Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Monoprint Madness!

The day after Christmas, there was no way in hell I was going anywhere near a retail establishment. As far as my domestic chores, I had decided the dust bunnies weren’t going anywhere and I needed to have some art time.

First, I finished off my volunteer sign-painting project (I put the free in freelance). Whew. What a relief to put that behind me. Then, I was free to unleash the dam of creativity that had been held back by obligation and holiday festivities (not complaining—just sayin') for what had felt like forever.

While in my self-imposed art deprivation period, I’d been thinking on what to do next. At first, I was craving the sensual pushing around of paint that acrylic affords. I had purchased some new brushes just before Christmas that were aching to be used and I was dying to try out. New brushes are a big deal for me. I have some—now that I think of it—that date back to brick-sized cell phones and the dark days before the internet (gasp). 

Despite the call of the brushes, deep down I really wanted to go back to experimenting with monoprints and monotypes. And so I did. 

Remember the boot? Well, it was time to put that drawing to use. I came across a technique where the paper is taped to one side of the plate. This maintains a static position so you can transfer multiple layers of registered color to the paper. From there, it’s FM (freaking magic), as you attempt find the perfect balance between paint, paper, and their respective moisture levels.

It's hard to tell, but my drawing is sitting under a plate of glass.

I started with a piece of glass as my plate. I painted the plate with watercolor, flopped the paper onto the plate and rubbed the back of the sheet vigorously. My first efforts were less than stellar. 

The paper wasn’t taking the paint. Instead of flowing onto the paper (like the book where I got the idea), it was mooshing it around on the surface of the plate and leaving weird sucked up pools of color.

Oh crap. This isn't working very well.

It was time to break out a more viscous paint. Unfortunately I had my oil-based printing inks mixed in with my water-based inks. Oops. No wonder I couldn't wash the color out of that brush. Yet this material faux pas became a happy accident as I discovered the oil-based paint was adhering better to the paper. Another oops—in my enthusiastic rubbing of the paper, I managed to crack my glass plate in half.

OK, you might not believe this, but now we're starting to get somewhere.

Once I’d done all the printing and plate damage I could do, I went back into the piece with Prismacolor, a waxy pencil that can fix a multitude of misprints and art accidents. I like the vibrant color and dramatic values.

10ish" X 12ish"
The fine blue line across the pole is where the plate cracked. Yikes.
This was printed on a heavy laid-pattern watercolor paper. See how the texture shines through?

Next, using a piece of Plexiglas for my plate, I redrew the image (backwards) directly on the surface with a litho crayon (think grease pencil or China Marker). I painted the image with turpentine to melt the lines and added tone with highly diluted oil paint. 

New plate, new technique.

After several impressions to develop the form and value, I set the print aside to dry and then tinted it with watercolor.

12" X 16" - Monoprint
I love the loose drawing-like quality of this piece. I also like that it is not backwards from my original drawing.

On the final piece, I brushed oil paint onto the plate in a thick layer. I blotted, wiped, and scraped away the paint; then, added value with washes of thinned paint. The blue in the background is also diluted oil color. I refined the image slightly with a litho crayon and watercolor.
12" X 16" - Monotype
I think this one is my favorite. Remember, with monotypes, there is only one. Each time, the image was re-drawn.

 It was a delightful afternoon of experimentation. By dinnertime, I was covered with paint up to my elbows with several smears decorating my cheeks. I was akin to a pig deep in a trough, paint flying instead of slop—although that might be debated by some. Ahhh. It was good, good fun. 

Until next year,

Friday, December 16, 2011

Out of My Element

This time of year, it’s more likely that I’m painting frosting on cookies than applying paint to canvas. Holiday prep takes away much of my art time—although I'm not complaining—I love the holidays, but I get a little crazy when I don’t have my studio time.

This year, in addition to the normal holiday activities, I have a volunteer project that is keeping me busy. I’m painting a sign that will be mounted on a small billboard at the entrance of town. The billboard welcomes folks to town and also serves as the gateway to our new Village Hike and Bike Trail.

Had I been asked to design and paint a woodsy kind of sign that represented our little mountain community, I would have been the perfect gal for the job. This project, however, is outside my skill set. It involves enlarging and recreating a sticker that declares Wrightwood as the Land of Four Seasons. Having “real weather” and trees that change color attracts a lot of people to our town—and that’s why we love it here.

Well, I must say this project has been a struggle. The stylized pine tree in the middle was a snap, but the fine serif lettering encircling it—not so much. I have some major performance anxiety going on with this project. It’s not the people in cars whizzing by that will notice my lame vibrato letters, it’s the walkers who will pause and say, “Boy, they sure didn't hire a very good sign painting company for this.”

