Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Leaving New England

September Chores

It's finally happening.  Our house has sold, and the boxes are getting packed, and goodbyes are being said.
After almost 3 years of fixing up this old farmhouse, putting it on the market, and waiting and hoping, the day is drawing near and we will be leaving New England.  Most of my adult life has been spent here, or at least as many years here as in my native Texas.  But New England has been home.  It gets in one's soul, these
rural roads and byways, and rocky ledges and mossy stone walls, stately old farmhouses and pastures providing grazing for sheep and cattle... there's a history here, and a dignity of
labor and tradition.   I have been thinking lately, each time I visit a place, "will this be the last time?"
These thoughts bring a sadness, even in the midst of the adventure that lies ahead.  My life has been here, my friends are here, two precious granddaughters are here,  my "birth" as an artist is here.   How does one leave all that behind?   I'm not sure, but I do know that there are many things that I will miss.  Most of them are simple things, the stuff of everyday existence that is tied to these granite hills.  Here's a few that come to mind.
1. the sound of peepers in the spring.. a sure sign that winter is over.
2. the feel of crunchy leaves underfoot on a forest trail, and that pungent aroma that fall brings to the air.
3. the sight of Mt. Monadnock, guardian, solid, ever present.
4. stone walls that go on for miles, slowly sinking into the earth, covered in moss, but testament to herculean labors of man and beast in days gone by.
5. the sound of a hermit thrush deep in the forest.... those clear flute-like notes echoing through ancient woods like some hobbit inspired tale..
6. eating at Harlow's Pub in Peterborough.  Simple, good food, good beer, and friendly faces.
7. daffodils in the spring.
8. the first snowfall, and the squeaky feel of snow on a really cold winter day.
9. hoping to catch sight of the moose on Wapack trail in Sharon, but always  having to be satisfied with tracks and scat.
10. running along the rail trail in Jaffrey, my "home trail" - and knowing every single footstep for 10 miles.
11. water, ;plentiful, cool, clear, flowing, everywhere along the trails.  New Hampshire is blessed with abundance of this precious resource.
12. Old houses  and old barns.
13. The outrageous colors of autumn.
14.  The White Mountains.
15. Art-friendly communities.  We are mighty lucky here in that regard.
16. Real maple syrup.
17. my friends. This goes without saying, but there are some dear folks that have touched my heart deeply, and I will never forget them.   How do you say goodbye to folks like that?
18. my church family. Monadnock Congregational in Peterborough has been a warm, caring, and encouraging
sanctuary from the troubles of life. They have given me hope and stood by my side when days were hard.
They have pointed me towards the truth,  and made me accountable to live by it.
19. My dog, Tucker, whose grave is here,, but who goes with me in memory.
20. Most important, my two sweet grandbabies. They're not babies any more, but  all the times we have spent here are etched deep in my spirit, and I can recall countless small joys we have shared. Sure, they will come to visit us in our new home, but this is the hardest thing of all to leave.  Almost too hard to even think about.  

There are probably a hundred other things - all the sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and memories that are deeply embedded  here.  I am feeling a longing for "just once more" of so many little things, that are never again to be experienced.   I am greatly blessed to have been here. Don't get me wrong, I'm excited about the adventures that lie  ahead. - and the mountains out west are grand and wonderful. There will be good times and happy days, and new friends, and new things to paint, and a new dog to share the trails with.  Even so,
leaving New England is a hard thing to do.

This will probably be the last post for quite awhile. I wish all of you happy mosquito season, and the hazy lazy days of summer that approach, time with family and friends, holidays and vacation days... gardening and mowing, and apple picking and leaf raking.  Do you all know how lucky you are?

