On Saturday, I was looking for something to paint when I noticed a commotion near at hand in the bush. A bear, I thought. Then the hook of a walking-cane stuck out. “What are you doing in there?” I asked. A man’s voice and then a man emerged. “Lookin’ fer an’ pickin’ choke-cherries,” he said. He was a rough character, like an old cowboy in a baseball cap — he was wearing an old-fashioned galvanized iron apple-bucket with a canvas bottom. The cane was for getting at the high branches. “Try ’em,” he said, handing me a handful, “They’re chalky, but they’ll make damn fine jelly.” Choke-cherries are about the size of a pea — they taste a bit like red grapes. Mostly pit, I noticed, and chalky for sure. I almost gagged. “As fer this time of year, I make jelly,” he said. Unlikely jelly guy, I thought, but you never know. He bent down and gave me a personal demonstration of the way the berries tumbled flawlessly out of the bottom of the bucket and into his berry sack. This guy knew what he was doing.
Later, he moved further through the bush, whistling, lookin’. That’s what we hunter-gatherers are doing — lookin’. Maybe the lookin’s the best part. When all else fails, when life lets you down or disappoints, there’s always stuff to size up, analyze and gather. In the sanctuary of nature, the wonderland of imagination, or the eternal theatre of mankind — there’s gathering to be done.
The evening sky reflects in the slow river, taking the clouds with it. Overhead and on the horizon, geese are on the move. The wind is from the north and the woodland seems to snap with the new colour. Here in this arbor, from this very seat, there’s more than enough to get my brush around, more than my digital camera can ever hold. I watch gentle arnica fold and put away her petals while designer burrs reach out and cling to my trousers. To be alone in nature is to be one with nature. Here, the squirrel and the magpie are critics of value.
The hunter-gatherer, shouldering a huge sack, passes by for the last time. “Don’t eat ’em too fast,” he warns, “You’ll choke on ’em. People do.”
PS: “Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers,
Little we see in Nature that is ours.” (William Wordsworth, 1806)
Esoterica: Some thoughts for the hunter-gatherer: Go slow. Focus — but at the same time be in multitask and multi-level mode. Let things sink in, even burn in. Catch the spirit. If possible, go it alone. Know that quality counts — you do not need to fill your bucket. Be prepared that what you went out to get may not be what you end up getting. Take with you the sobering thought that you will never, ever be in this exact place again.
Hunter gatherer’s playground
by Cora Jane Glasser, New York City, NY, USA
Your suggestions do not only apply to beautiful or pristine natural settings. Living in New York City, right in the thick of it, is a hunter-gatherer’s playground. We mine the streets, the sea of people, the stores, the action. Yesterday, I passed a little antique store. I’d walked that route hundreds of times, but the store was new — something we see a lot of here. Nothing changes and nothing stays the same. I wandered in and saw an object that interested me but I had no idea what it was. Neither did the fellow minding the store. I bought an old book on archeological treasures. A couple of hours later I passed back over what seemed the same spot and again walked into the store. The strange object had been moved behind the desk. It was waiting for me. Someone had come into the store and knew what it was. An old cigar maker. I bought it and I’m wondering what it will be next.
Gathering real life images
by Jim Pescott
Yesterday, I was gathering autumn colour from the slopes in Fish Creek Park: poplars turning yellow-gold amongst evergreens, willow-reds above straw-hued grasses, all set against the bluest sky possible. To stop absorbing the wash of colour at this moment would virtually mean to stop being. Eventually I sat by the stony edge where Fish Creek takes a u-turn in Nature’s pathway. I wanted to rest for a few moments in the sunlight and listen to the water moving. Individual rocks took my attention and I watched the water tumble over hidden shapes. Tiny fish swam in the slow pools. Bugs along the shoreline were busy with their chores amid the ever-present threat of feathered predators. A light breeze could be felt through the warm sunshine. Real life is in a place like this, real life that can best be known if we take an hour and just sit there absorbing everything that exists around us and reflect on how it all fits together.
by Eleanor Blair, Florida, USA
Within a short drive in any direction from my town you will find crystal clear springs, the Atlantic Ocean, the Gulf of Mexico, national forests, and countless other geological wonders. But that’s not the amazing thing. The amazing thing is that although all this incredible beauty is a stone’s throw from a well-populated city, there’s hardly ever anyone around out there. Except, of course, the hunters and gatherers. Fishermen, hunters, an occasional bird watcher and me, with my paints and my camera. Otherwise, not a soul. Why do we need an excuse to venture out of town, away from malls and traffic lights and electricity? Bow season has opened, and one of the guys in the band spent this morning in the misty cool woods, watching the sun come up. All he hunted and gathered today was a good collection of ticks, but that didn’t seem to bother him. He’s got the habit, the excuse, the good reason to be out there, and that seems to be enough. I’m glad I’ve got a good reason too. It’s my job.
