Short Story: Two Artists Search for Someplace Better

Two lanes and no shoulder, the wet asphalt slithers before us like squid ink linguine fresh from some giant cauldron of boiling water. It was the wettest summer in decades and afternoon storms had become a not surprising bane of our efforts to paint outside every week. Rowena was at the controls of her burnt orange Honda Element, The Pumpkin she called it. It was styled like a hollow box on wheels, but it was terribly convenient for hastily and easily packing whatever inside, as our only slightly damp mound of plein air gear attested to. We were ostensibly scouting new locations for future painting trips, but the hilly country covered in Dijon mustard hued grass kept rambling on as the miles passed beneath our tires.

Photograph of a black top road going into the distance amisdst a green and brown grassy western landscape.

“Do you see any place you want to stop?” She asked.

I let spots of grey green sage brush and dark rain soaked wooden fence posts flash by on both sides for a moment before I answered.

“Let’s keep going.” I finally said.

I was in a languid mood, and I hated it, but things weren’t right. We had one rule on these trips, if one of us saw something we wanted to paint we just had to mention it and we would stop. But why couldn’t I open my mouth? Over there, next to the lake that was a brighter shade of celadon, was a knoll of a hill. I reasoned it had been left behind by an Everest sized glacier from the last ice age, or maybe it was the remnant of a sandbar from ancient Lake Bonneville. Either way, the clouds had broken, and a window of light was illuminating the top of the knoll with a color the exact shade of a bottle of 1605 recipe Chartreuse. It was beautiful, but was it worthy of a painting? What would the background look like? Didn’t the top of the hill create a tangent with the mountain across the lake? Maybe if we drove a little farther we would find someplace better.

It was another day and we were driving again. We were heading up Emigration Canyon, a place neither of us had been before. But we realized that wasn’t entirely true. At the mouth of the canyon Rowena stopped The Pumpkin to let a woman with perfectly coiffed blonde hair, and her three straggling children cross the road in front of us. Their destination, Hogle Zoo, was on the other side of the road. The first time I went to the zoo I was twelve. It was a field trip with my school. When we boarded the bus to leave, I heard other kids talking about seeing tigers and wolves. I realized I had missed half of the animals. The woman and children finished buying their tickets and disappeared between the totem-like pillars of the entrance. Rowena and I looked at each other. Should we paint at the zoo? I had seen the tigers and wolves since, but the road that went beyond the zoo was fresh.

Spindly branches with the look of desperate growth and unbelief in predictions of continued summer rain formed tunnels of cadmium green. I imagined The Pumpkin was the only thing not green for miles, except for the wool grey of the pavement, but it was clearly losing the battle in keeping the vegetation at bay. To a high desert dweller’s senses the verdant land was unexpected and joyful at the time of year when brown was the expected dominant color. But there was too much of it. Sightlines and open space that let a painting breathe were non-existent. That was the excuse we exploited to keep on driving. If we kept looking, there would be someplace better just up ahead.

The road finally crested. Before us was a hill-ringed reservoir with a single miniature boat speeding at the rate of a cooling lava flow across the water. A hot reflection from the surface stabbed at the eye. The rain must have skipped this part of the landscape. Crackly yellow grasses and tan-grey weeds dominated the undulations. There wasn’t a spot of green or even a single tree within throwing distance of the water’s edge. It was the surroundings of a typical Utah lake.

“Do you want to go check it out?” She asked.

I was silent. The only sound came from the idling engine and the blowing of the air conditioning as the Honda paused where the road split. Left led down to the lake. Right followed the ridge out of the canyon. There had to be someplace better, more exciting subject matter to paint, farther on.

“No, go right.” I replied.

We were at a different fork in a different canyon. One hundred foot tall pines cast the pavement in shadow, and like a slot canyon the only way to see the sky was to look straight up.  It didn’t appear promising for a painting, but we were thirsty and Rowena remembered there was a spring in this canyon and thought this might be the spot. She parked The Pumpkin just around the bend on the left fork.

Even before we opened our doors the rumble and hiss of falling water permeated through the car walls. Only thirty feet from the road, water from a bulging creek rolled down the mountain and into a culvert under the road before it continued its gravity powered journey. The earthy smell of the forest floor and the acidic spike of pine clutched at the nose. A fallen tree hovered above the waterfall, the banks on either side providing just enough clearance to keep it from becoming a dam. Fresh summer greenery flecked with white and yellow flowers made the foreground, and a small ravine, obscured into mystery by the low boughs of the pines, twisted behind the creek. This unsought place was someplace better. It was time to set up our easels and paint.

