Finding Warm-Weather Inspiration in the Dead of Winter

If you've ever gone on a hike with me or seen my average trail running pacing stats, you'll know that I tend to cover plenty of ground but often not very fast. A lot of my time on the trails here in the White Mountains is taken up by a) snacking, b) napping, c) just sitting around staring at the view, and d) taking pictures of random things all around me. All of these activities, however, serve an artistic purpose (at least c and d, maybe not a and b as much).

When outdoors I am constantly searching for inspiration, observing light, color and texture, and seeking out interesting compositions in the landscape that could potentially become paintings. I snap pictures of everything - the way a cloud shadow is passing over a particular ridge, the raking light of late afternoon on some especially striking rocks, a patch of mist lifting off from a gully, closeups of little moss cushions, cairns, cairns, and more cairns. Everything could be useful in the studio later. So I photograph everything.

At home, or sometimes in the field if I really have time and I'm carrying the materials, I will make little sketches in watercolors or gouache in one of the many sketchbooks I keep around my studio or in my hiking pack. These small vignettes are meant to work on composition ideas, catch a very attractive turn of the light or colors I saw on the trail, and record some of the feelings that day. Was it hot and sultry, damp and cold, furiously windy, or the most pleasant mountain day imaginable? The sketchbook is where I take time to go back to the day in my mind and remember what I loved best about it; what was worth saying something about in paint.

If I am feeling good about the way a sketch came out, or still just utterly transfixed by a scene, it might transition into a full-fledged watercolor painting or an oil piece right away. Although some ideas sit around for months or even years before I decide I want to create a formal painting about them. I have worked off photographs that I took twenty years ago; seeing something I had not noticed before about the composition and light.

I never tire of these material-gathering hikes and trips. One of the few reasons I will get up very early in the morning is to make the most of a day above treeline in the White Mountains, hiking through miles of rock gardens and gorgeous spreads of alpine flowers in the only places they will grow. And these spring, summer and fall days spent traipsing through the mountains serve me through the cold, white winters when I don't get far out on the trails. The huge pile of photos I take in greener seasons serves as a store of painting possibilities and a memory palace of lovely days spent in the open air.