An Artist’s Summer Vacation – Coos Bay

Coos Bay State Park, Oregon

Coos Bay, Oregon has all of the character that one would expect to find in a coastal fishing village.  Forget the glitz and glamour of a seaside resort because you won’t find it here.  What you will find is an authentic working boat harbor where you can buy the day’s catch from the fisherman who caught it.  Albacore Tuna, Sea Cod,  Dungeness Crab and Clam Chowder are the staples of the menu here and you are more likely to be sitting side by side with local working class folks in any given restaurant than you are with tourists.

We are camped in Sunset Bay State Park just across the drawbridge that separates Coos Bay from Charleston.  From here, we set out on foot each day to hike through the giant pine trees along the cliff lined coast.  This is a paradise for the painter and the photographer and we have been fortunate to have experienced it in the contrasting moods of sunshine and fog.  A couple of days ago, we scrambled down a 200 foot cliff and spent an entire sun drenched afternoon on one particular beach.  The day’s sightings included a whale, which is rare this time of year, Sea Lions, every kind of bird and an active surf crashing into the offshore rocks.  Tammy shot photographs while I took a crack at painting the ocean en plein air for the first time.  It was a great day.

Having Fun

Last night was cool as a heavy fog and a light rain enveloped the coast.  The blasts of the fog-horn at the Charleston light house have become louder and longer, warning the ships at sea that they are near the hazardous shore.  Perhaps the horn is also bidding us farewell and safe passage as we prepare to head south and east, on to new destinations as we travel back to Colorado.

An Artist’s Summer Vacation – Big Sur..”No, You Really Are Too Big Sir”

The Big Sur Highway

Tammy and I are known for making spontaneous decisions for the good of the greater adventures in life, a characteristic that is often a virtue and occasionally a flaw. Upon our arrival in California, we stopped for fuel at Interstate 5 and made a last minute decision to postpone our northern movement in favor of heading straight for the coast. I’ve always wanted to see Big Sur, a seventy-mile stretch of coastline with waterfalls, cliffs and crashing waves. What a perfect opportunity to pull off at a roadside stop or two, snap some pictures and maybe even pull out the easel and lay down some paint en plein air.

Its funny how the experience that is anticipated in our imaginations is almost never the experience that remembered after the fact. Highway One did offer incredible views and this stretch of road did indeed earn it’s reputation as one of America’s Most Scenic Drives. But somewhere around the second or third narrow and winding turn I began to wonder what we had got ourselves into this time. Turn too wide and risk colliding with oncoming traffic and perhaps fly over a thousand foot cliff, turn too tight and scrape the side of the motor-home on the cliffs and with each turn the situation became more sobering. Where are all of the other 40-foot long rigs and where would a guy turn around if he had to?

For over three hours we found ourselves being tested by the Big Sur Highway and by our nerves. The thought of pulling over at a wide spot in the road to capture images and impressions of the spectacular setting was quickly over-ruled by the desire to get safely out of the situation before the sun set. Onward I pressed, both hands firmly gripping the wheel, bits and pieces of my life flashing before me. When I was a kid, My Dad made a spontaneous decision to attempt to drive the family over Schofield Pass in a Lincoln Continental. Schofield Pass is one of Colorado’s most challenging four-wheel drive roads. After he realized his miscalculation, he put the car in park and ran up the road a bit to look for a place to turn around. I remember seeing him slip on a patch of melting snow, falling and breaking a number of ribs. And now, here I was in a similar pickle wondering if impulsive ignorance is hereditary.

Well, we did make it to Monterey just as the darkness of night fell. Relieved and exhausted we found a place to camp and quickly fell into a nightmare-riddled slumber. One day we will go back and drive the Big Sur Highway and see those waterfalls and crashing waves from the comfort of a much smaller vehicle.

An Artist’s Summer Vacation – H2o

Colorado River at Laughlin, Nv.

Heading West, I-40 makes a gradual descent from the cool timbered forests of Flagstaff and one can literally watch the mercury rise as the altimeter drops. We arrived in Bullhead City, Arizona as the late afternoon sun brought the mercury to a blazing 117 degrees Fahrenheit and I wandered how and why anyone would live here in the summer. It seems as though all of the riddles of the Southwest can be solved with one simple substance, Water.
Sand beaches and abundant crops line the banks of the Colorado River as it threads it’s way between Laughlin Nevada and Bullhead City and it is bizarre to see jet skis and pleasure boats zipping around in the middle of the desert on a river that flows from the Continental Divide in Rocky Mountain National Park. Indeed it is impossible to imagine what the Southwest United States would be like without the Colorado River. Natural wonders like the Canyon Lands and the Grand Canyon would simply be a vast rolling wasteland. Recreational Jewels like Lake Powell and Lake Mead and the cities of Phoenix and Las Vegas would not exist at all.
I guess I feel a certain sense of pride and admiration for the powerful Colorado River. I am compelled to paint creeks and rivers because of the time that I have spent on and around the creeks and rivers of Colorado. The Gore Creek and the Eagle River, the Blue and the Roaring Fork, the Yampa and the Gunnison, all of them tributaries to this river that brings life to the Desert.

