The following excerpts are taken from Eric Roads thoughts on plein air painting. While reading his blog, his thoughts are my thoughts about sitting in nature and just observing. Even if one does not paint a pretty picture. The time just observing is worth its weight in gold.
In fact, my friend the great Russian painter Nikolai Dubovik taught me that he, and many others in his country, use painting as an act of meditation and prayer. I find that when I paint, I’m having a continual dialogue with God. I find myself in a meditative state, lost in the rich greens, the crashing ocean waves, or the distant mountains. It simply doesn’t get much better.
One of my dear readers in England, Kate Edge, wrote me this week to say this:
"By far the hardest thing to be today is to be at peace, to be centered in the place of stillness where the Spirit of God resides as it clearly does in Creation. The miraculous sunset which you witnessed is without limit, it is just simply a total flow of joyfulness in the creation of colour which all of us register with our retinas too."
She goes on to write,
"Painting is a response to the pure beauty we are blessed to witness and which we honour by the desire to wish to capture, which is also the desire to remember that moment when we were present in mind with the eternal. When you let go of all techniques and must try to do this or that, there is another, deeper painter within which does not have an agenda. It flows its wisdom over the canvas, and if it is given the space before the busy mind engages what it wants to do in the extraction process from nature, into a rectangle, someone else flows through the heart and mind, and it registers a different feel
altogether in the brush, and the result.
The painting done outdoors is about losing yourself, and touching base with Creation that makes the experience so important.
Eric goes on to write:
Remarkably, it’s rare to meet an outdoor painter who is angry, unhappy, or carrying an ego the size of Texas, and I think it’s because they are in nature, still, looking at one spot, and taking it in. It’s the stillness that makes this special and gives them peace.
because I believe painting outdoors opens hearts and calms us inwardly.
We’re all living very busy lives. We’re not communicating with our families when we’re all on our phones around the dinner table. We’re in a world of constant stimulation, feeling the need to not let a second pass us by without a new e-mail or social media post. Though it's a wonderful time to be alive and to gather information, it’s also a dangerous time of addiction when our phones and social media posts become more important than love, human interaction, and communication with our Creator, however you define that.
our families need leadership away from their addictions, so they can realize what else is out there — so they don’t grow up and only visit places on their phones or in virtual reality. We need experiences in nature, and we all need, somehow, to plant ourselves in one place to take it in. That’s why I find painting so appealing; it satisfies my busy mind’s need to be doing something, yet it offers me peace and meditation.
If there is time, give yourself this gift of one spot, breathing the air, smelling the scent of pines, and staring into the rich colors of nature. It will feed your soul.
I couldn't have said it better myself. Thank you Eric Roads.
The beginning of this blog story starts August 10. Please refer back to Aug 10 for context.
When you spend some time in Writing On Stone you come to realize the Spirituality of the place. Many of the hidden rock art pictographs will reveal itself during certain lighting conditions. Raking light is useful in some instances, and ambient, cloudy days are great for viewing other panels of rock art as well.
When outdoor painters paint their canvases, lighting conditions are the most challenging to work with. What reveals beauty one minute, hides it the next. The same would go for this project of camouflage.
The best way I could come up with getting a solution for "fooling the eye", in all conditions, was to find the right value identity. Then worry about color. This proves to work for Sandstone painting as well. Just getting that value right on a porous surface was a struggle at best, and very time consuming.
I liken the process of value adjustments to sitting in traffic. I paint an area and wait for the light to turn green. Meaning the pigment goes on wet, waiting for it to dry to give me the signal. if I have succeeded in the right value and color match or not. More often than not, I was stuck in a long line of traffic. The light was red for a lot longer than it appeared green.
As an artist you know how important lighting conditions are. In the studio you can control the direction of light and type of light to work to your benefit. Even if you are outdoors you can position your easel to achieve the benefits of greater control over what you are about to paint. This project has none of those conditions to manipulate. Red Light Green Light.
