Most of us have met people like Stefan Baumann. He’s an artist who has been around long enough to try it all, hear it all, make all the mistakes, discover what is important, and feel compelled to share it. With his public television show, “The Grand View,” he is able to remind people about our country’s magnificent national parks — and slip in the message that plein air painting is a great way to experience them.
“We are considered a touring show, as opposed to an art-instruction show with a painter working in a studio,” says Baumann. “Non-painters enjoy our show, and our ratings are really good. Some people watch it because we provide interesting issues or stories about the parks. Others like to see if I can actually paint a painting in that amount of time,” he laughs. “We never set it up to teach people how to learn to paint.”

Baumann with a park ranger in Grand Canyon National Park
Baumann and his crew arrive with a rough script and about four days to shoot “glamour shots” in one of the national parks. The artist says he makes a point of showcasing many parks that are overlooked treasures in addition to the famous ones. The staff interviews geologists, park rangers, local artists, area Native Americans, and others who can explain the history, physical properties, and cultural importance of the park. Then, on the following Sunday morning, the crew prepares to film Baumann painting from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. “We shoot on Sunday morning because people like to sleep in on Sundays when they travel,” says Baumann. “We try to shoot it so it seems like we are the only people in the park. But we still have to deal with noise pollution and traffic issues. And we can’t block any vista point.”

Baumann’s painting of Grand Canyon National Park
It can be devilishly difficult. Baumann recalls the time the crew hiked many miles into the backcountry of King’s Canyon National Park in California, only to discover that they were on the flight path of planes coming and going to the San Francisco airport. Baumann and his team persevered, and produced 20 episodes of “The Grand View.”

Baumann’s painting of Giant Geyser, in Yellowstone National Park
Arguably, any quality project that highlights national parks is worthwhile. Baumann cites the disturbing statistic that only a fifth of U.S. citizens will visit a national park during their lifetime. Some of the parks are nevertheless crowded. “They are loved to death by foreigners,” he points out. “It’s baffling that so few Americans visit them. Almost anything that is iconic as America is tied up in a national park in some way.”

Baumann’s painting of Half Dome in winter
As artists know, there are few better ways to experience a national park than plein air painting. “Painting outdoors, you can create a sense of place,” says Baumann. “One of the fallacies of photography is that when you are standing on the edge of a canyon, for example, the camera looks out, not down. To capture the essence of the Grand Canyon, for instance, you have to show that mile drop at your feet. You can create that feeling in a painting, whereas with a camera you cannot. In painting, you get a certain perspective from nature that is truly like being there.”

Baumann’s painting of the Royal Arches in Yosemite National Park
Plus, it takes time to paint a picture. In that time, more of the scene is revealed to the artist. “Slowing down and painting, rather than just visiting a park, allows you to experience it in a totally different way,” he says. “Ridges and forms appear that take time to reveal themselves. You get all of the nuances that nature has to offer.”

Stefan Baumann
Baumann adds, “The secret of painting outdoors is being in the power of the moment. Being in nature, life becomes clear. You get a sense of place. If you stand still long enough, nature becomes the storyteller.”


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