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.