"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.

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Gateways to memories

Precious Memories," 5 x 7 rough press paper
Gates speak to me, including an old one out in the country northeast of the city I passed on a drive this week.
Don't know why, but they attract my attention and fire my imagination. If you search "gates" on this blog, you'll find many watercolors and articles over the years.
So many untold stories...maybe that's it. Perhaps the obvious metaphors. And somewhere, memories.
I'm reminded of the words from the old Gospel song, "Precious Memories."
"Precious memories how they linger
How they ever flood my soul..."
Memories add texture to our lives, and the more years, the more memories, the more texture.
Today's reaction to that aged gate I saw is broken down, a decaying farm house in the background, now only an opening to memories. Thus the rough texture paper, and an experiment in color, bringing texture to our lives, even when the memories grow dim with age.

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Back porch musings when the Muse takes a nap

"Pot," pencil, 4 x 4
I wondered what was wrong, sitting on the back porch after the cool front, in what old sailors would call the doldrums.
The Muse seemed to be napping today. For the first time in seven weeks, I didn't pick up a brush.
My lonesome paintings at In Your Eye Studio & Gallery in Paseo
I think I figured it out, without making excuses. Earlier today, I donated and delivered a watercolor painting to the Paseo Arts Association, planning a fundraiser for Paseo District employees who've been out of work, coordinating with a virtual First Friday From Home, program, "live" streaming from 6 to 8 pm Friday, with videos of some of us artists, and of merchants, etc. I'll get you the link.
It was the first time I'd been back to Paseo in about six weeks, and the vacant streets and closed shops and galleries was disturbing. 
Then I walked into our gallery, In Your Eye Studio and Gallery, to look at my paintings,  and the almost eerie quiet of the place. There are three vacant places on the wall, and it just looked lonesome.
I'd forgotten what my paintings looked like, and by the time I left, I realized how much I miss the atmosphere of the gallery, the interchange of ideas, the camaraderie of fellow artists, the inspiration of other art. I hope we can re-open for June First Friday, but I know everybody will consider where we are in a month, putting health first.
""Twisted Tree," pencil, 8 1/2 x 11, 
By the time I got home, I thought I was inspired to try a painting, but just kept putting it ff.
So as I sat on the back porch this evening musing about all this, I went in and got my sketch pad and pencil.
Others have written about napping muses. The advice is to go to work. To wake a napping muse, go to work.
I sat there on the porch, and did two quick sketches, the first of a vacant flower pot in our yard, and another, over the fence,  of our neighbor's twisted post oak tree with a cloud in the background. Hey, they're not great, but that's beside the point. 
Those are my musings about my efforts to wake the Muse tomorrow.

Monday, April 27, 2020

The magic colors of sex

"Breeding Goldfinch," 5 x 7 140 lb. cold press paper
The vivid color of the bird in our backyard last week first made me think it was a new one.
But no, it was "just" a male goldfinch, nothing like the ones we'd had on our feeder earlier this year, I confirmed by looking up in our bird book.
Those were gold, yes, and pretty, but the colors were muted some.
What made the difference? 
It, and today there were at least seven or eight fluttering through the yard to the feeder and the bird bath, an explosion of the brightest lemon yellow I'd ever seen.
It's the breeding season for goldfinches, later than most birds, the book explained, and that's when the males turn brilliant.
It's the magic color of sex, in other words. The magic and excitement of biologic survival embodied in color. Seems to me that's a metaphor for the miracle of continuing life, of the magic and excitement of sex.
We need magic and color more than ever as vaccines in this pandemic pandemonium, and my recent watercolors have tried to provide some. 
So today's painting, part of my "magic" series, one of our little friends in the back yard, reminding us of the beauty of the essence of life.  

Sunday, April 26, 2020

Mesa magic

"Mesa Magic at Day's End," 7 x 10 no-brush watercolor, 140 lb. cold press paper
Part of the magic of the West, especially the Southwest in New Mexico, is that you can see time.
 Geology's open book entrances me, as I consider the geologic forces and deep time that formed the dramatic  landscapes. Add the brilliant light, and the colors, the landforms jump at you, if you only look and imagine.
Those landscapes always remind me of how small, and insignificant homo sapiens is, of how brief our existences and life spans are.
Thus the magic of the landscapes is more than just the beauty and imagination, but it also allows us to travel in time, the rock strata mere time zones.
Thus today's no-brush watercolor, the colors and light and dramatic forms of the Southwest near the end of another day.
Another in my series of peaceful magic and color during pandemic pandemonium

(The word "mesa" is Spanish for "table," and these landscapes were named by the Conquistadores, a brief 500 years ago.)

