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.
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.
My 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.
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.
Different 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 😉