Scrabbling around in mountains is good for you. Among other things, I’m having occasional bouts of lucidity. For instance, I just discovered the “truth.”
I’m realizing that an artist’s own creative truth is really all that matters. Up here, it’s more than just looking for things to inflict your style on — it has to do with inhaling and exhaling. Getting it in depth. Walking helps — it slows the intake, aids digestion and speeds imagination.
It’s a high (7200 foot) natural rock garden enfolded and framed by a spur of the Rocky Mountains. This morning, every boulder, every meadow flower, clump of moss and struggling larch seems to stand out in brilliant relief. The new sun sparkles and the hoary marmot whistles. Picas scurry. Porcupines rumble in the undergrowth. On the high, narrow ridges, atmosphere prevails — sometimes the clouds are below you. Human foibles, the art of politics, the politics of art, and controversy, seem so far, far away.
While values are permanent, every pattern is a pattern in flux. The glacier, measured by ancient lichens, takes ten thousand years to recede. Design and purpose are everywhere. The moving sky joins the peaks. You have it for your very own. Because it is timeless and at the same time arbitrary, you, the artist, can more readily step into the magic. Communion goes hand in hand with sorting and simplification. The naked eye sees nuances not noticed in books or postcards. Colour swatches accumulate on the mind’s palette. Reality overcomes theory and understanding begins to float in the spaces. The notebook fills up. The energy to work is given.
One can almost glimpse an answer to the most important of all artists’ questions: “How can I be me?” The answer lies in “What can I do with this?” Professional dingbats aside, it’s based on looking and seeing.
PS: “People sometimes accuse me of being a mystic about the influences of the mountains. Perhaps I am. I devoutly believe that there are emanations from them, intangible but very real, which elevate the mind and purify the spirit.” (J. B. Harkin, Parks Commissioner, 1911-36)
Esoterica: Lichens, their spores on the jet-stream of our planet, are universal at this altitude. They are abstract rock-paintings, their colours subtle, their textures inviting. Xanthoria, the orange one (and the map lichen, geographicum, lime green with black mottling) is one of the oldest living creatures at 10,000 years. It grows at a known rate of 0.02 mm/yr for the first 110 years, 0.114 mm/yr for the next 140, and slower thereafter.
by Anne Barga, Los Ossos, CA, USA
I love this observation by Henri Matisse: “An artist must possess Nature. He must identify himself with her rhythm, by efforts that prepare for the mastery by which he will later be able to express himself in his own language.” Also: “Slowly I discovered the secret of my art. It consists of a meditation on nature, on the expression of a dream which is always inspired by reality.” Every time this sort of reverence and deep connection and affection is expressed by an individual, especially those with a wider influence, I feel refreshed, and I feel something that seems like hope.
Make an interesting subject
by Linda Blondheim, Gainesville, FL, USA
Creative truth goes hand in hand with my journey as a plein air painter. Going out on location is a far different painting experience than working in my studio. Surprisingly, it is still an interpretation of reality, even though I am seeing the scene first hand. My “truth” is far more interesting to me than the scene in reality. It took me a long time to realize that my job was to make the scene an interesting subject, not to record what I literally saw.
by Doug Ware, Ottawa, Canada
Lugging your stuff into the mountains is one thing, getting wet oil panels or canvas out is quite another challenge. If it’s just a day trip then think small. Prep your palette, pack two or three little boards (7×9″ or 8×10″) and all that should easily fit into a small box which can be tied down on, not in your pack. Paint small sketches with big brushes and limit your palette. It’s just as productive, enjoyable and the little panels are great references for a large studio canvas.
Painting outdoors is dicey if you sit in direct sunlight. You have to have some sort of shade or the resulting sketch will look very dark once taken inside. I have a groundsheet, twine and old end of a black umbrella. For shade the umbrella end is lashed to a stick stuck in the ground or sometimes I just drape groundsheet on an angle. It not only provides shade, but is a useful wind break particularly if you are in the mountains. I pack a garbage bag with a roll of toilet paper. The toilet paper is not just for the traditional use, it’s good enough to wipe brushes. Once it starts filling up with paint soiled paper and the odd beer bottle I just hang it off my rucksack frame. If you have a sketch box with a handle then find a comfortable spot to sit down, run your belt through the handle and balance the box on your knees. Its completely hands free that way.
Binoculars are just as useful as a camera (or a camera with a telephoto lens) to bring the motif closer and crop out needless stuff. It really helps to find good composition and to bring you closer to what you want to capture.
How do you get those little wet panels out? Place the first wet panel down facing up and place five little pieces of wood (broken matchsticks work great) on the corners and one in the middle. Then place the other wet one on top and do it again. I might have four panels stacked up that way with the end panels facing in. Tie it off with string and it’s easy to transport. Once home, remove the sticks and fix the paint.
by Elin Pendleton, Wildomar, CA, USA
The “truth” is pack goats to carry your gear so you really can enjoy these sorts of locations. Mine are called Mike and Vince (Michael Angel Goat and Vincent Van Goat.) Out for a day of painting–or a week’s trek. I carry nothing but my camera. I like to think outside the box.
