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The Laura Moore Cunningham

Fred Choate - Plein Air Painter
Boise, Idaho

Fred Choate plein air painting
Fred Choate plein air painting

Fred - The organization of Plein Air Painters of Idaho (PAPI) is just a very loose organization of painters - I'm reluctant to call it an organization, if you can imagine an organization of painters. You don't even have to be a really good painter. It's mainly for people who are interested in painting and getting experience painting outdoors so we have events throughout the year where we get together like here at Red Fish and paint together and try to pick up knowledge from painters who are further along than we are and just learn more about painting. I'm a full time painter. I make my living at it but painting outdoors I don't ever get enough of.

Fred - This is Red Fish Lake. Every year, the week before Labor Day we paint all around the Saw tooth Valley for the week and have a show at Red Fish Lodge. They host us; they take really good care of us. We paint at the Botanical Gardens the Buhl Arts Council hosts us in Magic Valley. We paint all around Magic valley and have a show there but this is really the premiere event of the year. This is the one everybody looks forward to because it's just so incredibly spectacular. It's just a wonderful place to paint.

Fred - Painting is a window to the world. We all have a world view and you noticed when we were all painting together down there. We were all painting the same scene but if you lined all those paintings up in a gallery you probably wouldn't guess that they were all the same scene. Everybody sees things differently. Painting outside - the sound of that bird right there - the nature sounds. I've got running water going by. This morning when I was painting we had a moose bugling; we had sand hill cranes making noise. It's just being part of nature.

For me it's just a way of making everything go away. I'm getting old enough that I'm starting to get arthritis and I'm starting to have a lot of pain. When I'm painting none of that even exists. When I finish painting I have to go sit down.

Choate plein air painting
Choate plein air painting

(Laughing) It's things like that. It's like right here. This morning was the experience with the elk. Right now I'm standing on a bank where there is Kokanee spawning. What a place for an office. It doesn't get any better than this

Fred - A few years ago I started really getting interested in painting water. Really getting that glassy reflective surface but the last year or so I got interested in the look of transparent water. Of how do I get the reflections on the surface, the illusion of the depth of the water, the bottom of the stream. How do I get all that illusion together in paint and no two scenes are alike? I have to approach each one totally originally. I don't know if that's bad grammar or not but there is no rules. There are no rules for painting a scene down into the water because every time I do it, I have to come up with new solutions because there is no way of drawing on past knowledge. I guess there is some drawing on past knowledge but every time I do it there is a new adventure, a new place I haven't gone with paint

Fred - I think in a lot of ways there is a resurgence of painting now because they are taking it out of the schools and there is kind of a backlash and so I think people are more receptive to the arts because they are becoming scarcer. There is so much art done now on computers, done in a printer. What I love is just the hands-on brush in hand. I'm just an old luddite curmudgeon. They'll never computerize my paint brushes. As far as the educational aspect of it goes, I teach 6 classes a week around Boise - average probably 5 or 6 students per class and I've only been teaching for just a few years and I feel like I've missed my calling in life. I should have been a teacher because I really enjoy watching my students' progress.

I always encourage my students to enter in the Western Idaho Fair which I always enter too and last year one of my students beat me for best oil painting. This year I had a painting entered under waterscape and one of my students beat me in Waterscape. And I can't think of a better ribbon to have than to have my students pass me. I want to point the way. I was very lucky to meet. - There was this guy named Tom - his last name is spelled Szewc. He's a Chicago artist and I just happened to meet him. He's a classically trained landscape painter and I'm a 4th generation native so I knew all the places to go and he knew how to paint so we had a really good trade worked out so I just basically apprenticed with him for a couple of years. I was just very luck to meet him so that I could really learn my craft.

Choate plein air painting
Choate plein air painting

Fred - One of the impressionist artists said that he wished he'd been born blind and then acquired vision in his 30s so that he could see form and color fresh and he wouldn't have had all the cultural presets that he had to constantly overcome. I can see that operating in my own life where it took me a long time that I shouldn't paint a tree. I should paint shapes that I see, but not paint the tree. The more I paint the things I see the less professional it looks. I'll block in the shape of that mountain. I'm not painting a mountain, I'm just painting that shape. Then I look at the areas where the light is hitting and then I slap warm colors on it - yet I'm not looking at the mountain, I'm looking at the shapes those warm colors make. What happens when the light hits that mountain? What I'm trying to impress on my students is like if they are painting a mountain or a house whatever that object is, is going to be way too big because our mind is going to enlarge it. Our inner sensor is going to enlarge it before I put it on the canvas so I constantly have to get my students to reduce the important things in the composition and see the proportion of things instead of the things themselves.

Fred - A lot of students will get really confused by - they'll mix a color on the palette then you put it on the painting and it's not the right color. It's not the color you thought it was because when you are on your palette, you are mixing it on a white background or a gray background and then you get it on the canvas and it's next to a green color so you constantly have to readjust your color.

The most important thing with painting is getting the value relationships right. The second most important thing is getting the temperatures - getting the warm and cools so you know where light is hitting. The third most important thing is probably color and the 4th thing is the image. The image and color are less important than getting the value and temperature right.

Fred - I occasionally paint murals for money. I heard Spielberg say this about movie making that he made money so he could make movies. He didn't make movies to make money. Sometimes I'll paint a mural or I'll do something for money so that I can paint.