I’ve recently started taking my plein air equipment with me on backpacking trips to paint in more secluded settings. I grew up camping all the time, so for me this is really the perfect combination: nature and art all rolled into one! I’ve learned a few things along the way… such as, don’t forget your paper towels! Or let them get wet! When you’re over 10 miles away from the nearest road in the wilderness and there aren’t any Walmarts around, it can be tough when you have nothing to wipe your brushes on other than your shirt. The painting opportunities are well worth lugging all that equipment though. Absolutely no distractions other than the occasional eagle call, and no nosy tourists asking what you’re up to (not counting the occasional curious squirrel).
One thing that can be tough to come by is time. I haven’t yet arranged a trip just for painting- so far, I’ve brought it along on more relaxed ventures when other folks in my party are fishing or relaxing and I can steal a couple hours during mid-day to get in a painting. I would like to organize a backpacking trip just for painting eventually, but for now the limited timeframes I’ve been working in seem to make me paint with more urgency and vigor. I had about 2.5 hours with “Two Sentinels,” painted on location in the Emigrant Wilderness near Sonora Pass in California. The Sierra Nevada mountains always present a wealth of detail in the thousands of pine trees and craggy granite slopes crisscrossed with striated rock formations. Finding an area to focus my energy on became a big challenge, so with this one I aimed to capture the sheer cliffs in the distance, “watched” by the two pine trees in front. I’m not sure if its a huge success but I think it was worth the attempt.
I also recently painted on a rafting trip to the Green River in Utah. This trip was another learning process in how to deal with another one of nature’s unpredictable elements: water! I had the misfortune of losing my tripod on the very first day of the trip while goofing around with a kayak. I fell out of the boat and the tripod fell into the water with me and was instantly submerged in murky, deep brown water. You’re welcome, Green River. That is why I am sitting on the sand in the picture above with my pochade box propped up by rocks. I also soaked all my paper towels too.
“Firewater” is definitely one of my more successful plein air paintings. This one was small, painted on a canvas panel that I cut in half beforehand to save on time. I had just enough time to get in the entire picture while the rest of the rafting crew was out on a brief hike. That sense of urgency forced me to focus in on one small slice of the canyon and only focus on relevant details. If I had more time, I am almost certain that I would have ruined the painting. I don’t think I even got up off the sand to step back and analyze it, I was painting that fast. I remember the sky was covered in shifting clouds that intermittently covered the canyon walls in shadow, acting like a ticking clock counting down the time that I had to capture that elusive moment of good light. Just after I finished “Firewater,” we experience intermittent rain and gray weather for the next two days, nixing any further opportunities for good pictures. Nature is a harsh mistress!