"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, March 31, 2020

On the long road, and story, to a silver lining as March ends

"Road to a silver lining," 8 x 10 watercolor, 140 lb. d'Arches cold press paper
The somber gray clouds parted and then departed as the sun rose today. Backlit, the white of their fringes, of their transparency, dazzled, reminding me of the idiom, "Every cloud has a silver lining."
Morning was chilly and damp when we arrived at the grocery store at 7 a.m., to stock up for quarantine days ahead in April. The skies matched our moods and the continual bad news of March.
But then, by 9 a.m., as I was coming home from another errand, it was spring again.
"I wonder if I can paint those silver linings," I thought. We need some silver lining these days.

But of course, the old journalist and English teacher in me had to ask, "Where did that phrase come from?" It was almost as much fun discovering this as painting it. I love learning.
What follows is more than you probably want to know because the more I found out, the more questions arose. But as I've discovered in the past few years, every painting has at least one story behind it, or because of it.
We can thank John Milton for coining the term in a poem he wrote in 1634:
"Was I deceived? or did a sable cloud 
Turn forth her silver lining on the night?"
He wrote Comus (A Masque Presented at Ludlow Castle), in honor of chastity. 
First presented on Michaelmas, Sept. 29, 1634, before John Egerton, First Earl of Bridgewater, it was to celebrate  the Earl's new post as Lord President of Wales.
Masques (today we call them "masks")? They were introductions to masked balls for royalty and some nobility. Aristocrats would enter from a stage in the middle of a hall and take part in allegorical dances.
Michaelmas? That's a feast of saints, and archangels Michael, Gabriel and Raphael.
The phrase didn't really enter common usage as an idiom until 200 years later in Victorian times. The Dublin Magazine writer Mrs. S. Hall, reviewing the novel Marian with this quote: 
In 1849, another literary review published it as the proverb we know, and usage quickly spread to America: "Every cloud has a silver lining."
So here you have today's watercolor, complete with redbud trees, "The road to a silver lining."

Monday, March 30, 2020

Ancestors dot coming

"Ancestors!" 8 x 10, 140 lb. d'Arches cold press paper
"Where did we come from?" It's an eternal biological and spiritual question for humanity though the ages perhaps.
In ages of crisis like now, perhaps we're more interested in where, or if, we are going. But as a lover of travel and history, I think about my ancestors, those few I know, and the thousands I never heard of.
My dad, oldest son, an aunt, and cousins have spent more time on genealogy than I care to. But the more I learn from them and through Ancestry.com, the stories keep piling up, and the origins keep changing.
First results from Ancestry listed Scandinavia as a major DNA influence. But in the past couple of years that's gradually changed, to where 59 percent of my DNA is England, Wales, Scotland and northwestern Europe...mostly in the what is now the U.K.
I was really interested with the early report however, because that meant Vikings invading the British Isles, which explained a lot about me and my kin, and perhaps our personalities, and our genetic interests, especially travel, and may even our disdain for strict rules?
But at least I know that much of the DNA in Britain is influenced by the DNA of those marauding Vikings.
So today, for fun, especially since my sailing ship painting was so well received, here's another one, some of my ancestor Vikings heading for England with plunder and blood and lust on their minds. 

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Stories about stories, hopping right along

"Did you see what I saw?" 5 x 7 140 lb. Fabriano Artistico cold press paper
'Tis a great time for story time, especially the stories you've heard about, but never taken time to explore, especially the classics.
As I hunker down in quarantine or "self-shelter," or whatever new buzz word comes up in this pandemic, I find myself drawn more to fiction and poetry than my usual non-fiction, since current reality is surreal and depressing.
Thus it was I called Nan Hight at Edmond Best of Books, closed to the public but delivering, and had her take photos of their classics section.
My last trip in there I got a Grisham novel and a Mary Oliver poetry book. Still reading, but it's good to have more than one book going in these times. The more stories we absorb, we experience, the more we think, dream, survive.
Two of the books she delivered  were ones  I'd heard about but never read, Watership Down by Richard Adams and My Antonia by Willa Cather.
I've been plunged into terrific storytelling, imagination, images and writing. Cather's Death Comes for the Archbishop about New Mexico's Archbishop Lamy has always been a favorite, but I'd never ventured  beyond. Such a master of visual words and storytelling enriches these times.
And Adams' book about rabbits, from stories he made up to tell his children, is captivating, especially as I remember my Dad telling me bedtime bear stories, a practice I followed with my children.
Out of all this comes today's watercolor, stories and rabbits, hopping right along.
Part of the classics section at Edmond Best of Books, including two of the ones I'm reading

