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Fly on Little Wing

May 6, 2019 by admin

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.

Killdeer

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.

Fly on Little Wing

An Early Spring

March 4, 2019 by admin

I’ve been part of a little group of artists that head down to the Big Bend National Park area to paint each February now for 3 years. Nothing more than a few like minded souls getting together and doing what we come to do best.

Paint

If you’ve not been to this area along the Rio Grande River, I tell you you are missing out on something. It is simply spectacular. It is one of the largest National Parks in America and at the same time the least used. That’s okay with me because the influx of folks to this area by the millions would totally ruin it’s nature. Kind of what it’s done to Yellowstone, or Zion.

Sure, it’s people that needs to come appreciate and enjoy what this wonderful land before us, but at the same time, it’s people that totally ruins it. Tourists in general think much only of themselves and their conviences and do not consider what their actions do to the land around them. Not all, but more often than not it seems.

Enough of my little soapbox, let me step down and get back to our trip.

I look forward to this trip with these fellow artists, Dick Sneery originally asked me to go about 4 years ago on an Outdoor Painter Society trip to Big Bend but I didn’t because of I have no idea why, but the very next year after seeing all the paintings and photos that Dick had returned with, I had to find out for myself. I jumped on the chance and the two of us rode down together stopping for Tim Oliver in Lubbock Texas along the way.

What an unbelievable place this was, completely different than what I had expected. A spectacular array of mountains, desert, river canyons, ghost towns. A painters treasure trove all wrapped into one area. Mind you the area is VERY big, and it takes hours to drive from one end of the park to the other, but in between those ends are vistas and painting opportunities gallore.

Each year our group seems to add a few more artists, and have affectionetly become known as the “Rattlesnake Gang”. And luckily our encounters with said critters have been to a minimum, but just in case high top boots and gaiters are a pretty darn good idea.

I have never really gone to the area with any other goal than to just paint, and paint some more. As my Dad says, “from can see, to can’t see”. That was always my goal, but this year I thought to go a little differently.

That was to have a plan besides just painting. I always try to improve on what I do, I find nothing easy to paint, and have rarely done anything that is completely to my satisfaction. Probably never will, but this time to have a little bit of direction to what I’m doing.

This year was, “paint objects, not scenes”.

Painting a lot with Lon Brauer last year I got a good chance to banter things back and forth quite a bit, and one of those was things was painting objects. I love Lon’s work, it’s amazing, and he’s brave as hell, always pushing himself, experimenting with materials, with process, with subjects. I love it, and I am envious.

Lon in the desert

Me? I’m a little chicken.

I tell myself I’m pushing myself, trying new things, but not to the extremes that I want to, or need to. I can’t even add another color to my palette I’m so darn comfy with the 4 that I’m using!

But small steps, I can do that. I have another color in my pack, not used it yet, but I will put it on my palette this next trip. The other thing was working on objects.

One of the biggest things I noticed when I began painting outdoors was the amount of information out there. It was everywhere, in the darks, in the lights, it was information overload, and I never had this problem painting from photos. There, you had never enough info, or the wrong info. So when I began outside I tried to paint it all, and it took forever. I came back to the same spot for weeks painting on the canvas and painting and painting some more and I just couldn’t get it all.

I’ve cut that down to being able to paint the same thing in one session of about 2 hours, but I find myself many times painting “scenes”. Sure that’s okay, and I love scenes. I grew up loving the Hudson Valley painters work, and what better scene painters are there than them? But I found that when I zoomed in on a subject, grabbed one thing and focused on it, that’s when my paintings became stronger.

It is harder for me to make a good painting of a scene than it is to find a simple object, break it down to simple elements, and make a winner out of it. If I were to go back and look at all the awards over the years, the majority have gone to simpler subjects. Not always the case, but I know I do have to work harder when painting a view of the river valley than I do when I paint just a boat on that river.

So my goal this trip was to paint more objects, less panoramic time consuming views.

Not that you can’t spend the same amount of time painting a simple subject, and I have. I love simplifying anymore, and it’s those type of paintings that really attract my attention at the galleries. Those wonderful abstract shapes that are strong and dynamic. I want this, and it’s only pushing oneself that you can do this. But I need to push harder, get out of that comfort zone and push my boundaries. I have set up these barriers myself, no one else has told me to stay where I am. I won’t grow if I don’t.

If you can’t do it yourself, find someone to tell you what to do. That’s why we take workshops from others. To see and feel how they do it, and learn their approach. Is it better, is it faster? Is it for you? We don’t know if we don’t try, and if we can’t physically push ourselves, find someone to help. Don’t just listen and say, “okay, I will”. Go that extra step or two.

Doesn’t work, what have you lost? But you’ll never know if you don’t try.

