Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Loose Ends: Ohio, New York and Michigan are finished.

I almost forgot about OH, NY and MI. When I returned from my last "Easel on Down the Road" trip, 7 weeks remained until my Open Studio Sale - the first as an independent business person. I put the half-finished Easel paintings to the side in order to work on new canvases for this event. It is wonderful to have a deadline, especially for landscapes of my own choosing - beaches, water and big skies filled with clouds.

In a short five weeks I left to teach a class in Escanaba, a small city clinging to a northeast corner of Lake Michigan in the UP. This was a very calm trip.  It involved attending a show that I had juried and then one day of teaching oil landscapes. I loved everything about my visit and hope to return soon.

After Escanaba I had one week to prep for the Studio Sale, which went off beautifully - better than I could have imagined - and confirmed for me that I am on the right path. Making art full time is actually a viable career. Phew!

So it was not until this week that I pulled out Ohio (a city-scapes - yikes!) and New York (I love it too much to touch it). I set Michigan out also, as I had started this plein air shortly after the New England Easel but never addressed it again. All three need to be finished before I can call this year complete. I looked at Ohio and did not like it and I did not want to work on it but herein lies the beauty of "Easel" - it is my job and I have no choice but to finish each piece. I lit the wood burning stove, put my BB King channel on Pandora and went to work.

As I worked on Ohio, I remembered the cold, windy day and my general discomfort. These feelings seem to have translated to this final piece, which turned out somewhat anxious and oddly ghostly.

Cleveland, Ohio
Then I worked up my courage to re-enter New York, a piece I was already quite fond of. This emotion can be the kiss of death, because as soon as I feel a painting is actually good, I become too careful and tight. I took stock of what was there: accurate color, strong values and a true drawing. I could do this - I had only to apply thicker paint!

Robert Treman State Park, Ithaca, New York
Last - Michigan. It was also a difficult plein air to go back into. It had great energy: strong brush strokes, a huge value contrast and good color. I wondered whether I could achieve anything better without destroying the fresh feel. But this was my 5th day of painting in  a row. I was extremely warmed up and in control of the paint. I remembered something my yoga instructor said last week: move slowly and with deliberation, as if you are going through water. Feel the earth beneath you. I concentrated on the physical flow of applying paint and stayed focused.

Dunes State Park, Saugatuck, Michigan

So, that makes 33 states finished. I may squeeze Illinois in yet this year, or I may have to fit it into 2015, when I will attack the Wild West.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014


I know Ohio. I have driven across the top and down the middle many, many times. I have bicycled hundreds of miles along the Sciota River. When I think of an Ohio landscape I see a white barn with its bald silo planted in the flat green expanse. I see an old farmhouse set in a pocket of trees, hugging a golden field.

And so, I decided to paint an urban landscape. Last month, driving home from New England on 90, I was pleasantly surprised by the sweep of the highway along Lake Erie, Cleveland's downtown deceptively touchable. I had not painted a skyline since I lived in Chicago 30 years ago and it was about time.

I found a small park on the lake just east of downtown. It was next to a marina and enjoyed by local fishermen and others who want to contemplate the lake's horizon. I got there by 11:00 and strolled around, looking for the most interesting view of the city. I set up with the docks underlining a cluster of buildings.The clouds sailed in and my composition was complete!

I had good energy but it was cold and the wind built as the clouds massed. I felt uncomfortable with my surroundings. Was this a dangerous place for a woman alone? I didn't think so but I couldn't be sure. Drawing the skyline took exacting attention which I could not muster. I outlined the shapes and filled in color with shivery strokes. Several men stopped to talk or take pictures. They were pleasant enough. But slowly I became so distracted that I stopped looking - death to a plein air! After 90 minutes, I packed up and headed to the Cleveland Museum of Art. If I couldn't make a good painting, I could certainly learn from others.

I put an hour on the street meter, just the right amount of time to dance through the Modern Galleries before the long drive home. I love to go to a museum alone. I sweep from painting to painting and only stop when one grabs me. I am always on the lookout for a Matisse or Van Gogh that I've never seen. I was rewarded by one of each. But what really arrested me was a female nude by Gauguin. "In the Waves" was simple and abstract, the woman diagonal across the canvas, surrounded by a rather raw green. Curls of white wave-caps connected her to the edges. It took my breath away!

And so, this Ohio experience was complete. I headed home, planning on finishing Cleveland in the peacefulness of my own studio.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Easeling on Down the Road in New York State

I reached Ithaca, New York Monday afternoon. I had taken the "short" route through Canada on Sunday so that I could visit with my nephew, Brendan, and his family on the way. Always industrious and never boring, they were pressing apples into cider when I arrived.

In Ithaca, Sam (brother to Brendan) and his partner were waiting for me in their charming, art-filled home. Sam and I went hiking to scout for painting places while Nick graded papers for his class at Cornell. That night we walked down the block to a simple, elegant restaurant where I enjoyed butternut-lime soup and a beet salad.

