It’s hard to describe the extent of the feelings of defeat I’m having right now. I drove an hour and a half down to Blackhand Gorge State Park today to try some Plein air painting. Dear God, it didn’t go well.
I hiked the trails and found an incredibly serene spot just off one of the trails that I sat down to paint.
The scene was simply stunning. Vertical rock cliffs on either side with the sun shining on the left-hand side bouncing off the rocks and into the water that crept between the cliff faces… fish splashing quietly from time to time. Dozens of plastic water bottles scattered at the bottom of the hill because some people are assholes. Aside from the litter – it was gorgeous.
So I sat down on a railroad tie and unpacked my paints and sketchbook and tried a very quick value study.
Which was awful.
So, like any budding artist, I blamed my paper and grabbed a sheet of Arches. I quietly poured out a clean dish of water, and uncapped my expensive Escoda Reserva 100% male Tajmyr Sable, and Zbukvic-series brushes from their metal tubes, and took a shit all over the paper.
Feeling pretty well demoralized, because I couldn’t blame anything but my own ineptitude, I packed up my things and hiked through the woods some more. I walked up steep dirt paths, high into the hills looking down those vertical cliff faces into the shining water. The easel got heavier and heavier on my back, and my fat ass started sweating through my Star Wars tee shirt, and I nearly stepped on a long black rat snake. Luckily I saw it in the middle of the trail before I stepped on it – so I kicked some dirt toward it to get it to move. It didn’t. I kicked again, and it begrudgingly slithered just off the path and lay there in the dirt, looking annoyed as I walked past.
There was nothing up there that I could paint… so I hoofed it back to the car, and scoured through my trunk for something to drink. The only thing I had was the left-over coffee from my trip down, so I grabbed it and walked out into the field. It was golden hour and I realized that just past the park entrance sign, a barn stood in the distance nestled in front of some muted green trees, with a fence-lined road gracefully curving down a hill on the right around the foot of a craggy ancient oak tree.
So, again, I unpacked my things and sat against the stone base to the park entrance sign, and taped one of the three pieces of paper I had with me to my board. I set up my tripod and easel, and loosely sketched the scene. I planned as I went, taking careful note of the tones and values in the hills, strategizing how I would paint it—golden hue here, faded blues there, a carefully neutralized maroon for the barn…
My tongue was shriveling in my mouth because I was thirsty from expelling nearly all of the water in my body through the sweat glands just above my ass. The only thing I had to drink was that cold coffee, but at least it was something. Greedily, I reached for it and forcefully knocked it over, spilling my only hope at an acidic hydration all over the last two pieces of paper I had with me.
Undaunted, I took my time. I finished my sketch, and seriously contemplated drinking the river water that I was using to paint—parasites be damned. I resisted the temptation to drink brain-eating amoebas and, slowly but surely, proceeded to embarrass myself in front of the dozens of locals who drove by in their pick-up trucks.
It wasn’t a good day for my portfolio. It wasn’t a good day for my self-esteem. But, at least I got some exercise, and some fresh air, and I didn’t step on that snake. (Seriously, it was two-feet long at least. That’s basically a sauropod here in Ohio.)
The lessons here?
- Pack a water bottle.
- Keep trying.