A Call to the Curious

If you're a traveler, artist, adventurer, or whomever post a comment, leave a story, give a piece of advice, and take a part. This blog is meant to be a free exchange, so help make it rich!

13 November 2009

Coming Soon

Interviews with two travel painting stalwarts, Michael Kluckner and Gregg Fretheim, are forthcoming. As I write, Michael is enduring the heat and dryness of "Outback Oz" (Australia) and challenging it with his watercolors. We look forward to touch in with him after the dust settles. Earlier in the year, Gregg traveled to South Africa to paint the wildlife and landscape on safari. Expect an interview to be posted with Gregg in the next few weeks. If anyone has a question for either one, here's a chance.

Keep painting and keep traveling.

16 September 2009

A Brief Biography: Sheila Thornton

Sheila Thornton is an artist living in Los Angeles, CA. She earned her BFA in industrial design at the Columbus College of Art and Design in 2000. Since then, she has spent half of the last 9 years traveling in various parts of Europe, Africa, North and Central America, and Asia, always with a sketchbook or paint set at hand. Presently, Sheila is planning her next trip to Alaska in the fall.

Sheila has agreed to a few questions about her travel painting and below are her answers.

A Question and Answer with Sheila Thornton

What mediums do you take when you travel? Oils, watercolors, pastels, etc.? What equipment do you bring?

I usually stick to pencil, ink, watercolor, oils, and/or water soluble oils. There are four 'kits' that I take with me, in any combination, depending on where I am going and how long I plan to stay.

The first kit is what I carry with me in my purse everywhere I go. It consists of: a mechanical pencil, water brush, eraser, fountain pen with water soluble brown ink, and a small sketchbook. This allows me to quickly sketch with pencil, refine the image with the brown ink, and quickly brush in values with the water brush. Then after a few minutes, I can go back and erase any unwanted pencil once it has dried.

The second kit I will take in addition to the first kit for shorter trips lasting 1-2 weeks or less. It includes a small watercolor set, permanent fine line markers, a 6" x 8" sketchbook with thicker paper, and a blue 'shop' paper towel. Now I can add washes of color to my drawings done with pencil, fine line marker, or the water soluble ink.

The third kit is for when I plan on working outside in oils, making small 6" x 8" sketches. This is usually for domestic travel, since it is worrisome to fly internationally with oil paints. These paintings take anywhere from 1-3 hours to complete, so this trip will likely be specifically for doing several oil sketches. This is when I take my wonderful 'Belly River' Alla Prima Pochade box, lightweight tripod, 'survival items', and oil set, all contained in a small backpack. The oil set consists of oil paint, brushes, panels, Gamsol in a jar, paper towels, and a few plastic grocery bags for garbage and anything leaky. The 'survival items' include: a hat, sunglasses, sunscreen, insect repellent, water bottle, snacks, and iPod.

The fourth kit is what I take for international travel, and is what I took with me to the Philippines. It includes a handmade cardboard pochade box with wet-panel carrier, a small set of water-miscible oils, a plastic water jar, brushes, a painting rag, and gessoed cardboard panels. This set is lightweight, ideal for backpacking, and best of all, everything fits inside the box and weighs less than 5 pounds!

What preparations do you make for a trip?
For my international backpacking trips, usually just book my flight online, arrange for any visas, and book my first night's stay. I'll read about and study the countries to have an idea of the places I'd like to go and paint, but for me, independent travel is about flexibility and freedom, so I don't plan a schedule. I enjoy learning about a place and it's people and painting is a fulfilling way to engage in this wonderful process.

What are your favorite subjects to paint when traveling? What is the most difficult subject you have painted?
People are my favorite subject to paint. But while traveling, I enjoy painting landscapes more because it captures the sense of the place, and it is fun to get lost and explore! People are the most difficult to paint because it is unusual to find someone willing to sit long enough to paint them.

Has travel painting presented you with any particular troubles in regard to painting itself, whether it be completion, interruptions, finding materials, etc?
I'm usually good about finishing paintings, even if they are done quickly. And, I haven't had any problems finding materials because I take everything I need with me.

Sometimes it can be irritating if people want to talk to you excessively while you are painting. Or when throngs of kids crowd so close, you can't move your arms to paint! But those are of little concern in comparison to the excitement of painting. If I get too distracted, I quickly finish up and move on. There's no point in struggling with a situation, as this will show up in the painting!

The weather sometimes pose challenges. I've had a few paintings disintegrate on me, when monsoon rains began and dissolved the water soluble oils I had just painted. Also, strong wind and cold weather can cut short a day of outdoor painting. And probably one of the biggest nuisances for me in tropical climates is mosquitoes!
What are the major differences for you between studio painting and painting in open air?
With studio painting, I have all the comforts of home, control over working conditions, and a virtually limitless time frame for painting. Since I prefer to work from life, I generally will work on still life and portraiture in the studio, which is slower paced and meditative. With painting outside, there are many variables, such as the changing light, weather, and movement of people and things. For me, this makes painting out of doors a fast and engaging activity, full of possibilities.

Because of your Filipino ancestry did your experience remarkably differ when you began to paint in the Philippines for the first time compared to other places?
Yes, there was definitely a sentimental feeling I had while painting in the Philippines. Since it is my mother's homeland, and I have such a vast amount of family there, I never know who I could be related to, so I pretend they are all relatives, which makes it that much nicer.

22 February 2009

A Brief Biography: Tom Laukkanen

Tom Laukkanen has been pursuing his art his entire life, and in the last decade he has traveled through a wide swath of the United States with paint supplies stowed in easy reach. He has painted in the Southwestern States of Utah, New Mexico, and Arizona; in Ohio, New York, and Ontario, Canada; along the Missouri River in Montana; prairies in South Dakota; and an array of landscapes and climates in his home state of Minneosta. Tom frequently paints portraits of individuals interwoven into his life.

