High Mountain Drama

I always enjoy the high mountains. Something about altitude just works for me. It might have something to do with having grown up in the Ecuadorian Andes, shuffling between towns at 7,000, 9,000 and 10,600 feet. Whatever the reason, I feel the mountains calling me all the time.

I’ve been fortunate to hang out with these huge peaks in several countries. Painting them brings me back. Here are three recent paintings of views I’ve enjoyed over the years, all done in soft pastels on Strathmore Artagain charcoal black paper.

“This Rarefied Air” – Khan Tengri Peak, China – Soft Pastel on Strathmore, 8×10″/20x25cm
“Take Heart” – China – Soft Pastel on Strathmore, 8×10″/20x25cm
“Goodnight, Joseph” – Wallowa Mts., Oregon – Soft Pastel on Strathmore, 8×10″/20x25cm

3rd China (Suzhou) Pastel Biennial

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“Titan” – California – Pastel on MingART Premium, 8×10″/20×25 cm

“What an experience!” I said this so many times in the past week!

It was an amazing time, from the moment I received the notification that my painting “Titan” was accepted into the show to the last evening as we drifted away from the table, still enjoying each other’s company. I appreciated the graciousness and generosity of Simon and Junny, our hosts at the Ming Gallery of Art, who made us feel so welcome and honored. I thoroughly enjoyed the boundless enthusiasm and energy of the indefatigable May who facilitated the plein air event and found a place in everyone’s heart. Mingxing’s open, positive attitude allowed us to simply be ourselves, and the photos she captured of all of us are treasures to be savored like a fine banquet, complete with a delightful dessert (those are a few of Mingxing’s photos, below). To all the artists whom I met and who shared their love of art and life: I am blessed to have met you and spent time with you in Suzhou!

I am so grateful to the world of pastels for having brought together the talents and personalities of so many from around the world, and to the Ming Art Gallery for its ardent dedication to the medium. I can only imagine how daunting it was to choose these paintings from the submissions. The quality, vision and skill evident in this show speaks volumes for the medium. I appreciated the richness of the Chinese masters, in particular. It was an immersive education just to walk the gallery in wonder, observing one beautiful painting after another. This experience alone was priceless.

To the jurors and the awarding judge I give my thanks. This has been a golden moment, and I am so pleased that they resonated with the grand old oak in my “Titan” painting. Their decision and the gallery’s generosity made all this happen for me and for Ping. I am happy to have donated this painting to the gallery.

“What an experience,” indeed!

I welcome any opportunity to return to Suzhou! I look forward to all the wonderful paintings that proceed from here!

“Echoing Moran”

“Echoing Moran”

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“Echoing Moran” – Graphite – 5.8×7.7″/14.8×19.5 cm

I’ve got another chance coming up to do some plein air work, so I’ve been preparing my kit for travel. I used to keep a small (1/4 letter size, or A6) spiral-bound sketchbook with me in my pocket, but good ones are getting harder to find these days. This time, I’m going to try using my usual sketch clipboard for drawing on the fly. It’s twice as big as the sketchbook, but the paper will be far superior. I’m hoping I can still do the quick 2-to-5-minute sketches I did when I could just whip out the sketchbook. We’ll see!

Just to practice with this particular paper and pencil combination, I started what was going to be a rough sketch. Not surprisingly, I got caught up in the craggy details (who, me??). This was from a photo taken in China some years back. I’ve been studying Thomas Moran’s work again recently and I think I had those images somewhere in my subconscious while I drew this.

What the Glacier Left Behind

What the Glacier Left Behind

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“The Remainder” – Acrylic on Canvas – 16.1×10.6″/41×27 cm

We couldn’t see much in the fog. No one could. Cairns placed haphazardly anywhere and everywhere gave no direction at all. I headed away from the group, up into the mists, until I could see no one else. All was quiet, save for the jostling of stones under my boots. How far these stones had traveled, broken loose, carried along, ground down in the massive river of ice that carved out this slope. The ice is long gone. These stones, covered in their green mosses and red algae, hidden in the mists–these are the remainder. They lie there still, lost in the fog, slowly breaking down bit by bit.

This painting is available! Email me for details!

 

Napa Backyard

NapaBackyard_InformalA friend has graciously invited us to stay in her house in California’s famed Napa Valley. Every morning, we awaken to a beautiful dawn. On any given day, we might see low clouds, patchy fog, or a bright blue sky. The clouds are usually long gone by noon, and the midday heat is a bit easier to take when one can sit inside where it’s cooler, and look out the large windows. Evenings can be brisk and breezy. A couple of times, we even built a fire in the fire pit so we could sit outside and watch the stars appear.