Friday, April 23, 2010

Tucker, A Tribute

I miss this dog so much. Thanks for everyone's kind words. I haven't had the energy to even respond individually. He had such a sweet soul.. everybody was his immediate friend. If you
ever said a friendly word to him, he remembered you the next time he saw you, and would greet you with joyous enthusiasm. Almost without exception, everybody who knew Tucker immediately sensed this special spirit about him, and loved him. He loved my son, who was with him as a puppy, but then went in the Army and was gone for several years. No matter, when Tucker would see him, he would literally jump into Josh's arms, singing and howling with pure love. That was something to see for an 80 pound dog. He came upon tiny newborn deer fawn twins on a hike onetime, and gently sniffed them but didn't touch them. However, if you were a squirrel or a marmot or groundhog.. watch out! And of course, he was convinced he was going to catch an elk one day.
The cats would come rub up against him, and he'd just lay still. He used to give us "hugs" by pushing his head against us and just loving us that way. He had the softest fur - everybody thouht he was still a puppy because he was so soft. We never figured that out, because the breeds that he was a mix of have course hair.
He had great trail manners. He would always go way off trail to do his business, and didn't
hog the trail or get in your way. He was in his glory out there - especially if there was snow.
He didn't like water, though.. and would only swim across a stream or river if it was choice between swimming and being left behind.
He was so friendly, that I often wondered if he would be protective if I were ever threatened. I never really had to test that, but only once, I passed some pretty rough looking young men while out on a run, and instead of his usual tail wagging and greeting, Tucker slowed down, head went down and he stared at them intently as they passed. No aggression, but it was as if he sensed that they were a possible threat by their negative energy (I certainly felt they were a possible threat!). So I do think if it had ever come to that, he'd have done his best to protect me.
Well I have so many great memories of Tucker.. he was one in a million, and we were so lucky to have spent 8 years with him. I wish I had him back.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Not about painting

Tucker the dog, Steve, and me on Mt. Elbert, CO

This post isn't about painting. and it isn't a happy one, so be forewarned.

I had to make the very difficult decision to put my dog Tucker down yesterday.
He was my buddy for 8 years, and as you can see, a beautiful pooch, and healthy and active.
That's us on top of 14,000 foot Mt. Elbert in Colorado. 

Tucker was in his glory out on the trails, and especially in the snow. He was part husky and part Malemute and part Shepherd. He was the best running dog I've ever known.. last October he did 54 miles with us on rugged Virginia mountain trails.  He was a gentle, lovable soul who never met a stranger, who wanted to just play with every dog he met, and who lived peacefully with several cats. As big and scary as he might look,he never made a single aggressive act toward another dog.   He loved children. But mostly, he loved me.  

And that got to be the problem. His severe separation anxiety got so bad, we could not leave him anywhere. He had to be with me 24 hours a day.  We adjusted our lives over the years to accommodate him, but the anxieties continued to get worse. We tried everything, but nothing seemed to help him. I could not work outside the home. If we went somewhere, it was only if Tucker could either come with us, or wait in the car. Summertime in the heat, that was not possible, so we'd have to take turns staying with the dog to do something as simple as going to the grocery store.  He would stay with anyone, but was not truly happy unless he was with me. He even got anxious when I went to the studio to paint, and I'd hear him whining, so I'd have to go reassure him about every 30 min. He eventually got black listed from every kennel because he would damage and destroy the cages trying to get out.  He has escaped from every known restraint.  He's pulled tethers our of concrete walls and broken down steel doors to try to escape and find us.

This last weekend, we had a race, and could not find anyone to watch him. So we tried a kennel one last time.  He got so frantic he tore through a heavy duty chain link enclosure and chewed through a door. He cut and mangled his paws so badly they looked like they'd been run through a blender.   The kennel took him to the on call vet who did basic first aid to the tune of $350. but I had to take him to our own vet for further care..  It was going to be at least a month of changing bandages, and of him being unable to even go for a walk with me.  The paws would have healed, unless infection or something set in.
He was otherwise healthy.  But then what?  We simply could not figure out how to keep him happy anymore.
I couldn't live my life anymore.  The vet talked to me and was very sympathetic and understanding. She likened his anxieties to a mental illness .She said imagine what he must be going through to be frantic enough to do that kind of damage to himself.  So we made that awful decision.
When it came to the actual moment, it was very quick and seemed peaceful. He simply fell asleep and was gone.  I hope it was peaceful for him. I wish I could have had one last walk in the woods with him, so he could have had one last happy time with me instead of coming from what must have been hell for him, then injured and in pain, and then to a vet, which always made him nervous.   
Honestly, I'd rather have him with me now, as hard as it was to live with him.I miss him. I miss his collar jingling and his toes tapping on the hardwood floor.  I miss the way he would jump up to go when he heard the car keys in my hand. I even miss vacuuming up the piles of hair he always shed all over the house.
He trusted me. I feel like I let him down. I feel like I was selfish.  The house, and my heart, is empty.

