Art is the Heart of my Soul's Desire

These pages are about my memories from my past as well as stories of my present journey as I travel the path of a professional fine artist.

The Search for Meaning in Plein Air Painting

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Navigating the Currents


The times when I want to change something, I look at what's perfect.

I delight in the myriad of hues that take me beautifully through my days and into my evenings.

Twilight--that magical time when ocean's blues begin their surrender to midnight black. 

There's a timeless romance shared between the moon and the sea and the dimly lit clouds that float over a seascape of indigo waves--where the cool rippling waters meet pebbled shores, and the sound of the gulls shrill clear in the air.

These intimate moments, witnessing and painting the sea, I'll always have lingering memories of the sights, the scents, and the sounds. With this, my memories, luxury is an everyday sensation.

My natural instincts for survival always keep me steering clear of the rapids. When the noise in my head drowns out the sounds of the sea, I go outside and surrender myself to her, so that I'll finally hear the truth--and keep from going deaf!

Too much internal noise, causes me to stop listening--causes me to want to change things and alter my course.

Ahh! But, hoist the mainsail and scuttle the jib! I've spied the treasures of the sea! Here, I can be the empty vessel letting the current take me to the next destination. Set the course for a long, carefree sail where my thoughts can be as light as a trade-wind.

Carole Gray-Weihman, "Last Light on the Beach"
"Last Light on the Beach"

Winter with the Egeli’s: Reflecting on an Early Morning in Edgewater

A brief memory --- from my month of Studying Portrait Painting and Figure Drawing with the Egeli’s. It was a cold January in 2002.

Old year out, new year in. And so it goes, past and future: each minute precious!

Burrowing back under the covers on a cold winter morning is always a temptation, but you’ve got to emerge from your cozy nest ‘neath the covers sometime. To help me embrace the day in equal bliss, a copious amount of caffeine was top on my agenda. So off we headed to “that coffee house”, the one that shall remain nameless for reasons I can’t divulge. Best intentions aside, the first order of business of each of my days was pleasure, a 20oz mocha generous enough to warm both hands and the NY Times crossword puzzle. Of course, we had to buy two copies of the Times, one for Camille, and one for me, for the crossword had become an activity in which to indulge in immature competitiveness. And Cynthia was content with reading the morning sports section while occasionally blurting out tennis stats across the table. Like a barely heard Latin tempo–I could barely hear the Latin tempo–but pulsing with energy, we prepared ourselves for the day ahead. (By the way, I’m in awe of people who can talk out loud in a public space and not care that nobody is listening–the reason I could barely hear the Latin tempo.)

We collected ourselves to face the bitter cold. I only say that because we’re from California, "the land of endless sunshine." On schedule, we jumped into our truck, that truck that Cynthia aptly named our “estrogen chassis”It was a huge king cab Ford truck that made everything around it look fascinatingly tiny. The sprinkles fell as scheduled. It only takes one little leap of imagination to see these brilliant shiny drops of water as tiny celebrationsfor the jewel-bright droplets seemed to sprinkle effervescence on the day.

And like clockwork, the three of us pulled our “estrogen chassis” into that always so tight little corner in front of Cedric and Joanette’s studio. We noisily bounded into the studio with our gear as if we were greeting a long lost lover.  

Deep in the snowy woods of Edgewater, all laid chilled and hushed, a dreamland bower blanketed in serenity. But at the break of dawn, powdery morning mists danced in the shafts of light that filtered through the firs, giving the moment a pristine, ethereal look. Everything was lusciously hued as a mocha laced with whipped cream.

A winter scape's quiet serenity in its hushed hues of ivory snow, sky blue, tree bark grey and chimney smoke charcoal tempted me to stay outdoors and play. But I knew that the instruction I was to receive was going to be like no other. If you’ve ever contemplated taking a month off to study with Cedric and Joanette Egeli, do what it takes to get yourself there, for as spectacular the setting of the space, the workshop is SO much more!

Notes to Myself

"Seawall", Richard Diebenkorn

Notes to Myself on Beginning a Painting, By Richard Diebenkorn

1. Attempt what is not certain. Certainty may or may not come later. It may then be a valuable delusion.

2. The pretty, initial position which falls short of completeness is not to be valued—except as a stimulus for further moves. 

