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Sage Covered Hills

by Keith Bond on 12/19/2011 9:38:30 AM

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.



I took my first plein air workshop about 12 or 13 years ago.  It was with Matt Smith, an artist I truly admire.  The workshop was in Jackson, Wyoming with the majestic (and world famous) Teton Mountains as a backdrop. 


One of the painting locations was Schwabacher Landing, which provides Snake River access and magnificent views of the Teton Range.  After Matt’s demo, we were set loose to paint.  Thousands of potential paintings could be done from that very spot – and probably have been.  The mountains dominate the scene, but the river is very enticing, too.  Along the banks of the river are groves of cottonwood and pine.  There are an infinite number of compositional possibilities.


Yet, despite all the majestic beauty in front of me, I turned my back to paint what was behind me – the sage brush covered hills.  Two-thirds of my canvas was foreground – sage brush and dry grasses and other semi-arid flora.  I included a few trees along the ridge in the middle ground and in the distance was a faint blue haze of some less majestic distant mountains.


Everyone else in the workshop was painting something more typical – the Tetons or the Snake River, or both.


I’ll never forget what Matt said to me as he saw what I was painting.  Well, okay, I have forgotten the precise words.  But I have never forgotten the message – and accompanying lesson.


He said something to the effect that I chose to paint something that he himself would have chosen to paint.  That validated my choice.  It meant a lot to me.  He helped me realize that it’s okay to paint what interests me.  I should follow my own voice and not be influenced by others.


I recently viewed an exhibit of LeConte Stewart’s art (read my review and see some examples of his work).  LeConte is a beloved Utah landscape artist who studied under the renowned teacher John F. Carlson in the early 1900’s.  As part of the exhibit, there is a video with commentary by art historians, curators, and some of LeConte’s former students.  I didn’t really watch it, but overheard a bit while looking at his fine paintings. 


Something one of the curators said in the video caught my attention.  He said that LeConte visited the Tetons only to turn his back on them to paint the sage covered hills.


Again, it was validation for me. 


I have grown a lot as an artist since that first workshop in the Tetons.  I have painted the Tetons many times since then.  I have painted other scenes of grandeur.  Yet, just as often, I have turned my back on the grandiose and painted the subtle, understated, or mundane scenes behind me.  I painted what inspired me at the time. 


The point of the article is that you should not worry about anyone’s voice but yours.  Create what inspires you.  Create authentic and honest work.  Be true to yourself and your art.


Many artists fear painting the sage covered hills.  They worry that there won’t be an audience.  So instead they paint the Tetons.


Seth Godin said that sales is nothing more than aligning your products/services with others who are like-minded. 


If you create works that are authentic, you can find an audience.  There are other like-minded people out there.  Matt Smith and LeConte Stewart (along with many other artists I admire) are like-minded to me.  They have attracted like-minded collectors.  And so have I.


And so can you.  So, don’t worry.  Paint your sage covered hills (whatever they may be). 


Best Wishes,

Keith Bond


PS.  You may be interested in another artist with an uncanny ability to glorify the mundane and overlooked corners of nature in his work:  Clyde Aspevig.  This is a link to one of his sage covered hills.  Well, okay, his is the prairie.  And his turned out much better than mine. :)


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Topics: advice for artists | art appreciation | art collectors | art education | art marketing | FineArtViews | inspiration | Keith Bond | originality | sell art | selling art online | selling fine art online 

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Marsha Hamby Savage
This is a wonderful post. It really speaks to being an artist and being true to our own inner visions. We are so bombarded by images of those artists that we admire ... and we want to learn from them. If we can only look closely at how they created, with what type of feeling, and then see our own scene and use that feeling inside of us ... we will create our best work!

Thank you for this article at this particular time as I have been trying to figure out "who" Marsha Savage is these days. Your words do help!

Rod Lamkey
Thanks for your article! When I first started painting I went with a group to the marina in Richmond, California. It was my first time plein air painting. I didn't want to do boats and water so I turned around and painted some oil tanks on a hill (the painting is on my website) and to this day it is one of my favorites.

Lori Woodward
Well said Keith! and oh so true.

I've noticed that it's not always the subject matter that brings attention but what the artist has to say about it in paint.

Cathy de Lorimier
Keith, this advice is classic and true. We should do what inspires us, and the audience "will come." So timely for me, not in regards to painting, but in what my husband and I did this past weekend. We were looking at old video footage from the past 20 years of family memories. I tended to film the more ordinary stuff our kids were doing...dressing up, quarreling over who got the hippopotamus animal cookie, playing in the snow, reading books aloud. They were absolutely precious, because they were the everyday scenes we can't return to now. They are simple images that all our kids can now smile about and RELATE to. I think good art images are the same...looking at the ordinary with appreciative eyes. My husband thanked me profusely over and over for capturing these daily scenes.

Donald Fox
You've hit on the one thing that often differentiates artists - choice. We choose when we paint, what we paint, and how we paint. When we are true to ourselves, as you suggest, then the choices are easy. Thanks for such a clear story.

Michael Orwick
This is my painting done in September with my back to the Tetons. Thank you for your letter, I felt funny turning away from the precieved idea of why I drove so many hours (from Oregon) to just end up painting a scene similar to one I might find in my back yard.

Tom Weinkle
well said! When it comes to painting, our own voice is the only one that matters.

