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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

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

 

Going Green

May 6, 2015 by admin

I do not write advice or tips very often on painting, and probably for good reason.

I’m just a beginner!

Though not the sole reason, that is a good one. The other is I don’t really like advice, probably something I picked up along the way, but growing up I always knew that I knew more than my parents or any of the establishment, so what could they tell me? It was not till later years I found that maybe I should have been paying attention instead of playing around.

Now you tell me!

But I’ve been asked a number of times in the recent months to write something about the “greens” of my paintings, so here I am. This way I think, or I hope, that at least those people will read this and be satiated by my banter.

My mother’s favorite color was green, so I have to like it. I’ve always said my favorite color was blue, but I’m not sure anymore. If there was only one color I could keep for the rest of my life and it had to be one that’s actually on the color wheel I might pick maybe a blue that was leaning a bit towards green, though a blue that has a tinge of violet in it is pretty nice too.

But GREEN? I don’t even have it on my pallet!

Krugg Park 007Many of you know already that I use a limited pallet of 4 colors and white. 2 warm colors, and 2 cools. Cadmium Yellow Light, Cadmium Red Light, Alizarine Crimson & Ultramarine Blue.

First it was Phil Starke in the spring of 2011 that threw out most of my paints and left me with 7 to use, then in the fall of that same year when I began mentoring under Rick Howell, he whittled that pallet down to what I am using now. No greens, no earth tones, just the 2 reds, a yellow and a blue.

Now get out and paint!

I live in an area where most times of the year when you go outside to paint you are going to see green. Green grass, green trees, green water. It’s pretty much the dominant color.

So why no green on the pallet? Seems like it would sure make things so much easier and quicker just to go ahead and throw a Viridian, or a Sap green on the pallet.  Maybe it would, but right now I seem to be doing okay without, and just in case, I actually have a tube of Viridian in my backpack and have for years. It’s for that time I might need some color I can’t get, or that extra punch that I’m not capturing with my typical 4 paints, but so far I’ve not pulled it out. I mean I love all those wonderful tubes of green that they have made up for every scene you could think of, but I’m still liking the greens I get from my primary colors.

It’s not just mixing the greens the way you like, but you really need to see them first. Phil taught me how Shoc & Awe demo startto look and separate the greens, and push them one way or another. Different times of the year the same trees are a different green, along with different times of the day. Cool greens, warm greens they are what the forests are made up of, but just because you know it’s green, you don’t have to paint it that way.

It’s like everything else you see, and everything else you paint, comparing one tree to the next, one color to the next. Is the tree bluer, or does the tree have more yellow in it?

I love painting outdoors and if you go out in the spring and summer around my neck of the woods there is going to be a lot of green, and you want to keep it interesting, so push those greens one way or another seemed to make a lot of sense to me.

If you’ve read any of Carlson’s landscape painting books you know you have to learn the tree, and where it’s from and what holds it up. It’s not just leaves on branches, but knowing and understanding how they grow, and what makes them twist, and the unbelievable amount of weight that each limb holds up. Just seeing your subject is not enough, it’s the understanding that grounds it into believability. It’s like trees with larger leaves are going to reflect more light, trees with smaller leaves will generally be darker, the earlier the season the warmer the foliage. There is a lot involved, and I do find it helps to understand, but I don’t quite go into the politics of trees as Mr. Carlson sometimes does 😉

One could spend an entire life just painting trees, and I’ve seen master artists doing just that, and still  they study and learn. I don’t know if I have painted a tree that I am completely happy with. I don’t know if I ever will, though I will continue to try.

When I mix up colors to paint, I don’t make giant piles of color, I mix a bit up and then start pushing one direction or the other. Lighter/darker, warmer/cooler. These are the things I continue to say to myself throughout my painting.

I have no formula for my greens, each time I approach a subject, there is no preconceived notion. I start afresh. I let the light dictate what I do, and what I mix up.

Each time is a learning experience, and know there is something wrong if it’s not. I can paint something a thousand times and still feel the beginner. There are not more shades of one color than another, it’s just that the human eye can pick out more shades of green because of where it is on the light spectrum.

I know, boring so I won’t go there.

Just get out and paint, really look at what you are seeing, and see how the light and surrounding objects affect that subject… and then push it one way or another to best suit your needs.