3. Do search. But in order to find other than what is searched for.

4. Use and respond to the initial fresh qualities but consider them absolutely expendable.

5. Don't discover a subject—of any kind.

6. Somehow, don't be bored but if you must, use it in action. Use its destructive potential.

7. Mistakes can't be erased, but they move you from your present position.

8. Keep thinking about Pollyanna.

9. Tolerate chaos.

10. Be careful only in a perverse way.

-Richard Diebenkorn

A Splendid Torch

This is the true joy in life, the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one; the being a force of nature instead of a feverish, selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy.

I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the whole community, and as long as I live it is my privilege to do for it whatever I can.

I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work the more I live. I rejoice in life for its own sake. Life is no “brief candle” for me. It is a sort of splendid torch which I have got hold of for the moment, and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it on to future generations.

-George Bernard Shaw

A Creative Force

"As my sufferings mounted, I soon realized that there were two ways in which I could respond to my situation--either to react with bitterness or seek to transform the suffering into a creative force; I decided to follow the latter course."

-Martin Luther King, Jr.

The Problem of Describing Color

heARTandSOUL, Carole Gray-Weihman

                 "If I said---remembering in summer,
                 The cardinal's sudden smudge of red
                 In the bare gray winter woods---

                 If I said, red ribbon on the cocked
                    straw hat
                 Of the girl with pooched-out lips
                 Dangling a wiry lapdog
                 In the painting by Renoir---

                 If I said fire, if I said blood welling
                    from a cut---

                 Or flecks of poppy in the tar-grass
                    scented summer air
                 On a wind-struck hillside outside

                 If I said, her one red earring tugging
                    at her silky lobe,

                 If she tells fortunes with a deck of
                    fallen leaves
                 Until it comes out right---

                 Rouged nipple, mouth---

                 (How could you not love a woman
                 Who cheats at the Tarot?)

                 Red, I said. Sudden, red."

                    -Robert Hass
                           From Time and Materials:
                           Poems 1997-2005


A Story --- Hesitate, and I may miss it, as day melts gently into dusk, that peaceful interlude when the sky glows in quiet splendor, crystallizing into the palest, faintest, purple, long before the first stars are out. What one of the best gifts mom ever gave me wasn't wrapped in paper, or tied in a bow. It was her appreciation for beauty. Her awareness that art isn't always framed. 

Once again, I've lost myself in the endless wonder of nature. Today, I found a stone every bit as spellbinding as that first faint glimmer of sunshine. What's least expected is often most beautiful...

I can almost smell the rich, brown, rain-soaked earth now.

Accepting Failures

A Story --- It was nearing the end of the year 2000. Camille and I were meeting every other week to discuss her writing an instructional art book. I was to be her editor or ghost writer or something of that nature. Camille and I have a long history of never entering into any contracts. We would just DO things together never knowing where we would end up. The book project was exciting while it lasted. There were a lot of pages I wrote that she wrote–scribbled nonsensical ramblings with artist's quotes–and paper flying everywhere. Things changed. The project stalled. Suffice it to say; the book never happened. It's now 12 years later. I'm examining and re-examining my life, as a painter and someone who finds pleasure in writing, but almost never writes. And I certainly don't paint as much as I yearn to. But, I am still a professional painter and instructor, and–let's not forget–a life-long student. 

I'm in the process of setting priorities in my life such that I ensure that I am living the most productive and creative life possible and just as equally important to me, that I'm inspiring others to do the same.  My rough draft for the opening paragraphs of the book that never was:

Enjoy yourself and feel accomplishment in the face of a failed attempt to produce a fine work of art. It's critical that we accept our artistic failures and not let ourselves get upset by them. Try not to be greedy or seek "too hard" to paint that elusive visual truth. As beginners and advanced painters, we must learn to live with and accept our artistic desires without the obsession to satisfy them immediately. Don't fight against what you don't know. We can rest in the knowledge that as we grow, whatever frustrates us in our painting process is impermanent, and it WILL pass. Do not try to control your learning, by over-analyzing and trying to discover formulas or the secret that this book is supposed to provide. Be receptive and JUST PAINT. There is no right way to being a painter–being a painter IS the way. Give up any notions that you're not doing it right. With every painting you do, the closer you'll get to discovering your visual truth.

Are we not often as dissatisfied with what we DO get as with what we don't? The desires we have, if it's not on being "a great painter," or ending world hunger, it's ALWAYS something. Desires just cause us to suffer when we can't live up to them. Sure, acknowledge those dreams, but try not to LIVE for them. If we can give ourselves this freedom, perhaps it can end our suffering through our process of our artistic journey.

