was young, or younger at least. Ruth was the youngest at 22, and then the oldest was in their early 30’s. Phyllis, Gary, Susie and myself were the seniors of the group in our early 60’s.

To tell the truth I had thought originally that traveling with such a large group of strangers was going to be odd, then all of them so young, there was going to be this big gap in generations. But what I found was what had to be some of the best hiking partners I could have asked for. I would have been hard pressed to pick a better group of people, all with the common goal of Machu Picchu via the Inka Trail. They were there cheering us on, ready with a helping hand, or steaming cup of coca tea when needed.

You never know what or who you are going to get when a tour group throws this many together for an adventure such as this. But no complainers, no whiners, all the drama was saved for the landscape.

What stuck with me most about the Inca civilization was all their terraces. They put them everywhere, and it didn’t matter if the land was too steep to even set a foot on, they would just spend a few years in building terraces up the side of the mountain. I realize if you need to grow food, and don’t have an inch of flat land available, it was necessary. But the amount of work put into these things, and they were everywhere! I know there will be some paintings to follow that feature some of their terraces.

As we set out on the first day, the sun was warming us from the mid-winter chill. We crossed the Urubamba river, which runs through the Sacred Valley, on a suspension bridge, and then began a slow rise up the valley side. The procession of porters with our equipment and the group of 16 really seemed like an expedition heading out on an adventure. I suppose it’s not so different than those before heading out from this exact spot. For whatever reason for this journey, for spiritual enlightenment, soul cleansing, or just some good old south of the border adventure, we were on our way.

Day one of the hike had been billed as a “warm up” for the rest of the trail. For the most part it is flat, or as I learned “Inca Flat”, which is more like up, down, up, level, up, down, up. Or something like that, you get the drift. We began that day at about 8,000 feet, and towards the end of the day I was literally thinking, “there is no way”. The terrain was steadily increasing, and my steps becoming slower and shorter. My 10 kilos back pack was feeling more like someone was dragging on it.

The landscape was beautiful, and if it weren’t for Nick our ever-present guide telling us to go at our own pace, there is no hurry, and to stop frequently and enjoy the scenery, “take pictures”, I would have never made it. This came to be one of my favorite and anticipated things, the “rest stops”. They came much more frequently on the following days, but the last couple hours of the first day made me doubt that day 2 would be possible.

We finally made camp about 5:00 that afternoon. Susie and I were the last ones in and I did not mind. This would be a pattern we did not break the entire trip. It gave me a chance to visit with the guide at the end of our gang. which was usually Nick, and I would hear about some of the history, and geography of the area, along with tales of the locals, and his adventures.

We camped that night just above Wayllabamba, and as I drug myself into camp and saw the row of tents all neatly lined up in a row, and the smell of dinner in the air, I thought to myself… I must paint something! So quickly I pulled out my painting gear from my pack. I was using the nice lightweight “Fly on the Wall” easel for this trip. The thing only weighs about 1 kilo, then of course the tripod, which was double that. But despite my weariness, I wanted to paint, so I set up at the end of the campsite and began throwing something on the canvas. Here in the southern hemisphere things are a little different. Sure, the sun still sets in the west, but it’s winter time, and it sets about 5:30pm. Another thing, the arc of the sun takes it around so that it’s to the north of where you are, the moss is on the southern side of the trees. But no matter what it did, I had to do something before the sun was gone. Happy Hour began at 5:30, then after that was supper, and I could miss the happy hour, but I needed that food.

I don’t know if it was my being beat and tired, or hungry and disoriented, but I know the painting that I made had to have been the worst thing I had ever painted in my life, and of course I was doing it for an audience of porters who carried our tents and food to the camp. I think they probably wanted to not transport my gear after they saw that, but at least I got something going. It’s good to get that bad painting out of the way so the next one can be a winner.

Dinner was great. Seriously, the G Adventures people who outfitted us had some of the best chefs who made wonderful meals out of thin air. It was something I grew to look forward to. Okay, that’s a stretch.  I look forward to every meal, no matter where I am, but they did some amazing things along that rock trail there in the Andes.

After dinner it was what, about 7:30? I think this could have been the earliest I had ever gone to bed in my life, but it was needed, and everyone was retiring, knowing what was coming tomorrow… Dead Woman’s Pass.

The night was cold, getting down below 0, but I was quite cozy in my sleeping bag. Most were awakened in the night from the festivities in the local town of Wayllabamba. It was the Fiestas Patrias peruanas, their Independence Day from Spain. Music and fireworks were heard well into the wee hours of the night. I only heard the fireworks about 9pm and went right back to sleep, but along the trail, I spoke to other hikers who camped closer to town, and they told of music going to 3-4 o’clock in the morning. This is when I did not mind hiking a little further past the town to our campsite. Small miracles!

The morning came with porters knocking on our tent flaps saying ‘Up-Up’ and handing us steaming hot cups of coca tea to help us along. This was a godsend, I tell you. The coca was an amazing resource, with that quick picker-upper, and helpful against altitude sickness… and it was passed out like candy, and who was going to turn down candy?

Not me.

Today was the day we all had circled on our calendar. Today was up, uP, UP! Up to Warmiwañusqa, or “Dead Woman’s Pass”. This was the highest point of the Inca Trail at 13,800 feet, and did I ever mention STAIRS? You would not believe it without seeing it. The trail up these mountains are made up of cut stone, or steps cut into the stone. For each and every step, I found myself looking for the smaller step up, but there were times the steps were almost to my knee and there was no way to avoid pulling oneself up to that next level. I found my trekking poles extremely helpful in doing this. Putting my poles on the step above helped to lift myself and my backpack up to the next ridge.

Stairs are handy, but this, like the terraces, was overkill. I found myself stopping and looking up and saying to Susie,” okay we’ll go another 20 yards and then rest”. We saw the porters doing these things like they were nothing, and they were carrying triple the weight as us.  We noticed that they did little switchbacks on the stairs, which seemed like a good idea. I would go up the smallest step, then walk a couple steps on the same level before I went up. It seemed like a lot of extra steps, but it seemed to help… and any little thing that made this easier was a blessing.

Like Nick had said earlier, “go at your own pace, stop, rest, take pictures”, and that I did. I took over 2,500 photos along the way, I’m not sure how many are going to be tossed, but on Facebook I posted about 200.  The scenery along the way was amazing. I just loved the cloud forests. I would gaze deep into the jungle, where at times it was pitch black, absolutely no light getting through the forest canopy, and listen to rushing water somewhere buried inside, and the brilliant snow on the mountain tops across the deep blue sky. It was otherworldly.

There was not a single place where I would not have liked to have stopped and set up my easel to paint. It was beautiful all around, but the trail was narrow, and time did not allow. Photographs for the moment would have to suffice.

