What is the first thing an artist needs?
I’d say passion.
And that is something I have in abundance. And it’s a good thing. It means I’m doing the right thing.
Passion though makes you do foolish things as you will read in this story.
So it all began with driving along a winding road looking for a painting subject.
Don’t ever let an artist drive. My eyes were wandering, looking for inspiration, and the car was also wandering too.
Then, suddenly, to my surprise and delight, a beautiful twin peaked mountain appeared which I instantly recognized as Mt. Yufudake. This mountain is easy to recognize as it has two peaks. Although I had been here recently, I was still very unfamiliar with this area.
I parked the car, strolled about a hundred meters up the mountain and enjoyed the beautiful view.
It was about five and the sun was beginning a slow descent into a quiet evening moment. Soft and spectacular shadows began to slowly appear across the contours of the mountain and moment by moment they lengthened more and more dramatically.
In front of me, one small round hill had a dramatic arc of light across the top and was so beautiful I just had to paint it. The painting was a flop. But I also did some hasty sketches to try and capture this beautiful fleeting scene. I would later use these as a reference for paintings.
Below is one of the paintings that I later did at home from these hasty sketches.
The next day, I was going to stay at home when my wife said, like the voice of fate, why don’t you go out. It was already ten but I thought okay and returned to this mountain even though I had work at five.
I started climbing the mountain at about eleven thirty. I don’t really know what was going on in my mind, do we ever, there was just a passion to see those two jagged rocky peaks up close.
At first it was a gentle slope but soon it became steeper and because of my limited time a leisurely pace was not an option and so it was even harder than it had to be.
About an hour or so into the climb (I lost track of time) I felt like quitting. I carried on but started taking little ladybug steps. Although this felt easier on my body it was very difficult to maintain that pace. This is probably because I wanted to walk with my normal stride.
I stopped two more times and really felt like quitting, especially when a passerby told me it was another thirty minutes to the summit.
My climb had become a slow, stumbling affair with many stops. And I was amazingly thirsty, my throat was parched. The barley tea that I normally force myself to drink was now like nectar from the gods and it was difficult not to drink it all in one go.
Eventually, I reached the gap between the jagged rocky peaks. There was another 70 meters to the very top of each one. However, I didn’t think I had enough time to climb any further. I also needed some time for painting.
I did a quick 30 minute painting which was good as the subject was so overwhelmingly complicated and the short time enforced simplification. It was a beautiful scene and made all the effort feel worthwhile.
Lunch, ‘made’ by me, preparation time 30 seconds, was a whole tomato and a chunk of tough, ageing Italian bread. It tasted fantastic. You often hear hunger is the best sauce, climbing a mountain is another good one.
Then I had one hour to descend which I did like a person on the run, bringing quite a few rocks down with me, and using my easel like a walking stick.
I’d been foolish and I’d gone up the mountain with all my art equipment. I wish I hadn’t carried two liters of water for painting. Most of it got tipped out onto the top of the mountain.
I had fixed my watercolor pad to the back of my bag where it swung viciously from side to side. However, this allowed me to use both my hands for swinging from trees or holding on to them as I perfected the baboon’s method for descending mountains, namely: quick, painful and possibly perilous.
Next time, I might follow Peter Woolley, an experienced mountain trekker and watercolor artist, who takes just a pencil and a small sketch-pad. This is a much more intelligent strategy. But I know I probably won’t because of a passion for painting on the mountain.
I jarred my ankles countless times, slipped seriously one time on a mould covered rock and almost bent my leg the other way when I slipped on loose stones. But I descended the mountain in about 50 minutes.
My passion to paint those peaks up close had made me foolish in attempting to climb a mountain in such a short time.
The next day, I was walking like Robocop. The day after that was worse. At the art shop, on the stairs, I was so slow I had to stop and let an old man pass me. The day after that I couldn’t step off the weighing scales.
Today, I’m a little better. In fact, my passionate spirit is saying let’s go up that mountain again, but my body is pleading: give us a break. Not yet, maybe 2015.
And here is the painting I did of one of the jagged mountain peaks.
I like this painting. It has a nice feeling. But I have standards and this work doesn’t quite reach them. Even after thirteen years of painting I still produce many works like this that don’t reach the mark.
That’s all for now, Gareth.
I originally wrote this story in September of 2014. I edited it in 2022. I vividly remember this day!