The brown bear that Bill Davidson encountered while plein air painting in the Tetons
The brown bear that Bill Davidson encountered while plein air painting in the Tetons

Have you ever felt someone – or something – watching you when you think you’re alone? Artist Bill Davidson experienced this while plein air painting in the Tetons and discovered a bear had joined him.

Scroll down or click here to listen to our full interview, which includes a behind-the-scenes conversation as our topic naturally evolved into a discussion on the things we love – artistry and creativity.

If you love painting in the wilderness, you’ll want to take heed of Bill’s advice: he reminds us that it’s best to go out with other people and to be prepared for animal encounters such as this because as the saying goes, “You might not see the wildlife, but the wildlife sees you.”

The brown bear "snapping the fence like a toothpick"
The bear “snapping the fence like a toothpick”
The plein air painting Bill was working on that day
The plein air painting Bill was working on that day
Plein air painting and studio version
“I believe like you and all creative artists, in the pursuit of excellence, authenticity, meaning and beauty causes all of us to take risks (like painting in bear territory),” Bill said after our interview. “For the plein air painter, it is to capture the values and colors that touch authenticity. For example, this study [left] is cruder than a studio work, but it has the values and colors necessary to create the larger studio piece [right]. These resonate in the depth of people that can feel the spirit and essence of a place.”

Helpful Links

Ironically, at the May '23 Plein Air Convention & Expo, we had a "Plein Air Bear" sculpture greeting everyone at the hotel entrance
Ironically, at the May ’23 Plein Air Convention & Expo, we had a “Plein Air Bear” sculpture greeting everyone at the hotel entrance. Visit to learn more about bear safety.

FULL TRANSCRIPT of this Interview
DISCLAIMER: The following is the output of a transcription from an audio recording of the interview above. Although the transcription is mostly correct, in some cases it is slightly inaccurate due to the recording and/or software transcription.

Cherie Dawn Haas 0:00
Bill Davidson, thank you so much for joining me today to tell me about this interesting encounter that you had recently.

Bill Davidson 0:08
It’s my pleasure CherieDawn, it really is.

Cherie Dawn Haas 0:12
So why don’t you go ahead and tell us about what happened. Walk us through the day to begin with.

Bill Davidson 0:19
Oh, well, kind of what happens is this. Whenever I go plein air painting, especially like, I’m in the Jackson Hole area, so I’m in the Tetons. So I know when I’m out there. Because I probably been there 12 years in a row, I teach a workshop there every year. And I know, if you go out, and you’re getting ready to plein air paint, one of the things that you have to be careful of is you should be with other people. And you should always have bear spray with you. And the locals will tell you this, they’ll go okay, they’re closer than you think. So, one time I had a workshop where two of the people wandered off, and I’m real clear about gonna leave the group. And I had actually had to go and run after him eventually and find him and drag him back in. So because this is what happens. I knew I was I was by myself at this time. And I was trying to get an authentic feel of a certain scene. And I always find plein air paintings, the only way to get that authentic. See. So, and a lot of times, that’s when nature is it’s not a bright sunshine. So it’s kind of a little bit misty. So the idea is, I went up to a very populated place. And this will give people an idea of what, how close they really are. And there’s usually 100 people at the spot. And there’s usually cars everywhere. It’s evening time, and I call up and there’s no cars, and I go, Okay, this is just one of those times to be really careful. So I did put the bear spray on. And every year while I’m out there, I always read if somebody gets attacked, so you know that it’s evident. So I go out, and I go, this is not a good time to be out. But I really want to see, you know, wanted as authentic as I can get it.

Cherie Dawn Haas 2:35
Why did you think it was not a good time to be out – because there weren’t that many people around?

Bill Davidson 2:40
There were no cars and no people. It was it was evening time. And anytime you’re in an area like the Teton or somewhere where there’s not black bears, but grizzly bears big brown bears. Yeah, I’ve seen on by myself maybe four times, which is kind of cool. It’s really neat to see you. But you’re, if you’re around a lot of people, you don’t see him very often. And so I I barely saved, but I make sure my workshops are really safe. But, so I knew, I thought this is not the best time to be out here. And so I hung the bear spray on my hip, I always did. So I live, okay, get it even though it’s real close. And for that area, I would have never done it if there was 100 people, which is not good anyway, but I thought this is a time to hate it. So I did hit I went out there. And I was coming along pretty good. I’ve been out there maybe an hour, hour and a half the painting was starting to come together and it had a nice feel to it. And that’s the only way you can get it. In my mind. It has to be authentic. And so I sensed that there’s something behind me. And I go, Okay, and so I can hear stuff. And if you’ve ever hear or heard of big bear go through the woods. It’s pretty loud. He went loud at first and so I went oh, so I kind of backed up a little bit and kind of glass behind me. I took it nice and slow. And I saw a really large brown bear.