There were many group resting points along the trail, where we gathered together, and Nick would give us a little history of the area, show off some Inca ruins, and tell of the people before. It still amazed me that people would build cities at this elevation, with no   modern technology to cut the stone and set the foundations. But in some of the most remote places we would find this the “perfect place for an Incan village” or “Temple”.

Lunch was an oasis with llamas and alpacas grazing in a meadow, and “Dead Woman’s Pass” looming overhead in the distance. It is not named this because of any tragedies that happened here, but for its shape, like a woman in repose. These are the same folks who see bunnies in cloud formations I think, but I sort of saw it. At least the large breast that we had to travel under, that was evident, and my new landmark for the next couple hours.

This was a hike to the lost Inca civilization at Machu Picchu, but for most of us traveling this trail, Warmiwañusqa was our “Rubicon”. And getting to that pass was no easy feat. One of our team was suffering from the altitude and Nick took her backpack and carried it up to the top. We kept our slow pace, and maybe even slower. Never before had I put so much thought into each step I took. Never before had I taken so much time between each step. I began questioning my choice of bringing all the painting gear, especially after seeing yesterday’s painting, but I brought it… so I’m carrying it. Nick came back when we were maybe 500 yards from our goal and offered to carry my pack. I would not have it, I was the one who packed it, I would be the one to suffer with it. Susie was not so stubborn, so gladly gave her pack to Nick.

We tread on.

The great thing I found about being the last, everyone was already there waiting for you, and as you came in to sight they began cheering you on, and when you finally made it, a rousing round of applause greeted you. This, I’m afraid, didn’t happen for those who arrived first, and I loved it.

I’m not sure if I was on my knees when I finally made the top, but as I arrived, Gary, my friend and traveling partner from Nebraska came up and took my pack from me.  I fell to the ground to rest!

There is a bad thing about being the last to a rest stop. By the time you get there, everyone else is ready to go already. This is the way of the world, but we did do group pictures here, and a little pep talk from Nick. Now as we crested the pass and looked at what was before us,  we could see was stairs winding around the mountains as they went off into the distance, as far as the eye could see. But down for me was so much easier, but even so, going down steps for hours on end was wearing on the feet and knees.

Still the land spreading out before us was an amazing sight. And as we traveled on, we took an occasional look, back at where we had come from, and that monumental pass between the peaks.

Descending seem as long as ascending the mountain side, only gravity on your side now, but as time wore on the camp for the night seemed further and further away. The twists and turns were often and I thought, or it could have said loud that “surely we did not go up that far”.

Camp on this day was a welcome sight, set along on the terraces built hundreds of years ago by the Incas. What might they have thought, if they knew of the travelers and use of their structures still to this day.

It was much colder this night as our camp here at Pacaymayo was at almost 12,000 feet. Each day they woke us earlier and earlier, and this morning was at 5am. We had to get an early start because today’s hike was to be our longest day of hiking. They say about 11 hours, but by the time we made it to camp this night we had were using our lights to see the way, because at our somewhat slower pace, it took 12.

Yesterday we had our highest climb, tomorrow we make it to Machu Picchu, but today was, I’d have to say the most beautiful, and well, maybe the most treacherous. We had a nice combination of up and down, stairs and paths, cloud forests, and Inca ruins. The scenes that surrounded us were right out of a postcard.

Of course, we began the day with coca tea, and maybe an extra dose, because we had another pass to conquer, but this one a mere 13,000 feet, before we head down to some sweet Inca ruins of an old fortress built to protect those along the trail.

The Peruvian government has limited the number of people who can hike the Inca Trail, and I am so grateful for this. It is a pristine trail seemingly untouched by modern man. The people you meet along the trail are few and far between, and though some facilities are very very primitive, I would have been somewhat disappointed had we had running water and flush toilets. There are rangers who come daily to clean the trails and pick up any litter. I cannot imagine what condition these people must be in.

The porters along the way came in all shapes and sizes, all of them carrying the food and sleeping gear of the trekkers along the way. There were other groups from G Adventures, and similar outfitters, and private guides. One had to have a guide to be allowed on the trail, another requirement by the government. I know, more restrictions, but I believe they are doing well at preserving its ancient heritage and culture.

The third day’s hike took us on some precarious ridges, with narrow paths and steep drop offs, with me, as frightened as I am of heights, always hugging the inside of the trail, constantly warning Susie to do the same. Then, after hitting her head on a tree root while doing as I suggested, she went back to her own way of hiking.

What works for one, does not always work for others.

As the light of the sky grew dimmer we came upon the Inca ruins of Wiñay Wayna, a very steeply terraced Inca village overlooking the Urubamba River. The entire trip had been filled with amazingly picturesque locations but few more than this location. The well-preserved terraces of the temple near the top, and the cascading spring to the bath levels, all this with the Urubamba thousands of feet below. Of course, we did the group pics, and then Maggie was not going to leave without climbing down a couple of terraces to feed or pet one of the llamas.

The descent down from the top of Wiñay Wayna was as steep as anything we had done before, only straight down, and by the time we were too the bottom the light had complety left and we still had a little way to go.

I never really saw this campsite in the light, and I wish I had. I hear it has wonderful surroundings, but after hiking for 12 hours, all I could think of was food, shoes off, and bed. This was the last time we would see our porters, and chefs, so as tradition has it, they all came into our small dinner tent and we thanked them, with Megan translating to Spanish, and we gave them their tips. By far these men earned much more than what they get. We all tipped on the generous side. These folks worked their tails off trying to make our stay and experience the best it could be. They were always cheerful, with a smile or a friendly word. They earned every solas, and then some!

We had been warned when we began that the 4th day of the trail would begin early, and they meant it. Just after 3 am there came the familiar greeting at the tent flap.  This time they would not leave until they saw our smiling face peek out and confirm we were up. We had to have breakfast, break camp and be at the Inti Punku (Sun Gate) by 5:30.

It is the pinnacle of this trip, the watching the sun come up on the lost city of the Inca’s, and there are few who actually get to do so anymore with the regulations the way they are. One can stay at the hotel just outside the city of Machu Picchu, or you can hike the Inca Trail. We went the long way around, and I would not have done it any other way now that it’s all said and done. (I would like to say that before the actual trip it was all about going to Machu Picchu and seeing it, but as I look back, it was the Inca Trail and its challenges that I will remember most fondly.)

Hiking the trail in the dark was a bit treacherous, but if you stay on the trail, no problem. Do not step off the side, that first step is a doozy! We all hiked along the last few miles with occasional chatter, but myself I was mostly deep in my own thoughts of what was behind us, and the sacred Machu Picchu just a few minutes away. One big subject was taken from my shoulders, and that was painting at Machu Picchu. I had found out just the night before that they were not allowing me to bring my paints into the lost city. Nick had been in contact with the authorities on my behalf to paint there, but there were many restrictions about what you can and can’t bring in, along with what you can and cannot do once inside.

