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Challenging Myself

Over the course of the past year or so I've been very impressed with the work/practice of James Gurney (most popularly known for his creation of the Dinotopia series). If you have a moment to check our his very helpful YouTube channel ( and blog ( I highly recommend them.

One of the things I enjoy so much about him is how he integrates his studio practice and his instructional practice. Since these two realms are quite distinct in my life, I appreciate how he seems to be constantly learning, but also ever eager to pass on his knowledge and experience. In addition, I am amazed when I watch what he is able to do in such a short period of time and then attempt to recreate something similar. I believe the practice of plein air painting will help me improve as a painter--growing in observation and directness as I paint--but it is incredibly humbling to learn that I am not as good as I thought I was.

So when I saw a picturesque neon sign in Old Town Roanoke, TX, I immediately thought of Gurney's neon signs and thought I should attempt my own. It is not excellent by any means, but it IS an improvement over some of my failed attempts from earlier this summer. I had to work quickly (especially for me!) as the shadow I was seating within kept shrinking and shrinking, and the temperature kept rising and rising. After an hour of preliminary drawing and two hours of painting, my shadow closed in on me and time was up.

The challenge of such a setting are many: the gouache paint drying rapidly in the heat; the sweat running into my eyes; the changing light effects; the chaos of traffic passing behind me. But for all the difficulties, I found some bright spots today.

One aspect I particularly enjoyed was the interaction I had with people passing through Roanoke. One gentleman yelled encouragement from his window as he drove by; another woman pulled into the parking lot next to me to tell me how impressed she was, and finally a friendly gentleman walked down from his wife's shop to see what I was working on and inquire about the work.

Though it's frustrating and I'm still learning, I enjoy plein air painting and I hope to continue to improve.

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