Artist of the Month: Mary Baum

Mary Baum works on location in Catalina State Park. (Photo by LaVerne Kyriss)

Mary Baum prepares to add detail to a work in progress in her at-home studio. (Photo by LaVerne Kyriss)

LaVerne Kyriss

Mary Baum always liked art. Like many other women of her generation, she saw this as a pleasant pastime. As a young woman, she expected to work for a while, get married, and have a family. When that track wasn’t moving as fast as she wanted, she decided college would be a good next step. So, she studied art in college and prepared for a career as a K-12 art teacher.

“I loved teaching and was so amazed at the creativity of my students. Every one of them did something fabulous. I believe we have an innate ability to be creative. Everyone has the desire to create something. But as we grow up, we get self-critical. We get discouraged and we judge ourselves too harshly,” she reflected.

And while Baum put aside her own creative desires for a while, after suffering an illness later in life, she once again reached out to painting as part of a wellness program. “We were living in the California wine country. Sonoma State had a great program for adults. My group was full of people who had art degrees but took other career paths along the way. We wanted to paint, but everybody was scared. During this time, I fell in love with plein air, or painting outdoors on location,” she said.

“We’d gather as a small group, pick a location, and go paint. We had so many wonderful landscapes to choose,” Baum remembered. “Being outdoors is very spiritual to me. I love exploring how the colors and the light change. There’s nothing that can substitute for seeing your subject in person.”

Baum noted that, these days, she still loves plein air, but in Arizona she’s finding several challenges that require work and planning to be successful. “First of all, I’m not an early morning person,” she confided. “I like to be set up by 9 or 10 a.m., and then I only paint for two hours or so. The light and shadows change so rapidly. You can only capture it for a short time. I take photos to supplement what I’m seeing. I try to paint on location for a couple of hours for two days and then take my work back to my studio to finish it there. The photos help me with the details that I can’t complete during the on-location time.”

“Second, these days, I want to work in a spot that has shade for me, isn’t too far from the car because I have to lug my equipment, and has restrooms available nearby, and then there’s the wind,” she frowned. So far, Baum has found suitable locations at nearby Catalina State Park and Tohono Chul. “I’ve been to Oracle State Park but haven’t yet scouted out painting sites,” she added.

Baum explained that she’s also looking for other artists who are interested in plein air painting to join her. “I’m hoping we can form a small group who regularly paint on-site. But we’ll likely have to wait for cooler weather to try that,” she smiled.

Baum encourages anyone who’s interested in exploring art to dig in and give it a try. “Start by drawing an object in front of you. I used to have my students take one of their shoes and draw it. You can learn a lot from this simple exercise,” she said. “Take some classes. Composition can be a challenge. Over time, you will add to your knowledge and, little by little, you will get better as you learn the intricacies. Don’t expect to produce museum-quality work on your first try. The most important thing with art, or any endeavor, is to show up. Pick up your pencil or paintbrush and just start,” she smiled.