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Murray PhillipsMurray Earl Phillips   AFC, M.A. M.Div. Murray Phillips
Painting the western wilderness
How I Paint
I was once described as a "jazz artist" and I think that may be an apt description. Having studied music I recognize that, although jazz appears spontaneous and somewhat random, it follows carefully prescribed patterns. True spontaneity only comes with careful practice and understanding.

I am an outdoor painter. However, my pattern of painting does not fit the model that many understand of a "pleine aire" painter. The usual understanding seems to be that a "pleine aire" painter is one who renders a quick small painting in a single session, usually an hour or two. That is not the process I follow. I may go to a place for several weeks and I work on large canvases (24" x 36" for example). Initially, I spend a day or two exploring; picking out the scenes I want to paint. Then I outline my day, choosing approximately 6 places I will paint during the course of the day. Each day at the same time I go back to the same spot and continue my painting so that I get the same light; providing, of course, that it is not raining. It may take two weeks to finish a painting. If I finish one earlier, I fit a new painting scene into that time slot. I make few compositional adjustments but work rather on getting the right compositional vantage point. Recently I acquired a camera that has a GPS feature and many of my paintings now have co-ordinates on the back of them so one can actually go to the location and observe the scene. Several years ago I had a funny thing happen at the Calgary Stampede. I was showing at the Western Showcase (an outstanding show that gives real dignity to art and artists) and a person came up to me and said that he really liked one of my paintings but he did notice that there was a bump in my painting. I laughed as I recalled the evening that I was painting that scene while being hounded mercilessly by mosquitoes. a mosquito had landed on my wet paints and stuck there- just as I was bringing my brush across. The mosquito unintentionally became part of the landscape. "I like that; it adds some authenticity to the painting." the man said and he immediately bought the painting.

Mosquitoes are a bother but they do not cause the fear that larger creatures do. Because I paint quietly (it is hard to be a noisy painter) I do, on occasion, encounter larger bears, elk, and moose. I am often in grizzly country and I have encountered a number of "Ursus horribilis". Not all encounters have been friendly. I choose not to tell the frightening stories because they give a lopsided perspective. Quite honestly, my biggest fear is the rowdy or drunken camper in the next campsite. I do have a well trained German Shepherd with me and I also carry bear spray and on occasion a shotgun. I have never had to use either but I try to be prepared. When I go into remote areas which I frequently do I inform the authorities of my location and I now carry a Spot Transmitter (a satellite transmitter that enables me to provide my location and urgent need to the outside world). It often surprises people to find out that I am afraid when I am in an isolated area of wilderness and I have to discipline myself to keep the fear from overwhelming me (particularly when I am camped in isolated areas). Most people who know the wilderness have some degree of fear. I do what I can to prepare well and I just learn to live with the fear; it is not a bad thing as long as it does not paralyze me.

When I begin painting I usually do a value study with a transparent colour (Transparent Orange oxide or Prussian Blue) This is often done in acrylic and serves to check the composition and establish values. Major adjustments in composition must be done early on and they are not always obvious until one starts laying out the canvas. I then move in with my oils (I use M. Graham paints for the most part and Alkyd Walnut Oil as a medium). I usually take a few photos in order to freeze the light. In other words I need to paint the light at a certain point and not start chasing the light or I will endlessly change the painting. I have a small printer with an adapter that I can use to print a photo.

I have spoken of this before. I see my paintings as a narrative - in an unspoken language. I get to tell a story but I only get to tell half of the story - the viewer, upon seeing the painting picks up the story line and continues the narrative. The story also changes as time goes by. Paintings mature with the passing of time.

I try to render my experience of a place. I believe painting on location greatly enhances that experience. Frequently I can tell if a painting is done in a studio or on location.

I am not tied to a style except to say that I am a representational painter but the degree of representation can vary significantly from one painting to another. Sometimes it is the detail that grabs your attention; at other times it is the mood of the scene.

You're welcome to come along sometime; it is all part of the great adventure called life.

Direct Correspondence to:Murray Phillips
Murray Phillips
c/o Murray Phillips Art

Langley, BC
Canada V3A 8S3
Tel: 604 532.8089
  Artists for Conservation Group
Email: murray@murrayphillipsart.com
Home Page: http://www.murrayphillipsart.com
Murray Phillips Murray Phillips

All rights reserved. All images and text © Copyright  Murray Phillips
Member of the Artists for Conservation Foundation www.natureartists.com.