Tuesday was warm. Sam headed to NYC early and I made thick, press-pot coffee. After a fruitful discussion with Nick over peanut butter toast, I jumped into the Fit and drove just 12 minutes to the Robert Treman State Park. The lower trail led along steep, stoney cliffs and I gasped when I rounded the corner to see a man-made bridge high above rushing water, neatly fitted into the vertical shims of rock. I set up quickly, intending to paint this unique dialogue. It was hardly 10 am and the only other people there were masons, repairing the rock path.

My heart was racing. The water below was loud and the sound pounded through my veins. This was a difficult view. All of the colors were in the same family! I squinted to find the differences in value. I sketched the big shapes, then washed the darks in with a thin, warm grey. It looked good at this point - like a big, loose watercolor - and I felt the urge to stop. (Maybe this was the best it could be!) I continued.  

As I worked, I relaxed. The magic soaked in. This was a home to fairies, wood creatures, elfin beings. I filled my lungs with the turbulent air. Those negative ions - so much energy! Some people passed, their gate muffled by the river, cameras slung over their shoulders. One photographer took several pictures of me working (and generously emailed them to me later). Others paused to smile and note my progress.

Photo courtesy of Kurt Rhymestine

By 1:00 (my intended departure time), I was deep into defining the darker details. I slowly scraped the palette  at 1:30, cognizant of the long drive ahead. 

One of the masons was watching me. We chatted as I packed up. During the basketball season he plays exhibition games for the team that opposes the Harlem Globetrotters. What a job! He was looking forward to an upcoming event in Japan. He cheerfully offered to help carry the cart loaded with easel, supplies and the wet painting. This was a very welcome kindness, as the uneven path back to my car included several sets of stairs.

"Easel on Down the Road" has afforded me all kinds of personal perks. I spend time with family and friends in their own homes, a luxury to savor later. I meet people who are interesting and unique, with their own stories to unfold. And, I am often the recipient of unexpected generosity from strangers. Life does not get much better than this!

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Easel on Down the Road - the New England states are finished!

I have finished the New England states. They came home is fairly rough shape, as this was the first trip with my new trailer and I need to tweak its wet-painting-storage-system. For one thing, styrofoam is not a good space-holder. It has the right amount of give but it wants to disintegrate into little white balls that absolutely love wet oil paint! I sanded every painting when I got home, due to this added texture. Also, my shelves were not quite tight enough so some paintings slipped and hit the ones below, leaving dents. A little water sprayed on the back fixed these imperfections. Despite these problems and some smudged paint, all of these pieces had great "bones" with which to work. I referenced images of the sites but mostly I just used what was already on the canvas, adding the richness of thicker paint while keeping the colors and values the same.  As I reworked each one, I recalled the place I stood and greatly enjoyed the memories this produced.

Connecticut - The Thimble Islands

Rhode Island - Colt State Park

Massachusetts - Parker River National Wildlife Refuge

Maine - Quoddy Head State Park

New Hampshire - The White Mountains

Vermont - Green Mountain National Forest

Thursday, September 18, 2014

The last New England Easel - VT

Vermont is gorgeous! Even in the rain. Tuesday morning I crossed the bottom of the state on Hwy 9 and found a diner tucked into the valley. I sat on a crookedy stool and read a local paper while waiting for the weather to clear. The coffee was strong and the people were quiet. I read a story about a covered bridge that was swept away in the storms of Hurricane Irene and finally replaced. I watched two biker chicks in leather chaps, flannel shirts and long braids come in and order breakfast. Mother Nature was making me slow down.

Good thing, cause travel is tiring. I needed to find a quiet place to paint without an audience. Back in the car, still heading east, I passed through Wilmington, a quaint little town. The Green Mountain National Forest was just ahead, then the state ends. Mist clung to the low hills and I crossed many a rocky stream that called out to be painted. The problem was - where? And then I saw a dead end road and pulled in. I parked and climbed down the hill. It was still overcast but I had found my spot, protected from the elements under the two lane highway. I began to draw.

The composition was challenging. I forgave myself for not fitting the mountains in and concentrated on the moving water. The gurgling was entrancing but I was dead tired. As the sky cleared and clouds blossomed, the light kept changing as if someone was clicking a switch on and off. Were the rocks pink or blue-grey? Argh! I put colors down, not really caring. This piece would never survive. I had a disaster on my hands but I continued, in the effort to cover up all white.

And then something happened. I got lost in the process and my exaughstion disappeared. The paint began to cooperate and I stared making sense of the space. Aside from the occasional truck rumbling above me, my location felt suddenly serene. 

After three hours I called it good and packed up my stuff for the last time this trip. I liked what I had done and was ready to head home. I had no definite place to stay that night so I just got on the road and drove. The late afternoon light was exquisite. Highway 90 across the state of New York provides the most awesome views of the Hudson River Valley. Now I understand why all those painters were drawn here so long ago.

