Thursday, February 27, 2014

Burros - and How I Paint on the Road

Oil on canvas, 18x18

A friend of my Dad's and Paula's was in my booth and saw the painting of burros ("Kathryn's Brothers") which had sold.

She loved it, and asked me to make one similar to it for her house.

Double excitingly for me, she intends to hang it in the same room as a painting by my painting heroine, the late Louisa McElwain. It's an honor.

I finished the painting yesterday, and I have to say I love it. Love it! I can hardly wait to make more burro paintings.


Above, is the inside of the van, seen from the front seat. The paintings that are laying flat are on my cot. The others are hanging from the ceiling of the van.  Below, the back of the van, as I am getting set up to paint. You can see my brightly colored paint bag, beside the purple table I sometimes use when I paint. My paintings for the upcoming shows are standing up; my tent stuff is below the platform. 

One of the sponsors of my California Calling Painting Extravaganza asked me some questions recently about how I do the painting on a trip like this.

He asked great questions, and was interested in the answers, so I thought I'd share them with you all, too.

Where do you set up to paint? 

I have a huge van. At the back, it's loaded with my show stuff, tent, rugs, paintings. There's just enough room back there for my paint bag, some blank canvases and my easel palette. My palette is a paper palette that fits inside a plastic box. My easel is just a small metal one that my stepdaughter gave me the first Christmas I started painting, about eight years ago. It is showing its age, but it is my lucky easel and I am being gentle with it. Also at the back of the van I have a small folding table and small stool, strapped to a shelving unit. 

In the back, a friend built a platform for me that's about 8 inches high. The tent stuff is underneath the platform; everything else is on top. In front of the platform is a place where I've set up my cot, on blocks of wood to get it high enough to put my bags and other stuff underneath. Right now, I have wet paintings hanging from pegboard on the sides of the van, and hanging from hooks suspended from the ceiling, and laying flat on old sheets on top of the cot - no way I can sleep in the van right now. All of my paintings are in oil, and the paint is very very thick, so drying is slooow. 

Do you sit or stand? 

I prefer to stand while I paint, but if I do several paintings in a day - and on this trip, I have been doing that - I will sit. 

Where do you set up? 

I rarely go far off the road to paint, and I try to paint in places where there are plenty of people going by. Friends have had terrible experiences with scary people, while painting in isolated places. I don't need that, and do everything I can to avoid it. People often come up to me, wanting to see the painting, or talk about painting, and that's fine with me. I mentioned that I was scared about my ability to paint the Grand Canyon - and especially to paint in such a public place, where struggling would be witnessed by so many people - but so what, I figured. We all struggle, and there's no shame, really, in doing it in public. If I don't continue to challenge myself, to take on scenes and subjects that are at the edge of my abilities, I will never grow. 

How long does it take to make a painting? 

It takes depends on the size of the canvas and, truly, on whether I am "on" for the day. The biggest canvas I've done so far on this trip is 30x40. It took me about five hours, and that was using the biggest of my palette knives, which is really a masonry trowel. The 10x10 pieces usually take two to three hours, or longer if I am struggling. It will take anywhere from two weeks to six weeks for the paintings to dry enough to be handled safely. I always have paint all over myself, my clothes, my car, the house, the dogs, etc.

How do I choose what to paint?

All the time, and on these trips especially, I take hundreds of photos daily. I make my way along the smaller roads whenever possible, and even if I'm on a highway, I study the landscape, take photos, and get off onto frontage roads if I can. When I find myself catching my breath and being excited by the beauty of the landscape, I start looking for a safe place to pull off and set up. If I find one, I paint. If I don't, I will paint the scene later, in the studio. 

 When I am standing in whatever place it is, I ask myself what, exactly, is it that has drawn my heart to the scene. When I have an answer, or a couple of answers, I focus on whatever it is that's pulling me. Before I start, I always turn around and see if maybe the answer is behind me instead of in front of me. I trust a lot to fate, to God, to inspiration to get me to the right place. 

Do I draw or sketch first on the canvas? 

Usually, I don't do any preliminary sketching or drawing, unless I'm painting an animal. Then, I do sketch first, to make sure the eyes and nose are the right distances apart. And sometimes, if I have a complicated house, I will outline it with a brush. But most of the time, I just start. 

I tend to start my paintings at the place where the sky and the earth, or trees, or mountains meet. I use pretty much the same base colors all the time, but I always am experimenting with one or two new colors - and one or two new ideas, or ways to paint, or things to try - new strokes, new ideas for clouds, new ways to paint shadows, etc.