I had the opportunity of interviewing Tom recently and excerpts from some of that discussion are posted below.

17 February 2009

A Questin and Answer with Tom Laukkanen

The following interview was recorded between painter Tom Laukkanen and David Frank on 21 January, 2009. Tom resides in St. Paul, Minnesota, USA.

I’m curious about the first, I guess you could say, sparks that ignited your interest to begin putting paint on canvas?

My dad being an art teacher, he brought home markers all the time, so he would give me a blank tablet of paper to do whatever I wanted on. The first memory I have of painting, my dad and I went out in the back yard and sat on our picnic table facing our neighbors house, and we did a watercolor of an apple and crabapple tree. As I did the painting, I remember looking to my dad for guidance and he would do the brushstroke, and I would emulate it. I don’t have that first painting, but I do remember the process, and I remember at one point my dad put a little red in for the apple trees and I said, "That doesn’t look like an apple." The apples were in full bloom at that point, and he said, "It doesn’t have to look like an apple." Then I remember taking the red paint and making the same stroke as my dad and thinking, "This is interesting."

It planted in my brain that there’s something else to putting down on the paper exactly what you perceive an apple to be. I wasn’t deep in thought about what that red stroke meant, but that was the first spark that really stirred something in me that I can’t explain. I try to capture that today in my work.

When did you first consider yourself to be an artist?

I always considered myself an artist from an early age. I always spent time drawing and throughout high school I spent an immense amount of time on it. In college the focus shifted onto the classroom setting and partying and all this...
Were you going to school for art at the time?
No, I thought it was something separate. I never even considered it. It was just something I did. I always had my paints with me in college, through unsuccessful attempts to finish paintings, I always kept it around. I think it was in my mid-to-late 20's that I remembered I was an artist. Not when I became, but I remembered it. It always stayed with me but was always put on the back-burner. It just became clear there was something missing in life that I always enjoyed, and it was art. It wasn’t always necessarily the end product but it was the production, the introspection involved in knowing yourself when able to do art, really figuring out what art meant to me and trying to strive towards that.
What was that void that developed and on what level does art reside now in your life?
It wasn’t a void. It was being lost; it wasn’t missing. It was just disorientation. I feel with my art I can become orientated with myself and strive for what’s better for myself and I can let go of those things and turn inward towards myself and figure what’s going on in my life, kind of like meditation. Then the void isn’t necessarily filled but it’s centered to a knowledge of what that void is. So when I act out towards other people, you know, in love or hate, I find that in my work I connect with those feelings and if I can express that inwardly I can come out of the experience being able to express that better outwardly towards other people in my everyday interactions because I’m not letting myself go. I’m not letting go of what’s important to me and that way I can relate better to what’s important to other people as well as myself. I know that feeling that void is just being disorientated for myself and other people.
Is this disorientation something you deal with, or feel, or sense quite a bit even since that time where you re-found your art, or is it something that once you grasp hold of it you have it locked firmly in your grasp? Or is it something more of a struggle?
It’s always a struggle. I find myself losing grip often with keeping things in the right perspective with how I want to live my life. I find that to be a constant. It’s not something I necessarily dwell on, but I know it’s there. There’s times when I’m caught up with work or other people, and I lose sight of the art and then it will call. It will call to me - I need to paint. It seems when I get back to painting and producing I connect with myself and therefore connect better with other people. It’s not necessarily something I always have a hold on, but it’s always within my grasp.
What mediums do you work in when you travel? And why do you work in those?
I started out working in acrylics. They have opacity and the coverage is great. If you make a mistake you can paint over it. Another thing is, it dries quick, since it’s water based. It’s clean. Unlike watercolor you can paint over mistakes.

I had two experiences with acrylics that were disappointing. One time I was in a real dense fog in Kelly Island State Park in Ohio. I felt like I was capturing things, and it was going great, and the fog turned into a light mist, and the painting had nearly everything washed off the canvas. In Arizona a year or two later: the weather was perfect, the sun was shining, 85 degrees, but it was so dry the minute my brush hit the canvas the paint was gumming up, and I couldn’t work with the product. It didn’t matter how much water I put in it. I talked to some people about it and decided I would start using oils.

The first time I used oils was in New Mexico. I brought both acrylics and oils along and some canvases I had borrowed. They were pre-ground in raw sienna, and I started painting over these ground canvases with my acrylics and apparently they had been ground in oil because my paint was beading up. I took out the oil and started working and haven’t looked back since. There are other difficulties - dry time is always a factor and it’s messy. But I can work in snow, I can work in a light mist. It’s never failed on me.
Where do you see your art progressing? What are your ambitions for your art? What challenges are you facing now?
My art will go wherever I go. We travel not only through space but through time. I think sometimes the word ‘travel painter’ speaks of someone traveling through space, but we forget we’re also traveling through time and whether I’m stuck in the same place, if I’m stuck here, time is still moving on, and my painting will follow. I paint the river bottoms near my house, and I paint the people in my life and the experiences that document my place in time and not just my space where I’ve been and where I’ve occupied, but the moments I’ve occupied. I hope my art follows me through time. That’s the one thing that’s constant. My space is forever changing because time doesn’t allow it to stay the same, it doesn’t allow me to stay the same. Whether I’m stuck in a studio, I think I’ll always be a travel painter because it’s time and space. Here I am, here it is. Here it was. That’s it. Hopefully I can keep it honest to myself and not try to dictate to other people what my art should be.

If other people can see something in it that connects with them, that’s great, but I’m not trying do anything but carry it with me. Sometimes I carry my art with me, and sometimes it carries me. It’s my magic carpet. It takes me through time and I take it.

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