Journal of Michael Baum / Travels of an Artist

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Painting in Beauty 3-15-08

Sioux Falls, watercolor, 4" x 3"

The watercolors are a step in the right direction,
but painting with oils will be the real deal.

Colorado River Headwaters, watercolor, 4" x 3"

Reflections. Not the kind you see in water. The kind you see in your mind.

This is the time of year for resetting clocks, literally and figuratively. Winter is letting go. You can feel spring in the warming sun, smell it in the melting snow. Everything is in front of us. We are looking squarely into the face of what Patrice calls our adventure season: road trips, backpacking, exploring. This is also my time to reflect on the past year.

"All I want to do is paint." That's what I often find myself thinking as I sit in front of the computer doing all the things that come with making a living as an artist. I see it almost every day in my daily journal: "office work," "bookkeeping," "pick up prints," "ship paintings," "count the piles of money" (yeah, right), and on and on. These are the inevitable non-adventures.

For sure, I did not do enough painting last year. I don't know if there is such a thing. So once again I rededicate myself to do more painting and come up with a plan to do that. And I want to make better paintings, paintings that more powerfully evoke the reality of a place. How do I do that? I continue to improve my skills. But that's not enough. I have to come up with a better way to bring the reality back to the studio.

Painting outside. I'm always saying the camera can't capture the experience of being there, that I have to burn the experience into my memory and try to recreate it later in the studio. This approach is fraught with problems, one of the big ones is that the camera does not "see" anywhere near as well as the eye does (at least not in my hands it doesn't). The highlights burn out, the shadows lose detail and color, the lens distorts the image, and a photo doesn't edit out unwanted detail like the eye does.

Well, if I can't bring the image to the studio, then why not take the studio to the image. Paint outside. An obvious solution. But it's wild out there, a lot different than painting in the controlled environment of a studio. There's rain, wind, bugs, heat, ever-changing light, endless distractions.

"Ain't nothin' like the real thing." But there is also direct experience. Those distant mountains, flat blue-gray shapes in the photo, become sculpted forms glowing in distant sunlight, painted a hundred shades of blue and purple by the living atmosphere. Those black shadows come alive with color and complexity. The two-dimensional flatness of the photo becomes infinitely deep, sucking you into the scene, into luminous reality. Can I actually paint amid all that beauty?

Thousands of artists do it ... and live to tell about it. So why not? Maybe I could shove aside some of the business stuff and head out into the mountains, prairies, and canyons and flirt with the sublime, get blasted by reality, paint in beauty.

So that's the challenge. Let's see how I do.

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