Saturday, September 19, 2020

From Running a River to Running from a Fire

On September 7, 2020 I posted my most recent blogpost celebrating our Rogue River raft trip. That morning I also posted on facebook a nice array of photos showing off the wonders of living on our property--taking down our swallow houses, the beautiful flower garden, heaps of cherry tomatoes. 

After the morning posting, our rafting buddies, Dave and Cathy came up to help us unload the rafts and equipment as we put things away for the season. Originally we had invited them to stay for dinner, but then as we heard of the prediction of crazy east-winds coming our way, we suggested they go home earlier to avoid any trees that might come down on the road (45 miles) from Blue River to Eugene. 

Mike and I had dinner and were watching an episode of "Succession" when the power went out around 8:30 pm. We weren't particularly surprised, since we were expecting the winds. A littler later, Mike went outside and called me out to see the glow to our east.

Very quickly the winds increased and the fire moved toward us at an unbelievable speed. Earlier in the afternoon Mike had gotten out our fire pump which pulls water out of our ponds and sprays out a goodly amount of water. He began spraying the house and yard area for about the 3rd time. I decided to get a bag out and threw a few things into it--toothbrush, deodorant and a few clothes, all using the light from a headlamp. Mike moved on to hooking up the horse trailer. If the fire really got to us, we would load up our two horses before leaving our property. But still, neither of us could believe that we would have to leave that night. After all, we were 8 miles from the source of the fire. At 11:16 pm, the level 3 evacuation was called--we never got the level 1 or 2. We actually got a cell phone call from a friend telling us to "GO." This was before any emergency alerts!

Angelica, our horse whisperer granddaughter, tried so hard to get the horses haltered, but by then there were trees on fire up the hill from the barn and as they fell, the horses got wilder. We all had to leave, horses or no! She was so shaken up, we were afraid she wouldn't be able to drive. On her way down the highway she called her mom and reported through tears that there were flames all around her. Somehow the fire had leaped over our place and burning embers started fires to the west of us--our only way out. Angelica's mom, Meg, said just keep driving through the fire. Mike and I were five minutes behind her in 2 vehicles with only one of our two cats and an empty horse trailer. As we drove through the fire we had zero visibility. Following Mike, I could only hope we were going the same speed, otherwise I would be rear-ending him.

This perilous part of the drive only lasted for a few miles and then we joined a parade of our community members fleeing the fire. Already there were downed trees because of the wind, and rocks that had fallen from the hillside. Unfortunately I hit a large rock which ripped one of my tires. (Under my breath I had just said, "What more can happen in the year 2020?") I pulled over to the side of the road and watched as vehicle  after vehicle drove by. I called Mike and told him the bad news, he had to figure out a way to turn around with the trailer on this narrow road with many, many cars and trucks in this slow moving train. After I was picked up we called the same rafting friends/relative who had been up at our place just a few hours earlier asking for a place to land. We, unlike many of our community, had a place to go!

And so our life as evacuees began. Within a few days, we saw a posting on facebook that showed what had happened to our home. After 34 years of loving and living there, it was gone with everything in it. Then we got the report that the barn, where my art studio is, survived the fire! 200 feet from the house, near the woods on the hillside, the barn and studio were spared.

And so the group of miracles begins. 

  • Some of my art and supplies remain on the property.
  • The horses lived and have been rescued.
  • Mike's beaver hat wasn't picked up before the fire.
  • The 4-Runner left in back, wasn't hit by a tree, nor was it burned up.
  • One painting was at the framers, and can be shipped to the exhibit which accepted it.

And so begins the new chapter of our lives. 

Monday, September 7, 2020

Rafting the Rogue: One Season Leads to Another


For more than 20 years, we have capped off the summer with a Rogue River "Wild and Scenic" raft trip with friends and family. We launch at Alameda Campground and take out at Foster Bar--a 42 mile sojourn with 4 nights camping this year. The group changes each year, but these two couples and Mike and I are almost always the core group. Not only do we get new adventures, but there is plenty of memory sharing after we make camp.

As always, I take along my art traveling gear. Some years it has stayed closed for the entire trip, but this year I vowed to paint every day. Here is the first painting done at Whiskey Creek Campground day 1.

