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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

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

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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

 

 

Art with Benefits

March 11, 2015 by admin
mom_n_pops

Mom & Pops

The first painting I did after trading the bottle for the brush was one for my Mother. In the previous 20 years I had completed maybe 1 painting, and I was totally excited about methodically stretching my canvas, and putting my paints in position around the pallet. There is something about this process that helps clear and focus the mind for me.

My Mom had the misfortune of being born on January 1st. Sure it sounds good, but for those of you who have been born on a holiday know that forever you are sharing your day with something else, and rarely get 100% of what you deserve. Mix in the Christmas holiday, and you are really losing out, let alone being a Mom who always puts everyone else and their needs before her own. So I wanted to do something special for her and a painting of the farmstead where she grew up was what some of my ever so helpful siblings helped me come up with.

Mommo funeral scan 2 032

The Farmstead

The farm had been auctioned off after my Grandmothers death, and many things had changed, the barn torn down, windmill removed, trees replaced, so I set about gathering old photos from my sisters and my Aunts. What I ended up with was a time capsule of photos in all shapes and varieties and here is where the real work begins.

There’s a lot of research involved in doing things such as this, and planning. Much more than what I was used to, but what I ended up with was a painting of what it could have looked like to her as a child. I didn’t know really, grabbing a black & white photo from one angle, and then heavily faded photos from different views you take what you can and hope for the best.

We celebrated my Mom’s birthday on the same day as we celebrated the family Christmas, a day predetermined months in advance when everyone could arrive on the same date from out of town. But after things had settled from the gift exchanges and after the big Christmas dinner we all gathered around in the dining room and had cake and ice cream with my Mom.

I managed to get my gift moved towards the back of the little pile of things for my Mom, most knew what it was, and were in on it in some way or another, but it was finally given to her to open. It was a 16×20″ painting with a good sized frame so it was a bit hard for my Mom to handle. She had suffered a severe stroke in the early 70’s and had almost no use of her left arm, but like she managed to run a household and raise 6 children with my Father gone on the road most of the time, opening a present was child’s play.

This was in the winter of 2002, and I was born in 1957, so in my 45 years I don’t remember my Mom ever breaking down in tears. Through all the pain and trouble that she had gone through in her life, 6 very dysfunctional children, (okay 5, Kathy might be normal) and having to deal with her own and Dads alcoholism that would have I thought brought most people to their knees,  and maybe it did, but I don’t remember her ever crying.

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Christmas

But when she ripped away the gift wrap, and saw what was in there she broke down and wept. I could not believe it, this was totally surprising and unexpected. I don’t know what kind of response I had expected, but I nothing like this, and I was so embarrassed, and yet so pleased.

I think she liked it!

I had always loved to paint, and out of college I had begun to enter competitions nationally and internationally and was winning awards, but this was different. To have something I did move my Mom so much. It was unimaginable, and so rewarding.

How many careers are there in this world where what you do stirs up such emotion? Plumber? Dentist? The tears these people cause are from pain or when they hand you the bill! But I’m talking tears of joy.

Actually I guess there are really quite a few professions than can do this, writers, musicians, clergy… politicians?

But I didn’t know that I could do this with my art.

It is not an everyday occurrence for me, and I don’t know if my heart could take it, but I do love to put something into my work, a feel of where I was, or what I saw, maybe what I felt. Rarely does it come across, but when it does there is a overwhelming sense of satisfaction for me.

But the creating of something specifically for another, whether a gift, an act of kindness, or a commissioned work and it reaches into that person and stirs emotions and feelings that only they could know.

That is a reward to me like no other.

Being an artist is great, taking a beautifully empty piece of canvas and turning it into something visually appealing is amazing. But then taking that same talent, and using it to help and benefit others is amazing. Whether teaching, or sharing, just taking the time for another when they need it.

And one of my most favorite quotes is of course from a song, “Wond’ring Aloud” by Jethro Tull, written by Ian Anderson

“.,. it is only in giving that makes you what you are”

A Harrington Hike SOLD

A Harrington Hike

 

 

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

 

What does it take

March 4, 2014 by admin

What does it take to become the best?

S'Mores

S’Mores

What does it take to change your life?

What does it take to drag yourself up?

There are as many different types of people in this world as there are… well, people! And for the majority of them it takes quite a bit to move them onto a path different than the one they are on. No, maybe you’re not one of them, but maybe you are. I was, or I am that type of person. It’s like I’m just cruising along on the road of life, listening to some good tunes, going just 7 miles over the speed limit, and I’ll keep going for hours until something comes along and causes me to stop. Running out of gas, restroom stop, a cop who thinks that 7 miles over is still “speeding”.