I was disappointed and bummed out at first, but it wasn’t long that I brushed this aside because there was nothing I could do about it.

I think one of the things that has saved me many a time is something I have heard all my life, but never really applied it to myself till 2002, and that is the old “Serenity Prayer” from Alcoholics Anonymous… “Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference”.

Here I needed it as much as ever. I did not let this spoil the rest of my journey, nor let my disappointment affect any of my party.  We go on.

This place, heralded as one of the 7 Wonders of the Modern World was amazing. It really was, and to me, just totally unbelievable at what such an ancient culture could have done. Most of the structures were still standing as they were hundreds of years ago, surviving countless earthquakes and time and Spaniards.

We wandered through this beautiful ruin of the Inca’s as Nick told of its history and purpose. I clicked my camera over and over here, taking the pics that I would now hope to paint in studio, taking notes on color, and light. But as we look around it was the crowds of people that one really takes over some of the scenery.

It was packed! There were guided groups, and individuals galore, looking, talking, gawking and panning for photos. No selfie-sticks though, that’s another thing that is not allowed. I was actually looking forward to getting on the bus to head down the mountain. I knew it was going to be very touristy, and that’s what we were, exactly that. Tourists coming to see this amazing place. But a different kind of tourist we were. We were part of an elite group of travelers who came the old way, the “Classic Inka Trail”, the Pilgrimage… and we looked it. Unwashed and unkept with all of our hiking gear strapped on to our packs, I’m know we did not smell as fresh as those “LBR’s” who just arrived from below. We received looks from some of the crowd, giving us the “once over”, but so what, we earned every one of those stares.

It was an enjoyable trip down the mountain on the bus, feeling the comfort of a real padded chair after only a few days seemed like a luxury fit for a king… and maybe it was, “back in the day”.

We enjoyed a wonderful meal all together for the last time at an upstairs restaurant in Aguas Caliente, then on to the train for a leisurely journey along the Urubamba River through the Sacred Valley, back to Ollantaytambo to our motel. Here we would gather the things we discarded before we bus it back to Cusco. We were in dining cars on the train with an observation roof where we could look up and see the peaks of the Andes Mountains as we rode by. Up there, somewhere, is an ancient trail made by ancient people, where we were granted the chance to follow in their footsteps, to see and feel some of the most awe-inspiring landscape I have ever encountered.

It was a trip of a lifetime, and I am so glad I did it.

Would I do it again?  Not a chance, I’m too old now 😉

But I will travel it again with paint. I have begun my Inca Trail paintings and hope to finish in the “off season”. I hiked the Inca Trail and made it to Machu Picchu. If I can capture some of that feel in the paintings that follow, I will be pleased.

I do plan more hiking adventures, maybe the Appalachian Trail, or the Pyrenees? Who knows, but I’ve got the gear, and the knowledge that “I can do it”.

Now all I need is the compass to stop spinning.

Ollantaytambo the Sacred Valley

From Pleins to Peru, gearing up

July 23, 2018 by admin

An agregious spelling error on my part or a not so veiled freudian slip?

If you know me at all, you know that I travel quite extensively to paint, though if you ask me, and I’m a big proponent of this, “just look outside your door” if you want to find something to paint. I strongly feel that it’s not what you paint, but how you paint it, this makes a good artist.

But that said, when the opportunity knocks to hike the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu in Peru… JUMP ON I

Which is how this artist from the plains of Kansas is heading to the heart of the ancient Inca civilization to to a little plein air painting… hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu.

Is this strictly a painting trip? Not on your life.

Sitting around the table back in January of this year with some old friends of Susie’s, some how the topic of Machu Picchu came up and that it was on someones bucket list of things to do.  Sure it’s on mine too, and maybe yours, but somehow before the week’s end we already had our permits (needed months in advance) to hike the trail and entry into one of the Seven Wonders of the World.

I guess we were going.

Unlike our trip to New Zealand and Australia a couple of years back, I am bringing my paints. “Down Under” I was left to the kind folks in Australia to bring me paints, easel, and all. Good fun, but still left to the mercy of others. This time I have stripped all my gear to Zero and have built it back up specifically for the purpose of painting along the Inca Trail.

Out went my 5 giant tubes of M. Graham paints, and in comes the smaller Cobra water misable oil paints. My Dad is still puzzled just at the concept of being able to mix oil and water, but then so am I… so I don’t think about it. My trusty Soltek Easel has been swapped out for a feather weight “Fly on the Wall” easel made by the Prolific Painter himself, Joshua Been. Weighing less than 2 1/2 lbs, it is exactly what I was looking for to help lighten my load. The Inca Trail is not an easy hike carrying only water, let alone a backpack full of gear, but by switching out my gear I have knocked off almost 20 pounds. With enough rest stops along the way, I feel I can do this.

Now just timing our rest stops with amazing places to set up to paint, that I am hoping will happen automatically.

I have 3- 9×12″ panel paks for carrying wet paintings, each one has 2 pieces of Canson 136lb oil paper, or Arches 140lb paper taped to each panel giving me 12 paintings in my pack at a time, and when needed I will switch out with new paper, placing the studies in sturdy envelopes with wax paper between. (once dry enough, if not dry, I will use some of the Canson Paper between)

For storing the paint, I picked up the “Palette Garage” from Best Brella and cut it down to size to fit the new Fly on the Wall easel.

Also included is the SLIK Lite tripod, bug spray, sunscreen, trekking poles, hat, and a 3 liter Camel Pak water bladder.

What is not shown are some warm clothes because it’s winter right now in Peru, and hiking up to elevations of up to 13,828 feet, I’m going to take something to keep me warm. I am not a fan of cold, or heights or water. I don’t think I’ll need to worry about water, so this is a good thing, but cold and heights, we’ll just have to deal with that when it comes up.

It’s an adventure of a lifetime, and I’m heading down there with some great friends and the most wonderful wife anyone could ask for. She is actually the one who encouraged me to bring my paints, though I did not need a lot of persuading.

I look to paint every chance I get, and post when I can. Internet and cell service is probably not going to happen often, but when it does I’ll make sure you hear from me, and see if I’ve been using all this new gear I picked up.

Well, Machu Picchu by way of the ancients… or bust.

Let’s do it!

You can’t please Everyone

May 3, 2017 by admin

Bill Nelson was my counselor back in Junior High school that told me this, and I for the longest time couldn’t figure out why.

Ricky Nelson

Ricky Nelson

I remember I was back in my high school administration offices for some reason or another. (you know those things that go on your school records and will follow you forever, well I don’t think it’s true) anyway, he was telling me that I needed to please myself, not to worry about pleasing everyone else. Now this counselor was part of the establishment and should be telling me to “do as they say”  “follow the letter of the law” but instead he was reciting Ricky Nelson’s “Garden Party” song to me… “please yourself”.

