Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Final Tennessee Painting

Tennessee is done. It was clearly the most challenging in subject matter, if not conditions.  Plus, the first on a trip is always the hardest, even if I have been painting the days leading up to it. This painting was downright ugly at the end of 4 hours in the park but it seems that ugly has the best chance of becoming most interesting. (Hahaha - that's what my mom used to tell me... ) 

Percy Warner Park, Belle Meade, Tennessee

And, cheers to the people who wrote to me about loving their state. I have found that people are proud of where they were born or grew up, and Tennessee is no exception.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Easel on Down the Road - Hoosier Hospitality

If that's not a regular phrase, it should be. Indiana proved to be one of the most welcoming states of all. Of course, it helps to have friends with generous spirits.

Melanie is a college buddy of Angela's and I have spent time with her in the distant past, but not much in the last 25 years. (Am I honestly that far from my youth?!?) When I saw her last April she invited me to stop by any time, so I took her up on it. She lives on her family's farm with her 13 year old son, Yasha, two lively dogs, two cats and Carina, the PhD-girl from my Kentucky post. Mel insisted I use her own bedroom.

The next morning we took a walk with the dogs after Yasha got on the bus. Mel pointed out areas to paint. Down several hills from her house sits a small farmhouse, built in the 1880's. She and her parents lived there when they first bought the property. No one lives there now.  Just below that was a faded red barn.

I decided to paint the two old structures. It seemed they had interesting stories to tell and, while I can't begin to guess what they are, I like to tease at their presence. I perched on a hill, leaning forward, and looked up at them. The wind was sharp and a dog from the farm below barked and barked and barked. Twice a rooster joined in. His effort made me laugh.

I sketched and then blocked in the darkest colors. The wind bit. I thought, "I DO have a good reason to do this, right?" The dog continued barking. I focused. I wanted to work quickly and leave before one because of a 5 hour drive home. By 11:30 I was hanging onto the canvas with one hand and slashing the sky on with the other. I was freezing. Mel had let me use her new pickup to drive all my supplies down several grassy slopes (see what I mean about generous?) so at noon I packed up and threw my stuff in the truck quickly in order to get inside and warm.

Today I am home. It is windy here but not very chilly. I lit a fire in the wood stove anyway. It feels good to be home. Charlie cried at me for a long time when I arrived. This morning I took him for a 3 miler and now he is sleeping the heavy sleep of relief.

After working several hours in my studio (on Kentucky), this is what I realized about plein air painting: when painting outside, you do not have time to dilly-dally, especially when it's cold. There is absolutely no agony over choices (like what color, exactly), you just paint. I noticed today that I bring that sense of urgency back with me into the studio. A few "tough" bouts outside and I'm recharged. 

This was a successful trip. I am happy to have wrapped up three states with minimal fuss and maximum enjoyment.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Easel on Down the Road - Kentucky, again

Last night I stayed in the lodge at Barren River Lake State Park in Kentucky. I got there in the dark, a full hour later than expected (thank you 5-year-old GPS). I was tired and therefore elated to find they had a restaurant from which I could order take-out. Ahhhh. Life is good when you can take a hot shower, watch MSNBC and eat a Cuban sandwich in your pj's!

This morning at breakfast I asked the hostess and waitress where I should paint. What was quintessential about their state? (Last April Angela, my best-friend-painting-girl, and I traveled through Kentucky and I painted a 16x20 of a lake with a tree in front. I don't like that painting, it does not represent the state to me and it is the wrong size.) From these women I heard about a goat farm, horse ranches and a cheese-making enterprise that also sells wine. The easiest destination was right in the park - the barn that houses horses. Perfect!

I set up by 10:30 (time zones be damned - I'm living on EST) and knocked down at 3. Some people walked by and many vehicles zoomed past but only one man stopped, got out of his truck and strolled over to take a look. He was cheerful and young, with a long, shiny ponytail. He worked at the park, knew every inch of it and loved it dearly. He asked a few questions about what I was doing then launched into a detailed account of catching catfish with his bare hands. He would dive under water and nudge them gently with a pole while they were in a cave. He would block the entrance, entice them out and catch them. The largest he caught was over 70 pounds. He has enough in his freezer to eat catfish every day of the week for a year and he generously offered to tell his wife to bring me some (he was on his way to work). I declined, imagining driving back to Michigan as they thawed for two days in my car. 

So, that is my Kentucky experience. Like Tennessee, it is a very Southern state. This afternoon, crossing the Ohio River in Louisville felt like moving into home territory. The traffic was fast and heavy but I did see beautiful, big bridges on either side of me spanning the huge waterway, gleaming buildings lining the shores. And then I was home - the Midwest. Now I am at a friend's house not far from Bloomington, Indiana. She and her son and, coincidentally, Angela's daughter (who is living here while she gets her doctorate at IU) have welcomed me with great conversation, Thai food and a comfortable bed. I cannot wait to see my surroundings in the daylight and pick a site from which to paint.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Easel on Down the Road - Tennessee

My short stay in Tennessee had many interesting aspects but one event will forever define it for me.  First things first...

