I’ve been painting out in the high desert now for just about a month, and thought I’d mention a few things since I’ve been asked (Yes, mom, I’m wearing sunglasses and plenty of sunblock). Although I’ve been here numerous times previously to paint and hike, this is the first really extended period of time I’ve had with the landscape. Being able to plan out ideas and know when certain effects will happen throughout the day.
My schedule has been (modified) to head out very early to paint when it is still cool (in the 60’s or 70’s), rest or take a nap during the hottest part of the day (no idea exactly, but 100-108, somewhere in there), and return to paint later on when the heat starts to taper off (the high desert is much cooler than the lower desert areas, like Palm Springs, which tends to be around 115 degrees. You can’t do anything when it’s 115 outside). Knowing when to return indoors is key, as you acclimate easily and don’t notice the temperatures rising. I’ve tested myself a few times, intentionally or not; once painting at the Oasis in 29 Palms at 4:00 p.m., it must have been 110 degrees. I put frozen water bottles in my pockets to stay cool in addition to a hat, sunblock, sunglasses and umbrellas. Also nearly blinded myself – it’s very reflective out there – not so fun. The desert is wonderful, but you are made much more conscious of how far you should push yourself working in this environment.
The wind is also another constant factor, so staking and weighing everything down is now part of the normal routine. Easels blow over, sand blows into your paints, tumbleweeds blow into your easel (yep, they do). I once had to stand and just hold onto everything for about 10 minutes until the wind died down. (If you have a rock band and need to shoot photos for your album, the desert is great because you always have that wind.)
One of the local papers out here, the American Free Journal, picked up on the residency. The publisher happened to pass by one evening and they ran a photo of me standing out against the wind in front of Mount San Jacinto one week, and the following week had a short article on the residency and the artists, both of which were nice to see. The local artists, residents and artists-in-residence have all been wonderful to meet and very hospitable.
The Palm Springs Art Museum is a great place to visit in the summer, they blast the air conditioning and have some nice artwork to enjoy. I managed to make it there when a few paintings by members of the Taos Art Colony were on view. Plus, every summer the museum hosts artwork from an anonymous local collector – including Manet, Monet, two Van Goghs you’ve never seen, one of which he left his thumbprints in when carrying the canvas; plus Matisse and Degas, among others. The cicadas outside are deafening.
My apologies to the residents of Pioneertown and the Joshua Tree Highlands if I startled anyone with my easels and umbrellas.