Friday, August 26, 2011

The Blue Ridge Trail

The Blue Ridge Trail
11" X 14"

Most call the crest to the south of town Blue Ridge. I've always loved that name. Maybe people call it that because from a distance it appears blue, but I believe it comes from the way it looks in late afternoon when the ridge and valley tumble into shadow; casting cool, calm, blue shadows that whisk the heat out of even the hottest day. I've studied that shade of blue for many years now, calling it Wrightwood Shadow—which if you've seen it—you know that blue. If not, you must see it some day. The dark blue-gray trim on our house is that color, or used to be, before the sun beat on it for a few years.

One of my favorite short walks is the trail that starts at Big Pines and moseys its way upward snaking in and out a deep canyon that creases Blue Ridge. Secret lush folds filled with greens of every shade. In the fall, it is especially beautiful as the oak leaves shift to golds and russet reds; the poison oak turns scarlet, and the currant bushes become school bus yellow, dotted with shriveled fruit overlooked by the birds.

The trail begins with a couple of whoop-dee-doos and curves around to drop you into a drainage where a stout, but short wood bridge crosses a little stream. I mean really little. Most folks would call it a dribble, except for those rare periods after one of our torrential downpours. That’s why the bridge is stout, to withstand the storms that transform our dry and serene mountain to a beast that spews mud and rock—and raging rivers into every low spot that might hint at being a gully.

After the bridge the trail climbs steadily, winding in and out of the ridge folds until it opens up to a broad view of the valley to the east. After one last steep stretch, the trees shade the trail once again. So it’s always a surprise when you pop out onto the shoulder of the ridge, suddenly in a shady campground next to a site usually occupied by a family munching breakfast around the campfire. You get the wide-eyed look as they wonder where you came from and if they are about to be robbed (city folk—all strangers are scary until proven otherwise).

We like to cross the campground and sit on the south side of the ridge where you can see Mt. Baden Powell and the basin, often covered in an ocean of clouds. It’s a nice place to sit and cool down while enjoying a hand full of gorp before heading back down the trail—always as pretty going down as it is going up.

This painting is the view from one of my favorite places on the trail, where you look up into a fisheye bowl of green topped with pines that tower over you. It’s difficult to grasp the scale of this spot unless you are there in person. The trees are huge, the canyon vast and steep; you are a mere spec, dwarfed by the landscape on this simple trail.

Friday, August 19, 2011

My Studio Show!

Pre-show helpers/party animals who hadn't gotten dressed for company yet.
Please, don't get the wrong idea, we prefer that you wear pants.

I want to get the word out to all fifteen of my loyal followers that I’ve scheduled my annual show for Saturday, November 5th, 2011

For those of you who have come in the past, you know it’s always a fun time. In fact, I can say I have never had anyone leave looking cranky. There’s plenty of socializing, and no end to the food and drink (people are still talking about last year’s sangria), and of course, we have my art on display and for sale all over the upper floors of the house. It’s a party—only with art.

You can't tell here, but the lighting was spectacular—especially as we moved into the evening.
Last year, my Lighting Director and Show Presentation Master (Clint) really cranked things up a notch with the addition of awesome lighting –– which he designed, engineered, and installed. This made a huge difference! People noticed paintings they had overlooked for years.

Clint came up with the idea to use large antique saws as hanging devices. It was an inventive way to present the paintings, adding a rustic element that complemented the artwork.
When you come to the show, be sure to check out our outdoor gallery space on the back deck; a favorite spot for many. People stay there for hours, enjoying the mountain air and beautiful view of the ridge. As the day moves on, we light the outdoor fireplace to ward off the chill. It makes for a cozy setting when you are gathered ‘round a fire with old and new friends.

Although you’ve previewed several of the pieces that will be on display here, just wait until you see my work all dressed up for the show. Framing and lit—it’s an extreme makeover—only for paintings.

This is my talented student, Morgan Owen. She also displayed some of her artwork.
So, be sure to save the date: Saturday, November 5th, 2011. We haven’t set the time yet, but it will probably be late morning until into the early evening. Get it on your calendar right away. I know you will have fun.

If you have not come in the past, or want to be added to my invitation list, be sure to send me an email at

Friday, August 12, 2011

Dawn Moon

Dawn Moon
11" X 14"

One of the many amazing things about our Whitney trip was that it occurred as the moon waxed full. Although Clint planned it that way, for me it was a magical surprise when the moon—golden from the smoke of fires further north—slowly rose over the edge of the cirque at Trail Camp.

