Tuesday, July 5, 2011
Today was one of those summer days that when you take a shower, you can towel off, but never really dry off. In other words, a tad humid. Now, some people dislike this element of summer, but I don't mind. I'll take the humidity along with the heat. I lived for a couple of years in the desert South West, so I know about heat. "Oh, but it's dry heat," I can hear you say. Okay, which one do you want-- a dry 116 degrees, or a humid 88? But humidity and it's resultant haze can be useful to landscape painters.
In a few weeks I'll be participating for the fourth year in a row in the Cape Elizabeth Land Trust's wet paint and auction event. It's for a good cause, and it is extremely well organised and run. It's been my honor to have been chosen to participate all these years. I am hoping, however, that this year won't have the same weather as last years.
You see, about twenty or so painters head out to various locations around the quite lovely and bucolic peninsula that is Cape Elizabeth, Maine and do a plein air painting. I will tell you right now, that I am not really a tried and true plein air type of guy. I can have good luck with maybe one or two paintings for every four or five attempts. The others are brutal. So what I would do is go to my location beforehand, and start my painting, then show up on the day of the event and finish it on site. Kind of hedge my bet, you know? It may not be a true plein air in the technical sense, but I'm sure that the organisers of the event don't care how the painting was done, only that it is done well. So anyway, last year I was assigned to paint along the rugged, rocky coast at a place called Two Lights State Park. I was excited. Visions of a Winslow Homer seascape came to mind. So, a couple of days before, I slipped down to scope out the site. I took photos and made sketches, then went back to my studio and started in on the painting. This is going to be great, I thought. My best yet. I was getting cocky.
On the appointed day, me and my beautiful partner Ellen went to the park and set up at my site. The day was as lovely as a summer day can get in Maine. The sky was a crisp, bright blue with not a cloud in sight. The sea a tranquil deep blue with waves that gently nudged the gray rocks of the coastline. A breeze was blowing from the west. Oh, my God-- what a freakin' nightmare! Because I had to wait until the park was open to get in and start painting, the sun was well above the horizon. And it was dullness as far as the eye could see. Deep, black shadows hid under the slate gray stones. The sky was an interminably flat light blue. The ocean was just as horrifically a boring blue. And the wind kept trying to knock my easel over.
I swear it would not have been a problem if there had been some humidity in the air to soften the shadows, push the ocean back into a purple haze, and allow the sky to form some interesting clouds. Maybe Winslow could've fudged it a little to make an interesting painting. I could not.
I needed to come up with something else, because my pre-planned painting was a bomb. I quickly hauled out a blank panel and started in on a new scene, but by now, my brain was becoming a panic stricken piece of mush, and I couldn't seem to pull anything out. If the year before I had done a good plein air painting for the event, then I was now in the middle of my five bad ones. Oh, and I had until two o'clock to finish it and get it to the auction site. What time was it now? Noon. Why, oh, why did I ever sign up for this...
So what did I do? Luckily, I had brought a seascape I had already finished of the same general area with me, (after all, ocean and rocks-- who can say where's where?) and I slapped a few dabs of fresh paint on it and presented it for the auction. Cheating? Maybe. But what would you do?
So, let's hope that this year won't find me under the same stress. Is a little stifling heat and unbearable humidity too much to ask for?