Plein Air Time Machine

8 Jun 2011

Plein air watercolor painting sketch by John Hulsey
Plein air watercolor sketches of sites in Kansas and
Charleston, South Carolina. All works by John Hulsey.
It took me awhile to realize it, but I have invented a time machine.

I didn’t set out to invent a time machine exactly, but like many other great inventions, it was the by-product of exploring something else. Unfortunately, I am the only person alive who can use it, and in a way, this makes total sense to me.

The good news for everyone else is they can also have a personal time machine because the technology behind it is so simple and readily available. I refer to my time machine by its common name, and I will explain its extraordinary powers to you here so that you may also benefit from its use. Although you may think that I am joking, I am completely serious. It will be the single most amazing and useful tool that you will ever own.

My time machine measures 11” x 17” and appears to be a sketchbook with a spiral wire binding. Inside this “sketchbook” are what appear to be 20 pages of hot press watercolor paper, although your time machine could be anything.

What gives my time machine its extraordinary mnemonic power is its ability to hold not just the plein air watercolor paintings I create on each page, but the absolute essence of the experience of being there! And not just the essence of that outdoor painting experience, but the specifics: the smell of the air, the temperature, the wind and the feelings associated with that location.

Plein air watercolor painting sketch by John Hulsey of France
My time machine allows me to relive the plein air painting
I've done far and wide, including in France.
I can open any of my time machines from any decade, turn to a page, and be immediately transported back to that place at that specific time. I do not know exactly how this occurs. I only know that I can rely upon it. I used to think of these volumes of my life and travels as merely “sketchbooks,” but I now know better.

It is difficult for me to express the degree of gratitude I feel toward the teacher who first imparted this secret to me so many years ago and insisted that, no matter what, I continue to add to them over my entire life. Although I believe that she knew their real secret, she never mentioned time travel. She left that for me to discover on my own.

Painting outdoors in New Mexico, Montana, and
Kansas allowed me to capture these beautiful
scenes in my sketchbook.
I have continued to use my time machines to inspire most of the larger works created in my studio, long after the initial plein air experiences were recorded. These larger works have served to support me well over the years, and I feel an obligation at this point in my life to share this invention with others who are walking the same road. With this amazing invention we all have the ability to time travel at will.

But I can only impart this great secret to you. You have to take the first step on your own. I encourage you to start your “sketchbook” (such an inadequate description) today. Don’t delay—it could change your life.

For those of you who wish to have your own time machine, I have written a short owner's manual that will give you more detailed information on the construction and use of this amazing device, titled The Power of the Sketchbook. Good luck! And be sure to visit us at The Artist's Road for more resources.

--John and Ann

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