"When dawn spreads its paintbrush on the plain, spilling purple... ," Sons of the Pioneers theme for TV show "Wagon Train." Dawn on the mythic Santa Fe Trail, New Mexico, looking toward Raton from Cimarron. -- Clarkphoto. A curmudgeon artist's musings melding metaphors and journalism, for readers in more than 150 countries.

Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Why, state of the blog, favorite posts at year's end?--IV

"The Back 40" children's mural in Burrowing Owl Books, Amarillo, subject of my fav 2019 blog posts
Looking back, it's been a year of change for me as a blogger and artist.
My favorite posts had to do with that change, challenged by my daughter Dallas Bell to paint a wall mural. in her new Burrowing Owl Bookstore in Amarillo. There are three October posts showing the project. 

Two other posts involving change were about the death of my chess partner John Lawton, and attending an oil painting workshop with G. Russell Case.
Oh, and here's what the mural looks like in the children's reading area now. And, that folks is -30-for the blog this year.

Why, the state of the blog at year's end--III

"10-year old coffee" traffic--but it started in May, 2009. 
At year's end, this blog, now going on 11 years, will have had the fewest posts in its life--112--but it is still alive, for now.
That's because it began as a journalist/professor's blog in May 2009 with no idea how long it would live, and gradually changed through the years kept alive as I taught blogging at UCO. 
It gradually ebbed, as I turned more to art and less toward writing. In 2018 I missed two months blogging at all, the first vacancies. I came close this year, with only one post in November.
But as it's changed with art, art has also helped rescue it. This December's postings, including this one, has generated more traffic than any other in five years.
Part of that is because of daily watercolor cards and thoughts. The other however is a huge amount of traffic from Russia--more than 2,600 in one month. (This has happened before with an all time high of almost 8,000 monthly hits which I thought perhaps Russians had "hacked" onto it.)
But that's all conjecture.
Speaking of that, the five most read blog posts go all the way back.
Here are the facts for this year, and for the record.

Traffic, posting  facts--
  • 298,000+ page views since 2009 (up 23,000 from last year)
  • Highest monthly traffic, this month--5,560+
  • Lowest monthly traffic, March--946
  • Lowest monthly traffic--May, 2018--638 
  • Most posts in a month, this month, 29 so far
  • Fewest posts in a month--November, 1
Posts per year--
  • 2019--109
  • 2018 --149 
  • 2017--158
  • 2016--137
  • 2015--136
  • 2014--276
  • 2013--252
  • 2012--203
  • 2011--134
  • 2010--292
  • 2009--339 (started in May)
  •  Totals--2,119 posts in 3,313 days
Total page views by countries--
What I have failed to do this year is keep up with readers from new locations. I know it's probably the same, at about 153 or so around the world.
In 2019--top page hits
United States
United Kingdom

Watercolor cards, why as the year ends?--II

"A New Year's Journey," 5 x 7 watercolor card
Why the watercolor Christmas cards? I found an old one dated 2009 the other day, sifting through my slush pile.
I'm not sure I know, after all these years. They started out simply, going to family, and a few friends. I think they were then, and they certainly are now, journeys of  discovery, both in painting, and personally. 
They're also a challenge. The "list" has grown over the years, though it has shrunk below 100 since retirement, and trying to make each card original, trying not to get stuck in a rut, trying not to be too uptight in painting, trying to...
I learn from painting these, about myself and painting. On larger work I'm too detailed, too picky. These 5 x 7s demand minimal detail, more impression, more quick brush strokes, more reliance on the viewers' imaginations.
I considered not doing them this year, because I felt stuck in a rut, that perhaps I was painting out of obligation, rather than want to.
But then.
Some people expect them, even ask for them. Some actually frame them. And not doing them would diminish me.
"They're a gift," said my wife Susan, when I was thinking about starting them back in October. 
It took me a little to realize that they are a gift, primarily to me. They give me joy knowing that people enjoy them, look forward to them.
They push me to push myself. They push me to be creative, to be original, though they carry some common themes and images. Have you noticed the gates? The streams and bridges?I didn't even realize that until they kept cropping up. they're easy, but they're also metaphors of my life, for life.
By posting them on this blog, they also keep me challenged to think and write something meaningful, even stream-of-consciousness, about the images.
Every good painting tells a story, or stories. And what I've learned over the past few years as an artist, is that every painting has a story behind it, or more than one.
I guess that's the story, the answer behind the why to the watercolor cards.
Four of this years' cards

