"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.

Saturday, August 31, 2019

After the storm

Today's practice, "After the storm," 8 x 10 watercolor, 300 lb. d'Arches cold press paper.
Spirits, and colors, lift when a storm passes, as it did yesterday.
Clouds still crowd the sky, but the sun, and light, and therefore color seem more intense, especially as the days wane and wavelengths grow longer.
It's time to get outside, drink in the vibrant smells, and watch the skies as moisture, contrasts and change explode in color.
Today's practice, playing with color combinations and applications. Not for sale.
Composition  inspired by the work of talented artist Stephen Rooney of Northern Ireland.

Thursday, August 29, 2019

Where humans are small

"Sunset Storm on the Great Plains," 11 x 14, watercolor, 300 lb. d'Arches cold press paper
"Out here is the sky," I've written of my fascination with the dominating skies of the Great Plains and West, which influence so much of my art work.
My computer is full of photos I and others have taken of the skies, the clouds. They are fluid and expansive in an expansive, but arid land.
I'm always reminded of Willa Cather's sentence, she a child of the great Plains,  in Death Comes for the Archbishop: "Elsewhere the sky is the roof of the world; but here the earth was the floor of the sky."
I've neglected painting the skies recently, and my art has suffered, and my wife is prodding me to return. I've learned more about color and composition and more in the past year, but the skies are calling.
Thus this morning's lesson, reflecting my learning, and my yearning, for the wide open spaces.
Palette--orange, magenta, Alizarin Crimson, Opera, Ultamarine blue, touch of Phalo Blue.

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Where the pavement ends--stories and paintings

"Morning in Ocate," 11 x 15 watercolor, 300 lb. d'Arches cold press paper
I love unpaved roads, especially remote state highways that are still just gravel, or dirt. They beckon with discovery and stories, and paintings.
Six years ago, this Labor Day weekend, I found one on a New Mexico map, and set out, leaving I-40 at Endee just across the state line, onto the back roads of little traffic and wide open spaces.
Unpaved NM 120, the smooth part in the Sangre de Cristos
Heading for 17 miles of unpaved state highway, NM 120,  in the Sangre de Cristo mountains south of Angel Fire. Some of it was well maintained. Other portions were barely two rocky ruts in dense forest.
Where the pavement ends, I found the community of Ocate, on the mountain branch of the old Santa Fe trail, with an old adobe with colorful rusting tin roof that just begged to be painted. 
It must be an old store, and I've tried painting it several times. I'm still not satisfied, in doing justice to that beautiful roof, but this is the latest version--painted this time with more color, more freedom and without looking at the photo. I'm happier with the roof, but it, like the unpaved highways continues to beckon.
There are two other unpaved stretches state highways I've traveled in New Mexico...NM450 west of Kenton, Oklahoma, and NM 112, through the Jicarilla Apache reservation south of El Vado Lake.
I have found others that need to be traveled, mostly in the southwestern part of the state. 
In the meantime, I'll settle for memories and watercolors. Also, here's the 3 x 4 preliminary value sketch. I chose yellow-orange, blue green and  blue violet for a triad from the color wheel for color harmony.
If you care to travel those back roads, search "back roads journal" on this blog. Here are the link to two of them, and the first painting in Ocate, from six years ago.


Saturday, August 24, 2019

What the world needs now

"Intimacy," 5 x 7 watercolor,  140 lb. Fabriano Artistico cold press paper
Thoughts while watching two rescued rivals for attention and space, decide it is time for a nap.
Yin and Yang?
Here's to Sophie, (alpha female, orange and white), and Snoops, (curious provocateur, tuxedo cat). They know what the world needs now.

Friday, August 23, 2019

Different strokes

"Taos Dreaming," 12 x 12 acrylic
The annual Oklahoma Visual Arts Coalition 12" x 12" art fundraiser will be Sept. 20 this year at 50 Penn Place.
Having joined and been invited, I agreed to participate, but the challenge doubled down, because I haven't figured out watercolor on canvas yet.
The result was an adventure into acrylics and palette knives on canvas, trying to create in the huge shadow left by the late Regina Murphy of the Paseo Arts District. I'd purchased many of her art materials earlier this year and just had to try. I now have more admiration for her than ever before. 
Regina Murphy's palette knives
Palette knives hold a special place in my memory because I'd seen my Dad and others paint with them in oil. I just had to buy her collection for that reason, and then the challenge loomed over me, every time I looked at them.
Different strokes, squared. Painting with knives and acrylics demands new techniques and imagination than with watercolor and brushes. much learned, much more to learn.
Here's the result, after weeks of work, to be dropped off today, on deadline.