My hope is to finish it up this weekend. Paint, touch-up, and repaint—repeat as necessary—until the type looks like type instead of burbles. So, until the paint fumes start to get to me, I'll keep at it.

Meanwhile, that boot has been on my mind. The golden highlights of the sun where it lights the leather, the tidy eyelets, and the toe—molded by sweat into the shape of the wearer’s foot, scuffed by hard use. I know it will be an acrylic painting, because I'm craving the texture of paint pushed around by a stiff brush. Plus, I have some new brushes I’m dying to try out.

Sometimes my best paintings are the ones that burst forth after art deprivation periods. This year our last holiday hurrah is Christmas Eve (Quiche-mas Brunch for friends and family), after which we will enjoy a quiet Christmas day at home—just the two of us. If we’re lucky, it will snow. Clint will curl up on the couch with a book and I’ll head up to the studio for some creative time.


Friday, December 9, 2011

I Draw Everything But Flies

I think I first knew I wanted to be an artist when I was in second grade. When I finished coloring the cornucopia the teacher had mimeographed on the construction-paper cover of our Thanksgiving “What I'm Thankful For” booklet, I was quite impressed by my use of color and careful outlining of each component. It was so lovely, I wrote on the cover, just below the image: “For Sale”. I was thinking I could get about four bucks for it.

A few years later, when I was about 11, while working on my Animals in Pastel series, brightly colored cartoon-like images that flouted the conventions of realistic color, I declared to my parents that I was going to be an artist. My dad had a big grin on his face and said, “I have the perfect slogan to put on your signs.”

As soon as he said that, I knew it was going to be something embarrassing—or horrifying, or scary, or disgusting. I was an extremely sensitive child—overly so—I’m sure my family would say. My dad was an earthy, salty guy who came from the wrong side of the tracks as a kid. He didn’t pull any punches and called a spade a spade. Although I loved him dearly, he was a constant source of mortification for me. I never knew what he was going to say next—or to whom.

“I draw everything but flies,” he said, after a dramatic pause. Of course he was teasing, but I was beside myself. “Dad, I can't put that on my signs. That’s weird!”

The consummate salesman, he proceeded to outline the benefits of such a clever saying. I squirmed and murmured something acquiescent, but inside, I was not convinced, and determined that I would find a way to NOT show him my signs, which would NOT be tarnished by such a crude slogan.

And so today, I do pretty much draw everything but flies (having grown up terrified that if I did not bathe frequently enough, that prophecy would come true). Although most of the works I’ve shared with you are paintings, often there is a great deal of drawing that goes on in the development of a piece.

Drawing is the way to figure things out, understand the shapes, the light, and relationship of the two to one another. Drawing helps me figure out my composition and often leads me to the medium I will choose. In the background as I sketch, I’m thinking about which method and medium will take me where I want to go. Do I want to push around acrylic paint to create texture, flow brilliant transparent color across a page, or scrape away ink from a plate to create a less refined image?

There are times when the drawing stage is very short. I know exactly where I want to go and with which medium. Other times, I'm drawing and re-drawing for a while until finally, I feel I'm ready to move to the next step. Occasionally, I get stuck mid-painting, and have to stop to do another drawing to work out the problem spot.

Here's my current study, a boot someone slipped over a post on a gate at a cemetery out in the middle of nowhere. It seemed like a funny place to leave a boot, that's for sure. Once upon a time it wasn't nowhere; it was the Kern County Seat. Now it’s just a wide place in the road, known as Havilah. It's in the mountains between Bakersfield and Tehachapi along a road that winds through classic California hills sprinkled with oaks.

I’m not sure where I’m going with this yet, but when I get there, I’ll share it with you.

Friday, December 2, 2011

A Different View

We wound our way through the outer edges of Durango, past houses framed by woods and snuggled up to sweet meadows gone golden, where deer gave us just a glance, and dropped their heads once more to graze quietly.

We were ooo'ing and ahhh'ing and dreaming—as usual—about winning the lotto and buying a place with some land around it. There would be a really big garden for me, and a workshop for Clint. Maybe some chickens and a few goats. 

The road took a sharp bend and rose over an old stone bridge softened by lichens in every shade of green. A plaque declared gold had been discovered there a long time ago. The road found the highway and we headed north to Silverton.

The road between Durango and Silverton is a picture postcard the entire way. We’re talking a John Denver song kind of landscape. The mountains tower over thick stands of pine and aspen; a creamy fondant of snow covers all but a little of the ground and ridges. The exposed rock and patches of soil are a warm and rich contrast in the morning sun.

I have never seen aspens bunched as thickly as those we saw along this road: straight, smooth, and bright, with warm halos of tiny naked branches, dense as hair. I imagined the trees in spring, an intense swath of green, glowing against the red and gold earth.

The shapes of these mountains are very different from the ones at home; stacked plates of sandstone, instead of shards of schist. These are old mountains that have seen many things and have many stories to tell.