Why, as the year ends?-I

My journals, ten years ago, for the most popular post this December, "Toasting the Passage of Time"
Ten years ago, as this blog completed its first year of existence, I posted an account of the journals I keep, "Toasting the Passage of Time."
It raises questions, somehow appropriate today, as that post has been searched 2,311 times this month, for some reason, out of a total 5,510 December clicks on the blog, again for some reason with 2,667 of those from readers in Russia--only 732 of those readers from the USA.
The Russian readers began concentrating after I posted December 15 about a large number of Ukrainian readers, Glory to the Ukraine and still they outnumber Americans with 1,481 reads. (These figures will change before this day is out.)
More on the state of the blog, after more than 10 years, later.
Here's that ten-year-old post: Toasting the Passage of Time

Monday, December 30, 2019

Gates in our lives, and years

A season of gates," 5 x 7 watercolor card
As a cliche', we're about to close the gate on one year, and open it on another.
But there is nothing cliche' about gates, though they are symbolic in many ways, especially of fear or insecurity, of excluding, though also of opportunity. I prefer to think of them as beckoning, openings to adventure.
Historically, in times of walled cities, or communities (our "gated" communities), or nations (Berlin, America's southern border),  or back yards (to contain pets or provide privacy), gates were portals to keep people out, admitting only those we agree with. The Old Testament is full of such references, of people being "outside the gate." 
Thus John's words in Rev. 21 portended a new day: 
"In the daytime (for there will be no night there) its gates will never be closed..."
On the Great Plains, or in the West, the iconic barb wire gates always catch my imagination.
The word "gate" comes from the Old English geat "gate, door, opening, passage, hinged framework barrier," from Proto-Germanic *gatan (source  of Old Norse gat "opening, passage," Old Saxon gat "eye of a needle, hole," Old Frisian gat "hole, opening," Dutch gat "gap, hole, breach." 
More than you wanted to know. But no wonder I paint gates, including a recent sale to friend Debbie Blossom, entitled, "Did you close the gate?" which only a rural person would catch the humor.
"Did you close the gate?" 8 x 10 watercolor

Sunday, December 29, 2019


"Where creation began," 5 x 7 watercolor card
"Out here there's the sky," has been my slogan and inspiration in painting watercolors.
It's part of growing up in the West and on the Great Plains where you can't help but notice, and admire the ever-changing skies in a spacious land.
I've only actually seen the Aurora Borealis, the northern lights, long ago, on a cold winter's night in Iowa, but I'm captivated by their brilliant color, by their unearthly eeriness, by how small and insignificant they make you feel.
They remind me of creation:
"The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands." --Psalms 19:1, David

Saturday, December 28, 2019

Starry Night Cabin fever

"Starry Night," 5 x 7 watercolor card
When winter closes in, as cold as the stars, with short days, long nights, and rain or snow...
Cabin fever? Tis a season for the warmth of solitude, for quiet, for thought, for memories.
All you need is a cat or dog, a fire, a loved one, books, stories, imaginations, poetry.

"That does not keep me from having a terrible need of - shall I say the word - religion. Then I go out at night to paint the stars."
   - Vincent Van Gogh in a letter to his brother

The Starry Night

Anne Sexton
Inspired by Van Gogh's painting

"The town does not exist
except where one black-haired tree slips
up like a drowned woman into the hot sky.
The town is silent. The night boils with eleven stars.
Oh starry night! This is how
I want to die.

"It moves. They are all alive.
Even the moon bulges in its orange irons
to push children, like a god, from its eye.
The old unseen serpent swallows up the stars.
Oh starry starry night! This is how
I want to die:

"Into that rushing beast of the night,
sucked up by that great dragon, to split
from my life with no flag,
no belly,
no cry."

Friday, December 27, 2019

When Walt and the open road beckon

"The universe is a road," 8 x 10, 300 lb. d'Arches cold press paper
The journeys of a year near end, and new journeys beckon.
That's when Walt Whitman fits the mood.
"Song of the Open Road" speaks loudly these days, as I ponder not just the journey of a new year, but of actual journeys.
Most familiar are his opening lines:
"Afoot and light-hearted I take to the open road...The long brown path before me leading where ever I choose."
But I prefer some lines deeper in the poem, because Walt knew there was more to the open road than just this world, "All parts away for the progress of souls,..."
Today's play-time watercolor inspired by
"To know the universe itself a road, as many roads, as roads for traveling souls."

