Heavy Metal Thunder
Not the normal sound one hears as they paint the countryside.
I would like to think I am a very cautious man. For instance, in the world of power tools I always use every precaution and if a safety device is not functioning I will just not use it.
I always wear a seat belt, don’t even think about it, it’s just what should be done. This might just be smart, heck with cautious… I don’t keep my passwords and pin numbers in the same place as my account numbers. What about you?
So what about painting? Me, I’m an artist who paints primarily outdoors on site. I would like to think that I am careful on my outings. This is something that maybe the studio artist need not worry about so much, though I know there are many inherent dangers to painting within the confines of those 4 walls. But when coming back from a trip to South Central Nebraska I told of the location of one of the paintings and was quickly informed that I had to be crazy, and that had he seen me painting there that he would have taken that opportunity to “run my ass over”.
Maybe he had it in for just me, and not all artists… I hope.
I had gone to this location suggested to me by a friend the day before. It was the Little Blue River near Pauline Nebraska. The sun was quickly getting lower with the light from the late autumn sun, and it being a week day, the traffic seemed to be pretty steady, but I parked along the highway and walked both sides of the bridge, and across looking for the best vantage point to paint. There was barbed wire fences at each end keeping me from getting down along the river, and the area between the road and the fence left a scene that I was not really that thrilled about.
I left this location and drove South 5-10 miles when I saw the way the light was hitting an old barn in a cornfield freshly turned so I pulled over, setup along the edge of the field maybe a good 20-25 feet off the highway and painted away.
The following day after chores, I was still drawn towards that location at the Little Blue River. I gathered up my gear and headed back to see if there was someway I could paint that little windy river.
I drove East bound on 74 past the bridge going over the river and turned around so as to park my car at the foot of the bridge just out of the West bound traffic lane. Keep in mind that Nebraska highway 74 is nothing like an interstate. Speed limit I believe was 60-65 mph through this little stretch, which is much better than the 75 mph on Interstate 80 just North of here. Traffic was much lighter than the day before, you could go 4-5 minutes without a vehicle coming by. I walked out to the center of the bridge and saw the same scene I saw yesterday that had really set the bug in me to paint this little area. I was looking North as this river wound it’s way down and around the countryside.
I decided this is where I would set up!
There was a good 6 maybe 8 feet from the edge of the road to the side of the bridge, and I thought this a safe enough amount of space to set up my easel and back up as I tend to do as I paint. I went back to my car and slightly angled it’s tail towards the road as we see the highway patrol do to give themselves a little more room as they write us a speeding citation. Turned on my emergency flashers and then carried my pack and canvas out to the center of the bridge.
I’m sure you’ve noticed this while walking along a road. First you hear it, gradually getting louder and louder, then you feel it as it comes by at 6o miles an hour, there is this amazing gust of wind, and then conversely a vacuum behind it that fills the void that it just left. It’s the heavy metal thunder that rolls across the highways and bi-ways keeping us in our daily goods. The last of the American cowboys, and they are the trucks and the truck drivers of world. Well I learned pretty quickly what things I needed to hold onto when a large semi came cruising by. This being in the great plains there is a pretty steady wind most of the time anyway, and you prepare for it. I have carabiners that I clip weights to my easel to help hold it in place, and bungie cord to hold me pallet down. But things did need to be secured each time a truck came by.
It really wasn’t too bad with mostly trucks hauling grain passing on occassion. I would wave hello as the ones I was facing would go by before I had to grab things, local farmers and ranchers would wave and slow to see what I was doing, but none seemed to be out to get the crazy artist, or no one laid on their horn to let me know that I just wasn’t wanted in them parts.
I looked for some sort of bright orange safety cones before I left, and I know it’s a good idea if I do go buy something like this to keep in my car. Maybe some of those collapsing caution triangles they sell for setting up when changing tires. I was wearing a bright red hoodie as I often do, and it can be seen from a good distance. This is not the place I want to be wearing camouflage!
When I go out to paint and I see a scene that I really want to paint, I’ll do what it takes to paint that scene safely. I want to live to paint my masterpiece, and I know it’s going to be hard enough as it is, let alone having to do it from a hospital bed. If I thought I would be a hinderance to oncoming traffic, I would not have setup there. I have no problem painting from photographs, though I would much rather set up and paint on site, finish if I can, or at least get a good block in before taking something into the studio.
I have the utmost respect for other people, for farmers, for truckers, for everyone. I will not infringe upon them to create my art. If there is a fence, I don’t cross it, if it’s private property, I get permission. And if it’s blocking a 20,000 lb semi that is traveling 60+ mph down the highway, I am NOT going to make them be the one to decide whether or not they want to get out of the way!
Artists in general have a reputation of being a little quirky and odd, I don’t need to add “obstructions” to the list of adjectives they use to describe us. So stay safe, always be wareful of your surrounding because after all is said and done, we want to live to paint another day.