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Autumn on the horizon

"Autumn of our years," 8 x 10 watercolor, 140 lb. Fabriano Artistico cold press
Autumn...so close, so welcome.
Yet the heat and humidity of Oklahoma continues to baste us every day.
Still, autumn will be welcome, even though it makes no sense to want days and seasons to speed up.
"Autumn of your years" sounds so trite, until you think about missing the moments of now for fewer moments ahead.
Are we not like an aging barn, weathering away, as the seasons change, as leaves change from green to colors and then die on the next wind?
Under pressure to paint, as time creeps by--Today's watercolor, another experiment, a lesson in do-it-yourself art, with thoughts of autumns.

Saturday, August 17, 2019

Peace in the Valley

"Peace in the Valley," 140 lb. Fabriano Artistico cold press, 8 x 10, matted for 11 x 14
Experiments and failures lead to for adventures. 
So it is with today's watercolor, a flipped version of yesterday's experiment. I'm thankful many liked it, but I kept seeing flaw after flaw...lessons.
The difference is more than a flipped version. It's not on as good a watercolor paper, but still worth trying. And it's only 8 x 10, but...better.
That helps give me peace, and I thought of the old Gospel song as a title today. Seems appropriate also, with all the turmoil and hatred  and fear and danger in this country and the world. 
I'd just like a peaceful little valley. Oh, the blue cast on the white mat is from taking the photo outside under the sky.

"There will be peace in the valley for me, some day
There will be peace in the valley for me, oh Lord I pray
There's be no sadness, so sorrow
No trouble, trouble I see
there will be peace in the valley for me, for me."

Friday, August 16, 2019

After the storm--experiment

"After the storm," 11 x 14, 300 lb. d'Arches cold press paper
Today's "failure."
Trying some new approaches and color combinations after much reading, I found a composition I liked, but while it has promise, I'd call it a "failure."
A fellow artist laughed and said, "It not a failure, but an experiment."  Okay, that's true.
The other factor has to do with atmosphere. Skies I get, but most of my books on watercolor are written by Brits or people on the East coast. They're very good, but they have so much moisture in the air that it affects the landscapes and colors chosen. Difficult experiments for a dry country artist.
Born of the need to get paint on paper, it has possibilities, perhaps smaller, and now, having learned  more about colors, I'll experiment again.

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Beside still waters...

"Beside still waters," 8 1/2" x 11 1/2" 140 lb. Fabriano Artistico cold press paper
I love, and crave peaceful waters, unruffled by breezes or storms or turmoil. More and more. What a metaphor for the violent country and world we live in.
Reminded me of a photo I took long ago, of my boys Vance and Travis, fishing at what was Hastings Lake in Jefferson county Oklahoma, to go with my newspaper story on the town's water crisis. I'm not a fisherman, but both Vance, and now Travis, understand the allure and peace that comes from fishing.
Vance and Travis, "beside still waters," Hastings, OK.
After traveling some little trafficked roads today in western OKC, including around Lake Overholser, I knew what I wanted to try to paint.
It also got me to thinking about some verses in the Old Testament. I think David knew about the need for breathing in the calmness of still water when violence is everywhere.  Is America the "valley of death"?
And then I thought of  words from the prophets Jeremiah an Ezekiel, which read like letters to Americans after these mass killings.
You decide. Meanwhile, here's today's painting, with homage to Ron Ranson, who I studied watercolor with in 2006 in Taos. This one-eye Brit died at age 93 in 2017. 
I have one of his paintings hanging in my studio. He taught me much, and I was thumbing through his books today, looking for an approach to painting calm water. I found it.He did all his work with just three brushes. I'm not there yet, but. 
My 16 x 20 watercolor by Ron Ranson

Oh, scriptures:

Psalm 23, 1-4 -- "The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures; he leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul; he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name sake.
Yeah, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for though are with me."
Jeremiah 6:14 -- "They dress the wound of my people as though it were not serious. 'Peace, peace,' they say, where there is no peace. 
Ezekiel 13:10 -- "Because they lead my people astray, saying, 'Peace,' when there is no peace, and because, when a flimsy wall is built, they cover it with whitewash."