From Gloom to Glory

"When color matters," 5 x 7 card

Short days, Cloudy skies. Dying embers of another year. Time to dwell on the passing of time and years and memories. Thoughts and regrets of hopes and dreams and opportunities missed or unfulfilled.  Post-holiday melancholy.
But then there is color, more vibrant, more glorious in contrast to the gloom. Colors, the exclamation points of light, source of life, of living--they burst with excitement, they call attention to what is not mundane or ordinary, they inspire hope for today, the next dawn, the next adventures and memories.
Witness the many comments and photos on recent sunsets in Oklahoma. 
"If winter comes, can spring be far behind?"
--Shelley, Ode to the West Wind 
Christmas Eve sunset, Oklahoma City

Thursday, December 26, 2019

Stories of the last books of the year

Early this month I thought I was through reading books for 2019, but that was before I again browsed  at Edmond Best of Books one day.
I'd forgotten I ordered N. Scott Momaday's novel, House Made of Dawn, and went to pick it up.
I've had an autographed copy of his In the Bear's House for years, but was inspired by the recent documentary Words from a Bear which aired on PBS, and was co-produced by colleague and friend Dr. Desiree Hill, of the Mass Comm Department at UCO.
I am enthralled by the poetic and descriptive power of this book, largely set on the Jemez Pueblo lands of northern New Mexico. I've been there and see and sense the story and country. I will finish it this week, going slowly because the words deserve savoring.
But back to browsing, I found two other books. The first, Embrace Your Weird, by Felicia Day, is a creative self help book, guide, workbook. I'll finish it too, though it demands much thought and work scribbling on the exercises.
that will make 36 books this year.
The other book, The Essential Lewis and Clark, edited by Anthony Brandt caught my eye, because I'd never red the journals. Just into it, but captivated by their description of life just over 200 years ago. And it sets your wanderlust travel fever going.
Today, I found and started reading my dad's old book, How to Paint with a Knife, from 1971. I have most of his art books, and as I've started dabbling in oil this year, my late-in-life DIY Art School needs are increasing. This was also prompted having bought the late Regina Murphy's palette and painting knives as well as acrylics and other materials in February in the Paseo Arts District. See link: Inspiration for change.
The knives are in my studio/office, reminiscent of my dad, and they beckon me to use them.
Those two books will go into my 2020 journal as the first books for the new year. Stories to tell.

All Aboard to Memories--Watercolor

"All Aboard to Memories," 5 x 7 watercolor card
If I have a favorite Christmas movie, it has to be "Polar Express."
It's no wonder to folks who know me, because trains have captivated me since I can remember. Especially steam trains, though the moan of diesel locomotive horns, not as emotive as steam whistles, on the BNSF main line two miles away still awaken my wandering imagination.
I've written and tried to paint steam trains often, usually once a year like this Christmas card for good friends and real rail fans, Roy and Jill Kelsey.
Where did it start? Probably when I was about five years old and went with my Dad to the Rock Island turntable in Fort Worth where he sketched a drawing I still have. 
A few years later, he transformed it into a magnificent scratchboard, that I have hanging in our house right outside my "studio/office." We used prints of it as family Christmas cards.
I've written about this before. Here's the link: All aboard for the journeys
Here's Dad's scratchboard:

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

"First born glory," Christmas dawn

"Christmas Dawn," 5 1/2 x 7 watercolor, 300 lb. d'Arches cold press paper
Remember the day of the birth of your first born child? 
As a father I certainly do, and I expect, I know, that every mother remembers even more than fathers can imagine.
Glorious day, no matter the weather. Wonder. Pride. Tears. Pain. Worry. Love beyond description deep inside.
If you've witnessed the birth of a child, you know that every birth is a miracle, a gift...a miracle of life that words cannot approach in description. 
Though we not know the exact date or season of the birth of a little Jewish baby long ago, we celebrate the miracle of a new life, a new day,  in many ways today. 
But for all the ceremony, for all the religion tradition build up through the centuries since then, let us not forget...
The humanity of the parents' emotions and love in the glory of their first born miracle. Nor the emotions and incomprehensible love of another parent.

