Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Pleinly speaking

Fertile Fields. Outside Edinburg, Va. Oil on stretched canvas, 12x36
please contact me for price and shipping/delivery info

As I was driving away from Edinburg, Va., and the beautiful Shenandoah Valley, I saw - across the Interstate - a farmer driving a tractor over a field of rippling hills. After a series of wrong turns, I found the field, and set up to paint.

The farmer had gone away for a while, but in time, he came back and drove his tractor out of my painting. A fellow farmer, who later returned on another tractor, drove by and asked if it wasn't too hot for me to be painting. (At the time, about 8:30 in the morning, it was 86 degrees, and was headed to a forecasted 102).

No, I said. We are tough, we plein-air painters.

And, you know, we are. Tough or nuts. Sometimes the difference is only minimal.

This trip, I painted in snow and in blowing, gusting dust. I painted in tremendous heat and finger-numbing cold. I painted in gales, in sunshine, in rain showers. This trip, the bugs were the least of my problems, and for that, I was thankful. So a little bit of heat? I'm tougher than that.

I'm going to bring this computer in to be checked and cleaned, so I will probably be off line for a few days. Don't worry, though. I'll be back soon, with more paintings from the road and new paintings from home.

Thank you for reading.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The best kind of morning

Outside Edinburg. Oil on stretched canvas, 10x20

The last day of my journey began with one a meeting that colored the entire experience.

I'd set out early, on a road I'd scouted the evening before. I found an empty parking lot in front of a small business, across the road from a beautiful, cow-studded field, complete with pond, fence and trees.

I started painting, and then lost myself in the painting, and the morning, the warm breeze, the birdsong. Then I heard a van pull into the lot. I looked up and saw a woman, younger than me, smiling and staring at my work.

She jumped out of the van and began exclaiming, examining my painting, then looking at the field, then at the painting, then the field, talking the whole time, asking questions, smiling and appreciative, clearly taking absolute joy in what she saw, and in the fact that I was painting this scene so close to her house, so close to her heart.

Her daughter is an artist, she said, and would I be here for a while? She'd like to go get her daughter so that she could see my painting. And would I want coffee? I said "sure" to both - and off she went.

Not so much later, she returned with her daughter and her son, a giant cup of wonderful coffee and the best breakfast sandwich I've ever had. We talked, all of us, and her children asked great questions and made cogent observations. Cynthia pushed them to look critically, to consider what they were seeing, and to investigate.

And then, amid many smiles and much laughter, with hugs and waves and farewells, they drove off, back into their lives. I packed up the van, ate my delicious breakfast, and drove off to find what would become the final painting of my trip.

That interlude, those moments of joy and sharing - that is what will stay with me, long after everything else fades away. Really, that is what this life is all about.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Home again

Kansas Afternoon. Oil on stretched canvas, 10x30
please contact me for price and shipping/delivery info

I'm home.

And never have two words held so much for me, or surprised me so immensely.

I thought a lot while I was driving about the differences between this trip and the one I made in July. On the outside, they looked the same. I lit off for western regions, stayed for about three weeks, made more than 40 paintings, reached home spent and exhausted.

But that first trip was pure escape. I flung myself out of my newspaper job, out of a 20-year career, and flew like a boomerang out and back. It was very much a journey of freedom, and I'd have been happy for it to continue for another few weeks.

I think that on that trip, I showed myself that I could paint. I'd staked everything on that question - and the exhilaration picked me and carried me.

On this trip, I didn't have to ask that question, or thrill from its answer. On this trip, my questions were much deeper, much more serious: Has my art grown? I have painted and painted and painted these past months. I have experimented and measured, read and studied and worked - and yet, I look at some of the paintings I made on this trip, and see paintings I made a year ago. I look at others and see paintings that I made in my first weeks and months of painting. I see no progress, no change, no growth in vision or in skill.

And then I look again and see worlds of change. I see brighter lights and deeper shadows, and a finer line between them. I see a more knowing hand, and a more pervasive sense of experiment. I see paintings that speak less of the painter and beckon more strongly to the viewer. In these, I do see progress.

How I wish I could keep my mind and judgment here in this second look - but of course, I can't.

