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This is a painting that I’m currently working on site, at the Snohomish Valley viewpoint. We are looking west on an unused Department of Transportation right of way, with gate chained shut and marked no trespassing. There is a red road sign that has no icon or instruction, and the entire fence, sign and the right of way itself seem in danger of being completely overtaken by nature. It reminds me of Sartre’s description of foliage waiting to envelope the abandoned town in his novel ‘Nausea.’
No Trespassing: I’ve always been intrigued by the idea that even if there is a sign and a fence barring entry, one’s eyeballs can penetrate the prohibited space, and go dancing and gamboling about like birds on a wing. One can inhale the colors and textures through the organs of sight, like forbidden fruits stolen from a farmer’s field.
This photo was taken after the second session. The painting is being brought up gradually, with the slow articulation of leaf forms and shadows where the brambles of blackberries entangle the left side of the painting. I may emphasize even more the static banding of gray-blue and gray-purple of the sky.
One can often see wildlife at this location; hawks, deer, eagles, garter snakes, wrens, red-winged blackbirds, crows and finches. On the day that this photo was taken I saw a small lizard, which I almost mistook for a twig. It was a fence-sitting lizard, so-called because they are often seen sunning on fence posts. It is the only indigenous lizard in the area, hence easy to identify. During this session I was accompanied by two of my students, Min Zhong and Bin Li. Both were busy painting the Snohomish Valley itself, while my mind wandered down this forbidden trail.
Summer finally seems to have arrived, and I’m celebrating the Sun’s rejuvenating rays by having a sale on Plein Air Class Session Credits. You can go to my classes page, www.williamelston.com/classes/ for details about the sale, which include some of the deepest discounts I’ve offered. There is a counter at the bottom of this page that counts down the days until the end of the sale. But don’t wait until the last minute!
Many people think that painting en plein air requires innate talent, that it is an unproductive way to spend one’s time. An artist once said ‘the great thing about plein air is that you get to live your life while you are painting it!’
Painting en plein air is less about representing the countryside or urban environment than it is about becoming aware of life’s underlying rhythms. By sustained looking and listening, the distractions of daily life fall away. We find ourselves more fully occupying the moment. By replicating nature’s pulse in the gestures of our brushstrokes, we train our mind on what is essential. The paintings that result, records of observation and reverence, are just the icing on the cake.
Painting en plein air is good for your soul!
I returned to Bothell Landing with several plein air students this past week, and reworked an image that was begun at this time a year ago. Looking up the slough, with the early sun passing through the trees and lighting the embankment beyond, there was one difference: This year the Cottonwood trees had decided to let loose their snow-flurry of puffy seeds a bit early. In the painting you can see the evidence in the grayish surface debris that eddies with the current, but at times it really was like a snowstorm. One had to be on guard to keep the stuff from landing on palette and painting, and to avoid breathing the stuff lest one become like the victims of one of Heliogabalus fatal petal parties.
The end painting is more textural, as it was done over an unfinished painting of another subject. I rarely do this, preferring to paint on fresh canvas. But occasionally one must, when there is not a ready canvas of the appropriate size at hand. Under such circumstances I try to take advantage of the shapes and value structure of what lies beneath, and incorporate the textural effects into my new conception.
The heat also presented a challenge. It seems that rarely can good compositions be seen from the shade. “Fishermen do not fish in the sand,” the old Spanish saying goes. I usually work with umbrellas, but they shade the painting and my palette, and leave precious little protection for me. Their purpose is to control the light as it falls on my work, as it is too difficult to judge color accurately in full sunlight.
Bothell Landing is far from being the pastoral oasis that it appears in this painting. Behind me is a bustling park of children, bicyclists, budding martial artists, yoga enthusiasts and the noise of motorists on Bothell Way and beyond. In the city one must take one’s bucolic pleasures where they are to be found.
This painting is another view of the Monroe Street Bridge, seen from Post Street, just above Spokane Falls. It’s a venerable old bridge, which I first painted in the early 1980s. That earlier painting is in the collection of Washington Trust Bank, a purchase that was spearheaded by the late Frederick W. “Rick” Scammell, a Vice President of the bank and a true friend of the Arts. That painting, entitled simply Monroe Street Bridge, measures 68 X 105 inches, and still hangs in the Washington Trust Bank lobby. I’ve painted the Monroe Street Bridge a few times since, including a preliminary study that preceded the Washington Trust painting.
This particular view was only recently opened up, due to renovation that took place in Riverfront Park. Down below Post there is a new park that provides even more interesting views, as well as Bicentennial Trail on the north side of the Monroe Street Bridge, which provides vistas of the river, Peaceful Valley and the west side of the bridge. When I’m in Spokane I always feel as if I’m orbiting around the bridge, from the lower South Hill to Browne’s Addition, Peaceful Valley and Vinegar Flats, Rimrock, Fort Wright and spiraling out to Glenrose Prairie, Lincoln Heights and Manito. It’s the portal through which the Spokane River passes after its tumultuous tumble down the falls, on its way out past Deep Creek Canyon and beyond.
I suspect that many current and former Spokaneites have strong feelings for this old bridge, spanning the river that is the heart of the city. I lost a tooth on its pavement, when a car suddenly pulled out in front of my 15-speed bicycle. I guess that you could say that I know the Monroe Street Bridge intimately.
The work is on display, along with other paintings of Spokane subjects, at Dodson’s Jewelry and Fine Art, at 516 W Riverside Avenue.
I’m currently having one last sale before Plein Air season begins the weekend of April 16. Deep discounts for 8 and 16 plein air sessions are available. We paint at a large variety of locations in the Greater Seattle area. Sessions are scheduled to accommodate all students, and coordinated through my website. We paint on both weekends and weekdays. Check out my website for further details. There is no better way to find yourself “in the moment” than with a brush in your hand that has paint on the end of it. http://www.williamelston.com/classes/
Update: This sale has expired!
My exhibition with Ann Duffy opens this weekend at i.e. gallery, 5800 Cains Court, Edison, WA. The exhibition will be up from April 8 through May 15. Opening reception is April 9, 4-6pm. Refreshments are being catered by Tweets Café. Gallery hours are Friday – Sunday 11am-5pm, or by appointment. Call (360) 488-3458.