A Rookie in the Rockies. In a chance conversation with the organiser of The Teton Art Lab, Travis Walker, it was revealed that no one, who has been on a residency here, had ever done any Plein Air painting (painting in the open air). Travis is a renowned plein air artist himself and is to be regularly found in and around Jackson painting a whole variety of subjects as well as the Landscape. Now, I’m not the competitive type, who’d take on such a task just to claim a mention in the Teton Art Lab year book, I decided it was my duty to the Queen to be the first artist to plant this particular flag for the Great British nation.
Sketching outdoors rarely forms part of what I do, it’s not that I don’t like sketching or that I’m very lazy. I’ve always thought that just walking and looking works for how I like to interpret the paint back in the studio.
It was a multifaceted conversation, during which we also talked about the close proximity of Jackson to the Super Volcano underneath Yellowstone and what might happen if It was to erupt. Needless to say it was another spur to seize the day and add “beginners plein air painting” to my skill set.
Even though I’ve never done out door painting before I have gone as far as thinking how I’d manage the practical problems of making small oil paintings on the road, I’ve always imagined that a humble pizza box might offer a perfect solution. I taped four boards inside so I’d easily be able to work on them and bring them back to the studio without them smudging. My ambition only stretched to taking the monochrome colour, raw umber, I like to use for tonal sketches. It occurred to me that the box could also be quite handy to transport some mid painting sustenance but on this occasion it’s contents had been happily removed the day before.
As I made all my final preparations a very heavy rain storm passed over Jackson and would have given my pizza box some structural issues so some patience was required. Luckily after the storm there was a wonderful golden light gently settling around the whole valley and the kind of pleasant summer heat that isn’t typical for April.
I went in the car for a ten minute drive to Wilson, a very small town that is nestled at the foot of the mountains just before you reach the the hair raising Teton pass, which takes you up through the mountains over the western state line into Idaho https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wilson,_Wyoming
A left turn before the mountain pass takes you along a quiet road with some great views of the valley looking back towards the mountain range and Jackson Hole. I parked the car, was surprised at how easily the pizza box fulfilled its destiny, I squeezed the paint out and was ready to begin.
As soon as I started looking at what I was going to paint it was as though all my senses had been turned up, so all the noises and the scent of the recent rain drifting in the warm air were suddenly so intense. In concentrating on the view, so fully it felt like I’d disappeared into it all. Most notably some Trumpeter Swans passed over and as well as making their famous hooting I could even hear and feel the movement of the air around their wings.
I’ve had the same sensation while walking in the past but this strange state lasted for the entire time I was painting. It’s easy in this position to want to capture every last detail of everything you are looking at but I wanted to ignore that urge and try to focus on a particular area of interest, initially the light hitting a nearby peak caught my eye. Even though I was trying not to communicate everything I found it very difficult and this first sketch felt like I was trying a bit too hard.
As I moved onto the other boards I was more relaxed and these were more like my how I normally paint but we’re still observing from what was happening around me. I must have been out for a couple of hours and really enjoyed the stillness of fixing my concentration on the task at hand.
As well as being the first artist to paint outdoors whilst at the Art Lab I like to think I might be the first painter to ever use a pizza painting box in Wyoming or North America! I’ll leave that to the historians but Plein air painting is something I will definitely be doing again and will no doubt I’ll have a steady supply of painting boxes too.