How do you take something that grand and postcard-like and paint it so it’s new? How do you transform it from a Scenes-of-America calendar image or set it apart from the “Great Photos You Must See” e-mails?

I can't tell you how many paintings of aspens I saw in Colorado and Arizona; and they all looked the same. I know I’ve painted “the aspens” in the same way. But, once you’ve done that and gotten it out of your system, it’s time to move on to new ways of expressing things that have been painted a billion times in the same way—that is if you want to grow as an artist.

There are plenty of artists who find a theme that appeals to the masses and proceed to paint the same subject over and over—simply because they can sell the crap out of these cookie cutter paintings and make millions (treacle-y storybook cottages with glowing windows and heavy-bodied Native American women studying pottery come to mind).

As for me, I’m still working on that puzzle—growing as an artist, not painting cottages—and probably will be for the rest of my life.

When I approached this subject, I decided to break the larger image into four small canvases (5" X 5"). It’s a quadtych. Kind of like a diptych, only doubled. I wanted to make each painting stand on it’s own AND work as a unit. I know it's a little hard to see here, and they need a few finishing touches, so you'll just have to come to my next show to see the final result. What do you think?

Friday, November 25, 2011

Blowing on the Coals

Beneath the Willows
Watercolor + Ink
9" X 12"

Coming back to a painting that's gone cold is like coming back to a plate of food after a long unexpected but important phone call has interrupted your dinner. The enthusiasm when you first sat down is lost when you return to the once appealing, now congealing meal.
Nonetheless, one has to give it the old college try—especially when you have a promising start on a piece. It's always fun to start a painting, but when time is short and you are dealing with the distractions that come with plein-air painting (like bugs, wind, and darkness), you are sometimes forced to set a piece aside before it's well established. That’s what happened here. It was cool, windy, and the sun was going down—so it was getting colder. I had to call it quits because I was shivering and my bottom was getting numb from sitting on the damp soil.

This piece was beyond cold. It was a dry, shrunken crust on the creative dinner plate. I won’t even show you the before painting, because it is so different from the result. The piece started out loose and filled with rich, warm colors. It became cooler upon my return to it—literally and figuratively. I found myself reaching back through thick cobwebs to remember the color and the value that I had not quite captured. I tried to put myself back into the mood of the place and recapture what first inspired me to sit in that spot beneath the willows at Lone Pine Creek.

I’m not sure that this painting will make the final cut, but I thought I would share it anyway. A little view behind the curtain at one of the pieces I’m not sure I would call a success. I’ll put it away and look at it again in a month or two, though it may end up in the collage pile. We’ll see.

I hope this does not portend another dry spell, because I’ve plenty of inspiring photos to work from after our recent trips. I guess I’m not sure what I want to do next. I’ll just have to head up to the studio and see where my art takes me next.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Finding the Center

When I first saw the bands of color the old ones would watch from their hilltop, I felt it in my center, a vibration of excitement just below my breastbone. I felt this was a place of important beginnings.

The landscape rolling by was a handful of sticks from my favorite box of pastels. Dusty and crisp and brilliant: red earth, dotted with velvet junipers anchored by inky shadows, glowing sage, and sun-bleached yellow grasses, lighting the rolling hills spattered with lava and sandstone. So much more than any photo or painting could ever say.

We came to the place where the old ones lived and prayed. Stone terraces where they watched the light change on the mesas and wondered if there would be enough food for the winter. Would there be enough rain?  

Only whispers of their spirits remained, though. All but a trace had been wiped away by the “new ones” in microfiber, pushing strollers, while dragging children who cried for sodas. Some of the essence had been erased by the government, who re-mortared the rocks to “mitigate liability”, thereby sterilizing the experience to make it safe for the masses.

Near the quiet end of what should have been earth, but was an asphalt skin, we escaped the new ones who didn’t want to stray too far from the parking area. It was there we found the crack in the earth. It was there, that I smelled my mother and felt her breath blow blissfully in my face.

Although bricked over and grated to protect the public from their own stupid selves, we encountered the blow hole—an opening into a deep place in the earth where a cavity  exists that reacts to barometric pressure. When the barometric pressure is high, air rushes out of the gap. When the pressure is low and the earth’s crust relaxes, the gap sucks air into the earth.

That’s the science, but for me, it was a deep, spiritual experience. I felt my mother. I smelled her. I felt her life force, her energy, her love. Not the woman that carried me into this world, but my mother, the earth. The mother I cling to that nourishes me and keeps me grounded. 

Friday, November 11, 2011

Another One Behind Us

Well, we made it through another show. The lights and easels have been put away, and other than we’ll be eating leftover egg rolls for the next couple of weeks, things are pretty much back to normal around here.

