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The Artist’s Life

Volume 23 Number 2 December 2018

We are evermore drawn...

By water bodies, lakes, ponds, streams, rivers, seas and oceans. The Water of Life —Water is Life.

The edges where water meets land fascinate me with their teeming biota. Sometimes water craft are the best way to view the plants and animals. Other times, waders or water sandals work well. I love the varied shapes of the plants such as water lilies and rushes. Sedges, grasses, marshes and muskegs make for interesting patterns and reflections on the waters' surface.

The intertidal zones of salt water draw my attention. The unpredictability of the intersections of land exposed and the reflections of the light of the sun create unusual, fleeting conditions. Is there any better place to take a daily walk than along a beach? Always something new to see.

Of course, the patterns of frozen water on mountain peaks are also eye-catching. The ice and snow are like ever changing robes the mountains draw around themselves in the winter. Alpine plants create a rich embroidery on these robes that varies with the seasons.

Then we have the water-loving trees, such as the birches and aspen. Black, red, copper and white colors enliven their trunks. Scars where branches have fallen or bark has peeled are black calligraphy written by nature to enhance the effect.

If you have any water-loving trees, please remember to water them when we have prolonged hot, dry spells. This also applies to evergreens that like wet feet such as Alaska Yellow Cedar or Port Orford Cedar. I saw a 50 year old tree on my street turn red and dry summer before last. This past summer another Alaska Cedar, 60 feet tall, that I see from my studio window has also turned red and dead.

If you are planting trees, remember to consider their water requirements when you situate them. In the city, Seattle is planting many street trees. They will help absorb the excess carbon dioxide that fossil energy use is producing. We must remember that trees need water to thrive.

The artists of BallardWorks chose Black and White as the theme and name for our November and December exhibits. I struggled to create in black and white. After adding a few touches of color, I enjoyed working on two paintings. For a subsequent painting, I used the same technique but lots more color! The energy and excitement of this image rewarded my explorations. Viewers have commented that "they couldn't take their eyes off" this painting.

My 40 year old photo of a blooming Amaryllis inspired the last painting. I love painting these showy flowers in the dark of winter as a reminder of the beauty that will follow in the spring.

Tree branches bending in the bitter wind welcome Winter Solstice. Times like these create an urge for burning wood, logs and embers, radiating heat and light. Racial Memory? Pushing the thermostat up a notch does not satisfy.

I gleefully retreat to the kitchen where red glowing glass bubbles a soup pot. Steam billows from lifted lid where fragrant winter vegetables stew. I feel warmer already!

I wish all of you a warm house, a cozy corner and peaceful days as we await the return of the sun.



Volume 23 Number 1 June 2018

I soak in the ambiance...

Of mountains every morning at my studio. There is a peace that emanates from the paintings, a feeling of permanence. The strength of rock resisting erosion in this rapidly changing world of ours.

My gaze dances along the edges of the images in the same way I enjoyed contemplating these views when I photographed them many years ago. Painting and seeing are both about edges. Soft, gentle edges of clouds, atmosphere, foliage and distance contrast knife sharp edges of broken dark rock against snow in brilliant sun.

I study the edges of shadows, and how they vary with the distance between the light blocking object and the cast shadow. There is so much to enjoy on a sunny day in nature. I cherish nature, all of it, every bit including those tiny ants that show up with the warmer weather.

This winter and early spring, I have been working diligently to review and print out selections from my slides that I took in those early years. How careful I was to select only the best view to capture on film. It was so expensive. Careful compositions or unique wild flowers merited capture and preservation.

As I look closely at my selections, paintings beg their turn to become realized next. There is just so much beauty in our world. I especially treasure the North Cascades in Washington, Little Yoho National Park in Canada and South East Alaska and adjacent Canada. When I was there, so much was untouched and untrammeled.

It is a race against time, as film is degrading, keeping slide scanners running is ever more difficult and even my CD's of early digital capture are getting harder to accommodate with today's technology. It is a race between saving my inspirations for painting and actually getting the painting created.

As I review images of Alaska, I remember the excitement I felt as I looked up at the waterfalls everywhere, the fog and mists, brooding, low hanging clouds creating a backdrop for magnificent trees, deep ferns and even Devils Club decorating the shores and lower slopes of the mountains. It was a water colorist's heaven, full of choices to paint.

I spent most of my years in Alaska painting water colors and studying with many of the great artists and teachers of the medium. Zoltan Szabo, Edward Betts, Barbara Nechis, Maxine Masterfield and Judi Betts were some of the most memorable. My art professors in College were all pushing Abstract Expressionism, so much of my work was in that genre at the time. That Abstract art excited me as I had not seen it before except in Museums which my parents both loved to visit.