I do wonder if the similarities in my paintings arise from the simple fact that the same type of scenes draw me. I will always paint what I love, and I will always love wheat fields and treeless horizons and rhythmic, rippling hills. I will always love huge, open skies and far-off mountains. I will always love the sun playing through tree limbs, water shining in a ditch in a field, a path curving through an open gate. These sights make me imagine. These sights make me hope.

So I am home now, with my questions and my paintings and my worries, and there's no place I'd rather be. Spring has barely arrived here in Connecticut. The earth is cool beneath my bare feet. I'm glad that I've come back in time to watch the spring unfold - and in time to paint it, too.

As always, thank you for reading.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Sweet dreams

Belle Rive, Indiana. Oil on stretched canvas, 8x10, $75

I'm in the Shenandoah Valley now, on the last leg of my journey, and I am longing to be home.

At the end of the other trip I made, to Wyoming (you can find my blog and paintings from the West at, I was wishing it could be longer.

This time, though, home is pulling at me. I miss my husband, our dogs, Erika and her brood, my siblings and their families, my friends, my life. I miss home cooking, and waking in my own bed. I miss watching our garden poke up, and watching the birds make their nests. I miss going to the gym with Ann and Carden, entering my work into shows, seeing Peter's photographs emerge. I miss cooking, watching the Red Sox, making and drinking my own coffee. I even miss going shopping.

And it's nice. This has been a wonderful trip. It was great to see my father and his wife, to see where I was born, to discover and paint so many new places. But it's a good feeling, to be longing for home, and to know that home is there, sweet and warm and waiting for me.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Holland, Indiana

Holland, Indiana. Oil on canvas, 10x30

As I drove through Indiana, I began to see fields covered with purple. I guessed the purple was wildflowers, and I was right. Sometimes, the fields were light pink, sometimes, they had a thick purple-pink hue.

I got off the road in Holland, Indiana, to close my eyes for a few minutes. While looking for a place to pull over, I saw this house, sitting in a field that was yellow on one side and pink on the other. Clouds were rolling in, dark and threatening, and the low light seemed to bring out the colors in the field.

As I painted, the clouds moved closer and closer and the wind picked up. I finished this piece moments before the rain began.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

What? Wheat?

Eureka! Wheat! Oil on stretched canvas, 20x20

I have a good connection, so I thought I'd upload this one this morning, just in case...

The sun was setting as I neared Eureka, Kansas. On the north side of the road, wheat fields stretched on and on, catching the warmth and color of the afternoon. I turned around, a move that interested a group of large black cows, and found a safe spot to paint.

At my back, the sun headed toward the horizon. In front of me, the colors deepened. The wind picked up. Cars and trucks blew by. Many honked their horns at me. Then, everything fell away, and my entire consciousness became color, and the wheat, and the light, and the blue and red shadows, and I painted until it was nearly dark, and I was spent and happy.

Sun City

Sun City, Kansas. Oil on stretched canvas, 8x10. sold

A couple evenings ago, I went out to explore Pratt, Kansas. I turned off the main road onto a dirt side road and saw a couple doing something with a big yellow dog. At first, I thought they were having trouble with the dog, trying to get him into the truck or something, and so I stopped. Turns out they were just exercising Duke. They drive along the dirt road and Duke runs.

They were delightful, friendly people. I admit, my sievelike memory has dropped their names already, but he is a retired train engineer, and she makes porcelain dolls. We talked for a long time, and when they heard what I was doing, they suggested I visit Sun City.

And so, in the morning, I did. I drove along paved side roads, and soon enough, found myself leaving the wheatfields and arriving in red-dirt hills. I rounded a corner, and there I was, on the main street of Sun City.

At one time, in the 1880s, it was a bustling, busy place. You can read about it - and see two photos of the church I decided to paint, by clicking here) .

Now, it's a ghost town. Fewer than 100 people live there. The post office is running, as is Buster's, which is supposed to cook great burgers (it was barely 10 a.m. when I finished up, so no burger for me). But most of the buildings are empty. Pretty houses stand vacant. Businesses are shuttered. I could have set up my easel in the middle of the street. It makes you wonder.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

My fascination

Kansas Wheat I. Oil on canvas, 8x10, $100

I've inched through Kansas, slowed mainly by my fascination with the wheat fields here. They are gorgeous. There's nothing in them, really, but there's everything in them. There are colors and movement, light and shadow, delicacy and power - and at the same time, they are empty and plain, something to drive by and get through... but not for me.