Saturday, April 25, 2020

Story of a magic tree

"Wiz, the magic tree of Hafer," 8 x 11 1/2  cold press paper 
What makes magic? Believing. Especially if you share.
I've told you about my friend, my fav tree in Hafer Park, an old, gnarled Post Oak I've named "Wiz," short for Wizard."
I always stop and chat with him on my walks, briefly, making sure nobody is around who will think I'm dangerous, as we share many traits of aging, and I've wanted to try to paint him, but never figured out how.
Early this morning, it happened, because of people I met.
I passed a  young mother who had taken her two children, a little girl, and her younger brother, on a "looking for magic" walk in the "Enchanted Forest" of Hafer. They both had bags and were stopping to look at leaves, twigs and what not.
I stopped to talk to Wiz, and decided to wait for them.
Here they came, skipping up the walk, full of wonder and excitement, and, keeping my social distance,  I told them a brief story.
"Did you know there's magic, kind wizard that lives here," I asked.
Their eyes got big, looking around. Their mother smiled.
"He's right here," I said, pointing to Wiz. "His name is Wiz, the Wizard. Long ago he was a famous wizard but he got old and decided to settle down. So he became this tree."
"See all those bumps on him," I asked, referring to his numerous gargoyle like bumps. "That's where his magic is." 
They stood there, in awe, because they believed in magic and were having fun.
As I turned to go, I heard the mother tell them, "Look, at all those magic places."
They made my day.
And when I got home I knew how to paint Wiz, a magic tree.
Here he is, plus two photographs, one from this morning, and one earlier.  

Friday, April 24, 2020

On the magic of mountain rivers

"River Magic," no-brush watercolor, 9 x 9 140 lb cold press paper
"....peace like a river..." --Isaiah 66:12
How long since you've come upon  a clear Rocky Mountain stream or river gurgling over colorful rounded rocks?
Too long, for me, but you remember  the sounds, the smells, the cool air,  as snow-fed water flows by, and human time seems to slow down. 
You are first attracted to the sound of the water, the small waterfalls,  and then the cooler air, in the forest, the greener grass, a source of life for the fluttering birds and buzzing insects. Instead of everyday life, places like that bring calmness, peace.
We need more such rivers in our lives, especially now in these days of pandemic pandemonium where we're battered by continual bad news, worries and human stupidity.
I'm reminded of the Gospel song, "When peace like a river...."
Where are the rivers of your life? 
I'm reminded of the headwaters of the Pecos River in the northern New Mexico wilderness, after a long hike in the high country. Peace indeed
They're magic, and it's no wonder rivers have been symbols of peace, of life for troubled people for so long.
Thus today's no-brush watercolor series, "River Magic."
"The the angel showed me the river of the water of life, clear as crystal..." --Rev. 22:1

Thursday, April 23, 2020

Magic in the skies

"Windy Oklahoma Skies," 8 x 10 no-brush watercolor, 300 lb. d''Arches cold press
Need some magic? Cooped up, depressed and stressed by this pandemic pandemonium? 
One of the salves for my souls, medicine for my moods, is right outside the door.
When you grow up on the Great Plains, and live most of your life in Oklahoma, the ever-changing colors  of the skies are full of magic. 
No wonder as kids we'd look up at the clouds and see what shapes we could find. The wind, the  clouds, the light, the shadows--a continual drama for the imagination and mood.
Thus today's no-brush watercolor, part of a series on magic in the pandemic.

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Desert magic

"Desert Magic," 7.5 x 11.5, no-brush water
"What draws us into the desert is the search for something intimate in the remote." 
                   --Ed Abbey
When you grow up in an arid climate, you learn the value of water. Where there is water, there is life, usually marked by greenery of some sort.
But you also learn to value of wide open spaces, of vast skies, of far horizons. There is magic there, far beyond just the scenery and the imagination.
The desert teaches you humility and perspective as a human. And that leads to its atmospheric, geographic, geologic and especially spiritual power, its magic.
The word "desert" isn't just the stereotypical sight of sand dunes, though those are part of it.

  • Consider that the largest desert on earth, the Sahara in North Africa, is as large as the United States, and less than 15,000 years ago it was green.
  • Consider that some of our greatest knowledge comes from people of the deserts--algebra from the Arabs of the Sahara, respect for of the cosmos from them and also the Anasazi at Chaco Canyon in New Mexico, for instance. 
  • Did you ever wonder why  Jesus was led into the desert after baptism to prepare him for his coming ordeals.? "Then Jesus was led by the spirit into the desert," Matthew 4:1

"Polish comes from the cities; wisdom from the desert," wrote Frank Herbert, author of "Dune."
Remember that not long ago, the Great Plains of North America were labeled as "the Great American Desert.
Just as I hunger in this pandemic to go back to the mountains, I also yearn to travel back to the Southwest, to the deserts of New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, for the scenery of course, but also because the quietude and the space gives me room to think, to find magic.
Thus today's no-brush watercolor, "Desert Magic."

