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!

Sunday, January 6, 2013

A Painting in One Night

Last Friday night I found myself with nothing to do and an abundance of energy. I looked around for a painting to paint over and found "It's About the Clouds", which was a fine plein air attempt but nothing special.  Also, being only 12x12, I thought I could take this on in one sitting. Below is the metamorphosis. I worked looking at a photo from the Dunes State Park. I was very warmed up from working on "Three Pines" all day and this little landscape just about leaped off my brush! I started around 9 and was cleaned up and in bed by midnight.

The original "Its About the Clouds"

Michigan Scene

"Three Pines" gets a makeover.

So here is a painting I did this summer.  It was in the gallery from late summer till we closed for the month of January.  Several people thought seriously about buying it but the more I looked at it, the less I liked it. Initially, I just wanted to make the tree trunks brown, because they looked like birch trunks instead of pine.  Once I did that, I could not stop adding color. New life for a sickly painting... feels so good... !