Odd!

I did take this little quote to heart, for the rest of my youth I thought I was given “carte blanche” to do whatever I wanted. The end of the Beatles, the Vietnam War, Nixon, it was an interesting time and occasionally I pushed things to the limits, with me as my focal point. It took a lot of living before I finally figured out that this probably wasn’t what Bill meant.

Who are you trying to please?

I paint because I love it, to get out and create a piece of art is exhilarating to say the least. It pleases me to do it, and I am fortunate to be able to make money doing something that I love. But I’ve found lately, and maybe you do it too; that you are sometimes “playing to an audience,” so to speak. I’m not one of those artists that people are lining up to buy everything that comes off of my easel. Those people can paint whatever they want because it doesn’t matter, it’s as good as gold.

I envy the people who can paint without trying to earn money at the same time. They don’t need to spend half their time on trying to market themselves and their work. Paint what you want and move on to the next subject. It doesn’t matter if it sells or not.

Teaching our future

I’m finding out that there is a difference going out and painting and just having fun, versus going out and painting and trying to earn a living. Of course there shouldn’t be, but we are not living in that utopia where everything is perfect. Maybe it has something to do with the goals I have set for myself. Yes goals, don’t those just get in the way?

I bet a lot of things would be so much easier if you didn’t set goals…  everything except accomplishment!

I set short term goals, long term goals, goals that can be seen, and others that it will take a couple bends in the road before they come into view, but all that I do are on that path in some way or another. The routine things at home with housekeeping, family, lawn care, it’s all in a way helping me towards being the best that I can be. I believe it makes me a better person, and that in turn, well I have my fingers crossed, will show up in my art.

With so much life going on around me it is impossible for me to focus 100% on painting. I’ve already found out that 50% of my time to make it as a professional artist must be put into the “non-painting” aspects of art. IE marketing, inventory, billing, framing, teaching, etc. Now stick that into an equation that contains those other items such as the cooking, cleaning, relaxing, entertainment, family. And keep in mind you are not allowed to put more than 24 hours in 1 day. Keep trying but really it’s futile.

It could really drive one bananas!

S'Mores

S’Mores

I’ve got a way of doing things that kind of works for me, that’s doing what has to be done first, then getting to what you want to do. Let’s break it down a little more. Of that stuff that “MUST” be done, I throw that into different categories of difficulty, and do the hardest things first. This way things just get easier as you go along. Things seem to lighten up, and go quicker, and you begin to have a bit more fun as you work your way through those chores.

It helps me paint, and allows me some of that time to do that unencumbered. This is where I really enjoy being, working to create successful compositions, to study the land and how it’s effected by that ever changing light. This is what all my hard work away from the canvas was for. The chance to stand there just a little bit longer with brush in hand, observing, evaluating, recording.

I am really searching for ways to tie in my opening blog statement with the “…got to please yourself.”

hmmm…

To me it’s one of the most important things you can do. Sure it’s selfish, but in the end, it’s just you.

There is  something my wife Susie has said repeatedly before, and I take this to heart. “We deserve it.” “We’ve reached that age where it’s our turn to splurge on ourselves, to enjoy life, and make us number 1” (I’m paraphrasing, but she’ll back me up on this, I think)

Susie & Greg

Us

I love being happy, and what I do in life is geared towards that. Making my wife happy is a good key ingredient in this, and it works well. She is the best supporter of my art and all that I do. So I do try to please her… so that’s it’s.

I’ve figured out that it’s impossible to try to please everyone, you’re just setting yourself up for heartache and failure when you do this. There are those no matter what you do it’s not good enough for them. Don’t try to live up to other peoples standards, don’t try to win their approval, trying to do that, you will always be chasing, and never be content.

You be you and I’ll be me, for whatever that’s worth…

“…it’s all right now, I learned my lesson well.

You see, ya can’t please everyone, so ya got to please yourself.”

Thanks Ricky!

…and you too!

R Gregory Summers AIS

 

Greg

 

 

 

What’s it all About

November 3, 2016 by admin

“Well it’s about this long, and about this wide, and about this country, about which we are singing about…” to paraphrase Firesign Theater

If you are looking to me for what it’s all about, whatever “it” might be, you are looking in the wrong place. I have no idea. I think you have to take this question on an individual basis, and then don’t hold them to it. What is it all about for me? I don’t know that either, and I’m NOT one out here searching the world for answers to life’s questions. I just happen to be enjoying life and all the riddles that come before me, and take them as they come.

Just back from “En Plein Air Texas” and packing my bags for the “Zion Invitational” and thought to expound on my little demo at Fort Concho last Saturday.

If you didn’t see my little post on Facebook, here’s basically the scene…

After all the painting for the competition and sales event had been done, the folks there at “En Plein Air Texas” asked for artists to speak in schools, and do demos and the likes. I had volunteered on Friday to speak to Lamar Elementary School to 100+ 5th grade students, and do a little “plein air” demo. On Saturday, Lon Brauer and myself were dressing up in period clothing from the 1800’s and painting around the old chuck wagon at the Fort.

Lon & I circa 1860

Lon decked me out in some pretty sweet early 1800’s, circa 1810, while he wore the more styling 1860’s gear.

Lon set up to paint the fiddler that was part of a trio on the porch, I was painting more of the entire scene. After nigh on an hour or so, well into the 2pm-4pm gig, I turned to see this little girl watching me paint with big curious eyes. There was who might have been her grandparents with her. I asked her if she would like to try to paint, and she looked at her grandmother who nodded yes, and the rest was pure magic!

She took the brush and carefully dipped it into the paints and placed it precisely on the canvas and burst into a smile of delight. She spent the next half hour mixing and putting paint to canvas, with thought and concentration, and the delight that we don’t normally see in you and I.

img_3264The “little girls” name was Avery, and she was 17 years old. Avery has down syndrome, and with that maybe she doesn’t let some of what I get caught up in to fill my head. I don’t know enough about it to say, but when she mixed the color green from my limited pallet and placed it on the painting, the look and way she said “green” was to die for.

She painted bright beautiful color with perfect precision, and I just watched and learned, and let the joy fill my heart.

I’ve had others paint on my paintings before, young and old alike and usually it’s only a stroke or two, which is kind of what I had intended when I asked this young lady, but when seeing the delight in her eyes as she painted, I was not going to be the one to stop her, no matter what she did to the painting. If it were someone who was scribbling, and acting a bit out of sorts, I would have put an end to it immediately (politely of course), but Avery was different.

I have no idea if letting her paint will turn her into the newest “Picasso” , or if she will ever pick up a brush again. That’s not really important, but for that one little piece of time it was everything, not just for her, but for me seeing what can be done with just a little offer of encouragement.img_3262-3

I don’t wear shirts that have a list of things on the back discouraging interaction. I don’t put headphones on to keep folks from stopping and asking questions. I’m out here painting the best I can and trying to learn from what I see. But sometimes that learning experience isn’t before me or what I put onto the canvas, sometimes it’s what behind me, and the painting is merely secondary prop.

