Photos by Michael Bartlett

By Michael Bartlett

As I drove west across the delta toward Sonoma, the setting sun was scattering glowing light through the soupy humid atmosphere of the Bay Area. Coming from the crystalline clear deep blue sky of Santa Fe, I could not help but make the comparison of how different the light is.

The words from five days of the painting faculty demos from the 7th Annual Plein Air Convention I had just attended echoed through my mind. Their different approaches to painting light and shadow, “cold light warm shadows … warm light cold shadows … paint shapes not things … and values, values, values.” So on and on my radio brain goes driving down the highway. Great info, so many tips, it was such a great educational experience and a huge fun artist party.

But the trip through Yosemite, Death Valley, Zion, Bryce Canyon, Kodachrome Basin, Capital Reef, Escalante Grand Staircase, Colorado River, Valley of the Gods, Monument Valley, Pagosa Springs, Abiquiu, Ghost Ranch, and finally Santa Fe was the experience of a lifetime. It is the journey that teaches you.

In my last blog post, I noted that this was to be a painting trip, car camping. I am certainly not the only artist to make a painting trip, but there are some aspects of what I learned that I can share. There are three key logistical aspects to planning after transportation has been decided: (1) painting equipment, (2) camping equipment, and (3) personal niceties like clothing. Traveling in a small hybrid vehicle, a Prius, meant that space was constrained. Take less than what you think you will need. I always overthink this and end up with much more than I need. For instance, I built this handy cabinet for the back of the wagon that holds prepared panels for both wet and dry. A portion of the space was also devoted to a drawer for paints, brushes, and other handy gear. This is in addition to my everyday paint-out bag with everything I need for painting outdoors. So, why did I think it was necessary to bring 37 primed linen panels totaling 4,968 square inches? That is over 35 square feet.

For anyone considering taking a painting trip, just do it. But understand that if you are not familiar with where you plan to go, or how long it takes to get there, expect to discover that there will be a conflict between the desire to paint out and the desire to get on down the road to your destination. The first place I stopped to paint in Yosemite valley, I realized that I could easily spend two weeks there painting and never drive another mile toward Santa Fe. When the sun set, I fled the richness of Yosemite in the night, stealing away with a few photos and a partially finished painting. This was to be a recurring theme for the whole trip. Drive, Paint, Camp. Or find a cheap motel out of necessity. Some places were too rich to drive by in the dark and thankfully just the best campsite appeared. And yes, I came home with a little over 700 photos.

Expect the unexpected. What you will see, where you will drive, where you stop, and what you remember the most will be your journey.

Let me leave you with these words of reflection: Cascading waves of light produce patterns of tones and hue that the human finds deep harmony in. It is not unlike the experience of hearing the ocean waves breaking or the quiet sound of the forest brook. It is an experience that the hungry soul craves, seeks, and finds fulfillment from. It feeds our innate goodness and appreciation for the ineffable spirit of life. It is the luminous nature of light in the unseen darkness.

Carbon Footprint Facts
Miles traveled: 3,747.4 mi
Average gas mileage: 46.3 mpg
Gallons of gas used: 85.1
Pounds of CO2 emitted: 1,701.2 lbs


The next Plein Air Convention will be held in San Francisco, California, April 24-28, 2019. PACE is the world’s largest plein air event. It’s like the Woodstock of outdoor painting. By attending, you’ll make personal connections with 80-plus of the world’s top painters (our faculty), plus 900 of your peers, and you’ll discover amazing techniques to transform your painting skills. We’ll have painting demonstrations on four stages, plus each day we’ll go out painting and break the world record for the most plein air painters painting in one place simultaneously. Learn more about the Plein Air Convention here!

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