Sometimes it works, and then other times…  scrape it!

Prairie Fire

Prairie Fire

Need a Push

February 5, 2015 by admin

It’s been a while since I’ve written here, but it’s not because I’m not thinking about it. When I began writing that first blog I knew there was no way I could do this daily, even trying to commit to weekly was pushing my limits.New Orleans Day 5 123

This is more about pushing yourself out of that little comfortable place you’ve found, going past what you know you can do and try to improve.

As many know I paint landscapes, big giant chunks of earth that just sits there holding still waiting for you to paint it.  I’m not perfect at it, but I’m practicing. Well I had an opportunity come along that took my comfortable little niche of landscape painting and pushed it to the other extreme… to paint the battles at the 2015 Bicentennial of the War of 1812, more specifically the Battle of New Orleans which ended up being the deciding battle in the war and we have enjoyed peace with Great Britain ever since.

New Orleans Day 7 081My sister and brother-in-law (Kathy & Ron) has a place on Burgundy in the French Quarter and had sent me contact info to some of the organizers of this event. After months of back and forth as these things sometimes go, I was working with the Louisiana Living History Society who were the instigators in much of the reenactments happening to celebrate 200 years.

I was going to be allowed on the battlefield amidst almost 1,500 reenactors as they recreated the infamous battles.

I don’t think I ever really thought it out, but while packing my gear and ensuring I had clothing that would pass as “period” attire, it came to me what I was about to do.

What in the world was I thinking?

I do pride myself in being somewhat adept at painting quickly. I usually spend no longer than 2 hours on a piece out on location, with the initial block-in done in the first 30 minutes. The clouds move across the sky, the water cascades across the rocks, and the sun is forever changing the light all around us, and I’ve grown used to this occurring while I paint.

…but troops running in formation across a battle field, guns blazing, cannons roaring. What was I getting into? I had no idea, and I was a bit frightened to tell the truth.

Excited, yet scared of the unknown that was about to come down.New Orleans Day 5 112

There was not a lot of preparation for me ahead of time. I had to be in position 30 minutes before the start of the battle, and once in place I had no real idea where on the battle field the fighting was going to take place. I’m not sure how large of an area was that was cleared out for the reenactment, but there had to have been at least 10 acres in front of me and the action could be anywhere, so little was done to prep the canvases ahead of time save toning them, and then putting in a horizon line.

Conveniently there was a PA system that had a master of ceremonies announcing and narrating some of the battles, but the speakers were facing the audience, and once the gunfire began I heard nothing again till the battles had concluded. So with this I was made aware that things were about to begin.

My knees were shaking now!

But once I began looking, composing and throwing down a little paint, things began to recede around me. I was focused in what I needed to do. I still was not sure how, but it is really just notes of color next to each other and how they compare to those around it. It doesn’t matter the subject, or how long they are there. Put it down as you see it, or as you feel it.

“Luke, use the Force”

Do I think of it as notes of color when I’m out there? No, I don’t think so, in fact these battles took place and were totally over in from 39 minutes to 50 minutes. There was no real time to think, only to act or maybe “react” would be a better word. And while this was going on, I would occasionally grab my camera and take photos for reference material for other paintings done from these studies.

New Orleans Day 5 087Different battles had different things going on of course, the night battle there were the Choctaw Indians scurrying through the woods around me, another battle had friendly fire going over my head as troops were falling all around. I was told I should have earplugs on because of all the explosions and gunfire, but it all fell away as one enters that “zone” to create.

I deemed it a success, I created a total of 12 paintings on the trip, 1 of each of the 4 battles, and then other supporting studies from around the campsite and original Chalmette Battlefield.

I am a far cry from an expert in the field of plein air painting, but there are some things that one grows comfortable at. I guess it’s essential in order for us to grow as an artist to push oneself. I don’t feel the need for me to become an expert at portraits, or painting still life’s. I think one can grow without the necessity to learn every medium there is.

There is so much work to be done here learning oil painting the land, it would take several lifetimes to even come close.

I would be be remiss if I did not mention the article that Bob Bahr from Outdoor Painter Magazine wrote on my little adventure. It’s a short little article that won’t take much time at all, and has a few nice photos, plus Bob is a much better writer than me.