I had a free week and decided to grab three more states before year-end (16.6 x 3 years = 50 states). So, yesterday I headed south out of Saugatuck (through a freakishly bad snow storm at the bottom of the lake) to Nashville, where my niece welcomed me with open arms, two small children and turkey chili (yum!). 

Robin is the oldest daughter of my third oldest sister. She unintentionally inspired me to write this blog because her own blog is both naturally humorous and unselfconsciously smart. http://peainherpod.blogspot.com

This morning, Robin and the boys led me to Percy Warner Park in Belle Meade, a city within the city of Nashville. Old stone steps climb gracefully up a hill, the entrance to over 800 acres of wooded trails. I set up looking at a small bridge. The old masonry was difficult to draw but the light through the trees was magnificent. It was cold and I had a hard time concentrating at first.

As soon as an expected phone call was received and completed, I could relax enough to focus.  That call was from "A Way With Words" (http://www.waywordradio.org), an NPR show that I heard in Minnesota (we don't get it in Saugatuck). I had called in about the word "oory-eyed" and they wanted to hear my story! I was so nervous; I was snuffling from the cold and madly trying to evade the leaf blowers who were roaring in the background, but talking to the hosts was easy and fun. I wonder how much will get edited out... 

So that call will always remind me of painting in Tennessee. And I will think of the mansions lining the streets in Belle Meade when I think of Nashville and also of being a young mom with little peas at home, playing endless board games and inventing Batman scenarios. 

Tonight I am in a lodge at Barren River Lake State Park in Kentucky. Tomorrow I paint this state a second time.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Easel on Down the Road - Final pictures and thoughts from the Badlands Trip, Leg 3

Being home has been a challenge. On the road my purpose in life was clear. My days were focused and production was completely interlaced with the rhythm of living. Nothing is better than that! Once I got home I felt dizzy, feet not anywhere near the earth. It wasn't just the little bits of paper floating across my kitchen table - receipts, business cards, notes to self - it was the awful realization that life could so easily consist entirely of the infinite shoring-up of loose ends. And, two-plus weeks later, I still don't have a grasp on how to limit those tiny time-zappers that add up to giant bites from each day. However, I continued to put my energies into finishing the five state paintings from the Badlands Trip so here they are in the order that I traveled. (Each 20x36 oil painting was started on site and finished in my studio at home.)

(Caro-Leverich Farm)

(North Shore, Lake Superior)

North Dakota
(Theodore Roosevelt National Park)

South Dakota
(Badlands National Park)

(Roadside Park)

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Iowa, the last "easeling" for a while

I must confess, I have spent precious little time in Iowa. I loved driving here Sunday. Farm after rolling farm and corn fields forever. Also, Iowa shared wind farms with its northern neighbor, Minnesota. I have never before seen this natural power source on a large scale. White wands whirling, one after another after another, like some kind of giant crop. Like ballet dancers: strong, straight, graceful... moving in slow, deliberate circles. They were beautiful! And seeing them gave me hope. Some of us ARE thinking of the future, thinking of the generations beyond our own. I felt proud and just a bit teary-eyed.

I thought I might want to paint a wind farm but yesterday I headed southeast out of Waterloo, into more endless cornfields.  After obtaining my required amount of coffee, I pulled into a roadside park off of Highway 30, a two-lane heading towards the Mississippi River. I set up in the shade and sketched a distant farm, thistles in the foreground. Iowa hugged me. The temperature was perfect for jeans and a polar fleece. The smells were sweet. The bugs chorused but did not buzz my head. This was a quiet corner in which to concentrate without stress... much different than being on display in a national park, much less exhausting.

Several cars pulled in, some stayed, but no one came to see what I was doing. Allen roared up on his motorcycle. It was great to have him check in during his touring. One man who worked for the DOT stopped to see what I was up to. But most of the afternoon I was alone and that felt great. I like my farm landscape. Ten years ago I painted many a farm in pastel. It was nice to be back to a familiar subject.

Today I head home. I am anxious to love up my dog. I look forward to laying out my paintings to see what stages they are in and if they have the potential I think they do. I want to catch up with friends and family. But I am a bit sad to be at the end so soon. This has been a fabulous working vacation. I really hit a rhythm: painting and driving, touring and eating... And it has been really nice to share this with Allen. I wasn't sure I could work and play but it seems they are completely compatible. Boo-ha!

Sunday, September 22, 2013

South Dakota

The road from North Dakota to South was a straight blue line stretching far, down a valley and up a distant hill. Rolling fields went in every direction with a random polka dot pattern of round hay bales or a scattering of cattle and endless fence posts. Not much else.

The two days I spent on the back of a motorcycle, touring first the Black Hills and next the Badlands, were thrilling. Yes, some of the excitement was in the danger. We wound through the Black Hills on Needles Highway, a narrow road with great drop offs, scrubby grass the only edge protection. "Needles" because of the tall, thin, needle-like rocks that rise out of the ground, poking at the sky. We took turns so tight, at such slow speeds, I could smell the pavement. The tunnels were all one narrow lane. The views were spectacular.

