"Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working."

I agree. A wise quote from Pablo Picasso.


From my experience, I find inspiration in the doing not in the sitting around and waiting for it to ‘strike me’. So Sunday morning I headed into Yellowstone to ‘do the work’...


It was dark. I was tired. It was cold outside.


The question arises... “should I go or should I stay”? But I don’t pay much attention to that voice that always seems to surface. "I hear ya, but we are going anyway" is my rote response. I dress, lug my painting backpack into the car in the pitch black, and set out.


Eventually, along my drive, the sky begins to lighten just enough to show a hint of the day to come. Subtle beautiful colors slowly overtaking the darkness along the eastern horizon. I can now make out some light clouds floating about. Hmmm... there's potential. It's looking like I could get lucky!


The harder you work, the luckier you get.

Samuel Goldwyn


A play on a famous quote by Thomas Jefferson...

"I am a great believer in luck, and I find the harder I work, the more I have of it.


It's really chilly. Below freezing in the Park. That usually means I can count on a foggy, steamy morning in some of my favorite places.


Steam + Sunrise = a combination I absolutely LOVE to paint. I seek it out when I can. And it looks like I may have one of those mornings upon me. Definitely worth getting up early for - I tell my nay-sayer voice. ;-)


I set my sights on Hayden Valley, a particularly cold spot in the Park.


My timing was on! Parked the car at a pull-out and started walking to find the best angle on it all. Trying to predict what is to come while it's still relatively dark outside.


Walking around a bend, I approached an out of the way place along the Yellowstone River in Hayden Valley, I could begin to see silhouettes of many birds on the water among the mist and reflections.


Ah, the spot! I love painting among birds...


As the light expanded in the sky, their calls began. Lots of noise for these early morning hours. But an experience I soak in, as I unpack and set up FAST. The light is now coming up, seemingly faster - changing continually. The birds are getting even louder!


It's time... My 25 years of plein air painting serve me well for this 'flurry of paint mixing' to capture the ever changing sunrise colors, clouds, mist and reflections the best I can. What used to be a lesson in frustration and angst as my brain struggled to focus and make sense of it all has morphed into something quite enjoyable over the decades!


While I’m painting, ducks and geese are calling all around me – and now beginning to move about, bringing life, beauty and even MORE movement to my scene. Taming chaos I am. :-)

Birds flying over my plein air study on my easel.


Even though the birds are mostly just silhouetted, there is a color harmony through it all that I can see as I'm there in person. I put some quick notes of that color on my canvas. (The camera doesn't catch those subtle color shifts. That's why I'm out there plein air painting in the first place... to SEE it and make note of it.)


The chord has been struck – the muse has landed - inspiration stirs! Whaaaaa!!!


Such beautiful color harmonies...THIS would be a wonderful larger studio piece. The composition will need thought through and adjusted, the colors will need refined and placing the birds into the overall design will be a challenge… but the beginnings are all here in this color study. This morning has provided the inspiration I need to take this painting further...

I pack it all back up, as I watch the sun rise above the mountains. My scene changes yet again as the sun strikes the Yellowstone River full on. A hawk flies over my head, a muskrat swims in the river near me and I hear a far off elk bugling.


Time to head back home now, with my inspiration in tow, as the work continues...


“Inspiration is for amateurs.

The rest of us just show up and get to work...


If you wait around for the clouds to part and a bolt of lightening to strike you in the brain, you are not going to make an awful lot of work. All the best ideas come out of the process; they come out of the work itself.” -Chuck Close

Inspirational plein air painting in Hayden Valley in Yellowstone National Park.

6" x 6" plein air oil by Shirl Ireland