While outdoor painting in solitude can be healing, meditative, and enjoyable, there’s no doubt that bonding with friends while creating something beautiful has a special appeal. Two close friends decided to take it one step further, traveling nearly 12,000 miles in total to soak up North America and Canada’s beauty in mind, body, spirit, and paint.
“I had painted with Wyatt [LeGrand] at many plein air events around the country, and we both share many of the same philosophies of plein air and art in general,” says artist Larry Rudolech. “So it came as no surprise that a casual conversation about plein air painting quickly turned into a discussion about a cross-country painting trip. From the start, we decided to go west. I knew Wyatt was wanting to go to Yellowstone. I had already been to Yellowstone, and I couldn’t see myself painting with all those tourists for a month. So a day or two later, I called him and asked if he had a passport. When he asked why, I told him we were going to head toward Anchorage after we had our fill at Yellowstone. At first, I don’t think he believed what he had heard, but he very quickly agreed.
“Now, we only had a few weeks to get the important things together, like canvases, brushes and paint … the other stuff like food, drink, and clothes we could always pick up along the way if we had to. The biggest problem was production. I know I paint a lot, but I am here to tell you, Wyatt paints more than I do. What to do with the finished paintings was a major concern, so we decided to paint on panels and limit the size to nothing larger than 16 x 20 inches. We could put them in boxes we made that would hold two paintings back to back, so in one inch of width we could store four paintings. By doing this, we could also keep the wet paintings out of our living area in the van.
“We started out by making a beeline to Yellowstone, or as much of a beeline as two artists on a plein air trip could make. We only stopped at the Badlands, Mt. Rushmore, and the Crazy Horse Monument. We both wanted to stop and paint at Wall Drug, but we must have missed a sign. After Yellowstone, the trip included Glacier National Park, Lake Louise, and Jasper National Park in Canada, and then to Anchorage, Homer, and Denali. On the return trip, we entered Washington and took the ferry over to Olympic Park and Neah Bay, and then down the Olympic Coast and over to Mt. Rainer.
“We then jumped over the border into Oregon for an afternoon of painting at some hat-shaped rock before stopping in Sprague, Washington, for a day of painting some fantastic cars and trucks. We then wound up painting at an ongoing silver mine strike in Idaho. After a very long ride, we decided to stop and paint something weird. After all, we missed Wall Drug … so we painted a monument of two brothers who were pinned together with an arrow while running from Indians, and we paid to do that. Our last stop other than to sleep or eat was the art museum in Omaha, Nebraska.
“We saw most of the animals we had hoped to see except wolves and mountain lions. But then again, we did not expect to see whales, sea lions, and wild swans. I also now have a pretty good grasp of how big Canada is, and let me tell you, you might want to pack several lunches. On the bright side, the roads were not as bad as I had heard. If you go in June, you don’t have to search for bears, as they are all sitting alongside the road eating dandelions while watching the cars go by.
“As an artist, riding around in the mountains for a month allowed me to figure out one thing: I don’t mind doing landscape paintings, but I prefer human elements in them, even if nothing more than a telephone pole. So maybe that is why I really did not do that many paintings of mountains … after all, for me, they begin to look alike after a while. At the end of the trip I think I wound up with 60 paintings and Wyatt had 100, but I also know I have more than 160 unbelievable memories.
“The trip ended up being just short of 12,000 miles, and 6,000 of those miles were without an engine fan. Note: Engine fans in diesel vehicles are highly overrated. In all, I wouldn’t have changed a thing with the trip. For me, Homer, Alaska, will always hold a spot in my heart because it fulfilled my every expectation of what I was looking to take home from the trip. Canada’s immense size was difficult at times, but it was an unbelievable thing to see, and there was plenty of it.
“As a plein air artist, I know the advantages of painting outside. As a studio artist, I know the advantages of painting inside. As an old man, I know the advantages of mixing the two. When you paint on location, you will burn in your mind the real color that you are trying to duplicate, and at the same time, you are embedding in your heart the emotion the scene has stirred within you. So when you go to the studio, those things are still a part of you, and you can now take the time, in the comforts of climate control and good lighting, to make sure they are recorded correctly.
“The only hard thing to do in the studio is to give your painting that breath of life that painting outside easily achieves through the rush to record the moving light. For me, a plein air painting is a balance of depicting what is important and trying to ignore what is not. And if you are going to paint more than what is needed to describe the scene, do it in a manner that doesn’t look like you spent forever doing it, because if the truth be told, you probably did.
“Let me finish with what we started with on the announcements cards for the show of this trip: 2 Painters, 2 Countries, 12 States, 2 Provinces, 1 Territory, 4 Time Zones, 12,000 Miles, 160 Paintings. Now, we’re planning next year’s road trip to South America.”
Larry Rudolech and Wyatt LeGrand are currently showcasing their road trip paintings during “Road to Alaska” at the Saint Meinrad Archabbey Library Gallery in St. Meinrad, Indiana. The exhibition opened on October 18 and continues through December 4. Both artists participate in plein air events around the country. Rudolech has won many awards, traveling as far afield as Texas and Florida. He won Best in Show in 2017 in the Knoxville (TN) Museum of Art plein air event. LeGrand also has won many awards, including Best Artist Under 30 in Plein Air Magazine in 2014.
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