Monday, September 15, 2014

"Live Free or Die" in New Hampshire

Now that's a slogan! I drove here yesterday from my cousin's cozy and fanciful home in Maine. It was a beautiful journey through hilly back roads. In the late afternoon I pulled into an old fashioned motor lodge on Hwy 302, near the foothills of New Hampshire's White Mountains. After cleaning up and unhitching my trailer, I cruised into town and found a local steakhouse where the people were talkative and the burgers - superb. A particularly interested gentleman gave me great advice on a working location. A rest stop just five miles up the road had ample parking, clean bathrooms and a view of the Presidential Range, Mt. Washington at its apex.

I drove there right after coffee this morning and was working by 9 a.m. I've never started that early while on the roadThe day was cool and clear. People wafted by. Everyone was enjoying the incredible view and I heard from many that the summit was almost never visible... only 13-22 days a year! I reveled in my morning energy (many times I drive 1-2 hours before painting). Every aspect of this episode was completely gratifying.

I painted for nearly five hours - such a luxury - then drove into Southeastern Vermont in the afternoon, in preparation for a morning of painting near Wilmington.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Easel on Down the Road in Maine

I woke on Saturday, anxious to get back to painting. Allen's motorcycle was pointed home and I was headed in the opposite direction - Lubec, Maine. I had been told that the best Maine lighthouse was at Quoddy Head State Park, facing the islands of Canada and just ten minutes from one of my dearest friends and relatives, cousin Steph. 

I got to the park by eleven, expecting the place to be deserted, as I'd taken the only road north, turned on the only road east and stopped at the end of a long peninsula. But it was "open lighthouse day" and there was already a line of people waiting to climb to the top.

No wonder - the lighthouse is a beautiful, old, brick structure, built in 1898 (replacing the original 1808 building). It is on the easternmost point of land in the US, stretching into the Bay of Fundy. I made the wise decision to go inside the house and look at art by some of the best known Maine painters. Edward Hopper's reproduction caught my eye as a good way to solve the compositional problems of capturing such a monolithic form.

I was nervous. I hadn't painted for six days and I was a bit tired after the week's vacation and a two hour drive (the Honda felt like a luxury mansion compared to the motorcycle, though I missed the bite of wind and the rush of fear that riding it engenders). 

I walked partway down the hill, found the closest spot that was out of the cool breeze and unfolded my easel. Putting colors on the palette made me feel more confident. I began to draw with thinned paint. I ran the tower's spire off the top of the canvas, right of center, and let just a portion of the attached house show. (Thank you, Hopper!) Drawing took a lot of focus, as there is no faking a lighthouse. But, once it was done, I could relax and fill in color.

Throughout this process, people stopped to talk in a nice, easy-mannered way. Most began by asking if they could take a look. Some wanted to speak of their own endeavors and others were genuinely curious about my motivation and methods. I went from feeling like a performing monkey to enjoying the flow of humanity.

The whole thing went pretty well, given its challenging nature. I stayed three hours. I used a big paintbrush and once the canvas was covered, I packed up. No good can come of overworking a wet painting! I think the values are accurate and I hope I can retain the freshness once I clean it up a bit and throw in a tad more detail.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Motorcycle Interlude

When I was 4, my sister and her husband took me on the el to downtown Chicago to see the newly released "Mary Poppins" in a huge theater. This was the biggest thing that had ever happened to me. Halfway through the movie "Intermission" came up on the screen and music played and we went into the lobby and bought eclairs from behind large, lit windows. I mean - wowwwww.

Currently, I am experiencing an intermission from "Easel on Down the Road" that is knocking my socks off. In Maine, Allen and I consolidated our stuff, hopped on his motorcycle and, after one day of hiking in Acadia National Park, crossed the border into Canada (we were flagged and had to speak with an officer who looked up our immigration status) at St. Stephens. We spent the next day and night in Alma, on the Bay of Fundy. This is the view from our hotel room. I mean - WOWWWWWW!

We motored to Prince Edward Island the next day. The 8 mile bridge was the longest I'd ever been on. Near the middle, the seagulls looked big and the land looked small... on both sides. Today we took a sea coast tour of the northern loop on the island. Farms roll right down to the water's edge: round hay bales, horses, cows, potato fields... all able to gaze at the Northumberland Strait. It smelled like mussels, just steamed. We made our way to the lighthouse at North Cape.


Behind us were windmills. Ahead, the gigantic Gulf of St Laurence; we were at the northern-most tip of PEI.

Yes, this is one amazing interlude. We head back into the states tomorrow and I resume my painting quest the following day, happy to have had this exact adventure in the middle of "Easel".

Tuesday, September 9, 2014


For this state I chose where to paint before leaving home. Most of my decisions are last minute but I planned to meet Allen in Kittery, ME that night and Plum Island is close to the northern border of Massachusettes. It is a narrow island with Cape Cod style cottages on the northern end and a long lane down to the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge on the south.The woman at the gate frowned at my trailer and reminded me to park responsibly. I did not argue.