I have come to realize that, as much as it is the wheat itself, what truly attracts me is the light, and how it works its way through these white-gold fields. At noon, at 2 p.m., the fields are not as stunning as they are at 5 or 6 or 7. As the sun sinks in this clear, clean air, it colors the wheat fields to a point where I find myself yelping with pleasure when I round a curve and find a western-facing slope.

The people of these small towns in Kansas must think I'm a nut, standing at the side of the road, painting an empty field. But I'd bet a lot of them love these so-called empty fields, too.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Two... two... two barns in one!

Two views from outside Sun City, Kansas. Each is oil on canvas, 10x20

Kansas is a lovely, clean-lined place with huge blue skies, neat arrangements of land, and a wealth of lovely wheatfields. The new wheat - winter wheat, I was told - is green. Last year's wheat is golden, and it is this that I love so much.

But before the wheatfield paintings, here's an interesting choice. I made the top painting first, on a road outside the lovely and largely deserted town of Sun City. The sun was indeed out, the wind was blowing, and the old barn, surrounded by trees, beckoned my eye and heart.

So I made this painting - and then it occurred to me that I could have made this painting a year ago. So what have I learned?

On this trip, I believe I learned to be bolder with color and bolder with paint. And so I pulled out another canvas and did the painting again. The second one, I did with more verve, more speed, more energy - and more paint.

I think I like the second one better. But what about you?

Welcoming Kansas

Oklahoma Home. Oil on stretched canvas, 6x12, $75

Honestly, I was glad to leave Texas. The part of the state I traveled through was lovely, at first - but once I got past Dalhart, I encountered feed lots and rendering plants and oil refineries that loosed odors that made me wonder how people manage to live there and eat food, too. Of course, Peter and I lived and worked in Maine, where paper company smells make strangers wonder the same thing.

Parts of Oklahoma were as bad as that edge of Texas, if not worse. I know that cows supposedly don't care much, but seeing them in those pens, those feedlot pens, made me weep. And right next door to some of those horrible, concentration-camp feedlots, other cows wandered free and easy, eating grass, going where they wanted, able to seek shade if they so desired.

Kansas seemed an Eden, when I reached it.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Blue-plate special

Texas Roadway. Oil on stretched canvas, 10x30

The gorgeous places in this country move my heart, thrill my soul, excite my eyes. The Petrified Forest, the Painted Desert, the Canyon de Chelly, Shiprock, all the extraordinary places I've seen and painted on this trip - they have been miracles of nature and inspiration.

But still, to my peasant eyes, there's nothing quite as wonderful as the ordinarily beautiful. The sun setting on the grasses of the prairie on a secondary road in Texas was so breathtaking that I pulled over, just like that, set up my easel and painted in a near-frenzy. The light and the landscape grew more and more beautiful as the sun neared the horizon. The grasses became rosy, warmer and warmer in color, the shadows deeper and deeper - and then a train passed, and the engineer whistled his whistle at me, and it was such a perfect piece of America, it brought tears to my eyes.

In all of this journey of discovery, it is these moments that are my touchstones. Yes, I can go to the miraculous places, the ones we all cherish and protect - but my gift, I think, is recognizing the beautiful in the mundane, and my challenge is to capture and communicate that understanding.

Thanks for reading!

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Heading east

Painted Desert. Oil on stretched canvas, 12x36

This is the last painting I made in the Painted Desert. It was this one I was finishing when the friendly group happened along.

It was tough to leave the Painted Desert - but as I said to Peter, I could stay for weeks or months, painting, and still feel as though I were leaving my soul behind when I finally left.

And so I headed to Canyon de Chelly, and then Shiprock, and then into New Mexico.

The Navajo reservation I drove through for most of the day was, by and large, a cheerless place. It contains gorgeous landscapes and amazing natural scenery. I met lovely, friendly people there. But I saw poverty everywhere. Buildings, homes, mobile homes, by and large, were decrepit, missing windows, boards, roofing. Everywhere, junk was piled, dusty, blowing, rusting in yards. Garbage and litter were strewn everywhere, as if everyone just throws his trash onto the land as a matter of course.