Do enjoy my mountains
by Linda Wadley, Jasper East, AB, Canada
You are in my backyard, stomping around on my turf, and I am jealous as I cannot be out there drinking it in at this time as I operate a B&B the three months of summer. Painting in the mountains is on hold until September. However, I experience your words and enjoy the photos, and then I am there hiking with your party in spirit. I feel the mountain air. Do enjoy my mountains while you are here with all their many moods and motions. It would be great to have you come by for tea.
by Monika Dery, Hinton, AB, Canada
I live only an hour away from where your trek departed. I haven’t been there since it was closed to snowmobile traffic (whew, I’m glad we were able to see it by that mode of transportation… in and out in one long day with two little children… a wonderful experience despite the noise of the machines. I have a painting hanging on the wall right across from me from that time. I’m so grateful to live in this wonderful area on the eastern slopes of the Rockies and I thank God every day for the inspiration he gives me to feel compulsive about drawing and painting in this area.
by Lue Chell, Hinton, AB, Canada
My husband Jim and I lived in Jasper for two years and now in the last four years live on some acreage just east of Hinton, Alberta, Canada. A group of us from Jasper and friends of artist Gregg Johnson of Edmonton hiked the Tonquin Valley a couple of years ago. One morning when I woke up early for the trek to the latrine, what I saw caused me to awaken everyone else. The sun was coming up and the moon was setting. This created red reflections from the mountains and sky in the water. Some of these artists then did great paintings that were subsequently displayed at Jasper Park Lodge, Calgary, Edmonton, Canmore and elsewhere.
The naked truth
by Sue Poole, OR, USA
I received the following email from my server this morning: “The Willamette Valley Internet’s junk mail protection service has detected some suspicious email messages since your last visit and directed them to your Willamette Valley Internet Message Center.” I found your July 11 letter in their “alert” listing. It was marked: XXX (Sexually Explicit). The only sexually explicit thing I could find in your Creative Truth letter was: “The naked eye sees nuances not noticed in books or postcards.”
(RG note) We are in the process of collecting items like the above. Fun eh? If you would like to see a collection of odd and often amusing remarks that artists have sent to us about the twice-weekly letter, please go to: painterskeys.com/remarks/
Peace to the people
by Anne Harris
Being in the mountains is like being reborn. J. B. Harkin was certainly correct, there are emanations from them. In a pass out from Radium Hot Springs in Canada there is a sign that reads, “And the mountains shall bring peace to the people.”
Learn about yourself
by Dave Louis, Coventry, UK
When I was a lad I went potholing with a group to Yorkshire, England. We stayed for a week in a very remote cottage and I learnt more about myself in that short time than in my previous years. I’m glad to say I have had many such experiences since, as a person and as an artist. You need them. Just as you need to do that next painting. Just as you need the truth.
So many paintings, so little time
by Sandy Sandy, Tabernacle, NJ, USA
Being “in the zone” for most artists means somehow capturing those fleeting emotions that our environments offer us and being able to physically transform them into something tangible for others, perhaps those less fortunate than ourselves, to experience.
“I don’t paint how it looks, I paint how it feels” (Robert Wade)
I don’t think one has to travel the world for inspiration. If one is receptive it meets them on the way. There are hundreds of paintings at a swamp nearby my home, waiting to be composed. So much has changed in a few short weeks! A transformation from a cold drizzly spring to humid summer buzzing with energy and song. (I’ve got to remember to get back within a week or so to catch the blooming water-lilies and the peak of nature’s glory) So many paintings, so little time!!
Off to moodle dept.
by Christa Eggers, Southampton, ON, Canada
The business of ‘moodling’ spoke to me when I first read the quote, some 8 years ago, by author Brenda Ueland. “Imagination needs moodling — long, inefficient, happy idling, dawdling and puttering.” I have to give myself permission to ‘moodle.’ Coming to Canada with my German-immigrant family with their work ethic, to be ‘doing’ at all times, has and continues to be a challenge. There is so much ‘other’ stuff one could/should be doing. I teach several courses at the Southampton Art School in Watercolour, Pastels, and Portraiture, some students here at home, there are several shows a year, locally, and the Southampton Artist Co-op to paint for, portrait clients, art group meetings, talks to give, my own continuing ‘learning,’ just life… and where o’ where is there time for moodling? I am off to Stokes Bay, only an hour north of here on Lake Huron, to float about in my kayak, with ‘Fredi,’ my small schnauzer, for a few days… to moodle.
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 Kathleen Dunning-Torbett who wrote, “You have your mountains… for me it is large bodies of water or the desert. Odd combo, but then, so am I.”
And Marney Ward who wrote, “I have a cabin on a lake with a snow-covered mountain backdrop, where I paint every summer. My dog loves it there, though he is not a good swimmer and needs to wear a lifejacket in the canoe.”
And Myrle McIntosh who wrote, “My little granddaughter, prior to anyone having mentioned “God” to her — on observing the mountain — inquired: ‘Is that where the Gods live?'”
And Cyril Satorsky who wrote, “I think it’d be simply wonderful if you had a spot on ‘A Prairie Home Companion.’ You and Garrison Keillor show how to see beauty and help us with our mystical urges and make the world a finer place.” And J. Bruce Wilcox who asks, “Who gives it? Spirit gives it, but we really give it to ourselves. It’s called permission — What is a hoary marmot?”
(RG note) A large member of the squirrel family, Marmota caligata lives at high altitudes in the North American west. “Hoary” refers to its long, coarse, white-tipped coat. These animals whistle as they lay about on the rocks taking in the sun. Hence the common name “Whistler” — also the name of a Canadian town soon to have Winter Olympics fame.
And also Donna Marshall, Hopkins Village, Belize who wrote, “I am packing for my trip home to the beach/jungles of Belize. I will carry your thoughts with me as I observe the nature of the lush green tropics and breeze swept Caribbean. I’m so glad I found you all on this trip to civilization.”