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Magic mountains

"Mountain Magic," no-brush watercolor, 8 by 11 1/2 cold press paper 

"The mountains are calling and I must go."
--John Muir
Alas, I'll have to wait, given the pandemic and all, but not quite. Because mountains are magic. They have called people, become sacred, throughout history.
Manzano  Morning, Terrence M. Clark
Every day I travel by magic to a sacred place for a conversation with an old friend, a place inspired by my Dad's oil painting of the Manzano Mountains new our cabin in New Mexico, that hangs over our mantel.
Mountains--I read about them, I travel to them in reading, in my memories and my imagination, in my paintings.
I have some favorite mountains, the Manzanos on my top ten list because of memories. I can add the Truchas, the Tetons and more. Where are your favorite mountains?
Today's no-brush (sponge) watercolor, "Mountain Magic."

Monday, April 20, 2020

The colors of a newfound word?

"The susurrus of curtains," 5 x 7, cold press paper
When I'm reading books and discover a word I don't know, I usually circle or underline it. Then at the end of the chapter, I go back and look it up, usually to forget it. Thus it was with a word I found in Larson's Isaac Storm, earlier this month.
But reading Watership Down just recently, it was used in a different context.
Have you ever heard that beautiful sounding word before? It just sort of begs to be looked up, doesn't it?
It was one of several intriguing words I discovered in recent books. Do you know these: "luffed," virga," "soffit," "mesoscale," "furricking"?
I didn't either, and looking them up, I found a familiar word, "fretting," used in a different way.
Here are the three uses of the word "Susurrus" I found.
 Isaac's Storm: "He heard the susurrus of curtains luffed by the breeze."

Watership Down: referring to trees at the edge of the meadow in a breeze.
 OED, example: "Plover fretted the horizon with the dark susurrus of their winds."
Huh? "fretted"?
Oh, the definition of "susurrus"? "A whispering, murmuring, humming, rustling."
Beautiful words. I though of those lace window curtains beautifully described in the slight pre-hurricane breeze in Isaac's Storm.
Today's watercolor,  "The susurrus of curtains."
And if you want to know the meaning of those other words, look them up.

Sunday, April 19, 2020

Family time

"Family Time," 5 x 7 watercolor
Amid the doom and gloom of pandemic, and somber memories of  25 years ago, let us be reminded of more.
April 19 is also a day to celebrate Americans' courage, April 19, 1775, standing up against tyranny
There is more. My walk in Hafer Park today was cool and relatively unpopulated after the rain.
But not yesterday. The sun was shining and families were active in the gentle southerly breeze.
There's a green "sward"--I love that seldom used word--in the middle of the park trail, and four families were out, all respectful distances from each other. And in the middle, one little boy was flying a kite, dad standing nearby.
That normalcy of spring  and family time just lifts your spirit. Remember when?
Thus this little watercolor.

A quarter century ago, and today

"Oklahoma's Blood," 8 x 10 watercolor
I don't want to write anything trite, or unnecessary today, the 25th anniversary of the murderous Oklahoma City bombing.
Much has been written, and more will, by people far more affected than I was, and am--I don't wish to detract from those stories and emotions.
I can recount where I was, what I did, as everyone can who remembers that day, so I've written in my private pandemic journal today, but it seems insignificant  in contrast to those who suffered.
I have one perspective to share as a journalist and Oklahoman. I was working part time at The Oklahoman then as a copy editor, at night, so I was witness to the people who covered that event and the followup. 
The role of that newspaper and its staff was critical in holding and pulling the community, the entire state, through the horror. Every morning, it was a much-needed symbol, a voice, of and for the people,  an assurance that there was still goodness and hope and normality. There was no more room for hatred.
That seems appropriate these days of pandemic, when Americans so need to know there is hope, and goodness and normality. Discounting and bashing news sources covering this current disaster only spreads a virus of hatred when we least need it.
To me, that is one of the lessons from a quarter century ago.
Instead of more words, when words won't work, here's today's watercolor from my emotions.

Saturday, April 18, 2020

Magic Metro

"Magic Metro," 7 x 10 watercolor, 300 lb d'Arches cold press paper
We need more color in our lives, especially these days of being cooped up in pandemic prisons.
You'd think it was drab winter times by the moods infecting our morale. Yet bright colors always improve moods.
Yesterday's "Magic Forest" painting was a start, inspired by fairy tales and the colors of walking in Hafer Park, looking at the skies and clouds. 
I got out today to drive around a little and amid the traffic and concrete, I noticed little color. Wasn't watching.
Today's fantasy is the result in this watercolor, something different again...no brushes.

