Greg's Blog

trying to find out what's up?

 

 

  • Newly elected member of the Salmagundi Art Club, New York, New York
  • Artists of the New Century at the Bennington Center for the Arts
Official website
Follow me on LinkedIn follow me on facebook tweet me
get in touch

Under the Influence

November 8, 2019 by admin

I tell you I love to paint, but more specifically I love to grab my gear and get outside and try my luck at capturing the great outdoors. It doesn’t matter what it is, as long as I’m painting I’m good. I’ve been told I paint all the time, that my paintings are just multiplying like bunnys out there.

Sounds to me like I’ve traded one addiction for another…

…and to celebrate 17 years of sobriety I think I’m going to go outside and paint… again.

Some of you knew me “then” and others only now. I’m different, yet I think about it and I see I’m still the same. I was never the life of parties, I didn’t dance on tables with lamp shades on my head. At least not to my recollection. I was just addicted to drinking and drugging. I tell myself “just one drink” and then that was it. Who was I fooling? I kept drinking till all be beer was gone, or I passed out somewhere. I was your typical alcoholic, if there is a typical one.

Stats say that 1 in 8 people have a drinking problem, that’s like 42,000,000 people in America, that’s mind boggling. Compare that to 2.1 professional artists in the USA, sounds like I stand a much better chance of being a drunk as opposed to a working artist. I wonder how many of them are addicts, I’m sure that statistic is out there somewhere.

Anyway, I was that 1 in 8 guy.

I won’t go into the details, I did that too many times in the smoke filled halls of AA, but 17 years ago I had my last drink. It was not pretty for sure, and I was hurting myself and others around me. But I did stop thanks to those who still cared, the Roeland Park Police department, and the program of Alcholics Anonymous.

I just finished a book by Stephen King called “Doctor Sleep” and it’s what happened to the little boy Danny from the “Shining”  after the Overlook hotel burnt to the ground. Danny was an alcoholic too, and I found the book very interesting and caught myself relating to much in the book. Stephen King has a great way of making one relate to his characters in his novels. Like me, the protaganist in this book, Danny, went to Alcoholics Anonymous to help him with his drinking and drugging problems. As I read the book I heard the hundreds of AA slogans coming back to me, “Easy Does It”, and “One Day at a Time”. They were powerful things to help this troubled soul crawl from my personal bottom that brought me here.

But unlike Dan, I do not still go to these meetings, instead I paint. I paint to better cope with things around me, I paint when I’m feeling happy, I paint when I’m sad. To get lost into another world of your own creation is a wonderful feeling, it’s euphoric, it’s my new “high”. They tell you that you’ve got to find a “Higher Power” to help stay sober, and I think I have. My higher power is the power to create. Will it keep me from drinking again? I have no idea, but I try to keep fresh how it was for me then, and how it is for me now, and work each new day.

I’ve come a long way, but it’s always just 12 ounces away.

Like I said, I’ve traded one addiction for another. I think it’s a better choice, actually it’s my only choice. So in the meantime “Sha la la la la la live for today”

 

“Cheers, I’ve made it another day!”

Fly on Little Wing

May 6, 2019 by admin

It’s not often I write about my little individual painting experiences. If you follow me on Facebook or Instagram then you probably get too much of me posting. But a friend of mine while visiting at the end of the day over drinks, we were telling tales of our painting experiences so far this week and thought I ought to share…

here goes nothing…

Let me set this up a little bit, I was taking part in the 17th Annual Augusta Plein Air Festival in the wine country along the Missouri River. It’s beautiful country, rolling hills, nice bluffs, farms, creeks, small towns, everything one could want for subject matter. A lot of times when I’m searching for something to paint, it not so much what it is, but more of “where you going to park”? You have long windy roads  that are sometimes narrow, with no shoulders, so you see something interesting to paint, and by the time you find a place to park, you’re 1/2 mile away, with no safe way back.

So I look for parking, and then work from there.

On this occasion, it was early in the day, the weather was pretty much rain, rain, and every now and then you might get a break and have some rain. It’s spring time in the midwest, get used to it. Well what I was looking for was a place I could set up, where I did not have to travel far from my car so that I could use it for a wind break, and a cover from the rain if needed. My new Outback has a hatchback I can stand under if needed. This was one of the features that was a must when shopping for a new ride.

I found a gravel road between the fields in the bottom land near the river. In the bottom of a draw was a rock bed that looked wide enough I could park, and still have enough room for any farm vehicles to get by, well except a combine, but you don’t use combines for planting, and the fields I thought were way too wet for actually getting in to do anything.

