Thursday, May 31, 2012

Remembering Silverton

Caboose Cabin
20" X 16"
Acrylic on Canvas

It was cold that morning, maybe in the low twenties. We scraped the ice off the windshield and headed toward Silverton on Highway 550. As the broad and open road climbed out of the valley where Durango sits, it became narrower—and icier. It was a great road, but the shady spots were slick with ice; we could hear the tires crackling across the surface. The snow blowing across the pavement leftover from the storm two days earlier seemed out of place in the bright sunshine.

The road got curvier, steeper, and more shaded as wound its way up to Coal and Molas passes, both over 10,000 feet in elevation. I couldn't believe how quickly we climbed. The view was spectacular: breathtaking mountains draped in snow. Soon, we were looking over the side into a deep crevice that held the creek was beside the road just a few minutes earlier.

We rounded a slight curve and came upon several Big Horn Sheep right in the middle of the road. We slowed to look at them and I rushed to get my camera out. The driver of a big rig behind us leaned on his horn—which might have been intended more for the stupid tourists than the sheep. Either way, it prompted the sheep to scamper off the road and up slope to our right.

Soon we came to the summit, where we could see a deep valley ringed by mountains. In the center sat Silverton, a handful of colorful confetti on a blanket of snow. The surrounding ridges framed the town with deep blue shadows.

It was 18 degrees. The streets were covered in a thick layer of ice. There were no other cars or people to be seen. It was 10 am, but none of the stores appeared to be open. The town was still and quiet—it looked abandoned. Steam rose off the rooftops of the weathered buildings that looked like something out of an old Wild West movie.

We found a building with signs of life (Lights! A car!). A sign proclaimed "Market" and "Coffee". Aha! Something that was open! The market had seen better days, though it was pretty well stocked. There was a big barrel of Piñon nuts, a sampling of produce, dusty canned goods, and of course, the last of the season's souvenirs. A hand-lettered piece of cardboard leaning on the register read: "This business for sale".

We left the store with our coffee and Piñon nuts, treading carefully over the ice back to the car. We drove around the deserted streets, (too cold and icy to walk!) taking in the charming old buildings and churches that remained from the boom days when Silverton was a thriving mining town. On the outskirts we found a colorful train car transformed into a summer cabin. The weeds had grown thick around it, the occupant long gone to some place warm for the winter.

We drove up out of Silverton, looking back at the tiny, empty town. The Big Horn Sheep were back in the middle of the road again. This time, no one behind us was in a hurry; so we stopped and let them slowly meander their way back off the road.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Ah, Wilderness

Sierra Ridge
6" X 4"
Watercolor and Pencil

We hadn't been back to Lone Pine since last fall. It was like coming home: the scent of the sage, the bone-warming heat of the sun, the cool air sliding off the sparkling mountains. I felt the tension of the last few weeks melt out of me, carried away with the breeze.

We needed this trip. We needed some time crawling over rocks and bending under willows, looking deep into the creek for lolling, iridescent trout. We needed to sit on a damp bank and absorb the fragrance of the wild roses sprawled along the creek, with half-dollar blooms of glowing pink and pale sepal stars where the blooms were spent. We needed to toss our lines into the amber water and let the sound of the water sing away our tight shoulders and smooth the furrow across our brows.

After a time, we came back to our campsite, to sit in the shade and watch the ridge above us wreathed in a soft focus filter of dust and moisture. The sun had dropped behind the great granite wall, yet there was plenty of daylight left yet. The show would go on for a while.

Nearing Last Light
6" X 4"
Watercolor and Ink

The temperature dropped and the wind picked up speed. Clouds blew up from valleys between the spires and turned coral and pink as daylight ebbed away. The sky deepened to sapphire, the air grew calm, and the first star appeared. Yet on the highest points of the ridge, there were still orange and gold highlights of the setting sun—saying a last farewell before dipping below the horizon miles to the west.

Time for a campfire and star watching for a while before we would climb into the womb of our tent and snuggle into our bags for the night.

PS. The painting of the rail car is coming along well. I'm very excited about it! I think a weekend "outside" helped.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Parts Unknown

The cliché of the struggling artist isn't just about the financial aspect; sometimes it's the entire process, from the beginning of an idea to when you sign your name to a piece. 

I find myself, once again, struggling. Whether consciously or unconsciously, I've been tackling subjects outside my normal realm. And that's a good thing really, because it helps me grow as an artist. It seems whenever you head into uncharted territory, there is a struggle. But learning something new can be a giant pain in the backside. In my mind, if I'm hating an activity, I'm probably learning something.

When I looked through my images for inspiration, I was drawn to photos from our belated honeymoon we took last fall—particularly, one image that was taken in New Mexico. We were on the Navaho Reservation—the only car on a side road that revealed open expanses of duff and mud browns, golden grasses, and streaks of rust. There were low red mesas and scattered ink splatters of dark gray-green junipers. There was an occasional sun-bleached trailer encircled by cars and other signs of life: a few sheep, a barking dog, rusty bicycles, or bright patches of clothes on a line.

My camera caught a pale horse running into the sun. It was beautiful. As my eyes returned to the road, I saw two young Navaho boys walking along the shoulder dressed like gang bangers, oozing attitude. They flashed gang signs. It was such a weird and sad contrast to the horses running into the light.

Fast forward to a week ago, when I decided to paint the image of the horse. I don't recall that I've drawn a horse since I was about twelve—and then, they were the cartoon-like pretty ponies of adolescence. And so, I drew and drew and drew, using a book on drawing animals for reference, until I came up with a pretty good rendering of the horse. The painting started out well, the gestural quality of the animal held through the under painting process. But now, I'm at a stalling point. Something was lost in that last session, and I was about to paint a giant red X over it in frustration. 

What happened between the drawings and the application of the paint? I wish I could describe the challenge of transitioning from drawing to painting. With some subjects, I know exactly where I'm going—with others—not so much.

This painting problem reminds me of Trickster, the coyote that did NOT want his image captured in paint. I must have repainted him ten times after studying and painting and redrawing and painting and studying and...well, you get the idea. In the end, though, it was worth it. Will I have success with the spirit of the horse? It is running away from me. Will I capture it, or merely struggle for a long while? This remains to be seen.

While this painting simmers, I’ve begun work on another subject, which again, is outside the box I've painted myself into in recent years. It’s an old rail car someone turned into a home, picturesquely sitting on the outskirts of Silverton, Colorado. Stay tuned. While I stretch my artistic legs I might get a blister or two along the way.