Friday, April 17, 2020

The magic of "bad art"

"Magic Forest," 11 x 13, rough cold press paper
What to do when you're stuck, or feeling blah?
Maybe make some "bad art," as suggested by author Austin Kleon in his weekly newsletter today.
No need for rules, or uptight expectations or a critical eye. Just play at something.
So here you have today's watercolor, "Magic Forest," about 11 x 13, on very rough cold press paper, that I had a failure on the other side.  Paint, water, a sponge, one brush and spray bottles
what is bad art--too uptight, time to play. Something different.
A year ago I blogged about Kleon and his latest book, Keep Going. Here's that link: When Books Choose You
But you really ought to subscribe (free) to his weekly newsletter with more than 70,000 readers, where he emails a list of 10 things worth sharing...new art, writing and interesting links. It's an easy scan and it'll jog you out of a rut, especially in this pandemic prison we're in.  
I get ideas from it... Short things to read and think about, like making "bad art," which was magic to get me started.
Here's the link: Kleon newsletter and his webpage is https://austinkleon.com. 

Thursday, April 16, 2020

New Mexico dreams

"New Mexico Dreams," 11 x 14 300 lb. d'Arches cold press paper
It's time to get away from it all, as the pandemic worsens, and the stupidity of unbelievers increases. 
I understand though the frustration of being cooped up in a pandemic prison, which increases the yearning to travel.
Fortunately we have access to "social" media and photos from favorite places to remind us of the world as it once was, but it also  increases the frustration.
More fortunately, we have our memories and dreams, and at this time of year I always think of New Mexico in the autumn, when the cottonwoods glow, the adobe reflects the sun, the skies reach forever, and the odor of pinon wood fires fill the crisp air.
Thus today's watercolor, out of my memories and dreams, hoping for the future. This is larger than I've painted in a while, and a version of the previous smaller painting.

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Seasons of color

"Adobe Autumn," 8 x 10, 300 lb d'Arches cold press paper
Your favorite season? Depends on much doesn't it...events, memories, geography, more.
Spring--rebirth. Summer, sunshine and growth. Winter, contrast and short days. Though it's six months away, mine is obviously autumn. I can't help but dream of the colors, the air, the light, and especially New Mexico. Memories, scents, scenery, and more.
Thus today's second watercolor, "Adobe Autumn."

The colors of home

"The home place," 5 x 7 watercolor, 140 lb cold press paper
What  color is home? What color is a memory?  What color is an emotion?
Impossible to find one answer, if at all, isn't it? How can a color define something, other than represent moods perhaps.
Even the word is varied, going way back, according to the OED, to  Old English (as early as the 400s AD)  ham --"a dwelling place, house, abode, fixed residence; estate; village; region, country," from Proto-Germanic haimaz "home" (source also of Old Frisian hem "home, village," Old Norse heimr "residence, world," heima "home," Danish hjem, Middle Dutch heem, German heim "home," Gothic haims "village"), from ProtoIndoEuropean (t)koimo-, "to settle, dwell, be home." Used as an adjective from 1550s. The old Germanic sense of "village" is preserved in place names and in hamlet.
More than you wanted to know. Today's watercolor is just an attempt at some emotions, playing around.

Monday, April 13, 2020

Front porch swing memories

"Porch Swing Afternoon," 5 x 7 watercolor, 140 lb. cold press paper
"Come sit and visit a spell," said the neighbors long ago, smiling from their front porch swing.
Remember front porches and swings? I hope you do.
They've been scarce in my life because there weren't many in New Mexico when growing up, but they're symbols of good times, of slower times, of simpler times when we spent summers visiting kin folk in Comanche, Oklahoma and East Texas, of an old house in Waurika, Oklahoma.
Thinking about them, they bring memories of an un-airconditioned world--the slam of a screen door, of  sweet tea, of fireflies in the cooling evening, of adults sitting in the swing, of wasps buzzing around, of kids playing on the porch. I have specific memories of sitting on a porch swing in East Texas, talking to a summer girlfriend, as the soft rain poured down.
They were also places for just thinking, or resting, of enjoying the scenery and waving at people in the neighborhood. They were also for comfort, for  talking about and solving problems, as seen in the iconic movie To Kill a Mockingbird, as Atticus comforted Scout.
There's the poem by Sam Walter Foss that must have a front porch swing in spirit, "Let me live in a house by the side of the road. And be a friend to man...."
As adults, you'd treasure sitting on the front porch swing in the morning with coffee, reading a newspaper, enjoying the day with the dew still on the grass, or as a youngster spending a lazy, un-organized  summer day, reading a book of adventure and imagination, like Burroughs' Tarzan of the Apes
They're not just rural or Southern either. I've seen blue collar mill towns in Pennsylvania where every frame house had a front porch, where the hard-working laborers could come home after a long day, sit on the porch with a beer perhaps, and talk to nearby neighbors
What happened to them?
First I think, was air conditioning and television, that forced and enabled us to staying indoors to be cool, and shut us off from others in a cocoon.
Then new houses were built without front porches. Instead, we've retreated to back patios and porches with lawn chairs and fire pits in fenced yards, isolated from our no longer "neighbor"hoods.
Ray Bradbury in Fahrenheit 451 foresaw deeper effects: 
“No front porches. My uncle says there used to be front porches. And people sat there sometimes at night, talking when they wanted to talk, rocking, and not talking when they didn't want to talk. Sometimes they just sat there and thought about things, turned things over. So they ran off with the porches."
It's refreshing to me that in this pandemic, I see more people walking in the neighborhood, stopping to chat a little, hungry to talk, even with "social" distancing (talk about an oxymoron). Given our isolating digital, online, "smart"phone work-world and lives, porches seem more important than ever. 
Just this week our across the street neighbors put up a front yard swing between trees. Yes, people stop and talk.
I found this pertinent saying: "The swing on your porch is a better liver of life than the chair in front of your desk."  --Terri Guillemets
I'd been thinking about today's watercolor for a while, even before the neighbors put up their swing between two trees, but they helped me. It took a few attempts, but here it is...nice and simple, like a front porch swing.