I stopped about halfway to the southern end. Trees blocked my field of vision but I noted bathrooms on the hard gravel path - nice. When I got to the open air, I saw a tower and climbed, trying to decide whether the weight of my supplies was worth the view.  The vistas were, indeed, stupendous. This is marsh on a grand scale, like my river landscape at home but so much bigger.
went to the car for my supply cart and walked slowly back along a dirt track. There were bird watchers everywhere. It was windy. I looked for a good composition while walking. I stopped and set up the easel. I drew in my sketchbook, then moved the easel further down the lane. Finally, I started. I was not in a hurry. It was beautiful!
And hot. I had left early on purpose, as rain was predicted. When I passed through Newburyport at 10:15 that morning, a sign said it was 91 degrees. As I stood in the sun, the wind built. I began to work at a faster pace. I carefully set the values down, thinking of my pastel students. I put large light green shapes down for grass; they helped fine-tune the drawing. I laid a saturated blue in the water shapes. 

Some people walked right by me, others stopped for a long chat. They were all there to drink in the amazing  wilderness.

By 1:00 the clouds had massed and I was left with only the light colors to fill in. I worked quickly, hearing thunder in the distance. 
covered the last of the white canvas and packed up. When I reached my car, the sky was clear but I was ready to sit. It was 1:30 and still very very hot. I turned on the AC, ate an apple with peanut butter and then drove slowly up to Kittery. Allen pulled into the hotel at 3:00, minutes after me. It was a luxury to get a big hug and then take a long shower.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Rhode Island

I will remember Rhode Island as the time I sheared the spare tire rack right off my new trailer. I have little idea how... little, not none.

I woke up with a hang over. The night before, Mary had prepared a fabulous dinner of grilled grouper, corn and a garden tomato salad. Crunchy French bread, too, with butter. Yum! She also made delicious marguerittas (note that's plural!), the perfect beverage. In the morning I sat with my coffee, puzzling over the map of RI and rubbing my temples. I knew where I was spending the night, but I had no idea where to paint. The state is so small! Surely there is a fabulous ocean view any direction you look. 

Colt State Park is the huge former estate of the gun manufacturer. It has sweeping views of the Providence River and acres of green. I parked in a lot and walked, looking for a view with shade. I noticed some people had parked on the top of a hill, under trees. I asked if I could do so also. Of course! I had only to drive up a bike path (no motorized vehicles allowed) and turn right at the old stone wall. Easily done and I set up next to my car with a breezy view of an old bridge and distant shore.

As I was tired and headachey, I slapped the paint on fairly quickly. The painting took shape in an awkward fashion but started to pull together in the second hour when I began to focus on detail. I packed up at 4:30, tired, but satisfied I'd put in a good afternoon of work.

Once in the Honda, I circled the top of the lawn, so as not to back up with the trailer, and suddenly I heard a loud crunch and, being me, I kept driving, then saw the trailer bounce into the air as a second ringing bang filled the air. I had just run over a huge rock, half buried in the ground. I got out and looked under the car and then under the trailer and saw no damage. I got back in and drove down the bike path slowly. There seemed to be nothing wrong.

Heading north out of Bristol, RI, is a narrow two lane that was extremely busy at 4:45. In my dazed and tired state, all I could do was watch my distance from the car in front of me. Suddenly in the rear view mirror, I saw my trailer tilt crazily to one side, riding up on one wheel, then bounce back down. Now what? Behind me was something in the road. I pulled over immediately (onto someone's lawn, since there were no shoulders or curbs) and saw that my spare tire was missing off the trailer. I pounded down the street towards it, watching cars stop abruptly in order to miss it. I was sweaty and paint-covered. I picked up the heavy tire, still connected to part of its mount, and turned back, balancing it on my stomach as I ran. Shaking, I set it in the backseat on my backpack. I looked at the trailer and the piece that held the tire to the tongue was completely sheared off.  My poor trailer!! I climbed in the passenger side, to avoid getting hit myself, and pulled back into the line of traffic. Another disaster barely averted.

I made it up to Lowell, MA, by 6:30, parked and raced into the shower.  I have still not looked to see the fate of the two wet paintings inside the abused trailer. That is for another day.

Well, what about Connecticut?

What a time I've had... CT is beautiful and busy and diverse. I've enjoyed amazing hospitality - thank you to Mary and Jim! - plus the views are different from home and from what I expected. Seashore, old cottages, stone walls down winding, hilly roads. 

Mary took me to Stony Creek, a small town on Long Island Sound, where I caught the water taxi ($5 one way) to Outer Island, the furthest afield of the Thimble Islands and the only public one. 

I never got there. The boat zoomed off, through hot sun and cool waters. I had my easel and supplies on a two wheel cart that needed more bungie cords. There were 5 of us onboard plus a young golden retriever. Soon, an older gentleman turned to me and asked with a smile, "Who commissioned you to paint what?" I launched into my story with gusto and before I knew it, he invited me to paint on their island. It has been in his family since 1936, when his parents built a cottage on it. 

