Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Rocks, Water, Trees and Sand

We just returned from an all too quick family vacation to Yosemite National Park in California. We had three idyllic days there, visiting friends and taking in all the grandeur. Yosemite is one of the most amazing treasures this country has preserved. I have had the great fortune to see it in winter covered in crisp snow (my favorite time to go), in spring while in full bloom, as well as in summer during peak tourism season. I usually would be bothered by all those other people, but for some reason, in Yosemite I am more willing to share the vistas (this place definitely brings out the best in me). The National Park Service has done a phenomenal job of controlling the congestion that once filled the valley floor with diesel fumes, by installing Hybrid buses with efficient service to all destinations. No longer are lines and lines of tourist buses stuck in traffic while circling the valley floor for those postcard perfect shots of the falls. We were able to rent bikes (with trailers for the kids and the gear) and were therefore able to see much more than if just on foot. We hiked, we swam, we ate delicious picnics, and I did get to paint... one small painting.

While the kids played on the beach and in the water, I got to listen to their sounds of joy, while creating a little bit of my own. I'm always humbled by nature and trying to represent it justly. I've heard tales of what artists must endure in nature to try to capture it's beauty (mosquitoes, lightening, cold, rain etc.) but I don't think I've come across a story of bandit squirrels and children with fists full of sand. I set up my (new) pochade box in a shady corner of the beach near a rock outcropping. Instead of looking out at Mirror Lake, this spot offered me a chance to look back at the beach and shallow waters of the shore. Living in this rock outcropping were a couple of pesky ground squirrels. They had absolutely no fear of humans. Unfortunately, these rodents have become quite adept at opening backpacks and stealing bits of sandwiches and apple cores. While I was sitting there, they had no problem coming right under my leg to check out what I had in my Ziploc bag (paints). They obviously know these bags usually contain food. So for awhile I let them investigate, thinking they would go away when they realized there was no food involved. But after many distracted moments (thinking they were going to crawl up my shorts... uggh) I finally gave one of them a light whack with the handle of my brush. It was surprised, and they didn't bother me after that. But then, the children on the beach (my own and others) often would wander up to see what I was painting. Children have a different sense of personal space. They dripped water and sand into my paint while getting their noses as close as possible to the painting. Their questions were fantastic and I didn't want to stop their own discovery, so I just made do and excepted these small bits of nature as part of the experience. But then, my daughter, who always try to be so helpful, saw a squirrel approaching me from behind. She scooped up two fists full of sand and thew them at the approaching varmint. It may have worked, if my face, my pochade box and painting were not in the way... Now there is more grit in this painting than I would have intended, but c'est la vie.

Rock at Mirror Lake
oil on panel (and sand)
8" x 10"


  1. Great story! I'm still digging sand out of my easel after a trip to the beach with Elliot last summer ended in much the same way. I definitely wouldn't want the kids to miss out on seeing the entire process of making art. I have a little fantasy where Elliot is just as excited about painting as I am and we both spend entire days together painting. Until that day (which may never come)it's sometimes nice to have the kids around for the inspiration they bring.
    By the way, what kind of research did you do before choosing the pochade box? I'm thinking about getting something lighter than the Jullian box I'm lugging around now and I'm curious why you chose the one you did.

  2. I did a lot of comparing on line, and also had two friends who let me fiddle around with theirs (one was made by Artworks Essentials and the other was from AllaPrima Pochade, see below for links). I was comparing design, and price. I’m really happy with the one I got, but I think I could have gotten a smaller one (by the same company) and have been just as happy. For some reason, I thought I might be doing larger plein air paintings, but this probably won’t ever be the case, and this Versa by Artwork Essentials fits into luggage (just barely, on top of the clothing and kids toys we brought). I think if I had thought it out better, I would have gotten one size smaller so I could pack even lighter (I hate packing too much). The good thing about the Artwork Essential boxes is that the tripod (which I’m super happy with because it’s so sturdy, comes with a bag, and is easy to upright/ tear down fast) is included in the price. Other pochade makers charge more for JUST the box. I like the wet panel carry option on this box which has an easily adjustable design. Perhaps, my only concern about the design (initially) is that to be able to adjust the brass base, that holds your panel while painting, there is a slot through the face of the box (open to the elements). I feared that this would allow debris into my paints (although in my case, this happened anyways because of the kids). I also chose to shellac the inside (palette) of the box, so I wouldn’t have the weight of a piece of glass in there. It’s worked well, and I’m able to easily remove paints (sand and all). I think this box will last me a long time. I’ve used it as a table top easel, a stand up on tripod easel, as well as a lap top easel. For table top use, it has some nice rubber feet on the bottom that make it so the tripod attachment will not rub the table or make the box wobble. They have done a nice job thinking out this box. Here is a link to all their products:

    And some other pochade boxes for you to compare:

    Happy hunting.