Great Expectations

21 Days “Painting” on the Road

“The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars.”
― Jack Kerouac, On the Road

Like so many of my fellow artists I suffer from unrealistic expectations. This means when I set out to do something, though it may not be grand or expensive, (it usually is), it certainly cannot be ordinary or dare I say easy. I believe this affliction is a common character trait of artists — a main driver for the skill of being able to dream big dreams and imagine impossible ways to make them come true, an asset in many ways because it gives us the guts to try and put our work out there to be considered by the world.

However, gone unchecked, these Wild Toad expectations sometimes can drive you right over the ledge. First stop, my most recent adventure into the land of great expectations, a 21-day road trip. A working/vacation trip to California via Kansas, Colorado, Utah and along Nevada’s loneliest highway into Yosemite’s Tuolumne Meadows and up and over into the Valley and out the other side — in the first week. Week two would begin in San Francisco where we would visit my husband’s relative (whom was to celebrate his 110th birthday in October) then drive down the Pacific Coast Highway touching base with my family in Huntington Beach, stop to take a one-day workshop with Jeremy Lipking in Agoura Hills, to me the pinnacle of the trip. On to San Diego by week three, then wrap around towards Vegas and the North Rim of the Grand Canyon and find our way home through Oklahoma City.

Taking pictures of hot air balloons

Tina, not plein air painting at the Hot Air Balloon Rodeo in Steamboat Springs, Colorado.

At some point the reality of 21 days on the road set in. How would I practice for Lipking? Would I forget everything I think I know? So with a percentage of my recent OPA Spring On-Iine Showcase winnings I purchased my first real grown up plein air easel and in true form set myself up with all the gear to paint plein air on the road.

This will be easy. I’ll paint the morning of the Hot Air Balloon Rodeo in Steamboat Springs! I’ll paint El Capitan in Yosemite! I’ll paint on the beach in Surf City! I’ll paint up to four pieces a week, if the kids are having fun and I get up in time for sunrises. Ha! Ha! I’m a genius. By the time I get to L.A. I’ll have 6 to 8 pieces under my belt and be practiced and ready. Heck, I’ll even sell them on Facebook and make a little vacation spending cash!

Can you hear them yet? The pieces of my broken heart and impossible dreams tinkling to the cold hard floor? I didn’t have a clue what plein air painting really requires, having only painted plein air maybe 4 times. Ever. In my two whole years of painting. At all. I vaguely recall now that I actually hated plein air painting all those four times. Something about bees, or maybe it was hornets, comes to mind.

Why didn’t I stop myself? No, I drove right off. And the air was clear and blowing fresh in my face. Just like it is any time you drive off a cliff.

Painting outside with a hat on

Note the color charts done in transit from the passenger seat the day before.

My first warning, the flashing red hand, “Do Not Cross” sign should have been the incredible amount of crap I was packing. I actually brought more in cubic square feet of painting gear than I did in clothing and toiletries. Real plein air painters know how to get around needing everything studio artists require.

I was so proud of myself when I managed to do color charts while riding in the passenger seat. I paint mainly portraits. I’m not familiar with very many blues, or green at all for that matter. I-70 is flat and there was plenty of sky and vista to reference. I only clobbered my clothes and the interior of the door. It was all good. Incidentally, the dash is a great place to dry paintings.

In my dreams I was to be awake fresh after 11 hours of driving and set up in a perfect position for the gorgeous morning of the Hot Air Balloon Rodeo in Steamboat Springs. In reality, we set out on our bikes together to watch the launch. I would go back to the RV for my paints after I scoped out the scene. I had plenty of time, right? But as the sun got higher and we finally found parking I got more and more, lets just say, frustrated. By the time we parked our bikes and walked forever to get right up under the baskets of the balloons, I was down right fit to be tied. I knew then the balloons would launch and set back down in a matter of minutes. I might get far enough away to get a photo or two, but it would all be over before I had so much as set up a palette.

Okay, major plein air painting realization: The sun moves quickly and so do hot air balloons.

painting of cliffs and water

One of the four paintings I was able to paint, was a thank you to a couple that invited us to stay at their phenomenal guesthouse overlooking the beach in Monterey. I was really glad to have my paints with me then and very proud of that piece considering my plein air track record.

After hot miserable tears, I resolved to paint the view from our RV later that evening. I left everyone to setup and make dinner and insisted on having 2 hours to myself to paint. And I did sell that little painting on Facebook. See! I can do it…

That little piece was the only piece. All in all I painted en plein air 3 times, four if you count the time I set up my easel at the beach but had to run through the hot sand half a dozen times to get the essentials I realized I’d forgotten, such as brushes and then paper towels, etc. I never actually painted that day. I gave up after two hours of struggling to set up and was then overwhelmed by beach umbrellas.

Essentially, I was worse for ware by the time I sat in Lipking’s workshop. (But you’ll have to read about that on my blog.) I have since recalculated my plein air expectations to include admiring those incredible artists who do it so well and simply doing it more often myself. Yes, more practice. That will have to be good enough.

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