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Happy Hiking

by Keith Bond on 11/30/2009 3:07:21 PM

This article is by Keith Bond, Regular contributing writer for FineArtViews.  You should submit an article and share your views as a guest author by clicking here.

When I was in high school, I participated in an exchange program to Germany.  On one occasion, the family I lived with took me hiking in the Bavarian Alps.  I was used to hiking, having grown up in a mountainous area.  I noticed many elderly people slowly making their way up the trail.  No offense to those who may be a bit older than me, but for a teenager, this made an impression on me.  Despite their slower pace, they were steady.

I, on the other hand, was used to pushing myself as hard and fast as I could.  After a short while, I would need to stop and rest.  When I was able to pull myself up to my feet again, I would continue onward, trying to make up for lost time.  My need for rests became more frequent and each rest would last longer.  The father of the family I lived with gave me some great advice – it was the secret to the elderly hikers’ ability to conquer the mountain: rest with each step.  By shifting all the weight to one foot, the other side of the body would rest with that step.  Then shift weight to the other foot, allowing the other side of the body to rest, and so on.  Ironically, those hikers who did this, despite their age, reached the top of the mountain in about the same amount of time, but they had an easier, more enjoyable climb.

Is there a connection to art?  Yes, but please have patience.  Fast forward many years to this past summer. 

In August I hiked Gray’s Peak here in Colorado.  It is one of the easier (and my first) 14er to climb.  (Colorado boasts 53 or 54 ranked mountain peaks above 14,000 feet in elevation as well as a few additional ‘unranked’ 14ers – as they are affectionately called).

I took my two oldest children with me.  We began early in the morning and maintained a moderate, but steady pace.  I also took limited painting gear and did three small paintings on the hike.  I did one on the way up, one from the summit, and one while descending.   

There were people in much better shape than us, who were on their way back down before we reached the top.  There were others whom we passed.  Everyone hiked at his or her own pace.  Some rested often.  I saw some who literally ran up and down (talk about being in shape!).  There were both old and young. 

As spectacular as the scenery was from the summit – one could see a sea of mountains and valleys for miles and miles – I found the scenery along the hike equally, if not more, impressive.  Yet, so many were so set on the goal of reaching the top, it seemed that they did not notice the beauty of the mountain ecology.  Most of the trail climbed through a tundra-like system as it was above timberline.  There were meadows of grass and wildflowers and stunted shrubs and brush.  As we gained in elevation, flora gave way to nothing but rock. 

There are several parallels to art.  Firstly, is the obvious.  There is beauty everywhere.  Keep eyes open and find the beauty that is all around.

The other lessons deal more with goals and progress related to your art and business. 

Keeping a moderate, yet steady pace will get you to your goal as easily, if not easier, than rushing to the top.   As with my hike in Germany, I needed to rest often to avoid collapse.  It is easy to push yourself so hard to do more and better work along with the marketing and business responsibilities.  There have been times when I have worked until midnight or later just to try to get everything done.  I know other artists who likewise put in 80 hour weeks.  How long can this be sustained?  Not long!

On the more recent hike I learned that it doesn’t matter what level you are at.  If you are good enough to be on the trail, don’t worry if you are the fastest hiker in the best shape or not.  There will always be artists who seem to be moving so much faster and attaining so much more.  But, look around and you will see that you are doing just fine.  You are gaining elevation, making progress and seeing results.  You too will summit the art mountain.  Don’t compare yourself to the others.  Just make sure you are making progress.  Over time, you will see improvements in your art and will eventually move at a faster pace; maybe even run.

Some of the hikers were so set on the end goal that they missed everything along the way.  There are great opportunities to be had in your art career that may not be those you deem ‘at the top’.  Enjoy the journey.  Don’t pass up opportunities because you have eyes only for the top.  Consider those other art venues, galleries, etc. that weren’t part of your initial plan.

The top of the mountain was great, but so was everything along the way.  In fact, in some ways the things along the way were even better.

Happy hiking,

Keith Bond


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Topics: Art Business | art marketing | Keith Bond 

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Monte Wilson
What a fantastic way to look at look at one's journey as an artist. I truly love the vision of the mountain trail (lived in Bailey Colorado many moons ago). Although, I'd have to say sometimes my trail feels more like the shear face of a cliff and the little outcropping I'm grasping is about to give way! But some how I always manage to get up to the next ledge....take a breath, dust myself off, then start for the next. Thanks for the gentle boost.

Barbara Reich

I believe there is great wisdom in what you are saying. I have been asked many times "How do you maintain your forward momentum"? The answer is simple, I just keep putting one foot in front of the other! Sometimes the progress is slow (learning as I go) and sometimes the progress is fast, but I always keep my eyes wide open, enjoying the adventure and trying to learn whatever I can from the journey.