Yesterday I left the hotel in Rapid City before 9, a personal best. I had a 4 hour drive to last night's destination but only 45 minutes to get to amazing vistas in the Badlands National Park, where we had biked the day before. I pulled over in a slim spot. There was no shade but it was not yet 10 am, a good temperature, a soft breeze. I set up as fast as I could.  The light was changing rapidly, the wind was sure to pick up and the sun would soon bake the earth.

These shapes were even weirder than the ones in North Dakota. I started drawing with thin paint, agonizing over the endless folds, like sketching from a draped cloth in art school. In two hours I managed to get all the colors blocked in. It was boiling hot. One woman was suddenly standing behind me. She wore flowing aqua blue layers. She told me the tale of "How the Devils Tower Got Its Name". People came and went. Sometimes I was alone and then groups of people were talking to me and taking pictures. One woman said, "This will be the best picture of our trip!" How funny to be a tourist attraction. Of course I gave each and every onlooker a card with entreaties to read my blog. You know who you are!

So now I am poised to leave South Dakota after four fun days. I like my painting and I loved the time spent here. Today I drive over five hours to Waterloo, Iowa. Tomorrow I aim to paint on the east side of that state, that much closer to home.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Easeling in North Dakota

As I headed out of Bismarck yesterday, I pictured myself pulling over at a rest stop to capture the huge sky with the flat grasslands beneath.  Funny thing - North Dakota is not flat.  That must be Nebraska. The rolling hills were spectacular, gold fields stretching far... and the speed limit is 75. Woohoo. I am now a citizen of the West!

I had a room reservation in Medora, a small town (population 112) adjacent to Theodore Roosevelt National Park. Roosevelt came here in the 1880s to hunt. He fell in love with the wilderness and bought a ranch, then started another.  I pulled into the park, slowed for bison in the road and got a map depicting the 36 mile loop around acres of badlands.

Prairie dogs were all over the flat spaces, the same blond color as the bleached ground. They brought their little paws to their mouths, as squirrels nibble at nuts.  Same size too, only where is the tail for balance? Only a short stub, tipped black. I laughed to see them sitting alert and motionless. I thought, "They take themselves so seriously!"

I drove the winding road, looking for shade in which to paint. It was HOT - 85 or more. Every vista was amazing. Soft, rounded rock, rising from far below to grassland height. I set up in the blue shadow of a lone tree.  I started with a drawing, then value, as always. But the colors were a trick. It was high sun. Was the shadow of the rock purple or blue or some odd red-family-mix? Gawd! I painted for 3 hours then collapsed in my car.  I couldn't drink enough water. Cheap hotel, here I come.  There is nothing like clean sheets, air conditioning and a shower. By 5 o'clock - Mountain Time - I sat myself at the Old Missouri Saloon and ate a bison burger (lean and dry) and drank 2 wheat microbrews from Montana. The cole slaw was fermenting on its own.

I head to South Dakota today. I look forward to meeting up with Allen for a mini-vacation. We will ride his motorcycle around the Black Hills to Mt. Rushmore and other spots that I can't remember but he knows.  At the end of three days, we both head back, taking our time, me painting and he - cruising the back roads.

Monday, September 16, 2013


Today was a driving day. Some are painting, some travel. I thought a lot about Minnesota, the state I was leaving. My first day there I visited one of my two best friends from high school (my other best is her twin) in Minneapolis. It is a clean city, a young city, a healthy one.  As we walked around the lake nearest her home, droves of fit people ran and roller-skied by. Trees line the streets and there is a park every 6 blocks. The city is so progressive that they even recycle compost. Honest. That night we had a simple dinner of salmon and fresh farmers market potatoes and beans laced with the most delicious sauce I've ever eaten, something that started with a white wine reduction.

The next day I jumped in my car after a succulent breakfast out with the family. After 2 1/2 hours, I checked in to a nondescript hotel in Duluth, then drove partway up the north coast of Lake Superior, looking for inspiration. It is a luxury to have a day of reconnaissance.

On Sunday I got up early and again took Highway 61 up the coast. I drove almost the whole length, not quite to Grand Marais, before I stopped for coffee and advice. The amiable Minnesotan suggested Palisades Head, where I found cliffs high above the lake, waves breaking on rocks far below. I painted there for four hours.  I have never met more interested and polite people in one place. There were couples and families and rock repellers and each person was more thoughtful and friendly than the one before.

It can be hard to start a painting with onlookers. I dove in determinedly, inspired by the clear color and big shapes. Time melted away and I packed up late in the day when the sun came out, revealing shadows heretofore hidden.

So now I am in the land of giant sky. The birches and pines of Northern Minnesota gave way to the wide open plains, remaining trees tugging on the ground, hanging on in stripes along the soybean fields. I told the gas station girl outside of Fargo that I had never been to North Dakota and that I was excited.  She looked at me without smiling and said, "Don't die from boredom."

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Easel on Down the Road - Wisconsin

Ah... Wisconsin. I went to college in Wisconsin. I developed my love for beer in Wisconsin. I hitched-hiked and ate popcorn for dinner and saw Bob(s) Marley and Dylan in Wisconsin.  I returned to the state Wednesday after spending too much time trying to leave my home. I unwisely routed myself through Chicago during rush hour and landed at my friends' farm outside of Madison after an especially long and grueling turn around the lake.