I liked what I was seeing, the farm road, the fields, and then the hills.

What I chose was something to maybe reflect the day, my mood, the area. I liked the way the bottom lands were leading off into the distant tree covered hills. The land was cleared there for some farm buildings on the hill, probably the owner of the property I was one. I might soon find out.

When I paint outdoors, I never put headphones on. It’s just me, I like to hear the sounds around me, which is unlike me in the studio where I have music of all sorts on, and sometimes blaring away. I really love music, I always have, but when outside, it’s the mother nature and all it has to offer that provides the hymns in my head. I just like being aware of what’s going on around me. I think it helps me capture the scene better, maybe.

I set up on the edge of the gravel wash, and I’m painting away on my scene. On occasion, but not too often a car comes along the bottoms road and they bend their neck as they try to see what I’m up to down here in the wash. There’s not a lot of traffic on the Augusta Bottoms road, it stretches between 3 different counties as it winds its way through the Missouri River Valley, and of course with each different county, they have a different degree of interest in maintaining the road, or “not”. It’s paved in part, gravel in another, and then kind of obstacle course of pot holes and water pits that makes folks think twice about coming this way. Some with better, more precious vehicles and more time on their hands would travel the extra 8 miles around to avoid this mess, and sometimes I did too when I had my minivan, but with my new Outback, it was like another challenge to conquer.

Anyway, little traffic if any, so it’s mostly just me and mother nature around and I’m liking it.

About an hour or so into my painting, maybe more I hear this bird chirping. That’s common, there’s all sorts of birds around, there is loads of life in the fields and I have some good-sized trees on either side following the waterway, so there is a pretty constant array of sounds of calling birds, but this one sounds pretty close from behind me where there are no trees.

So I chirp back.

I found out recently I’m not supposed to do this, it confuses the animals when you mock them or try to copy their call. They think there is another bird in their territory and the get distressed and freak out. I’ve thought my entire life that it’s the beautiful singing of the birds, but listening to some birder friends of ours, it’s just the opposite. It’s “get the “H***” out of here!

But still I chirp back.

It’s what I do, and if the birds knew me, they would understand, that’s just Greg being Greg. I do the same with human folks too, and yes humans get annoyed with me quite often for me and my childish games. Oh well, it’s what I do.

Anyway, this bird did not let it go, but I kept painting and every now and then, I chirp back.

But this bird wasn’t just going to chirp and let me forget it, it came closer and kept yapping… and yapping. It was reminding me of someone who comes up to you while you are painting in a quick paint and they start talking, and then just won’t go away. They just keep talking to you, and don’t get the subtle hints that you are working and need to finish. They just keep bending your ear, and that is exactly what this bird was doing, and it was getting closer still.

I’m thinking I shouldn’t have chirped back, now it thinks I’m a bird and wants to be life long friends or something.

This was definitely getting annoying.

The little critter had gone from maybe 25-30 feet away to now within my backup zone, and that is not a safe place for people or animals to be, I just without warning start backing up to look at my painting. Put a stroke down, back up, look at it, and do another, and for the last 10 minutes I’ve not backed up because I didn’t want to scare my new friend away.

But I changed my mind, it was time to confront this guy and lay down some guidelines for our new relationship.

I turned to face the bird, and just when I did it turned its tail to me, fell down on one knee, raised it tail feathers up in the air, and then started fluttering it’s wings and making a strange hacking type sound of “eh-eh-eh” over and over. It startled the daylights out of me. It was really quite the spectacle, and I was impressed.

Killdeer

That’s when if finally dawned on me!

I had heard of birds feigning injury to ward off predators from near its nest, but I wasn’t a predator, I’m an artist. And then nest? There’s no nest around here, it’s a rocky wash with nothing but dirt and rock, maybe some sticks that had washed down from the rains.

I took a step towards it and then it flew about 20 feet and did it again. Ha, I’m no dummy, I just saw he could fly, and now it’s doing the broken wing thing again. I searched around and around and nowhere could I find what might be a nest.

I’m going back to painting, so I did. And my fine feathered friend kept trying to get my attention and draw me away. But seriously, I had work to do, and every now and then I would search around for what might be a nest, but no, nothing.  Nothing that I could see at least.

Had to have been a good 45 minutes or so before it figured out that I wasn’t moving. But as I painted, every time I stepped back to better evaluate my work, I searched around not wanting to accidentally step on its nest. Nothing!