Cherie Dawn Haas 4:21
And how close was he then?

Bill Davidson 4:24
At that time he was probably 40-45 feet maybe. And so I thought boy, I can get some really good pictures at least. So I slowly picked up my camera. And I just backed up and I had the bear spray released with the camera and I probably backed up I don’t know 15 feet to give him a kind of a clear path to walk. And it was really funny. He put his paw on one of those fences about this big and broke it like it was a toothpick Wow. And so he really could have his way with almost anything out there, it was amazing to see him do that, oh, they’re solid, big poles they make those fences with.

Cherie Dawn Haas 5:12
One of the pictures shows his paw on that. And if you just see the photo, you just think maybe he’s climbing over a broken fence, but he just snapped it?

Bill Davidson 5:22
…Paw on it breaks like that, just like it was a toothpick. That’s how strong and big they are. So I was like, wow, it was really, you know, I guess. You know, as you grow up, you’re kind of taught to, there’s two options, right? Panic, or, which is the worst option, have some self control. And so I know having been out there that a grizzly bear. If it comes after you, you have to, you can shoot it with the bears pray, but after that you lay down and play dead. And that’s what you do with a big brown. You just have to shoot it, and then yell at it and try to be as big as you can. Because the I know this that the grizzly won’t track a man, but the big brown wood. And I know people think well go jump in a tree or swim. They’re far faster than you they can climb a tree faster than you they can swim better they do. You’re done. So the only option is to stand there and be ready in case something happens. So it was just one of those things where I backed up. And I thought, well, I’ve got the bear spray ready, I might as well just take photos, and I was really cute. After he broke the fence, he walks kind of real close to me, it gets like close to probably about 20 feet and I went oh, he’s getting a little too close. And he got interested with my palette and everything. And he went up there and he started smelling the oil paints. And he bit down, he grabbed my water bottle and bedded into that and was shaking it around. And so I watched him do his thing for a while. After that he got bored. When I snapped, I don’t know how many photos and then he walked off. And I thought, well, that was great. He kind of left me alone. Because reality is I had no chance if he came after me. Basically, I could just shot him with the bear spray. But when I posted it on Facebook, it was really funny. Somebody posted, don’t count on the bear spray. I know a man that was killed, and he did empty two cans of bear spray trying to kill the bear. So you know, I was fortunate and and I shouldn’t be out there by myself anyway. And that’s a lesson for everybody else. If you’re with other people, and you’re making noise. Usually they’ll leave you alone unless you come between them in their cubs. So the key is not to be those any lesson. Don’t go out by yourself, even if you’re tempted to get a painting as much as you want it. And it’s really kind of funny, there was a group. It was a group called the Rocky Mountain plein air painters and we were out there one time. And because this bear stood up to my easel and these kind of snipped the paints, there was a guy named Wes Newton. And the bear actually this was in broad daylight, walked up and stood up at the easel and it was hilarious. It looked like the bear was painting. So I know people don’t think they’re out there and everybody’s wandering around there. Right there. There was an Indian one time on the way to Cody who was from a reservation and he asked if we were all down there painting by the river. We said yeah. And he goes, Do y’all see the Grizzlies? And we said no. He said, Well, they saw you. So I mean, that was Indian who was raised on a reservation. So yeah, he has way more knowledge than I do.

Bill Davidson 5:48
I’m sure he was right.

Bill Davidson 9:00
It’s a great scenario for people to pay attention to because I think they get out there. And if you’re painting and you go to the Tetons or any of those big areas, where there’s grizzly bears and big browns, you need to be really careful and be with other people. And I think that’s the best thing you could learn from all this.

Cherie Dawn Haas 9:20
Well, I think that’s great advice. And who knows – your sharing this could save somebody’s life, so I really appreciate your time and I’m glad that we can just laugh about it. Now.

Bill Davidson 9:32
The funniest thing was if I was called during it and I think you learned that go into life, that’s your only option. But when I got home, I loaded up the pictures. This is hilarious. I’m sitting there and I’m looking at the pictures and then I look at what are the bears looking at me the the hairs on the back of my neck went off and I said my totally safe and now I could not believe by. So it was really kind of funny.

Cherie Dawn Haas 9:59
Yeah, that’s probably just some kind of survival skill that’s ingrained into your brain as a human being that, you have to stay calm in that moment, right?