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Coincidence colors of poetry

"A tall ship and a star to steer her buy, 5 x 7 watercolor, 140 lb. Fabriano Artistico
What color is poetry? Where do paintings come from?
Coincidence, perhaps?
I was talking with son Vance yesterday and he'd found a 1952 list of the 100 most famous  poems, unranked.
We were both astounded that Whitman's "When lilacs last in the dooryard bloom'd" was not mentioned, though Captain my Captain" was.
Many of the poets we'd never heard of, but there were many we knew. We didn't get through the list but another conversation that day reminded me of one of my favorite poets when I was growing up, John Masefield, poet laureate of the UK from 1930 until his death in 1967--the year Vance was born.
I can still quote the first lines of his "Sea Fever," and painted a mural of the subject on my bedroom wall when in high school.
That second conversation was with friend Mary Carver, who recently had taken her first sailing lesson. Then I learned that her daughter Veronica was hoping to spend a semester at sea on a sailing ship, depending now of course on this pandemic.
Having only sailed about three times in my life,  I remember the first long ago with a friend in a small boat on Waurika Lake. I can still hear the gurgle of the wake, the slight breeze in the canvas--such peace and quiet.
That's when I though about Masefield and his poem, and had to try today's watercolor.
What I admire about Masefield, is he, like my favorite author Joseph Conrad, spent time at sea, and it seethes in all their work. I don't try to paint much water, because, growing up in arid New Mexico, I don't really "know" it well enough, but I can imagine.
Those opening lines?
"I must go down to the seas again, 
to the lonely sea and the sky,
"And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by..."

Here's the entire poem
Sea Fever
I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by;
And the wheel’s kick and the wind’s song and the white sail’s shaking,
And a grey mist on the sea’s face, and a grey dawn breaking.
I must go down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;
                                And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,
And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying.
I must go down to the seas again, to the vagrant gypsy life,
To the gull’s way and the whale’s way where the wind’s like a whetted knife;
And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover,
And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick’s over.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

"Consider the lilies..." for that matter, the tulips too

"Tulip season," 8 x 10 watercolor, 300 lb. d'Arches cold press paper
Serious times, times of worry, of fear, of uncertainty have burst upon humanity. But...
Color and life have burst all around us as spring gets serious too, perhaps reminding us that nothing is new, just when we need it.
Long ago, a wealthy sage wrote: 
     "What has been will be again,
    what has been done will be done again;
    there is nothing new under the sun."
         --Ecclesiastes 1:9, Solomon
Wisdom yes, but perhaps small comfort in these trying times, except for hope, the expectation, to get through this, as humanity has since before and after those lines were written.
There is more comfort if you get out of the house, and hear the birds and enjoy the brilliant colors of spring.
Those were my thoughts walking in Hafer Park, listening to bird song as first the daffodils, and now the tulips have burst forth with their brilliant colors.
I thought of a poor and homeless sage trying to prepare people for violent times, teaching about the colors and life lessons of flowers:
     “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink,[a] or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?  And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?  And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. "
We impatient humans have a shallow sense of life, thinking time flies. Tulips do not, and like all plant life, know that existence is deep.
Thus today's watercolor, the tulips of Hafer Park, with humble homage to the impressionists.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Alone in distress, and calm

"Alone, and calm," 5 x 7 watercolor, 140 lb. Fabriano Artistico cold press paper

Facing threats to his life three thousand years ago, a poet wrote, 
"Turn to me and have mercy, for I am alone and in deep distress."
 -David, Psalm 15:15

In many ways in this pandemic, we are all alone, and in deep distress.
You can hear it in the noise of public announcements, in the anger and unsocial comments on so-called "social media," in the continuing barrage of more and more bad news.
Self-quarantined. Cooped up. Losing money. Out of work. Homeless. All this and more is piled on to the other anxieties that we have to deal with on a regular basis.
We are infected with distress, with worry, as our perceived securities seem so frail. 
In such times humanity has traditionally turned beyond the physical world for reassurance, for comfort. The great spiritual leaders throughout our history, including those today, have emphasized that out of hard times and trial, both individually and culturally, are necessary to eventually give birth to greatness and calmness.
Every crisis brings out not just the worst, but also the best of this species of ours.
You can see it in help and tenderness offered on social media. You can see in as families come closer together.
You can see it if you look around you and listen to nature, and other species continuing to live.
I'd noticed more and more Robin song in our back yard recently. Then yesterday, Susan spotted a Robin's nest tucked under our eave on a downspout, with a mother Robin perched in it.
Alone. Tending to life. Carrying on.
There is beauty here, and hope and security in reaffirmation of life.
Thus today's first watercolor.