The views were amazing! I could have painted every day for a year and not exaugsted them. 

I chose to set up on rocks looking towards a happy little peninsula. The family - a father, son, his girlfriend and their dog - were so very gracious and gave easily of their time and uncommon spread. They stayed only two hours, having brought supplies for a later date. At 2:00 they pulled away on the water taxi, advising me to call Bob, the Captain, to remind him of my ride back at 4:00. Durbin joked that, if I was forgotten, I could spend the weekend there. Funny and yet that 3-Hour-Tour-Tune kept running through my head.

I thoroughly enjoyed painting there and I like the result, though I may tweak it once home. I will remember Connecticut with fondness and gratitude. It was beautiful, fun and filled with kindhearted folks.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

The first day of "Easeling" towards New England

And, to think, I was not going to have a beer! It took as long as finding the opener for me to pop one open once I got here - Milesburg, PA. Ten hours is a very long time to spend in a car, even a Honda Fit with a brand new trailer. Yes, I have a big rig now, part of the cross-country convoy.
Tomorrow I cross the Hudson River on the George Washington Bridge and drive through NYC - a necessary evil needed to reach Orange, CT, where I have a cosy place to stay with Allen's sister and her husband. 

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

There's no Shame in Paint-by-Number: PA, DE, NJ and MD

I adored "Paint-by-Number" as a kid. I would beg my mom to buy me a kit when on vacation. I was lucky to get one or two a summer and I cherished them. All those pale blue lines around little blue numbers, eight plastic pots of paint and two days later, a horse and a barn appeared.  Or a wolf, howling from atop a rock. Or a lion mom and her cub. Wow. So satisfying.

When I return from an "Easel" trip, I have a canvas from each state with outlines of the composition and colors lightly washed in. I also have images, though they are forever flat and greyed. (I print them on cardstock from my computer.) Sometimes, I don't even have that much. For Delaware I have two watercolors, some images and a blank canvas.

The task of bringing these to life can be daunting. When I finally begin to paint, I rely most on the colors and drawing from my plein air beginning. And with this group of four, I realized - I had created my own paint-by-numbers to follow! It's a natural for me. Sure, I look at the printed image, but that is only to assure myself that I am on the right track. What I really do is fill in the spaces that are already there. Ahhh! SO satisfying!

Of course this does not guarantee a good painting, but with "Easel" I don't have time to care. So, these four are finished. They are in order of my visits. I like some much more than others. You decide.

Pennsylvania, McConnell's Mill State Park

Maryland, near Annapolis

Delaware, Fenwick Island State Park

New Jersey, View from Fort Mott

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

New Jersey

Today I painted in New Jersey. It was 34 degrees when I got in my car and the oil ight went on. This is what boyfriends are for - they tell you to change the oil when you don't want to take the time because otherwise the engine will blow up. (He did not say exactly that but I have seized an engine before so I know it can happen.) I googled Jiffy Lube and found one nearby, so that is where I had my morning's bad coffee. I then headed across the Delaware Memorial Bridge into NJ.

My plan was to find a site soon so that I could make tracks on the road home after painting. I turned south and drove along the Delaware Bay. My first stop was a city park in Pennsville. I had hopes of a view of the bridge I'd just crossed. Wouldn't it be appropriate to paint a bridge in the state which had recently suffered from "Bridgegate"? The park was huge; the grass stretched a long way to the water and the wind bit at my cheeks and hands. I clearly did not have enough energy to paint there.

I returned to my car and continued south. Next came Fort Mott. I pulled in and was initially discouraged. The land was flat, without ornament other than the hills which held gun "emplacements", built after the Civil War. I climbed the old stone steps and scanned the horizon. A distant bridge! 

I set up near some pines and my anxiety dissipated as I roughed in the composition. It's as if my heart rate slows when I paint. The world around me pulls away and I enter a wonderful, timeless zone. After several hours I was satisfied that the painting had a healthy beginning. It was only 2:30 and I pressed "home" on my GPS with a light heart. 

I'm spending the night in a noisy Motel 6 off of Highway 76. I found a tavern with lots of cars parked out front; I ordered flatbread with grilled shrimp and a Yuengling draft. I will hit the road early tomorrow, looking forward to my return.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

From DC to Delaware

When I woke yesterday, it was raining. I heard Sarah moving around and then smelled coffee so I got up. First thing - I checked my phone. Two texts appeared from Sarah saying she was locked out and sorry but would I please wake up and let her in.  That was at 11:30pm. I ran up front. "How did you get in?" 

"I pulled the mailbox off the wall and shook it upside down until the key came out," she said cheerfully. Then, "Why don't you stay another night and go to The Hirshhorn and The National Portrait Gallery since it's raining?" Now this presented a conundrum. I am on a work trip. I had intended to paint Delaware on this day. The following day is New Jersey and then I head home. But absorbing art in a museum is part of my job, right?

