5 Reasons Why A Workshop Artist Is Like A Scuba Instructor


In the shower this morning I was noodling on a comment that Simon Kramer left on last week’s post. In addition to some kind words, he wrote, “… I’m interested in the big wall easel Scott is using. It looks home made, any chance of some photos?”

And that’s when it hit me that the plein air artists who attend Scott’s workshops are very much like my fellow scuba instructors* I have met over the years. Not all painters or people who like to be in the water qualify for the comparison, by the way.

Some artists never leave the studio, and some paddlers have never dipped a toe in a body of water bigger than the indoor pool in their high-rise, so merely liking to paint or swim creates no commonality that I’ve noticed. But for workshop-attending plein air painters, and scuba divers who keep taking courses until one day they wake up and discover they’ve become an instructor, there are several common threads.

1. Both groups crave being outdoors, soaking in the non-recycled air, the sound of moving water and bird calls, the ever-changing light, and the humbling and enlightening experience of hanging out with any finned or feathered critters who wander by. There is something zen-like about the flow of each activity that simultaneously slows down life and opens up the soul.

They’re both ways of getting more life out of life.

I think that collectively, we all may have been a wee bit light deprived as infants. And I’ll bet if you did a survey, you’d find that, to a person, we all struggled mightily with sitting in an elementary school classroom with the windows closed on a warm May afternoon.

I’m also guessing that bona fide cowboys, like model Tom Grigg here, feel the same way.

2. Both groups love refining their skills, opening their minds, and crafting new neural pathways between their intellectual curiosity and their physical abilities to execute on their imagination. We get our ya-yas from hanging out with people who have traveled farther down the path than we have.

Not all divers or artists feel this way, of course, and sometimes there’s an almost overwhelming intensity that comes with internalizing what’s possible in contrast to what we’re currently capable of. It’s like eating seriously spicy Thai food: there is a subset of society who thrives on a challenging experience that others just don’t get.

“Blessed are the learners, for they shall inherit the earth, while the learned will find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists.”
Eric Hoffer

3. Both groups love the gear and the gadgets of the activity. Truly, I have never met a fellow scuba instructor who didn’t enjoy exploring the never-ending plethora of new gizmos, materials, and converging technologies of the sport. (And beer… they all seem to like a cold beer, too.)

And while plein air painting isn’t technically a sport, Simon’s question (thanks, Simon!) is a tip-off to this shared passion. The interest in expanding one’s understanding and inventory of, and efficiency with, useful tools is part of the evolution towards mastery in each domain.

BTW, I’m not sure about the big wall easel. I do know that it’s an incredible multi-directional hydraulic machine that works by a flip of a switch on the wall. I believe Scott (or maybe it was Rick) said once that it’s a “Nimbus 2000” or something. Scott, will you please leave a comment to fill in my blank here? I’m evidently going to hurt myself if I speculate any further.

4. Both groups enjoy the communal aspect of the experience. We relish hanging out with that slice of the population that shares commonly-held passions, frustrations, and victories. We like being with people who get it.

5. Finally, and maybe most importantly, those who resonate with one through four above generally understand that no day, no painting, no dive, no landscape or sky, and no group experience is ever the same as the one five minutes earlier.

Everything changes all the time.

You’ll never dive the same location the same way twice. The dive master will have discovered something new to show you since the last time you were there, even if it was just that morning. New critters show up, depending on the time of year and day, when the last storm went through, and where that location is in its algae bloom. Night diving with a new mondo flashlight creates a different experience than diving that same location with a crappy rental flashlight. There is always a different cast of characters on deck that creates a unique vibe for each trip out to the reef. And you have more dive experience than you did last time you held on to your weight belt and mask and giant-strided your way off the end of a boat.

Similarly, no two workshops will ever be the same. New attendees create new community experiences. Teton Valley weather and light reveals something new everyday. You aren’t the person you were yesterday, so you’ll be processing input with a different set of ears, and Scott most definitely isn’t the same painter he was last year.

That’s why we can’t wait to see what, and who, bubbles up this summer.

* Note: PADI Open Water Instructor #207422 hasn’t officially certified any divers since sometime circa 2002, I think, and has let her insurance lapse, so she will not be taking on any scuba students until further notice. Or until the gravel pit at the end of the road fills up with water and something interesting to look at magically appears at the bottom, but probably not even then. Sorry.

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