In the wind, the red dust is always blowing, covering everything. Wild dogs roam the towns. Horses and cows wander everywhere - along city streets and sidewalks, along the highways, through parking lots. There is apparently no water for landscaping.

And yet, tribal government seems to be everywhere. In Ganado, in Fort Defiance, in Window Rock, in Chinle - in every town I passed through on the reservation, there seemed to be a plethora of government buildings.

Time and again - in Fort Defiance, in Ganado, in Tec Nos Pos, I saw an odd thing. It was as if the towns were abandoned and then rebuilt just down the road. This was most striking in Fort Defiance. The hospital where my father worked was once the center of the town. Now, closed and shuttered, it is on a street that is clearly rarely used. Around it, buildings that once were homes are tribal government offices. Trailers and shacks stand decaying nearby.

But the new hospital, a few blocks away, is shiny and fresh and big. Next to it is a new school. And next to that, there is what appears to be row after row of brand-new housing. The buildings look a little regimental, a little like a project, but they are, again, brightly new and occupied. It's as if the townspeople just looked around old Fort Defiance, found it unworthy of fixing up, and built new Fort Defiance instead.

A handout from the Canyon de Chelly visitors center discussed the issue of litter. When people feel undervalued, when they feel no ownership or pride in the land, they litter, the handout said. Twice yesterday, I saw recognition of the problem by the people who live there.:"One was a hand-lettered sign outside a ranch at the edge of a town: "Don't Litter," the sign read. The other was a woman and her daughter or granddaughter, picking up litter in the dusty wind at the edge of their property.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Sculpted by the wind

In the Petrified Forest. Oil on stretched canvas, 10x10

Outside Senoita. Oil on stretched canvas, 10x30

After painting in the Painted Desert Friday morning, I headed to Canyon de Chelly (pronounced "de shay," a fact I only recently learned).

It's a terrifyingly beautiful place. It was snowing, and the wind was blowing hard, and it was not really a day to paint, so I just looked. And looked. And was amazed.

The canyon drops hundreds and hundreds of feet from the rim. The drop is dizzying and, honestly, frightening. Never have I walked so carefully, or been so aware of my clumsiness. I could just see myself tripping on my feet and flying over the edge, tumbling to my death.

Wind and water have cut this canyon, carved it into swirls and cliffs and stone pillars. At the bottom, Native Americans still live, some in hogans. They tend sheep, weave, pursue native activities while tourists go by in buses, and jeeps and on horseback. I stayed on high and marveled.

Today, I will try to paint this amazing place. And then it's on to Santa Fe, and heading home.

Spider Rock, one of the formations in Canyon de Chelly.

The friendly group

Here's the friendly group of people I met in the Painted Desert.

Friday, April 17, 2009

A warm cold morning

Petrified Forest. Oil on stretched canvas, 10x30
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I spent last night in Holbrook and started my day painting in the Painted Desert. It was about 30 degrees, and the wind was blowing! The weather people had predicted warmth, and so I had dressed for warmth... then put my winter clothes on, on top of my spring ones, and still, I was frozen.

As I was finishing my painting (will post it tomorrow), and starting to pack up, a melodious voice with a lilting accent sounded behind me, disappointed that I was finished. "I wanted to photograph you painting," he said.

And so, I painted a little bit more.

He was from Kenya, and then, suddenly, there were a couple dozen people there, sitting for photographs, looking at my painting and exclaiming, laughing and smiling and talking and complimenting. They were from Kenya, and Malaysia and Indiana. From Taiwan and Ohio and Indonesia. Many of them are painters, studying watercolors, and they took my business cards, and delighted in my Art for Shelter Animals project cards, and they shook my hand and gave me an apple and juice, and then clambered up into two white vans, called out goodbyes and left.

It was a marvelous meeting, and warmed me through and through. I wish I had asked where they were from, and what had brought them together. If any of the group members are reading this, please let us all know!

And speaking of "all," subscribership to my blog is up to more than 50! Many thanks! If you enjoy it, please tell your friends.

And thank you for reading.

Painting in the Painted Desert

Painted Desert. Oil on stretched canvas, 18x18

I spent yesterday in the Petrified Forest National Park, which includes the Painted Desert. I usually avoid the national parks - they are protected, visited, known. But I was drawn to this one. And I found it so breathtaking, so moving, that I am going back today - at least for the morning.

