Cold Winds Over West Texas

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Signal Peak, Guadalupe Mountains

The power depends on the depth of the artist’s insight of that object he contemplates.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Art”

Forty-seven degree temperatures and a stiff wind greeted me as I stepped out this morning. I found a cafe with available Wi-fii and coffee. Pulling up photos I took of Signal Peak (8751 ft.), the highest summit in Texas, as I drove past the Guadalupe range recently, I decided I would later today attempt some sketches of this magnificent site, using my photos as a reference.

I regret resorting to reference photos when I watercolor; I have had this reticence since discovering the dynamic of painting en plein air. For several years now, I have endured a seething compulsion to paint mountains, but alas they are nowhere near my residence. Two or three times a year, I manage to visit mountain ranges, yet standing in their eternal presence, I always feel like a mere bird flitting past their exterior, then quickly returning home. This morning, Emerson’s quote above has my full attention; I believe that an artist needs to spend time in the presence of his/her subject, allowing the subject matter to compost in the consciousness in order to paint it authentically.

Emerson’s magnificent meditation from “The American Scholar” I have read and recited to students for decades. I post it below, now rendering in bold print the same sentiment from his statement in “Art” that I posted at the top:

The theory of books is noble. The scholar of the first age received into him the world around; brooded thereon; gave it the new arrangement of his own mind, and uttered it again. It came into him life; it went out from him truth. It came to him short-lived actions; it went out from him immortal thoughts. It came to him business; it went from him poetry. It was dead fact; now it is quick thought. It can stand, and it can go. It now endures, it now flies, it now inspires. Precisely in  proportion to the depth of mind from which it issued, so high does it soar, so long does it sing.

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My sketchbook journals are replete with pencil studies of trees that are improving because I have paid my dues, sitting in the presence of them, working diligently to render their unique figures and portraits as I gaze upon them. Trees are everywhere I live and work. But mountains–how I wish I could sit in their company with the ease that I find in trees. Perhaps one day I could move to an environment where I could gaze upon them and know more fully what Emerson professes, that depth of artistic expression comes with time and familiarity.

The theologian Paul Tillich, when addressing an audience celebrating an anniversary of Time magazine, mused that the American public of his day was driven by a horizontal force to produce quantities in faster time, and that the results were a shallow product. He observed that it takes time to develop a vertical dimension, one of depth and profundity. I am going to take that to heart, and see if I cannot produce better renderings of mountain ranges in watercolor as I continue to study them. This summer I have made some serious plans to vacation among mountains and canyons. But in the meantime, I will continue to study my plein air sketches and photographs, and continue my practice of painting these subjects.

Thanks for reading.

I make art in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.

 

 

 

 

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