Swallowing My Pride (GULP !!)

Garrapatta Stumps
Garrapatta Stumps 15 x22

Mind you, the painting above was finished on site at Garrapatta State Park which is very near Big Sur, California . . .I believe it was in February. . . . .and I haven’t been out to paint much since then . . .two months without being at the plain air easel !!

Today, my painting Buddy (Scott) and I decided to grab at the nice weather and go out to paint.   I must admit here, out in the open, that I do have a clear sense of pride in my painting abilities.  After all, I have reached some milestones at fairly high altitudes . . . . .but you would not have known that today.  Let me explain (as I hide my face in embarrassment) .. . . .

Scott and I typically “drift” into our painting spots.   That is to say, that we rarely start the day knowing where we will be going to paint.   We head out in a direction and stop where it suits our fancy.   And as a painter who lugs around a lot of pride in my paint box, I typically opt for the places that offer the most challenge.   Usually that is a place and/or a subject in which I am unfamiliar . . . . mainly because I enjoy a good challenge.   Today, we chose the commercial fishing fleet at Moss Landing.   Many years ago, I would go there to paint boats and all the accompanying equipment that goes with commercial fishing . . (read as clutter!)

Normally, us painters are restricted from going out on the docks near the boats . . .but today, we got lucky.   We could go out on the docks and literally immerse ourselves into the subject.   I selected a place for the perfect view . . .I am usually quite impulsive about this and grab the first place that seems good because I know that what ever isn’t there, I will be able to create.

My spot was at the very end of a narrow floating dock.   I didn’t realize it at the time I went to set up, but the dock moved . . . .up and down (no big deal) . . . but, also rocked.   That is if I stepped to the left, the dock sank a bit on the left and similarly for the right side step.

I could feel the difference at the moment I began to sketch in my sketchbook (a deeply ingrained habit) to make my value sketch prior to painting.  Something was off!!   I wasn’t comfortable!!   The old flow and ease wasn’t present.

A breeze was blowing catching my umbrella (used to shade my work) enough to threaten to carry my easel into the harbor . . .which put me on edge.   Worse, the long shaft of the umbrella was directly in front of my work surface.   Translation:  it was in my way!!

I began my layout work . . .it just didn’t some out right . . .the eraser was hard at work, too often!   I got my paints out and began to put wet paint on the paper . . .and the damp breeze blew . . .and the dock rocked and rolled (as did my easel and work surface.)   My brushes weren’t behaving, the colors weren’t mixing with the usual split second clarity of value and saturation . . .I wasn’t getting the right colors !!!

As you can gather by now, I was having a hellishly bad time of it . .  .and as the time wore on, it became progressively worse . . . .until I threw in the towel and said “To hell with it!!”

I am a professional artist.   This is what I do.   But not today !!   There are lessons here:   If one expects to carry the mantle of professional, then one MUST PRACTICE doing professional.  That’s right!  You read it correctly.   One must DO professional in order to BE professional.   Yes, I have heard it before:  Do Be Do Be Doooo!     Joking aside, the upshot is that if one expects to be able to paint well under any circumstances then one must be in practice . . .one must be out there doing it at least a few times a week.  To do anything well, we must do it often.   By doing so, that sense of ease . . .that “flow” which seems to musically course through us as though everything is effortless will come as naturally as the sun rises daily.

If we don’t paint often.  We should not expect decent results.   That is EVEN if one has reached high altitude awards and honors.   Fine, well accomplished work only comes from one place:  Work.   Lots and lots of it.   Unless the gymnast is limber and warmed up and overwhelmingly familiar with the routine ahead, he can expect to falter.   I should know better than to expect much after not being at the easel for two months.   The fact is that I DO know better.   I really had to swallow my pride today!   Even though I do know better, swallowing one’s pride does not go down easy!

Surely you can guess what I will be doing over the next few weeks!  I NEED to get back to that flow !!