Therese Morgan

Plein Air Painting on the John Muir Trail, with Therese Morgan


Have you ever wanted to grab your materials and head for the mountains for a plein air painting session? While that specific scenario may not resonate with every artist, I know the desire to change things up and get out of a creative slump will. My guest, Therese Morgan along with her friend and fellow artist, Mark David took off for the adventure of a lifetime backpacking the John Muir Trail.

In our conversation, we discuss what led Therese to embark on this crazy expedition, challenges she faced along the way, how the trip impacted her artwork, what she learned from her journey, and much more. Caution, this episode may cause you to pack your bags and head for the hills (in a good way!)

Hitting a wall.

If you’ve been an artist for very long, chances are you’ve hit a wall, creatively. If you haven’t yet, consider yourself extremely lucky! What should you do when you hit a wall, find yourself in a slump, experience a creative block, or whatever you want to call it? Many artists have a unique take on how to get past a creative block. Some will say, to keep your head down and stick to your schedule while others will encourage you to take a break and pick up a book. Then there are crazy people like Therese Morgan who pack up their studio and go for a hike, and not just any hike, a twenty-seven-day hike along the John Muir Trail in California!

Plein air painting, where?

Have you experimented with plein air painting? Where have you explored and enjoyed the outdoors with your artwork? Have you ever done something as crazy as a twenty-seven-day hike with your shelter, clothing, food, water, and painting supplies strapped to your back?

To some, plein air painting while on a multi-week hike might sound crazy, and to others (like me) it sounds like fun! Therese Morgan and her friend Mark David came to this idea one night over dinner. Their idea seemed great on paper, but they both wondered, could they pull it off? You might be under the assumption that Therese and Mark are avid and experienced backpackers; they were not. You also might assume that they had just received a generous grant or they had some other means of financial security; they did not.

Lacking experience and the requisite finances, Therese and Mark forged ahead, convinced that their dream would be worth all foreseen and unforeseen challenges they’d face along the way. After some careful planning, the pair decided to embark on an almost month-long journey on the John Muir Trail. The John Muir Trail is a long-distance trail in the Sierra Nevada mountain range of California, passing through Yosemite, Kings Canyon, and Sequoia National Parks. The trail’s length is 211 miles long with an elevation gain of approximately 47,000 feet. For almost all of its length, the trail is in the High Sierra backcountry and wilderness areas, not exactly a “relaxing” experience.

Lessons learned and brush miles logged.

As you can imagine, Therese and Mark’s journey was challenging, to say the least. Hiker after hiker in the backcountry would pass them by, surprised that they’d take on such an adventure with their art supplies. Looking back, Therese is proud of the amazing feat that she accomplished by finishing her journey but also of the artwork she had created along the way. Combining their efforts, Therese and Mark have created the “Brushmiles” project. Brushmiles was a term their mutual teacher, Craig Nelson would say to them, in reference to putting in the effort to paint often, to put in the miles as a painter. You can get a glimpse of their journey by checking out the link to their page located in the resources section below.

Outline of This Episode

  • [0:55] I introduce my guest, Therese Morgan.
  • [2:40] How did Therese get involved with painting?
  • [5:30] Therese talks about her post-college creative slump.
  • [11:50] The challenge of finding the right artistic community.
  • [17:00] What led Therese and her friend to hike the John Muir Trail?
  • [29:20] Therese talks about hitting the John Muir Trail.
  • [36:00] What did Therese learn from her trip?
  • [41:00] Things that went wrong on Therese’s trip.
  • [43:15] How many paintings did Therese complete on the trail? What was her schedule?
  • [46:30] Therese talks about the benefits and challenges of hiking with her peer.
  • [48:30] How has the John Muir Trail experience influenced Therese’s artwork?

Resources Mentioned on this episode

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