What brands of paint do I use? 

Different brands of paint for different colors. There are some colors - transparent orange oxide, indigo, light red bright - that I will only buy in particular brands (Rembrandt for the first two, Holbein for the light red bright). Other colors, I will shop the sales and buy whatever's cheapest. Some colors I WANT the cheap paint, because I like to load the paint on (cadmium yellow, for instance) - and if the pigment were stronger, it would - with the amount of paint I use - overwhelm the piece. 

What about life on the road?

I camp in the van if I can - if I can find a safe place, if it's not too cold (it was 15 degrees overnight in Monument Valley), if I don't have too much stuff in the van. I rarely buy meals at restaurants, but have a small cooler and get some cold cuts and cheese or hummus and make sandwiches. I can't eat gluten, so I carry gluten-free bread with me, or rice cakes if I must. If I spend the night in a hotel, I have whatever breakfast they offer that I can eat, and stash yogurt and fruit or hard-boiled eggs or whatever I can stuff in my pockets, for lunch or dinner. 

When I get back, I will have work to do on the paintings - paint the tops if I've forgotten to... fix any smudges... paint the bottoms... make sure everything is signed. And then I'll start painting from my photographs! 

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Greetings from the Grand Canyon!

Grand Canyon
Oil on canvas, 10x10

All my life, I've known about the Grand Canyon. Read about it, seen photos and movies, flown over it. None of that comes close even to hinting at what it looks like in real life.

I stood at the edge of the Grand Canyon on the evening when I arrived, and I stared, wordless and stunned, gaping and mesmerized. It is so much more astonishing than I'd ever imagined. And if you haven't been, GO! Really. It is something that we should all see - especially if you are American. 

At the South Rim, where I made this painting, the Canyon is a mile deep. The oldest rocks are 2,000 million years old, according to the National Parks Service. Along the course of the Colorado River, the canyon is 277 miles long. 

The numbers are amazing, but they don't begin to make sense until you stand at the edge of the canyon, and look down and down and down, and out and out and out. It's hard to even see the bottom at many vantage points.

But it is more than mere size. It's the amazing colors and formations. You see red rocks, scarlet and vermilion and crimson, pink and orange and umber, yellow and tan and ochre and white, and in the shadows, all shades of purple and blue. The lines of color are amazing, and the ridges, worn by wind and water, are just mesmerizing. 

And it is more than the colors and the rocks, too. It takes you out of the every day, or at least, that's what it did to me. It made me contemplate history, time, the forces of nature that made this place, the power of the earth that thrust the mountains up and then carved the valleys. It made me think about the Native Americans living in the canyon thousands of years ago, and then the first white explorers who stumbled onto it and must have thought there was no way around it. 

I wouldn't send you to a place that wasn't worth it! So go! 


And when you are out here, go past the Grand Canyon and on to Monument Valley. For me as an artist, Monument Valley and the surrounding areas, including the drive from the Grand Canyon, are even more entrancing, even more inviting. 

I love the red earth out here, the huge rocks, the broad open sky. This land makes me feel my size, makes me feel that I am just a speck on this vast landscape - and I like that. I like being a tiny piece of this huge life. And I loved seeing, driving through and painting the red earth, the muscled mountains, the brilliant sky. 

I drove to Monument Valley in a huge dust storm. It was so thick that when I drove back through, it was like seeing a whole new landscape. 

Dawns and dusks were amazing in Monument Valley.

Here are more photos of the land in and around Monument Valley


In Tubac, I had the great good fortune to have my work accepted by Art Gallery H, right in the heart of town. The gallery is lovely, and Karl and Audrey Hoffman, who run it, are very enthusiastic about my work.


 Spring really IS coming! I know that for those of you in New England and the Midwest, it seems impossible, but it's on the way.

Dog of the Day

This is one of the working dogs you'll see at the checkpoint on the highway just outside of Tubac. They stop every car, glance inside, ask if you have anyone with you, and then either detain you or let you pass. I imagine they're looking for people trying to get into the country illegally? I am not sure that the stop itself is legal. And I sure wouldn't mess with this dog! 

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Near Rio Rico - and a Good Show

Near Rio Rico
Oil on canvas 10x10

Hi, everybody! I am well, and fine, and painting like a demon out here in Arizona. 

The Tubac Arts Festival was good to me - but loooong. Five days' worth of long. Someone told me they heard that it's a great two-day festival that takes five days - and I'd agree. 