Saturday, August 10, 2019

Storm play

"Storm a'coming," 5 x 7 watercolor, 300 lb. d'Arches 
Storm country...that's Oklahoma this summer, as the weather changes as the summer deepens.
Motivation to paint slows as the temperature and humidity rises after two days of rain, so you have to tell yourself, in desperation, "just have fun and play."
Going back through art books and web pages in part of my late-in-life do it yourself art school, I've found ideas, that jumble together.
The result is actually somewhat sloppy, but where there was blank paper and no painting earlier this afternoon, at least I played, meaning no rules, few expectations.

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Painting to learn, not to hang

"Sunset at Ranchos," 8 x 10 oil
Maybe it'll look better in a frame.
After weeks of 'learning" a lot about oil painting, I think this small piece, which is large in learning, is "finished."
Whew. It's taken me a few steps at a time, filled with  lots of paint mixing, lots of "piddling," lots of patience, on the back porch. 
First steps were the easiest, getting the basic shapes and shadows, but then came the ordeals of trying to make it look like the image in my head.
Virtually every artist who has come to New Mexico has painted, typically  horizontally,  the iconic church at Ranchos de Taos, usually from the graceful, sensuous adobe buttresses at the rear.  Georgia O'Keefe did, My Dad did. I have, mostly watercolor, and can probably do so from memory.
But this as an 8 x 10 on canvas panel was not exactly an ordeal, but certainly at lot of work, thinking, and revising. That means I'm learning, I hope,  but it may also mean I've learned that oils was just not for me.
"Paint to learn, not to hang," said G. Russell Case, the terrific Western landscape painter who conducted the oil workshop at the Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum June.  
Maybe it'll look better in a frame. But I still see flaws, beginner's flaws. We'll see. I'll hang in in the room where I paint as a lesson in how much I don't know.

Monday, August 5, 2019

Always learning, from "squatty" clouds

"Sunset Skyscraper," 11" x 14" 300 lb. d'Arches cold press paper
I don't like "squatty" clouds.
See yesterday's painting, "Far Off." Happy with the composition, I found I'd misjudged the scale, and the cloud was just "squatty." Out here in the Great Plains, the clouds soar far above us, and if in the west and New Mexico where they grow from the roots of the mountains, they make the mountains look like molehills.

"Paint to learn, not to hang," said G. Russell Case, my oil pointing teacher at the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum in June.
Easy to say, hard to accept for a type A former journalists, but I've found it to be true as I continue to try to learn oil painting.
Thus I retreated to watercolor, where I'm more comfortable, but then I produced that "squatty" cloud.
Today, I switched to 300 lb. d'Arches paper--up in quality and weight from yesterday. And in size, from 9 x 12 to 11 x 14. Still learning, but at least it's not a "squatty" cloud, and the colors are better. After telling my wife I'd lost my touch on clouds, she demanded I get back at it. Thus the motivation and the learning. Now, perhaps to frame.

Sunday, August 4, 2019

Far off

"Far off," 9 x 12, watercolor, 140 lb, Fabriano Artistico cold press paper
Today's watercolor is inspired by our recent trip to southern New Mexico, land of far horizons, where you can see "far off.
We don't see much "far off" these days, in our speedometer-ridden lives, because we're in too much of a hurry to look.  And it's harder to see far off when you get into cities, or the treed and hilly country at the east edge of the Great Plains.
Jesus built the parable of the prodigal son around a father who saw his returning son, "a far off," which means he'd been looking a long time. 
When I get to western Oklahoma and keep going, even on the flat Llano Estacado of West Texas, I enjoy silence and looking, a far off.
While there last week with Susan's sister and brother-in-law, Sara and Perry Kaufman, were were fortunate  to tour the gallery of famous artist Peter Hurd, and his son Michael, a few miles down the hill from Ruidoso. 
I've long admired Hurd's work for its grasp and portrayal of the vast open landscapes where you can see far off. Highlight was actually meeting and chatting with his son Michael, about his work in watercolor and oils, capturing that country's spirit. 
From what I saw on the trip, and the Hurd paintings, and our talks, and after battling with both oils and acrylics for days, it's a pleasure to return to watercolor.