Monday, February 13, 2006

My introduction to "Plein Air" Possibilities

Among the multitude of blessings in my life has been the opportunity to pursue a host of enjoyable hobbies, whims, and unusual pasttimes. I have always been much like my mother in these diversions, immersing myself in the lore and literature, seeking out and minutely studying the experts, collecting examples and devoting weeks and sometimes years to mastering the concepts and history, otherwise thoroughly saturating myself in every possible nuance before actually plunging in and "just doing it". Sometimes I just moved on before getting my feet wet.

Many examples of my intense obsessions can be cited: I have been devoted at one time or another to vocal music, the California High Desert, photography, tropical fish, amateur "Ham" radio, sport fishing, astronomy (including grinding a telescope mirror), bluegrass instruments, flying lessons, a small orchard, bonsai, and collecting selected book series. And there have been many other passions as well. Each of these consumed enormous energy and concentration and many of them have been more or less solitary endeavors. A few have even reached some level of achievement and satisfaction, and a couple have ended in deep disappointment.

Saturday I reached another threshhold. For several years I have been reading and thinking about trying to paint. I actually took a watercolor class in the attempt to distinguish the actual or practical differences between watercolor and acryllics and oil painting. My experience was a disaster as the public college class turned out to be a cult of repeat students who were deeply devoted to the guru-teacher who in turn was a bit too busy to spend individual time on a male interloper. I do have a love for watercolor and "have all the tools" now, but I'm more afraid of it than ever before.

I think I knew all along that I was eventually going to dabble with oils, because I can clearly recall two early occasions in my life when I watched men skillfully painting in oils, and these were 50 and 40 years ago. I can summon up the feeling of fascination at how they could replicate the shapes and colors which formed their lifelike pictures. The first was my dad in the front yard at Grandpa's house as he did his rendering of the mountains east of us. The other was an old man somewhere near Bryce Canyon who absolutely captured the dramatic shapes and earthtones of the red rocks of Utah. Both were painting plein air and I was intrigued.

So I have been collecting the equipment - brushes, paints, thinners, medium, and supplies I would need to try it out some day. This has been going on for several years now. Last fall I began stopping in at the local galleries and asking who was involved in "painting outdoors" for that is what "plein air" means, painting "in plain air" i,e, outdoors, where the subject is, where the light dwells, and where the experience can be brushed into the image along with the memories. Now I could stock a small store, but I haven't painted yet. So finally a lady listened and said, "Yes, Some of us do that. You need to come to one of our meetings. You need to call this fellow and talk to him" and she gave me his number, and eventually, months later, I did. And I got on a list and e-mails began coming daily about this and that, but sometimes about painting. And last week a schedule for painting outdoors was posted. And I went to one of the sessions.

I love being outdoors anyway, and I especally like places where birds are, and the end of the road, west of downtown Vancouver, out past the lake and within sight of Ridgefield is such a place. The painters were set up when I arrived and were hard at their craft - painters actually painting and clearly enjoying themselves. I hung back as long as I cold, but before long I was up close and getting personal. I may have made a pest of myself asking dozens of questions and shifting here and there to see the paintings and the views being painted and watching how the paints were selcted and mixed and applied by brush or palatte knife or both. And I have reached a new realization. Once again I have overanalyzed a new interest. At this point, I actually, perhaps foolishly, figure I can do that too. At least this group of painters would like me to think so.

So.... I have pulled the essentials off the shelf, and I'm going to finish the modifications on that Russian easel and select the necessary brushes and paints and canvas and actually give it a try. After all this time in preparation, I am at the starting line and it's time to give it a go. I'm reminding myself that I don't have to end up on display in the museum or in a great hall somewhere, I just have to be willing to have some fun, right? Right?? In that respect, this IS a threshhold.

This final observation. Today encouragement came from my daughter who announced she may become available to join me before long. Now there is some kind of motivation. Clearly I had better get ready to put up or shut up, because she will call my bluff and make it worthwhile. Besides, I sense there was a subtle challenge in there somewhere. Stand by for future updates.

Papa John


At 12:23 PM, Blogger Patty said...

Enfin! Maybe once you're really going with this, we can take a tour of the French countryside. Wouldn't that be fun?


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