Monday, March 23, 2020

RFD--When mail wasn't ho-hum

"RFD Springtme," 8 x 10 watercolor, 140 lb. Fabriano Artistico cold press paper
Getting "mail" these days is so ho-hum.
First, we're deluged with "e-mail." Quarantine and digital business perhaps makes it essential in these times, but we spend more time trashing most of it than reading messages. It's become more of a ho-hum nuisance than a necessity.
Remember when you looked forward to going to the mailbox to see what might be there? 
These days, most of delivered mail, now disparagingly termed "snail mail,"  is like digital "spam," because my first stop after the mail box is the outdoor trash receptacle. Very little "mail" actually makes it into the house. It's so ho-hum.
That's why getting real mail from a person has become so extra special--it's never ho-hum to see handwriting and a signature.
That's the way it was when Rural Free Delivery was started for largely rural America more than 100 years ago. 
Mail was welcome, never ho-hum. It was like springtime flowers.
Have you sent any recently?
Today's watercolor!

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Late Spring Paintbrush

"Spring Paintbrush," 5 x 7 140 lb. Fabriano Artistico cold press paper
Today's the kind of day that makes you yearn for late spring or early summer.
Instead of gray skies and cold and gloom in the air and on the news, I can dream of sunny skies, fluffy clouds and wide open prairies and trees full of green foliage....
And wildflowers. Bluebonnets in Texas for sure, and fittingly and especially in Oklahoma, Indian Paintbrush, in multi-colored reds spreading out over the hillsides and prairies and along the roadsides.
Today's watercolor finally  overcame the depressed gloom of our current crisis. While it's not a masterpiece, and carefully executed, it does capture what I feel...
Our late spring paintbrush...we need your color and beauty now.

Saturday, March 21, 2020

When we need the color, the music of a "Wonderful World"

"Trees of Green, Red Roses too," today's watercolor, 5 x 7 140 lb. d'Arches cold press paper
These are bleak days in a pandemic when we all need calming color, and music.
After thinking of my bluebird and rainbow paintings, someone asked for the the song from The Wizard of Oz.
That song, those lyrics, sung by Judy Garland, came out in  the bleak days of 1939 of the Depression as the world plunged into a human nightmare of WWII.
Almost 30 years later, in the midst of another bleak human nightmare of a longer war between America and Vietnam in 1967, Louis Armstrong sang some of the same lyrics.
Amid the gloom and doom, the writers and singers  poured forth those words and tunes. Why?
Because. 'Twas not a time for sugar-coating. But amid bleakness, there needed to be color and music and hope.
Here are some of the colorful lyrics from those bleak years. You can look them up on You Tube and hear them.
And thus today's watercolor, "Trees of Green, Red Roses too."

1939--"Well, I see trees of green and red roses too
I'll watch them bloom for me and you
And I think to myself
What a wonderful world
Well, I see skies of blue and I see clouds of white
And I think to myself what a wonderful world."
    --Harold Arien/Yip Harburg.

1967--"I see trees of green
Red roses too
I see them bloom
For me and you
And I think to myself
What a wonderful world
I see skies of blue
and clouds of white."
  --Bob Thiele 

Friday, March 20, 2020


"Over the rainbow," 5 x 7 watercolor, 140 lb Fabriano Artistico cold press paper
"Wish  we'd see more bluebirds," said my wife Susan today, on a blustery, cold, sometimes gray day.
To me, they're symbols of freedom, of the beauty of creation, lifting spirits...especially needed in these unhealthy, uncertain days.
 You can count on bluebirds.
Glimpses of color, swiftly fluttering amid  the trees and yards...
That's all you get sometimes, but how the colors stand out amid the gray of the days  in these troubled times.
How we need to be reminded of the colors, of  life...
Got me to thinking of a famous song, and thus a splash of watercolor today.
"Somewhere over the rainbow 
Bluebirds fly..."

