I set up a portable easel, at times struggling to get the tripod legs the right height and to secure the 12-by-16-inch canvas to the easel in case it is a windy day. I search for the duct tape in one of my many canvas totes.
The last four summers, I have taken a plein air oil painting class six to eight Saturdays in a row. This past COVID summer, the class was online. The painting, of course, was in real life.
As soon as I settle in, I sketch onto the canvas in pencil the scene before me, making decisions on how to frame the scene, what to include, distort or ignore.
Then I paint a wash of turpentine-thinned, light yellow ochre, cadmium red, burnt sienna, chromium oxide green, and cerulean blue– or whatever the scene demands, mixing with titanium white or a touch of black or indigo to get the proper hue.
I am learning to paint in oils, yes, but I am learning to see, focus, pay attention to the smallest details, Am I am also learning to revere how buoyant I can feel by finding just the right whiff of blue for a distant wave or how a fine brush can make the difference in expressing movement on a canvas.
With the noise of daily news updates on COVID, the election, protests, racial injustices, wildfires, hurricanes, floods, deaths, hate, catastrophes and deceits filling my daily life, it is a privilege and rescue to take a few solitary hours every Saturday to create art.
Even if I am not so satisfied with the outcome–this rock looks like a piece of bread, that flower is shaded improperly, and this person’s face is misshapen– there is always an element that I feel I did get magically right that makes me feel sincerely proud. The lilies. The sky. The bushes caressing the wall. That leaf, there.
This is an excerpt from my latest book of essays, Act Like Your’re Having A Good Time.