Into the Drainage Ditch
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.
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
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!
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.