A hot wind was blowing, old barn bones creaking.  Leigh Ellen greeted me with hugs and ebullience, her signature characteristic. She and her husband are part of my college family. We share the era when we were all free to dream and dream big. They have 8 acres, 2 horses, 2 outdoor cats, a golden lab and a kitten that tugs at the dog's ears and tail. The 150 year old farmhouse stands tall, it's original vanity burnished to a steadfast self confidence, clear in the knowledge of its purpose in the world.

The next morning I woke early, brought my coffee out to the porch and watched the rising sun wrap around a magnificent maple. My eyes wandered to some of the out-buildings: the corn crib, the hog barn, the little potting shed with greens growing out of the roof, but inevitably returned to the tree. It reaches up in every direction then back to the earth in a sweeping gesture of inclusion.

That tree would be the subject of my Wisconsin painting, yellowing soybean fields stretching out behind, a blue road diagonalling in from the right. I spent most of the day working on the full-sized canvas (24x30) and I like the final product. I may tweak it when I get back to my studio or I may leave the current energy intact.

Minnesota is next. I start in Minneapolis with a great friend from high school, also family to me, and her equally wonderful spouse. Then I head to the north shore of Lake Superior, anxious to find the view that reflects my wonder at nature's strength.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Easel on Past the Piano - Roadtripping at Home

Sometime in March I planned on traveling this week and picking up 3 more states. I had five days in a row off from work - just enough to paint in Ohio, Pennsylvania and possibly New York. I would fit in an evening near Pittsburg with one of my best buds from college, who put out the offer as soon as she saw my intent. (Thank you, Jules!)  I would hit the road and get back in time to do a pastel demo-fundraiser in Dowagiac on Saturday.

Sometime between then and now I realized I'm tired. I remembered how comfortable it is to paint in my large, airy studio. I saw the leaves twist their way out of hibernation and thought of all the gorgeous landscapes that are local that I haven't been able to paint since last fall. My decision was easy: stay home.

16x20 oil on canvas, from the Dunes State Park
My biggest challenge in this stationary travel plan was to apply the same rules to myself at home that I do on the road. Just paint and write. First, I kept all phone calls, meetings and miscellaneous errands to a minimum. (Impossible to eradicate completely.) I painted every day, both out in the dunes and here in the calm of my studio. I worked on local landscapes in person, from pastels and from photos. I painted some wonderful pieces and some awkward ones, but no matter what, I was productive.

What I did not do was go out and have dinner alone, thereby interacting with strangers. (Not that many strangers exist in a town this size!) Instead, I had dinner out with different friends every night, including another painter (great conversation), the mom of my daughter's dear friend (super to catch up), my divorced girlfriend pals (always things to talk about) and - definitely the most fun - my boyfriend. (We took his motorcycle cruising on the way to dinner; the clouds were stupendous, boasting their very best, teasing me to paint them.)

In the end I think my stay-at-home travels went well. I have an extensive trip planned for the fall but now that it is almost summer in Michigan, I may not wander too far. I learned that I can be just as focused and serious in my own town as I am when exploring the states and painting that journey.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Easel on Down the Road - Roadtripping with Angela, Part Two

I don't know how to write this blog entry.  I have started in my head many times but I am a week from the actual experience, and so - somewhat stymied. However, I am determined to soldier on; here goes.

The 2nd Leg of Easel on Down the Road was completely different from the first. (Remember that Florida did not qualify as a Leg.) Most disparate was having a traveling companion. Angela is not only a fellow plein-air-based painter but also a very good, old friend.  We drank wine together in Chicago when Gallo sold Hearty Burgundy for $5 a half gallon. I feel as normal as ever when I'm with her.  We forget things in equal amounts, we get muddled over numbers, we crave: more time to paint, good novels and gatherings of friends. Over the course of the week we discussed things like how to represent the weird-ass shapes of the mountains, what the heck color were they and how do you mix it? We talked about family and future, money and meals. We laughed, sometimes uncontrollably, and we painted, drove back roads and painted some more.

The only downside of having a companion was that the trip was too safe. We stayed in lovely guest houses and ate home cooked food. We were comfortable. There are advantages to this but, somehow, there is not as much to write about. I did not meet many strangers or interact much with local culture. The only occasion that brought me fear was eating ribs that were not fully cooked at a roadside stand. I did not find time to write and I realize now that I enjoyed writing so much the first Leg because I was lonely. Writing provided me companionship. 


I am not complaining! I would not change this trip one little bit. I cherish the time spent with such a dear friend. Priceless, also, was the hashing out of artistic quandaries with someone else crazy enough to pursue painting as a lifestyle. 

We painted in Virginia, West Virginia and Kentucky. I have 8 or 9 small paintings and have already been at work in the studio on prepping for the large versions. I'll put up pictures of the 3 when they're finished. My next small trip is unknown but I'll travel alone again and perhaps seek out a bit of edginess. 