I did not finish my painting in my first take, but the day had moved on too far and light had changed too much to keep going, so I packed up with plans to come back in the morning. I thought tomorrow that I could park the car in a different spot, and then set up my easel more in the middle of the road, and if a tractor or truck did want to get out in the fields I could easily pick up and move out-of-the-way. But this way I would be a little further from the edge where my crazy little bird friend wouldn’t be so eager to get me out of the area.

Well as it happened it rained much of that day, and through the night, with warnings of flash floods and the river rising but my painting wasn’t going to be affected much by this so off to the bottoms to finish up.

I wasn’t surprised to see where I was painting from was now under a bit of water, and saw that it had been considerably higher judging from the high water mark on the ground, with the little trail of debris, so I put on my waders and set up in about the same spot as the day before, more towards the center of the road than before and went back to my work.

Not much had changed looking across the land, the pool of water in the field was a bit deeper, but other than that it was that peaceful scene of Americana that was before me, and that’s what I painted, all in relative quiet. Less auto traffic because a “road closed, water on roadway” sign was up. And then noticeably my chatterbox companion from the day before was gone. It was nice not to have to be sociable and focus on work, but then what dawned on me was that the heavy rains and flooding had probably washed his, I mean “her” more likely, nest away. Kind of sad in a way. There were other birds I heard here and there. A crane in the waters searching for brunch, and I went back to painting.

Not meaning to make a long story longer, but it wasn’t before too long, but I looked out to my right down the road and heading right towards me was this skunk. That was all I needed was this guy to see me all of a sudden and in a start, decide to spray me with whatever it is they spray to give him his so-called nasty reputation. I did not move, and it did not look up. It kept coming towards me, and there was no way it was going to avoid me at all. Do I call out, “no, turn around” or what do you do? It still didn’t seem to notice me as it meandered along. Someone said they don’t have good eyesight, so wasn’t sure if this was a good thing or a bad thing. I wonder what kind of “olfactory” senses it has?

This is when it did something I would never have thought a skunk would do, instead of bending down the road to where I was, (I guess they don’t really know what roads are for anyway) it kept straight, went into the grass, and then dove in the water and began swimming upstream. I’d never have thought that was going to be an option for it, I thought it was see me, spray and run, or see me spray and me run.

Whew! I had dodged a bullet.

I guess if you are an animal in the Missouri River Valley, you’ve got to know how to swim, and swim it did. Never saw it again, and I’m grateful, though I did smell one close by when working on a nocturne painting in town the next night. Here in the bottoms it never came back.

And I finished my painting. Not a dramatic painting at all, the only real drama around was in the act of painting, and I’m not one to invent drama where there is none, well not too much. The painting I think captures the surrounding area nicely, it’s a quiet piece as is much of my work.

To me painting is a peaceful thing, and I try to capture that in what I do. It puts me at peace, it takes me out of this tumultuous world we live in, and helps me cope, or maybe not cope with reality. Before I escaped in other ways, now I escape through paint. I have not lost my addictive personality, I think I have only changed to a more productive addiction.

The painting is “Fly on Little Wing”, something from Jimi that was going through this mind that never stops, and I like it.

Fly on Little Wing

An Early Spring

March 4, 2019 by admin

I’ve been part of a little group of artists that head down to the Big Bend National Park area to paint each February now for 3 years. Nothing more than a few like minded souls getting together and doing what we come to do best.

Paint

If you’ve not been to this area along the Rio Grande River, I tell you you are missing out on something. It is simply spectacular. It is one of the largest National Parks in America and at the same time the least used. That’s okay with me because the influx of folks to this area by the millions would totally ruin it’s nature. Kind of what it’s done to Yellowstone, or Zion.

Sure, it’s people that needs to come appreciate and enjoy what this wonderful land before us, but at the same time, it’s people that totally ruins it. Tourists in general think much only of themselves and their conviences and do not consider what their actions do to the land around them. Not all, but more often than not it seems.

Enough of my little soapbox, let me step down and get back to our trip.

I look forward to this trip with these fellow artists, Dick Sneery originally asked me to go about 4 years ago on an Outdoor Painter Society trip to Big Bend but I didn’t because of I have no idea why, but the very next year after seeing all the paintings and photos that Dick had returned with, I had to find out for myself. I jumped on the chance and the two of us rode down together stopping for Tim Oliver in Lubbock Texas along the way.

What an unbelievable place this was, completely different than what I had expected. A spectacular array of mountains, desert, river canyons, ghost towns. A painters treasure trove all wrapped into one area. Mind you the area is VERY big, and it takes hours to drive from one end of the park to the other, but in between those ends are vistas and painting opportunities gallore.