I will say that there were people there. They came in cars, they came by foot, they came on buses from cities and towns all around. Most were on a day's outing, perhaps interested in buying mementos and knickknacks, but not art. A guy next to me sold thousands and thousands and THOUSANDS of dollars' worth of decorative metal pieces you hang on the outside of your house. Up the street, a couple selling decorated spoons and ice cream scoops did well. 

A painter across the way and a jeweler with beautiful but very pricey stuff went home midway through the show. One might have been a family emergency (or so I heard), but the other, who knows. His stuff was gorgeous but expensive. I tried on a bracelet that was $2800. Yikes! 

Three of my paintings sold, and so that's great. And better than that, even, is that I got into a lovely gallery here in town, Art Gallery H. That was one of my goals for the trip, to be represented by a Tubac gallery, and so... Yay! 

The best thing about the show was that my friend Cynthia Battista was also in it, and we were side by each. So during the long days, the sales and the no-sales, we had each other to talk to and commiserate with. And I had a great time hanging out with Cynthia, her husband Kevin and their dogs Zack and George, in the days after the show. 

It's wonderful to spend time with my dad and Paula, my stepmother, too. They have a beautiful home, and while they have a tremendously busy social life, we've been able to carve out time here together to talk and laugh and share experiences and memories. Dad and I have painted together once, and I'm looking forward to the next time, which will be after an upcoming trip to the Grand Canyon and Monument Valley. 

Here's my painting in the landscape

Here's Cynthia in her booth. She makes gorgeous jewelry, different than any I've ever seen. Check out her website by clicking here. 

Here's her husband, Kevin Ireton. He and I tried on hats in a store in Tubac while Cynthia was trying on clothes. I think we had more fun! 


The Santa Rita Mountains, which stand to the east of Tubac, are spectacular at any time of day - but in the evening, they catch the colors of the sunset - amazing. 


This lovely couple bought "Through the River," the lower painting on the wall. They told me they were going to repaint the room where they would hang it, to make the painting stand out better! 


Dad wants to learn how to paint with a palette knife, so I let him paint some of the background of a dog portrait I'd been painting. He did a great job! 

 Dogs of the Day
George (left) and Zack came out to Tubac with Cynthia and Kevin. George and Zack are the best of friends, though George does let Zack lick him until he gets bald spots. Sigh. How we show love, eh?

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Indio Hills - and the Pacific!

 Indio Hills
Oil on canvas, 10x10
California Calling Extravaganza sponsor painting

I made it to California! Walked right into the Pacific! It was an experience I'd never thought I'd have during my lifetime. And it took the edge off the fact that no paintings - zero zero zero - sold at the show in Indio. 

It wasn't only me, so I guess that's good, though show-wide low or no sales do not make for the best of atmospheres. People were dithering over items that cost $20, and most of the time, not even buying them. I saw no wall art leave with buyers, though I heard that a couple artists did sell a couple pieces. So it was a big disappointment, and a crappy way to start the 2014 show season. 

But it's over and done with, and I did my best, so I have moved on, figuratively and literally. 

And I met some really nice people at the show. My neighbors were all fun, happy folks who laughed with me, bolstered me when I needed it, and shared some of the stories of their lives with me. 

My painting in the landscape


Here's Judy Smith, one of my neighbors at the show. She makes 
beautiful leather bags, belts, wallets and the like. You can see more of her stuff by clicking here.
Shawn Harris, below, was another of my neighbors. He puts on masks 
like the one he's wearing here, and then takes photos of himself in interesting poses and places. You can see more of his stuff by clicking here. 

In shows on the East Coast, my paintings are considered large - but not so in California! 
The painting above must have been 7 feet by 7 feet. Artist after artist had HUGE paintings. 

Here's my booth, with my new garnet-colored wall covers.

The sky over the artist parking lot in Indio. 


Above, my first glimpse of the Pacific, in Oceanside, California.  Below, the waves weren't big in Oceanside, but down the coast, they were large enough for some surfing. 

After driving through towns with wall-to-wall homes blocking my view of the Pacific, I arrived in Carlsbad, where I could not only see the ocean, but park, too, and watch people surfing, tanning, and exercising in the warm January sun. 

On the way from Indio to the coast, I saw this amazing sculpture on Highway 79. It was made by Ricardo Breceda, who was identified in a TV piece as the Accidental Artist!  You can see more of his amazing work by clicking here.

Dog of the Day

Here are Abby, left, who is almost 13, and Callie, who is 6. They live with 
Cindy and Eric Bennet, friends and collectors from Rhode Island. 
Callie took the basket away from Abby, who, Cindy says, usually lets her do things like that. 

Want your pet to be Dog of the Day? Send a jpg to me at