Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Final Tennessee Painting

Tennessee is done. It was clearly the most challenging in subject matter, if not conditions.  Plus, the first on a trip is always the hardest, even if I have been painting the days leading up to it. This painting was downright ugly at the end of 4 hours in the park but it seems that ugly has the best chance of becoming most interesting. (Hahaha - that's what my mom used to tell me... ) 

Percy Warner Park, Belle Meade, Tennessee

And, cheers to the people who wrote to me about loving their state. I have found that people are proud of where they were born or grew up, and Tennessee is no exception.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Easel on Down the Road - Hoosier Hospitality

If that's not a regular phrase, it should be. Indiana proved to be one of the most welcoming states of all. Of course, it helps to have friends with generous spirits.

Melanie is a college buddy of Angela's and I have spent time with her in the distant past, but not much in the last 25 years. (Am I honestly that far from my youth?!?) When I saw her last April she invited me to stop by any time, so I took her up on it. She lives on her family's farm with her 13 year old son, Yasha, two lively dogs, two cats and Carina, the PhD-girl from my Kentucky post. Mel insisted I use her own bedroom.

The next morning we took a walk with the dogs after Yasha got on the bus. Mel pointed out areas to paint. Down several hills from her house sits a small farmhouse, built in the 1880's. She and her parents lived there when they first bought the property. No one lives there now.  Just below that was a faded red barn.

I decided to paint the two old structures. It seemed they had interesting stories to tell and, while I can't begin to guess what they are, I like to tease at their presence. I perched on a hill, leaning forward, and looked up at them. The wind was sharp and a dog from the farm below barked and barked and barked. Twice a rooster joined in. His effort made me laugh.

I sketched and then blocked in the darkest colors. The wind bit. I thought, "I DO have a good reason to do this, right?" The dog continued barking. I focused. I wanted to work quickly and leave before one because of a 5 hour drive home. By 11:30 I was hanging onto the canvas with one hand and slashing the sky on with the other. I was freezing. Mel had let me use her new pickup to drive all my supplies down several grassy slopes (see what I mean about generous?) so at noon I packed up and threw my stuff in the truck quickly in order to get inside and warm.

Today I am home. It is windy here but not very chilly. I lit a fire in the wood stove anyway. It feels good to be home. Charlie cried at me for a long time when I arrived. This morning I took him for a 3 miler and now he is sleeping the heavy sleep of relief.

After working several hours in my studio (on Kentucky), this is what I realized about plein air painting: when painting outside, you do not have time to dilly-dally, especially when it's cold. There is absolutely no agony over choices (like what color, exactly), you just paint. I noticed today that I bring that sense of urgency back with me into the studio. A few "tough" bouts outside and I'm recharged. 

This was a successful trip. I am happy to have wrapped up three states with minimal fuss and maximum enjoyment.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Easel on Down the Road - Kentucky, again

Last night I stayed in the lodge at Barren River Lake State Park in Kentucky. I got there in the dark, a full hour later than expected (thank you 5-year-old GPS). I was tired and therefore elated to find they had a restaurant from which I could order take-out. Ahhhh. Life is good when you can take a hot shower, watch MSNBC and eat a Cuban sandwich in your pj's!

This morning at breakfast I asked the hostess and waitress where I should paint. What was quintessential about their state? (Last April Angela, my best-friend-painting-girl, and I traveled through Kentucky and I painted a 16x20 of a lake with a tree in front. I don't like that painting, it does not represent the state to me and it is the wrong size.) From these women I heard about a goat farm, horse ranches and a cheese-making enterprise that also sells wine. The easiest destination was right in the park - the barn that houses horses. Perfect!

I set up by 10:30 (time zones be damned - I'm living on EST) and knocked down at 3. Some people walked by and many vehicles zoomed past but only one man stopped, got out of his truck and strolled over to take a look. He was cheerful and young, with a long, shiny ponytail. He worked at the park, knew every inch of it and loved it dearly. He asked a few questions about what I was doing then launched into a detailed account of catching catfish with his bare hands. He would dive under water and nudge them gently with a pole while they were in a cave. He would block the entrance, entice them out and catch them. The largest he caught was over 70 pounds. He has enough in his freezer to eat catfish every day of the week for a year and he generously offered to tell his wife to bring me some (he was on his way to work). I declined, imagining driving back to Michigan as they thawed for two days in my car. 

So, that is my Kentucky experience. Like Tennessee, it is a very Southern state. This afternoon, crossing the Ohio River in Louisville felt like moving into home territory. The traffic was fast and heavy but I did see beautiful, big bridges on either side of me spanning the huge waterway, gleaming buildings lining the shores. And then I was home - the Midwest. Now I am at a friend's house not far from Bloomington, Indiana. She and her son and, coincidentally, Angela's daughter (who is living here while she gets her doctorate at IU) have welcomed me with great conversation, Thai food and a comfortable bed. I cannot wait to see my surroundings in the daylight and pick a site from which to paint.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Easel on Down the Road - Tennessee

My short stay in Tennessee had many interesting aspects but one event will forever define it for me.  First things first...

I had a free week and decided to grab three more states before year-end (16.6 x 3 years = 50 states). So, yesterday I headed south out of Saugatuck (through a freakishly bad snow storm at the bottom of the lake) to Nashville, where my niece welcomed me with open arms, two small children and turkey chili (yum!). 

Robin is the oldest daughter of my third oldest sister. She unintentionally inspired me to write this blog because her own blog is both naturally humorous and unselfconsciously smart. http://peainherpod.blogspot.com

This morning, Robin and the boys led me to Percy Warner Park in Belle Meade, a city within the city of Nashville. Old stone steps climb gracefully up a hill, the entrance to over 800 acres of wooded trails. I set up looking at a small bridge. The old masonry was difficult to draw but the light through the trees was magnificent. It was cold and I had a hard time concentrating at first.

As soon as an expected phone call was received and completed, I could relax enough to focus.  That call was from "A Way With Words" (http://www.waywordradio.org), an NPR show that I heard in Minnesota (we don't get it in Saugatuck). I had called in about the word "oory-eyed" and they wanted to hear my story! I was so nervous; I was snuffling from the cold and madly trying to evade the leaf blowers who were roaring in the background, but talking to the hosts was easy and fun. I wonder how much will get edited out... 

So that call will always remind me of painting in Tennessee. And I will think of the mansions lining the streets in Belle Meade when I think of Nashville and also of being a young mom with little peas at home, playing endless board games and inventing Batman scenarios. 

Tonight I am in a lodge at Barren River Lake State Park in Kentucky. Tomorrow I paint this state a second time.