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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

Oh Mama, No Drama

October 1, 2015 by admin

You know what one of the things I like most about painting in plein air events around the country?

You, and people like you.

I love meeting other artists and people. (not always interchangeable) Visiting with them, painting, just hanging with other like minded people. I think it helps me grow in my art. I try to listen to what works for others, exchange ideas and stories. There is a lot of comradery going on at these things and I find it a blast.

I took part in a week long plein air event recently where I did just the opposite.

I’ve seen others do it, check in at the beginning and then not see them again till it was time to take home their awards and left over art. It was like they were never there, or were they? Why take part in an event with other artists if you are not going to hang out and socialize with the rest? Well, besides the awards, prize money, and glory?

Sure I know everyone is not sociable, and pretty much artists on the majority are recluses, hiding in their studios doing what they do best.

Kind of naive on my part to think that everyone should be out interacting and sharing their secrets with each other. Like art, there are all kinds, and that’s what it takes to make up this great world we live in.

I headed into this event just as happy as a lark, (bird, not cigarette) looking forward to seeing old friends and making new ones. I signed up to take part in every single event I could, paint-outs, concerts, luncheons, it’s just what I do.

Then in pops a little “DRAMA“!

It made me rethink…

Road Trip NY Day 7 053crop

Eric & Walter at Paint Camp

 

Eric Rhodes is the Publisher of Plein Air, and Fine Arts Connoisseur Magazines, and also puts on an annual event in the Adirondacks called the “Publisher’s Invitational”. Affectionately known as “Paint Camp“. This takes place in a beautiful setting in upstate New York with no workshops, no demos, no competitions. It’s just 100 artists from across the nation getting together to paint and hang with others. It’s what I think Woodstock in 1969 was originally created for, but this for artists.

…and there is only one (1) rule: “NO DRAMA”! (save the drama for your paintings!)

What a great rule it is in my opinion. We come there to paint and visit with others, we don’t really need distractions from this. Don’t want it, don’t create it, don’t encourage it. They’ve even created a little song for this, and you can listen and see a bit about “paint camp” here, Click Here

What I did when this happened was reevaluate my “situation” and I said to myself, “self”, “let’s just hang out here at the ranch and paint”. I’ve never just gone to an event and “just painted”, but if I did this I would avoid any sort of “drama”. Would I get lonely, would I be able to paint as well as before? Who knows, but I really was not in any sort of mood for another confrontation from other “unlike” minded artists, so I hid out on the old Pilgrim Ranch in the heart of Chase County.

Well I must say it was quite different. I missed the interaction with others, actually an artist friend Mike Flora was staying at the ranch for another day or two, and then Louanne Hein, another friend came back to the ranch to paint one afternoon, but other than that I stayed pretty focused on looking for things to paint right where I was, knowing there were dozens of artists just minutes away painting beautiful scenery and munching on catered meals.

It was dawn to dusk painting for me, which is just the way I like it. Up before the sun with my easel hoping to catch some “dramatic” light,  paint through out the day, and ending as the sun runs it’s circuit across the big Kansas sky.

If you have a routine that you do when you travel, or even at the studio. Set up things the same way, put your paints in a certain order, wear your lucky hat. Anyway, what happens when that routine is disturbed? Can you still produce your best?

Moving On

Moving On

I’ve won “Best of” from the studio, and then out plein air with folks bending my ear, and now in the solitude of the land.

You cannot always avoid drama in your life, but if you find you can go around a puddle without getting wet, why not? There are times you don’t see that puddle ahead, but you can still be prepared, mentally and physically.

Then what about the good drama versus the bad drama. Surely you don’t want your life so stress free that you grow into a sedentary bump on a log. You need that balance as within everything else. Balanced diet, balanced exercise, balance in your paintings. Recognizing and acting to things as they come along and acting accordingly.

Can you do it? Can I do it? Why not?

Well it’s back to business as usual for me, as if I really know what that is.

It’s good to know that if I need to hold up and paint I can do it, and I will if and when it is the best solution for the situation, but it’s important I feel to be able to interact with others in order to be successful in this crazy world. There are a few artists who can hide from all and send their paintings out via secret courier to the galleries and don’t have to deal with the human or inhuman public…

Hold on to your hat

…but I’m a quirky plein air artist who likes people like you.

You make the world a much more interesting place to live in.

“Paint on!”

 

 

 

 

Give me 4 for the Road

January 30, 2014 by admin

I really don’t talk about my art much here, or how or why I create it. Not sure why, I just don’t know enough about it to be out trying to act like an authority on something.

I try not to give advice, I find it better to speak of experience, and folks can take what they want from that.

