Journal of Michael Baum / Travels of an Artist

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Plein Air


A few months ago, I pledged that I would get out with the oils and do some plein air painting. (See: Painting in Beauty) Last week I finally did.

Two close friends and colleagues, Dan Schultz and Deb Komitor, and I met at Red Rock Canyon Open Space about midmorning. We slung on our gear and headed into the park in search of paintings.

The first thing I noticed as we lumbered up a long hill is that my painting kit is way too heavy and cumbersome. It's an old wooden French easel, stuffed full of paint. In addition, I was carrying a backpack with canvases, brushes, solvent, paper towels, and other accessories needed for painting. Then there was the fanny pack with water, snacks, and more stuff. And of course, I have to take the camera everywhere. As I trudged up the trail, I looked enviously at Dan's painting kit, a single pack weighing only 19 pounds. His pack contains a small Open Box M easel that mounts on a lightweight tripod, leaving plenty of room in the pack for everything else he needs. So I made another pledge: If I continue to paint outside regularly, I'm getting one of those babies. Only 19 pounds!

Back to painting.

We find a great spot with some shade looking out at the red-rock spine of the park. Red sandstone fins and spires rise from the early-summer greenery. We set up and dig in. Two hours go by in an instant as I try to interpret what I see. And amazingly, it works. After two years on the bench, I get a fair painting, much better than I expected. Apparently I've picked up something in the last couple of years that is helping me get back into painting outside. A quick start, getting down large shapes and approximate values, then refining from there, adjusting, and  tightening only in the later stages.

Looking at the actual scene instead of a photograph is a revelation. Everything glows way beyond the capacity of the paint (and my present skills) to get down right on canvas. Intense color, luminous atmosphere. It's better than anything I can imagine in the studio. Painting it will be the challenge. And then carrying the revelation back to the studio and using it there, an even greater challenge.

The sun hits its zenith, all but erasing the shade. Shadows in the landscape are eradicated. Sweat beads on my forehead. Sun reflecting off my nearly white t-shirt glares on the painting, obscuring it. We all agree, it's time to quit.

I know, one session of painting doesn't fulfill the pledge in spirit, but I'm going out again this week and hopefully most every week for the rest of the summer. I can already picture myself effortlessly climbing those mountains with that new lightweight easel.

Red Rocks
, oil, 9" x 12" (sold)

Dan and Mike


Painting and subject


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