Panels worked on (or not worked on) were entirely based on the movement of the sun. If at all possible, the value matching had to be done on panels that were in shade. This way you could better evaluate a local value/color. If you could match the value in the shade, it will match in the sun as well. I found it easier on the eyes to work on shaded panels whenever possible. I value my eyesight and prolonged staring at a strongly lit panel would do considerable harm to those valuable retinal receptors. As outdoor painters will contest. Starting on a white canvas/paper for this initial start is hard on the eyes. Working in direct sun is very detrimental to visual acuity.
Stepping up to the challenge of this project was met with many disappointments. Many of which come from working with Mother Nature and getting your ego pummeled. The challenge to think you can come up with a better solution. The challenge to communicate with the rock.
In the end, after so many trials and a lot of prayer (remember "a spiritual place") there was some success (at least temporarily). There was much elation as well. When a challenge is accepted, and actually succeeds, there is a great sense of elation.
I learn a lot from Mother Nature. Working alone with her along the trails and sandstone cliff walls. b There are whispers heard when you really listen. Working in early mornings to beat the excessive heat of the day, brought a new kind of sense of calm to the soul. Mother Nature was awakening. I could hear the deer munching on the grasses. Footsteps through the grass echos through the valley. Life as it meets the rest of the day. As the earth warms, the insects come alive. Buzzing at the foot of the cliff walls. When you are alone in a place you begin to hear life all around you. The buzz of the wings echo against the sandstone. So much so, you begin to realize they are communicating. It almost sounds like a group of people talking and I begin to listen closely to make out the words.Or I look over my shoulder to see if there are people drifting down the river. But no, it was just Nature doing its thing. When you have the time to stop, look, and listen you will find a joy in this "Spiritual" place. The joy that Nature expresses, if you only take the time to listen and as artists...to see.
I came into this project, with a designated title of "Artist". The title may be of little significance. How hard can it be? Using your talents to match color to camouflage a surface area. But it was much more involved that just matching a man made color to a man made surface, as modern day image makers do today. Or perhaps even easier yet, to have a computer do it for you. Complications evolve when you include Mother Nature in the plans.
Conservation-restoration of cultural heritage, protection and restoration of cultural heritage, including works of art and architecture, as well as archaeological and historical artifacts.
In conservation practice, their are efforts taken to "know your materials",
What color? What pigment? What surface? What binder? What texture?
What can you do with the materials to manipulate a surface to obey your commands. In other words to be in control of your materials. There had to be some kind of systematic way to organize and test the pigments found in the rock.
I started pounding found colored rock. Seeing what pigment I can "squeeze" out of each type of colored sandstone and yellow ochers. Getting a feel for the rock before starting pigment trials. I felt the most confident in experimenting with local material. Trying to come up with a solution using local materials, rather than adding something foreign to the sandstone. I spent many hours grinding rocks into powders and mixing and matching ratios of different rocks to come up with a value and color solution. Sun and weather conditions may prove to disprove my trials to pigment matching, yet in the short term, camouflage was successful using all natural material from the area.
At this point I would need some help from conservationist/scientists to come up with a conservation material that will hold up to the weather conditions. Since pigments and paintings in museum settings are all under such controlled conditions, how can one expect longevity of pigments in an open air setting? Much more research would have to be done to come up with a solution for longevity.
As an artist on a conservation project, I needed to be comfortable in knowing all material added, could be reversed. To do no further harm to the rock face. The pigments used are natural pigments. From pigments to binders, all natural rocks and soil were from the area.
Every effort was made to keep the material used natural and local. Clay makes a good binder. Bentonite clay is natural in the area. The soil is also clay in nature. Both were considered. Clay earth was found in the banks of the Milk River, and Bentonite Clay was purchased for use on this project. In the park, the Bentonite Clay mounds are considered "Spirit Mounds". The Bentonite clay was not retrieved from these mounds but purchased in store for use as a binder.
Red Light Green Light
You might think this is about sitting in traffic. But for my next installment I will talk of trials of lighting conditions when working in the great outdoors. Outdoor painters will know exactly what I'm talking about when it comes to the color of light.
The magic of the creative process is to inspire and motivate you to see a colorful world.
