Sunset over Dead Horse Point

30×40”
Acrylic on canvas

Sometimes the best plans fail. We had enjoyed a few previous trips to the Southwest and knew we’d be returning in the summer. From experience, we knew hotels to book up fast and had made reservations months in advance. I had started a Pinterest board of hikes and places of interest I wanted to explore on the trip. We would be going across the country to New Mexico, then up and over to Arizona then, Utah and Colorado.

I love the landscape of the Southwest and have loved painting it since my first trip there over 15 years earlier. The time change, the heat of summer and my eagerness propelled me out of bed each morning and kept me wanting to explore until the sun had set each day.

We had scheduled several days in Moab, with Arches and Canyonlands being close. But shortly before our trip, I saw they were would be working on the roads in the park. The park would close at 7pm and reopen daily at 7am. No sunset golden hour pics in the park, no sunrise hikes. I was a bit disappointed. Yet looking back that restriction lead to some great things.

Knowing about the closure made us look at what else to do around the area. We checked out a wonderful hike to Corona Arch outside the park. No crowds, really few other hikers and wonderful scenery. We went to Dead Horse Point State Park. It is right next to the Isle in the Sky entrance of Canyonlands. One night we were driving out of Canyonlands and a quick shower had just left and we pulled over for wonderful rainbow that spanned the canyon. The sky that night was such a great mixture of colors and clouds. We came back for another sunset as the first night we arrived a bit late and much of the canyon was already in shadows. That night the canyon had some great oranges with blue and purple shadows.

Not sure what detours you’ve faced recently. Detours remind me how much of life is out of my control. Yet when I look at this painting it reminds me that sometimes detours can lead to wonderful things, things richer than what I could plan for myself. One thing we can control is our attitude. We can choose to complain and stew or be open to the unexpected. It feels I’m continually learning to surrender the illusions I have of control and try to enjoy the ride.

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The Watchman and the Virgin River, Zion

Acrylic on canvas
30×40 inches

We live in time, in the present, with the past experiences, victories, and regrets shaping us, and future hopes and dreams guiding how we use our time now. Lately, there have been a lot of movies, tv, and books where the future looks pretty bleak. (Dystopian fiction anyone?!) And many stories have dealt with the idea of time travel. Being able to go back to correct a moment in time, erase mistakes and regrets.

It was almost two years ago when my family had a wonderful time in the Southwest. Soaking up every minute of our time, getting up extra early to hike before it got too hot. Taking in every sunset. Retracing our steps on places we’ve visited before and discovering breathtaking new ones along the way. I’d done a fair amount of research before our trip, bookmarking different hikes that sounded interesting. Benefiting from others experiences.

Our days were full. One day while visiting Zion, we were about to head back to our hotel room. The sun was setting, much of the canyon was in shadows. Several people were stopped on a bridge, cameras in hand. We found parking and joined them. The sun was just lighting the tops of the mountain. You could hear the river below us, as it continued its path through the valley floor. It was beautiful.

I long to return to visit again. I follow different parks on Facebook and Instagram. See the changes of not just seasons but that the trails, landmarks, the wilderness that is so loved doesn’t stay the same. Storms cause roads and trails to be covered in mud and rendered unpassable. The Virgin river that winds through the narrows flows with a much greater capacity after a winter with lots of snow. These parks show the passage of time as well. And with time comes change. Sometimes welcome, or necessary, other times leading to sorrow. The parks are a treasure, I appreciate all those who work to preserve them so future generations can enjoy them. (As the saying goes, leave only footprints, take only pictures.) But even with all that is done to preserve the majesty of these parks, they will still continue to change.

It serves as a reminder that our relationships are also a treasure. They are not static. Ever time marches on. They need to be invested in, protected, worked on so, as inevitable changes come, they can weather the storm, adapting, rich with shared experiences.

Thor’s Hammer

Thor’s hammer

30×40″

Acrylic on canvas

What’s your name? Or more than a name, your identity? Have you taken to heart what others have said about you? The good and the bad, the prideful and shameful?

As I was painting this scene I was listening to a book called The Soul of Shame by Dr. Curt Thompson. (I will probably need to listen again or read it to absorb just a portion of it.) It talks of the stories we tell ourselves, consciously or not, about ourselves. How they were shaped by those around us. (How unlike guilt which says you did something bad, shame attacks the person, you are bad.)