Bill Davidson 10:10
Yeah. And I think your training does it. If you’re used to panicking your whole life, then you probably I probably would have panicked and run and picked up. Because what’s hilarious is, and I just happened a few years ago. So I was just going through my old photos, for some reason, trying to clean them out or whatever. And they popped up, and I remembered it. So when I saw the comments on Facebook, I heard Larry at some level, they’re just really rioted. So it was kind of funny when I posted it. And I didn’t expect all that much of response. Yeah, but here’s what was so funny. So we were up there shooting the video, right? I was shooting the video for Streamline a plein air video just recently in the Adirondacks. Yeah, there was, there was four of us, I think, went up there to shoot videos, later videos for straight play. And so this is how funny the social media is. So people I’m up there shooting, and there’s a picture with all the cameras and everything while I’m shooting the player video. I go, kudos to the crew, they’re great. They do a fantastic job, I post that. And there’s comments like, well, that they should have kept the bears away, out of all make stuff. It’s all hilarious.

Cherie Dawn Haas 11:24
What I say is that time is an illusion anyway. And something like this bear story, that is timeless … I assumed that it happened this week. But it’s something that 10 years from now, 20 years from now, people, people can take heed from it.

Bill Davidson 11:46
Well, yeah, I think it’s, you know, my stupidity can serve a little bit of a purpose. That’s great. And it was kind of funny. Even my family didn’t really know. they were going, what, what are you talking about? When did this happen? And you’ve never brought it up?

Cherie Dawn Haas 12:06
Yeah, well, it’s pretty, it’s literally wild.

Bill Davidson 12:10
It’s, you may get some more stories out of this. I don’t know, there’s probably other people that have run into him. But I was just, I was lucky that I picked up my camera.

Cherie Dawn Haas 12:20
That’s the thing. I mean, anytime somebody gets some kind of an image for something, it does make it more likely to get broadcasted in a bigger way for sure. Because it definitely caught my eye. And I knew right away I was I saved a link to that post that you made. I’m like, reach out to Bill, to get some of my stories. Earlier today, I was looking at essentially doing some research because I was going to quote the experts on what to do if you’re around bears, so I went to the National Park Service. And they said everything that you said, so I was really glad to hear you putting it into your own words for people to know. Now, my question, though, is that I don’t think I would know the difference between a brown bear and a grizzly if I saw them.

Bill Davidson 13:08
Well, the grizzly bear has a big hump, like back behind its head. So everybody thinks the grizzly may be the most dangerous, but the big brown actually tracking. So neither one’s a good option. That it is funny though, you do have to have two different reactions, one, which I think it would be hard to lay down and let a grizzly bear kind of whack at you and play dad. But it is interesting. It’s two different reactions would run the bears off? Yeah. But it’s, I mean, it’s terrible. When I go out there every year, I read a story, because I teach a workshop every year out there. And the legacy when they were out there and just painted all the time. And I still go out there every September and teach workshop. But they’re, they’re everywhere. I think artists are, it’s like your passion, you’re gonna go out there and you want it as authentic pieces, you can get it and that’s where all the colors and values are that you need. So I think artists have to be careful, you will take a little extra risk, but you shouldn’t need to take.

Cherie Dawn Haas 14:26
I think that’s a great place to end because that sums it all up. And so thank you again for your time and for sharing this amazing story with us.

Bill Davidson 14:50
(TRANSITION) It’s like somebody calls. Should we go paint? Yeah, let’s grab my gear and go. So yeah, everything falls away. Right? No, you have to do the creative part. Or you’re just doing what everybody else does, right?

Cherie Dawn Haas 15:22
I know. I mean, that’s why we’re all in it right is to do that. like for you it’s painting for me it’s writing. For me, I call it B I S and that’s butt in seat.

Bill Davidson 15:35
Do you write every morning?

Cherie Dawn Haas 15:38
I definitely don’t because I work full time for Streamline and I teach yoga on the side and stuff like that, but I do it enough that I feel good about it. You know what I mean? I make it work.

Bill Davidson 15:50
Well, you did to get two books published. It’s incredible.

Cherie Dawn Haas 15:54
Three, yeah. Three. There’s Girl on Fire, and Ashes for William and then I have a book of poetry and prose.

Bill Davidson 16:11
Three, and you teach yoga? Good for you.

Cherie Dawn Haas 16:15
I get it done. And you now living life. Right? Like, it’s nice.

Bill Davidson 16:20
Now that I see that cabin you built. You have a new studio or something?

Cherie Dawn Haas 16:24
Yeah, this is it. You want to go on a tour? That this is my studio space.

Bill Davidson 16:32
Wow…. It’s that universal theme, the struggles to succeed and follow your passion. Right?

