“In Search of Beauty”: Local artist creates book honoring Humboldt’s plein air painters | Lost coastal outpost

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Unsurprisingly, Humboldt has his fair share of plein air painters — folks who routinely lug paint and canvas to beautiful outdoor locations, braving the elements to steady an easel and capture every fleeting scene that lies before them. For nearly three years, Cyndy Phillips, a local artist and director of SequoiaSong Releases, has been working on documenting some of this open-air art in a thick anthology of 36 Humboldt artists. Phillips’ book “Looking for Beauty: Humboldt’s Plein Air Community Shows why Art Matters” will be the first of its kind – no other Humboldt-centric anthology of plein air paintings has been published in a book – and looks back on the massive but she hopes that others will follow their example and produce more books chronicling the many types of artists who live and work in Humboldt County.

“I’m doing this because I love art and I love our community. And it feels like it needs to be done,” Phillips told Outpost.

Phillips — not an outdoor artist herself but with ties to the local outdoor scene — let her idea rest for a few years until she learned how deficient Humboldt’s arsenal of artist anthologies is.

“Why don’t we have a collection like this out there? We have so many painters and so many artisans in our community, why don’t we have more books with them to become part of the global canon and we have that legacy here for Humboldt?” said Phillips. “That really motivated me.”

With the support of community volunteers, she started the project a few months before the pandemic. The artists featured in the book were created by Paul Rickard, a local artist who amongst others weekly outdoor painting group. The 36 artists – including beginners and professionals from many walks of life – submitted paintings to accompany their short essays, which were inspired by the question, “Does art matter at this crossroads of our time?”

And then COVID threw a giant wrench into the project.​

A page from “Looking for Beauty: Humboldt’s Plein Air Community Shows Why Art Matters”

“Funding dried up, help dried up, and it was just me,” Phillips said. Sometimes she was sure that the book would remain unfinished.

“[The essays] became a fundamental source of strength for me and the book. During COVID all support for the book collapsed and it was basically just me working alone on a computer in a dark room day in and day out. I just felt unhappy about the project. I wanted to go away,” Phillips said.

“I needed to hear people tell me why this is important, why art is important. And as the editor-in-chief of this book, I had to read [the essays] over and over and over and over and over and proofreading and editing them, and so they kind of got ingrained in my head. And her words just kept repeating themselves every time I thought, “I can’t take this anymore”… I heard her words and moved on. So I thought if that’s what this does for me, who knows who will read this book and get inspired by it and not give up on their dreams and goals.”

Now Phillips is working steadily to get the book out in April. However, printing still depends on the completion of a Kickstarter campaign that’s now just a few hundred dollars from its target of $12,000, which closes on Jan. 25. (Kickstarter is an all-or-nothing platform; creators only get the money if their fundraising goal is met.)

the Kickstarter Page Here, people interested in purchasing an extra chic, limited edition of Looking for Beauty: Humboldt’s Plein Air Community Shows why Art Matters, as well as tote bags and bookmarks adorned with artwork from the book. The book is a fundraiser itself; half of the proceeds go to Humboldt’s Annual Paint Out sponsored by Redwood Art Association.

Additionally, Phillips expects hardcover versions of the book to be available at local bookstores and online retailers. And regardless of whether or not the Kickstarter goal is met, a digital version of the book will be available to all for free via the Humboldt State’s Digital Commons.

Though the book was often a one-on-one effort, Phillips was supported by Humboldt’s plein-air community, HSU Press, and at least a dozen professionals, she said, including photographers Kristy Hellum and videographers Dean Hubbard, Beau Saunders and Nandi Johannes.

Some artists featured in the book may be nearing the end of their painting careers, Phillips said, and one artist, Rick Tolley, died in October.

“This book is just a truly honorable way to secure her legacy in the world, in the global canon of artists.”


Some of Humboldt’s open-air artists. | Photo courtesy of Cyndy Phillips

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