I don’t profess to be any better than anyone else, I tell you I was a “hellion” growing up, just ask my sisters. Okay, don’t ask… I’d rather you not know. But I’ve learned a lot through the years, and hope I’ve passed this on to my children, and my students. When I do workshops, my goal is not to create a pretty picture for all, or for them to do the same, (okay, maybe just a little 😉 it is to teach the tools, and values of plein air, and get them to enjoy the experience no matter what befalls them, so that they will get out and do it again and again.

And yes, it does include being kind to others. I’ve had that drilled into me as a youth, was it scouts, 4H, or the FFA? Maybe it was just Mom & Dad saying to be nice to your little sister.

It doesn’t matter.

It’s been exactly 4 years to the day since my mentor and friend Rick Howell passed away unexpectedly. He believed in me unlike no one else, and he also spoke of “giving back” to others. He was an amazing artist and a superb human, what more can you ask for?

So, “what’s it all about”?

I still have no idea, it just depends on the situation. But lower your expectations, and drop the egos and get out and paint. It does makes a world of difference.

It’s not easy, but the results are incredible!

Thanks,

Greg

img_3266

“Meow” means “Woof” in cat.

June 30, 2016 by admin

Let me digress.

Sure I’m an artist, and I paint a lot around the land, see a lot, and hear quite a bit too. Doesn’t take being an artist to see and observe. This world is a fascinating place, and I’m happy to be here, but sometimes you’ve just got to shake your head.

The Italian Gardens, Maymont

The Italian Gardens, Maymont

Just back from a painting competition in Richmond Virginia, the “Plein Air Richmond 2016”. A wonderful event, in an amazing part of this country, beautiful, & historic, with great people all around… and cats.

Actually, not just cats, there were dogs, squirrels, birds, marmots, you name it, the regular crowd of critters scurrying about the city, picking up where humans leave off… or leave behind rather. Anyway, as I was painting in the Italian Gardens of the Maymont Mansion up came this cute little cat, friendly as can be wanting a little attention. I talked to it some, asked him how he was and all that. I was nice to it, but I was there to paint so I didn’t sit down and try to share life stories with it.

The cat did not look homeless, it was well groomed, healthy, very outgoing, but without the collar that us humans tend to put on these things to ensure folks know that it’s “claimed” by another. Well I set up my easel in the shade and began painting. As time went by, more artists began to join me in the gardens, finding beautiful subjects to paint and setting up to get to work. Our little cat friend was quite elated about this, more attention! A few well placed meows, a rubbing against a leg or two, and an onslaught of distressed artists fell upon this little animal like Liberace in a sequin factory.

“The poor kitty”, “It must be starving”.  “We’ve got to help it”. (just a few of the things that I was overhearing as I painted the rose bush by the stairs.

Well, I don’t doubt it was hungry, I know I was. But it did not look like it was lacking in anything except a collar. Well this was the cat’s lucky day, or maybe unlucky depending on how you look at it. The event just happened to be sponsored by the Richmond SPCA (Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) A wonderful organization, and something I’m totally happy to help out, donate to, promote. I am very much against being cruel to animals, but then our perception of “cruelty” might differ a bit. I think sticking a dog in a sweater vest is a bit on the “inhumane” side, right Bobby Knight?

Just about everyone in sight was finding things for the kitty cat to eat, one went to their car and brought back a can of cat food, another shared some delicious looking sandwich that I would have given one of my paint brushes for, and then up comes someone with an animal carrier. A little cardboard box with a handle and holes on the side to breath. I mean some people are prepared for everything.

Obviously a former Scout, or Brownie I bet.

"Rupert" AKA "Cat"

“Rupert” AKA “Cat”

Well off they carted the well fed kitty to the shelter at the RSPCA, where of course they named it, photographed it and posted all over the social media, maybe to be the next surprise for your little girl’s 7th birthday party?

“But I asked for a horse!”

I watched from my vantage point in the shade underneath an old American Elm tree, just wondering, just thinking about what we’ve come to in this land. The past couple nights, well actually since I took up painting outdoors, I’ve come across people on the street corners with signs and a cup. Under bridges, sleeping on benches, and for the most part, people turn their back on them, or shrug them off, while others shout out, “get a job.”

Now why didn’t they think of that?

I was painting with a half dozen artists under the bridges at the train station the other evening. A very active area with people from all walks of life, and a “homeless” woman came up asking for help. I reached into my pocket and gave her a dollar, making sure I kept enough for the toll getting back to my hosts’ house. The artist next to me said “they’re just going to keep coming back if you do that”.

I knew that, and you probably did too.

I’m big on helping those who help themselves, I love the lyrics of a song by Bob Walkenhorst of the Rainmakers,

“Give a man free food and he’ll figure out a way
To steal more than he can eat ’cause he doesn’t have to pay”

I have no idea how that’s related, but any time I can plug Bob it’s a good thing. The point is, I don’t normally give out food or money, but depending on the situation I’ve no problem with it.

But animals?

Just in the United States alone last year we spent over $56 billion dollars on pets. BILLION! Holy Toledo Batman! Then in comparison we spent a “Historic” $4.5 billion on helping the homeless.

It’s just strange, okay I’ll go so far as to say, it’s a bit sad. It’s estimated that this year it will be $60 billion Americans spend on their furry little friends, something they can stroke to lower their blood pressure.

Am I an animal hater, no way! I love animals, I love pets, I grew up with dogs and cats, rabbits and peacocks. I’m a friend to all. I even have myself a little policy that I won’t step on a bug that would squish out beyond the edges of my shoe. (sorry bug lovers)

It was just something that I observed while painting out there among ya’ll. You see a bit of everything out there, traveling the country, painting in all sorts of different environments, parks, big cities, small towns, you see what the world is really like, outside the sheltered walls of your humble abode.  It’s like you’re a “fly on the wall” out here sometimes. The things people say and do, one could write a book. Actually 1,000’s HAVE written books, and it’s like crazy daddio!

Life is stranger than fiction, they say.

I’ll shush up now, go back to painting, and maybe I’ll write something about art next time around, but then what do I know?

In the meantime, “Meow” mean “Woof” in Cat…   quote by the late George Carlin.

 1937 – 2008

1937 – 2008

 

 

A Fly Over World

April 28, 2016 by admin

I was very fortunate this year to have made my first journey South of the Equator and visited New Zealand and Australia, and as I flew I continually wondered just how much I was missing out on.

Crazy to think that I would travel any other way to the land down under, other than flying given a limited time, but that did not stop me from thinking about all the world below, with their beautiful lands and people, and all I was missing.

