Isolating on the edge of the continent with 2 kids, a fishing rod and a paint box
When Charlie Easton packed up his family and headed West, he grabbed his paint bag and some panels. He’s making a go of ‘isolation’ on an island in the Pacific, living off the land and having his easel knocked over by gale force winds. As part of a series to bring you the latest news from our Plein Air Convention & Expo artists, we caught up with him to see how he was getting on.
Outdoor Painter: So where exactly are you and how did you end up there?
Charlie Easton: I’m currently on an Island called Helby Island, in Barkley Sound, on the West Coast of Vancouver Island, Canada. Basically the very edge of the continent. Next stop Japan.
My wife and I have always kayaked – it’s a great way of seeing inaccessible coastline, with loads of room to carry paints and panels. On one trip we paddled past a dilapidated shack that had a ‘for sale’ sign on it, and we decided that it would be a good fixer upper – even the sign was falling apart. We emptied our piggy banks and five years later it’s now our happy place and my painting heaven.
So you’re out in the wilderness, self-quarantining and painting…
Yes, we brought our kids over here so they can lick whatever they like! We’re recognized that we’re incredibly lucky to be able to do this, and it definitely relieves some of the anxiety of living in a city at a time like this.
What is there to paint out there?
Everything from the smallest, strangest objects that you find in a tide pool up to the grandest skyscapes you could imagine, as the storms of the pacific hit the warm air of the continent. The rock formations are incredible, and the vegetation is lush, verdant and always changing with the weather and the seasons.
How are the paintings coming along?
Some good, some bad – always exciting. What a lot of people don’t tell you with plein air painting is that YOU WILL ALWAYS GET YOUR BUTT KICKED BY MOTHER NATURE! So many instructional videos tell you that you can ‘master this’, and ‘master that’…mmm. You can get better for sure, and you can improve your technique and process, but you have to also paint on location to achieve mastery of places like this. I don’t think that is pessimistic, quite the opposite, it means that there is always something to look forward to, to work on, and to inspire you to get better. You have to distill, simplify, and hone in on the very few elements of a scene that make it so impressive – you just don’t have time to do anything else.
What does a typical day look like for you?
Get up too early with the kids. Plan the meals for the day. Go to get the meals – harvesting mussels, catching a fish, pulling a trap. Entertain the kids. Do a painting (aka getting my butt kicked). Repair something. Cook. Clean up after the mice. Try to stay in touch with loved ones and with my painting audience on social media (check out @charlieeaston on Instagram 😉).
What are you doing with all the panels you’re painting?
Same as I always do with my paintings – some will be touched up and go to a gallery, some will just be reference for studio pieces, and some will end up in the wood stove. I have been painting smaller than I usually do out here, to maximize my panels, but it’s been great to develop ideas and to work on compositional concepts. It’s been an educational experience.
What’s next to paint?
Hopefully some warm sunny days! Recently it has been stormy, with big bulbous rain clouds and amazing light conditions. I’ve absolutely loved it, but I’m getting a little tired of my easel blowing into a tide pool. A bit of calm weather would be nice. Variety is the spice of life.
You’re due to teach at the Plein Air Convention in Santa Fe. How does what you’re doing now translate to what you’ll be painting down there?
For me, I always employ the same process, no matter where I am. The finished painting varies by place, mood, weather and all of the other variables that are present in plein air painting. Every time I go painting I try to ask myself, what is this scene telling me, where is the wow, and that process applies to desert and mountains and ocean and skies and sunsets. I’m so looking forward to sharing my process at PACE20, to meeting other artists and to seeing how they go about their practice. I’m also really looking forward to working with students on how best to paint en plein air with acrylics – it’s such a potent, immediate medium to paint plein air in.
Stay safe out there. We’re looking forward to seeing you at PACE!
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