Saturday, April 25, 2015

Missouri - the Final State in the SW Seven

Tonight I get to sleep with the big man. Been awhile. Its not the sex in particular, its the weight of him, the smell. Protection. The road is... exhausting. Part of what takes extra energy is being hyper aware of my surroundings at all times. That aspect is like a tiny current, continuously buzzing in my ear. But now that I am headed home, I feel the relief of the familiar and safe ahead.  So nice!

Missouri is green. Hydrated. The hills started as soon I as crossed the border, rolling with trees - so many trees that you couldn't see past them. Ahhhh. I felt like I was Up North in the summer, hidden cabins on water just off the road. When I went through the first "city" of Lake of the Ozarks, I tasted an East Coast flavor. Eye-stinging color on lots and lots of signs that advertise the best sales, steak, water gear... Over the bridge I could see huge condo buildings with dock after dock. Boat slips everywhere. This is clearly a party destination. Like Saugatuck on steroids.

I checked into a Red Roof Inn. Turns out, I'm one of only 4 or 5 guests here. Despite the blooming Dogwoods, it is off-season. The emptiness feels a little erie but the staff is nice, personable. I decided to stay two nights. It is 8.5 hours home (10, all said and done), which I can do in a day. It is renewing to remain in one place, rather than press onward. Hotels are not ideal but I did find a good BBQ joint kinda close. Plus, Thomas, the man at the front desk, suggested I go to Ha Ha Tonks State Park, so, in the morning, I did.

A road wound far up above a lake. It was raining so I took the time to explore the expanse. Charlie and I enjoyed several long walks while the mist continued to hang low and wet. Around noon I settled on a view to paint - a lookout near the ruined 1908 "castle". I drew in pencil in my sketchbook, then checked the radar app. Precipitation for at least another hour. I got in the passenger side of my car, cranked the chair back and played solitaire on my phone. I wasn't going to move - my parking space was perfect and - where would I go, anyway? I haven't played any games while on the road and it took me forever to win one; by then, the rain had stopped. I was finally able to set up! As the weather continued to clear, young couples, families, groups of cousins passed by and almost everyone stopped to look and chat. Missouri has some very friendly residents! I enjoyed the afternoon but, in the end, I had nothing left to give to that painting, the last of seven on this trip. My head is already home. Hopefully, I can pull a decent finished piece out of this beginning. I have my work cut out for me!

Friday, April 24, 2015

Kansas - Easel on Through

Some states are just not as glamorous as others. True beauty lies within, says mom. Good enough. I don't doubt that Kansas has lots of inner strength and grit. It sure is flat. It sure is wide. As Colorado stretched into this state, I drove through field after field, no trees, hardly a structure, the road turning blue where it met the sky. Sadly, at least 8 out of 10 farmers' fields were brown; they have had to choose which to irrigate because of the drought. Heartbreaking.

The towns were small and far apart. I slept in Garden City, about 2 hours in. The bleach-clean sheets and towels were comforting. I like the anonymity of a hotel. Without a plan of where to paint or stay the following day, I fussed around on my laptop, looking for something close. The next morning I drove one hour north to Scott Lake State Park. I could not imagine that the landscape would change in that short distance but as soon as I turned left on Western Vistas Historic Byway, trees followed a small river and gentle hills rose around it. The woman at the welcome center was full of interesting local lore. I took the 5 mile loop around the lake slowly and found a lovely, secluded spot. I did not take advantage of the ruins of an old settler's home or the remains of a Native American site, but I did find a beautiful old tree angling into the water.

It was a lovely, sunny day and I thoroughly enjoyed the calmness of being alone. The wind was my only nemesis. It swirled in and out and then remained, steadily tugging on my canvas. I hung onto it with my left hand and looked over my shoulder. After painting long enough to grasp the regional color, I put my supplies away and laid on my stomach on the grass, searching the map for a place to stay that night.

I know I did not give Kansas my full attention. The truth is, the closer I get to home, the less I am able to plant my feet in the place where I stand.  I did enjoy my afternoon of plein air, and I believe I will like the painting too, once it is finished. 

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Easel on Down the Road - Colorado

In 1984 I drove through Colorado, going the other direction. That is a different story, but I remember my state of shock and awe at discovering a huge cattle ranch between the 1400' peaks past Aspen. It was like a secret, and one I wanted to find again. I searched Airbnb for a location in the mountains and ended up in a small town near Telluride.

As I drove to Ridgway, I was still in a romantic swoon over Utah, and hence a bit unexcited by the clusters of communities in the flats along the western side of the Rockies. They appeared crowded and uninteresting, even as the mountains shadowed purple to my left. Then, about 20 miles north of my destination, the clutter dropped away and foothills rose in it's place.