There’s always a little bit of a let down when it’s all over. I’m a little lost, feeling as if I should be doing something, like cleaning or labeling, or wiping down frames or cutting up vegetables, or scrubbing bathrooms.

As I’ve mentioned, the closer we are to the show, the tighter I’m wound up. Adding to my pre-show anxiety, on Friday, the day before the show, we got three inches of snow. Yes, snow. Southern California city folk are known for freaking out about weather and we were expecting a passel of flatlanders (as we mountain folk affectionately call them). Attendance could end up being mighty skimpy.

Would they still show up? Local news was turning this little bit of early snow into the storm of the century. A news crew from one of the L.A. stations had been camped out in the grocery store parking lot for two days waiting for the storm. They kept asking residents if they thought it was going to snow. One of our local ladies responded, “Hell if I know. Ask the guy upstairs!” The reporter looked at her blankly, wondering who this guy was and where this “upstairs” place was.

Luckily, my fears were unfounded. We had a great turn out and people stayed and stayed. Just the way we like it.

Anyway, back to the show…I experienced something odd this year. I’m not one of those artists who have a problem selling my paintings. Some artists are reluctant to part with their “babies”, but I paint so darn much that I’m always running out of space. I have to sell them—or move to a warehouse—and that’s not going to happen. Of course, I have a stronger attachment to some pieces more than others, but in the end, I’d really rather share them with others.

This year was different though. I definitely felt a pang when a couple of my Mt. Whitney pieces were carried out the door. The hugeness of that entire experience had spilled out of my soul and into those paintings. The sweat, guts, anxiety, and exhilaration—plus a chunk of my heart—it was all there in the art I made.

Yet, here is the best and most amazingly cosmic part: some of these paintings were purchased as gifts for a young couple that hiked Mt. Whitney just one month before us. They too had trained hard for more than a year. It was a huge accomplishment for them too. How perfect is that?

It seems so right that so many of the pieces went to kindred spirits.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

A Quick Message from My Evil Twin

Domeland Sunset
9" X 12"

We are less than two days away from the show and my evil twin is here cursing and whining and growling as we prepare. This behavior will take place right up until the first guest arrives, when she (the evil one, not the guest) will magically melt away, and the sweet and pleasant me once again takes control. Because then, it’s all gravy, baby. I drink champagne, visit with long lost friends, and get to know new ones. We have fun and if I’m lucky, a few people buy my paintings.

In the meantime, in my never-ending search to overdo it and tendency to freak out about wanting everything to be perfect, I drive myself and everyone around me (Clint) a little crazy. In the end, it all turns out fine (I just keep telling myself that).

This week I had only a nanosecond of art time. Remember the Domeland Wilderness? This is one of the monoprints I did when I first returned, filled with memory and spirit of the burnt, silvery, and twisted Diva trees that watch over the Domeland.

The color was inspired by the heart-tickling sunset we witnessed the second night we were there. That day, as we hiked down from Church Dome, in the distance, bruised clouds dumped rain in a ring around us. 

When we returned to camp and started dinner, the sun disappeared and we had a spattering of rain—nothing more. As the sun dropped, peeking between the cloud layer and the horizon, the world filled with orange and violet light. Occasional flickers of lightning backlit the trees.

We rushed out to the open meadow to watch the show. Then, the clouds shifted and a lavender rain shower veiled the sun, which still cast its brilliant color further west where the clouds had cleared. We watched the light and color show until dark and tramped back to camp to sit by the fire—until the moon rose (that’s another story).

It had to be one of my top ten best ever sunsets.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Artist's Muse

 "His Right Foot"
Pencil and Ink
8" X 10"

About a year before we were married, my art show included some watercolor paintings of Clint, sans clothing. I wished I’d photographed them, because I thought they were exquisite (said without a shred of modesty). They were small paintings, only 4" X 6". Both were somewhat abstract with one capturing the curve of his hip, and the other his chest. The color was rich, the rendering loose, and the passion quite evident.

I was a little short of work that year, having spent more time with Clint than my art materials. On a whim, I put them on display. Very different from much of my work, they caught the eye of our neighbors, who bought them for the townhouse they were decorating.* I was delighted—because they liked them—but sad at the same time, because these pieces came from the heart and I would miss them.

Of course, the question came up (with the answer most likely known), as to who posed for these pieces. I smiled like the cat with the canary in its mouth and said, "Clint, of course."

Later during a lull in the show, I told Clint. He was horrified. "You told them it was me?"

"Well sweetie, I think they pretty well figured that out on their own," I replied. “And if I'm going to use you as a model, people ARE going to see you naked in my paintings."

Clint had posed for me a few times. However, there was one small problem, I couldn't get him to sit still long enough. He'd try, that's for sure; book in hand, he'd find a comfy position on the futon in the studio, but he just couldn't stay in one position. And I couldn't work fast enough to capture anything before he'd move.

