Downtown IconPeople often have a romantic notion of what it is like to paint en plein air (outside on location). They imagine peaceful sunny days in beautiful settings, where the artist can spend a leisurely day enjoying Nature and creating art. Sometimes it can be like that, but the reality is often quite different.

Creating this painting was a case in point. I had signed up for the annual Plein Air Paint Out (PAPO) event in Bellingham, WA. On the appointed day, I went early to check out possible locations. The morning was quite windy, so my first goal was to find a location where I would be protected from the worst of the weather. I found a bank, closed for the weekend, where the entrance had a large overhang–perfect! Even better, it was right across the street from the old Bellingham National Bank clock–a nice, iconic subject to paint. Finally, there was a parking place right beside the spot, so I wouldn’t have to haul my gear far.

As I started to set up, my easel slipped and fell on the concrete sidewalk. The screw holding the whole thing together was bent beyond repair. Fortunately, the Dakota Art store was a block down the street, so I went and purchased the French easel I’d been wanting for awhile anyway.

Hunkering up against the bank’s doorway, I finally set to work. Soon afterward another artist came by and asked to join me. She had just heard a Port-a-Potty had blown over on a construction site down a couple of blocks. Clearly this was not just a windy day.

Next, there was a horrible and loud cracking sound that seemed to go on forever. A huge branch (about 12 inches in diameter) was coming down right above my pickup truck. I could only sit and watch, hoping fervently the fall would stop before my truck cab was crushed–and it did! It was leaning precariously against the tree trunk just above my truck. It was so huge and heavy that I didn’t think it would move any farther, so I kept painting.

Now I had to peer around the branches to see various parts of the clock. Pedestrians who were braving the weather walked around and through our entryway to avoid the fallen branches. Part of the goal of the PAPO event is to increase the visibility of the arts, and I think we all did our part that day to embody the determination of artists to create.

By mid-afternoon, we could see that power was off in much of downtown, and we got word that most artists were calling it quits for the day. Mindport, where we were to turn in our finished pieces, had closed as well. My painting partner decided she would come back the next day to finish her piece and left to go home. I thought about it, but decided I would try to finish rather than have to return later.

I was making good progress when a young man showed up sporting a very sharp hatchet. He was convinced Jesus wanted him to clean up the downtown downfall, and began hacking away randomly on the smaller branches supporting the huge branch over my truck. After a strange and somewhat desperate conversation (on my part) I convinced him to give me 20 minutes to load my gear and move my truck out of the way. He actually came back after 10 minutes, but I managed to get everything out of harm’s way in time.

In short, after all that effort, I wasn’t able to get my piece finished before the PAPO show deadline. I finally touched it up a bit at home from memory, and the result is shown above. While it would have been nice to be in the show, the day’s experience was a great art adventure and I’m sure artists who participated will be talking about PAPO 2015 for a long time!