Crazy Plein Air Painting…




That’s me. A crazy-*ss plein air painter. As some of you folks know, I’m currently in Telluride doing a plein air festival and guess what? The weather here sucks the big one in the afternoons. Well, at least it offers some interesting opportunities…

The weather here at this time of year is gorgeous in the morning but by noon one or two big ‘ol frikkin’ thunderstorms come sailing in and it begins to dump and rumble. Today, I knocked out a fine painting of “Bridal Falls” before lunch, a ‘gimme’ for the Saturday sale, and then looked up at the clouds amassing above me, and decided to take the Telluride Ski Gondola up to the top to Mountain Village, at about 10K feet. (It’s a free ride and runs from 8:00 am to midnight. I might try a night painting up there is I have enough layers . . .) I thought there might be a stunning view up there with some sun in it, and lo and behold, there was. For the first hour or so.
Boy was it great. 360 degrees of awesome. To the south there was a super-massive thunderstorm firing away just behind Mt. Wilson. (+13,00 feet and ten miles away from me.) I decided that was my subject and would lay in my color loosely and finish off with a delicate a lightening strike for wow factor. I figured seasoned Telluriders, and there are a lot of them around here, would get it at the show on Saturday. 
Earlier in the week I bought a big golfer’s umbrella from the hardware store, in case of rain, and when the the rain began to drop I popped it open and held it in my left hand and kept painting with my right. It was amazing. Me and my painting stayed dry as a bone. And any gusts blowing the umbrella about about didn’t transfer to my easel. 
But hey, there was another problem to deal with.
The reason it was raining was because the storm was coming my way. Wasn’t ten miles away anymore.
Hmmm. So here I am, at 10K feet, out in the open above tree line, with my easel sitting on a metal tripod, and a wet metal umbrella in my left hand.
Anyone see a problem with this situation?
What the heck, I figured I’d never hear or see the strike coming so I kept painting. And yes, I started counting between the flashes and thunder as I did so. I decided to bail when my count didn’t get to one thousand. But by then my painting was coming together nicely and I didn’t want to quit. But now I was also beginning to chill down from the wind. I hadn’t brought a rain shell with me. (Idiot!) It wasn’t mind-bending, decision-affecting, make you stupid hypothermia yet, mind you, but it was well on the way — and for me to tear down the kit and pack up would require me closing the umbrella and getting slammed by the wet. The only thing that was between me and the rain was a thin scrim of nylon and had been betting I could wait the squall out.
Well, it wasn’t a squall after all. It was squall after squall.
Finally I decided to strike my gear anyway and make my way to the gondola lift. I tossed everything into the bubble and rode the comfy lift back down to town. By then I was beginning to shiver. I got to the bottom and jumped into my rental, which I had left parked in a driveway next to the lift. Before heading up top, I paid some kid who came out the house’s three dollars to park in the driveway. (Parking is hell in Telluride, and man, I got a deal for three bucks. I got to park next to the lift and he got some beer money for tonight.)
So, I’m now sitting in my favorite coffee shop on main street, drinking an expresso laced with a shot of Grappa. I can feel the chills leaving my body as I type. 
I’m happy. Euphoric, even. Despite the foul weather, I got to paint in conditions few landcape artists get to paint in. Plein air painters like to paint in the sun because it’s so gosh darn comfortable. But then, there is so much drama, so much un-tapped realness in a storm such things should be expressed  too. Even if no one wants to buy a gloomy painting.
Carl Hiaasen likes to write amusing novels in which a hurricane plays a part somehow. Usually the storm hits at the denoument, when the good guys are about to be massacred by the bad guys. And usually he throws in a stock character with the hurrican, an ex-Floridian Governor who appears out of the swamp and lashes himself to a lamp post to ride it out. (He’s an Edward Abbey stand-in, and rails against unfettered development.) Call me crazy, but I’d like to try that someday myself. Feel the full force of nature. So long as I can lash my easel within arm’s reach as well.
And yet… it sure is nice to come in from the cold. Now that I am warmed up it is time to head out of another painting.
Grappa, mmmmmmmm!
Thomas
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