Taking a yearlong journey to sketch the remarkable landscapes of the United States was on Don Getz’s bucket list. So a year ago, the well-known artist from the Akron, Ohio, area packed his Chevy Astro van with clothes and some art supplies and began an adventure that took him from Maine to California and Florida to the state of Washington.
While photographs are nice, Getz prefers to keep his memories in journals filled with his artwork. He maintains that a quick sketch, combined with some color, cements the scenes in his memory.
His journals, some of which are available for purchase online, are ink drawings (no pencils and erasers) and watercolor washes. They are extraordinary works of art.
“It’s a joy sketching and painting en plein air, over being in a studio. Journaling can be done anywhere: on a ship, a train, car or whatever,” Getz said in a blog he kept on his travels. “This makes it ideal for seniors who can’t, or won’t, lug an easel and other items used in sketching and painting.”
During the trip, he held some 60 workshops — often sketching right along with his students. Other times, he pulled to the side of the road to capture a scene he found beautiful or interesting.
“I usually tell people that a sketch takes me two hours and 78 years,” the 79-year-old joked. “Because it’s all the knowledge you have that you put into these things. And I didn’t do much the first year I was born.”
Born an artist
Getz began drawing for others at the age of 6. His father owned a steel fabrication business, located directly behind the family’s home in Salem, Ohio. When the drivers of trucks carrying steel stopped by to do business with his father, Getz sketched their rigs.
Often, he would hand a drawing to the driver, who would glance at it and then give it to his father.
“He tacked up a lot of them inside of his facility,” Getz said during a recent interview. “He had a whole wall of them.”
Though art is his passion, Getz figured he would be running the shop someday.
“I ran all of the equipment. I tore my first engine apart when I was 10 years old, put it back together, and it ran,” he said. “And during the ’50s, if your grandfather was a tire builder, your dad was a tire builder, and you were going to be a tire builder.”
But during spring break of Getz’s senior year of high school, his dad broke the cycle and did the unexpected.
“Put some of your samples together,” the father told the teenager. “We are going to the Akron Art Institute and the Cleveland Institute of Art because you have to be an artist.”
The younger Getz was stunned, but did as his father instructed.
On the way to Akron, the two passed the Goodyear Aircraft Corp.
“There were 5,000 cars in the parking lot,” Getz recalled.
His father pointed and said, “Any company that is that big has to have an art department. Let’s stop and see if they will look at your samples and tell you if you should go to art school.”
So in they went.
“Well, they hired me on the spot,” he said, chuckling. “I told the guy I couldn’t start until after high school graduation. He laughed and laughed.”
Getz worked for a couple of years for Goodyear before heading to college at Ohio State University. Over the years, he continued to develop his skills, working as an artist, curator and teacher at various places, and running the Boston Mills Artfest until the mid-1990s.
Trip too short
A few months after Judie, his wife of 51 years, passed away in the summer of 2011, Getz began making plans for his watercolor journaling tour. He left on Sept. 20, 2012, and returned 11 months later, on Aug. 23. Along the way, he made new friends and visited old ones. During the 13,000-mile trip, when he wasn’t sleeping at a hotel or a friend’s home, he parked his van in Walmart lots for the night.
“They had security,” he explained.
Among the pages in his 15 journals, he doesn’t have a favorite sketch. Trying to narrow it down to one would be far too difficult. And the only regret he has about the tour is the length.
“All I wanted is for it to continue. Had it been two years, I probably would have been even happier,” he said, noting he didn’t have workshops set up for more than a year’s time.
Born with a gift, Getz vows to keep drawing.
“As long as I’m alive, I’ll continue,” he said, noting he turns 80 in April. “If someone took my pens and paper from me, I would just fold up in a corner. They’d find me a week later in the same position.”