By Linda Jo Hunter
Think about green. As a word it has so many meanings; a greenhorn is a tenderfoot, a green sailor is sick, green-eyes are jealous, envy is green and a greenback is money. A green light means go and a green person could be an alien, or more likely, an environmentalist.
For the Plein Air artists, green is a challenge. Celeste Bergin says, “Green is a very complex issue.” A polite understatement, I’d say. I ask each artist, as they work, how they feel about green. Body language tells me this is like poking them in the side with a palette knife. But hey, it’s the first day of the Plein Air paint-out, so they give freely.
Mitch Baird, whom Celeste calls the “King of Green,” says, “Green is a hard color psychologically. It’s hard to sell green anywhere, mainly because people like warm colors better.” I can see, however, from his palette how he earned the nickname.
Many of the artists agree that you can’t buy a good green in a tube. Celeste Bergin explains, “green out of a tube looks like candy.” Mary Lou Epperson says, “Green needs red desperately.” However, Michael Orwick says that Northwest artists can see a different green without so much red, but more black and gray. Eric Voigt finds green a necessary color: “After all, it is the pigment of life for plants. It is important how you temper it, because it is vital but also delicate.” Dave McNeill says he likes to “bend green to many other hues.”
Donna Clark confides that she used to hate green but has learned to make it her friend by mixing non-specific green. Joe Howard is also just starting to like green after moving here from the desert. He says it’s the hardest color to use, and it has a personality all its own.
Greg Caudell’s quick comment is “I deal with it.” He adds, “Like gray, there are so many shades.” Greg has even looked up Russian artists to learn to deal with the many grays of Northwest winter. Scott Gellatly points out that next to red, green has the one of the widest spectrums of visible light. He says that we live around so much natural green that a shade of green that is too intense is “off-putting” and “indigestible.”
As I walk through the flowers, grapes and pears while visiting each artist, I can’t help being impressed with the quality of work they are doing. Is there a painting I want? The better question is, is there one I don’t want. Each artist captures something completely and profoundly different from the same location, and no two artists are mixing the same shades of green. I see deep, unique colors; stark contrast; shapes arising out of shadows and emotions in lines. Eric Jacobsen sums it all up: “God made a beautiful world, and we respond to it.”
Linda Jo Hunter is the author of Lonesome for Bears, A Woman’s Journey in the Tracks of the Wilderness (Lyons Press, 2008). She is also a tracker, naturalist, guide, and an artist who works in watercolor and acrylic. She lives in Stevenson, Washington, with her husband, Mike McHugh.