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.