Please don't feel like you need to express sympathy or anything. I probably wrote this post more for myself than anyone else.   Tucker, you were a good dog, and I wish we could have been better people for you.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Taking the PAIN out of Painting.... and other stuff

Satsuma Vase 16x12
See this and more at
Monadnock Fine Art Gallery, Keene, NH
opening reception,April 16, Friday, 6-8pm

The last several weeks have been just plain weird.  It's like I woke up and forgot how to paint.  Nothing I tried was successful, and I had an opening at a gallery that I really needed to get work done for.
Pretty frustrating.  
When I whined about this, several kind and wise souls told me to just relax,  don't be so hard on myself, and even take time off if needed.   Maybe that was the permission I needed, but thinking about their advise helped me to just sort of let it go, go with the flow, and not worry about it.  And then, voila! All of a sudden I'm
back in the groove, and things are finally happening.  Not a huge explosion of creative energy or anything, but
little happy blurps of painting joy.
So how DO you handle a painting funk?  What to do when painting is painful? (I actually did get a shoulder overuse injury from furiously painting for a show,but that's not what i mean).  Here's what I did.
First I examined what was going on in the rest of my life - stressors, or conflicts of time, etc. These kind of things require energy, and you only have so much of it. If you're overdrawn, then you'll have to pay the fine, which is a lack of creative juices where you might want them.  If you can't juggle your schedule, then just back off for awhile. This was partially to blame for my funk. We're trying to sell our house, and busy, busy, busy with that...
Then, I listened to the advise of some wise friends. They reminded me that, after all, God is still in heaven, and He's not shocked to suddenly find out that I am struggling down here. He's hasn't been asleep at the wheel, and I can trust him in this area of my life, just like all others.  When I remembered this, I put it back in perspective.  This is, after all, not life or death. It is important to me, but not, in the big scheme of things, earth shattering.  Trust. Let it go.
Thirdly, I think sometimes we struggle just before a breakthrough. Our artistic growth chart is a series of rises, leveling off, and maybe a slump or two, before it heads back up .... so, maybe this funk is the precursor to
Hey, I can always hope!

So, the opening is tonight, and this is the final painting I'm delivering to the gallery. Last minute, still wet, of course!  This is "not quite finished", as I have to re-draw in the faces of the two little girls on the vase, but needed to let the undercoat dry a little before doing it.. it is incredibly small detail and impossible to do if it's wet underneath.
I used transparent glazes for all the design on this vase. First I painted the background color, basically a beige. Just flat color for the light and shadow of the vase. Then, because this design was so intricate (and that's what attracted me to this vase in the antique shop!) I let that first color completely dry.  Then, with a small rigger, I outlined the drawing details on the vase, trying to simulate the stylized image as it really was.  Once this outline was dry, I glazed in very thin color, mixed with tons of medium, almost like a watercolor wash.  
Once that was completely dry, then I was able to add the blips of highlights and a tiny bit of shading to the edges to complete it.  This is not my usual way of working, but I liked the scene on this vase, and wanted to
do it justice.  I did enjoy this process - very slow and concentrated effort, and rather calming actually.
Of course, then the flowers made me want to swear, so goodbye calming!  It's done (or nearly) and I'm happy with the overall effort. Most especially, I like the color harmony in this piece.  The ladies at the flower shop will be happy - I spent alot of time there picking out just the right hue for the flowers!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010


