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A day with the Artists -Grand Canyon Plein Air Festival

I know the festival has begun because my Instagram, which has been quiet all weekend, explodes into the familiar beautiful reds and blues of the canyon at the end of their first day. I'm so bummed I wasn't able to get over there, and I can't wait until Wednesday when my schedule will let me spend the day. I really wanted to just head over, bring a tent, and stay all week, but I have to be strategic with my time, and Wednesday is it.

I go there early, despite the extra 30 minutes from the gate to the "Desert View" watchtower. Last time I headed east after going through the gates I must have been 9 or 10 years old. I had no idea that winding road was so beautiful. The trees get shorter and and shorter as you go, this makes the canyon more and more visible. The juniper are like those old faces that have so much character, with dark wrinkles and exposed trunk reflecting light from a hundred different color sources. I had to be careful not to let it distract from the blacktop in front of me. How far is this going to take me, did I pass it? The GPS that just came back online says I've still got 20 minutes to go. Where is everyone, the lookouts are empty, oh it's Wednesday, hmm. Wait, is that an artist painting in the forest just off the road? Ok, good, I must be going in the right direction. This is like when your a kid and you can finally see the lake up ahead from the car. My head is spinning with excitement.

The sign says "Desert View", so I take a left and, I'm still early. These artists wont be here for another hour. I get out of the truck and head over to the tower. I hear one language after another coming from the strolling, ice cream eating, crowd. Not a thick weekend crowd, but still just as diverse. It's refreshing, invigorating, and I'm already inspired.

I head over to the rails and snap a few quick shots, the smoke coming from last weeks fire on the north side is prominent. I wonder if the artists who've been here all week, are including the smoke in the atmosphere of their paintings. My questions are mounting, my eyes are darting from the canyon walls, to the yellow rabbit-brush, and back to the rocks of the watchtower. What will they be painting?

There is an artist tucked between some rocks and a bush, he's definitely painting. He's early, he was here before I got here. I try to get a closer look. I catch a gimps, he's almost done. He's got two people watching and there's no room for me, he doesn't want an audience. This can't be what I'm here for, oh no. Maybe the "demo" day is just this one guy, he's not on schedule. Oh no. Not only is his panel out of view, it's almost done. I notice he has on a vest that says he's an artist. Do I recognize this guy, is he one of the top artists in the world? I can't see his badge, and I do not recognize him. I'm sure I am looking at a master finishing his panel, this is beautiful effortless work. Crap, did I miss everything?

I head over to the ice-cream shop, maybe they have a soda with some caffeine. Nope, I'll just wait around here until... Is that an artist? I see a backpack bulging at the seams and she's got an oil can dangling. OK, maybe there's hope.

I watch as she pulls out a tripod right in front of me, and is clearly looking for a vantage point. She's one of the artists I've come here to see. Yes!

Looking closer in the crowd, I see another. I recognize her. That's Suzie Baker, oh my, what a wonderful day this is going to be.

I overhear that another artist is coming, and he'll be here soon. I've practically memorized the 24 artists that are coming here for this 10th Annual paint-extravaganza. I start to wonder, which of the guys will I get a chance to meet today.

I'm still just another visitor in the crowd, to the artists here I'm just another tourist that "happened" upon this merry band of pigment pushers. Until I see Bill Cramer, and what a treat today is going to be. I can't believe I'm lucky enough to be here on a demo day when both Suzie Baker and Bill Cramer will be painting. Not to mention Hai-Ou Hou.

The camaraderie becomes apparent right away, the jokes are slinging and the panels are coming out. Each artist has spent the entire week in and around the canyon, they are looking for shade and something new to paint. The wind by the canyon edge is brutal, each share a story of the wind giving them grief one way or another. It pulls panels off easels, throws brushes into the canyon, sends paper towels down the trail. They are looking for a calm scene to paint over a few hours, nothing ambitious.

For Bill it's all about the rabbit brush, the yellow contrast with the sky and amazing brush work. For Suzie, it's all about the light hitting the tower. I'm watching them all square up the scene, and relax into what they love to do.

When I was a kid I would go to the corner store and watch the high school kids put one quarter in after another playing a stand-up video game in the back of the store. I didn't have quarters, so I watched. I didn't know these older kids at all, I was too young to care what they thought, I would just watch them play and ask a million questions. They were definitely annoyed. I'm afraid that 9 year old kid in me came out when I was watching these artists, and it didn't take long for them to ask, "are you a painter". Am I? That's a very good question. I wanted to ask them the same thing. I think, hmm, Is a runner a runner just because they run, and I answer "yes, yes I am" (in my head -a god damn painter).

I am now.

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