Graffiti: writing or drawings scribbled, scratched, or sprayed illicitly on a wall or other surface in a public place.
synonyms: street art, spray-painting, inscriptions, drawings;
The graffiti, in these days, becomes a social experiment. The park in Southern Alberta called Writing on Stone defies itself by it's very name. Visitors are Impressed by it's beauty coming from a flat endless prairie to a valley of sandstone hoodoos and a milky river meandering through it. This is a public place, designated as a provincial park. It has become a place where the public is invited to explore, hike, and camp. It is a track of land that is ripe with history. Both prehistoric and cultural. Named initially for many rock art panels found on their cliff walls. From the Blackfoot word Áísínai'pi, meaning "it is written," Writing-On-Stone is both a provincial park and a place of great archaeological significance. Located in south-central Alberta, Writing-On-Stone contains one of the most important collections of ancient rock art found anywhere in North America.
Herein lies the problem with Writing On Stone graffiti.
Why I call it a social problem? This graffiti is Vandalism, not street art or public art.
Street art became a tool, in an urban setting, to communicate views of dissent or expressing political concerns. This need to write your name over and over again in a public space, comes from a culture of fame. It is regrettable that these vandals think this is the only way to become famous. The vandalism at Writing On Stone is an inexcusable destruction of property and has been shown to have negative repercussions in this particular setting. When you are inscribing your name on a sandstone rock in this area you are, more than likely, not aware of the ancient rock art you may be destroying beneath. Your individual need for notoriety overrides the ancient history of those who told their stories in a more succinct nature, through their rock art.
Criminologists have observed vandalism to have a "snowball effect" of generating more negativity within the vicinity of known spots of graffiti. If this graffiti is not removed, people will walk by and think no one cares about the place. The unfavorable damage created by incised names, scratches and scribbles on the rock surface therefore becomes acceptable. Then, if it is acceptable, it becomes increasingly more likely graffiti will continue without consequence.
This vandalism is not acceptable in the park and attempts are being made to remove graffiti from the sandstone rock hoodoos and cliff faces.
The respect for the earth, the people of this earth, and for self, seem to be of little significance to a sub-culture of a generation we have today. Noted, I am not blaming an entire generation, but a subculture that does exist. A blanket statement that seems to reveal itself in every generation of the past.... "Kids today!" ...seems to be a statement uttered by an older generation of adults that presumably know better.
So back to the question of what kind of artist am I?
Perhaps I want to help beautify the landscape before me and inspire you to see the same. To observe the landscape directly with emotion. A positive emotion. Urban culture has begun to pervade the rural landscape. Perhaps we can stop the Vandalism by saying "we care for this area." We want to preserve the beauty nature has revealed to us. To be reminded of our own emotions when walking the trails of natural earth. Feel the magnetic energy, the sun, soil, and wind can reveal, without the visual distraction of mans claim for attention.
This July, I was honored to be asked to help in the Vandalism/Graffiti removal and Camouflage project. To do my part, as an artist, to help in the conservation of our land, our culture, and prove to others we will not neglect this place of beauty.
What kind of artist am I? I think about making art constantly. When projects get in the way that I must finish before moving on. My head filled with thoughts I cannot escape from. Pull me here, then push me there. Start something with no motivation to finish. Constantly on my mind. Resolve the issue, tackle the challenge. It feels like a manic idea, yet staying in limbo despite all of the plans. July came and went. With a wonderful, frustrating, defeated, elation, and at times euphoric feelings that came with each day. Sometimes all of those emotions in one day.
I wasn't painting the landscape of Writing On Stone. Not as an artist paints a landscape, but as a plastic surgeon repairs a scar. Graffiti removal and camouflage in Writing on Stone Provincial Park. An art project that gets me out of a comfort zone and tests everything I know about color. The project observed nature directly, with every kind of emotion. The sandstone cliffs can communicate. They are bathed in light, engulfed in air, living and breathing despite their static nature. This is the magic they have expressed to me while I worked so closely with them throughout the month of July.
