Friday, June 17, 2016

Going Off Plan

©Theresa Grillo Laird - Coastal Forest - oil on linen - 20 x 32"
ask here for information

Old habits die hard. And that's the only excuse I can give for going off plan. I just finished talking about getting organized to spend the rest of the year painting the National Park in my hometown. My intent is to sketch the possibilities, take photos for any useful info the photo might contain, and paint on site. My plan has been working well, enabling me to complete each day's painting on site, while working section by section through the park. Last week, I set out with a larger canvas than usual, 20x32 to paint a stretch of marsh. Once on site, the marsh looked dull. That should have been the time to dig in my heels, exercise discipline and remember what attracted me to the scene in the first place. But the view to the right of brilliant white dunes topped by billowing clouds, beckoned. Seduced by the beauty, I just jumped in and began painting. I guess it's not surprising that I experienced the same problems that have happened before. I had to work my way through unexpected issues rather than being able to concentrate without interruption on just applying the paint. 3 days and a lot of frustration later, I had my painting. As for the marsh, the part of it I liked best fit easily onto a smaller canvas.

Going off plan isn't always problematic. Some of the most exciting discoveries happen when you find yourself in some place completely different from where you planned to be. 
When I was 5 and came upon my 4 year old brother drawing in blue crayon on a freshly white washed wall, my first impulse was to threaten to tell on him. He was so unconcerned with my taunts that it changed my intent. If fact he remained so blissfully centered on the enjoyment he was experiencing, that the next moment found me joining him. You can read about that day's artistic discovery in (this post) from a few years ago.

Anything that throws you off plan can sometimes be beneficial. A long time back I was painting a still life of tulips. I carefully drew the petals in paint then proceeded to methodically fill in trying to capture the color and transparency of the petals. I thought my controlled and thoughtful work would best capture their upright buoyant nature. In the middle of painting, I got into a furious argument with my spouse. I kept painting through the traded barbs, my mind a thousand miles from what my hand was doing. All of a sudden I stopped and looked, and was astonished that the very soul of the flowers lay there before me on the canvas! They were perfect and all apparently without the aid of my careful hand and analytical mind.

The best way to work seems to be with a balance of planning and discipline, along with a healthy measure of openness to the unexpected. The best plans still need some room to go astray so you never close yourself off from the thrilling accidents and discoveries that happen in unpredictable moments. 

Friday, June 3, 2016

The Day I Met Dirty Harry in the Gulf Islands National Seashore

©Theresa Grillo Laird - Beach Marsh - oil on linen - 18x24"
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My painting spot was a long walk from the parking area. I'm still searching for a plein air easel that suits my needs - one that will accommodate a larger canvas or panel and that will hold my paints and brushes. Got any suggestions any of you plein air painters? My current easel is a standard french easel which when loaded up weighs about 18 pounds. The best I've been able to manage everything is to put the paints, thinner, paper towels, water, lunch, sunscreen etc into a backpack and carry the almost empty easel, canvas and umbrella. It's better, but I still can't get more than about a half mile before it all gets too unwieldy. So, after choosing a good painting spot last week, I figured I'd unload my gear roadside before leaving to park. I didn't want anything to walk off in the meantime, so I looked around and spotted a bush 20 feet off the road that I could put everything behind. 

I love painting in the National Park! It's mere minutes from my house. I don't know what twist of fate brought me here. As Maria sings in The Sound of Music, I must have done something good.
Even though the land couldn't be flatter- the highest point in town is about 45 feet above sea level, it's incredibly beautiful. The sand is white, not tan like the east coast or volcanic dark like the west. It's actually pulverized quartz washed down from the Appalachians. In the twilight it glows like snow. And unlike the steel grey water of the east coast, the hues here are emerald green and sapphire blue and are crystal clear. Within a half mile in any direction you can find beach, dunes, marsh and coastal woods full of holly, pine and live oaks. In summer it's hot and very humid but there are always coastal breezes to cool things off. In short, it's a kind of Paradise. 

As I quickly unloaded in a spot I technically shouldn't have stopped in, a couple on a motorcycle came up behind my idling car. He looked like a long haired version of Clint Eastwood in his Dirty Harry days. The woman with him seemed tailor cast as his perfect partner. He stopped, and with a Dirty Harry look of you better not be messing with my day, looked me straight in the eye and called out "Hey are you putting bags of garbage there?" The woman spotted The National Park Volunteer cap on my head and the blank canvas sticking out of the car trunk and quickly assured Harry that I wasn't up to anything nefarious.

Like most artists who paint nature's beautiful places, I feel a strong sense of stewardship and of ownership of the land. I'm ever ready to protect it. It's nice to know that the person you would least expect, feels equally fierce about preserving the parks that truly belong to us all. 

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