After feeling cooped up over the past week, I finally experienced a break from both work and wet weather. Setting out from the house, I leashed our two Australian Shepherd dogs and stepped into the spring sunshine. In the open area out back, we walked about a quarter mile around a pond and toward a vineyard, arriving at the pear tree I painted last winter and autumn. There in the shade, I set up a sketching camp with folding chair, pencils, paints, and my handmade sketchbook. The dogs roamed the open field, poking noses down gopher holes, sniffing out snakes, rabbits, and rodents, and occasionally barking and chasing each other about.
Soon after set up, my wife Marilyn arrived with her guitar and a snack of dried fruit, nuts, and bottles of water. She sat in the nearby grass, and while I sketched, practiced tunes by Neko Case, George Harrison, and Elvis Costello.
Much had changed since winter. The northward moving sun had warmed up the earth, and saffron-gold California poppies replaced yellow mustard. Most grasses had morphed from green to yellow, orange, and dusty purple. The pear tree, recently all bare branches, was covered in fluffy white “popcorn ball” blossoms that attract bees. In the distance, a cover crop had grown tall amongst the vines pruned in February, and several wooden vine posts now sagged from the weight of winter rains.
As I began to draw, I discovered that my usual method of starting my sketch in ink wouldn’t be the best approach this time.Â The pear blossoms needed to be kept white, and with my transparent watercolors, Iâ€™d have to work around them. After laying out a sketch in soft pencil, I painted around the blossoms in blue, rose, violet, and green, then filled in the trunk and branches, saving the remaining landscape for last.
Two hours passed and I stood to stretch my legs. Setting my sketchbook on the chair, I walked across the field toward the vineyard and paused with the sensation that I’d walked right into my painting. I remembered my brush forming on paper the plants and trees surrounding me, and the two dimensional world I’d been sketching now expanded to three. With heightened senses, I smelled spicy grasses and sweet flower fragrance, watched small insects flying all about, and everything felt alive, active, almost fluid.
After a few moments, I settled back to the reality of my surroundings and walked back to my chair. As I returned to painting, I hoped to capture some of that heightened awareness. Although the experience in the field lasted only a few moments, the feeling stayed with me the entire afternoon. With the dogs now resting and panting at our feet, I put the finishing touches on my painting while Marilyn continued to play guitar in the afternoon sun.