The Archaeological preserve of Writing On Stone has been in process of cleaning graffiti from the rock art sites. Previously found, traced and photographed by archaeologists, rock art panels are everywhere, and so is graffiti. The Graffiti removal project was started in 2012, of which I volunteered. July's project, I revisited those panels, cleaned of graffiti by abrasion. Through abrasion comes rock scaring, as it took layers of the sandstone crust off of the surface. Therefore as a surgeon camouflaging a scar, an artist uses hue, value and chroma to camouflage it back to the rocks' original crust color.
As an artist, one is always experimenting with different mediums. To be an effective artist you must know your medium. Hence my adventure in learning about working with a living breathing creature called sandstone.
Well the opening night is over. Now it is on to Summer. There won't be too much to post these next few months, except maybe some restoration work and camouflage on graffiti strewn rocks in Writing on Stone Provincial Park.
In the mean time these are a few practice color sketches from old thumbnail drawings in which I started but did not finish in the winter.
And another color sketch from a drawing started and never finished. Trying to clean up the studio for some more creative endeavors in the fall. I plan to go full tilt after summer is over, since I have no teaching assignments this year. (May be prompted to teach privately).
Parks will keep me challenged in the creative process and maybe other ideas will come from the vibes (and spirits) in the arid desert rocks. I may find my way to an awakening of sorts, while engaging in the spirits of our ancestors.
Or I may come back broken, burnt, and bewildered. I choose to pick a more positive future vision and hope to find a true version of my way home.
Ok, this isn't the next best pastel painting journey, but it is a journey through process. Process of not just pastel painting but other life strategies that take away from the painting process. Spring brings weather warm enough to maintain some house and yard work. New patio stones for planters and more in the back to rid myself of the small patch of grass, too small to bother.
Along with the brick work I managed to shingle the other half of the garage, stain both the wood walkway and the deck. Flowers planted. Ready for more searing hot weather in Summer.
And a bit of time left over for a couple of pastels. 9x9 on paper
and a small 4x4 pastel on paper.
Our last figure drawing group before we dispersed for the summer. This is an acrylic painting done from the model. About 2 hours total. 12x16 inches
Art Takes Flight Art show and sale was a Bust. No traffic. But we did get a fun afternoon sketching and painting the gentlemen at the booth next door. Thanks for letting us stare at you all day!
Oh My! Where did April go!
I haven't been painting in pastel for months now. My mind has been on finishing a large 4'x5' canvas in acrylic. I finally finished. As much as I am about to do anyway, as I am very tired of working on it. It has gone through transitions from the first basic concept. It was just a matter of experimenting with what worked and what didn't. I forgot the behavior of acrylic and the brush gets in the way of what I want to get down on canvas. I am itching to get back to my pastels. Anyway these are the changes and progression (or regression) shots of this painting in process. Aptly named "The Struggle is Real"
Taken most of March working and reworking a large acrylic painting. By the middle of March I was so frustrated with working and reworking and putting in the hours on this large 4x5 foot painting I gave up. Put the brushes down and swore off the creative, artistic life forever. I decided to do a little Spring Cleaning despite the entire month not being Springlike at all. I reorganized my basement and organized the framing end of my artwork and where things were to go and what I actually had. It has been two weeks and I am still not accomplished this hurculean task. Meanwhile, another project at the Fort has come up. New work and a revamp of the old. A good decision to take off some pictograph symbols and extend the mural makes a better flow to the room.
I decided to reveal some figure drawing practice, since this does take up some of my time as well. Instead of taking my old standby to figure club, the step out on a limb to take only my paint and see what happens. I was quite happy with the outcome after 1 1/2 hours from a live model. 9x12 acrylic on canvas.
This was a practice piece before I headed out to paint the live model. This was done in about the same time but from a photograph. 9x12 acrylic on canvas.
Most of this week was dealing with the snow. Also in the artistic realm it was dealing with the thought process for a new painting. Another 4x5 foot canvas is on the wall. A general idea wiped out repeatedly until I had to give up on it altogether before I went mad and dived to deep down into the rabbit hole. I feel a weight lifted, having given up on the idea. I am excited to start in a new direction this week. Any artwork I did get completed this week only entailed some thumbnail sketches. I always go back to doing these when in a stressful state of mind. It is my kind of meditation.