Sunday, April 12, 2020

He could still see the empty tomb

"Sunrise," 5 by 7ish, watercolor
The old man was the last of his kind.
As a young buck, his back and chest and arms bulged with hard, tanned muscle, hands callused from hard work.
He had been fluently profane, enjoying the sound of words as he directed his hair-trigger temper at whoever or whatever disagreed with him. A fisherman by trade, he’d spend most of his life outdoors on long days and nights in a boat, stooped over, pulling in nets heavy with the catch. He smelled of sweat and fish.
But he enjoyed good food, wine and conversation. He also liked to fight, to get even, especially if someone crossed his brother, with whom he worked. His loyalty to family was legend in his hometown and among fishing crews. Put him together with his brother against outsiders and the brawl made townspeople wince, and smile too. Pick a fight and you’d find double trouble. Back to back, they could whip a crowd.
Their Daddy had taught them well--how to work, how to fight, how to have fun--be brave, face trouble head on, always stick together. It’s a rough world out there--love and take care family and friends. Be strong and don’t let anyone push you around.
My kind of guy.
But then something happened 60 years ago, something the old man, now almost 90, could still see as fresh as yesterday.
He remembered the first time he met the man who would become his best friend--a tanned working man with calluses on his hands himself. A builder, with ideas and a different kind of power. In three years, his friend changed him forever.
He’d spent the rest of his live trying to change others--with words, not his fists.
The son of Thunder became the Apostle of Love.
Sixty years after the friendship, he was old and alone, but no less gutsy. His hair was gray, his skin wrinkled, his hands arthritic, but his eyes and his grip and his voice still grabbed people.
Every day he could still see his friend, his brother, his comrades--all long gone. He could still see the old fishing boat, smell the fish, feel his friend’s hand on his shoulder, taste the last meal and wine, remember the tender touch of holding the arm of his friend’s mother the day he helped bury him.
Life had not been easy. His brother had been beheaded, his comrades jailed and burned and executed.
But the old man fought back a different way. Instead of profanity, he’d used his talent with words to stir people with his writing and speaking.
Even though he was stooped, he still stood up against crowds. He wasn’t afraid to be loyal and to say what was on his mind. He was so old that he referred to almost everyone as his children. The authorities still feared him, and rather than risk his followers’ numbers, just sent him off to a lonely island to get him away from the people.
He could still see that empty tomb, as though it had been yesterday. 
He had outrun the others to be the first there. He went in. He walked and talked and ate and fished with his friend one more precious time. Then as the years passed, the letters the old man scrawled burst with the flavor of his friend’s life. He would never forget and made sure nobody else would either.
Have you ever wanted to tell your Mom or Dad or a loved one something after they’re gone? If you could tell them just one thing, it would be simple, wouldn’t it? Just “I love you.”
He spent the rest of his life--the guy who cursed and fought and sought revenge--he spent the rest of his life saying, “I love you.”
The old man knew the power of words because his friend’s words and life changed him. And his words about his friend, written for all to read, help keep his friend alive.
John The Apostle.
Remember him, but especially his Friend, as you read John 1:1, and John 20, when the sun comes up behind the lilies this Easter Sunday.

An adaptation of several of my newspaper columns and radio programs about my favorite New Testament writer.

