Elora Plein Air Festival May 18-21

Painting outside is challenging at times…  a lot of the time.  But the rewards are immense.

Only an Artist’s eye can capture and interpret a scene in ways that a camera cannot.  The Artist knows & sees the full truth whereas the camera can only tell a partial story.  The camera will pose, distort and portray what its lens can see and relay it, in a fractional moment of time – click.  Also, a camera can never capture the breadth and scope of colour and light that the human eye can see.  Have you ever taken a picture of a glorious sunset and been disappointed by the results of the photo? – thats the difference.

An artist being physically present on location can absorb an appreciate the visual atmosphere and prismatic mood of the moment.  Standing feet on the ground in all kinds of weather and ever-changing light, an artist observes the myriad of true colours, the soft or sharp shapes and lines, the brilliant hues and deep dark tones.   Also, the sounds, smells and feelings of the surrounding environment impart their sensory impressions into the artists palette, as do the time of year and time of day.

The paint outs I have done in the past have been completely different in comparison, with each location an unique visual experience.  From Parry Sound to Niagara Falls the visuals abound in an endless smorgasbord of delectable sights to take in and consider for a painting.

Elora, Ontario is another example of endless possibilities for painting locations.  The Grand river flows through a spectacular gorge attracting many sightseers and visitors to the area.  The charming town boasts many historically significant churches and homes with fine architecture.   Many of the old stone houses in Elora were built by Scottish stone masons who built the neighbouring town of Fergus as well.  The main street in town offers quaint boutiques, cafes and shops.  Elora is surrounded by beautiful rolling hills, meadows and farmland.

With so many options it was difficult to choose a location, but I love water and rock – so down into the gorge I went.  I wanted to paint a variety of pieces, but in hindsight, I realized that I had made the mistake of bringing large canvases: 16″ x 20″‘s and an 18″ x 24″ vs small easily portable 8″ x 10″ boards.

I knocked off my first 16 x 20″ painting in the morning without a hitch.  It was a scene of a bubbling spring flowing out of a limestone wall along a path that followed the river at the bottom of the gorge. I titled it “Well in the wall.”

For the second piece, I chose to paint a cedar grove at the the top of the gorge in Victoria park.  Here’s where it started to get challenging:

It was mid- day, full sun, hot, sticky & humid, so I set up my easel in the shade under the trees at a picnic table. What a lovely spot!  An hour into the painting my phone sounded.  It was a weather alert, a severe thunderstorm warning had been issued for the area.

Enter the first round of explicit language…

“Oh sh*t !!!  I looked up to the sky and saw huge, monster, billowy white mashed potato clouds slowly sliding by.  Then a gust of wind came.  I start painting furiously and was rudely interrupted by something biting the back of my leg at the picnic table.  I slapped at it with paint brush in hand.  Bye, bye new Columbia pants, you are now smeared with green and yellow.

Whoosh – another gust of wind.  The trees rained down little sprinkles of black stuff and wee branches onto my wet painting.  Did I mention that I paint like a millionaire? Oils are expensive, but I like to lay it on thick.

I started picking the bits and pieces out of the wet colourful muck and then touched up the scratches and gauges with more paint.  As I turned to grab another rag to wipe the debris from my brush, whoosh!  Another gust of wind came, but stronger.  It lifted my canvas off the picnic table into the air and bonked off my forehead.  It flipped over my back and landed on the forest floor – yes of course – face down.  Just like a piece of toast and honey always hits the kitchen floor wet side down.

Insert more explicit language here…

I carefully picked it up by the edges, laid it on the table and start methodically picking debris out of it a second time.  That thing started biting the back of my leg again.  I ignored it and kept painting.  Finally I finished it off, only this time I had the sense to clamp it down to my french easle and turn it sideways, so it could not catch the wind like a sail.

I take a break.  I am done painting number two, and like a happy idiot I decide to take a selfie by the gorge.  I stand beside the chain link fence at the edge and lift my phone up to get a shot of the gorge below.  Whoosh – the hat flips off my head and over the fence landing 3 inches from the edge of the cliff.  Oh no!  There goes my souvenir pirate cap that I got in Tortola when I went sailing the caribbean for my 40th birthday aeons ago.  I started to climb the chain link fence and as I swung my leg over the rail I stopped myself.  Wait a minute here silly… think about it, let common sense prevail.

I had not had the best of luck in the cedar grove and I was feeling kind of hot, tired and clumsy.  I hadn’t been to the bathroom or had a drink of water in hours and I was getting impatient, but through the impulse to retrieve the hat, it occurred to me that perhaps maybe, there was a slight chance that I could turn my ankle and roll off the edge into the gorge below.  I looked down at the hat and sighed.  Goodbye old friend.

My phone alert sounded.  I couldn’t find my glasses.  Through blurred vision I recognized a red banner, thunderstorm watch, or warning? #2.   OK time to pack it up & head into town.   I fired everything into my back pack, put away my brushes and solvents, snapped french easel shut, folded the tripod legs in and tightened down the screws. I collected the oily rags the wind had blown about on the ground and threw them into my garbage bag.

Searching for my glasses, I wandered left and right scanning the forest floor.  Then I saw a glint of metal.  I had found my glasses and – yes of course – I had stomped them into the ground with my hiking boot.  I scooped them up and gingerly tried to twist the frame back into shape.  I put them on and kind of tilted my head in line with their new angle. They would never be the same.

Insert more expletives here.

Sweating profusely, I slung my backpack and french easel, one over each shoulder and grabbed the garbage bag.  Pack it – in pack it out: its the hikers creed, you know?  I walked through the forest and through the park to the path to the parking lot while balancing two wet paintings – one in each hand through gusts of wind like a tight rope walker over the falls.

Big fat drops of rain started to fall as I loaded my gear into the back of the car.  I reached into my trunk, pumped a big blob of hand cream into my palm and rubbed my colourful hands together as I leaned against the car and thought about lunch at 3PM.  More drops fell.  I wiped my hands off with a rag and looked up to the sky.  The mashed potatoes were now a menacing a dark purple wall that was approaching.  I slammed the trunk shut and bolted across the park through the rain drops back to the picnic table. I paced back and forth along the chain link fence and looked at my hat still sitting there precariously close to the edge – then I had an idea.

I went to a cedar tree, reached up on tip toes and snapped a long dead branch off the tree.  I leaned over the fence and poked the tip of the branch thru the hole and hooked it under the sizing strap at the back of the hat, I lifted it up and over the fence, grabbed it off the end of the stick and stuck it back on my head.

Insert sound of thunder here…






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