Every curve in the road brought me to a site that was so spectacular, it overwhelmed my eyes. Vast open prairies spread out in all colors, as far as you can see. Mesas rise up, and then spread into multicolored hills, striped and ridged and pulsing with color. There are pastels, and grey-blue scenes, there are reds and violets and purples, there are colors I can't even describe, created by weather and wind and erosion, by man and by animals and the forces of nature. It truly is amazing.

Thanks for reading!

On the road from Snowflake

On Route 77. Oil on stretched canvas, 10x30
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The road from Snowflake to Holbrook, Arizona 77, is one of the lovelier roads I've driven out here. The prairie rolls along in gentle waves, the earth red beneath soft green and gold vegetation. In the distance, cliffs and mesas stick up from the horizon, and the sun seems to soak into the whole scene.

There are few houses between towns here. Cattle graze, and near the spot where I made this painting, a group of 40 or so horses gathered, including some very young, very long-legged colts. There are almost no trees.

Nights have been cold, down into the 20s. I saw snow two days ago, the day that gale-force winds closed the Interstate. I took that day to visit Ganado, Window Rock and Fort Defiance, the area where I was born and grew up. Later that same day, a McDonald's golden arches sign fell and crushed a car, injuring the people inside. This is wild country.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Sonoita again

Outside Sonoita, Arizona, near the junction of route 82 and 83. Oil on stretched canvas, 10x30
please contact me for price and shipping/delivery info

Maybe if I keep trying, I will learn how to spell the name of this place I like so much. First I couldn't remember it, then I couldn't spell it.

At any rate, Sonoita, which is at the junction of routes 82 and 83, is home to about 900 people, according to the most recent census. Median income is a little more than $50,000. There are lots of ranches there, and lots of movies have been filmed there, including "Tombstone," "A Star Is Born," "Red River" and "Oklahoma!"

It is really a gorgeous place. It's high - 5,000 feet - and so the nights are cool, even when the days are hot. The grasses that so enchanted me green up in the summer "monsoon" season - it must be an amazing sight.

Waiting it out

Outside Patagonia, Arizona. Oil on stretched canvas, 10x10, $75

After a long conversation with Peter, I've decided to stay put for the day in Holbrook, Arizona. It is so windy that a cloud of dust has blown up over the prairie, and the van was rocking back and forth, as I sat in it in the parking lot. There will be no painting today, at least not for hours and hours. I might go out exploring, but with the dust, it's going to be hard even to see.

So I will take a day off. I'll nap, and read, and if the wind dies this afternoon, I'll venture out to paint. Sounds pretty good to me!

Adventure in the wind

Patagonia, Ariz. Oil on stretched canvas, 10x20

This morning, I find myself in Holbrook, Arizona, at the edge of the Painted Desert. I awoke early to get out and paint, but it's blowing at nearly hurricane velocity, as it was yesterday evening. So there is no hurry this morning.

I drove through gorgeous countryside yesterday, on absolutely horrifying roads. I'd planned on taking highways, but when I checked the time, the back roads cut hours, and so I set off. If I'd known how high and steep and winding they were, how vertiginous (that means creating vertigo, right?), I doubt I'd have had the courage. But, blindly, I set off, and yes, the scenery was surely breathtaking - in all sorts of ways!

As I came down from the mountains, I found myself in a gorgeous sun-washed prairie, in the towns of Show Low, Snowflake and Holbrook. It is lovely here, indeed.

So I am off to the Painted Desert, and to Ganado, and Fort Defiance, where I spent the first years of my life. Then to Santa Fe and Taos and home. The journey already has been spectacular, and I suspect the best is ahead of me still.

Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

On the way home

Outside Sonoita, Arizona. Oil on stretched canvas, 14x18

This morning, I said goodbye to my father and his wife, and set out for Ganado and Fort Defiance, the land of my birth.

Dad was in the civil service, and he and my mother moved to Arizona, on the Navajo reservation in the northeast corner of the state. What an adventure that must have been! Two young people, taking the first steps in their married life, in a place as wild and foreign as could be for a couple from suburban Philadelphia.