by Dora Boes, Oregon, USA
When I was a child, way back in the ’40s, my mother gathered chock cherries from the woods here in Oregon. She mixed the juice with apple juice and they made the best apple/chock cherry jelly. We enjoyed it all winter long on hot biscuits or corn bread! Thanks for the trip down Memory lane… And to think, your day with those cc, resulted in a fantastic inspirational painting day! I am working on brown pelicans.
ADD and hunter-gatherers
by Andrea Pratt
I like your comparison of artists seeking creative inspiration with the “noble savage” — or the hunter-gatherer — seeking his daily bread. You’ve also discussed the sound idea that ADD figures more prominently among the risk-taking, creative, outre artist population than among general populations. There are some seductive parallels here. Thom Hartmann, who wrote Attention Deficit Disorder: A Different Perception, argues that ADD (ADHD) is not a neurological disorder at all, but the presence of a small percentage of “leftover” hunter-gatherers in a world dominated by “farmers”, and goes on to explain, through historical examples, how the current loosely-observed percentage of 95% “normal people” to 5% “abnormal people” (ADD) in industrial society came about. It’s another of your “the world is divided into two kinds of people” arguments, Bob. Like people who supposedly “suffer” from the handicap of ADHD, society has often pointed out that artists “suffer” the handicap of being different. These differences are surprisingly similar. One could extrapolate that we artists are also hunter-gatherers in a world of farmers.
The power of Nature
by Katherine Lakeman
Nature is so varied, so changeable, so powerful, so right, that we can always learn from her. Whether I am in the mountains, or by a city river, she speaks very eloquently to me. I have been a painter of landscapes for 18 years and just the last year, have jumped into the deep water of non-objective work. It is very thrilling, but nature is what still inspires, and informs my work.
Strive for spirit
by Marney Ward
Isn’t that oneness with nature exactly what we artists are seeking to capture? To capture so precisely and intimately that the viewer of the painting will feel that oneness too, and be uplifted in his or her soul by the very choke cherry or choke cherry picker that stirred that sense of identity in us? As Emily Carr in Hundreds and Thousands (1935) said, “There is a need to go deeper, to let myself go completely, to enter into the surroundings in the real fellowship of oneness, to lift above the outer shell, out into the depth and wideness where God is the recognized centre and everything is in time with everything, and the key-note is God.” Emily’s most successful paintings “catch the thing up into one movement and sing — harmony of life.” But the artist has to feel the harmony first, it can’t be faked, it breathes itself out through the pores of the fingers and the pores of the paint, only when it is so strong it can’t be held in any longer. For me, daily meditation and time alone with nature — in gardens, forests, ocean beaches, mountain trails, backyard moments of solitude with the birds, all these things nourish my soul and inform my art. What good is a balanced composition if the painting doesn’t sing with life’s energy and spirit? I teach colour, value, composition, but I strive for spirit.
by Anne Copeland
I love the idea that we will never, ever be in the same place again. Many folks dread doing something different because of fear, but I think if we look at all of our lives as if each day we live is in a place we will never, ever be in again, taking that risk might not seem so scary. Even if what you are doing is “outside the box” — do it anyway. Don’t let anyone talk you out of it unless it will endanger your life or the life of someone else, and even then use your own judgment. I believe that if we are trying to achieve something, we will never be a failure even if the project does not succeed because we dared to risk, and we went someplace we will never, ever be again.
by Karen Ireland
I just got my new ‘tri-focals.’ I was told to wear them for a month without taking them off except to sleep. I took this seriously. Things are no longer a blur (and I admit that I do like this world as a soft blur) but have become two-dimensional. In the area that I see clearly without my glasses, things are much more 3D, until I put my glasses on. So I assume that if my glasses make that small area 2D they also make every other area 2D. I wonder if my artwork will change through glasses? Perhaps texture will disappear with all hills and valleys melded. I do glass work and love texture and 3D and increasingly over the past three years suspect I have introduced my ‘imaginary’ texture.
(RG note) An artist needs both clarity and blur. Glasses, while sometimes annoying, are to learn to live with. Those of us among the non-glasses population are constantly half closing our eyes in order to bring on blur. Blur is mystery. Blur is valuable. So is texture. You are now in a position to bring a unique perspective to 2D and 3D. Re-jig the challenge of your new specs. It’s a new lease on vision. “An inconvenience is an unrecognized opportunity.” (Confucius) There’s a rather good book that traces sight problems in historical artists: The World Through Blunted Sight by Patrick Trevor-Roper.
