Look into the life of a few of our Thunderbird Artists

Raleigh Kinney

In my day as an artist I’m immersed in either getting ready to paint such as sketching, laying out ideas, field trips to check out paint sites, reviewing photos, visualizing painting or laying to paper with brush and paint and hopefully a creative and visually entertaining idea based on those afore mentioned activities. However, sometimes nothing pertaining to my art gets done. Some days I may spend ordering materials and/or out in the garage finishing frames or packing paintings to be shipped to shows or a piece that’s been sold and it needs to be shipped…. it happens! My life as in artist is not so much a “me” life as a “we” life. The “we” in my life is my wife, partner, helpmate, critic bookkeeper, computer expert, and love of my life, Darlene. She’s vital to keeping me focused and my head on straight. She picks me up when things aren’t going well and helps me to see beyond what’s in the present to what lies in the future. Darlene is that support that frees me to spend countless hours either in my studio or days at a time in the field painting plein air.

Look into the life of Thunderbird Artist Raleigh KinneyTo get ready to paint, I like to squeeze my paints on my palette the night before whether its studio or painting on location. The paint skins over and can be picked up more evenly by the brush. Watercolor paper also needs to be considered. I like to work on watercolor paper that has been glued to a prepared wood panel. It is ridged and can be painted on wet, damp, or dry without warping and is easy to carry. I also like working on watercolor board when painting on location.

What is it like for me when I am working away from my studio on location? The following exemplifies what might be typical. It’s August 28th, 5 a.m. in Rocky Mountain National Park. I’m planning to do a painting near Alberta Falls this morning plein air. The weather is a bit overcast, but no rain in the forecast. It’s chilly but I’m wearing a heavy sweatshirt and vest so I’m comfortable standing for a long period of time. A stop by the donut shop for hot coffee and a couple of donuts for breakfast and lunch, then I head for the park. Once in the park, I drive toward Big Bear Lake. I was up there yesterday morning to paint Albert Falls and happened by this spot; it looked interesting and paintable. I need to get there before the sun appears so I’m ready when the first rays hit the landscape. Early morning and late afternoon are the best painting times, warm lights with long shadows. In the parking area it’s still dark, but I need to get up the trail. I have my gear ready to go: paint box (easel), backpack with my water containers, tissue, paper towel, brushes and a couple watercolor boards big enough for a two hour painting (by then the light changes and the landscape takes on a different look). The distance from the parking area is about ½ mile or so and its up hill, but not bad walking as the trail is well traveled. About a half hour I’m at the spot, it’s starting to get light. The bank I have to navigate is steep but young aspens provide handholds. The spot is below Alberta Falls where the creek tumbles over rocks and deadfalls with stair step pools and a wonderful aspen tree full of character is growing out over the left bank as I face upstream. A few minutes to find a stable spot for my easel and my paints are ready as the first sun begins to peak at my subject. I take 15-20 minutes to sketch a small pattern (thumbnail) on a drawing pad produced from my pack. The thumbnail sketch allows me to figure out placement, lights and shadows as well as my focal point or center of interest. I’m thinking the big aspen with leaves beginning to turn first, then the eye moves to the background and comes forward once again along the creek exploring the starts and stops of the water as it moves. With the plan completed, I now have a road map, which will help me expedite my work. I quickly sketch the pencil plan onto my board and begin laying in my first observed colors. As I work I hear hikers walking and talking up on the trail. They would not see me unless they walked to the edge of the deep bank and looked down. Its like being in my own secret world, no one knows I am painting away only a few yards away from the trail. Time marches on and the light begins to change. I am nearly done and my feet hurt from shifting between a couple roots and a large rock. It begins to rain very lightly. I’d better quit. I’ve taken a few photos and have my sketch. I pack up and carefully place my painting in a protective folder. I’m up the bank and back on the trail heading toward the parking area. It’s raining harder now but the trails are downhill and walking is easy. Back at the car I have my second donut and a bottle of water. It’s raining but I cheated mother nature. I feel a great sense of accomplishment and a wave of satisfaction comes over me as I gaze at my plein air painting of “Tricky Footing”. If the rain stops I’ll find another spot for an afternoon and evening painting. For me to create something like this work is in it’s self enough reason to have elected to spend my life doing art.

Look into the life of Thunderbird Artist Raleigh KinneyWhen I left teaching art full time and began doing art full time, I found it necessary to explore teaching watercolor workshops as a way to make ends meet as well as a way to bring attention to my own painting. This also was and continues to be a great way to be involved with a cross section of people who are great and who have a common interest in the watercolor medium. Other vehicles I was familiar with from the Midwest were “fine art fairs’ and “fine art shows” sponsored by civic groups as well as promoters. In 1980 I found Arizona with only a few such venues as art fairs; however, after showing slides of my watercolors to prospective galleries and turned down by as many, I began showing as I had in the Midwest with promoters and civic sponsored events. These art events proved to be the right way for me to go. The art fairs allowed me to hone my skills and also served as a place to showcase my paintings as well as the opportunity to meet those interested in taking my workshops. Working hard as an artist and developing your creative skills is very much like standing on the corner with your bags packed waiting for the “success bus” to come along and pick you up. I’m fortunate enough to have been picked by those who have selected my works to be included in publications like: ARIZONA HIGHWAYS; SOUTHWEST ART; two NORTHLIGHT publications; and most recently a book released Oct. 2003 by the Society for the Advanced of Plein Air Painting called ENCHANTED ISLE, A HISTORY OF PLEIN AIR PAINTING IN CATALINA ISLAND. I have continued to participate in the art fair events down through the years and found I have developed quite a large following of patrons who enjoy what I do in watercolor. Aside from the art sales many long term friendships have developed with lovers of watercolor in respect to the medium as well as how I personally hand it, both from fellow artists and those who promote fine art events. Today I also belong to professional organizations such as “ Plein Air Painters of America”, “ Transparent Watercolor Society of America”, and “Rocky Mountain Plein Air Painters” all of whom sponsor gallery group shows. I still enjoy doing “tell and sell” experience of talking about my paintings to prospective patrons and having them pay me the ultimate compliment by purchasing a piece for their home or place of work.

For myself, I have found I have needed to continue developing and innovating my painting skills along with the skill of promoting and selling my creations. The painting is one thing, but I have found for the artist’s, most of whom wear their hearts on their sleeves when it comes to their creative works, selling them is a completely different skill. The artist needs to develop a thick skin and find they cannot please all the people all the time; perhaps the skill of marketing can and should be included in the artist’s education.