Whiskey Creek, 11 x 14, Watercolor

Each year's trip offers something different which will help categorize one trip from another--rain, fires, helicopters scooping water, long searches for campgrounds. This one will stick in my memory as HOT! I think there may have been record breaking 100 degree plus temperatures on 2 of our days on the river. This made swimming and sitting in creeks the best way to spend the afternoon.

Day 2's painting never happened. I had a close call with heat stroke and the creek we sat in did not easily accommodate setting up gear. But the days cooled down and we had wonderful evening temperatures, excellent meals. Mike and I chose to sleep under the stars and full moon most nights. This group now has morning routine down pat--coffee or tea first, breakfast next, groover (toilet) duty last, load up the rafts and take off for another day of fun and rapids.

As for wildlife, we were warned that it was a big bear year, meaning a lot had been in or near campsites over the summer. Each night we would haul all our coolers and dry boxes into the "bear cage"--a small space surrounded by a battery powered electric fence. However, we never saw a bear or even bear scat. We did see a variety of birds: herons, kingfishers, egrets, bald eagles, and turkey vultures. We saw and heard many small birds as well. The blue jays were especially vocal. Along the river shore we spotted one mink and several otters. 

Day 3 we camped at a new spot for us. It is known as the "Eagle's Nest" because many years ago several retired WWII high ranking military men had a cabin (now gone) where they gathered on the Rogue in the summer. What's left are very steep stairs leading up to the remnants of a stone chimney. The gem of this spot is East Creek, a beautiful, winding stream offering cool sitting areas and fabulous scenery. 

East Creek's painting started out poorly. The paper I pulled out was not a good surface. I started a painting that immediately turned muddy and was way too detailed. What was I thinking! I dipped the whole piece into the creek, rubbed off the paint and flipped it over. I sat in the camp chair, feet in the water, and began to channel shape painters I greatly admire like Frank Webb and Ratindra Das. What were the shapes? How could I simplify this scene?

East Creek, 14 x 11, Watercolor and Ink

That night, all of us slept on a small river bar, sleeping pads only, no tents. It also meant we didn't have to haul all our coolers and boxes--a bear would have had to step over us to get to the rafts! The next morning Mike climbed up to the "Eagle's Nest" to get this great picture of our rafts.

On the Rogue there is one day that makes a rower's stomach churn a bit. This is about a 2 mile stretch that includes Mule Creek Canyon and Blossom Bar. Mule Creek Canyon is a narrow small canyon filled with swirls, waves and boils. One part is called the coffee pot where a raft or boat can go round and round, peculating for several hours. Below is a view of Blossom Bar which has caused many an accident and unfortunately quite a few fatalities.

And this is how Mike looks when he does a perfect job of rowing without hitting a single rock! He's telling the details of the great run!

And, yes, I was on the trip with my hair reverting to the dandelion locks of my towhead, toddler years.

Middle Tacoma Camp is a lovely spot with lots of shade, wonderful spots to sit and watch the river, great pools to wade or swim and the bonus of an outhouse nearby--no groover duties!

On this trip, I was drawn to the rocks and plants that decorate the river, many spots look like an "ikebana" arrangement. 

The last day before take out, I pulled out one more sheet to paint on. I sat in a shady spot and looked at some rocks nearby, the river and the shore across the river. As you can see, I tried out a variety of styles with these plein air paintings. Do you have a favorite of the three?

Tacoma Camp, 11 x 14, Watercolor

And on our last day, take out day, I watch for the "Bonsai Tree" that I have painted many a time in my studio. Will it still be standing? One tree on a monolithic rock--and yes, it still stands.

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Paint More--Try More!

My good friend, Kathy Tiger, recently gave me a photograph of a jar full of artist's tools including a brush in flames. (I liked it so much I pasted into my journal.)  I do feel a bit like my brush is on fire because I have been painting much more, with an internal drive that I haven't felt for quite awhile. After painting so much plein air recently, I moved into the studio to create the painting I've had in my mind since last fall. It might even be the end of my "Teach Me" series. 

An axiom of mine has been "What If." This idea in the back of my mind will lead my art to a new level--one less constrained by rules, more original and more gratifying to me. And this leads into . . .

How to express "Teach Me: Rural America"

The statistics of today reveal that girls in rural areas continue to have lower high school graduation rates. They clearly have fewer opportunities, perhaps less encouragement, and reduced exposure to higher education than girls growing up in urban and suburban areas. Read Hillbilly Elegy or Education to get a better idea of the struggles in rural America.