Saturday, April 11, 2020

Remember the man who loved lilies

"Easter Sunrise," 5 x 7 cold press
When it was springtime in rocky Galilee, the young carpenter loved working outdoors in the warm sun.
He worked hard, alongside his father, building strong muscles in his back and arms and legs, the tools wearing  calluses on his firm hands. His tanned skin glistened with sweat as he worked bareback at midday, but the breeze that swept up the hills from the little blue sea below cooled him. He could see the fishing boats down there, with their sails furled as the crews cast their nets.
He treasured the outdoors, noticing everything…the rocky soil, the fertile fields, the sparrows singing after the long winter.
And the blooming lilies.
When he and his father would take a break, he’d sit down, take a swig of water from a pottery jug, and enjoy the moment, the scenery, wiping his brow. Then he’d bend down and  pick one of the lilies blooming near his feet, bringing it close, smelling its sweet odor under his long Jewish nose.
It was so good to be outdoors after being cooped up all winter. Spring was his favorite season. It lifted his spirits, made him glad to be alive…the season of rebirth, of life, of birdsong…of hope…of lilies blooming in the fields.
For 30 springtimes he soaked up the sun and countryside, and scenery and sounds and smells. The tastes of wine and weddings, the laughter and tears of hardworking people, poor people. You can’t live in such rugged country with rugged people and not love beauty, not forgive, not be compassionate, not be inspired. To be reminded every springtime about what is really important.
He relied on that practical experience to become an excellent teacher, a master of imagery and practical, yet inspirational, teaching. He once told his students:    
“And why do you worry about clothing?
“Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; and yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.”
     But one spring day, just three springtimes later, only 80 miles south of his beloved Galilean hills, the birds ceased singing and the warm sun turned dark with the smell, not of lilies, but of cruelty.
He must have thought about the Galilean rocks and the fields, and the boats and the sparrows. I know he missed the beauty of the blooming lilies as his blood trickled down his arms and back and feet. No wonder he felt forsaken.
But the sparrows sang again, and his friends fished again, and ate and drank wine, and found rebirth and hope all over again…and the lilies bloomed. Still do.
Because of him…one spring morning not far from Galilee.
Remember him, the man who loved lilies and life…
When the sun comes up behind the lilies Easter morning tomorrow.
         --Matthew 6:28,29
(Revised newspaper column and blog post from years ago.)

Friday, April 10, 2020

"Good" Friday? Written in blood

"Holy Friday," 5 X 10, cold press
"Good" Friday? Why? It marks the brutal execution of a ragged rabbi by rule-bound religious authorities, because he came preaching love and peace and compassion for all people. "Good?"
I'm not much for formal religious liturgy because it seems too institutional  for the passion of true spiritual leaders and believers of all sorts, except perhaps for Passover, and communion. But then we all have our liturgies, some religious, some habits, so no judgment here.
But I can appreciate the abiding cultures and strengths that make those liturgies so important to so many believers of various religions.
So "Good" Friday didn't seem to fit, until I read more. In Middle English, one of the archaic definitions of "good" was "holy."
That's what makes Good Friday "good," written in blood.
Thus today's watercolor, "Holy Friday."

Thursday, April 9, 2020

The colors of restless wanderlust

"Early Start, Dawn on the Santa Fe Trail," 8 x 10, 140 lb Fabriano Artistico cp
Every day of quarantine in this pandemic makes us more restless, especially those of us infected with wanderlust, the urge to travel.
It's even worse when you've grown up in the wide open spaces on the Great Plains, or in the West with big skies and far horizons.
I usually think of those restless adventures who risked their lives on the Old Santa Fe Trail, taking the even more chancy Cimarron Cutoff through what is now the arid Oklahoma Panhandle and northeast New Mexico..
It's no wonder that the photo at the top of this blog is from that area, one I took a few years ago heading east across the old trail, headed for home at early dawn.
Thus today's watercolor, my imagination at work, where you can still see the ruts of the trail, and in your mind's eye, the wagons headed southwest nearing Santa Fe--the colors of wanderlust, "Early Start, Dawn on the Cimarron Cutoff." 