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Easel on Down the Road - 1st half of 2nd Leg, Road Tripping with Angela

This past Tuesday we drove all day and by 9pm found ourselves on a windy mountain road on the western side of Virginia. All day the GPS and the printed Google map were in conflict with each other and we thought we might never get there. We arrived in the dark; just down a steep hill was a little red building - a gallery that represents Angela - with a little guest cottage snugged into a hill at the back.

In the morning we drove east on 39, a narrow two-lane with switchback turns and electrifying drop-offs, worthy of a Hitchcock film. We painted in two locations, both with gentle mountains sleeping in the distance. We returned "home" by six and could barely stay awake long enough to eat dinner - homemade meatballs that came all the way from my freezer in Saugatuck.

Thursday we drove to Charlottesville and pulled into the drive of a lovely home with another lovely guesthouse. Barbara Buhr, the owner of Warm Springs Gallery, again found us beautiful accommodations. The temperature is much warmer here at the base of the Blue Ridge Mountains and trees of all kinds are in bloom.We have painted the last two days at local wineries. "Le Blue Ridge" was small and intimate and there were cows in the nearby fields that became small black smudges in my landscapes. The owners are from Quebec and very friendly. 

Yesterday we found "The King Family Winery". We were challenged in finding a spot that would both welcome (or tolerate) our presence and provide shelter from the potential rain. The winery has a broad covered walk, running the length of the building, and a very nice staff that kept track of our progress throughout the day. We were privy to sweeping views with horses, cows and a sprawling colonial home in the distance. Unfortunately, the animals could not survive my paintbrush. 

Today we are heading to a nearby farm that is owned by an artist who paints cows. I want to paint cows! We will clean up, pack and head back to Warm Springs tonight. Tomorrow I may make my way into West Virginia to paint in that state, leaving Angela to find a landscape on foot in the little town, population 123, where Thomas Jefferson once imbibed in the healing powers of the naturally warm water.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

More thoughts on painting; there are no mistakes in art.

Painting is a lonely sport. I was in the studio all day and enjoying myself but by 5 I was sick of it. Sick of the sludge that had mixed up - all by itself, of course - on the canvas. What happened to that fresh color, the unpredictable brush strokes, the perfect balance of control and freedom? Argh.

There are days when I connect to a universal energy that seems to swing my brush for me. Painting becomes a place to take chances, to take chances and win! There are no mistakes. There is only me, acting with clear focus and not thinking too hard. Just painting.

Then there are days when all I do is waste paint. I say to myself, "There are no mistakes in art. There are no rules." This is supposed to free my inhibitions. But it is too late.  The painting is already precious. The marks get smaller and more repetitive. The piece winds tighter and tighter till I have no choice but to scrape it all off. I think two things: I may only ever be an average painter. (Is that so bad? Does anyone care besides me?) And - tomorrow is another day.

Thank God I have wonderful friends who ask me over for beer and pizza and to meet their new boyfriend (cute!) because that took my mind off the swirling black hole of my artistic abilities. Now I am too tired to over-analyze any longer. It is clearly time for bed.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Some Thoughts on Painting

Art does not have rules.  This is nice. This is also odd at times. Regardless, I painted straight through today. It's all a song, a story, an energy. Really good painting is much more about the moment than anything else.  And, the moment encompasses all.

Recently, someone asked me why I would still be working at something that I had not been able to master in four years.  I have thought a lot about this. Oil painting is exciting because it is so allusive. I am frustrated and delightfully enticed at the same time. (Four years? That is no time!)

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Easel on Down the Road - Florida

Florida was a different kind of road trip.  To start with, it was not really a road trip; it was a mom-tour, in which two moms and four airplanes were involved. It's not that the artwork portion was exactly incidental... but the point of the trip was to spend quality time with both my mom and my boyfriend's mom. This kind of assignment is easily done with two such vibrant ladies, sunshine and copious amounts of really good seafood!

I brought my watercolors supplies (because wet oil paintings just don't fly well) and painted nearly every day. 

Back when I first graduated from college, I did watercolor house portraits and I was adept at using this type of paint.  However, similar to putting an instrument down for 3 decades, ignoring a medium has its consequences. Eventually I got the hang of it, though, and came home with many watercolors from which to paint my final 24x30 oil of Florida.

Six states are now done and I have scheduled out the rest to be finished by the end of 2014. Most of these are clustered into road trips like the first one.  The next trip is in less than a month and includes at least three states.  Anyone care to guess which ones?? 

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Easle on Down the Road - First Five

My route






I have more pictures and a story that goes with each state but I do like to see them together as a group on their own.  Perhaps I will blog each state separately, as I did with Texas. Meanwhile, Florida is next.  It is a singular event, not a leg; in fact, it is a mom-tour.  I will bring watercolors and sketch pads and I look forward to recording lots of Florida scenes while I am there.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Texas (it might be done): Follow the Fifty

This may be the final version of "Texas".  It is impossibly hard to determine an end point but I can't dawdle too long; there are many more to paint!