White Stone Vacation Rentals includes a huge horse barn (an alpaca lives there too), a log cabin and a small house where I stayed, on the hill above both. Upon arrival, I followed Sandy into the barn to talk while she mucked. The view was stupendous - the San Juan Mountains rose magnificently in the distance, over a checkerboard of horse and cattle pastures. This was pretty close to what I had imagined. Sun shown through the puffy clouds; it was a scene made for painting! But I had been out of the internet's reach for several days and so I went inside and worked on my laptop for the rest of the afternoon. The next day dawned cloudy and cold. Charlie and I went for a walk in the small town. When we returned, the owner and her dog met us outside and she graciously opened the upper level of the barn for me to paint from. Rain was hanging in the air.

Charlie meets Crash in the shared yard
I was suddenly bone tired. Whether it was the glass of wine with dinner or the fitful night of sleep, I just did not have the energy to pack up my stuff and wheel it to the barn, close as it was. And, anyway, the garage had a view that included a tree, giving the scene perspective. All I had to do was open my trailer and take stuff out! Perfect.

It was a good time to organize my supplies. They get so disheveled when I'm painting on the run. I poured fresh mineral spirits, cleaned my pallet thoroughly and reloaded it with fresh paint. I eyeballed the scene and began to draw it carefully. I plunked on some colors to alleviate the white of the canvas. Then I went inside and took a nap. Honestly, that's how tired I was. In 20 minutes I got back up, had a fresh cup of coffee and sat on a storage cabinet, looking at the painting.

The composition was interesting and I had done a decent job with the foreground. Just the distant peaks were left - a breeze! Think again! The pattern on the mountains was distinct but the colors were so muted. How to distinguish the clouds from the snowy points? I felt out of my league. I fussed with the shapes, all tinted whites, for quite a while, then finally cleaned up. It was 5 and I was hungry.

I went to a pizza place at the edge of town and ordered a pizza to go. While waiting, I plucked up the nerve to try the door on the adjacent "Green Store". (Yes, it's what you think it is.) Locked! Dang. I followed the sound of live music coming from behind the building. The smell of pot hit me like a wall. A handful of people were celebrating 4/20, the very date I was there. If you don't know what that is, don't worry - I didn't either, but it clearly has to do with the freedom to smoke marijuana. I still wanted to see the inside of a legal store, so I got my courage up again and entered the medical dispensary across the courtyard. Inside was just like a physician's waiting room, big comfy chairs with plenty of signs reminding me to have my card ready. Card? Guess this was not to be. Well, I tried! I returned "home", had a beer with the pizza and went to bed early.

The next day I drove more than ten hours to get into Kansas. The route took me over the Rockies on Highway 50. It rose past 11,000' at the Continental Divide where little crystals of snow dazzled around in the sunlight. On the other side, the two-lane followed the Arkansas River for quite a while. Now this was a secret! Spectacular green water rushed along between craggy rocks and grassy banks. I pulled over plenty of times to take pictures and watch people fly-fishing. Gorgeous!

My tour of Colorado has been lovely. And now, the grasslands of Kansas call. Adieu!

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Easel on Down those winding roads of Utah

Oh my goodness sake! Utah – wow. I loved everything about it. Time slowed down for me there. As soon as I crossed the border from Arizona, the topography changed and the undulating hills revealed huge distances with mountains that were so perfectly blue and craggy that they looked unreal. When I was actually in those mountains, each tight turn presented something different: a tunnel under red sandstone, shadowy cliffs ascending steeply on both sides, trees growing on a face of white rock or glimpses of snow covered peaks in the distance.

When I arrived at Shooting Star RV Resort and Airstream Motel in Escalante, I felt immediately safe. (The desert frightened the heck out of me – I was so isolated!) Troy, the easy-going, friendly owner, led me via golf cart to my new abode and showed me how everything worked. It was a 2003 Airstream in beautiful shape, with tin tile in the kitchen, leather armchairs and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid everywhere (including a signed script!). If you know me as well as my oldest friends know me, I was supposed to be in this place because I was a nutjob for that movie when it came out and for Paul Newman in particular (okay - still am).

