Journal of Michael Baum / Travels of an Artist

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Trip to the Paint Mines
Getting Eaten Alive for Art

White Whale (photo) Michael Baum

Hoodoo Avenue (photo) Michael Baum

Roadside (photo) Michael Baum


Around 4 pm, we head for the Paint Mines in Calhan, over an hour away. It's hot. The sky to the east is virtually cloudless. I think it's going to be too glaringly sunny to get any dramatic photos. Wrong. As we drive, the clouds build. A thundershower forms to the north. Then it explodes casting a shadow all the way to the Paint Mines. By the time we get there, the land is dark beneath the mammoth cloud shadow. To the east and south, the sky is electric blue and stroked with ragged glowing clouds. Drama. Just what I'm looking for.   

We hike in. The prairie is dark, brooding in the twilight, a vast, rolling, landscape hiding secrets in plain sight. Seen up close, it it is grass, wild flowers, foraging birds, and scampering chipmunks. But looking up toward the horizon, taking it all in, it becomes an immense living thing that will swallow you whole.

The trick here is to get all that into a painting. A challenge to the senses, the mind, the heart and soul. For me, a lot of that happens back in the studio. Out here, I just open up and let it all in. Then, hang on.

There are the more mundane challenges such as getting all the visual information into the camera. A camera can't see what the eye can. It can't take in the full gamut of light and shadow and reveal its subtleties at the same time. I have to take a number of shots at different exposures to get the bright sky, then the dark earth.

Then there are the mosquitoes. As we descend into the valley, mosquitoes assault us, taking blood tribute for the privilege of being here. We didn't think to bring repellant, so once again, we are eaten alive for art.

Meadow and Badland (photo) Michael Baum

A horned lizard wiggles to the side of the trail. I snatch him up and carefully hand him off to Patrice. Then take some photos. He plays dead in her hand. "Don't eat me, I'm dead."



Bright white and pastel in the sun, the formations glow darkly in the false twilight, ghostly figures, goblins and hoodoos twisted into a frozen orgy around us. Dark energy pulses and thrusts in the stone. We explore the narrow slots among the standing figures. I take photos as Patrice swats the mosquitoes attacking my legs. Pan shots are virtually impossible as my body jerks and jumps with every bight.

Thunder rumbles. It's time to go back. As we make our way out, the light becomes liquid gold. I retake many photos in this remade world. We leave the valley of the goblins and mosquitoes. The light is changing. We decide to hang around and see what happens.

Driving to a spot above the mines, We park and watch the sky and land transform. The roadside landscape unfolds. Angular "Curve" signs stab deeply into tall grass, heavy with seed. The gravel road, glowing cooly in the twilight, bends off toward a lone house in the dark distance . I take photos. Patrice takes photos. Sometimes, it's hard to tell who takes what. We've been together a long time. It's one of those moments. Music drifts out into cool evening air, spiced with the scent of sage and grass. The light changes. Billowing cumulus clouds climb into the sky trying to make rain. We are suspended in time watching, gathering. A storm to the west still washes us in gauzy light. Colorado Springs is getting clobbered with rain. Finally, we drive back toward the clouds that embrace our home.  

(I'm going to get a couple of good paintings out of this trip. Maybe more. It doesn't always work that way. )

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