Defriended on Facebook: Lessons Learned

So there it was, a question on an artist’s Facebook page asking about some aspect of art, and I had an interesting answer that I had read somewhere. I left the comment, thinking it might be something intriguing for the artist who posed the question to consider. I checked back an hour later and the comment had been deleted and I was defriended.

What the…?

Dropped icecream cone on concrete

I went over what I wrote. It didn’t have swear words, it wasn’t confrontational, and it was actually supporting the artist’s point of view (admittedly from an unusual angle). The only thing I could think of that might have been offensive was the mention of a political philosophy.

But there was actually one more thing I hadn’t considered. As I was wondering where my comment was (before I realized it had been deleted,) I couldn’t find a single dissenting voice on any of this artist’s posts. Not even a mild suggestion that what the artist said or did was in any way not absolutely perfect.

How is that possible?

I concluded that the artist must be dealing with others the same way they dealt with me. Whittling down dissenters until all that is left is a group of sycophants.

I was a little upset at first, mainly because communication had been cut off with no way to ask why, but after thinking about it for a while I chose to learn from it.

The first lesson I learned is that if you are even a modestly public figure (such as an artist,) keep all mention of anything political out of your public life. (Unless of course you are a politically themed artist, but then you are only preaching to the choir at that point anyway.)

Lesson two, if someone says something that isn’t exactly in line with your own viewpoint, try to have a civil discussion first. If they meant to be a jerk, then at that point you can inform them what the consequences are.

Lesson three, if you are going to use information you read somewhere, do some research on it first to make sure it is legitimate. (I later found out that the information I passed along was not based on legitimate facts. But I do not think that was the reason for the defriending.)

The last lesson is to stop and think of how the action you are about to take will affect you.

I admit that I should have researched my comment, but how the situation was handled prompted several changes in my behavior in addition to the lessons above. Chances are slim that I will mention this artist’s name again, in polite or impolite company, and are even slimmer that I will support anything they do.

The artist will probably never know, or care even if they did, but to paraphrase something I read, the people you meet on the way up are the same people you meet on the way down.

Are there any lessons you have learned the hard way with social media? 

Pulling: New Oil Painting Work In Progress

I thought I’d share some work in progress shots of Pulling, a new oil painting currently on my easel. This is one of those paintings where the title and idea came together at the same time.

Pulling (work in progress) oil painting by Brady Allen
Pulling beginning stages. Oil painting by Brady Allen.

I asked, Billy, a friend from college to model for me. He’s an awesome guy and seemed eager to help me out, even when I asked him to take his shirt off.

This was his first time modeling. I love the intense expression on his face and how he really got into it.

Pulling (work in progress 2) oil painting by Brady Allen
Pulling Working on the sky. Oil painting by Brady Allen.

The idea for the sky sprung from my habit of standing outside and watching storms roll by. I wanted it to follow the rightward thrust of Billy’s pose and reinforce the internal determination in a dynamic way.

It was also a good opportunity for the strategic placement of lighter clouds to help lead the eye to the focal point.

Pulling (work in progress 3) oil painting by Brady Allen
Pulling Coloring in the concrete. Oil painting by Brady Allen.

In this last photo I am working on getting the lighting on the broken concrete slabs to look the way I envisioned it.

I am also playing around with the texture of the paint and brush strokes. I want to see how unspecific I can make each stroke and still have the overall form look correct.

This is unusual for me, but a little experimentation keeps things fun.

Same Blog Different Location

I recently changed the directory in the URL from “artrounds” to “blog” on my website to make it clear what someone is going to when they click on a link.

So instead of seeing this:

You would see this:

Yeah most of us probably didn’t care or notice, but I thought the change was worth it.

There is one downside, not all of the links work properly right now. Some (actually about 230) of the images when clicked on don’t go to a larger version.

I have to manually change all of them so it will be an ongoing project to update all of the links.

Thanks for your patience!

P.S. I also changed the comment system to be more user friendly. No more funny looking words to type in! Also, I am no longer pre-moderating comments. Comments will be posted immediately, but if it is spam then it will be deleted.