Cherie Dawn Haas 16:46
It totally is. 100%. It’s following your passion. It’s hard. It’s getting through those valleys. And so that you can stand up on those mountain tops and be like, Yes, I did the thing. But then you go back down to the valley. And you’re like, nobody cares. But then you’re like, Yeah, I did it. You know, it’s a roller coaster.

Bill Davidson 17:52
Yeah, I think you have to do it for your own intrinsic pleasure, that you’re doing something beneficial for the world, you know? Yeah. So I think that’s part of and I had, I’ll tell you something, because you’re a yoga teacher. I had an aunt who was a theologian, and then she went India. And as soon as she could get rid of the habit she did. So she was very had a lot of wisdom. She went and spent two years old, she came back and in the 60s, she was teaching yoga before it was really a big deal. And so this may help you get keep your meaning up. She goes, the only thing now mind you this is a Catholic nun, she said the only thing that can save the world now is the arts. There’s no hope for religion saving the world. So what you’re doing is saving the world. And the the other great question is, where would the world that would be that void if a CherieDawn wasn’t there and and publish those three books and done what she does? So maybe that helps. Thank you.

Cherie Dawn Haas 18:56
I love that I have this on camera. I’m just gonna play your voice saying that. Like, I need Bill.

Bill Davidson 19:07
Boy, we all need something every now and then.

Cherie Dawn Haas 19:09
Yeah, we do. And I keep those reminders. It takes all of us and I think that all of us have, we all have our, our creative drive for a reason. And at a certain point, it’s just ours, like it’s such a private thing for us to do and to keep to ourselves. But then at a certain point, I think we’d be we feel obligated to share it with others because … that’s how we spread that fire, is with our little embers, they just spark other people to think Hey, I’d like to go to the Tetons and paint and there’s somebody that can take me under his wing to do it or there’s a mom that works full time and she wrote a book maybe I can start something.

Bill Davidson 20:01
I think that I think that’s so important, what you just said. And luckily, I was around some pretty good people that had wisdom. And the interesting thing was a lot of them were women. And one of them always said, I said, Well, what if nobody cares? They go, that’s irrelevant. If you’re doing it, you’re helping the world. And that just one person you inspire. And they say, they would say things like that. So it would always be, there’s a nice thing to go there. It’s not about numbers and how big you are, because you’re doing it for an intrinsic reason. Anyway, you know? So I don’t know, I think that’s very important. I think what do you say, though, you never know where the flames go. I mean, it’s interesting to me. Like with the videos, I’ll get an email from somebody I in the middle of a country that I have no idea. And they’ll talk about it, it just you go. Wow, that’s just so exciting.

Cherie Dawn Haas 21:05
You’re right. Pretty awesome.

Bill Davidson 21:07
There’s no telling how many people you reach with the books.

Cherie Dawn Haas 21:11
Thanks. Yeah, it’s the same.

Bill Davidson 21:17
How many more books you got? You have some more in you?

Cherie Dawn Haas 21:21
I’m working on another one right now.

Bill Davidson 21:25
Yeah, do you have company that comes in? Do you have I mean, this. I know all this is lonely. But I’m at Cindy’s house right now. So we kind of makes it easy. So they’re lonely professions. Do ya have enough social time?

Cherie Dawn Haas 21:39
I think I do. Yeah, I’ve got my circles of my people. It’s small. Like, my circles are really small. Because I like to kind of have a bubble. Like, I have a nice little bubble around me. So the people that are in my life, they’re my people. You know what I mean? And they’re in my writing world, and they’re in my yoga world. And my family world and stuff like that. So yeah, it’s enough to keep me from getting too lonely. I think even being a part of Streamline, and the artists community. I found my people within there – the people I can geek out about over creativity and the artist’s life. You know what I mean, the creative life has? We know that we’re out there doing our thing. And we’ve got each other’s backs, we want each other to succeed.

Bill Davidson 22:34
I think that’s highly accurate. It’s kind of I find that because I was in the obviously I was a lawyer and I’m in a this is a warmer souls in my mind, although there were a lot of great lawyers that were like, great workers and always looking for the good, but I just find almost every artist a creative spirit as a very warm sold in my mind. So it’s refreshing.

Cherie Dawn Haas 23:02
Yeah, it’s a good place to be.

Bill Davidson 23:02
It is.


  1. As a retired field geologist, I have lived & worked in bear country in many areas of Canada. Bill’s advice is spot on. In Canada’s mountain parks today – people who want to hike in those areas are required to go in groups of a (minimum) of 4 people. If your group is smaller you are supposed to wait at the trailhead until others arrive & form a larger group.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here