At one point, I tried to focus on his feet, which were benignly hanging off the end of the couch. To my dismay, they moved more than anything else did: jiggling, shifting, stretching, and rubbing one another, ankles twisting, toes pointing and then flexing. I never knew feet could move that much when “at rest”. I decided, as much as I wanted to use him as a model, I would just have to paint him from still shots of my memory.

Anyhoo, back to the show…later that day, a quiet and tiny woman in her 70s that we invited also commented on the paintings, which now bore a “sold” sign. Whenever we would see her around town, she’d light up and say, “Hi Clint!” It was actually very cute and touching. She greeted him up on her tiptoes in excitement, bouncing like a teenager with a crush. She always looked at me vaguely, trying to remember my name. Clint and what’s-her-face. Very nice woman, but I'm sure she came to the show to see Clint.

I told her the story about the paintings and how Clint was so adorably embarrassed by the neighbors knowing it was him—and my response to him about being known as my model. In her soft southern accent she said, “Ah'm sure he has a very nice physique.” I assured her he did.

* By the way, these neighbors have been huge supporters of my art, having purchased several pieces. Thanks, Neighbors!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Another Magical Moon

9" X 12"

When we returned to Lone Pine, the gods smiled down on us with a near full moon, just starting to wane. We’ve had wonderful moon karma on our trips, and this trip was no exception.

Just as we settled into our sleeping bags, after inhaling a meal of fresh grilled trout and enjoying a spell of spectacular star watching, the moon rose magically in the exact center of the window of our tent. It was as though the cosmos had led us to pitch our tent in the perfect spot to frame the moon.

Once a few years ago, a similar event happened when we were camped at Valley of Fire in Nevada. An enormous golden moon rose from the perfect center of a prominent notch in the rocks that surrounded the bowl where we were camped. It was astounding and beautiful. And although the moon had risen from that notch many times throughout time, we were lucky enough to be there that very night to see it happen.

The next morning in Lone Pine, high thin clouds gave us an all day show as the wind pushed and pulled them into interesting shapes. It made the light soft and gentled the heat of the sun. As the moon made its way across the sky, just before it dropped behind the ridge I quickly broke out my watercolors and did this painting.

It was a divine trip.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Not Enough Hours

My annual show* is screaming towards me like a bunch of crazy women running for the doors at a 3 am Black Thursday sale.

I have to start killing off the dust bunnies and get the framing finished, both of which have taken over the dining room. Once the art is framed and the house is clean, it’s time for the most difficult part of preparing for a show: the dreaded hanging. Yes, we’re still talking about art. I know Clint dreads it every year.

All the paintings, drawings, and prints are lined up against the walls so we know what we have to work with. Then the debate begins. Where to hang what; trial and error, moving and re-hanging. Will these frames go together? Are the colors compatible? Which wall color looks best behind the piece? Does the piece have glass and reflect too much light? It’s a complicated process. It all has to go together, create a flow, and look absolutely, positively perfect.

No pressure.

The good news is I get to procrastinate a little bit longer due to a well-needed, long-awaited camping trip. And we don’t have to weigh anything. No mini art kit this trip; and I’m bringing an entire bottle of wine, too. The car is carrying it. Best of all, I can take my big ole art bag with every set of watercolors and every pad of paper I own. Oh happy day—another plein-air-a-palooza.

Until next week,

* Email me if you need directions at

Friday, October 7, 2011

Only the Beginning

These images are monoprints—created by inking a metal plate and scraping away the ink.
You only get one print from each drawing with this method.

We are back from the Domeland Wilderness and what a wild wilderness it was indeed. We had four glorious days in this rugged, battered, and beautiful wild place. I have so many paintings to come and impressions to share—where do I begin?

We camped next to a meadow gone gold with the coming of winter. It was surrounded by a forest of trees; trees that told amazing stories of hardship and survival. 

Along the south edge of the meadow stood a patch of tall skeletons left behind by a devastating fire that came through 10 years ago. Bones etched with char, standing as eerie fence posts against a dark backdrop of trees that escaped burning, these trees, the ghosts and the living, are the remains of a dense forest once choked with undergrowth, the ground blanketed in a century of decaying duff.

Survivors reach up to a sharp blue sky. The bases of the trunks, charred, the dark crevices outlining the puzzle pieces of bark. Cartoon trees. Stretching upward, the lower limbs gone, burnt away, the needled branches high over our heads. They are funhouse trees, pulled upward like taffy in one of those mirrors that squeeze you into a long narrow shape arching your mirror body over the real one. Peering down at you, creaking as the wind makes them sway. They've struggled. Determined, they survive.

