It’s not often I write about my little individual painting experiences. If you follow me on Facebook or Instagram then you probably get too much of me posting. But a friend of mine while visiting at the end of the day over drinks, we were telling tales of our painting experiences so far this week and thought I ought to share…
here goes nothing…
Let me set this up a little bit, I was taking part in the 17th Annual Augusta Plein Air Festival in the wine country along the Missouri River. It’s beautiful country, rolling hills, nice bluffs, farms, creeks, small towns, everything one could want for subject matter. A lot of times when I’m searching for something to paint, it not so much what it is, but more of “where you going to park”? You have long windy roads that are sometimes narrow, with no shoulders, so you see something interesting to paint, and by the time you find a place to park, you’re 1/2 mile away, with no safe way back.
So I look for parking, and then work from there.
On this occasion, it was early in the day, the weather was pretty much rain, rain, and every now and then you might get a break and have some rain. It’s spring time in the midwest, get used to it. Well what I was looking for was a place I could set up, where I did not have to travel far from my car so that I could use it for a wind break, and a cover from the rain if needed. My new Outback has a hatchback I can stand under if needed. This was one of the features that was a must when shopping for a new ride.
I found a gravel road between the fields in the bottom land near the river. In the bottom of a draw was a rock bed that looked wide enough I could park, and still have enough room for any farm vehicles to get by, well except a combine, but you don’t use combines for planting, and the fields I thought were way too wet for actually getting in to do anything.
I liked what I was seeing, the farm road, the fields, and then the hills.
What I chose was something to maybe reflect the day, my mood, the area. I liked the way the bottom lands were leading off into the distant tree covered hills. The land was cleared there for some farm buildings on the hill, probably the owner of the property I was one. I might soon find out.
When I paint outdoors, I never put headphones on. It’s just me, I like to hear the sounds around me, which is unlike me in the studio where I have music of all sorts on, and sometimes blaring away. I really love music, I always have, but when outside, it’s the mother nature and all it has to offer that provides the hymns in my head. I just like being aware of what’s going on around me. I think it helps me capture the scene better, maybe.
I set up on the edge of the gravel wash, and I’m painting away on my scene. On occasion, but not too often a car comes along the bottoms road and they bend their neck as they try to see what I’m up to down here in the wash. There’s not a lot of traffic on the Augusta Bottoms road, it stretches between 3 different counties as it winds its way through the Missouri River Valley, and of course with each different county, they have a different degree of interest in maintaining the road, or “not”. It’s paved in part, gravel in another, and then kind of obstacle course of pot holes and water pits that makes folks think twice about coming this way. Some with better, more precious vehicles and more time on their hands would travel the extra 8 miles around to avoid this mess, and sometimes I did too when I had my minivan, but with my new Outback, it was like another challenge to conquer.
Anyway, little traffic if any, so it’s mostly just me and mother nature around and I’m liking it.
About an hour or so into my painting, maybe more I hear this bird chirping. That’s common, there’s all sorts of birds around, there is loads of life in the fields and I have some good-sized trees on either side following the waterway, so there is a pretty constant array of sounds of calling birds, but this one sounds pretty close from behind me where there are no trees.
So I chirp back.
I found out recently I’m not supposed to do this, it confuses the animals when you mock them or try to copy their call. They think there is another bird in their territory and the get distressed and freak out. I’ve thought my entire life that it’s the beautiful singing of the birds, but listening to some birder friends of ours, it’s just the opposite. It’s “get the “H***” out of here!
But still I chirp back.
It’s what I do, and if the birds knew me, they would understand, that’s just Greg being Greg. I do the same with human folks too, and yes humans get annoyed with me quite often for me and my childish games. Oh well, it’s what I do.
Anyway, this bird did not let it go, but I kept painting and every now and then, I chirp back.
But this bird wasn’t just going to chirp and let me forget it, it came closer and kept yapping… and yapping. It was reminding me of someone who comes up to you while you are painting in a quick paint and they start talking, and then just won’t go away. They just keep talking to you, and don’t get the subtle hints that you are working and need to finish. They just keep bending your ear, and that is exactly what this bird was doing, and it was getting closer still.
I’m thinking I shouldn’t have chirped back, now it thinks I’m a bird and wants to be life long friends or something.
This was definitely getting annoying.
The little critter had gone from maybe 25-30 feet away to now within my backup zone, and that is not a safe place for people or animals to be, I just without warning start backing up to look at my painting. Put a stroke down, back up, look at it, and do another, and for the last 10 minutes I’ve not backed up because I didn’t want to scare my new friend away.