Since my trip to the Southern Hemisphere, I have driven to South Florida for the Lighthouse Arts Festival, numerous trips to the plain states, and then just returned from the Plein Air Convention in Tucson, traveling of course not in a straight line because that would be too practical, I stopped in Texas and New Mexico along the way turning a 2,600 mile trip into a 3,708 mile adventure.

Flying never entered my mind.

The area between the Appalachian’s and the Rocky Mountains is known to many as “Fly over Country”. Then to even more it’s the the land between the megalopolis’s on the East coast, and their counter parts on the West. It’s the area that gets in the way of an easy commute from LA to NY.

There was a time I was bothered when I heard someone speak of this great area in such a manner, but then I used to get riled up when I saw the toilet paper on the roll backwards.

No more!

Call it what you want, it’s got to be some of the most beautiful country with a world of people to go with it. Sure there are those wide open places where you swear you can see the other side of the continent, and those folks who would just rather not have a crazy artist looking twice at their backyard. But that’s what is so darn great about this world. I am not a fan of “sameness” BORING! It’s variety that feeds this soul. Why in the world would one want the same thing all the time, I have no idea. Sure you may have the most beautiful view ever, but get out and see what else is there to help reinforce that utopia that you call home.

Maybe it’s the artist in me, but I’m not always looking “out” for the beauty, sometimes it’s looking down and around you. Traveling through the wide open lands across West Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas, sure sometimes flat as a pancake, but it was those things that are right there under your nose that were so fascinating. I would see something, look for a turnaround spot, drive back and photograph when I didn’t have time to paint. The light hitting a draw, the curve of the wheat, an always curious cow.

Maybe it’s a good thing “flyoverstates” is just what it is. A mysterious place where people live outside the major cities, people working, people living, people creating. Let us bring this land to you in painting or in song.

You wait right there, we’ll be right back with it…

It is slowly deteriorating with time and then the careless. I don’t know if it could really handle the “progress of mankind.” Less and less considerate for those who came before, and then who might be coming after.

Ah, but we reap what we sow do we not? That is a whole new ballgame.

For now let’s enjoy what we can. Enjoy who we are. Stop looking out there for that perfect scene because it’s right there around you just waiting to be noticed. Give me an open road, the windows down and a song in the air.

A “Fly over Land”? Maybe, but that’s cool!

Oh Mama, No Drama

October 1, 2015 by admin

You know what one of the things I like most about painting in plein air events around the country?

You, and people like you.

I love meeting other artists and people. (not always interchangeable) Visiting with them, painting, just hanging with other like minded people. I think it helps me grow in my art. I try to listen to what works for others, exchange ideas and stories. There is a lot of comradery going on at these things and I find it a blast.

I took part in a week long plein air event recently where I did just the opposite.

I’ve seen others do it, check in at the beginning and then not see them again till it was time to take home their awards and left over art. It was like they were never there, or were they? Why take part in an event with other artists if you are not going to hang out and socialize with the rest? Well, besides the awards, prize money, and glory?

Sure I know everyone is not sociable, and pretty much artists on the majority are recluses, hiding in their studios doing what they do best.

Kind of naive on my part to think that everyone should be out interacting and sharing their secrets with each other. Like art, there are all kinds, and that’s what it takes to make up this great world we live in.

I headed into this event just as happy as a lark, (bird, not cigarette) looking forward to seeing old friends and making new ones. I signed up to take part in every single event I could, paint-outs, concerts, luncheons, it’s just what I do.

Then in pops a little “DRAMA“!

It made me rethink…

Road Trip NY Day 7 053crop

Eric & Walter at Paint Camp

 

Eric Rhodes is the Publisher of Plein Air, and Fine Arts Connoisseur Magazines, and also puts on an annual event in the Adirondacks called the “Publisher’s Invitational”. Affectionately known as “Paint Camp“. This takes place in a beautiful setting in upstate New York with no workshops, no demos, no competitions. It’s just 100 artists from across the nation getting together to paint and hang with others. It’s what I think Woodstock in 1969 was originally created for, but this for artists.

…and there is only one (1) rule: “NO DRAMA”! (save the drama for your paintings!)

What a great rule it is in my opinion. We come there to paint and visit with others, we don’t really need distractions from this. Don’t want it, don’t create it, don’t encourage it. They’ve even created a little song for this, and you can listen and see a bit about “paint camp” here, Click Here

What I did when this happened was reevaluate my “situation” and I said to myself, “self”, “let’s just hang out here at the ranch and paint”. I’ve never just gone to an event and “just painted”, but if I did this I would avoid any sort of “drama”. Would I get lonely, would I be able to paint as well as before? Who knows, but I really was not in any sort of mood for another confrontation from other “unlike” minded artists, so I hid out on the old Pilgrim Ranch in the heart of Chase County.

Well I must say it was quite different. I missed the interaction with others, actually an artist friend Mike Flora was staying at the ranch for another day or two, and then Louanne Hein, another friend came back to the ranch to paint one afternoon, but other than that I stayed pretty focused on looking for things to paint right where I was, knowing there were dozens of artists just minutes away painting beautiful scenery and munching on catered meals.

It was dawn to dusk painting for me, which is just the way I like it. Up before the sun with my easel hoping to catch some “dramatic” light,  paint through out the day, and ending as the sun runs it’s circuit across the big Kansas sky.

If you have a routine that you do when you travel, or even at the studio. Set up things the same way, put your paints in a certain order, wear your lucky hat. Anyway, what happens when that routine is disturbed? Can you still produce your best?

Moving On

Moving On

I’ve won “Best of” from the studio, and then out plein air with folks bending my ear, and now in the solitude of the land.

You cannot always avoid drama in your life, but if you find you can go around a puddle without getting wet, why not? There are times you don’t see that puddle ahead, but you can still be prepared, mentally and physically.

Then what about the good drama versus the bad drama. Surely you don’t want your life so stress free that you grow into a sedentary bump on a log. You need that balance as within everything else. Balanced diet, balanced exercise, balance in your paintings. Recognizing and acting to things as they come along and acting accordingly.

Can you do it? Can I do it? Why not?

Well it’s back to business as usual for me, as if I really know what that is.

It’s good to know that if I need to hold up and paint I can do it, and I will if and when it is the best solution for the situation, but it’s important I feel to be able to interact with others in order to be successful in this crazy world. There are a few artists who can hide from all and send their paintings out via secret courier to the galleries and don’t have to deal with the human or inhuman public…

Hold on to your hat

…but I’m a quirky plein air artist who likes people like you.

You make the world a much more interesting place to live in.

“Paint on!”

 

 

 

 

Measure Once, or is it Twice…

August 27, 2015 by admin

I just came home from a two week painting trip to the Rockies with not a single sale, not a single award, and my van filled with wet paintings. Was it productive?