another day in portrait group. I never did post last week's effort.  We had a great model, who is a Revolutionary War re-enactor, and came dressed in 1680's garb (yes, I know that's before the Revolution! He does several time periods, including Civil War era).  I hated my portrait. I scraped it out with all intention of trying to re-work it from photos, but just never did  touch it again.
 Today's model was the granddaughter of one of our members, a nursing student and a sweet gal.  I think she was really getting tired and was having trouble holding the pose, but nobody complained, and we all enjoyed the practice.  This is such a great group of folks and the cost is so reasonable, that it is well worth the hour drive it takes to get there.
There is simply no substitute for practice, especially for portraits.  I'm learning  and still have so far to go, but every week there is a new discovery. Today, I tried a different color, and like it.  I added Terra Rosa to my shadow mixes and felt like it created some nice shades.  But I can see that there are so many opportunities for beautiful subtle color variations that I simply don't have the smarts to do yet...
Jennifer seemed to really like this portrait, and she was such a good sport, I gave it to her.  she was tickled, and I was happy she liked it.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Portrait Group!!


I'm pretty psyched.  After doing a painting demo at a neighboring art association, I was invited to join a portrait group down in Massachusetts.  It meets once a week, the fee is very nominal, and we all take turns providing, or being, the model.  There are some fine, and experienced painters in the group, and I am really excited about this opportunity to practice this skill. It's an area I am very inexperienced in, and it simply takes lots of work, and effort, and TIME to see improvement.  
Today was my first time there, and I thought I should start out with a monochrome study, to make myself see values and structure. Remember, "values do the work, but color gets the credit".  I was so tempted to work in color - there was some really nice color temperature contrasts going on, but I stuck to my guns and worked in

Today's model was Arthur, the husband of one of the ladies. He was really quite pleasant, in spite of the somber expression I somehow managed to capture.  There's about 2 hours of painting time in there.

I'll post these exercises whenever I go down to the class.  It's an exercise in humility as much as anything, because I have so much to learn.. but maybe it will be a nice yardstick of progress. I can only hope!
What will be really great is if I can look back at these 6 months from now and say, "Oh my gosh, those were AWFUL!" 
practice practice practice!

Wednesday, March 3, 2010


I have just been notified that this painting, entitled "Almost Home" has been selected as the 2010
Poster and Finisher's Print for the Hardrock Hundred Mile Endurance Run in Silverton, CO.
Artists were invited to submit original artwork or photos depicting portions of this footrace through the  San Juan Mountains in southwestern Colorado.  The event is dear to our hearts, and always the focus of our
endurance training.  This particular scene shows a runner just over the last 13,000 foot pass, and about to head down beyond that first rock outcropping.  All the major hurdles are over, and it is only about seven miles from this point to the finish. Unless you are fighting time cut-offs, it's a good chance you will finish the run if you get to this point.  This is also one of those points in the Runner's Manual where the course description warns that a "fall here could be fatal".  Just out of sight, where I would have been standing to take the photo reference. is a steep, grassy slope with loose rock, and the trail, as you see, is narrow.  The grassy slope ends with 1,000 foot cliffs after about a hundred feet, so if a runner were to stumble here, it could be deadly.
There are more than a few dangerous spots on the course, but any reasonable person will be cautious, and we have, thus far, had no deaths due to falls.  One runner WAS struck by lightening last year, and that is probably the greatest danger up high.
Anyway, I'm tickled to be this year's poster artist.  This image will be used in all publicity for the event. A print of this image, with name, and finish time , will be awarded to each finisher of the run.

Now, if I can only get one of those finisher prints!!!!

Tuesday, March 2, 2010


Above is a little 4x6 study I did today entitled "Spring Chickens" - about an hour total. It was all I
could manage today.
 I seem to be drifting in a sea of indecision lately.  There are things I really want to
paint, but I'm not good enough at them yet to do anything serious, and I am tired to death of doing so-so, ho-hum, yawn, average works.   Sometimes I want to scream "no more lousy art!"  (hey, would that work?)