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

In the midst of plague, remember Passover

Huddled in their homes. Fearful for their lives in the midst of plague. Immigrants uncertain of their futures amid persecution.
Later that year 3,400 years ago, and every year since then, Jews have remembered that night and gathered for the Seder, the passover meal.
It holds them together, reminds them of who they are, of what they have survived. Today is Passover. 
For the world now beset by another plague, huddling in homes,  afraid to go out, uncertain of our futures, maybe we should read the passover story from the book of Exodus, chapters 11 and 12. May we fine peace. Shalom.
I wrote about it eight years ago, about the significance and details of the meal. Here's the story: 
A Night Different from All Others
There's also a terrific story in the New York Times today: 
This is What We Do

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Visions of Beauty

"Purple Mountains One," 8 x 10 watercolor, 140 lb. cold press paper

"Purple Mountains Two," 8 x 10 watercolor, 140 lb. cold press paper
It's easy to forget these days that America can be beautiful, except perhaps for the grace and courage of those facing danger every day for the benefit of fellow citizens. They, not politicians and inept rulers, make America beautiful.
I started thinking about the song, America the Beautiful, specifically about the purple mountains and spacious skies calling to me to get outside, to once again be able to enjoy the natural beauty of our land. It's important that we not forget...in fact beauty intensifies in times of ugliness.
"O beautiful for spacious skies
For amber waves of grain
For purple mountain majesties
Above thy fruited plain"

I had a hard time translating that into a painting that was not corny or trite, and after several tries, I came up with two visions, one more abstract. Which do you prefer? 

Monday, April 6, 2020

Where's your cabin?

"Evening Walk," 6 x 6, 140 lb cold press paper
Today was a I-need-a-cabin kind of day for me, as we face more pandemic pandemonium on the planet.
Cabins are in my psyche, as I've written about many times on this blog. type cabin in the blog search box, and you'll find lots of stories and photos.
But today was difficult in spite of the yearning to retreat to a cabin in the woods and mountains. Today's painting isn't very good, and it took several tries to find something halfway acceptable, but it fits my emotions, my angst about the future, about being quarantined that no amount of reading or game play or writing or thinking could offset.
I've been asked in the past, where's my cabin, where's your cabin, and the very thought brings memories of people and places and imaginations of pleasant possibilities.
I think of a an evening walk returning to a cozy cabin, lit by gas lanterns, warmed by a wood stove with dinner dinner sizzling  in an iron skillet, a loved one, a cat, books, and the sounds of the forest as the day end and the stars come out over the purple mountains.
So in spite of my difficulties painting today, this one brought peace.
That's where my cabin is. How about yours? 

Sunday, April 5, 2020

Palm Sunday--Triumph?

"Palm Snday," 5 x 7 140 lb Fabriano Artistico cold press paper
I wonder what Jesus thought, as a  crowd gathered outside Jerusalem's walls to welcome him, shouting praises and waving palm fronds.
Did he smile? Or remain grim lipped, thinking about the ordeal before him in a few days?
I don't much care for glorified paintings of the  so-called "Triumphal" entry, as it is labeled in John's account.
He may have smiled at the cruel irony, or he may have managed to smile and nod in compassion at the adoration of the common people, the people he knew the religious authorities exploited without compassion. Did he wave, or speak, or just endure? We don't know.

After all, he was one of them, a dark-skinned Mideastern Jew with a big nose, weathered by lots of time outdoors in the desert sun. 
All pictures of him show a white robe and white skin, smiling at the crowd. I doubt he had a white robe either...it would have been filthy with dust. It was probably brown and or a gray. One of his greatest pleasures was having his feet washed about all those dusty miles he walked.
Then again, he probably soaked in the moments with his calmness, with his self-assurance and integrity...knowing he'd need it all in just a few days.
Today's watercolor is rough, I intend that. A ragged rabbi, sitting on a little donkey, as people shout praises.

Saturday, April 4, 2020

Stormy metaphors

"Storm at sea," 5 x 7 Fabriano rough press
I'm reading about the deadly Galveston hurricane of 1900, where human ineptitude and ignorance cost thousands of lives.  
Isaac's Storm by Erik Larson details the disaster with meticulous research, understanding of science, and compelling narrative storytelling.
Though it's hard to put down, I have to stop and breathe once in a while because of the building  sense of inevitable doom, and anxiety.
In fact, it occurs to me that the anxiety is adding to my anxiety over our health hurricane, the pandemic.
Metaphors of a disaster, fitting today--ignorance, denying science, inept leadership, politics, individual heroes fighting odds against death.
That's where this little painting came from this afternoon, trying something new.
I bought a 22 x 30 sheet of Fabriano rough press paper from the estate of Paseo artist Regina Murphy last year. It's just been sitting in the closet since, until I got the courage and inspiration to experiment with an appropriate subject.
Reading about the hurricane prompted these thoughts and this little test watercolor. I'm not an expert on water, but my quick paintings of stormy water seem to work--witness the Viking ship from last week.
Taking a 5 x 7 sample of the paper, I painted quickly after wetting the entire surface. Few brushstrokes, few colors, and motion. Storms seem to be surging in me at the moment--more metaphors.
Rough paper (note the texture of that paper),  rough water.

(Next step, a larger effort. I bought the book from Edmond Best of Books. Larson's most recent book is the astounding The Splendid and the Vile, about Churchill in the Blitz.)

