Sunday, May 31, 2009


We have come to see the ruins of a Hohokam dwelling. Here in the middle of the desert, people once farmed, digging irrigation ditches by hand and planting, of all things, cotton. I had no idea that cotton existed in the New World prior to the Virginia plantations, but here it was in prehistoric Arizona, before even the time of the Pueblo cliff dwellers or the Sinagua. Pima cotton, some of the softest cotton in the world, is reportedly a mix of this native cotton and Egyptian.
The Casa Grande is the largest structure of these ruins, several stories high, built of fragile adobe, sheltered from the weather by a tall, Asian-looking roof. The rest of the village, for it was quite a sizeable village, has been worn down to low walls and entries, impossible to tell how tall they once were. Because the light on the casa grande is all light or all shadow from the remada that is keeping the sun off me, I have chosen to paint some of the side buildings, with their curiously curved, weathered walls. Note the saguaro in the background. This is the first time I've ever seen saguaro.

Monday, May 25, 2009


Down to warmer climes where the trees are in leaf. I spend a lovely two hours painting by the salmon river. The water is hypnotic and a familiar painting subject, and I have a wonderful time painting it. But all these leaves! I keep remembering what I tell students: simplify the masses. I am having trouble doing just that. Maybe I need to spend more time painting greenery.

Rick drives out from home to join me for a hike in the woods along the river, a perfect cap to the day. Blooms hidden among the greenery, and even at eye level. Yellow violets, spring beauty, oxalis, bleeding hearts, corydalis with spikes in various stages of development.

When I get the painting home, it has changed dramatically. The big trees on the right are needlessly massive and heavy and the greens have all shifted into muck. I think I’ll put this one down to enjoying the painting experience. A friend of mine says put up the bad ones too. I’ll give it a try this once.

Sunday, May 24, 2009


4:30 AM. The sky is barely lightening. This is the right time to get up to paint the sunrise. On the mountain, the sky is more light. Already, a glow has lit the haze below me. Most enchanting are the mists in the valleys. It is too dark outside to see my paint. Inside the van, the interior light is just enough. I am ready for summer and warmer weather for painting. But for now, I stay inside.

The light on the horizon makes a straightened rainbow in the haze: red, orange, yellow, green, blue. I wish I had put out cad green light, but mix my green instead. As the sun approaches the horizon, more color dapples the mist. I finish my painting, and continue to watch as colors shift and brighten across the landscape. A faint rosey glow lights the snowfield atop Mt. Hood. Jefferson to the south is as distinctly pink as it was when I painted it at sunset, although in reverse profile. Once again, I am deeply thankful for this pageant.


After getting up at 5 AM, and despite a nap, I am tired. I decide to make my sunset painting early, before the actual sunset. It will be interesting to watch the shadow patterns on the mountain change as the light falls. I have two small canvases left. Zooming in on the summit, I look for changes in color in the shadow and light on the snowfields. Fatigue sets in. I find myself painting automatically, unable to think the process through. I paint anyway.

The ski area that was so busy during the day is closing down for the night. My parking area is almost empty. The sunlight on the mountain warms, purples, and narrows to a small slanting shape. I chase the shadows down the mountainside. Mount Hood is going to sleep. Soon, so will I.

Saturday, May 23, 2009


I loved the twisted shapes of this old tree. It was easy to get to from my car parked at the “road closed” sign. The whole time we were painting the tree, people kept driving up to the end of the road, and walking out on the snow, as if they couldn’t quite believe that it was closed. I too wished it weren’t closed, and I had more choices of painting spots.


From the skiers’ parking lot, we hiked up the corn snow to the first bare patch on the mountain. From here, the peak is hunkered down, it shoulders rising around us with blinding snow. Sunglasses, or no sunglasses? Looking at my paints with sunglasses on, I decided that the colors were invisible. A hat is going to have to do. We paint the various colors of snow, finding variety despite the lack of shadows. The trees are a welcome break to all that white. And of course, the cobalt sky, which is gradually dotting with clouds. (I painted it before the clouds came.) Can a mountain loom on a 4 by 6 panel?