It's already been an emotional day, and I expect it to continue as such. With luck, I will reach Fort Defiance today, and then spend the day around there tomorrow, exploring and painting. I'm sad to leave Tubac, Patagonia and Sonoita, where the land and the sky and everything in between moved me enormously - but I am sure looking forward to this next adventure.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Two of five

Outside Patagonia, Arizona. Oil on stretched canvas,  18x18
please contact me for price and shipping/delivery info

With the vigor that comes with fresh ideas and the thrill of discovery, I traveled yesterday to Patagonia, and then on to Sonoita. Both are south and east of Tubac, and are rich with hills and grasses and this clear, brilliant light.

I painted with abandon and what felt like total freedom. I painted with gobs and smears of paint, and I made five, yes five, paintings - going through so many tubes that I have to restock this morning. So I am off to Tucson, and then back to Sonoita. The yellow grass that stretches out for miles - it's calling to me.

Outside Patagonia, Arizona. Oil on stretched canvas, 8x24
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Sunday, April 12, 2009

The storm begins

Storm, Tubac, Arizona. Oil on stretched canvas, 8x8, $100

My first day in Tubac, Dad took me to the arts center, where he works as a greeter. It's a beautiful place, with fine, open display areas and an interesting mixed-media show.

Then, he took me to the Karen Newby Gallery, where my painting life changed forever.

There, I saw the work of Louisa McElwain. She lives in Santa Fe, does a lot of her painting in plein air - even the first one that I saw, which must be 10 feet by 10 feet. Leroy, a charming man who works in the gallery, says she has a gizmo that attaches these huge canvases to her truck so that she can paint on site. He says she uses a putty knife, and Golden oils in gallon containers.

I was just floored by her work. And I vowed to return to the colors and boldness that first drew me to painting, and which, honestly, I'd been backing away from, all this winter in New England. My painting might have been getting "better," but it also was getting to be less of my heart.

So thank you, Louisa McElwain, for painting with such vigor and such abandon. Thank you for reawakening my eyes and my senses and my palette!

The storm passes

After the storm, Tubac, Arizona. Oil on stretched canvas, 10x10, $100.

The last time it rained in Tubac was December, my dad tells me. But yesterday, it rained. It thundered. It poured.

And then, late in the afternoon, the storm moved away, the sun came out and behind me, as I stood and painted the clouds over the mountains, a huge rainbow arced over the valley.

Here, the air is clear and clean. Sunlight cuts through with no impediment. Clouds move with speed and power, and storms push along quickly, muscled and tough.

The town is lovely, all adobe, richly colored, warm, inviting. There are shops, yes, but mostly there are galleries, one after another after another. And I can understand why people come here to paint. I just can't understand why they're not all outside, painting in this clean, clear light.

Friday, April 10, 2009

From the other side

Here's a pastel I did in Van Horn, at the western edge of Texas. The wind was blowing so hard here that there was to be no easel painting, no matter what!

Painting in Deming

Outside Deming, N. M. Oil on stretched canvas, 8x24
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There was a moment yesterday when I came around a curve in a road in Texas, and suddenly, I was in the southwest.

I know, I'd been in the southwest for hours and hours - but suddenly, the soil was red, and rocky buttes rose near and far from the plains. It seemed that I'd left the broken-down, dilapidated, abandoned settlements behind. I was still in Texas, but I was in a different Texas.

In the afternoon, the road rose out of El Paso and into a clear, yellow afternoon. The buttes grew into mountains, and yellow-gold grass drew my eye across the prairie. I decided to stop and paint, even though it meant delaying my arrival for a day. But Dad was fine with the delay.

I set up to paint in a gale-force wind on a frontage road east of Deming, New Mexico, where I was staying. I've found that the van works as a great wind break and shelter! As I was beginning my painting, three people came along in a bright yellow VW bug. Turns out they own the land I was painting. They own many, many acres, and raise 125 beef cattle on their land. They were friendly, welcoming, engaged - and they gave me a card with their contact information on it which I have apparently lost. I hope they haven't lost the cards I gave them...

I made one painting of their land and then, down the road a ways, made another. I have some work to do on this second one - it's a challenge to paint all this distance, all this land, and show its size and breadth.

Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Miles and miles of Texas

Hill Country, Texas, outside Weatherford. Oil on stretched canvas, 9x12. sold

Texas has surprised me. Eastern Texas is green and verdant, with hills and lakes, fields and meadows and enough trees that I drove for an hour with the scent of a paper mill in my nose.

