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