An Artist’s Summer Vacation – Getting Kicks On Route 66

Historic Route 66

Hum a few bars of the iconic Nat King Cole song “ Get Your Kicks on Route 66” and you will find yourself trying to recall the lyrics and the names of the cities mentioned in them. A lot has evidently changed since the song was written. Today’s route 66 is more commonly known as I-40, and Kicks? I was “kickin” it into high gear and awful lot trying to keep up the eighteen-wheelers heading west. Gallup, Flagstaff and Kingman are all still visible from the four-lane ribbon of asphalt but the song says “don’t forget Winona” and I missed it altogether. The Eagle’s hit song “Take it Easy” also came to mind as we zipped past Winslow, Arizona. I couldn’t help but think that today’s lyrics might be “I was standing at the exit in Winslow, Arizona” and somehow it just doesn’t have the same magic.

Back on the old route 66, I’m sure that there were plenty of attempts to pull people off the pavement to see two headed snakes and buy moccasins and sand paintings. I have to admit I felt both gullible and nostalgic while taking the exit to the Meteor Crater in the middle of the high desert east of Flagstaff. The colorful signs billed the crater as the “First Proven” and “Best Maintained” meteor crash site” on earth and I pondered how in the hell do you maintain a meteor crash site?

Up Close and Personal with an Extra Terrestrial Rock

It turns out that Meteor Crater literally is a national landmark worth seeing. At some point in time, a rock, about 15 feet wide found its way through the Earth’s atmosphere without breaking up. It hit the earth with such an impact that the crater was immediately formed, 500 feet deep and three quarters of a mile across. This site proved to be the chosen training grounds for NASA to train the Astronauts for the Apollo Moon Missions. What better place to prepare them to drive rovers and collect rock samples on the crater riddled Moon?

Besides walking along the rim of the crater, snapping photos and looking through lousy telescopes we had an opportunity to view and touch a chunk of the meteor itself, a dense chunk of rock about two feet wide that weighed 1406 pounds. After wandering through the meteor museum and watching the ten minute meteor movie, we found ourselves in the gift shop ordering a Subway Sandwich and I realized that we were after all having the modern experience somewhat akin to seeing the two headed snake.

As for the gift shop, they need a bit of help from an artist type in designing their hats and shirts. I wish I had snapped a picture, oh well. And so back on the road we went, my mind spinning with marketing ideas for the crater. What about a hard had that says “watch for falling rocks”? How about I had a Blast at Meteor Crater, Meteor Crater-America’s Holy Ground, Meteor Crater Rocked My World, Meteor Crater -Conveniently Located Next to I-40 and Hey! Whatever Happened to Winona?

An Artist’s Summer Vacation – Oregon or Bust!

Coos Bay, Oregon 2004

Why would anyone wish to leave the high country of Southern Colorado in August? This is the time of year that most folks head our way to escape the heat of summer in the southern states, looking for daytime temperatures that are tolerable and a sensory shift that can only be found at elevation. You know how the saying goes however, “the grass is always greener on the other side”, a perception that is often reality.

A change of scenery is good for the artist’s soul. Traveling not only gives us the opportunity to escape our routines and habits long enough to see the world with a renewed clarity of vision, it helps us see that which we are most familiar in a new light upon our return home. And so for the next two weeks, Tammy and I will call the road home. Our plan is to leave the dogs and cats with our beloved pet sitter, jump into a thirty foot motor home and head west to the coast of Oregon, a 4000 mile, 15 day journey. The last time we made this journey, we had three teen age kids with braces in tow, this time it will be all about us.

Inventing Art Is No Easy Task

Working hard in the Tea House Studio

“I have not failed.  I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work” – Thomas Edison

I’ve been a bit absent from my blog and social networking lately, not because of laziness and certainly not because I’ve lost interest in art.  To the contrary, I’ve been really working hard and I am growing in my craft.  The thing is, I just have a hard time multi-tasking, especially when it comes to art.  Currently I find myself challenged with new subject matter, new techniques and a new palette in my painting pursuits.  Some days end with a great feeling of achievement and some days end with nothing more than paint covered hands and discouragement.

There is a lot to be said for the person who moves through life on a path of calculated security, methodically dotting the I’s and crossing the T’s in adherence to the proven formulas and paradigms that have been established and re-established time and again.  To many, it seems only logical to buy in completely to the virtues of having a solid job, a 40-hour work week, a 401k and a life in which occupation and personal gratification are separate, yet noble goals.  Some of the happiest people I’ve met belong to the group that I just described and at times I envy the apparent simplicity and wisdom of their course, but at the end of the day I have to acknowledge that I dance to the beat of a different drummer and like Lady Gaga, I find myself singing “Baby, I was born this way”.