Check it out here: CLICK

I’d better get going, I’m wasting precious time, and so are you 😉

Dec 28, 1814 Battle of New Orleans - SOLD

Dec 23, 1814 Battle of New Orleans

 

thanks

Greg

 

The Old Same Thing

October 15, 2014 by admin

You know, the “Old Same Thing”!

Do you have a limit for doing the same old thing, don’t you get tired of it? How long can you keep repeating the same old routine before it becomes just that?

I’ve done it before, and still do at times. I could eat PB&J’s for lunch on a daily basis forever. I love them! Or maybe it’s going to work

everyday going to the corner taking a left, then a right at the stop sign, go to the light, take a right enter the freeway and off to the office. Over, and over, and over again. How many days a week? The only time you vary it is when you hear of an accident along the route during the 8:09 traffic report. Hey-hey, there’s variety!

When it comes to me and the world of art, do things get repetitive for me? Maybe, yes, how about you? I see some people paint the same scene over and over, same size, same time of day, same conditions. They do it as learning experiences, and I know I could benefit greatly from doing something like this, but I don’t see it happening.

I am a co-founder and director of the Brush Creek Art Walk: plein air competition, and each year we ask artists to paint along a creek that cuts through the upscale urban shopping district of the Country Club Plaza, and meanders past my favorite place in Kansas City, the Nelson Atkins Museum of Art. Don’t stop here, there is more painting to be done farther East as you  cut BCAW day 1 065through the older  neighborhoods where you could say, okay I will say, “urban blight?” Yet you’re not done yet, there’s maybe another mile and a half of sprawling park like areas with rolling hills, woods, and a lake. There really is a lot to see down this way, the entire way! I think it’s pretty darn diverse, with interesting subjects that could last a lifetime.

But that’s just me.

What I hear and what I see a lot is people talking of how repetitive things are, they come back year after year painting the same old thing, and I can really feel for them. I don’t enjoy people being unhappy with a situation. I try to be accommodating, but there is a reason that the city approached Anne Garney and me about finding a way to get people down to along the creek. The city over the past 10-15 years has spent millions, upon millions of dollars improving the area, solving the flooding problem of the local businesses and residences, and at the same time beautifying the entire area…

…but nobody knows.

It has a not so endearing nickname, “Flush Creek!” Not a real pretty picture that title paints. It’s not so bad if the rains come, but on long dry spells no water moves, and flotsam gathers here and there, and there.

The thing about a good artist, they can paint what they want, not what is there. Sit me down in the same spot 10 times in a row and I doubt I paint the same scene more than once.  Would I paint the debris, and urban blight? Sure if the light hit it right!

I notice that many people paint the exact same thing, without even thinking about it. We are attracted to the obvious, and many tend to paint this. You see a big red truck in front of you; most will paint the big red truck. Mix it up by painting the way the big red trucks shadow stretches off across the ground, or the cool patterns that the tail lights make when you zoom in really close.

It’s not really what you see, it’s how you see it, and then maybe more importantly, how you put it to canvas. I do love seeing how a few

Adam & Andrea

Adam & Andrea

dozen artists paint the exact same object; it is amazing and quite the learning experience to me the viewer.  But artists and buyers alike do get bored with this over time.

There is so much to see in this little area, one could spend a lifetime doing just that. Look at the great Wilbur Niewald, he has been going to Loose Park and painting there for decades. You have the constantly changing light and seasons, this is what makes this world as wonderful and interesting as it is, and affects everything we see outdoors.

A good artist should be able to make or create interest when there is none. Don’t just look for what is already beautiful, find what could be beautiful and make it so. You are the creator, take control.

What is one of the best ways of learning something? REPETITION! Are you so good that this doesn’t apply? Let me shake your hand, as I scrape that last painting and start all over.

It’s a mind set, look for something new, a new approach, don’t get trapped into doing the same old thing the same old way, improve, enhance, and embrace the opportunity…

…over and over again!

And time for the show

And time for the show

 

Sunshine Daydream: Day 4

June 19, 2014 by admin

If you would like to get “technical” today was the first “full” day at the “Plein Air Camp”. I slept great despite the dorm room that has what has to be a sleep number 110 or something. I am a definite 40. I must have been tired.

