Friday, July 15, 2011

Driving Miss Muse

This was written in October 2009 for Terra Nova Gallery's annual plein air painting competition, Plein Air Provo.

Plein air painting requires focus, and the ability to work outdoors under often distracting circumstances. You work with what you can control, and ignore or deal with what you can't control. There are relatively few things that can prevent me from finishing a plein air painting once I've started into one. Some things that have caused problems in the past have been: huge swarms of biting insects, 40 mile-an-hour winds, close lightning strikes, a rattlesnake, and even some guy I didn't know who flashed a gun at me as he drove by while I was sketching!

Limited painting time was once more of a problem for me than it is now; The sun moves, shadows change, the sun sets, it gets dark, and I'd be left wondering which of the dark blobs on my pallet was blue, which was green, and which was brown. With practice, limited painting time has become more of a positive than a negative thing. Working quickly helps avoid the distraction of superfluous details or the muddiness of overworked areas. The painter must focus and get to the point.

But sometimes I still push time constraints too close.

This was my second year participating in Plein Air Provo. During the competition, there were no problems with insects, after Wednesday the weather was good, there were no dangerous animals, people were pleasant and nobody brandished weapons of any sort. Two of my paintings were completed Thursday. Friday I was worried I might not make the 2:00 deadline, so I got my first two paintings framed and delivered to Terra Nova Gallery, and set out to paint a third one. First I drove to an old shack in south Provo. I walked around the potential subject framing the building with my hands trying to work out a composition. I started to set up my equipment, and then decided to skip it. The muse wasn't there. Next I drove out to west Provo, to a spot near the river where I've painted a few times before. Still no muse. From there I headed down near the lake to another familiar spot. The muse wasn't there, either. I decided to drive to an area near the airport where I've painted several times before. On the way there I passed an old house, and it was as if the muse was in the car with me, telling me to forget the airport, turn around and paint that house!

During the painting, I checked the time. It was 12:30. Still enough time. The next time I checked my watch, I was surprised to see it was 1:20! Time to hurry! Focus and get to the point! A few more quick brush strokes, and what wasn't done was now finished. I tossed everything into the car without cleaning up, and was off to the framers!

The framers did a quick and professional job framing my last painting. Nonetheless, I anxiously fidgeted until I got the framed piece back. I delivered my third painting to Terra Nova Gallery with only fifteen  minutes to spare.

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