They’ve stood and watched while brothers and sisters succumb to fire, or snap off when heavy with snow. A swath of those winter casualties is nearby—jagged stumps surrounded by shattered pieces of branches, the needles long gone, dissolved into soil. 

Can you imagine the sound of a hundred trees—maybe all at once—as a gust came through and tore them apart, the crown and branches crashing down into the snow in a tangle of ice and mist and needles and cones? Snow spurred into the air, then carried along in a cloud trailing the burst of wind.

Did the birds know to get out in time? Did they know their home was about to blow apart? Were the wood rats nestled in the holes under the snow shaken apart? Frightened to death? Or, did they instinctively seek out homes in trees sheltered from the winter winds?

Each winter, the wind and snow take down their share of trees. Some, though green and healthy, haven't sunk their roots deep enough to hold on against the elements. Others, long dead, the heart and roots eaten away by grubs and bugs and tiny things we can't see, finally give in to the forces conspiring to drive them to the ground.

Yet right next to a casualty, there stands a withered skeleton with a twisted and delicate shard at the top offered to the sky; a tenuous, yet defiant fist against the elements.

What I would give to see one of these giants fall! The day it gives up and gives in to becoming earth, its ghostly branches shattering against the ground, splinters clattering against those who still stand. Dirt and duff spinning upward with the root ball, the bark crust crumbling away upon impact.

And then silence for a while. Everything settles and starts to breathe again. A tentative caw from a raven, and then the forest resumes its rhythm and hum.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Whatever it Takes

My 6.3-ounce art kit.

When ever we travel away from the things of man*, I take the means to make art. That’s because I love to paint outdoors. It combines the two things I love most: painting and Outside.

In preparing for our trips, sometimes I get a little carried away and my art bag weighs more than my clothing bag. I like to be well prepared for whatever art emergency that might occur (oh no, where’s my Holbein Manganese Blue!).

Well, now I’m up against a serious challenge. We’re planning a 4-day backpack trip and I want to bring art stuff—and I can’t just toss a big ole bag into the back seat of the car this time. 

Over the weekend, we began to set out our gear, clothing, and food. Then, we started weighing everything—and I mean everything—from shirts to saline bottles—trying to figure out the lightest combination of essentials. I’m down to four items of clothing beyond what I'm wearing when we leave plus a jacket and a spare pair of socks. My entire beauty kit (and I use that term loosely) fits in a small baggy and weighs less than a pound.

We started out with 8 1/2 pounds of food—and that was after I had already eliminated the gourmet desserts I had visions of dazzling our camping comrades with. After further scrutiny, we took out a few more items and counted out the crackers into exact servings. I doubt I'll starve to death, although it seems to be a constant fear for me.

One luxury, I'm taking a little bourbon with me. There is nothing like a little whiskey by the campfire to warm you on a cool night. It’s something that goes way back with me—to my Yosemite days—when one magical summer night I sat around a campfire with a few cute cowboys and shared a flask of Jack Daniels—a dewy memory of comfortable companionship.

Clint just rolls his eyes at me and declares “the booze” WILL NOT be considered in the divided weight of our shared gear. “That’s all yours to carry,” he harrumphed at me. I told him that if we needed to liquor him up and give him a belt to bite on while we dug out a bullet (or a festerin’ mesquite thorn), he’d sure be glad I was carrying that whiskey. I got another eye roll.

After weighing and lessening quantities, and re-weighing and deciding what to do without, my pack is down to about 37 pounds—sans art tools. How do I squeeze in any art gear at this point without adding too much weight?

After some thought, I figured it out. I have a mini-pan of watercolors with a retractable brush. I found a small spiral-bound sketchpad and tore out all but a dozen sheets. I cut down some watercolor paper so it would fit inside the pad. My clever MacGyver husband replaced the spiral wire with a couple of plastic tie wraps (second to duct tape, undeniably the most valuable fix-it item in the world). My art kit weighs a mere 6.3 ounces.

Now, how do I offset that weight? Not with bourbon, that’s for sure. I tried to convince Clint that I don't need to carry my headlamp, but he wouldn't budge on that one. He's probably thinking I'll need that light if I have to perform surgery on him with my Swiss Army knife after dark. Maybe I can sneak something into his pack when he’s not looking…

Stay tuned.

* From "Joe vs. the Volcano" (one of our favorite movies)

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

A Look Back

Steps and Cliffs
16" X 20"
Acrylic on Canvas

A year ago this week I accomplished something that I never in my wildest dreams thought I could—or would—ever do. This week marks the one-year anniversary of when my husband and I, and our dear friends Bob and Peter hiked to the top of Mt. Whitney.

For those of you that don’t know me well, I am not lean and athletic. I’m about as willowy as the dancing hippos in Fantasia. Growing up, I was the last one chosen for any sport. If there was a ball involved, it usually hit me in the face. I was the one they put in the way-out outfield. So for me, this was a huge accomplishment.