So let’s talk art for a little bit, and specifically colors. I love them! Since my very first little paint set I just loved squeezing out the paints onto a pallet and mixing those things together. I have no idea how many paints that cheap little paint set had in it, but I know it had to have at least twice as many colors as I use now. I thought then that the more paints you had the better you would be, or at least the potential to be better increased.

Many people feel the same way, and some for good reason. They probably know what to do with that magic color they just found at the local hobby store. Me, not so fortunate. I bring home the most awesome tube of color that I could find, and like I was talking about the other day, you could tell in my next painting exactly which store I went to to buy that “perfect” color.

Growing up I painted some, but what I did the most was drawing. Pen, pencil. It’s what was around. I did not have a lot of

RGS circa 1977

RGS circa 1977

disposable income, so drawing on anything I could find was the way I honed my skills. A paint by number kit for Christmas at some point was fun, and loved the results, but it was only a temporary detour from my love for the line.

It was my drawing skills and eye for detail that landed me a job at Hallmark in the 70’s, training to become the Master Engraver that I am today. I loved it, and it paid well. Taking 2D art and creating something 3 dimensional, giving it form, and depth, creating that illusion of reality with edges and shape.

Though it was the draftsman skills that paid the bills, I found painting a wonderful release from reality, a place where one could go for a time to escape the chaos of the world around. Taking a large white canvas and throwing color on it, step back and feel what develops. Finding shapes, colors, textures all mixing to bring my imagination alive.

At first I stayed away from painting what I saw, but rather painted what I wanted to see in a world of crazy fantasy inspired by the times. I don’t know if the times changed or it was me, but the imagination took a sabbatical and I began creating from reality. (which at times can be just as odd)

In this mixed up world of art where breaking the rules is the norm, and following them is like the worst thing in the world one could do, there was this rule that I always stuck to since the beginning of time…

“Do NOT to use paint straight from the tube!” Okay, Okay already.

I took this rule and etched it deep into my psyche and still to this day I get this feeling that if  I put straight paint on my canvas someone is going to come up to me and put “cheater” on my forehead. And the number of paints on my pallet was limited only to how many I could find. That and  the size of my pallet…

till 2011

In 2011 I met a man that would change my pallet, my art, and my life. A quiet man, who spoke with his art and his actions. He took that crazy art store of colors, literally shipped it to a needy artist in Africa, all save 4 simple colors. 2 cool colors, and 2 warm colors, and said “go little grasshopper!” And I went.

My pallet

My pallet

“Why?” Is it easier with 4 colors, what are the advantages, and how about the drawbacks?

At the time I thought Rick was crazy telling me that I was going to be painting with only Cadmium Yellow Light, Cadmium Red Light, Alizarin Crimson, and Ultramarine Blue. Sure I had heard the stories about “you can make every color using just the 3 primary colors”, but I thought that was like an Urban Legend or something… not reality.  But I was about to find out. That or have the most gawd awful paintings the world has ever seen. (and there are some bad ones… not mentioning names)

I began my seemingly impossible task of creating art with my new pallet.

It was/is a challenge, but I must say after a while you begin not to miss the fact that you have no tubes of green paint on your pallet. I had to go so far as not even to put one in my back pack so I wouldn’t be tempted at first. I love some of those greens that they have out there, and when painting in the area I’ve grown up in, the summers cannot be recreated without every single shade of green being used!

What I began to see immediately in my art was something that I didn’t pay attention to before, (being self taught in this world

Rick on the Conejos

Rick on the Conejos

of color), and that was a harmony in my work. When they first spoke of seeing this in my paintings I had to step back and compare. And the more I became familiar with these colors, learning how to mix properly, making some of those colors that we find in our world, the more I began enjoying them, and the challenge of creating the art that I do with my limited pallet. It is very rewarding, and freeing at the same time for me. I don’t have to look to hard to see if I have all my paints before I leave on an outing. I just count them on one hand. Simple, even for me!

I use the same pallet for winter as I do for summer spring and fall (or is it autumn?) In each color I use a little bit all 3 of my primary colors. Whether the red I use is alizarin, or cad red depends on the temp I am trying to achieve at the time. But I always put a red, blue and yellow in all of my mixes. It’s that harmony I am still trying to achieve in my work, along with knocking down the tone a bit.

So is this another one of those “rules” that I have to live by, do or die type thing? No way! I really have no qualms about using a yellow ochre or a viridian sometime. I know they are very useful colors, and I’m sure my art would benefit by throwing in an extra tube of something or two, and I’m sure I will. Rick told me when he went to paint overseas he added another blue to his pallet. I wish I could remember which one, but if and when I travel across the water I’ll know.