I think we probably must go through these kind of experiences. Maybe it is a bit like pruning our apple tree-
too many branches going too many different directions  dilute the resources of the tree - better to cut it back and direct the growth in one direction.  I know all this in my head, but it is frustrating to feel like I'm stuck
spinning my wheels and going nowhere fast.   There are commitments and opportunities looming, but what I really want to do is just shut the door to it all and get by myself and paint.  Some of those things I HAVE to do, and some I SHOULD do (there's that whole making money thing), so I can't ignore them even though I'd like to.
Right now, I think it'd be great if I could disappear for about 2 years, and come back, hopefully a better artist.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Subject Matters

Here's a painting I've been working on.  Sometimes, I get a notion in my head that I want to
paint something and have to try for it.  This photo isn't perfect,(there's some weird color thing going on in the trees that isn't in the real thing) but close enough otherwise, and I wanted
to show it to you for this discussion.
I love draft horses, by the way. And I love watching the teamwork and relationship between the driver (or, in this case, the farmer) and the horses.  I almost titled this one "Team of Four" because you can bet that the old dog trotting along beside believes that it is his job to be right there.
Anyway, I've been working on getting better paint quality - more variety of brushstrokes,  both opaque and transparent passages, etc.  And also trying to work looser, and skillfully suggest things rather than laboriously detail them.   (that's the whole idea, right?)
 But I found when I started on this particular painting, that the subject required a certain degree of finish to work.  With the teams' harnesses being rather involved, there is a certain level of detail that  was necessary to make them believeable.   A person looking at this painting needs to see enough of the harness to know what it is - it couldn't really be just suggested.  The kind of person who might buy a painting like this, will likely be familiar with the subject matter, and so it has to have at least some authenticity.  Although the background trees are less highly finished and more suggested, they too seemed to require a bit more concentration of effort to make them work.

So I guess the lesson in today's post is that the subject matters.   If this had been a broader view with the team at a greater distance, then suggestion would have worked. But, in this view, as the main focus, they
needed to have a level of finish and authenticity to make them work.  For something like this, it is also probably a good idea to paint things that you are familiar with, otherwise the necessary accuracy will be hard to come by.  I will probably never paint boats for that reason!  Or industrial equipment.

I'm off for a few days down to Virginia for a race - looks like we're going to be running in snow. They've had quite a bit this winter.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Just Having Fun

I haven't been painting much due to a shoulder injury that will just NOT go away - and it's my painting arm!
I'm getting impatient for sure.
I wanted to play around with some ideas, and this rather quick sketch (about 4 hours ) is really just sort of having fun.
I snapped this photo when some friends and I were working together hanging the Member's Show at Sharon Arts Gallery in downtown Peterborough. This was a couple of years ago.   Anyway, I always liked the photo
and thought it'd be interesting to paint.  One of the things I'm working on is to create more variation in paint application.  I've still got a long ways to go, but on this particular piece I aimed at keeping all the shadow areas really thin and transparent. I even left a few of them with just the initial wash.   I could certainly bring this to a much more refined finish, but I didn't really want to.  I'm afraid it would end up getting too tight and
overworked, so left it rather sketchy.

and, below are my two cats.  They are such comfort seekers. Murphy is the white lump, and Harley is the gray mass.  They are dedicated nappers.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

News and another Auction

This painting, "Four Apples" made it into the jury's top 15% in the Fine Art Studio Online Art Competition.
This selection is sort of the "semi-finalist" group from which the overall winners are selected.  That comes out to about 80 paintings out of 700 entries, so I'm pleased that it was given this nod.  And even better, the painting sold nicely last weekend at the Monadnock Arts Auction.

I also wanted to let any folks in the New England area know about another good opportunity - the Stonewall Farm Art Auction in May.  I've copied the Call to Artists below.   It's a juried event, with awards and some cash prizes, and they seem to do pretty well in terms of sales. But the jury is tough, so put your best stuff
out there.  I think if you click on this image below, you'll a larger version easier to read. 