Does that sound bitter? Okay, let me try again.

Hi honey, I’m home. How was your trip? Well it was wonderful, I painted in some wonderful places with some outstanding artists, and have over 25 paintings of the journey, how was your time?

There are times that I lose sight of my goal, and what I love to do the best.

Why is that?

Here in America, (this I know from hands on experience) we are raised to be competitive, to be better than the others. With contests and grades, and gold stars passed out for excelling at any given activity. I don’t know if this is good or bad, but as that gawd awful saying I keep hearing now-a-days goes… “it is what it is!”

Is it like this in other countries? You tell me, I’ve done the islands, and while there all I cared about was swimming, eating, and hiking. But from what I see on the news, and read in the paper it’s not just us “Yanks” who are caught up in this.

Rick on the Los Pinos

Rick on the Los Pinos

When I sat down with Rick Howell what seems like many many years ago, though it wasn’t all that long, we set out short term and long term goals. Winning contests, and beating everyone else was not on either one of the lists.

My ultimate goal was to paint. Was it to travel the world and paint? No, just paint. Presently I travel so much because I feel it’s necessary at this moment in time to help my career as an artist, which will eventually allow me to “just paint”. And then this involves taking part in contests, and exhibits. Don’t get me wrong, I love a little competition, and I like coming out on top. It’s a great feeling to know that at least this juror really likes what you did, and of course doing this helps immensely in allowing one to maybe one day “just paint”.

But how does it fit in in your “grand scheme” of life? I know there will always be someone better, and I really don’t mind if everyone is better as long as I can continue to paint and to grow as an artist. It’s like trying to get to the front of the all the cars on the highway by speeding past everyone. There will always be cars in front of you. Learn to accept that. It’s a long road out there with no real end, just sit back and try to enjoy the ride.

Sometimes I lose sight as I travel the country taking part in exhibits and paint-outs, though I believe it is interesting to see how you “stack up” to the others. I almost said compare, but I think the best thing for you to compare to is your last painting. How does it rate when you put it next to that? Did you improve, if not why? What is it about this painting that makes it different, or the same? This is how one should measure themselves.

Becoming a Master Engraving Artist I studied under 30 different Master Engravers, each for a month. You listen, you watch, you study. Find what works best for you and then leave what does not.

This is the same approach I am taking to my painting. Learn from those whose art I love, but being careful about comparing my work to theirs. Sure I would love to be as good as Aspevig, or Sargent, but I still want to be me. So I paint some more and then do it again.Finding Nemo

What I use to measure success should not be the ribbons or checks I receive, but how far my work has improved in such a short period of time. Sometimes that’s hard to do, but try taking the best 4 or 5 paintings from each year and put them in a chronological order and then measure.

Which way are you going?

Are you liking the way your paintings are coming out, do they say what you want them to say? I know better than to line my best paintings up against some of my favorite artists work. For me it would only depress me and make me wonder what I am doing here.

So I don’t or try not to, and this way I am a much happier person.

I paint because the way it makes me feel when I do. I get lost in it at times and sometimes overcome with a great feeling of contentment. I study them because I want to improve upon myself and my work, and I challenge myself inwardly.

I do no 30 paintings in 30 days challenges, or 24 in 24 hours. I just paint when I can, and try to reach toward my goals that I have set before me. They are not ridiculous goals though when setting them out so long ago some did seem somewhat insurmountable. Yet I have achieved many, and am steadily progressing towards them all.

How do you measure success?

break glass in case of emergency

break glass in case of emergency

 

 

The New Golf

July 21, 2015 by admin

I heard this at paint camp this year… the Publisher’s Invitational in the Adirondacks, and then heard it again while painting last week with George Van Hook. We tossed it around, and considered some of its possibilities…

“Plein air painting is the new golf”.Dogwood Canyon 012a

Okay, I think I heard it during one of Eric’s morning announcements. It’s kind of like the “morning sing” at day camp many moons ago, but it got some people talking. I think I actually missed him saying it outright, it was like I caught it out of the side of my ear, and asked another, “did I just hear what I think I heard?”

If you don’t know Eric Rhodes, he is the publisher of Plein Air Magazine, and Fine Arts Conniseuer, along with Streamline Publications, he puts on the “Publisher’s Invitational” each year, and the “Plein Air Convention”. He’s an all around fun guy, very instrumental in bringing plein air art to the forefront, and is looking towards creating a major art musuem in “the City” for this genre of art.

What do you think? Do you think it is, or could be? Maybe you don’t even like golf, maybe you don’t like plein air? Either way let’s look into this.

First things first, golf is a sport, painting outdoors is an art. I’ve heard arguments either way in this, but let’s just say it is for this little blog.

Now I play a little golf, I’m terrible at it, but I still enjoy it. Will I quit because I’m so bad at it? No way, I do hope to get better, and I think it is a lot of fun, and a blast to do with a few others… like painting plein air.

I’m a little better at the plein air thing, but like golf I didn’t start out that way. Working hard at improving your “game” will make you a better “player”, and if you have some natural skill lying away inside you, it’s possible that you might be able to hone it to a professional status… like painting plein air.

But only a small fraction of golfers make it to the pro circuit, why do they do it? I have no idea, ask them actually, I know why I do it, I love the outdoors, it’s challenging, a bit of a work out, and get to spend some time with friends.

So why not consider plein air painting the new “golf”? What does that really mean?

Here I’m only second guessing, but my take on it, and then what I would love to see is more artists out and about painting on location. Getting together for weekend outings for paintouts with friends and inviting others from around the area.

This IS happening more and more every day. In some parts of the country I actually don’t have to explain what “plein air” painting is, they tell me, and mention artists, and festivals they are aware of. I found this strangely comforting, it’s not like that everywhere, but then some places still have telephone booths.

I’m one of the “Newbie’s” to painting outdoors, but from listening to others around the country it has taken an upward swing in popularity. From an occasional plein air festival or competition in our city to almost a half-dozen, with plein air groups popping up everywhere meeting and painting quite regularly.

It’s amazing

The New Golf

The New Golf

There are still many who feel that these plein air studies are just that… studies for larger more detailed studio pieces. I can see that, and there are many I use for exactly that purpose, but more and more I am loving the fresh, live feel that I can only capture outdoors on location and leave them alone when I bring them home.

What would happen if everyone went out and painted after work or on weekends? Do you think it would water down the market and make what you do at your easel outdoors not so special? Or are you one who thinks that if everyone was out there painting they would understand better what it takes to make a good plein air painting? I know it’s not easy to make a successful plein air painting, believe me I’ve gone through a lot just to get a little. So maybe everyone being familiar with “live on location”, painting would be good for the field?

No not everyone will take to it, but maybe it would create a greater appreciation, and in turn open up more galleries to this new plein air phenomenon?

