Detail picture of a pastel painting of a pine tree growing from the rocks

Recycling a plein air painting and a vacation

So the rain finally stopped. Excited, I bundled up in damn near every article of clothing that I had brought with me. Slinging my bag of painting gear over my shoulder, I made my way down to the lake shore.

I surveyed the scene. The blue sky and late afternoon sunshine were peaking through holes in the canopy of gauzy rain clouds.

Settling on an outcropping of rocks, I set up my pochade box and began to paint.

Image of a pastel painting of the rocky shore line of Lake Superior

You could always get a job raising sheep or selling gas.

“Are you painting those rocks?”
I turned around to see a man with a camera strapped around his neck standing on the shoreline behind me. He motioned at the huge pile of rocks in front of us as he strained to see the panel affixed to my easel.

“Yes,” I said, trying to stay polite and up-beat. “The weather finally broke. I thought I’d take advantage of it, and come down to the shore.”

The usual self-talk of being an artist started to run through my head. “Perhaps the cold weather had affected my ability to paint rocks. I mean, if this guy wasn’t able to recognize them, maybe I should just pack up. Maybe I should wipe off the canvas and start over. Maybe I’m not ready to be an artist today. I wonder if it’s too late to get a law degree…”

And then the man asked, “Can I take a picture of you and your painting?”

That was it. He really just wanted to talk to me. He really just wanted to be a part of the process. He was looking for just anything to say. Perhaps this encounter with an artist in the wild habitat would add a bit of color and excitement to his vacation.

So I asked, “Do you want me to smile and face the camera, or just keep working?” He opted for the serious artsy-working action shot. He took a few pictures making sure to include the pochade box and painting before leaving me to return to my work.

Gray. Rain. Wind. I’d been at the Big Lake for 2 days of less-than-picturesque weather. But now with this break in the weather, I had managed to produce an okay little paint study.

Back home, and back to the studio.

I looked at the painting. I thought the color was good. I liked the texture and the shape of the rocks.

But I really wanted to play with the study and see if I could bring back some of the feeling…the feeling of being frozen on the rocks…the feeling of the little warmth from the last few rays of sun…and the feeling of having had my picture taken just for being a “real artist.”

From the comfort of my studio, I decided to flip the composition vertically, and to do it in pastel. Why pastel? I guess I love the way that rocks look when painted with pastel. I thought I could do some cool things with the side of a pastel for the clouds. But more than that, by switching to a different medium, I wouldn’t be tempted to copy my study…to simply re-create what was already there only bigger. By switching to a different medium, I could still use the information that was there, but I had to start from scratch and think about the process from the beginning. I would get the opportunity to really plan out the painting, and recycle the study.

In the end, the painting got there. To a place where I am happy with it. So did the rest of my North Shore get-away. The weather held for the rest of the week, and I was able to get in some more painting. I am sad to report, however, that my fame was short-lived that trip. No other photographers were clambering to take the picture of the plein air painter wearing an entire closet full of clothes.

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