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Getting the beautiful blues

"Bluebird! 5 x 7 watercolor, 140 lb. Fabriano Artistico cold press paper
A new visitor showed up in our yard last week, and again, over the weekend we caught glimpses. The new week brought gloomy weather and news outside to where you can get the blues.
But then the visitor showed up again, bringing beautiful blues into our lives.
We're not serious birders, but have have always watched, especially those who are regular visitors to our feeder and birdbaths.
So when this visitor showed up, it brought a splash of color to the neighborhood and excitement to our moods.
Just what the doctor ordered to remind us in these times of the beauty of all life. There's an old saying that fits for someone you're glad to see, someone you haven't seen before: "You're a sight for sore eyes."
We're hoping that he's a new immigrant, settling down in the area with a family...we're getting the beautiful blues...today's watercolor.

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Irish eyes...

"Irish Eyes," 5 x 7, 140 lb Fabriano Artistico cold press paper
The world needs a smile and this gloomy St. Pat's day never seemed so drear.
Though not Irish, I thought of that old Bing Crosby song, "When Irish eyes are smiling."
So today's watercolor is for a smile and some beauty to brighten the day.
And here's the verse:
"When Irish eyes are smiling
Sure, 'tis like the morn in Spring
In the lilt of Irish laughter
You can hear the angels sing
When Irish hearts are happy
All the world seems bright and gay
And when Irish eyes are smiling
Sure, they steal your heart away."

Monday, March 16, 2020

Turquoise thoughts

"Turquoise Universe" 7 x 8 watercolor, on our front door turquoise bench
When you need to transcend the ordinary, the drudgery of a life burdened with chaos, I recommend color, especially turquoise.
No matter the shade or the "purity," the blue-green gem has powers recognized for centuries. I didn't know that growing up in New Mexico, where I saw a lot of that color, but now I'm more aware of it than ever.
I'm no new-ager, but there is a calming power  in its presence. My wedding ring, silver and turquoise from Santo Domino Pueblo inn New Mexico is one instance. Another is the silver and turquoise bolo tie of my Dad's that hangs around my rear view mirror. Another is the color of our front door. 
As an aspiring watercolorist, I've found that color heals, and especially turquoise.
Why? I takes me back to New Mexico where it is the color of the doors and windows and jewelry of the Spanish and Native Americans. But there reverence is a recent as those of us gringos.
First mined as a gem in Persia, long before Christ, it became a royal color of the Egyptians. When it spread to Europe, it acquired the French name, turquoise, because of the Turks. And the Spaniards who invaded North America brought that color because of the influence of the Moors in North Africa and Spain...as well as many of their words.
No matter. In the sun, in the southwest air, against adobe, set against silver or the cobalt blue intense sky, it has power for peace and beauty and ages beyond the present.
In the midst of human and viral contagion, we need it. Thus today's watercolor.

Sunday, March 15, 2020

"And let there be color..."

"Color," 5 x 7" watercolor, 140 lb. Fabriano Artistico cold press paper
It's a gray, gloomy day in more ways than one.
Our state, nation and world reels from a pandemic, with news and alarm worse every day. Uncertainty pervades everyday life, from food shortages to medical crises and a looming economic depression that will harm ordinary citizens dependent on working income.
Even spring is uncertain, The sun refuses to shine as clouds crowd the skies and temperatures drop from shirtsleeve weather to "bundle-up-and-turn-on-the-furnace-again days
What the world needs now is more than "love," in the words of the song.
The world needs color, and that's what prompted today's watercolor.
Color is  a reconnection with creation. Consider, my translation of Genesis 1: 3. "Let there be color. and there was color." No light, no life. But life is color.
So here is some color to cheer you up.

Friday, March 13, 2020

Going "viral" with thoughts on words and vaccines

"Virus," 5 x 7 watercolor, 140 lb. Fabriano Artistico cold press paper
"This is the way the world ends. Not with a bang but with a whimper."
                           --The Hollow Men (1925), T.S. Eliot