Yesterday I tried to get up to paint the sunrise. 5:30 I thought would do it, and that is only a half-hour earlier than I’ve been getting up. But at 5:30 I looked out and the sky was already light. I’d planned it too late. It was shamefully easy to talk myself back into bed.

This morning I try 5:00. Again the sky is light, but not so awfully light. As I’m headed for the bathroom, I consider talking myself out of it, but there are my clothes on the counter and somehow I put them on. I am out the door in ten minutes. When I arrive, the show is already going. I am glad that my paint is still out from yesterday. I shove my paint box on to the car seat, put up a small canvas, and begin to paint.

It is quiet, dead quiet here in the parking lot. Up the mountain I can see the lights of the grooming machines at work. There are a lot of cars in the lot for so early a time. Did they all get up at 5? It seems a herculean feat to me.


Trails on the mountain are stiff and jumbled with snow, so I walk the streets of Government Camp. I head uphill, enjoying the mountain cabins that fill the little village. Snow still blankets the ground, though the streets are bare. Water flows somewhere under the snow, the result of a warm day.

There has been a lot of plowing in this town. Heaps of snow make sedimentary cliffs beside driveways and streets. At the ends of steep roofs, snow has slid into mountainous piles. Three to six feet of dirty pockmarked snow fills most front yards. People here adapt. One house had a clear driveway, six feet of snow in the front yard, and as if worshiping the sun on a raised deck, lawn chairs perched on the top of the snow.

After my walk, I head up the mountain to paint the sunset. Remembering the show at my back last night, I face south toward Mt. Jefferson.

Friday, May 22, 2009


My class and I meet up at White River. The parking lot is like a heat radiator, warming us from the feet up. We have been studying the multiple colors of white, so we have come here to observe them. Because it’s so near noon, the variations are subtle, and there are no real shadows. Not the best time to paint, but we’re here now, so...

A crow or raven flies over with the same whish whish I heard yesterday. This time I am not expecting a condor. We also hear varied thrush calling. I missed them in West Linn this year.

My whites are nearly done. I look the painting over. I am tempted to lighten them, they seem to have so much color, but I know that when I get the painting indoors the yellow will be less intense. I bring it in, and sure enough, the yellows are just about right. Compensating for color change in different lighting conditions is still difficult.

Thursday, May 21, 2009


Conditions are tough, up here at Timberline. It’s the end of May, and it’s still quite snowy, and looks like it plans to be for a good long while yet. Even on this balmy day, a stiff breeze is dropping down the mountain, carrying air chilled by the snowfields. I have set up beside my car, to stay as much out of the wind as possible. It may be ten degrees warmer on this side of the car.There is a lot to paint. Every part of this scene is full of color and shape and complexity. I try to narrow my focus, telling enough, but just enough. Even so, the painting takes longer that my back is happy about.I hear a whish, whish, whish overhead, and look up, expecting to see perhaps some mechanical flying machine, or at the very least, a condor. It is a crow, or a raven. This is puzzling. I’m told that owls have particular feathers at the front of their wings that keep them from making sound in flight. Sound in flight? I have never, sitting on my back deck in the afternoon, heard the sound of a bird’s wings. Even the gang (and I do mean gang) of neighborhood crows seem to limit their noise to a lot of raucous argument. Perhaps the sound of their wings is masked by suburban background noise. Standing here in the parking lot, mountain on one side of me, I am in a sound bowl. I can hear the clink of ski gear up the mountain and out of sight. Now and then a car door slams. I hear a comment, from far across the parking lot, about the lady who is painting under an umbrella. I suppose it’s no wonder that I can hear birds winging by.


