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.