Each year our group seems to add a few more artists, and have affectionetly become known as the “Rattlesnake Gang”. And luckily our encounters with said critters have been to a minimum, but just in case high top boots and gaiters are a pretty darn good idea.

I have never really gone to the area with any other goal than to just paint, and paint some more. As my Dad says, “from can see, to can’t see”. That was always my goal, but this year I thought to go a little differently.

That was to have a plan besides just painting. I always try to improve on what I do, I find nothing easy to paint, and have rarely done anything that is completely to my satisfaction. Probably never will, but this time to have a little bit of direction to what I’m doing.

This year was, “paint objects, not scenes”.

Painting a lot with Lon Brauer last year I got a good chance to banter things back and forth quite a bit, and one of those was things was painting objects. I love Lon’s work, it’s amazing, and he’s brave as hell, always pushing himself, experimenting with materials, with process, with subjects. I love it, and I am envious.

Lon in the desert

Me? I’m a little chicken.

I tell myself I’m pushing myself, trying new things, but not to the extremes that I want to, or need to. I can’t even add another color to my palette I’m so darn comfy with the 4 that I’m using!

But small steps, I can do that. I have another color in my pack, not used it yet, but I will put it on my palette this next trip. The other thing was working on objects.

One of the biggest things I noticed when I began painting outdoors was the amount of information out there. It was everywhere, in the darks, in the lights, it was information overload, and I never had this problem painting from photos. There, you had never enough info, or the wrong info. So when I began outside I tried to paint it all, and it took forever. I came back to the same spot for weeks painting on the canvas and painting and painting some more and I just couldn’t get it all.

I’ve cut that down to being able to paint the same thing in one session of about 2 hours, but I find myself many times painting “scenes”. Sure that’s okay, and I love scenes. I grew up loving the Hudson Valley painters work, and what better scene painters are there than them? But I found that when I zoomed in on a subject, grabbed one thing and focused on it, that’s when my paintings became stronger.

It is harder for me to make a good painting of a scene than it is to find a simple object, break it down to simple elements, and make a winner out of it. If I were to go back and look at all the awards over the years, the majority have gone to simpler subjects. Not always the case, but I know I do have to work harder when painting a view of the river valley than I do when I paint just a boat on that river.

So my goal this trip was to paint more objects, less panoramic time consuming views.

Not that you can’t spend the same amount of time painting a simple subject, and I have. I love simplifying anymore, and it’s those type of paintings that really attract my attention at the galleries. Those wonderful abstract shapes that are strong and dynamic. I want this, and it’s only pushing oneself that you can do this. But I need to push harder, get out of that comfort zone and push my boundaries. I have set up these barriers myself, no one else has told me to stay where I am. I won’t grow if I don’t.

If you can’t do it yourself, find someone to tell you what to do. That’s why we take workshops from others. To see and feel how they do it, and learn their approach. Is it better, is it faster? Is it for you? We don’t know if we don’t try, and if we can’t physically push ourselves, find someone to help. Don’t just listen and say, “okay, I will”. Go that extra step or two.

Doesn’t work, what have you lost? But you’ll never know if you don’t try.

I did do more simple subjects this trip, trying to focus on objects. I painted a total of 15 paintings in the 5 days along the Rio. For the most part I’m happy with what I created. They can use some tweaking here and there, some I would like to make into larger studio pieces. Out of those 15, 8 were focused more on a subject than a scene. That’s not 100% but small steps like I said are better than no steps at all.

I love the hanging with other artists at these events and especially here at Big Bend, talking art till late in the night as we stare into the vast depths of the winter sky above. Sharing stories of there exploits during the day over an evening meal at the local dinner. Each one of us with our own agenda and our own direction in life, but for these few days in the West Texas winter we are bonded by the rawness in this land that is as hard and sharp as bones of those that came before us.

Johnny Cash wrote about this area along the Rio Grande in his song “Mean as Hell”, kind of describes things nicely…

It’s a hell of a place that he has for hell
The heat in the summers are hundred and ten
Too hot for the devil, too hot for menThe red pepper grows upon the banks of the brook
The Mexican use it in all that he cook
Just dine in with one of ’em and you’re bound to shout
I’ve hell on the inside as well as it out

If you want fine dining and fancy beds, then maybe you might find a group further North to paint with, cause if you’re wanting to join the Rattlesnake Gang, and we’re happy to have you.

Just check your pedigree at the door

The Rattlesnake Gang, 2019

 

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!”

 

 

 

 

back to top