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Christ-Mass Eve, Holy Ground

"Holy Ground, Holy Night,"--Santa Fe, Christmas Eve,  5 x 7 watercolor card
Christ-Mass Eve, there are holy places and times in the universe, and in Northern New Mexico the Franciscan churches draw the faithful to  of mass Christmas eve, in the cold brisk mountain and desert air.
Inside there is warmth and ceremony and tradition, symbolized by an icon in La Villa Real de Santa Fe de San Francisco de Asis--El Catedral Basilica de San Francisco de Asis. (The Spanish version of the name is more appropriate for me in this city founded in 1610.)
Built in the 1800s by Archbishop Lamy, whose statue stands in front, and the subject of Willa Cather's Death Comes for the Archbishop, the church draws visitors year around, from around the world.
Jerry and I, and his painting, 2015
But especially this season, and Holy Week before Easter, is when it shines as the testament to the residents' faith, with all the liturgy of an ancient mass. 
And it is an icon, a landmark just east of the historic Plaza,  to anyone who loves New Mexico, even non-Catholics.
I've written about it before, and tried painting it several times, including a large one commissioned by my brother Jerry for his home in Lubbock.
This year's card is a rough rendition, sent to faithful Catholic friends in Santa Fe.
You can read an earlier post from 2012 and painting attempt on this link: "Exploring Creativity."

Monday, December 23, 2019

Gifts, giving--two days 'til Christmas

"Season of Gifts," 5 x 7 watercolor card
Christmas is a season of gifts...of giving, of life and love. Symbolized by a star, yes, but also of a Christmas tree with packages underneath. 
I wrote the following 10 years ago in the first year of this blog, tinged with my thoughts on teaching. It's been on my mind recently, given the season of peace and love versus the political atmosphere of suspicion and hatred, made worse by unbridled "social" media tirades.
I think it's needed more than ever, for both reasons.

If you want something—give it
"Give, and it will be given to you. They will pour into your lap a good measure-- pressed down, shaken together, and running over. For by your standard of measure it will be measured to you in return." –Luke 6:38

1. If you want love
2. If you want money
3. If you want generosity
4. If you want friendship
5. If you want professionalism
6. If you want success
7. If you want rewards
8. If you want admiration
9. If you want to be liked
10. If you want silence
11. If you want gifts
12. If you want to get along
13. If you want happiness
14. If you want humanity
15. If you want humility
16. If you want humor
17. If you want respect
18. If you want honor
19. If you want trust
20. If you want maturity
21. If you want enthusiasm
22. If you want organization
23. If you want thinking
24. If you want spontaneity
25. If you want energy
26. If you want fairness
27. If you want privacy
28. If you want time
29. If you want scholarship
30. If you want timeliness
31. If you want listening
32. If you want participation
33. If you want attendance
34. If you want up to date
35. If you want cooperation
36. If you want excellence
37. If you want high standards
38. If you want trustworthiness
39. If you want passion
40. if you want hard work
41. If you want learning


43. If you want griping
44. If you want insecurity
45. If you want arrogance
46. If you want backbiting
47. If you want insincerity
48. If you want arguments
49. If you want grumpiness
50. if you want contention
51. If you want anger
52. If you want empty flattery
53. If you want stinginess
54. If you want mistrust
55. If you want backstabbing
56. if you want gossip
57. if you want selfishness
58. If you want disrespect
59. If you want laziness
60. If you want criticism
61. If you want dishonesty
62. If you want accusations
63. If you want racism
64. If you want sexism
65. If you want bias
66. if you want discrimination
67. If you want hatred
68. If you want contempt
69. If you want rudeness
70. If you want wordiness
71. If you want tardiness
72. If you want lying
73. If you want lack of preparation
74. If you want disorganization
75. If you want excuses
76. if you want inconsistency
77. If you want low expectations
78. If you want arbitrariness
79. If you want boring

Sunday, December 22, 2019

Warmth in a cold world--3 days 'til Christmas

"Season of warmth amid the cold," 5 x 7 watercolor card
In Oklahoma, before you go outside in these brief days and long nights this time of year, you look at the temperature, the sky, trying to decide how much you need to wear to stay warm.
Not so in much of the Great Plains and north of here. "Bundle up" is unneeded advice.
It's a cold world out there, but not just this time of year, a time where warmth is welcome, light is life, home is hope.
Has it not always been so? Such is the appeal, the wish, the hope of Christmas, symbolizing the warmth, the life, the hope of a Messiah who came to help people bundle up against the cold world of cruelty and injustice.
A star--a sun, a source of light and life, of warmth is the symbol of his arrival and reminds us there is supposed to be warmth in our lives, "not as the world gives," to quote Jesus.
As Christmas has faded from religious remembrance to retail revelry, much of that warmth disappears, swept away in the cold north wind of greed, even when we need it more than ever.
Thus a star, thus warmth, in a cold world.

