Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Camp Allen is a beautiful conference center located about an hour's drive northwest of Houston. I often spend a week there as chaplain-in-residence. The only requirement is to lead morning and evening prayer and to be friendly and helpful to guests as needed. Most clergy use it as a time for retreat. Many of us are so tired by the time we arrive that the first few days are spent catching up on our sleep. I went there the week following Thanksgiving and napped my way through the first three days. 

For me Camp Allen is also a wonderful place to paint. Years ago they allowed the chaplain-in-residence to stay in one of the cabins which looked out on Lake Coffield--Sassafras Cabin. It's located at the far end of the lake where there is a lot of variety: It is marshy, providing a delightfully ragged edge and hosts a great variety of plants. Momentarily waterbirds or deer have flashed across the scene. From that location I have done many paintings over the years.

However, the popularity of Camp Allen began to require that they keep Sassafras Cabin open to paying customers and clergy were moved to Bluebonnet Cabin. It is a nice cozy little cabin nestled into the woods but without a lake view. Try as I may I've yet to find a single inspiring scene from the vantage point of that cabin. What that has meant is that I spend a lot of time driving around to find a place to paint without intruding upon others. After a couple of days during this stay I realized I had turned the "opportunity" to painting into an "obligation." How can one paint if one is not inspired? So I gave myself permission not to paint unless I found a scene that made my heart sing. In other words, permission to spend the week without painting.

Then it happened: I decided to drive over to Sassafras Cabin to see if anyone was there. No one. So I parked my car and walked down the long slope  to the water's edge where I could look around to the right of the forest to see that favored spot. It always looked different but this time it took my breath away! The scene was a riot of color: Tallow trees (never noticed before) lighted up the landscape in their bright red fall colors. It was the kind of scene that makes one want to fall upon their knees in awe!

Okay. There being no one around I worked up one drawing that morning and another from a different perspective in the afternoon. My plan was to return the next day--hoping there was still no one around--and begin two watercolors: One from the morning location and the other from the afternoon. 

Those painting never got started! The cabin was rented starting the day I had planned to paint. So I didn't go back. I did have my sketches but they were not well developed. Not much I could do working straight from them. What a huge disappointment! Back into the car I drove to the other end of the lake where I could see the scene in the far distance. I could vaguely see the blaze of colors and thought I'd see what I could do in reference to my sketches. But it was frustrating not to see the details. 

I became immediately angry with even my attempt to try. After an initial wash of color I considered the effort futile. I looked around in my supplies and found some felt watercolor pens and quickly scribbled over the background wash. I had given up on the painting and felt I had nothing to lost. As a last impulse I pulled out a mat knife and scratched into the paper. My emotions were running high by then and was careless--giving a finger a good nick. I tried to wrap the finger and stay with the "art working" but it kept bleeding so I decided to stop. I didn't need my blood for the red color!

The next day I looked at what I had done with fresh eyes. It wasn't the painting I wanted.  Some of the scratches are a little severe. But, by golly, I felt like I captured the spirit of the scene! I decided that the "painting"--wrestled once again with the angels--found its own valid song to sing.

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