Life by drive by painting


Turn around...Why? You know you should paint it. Yeah, but I could paint something like that anywhere. But will you?...Okay fine, I’ll take another look at it. Half the time it only looks good from the car anyway, what with you listening to music and taking in all the countryside in a split second at 70 mph, compressing and combining all the beauty into one beautiful impression. Still, I’ll get ou...t and take a look at it. You know what drew you to it. The scheme of yellow and shift of cool to warm across the haystack, that classic subject that found its way into Van Gogh’s, Monet’s, and Sargent’s, and still creeps into the contemporary greats like Aspevig, Entz, Elliott, Lynde, and Lee. It makes sense, it’s a good story; the farmers who worked the land for generations, the stacks year after year in this place, the cattle that have come and eaten and gone to slaughter, the hay that feeds the cow and the cow that feeds the farmer. A story of work and sweat and machines that cut and bale and stack and the machines that break and the cursing and the headaches and the rust. The post pounder and the strong forearms that lift it and slam it down. All these things and more, but it’s the light you’re drawn to and the shape of shadow on the hill. How it’s neutral behind the stack, close in value but warmer than the cool left side of the bales and cooler than the hot right of them, the rolling hills and the feeling of their mass. What are you waiting for? Slap down that sky, cerulean and ultramarine and white, and work it all forward from there. A wash? No. Just work from the back forward. Scrub in where you’ll need to lay thick paint on top of the scrub later. Feel those rolling hills like a sculpture, do it with your whole palm, feel them and see cow trails working their way up them. What’s the shape of that stack? It’s a trapezoid, two on top, three in the middle, four on bottom, the left side catching color from the cobalt sky, that reflective mesh most of the bales are wrapped in does that. That’s amazing how hot those fronts in shadow get as they angle closer to the sun and it bounces light into the grass in front of them, left to right warmer and warmer, warmest and darkest in the deep hollows between them. Clean up those edges, sharp where the sun hits and the shadow of the hill behind. That’s a good place to lay paint on, let the thick paint make the hard edge. There it is, now it’s separate from the back. How bout those posts now? It’s a lot easier to paint them in than to pound them in. You’ve done enough of that working for Dad, planting those ponderosa and staking them against the wind, getting in a hurry because you’re frustrated by how long it takes to put a post down in that rocky Red Lodge river rock soil, raising the pounder too high and slamming it on the post, the lip of the pounder catching the top of the post, repelling it back and planting itself on your forehead, you collapse, dizzy, pissed, tired, feeling stupid, and wishing you could just go make paintings. Yes, it’s a lot easier to just paint them in with a brush. Well make sure you put them in the right place. Don’t screw up the underlying strokes, do it once and do it right, there and there, not there, it wouldn’t do you any good there, the shadow of the bales and the color on your brush are the same, you wouldn’t see the stroke and you’d just confuse the brushwork on the bales. Put one there in that opening against the light where you can see the thing. A thin vertical line on top of wide horizontal and diagonal strokes. Put in those tall poles too. They’re as high as the stack, the one on the right is slightly higher. It’s a darker green color and cuts through the back hills and their shadows and their light. Put in a couple cows. One was laying there earlier. That’s always an interesting look, the body horizontal and dark, and the head up and to the left, a little knob on top. Do one more standing, grazing. There it is. Work the ground towards you. Put it under your feet, slightly warmer as it comes forward, here the grass is vertical and catching light, it casts a soft shadow to the left on the shorter grass. A bit of snow is cutting through and the grass cuts through it. Tighten it up here and lose the edge there. Break that line and add a thick stroke here. Step back and look at it from a distance, you didn’t do that yet...look at it from 20 feet away. God it’s a nice day. And you were gonna keep on driving. It’s reading pretty well, the drawing isn’t perfect. but the color is good. Your camera would never see it that way. Clean up. Pack it up. Your tire is a little low in the back. Eddie’s Corner is another hour away so grip the wheel in case it goes. The painting’s nothing to write home about but it feels good to have stopped and acted on the impulse to put in on canvas. There’s always something better ahead and when there’s always something better ahead you never get anything done. Now you can drive for a while and not feel bad about not stopping, but you better stop if you see something good. You might be able to get to the Crazies and the good land beneath them before the sun goes down.See More