 Twenty-First Century tech and globally co-dependent humanity,   having adopted the words "going viral" for its digital amusement, suddenly finds how deadly the term is, and how vulnerable "civilization" is.
This one apparently won't wipe out humanity, if it doesn't mutate, but it is in the process of crashing the world economy and causing untold physical and financial misery. But it's not the first and it  won't be the last one.
There is real irony is our previous use of  the term "going viral" in these times, but at least we have began using a better word--"pandemic."
I'm not a paranoid doomsday prepper--and besides, all survival gear  wouldn't stave off a virus. 
One hundred years ago, the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918 infected about 500 million people worldwide, killing from 20 to 50 million victims, including some 675,000 Americans. 
There was no vaccine for flu then; the first was invented in 1938. If there had been, I'm sure there wouldn't have been any "anti-vaxxers." (Have you had your flu shots?)
It's possible that another virus gave us the English word as we use it today. The Black Death arrived in Europe in about 1347, and proceeded to wipe out from 30 to 60 percent of Europe's population. 
Then, in the late 14th Century (1300s), Late Middle English used the word to  perhaps denoting venom of a snake, also  a "venomous substance," from the Latin "virus" to mean "poison, sap of plants, slimy liquid, a potent juice." It probably comes from Proto Indo-European root *weis- "to melt away, to flow," used of foul or malodorous fluids, with specialization in some languages to "poisonous fluid" (source also of Sanskrit visam "poison," visah "poisonous.")
So pardon me if I my thoughts on virus go virally off on several tangents. And today's watercolor.

Tuesday, March 10, 2020


"Sandia Sunset," 5 x 7 #watercolor birthday card
You think you're old?
Consider the Sandias at Albuquerque, New Mexico, where we grew up. Ancient before we were born.
They have become powerful icons to us, dominating not just the skyline, but our imagination and memories. I've painted them many times, as did my Dad, and one of his paintings of them hang in both my brother's home and just above my shoulder as I type this.
Those were the thoughts for today's painting, a birthday card of course.

Previous paintings and blog posts:
First attempt
Old and New
Memories and Magic

Saturday, March 7, 2020


"Alone," 5 x 7 140 lb Fabriano Artistico cold press paper
There are times you can be in a crowd and feel alone...a sojourner in a strange land...left out, stranded, almost numbed by constant noise and inane numbers of fast flowing time. Those are times when being alone can be a synonym for lonely.
Then there are also times when you need to be alone, alone with your thoughts, away from the crowds, away from the noise...then you're not left out, but slowing down  and alive to your senses.
Thus it is when painting, as it brings back memories.
I think of being in lone canoe in still water, touching the wood of the  the paddle, smelling the odors of water, listening to the wildlife, watching  the landscape.
That's when being alone isn't being lonely. It's been a long time since I canoed, but feeling alone prompted today's watercolor...alone in a canoe, with a lone bird as the lone moon rises.

Wednesday, March 4, 2020

Beauties and Beasts

"When Spring Arrives," watercolor,  8 x 10, 300 lb. d'Arches cold press paper
March on the  Great Plains...When spring arrives, it comes in spurts...sunny and warm one day, cloudy and chilly the next.
Eventually as the temps climb, bringing wind and moisture into the atmosphere, sure signs of spring will be thunderheads building on the horizons.
The beauties and beasts of spring...ever changing, always captivating, but fickle in promising spring showers, and sometimes dangerous with threats of violence.

Monday, March 2, 2020

Story of a watercolor challenge

"Adobe Dawn," 10" x 30" watercolor, 300 lb. d'Arches cold press paper, ready to frame
Large watercolor paintings intimidate me. 
They challenge me because in landscapes, you have to plan ahead, with sketches and studies, and then paint quickly on still wet paper when attempting skies and other washes. That requires more skill and confidence than I have because watercolor can be unforgiving and mistakes show up quickly and are more apparent the larger your format.
This challenge began when friend Theresa Hurt at Pirates Alley Frame Shop in The Village gave me a frame and mat. I'd been wanting to attempt a long horizontal piece, and the gift was the challenge. 
But, as in chess or anything else, I guess, without challenges, life would be dull and there'd be no improvement.
5 x 7 studies
First were sketches, then small studies as I played with color. Next was an uptight failure. Then the stages you see below, till I finished today.
By the time I'm through, I'm already thinking I should have done such and such  or not done something else. And the longer I look at a new painting, I'm usually tempted to go back into it and make a few adjustments, which can lead to disaster.
Today's painting is no exception. First mistake was probably stretching it out over several days, which meant I was overthinking  it. But that's too late for this one, but there will be another.
This challenge began when Theresa Hurt at Pirates Alley gave me a frame and mat. I'd been wanting to attempt a long horizontal piece, and the gift was the challenge. I wanted to try to express the wide open vistas of the Southwest, of New Mexico, and the subject evolved into the beauty of adobe at dawn.
Here are the previous stages.