Personally, I would like to see more artists out painting. It’s so hard to visit artists and check out their artwork when they are closed up in the studio. (maybe that’s intentional, you think?)

But is it the “New Golf?” (and which side of the quotation marks should the question mark be on?)

I think it could be, or even should be. It’s for the young and the old alike. You can take all day at it, or you can just go out for a “quickie”. It can be done alone, or with friends. In towns, on the countryside, and in any sort of weather. You can travel the world taking part in plein air festivals, competitions and just good old paint outs. There are a few major invitational’s around the country that bring out the “creme de la creme” of the art world, you can meet, see the artists create, and a chance to purchase right there.

Now that I think about it, it’s better than golf!

It’s a fun little thing to consider.

This is ART, and there is some amazingly beautiful pieces being created across the world amidst the bugs, and wind, and between the curious onlookers and those who pretend they don’t see you. The good will rise to the top, and the rest will be testimony that we were out there trying.

It’s not easy, but is anything worth doing?

That’s my take on it, wish I had been paying better attention during Eric’s announcements, and then never actually got to ask him about it when we painted. What I would do is I’d ask him, I know he’d be happy to tell you. Give him a shout, Eric Rhodes, Plein Air Magazine.

In the meantime, get out and paint, and then do it again.extreme-golf

Giving it all Away

July 1, 2015 by admin

I was recently asked “what did it take to get to that next level?”

What? Rethink, reconsider, and recalculate that one! I’m here flailing around like a ship in a whirlpool. What “next level” are we talking about?

Looking from within, it looks as though I’m just spinning my wheels in the same old spot. Kind of like being around your children all the time, they never change. But when relatives come from afar for that rare, but sometimes “too often” visit, all you hear is “oh my how little junior has grown,” or “what happened to that little girl I used to bounce on my knee?” When you look at things on a daily basis, it is only the drama that gets noticed.

I believe it must have hatched as I bantered thoughts and ideas around with artist Jeffery Sparks as we talked of creating a group for artists here in the Midwest similar to the Hudson River school of artists, or the Southwest artists. he pointed out that we had to be good to help set an example. He believed we could be among the best in the region as we led this organization that is now called the Missouri Valley Impressionist Society. (MVIS for short)

Sure I agreed, but did I believe it? No, not really.

It wasn’t that I didn’t think I had the talent, I knew I had some, but being the best sounded insurmountable. I mean there are literally thousands upon thousands of artists just in this area. How in the world? No way!

So I put that pipe dream on the back burner, and just focused on painting, and me.

The next time anything like this came up was with my friend and mentor, Rick Howell. If you didn’t know Rick, he was a one of a kind guy, always giving, always caring, helping people, the land and all that inhabited it. He sat me down in his little artists’ retreat and gave me the “low down.” “It’s not going to be easy,” he said. “If you think you have worked hard at anything in yourlife before, you are mistaken.”

Rick told me about making a serious commitment, and passing that boundary of fear that keeps one from taking that step into the unknown. He talked of the proverbial “miles of canvas” that I had to put behind me before I even came close to those goals we wrote down.

What I heard in “Casa Estella” was not new stuff. But hearing it from this unbelievable artist who actually thought that I had the potential to be great was different! It’s one thing to hear words of praise and encouragement from friends and family. But Rick Howell was a professional with an amazing talent, and he began to help me to believe in myself.

Keyword “BELIEVE”

Belief is important. If you don’t believe in yourself, how in the world are you going to convince someone else ? But belief was not all, talent helps, now what in the world are you going to do with it?

Even with Rick behind me, I was still skeptical of all involved, and what it would take to take that next step. Could I do it? Could I commit so much of my time to these goals that we worked out around the kitchen table in a high plains desert? Commit so much time and energy, and money! I was working full time still as a master engraver. Itt was going to cost me quite a bit in salary to reroute into the world of fine arts.

But try to believe.

I had no idea what I was getting myself into. The time commitment, the energy, looking, seeing, feeling. Eeverything had to change. I did not realize this, but as I went along, this is what I found had to happen for me to even minutely close the gap between me and the upper echelon.

Did it begin slowly? I don’t know, but for me I had to change quite a bit. I had much to learn to take my art from the amateurish to the professional. I knew nothing of color, values, composition. Sure I studied in college, but that was what, 30 years ago, and we just began brushing on things when my career as a fine artist took a turn to the commercial side and family. So I’ve shelved the tales by Stephen King and replaced them with Carlson and Payne.

When I am alone my thinking turns to my art. I am now always questioning what I see, and how I might recreate it on canvas. I see things as I’m driving just around the block or to the next show and try to figure out how to mix that color up with my 4 color palette.

I squint all the time in the middle of a conversation seeing how things look in just a few values. If you see me kind of drift off, it’s probably not a flashback from the late 60’s. More likely I see something that caught my eye and I’m thinking how it might fit best in a horizontal or vertical format.

Is it a case of living, sleeping, eating art? Yes it really is, and I still feel like I’m not doing enough. At night I lay in bed working on inventory, and invoicing, and applications, and social networking. During the day it’s the same thing, but throw in the things that life puts before you, plus if possible a little painting.

I work on a balancing act because, yes, there are other things in my life that I love besides paintingmy wife Susie, and my wonderful family. I have friends and a home, and I still sculpt as an engraver on occasion, though that is becoming rarer by the minute. I do what I must first, then I do what I can after that.

It is a commitment, and it takes a good supporting cast around you. I know I could not have gotten this far alone. At one time I thought so, but for me admitting that I needed help was freeing. I’m not the great and powerful Oz that I once believed.  (I think my parents kept trying to tell me this, but would I listen to them?) Well, this is something you must build and nurture constantly, starting in the home, the community, and then beyond.

All this just so I can paint. That’s really what I want to do, and maybe one day that will come. I now believe in myself, and I have seen a little glimpse of the potential within me. I am slowly, ever so slowly, beginning to paint the things that I love to get lost in when I visit galleries.

What does it take to become the best?

I have no idea and will probably never know. What I do know is that it’s not just having the talent.Talent is nothing if you don’t do anything with it.

I’ve heard forever “you’ve got to want something bad enough”. (sports cliché)) I always thought that it doesn’t make a difference if everyone wants the same thing, that doesn’t help. What in the world does it mean “they wanted it more than me?” No way!

What I’ve found is that what you do because you want something bad enough makes all the difference in the world. Maybe that’s what they really mean?

“If you can dream it, you can make it a reality. The possibility lies in your ability, enthusiasm and hard work to realize it.”  Lailah Gifty Akita

I’ve changed the way I live, the way I think, the way I see. Everything and anything I can think of that might make me a better artist. I see it helping, and I’m enjoying the journey. You’ve got to do that because if and when the end ever arrives…

rg at heaven hill farm

photo by Turner Vinson

…that’s it.

The END

 

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