Okay, this is a wee bit different from what I expected to be publishing. Aaron Schuerr, our guest this month, is renowned for his plein air work. In fact, he just won the Best Pastel award at the recent Plein Air Convention in Santa Fe! And what he’s really known for is extreme plein air meaning he paints in all seasons – rain, snow, or shine – and he also goes deep into the landscape to paint.
I admit it, I’m a fairweather, take-the-easy-route kinda gal so I’m intrigued by the determination, commitment and fortitude it takes to do what Aaron does. So I asked him if he’d like to write a guest post around that topic. He said sure (in spite of being swamped with building and painting projects!). Yay!
And then this arrived. He prefaced it by saying: “It’s a little short and slightly off topic, but it’s what’s been on my mind.” Hmmmm I thought…. And then I read what he’d sent and I was yes, yes, YES!!
I’m delighted to present this gift to you from Aaron Schuerr!
Don’t know Aaron’s work? Here’s a teaser:
And before we get going, here’s a wee bit about Aaron.
Aaron Schuerr Bio
From remote villages in Morocco to the high mountains of Montana, Aaron Schuerr has ranged far and wide to satisfy his artistic wanderlust. He has embarked on solo painting treks across the Grand Canyon and deep into the wilderness of his home state of Montana. In 2020 he was a guest on The Kelly Clarkson Show, interviewed about his plein air paintings. His work has been featured in publications as diverse as The Times of London, Bored Panda, My Modern Met, Southwest Art, and Plein Air Magazine. Schuerr is a frequent contributing writer to The Pastel Journal and The Artist Magazine and has penned a cover article for Plein Air Magazine. He just returned from the 2022 Plein Air Convention where he won “Best Pastel” for this year’s Plein Air Salon. (See his winning painting at the end!) You can see more of his work here.
And now here’s Aaron to share his thoughts on art and struggle.
Art is steeped in failure. It never comes out the way I imagined it. In my worst moments, I feel like every painting should come with a disclaimer: This is the best I could do. I’m sorry it’s not any better.
Sometimes painting feels like telling a girl you love her with a mouthful of marbles. I shoot for poetry, and it comes out prose. I stumble somewhere between execution and aspiration. My hand gets in the way. It just won’t listen to my brain.
After every painting, I dust myself off and try again. This time it’ll be different, I think. And, you know what? It is different.
Today is a new day.
Like a child, I am growing. I just cannot see it or feel it. Remember when that aunt or uncle you hadn’t seen in a long time came to visit, and exclaimed how much you’ve grown? That’s us. If we’re persistent we will grow, sometimes in spurts, other times by degrees.
It’s easy to assume that the artists we look up to are all grace while we are all struggle. In my worst moments, I am jealous of greater talents. Grace isn’t in a deft hand; it is in the recognition that you are exactly who you should be. We can be jealous, or we can be inspired.
While visiting The Metropolitan Museum of Art a few years ago, I walked into a room of Degas pastels. I could barely breathe. I started crying right there in the museum. A grown man, crying and thinking, “Degas was half-blind when he painted these.”
Imagine his frustration. He never got to see his best work, not clearly.
So, I’m feeling embarrassed by this show of emotion, and I’m thanking him for not giving up, even when his best tool, his eyesight, was failing him. He had moved from struggle to a place of grace because he continued to struggle. He painted what he saw and, with failing eyesight, he saw the essence of the figure.
Degas didn’t soften any edges, didn’t blend the pastel. Look at the late paintings and you see layer upon layer. You can almost work backwards, from finish to start, layer by layer. You can feel the pastel scrape against the paper, see color vibrate against color.
What a gift.
Here’s the point – I will never paint with the deft hand of Degas. It’s just not in the cards for me.
But, because I paint, I can understand the pastels of Degas in a way that no layman can. He persisted, and I too can persist.
Wherever you are in your journey, you are a step ahead of where you were.
Because you paint, you see the world in a way that few others do. You see art with an understanding that few others have.
What a gift.
It’s important to occasionally step back from “How to Pastel” and remember why we pastel. It’s not only to communicate but also to understand.
All we can do is step up to the easel and tell the truth as best as we can. Painting is a way of saying “I love you.” It can feel awkward. It can feel exposed. You might not be where you want to be. You might feel inadequate. But maybe, just maybe, the recipient will look back and say, “I love you too.”
Honestly, when I read Aaron’s words, I was and am moved to tears. Why? Because they go so deeply to the heart of who we are as artists. Aaron writes so openly about our struggles to do the best we can in spite of feeling inadequate and awkward and less-than. A gift indeed!
We’d love to hear your reaction to Aaron’s post so please do leave a comment!
And that’s it for now.
Until next time,
PS. If you want to read something about Aaron’s extreme plein air experience, click here.
PPS. If you’d like Aaron to write a post about working en plein air, please leave that in the blog comments too!!