I decided to pack my car, leave with her and head to the National Mall on foot, perhaps driving to Bethany Beach in the afternoon. At two blocks the rain came down hard. At six, it was driving. I passed a big, clean building that said "NPR" and turned into a cafe at the next corner. After coffee and a bagel, I felt too antsy to wait for the museums to open at ten. It was 8:45 and the rain was thicker than ever.

I ran back up North Capitol towards O Street, rounded the corner and threw myself into my car. I was as wet as if I'd jumped in a lake. I changed right there and then. The windows were steamed and no one was outside anyway because of the weather. Time to head East! 

I loved the drive. The further I got from DC, the less I thought of the missed opportunity and the more excited I became about the changing countryside. After crossing the huge expanse of Chesapeake Bay on a twin bridge, the land flattened and soon farms popped up with old barns and buildings. Nearer the coast, bright, colorful towns emerged. Signs announced surf shops and crab shacks. At the shore, the houses were up on stilts and pressed together, each a different color and shape. The ocean pounded the beach and its mist rose into a fog. Spectacular! but no place for an easel.

I called my friend Janet back in Michigan, in whose drive I was parked, and she directed me to some beautiful areas. Eventually, I decided on a secluded spot in Fenwick Island State Park, looking west across Little Assawoman Bay. I pulled the car right up to the water's edge on hard-packed sand. I pushed my front seat as far back as it would go and set up my watercolors. Occasionally the rain let up enough for me to roll down the window and suck in the salty breeze.

After several sketches, two paintings and any number of photos (I will use these to paint an oil in my studio), I set my sites on a city two hours north, close to the New Jersey border, and made a lovely trek up Coastal Highway 1. Today is sunny. I can see frost on my car but cold is never a deterrent. New Jersey, here I come!

Monday, April 14, 2014


I've been staying in Washington DC these last few days. Sarah (dubbed "Sasa" by my son when he was 18 months) is my niece and one of my favorite people. She is smart, sassy and a good listener. This is her 7th year in DC and she bought a townhouse last fall. I am only the second family member to visit this new abode (of course her twin was first!) and it is a great honor. Her neighborhood is close to the Capitol and contains a mix of cultures, from artists to professionals to street people. The largest soup kitchen in the city is across the street and down. My first night we walked five blocks to a trendy new bar/restaurant and enjoyed cocktails and fabulous appetizers. Of course Sarah knew the owner. He sent over two luscious desserts, on the house.

It is exciting to be here. The view from her sunny patio reminds me of "Rear Window" (favorite Hitchcock movie): narrow 3 storey brick and stucco buildings, tightly pressed together along an alley, complete with a warbling tenor, her notes sweeping across balconies and wafting through the open doorways. I'd forgotten what it's like to live in a city. Parking is a sport and sirens punctuate the night. Sarah is as comfortable as a cat here. I envy her energy.

This morning I drank two strong cups of coffee and fried myself an egg before hopping in my car to head to Maryland. Yesterday we drove out to a point of land on a small bay off of Chesapeake Bay, where Sarah introduced me to her friends, a delightful couple who were happy to let me paint from their dock. It is a luxury knowing my landscape location ahead of time, not to mention having an actual bathroom at my disposal!

The wind was strong so I set up on a small beach rimmed with white rocks where I could nestle into the hillside. The scene looking left included a pier with a sailboat. This seemed to be the quintessential East Coast view and I got right to work. The wind picked up. I did some hearty swearing in an effort to control its gusts but to no avail. At last I laid the canvas on the ground and continued while kneeling in the sand. After three hours, the drawing appeared accurate, the colors were scrubbed in and I closed up shop.

Tomorrow I am driving to Bethany Beach in Deleware. My friend's family has a cottage where I can park and paint. I hope the day is sunny and mild!

Easel on Down the Road - Painting in Pennsylvania

Thursday evening I arrived near the western border of PA with grape leaves from Byblos in Toledo, the best Lebanese restaurant EVER. I was trying to save them until I stopped for the night so I called Peter and had a great conversation, which brought me there with dinner in tact. "Americas Best Value Inn" was inexpensive, with small, clean rooms that felt European in their creative use of space. When I woke the next morning, it was raining.

I had picked out Moraine State Park in which to paint, as it is only an hour from my college friends' home, my bed for the night. The Weather Channel said it would rain till early afternoon, so I took my time driving there, stopping for breakfast along the way. At the park the rangers were extremely friendly. They earnestly thought up sheltered places with a view. I accepted their map and drove along the North Shore of Lake Arthur.

The trees were still naked and, while the lake was vast and certainly beautiful on the right day, nothing caught my eye. I felt uninspired. A man who works in the park sat down to eat his lunch in the pavilion where I was sketching. He was friendly. He offered me carrots. I decided then to drive to McConnells Mill at a tangential state park. I knew it had no protected place from which to paint but the rangers had attested to its beauty so I decided to chance continued precipitation. It was getting late in the afternoon to start a painting, almost 2:00. I began to worry that my best energy was ebbing.

The road to the site was steep and lined with rocks that rose up close and high above my car. The river roared past an old mill and under a covered bridge. Right away I knew I would stay. This was a magical place. 

