Petrified Forest Residency: Travel, Sept 19

Caldwell, Idaho: too tired, too rainy, too much road, too tacky the surrounds, to do any painting outside tonight. I did drag out my colored pencils and sketch pad and ended up doing a pseudo-watercolor (pseudo because it was sketched and then scratched in with watercolor pencils and brushed over). I wish this piece were more Hopper-esque; the motel, while staffed by very pleasant folks, has the blankest walls and is the least alive place I’ve seen. The view out the window is of the roof of the entrance drive.  I found myself wishing for some motel art! I dabbled in some exciting TV scenes, thinking of lonely people in motel rooms, looking to the TV for their life.

The paper, a new sketch pad, wasn’t meant to be painted on, and my colored pencils are an odd mix of water and non-watercolor, not necessarily the right shades of either.  Maybe I should have stuck to a pencil sketch.

At any rate, I’m really mulling over the paintings I did yesterday. The one of the “empty” valley, pre-white settlers, uses the Cezanne-ish technique of tilting the back of the scene up toward the viewer. This has the effect of emphasizing as well as distorting the subject matter. I have to decide if and/or how much I want to lie that mid-ground valley down. It’s the heart of the subject, the place that I could imagine a band of native Americans, smoke from their fires, kids playing in the river (under the trees), women beading and gossiping, men gambling with stones and getting weapons and nets ready to retrieve an evening meal. But of course, none of that shows, and perhaps the tilt of the golden valley floor merely looks weird.

These are the questions that try the painter’s soul. The farmed valley sits more comfortably on the canvas — perhaps it was my discomfort with the thought of the displaced people that made the valley tilt.

There are other bits that will be worked on, but it’s this particular challenge that I’m thinking about as I ponder what I want in the final painting that will someday emerge from the first drafts.

Reporting on Sunday September 19, from Caldwell, Idaho, in a comfortable but unenergized motel room –June

Diary of a Residency, Day 27, March 14, 2009

Spent the day in Death Valley. Jer hiked in Golden Canyon while I painted at the mouth of it — just off the parking lot up the trail a few feet.

First things first, though. I realized as we drove to Death Valley through the Beatty cut-off, that what I love about mountains is not their stable (or seemingly stable) forms, nor the rock-or-hay-fields that lay at their feet. It’s the in-between states, the fingers of hills, so full of life here and in John Day — the places in the landscape where it has plasticity; it looks fleshy, alive, like it’s just rolling out from some slug-bound earth and stretching, like a cat, over the valley, under the stern eye of the distant mountain. It’s that element that I want to capture when I paint this landscape. If I could do that, that would suffice:

goldencanyondeathvalleymar1 Continue reading

Diary of a Residency, day 26, March 13, 2009

Friday the 13th.

A nice easy slow day. After the exhaustion of Death Valley yesterday, I decided today not to attempt to deal with the wind and sun and carting the materials and setting up in the midst of sand fleas and kibitzers: I stayed inside the Red Barn, with the big doors wide open for sun and warmth, and piddled. With paint, I mean, not physical functions. I didn’t arrive until after 10 and stayed only until 4 today — a lovely easy day.

A bird, rather large sparrow-ish sort, got in somehow — not through the doors, I think — and then squealed and flayed about for a couple of hours. Then it went silent. I’m hoping that meant he/she found her way back out the hole she found her way in. Either that, or we’ll find a dead bird lying on the cement on Sunday.

Tomorrow we are off to Death Valley again. I’m taking a couple of my medium boards ( 18 x 24) and will paint. I don’t expect miracles — or even good paintings — but there will be few or no human elements to distract me. Barbara says maybe I pull back from the awe-some because it’s too much — fear takes over my desire. I’m not sure it’s fear, but I certainly haven’t yet managed what I hope for.

I am, however, happy with further mangling of a piece I did some days ago: the Bare Mountains in the evening show faces they don’t show in the AM.

This is the latest version.

baremountainspmdraft3wBare Mountains, pm, Oil on board, 18  x 24, 2009

I note that I called the last version of this “Final” in my last photograph; I lied. I used a spendy lavendar pigment today and got positively enthralled with it. Of course, I can’t remember the name of the pigment, only that I gasped at the price. The mountains have those sharp edges that show up only in the evening light.

The light today, for the first time since we got here, has suddenly become flat and blank. I think it’s because the sun has gotten higher, away from the southern skies where it cast such gorgeous shadows. It might be time to go home (or get up early or stay up late, neither of which appeal to me).

I also played around with other paintings that were in process today: the long board of the ghost town and the sculptures set properly into the mountains. It wasn’t dry enough to really do a job on the tiny bits, but I made a start:


Rhyolite Ghost Town and Goldwell Open Air Museum, 18 x 36″,oil on board, 2009

This is the one that I did the landscape from a mile down the road; now I’m adding the central human bits. It was the scene that the camera couldn’t capture. But then again, who am I to complain about “capturing?”

I fussed with the Beatty Exchange Club intersection a bit; I think it needs a big honking truck to bring it to life. Alas. I dislike painting vehicles. They look so silly.

exchangeclub2draft2wFree Parking, 12 x 16″, oil on board

Yep, definitely needs some vehicles. As soon as I’m rested…..

I will have to finish up any ideas I have about long boards in the next couple of days, as well as finishing the big wall (unstretched) canvases (I have about 3 that I think I will try to do). They will need a week’s drying time and that means nothing after next Friday or Saturday can be painted on those surfaces. I have plenty of room in traveling containers for wet oils at the 18 x 24 size and the 12 x 16 size, so I can continue to work on the smaller ones (less ambitious ones) after next Friday.

I think the long boards are a bit too much for me as a painter to handle, particularly when the time is short. The scale requires more preparation (or a smarter painter). But I’m OK with how the one long one above (Rhyolite and the sculptures). Perhaps because this is a subject I’ve tackled from a variety of directions (another version is facing the wall in disgrace). For whatever reason, it is coming along. I want to do a long-scale painting of the open pit mine, but that will consume a whole day and then some. Maybe Monday I’ll tackle that. I’ll need to get Jer’s help getting the board and materials there and back — it’s probably about 2.5 miles away from the Barn. Perhaps on Sunday I’ll do some sketches and see what I can sort out before I start in with paint. It’s not like me to start with sketches, but it’s  more efficient. I need to do it on-site, however. Camera shots simply are inadequate.

Working with photos of art on this laptop is challenging too (maddening is a better word). Depending on the angle of the screen, the photos look washed out or just too, too, too. And Photoshop Elements, which I’m using here because the laptop is Vista, is enough different from regular (old) Photoshop, that I can’t trust its automated functions.

Ah well, just whining a bit. The end is nigh, as they say. George found me a local fix-it fellow to make a stake for my easel (I lost one of the three that are useful when the winds howl). And we are set up for the performance at the Amargosa Opera House next Saturday. Ah, what a social scene….

From Beatty, Nevada, Friday the 13th of March, 2009.