Begin the Journey

Sketchbooks Are Essential, Curious Bear

Published on November 25, 2009 under Art of Painting Posts

“Curious Bear” by Stefan Baumann

After successfully painting all day on the bank of the Snake River, we returned to camp.  Squirrels chatter in the trees as they jump from branch to branch, from tree to tree, as if today is the last day to gather pinion and cedar nuts to hoard inside old hollow trees for quick snacks during the cold winter months.  In the woods not far from us, we can hear the unmistakable bugling sounds of Wapiti (elk) as they establish their territory and breeding herd.  Bears, too, eat continuously to store fat for their long winter’s nap. 

At our camp near Coulter Bay, on the boundary of the Teton National Park, lives a bear whose name is Number 399.  The National Park Service gives bears numbers to identify each bear, keep track of their activity, and to monitor if any bears are interacting with park tourists in an unpleasant manner.  Every bear has its own personality and interacts differently with members of the human race.  Number 399 is a popular bear at the campground.  Rangers and park visitors like him because of his natural curiosity about people, and as a result, many park tourists enjoy seeing this beautiful four year old, honey-colored grizzly.  He likes the attention and poses for pictures, and he has never been cited for unruly bear behavior, although his natural curiosity makes a few campers a little uncomfortable as he wanders from campsite to campsite.

I captured my first glimpse of Number 399 as I enjoyed a cup of tea just outside of our Silver Streak trailer.  I grabbed my sketchbook to make a quick sketch on paper knowing that I could later transfer it to canvas.  The bear stood for a few moments among several fallen tree trunks before lofting away to another campsite.  While he stood there, a burst of wind made his fur ripple like waves on water, back blowing his thick winter coat.  The following day, I learned that a hunter, who had just killed an elk, shot Number 399 three times and killed him.  The hunter apparently was worried that he might have to share his kill with the bear.  This was a poignant reminder of the value of sketching in the moment as the opportunity presents itself.

Artists have not always carried their paints and canvas with them on their travels.  The practice of painting on location en plein air is a relatively new concept in the history of painting.  Many artists prefer the traditional method of sketching their experiences in a sketchbook.  Artists can draw models or objects of interest, jot down notes and observations about a subject’s shapes, colors and unique features, or work on ideas for upcoming paintings in their sketchbooks.  In this painting, “Curious Bear,” I worked from a sketch that I drew of the bear that visited our campsite.  Having only seconds to jot down ideas, I worked on an idea for a painting from my sketchbook and notes the following day after I learned that this bear had been shot and killed.  This is an example of why it is essential that an artist always have a sketchbook and a pencil or pen ready to sketch and write notes and observations.

I recommend using a book that has about 50 sheets of plain paper with a spiral spine, and urge artists to carry it with them everywhere.  Make a point to draw at least three drawings a day in it.  It is not necessary to invest in expensive journals with upgraded paper and leather binding displaying the artist’s name in gold leaf.  Although these can be impressive, the fancy journals are intimidating and rarely, if ever, used.  Don’t think of your sketchbook as a holy relic.  It is just a book with pieces of paper.  The real value is not the book itself; it is using its pages to practice your sketching and to journal what you are thinking and feeling daily about the world around you, with the possibility of capturing a precious moment that later can become your next great painting.


Plein air and Alla Prima artist Stefan Baumann, host of  the PBS painting series “The Grand View, America’s National Park through the eyes of an artist” and author of “Observations Of Art and Nature,” travels in his vintage travel trailer painting America’s western landscape. Baumann paints outdoors with oils and canvas capturing stunning vistas, wildlife, western landscapes, National Parks and still life, thrilling art collectors throughout the world.  He has many collectors acquiring his paintings as investment internationally. His painting style is called Romantic Realism with Lumunism and the extraordinary way he captures the effect of light is a truly an American Style used to paint the Western Landscape.  He can be seen painting in Yellowstone, Yosemite and in the Grand Canyon and Baumann’s “how to paint” DVDs filmed on location in the National Parks  are the very best on the market.

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