As I walked around, the drizzle lightened. I set up on the bank, facing upriver between some pines. The view was a bit daunting; the red bridge created a huge rectangle which threatened to take over the composition. But time was running out. I did not want to miss dinner with my friends. I had no choice but to focus and draw.

As I worked, the water's power infused me and I got lost in the recording of shapes, value and color. Several people hiked by. Two kayakers rode by, one flipping over and popping back up repeatedly. I stopped after 2 1/2 hours, satisfied that I had enough information to finish the piece in my studio. 

My stay with Julia and Mark was delightful. I had not seen them for 13 years but we did not stop talking until we forced ourselves to go to bed. One of the best perks of this journey is reconnecting with special people from my past.  I am now in Washington DC and will head out this morning to paint in Maryland.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Easel on Down the Road - The Southeast Leg, Finished Four

So, states 16-20 are done. "Easel on Down the Road" has influenced me in numerous ways. Obviously, the format of a three-year plan is a welcome structure in a painter's life. More subtle is the effect on my other work. I am single-mindedly producing the state paintings without looking back.  That is, once they're done, they're done.  As such, they are as much a record of my progress as a painter as of my physical journey. The quality of the paintings in my studio causes me more distress. They must be the best they can be! I'm thinking that the freedom with which I accept the "Easel" works, faults and all, will loosen my need for perfection (whatever that is) in my other landscapes.

Alabama - Oak Mountain State Park
Georgia - Catherine and John's View

South Carolina - Hickory Knob State Park
North Carolina - Blue Ridge Parkway near Asheville

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Alabama - When is a painting done?

Final stage at Oak Mountain State Park
A confounding question: When is a painting done? When I am "Easeling" I rarely paint more than three hours at one sitting. It mostly just works out that way. It is exaughsting to work outside, especially when it's cold or windy or otherwise inclement. And, finding the spot first, then moving to a new place after (to stay the night) takes energy. There is no use in painting when tired. So, I stop and stack the painting in the car, confident that I will put more time into it once I'm home in my studio. 

But now here I am, with four fresh works before me and I wonder whether or not to touch them at all. They are complete in that they are a direct record of each particular time and place, how I felt in general and my reactions to the environment - all things that can't be replicated.  Who am I to mess around with that? And I am quite sure that the freshness of my actions when painting on-site can't be reinvented. So, when I consider one of my plein air paintings, I always feel a little afraid of going back into it. But, there is one here that clearly needs more paint: Alabama.

I was dragging that afternoon (I had driven 11 hours the day before and 3 to get there) and I felt unwell, but I did capably catch the values and also set down a strong drawing. So yesterday, in the studio, I had a solid foundation with which to work. I spent 5 straight hours on it and I think it is done. It clearly does not have the high-energy vibe of the on-the-spot version, but I think it is stronger because the colors are closer to real and the texture is rich. Now, to approach the other three!

Alabama (I think it is done)

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Easel on Down the Road - North Carolina

Asheville is just the coolest town. I spent yesterday afternoon scanning galleries and poking into little hippie shops. I concluded my visit with a gluten-free beer (amazingly good!) and calamari at a local brewery. This morning I enjoyed my coffee slowly and got into the Fit around 9:30. I had cheesy eggs at a Waffle House on the way to the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Right now the Parkway has 9 open miles above Asheville; it is mostly closed during the winter season. I took my time winding up the roads, enjoying the vistas between stretches of dense foliage. I wasn't in a big hurry. It was below freezing.

Eventually I pulled over. The Smokey Mountains showed purple behind a thick tangle of trees.  I set up my easel and sketched on the canvas with thinned-down Quinachronome Burnt Orange. The biggest challenge was to simplify the foreground. Behind me, icicles hung down a rocky face, glistening in the sun. Every now and then I jumped at the glassy crash as they slid and broke.

It was cold today but the sun was a fine companion. Tomorrow I point the car home. The best part of any trip is returning! I especially look forward to pulling out these four paintings, having not seen them since started. It's just a little bit like Christmas. And when they are finished, I will have completed 20 states. I'm on target to wrap up by the end of 2015! 

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Easel - Some thoughts on the similarities of painting and sound

So, on this - my 10th day on the road - I remember why I like "Easel". I may have all the most wonderful things at home that I miss like crazy - with a hearty squeeze on my heart - but I am a free-agent on the road and the sheer opportunity hits me like I'm traveling the universe aboard the Starship Enterprise. (OK, I saw one of the "Next Generation" movies last night - love them!)

I was driving to Asheville today when, two hours into it, mountains appeared - ultramarine blue and distant. I did not see them again for 20 minutes, but my mood elevated. Meanwhile, I had been scanning the radio stations, skipping over bible proselytizing and commercial droning and I found a great Latin rhythm, so I left it there. When the DJ began speaking earnestly in Spanish, I listened. Despite 3 years of Advanced Spanish in High School, I understood nothing (except maybe the numbers). But the cadence of his voice tickled my brain, so I left it on. 