You mentioned the use of a digital camera. I’m considering buying one. Any suggestions? I have an old Nikon 35 mm and it has served me well.
(RG note) As we speak there are a lot of new and very superior models on the market. I’ve been using a Digital Kodak DC 240 for several years and it has been quite satisfactory. Recently I decided to spend an hour with my camera dealer and get to the bottom of what I needed in a new camera. All the smaller, lighter models have features that could only have been dreamed a few years ago. Both Nikon and Canon digitals are terrific. The one I chose was the Olympus C750 ultra zoom. I’m a bird watcher so I appreciated the 10 power optical zoom — currently (October 2003) the highest power you can get in a reasonably priced camera. I’m still learning my way around the camera. Recently, I was at an art opening and my good friend and well-known professional photographer Bill Staley was there. He had been to his camera dealer as well and had chosen the same Olympus. Advice? Get a model such as the Olympus that takes standard (AA) batteries — and get two sets of rechargables — you tend to go through them like crazy. Also, get the largest memory (film) chip you can afford. My Olympus takes about 330 pictures when set to the second highest resolution. Also, take the handbook to bed — there’s a learning curve ahead.
One of the best uses for artists is the simple ease of getting big prints — fast and cheap. I print 8 x 10’s in black and white on a Brother HL1440 Laser printer. We have a big ink-jet Epsom Photo 1200 as well, but ink-jet ink for colour is an expensive racket. The B and W laser is, in a way, superior for studio painting reference.
Riding too many horses
I have been with a certain gallery since 2001 — just before the towers were hit. They sold a couple of pieces for me right off the bat, it was very encouraging, but they haven’t sold anything since. They love — at least they say they do — getting new work. Anyone I know that drops into the gallery has to ask to see my work and when I drop in unexpectedly I always see someone scuttling in the background as fast as they can to bring one of my pieces out. When I ask if there has been much interest in my work the owner gets a look like someone just died, and says, no, things have been very slow. I am very frustrated. How do you find those first real collectors? When does dropping into the gallery to touch bases turn into stalking?
What do you need to do to generate interest about yourself in the community? (or do you?) How do you get people seeking your work out and forking over their credit cards? I find that I can spend a lot of time and money (that I don’t have) working on this kind of thing when I feel I would be better off painting. Am I just whining?
I’m currently subsidizing my painting with my teaching, which brings me to my other real question. I also have illustrated several successful books. I have more book ideas in various stages of development. A couple of weeks ago I was at a workshop on giving school presentations. The storyteller who gave the workshop said, “You can’t ride two horses with one ass.” I can’t get this out of my mind — I’ve been riding half a dozen horses for years! And I guess I’m pretty close to answering my own question. The question, as you may have noticed, is sticking in my throat. Do I really have to choose between these wonderful things?
I need to succeed at one of these things and I need to do it soon. Is there something you can see in what I’ve told you that can help clarify things for me?
(RG note) Rampant imagination, tempting interests and varied talents can be an artist’s albatross. I feel I can comment on this — many of our readers can too — all this anxiety tends to come with the territory. Setting yourself some “concentration zones” is useful. Exclude all other directions for periods of time — hours, days, weeks. You can live with anything as long as it’s time-sensitive. Try the work-and-reward system: “If you do these three large landscapes I’ll let you write that children’s book on Saturday. ” It’s win-win.
Don’t waste time stalking your galleries. It can make you mean and jealous, and besides, it doesn’t motivate anybody. Call your galleries “storage places” and leave them alone. Put your interpersonal talents toward finding other galleries in other towns. Stick to your art processes. Make every effort to get even better than you are.
Perso nel pensiero II
painting by Carmelo Blandino, Tubingen, Germany
You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 115 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2003.
That includes Jim Gray who wrote, “If you ever get down to the Great Smoky Mountains in East Tennessee give me a call and we’ll go painting (back in the early days we didn’t call it plein air).
And also Aleta Pippin who wrote, “Right now in northern New Mexico, the Mountain Asters and the Chamisa are in bloom, an arresting array of gold and purple presenting an eye-catching palette. The answers to all of our questions reside within nature, the cycles of life, birth, death, renewing — all in natural order. This order no doubt permeates all things, and when considered, provides clarity to our muddled thinking and an understanding of the practicality of the cycles.”
And also Sherry Preston who wrote, “Things are just things; when we die they become someone else’s things.”