Heron Marsh Trail

Heron Marsh Trail

Maybe it’s like this on all campuses now-a-days, but you need to use your electronic key card 4 times to get from the entrance of the dorm building into your bedroom. Don’t forget to take it with you when you use the restroom! Silly me I had tossed it on the bed and then went to the bathroom, only to find I needed to call campus security to get back in. I now keep this card on me around my neck, even when I shower.

After breakfast there was a group photo taken and then all drove the short trip to the “VIC” to paint. This is part of the Paul Smith college I believe, but it’s 1,000’s of acres of woods and wetlands with beautiful vistas, and soft pine hiking trails darting through the park. I opted for a 1 mile hike along the Heron Marsh trail to the “Shingle Falls”. The view I was looking at was not what I had in mind, so I found a little scene close by, so I could still enjoy the sounds of the falls. A rock was nestled in the dark water with lillies and grass marshes about.

It had been raining all night, and with a slight threat to continue, but the sky was mostly gray and the light pretty consistent.

There were mosquitoes and flies about, but I was not bothered by that probably do to my sufficient dousing of the self with bug spray

High Falls Gorge

High Falls Gorge

and then a little clip on “OFF” bug repellent that works great! Folks have been warning me of the vicious “black fly” and I have fortunately not come into contact with it, or them.

I was very happy with this painting, and will post sometime. I believe I called it “It does make a Sound”.

After lunch was an hour trip to “High Falls Gorge” it’s about a waterfall with a 700′ drop. This is about 3 miles from the Canadian border. It was quite the hike down the 250+ stairs. It was worth the trip, though it was hard to see with all the artists there painting. It was a good thing it was 700 feet tall! This painting I did here was “Down in Front”.

Drove back just in time for dinner (Mom & Dad would call it supper) and afterwards I had time to join a few people on the edge of the lake and painted the late afternoon across the lake.

Cool thing about all this is seeing all of the other artists and how they approach their subject, and then there “plein air setup”. Everyone’s is somewhat unique to themselves, or so it seemed.

All the paintings for the day by all the artists are gathered together in a room for everyone to see. There is no hierarchy to this event, all artists are created… I mean, treated equal. But some of the more famous ones do have their names “dropped” more often than others.

I blew out a heel in one of my hiking boots today, something that is going to take a cobbler to fix… is there a cobbler in the house? I bet so.

Up with the Joneses

Up with the Joneses

Timing is everything

May 7, 2014 by admin

When Mom and Dad were quietly talking to themselves over in the Den with a desk of paperwork, maybe bills. Is this when you interupted and ask for a bigger allowance? How about when your waitress has a tray of food she is delivering to the table next to you, is this when you try to get your water filled?

Timing is essential in all aspects of life, you just gotta know when and where you can tell the “Yo Mama” joke. Timing!

I was recently taking part in a 11 day painting competition in the wine country along the Missouri River and found that had I put a little more thought into what I was doing, the outcome might have been different.

"In the Out Door"

“In the Out Door”

We were painting at a very popular winery in the middle of a Saturday afternoon. Families and couples gallore were all over the place taking part in the festivities. There were newlyweds, sightseers, conniseurs milling about the entire area, and about 130 artists setup throughout the grounds painting everything from the marvelous view, to the guests themselves. I arrived a little late and began squeezing my way through the crowds looking for that which only you know when you see it. I really had no idea what I was going to paint, I was just looking.

Then I saw it, I looked around to see if any other artists were painting or looking at the same thing, but no just me. What I was looking at was a beautiful little scene of light and dark abstract shapes. Some great angles cutting across the scene and no one was painting it! Quickly I’d say withing 5 minutes I had my easel up, and my paints out ready to go.

What I was looking at was through an old wooden door where which led into the kitchen, where all the food and servers were scurryinig back and forth preparing for the afternoon meal. The light was at a great angle, and there were stone steps, and cast shadows. All very visually interesting… to me. Maybe not so much for the tourists who came to see a beautiful winery, maybe take home a piece of art of the occasion.

There was a table full of Germans who were every now and then saying something about the painting as it progressed. There are only a few words of German I know and I did not hear them… luckily. I really enjoyed painting it, and I thought it turned out great.  But my timing of letting what inspired me got in the way of being in the final winning count. What did win and sell were some beautiful landscapes of the view, and scenes of the people enjoying themselves at the winery.