I have been going pretty hard – driving up to 8 hours one day and painting the next. I immediately knew that this was a place I would relax, though my schedule remained the same. I took my painting day easy. At Troy’s suggestion, I went to breakfast at Kiva Koffeehouse, about 14 miles south on Highway 12. It is in between two little towns, set into the side of a cliff, and the view is breathtaking. I sat outside with Charlie at my feet and enjoyed a lovely, leisurely conversation with a couple from Northern California. I felt that we spent enough time with each other to get a toehold on actual friendship. We shall see. They told me of a Zen Retreat where I can stay if I paint north of San Francisco (CA is slated for my next trip). After eating a savory meal of an over-easy egg on a quinoa-potato pancake on a bed of spinach (fabulous!), I went inside and asked the cook/owner if I could set up and paint above the restaurant. Of course! 

It was a perfect temperature (mid-60s), sunny and not very windy. Charlie sat in the shade of my easel with a water bowl. I did a pencil sketch and started to paint without delay. The truth is, the composition was already made for me - the valley below is full of newly-green cottonwood tress that create a perfect zigzag between the red rock walls. I was not in a hurry; I was in heaven!

And then, after such a fabulous day, I grilled and shared a steak with Charlie, had 1.5 glasses of wine (practicing temperance) and painted two watercolors, all on the deck. Soon after sunset I sunk into the comfortable bed with a good book. I felt like I was in my own private ship. I can definitely see myself returning to this place to paint for a longer period of time. Utah - I'll be back!

Friday, April 17, 2015

Easel on in Nevada

Well, I did not actually stay in Nevada. Is that fair? I guess since I make the rules, I can answer the question - yes! To fit 7 states into one 3-week trip, I am taking some short cuts. Oh well. I could not find a good place to sleep on my route through that state. I did not relish the thought of spending the night in a hotel room in or near a casino and neither did Charlie. Instead, I found a little stone house through Airbnb in NW Arizona, so I holed up in the desert and did a day trip to Lake Mead.

First of all, the drive up Highway 93 was amazing! It wrapped around huge mountains on winding roads. I stopped at a scenic overlook to walk Charlie, snap some pictures and take measure of the immense distance. The Colorado River shown bright blue far below, anchoring the furry, brown shapes. I met a group of women who, when asked, suggested I paint at the closest beautiful vista in Nevada - the Welcome Center just across the border. Ha! Another easy site. Witwoo! I crossed from one state to the next on a gigantic bridge above Hoover Dam and the extreme height made me dizzy. What an incredible feat of engineering.

The stop was soon after the bridge and I set up with my back against the bathrooms, sheltered from the wind. Charlie got relatively comfortable in the shade of the building though he chose to ignore the beach blanket I put down. Instead, he sat on stones and barked at people as they approached, for which I was grateful. Lake Mead shimmered in the distance, surrounded by mountains and peppered with islands. I was interested in capturing the white stripes along the bottom of these shapes, made by water receding over time.

I worked for several hours, chatting with tourists as they came to take a peek. It is fun to hear where people are from and why they are there. By the early afternoon, I was ready to quit. I took my time loading the supplies back into the trailer. One jar of mineral spirits had spilled and soaked into the carpet. I made sure the canvases were all okay before I locked the top. The rack we made has kept them in perfect shape but I can see the trailer take some high bounces behind me as I rumble down the highway. No doubt there will be much touch-up upon my return.

Today I am driving to Utah. I have never been there and have heard wonderful things about the landscape. I found an Airstream as a rental and cannot wait to experience that!

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Arizona - Sedona Calm

So far on this trip, my adrenaline has been running fairly high. Staying at Laurie's was wonderful but the prospect of all the unknown that lay ahead (including 6 unpainted paintings) made my heart beat faster. (Of course the 7000 foot altitude in Santa Fe may have contributed.) I left her home before noon on Monday, headed for a state in which I'd never been.

The dry, seven hour drive fed my uncertainty. Would there be any shade at all where I was going? How would Charlie be as a painting companion (he stayed at Laurie's when I went to Ghost Ranch)? What kind of place had I secured through Airbnb (it was so cheap, I had to wonder)? I could see mountains in the distance but the landscape stretched out empty for miles. The only signs of civilization were the oddly comforting rectangles of a passing train. I felt like I was in a foreign land.

As I skirted Flagstaff, the winding road calmed me down. Trees! And then, even though I had seen pictures, I was completely unprepared for the massiveness of the red rocks towering above Sedona. They hardly looked real; their grandeur took my breath away.

My rental was in the business district of Oakcreek, a small community near Sedona. I pulled behind a store called "Liquid Vortex" and parked. It was a juice bar! The shops stopped right there; I was literally at the end of town. The trailhead for Bell Rock was just across the street. Yea!  The studio apartment at the back of the establishment was simple and clean. I changed my shoes and Charlie and I headed right out on a hike. I breathed in the unbelievable scenery and a peacefulness settled upon me.