However, my mother was an artist and school teacher, so I had been taught to draw at the age of 2. Yes, 2 years old. I was always showing my mother the wonderful things I saw in the yard and garden, dragging her over to see a flower bud or Lady Bug or even a worm. When my brother was born she gave me paper and pencil and showed me how to draw what I saw and bring it back to her, showing her what I had seen. Of course she encouraged me to draw more and more, as the new baby took up so much time and the more detail I added to the drawing, the longer I was outside. I also had two Aunts and an Uncle who were all in college and living with us for a couple of years. They were eager to show me art techniques they had just learned as well. How could I not draw?

Working as a chemist, I found watercolor worked better than oil for those few enjoyable hours I could find to capture the beauty around me.

So watercolor it was, or acrylic until I was able to rent a studio in 2003, and could at last paint the really large oils of mountains that were in my "possibles" folder , waiting their turn. This explains the large numbers of mountains in my studio now. But I am taking a break from large oils until I find a water soluble oil paint I like or a better way to clean oil paint from the brushes I use.

In the meantime, I am playing with acrylics, often in a watercolor technique, or sometimes handled more like oil. They do have their place in art now, and are in many ways more stable than oil paint.

As part of this period of renewal and rediscovery, I am digging out the books I have of my earlier watercolor workshop teachers and reviewing some of their special techniques. Who knows what you may see in the next newsletter?

This newsletter features a number of small paintings done as daily paintings. I last was doing daily paintings when I was recovering from a bicycle accident so this not really new, just a renewal. To see more information about these 6 x 6 inch paintings, visit the sites referenced below.

As I am still experimenting with the many brands of oil paint offered and with the many formulations of acrylic that Golden Paint offers, I have been painting a lot of smaller work, testing methods and materials. It is a good exercise for improving one's compositions as well to do many small paintings as opposed to a few large ones.

Starting in January of 2018 I added Daily Paint Works ( to my list of on line sales venues. It is an especially easy site for artists to use, well thought out and well maintained. In conjunction with that, I have renewed posting to my Blog ( Most of these small paintings are unframed, for ease in shipping. Please let me know what you think of these sites.

This winter was another cold, gray, stormy, expression of winter, complete with a couple of inches of snow and several instances of graupel falling. High winds and even some winter thunder accompanied this drama. This was a wonderful time to bake cookies, read books and drink tea.

Our winter Open Studios were well attended and a good number of paintings went to live in new homes. Some of my favorites are gone, so I am looking through my old slides for more mountains to paint. I have a lot of flower paintings that might end up on canvas. I much prefer to paint mountains in oil and I still have not found a paint that satisfies my needs for a stiffer oil paint that is water soluble. For this reason I may use some acrylic to paint large flowers again. My garden has just passed the peak blooming season, so my mind is fully saturated with color and beauty. Whatever I paint next, it will be with joy and enthusiasm for the painting process.

Wishing you all lots of fun in the sun and happy times with friends and family,



Volume 22 Number 2 December 2017

All my life...

I have been documenting the wild places I have visited. I paint the sanctity of the natural landscape that is disappearing rapidly. In that way, I create icons for meditation and peaceful contemplation. My lifelong goal has been to record what I have seen and felt to share with others.

At one time, I could pretend that the areas without road or even trail were pristine and untouched by the influence of man. Now I see that during my lifetime there have been massive changes in all the world as a result of human activities.

When I first moved to Seattle in 1967, I was astounded by the Nisqually Glacier on Mt. Rainier that was so very close to the road bridge. I thought a glacial surge would destroy the bridge over the river. I had the same experience when I moved to Juneau, Alaska in 1977 and wondered at the possibility of the newly constructed visitor center being destroyed by the Mendenhall glacier advancing. Now, both of these glaciers have retreated more than a mile from their previous location when I first saw them. In less than 50 years, a huge volume of water that had been stored as ice has run off to the sea.

Watching the shadows change as our spinning top of a planet hurtles through space every year reminds us that nothing stays the same for very long. In fact, our idea of the unchanging mountains is an artifact of a generalized observation. If we study the lesser details, a mountain is one of the most changeable sights in nature. They always provide a fresh challenge. Cezanne recognized this changeability of Mont Sainte-Victoire, and painted it more than 60 times. He gloried in studying the changing light and colors of the seasonal cycles.