Artists don’t choose to be artists because it is easy.  The truth is that most artists have an incredibly strong work ethic, working every waking hour and often in their sleep as well to create something that has never been created before.  In that respect, we are not at all unlike the great Thomas Edison, driven to transform our thoughts into something tangible that will somehow make our world better.  The desire to create is an unquenchable thirst and if we are fit to be artists, we must be prepared to live a life of trial and error just as Edison did.  It really makes no difference whether we are self taught or highly educated, the greatest test for the artist is in the classroom of perseverance and desire.

The inspired artist and teacher Robert Henri said it best when he said “That necessity is the mother of invention is true in art as in science”.  “ The only people that ever succeed in writing, painting, sculpture, manufacturing, in finance, are inventors”.

Recreation and Re-Creation, Food For The Painter’s Soul


Mid-Summer in the high country of Colorado is a sight to behold.  It always amazes me how quickly and completely the transformation occurs as the winds of winter and sub freezing temperatures subside, creating an opportunity for all of nature to revel in a playground of sensory overload, an explosion of life.  This season is short, usually lasting for only about eight or ten weeks but it is so dynamic that even the earth itself seems to grow.

Upper Taylor River - Fly Fishing Heaven

This July, I was particularly fortunate to have spent a dozen or so days camping in the rugged and spectacular beauty of the Gunnison National Forest with my Wife, our two dogs and with my Wife’s Parents.  It was in these mountains that I spent my college years and it was long overdue to re-visit the place where I have climbed so many mountains and fished so many rivers.  Just as I draw my inspiration to paint winter landscapes and skiing adventures from my memories in the Gunnison National Forest, I realized that my inspiration for painting summer also comes from that place and time.

Plein-Air Afternoon

In the past few weeks, after returning home I’ve been busy.  I find myself painting again, making the transition back into the world of color.  My mind is racing with ideas and a desire to paint fly fisherman and lakes and streams and the magic world of summer in the Rockies.  The time I spent on the trip taking photographs and painting in plein-air, has provided me with the material that I need to re-capture the essence of those experiences.

Three Things You Can Do To Overcome Artist’s Block

"Patience" 16"x20" oil on canvas

All artists suffer through periods of time when the imagination is tempered, inspiration is scarce and production comes to a grinding halt.  For me, these periods of time are quite challenging and they occur more frequently than I prefer.  What is most unsettling about these episodes is how quickly and unpredictably they commence.  I can be in a zone of creative ambition, producing art like there is no tomorrow, then out of the blue comes a phone call or an email or a thought that halts me in my steps.  Days, weeks or months later I walk by my work station and take note of the unfinished painting, the brushes in waiting, the forgotten open tube of paint.  It is as if I am witnessing the scene of a crime or an apocalypse that involved someone else, not me.

The funny thing is, to be blocked is really not a bad thing at all.  When I step back to view my work from a global perspective, I can really see the improvement.  Yesterday, I loaded up the car with several dozen paintings bound for storage.  We are currently attempting to sell our home and de-cluttering is important.  As I carefully packaged each painting, I had an opportunity to really compare the eras of my progression and I realized that each was unique and divided by a period of challenge, a block.

So, like the alternating vertical and horizontal planes of a stairway, both productivity and block are required to push me upward.  Without the block I suppose I would create replicas of the same work over and over until my time ran out.  Perhaps I would be highly productive but would I show signs of growth?  Would I remain passionate and excited about my work or would I become hopelessly bored?  For me, it is that state of emptiness, confusion and lack of vision that makes me desire a renewal of meaning, focus and vision all the more.  You see the block produces desire and the desire produces transformation.

As a practical matter, there are three things that I can do to overcome artist’s block, to complete each cycle of transformation, to keep moving forward on my artistic journey.

  1. Artist’s Block is a powerful force.  It is like a raging river, much stronger than my own will.  Swimming against the current will only wear me out while I try to remain stationary.  Ultimately I will be swept downstream anyway.  So I identify where the energy is flowing and I go with the flow, feet first of course, prepared to stay clear from dangerous obstacles.  I accept the fact that I am blocked and I look for new and different productive outlets.  Perhaps I am behind on my bookkeeping, spending time with the family or recreating in the great outdoors.  This is the perfect opportunity to do all of the things that are put on the back burner while I’m in my creative zone.
  2. Open my mind.  View art as an observer for a while, not as a creator.  Go to art shows, visit web galleries, read artist blogs, pick up and read that book that has been sitting on the shelf collecting dust.  When I do these things, inspiration has a way of re-opening my imagination and desire starts to grow within me once again.
  3. Re-entering the creative zone after a period of block is not something that happens on it’s own.  It is up to me to have the courage and resolve to physically pick up the brush or the pen or the camera, with the deliberate intent of creating something that I have never created before.