In the meantime my goal is to become well versed at what I do. I have a long ways to go, and a short time to get there. No idea how short.

I love my 4 color pallet, it’s simple, easy to pack up, and I can still make a total mess of things with these 4 as I did with 44.

This would have been Rick’s “Golden Year” Born in ’57 and 57 years old.

Thanks Rick

LaSauses Turnaround

LaSauses Turnaround

 

Do You See What I See?

December 31, 2013 by admin

A star, a star, dancing in the night, with a tail as big as a kite.

The holidays are about over for this season, just New Years and then Ground Hogs Day is coming up, but then we’ve got a bit of a break. I had hoped to take this holiday time to get a bit of a rest from a long hard year, and spend some time with family and friends.

Did it work out the way I had planned? Did it work out that way for you?

I did spend more time with family, but the slowing down part never really happened. I enjoy painting so I try to get out and do it as regularly as possible, and at the same time

Dorian & I

Dorian & I

I have been readying myself for the upcoming year. Can’t enter it without a running start can we? No way!

But as I traveled with family, sat around visiting, playing games and enjoying company I consciously found myself looking at things as I always do. Trying to decide how this could look better. What I could do if I were going to paint it to make it a more pleasant scene. It did not matter what it was I was looking at, and it didn’t really make much of a difference what was going on. Automatically my brain begins to compare and evaluate.

No I don’t “zone out”, well not to my knowledge at least. I just quietly look at things, try to figure out what their local color is, how I could mix it up with my pallet of 4 colors. How it might fit better on a page, landscape or portrait format. There are a bazillion things that run through your mind in an instant, some of them are actually pertinent to the situation, but then many… my favorite ones, are the ones that assess it’s composition and reproduction possibilities.

I have no idea if this is what all artists do, and whether it is a learned behavior, or more genetic. I do know that as long as I can remember I have been doing this in some manner or form.

188861_1877181046860_1991848_n

“KC Scout”

Grade school had me taking scribbles from other kids and I would take them and transform them into interesting objective or abstract designs. Not a page a school notebook or textbook went without being adorned in some form or another. (much to the dismay of my parents who had to pay for damages) Walls, desks, table tops, stairwells, nothing was too sacred for me and my mini masterpieces!

Is this natural for the artist, or the creative mind? Is it natural for everyone? I can only speak for myself, and it was natural for me. But if I were to listen to some of my keepers, I believe “are you crazy?”, and “what were you thinking?” was quite often mentioned, so maybe it wasn’t something everyone did.

It is not just in the arts. My mind works in a manner that is constantly trying to improve something, maybe. Things just can’t be left alone would be a better adjective. Always trying to find ways to change things, hopefully to make them better, but not always the case. I love to fix things, create, destroy, alter, change… Things were not made to be left alone. Is it a “guy” thing? I know for a fact that the majority of men when presented with a problem will try to fix it, while that same case being presented to a group of women, they will talk about it… then who knows?

By that time I am long gone!

I love the challenge of taking any scene and creating the best 581361_4536368924895_1243090803_ncomposition possible out of it. I’m getting better at it, and I believe it’s benefited greatly from the constant appraising of the view before me, and then of course a bit of education. Finally getting a bit of “formal” training in the arts, and what it entails. Reading books by some of the Masters of the genre, Payne, Hawthorne, Carlson. At long last paying attention to those who know better and listening.

If only I had listened to my elders earlier, ha! Not me, I’m the type that must learn by trial and error, and error, and… right now I am trying to see less than what is there. My mentor did not go a session without telling me to “simplify!” Less is better, no paintings were ruined by having too little. I was notorious for including everything I saw into the painting. A typical beginners mistake I’m afraid.

I will always be a student of the arts.

Do you see what I see? I doubt it, we all see differently, and that is good. Our brains interpret things differently, the eyes see, the brain translates, and we create, and create, and create.

 

Into the Drainage Ditch

November 19, 2013 by admin

Step outside your front door, how many times a day do you do this? A little, a lot? Why do you go out there? To check the mail, get the paper, go to your car and leave for work. There are other times you go out front to spend a bit of time there, maybe picking up things, raking the leaves, or visit with a neighbor on a nice day.