The backyard here is actually a small vineyard surrounded by classic Napa trees: pines, redwoods, oaks, maples and eucalyptus. I’m nursing a bad case of poison oak just now, but I can still paint, and I’m grateful for this marvelous view! This painting was a very quick study, focusing on shadows and capturing the various greens.

Derwent Inktense on Arches rough 100% rag paper
5.9×8.75”/15x22cm – plein air

The Epic Quest for the Monticello Rocks

 

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They didn’t look like this, really.

 

I saw the marking for the Monticello Rocks on Google Maps and traced the route from where we are staying. It just sounded cool. “Monticello Rocks.” Ever the adventurer, Ping was game. Thus, we set forth.

Anticipation gripped us like a cheap pair of shorts that had shrunk in the dryer. Every turn in the road brought us closer, closer, closer…WAIT! I think those are the rocks! YES! Rocks, they are! Ah, the excitement, the THRILL of seeing the Monticello Rocks for the very first time! I’ll never for-…

Hold on.

That’s it? It’s over? No, there are some more!

Oh, the ecstasy, the glory, the–! Okay, now it’s over.

We couldn’t get to them. We couldn’t even turn around on that road. There was nothing left but to continue forward. We did.

Neither of us saw any more rocks. Okay, that’s not entirely true, there was the “Old Man Rock” a bit later that did, indeed, have a nose larger than my own. So, that’s something.

We laughed and laughed about the Epic Quest for the Monticello Rocks.

“What did you do?”

“We SAW them.”

“Really?”

“YES!”

 

Poplar Beach

PoplarBayLiveShotFour of us went for a walk on Poplar Beach, south of Half Moon Bay. All told, we had 10 legs. I saw this gully and went over there to do some painting. That left 8 legs to keep going. Sometime later, Ping turned around, leaving 6 legs to continue onward. Shya has 2 legs and Ellie has 4. Guess who went the farthest?

In any case, I was happy to sit on the sand and paint the crumbling cliffs. The coastal pines rimmed the skyline. A little breeze shifted the sand. I got lost in the painting, and suddenly it was time to get back before the parking meter expired.

As is so often the case, I had to run back to where everyone else would be waiting for me. This time, I was barefoot, though, holding my sandals.

When I caught up with my wife, we realized we were still 6 legs short. Plus, two of those legs had the key to the four wheels. Okay, yes: technically it’s five, if you include the steering wheel.

But who’s counting?

Anyway, here’s the informal picture of the finished painting. I did some details after we got home.

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Time for a New Hat

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The old Scala hat had gone from one side of the world to the other and back again. I bought it in California, and it had shaded me from the sun at sea level in Taipei, Taiwan, on the battlements of India’s Amer Fort, up Platteklip Gorge to the top of South Africa’s Table Mountain, and all the way to 4,500 meters at the foot of Yangmaiyong in Yading, China. It had been to the icy summit of Germany’s Zugspitze and on the storied hills of Toledo, Spain.

In the middle of some Turkish ruins, I had this exchange with a Korean tourist.

Him (pointing at my hat): Where’s your horse?
Me (looking around frantically): I lost my horse??!

I was always glad the hat was crushable. Stuffed in a backpack countless times, it still kept its shape–for the most part, anyway. Over the years, it had lost its little split leather adornment. The metal rivet that used to hold that piece had rusted beyond recognition. The liner of the inner hat band had disintegrated.

About a year ago, I cleaned it rather badly, so the crown was now skewed, and the brim dipped too low over my eyes. It had lost some stiffness so it flopped around when the wind was strong. Maybe it was time to replace it. I checked online. Nothing. It wasn’t even mentioned on the company website.

Back in California, the San Francisco REI still had a few. I browsed the rack, hoping for the best. They were all the wrong size. I asked the staff to see if they had back stock. No such luck, but while they were looking I  spied the hat on a mannequin. It fit me! “Take it!” they said.

I did. It was the only one my size in the whole store. Apparently, the company stopped making this model. We went online and found another one in black. Only one. We ordered that one, too.

It was such a good hat,
And it’s still a good hat.
Well, I guess that’s that:
It’s time for a new hat.

Coit Tower

CoitLiveShot_20170623The others had gone for a walk while I had to wrap up some other business, but I still had an hour and a half before lunch. I left the apartment where we’re staying in San Francisco, and headed out to the waterfront again. I wanted to see the Coit Tower again. When my wife Ping and I first visited San Francisco several years ago, we hiked up to the tower, and, just a couple of days ago, our friend Shya took us up there for a view of the city.

You can see the tower from several places on the waterfront, but it’s not particularly close. I found a decent spot by the Exploratorium where I had a clear view of it. The wind blew strongly enough that I wondered if I would lose one of the water brush covers! The ink dried very fast, but I was able to get a pretty good likeness of the tower in about half an hour.

Then I had to run back, so I wouldn’t be late for lunch!

 

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The final image.