A R T I S T S  S K E T C H B O O K


Extreme Painting
By Kat SawyerExtreme Painting

Sometimes plein air painting feels more like a sport than an art form.

The excitement of capturing those last golden rays as the weary day slips into an indigo sea ... the exhilaration of evoking the essence of a winter morning ... the horror of a squadron of mosquitoes sending you screaming from your unfinished nocturne ... this is the world of plein air painting-or what I call painting in the extreme.

My obsession began innocently enough. I was simply looking for something to do while my boyfriend went fishing. I like nature. I like to paint. First consideration: what to wear. Plein Air Painters of California: The Southland (Westphal Publishing) makes it all look so romantic. It pictures men in suits, berets and cool-looking smocks. Women in long skirts and darling straw hats recline under quaint umbrellas as they capture on canvas the beauty of unpolluted skies and breathtaking vistas.

My painting ensemble is bizarre. I wear an itchy straw gardener's hat that has developed the annoying habit of slipping down toward the bridge of my nose. My face and neck are smeared with some sort of 1,000 SPF goo that I pray won't sweat into my eyes. Zinc oxide chalks my nose and lips. A paint-spattered Solumbra shirt tucks into a pair of overalls bulging with wallet, beeper, cell phone and a small bottle of Evian. Underneath this disaster, I sport support hose, orthotics and hiking boots. To complete the look: gloves. Latex gloves. I look like a hideous clown. "Oh well," I tell myself. "It's not how I look, it's how I see."

I bravely flirt with cataracts and varicose veins. I laugh at crow's feet (ha-ha), but lately I've been wondering how Botox would affect my perception of values.

I'm beginning to think that plein air painting is a sport for the young. Along with extreme skiing and extreme snowboarding, how about extreme painting? You know, like painting while hang gliding, scuba diving or raising three kids.

My endurance one Sunday mooning somewhere outside of Mammoth more than qualifies me. It was just my talent and I, pitted against gale force winds that seemed to have kicked up the moment I clipped on my canvas. Bracing for the worst, I anchored my setup by hooking one end of a bungee cord to my easel and the other to my shoelaces. While my right hand gripped the brush, my left hand alternately steadied the umbrella and kept the Turpenoid from gleefully splashing all over my palette. An eternity later, I emerged beat, but not beaten, and there was so much grit on my canvas it looked like a fresco. Painting on location? Yeah, it's extreme.

If, that is, you can find a location. I feel as if I'm being hounded by the specter of urban sprawl. If I delete any more housing developments from my paintings, all that's going to be left is sky. And why is it that the best views are always from the turnout lanes on the freeway?

If you happen to find a spot, you'd better pray it's close to your car or that you have a Sherpa to help you with all your stuff. Aside from painting gear, my backpack is bursting with tent spikes, ropes, bug spray, plastic hammer, PowerBars, snakebite kit, baby wipes, Swiss army knife, two headlamps, batteries and more zinc oxide. It's like camping in panty hose.

Is it all worth it? Extremely.

So if, on your next sojourn into the wilderness, you hear out of the shadows of an alpine lake, or over the roar of the surf at Laguna Beach, or echoing through a forgotten canyon, something that sounds like "! #$%* Nature!" don't be alarmed. It's just the plaintive wail of the plein air painter.

It's the sound of art being born.

Kat Sawyer is a plein air painter living in Sherman Oaks, California.

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Free Association
The painting-yoga connection
By Kat Sawyer

The painting-yoga connection Connecting painting and yoga may seem like a stretch, but as both a yoga teacher and a painter I've learned that the principles of the mat can also be applied to the canvas.

While practicing yoga, I'm aware of what both my mind and my body are doing in each moment. Likewise, the act of painting keeps me rooted in the here and now—my hands, eyes and mind are in a perfect moment-to-moment flow, and hours pass unnoticed in a moving meditation.

All artists strive to reach this "flow" state of vinyasa that we strive for in yoga. How do we get there? By trusting the wisdom of our bodies rather than the tricks of our minds. A painting teacher may ask, "What color is asphalt?" Our habituated brains blurt out "gray," but our eyes tell us something different. Depending on the light, the pavement may be yellow, pink, blue or any other of the almost limitless combinations of colors. The practice of painting, like yoga, encourages us to slow down, focus
and trust what our body tells us rather than what our brains assume. When our minds trust our eyes and our eyes trust our hands, we flow.

Another important yogic principle, namste, affirms that "When I look at you, I see the divine." Similarly, when I choose a subject for a painting, the sacred in me recognizes the sacred in an oak tree, a face or a jug of sunflowers. Elevating the ordinary to the extraordinary is the artist's way. Applying yogic techniques and principles to painting has deepened both my understanding of the process and my appreciation of the result.

Kat Sawyer is an artist in Sherman Oaks, California.
Visit katsawyer.com.