Unsurprisingly, Humboldt has its fair share of plein-air painters—people who regularly transport paints and canvases to beautiful outdoor locations, braving the elements to prop up an easel and capture any fleeting scene before them. For nearly three years, Cyndy Phillips, a local artist and director of SequoiaSong Publications, has worked to document a slice of all this outdoor art in a thick anthology of 36 Humboldt artists. Phillip’s book, “Looking for Beauty: Humboldt’s Plein Air Community Shows why Art Matters”, will be the first of its kind – no other anthology of plein air paintings centered on Humboldt has been published in a book – and looks back on the huge but rewarding undertaking, she hopes others will follow and produce more books chronicling the many types of artists who live and work in Humboldt County.
“I do this because I love art and I love our community. And I feel like it needs to be done,” Phillips told the Outpost.
Phillips – who is not an outdoor artist herself but has ties to the local outdoor community – let her idea sit for a few years until she learned how much Arsenal of Humboldt artists’ anthologies is lacking.
“Why don’t we have a collection like this? We have so many painters and artisans in our community, why don’t we have more books featuring them, so that they become part of the global canon and we have that legacy here for Humboldt? said Phillips. “It really motivated me.”
With the support of community helpers, she started the project months before the pandemic hit. The artists featured in the book were referred to Phillips by Paul Rickard, a local artist who hosts a weekly plein-air painting group. The 36 artists – including beginners and professionals from many walks of life – submitted paintings to accompany their short essays inspired by the question: “Is art important at this crossroads of our time?”
And then COVID threw a huge wrench into the project.
“Funding dried up, aid dried up and it became just me,” Phillips said. Sometimes she was sure that the book would remain unfinished.
“[The essays] became a source of founding strength for me and the book. During COVID, all support for the book collapsed and it was basically me working alone in a dark room on a computer day in and day out. I just felt unhappy about the project. I wanted to leave,” Phillips said.
“I needed to hear people tell me why it’s important, why art is important. And as the main editor of this book, I had to read [the essays] over and over and over and correcting them and copying them, and so they kind of became ingrained in my head. And their words replayed each time I thought: “I can’t take it anymore”,… I heard their words and I continued. So I thought, if that’s what this does for me, who knows who might read this book and be inspired by it and not give up on their dreams and goals.
Now, Phillips is steadily working towards the book’s release in April. But the impression still hinges on completing a Kickstarter campaign that is only a few hundred dollars away from its $12,000 goal, which will end on January 25. (Kickstarter is an all-or-nothing platform; creators only receive the money if their fundraising goal is met.)
The Kickstarter page is where those interested in owning an extra-pink, limited-edition version of “Looking for Beauty: Humboldt’s Plein Air Community Shows why Art Matters” can purchase it, along with tote bags and bookmarks decorated with artwork from the book. The book is itself a fundraiser; half of the proceeds will go to the annual Humboldt Painting, which is sponsored by the Redwood Art Association.
Additionally, Phillips expects hardcover versions of the book to be available for purchase at local bookstores and online distributors. And whether or not the Kickstarter goal is met, a digital version of the book will be available for free to everyone via Humboldt State’s Digital Commons.
Although the book is often the work of one person, Phillips was supported by Humboldt’s outdoor community, HSU Press, and at least a dozen professionals, she said, including photographer Kristy Hellum and videographers Dean Hubbard, Beau Saunders and Nandi Johannes.
Some artists featured in the book are nearing the end of their painting careers, Phillips said, and one artist, Rick Tolley, died in October.
“This book is just a really honorable way to secure their legacy in the world, in the artists global canon.”