When we need some magic, and color

"Unicornacopia," 5 x 7 watercolor card
We all need some magic in these somber days, and mine arrived this morning.
I'm blessed to be able to paint watercolor birthday cards for my children and grandchildren, though through the years the requests tend to become more specific, and  demanding of my imagination and ability. 
The main challenge however is remembering all the dates. Yes, I have them written down, and check them from time to time, but with eight grandchildren, they slip up on my aging memory. That's why I get gentle reminders, like phone calls or Facebook messages, which happened yesterday.
So today's first watercolor, is a card for a nine year old, with a request for unicorns.
I've painted them before, and they're fun to paint...magic creatures that bring magic to imagination and painting because they're colorful, and there are no rules, except they have to have a horn. 
The magic of unicorns and color!

Friday, April 3, 2020

Why I paint barns--stories from The Depression

"Eastern Oklahoma Dawn," 5 x 7 watercolor, 140 lb. cold press paper
Why do I enjoy painting watercolors of barns? 
Erle Thweatt Clark locked the doors, and picked up his paint brushes.
My Dad's portrait of my Grandfather
Have you ever painted buildings—not pictures--for a living? I have, but never thought too much about where that came from. Could be genetic, when I consider my family background.
The first summer I taught high school, two other teachers and I formed a painting crew in northwest Iowa, amid rolling hills covered with soybeans and corn, where farming is serious business. Because of the severe weather, and their European ethnic backgrounds, and their pride in their way of life, farmers on those prairies keep their barns, hog houses, sheds, and houses painted on a regular basis. Rare is the farm building that's not given a new paint job every four years.
That's what we did--renting scaffolding we transported in an old pickup truck. We were contract painters and kept busy all summer, going from one farm to the next.
We were good and we were fast. We would set the scaffolding up on one side of the two- and three-story farm houses early in the morning. We’d race the sun around, starting on the east and ending up on the north late in the day. We'd start at the top, with our tool boxes, paint and brushes, and come down the side of the house before moving to the next side.
We carried scrapers, hammers, nails, caulking guns, and we started under the eaves.
Worst part were the wasps that you had to fight off every day. As a joke, one friend stuck a straw in my ear  and yelled "Wasp!"
My reaction was immediate, and I jerked my arm around with my paintbrush full of white paint. It slapped him across the face, and almost knocked him off the scaffolding two stories above the ground. He didn't do that again.
Painting the towering barns and the  hog houses were the biggest ordeals.
For the barns, you’d have to haul a ladder to  the top scaffold,  precariously perch it there, climb and  stretch way up to get to the overhanging peak with your paint brush, several stories above ground, on guard for wasps..
For the hog houses,  we’d put the scaffolding up beside the building, but it usually had pig manure stacked up against the foundation, and the feet of the scaffolding would sink into the muck. The smell was awful. It attacked you and clung to your hair and skin. When you got home in the evening, you'd have to strip outside on the porch rather than take the smell in the house.
Granddad and Dad's graves, Comanche, OK
So what has all that got to do with Erle Thweatt Clark?
I learned much on one of my visits with the last Clark years ago--my uncle, the late Uncle Mike, in Santa Fe. My Dad was his oldest brother, and he’d tell stories about the Clarks I’d never heard.
I also learned the value of The Depression. The Clarks were the poorest of the poor in Comanche, Oklahoma. Five boys came out of that home, and rather than staying in the red-clay town--Terrence, Lewis, Rex, Mike, and Champ all escaped to various successful careers around the world. I never understood how some people would take such abject poverty and survive, rather than being trapped there for the rest of their lives.
Mike said they had no place to go but up, and that to get up, they all fled Comanche.
That's when he told about Erle T.--my grandfather--locking the doors and picking up his paintbrushes.
He owned a grocery store when The Depression hit, and soon his customers couldn't pay their bills. Finally giving up, Erle told everybody to come in and clean out the shelves--giving the food away to the hungry. Then he locked the door, and picked up his paints--going back to his original trade as a house painter.
All my life, I heard about the Clark boys--Terrence, Lewis, Rex, Mike, and Champ--coming home to help Grandma, Cuba Jon Miller Reasor, paint her house in Whitesboro, Texas.
Through the years, I've done my share too, even beyond those wasp-ridden, precarious barns and gagging hog houses.
Mike said a preacher told him once that in order to understand something, you had to get down and look up at the underside. He figured being the poorest people in a poor town put him underneath, looking up.
That helped prepare him for  successes, based on a compassion and understanding of humans in need. That, and house painting--which must be genetic.
Maybe that’s why barns fascinate me. Now I settle for painting watercolors of them, though. Even my business card has one on it, and I've painted special ones for family members and friends.

(This has been revised from a newspaper column I wrote more than 20 years ago.)