What It Isn’t About . . . .

Painting at Garrapatta State Park, California
Click on the Image to Enlarge
Dressed in a down vest, woolen fingerless gloves, sometimes long underwear, a neck scarf and all manner of warmth conserving garments, I go out to paint in some amazing places.
Standing out where the wind can pick an easel up and heave it 30 or 40 feet and where a misstep could mean a 100 foot fall to my death, I paint with all the zeal I can muster.
Why would anyone want to endure such discomfort and flirt with such danger, you ask?   Is it in pursuit of the perfect painting?   Is it to capture that elusive special painting that some unsuspecting customer might decide that he or she just HAS to have?   Is it really that important to be on the site of the landscape?   Wouldn’t it be better to just take a few photos and zip back to the studio?   The answer to the question of “Why?” still hangs in the air.
Well, it certainly is NOT about comfort or convenience.    To have the wind blowing your stuff around is no fun.   And to feel like your ears are going to snap off the side of your head from being in the cold wind is no fun either . . . . . .unless I am painting.   I can stand and paint for hours on end while painting.   I simply cannot stand for longer than 15 or 20 minutes while I accompany my wife shopping!   My back gives out in a department store.   But I can stand for hours while painting.   
When the brush is in hand, nothing else matters.   There is an urgency to getting the colors, the values, the shapes all into a related context and to make it all look something like where you are standing.   Yes, an urgency.   It is almost like being in a subdued state of panic!   Really!  It is!   It seems as though I can hardly think straight when I am out there brush in hand.  ( . . . . . . .and I do mean “out there!” )
It isn’t all just about the painting.  In fact, is isn’t about the perfection of turning out a “good one.”  It is, however, all about the excitement of being completely present in the act of painting . . . .being completely present in each moment . . . .and, yet, focusing so intensely that you don’t hear the crashing waves, or feel the wind, or pay mind to the fact that your gear has tipped over and is lying in a heap.
How could anyone find that exciting?   
Well, let me explain . . . . .as best as words will let me . . . . .

It’s about the feeling of being under the influence of a drug so powerful and so euphoric that we painters yearn for it over and over.   No, there are no substances at work here.  It is the power of that deep concentration while at once we are completely at peace with all the beauty that surrounds us . . . .the excitement of transparent turquoise waves . . . . .or the creeping of ice plant with dazzling reds and greens . . . .or the grace of pelicans sailing by at cliff’s edge . . . . .or being able to sit down with a sandwich pulled from a brown bag and to let out a breath of relief from the urgency of scrambling to get something on canvas or paper before the light changes.

And you call that pleasure, Mike?   Oh!   I certainly do!   For me, it is both aggravating, pressure driven and completely relaxing at the same time.   It is all my senses screaming at me at once.   And it is a level of stimulation to those senses that simply cannot be described.   It isn’t about comfort.   It isn’t about being able to put our finger on the slightest imperfection in the painting.  It isn’t about having every tool at your fingertips.   When you add friendship and sharing of the experience to this mix, it becomes perfect in every sense of the word.
Scott and I were both, literally, dancing at our easels while we painted.   The exhilaration of being there and wondering if anything could be THAT beautiful is simply indescribable.   I could hear him giggling and whooping for joy from the excitement, as I was doing the same thing.  
Last night, as I laid back to slip away into slumber I remember mumbling to my darling wife that the day had been as exquisite as anyone could hope for . . . . .that IS what it’s about.  We who are artists are so incredibly blessed !!

6 thoughts on “What It Isn’t About . . . .”

  1. I almost wanted you to stop before your explanation, so I could fill the answer to your rhetorical question myself. I particularly love the first three paragraphs, because I am "actively involved" in them and I am sure other artists will be too.

    But then, I admit, in your answer was a gem: "It is all my senses screaming at me at once. And it is a level of stimulation to those senses that simply cannot be described."

    It IS about the experience and being present in the moment, compared to "recapturing" in a more academic way in the studio.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts and reminding me that I should paint outside more often than I do. It was a "wake-up call", and timely, as after working on gifts and commissions my work had lost the freshness and freedom that comes from what you are trying to put into words, but which, as you so rightly say, can't be expressed but can only be experienced.

    Thanks once again, another great and useful post!

  2. Ah, Kay! I can always count on you to make nice comments . . .and all the way from Italy, too!!

    I am sure you could tell I was very excited by the experience of the day before in my writing tone. I am still fired up, but disappointed that I won't have time over the next several days to work on the two paintings I brought back from that day. That place was magical! I cannot wait to go back there and do it again and again!!

  3. A friend pointed me to your blog. As a beginner artist I find your posts educative and interesting.
    Having visited the coast around Monterey recently, I can well understand what you're talking about!

  4. Hello there, Indiwriter! And welcome! Thanks so much for stopping by and leaving your nice comment. As a beginner artist, you can appreciate much more of the outdoor world than most people might or could. Continue to reach above your head in making art. The stretch will strengthen your skills . . . and your very alive senses.

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