by James Kowalczyk
Path to Glory Lake-Fall
It's fall and what plein air artist worth their salt doesn't envy Mother Nature's colorful glory and want to try and capture it? However, as I recently discovered, selecting a good location is very important, not necessarily because of the scene, more in terms of how well you can tolerate an audience. On a beautiful October weekend in northern Michigan I completed a fairly detailed painting off a beaten path in Hartwick Pines State Park. Wonderful colors and only an occasional passerby to deal with. "Hi"...."Hi"...."Whatcha doing?"...."Painting"..."Very nice, wish I could do that"..."Thank you"...(I avoid telling them they can because then I will have started a conversation and trying to mix fall colors and talking at the same time is not in the realm of possibility for me).
My next visit was to a place called "Wellington Farm". It is an actual 1930's working farm run by volunteers. It has a number of old buildings and farm equipment located in some darn beautiful old growth woods. Unfortunately it was "Apple Fest Weekend" and visitors galore. However, I was certain that I could find something nice to paint out of the way of the crowds, far enough away so as not to be too disturbed. Wishful thinking. As my luck would have it the gentle old fella bringing visitors back into the woods on a tractor drawn hay wagon knew what I was doing (off the beaten path) and included my presence and activity in his spiel to the visitors. People got off the hay wagon and I became a prime attraction, receiving almost more attention than the free steam engine pressed apple cider. In California, artists are taken for granted, they are everywhere. In Michigan they are a relatively rare species. I even had people asking me to pose with their children for pictures. "Look kids...it's a real artist!!!"
Normally it takes me about three hours to complete a satisfactory 11 x 14 plein air study. I gave up after 45 minutes knowing full well that it would take me 8 or more hours to accommodate the audience questions and comments and at the same time try to figure out how to mix those autumn colors. It is not possible, at least not for me.