We had another competition a couple days later, this time at the old Daniel Boone Farm near Defiance. I won 2nd place here the previous year and really enjoyed the place. It would take a lifetime or two to paint all the wonderful things here at this place. I found an out of the way spot and painted a wonderful little painting of a neighboring farmstead with the light hitting it just right.

When judging came around the winner… drumroll please… was a nice little painting of an old wooden building with light showing between the boards.

Jeez Louise, didn’t I just paint that at the Vineyard and walked away with nothing?

The juror went on to say how it exemplified what they and the sponsoring college were looking for, and how it represented the Daniel Boone Farm to a “T”. (okay I’m paraphrasing, but you get the idea eh?)

Timing! Had I waited to be caught by the old wood and light to this day I might had stood a better chance of “bringing home the bacon,”  but no I do the rustic at the winery, and the charming at the historic farmstead.

Both times I went with my gut insinct and painted what I wanted, and what interested me at that time. When I paint I look for something that excites me visually, and stirs my senses. This is not always what the judge and jury want to put on their walls or honor for your efforts. You need to know why you are doing, kind of going back to my last blog of “You Can’t Please Everyone” are you out there trying to learn, improve, make a living? Sometimes they don’t all go together, and those rare occasions that they do, that is indeed time for celebration.

You can study all you want, the jurors, the event, the sponsors, play that game, or you can do what you want. Be the artist that you say you are and just paint what you want, throw it up and see where it lands. If you are good enough you’ll do just fine.

…but just in case don’t slam the event in the title of your painting, that’s rarely to your benefit!

"Boones Farm Whine"

“Boones Farm Whine”

 

 

To Render Worthless

March 27, 2014 by admin

What’s about the worst thing you can do to devalue your art, no not that! That just devalue’s everything.

What I’m talking about is something that’s pretty common in the art field, and that’s auctioning your art for a charity.IMAG0258

How about you, are you guilty of this?

Does it devalue art? If so, why?

For years I’ve been asked by various groups, and if you are an artist I’m sure you have too.(doctors, and lawyers not so much) And that’s to donate art to their cause as a fundraiser. Do you do it? I used to do it much more than I do now, but  I still donate a few pieces a year. I have narrowed them down to the ones that either I really care about, or that still in some way benefit the donor (me!)

For some reason, unbeknownst to me, foundations feel that artists need to be the ones donating their skills with no real fiscal benefit to the artist. This is a subject chalked full of fodder for discussion that I’ll leave for another time.IMAG0260

What happens when you donate a piece of art, and it is auctioned off for less than it’s value? Who wins? The buyer wins that’s for sure, but does anyone else? The artist? The auctioneer, or organization? How about the gallery’s?

I was in the “Art About Town” weekly gathering where the discussion was exactly this. “Auctions hurt the art, the artists, and the gallery’s.”

…this made me think

I can see how it does this. Donate the painting, and it goes up for auction. Collectors and bargain hunters peruse the auction houses all the time looking for quality pieces that they can get for a fraction of what they would normally have to pay at a gallery. What sort of % goes to the artist? Sometimes nothing, zero, zip, nada! There are some organizations that will give the artist a % of the sale, but rarely does it go for what it sells for in the gallery.

More and more gallery’s are suffering because of auction houses, online sales, direct internet sales. Is it the artists responsibility to ensure that galleries prosper and continue? If you are in a gallery, the artist does bare some responsibility to the gallery. Better check your contract.

A good gallery knows the business and gets the artist the best price for their art. Bargain hunters rarely go to a gallery to purchase fine art.

nigro-brothersBut what happens when an artist in that gallery is approached and donates to cause and then auctioned off to the highest bidder? Typically only a few pieces of art are bid up beyond their valued price. The brunt goes for below value benefiting those who come to these events looking to purchase outside a gallery. Will they resale it at a higher price? They could, who’s to say?

I will reconsider those programs I donate art to, my gallery’s work hard for their 50% commission. There are a few things I donate to where the artist gets 50% of the sale price. Will it be close to it’s value? We’ll see.