The moisture in the air in the late afternoon promise an interesting sunset, so I drive up to Timberline. The shadows on Mt. Hood, long and complex, lengthen by the minute. Patches of glowing snow darken and turn to purple. Only one long slope and a few glints on the top shine brightly gold, then orange. A few dispersed contrail clouds pick up the last of the sunlight. I finish my painting, then turn around to find a stunning violet sky at my back. Ah, what we miss when we focus too narrowly on one thing!

Friday, May 15, 2009


Spring in Pennsylvania. The wildflowers are stunning, carpets of blue phlox and trillium. I want to catch the treetops on the rolling hills. In these older neighborhoods, all you see from afar is the tops of trees, giving the illusion that I am standing in the middle of a woodland, with only the houses in front of me interrupting the green.

But no, as soon as I travel down the drive, I see that there are houses everywhere.

Which is why I am delighted to find that a half-hour drive takes into a creek valley, with a covered bridge and little riffles in the water.
My mother and I have left it until after dinner to escape to the park. As we drive, the golden colors come into the clouds, and afternoon light comes and goes. By the time I set up my paints in the park, the sun is off the ground, restricting its glow to cloud rims. I set up my backpack easel for the first time, struggle with the straps and ties, and begin to paint. Orange and blue. I am thinking it makes warm and cool grays.

Mom drags her walker down to the creek and sits on the fold-down seat to read. By the time I finish painting, I find her by a peeking of wheels under the bottom of the car. She has gotten cold and is sitting out of the wind.

When I get the painting home, it has turned to brown. Then in my own home, the browns have shifted back to warm greens. Ah, how much difference light makes.

Thursday, May 14, 2009


FRANK WEBB on Watercolor. DVD

This DVD, produced from a classic movie of Frank
Webb, is a departure from the usual step-by-step demo. Almost like voyeurs, we get to watch Frank in action as he creates two watercolor paintings in his inimitable graphic style. With guitar background music and voice-over, Frank makes philosophical remarks about painting and art while he hypnotizes us with paint. He doesn’t explain what
he’s doing. But it’s a treat to watch him draw, pull color out of
his paint wells, and lay his color into complex shapes with a large flat brush. He considers design to be of prime importance in art, saying about his subject, “What’s my chief pleasure in this?” With assured marks, he builds his painting, until his subject magically appears out of the abstract jumble of values and colors. Then he pops it into a mat and points out the design elements. An inspiring visit with a master painter.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009


Thoughts after watching Kung Fu Panda. I know, it’s a kids’ movie. But they throw in the piece of ancient Chinese wisdom: There is no secret ingredient. It brings to mind the advice frequently given to unpublished writers and not-yet-successful artists. There is no magic secret to success.

Like so many bits of wisdom, this is both true and untrue.My thoughts:

True: There is no one bit of knowledge or skill that separates the successful from the unsuccessful in the arts.

True: There is no secret that the successful artists keep back from the others.Not true: there is no difference between the successful and the hopeful.

It is not one thing, but a whole pile of things, including:
Brush miles/number of words/hours spent on craft
Effective work habits, which translate into hours spent on craft, and productivity rather than spinning wheels
Thoughtful study: some combination of work with a mentor and self-direction
Expanding on strengths
Improving or circumventing weaknesses
Effective rule breaking
Development of a unique voice (which some say happens after brushmiles/number of words)
Choices, limitation of scope, unique methodologies, world view, all of which add up to voice
Selectivity, working toward beauty of expression
Effective marketing
To sum up: expertise, expression, marketing.

Saturday, May 2, 2009


Despite the showers today, four students join me in Clackamette Park. We are constantly being teased. One minute the sun comes out, and the next it is dark and determinedly raining. Fortunately, we have a shelter, near enough to the river for a good view.

We stop painting several times to watch the sea lions swimming up the river. A large one climbs out on the dock below us, looking from our view like a giant gray slug. Fishermen tell us that they like to take bites out of the salmon that are struggling up the river, sometimes up to forty per day for one sea lion. Why would any creature be so wasteful?
(Asks the HUMAN.)