Value, composition, color, point of view: I wish I had a recipe for making a painting- it would go a lot faster. For this one, I started with a long drive on the western prairie and an comparably open, empty mind. No prior concept, no preconceived notion, nothing in the bag except the one condition that there must be a prairie chicken in there somewhere. A lesser prairie chicken, no less.
I was there on the bluffs at dawn; the sunrise lit the tops of bluestem clumps and reflected white off the gypsum-capped mesas. Down below the river twisted slowly across the plain, still in darkness. It was a clear clean morning but it was easy to picture a spring storm roaring up over the bluffs with a thundering bass rumble under the bird’s cackles and booms. Down on my knees in the grass, getting eye level with an imaginary prairie chicken, I drew little sketches in pencil.
It’s funny how being on my knees on the real honest western American range could wake something up that had been asleep for awhile. The prairie is a lonely place; not for the faint-hearted, not where I’d want to go live; my solitary nature would dig into the sod and go all hermit on me-but there’s something out there I’ve known all my life and I can’t give it a name. Whatever it is, once I got home I dusted off my guitar and banjo. The songs that first came to mind were the old ones from long-ago cowboy singers and string bands of the Great Depression: Patsy Montana, Woody Guthrie and the Carter Family. Yodeling was required. There were herds of cattle lowing and campfires and coyotes, painted ponies and lonesome prairie flowers. These may be good songs for our times once again. The prairie may be lonesome, but it’s a rich place for the quiet, uncluttered mind.