So I smiled when I realized I was painting what happens to be a famous formation, singled out for being shaped like Mjölnir. This scene is inspired by Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah. It not really a Canyon, but a series of amphitheaters filled with thousands of carved orange rocks called hoodoos. Most are nameless, but there is one of note: Thor’s Hammer. It’s the hoodoo featured in the bottom center of the painting. Thanks to Marvel most people know about Thor and his hammer. So because someone thought the top resembled a weapon, this hoodoo has been given much attention. It’s fame increased. Yet it’s made of the same stuff as other hoodoos all around it, it continues to be weathered by the elements.

Amazing the power of words, and names, for building up or tearing down. You might feel like the unknown rock in the shadow of Thor’s hammer, unnoticed, blending in. Yet regardless if your name is known or not, you are significant.

Sailor’s Delight

36×36 inches
Acrylic on canvas

You might have heard the phrase; ” Red sky at night, Sailors delight, Red sky at morning sailors take warning.”  This phrase came to mind after I’d finished the piece. The scene is still and calm, a moment of overwhelming beauty. Those perfect moments tend to be fleeting, you never know how long they will last. They are a chance to catch your breath, a respite, perhaps a renewal of hope or time to strengthen oneself before facing the world again.

The painting could be read as either a promise of calm for the next day or a warning of what’s to come. Some storms we can see coming and others take us by surprise. Many times we are powerless to prevent what’s coming. All we can do is prepare. What do you do to prepare? What gives you hope when you know one is coming or you’re in the midst of one?

At times I’ll admit I worry, imagining all that could happen, usually all the worst-case scenarios, stomach in knots. Convinced after looking up my symptoms that I’ve become a doctor and something is majorly wrong. Somehow thinking my being focused on how bad it is or could be can do something other than weighing myself down. Feeling without help in the world.

Other times I shift my focus from the storm to the one who can calm the storm, and promises to be there with us in the midst. I’m less paralyzed and remember that I am not alone. The circumstances don’t change but my perspective does, and a determined hope surfaces.

So smooth sailing or storms ahead I think there is always a reason to hope!

Golden ride

12×36 inches
Acrylic on canvas

A few weeks ago we forced our kids on a family bike ride. We were riding down a country road and discovered another road we hadn’t been down. A short dead-end country lane. Old oak trees defying gravity, spreading their branches. Sun low in the sky, golden rays illuminating moss and branches. I stopped for a moment looked around at this beauty that was so close to home, but had never been seen. Thankful that we got off the couch, and for mild Florida winters.

I’ve been working on paintings this past month that belong to two different series. One is Italian landscapes, the other is local landscapes like these majestic oaks. The Italy paintings are dependent on using a friend’s photos. It’s a dream to see the sights with my own eyes. I don’t have the benefit of having walked around and examined the angles for myself. To know what is just out of the photo. (Although for the night beach scene I also looked on Google street view.) The landscapes of the oaks are moments captured pretty close to home. I’ve walked or biked around, took in the scene, know what the surroundings are. I can go back to the place for more photos if needed.

I’ve been on a journey. Back when I painted just for myself I didn’t think about if anyone else liked what I was painting. It was simply a time to express myself, to slow down, to see how beauty gives hope and can transform a life. Now as a professional artist one of the challenges is to find inspiration, while at the same time painting what I hope will appeal to local audiences. And it’s been a good challenge. It’s forced me to look around me. To stop the mentality that the grass is greener on the other side. To stop the mindset that day to day is boring, ordinary. To focus on the here and now instead of the next trip. It’s like learning to appreciate vegetables. They are not chocolate or cheesecake. But they are good for you, and your body feels better, stronger when they are a regular part of your diet.

So I’m still learning. Still seeking out beauty here, and I know it will be revealed bit by bit.

Chisholm Park Sunset

12×36
Acrylic on canvas

While January means snow and cold for most of the United States, Florida tends to be selective in how much it participates. We stayed in town over Winter break. There were a few days I broke out a sweater, but several found me in the standard short sleeves and flip-flops.