Below is Peter painting a watercolor in the grotto that is called Hamilton Pool. My setup comes next and then the 10x14 that I did on location. I like this plein air version because it is fresh. There were a lot of people climbing around behind us, including rasta-types that juggled long sticks with tassels. Some folks even swam in the 45* water. So it was challenging to concentrate and I remember I mixed only about 7 colors. We got out of there in about two hours. Peter carried all the heavy stuff and I led the way, missing the steps up to parking and adding about a mile onto the trek.

Below starts the 24x30 canvas.  It was a challenge to draw because I only had the on-site painting to look at. The photos from the spot did not turn out well and were not a good source of information.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Day 12 and Conclusions of the First Leg - Easel on Down the Road, Follow the 50

I am home! My house feels big and indulgent after hotel rooms and a traveling studio. I grew to be comfortable in my car; the front seat was my living room. It's smell made me dizzy at times. (I did not anticipate the strong odorless-turpentine-odor. Or was that the oil paint?) There is a kind-of community on the highway:  a set of standard practices regarding speed, passing and I don't know what else since I'm a beginner.  But I sorta felt like a trucker... or, well, a citizen of the road...

Points of note from First Leg:

State parks with lodges rock!
Two nights in one spot is optimal.
Pack more socks and less t-shirts.
A smaller suitcase would be easier.
12 days is just the right amount of time to be away from home (only one weekend gone).
Having a destination or specific turn-around point, that has a separate function from painting (like visiting your first-born), is ideal.
The journey is as much about interacting with local culture as about painting.
Salads on the road suck.
It is smart to stop at a grocery and buy apples and oranges.

Stuff I learned about myself:

I like the anonymity of the road.
I like writing as much as painting.
Meeting people is easy when I am well rested.
The giant plains are home to me.
I like the freedom of being responsible only to me.
I do best when following my gut.

In conclusion, I have 7 paintings of 5 states and I will need to put lots more time into a Final Five, but I think I have enough information with which to work. I will post photos of each state and its finished painting as it makes sense. I am already planning my next trip (can't tell!). I would return to three places in a heartbeat: Petit Jean State Park in Arkansas, Austin, TX and Clarksdale, MS. I have had a blast relating my adventures.  Thanks for following!

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Days 10 and 11 - Follow the Easel

I am tired.  I am mighty glad to be headed home tomorrow. Yesterday and today were the last two painting days of "Leg One", spent in Louisiana and Mississippi respectively.

Yesterday was grey and cool and I did not leave myself many options for finding a landscape in Louisiana. I spent the night in the northeast corner of the state. I naively thought that I could access the Mississippi River from Highway 65, a "scenic route". Later I realized that the pattern on the map may have actually indicated a railroad, as tracks ran next to me the entire length of my drive north.  Finally, when I was within 16 miles of the Arkansas border, I pulled into "The Byerly House Visitor Information Center" in Lake Providence. Edith greeted me from a large desk two rooms back.  The building was old and hot; she was very hospitable.  She said, "In Louisiana, we take our cypress trees seriously," so I set up on a boardwalk on "Grant's Canal" (he attempted to build a canal to the Mississippi and failed) and painted the trees that grew out of the water.  I packed up three hours later and headed North.

I landed in Clarksdale, Mississippi rather randomly; it fit my itinerary. By chance there was a busy Mexican restaurant within walking distance of my motel and that is where I met George and Goldie, my Clarksdale angels. I do not overstate! We struck up a conversation at dinner and before I knew it, they were chauffeuring me around town on a guided tour. These two are not just any old locals - they know the historical significance of every home and building (like the rectory where Tennessee Williams spent childhood with an uncle). They know the owners of very unique places like the Shack Up Inn, an inn made from the original sharecropper shacks on the Hopson Cotton Plantation. (I highly recommend checking out their website - very cool place!) They told me all about "The Juke Joint Festival", a blues festival that celebrates past and living history. (This event is going on my calendar! And, in the small-world-department, Mississippi Gabe Carter, the son of very good friends of mine, plays here every year.) I am so glad that this city was exactly three hours north of my landscape location in Louisiana.

The next day, today, I went back to the Shack Up Inn to paint.  I liked the old buildings with the vast, flat delta beyond. The people I met there were friendly and open. An artist with a studio in the seed building behind my setup, affably showed me his work-space when I needed a break. It was inspiring to see where he makes his art and to hear about what motivates him. After wrestling for over two hours with an 11x14 of a silo, windmill and other structures, I packed my paints for the last time this trip.

I will drive 9 hours tomorrow to spend the night in my very own bed. I miss my boyfriend, my dog, my friends and my house. The best part about traveling is returning home!

Monday, January 21, 2013

Days 7, 8 and 9 - Easle on Down the Road - Follw the Fifty

I spent the weekend in Austin. I love that city! It is clean, young and full of arty-hippie types. I think we ate Tex-Mex 3 out of 4 meals: hot, freshly toasted tortillas with fried avocado or eggs, cheese and peppers. There was lots of food served in "parks" out of trailers, sort of like at a carnival but made with fresh and unique ingediants and not necessarily deep-fried. Last night we went to "Django Unchained", a must-see, in a theater that served dinner and drinks while you watched the movie. What a simple luxury; we need these establishments in Michigan!