A large part of my success is owed to the love and support of my hubby and friends who encouraged me the entire way up the hill. It was an emotional and cathartic trip. So please indulge me this moment of remembrance (then I promise to move on).

Over the past year, I’ve shared the enormity of this challenge with you through many stories and paintings. I’ve described the trail and the rocky terrain and if I were to distill the trail down into a word or three, it would be rocks, steps, and cliffs.

I thought I was fully prepared for the trail. I read every account and looked at every photo I could lay my hands on. Clint had even made a chart that broke the trail into sections, providing the distance, elevation gain, and average grade for each section. It was part of his “how to eat an elephant” strategy (one bite at a time) to get me up the mountain. Laminated and hung off my backpack, this chart was my road map. I knew what to expect and mentally prepared myself for each section (10% grade for 2.25 miles—a cinch!).

However, that road map didn't tell me anything about the nature of the trail, whether it was smooth, rocky, or full of steps. That's what left me slack-jawed in surprise—the number of steps. I don't mean how many times I put one foot in front of the other. I mean stair steps—that ranged from six to a honking eighteen inches tall—cut into the rock in places, naturally occurring in others. I expected steep—but not all those damn steps.

 Steps and Cliffs
9" X 12"

By the time we arrived at Trail Camp, six miles into our journey, I'd climbed enough steps to last me the rest of my life. I had to take three breaths and then heave-ho to get up many of them. I was carrying a 33-lb. pack and with my extremely short legs, some of those steps were above my knees in height. Somehow, I made it.

It was three days of extreme focus: getting up (and then down) those steps and calculating every foot placement to stay balanced and in control. I was so intensely alert, that in my dreams I was still hiking. I couldn't stop. The second night, after we summited Whitney, when I was drifting off I dreamed I misjudged a step and stumbled—jerking myself awake, my heart pounding, my mouth like paste.

And so, not long after the trip, I had to draw and paint that unforgettable memory of steps. Steps ascending a trail hung on the edge of the world.

I worked quickly and completely from memory.

I wasn’t sure about putting these pieces up on the blog because, well, who wants to buy something like this? When we trotted out the pieces to decide on which of them to frame, I put these in the “No” pile. Who would want them? They are kind of Mordor-ish, disturbing, alien.

I thought about painting over the canvas. Why not re-use it? But I can't. If I cover it up, it will nullify all the hard work and dogged determination I put into that trip. Failure was not an option for me.

In honor of this anniversary, I wanted to share these pieces with you. They may not be my best work, and are not likely to end up in anyone’s living room, but they truly represent what my art is all about, releasing my feelings onto canvas and paper. Whether that is joy, awe, euphoria, or fear, there it is.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Cirquel in the Sky

Cirquel in the Sky
18" X 24"
Acrylic on Canvas

This is the canvas that was so wonderful to paint on that I fell in love with it.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010: I was one big ball of nerves; spaghetti stomach with worms. I was only a day away from the biggest undertaking in my life, hiking to the top of Mt. Whitney.

What if I trip and fall and break something? What if I get sick? What if something happens to one of the guys? My Clint? My imagination played out dozens of horrific scenarios on the theatre screen in my head. There was scary crescendo music like the kind you hear right before something terrible happens (yes, my life has an ongoing soundtrack that only I can hear).

At some point, my brain and body became exhausted from all the worrying. I tilted, like an old pinball machine that's been jiggled just a little too vigorously. My lights went out and the flipper bars went dead. I could no longer snap the ball of worry up for another go round, bouncing, ringing, spinning. It would be what it would be.

The next day, we picked up our permit and WAG bags (that's another story) for the next day’s journey. Then we headed out for a hike up the trail to Little Meysan Lake. The plan was to get out and stretch our legs and lungs, with the goal of climbing to 10,000 feet. It was one last conditioning exercise to expose us to “up” and “elevation” (the great equalizer).

We were all a bit sluggish as we started out on the steep and messy trail. Eroded from heavy use from the quarter-mile hikers, it was difficult to get into any kind of hiking rhythm. The worry ball shot up and bounced around a few times. If I felt like this now, how was I going to feel tomorrow for The Big Hike? I focused on my breathing, keeping it in time with my steps. It didn't take long before I started to feel better. We passed the beat-up section of the trail and moved on into the reward. My breathing evened out, I warmed up, and the steady climb didn't feel so bad. Everyone had loosened up and the joking began...

It was a beautiful day! Puffy clouds dotted a cobalt sky. The light was soft, intensifying the colors of the landscape. A hawk soared above us. A light breeze was blowing. The trail rapidly zigzagged up a steep slope giving us a wonderful view out over what seemed like a bottomless canyon. The near vertical granite wall across the gap was painted with every color of lichen imaginable.