I just finished a little auction of my own online using Facebook as the marketing tool. The smaller paintings I broke even on, the larger pieces went well below their value. As an artist, I still need to eat, and purchase materials, and travel expenses are crazy nowadays. I pulled 4 paintings off my shelves to sell online to help pay for expenses during the upcoming plein air season. If sales in the galleries were a little more brisk, I probably wouldn’t feel the need to do this, but as the case may be, I cannot rely on gallery sales alone. Workshops, commissions, and direct sales are a must.

For art to live and continue, the artist must live and continue.

This topic is like an outdoor artist looking for something to paint, just wandering around and around. So many different ways to go!

On the artists donating to auctions, I know this will never happen and that is a guideline that we follow before agreeing to “give” our art to the organization. Artist Drew Brophy has written up something that one might seriously take a look at. That form went something like this…

“Thank you for the opportunity to donate art to your organization.  Drew Brophy would be honored to have his artwork and his name associated with yours.

Due to the extremely heavy volume of requests from many important charities, we’ve developed guidelines that enable us to donate artwork at less than retail cost.

These requirements also help us reduce losses since current U.S. tax laws are unfavorable to artist donations.  (There is little to no write-off for artwork.)

Please consider that by offering these terms for all artist donations, your organization will:  Attract top quality, high value artwork; and over time, will become known as the go-to-organization for unique and valuable art.”

Our donation guidelines are:

  • The organization agrees to split the proceeds from the sale or auction 50/50 (50% to Drew Brophy and 50% to the organization).  We ask for payment within 5 business days of the sale.  The name, address, phone and e-mail of the buyer will be provided to Drew Brophy for his “collector’s club” records.
  • A minimum or a reserve price will be set and will be designated by Drew Brophy.  (This is required to honor the value of the artwork for our existing collectors and our partner galleries.)
  • In the event the artwork does not sell, it will be returned by the organization to Drew Brophy’s studio San Clemente, CA, within 9 business days.

If these guidelines are agreeable to you, please sign below and return this form via e-mail to ___________________

We agree to the above terms:

Name, Title______________________  Date ___________________”

 

Here are some benefits of giving art to charities:

1.)  You feel good about giving to a charity that you love & you get to help them further the cause

2.)  You may get media coverage (usually not)

3.)  You may gain new art collectors (this rarely happens, but it can)

I recently gave an award winning painting to a favorite charity and watched it go for less then what my gallery would have gotten for it. Not a good way to keep in favor with your gallery for sure, but it was a good cause. At that same charity function another piece went for twice it’s value. (20 times it’s value if you ask me!  😉 

There is no real rhyme or reason what will happen when your painting goes on the auction block. When I do it for myself I do benefit directly, and I will continue to do this when I need money. I equate it to the musician on the street with their hat out, or guitar case open taking donations.

We all need to eat, charities need money, and the world needs art. (some will argue that)

An artist should not have to wait till he is deceased to benefit from his art. The galleries of the “crème de la crème” are just that. Sotheby’s and Christie’s if you’re not dead or dying, slim chance you’ll be selling here. These places inherently increase the value of everything… if you get in there, let me jump on your coattails please.

Does it cheapen his art to put it into an auction with a starting bid of $25.00? Heck yes! I like what artist Diane Overmeyer said this on the subject when I did an auction to benefit my favorite charity… me…

“I have known many artists who past from this earth with a houseful of art work. Much of which is sold for pennies on the cass_street_sunflowersdollar or given away. Auctioning a few pieces of work now and then I believe might be a good thing to move some work that has not sold through other venues. This is beautiful painting and I am sure that Judy is tickled pink to be able to purchase it at such a bargain price! I’m also sure once she lives with it for a while she will be even more apt to purchase another piece from Greg! It’s high time artists get with the real world. Good sound business principles are something more artists could definitely benefit from learning about!”

I agree wholeheartedly.

What it boils down to is this intrinsic need for money. Charities, artists, galleries… even lawyers! We all need to survive and in this capitalist world we live in, and  it’s the survival of the fittest! Do what we can to create the art. Think a government that subsidized the artist would be better? Would the art then belong to them, and would they then dictate content? I like the free enterprise system myself, and that’s what we have here. Learn to work within it, and cope.

For me it’s not the person with the most possessions at their time of death that wins.

 

 

 

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