Wednesday, November 25, 2009

“Sketchbooks and the Artist”

“Curious Bear”Teton National Park

October 1, 2009

After successfully painting all day on the bank of the Snake River, we return to camp. Bright tones of amber, crimzon, umber, and sienna blanket the landscape.
Squirrels chatter in the trees as they jump from branch to branch, from tree to tree, as if today is the last day to gather pinion and seeder nuts and hoard them inside old hollow trees for quick snacks during the cold winter months. In the woods not far us, we can here the unmistakable bugling sounds of Wapiti (elk) as they establish their territory and breeding herd. Bears, too, eat continuously to store fat for their long winter’s nap.

At our camp near Coulter Bay, just on the boundary of the Teton National Park lives a bear whose name is Number 399. The National Park service gives Bears numbers to identify each bear, keep track of their activity, and to monitor if any bears are interacting with park tourists in an unpleasant manner. Every bear has its own personality and interacts differently with members of the human race. Number 399 is a popular bear at the campground. Rangers and park visitors like him because of his natural curiosity about people, and as a result, many park tourists enjoy seeing this beautiful four year old, honey-colored grizzly. He likes the attention and poses for pictures, and he has never been cited for unruly bear behavior, although his natural curiosity makes a few campers a little uncomfortable as he wanders from campsite to campsite.

I capture my first glimpse of Number 399 as I enjoy a cup of tea just outside of our Silver Streak Trailer. I grab my sketchbook to make a quick sketch on paper knowing that I can later transfer it to canvas. The bear stands for a few moments among several fallen tree trunks before lofting away to another campsite. While he stands there, a burst of wind makes his fur ripple like waves on water, back- blowing his thick winter coat. The following day, I learn that a hunter, who had just killed an elk, shot Number 399 three times and killed him. The hunter apparently was worried that he might have to share his kill with the bear. This was a poignant reminder of the value of sketching in the moment as the opportunity presents itself.

“Sketchbooks and the Artist”

Artists haven’t always carried their paints and canvas with them on their travels. The practice of painting on location via plein air is a relatively new concept in the history of painting. Many artists prefer the traditional method of sketching their experiences in a sketchbook. Artists can draw models or objects of interest, jot down notes and observations about a subject’s shapes, colors and unique features, or work on ideas for upcoming paintings in their sketchbooks. In this painting, “Curious Bear,” I worked from a sketch that I drew of the bear that visited our campsite. Having only seconds to jot down ideas, I worked on an idea for a painting from my notes the following day after I learned that this bear was shot and killed. This is an example of why it is essential that an artist always have a sketchbook and a pencil or pen to sketch and write notes and observations.

I recommend using a book that has about 50 sheets of plain paper with a spiral spine to start, and urge artists to carry it with them everywhere. Make a point to draw at least three drawings a day in it. Practice drawing in it everyday, and use it for everything from ideas for your next painting to making your shopping lists. It is not practical to invest in expensive journals with upgraded paper and leather binding displaying the artist’s name in gold leaf. Although these can be impressive, the fancy journals are intimidating and rarely, if ever, used. Don’t think of your sketchbook as a holy relic. It is just a book with pieces of paper. The real value is not the book itself; it is using its pages to practice your sketching and to journal what you are thinking and feeling each day about the world around you, with the possibility of capturing a precious moment that later can become your next great painting.
I have devoted my life to touch, move and inspire others to see and appreciate the beauty of art and its relationship to nature. And, as we travel through this great land with our 1970 Silver Streak trailer following behind our truck, I passionately desire to share the power and beauty of nature and art with others.For a FREE book on everything I know about painting go to