I watch Mt. Rainier with its cloud caps and peek-a-boo disappearances from my studio window. Only the top 2,000 feet or so are visible because Queen Anne Hill blocks the rest. I welcome the sight of the top when it emerges from the clouds and fog. Sunrise or Sunset Alpenglow is a special treat. Then I remember the experience of climbing it and the smell of sulfur coming from the crevices in the rocks around the summit crater. It is a volcano after all. Sometimes a sudden warming under the mountain melts the ice and snow. Then the cycle starts again with more snow than summer sun can melt and glaciers growing once more.

The phenomena of Nature’s generosity never ceases to amaze me. The immense flux of energy that streams from the sun in all directions, with only minor variations in strength, is almost beyond comprehension. According to the article about Sunlight in Wikipedia, when the sun is at the zenith, the radiant energy at the earth’s surface is 1050 Watts per square meter. This is more electricity than ten 100 watt light bulbs use when illuminated. Sun and rain are ours in abundance on this marvelous blue planet.

Now, consider that this energy is dispersed in all directions in space and only a tiny fraction is captured by the surface of the Earth or other bodies in orbit around the sun. Where does the rest of the energy end up? It is a generous source of heat and light for us to freely use. We don’t have an energy bill from Sol.

As a painter, I am especially cognizant of the effects of sunlight on the Earth. Having lived as far North as Alaska and as far South as North Carolina, I have witnessed the differences in the color of the sky that correlate to Latitude. I especially love the long light, when the sunlight travels through 2 or 3 times as much atmosphere compared to when it shines down from directly overhead. It is this filtering that changes the the color of morning and evening light and even the color of the light of the midnight sun. Subtle and gentle warm light effects are seen at these times. The effect is more pearly in the North and somewhat like firelight in the south.

My paintings are records of these observations of ecological niches in different seasons and times of day. Whether I am painting the delicate, rosy greens of spring budding trees or the bold golds and crimsons of fall, it is always the light of the sun that has given me the gift of seeing the natural beauty. For this wonderfully varied sunlight, I am always grateful.

s you may have noticed, I have been painting a lot of trees lately. I have always loved trees, feeling especially safe and comfortable in their near vicinity. Their size, longevity, leaves or needles and cones or fruit have always fascinated me and still do. They have been featured in my artworks all my life, either as a solitary tree, a grove or a mass of trees in a forest.

I have been renewing my acquaintance with Acrylic paint, which I used extensively before having a separate studio for my art. This space allowed me to switch to oil as I had more room for the works in progress to slowly dry. When my favorite oil paint was reformulated and no longer met my needs, I started trying many other brands of water soluble oil and decided to try Acrylic again as well. Many new products have been added to the acrylic lineup and I think they solve a lot of problems for artists.

I have also tried some cradled panels, all museum quality, from Ampersand as part of this exploration. These panels are glued to Birch plywood frames that are called cradles. I worked up from some smaller panels to a 24 inch by 36 inch size with a 1.5 inch cradle. It has been alternately frustrating and energizing, depending on what the problem of the day has been. I also found I needed to try some new brushes for acrylic as well, so lots of learning curves. While in learning mode again, I decided to try oil painting with knives, so that I don’t need to wash brushes. Knives are easily wiped clean, so no solvent needed for cleanup of brushes used for regular oil paint.

Taking advantage of the glorious light of summer, I painted some flowers to start with, and some tree portraits as well. The flowers were from my garden, via slides, and the trees from trips to Alaska and Yellowstone again via photo technology.

My latest large painting is a view of a braided river in Denali National Park, probably the Toklat, with a fine stand of fireweed in the foreground. I find it easier to paint flowers with water media than with oil as I love the feel of a springy brush. It is easier to draw the painting with the brush as there is so little drag and the brush holds so much more paint. More like working in egg tempera but with better covering power when needed.

Beauty nourishes the human spirit. When I experience the piercing beauty of a mountain after a rain, my soul is nourished. Joy and peace expand in my consciousness until the overflow creates an urge to paint the scene, capturing it to show others. I paint because the camera does not always capture what I experience. I have taken a lot of slides with SLR in my life and I have carefully stored them to later paint. Now is the time I am mining these treasures to share with everyone. Sometimes these scenes are no more, and sometimes they were fleeting or in an inaccessible area. These are the gifts that the light of the sun has given me and I, in turn, am creating goods to pass on to others. Perhaps these paintings will brighten your day as I intend via this newsletter to deliver good cheer for this holiday season.

The nights are growing longer rapidly, so daylight hours are precious. I am so glad to have all the windows in my studio during this time of year. There is nothing as wonderful as the light of the sun for painting.

Wishing you all much joy and pleasure in the coming year.


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