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Why I Paint Outside

Driving down the newly opened faster toll route to the beach, I sang, sunroof open, at the top of my lungs to Los Lonely Boys and asked myself "how much farther is heaven?" With my newly purchased easel and paint bag in the back of my jeep, I didn't have a dime to my name—yet I was elated. I was escaping.  You see, we were slowly drowning in debt. The great recession was already being felt in southern California, and it was no surprise to us. I had a front row seat to the fiasco, having spent the last 8 years in the real estate industry. It all actually started to turn in 2006 in California. I had seen the writing on the wall. My career and the career of many I know would change irreparably due to the financial crisis. Yet, on this drive, I had one thing on my mind:  painting outside. Painting had always been my savoir and my refuge; for when painting outside, nothing else matters. It's just you. Not the version of you with all of the thoughts and fears, but the you that lives in the moment and as a result, every moment painting outside is pure joy.

Why I Paint

It's true, plein air painting is a challenge. It's frustrating, hot, cold, rife with bugs and exhaustion—but pure joy nonetheless. Being an artist is the only thing I had ever wanted to be. For me, being an artist wasn't a choice, it is who I am and how I see the world. It took me far too many years to have the courage to become a professional artist. It was the great recession that gave me the push I needed. The recession eventually led our family to leave California for Tucson. A move that provided the space that I needed to believe in myself and my art. In fact, those first years in business, I sold several hundred paintings. The recession did not seem like a blessing in disguise at the time, but in hindsight, it was one of the best times of my life. I hope that sometime in the future, we can all look back on the surreal year of 2020 and eventually feel that it transformed society for the better.

My Painting Philosophy

I always felt like there are layers to life. That one color is not sufficient to express a passage in a painting. That life is nuanced, complicated and surprising. Painting should be a reflection of life. It’s this world view that informs my indirect painting process. I paint with an expanded impressionist palette to create lovely transparent washes juxtaposed with thick juicy paint using the “mother color” concept—where everything has a little of everything else mixed in to maintain color harmony. Life is not simple, and diversity in paint, as in life, is a wonderfully rich experience. I often make my own paint and mediums to achieve a particular effect. Ideally layering thick, thin, opaque, dry, fluid, transparent and everything in between should all work together to make a stronger whole. Hundreds of strokes, viewed as one from a distance. However, up close, they are as individual as we are, and each stroke has its place, and is beautiful in its own right.

My Materials

Using primarily 19th century mediums and materials from esteemed boutique color makers—I have spent over 20 years developing my unique oil painting process. While I am primarily an oil painter, I am fluent in multi-media. I use the materials that speak to me, and best express the subject matter and emotion I hope to convey. Blending past knowledge with present day innovation, my work is a blend of classical methodology with impressionist palette and color theory, integrated into a modern day sensibility in both objective and non-objective forms. I primarily paint subjects that resonate with me, connect me to my past, what is, and what could be.

In an Instant, Everything Changed

It was a sunny day when we made our way to the annual Plein Air Artists Colorado Paint Out in Steamboat Springs, Colorado. As we pulled up to our campsite after a long drive, tents and gear in tow, we arrived at our campsite to learn our fire pit was surrounded by nearly a foot of water. It was a confusing scenario, as the weather had been perfect on the drive in? In hindsight, it was an ominous nod to events to come. We decided to move our campsite to higher ground. An act that would eventually make us—the last tent standing. The next day, after an exhausting (yet glorious) day battling bugs and sun while painting outside—we settled into camp to prepare dinner in our brand new REI screen house. It was then that I noticed small clouds forming in the distance. I had a passing thought "maybe a storm is brewing?" Then without notice, the wind picked up to 60 miles per hour. We held on to the screen house for dear life as it nearly flew away with us along with it! Then the stinging rain started . . . We were completely exposed to the elements and at nature's mercy. This battle persisted for over half an hour, and at the end of it, we were the last tent standing. Wet and exhausted, that was the day we decided to buy an RV . . .

Shirley Bales, artist.

Shirley Bales, is a multi-generational painter. Shirley formally studied fine art under an accomplished forensic portrait artist and other notable illustrators from Art Center College of Design Pasadena in the 1990's. Shirley also attended workshops by acclaimed plein air painters, and exclusively painted outside for over 10 years to develop her acute color sensibility. Shirley attributes most of her technical knowledge to the Cennini Forum, comprised of forerunners of the Classical Realism Movement. Shirley has participated in multiple group and solo shows winning multiple awards and accolades over the years. Her original art resides in hundreds of private collections nationwide. Shirley, now a resident of Colorado Springs, paints Colorado and beyond.

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