But I changed my mind, it was time to confront this guy and lay down some guidelines for our new relationship.
I turned to face the bird, and just when I did it turned its tail to me, fell down on one knee, raised it tail feathers up in the air, and then started fluttering it’s wings and making a strange hacking type sound of “eh-eh-eh” over and over. It startled the daylights out of me. It was really quite the spectacle, and I was impressed.
That’s when if finally dawned on me!
I had heard of birds feigning injury to ward off predators from near its nest, but I wasn’t a predator, I’m an artist. And then nest? There’s no nest around here, it’s a rocky wash with nothing but dirt and rock, maybe some sticks that had washed down from the rains.
I took a step towards it and then it flew about 20 feet and did it again. Ha, I’m no dummy, I just saw he could fly, and now it’s doing the broken wing thing again. I searched around and around and nowhere could I find what might be a nest.
I’m going back to painting, so I did. And my fine feathered friend kept trying to get my attention and draw me away. But seriously, I had work to do, and every now and then I would search around for what might be a nest, but no, nothing. Nothing that I could see at least.
Had to have been a good 45 minutes or so before it figured out that I wasn’t moving. But as I painted, every time I stepped back to better evaluate my work, I searched around not wanting to accidentally step on its nest. Nothing!
I did not finish my painting in my first take, but the day had moved on too far and light had changed too much to keep going, so I packed up with plans to come back in the morning. I thought tomorrow that I could park the car in a different spot, and then set up my easel more in the middle of the road, and if a tractor or truck did want to get out in the fields I could easily pick up and move out-of-the-way. But this way I would be a little further from the edge where my crazy little bird friend wouldn’t be so eager to get me out of the area.
Well as it happened it rained much of that day, and through the night, with warnings of flash floods and the river rising but my painting wasn’t going to be affected much by this so off to the bottoms to finish up.
I wasn’t surprised to see where I was painting from was now under a bit of water, and saw that it had been considerably higher judging from the high water mark on the ground, with the little trail of debris, so I put on my waders and set up in about the same spot as the day before, more towards the center of the road than before and went back to my work.
Not much had changed looking across the land, the pool of water in the field was a bit deeper, but other than that it was that peaceful scene of Americana that was before me, and that’s what I painted, all in relative quiet. Less auto traffic because a “road closed, water on roadway” sign was up. And then noticeably my chatterbox companion from the day before was gone. It was nice not to have to be sociable and focus on work, but then what dawned on me was that the heavy rains and flooding had probably washed his, I mean “her” more likely, nest away. Kind of sad in a way. There were other birds I heard here and there. A crane in the waters searching for brunch, and I went back to painting.
Not meaning to make a long story longer, but it wasn’t before too long, but I looked out to my right down the road and heading right towards me was this skunk. That was all I needed was this guy to see me all of a sudden and in a start, decide to spray me with whatever it is they spray to give him his so-called nasty reputation. I did not move, and it did not look up. It kept coming towards me, and there was no way it was going to avoid me at all. Do I call out, “no, turn around” or what do you do? It still didn’t seem to notice me as it meandered along. Someone said they don’t have good eyesight, so wasn’t sure if this was a good thing or a bad thing. I wonder what kind of “olfactory” senses it has?
This is when it did something I would never have thought a skunk would do, instead of bending down the road to where I was, (I guess they don’t really know what roads are for anyway) it kept straight, went into the grass, and then dove in the water and began swimming upstream. I’d never have thought that was going to be an option for it, I thought it was see me, spray and run, or see me spray and me run.
Whew! I had dodged a bullet.
I guess if you are an animal in the Missouri River Valley, you’ve got to know how to swim, and swim it did. Never saw it again, and I’m grateful, though I did smell one close by when working on a nocturne painting in town the next night. Here in the bottoms it never came back.
And I finished my painting. Not a dramatic painting at all, the only real drama around was in the act of painting, and I’m not one to invent drama where there is none, well not too much. The painting I think captures the surrounding area nicely, it’s a quiet piece as is much of my work.
To me painting is a peaceful thing, and I try to capture that in what I do. It puts me at peace, it takes me out of this tumultuous world we live in, and helps me cope, or maybe not cope with reality. Before I escaped in other ways, now I escape through paint. I have not lost my addictive personality, I think I have only changed to a more productive addiction.
The painting is “Fly on Little Wing”, something from Jimi that was going through this mind that never stops, and I like it.