I have new admiration for plein air painters.
This stuff is tough.
Not that I’m com”plein”ing, but here’s the deal on today.
Laugh if you must.
You arrive somewhere (vineyard) you’ve never been. You look around for a worthy subject. You find some really pretty horses and some twining morning glories, but this is supposed to be a vineyard painting, whatever that is. You pick a few grapes and eat them, slimy insides, tough skins and all. You realize you have been standing in an ant bed and are getting bitten all over your legs. You dance around shushing ants off your feet and ankles. You look far and you look near. Nothing especially inspires. It’s hot and getting hotter. You settle on a pastoral distant view of the festivities, and are especially drawn a sweet view of rows of small shrubs with brilliant green pathways in between. It almost looks like Italy. Perhaps it’s going to be OK after all.
You set up everything: tripod, easel, turps, board, paints, brushes. You rough in the scene and begin to mix colors. Cars begin to fill the field right in front of you. You realize the very pretty view of those Italian-looking rows (your prime focus of love) will soon be entirely obscured by vehicles, so you work fast. But you are not fast. And your board is “thirsty” and is sucking all the oil right out of the paints as they skid and drag and practically glue your brush onto the surface. And it is hot, and your ant bites are beginning to itch.
You decide to focus on the trees and the tree line above the buildings. Already the light is shifting. Wasn’t that tree almost chartreuse on the left? Now it looks kind of dusty-sage colored. No matter, you can change that color a little. Or should you just keep the chartreuse and move on? You think, “What would Barbara do?” You imagine she’s painting right next to you smiling and just humming along. You think you’ll try that, too. Why stress over it? It may be hot, but the air is “plein!”
Revelers and wine-drinkers wander into the vineyard and cheerily look over your shoulder. They try to be nice, but you know. You know it’s not going well. You wonder why you drove so far when places more personally meaningful are right at home. You wonder if you are meant for this kind of painting. You keep painting, though; there’s always something to learn.
Four hours later you are still painting. You are wondering if your sunscreen is still working. Then you get a phone call from a very nice friend who says she’s going to visit you right there in the sweltering muscadines. She eventually arrives, and you walk away from it all to go find food and beverage. The beverage turns out to be wine. You split the bottle with your friend, and have your picture taken together pretending to stomp grapes. You two marvel at a silly Lucy-look-alike contest, and decide these are the moments proving that humans are very spirited, indomitable creatures.
You decide it’s time to go retrieve your setup from the vineyard. On you way to the lower 40 you meet a very nice painter. His big painting of grape vines is confident, flashy and exuberant, and he’s framing it right there in front of you. You mention those pesky ants, and he tells you that a mixture of 20% Listerine and 80% water is a great bug spray. He also advises you to wash your brushes in canola oil. You show him your pitiful 8×10, and he’s super nice and encouraging, knowing full-well you are feeling very vulnerable.
You drive home, unload the car, and look at your painting. About 20% of it has some redeemable characteristics, just like the proportions of Listerine to water that you will mix the next time you go outside to paint.
See? It was worth it after all.