On Sunday Peter and I drove to Hamilton Pool, a natural basin sunk into an amphitheater of rock, 20 miles west of Austin. He was my Sherpa, carrying the heavy painting supplies into the canyon. He good-naturedly agreed to paint a watercolor landscape while I worked in oils. (I feel success as a mom in that not only do both children like The Beatles but both asked for art supplies for Christmas.) It was a hard view to capture, the rock rising far above and wrapping around us. We did as best we could and were both relieved to pack it up two hours later. I produced a 9x12 that I think I like. I'm not sure how it will translate to a final 24x30 but that is clearly a problem for another day.

Today I drove 8 hours northeast through rural Texas into Louisiana.  The trip went quickly because I was listening to "Sweet Tooth" by Ian McEwan. I LOVE the story so far; the characters are interesting, the description is rich and the plot is compelling. Tomorrow I will look for a landscape to paint in this state, possibly overlooking the Mississippi River.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Day 6 - Easel on Down the Road

This title seems to be sticking... I continue to be open to suggestions because this is a fluid project, but I do love the humor of the name. I think if you can laugh your way through life, your quality of living must be pretty high.

Yesterday, Day 6, was extremely uneventful. I hiked for an hour in Beavers Bend Sate Park before packing up to head into Texas. The trail felt surprisingly similar to those of Dunes State Park at home in Michigan, with rolling hills and leafless hardwoods, the early morning light creating shadow stripes across my path. One big difference was the chunks of quartz, large and small, littered everywhere. At first I thought they were patches of snow because of the way they glinted in the sun. Evidently the Ouachita Mountains are "fold mountains", like the Appalachians, and were originally part of that range. They were created 300 million years ago during a collision of the South American plate with the North American continental crust, an event called the Ouachita orogeny. The quartz was "formed as folded rocks cracked and allowed fluids from deep in the Earth to fill the cracks." (Thank you, Wikipedia!)

The road trip from Broken Bow Lake in Oklahoma through Paris, Dallas and Waco, Texas was incredibly boring.  Most of it was city-scape and uninspiring. I was surprised to cross a large lake (Lake Ray Hubbard) east of Dallas on a very long bridge. The GPS took me straight through that city, a curiously easy route. Entering Austin during rush hour was no picnic, however, as going 3 miles took over 30 minutes.

Peter lives in a funky little neighborhood near downtown.  The houses are small and artsy, with Mexican tiles embedded, Christmas lights stretching and trees growing up, down and sideways, appearing to hug the homes. Today will be sunny and warm and though I don't expect to paint, I look forward to exploring this new territory.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Day 5, Easel on Down - Follow the 50

Today I painted. I'm starting to get the rhythm of driving, sleeping, painting (hiking too). The days when I don't drive are so long and free! The only part I don't like so far is eating alone.  Sometimes I can get people to talk to me, sometimes I can't, but mostly its lonely.  I'm not sure if I am tired of reaching out or if people in Oklahoma are less accessible than in Arkansas. Anyway, the painting part of today was great.

I set up at the edge of a lake. The temperature rose from low 40's to mid 50's  and the wind was mild at first.  I got out a big canvas because I foresaw painting only one piece in Oklahoma.  I am starting to be realistic with myself. I drew a detailed pencil drawing first.  I fleshed in a composition but my focus was on value.  I wrote the words "darkest", "2nd darkest", etc. over each succinct area of the drawing. I am not usually a planner but this really helped me deal with the change of light in a four hour span. My primary goal was in covering the entire canvas with at least one layer of paint.  When I go back to it, the white of the canvas will not distract my attention and the colors will provide something to build on. Hopefully the value will be correct.

So now I have two large, wet paintings in my super cool portable painting rack (thank you, Allen) and two small ones.  Tomorrow I drive to Texas to visit my number-one-son, Peter aka Pedro aka Pascaal. This time I will enjoy the scenery of the trip and maybe even pull over and sketch a view or two. I can't wait to see Peter and the city of Austin and have a cold beer while listening to great live music.

My stay in Oklahoma has been short. They say the topography in this SE corner is atypical for the state.  I guess that means my paintings are more about my journey than about some kind of quintessential state landscape. One thing I noticed: the coyotes here sound just the same as back home.

Day 4, Easel on Down the Road - Follow the 50

This new title came courtesy of Jillian (thanks!) and makes me laugh. In fact, I did change states on Day 4, which is a story in itself.

But first, I woke to a sunny day in Arkansas, took a long hike and had a big breakfast in the lodge before packing up to paint the view from Mt. Magazine. This state park is about an hour's drive west, down one winding road, across flat ranch land and up another twisty two-lane. In Arkansas, they do not clutter your view with things like fences or guard rails. (They post signs saying as much.) I took some tight turns where I didn't dare look over the edge.

On my way to finding the perfect painting spot, I saw a possum waddling up the road, completely unconcerned about my car heading for him.  I thought he must be sick to be out during the day. Then his weird, prehistoric form came into focus - an armadillo!