The Art Is In The Flaw

The Leaning Tower of Pisa

In a perfect world, each moment would be divided and proportioned in such a way that all of our priorities would receive just the right amount of attention from us at just the right time.  Our Family, Spiritual, Work and Social lives would be in perfect harmony with each other and we would skate through life in a state of balance.  Dream on you crazy dreamer or wake up and smell the coffee, this is not a perfect world.

We can search the high heaven, the depth of the sea and every nook and cranny of this earth looking for perfect balance and we will not find it.  The truth for most of us is, if we found true circles and squares and straight lines in nature, we would decide that we like the semi-circles, almost squares and nearly straight lines better.  Most of us see art and beauty in that which is imperfect.  Consider how many people photograph, admire and paint the Leaning Tower of Pisa each-year?

So, if it is easy to prefer the imperfect in Art, why is it difficult to prefer the imperfect in Life?  As for me, I allowed my life to become so out of balance for so long that I could no longer see the Art in it.  Now that I’m swinging my life back the other way, I have the tendency to write off any circumstance that is less than perfect as unacceptable.  In doing so, I miss an opportunity to look for the Art in the Flaw.  With this realization, I am learning that life is a moderation thing.  Balance and Art are found in life’s shades of grey, not in the black and the white.

"Finding Balance" 18x24 oil on canvas

Who Moved The Meatloaf? – 3 Things You Can Do To Find It

Pondering my next post at 10,000 feet.

I launched this blog just about a month ago in hopes of creating an outlet through which I could express my thoughts and share my art.  So far, I’m not disappointed.  I never would have guessed that I’d have 350 visits to my site, get a few comments and subscriptions and actually meet some wonderful talented artists in other parts of the country and world, all within the first month.  I’m a happy camper.  On the other hand, I’ve learned that having a “build it and they will come” attitude is a business model doomed to fail.  Floating a blog into cyberspace without taking action to drive traffic to it would be kind of like putting a lemonade stand on an iceberg.  And so, along with the blog came the realization that this 50 year old must jump on the social networking bandwagon and start beating the drum.

I can’t say that the process has been painless.  I have adamantly resisted facebook since it’s inception, joining only to spy on my kids and viewing the concept suspiciously, perhaps as a tool of “big brother”, the KGB or the CIA.  And Twitter, I really had no idea what it could possibly be used for other than to follow the likes of Charlie Sheen over a cliff.  In one short month, I have gone from zero to over 300 Twitter Followers and it is thanks to thirsty Tweeters that I’ve had to order another load of lemonade.

It has been wisely stated the “the one thing in life that is constant is change”, a truth best remembered by us mid-lifers as we try to figure out where we fit in to the new world.  The rules have changed, not for the first time and not for the last.  We are the only group of people in the history of Mankind to experience life before and after the invention of the personal computer and the internet and that makes us special, but it does not make us unique.  Every since the discovery of fire and perhaps long before that, each generation of Mankind has laid claim to the ingenuity required to adapt as the wheel of invention turned.

Yes, the rules have changed.  In the United States, masses of boomers and thirteeners are doing the “dog paddle” after swimming hard for decades toward islands that no longer exist.  World wide, our contemporaries are experiencing the same growing pains at the same time as us.  Thanks to the advent of the internet, we now belong to common human generation.   So what can we do to adapt to the new rules and find a new path to prosperity?  From a “big picture” vantage point, it is my opinion that there are simply three things that we need to do to succeed.

  1. Keep your sense of humor.  Many of us find ourselves coming home to a proverbial empty kitchen as the character George did in the movie “Pleasantville”.  “Where is my dinner?” we ask, and there is not a meatloaf in sight.  Can you keep a straight face watching William H. Macy expectantly say “ Honey, I’m Home” and “Where is My Dinner”?  Then why not get a chuckle out to the bizarre twist in the road of mankind that we are learning to negotiate?  The truth is, feeling sorry for our-selves will not produce anything good.  Finding humor in our plight is an outward expression of our acceptance of it.
  2. Open your mind.  Yes the younger generations seem to have an unfair advantage when it comes to social networking, they have been doing it their entire lives.  But, I believe we older folks have the advantage in finding the most effective ways of using the technology, after all we have been around the block a few times and experience still matters.  Yes the rules have changed, but we can still find the “meatloaf”, or something better!
  3. Get Busy.  There are other islands out there, better than the ones we sought before but we will never get to them unless we start swimming.  If you haven’t already done so, start a blog, open a facebook account, tweet your heart out, all the while keeping your goals in sight.  Something that most of us have learned in our years on this earth is that “You Can’t Go Back”.  Which means that if we want to keep moving, we must move forward.