Friday, February 5, 2010

A Demo and a Surprise Sighting

This year, during the silent auction for the Monadnock Arts Auction, several area artists have come to do painting demos. Folks have wandered in and out, and really seemed to enjoy seeing
painters working. I was invited to do a demo and had the good fortune to paint alongside my dear friend, Mary Iselin. Mary was working from photos, doing several underpaintings of her famous little lambs. She does a complete monochrome underpainting, and allows that to totally dry before applying color. This way she is able to get the detailed drawing and values that she wants, and also leaving the white of the canvas as the lightest lights allows her to really get that
"glow" of light around the lambs fleece.
I am an alla prima painter, so I set up a simple still life arrangement to work from life. Working on a lead primed canvas panel, I did a quick block in using a warmish medium tone, wiped away the lights, and began to lay in the basic shadow patterns. I think the shadows, or at least the dark areas, are the structure that holds the rest of the painting together, so I like to get them in first. The arrangement is very straightforwards, so I just laid in the color, keeping things pretty loose. I left parts of the background with just the preliminary wash, and only brought to a more complete finish the central focus of the painting. This took about 2 hours (partly because Mary and I would talk, and I would often answer questions from onlookers.) It's good that I could get it finished, because due to a shoulder injury, that's about as long as I can work on anything. I took a photo but did not have great light, so the colors here are just a bit off.
I donated the piece to the auction committee, and it will be offered as sort of a bonus painting
during the live auction tomorrow night.

But the really coolest thing today happened when I took my dog for a run. I started down our local rail trail, which is snow covered and follows the river and some wetlands, so it's also scenic and quiet. Suddenly, as I was running along, something flew up in front of me from the shoreline off to the left. Surprised, I looked, and couldn't believe my eyes. Right in front of me, almost at eye level and only about 10 feet away was a magnificent BALD EAGLE!!! He flew up and landed in a tree about 20 feet up, and sat looking down at me. I was able to observe him for quite awhile, (and got all patriotic about seeing this awesome symbol of our country). Of course, I was SOOOOO wishing I had a camera or even a cell phone, but, alas, neither was to be had. Still, this was the awesomest thing I've seen in a long while. I did contact the NH Audubon to let them know of the sighting, because, as far as I am aware, eagles have not been seen right here. COOL!!!! It totally made my day.. heck, my WEEK!!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Good News!

Just heard today that this painting, "Onions on the Sideboard" was selected as part of the jury's favorite top 15% in the December Fine Art Studio Online art contest. This international contest draws some really wonderful art each month, so I am really pleased that this work was chosen.

Congratulations to all the final winners - there is some absolutely amazing art out there!

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Examples of "Concept" in Painting

I have mentioned before about the need to have a "big idea" when you go to paint something. This big idea, or concept, will direct all the decisions in your painting. There are many different examples of what such a concept might be, so I thought I'd just put a few here with examples.
When I started this painting of three onions, what I wanted to do was to have one focused area of light. That was the big idea - one spot of light in a large area of dark. So, as I painted, every brushstroke was measured against that big idea. I can tell you that the green glass bottle was not nearly that subdued - there were many more bright highlights and reflected lights bouncing all over it. But had I painted it exactly that way, my concept would have been lost. As it was, I wanted the focus to be on that one bright spot of the foreground onion and the one big hightlight on the glass. Everything else had to take second place. So I painted just enough of the glass to indicate it's existance and shape, but kept it in the background.

The concept for this painting was a close color harmony. Everything in the painting is a shade of orange or green. The tabletop was not really that color. It was the usual brown. But, in keeping with the concept, I indicated an old painted surface which incorporated the colors that comprised my original concept.

Here, the idea was also a color concept, but it was to have one spot of rich color (in this case the red of the two apples) against a sea of very muted, almost "non-color." I wanted the attention to zoom right to those apples. Even the other two apples are reduced in saturation so that the focus is the main pair. That pot (which is old, and very heavy) is actually red. I love the shape of it and the texture. But I knew that I could not paint it red without detracting from the
original idea of rich color against a grave background. So, the pot was painted a darker version of the background color. The tabletop incorporates some of the red, but only right in the area under the two main apples. Again, focusing the attention of the viewer where I want them to look.

So, I hope this is helpful. Stop to think before you ever begin a painting. Ask yourself, "What do I want to say? What is this painting really ABOUT?" That will become your concept. Then, paint the concept, instead of simply recording what is in front of you.

I know, I know, I still haven't done the demo of painting clear water, but things have just been too crazy around here. I'll get to it one of these days.