Before long, the view ahead opened up and we could see the distinctive bowl of rock that marked the outer edge of the cirque holding Little Meysan Lake. Of all the cirques we would see in the next few days, this was the most defined and dramatic. Oddly, the clouds seemed to almost echo the roundness, forming a concentric shape inside the bowl.

The clouds continued to build as we climbed. It got grayer and grayer. This didn't dampen our mood nor lessen the beauty of the surroundings. In fact, the colors grew deeper in intensity. Now our vantage point revealed a waterfall tumbling off the edge of the cirque, nearly fluorescent against the black stained granite. Alongside the trail were several large flat rocks. It was the perfect spot to have lunch and enjoy the view.

The breeze kicked up a notch and we suddenly went from hot and sweaty, to cold. Jackets came out along with our lunches, and big, fat, wide-spread raindrops began to fall. It wasn't enough to get us wet, just enough to make it fun.

The consensus was that we would head back down after our break. The temperature had dropped and the clouds were heavy and purple above us. We’d nearly reached the 10,000-foot mark and we had regained our hiking legs and confidence, no need to push our luck and climb higher where we were likely to encounter snow. It was just what we needed to warm us up for the next day's adventure.

Friday, September 9, 2011

The Joy of Blank

“Writing is easy. All you do is sit staring at a blank sheet of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead.” 

So true. Although it’s not like that when it comes to making art. A blank sheet on the art table stirs a thrill in me akin to that moment of free fall on a roller coaster. Whether it is a fresh, bouncy canvas or a crisp sheet of watercolor paper, there is something exhilarating about starting a new piece.

That beautiful blank surface urges me on. I think about the brush dragging across the surface, the paint pooling, the smell of sizing as it’s released by water.

The excitement is killing me. But I don’t give in to the temptation. First, I visualize the subject on the surface and consider placement. Do I want to push the focal point to one side or the other? Higher or lower? What is the mood I want to project? Am I feeling soothing green or high-energy orange? How will the surface texture affect my painting?

When I start to twitch then it is time to draw the subject onto the surface. With watercolor paper, you must have a fairy-light touch so you don't spoil the pristine white of the paper. You have to KNOW your subject before you make a mark, for this surface is unforgiving. Get carried away and go too dark with your pencil—or misjudge your position—and it’s all over. You’ve destroyed a beautiful, innocent, expensive piece of virgin paper. (I love paper, by the way. In case you haven’t noticed, I kind of have a paper fetish.)

With canvases, it’s a little less critical with the drawing because acrylic paint covers better. Although it still requires a light touch to avoid muddying the first layers of color with smears of graphite.

Then, the moment I’ve been waiting for arrives. The first layer of paint goes on. Ahhhhhhhhhhhh. There is nothing like that first disturbance, breaking the surface tension and sizing with just the right mix of pigment and water. I lay in transparent color to create the under painting, the texture and light of the white surface beaming through the pigment in these first moments is exhilarating. The best, most exciting thing in the world is if some of these initial layers are left to shine through the final painting. It’s magic.

What is all this gushing about surfaces? I must confess I am in love with a new canvas. I haven’t been this excited about a surface in a while (well, there was that fling with gelatin plates, for which I still long). This new canvas is beautiful and supple and bouncy; perfectly stretched over wood strips that aren't warped or splintery, not a pucker to be found. Most of the canvases I’ve bought in recent years are dry and scratchy like an old cracker—though crackers tend to be more square rather than parallelogram shaped.

On my new love, the paint flows on the surface, the rhythmic texture of the canvas enhances without overpowering. It takes the colors softly, allowing me to build gentle layers of subtlety. It’s heavenly painting on this surface. Pure heaven!

And it’s all because we decided to go back to a place that I wasn't even sure still existed.

Last weekend, in desperation to find good frames, we drove out to a shop where I used to have most of my work framed. I hadn’t been there in 10 years and I can’t believe I ever stopped going there. Aside from the great selection of frames, awesome service, and reasonable prices (can you tell my day job is writing marketing propaganda?), I’d forgotten about the beautiful stretched canvases he makes—excellent, supple, inspiring canvases. 

I can’t even begin to express how the surface stimulated me. Yes, I know that sounds wacky, but working on this surface is so…arousing!

I hope to finish this painting over the weekend. It’s 18" X 24", so it's taking a bit longer. I’m truly enjoying the journey with this delightful canvas.

For those of you wondering about this shop, I want to give them a plug: Leon Picture Framing in Anaheim, California. The owner is a great guy who believes in quality and giving his customers great service. I’m so glad he is still around and doing what he does so well. See Tim and tell him Susan sent you.

I can’t wait to go back and get more canvases. Oh and, while we were there, we picked out a couple frames too. The pieces look great. I can’t wait until you see them!