Learning to slow down and take a break

Airstream trailer
Airstream at camp sketch
© 2015 Margaret Sloan
Watercolor on Arches hot press #300

In the week after the Ironstone Concourse d’Elegance, we plein air painters who had participated in the event had the opportunity at the winery to display what we had painted.

I chose to opt out.

I had good intentions of submitting a painting, but you know the axiom: Wish in one hand….

I suppose I could have framed my sketches from the event. Here are the reasons I didn’t: 1. The pieces from the concourse were little more than sketches and 2. I didn’t have empty frames that size, so I would have to cannibalize an already framed piece.

Besides, I was working on three large paintings to round out my own solo show at the Atherton Library in the Bay Area. But, ever attempting to be an overachiever (and generally failing), I put show preparation on hold and spent one long evening working on the above small painting.

At the Concourse there is a group that calls themselves “Trailer Trash.” They are trailer collectors who drink cocktails in front of vintage Airstream trailers and teardrop campers circled on the lawn like Conistoga wagons. It’s a popular place to paint. In the late afternoon sun I sketched this little scene and made some mental notes while I sketched. And I snapped a few pictures with a friend’s phone (because my phone hates me and refuses to take photos).

Let me tell you. A photo taken with a camera phone in bad afternoon light is not a good reference. In fact, I find that often photos aren’t good references at all. That’s why I keep my sketchbook closer to me than a dog keeps her fleas. Thank goodness I had that sketch and my notes about the scene.

So with my bad photo, my good sketch, and my Swiss cheese memory to guide me, I painted all evening until the fiddler wandered down to the studio and wailed plaintively, aren’t you finished yet? (No, he didn’t really wail. Only his fiddle wails.) But at night he does often come to the bottom of the house where I struggle in my studio. He likes to walk me “home” (upstairs to the kitchen and living room). You never know when a mountain lion is hanging out under the deck, starving for a bite of pudgy artist.

And I have to admit to you, at that point I gave up on this painting.

There are many reasons to give up on a painting. Here are my reasons: 1. It was late. 2. I was tired 3. The painting wasn’t what I had in mind. 4. A perfectly good fiddler was inviting me upstairs for a glass of wine and some dinner.

And most importantly, I hate being rushed.

I know, we are all in a hurry these days. If something’s worth doing, it’s worth doing fast, right? And we’re all reaching for the stars, trying to achieve greatness, or at least trying to get someone to look at our artwork and expound on its loveliness. Or maybe just trying to get something painted and framed to hang in a last-minute show.

I’ve said this before: I am a slow painter. I think too much, but it’s who I am.  I need time to process and plan, to understand what I’m doing. This painting, quickly drawn and painted, was a good start for a larger, better painting. But not good enough to miss spending time with the fiddler.


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