Drainage Ditch

Drainage Ditch

What do you see out there, or how do you see? Do you look at it with the same discerning eye that you use when you go looking for something to inspire you to paint? Are some of you saying “why would I need to go outside to get inspiration to paint?”  Ah, the poor studio artist who has not been hit by the plein air bug. (maybe it was the bugs that are keeping them inside, I can see that)

Me? My inspiration is provided by the great outdoors! It could be anything on any given day, but rarely do I look where I live for material to paint… I do my best to get quickly out of my neighborhood to find something! I live in the typical middle class neighborhood in a typical midwestern suburb. I’ve driven through suburbs around the country and they are all pretty much the same. Some are more quaint, others somewhat mundane, there are the sterile well-groomed neighborhoods that do not normally make the best subject material for gallery walls, and then the more rustic, more charming.

I do try to look for interesting possibilities in and around my stomping ground, though I never have actually set up my easel and begun painting, at least not till recently. An artist friend was doing a little challenge in his home town in Arkansas of painting 24 plein air paintings in 24 hours. (John P. Lasater IV) and some of the promoters, or maybe it was John who suggested other artists go out and paint a painting in an hour and send it in. Originally I wanted to do this there in Siloam Springs painting John painting, but time and circumstances did not allow this, so I took part in a paint out here locally and did a few paintings. One painting I did in an hour was at a lake and I did a time-lapse photography of the painting, ending up with a 30 second clip of my 1 hour painting.

On the 2nd day of John’s event I had little time to go looking, but I did want to do another, because I was not that thrilled with the painting from the day before. I had an idea, and it was close by my house, but could I do it? I mean, I had no problem painting in an hour, it’s the fact that this painting was going to be here in my own

in the ditch

in the ditch

neighborhood. My friends and neighbors, most who had no idea what I did for a living, were going to be able to see me out there painting.  It was to say the least an odd feeling. It’s much different from painting in a city street, or a park, or a painting competition. This is right there where you are going to have to go back and visit these people again, look them in the eye as you talk of the weather.

I have no idea why it feels odd painting there in your own front yard, it shouldn’t, it’s your own place, no one can make you leave. Maybe it’s that “don’t crap where you sleep” or “don’t date from your workplace” type thing? I know that’s kind of stretching it, but if you think about it…

I’m dragging this far too long, there are things to do, both you and I.

What I did, I drug my easel and my little intervelometer with camera equipment and headed to ditch that had caught my eye. Yes a ditch! A cement thing between the backyards that usually has a trickle of water running in it, plus an occasional ball that has been hit over a fence and never retrieved. It was the perfect little tunnel composition, and I know I was going to be quick because I intentionally set up just an hour before my favorite football team came on the air.

I was down just below street level with my easel set up in the slight stream of mossy green water. A perfect autumn day with the leaves just turning, and gathering along the edges out of the wind.

The painting went well, I managed to shoot a little time-lapse of the painting in progress, and got back to the house with only 5 minutes of the game missed. Football games are the perfect time for setting up the laptop and working on videos, organizing, marketing. I used this valuable time to put together my photos into a little  film clip, added an intro, some music and uploaded it to the world wide web. (view video of “Into the Drainage Ditch)

Not the YouTube sensation like dancing babies, or elephants painting portraits, but I was pleased with it. Plus I had finally broke that invisible force field that allowed me to paint in my own neighborhood. It’s still the same little area that it was before, kind of plain, but now I will adjust my eye a little bit to see things a bit differently, there is a beauty in everything, can we see it, and if we can, then capture it successfully.

Bob Bahr of PleinAir Magazine’s “Outdoor Painter” online magazine saw a bit on this and suggested I put something together on Facebook inviting others to show their neighborhoods. I posted a little “challange” for artists “Looking Out my Front Door”, with 1 rule, and that was to be within 50 feet of the front door.

Response has been very positive, most all thought a fun idea, there was only 1 outright “NO”, and quite a few, “no time” and I understand. I did not have time to do this myself, but sometimes I just have to carve out some time, just for fun! For me, life is way too short to take seriously. It’s got to be fun, and if it’s not, then make it fun!

I try.

Of Course there's a Flag

Of Course there’s a Flag

This has gone on way too long, but you get the idea.

It’s been proven that you can make art out of anything, and out of nothing. The world of art is pushing the extremes, trying to break new ground and break out of that proverbial box forever. That’s fine, but there are some things that are a little more timeless than others, and that is the beauty that the real artist creates in his work. Taking the mundane, the commonplace, the normal and seeing it through their own eyes and presenting it in compelling composition, a thing of beauty, a work of art. One does not need to push any boundaries all the time. There are those who will not even take a second glance at a piece of art that is not to one extreme or another, that is fine, for me.

In my world the leaf blowers blast just a little too much, traffic is light because we live on a dead end.  A wonderful place to raise a family, and visit with neighbors. But for painting I will still travel outside my “Cherokee Farms” subdivision, though now I know I can in a pinch create here.

 

 

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