Desert Tour and the Long Slope: Day 14, Nov 14, 2009

At 1 PM today, three hours before Jer was scheduled to pick me up, I decided I had chosen the wrong vocation. I would make a much better house painter than fine arts oil painter wannabee.

I started the day OK. I hung the little masonite panels, which aren’t finished but which needed to be saved from drips (they were sitting under the big linen panels). They aren’t far from being done, but each needs some final touches.

Having hung them, I thought I should work on the skies in the big linen panels. And I decided to begin with the last panel, which can get short shrift, coming after one’s initial enthusiasm has waned. Alas, in looking at the skies, I realized that I had, as I progressed along the seven panels, started to crowd the panels, cramming in more than the landscape ratio should allow. And I had oversized some of the forms. Correcting these errors on the linen was beastly, and can only be done with patience and lots of paint. Paint I have.

After running out of patience, knowing only time was going to dry the oils enough to really correct the problems, I started on the skies. Boring. Boring. Boring. I was bored. The skies were boring.  The pledge drive on NPR was boring.

It was time for a walk.

So I put on my coat (over my vest, my turtle neck, my jeans and my long underwear because the weather, while sunny, was roaring with a cold northeast wind), and went out for my daily rock gathering.

It’s amazing how a simple thing, like a bit of sun-changed glass in the desert rocks or the shades of blue of the desert distances can rearrange one’s moods:



I wandered about, looking at various human-made cavities in the earth, thinking they might be outhouses or mines or some kind of cellar. I came across a set of rocks arranged in a rectangle and decided they were the “foundation” for one of the tent structures that the miners used so often.l


And I marveled at the lavendar color of a pile of crushed rock, probably from some stamp mill process:


As the sun goes to the west, the colors of everything begin to glow; even at 1:30, the light becomes magic.

So, collecting the rock for my rock road, I went back to the Barn studio and tackled more skies — yards and yards of skies. In the process, I used my magic tool (some kind of rubbery clay gadget, I think) to deal with what I think of as the Long Slope. The Long Slope is a boring mountain range that faces north and can scarcely be seen as anything but a long irregular shape, blankly boringly blue, in the distance:

This is what I have done to it to try to bring out what I can see for about 12 minutes (if I look at the right 12 minutes) during the day:


(The vertical blue stripe is the tape that will be removed so these panels can be stretched on stretcher bars).


The Long Slope goes across one whole panel and parts of two others. This “play” with the rubbery shaping tool may make it tolerable.

So I finished out the day playing with my skies and feeling much more cheerful. Jer and I greeted yet another tarantula, and admired the Bullfrog Hills just west of the barn. I’m extremely fond of these bare mountains. They seem glorious, like bare human flesh. Even in this photo, taken at midday, they charm me.


Reporting cheerfully, on a Saturday night, in Beatty, Nevada.

Trauma du jour, averted. Day 13, Nov 13, 2009

Friday the 13th. Which I’ve always, contrariwise, maintained was a good luck day for me. And it was, as my lost Fed Ex package, for which I paid 4 times the actual cost to have two-day shipping and which I desperately needed to get on with painting, was found at the Beatty Merc, having been accepted-by-signature by friend George, who owns the place. Fed Ex called at 7:55 this morning to tell me that the package, which I had reported (in a rather heated manner) as not having been delivered in spite of their tracking record saying it had, was at the “Lost River Trading Company.” This is actually the Beatty Mercantile, but Fed Ex hasn’t updated its records, nor its delivery personel, since last February. But we knew what the LRTC really was and George was just waiting for Jer to show up for groceries to hand it to him.

I could get to work with a full bottle of Liquin:


I use Liquin instead of linseed oil because it dries faster and therefore enables the inept painter to cover up errors more quickly. I brought what I thought was an ample supply, but I didn’t really know enough about the linen and its capability for absorption to work the surface properly. So my supply was depleted, and my first Fed Ex delivery was coming from Wisconsin via China and will arrive next week. Hence the panic about the missing second-day air shipment (with extra costs for hazardous materials). I was imagining losing a full 9 days of working time, and that pushed me to a meltdown worthy of a 3 year old. Luckily Jer averted his eyes.

I also found a bit more titanium white among my supplies; for some reason I brought a lot of zinc white but neglected the titanium. Zinc is a cool white; titanium is a warmer color, and more importantly, is the most opaque of the whites. Finding a bit more was a coup. Next week, when my shipment from Dick Blick in Wisconsin via China arrives, I’ll have a new titanium white to work with.

AdvancefromSohoThe non-Soho paints also represent an advance from the Soho paints, which are big tubes full of lots of filler. As they should be, having been bought for so little money. But it’s a bit of relief to have “real” pigment with its greater oomph.

So, after retrieving the Liquin package from George, who chided me for not stopping in more often, I spent the rest of the day getting paint on the Linen panels. They now are fully covered with something.

PaintAllOverWIt’s time to begin painting. There’s a long way to go yet, but not as far as it was yesterday. I am planning on working the skies first (the mountains get worked continuously, as I paint other things) and then re-tack all the panels up about 2 feet and work the desert basin floor. I will be sure to have another adult nearby as I move the panels, because I don’t fancy falling off the ladder without someone to cart me off to the emergency room. The studio is a fine and¬† private place, but none, do there, I think, have a cell phone that works.