Saturday, December 21, 2019

Solstice--4 days 'til Christmas

"Light, and Darkness," Solstice,  5 x 7 watercolor

Winter solstice, the longest night of the year, the shortest day. This watercolor is a year old, featured in last year's post about the magic and spirits of Chaco Canyon in New Mexico.
It's difficult to write something new about this event, without becoming wordy, and therefore demeaning the power of Chaco, of solstice, of light.
Better to remember that because of darkness, light is power. Because of darkness, light came into this world. Because of darkness, light gains power.
Jesus "I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life."
Here's the link to last year's post: When the stars are aligned
Today's version of last year's painting:
5 1/2 by 9

Friday, December 20, 2019

Don't Fence Me In--5 days 'til Christmas

"Come unto me," 5 x 7 watercolor card
When I first painted this Christmas card, I was thinking of the West and great Plains where I grew up and have spent most of my life. 
I can't remember not living where I've always seen barbed wire and taken it for granted. It had no negative connotations, and for the most part, in the U.S. and other agricultural areas, it does not. I even helped string some of it in New Mexico once, that that's a different story.
But now as I sit down to write about this image, other thoughts come to mind. This process of writing about a painting--every painting has at least one story--prompts stream of consciousness associations.
First I thought about Jesus beckoning people:
"Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls..."(Matthew 11:28-3)
In this painting  the beckoning star, and Jesus, is fenced off by that wire, which has become in many places a symbol of oppression and denial of freedom and even violence.
It didn't begin that way. An American invention in agricultural Illinois in the 1870s, it provided low cost fencing as the country expanded westward and the cattle industry exploded. It has even been credited with being the wire that "tamed" the West.
But conflict soon followed, especially in Texas, where ranchers wanted open range for cattle and led to confrontation with farmers protecting crops. 
Within a few years, it became a weapon of war, most notably in the trench warfare of WWI. In the next war, Germany and Japan used it brutally in concentration and POW camps,  and America in Asian internment caps.
After the war, it became part of East Germany's famous border of which the Berlin Wall was a portion, called "Mauer und Stacheldraht" ("wall and barbed wire"). Today Amnesty International has barbed wire in its symbol.
All a long way from Illinois, but these thoughts keep coming, as American politicians try to build a wall on our southern border.
I thought of Robert Frost's fitting thoughts in the poem, "Mending Wall."
   "Before I built a wall I'd ask to know
     What I was walling in or walling out, 
   And to whom I was like to give offense. 
   Something there is that doesn't love a wall,
   That wants it down."
Ironically, Americans used to claim that East Germany had the wall up to keep people in. Russians would point to our barriers on our southern border saying the same thing about us. 
didn't mean this to be political as an article when I painted the card, but the fact is barbed wire has been political for a long while, as has Jesus, from his birth to his death and ever since.
Then I thought of the romantic Western song, "Don't Fence Me In." Yes, it's political, but it speaks to me more positively about the spirit of the West and Great Plains, and being free.
"Oh, give me land, lots of land under starry skies above
  Don't fence me in
  Let me ride through the wild open country that I love
  Don't fence me in
"Let me be by myself in the evening breeze
  Listen to the murmur of the cottonwood trees
  Send me off forever, but I ask you please
  Don't fence me in
"Just turn me loose, let me straddle my old saddle
  Underneath the western skies
  On my cayuse, let me wander over yonder
  Till I see the mountains rise
"I want to ride to the ridge where the west commences
  And gaze at the moon until I lose my senses
  I can't look at hobbles and I can't stand fences
  Don't fence me in"
Oh, and just a thought--if there had been barbed wire fencing everything in Jesus day, his parents probably wouldn't have been able to travel from Nazareth to Bethlehem because there would not have been any "open range."
So I guess, if I painted this again, it'd just be a wire fence with an open gate.
Heavy thoughts this morning perhaps with only five days until Christmas, but it seems appropriate, if it emphasizes the spirit of Jesus is of peace and love and open arms and freedom.