But what would work as a visual theme for this piece? I grabbed a bit of history. Remembering my older sisters talking about wearing "flour sack" pajamas, I began to envision the prints used to entice buyers to purchase their flour based upon the prettiest floral patterns. I liked the idea of companies using art to sell their products. 

"Through the depression and later, Flour Sacks featured colorful patterns for women to make clothing. Innovative and desperate, they often emptied the sacks and used the fabric ... Who knew something as simple as flour could be so rich in American history!"

Because I love painting patterns I enjoyed looking at hundreds of these flour sack images on the internet, imagining how I would create my own versions to use in this painting. Painting patterns was in my wheelhouse, painting girls with reaching arms and hands were also artistically comfortable. But how could I convey history in rural America.

Another idea came from talking to a friend who suggested a mountain cabin from the Appalachians. I had included a relevant landscape in many of the pieces in this series, but I didn't want it to be in the present. So "what if" thoughts came to mind. What would happen if I painted the cabin first in white gesso, then painted over that? Since gesso coats the paper protecting it from absorbing all the watercolor, I hoped for a ghostly image.

After placing a blue film over the images of the flour sack and figure, I drew a cabin in the background. I then painted the cabin with trees behind with the white gesso. I have never done this before, so I had no idea if it would work in the way I hoped.

Drawing a cabin while images are protected then painting the cabin shape with gesso.

After the gesso dried, I applied a blue wash (phthalo blue and indigo) saturating the paper. Remember the figure and sack are protected with the blue film. 

I was really pleased that my "what if" thinking had led to a new technique in my tool box. My next idea was to add a floral pattern into the background. I used a favorite tool of mine, a stamp to create red flowers with green leaves, creating a large pattern for the background. This pattern was inspired by my earlier investigation into the flour sack patterns.

Stamping all over the lower part of the painting.

If I didn't have trust in my ideas, this could be almost scary!

It was now time to work on the two saved areas. I pulled up a flour sack image I really liked, particularly because it had a checkered pattern. I felt the painting needed a change of patterns since the girl was going to have another floral print. I used frog tape to create the checks.

This is the Knowledge brand of flour, waiting for the infinity sign in the middle of the yellow. The infinity sign is used as my symbol for education/knowledge throughout this series.

Finally I was down to one last part, the figure. Unlike most of the other pieces in the series, I chose to paint this figure surprisingly realistically.  I see her in the present world with a history of poverty as her legacy. Her struggle continues right into the present.

Teach Me: Rural America, 21 x 29, Mixed Media

Thursday, August 6, 2020

Playing with a Different Surface

Most of us water-media artists start with traditional watercolor paper and eventually find one they enjoy because they can trust the results when watercolor paint is applied. For me, I've always loved Arches 140 pound cold pressed, but I know other artists have different favorites. And then there are some surfaces that push the boundaries  of the traditional way to apply paint. Some of these interesting and challenging surfaces can be made at home.

A few years ago on a day when I just didn't have the inclination to paint,  I collaged strips of newspaper on a 300 lb. Arches watercolor paper. I then used gesso (a white paint mixture consisting of a binder mixed with chalk, gypsum, pigment, or any combination of these) to cause the words to fade leaving an interesting and rather unique surface to paint on. It does not take kindly to transparent watercolor, but both gouache and acrylic paints work well on top of the surface.

Having the news implied by this surface, I have used it to talk about more historical or newsworthy subjects. For this one, I had in mind the 100 Anniversary of the 19th Amendment, giving women the right to vote. Two years ago, I painted a similar one with the Suffragists in the background and a woman and child in bright colors in the front. 
Because Women Marched

But my idea for this one was to have a row of women of all ages and colors in front.

Suffragists on the March

It is quite a bit of work to paint these ghostly figures from the past.

Adding today's women

And then came the modern women as a front line. It came to mind that this is somewhat like Portland's Wall of Mothers. But creating it reminded me so much of my childhood making original outfits for my paper-dolls. 

As my frontline became complete, I realized that they needed to be grounded somehow. I had an inspiration to create shadows, not with paint, but with newsprint collage without the white gesso. (I often get these ideas that are super cool, but add complications to finishing a painting.)

Newspaper collaged on deli paper

And here is the finished painting: Carry It On.