As it climbed, it became bigger and brighter, and whiter, throwing so much light into the clear, indigo evening, it created an eerie, almost daylight effect. I've never experienced a moon so bright. I had to sleep on my stomach so the light wouldn't keep me awake.

When we awoke, just before dawn, there was our moon, gently hanging over the ridge to the west. A big pearl casting a soft glow over the cup of earth where we sipped our tea, and thought about the day ahead.

The next night, the moon was fully revealed, looming even larger and brighter than the night before. It had been a big day—summit day. We were tired, turning in well before the moon had traveled far from the horizon.

But I couldn’t sleep. I was restless—hot and cold at the same time. I dozed a little off and on, and although I tried to ignore the urge, finally got up to empty my bladder. When I crawled out of the tent, I was astounded by the brightness of the porcelain ridges lit by the moon. The sharp, surreal black and white landscape absolutely took my breath away.

Again, I was struck by the eerie not-daylight—but not night—kind of light. It was stark and beautiful. And the stars! Even with the fluorescent moon, a bazillion diamond pinpoints crowded the sky. The unmistakable swath of the Milky Way hung over me in all its glory. I felt very small and insignificant, but honored.

I crawled back into the tent and finally slept until nearly dawn. We enjoyed that last delicious daybreak, the iridescent moon against the ridge surface that moved from cool blues and grays with a blush of pink, to coral-orange, then fading as the sun peeked over the Inyos. There are many people who will never see a sunrise as amazing as this. How lucky we were.

With this painting, I wanted to keep the feeling loose and wild. I wanted to capture the colossal and luminous moon in those last moments before dawn. That magical light and magical nights I will never forget.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

The 99 Switchbacks Reward

From Trail Crest
Acrylic on Canvas
18" X 24"

This is one of the “wow” spots on the Mt. Whitney trail; an OMG trail reward as mentioned in my last post; stick it out and you get this gift. However, this one occurs deeper into the journey—nearly 10 miles in, after the world-famous 99 switchbacks.

The 99 switchbacks lie between Trail Camp (named for the obvious reason) and Trail Crest. When we arrived at Trail Camp, set up our tents, and the guys pointed out where we were headed the next day, I couldn’t believe there was actually a trail on the near-vertical slope rising out of Trail Camp.

As night fell, we watched the headlamps—distant stars of light bobbing along the invisible trail as hikers made their way down. When it was daylight, I searched the spots where I’d seen the lights, looking for some sign of a trail. Eventually, I could pick out a few gnat-sized hikers, working their way back and forth. Only then was I able to pick out the barest wisp of a trail scribed upon the surface.

The 99 switchbacks is an awesome section of trail. It zigzags upward quickly, presenting an expansive view of the cirque where Trail Camp resides. Bodies of water dot the landscape: the small golden pool next to the camp, the startling blue water of Consultation Lake, and copper penny puddles of snowmelt lying in the low spots.

Soon, the tents left behind, patiently waiting for the hikers to return from the summit, become tiny specs of brilliant color in the putty landscape. The higher you go, the more spectacular the view as you near the shoulder of the ridge where the named and unnamed spires jut upward, towering over the trail. The terrain is rugged, rough, and red—shattered by wind and ice.

Trail Crest sits at about 13,000 feet above sea level. As we hiked around that last nose of ridge (the 99th switchback), we reaped the reward of the breath-stealing view that makes you feel as though you are looking down at the earth from a window seat high in the air. All of a sudden, you are on the knife-edge spine of a massive ridge that separates east from west. The Owens Valley to the East and Sequoia to the West. And it's a long way down on either side.

In the bottom of the valley to the west sits Hitchcock Lake, brilliant blue and green, mirroring the deep ridges of Mt. Hitchcock rising to the south. There is an unreal contrast to the barren, rocky terrain interrupted by this jewel serenely cradled in the low folds of the valley. Does anything live in a lake that high above tree line? Some day I must go there and find out.

I've been working with this image for a while now. I don't know that any rendering could communicate the scale of this view. It’s too vast. But I was determined to capture it some how.

I started with a small acrylic painting, moved on to a sketch, which I turned into a gelatin print. Then, I took that sketch and created a watercolor. None of them worked out very well. Eventually my persistence paid off though, and here you have it.

On to the next adventure in art. I’ve been thinking about the magical full moon over Trail Camp…