Dallas is a beautiful city, at least as seen from the highway. The highway itself - I-635 - was beautiful, if a highway can be beautiful. It seemed to soar and swoop, in wide white strips. Stanchions were made of concrete, and toned in desert colors, soft red and deep green on a smooth tan background.

And then, as east Texas merged into west Texas, the greenery dropped away, the land flattened out, and wealth sunk into visible poverty and decay. The temperature rose, reaching 92 and staying there for most of the afternoon - and this on April 8.

I passed whole towns that looked deserted. I drove by house after house that was empty and crumbling and entirely isolated, and I had to wonder what the people who lived there had thought would happen. What did they think their lives would be? What future did they see for themselves when they built these houses, when they moved in? They must have had dreams, and hopes and plans, crumbled now, like the places where they lived.

Notes and observations

Roadside Barbecue, in Arkansas, just across the Mississippi River from Memphis.

As I left on Sunday, I saw that forsythia was just starting to bud in Hartford. Then, no forsythia, no budding, no nothing, until I reached West Virginia, where the forsythia were budding to the same degree they'd been budding in Hartford.

There's a town in southwestern Virginia named Groceclose. That doesn't touch Bucksnort or Birdsong, Tenn., but it's close. Groceclose. In Tennessee, I crossed through the Nolichucky River Basin.

The highways themselves create their own microclimates, at least this early in the year. I kept seeing beautiful foliage budding, and kept getting off the road to paint what I was seeing. But when I'd leave the highway, I'd find that the foliage I'd seen there was at a different stage than the foliage I was seeing here. Off the highway, everything was back a week or so. Finally, it dawned on me that the open space of the highway, and the heat absorption of the pavement make a climate that's warmer and sunnier than what's off the road.

The colors of spring, I've realized, are just like the colors of autumn, except that they're lighter, much lighter. There's lots and lots of white in them.

In Virginia and eastern Tennessee, the soil is full of clay. Where it's turned, it's orange, it is so rich with clay. In western Tennessee, the land flattens out and dries out. It takes on this white color, like the color the soil is in Oregon - it looks like it's leached salt, though I'm pretty sure it hasn't.

The bridge over the Mississippi, from Memphis to Arkansas, is truly horrifying. It's high and narrow and old and loooong. Chunks are missing from the pavement, and about halfway across the bridge, all the trucks pull to the right for a weigh station. They do so without even looking, it seems. I don't remember being happier to get off a bridge in a long time.

I passed through Brinkley, Ark., which bills itself as "the home of the ivory-billed woodpecker, rediscovered in 2004."

At the Roadside Barbecue, you can get a barbecued bologna sandwich. The woman behind the counter told me that they call it "round steak." I just got regular barbecue, and it was delicious. All over all the walls, people had signed their names. And the bathroom, which was nearly as hot as the kitchen (my guess is they share a wall) was absolutely spotless, with a no-nonsense cleanliness-checking schedule posted on the wall.

I'm dieting while traveling, which has its tough moments. In Virginia, I went to Subway, ordered a salad, paid for it, and then was told that there were no forks. I got my money back, he got his sandwich back, and the woman at the next Subway looked at me a tad askance when the first thing I asked was whether they had forks here.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009


Bucksnort, Tenn. Oil on stretched canvas, 8x10, $75

The Tennessee morning dawned clear and sunny - and cold. School systems in the eastern part of the state had delayed or canceled classes, and people were sending snow photos to the TV weather guys. Honestly, there wasn't much snow. But if you live in Tennessee and it snows in April, that's a lot of snow. One of the photos was a cute, raggedy dog with some snow on its nose. See? We let the dog out and he came back with this darn snow all over him. Hold him still while we get a photo!

I set out and soon enough, came to Bucksnort, Tenn. Honest. I had to get off at the Bucksnort exit, and I admit that I spent some time ruing (rueing?) the fact that, had I just driven a little farther Monday, I could have spent the night at the Bucksnort Motel. If Bucksnort had had a post office, I'd have spent the morning mailing letters, just so my friends and family could have Bucksnort postmarks.

One car went by me in the couple hours it took me to paint this. And no buck snorted, though I was listening!

A final note. Bucksnort borders Birdsong.