Eventually I set up on a mound of grassy stone curving away into cliffs that led to the valley below. A sign read, "Hang gliders please register at the lodge." I could not imagine running and jumping into such emptiness. All day birds of prey glided silently below me.

A friendly gentleman from Texarkana wandered by and we chatted for a bit.  He and his wife were staying in one of the cabins that perch on that overlook. I thought maybe I would like to stay in one some day.

I painted on one of my large canvases (24x30). This will be the size of the final fifty. I covered the surface in 3 hours and decided to pack up. (How do you keep mountains from looking like a 70's album cover? This is a problem I will solve another day.) I was tired.

When I plugged in the address of Beavers Bend State Park, my GPS said I would not arrive until 8pm. Bummer! I missed a turn and entered Oklahoma far north of my original plan, but it only added 8 minutes to the trip so I stayed the course.  What I did not realize was that my new route was a "scenic route", south through the Blue Ouachita Mountains. Not so scenic when the sky is black and the turns are hairpin. Evidently Oklahoma is not big on guard rails either.

I eventually arrived safe and sound and had a fabulous salad and 3 Heinekens at a local restaurant. The lodge in this state park is not old and grand like Petit Jean's but the room is large and all I wanted was to fall into bed. When I woke this morning I saw a beautiful lake out my balcony (!) with the sun rising behind the distant hills. Today is another good day to paint!!

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Day 3: A Painting Pilgrimage - Follow the 50

This is yesterday's image of Mather Lodge, where I will stay one more night. It is important to note that this is yesterday because today was cold and grey and began to snow once I set up my easle. It came down in perfect little balls. They stuck to my painting and palette and refused to mix in, even with the emphatic urging of a palette knife. I smudged the paint on an 8x10 and finally climbed in the Fit and cranked the heat when I was too cold to grip a brush, then called Angela, my favorite veteran-painter friend. She plein-air paints in the winter and even likes the texture of cold paint, imagine! She gave me the best idea of the day: paint from the back of the Honda with the hatch up.  Simple.

So I moved to a different overlook and crammed into the back of the car, wedged between my canvas-bearing sweater rack, a box of Christmas presents for Peter and a case of beer, also for Peter (though some have mysteriously disappeared). I was able to balance the 2nd 8x10 on my thighs, set the palette on the beer box and start a decent painting, careful not to tip over the jar of turpentine. My feet went numb since they were sticking out into the cold and not getting much blood flow but the painting had potential. Unfortunately, the view became increasingly vague as the little balls morphed into giant flakes and the valley below disappeared into white.

I soon returned to the lodge, determined to regroup and paint after lunch but I could not convince myself to go outside again and so I sat by the giant fire and read.

IF I could upload today's photos (the iPad just isn't a laptop, now is it), then you could see how my two small paintings turned out. Neither would qualify as a worthy "First" in my series of 50, but I do have tomorrow to paint in this state before I head to Oklahoma. I think I will go to Magazine Mountain, the highest point in Arkansas.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Day 2 - Is Roadtripping Still Reckless? Follow the 50

I started the day in Rolla, Missouri, where I was told it wasn't the South or the North, just the Middle.  I drove far longer than it looked on the map (5-plus hours) to this small State Park in Arkansas, Petit Jean. The lodge is spectacular! It was built in the 30's by the Civilian Conservation Corps using rock from the local mountains. The beams are at least 12 inches thick and the ceilings are forever high. The view looking west is of a distant valley.

I got here mid-afternoon and hiked to a stunning waterfall.  There is no way I will drag my easel and canvas down that rocky trail! I tried to draw the raging water and slammed my sketchbook shut. An eight year old girl asked if I would paint it. "Nope!" There are many more trails and views here to choose from, though I may end up just outside the lodge, painting the quintessential triangle that frames the faraway hills.

I think I am being romantic rather than realistic by using the word "reckless" In my title. Tonight I drove 12 miles to get a burger and a beer (this county is dry) for dinner and then turned around without eating. (Thank you, Vicki, for packing me a substantial snack bag!) The only "Lounge" had 12 pickups and one sedan and I suddenly felt pretty damn careful. A woman alone in a bar in the South just feels a little suspect... And so I may have been "cautious" or  even "cowardly" but surely not "reckless".  This project needs a new name.  Any suggestions?

Tomorrow I take brush to canvas, for sure.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Day One of Reckless Roadtripping - Follow the 50

So I don't have a title for my project yet but I can't seem to stay away from "reckless". It is my beer-drinking name at Saugatuck Brewery (thank you, Allen) but also the alliteration charms me. One meaning of "reckless" is to be unconcerned with the consequences of ones actions which is really the sort of freedom I've been striving for so maybe the word won't go away because it fits.

Anyway, I spent all day driving and landed in Rolla, MO, which feels like the South because they have fried ocra as a side at the local steak house. I listened to "On the Road" by Jack Kerouac most of the way down and realized I felt really dingy when, 6 hours into it, the local radio station played 80's music and I liked it!

Tomorrow I drive to Petit Jean State Park in Arkansas to find myself a landscape to paint. I hope I can learn how to upload photos from my iPad before that day is done!