Most of our break was low key. Stayed local, rested a lot, and took time to visit some picturesque areas around town.

Chisholm Park is about 15 minutes from us along the east side of East Lake Tohopekaliga (Toho for short). The park is beautifully shaded by a number of old live oak trees. Branches defy gravity, invited the adventurous to climb. Spanish moss drapes adding an air of mystery. We arrived about an hour before sunset and enjoyed our time watching the light cast shadows and light up leaves and moss. We walked along a horse path, listened to Sandhills cranes sounding like dinosaurs and even dipped our feet in the water. (While keeping an eye out for gators.) Not a bad way to end a winter day!

6×6 studies

I had a few holiday craft mart type events in early December. I wanted to make sure I had some lower price point items, so I embarked on making a number of 6×6 inch studies. I love painting on large canvases, but with smaller ones, there is a freedom to experiment and paint more loosely. I did groupings of four each with different themes: winter, spring, beach, wooded areas, parks. The paintings can most times be completed in a sitting, however, coming up with fresh subject matter for twenty paintings in under a week was tiring. Some will serve as inspiration for future larger pieces.

Small works

End of Day, 10×10, Acrylic on Canvas
Ever Onward, 10×10, Acrylic on Canvas
Candy Sky, 10×10, Acrylic on Canvas

Part of my life as an artist is to look for opportunities to show my work in galleries and other venues. I found out about a call to artists at a gallery I’d like to get into. The only problem was the deadline was less than a week away and pieces had to be 10×10 or smaller.

So I grabbed a few canvases and did three sunset scenes. My work wasn’t chosen to be in the show for the gallery I made it for. It happens, for every time my work is accepted someplace there is usually several times it’s been rejected. As the year-end approaches, there are different opportunities to try and sell my work to those looking for a great unique gift. I’d love to see some big pieces, but know for many a small piece is more their price range. I have pieces listed on Etsy, and am doing a few holiday one day shows locally.

When I painted for myself I painted what I wanted. As a professional, I find subject matter I like, but it’s also about what will sell. Living in Florida makes Southwestern Landscapes a hard sell. (So I dream of the day I have enough of an online following, and or gallery representation out west to paint those pieces.)  I love painting big, but it’s harder to find collectors for large pieces. So I have some big canvases waiting. I would grow weary of small paintings all the time, but there is a freedom in the small pieces. Not overthinking or getting too caught up details.

First Watch

30×48

Acrylic on canvas

The alarm was set for way too early, but no time to snooze. I checked outside the window and could see the outlines of clouds on the horizon. Quickly we got ready and hopped in the car. We drove North along A1A and the sky got brighter. Finally, we arrived at the Cocoa Beach Pier. A few others stood facing East, ready for the sunrise. The sky was a beautiful display of colors, the water reflecting and crashing onto the shore. Birds took off from the pier flying in an agreed-upon pattern and settling again.

Looking at the lifeguard tower makes me think of readiness, watchfulness, and diligence. Far too often rather than being watchful, it’s more like I’m playing in the sand, digging, busy, head down, suddenly surrounded by the tide, my designs washed away. Life is busy. But I think it’s meant to be lived with built-in rhythms. Sunrise and sunset. Work and rest. Waiting, and catching up.

Waiting to Begin

24×30

Gathered into teams we were given a time limit a challenge and a few instructions. There wasn’t one right way to tackle the challenge. Some teams dove in headfirst, figuring if it didn’t work they’d make some mid-course corrections. Others took time to talk through a plan and assign roles. In the middle of the challenge, the moderator threw us for a spin and had us switch spots, giving our progress away to another team and trying to make use of what someone else had done.

That challenge time was meant to show how we work together, different people having different strengths. In the end, there wasn’t one clearly right way to accomplish the task.

In life some people rush ahead, others wait hoping a map will be given to them to direct their path. (And sometimes people are a little of both, cautious in some areas, adventurous in both.)

When I finished this painting I thought its as if the viewer is standing on the edge of the path, waiting. Being still, taking in the beauty around him. Perhaps it’s uncertainty, or waiting for more light to illuminate the path.

Lately, I feel like I’m waiting for direction but still taking steps forward. I need to remember to enjoy the sunrise even when I don’t know what the day(s) ahead will bring.