I did do more simple subjects this trip, trying to focus on objects. I painted a total of 15 paintings in the 5 days along the Rio. For the most part I’m happy with what I created. They can use some tweaking here and there, some I would like to make into larger studio pieces. Out of those 15, 8 were focused more on a subject than a scene. That’s not 100% but small steps like I said are better than no steps at all.

I love the hanging with other artists at these events and especially here at Big Bend, talking art till late in the night as we stare into the vast depths of the winter sky above. Sharing stories of there exploits during the day over an evening meal at the local dinner. Each one of us with our own agenda and our own direction in life, but for these few days in the West Texas winter we are bonded by the rawness in this land that is as hard and sharp as bones of those that came before us.

Johnny Cash wrote about this area along the Rio Grande in his song “Mean as Hell”, kind of describes things nicely…

It’s a hell of a place that he has for hell
The heat in the summers are hundred and ten
Too hot for the devil, too hot for menThe red pepper grows upon the banks of the brook
The Mexican use it in all that he cook
Just dine in with one of ’em and you’re bound to shout
I’ve hell on the inside as well as it out

If you want fine dining and fancy beds, then maybe you might find a group further North to paint with, cause if you’re wanting to join the Rattlesnake Gang, and we’re happy to have you.

Just check your pedigree at the door

The Rattlesnake Gang, 2019

 

From Pleins to Peru, gearing up

July 23, 2018 by admin

An agregious spelling error on my part or a not so veiled freudian slip?

If you know me at all, you know that I travel quite extensively to paint, though if you ask me, and I’m a big proponent of this, “just look outside your door” if you want to find something to paint. I strongly feel that it’s not what you paint, but how you paint it, this makes a good artist.

But that said, when the opportunity knocks to hike the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu in Peru… JUMP ON I

Which is how this artist from the plains of Kansas is heading to the heart of the ancient Inca civilization to to a little plein air painting… hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu.

Is this strictly a painting trip? Not on your life.

Sitting around the table back in January of this year with some old friends of Susie’s, some how the topic of Machu Picchu came up and that it was on someones bucket list of things to do.  Sure it’s on mine too, and maybe yours, but somehow before the week’s end we already had our permits (needed months in advance) to hike the trail and entry into one of the Seven Wonders of the World.

I guess we were going.

Unlike our trip to New Zealand and Australia a couple of years back, I am bringing my paints. “Down Under” I was left to the kind folks in Australia to bring me paints, easel, and all. Good fun, but still left to the mercy of others. This time I have stripped all my gear to Zero and have built it back up specifically for the purpose of painting along the Inca Trail.

Out went my 5 giant tubes of M. Graham paints, and in comes the smaller Cobra water misable oil paints. My Dad is still puzzled just at the concept of being able to mix oil and water, but then so am I… so I don’t think about it. My trusty Soltek Easel has been swapped out for a feather weight “Fly on the Wall” easel made by the Prolific Painter himself, Joshua Been. Weighing less than 2 1/2 lbs, it is exactly what I was looking for to help lighten my load. The Inca Trail is not an easy hike carrying only water, let alone a backpack full of gear, but by switching out my gear I have knocked off almost 20 pounds. With enough rest stops along the way, I feel I can do this.

Now just timing our rest stops with amazing places to set up to paint, that I am hoping will happen automatically.

I have 3- 9×12″ panel paks for carrying wet paintings, each one has 2 pieces of Canson 136lb oil paper, or Arches 140lb paper taped to each panel giving me 12 paintings in my pack at a time, and when needed I will switch out with new paper, placing the studies in sturdy envelopes with wax paper between. (once dry enough, if not dry, I will use some of the Canson Paper between)

For storing the paint, I picked up the “Palette Garage” from Best Brella and cut it down to size to fit the new Fly on the Wall easel.

Also included is the SLIK Lite tripod, bug spray, sunscreen, trekking poles, hat, and a 3 liter Camel Pak water bladder.

What is not shown are some warm clothes because it’s winter right now in Peru, and hiking up to elevations of up to 13,828 feet, I’m going to take something to keep me warm. I am not a fan of cold, or heights or water. I don’t think I’ll need to worry about water, so this is a good thing, but cold and heights, we’ll just have to deal with that when it comes up.

It’s an adventure of a lifetime, and I’m heading down there with some great friends and the most wonderful wife anyone could ask for. She is actually the one who encouraged me to bring my paints, though I did not need a lot of persuading.

I look to paint every chance I get, and post when I can. Internet and cell service is probably not going to happen often, but when it does I’ll make sure you hear from me, and see if I’ve been using all this new gear I picked up.

Well, Machu Picchu by way of the ancients… or bust.

Let’s do it!

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