This was another reminder of how music/sound is akin to painting. The rhythm of his speech was textural. The tone - like a color. Even the canned laughter and applause were marks upon a canvas. I am often struck by these similarities. Listening to another language emphasizes this. The sonant massaged my brain. 

Tomorrow I will drive on the Blue Ridge Parkway because every single person I asked today said that was the place to go and paint. I am now ensconced in a simple but pleasant apartment in the foothills (thank you, "airbnb") and again have the luxury of painting all day tomorrow and driving right back to this futon to go to sleep, rather than hunting up a new place to stay. Ahhh.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Easel on Down the Road - painting in South Carolina

Painting today was glorious! I had the luxury of waking up in the area where I would paint and of knowing I did not have to jump in the car and drive to a new destination when I was done. I walked some trails before breakfast and found an open space among pines next to Lake Thurmond. The ground was soft and the earth that dipped into the water was a rich red. A cool breeze balanced a steady sun and a deep calm settled over me.

I approached my work slowly, breathing in the pine needle twang and crawling the edge of each shape with my eyes. I heard wind approaching through the trees and looked up to see it press on the water in the distance, making a stripe of darker blue. I held onto the canvas and, when the wind did not dissipate, decided to put the painting on the ground and stretch myself out in the sun until it died down. This was an easy problem to solve!

I tried several more times to mount the painting back onto the easel, mixing colors and cleaning brushes before doing so. This worked for awhile but eventually the wind won. I put the painting on the ground and sat cross-legged to finish, feeling a bit like I was in kindergarten.

After cleaning up my supplies and myself, I drove out of the park and discovered a lovely restaurant within a local golf course. Everyone was remarkably friendly and exceedingly polite. What a day! Tomorrow I'm heading to Ashville, NC. I look forward to a scenic drive and to two nights in a cottage I found through "airbnb". 

Monday, February 24, 2014

Easel on Down the Road - Georgia

I spent 25 hours in Georgia. I am reminded that my quest to paint a landscape in every state is a journey. The navigation is erratic and dictated by any number of unrelated factors: available time, the weather, cost, visits to family and friends plus the unknown. Much like my actual life right now, the rules are few and the results are uncertain. It feels healthy, free and just a little bit scary. I'm stating this now to assuage the guilt over spending so little time in The Peach State.

So, anyway, I took a detour from painting after Alabama and spent three days with my 95 year old mom in Naples, Florida. Ruthie is a hoot! Nearly blind, ready to nap at a moment's notice and happy, happy, happy to do absolutely anything at all, especially if socializing is involved. We had lots of fun together. Then, yesterday, I drove to Atlanta and stayed with a dear, old friend. Catherine is my cousin's cousin and feels like a sister. We three (including the connecting-cousin, Mary) spent most of our summers together on the beaches of Saugatuck. Distance and adult responsibilities have kept the two of us apart for most of the last 30 years but once we saw each other again, we could not stop talking. What a true pleasure! 

This morning, after a brief driving tour of the grand, old city, I set off toward South Carolina via Catherine and John's lake cottage. I pulled into the drive at noon. It was cool and sunny. Fishermen floated by on boats and the breeze caught at the canvas on my easel. I painted a single chair under the shade of some trees, thinking of a lazy summer day in the South. I packed up in the late afternoon and drove across the Savannah River into South Carolina, where I have a room booked in the lodge at Hickory Knob State Park.

I expect tomorrow to be sunny again and will hike some trails in the morning, scouting out my next painting location.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Easel on Down the Road - Alabama

"Oh..oh Alabam... The devil fools with the best laid plans..." I can't help myself! Being a lifelong Niel Young fan, my brain sang that song endlessly as I drove the length of the state today. I painted 1/3rd of the way down, in Oak Mountain State Park, near Birmingham. It is the largest state park as well as home for a waterfall. I hiked part of the way to the bottom of the falls.  It wasn't very far from the parking area but I had to grasp saplings to steady my gate. I sweat pretty hard climbing back up (decidedly out of shape!) and chose instead to unpack my easel and paint near Peavine Falls Road, overlooking a gurgling runoff, just steps from my car.

I grew calm once painting. Yesterday's drive was grueling - 11 hours starting with snow and ending with torrential rain and a stay in a sticky Motel 8. I felt grim. Why was I doing this, again? Was there a point to leaving my warm (albeit snowed-in) home and studio, my wonderful boyfriend, my needy dog? I did not feel the pulse of the project, the urgency to drive and paint, drive and paint. But once the challenge of recording moving water was upon me, I forgot everything else and focused. Structure! A goal! The sun swept through the trees and the breeze was light and warm. Ahhh.

Tonight I am in a much nicer room and very close to the warmth of the gulf. Tomorrow I drive south to Naples, where my mom is eagerly waiting to see me. I will take a luscious three days off, then head to Atlanta, stay with an old friend and locate a landscape to paint, once more a citizen of the road.