Neither snow nor rain...

Stormy spring highway. Oil on stretched canvas, 8x10.

To my amazement, I spent much of Monday driving in snowstorms. Yes, snow in Virginia and Tennessee in April. When it wasn't snowing, it was pouring.

At times, this was pretty frightening. High up on what is called "the plateau" in Tennessee, I found myself in a blizzard. I was nervous. I've driven enough in snow, but I was in my brand new car, driving along a high mountain ridge with drivers who probably haven't driven in a lot of snow.

The thermometer in the van (it's so cool that the van has one!) read 34 degrees. Thirty-four degrees! This morning, school openings around Tennessee are delayed. In the plateau area, they're opening two hours late. I'm really glad I got down from there. The van handled really well in the snow, and I was thankful.

Meanwhile, snow or no snow, the trees and bushes along the highway are inching into life. From the middle of Virginia on, marvelous purple-pink trees - cherry trees, I guess? - are bursting into color. The grass is green, and trees are budding in all colors. Orange, red, yellow - I realized yesterday that they are coming to life in the spring with the same colors that they leave with in the fall - just a lighter, whiter version of those colors.

So I painted this one in the hotel room last night, from memory. I'm not crazy about it, but honestly, I felt I might unravel if I didn't paint something!

How green was my valley

Foamhenge. Yes, it's a foam version of Stonehenge, near Natural Bridge, Va.

It felt like it took an eternity to get out of the area that I know, to get off the roads I've traveled so many times before. The trip down I-84 seemed to last a lifetime. The trip past Wilkes-Barre felt yawningly familiar.

Even then, I was on a route we'd often driven when we lived in Maryland.

But then, I was in West Virginia, and a blessedly unfamiliar world. And it was warm!

West Virginia sped quickly into Virginia, and I soon found myself in one of the most beautiful places I've ever seen. The Shenandoah Valley, near Woodstock and Edinburg, caught my eye and my imagination. To the east, the mountains rise in a sharp, purple ridge. The valley - incredibly lush and green, spreads out beneath them, in rich, rolling hills. Here and there are houses. Mostly, you see cows, big, black cows, looking as happy as cows can be.

It was too late in the day, and raining too hard, to paint. So I stopped early, hoping to wake up early and paint - but it was not to be. It was raining and cold, and so I set off, with a promise to myself to stop in this green, green valley and paint on the way back.

I did get off the highway to see the so-called natural bridge. If it was there, it was going to cost me to see it, and I didn't feel like paying, so I chalked this up to a detour and headed back to the highway.

But on the way, I saw Foamhenge. How could I not stop? It wasn't open, but I did get this photo - and if it had been open, I'd have gone. I'd have loved to see this up close!

And I'm off!

The Green Monster, nearly all packed.

It's been months since I've gone this long without posting, and I've felt discombobulated, as my mother would have said, without it! But between Peter's opening at the Lighthouse Gallery, and my readying for the trip to Arizona, there was not a moment to spare.

Packing for the second trip, I felt a bit more secure than I did while packing for the first. I toned and packed more than 50 canvases, then found a whole stack of brand-new canvases in the garage and brought them, as well. This time, I know what to put in my paint bag, and what spare materials to pack into my red and white canvas box. I have room for my suitcase, and also for an extra bag with some dress-up clothes and some more summery garments (optimist me).

Also, I made a marvelous box of marketing materials - the olive-green shoebox in the very back of Greenie. In it, I have 20 disks of Peter's work, 20 disks of my work - all with really nifty labels that I made, printed and stuck on. In it is a box of his business cards, a box of my business cards, a huge stack of Art for Shelter Animals postcards, a huge stack of my postcards, a bunch of my pet-portrait brochures, a stack of my resumes and exhibition histories, and my Art for Shelter Animals stamp. I'm prepared! Now to find galleries where I can peddle our wares.

It was far easier to pack the van than it was to pack the VW. Truly, it wasn't even like packing. It was just like tossing stuff in. There's still enough room to have a small party in the back!

But still, it takes time. So I didn't leave until Sunday morning - and that was fine. I have to remind myself that I'm not up against a deadline. Leave Sunday, leave Tuesday - it doesn't matter. It doesn't matter how slowly I drive, how many detours I take or when I get there. And that, of course, shapes everything.