I am also learning about painting on these linen panels, particularly using odorless mineral spirits (the substitute for turpentine). The Gamsol mineral spirits are less toxic than Turps and a lot less smelly. They also can be used to cover an area much more evenly, and that seems a real advantage. I can add the detail and the thick paint later; now I just need paint all over the linen — it”s a bit like putting on primer on a precious wall in one’s house.¬† I’ll undoubtedly find out how I’ve gone wrong as I continue the process.

Late in the day, Richard Stephens¬† dropped by with another pentatonic flute, this one with a drone — sort of¬† like a flute bagpipe, where the undertone is a constant bass. Richard can control the amount of drone included in his melodies. I think I need one, but probably without the drone.


As I was looking at the far distance down the Amargosa desert, I saw a bit of blue glow and I swear I heard one of the flute notes that Richard played the other day. His showing up today confirms it — I need to have a pentatonic flute to keep my spirits up as the weather turns chilly.

Other than that, the sun shone, the temps dropped a bit but so long as I kept the north and east doors closed, the sun warmed the studio through the big south doors. The mountains continued their mysterious changes, and I am keeping my exercise gups up trotting back and forth from painting to door to see how this or that slope goes which direction. And where those blasted shadows are now.

Reporting, as usual, from Goldwell House, in Beatty Nevada, which is much warmer than the Barn. But much less picturesque.

Back to Work: Day 11, Nov. 11, 2009


A friend suggested I might be a tad too obsessed with my painting project and not adequately admiring the desert as I did last time I was at the Amargosa. While I allowed that this couldn’t possibly be the case, I did take a longer walk in my territory today and found one of the more charming bits of debris among the cacti:

PitcherFragWThis appears to be a piece of a glass pitcher, with its handle still identifiable. Some archeaologist is going to have fun with this some day, although she won’t have to dig deep to find it. At least not for another couple thousand years.

But it was back to work after I placed my stones on my widening gyre in the barn “yard.” First I got to salvage the Gamsol mineral spirits that were still usable (ie not sludge). This calls for special gloves and double bagging of the sludge bits:

Day11GlovesAfter the Gamsol was cleansed of its oogier parts, I could procrastinate no longer.

Without the necessary Liquin medium (due to arrive in Beatty by 4:30 tomorrow afternoon), I could only work on the smaller masonite boards; they require very little medium. I had been dabbling at them, but not very methodically. The change in the sun’s path is so¬† critical that when I could see the mountains properly, I painted on the linen canvases. And, truth to tell, the task of filling the linen canvases with paint is so large that I feel under continual pressure to work on it rather than on the smaller boards.

But today, all I could do (Very Big Grin) was work sitting down with these easily manipulated boards–easy to “erase” with fresh paint thinner if the image goes wrong; easy to fill up with paint and then overpaint without sagging or dragged or bugging the artist. This change made for an easy day.

I began with board panel 5, because the sun was still in the east and so I could see what lay to the west most readily. I have already worked on panel 7, which is waiting for its companion #6 before I make any more changes to it. I want the panels to line up, panorama-style, although they aren’t quite the right ratio to be true to the width of the scene I’m painting. [I’m calling them “fudged,” a confession I will only make at this time. I’m hoping the fudging won’t be obvious except to those who know the Amargosa and who will see what’s been left out.]

So here’s panel #5, the long slope northwest from the furthest southern end of the desert:


Panel # 5 (The Long Slope), 12 x 16″, oil on board, 2009

It’s a bit rough, particularly in the sky, because at some point putting on new paint simply lifts the old paint. That’s when you have to wait for the oils to dry a bit, so the new paint can get purchase. This is the scene that kept changing on me on Day 9, when I was confused about just how many mountains there were in and around and before and behind the range. I couldn’t see it much better today, but I could work on the best side for seeing what I could see –and I had Day 9’s experience as guidance.

BoardPane4wPanel 4 (The First Mountain Crumples), 12 x 16″, oil on masonite, 2009

I’m losing track of what panels have been worked how many times, except I know that panels 2 and 3 were on their multiple versions today:

boardPanel3wPanel 3 (The Bluest Blue), 12 x 16″, oil on masonite, 2009

BoardPanel2wPanel #2 (The south Amargosa Desert), 12 x 16″, oil on masonite, 2009

Finally, after a visit from John and his dog, whose name I now know is “Dream” ( I can remember because she lies down sleepily as we chat), it was late enough that the sun in the west was illuminating the Bare Mountains in the east.

BoardPanel1WPanel #1¬† (The Bare Mountains), 12 x 16″, oil on masonite, 2009

Each time I paint the Bare Mountains I find new challenges and new beauty.

Oddly enough the desert, for me, is all about color. These are the original “color fields” although the color is far more subtle than we are accustomed to seeing. They require me to look and look and look again. And then I can scarcely bring myself to hold back and use only the most subtle colors I can make. Many painters push for the spectacular western sunlight on the desert shapes, but I’m finding that my greatest delight now is in finding all the colors, all the versions of single colors, and attempting to place them properly.

The blues on the horizon alone will break your heart — your rational heart because they are human-caused, not desert generated, and your color heart because they can be so beautiful.

BoardPanelDraft1DetailA sampling of some of the color that has found its way onto these boards (which will probably be  altered again and again.)

And so, at 4 PM, Jer and the red Honda drove sedately up the curving road to the Barn. I cleaned my brushes, closed the doors, turned off the lights, and took a quick photo of the sunset.

SunsetNov11WEven the sunset was subtle in color this evening. These are the Grapevine Mountains to the west, beyond which is Death Valley.

Reporting from the Goldwell House, in Beatty Nevada, with a good glass of wine at her side.