During the next morning's hike, I looked for places to paint. The shadows on the rocks were fabulous. I could pile the supplies on my cart and wheel them across the street and up the hardened trail. It would be hot, so I would have to start out soon. It would be tricky to find shade. I thought about the blowing red dust that would stick to the wet painting. Upon our return, I walked behind the crystal and bead boutique next door. The view of Bell Rock was perfect! A white van pulled up and I asked the driver if I could set up my easel behind her building. She gave me a funny look, paused and then said, "Sure!"

I have to say, after all my trepidation, this felt like cheating. Charlie happily stayed indoors and I drank tons of water since the bathroom was so close. I was working by 9:00 am. When the sun rose above the building and kissed my canvas, I cleaned up. It was only one in the afternoon. Charlie and I spent the rest of the day exploring other trails and then the downtown. The sky was clear and the colors, bright. People told me that the energy of the area was powerful. They were right - empowering and calming at the same time.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Easeling in New Mexico

It is easy to Easel when staying with a dear friend! Laurie moved to New Mexico just about a year ago and none of us could believe how quickly she picked up and left Michigan. She was newly single and the strength it took to pull herself out of an unhappy situation carried her all the way to Santa Fe. Her home is lovely and simple, filled with art and indigenous objects with great meaning to her. She danced me around the town for two days, showing me all the most special galleries, shops and markets, including the establishments serving the finest margerittas.

On Sunday Laurie went to work and I headed North to Abiquiu, the home of Georgia O'Keefe for more than 50 years. This painter has always been a favorite of mine; I appreciate the strength and clarity of her voice. I chose to paint at Ghost Ranch, a 21,000 acre retreat and education center, where she first connected to this landscape. The cliffs rise above a valley, striped with rich, warm hues and cut into unique shapes by wind, water and time.

I arrived shortly before noon and checked into the Welcome Center. A $3 donation is suggested for hikers but painters are asked to donate $10. Not much money, but an interesting distinction, I thought.  The trails are stupendous and nearly unlimited but I wanted to get right to work so I set up under a large tree near the main building. There were amazing views in every direction and welcoming adirondack chairs from which to view my efforts.

I was nervous. It had been over a week since I put brush to canvas and plein air painting demands full focus. I did pencil sketches in 3 directions and a simple watercolor of Cerro Pedernal (a distant mesa that captivated O'Keefe), then chose to paint Chimney Rock. Why I picked such an iconic view, I don't know. And, what about the undeniable similarity to male anatomy? Was I balancing O'Keefe's inclination to represent female parts (something she denied right up until she died) or was I just missing my boyfriend? No matter, I was set.

I worked 4 hours. People came to talk occasionally. Later in the afternoon a group of hikers settled in the chairs and we exchanged some good-natured banter. Suddenly, I was exhausted. The canvas was covered - it was time to pack up. This was such a short stint in an overwhelmingly gorgeous place! I could have spent months painting there. But, I have structured my quest towards travel. The road calls and now I am in Arizona, pondering the Red Rocks that rise above Sedona.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Easel on Down the Road - The Southwest Leg Begins

I forgot how difficult driving all day can be. I've been listening to a great book on tape (Tony Hillerman), my dog is with me (a willing ear), I have healthy snacks, coconut water and I'm headed to a warm place I know not at all. I am aware that I often feel sick after one of these trips because I push myself so hard so, to combat this, I brought Charlie (I have to stop and walk more often), my yoga mat (just signed up with an online service) and my brand new Nutribullet (spinach, apples and bananas in the cooler).

But, after this, the second day on the road, I feel beat to a pulp. It is just agonizing to sit still hours on end. In contrast, a "normal" work day includes standing at my easel most of the time and I am often dancing or at least swinging my limbs around (okay - bad dancing) and doing yoga moves. But, how can not moving make me so tired? Yikes. Plus, there is not much that is beautiful about Missouri and Oklahoma in early April. Yes, a few blossoms of white, purple and - further South - young green in some trees. But I think of tomorrow's 6.5 hour trek to Santa Fe and want to scream into my pillow. (My boyfriend taught me that. Don't ask.)

Last night I slept fitfully, responding twice to Charlie's pacing and whimpering to go out. Plus, bad dreams woke me more than once - I guess I did not feel entirely safe. But now, I sit in a plumpy bed (thank you Kickstarter peeps!), freshly showered and calm from a yoga practice, Charlie curled up against the pillows. I do not intend to complain, this is just harder than I remembered. I know that once I am in New Mexico, staying with a dear friend who moved there recently, this expedition will be worth it. And, I cannot wait to paint a landscape so different from my own.