Once you stop, do you continue on that same road, in the same manner? Or do you slow down, change directions, take a bus? All of the important turning points in my life were not initialized by myself on a whim saying, “oh I think it’s time to begin a family”, or  “I think it’s time to quit drinking”, how about “I think it’s time to paint outdoors?” Nope, not me, because I am not that type of personality.

Sometimes it can be a subtle thing that will shift my directions, while there are those OTHER times it takes a ball bat to get me to change course!

I would never have began painting outdoors had it not been for a tennis injury that  required surgery. While undergoing physical therapy to get back into shape, it was suggested that I might take a continuing ed course through the Kansas City Art

Plein air with Anne & Mary

Plein air with Anne & Mary

Institute. They were offering something on plein air painting. I had never heard of this, but I loved to paint, and loved the outdoors… what a concept! The instructor was Anne Garney, and she showed me that it is possible to paint outdoors… successfully.

This changed the entire direction of my art and gave it the spark that it needed.

Lately, change has been good. I have made it a must to make positive moves at every crossroad, and for a while mentoring under Rick with his belief in me he set me on a path that I thought at the time was impossible, but I am beginning to see that maybe he wasn’t wrong about me. And I move on. When you are there without a real compass wondering which road is the right one it’s somewhat of a crap-shoot. But it’s the risk I’m willing to take to make my goals and improve my art and my life. I’m quicker now at recognizing if it was not the right road, and have no problem making a U-turn to take a better path, no regrets, no kicking myself for steering off course. It’s the old “live and learn” adage.

This guy is very fortunate to have a wonderful wife who helps in keeping this compass pointing forward. That has not always been the case, and I don’t blame them but myself for not recognizing this in time and doing something positive about it.

Susie & I

Susie & I

In those days I sought escape as opposed to facing things head on.  Susie is always here in my corner, there when I need her, and helping me to follow my dreams, at times putting her own by the wayside to help this artist proceed. I count myself very fortunate to have such a person in my life. Susie is not versed in art as Rick was, but she doesn’t need to be, she believes in me, and makes me stronger.

Don’t have your own “Susie” to show the way? It’s easy, just like The good witch Glenda and Dorothy, it’s there with you all the time, those symbolic Ruby Red slippers! A little inward thought and meditation can go a long ways in helping with ones well being and knowing “what next?”

Well, it has been a couple years now that I have been painting outdoors, rain or shine. It’s not a week that goes by that I’m out there with canvas and easel looking for the light. It’s what I love, it’s what I thrive! But wait, I notice now that it’s been since January that I was last outdoors painting. I’ve not been idle, no way, but I have not been painting “en plein air”.

What has happened, I thought I was on a roll? The dreaded… SHINGLES!

Here we go again, is this a turn in the road that has pushed me back in the studio? The entire month of February the only painting I have done has been in the studio. Many new pieces, and then I have pulled out some of those plein air block-ins and finished them up. It has been very rewarding, but it’s not been plein air. I have been convalescing from my illness, and should not go out. So I didn’t, but they are about gone, the pain has subsided, and the rash is barely there. I think it’s time to get back in the swing of things.

Every successful person has suffered failures of some sorts (this is hearsay, I don’t actually know all the successful people), I have scars galore, but they will heal. What you can’t get over is that feeling that you get when you don’t try. That is a persistent pain that doesn’t diminish quite so easily. I’m terrible at speeches and trying to rally the troops together towards a common goal. I never have a serious word to say, and make a joke every single thing that comes before me. Kind of hard to do in a blog, but I love those who lead by example, and I try to do this all the time. For me it’s more of a “do as I do” instead of the “do as I say, not what I do” mentality.

That’s the quirky artist in me. (artist rule #28: be quirky)

What life changing event will next befall me? I have no idea, but what ever it is, it will not detract me from my goal. My intentions are to use it as a spring-board, and let it assist me getting there. There could be something that stops me from going forward, I’m not a soothsayer, but I do own a Ouija Board, (I think my sister swore by it!)

Nevertheless I am on the path I want to be on, are you?

What does it take to keep you on the path to your chosen future? It really doesn’t matter what spurs you on, the important thing is that you are always moving in a forward motion towards that goal. Get bumped off the path? It’s just right there a step away, you know how to get back on.

Hey! Don’t forget to enjoy the ride, because once you get there…

San Luis Valley day 3 038

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