After six straight days of driving and camping Wilbur and I finally arrived at The Cape Breton Highlands National Park in the Canadian Provence of Nova Scotia.
We are nearly as far as a person can drive eastward, ok...if that isn’t true then let’s just say it feels that way. We are in the Atlantic time zone, a time zone that doesn’t touch any part of the US, so that would seem pretty far. Anyway after that drive I really don’t want to drive any further. I have deemed this as far east as it is possible to drive.
It’s incredibly wonderful here. We are camping a short walk from the ocean and the air has a quality unfamiliar to those of us landlocked in the Midwest. A tangy freshness with a hint of rotting kelp-like stuff. It's nice.
Wilbur and I try to travel as much as we can. When the opportunity presents itself, (meaning money) we head to foreign soil. Our cheaper alternative is to camp around the United States and Canada.
In my opinion we are kind of lazy travelers. We mostly just go to places and hang out. Neither of us are into checking off the boxes of things to see. We are not really into rigor or being overly ambitious. Mostly, both of us, like to hang around reading, eating....drinking a bit. My favorite travel advice is to try and do nothing, let things happen.
Well, that's not entirely true. I also love to make paintings when we travel. I sold my very first painting back in 1987. It was to the University of Wisconsin and they bought it for 600 bucks. It was a big sale for me and more money than I had ever received for a painting. We used the money to buy some super basic camping gear and headed with our two kids, ages 4 and 6 months for a week long camping trip to the Black Hills of South Dakota. It was a memorable trip for a few reasons.
The first memory was that on our way home we only had enough money to buy a big Mac and an order of fries to split. The second was that each night after Wilbur and the kids were asleep in the tent I sat at the picnic table, with the Coleman lantern hissing away making weird little ink paintings. I fell in love with the idea of making my work in places that are unfamiliar and new to me.
My interest is not in painting what I see or do what is called "plein air painting". Rather I'm interested in capturing a sense of the place and maybe a quality of air and light. Call it a tone or a vibe or whatever, I can't figure it out. It's just a sense of the place.
My typical process is to do a few location paintings and then just hang out in the campsite doing work. Sometimes I paint what I'm looking at in the campsite, a tree or a rock. Other times I paint from memory. During this trip to Canada Wilbur and I hung out at the beach for a day. I did a couple of paintings, then the rest were done at the campsite. The campsite becomes my studio.
People are always interested and will stop to look and chat. This time a really nice family from Ontario kept checking in on my things; kids love seeing someone painting outside. Once in Colorado at the Longs Peak campground I even did a little exhibition for a family. I leaned the work I had done up on picnic tables and we had an opening.
I think my painting is the way I relate to the world of my experience and consciousness. When Wilbur and I are driving or walking we will talk about stuff, point things out, enjoy something especially odd or beautiful. Yet for me, it's the painting that creates a coherent understanding of these new places. It's like I absorb the rhythm and sense of a place.
I have another memory. Years ago Wilbur and I were camping at Bandolier State Park in Colorado. (A marvelous place BTW), we were hiking. As we hiked along I observed Wilburs hand brushing up against some small pine trees. Later she wrote a poem that contained an image of pine trees. Her hand and body had collected it through touch. That taught me that most of our observations--the ones that matter--are deeper and not necessarily associated with vision or sight. This is why I paint when I travel. It's a way to retain a deeper sense of a moment and a place.
If you are interested in seeing some of the work I have made on our last two trips to Canada please check out my Canadian Portfolio.