Dreaming of new possibilities doesn't hurt either!

Barbara Reich

Clint Watson
Great metaphor Keith. This is my philosophy too, in life, business and spirit - try to do *something* each day, try to improve just a tad each day - it's amazing how fast little, incremental improvements add up.

Esther J. Williams
Keith, your title grabbed my attention, I hike a lot. It's true when I jog on a hike, I am gasping and need to stop and take breathers, but it's usually because I stopped to take pictures and got behind the group, so I go running to catch up. I like the slow paced hikes instead, I can smell the roses and enjoy the magnificent scenery. I don't get those folks who just want to keep marching straight forward on the trail, maybe they are just focused on getting it over with. I am looking all over the place, making gasps, oohs and ahhs at the beauty of the tall trees with golden light pouring through or a rare bird flying overhead. I bring my Canon SLR and take lots of shots. I joined a wilderness conservancy here in southern California and have been steadily increasing my hike lengths as my respiratory system is getting conditioned. Life is all about conditioning oneself to new horizons. I also have been allowed to paint on some of the wilderness access events en plein air. At first, when I arrived into the beautiful wilderness areas that are very secluded, I wanted to paint large canvases there on location. One time, like a crazed Van Gogh, I brought a large canvas. I hardly got down the initial sketch before time ran out. I was allowing the feeling, the urgency that I got to overpower me to go for it all. Only, it is better to use some critical thinking, pace oneself, start out with small canvases and work up from smaller studies to a larger piece at the studio. The process of discovery truly takes more time in art on so many levels. Now I have a hike coming up this week that is 9 miles. It is called a slow paced hike and is under the light of the moon. This will be such an exciting hike that I will get to enjoy the scenery in a different light. I won't be able to stop and take pictures since the light is dim. I will have to wait until we get to the top of the hill and then take them with a tripod. I share your analogy of taking it slower with many things in life. I now ask questions of myself, am I really ready for that show or art trip, or can I wait until next year? More often, I opt to wait a few more years. It will still be there and so will I. I breathe deeper now.

Phyllis Tarlow
I loved your article, Keith. It reaffirms my views on what life is all about. It's the journey and not necessarily the end of the trail that's most important. Taking it slowly, step by step, drinking in all that comes along the way and watching your own transformation take place as you grow and change, makes your whole life a richly rewarding experience. Fifteen years ago, I would never have believed that I would be moving from figurative work to painting landscapes almost exclusively. It came from moving along the trail and noticing new things along the way that called out to be investigated and branches that seemed like the ones to move along. They moved upward but slightly toward the left or right of the one I thought I should take.
I'm now well along my life's path but always excited by the new things coming my way as I move forward. I've slowed down some and am not as concerned with some final destination I'm trying to reach. The final destination will come soon enough.

Joanne Benson
Hi Keith,
I always enjoy your insights and today's article really rings true. I walk alot and have hiked here and there in the past. It makes sense to pace yourself and enjoy the journey in art and hiking and you have inspired me to perhaps start hiking again and doing some artwork on the trail. I plein air alot but usually there is not alot of hiking involved as my set ups are generally too cumbersome. I can muster a lightweight watercolor set up and am going to think about perhaps getting my retired hubby involved in a hiking club. That way we could do something together and perhaps he could take photos while I sketch. So I guess I'm a tortoise....but I'm a happy one! Thanks for sharing!

Rod Lamkey
Your essay, "Happy Hiking" struck many harmonious chords. By climbing Mt. Shasta last summer I re-learned those important lessons, to pace myself, persevere, and appreciate the beauty around me. Thank you for putting it so succinctly!

Elizabeth Kennen
Thanks Keith, for that inspiring post. Great reminder that even when progress seems slow, it is still progress. I'm finding my own pace and trying to keep it steady. Love the images of hiking, being surrounded by beautiful scenery. I would be one of those stopping frequently for photos, taking it all in. Memories of trips to Germany.......I remember hiking with experienced German hikers. Okay, now I feel the need to paint, hike and later on have a large German beer as a reward.

Keith Bond
I am delighted that my thoughts struck a chord with so many of you. Yes, as pointed out, this philosophy is also applicable to other aspects of your life. It is for me, too. Although, I must admit, sometimes the urge to go a bit faster than I should gets the better of me. Then again, sometimes pushing myself is what I need to strengthen my lungs, heart, and muscles (literally and metaphorically). And sometimes I trip on a rock or two because my gaze was elsewhere...


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