Barb Stachow
Great article, something I've done many times by photos rather than plein air but nevertheless, so, so true

jim Springett
Good day Keith,

Nice blog, as a senior artist hearing your story helps to know others like painting the sage. To me sage could be any subject of interest, and not long ago, even today, I was painting elk and buffalo that I love dearly, yet I'm realizing that not all my work appeals enough for someone to buy on my ebay site. There are some people who have enouugh wisdom and know that maybe that painting is mine and not their painting, and the non sale has nothing to do with not being painted well. There are many factors playing out in a sale and the more I work as an arist, I realize that when I paint, it is a painting that I love for whatever reason, maybe a memory of something I saw somewhere long ago. Since I paint more wildlife than other subjects, I usually have a small story, nothing granioise, but more to do with honor, faith and hope, mostly love. So, today I've started a new buffalo painting, and will finish in the morn, enjoy your painting and thank you.

Jim Springett-wildlife painter

Marian Fortunati
Thank you Keith... I so totally agree with you and only wish I could paint WHATEVER I find inspiring as beautifully as the inspiration that moves me.

I love your work, Matt Smith's work and Clyde Aspevig's work .... I had not heard of LeConte but I will now do some investigation because I love all of the great work. It also inspires, doesn't it!!!

Sharon Weaver
Clyde Aspevig's work is even more amazing in person. The thick paint and ease of application is wonderful. Painting what inspires is important and if only I could apply the paint interpreting that inspiration then every painting would be a home run.

Donna Robillard
This reminds me of a time just a few years ago I was taking a class, and we went out to the mountains to paint. While almost everybody zeroed in on a certain site, I did something totally different. I just couldn't get enthused about the one, but found something that brought out the creative juices.

Rick Rotante
While I appreciate the content of your comments I wonder why travel all the way to the Tetons and paint the sagebrush? You could have saved the money and expense and painted sagebrush anywhere. If you go to all the trouble to get to the Tetons, why not paint them. That was the purpose of Mr Smith's exercise. If you ask me, you were being contrary for your own purposes. If I teach a class on landscape and a student beings a still life...???
I'll bet Mr. Smith didn't spend much time with you.
While I agree we should follow our muse, If I am paying a teacher the likes of Matt Smith, I would have painted what he suggested to get the benefit of his teaching. Just my opinion.

Donald Fox
What an odd comment. Apparently you didn't read very carefully what was said in the post. There was nothing about being contrary or ignoring any instructions. The point clearly was about following one's own voice and inspiration. The instructor even agreed with Keith's choice of subject and that, obviously, was well worth the workshop experience since he chose to write about it many years later.

The cocept is good. Many times an artist like Keith, myself and others see things arround you as if it was talking to you when your intentions were totaly different at that moment in time. The next time it may be the trapdoor spider living in the sace below the sage.

PS Keith, I was missing thr orage...

Keith Bond

The purpose of the workshop or the specific assignment was not to paint the Tetons. The purpose was to learn to see and paint en plein air (outdoors).

I signed up for the workshop with Matt Smith because he is a great teacher and because his work resonates with me. I could have cared less where the workshop was held. I traveled to the Tetons because that is where he was teaching. A good teacher like Matt helps and encourages students to find their own way. A good teacher teaches the principles that could be applied to any situation or subject. A poor teacher would teach a formula to paint the Tetons.

And during that week-long workshop, I did paint things other than the sage, including the river and mountains, groves of aspens, etc. During the course of the week, we painted 8 to 10 paintings. But on that particular day, at that particular moment, what spoke to me was the sage. And I chose to paint what spoke to me instead of follow the crowd and paint the postcard image. And I was encouraged by Matt and he spent plenty of time with me.

The workshop was worth every penny. So was the travel to the Tetons.

I hope that clarifies.

Rick Rotante
Donald - You didn't read all of my comments. I did say is was only my opinion. If Keith has said he subsequently painted the given subject, my comments would have been very different.
Keith- I truly do understand your painting your muse. God knows, I do the same. I felt due to the condensed version, others may get the idea that it's okay to hire a teacher and do your own thing anyway. Those who think this are missing the benefits and knowledge of the teacher in the first place.
I say this only because I get this as a teacher myself.

Jim Springett
I have plein air painted a few times and my experience was good.I think next year will be more fun for me because I'm seeing better as an artist. Your blogs teach a lot and so the encouragement is appreciated. Plenty to learn. It takes a 100 teachers to help teach a new artist.(smile)
Jim springett

Keith Bond
I understand your point about hiring a teacher and then doing your own thing. I agree with you. I suppose that I should have clarified that a bit better in my article.

I didn't feel the need to tell the rest of the story because I felt that it was irrelevant. Matt didn't dictate subject. He wanted us to see and respond to nature and learn the tools to translate what we see on canvas. I wasn't going against anything he was teaching (I didn't realize that the article came across that way). I was doing precisely what he was teaching. If I would have painted the Tetons when they didn't resonate with me, THEN I would have gone against what he was trying to teach. The workshop was a plein air workshop, not a Teton workshop.

When I DID paint the Tetons on other occasions, they DID resonate with me. But the fact that I painted them doesn't mean that I finally followid his advise. On the contrary, it was irrelevant what I painted, as long as it was plein air.

The point of the article was to create art that resonates with you.

Rick Rotante
I fully understand your point. Sorry if what I said came off badly. The written word leaves much to be desired in these situations.
Have great Holiday.

Rosemary McIntosh
I can well understand painting sagebrush instead of the Tetons. I have lived in Jackson Hole since 1954. Hundreds of pictures taken of the Tetons in all seasons. A famous local artist said about these mountains you need to be true when you paint these Tetons. Contemporary artists have painted them in every color in the spectrum and shape and size. You paint what appeals to you at that time and space. They are one big subject to take on and everyone has a different experience staring at these majestic spires. Other vistas in the valley are just as beautiful in their openness.


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