Carry It On
15 x 20 inches, Mixed Media

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

A Drive, a Picnic and a Painting

I know my husband and I are not alone in missing a dinner out, face to face visits with friends or a movie in a theater. Rather than complaining or feeling sorry for ourselves (and believe me we have nothing to complain about) we try to create an adventure by driving for 45 minutes, up dirt roads, climbing 4000 feet to a spectacular viewpoint.

This view of the Three Sisters is spectacular. Not only can you see these three mountains, but there is a panoramic view of many other Cascade Mountain peaks. We pulled out our chairs, a cooler with our lunch and settled back to soak up the beauty. If you are unfamiliar with our forests, the brown areas among the green are the results of past summer fires.

As we relaxed with full tummies, Mike pulled out a book and I grabbed my traveling art bag. Using the cooler lid for my paints and water, I began a quick sketch.

Some might question why I would try to paint a wonderful scene like this, when a photograph captures it so well. But in this recent isolation, I have discovered an enjoyment to plein air painting and I can see my skills grow along the way. Another reason to paint it is Mother Nature forgot to put the fuchsia fireweed into the scene--something a camera cannot do. Ignoring the whining mosquitos and flies buzzing around, I painted away until both Mike and I were ready to pack up the 4-Runner. I had the feel of the scene and good photos to finish the painting in the studio.

So with a put of work today in my studio a finished this piece, cherishing the memory of yesterday.

Olallie Ridge View, 10 x 14, Watercolor on Paper

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Art Is Often About Problem Solving

Problem solving is part of the fun and often frustrating part of creating a painting. Today I will try to run through how both fun and frustration entered into the process of of this painting, "Pondering."

The Constant Gardener

Problem 1: What to paint. I so enjoyed the painting I completed prior to this one, "The Constant Gardener." I liked the idea of shared space for figures, and the challenge of creating a high key painting. (high-key image consists primarily of light tones, without dark shadows.) So I began thinking of the possibilities of painting another shared space. I had taken pictures of some of my family out by our back pond and decided that would be just right for the shared space idea.

Problem 2: Composition. How could I arrange these figures around the central image of a pond? I pulled out my photos and enlarged some, flipped some and began to arrange them onto a full sheet of watercolor paper. I also used just a bit of an underpainting, leaving a lighter cruciform (cross shape) to later guide my composition. Why? a cruciform allows the viewer to come into the painting from all four sides, plus it's just a thing us artists do and like to talk about (lol.) The blue figures are created using a masking film to protect the figures while allowing me to paint the background more freely.

Pondering: Beginnings

Problem 3: Painting by glazing and imagining a background scenery. It is not my usual way to apply a light color and then layer over it until I get a suitable amount of color on a painting. But if I am not experimenting and pushing myself out of my comfort zone, how will I learn?

Pondering: Be Gentle

Problem 4: Creating stonework. So where are my figures sitting, and what surrounds the pond itself? For this, I used both reality and imagination. In my photos, all figures were sitting on a small rock bench my husband created at the beginning of our shelter at home period. So how could I seat them all in an understandable way while continuing the pastel colors of the background.

Pondering: Settling in the Figures

Problem 5: Yikes, painting the water. After several attempts and scrubbing the paper raw, I was discouraged. How could these people be "Pondering" and ugly pond? Then I had an Ah-Ha moment. I thought of the suminagashi marbled paper I created a year ago or more.  I pulled it out and decided it might add a very different feel to the painting.

Of course I had to consult with a friend about how to do this. Liz Walker has worked with collaging marbled paper for years and I figured she could instruct me over the phone, which she generously did.

Problem 6: What to wear. After painting the skin on all my characters, I wanted to cloth them so that one stood out, while the furthest figure faded away a bit. The man? Jeans and tee-shirt made it easy. I worked some color into the pond and covered up most to the stains left from my failed attempts. I gave the closest figure a small pile of rocks, with one in her hand to create a little side story. I thought I was done, but . . .

Problem 7: Splitting the painting in half. As I looked at the finished piece in a thumbnail photo, I realized I had done a big no-no. The upper part of the painting was entirely cut in half! So back to the table it went. I reworked the trees to the right and decided that background needed a bit more interest. 


This was quite a personal journey in just one painting. It took much longer than most of my pieces, but to return to the beginning, problem solving is part of the fun and often frustrating part of creating a painting. I learned so much about the application of paint and my own ways of creating. The success of this painting is more about the learning and adjusting and perseverance than the painting itself. 

As always, your thoughts are welcome and appreciated!