The traditional Buddhist term for the cessation of suffering is the Sanskrit word, "Nirvana." It's impossible for me to explain what Nirvana is as I haven't experienced it–not many of us have–it's like describing color to a blind man. But, Nirvana is an unconditioned state of liberation from suffering. Maybe this is what we can experience with our painting if we are not hung up on tormenting ourselves through the process. So, we must make an effort, the visual truth lies in our hands, but we have to work for it. So, what are you waiting for? Paint!


A Story --- "The most useful definition of creativity is the following one: people are artistically creative when they love what they are doing, know what they are doing, and actively engage in the tasks we call art-making.  The three elements of creativity are thus loving, knowing, and doing; or heart, mind and hands; or, as Buddhist teaching has it, great faith, great question and great courage."
-Eric Maisel, Ph.D.

America’s Giverny

A Memory --- (My story, which took place in Oct 2004, was published in the January 2005 issue of Plein Air Magazine. Here it is below.)

During the 18th Annual Plein-Air Painters of America Workshop and Exhibition in the turn-of-the-century impressionist art colony of Old Lyme CT, 100 eager students embraced the seaside wind chill and intermittent rain and sunshine to paint among a few of the most recognized plein air painters in the nation. The instructors were Kenn Backhaus, Gay Faulkenberry, Louise Demore, Joseph Mendez, Ralph Oberg, Joseph Paquet, Ron Rencher, Brian Stewart, George Strickland, Linda Tippetts and Skip Whitcomb.

We're in a land of patterns and contrasts, with trees of saffron, terra cotta, and gold dust. With deep tones of copper and canary yellow against lapis lazuli skies, the cool October light and warm shadows reinterpreted the blues of the Connecticut River. This was the second consecutive year that PAPA visited Old Lyme. This year our group decided to come a month later to experience the fall foliage. We were deep in America's own Giverny at the most beautiful time of year, participating in a workshop with the highest caliber of plein air painting instruction.

Each instructor- with 10-15 students- had a designated painting spot for the week. The designations sent students to local homeowners' properties, to farms, marinas and nearby towns of Noank, Essex, East Haddam, Mystic, Guilford, and Clinton.

The workshop's opening day brought a westerly breeze that dropped the early-morning temperature to somewhere around forty degrees. A handful of other students and I set up our easels behind the Goodspeed Opera House in East Haddam.

Our instructor for the day, Ray Roberts- a plein air painter with an obsessive passion for finding the beautiful shapes in nature, assembled simple shapes like mosaics while demonstrating and lecturing about the fundamental truths of composing and executing a great painting. "When approaching the scene, it's all about patterns, light and dark patterns," Roberts explained. "There are infinite patterns in any given scene."

The following day, a whole new group of students worked at Lobster Landing in Clinton. George Strickland, our instructor and the current president of PAPA, explained to us that he focuses on what compels him to paint a particular scene. "I feel it's important for all of us to find that out." Strickland also stresses the importance of finding our own voices.

One day, the entire group visited historic Mystic Seaport. The instructors painted for three hours; then the students participated in a mass paint-out as the instructors offered critiques and advice. It was a perfect sunny afternoon of painting among the old sailing vessels and the nostalgic setting of the seaport museum.

Ralph Oberg spent a day at Griswold Point on the distinguished Connecticut Griswold family compound. The rains had come, but the wet weather was intermittent, so we toughed it out. Oberg quoted the late Russian impressionist, Sergei Bongard, "Paint the trees before the leaves and the dog before the fleas" and stressed that a good composition must be simple and strong.

Our rain soaked day was rewarded by a private preview showing of Plein Air Color & Light, an exhibition and sale of paintings by signature members of PAPA and dinner at the Hideaway Restaurant &Pub, the designated nightly hot spot among many of us for good conversation and drink with a few new friends.

On a cool crisp morning on Tiffany Farm, Kenn Backhaus demonstrated painting a cluster of barns receding into the fog. Backhaus explained, "When physics and poetry are combined in a painting, it makes a great work of art." By physics, he meant drawing, perspective, and value sense. Poetry he defined as the ethereal quality that occurs from being “in the zone” while painting. It quickly became another challenging day as the rain began to pour after lunch, but we stayed to work on our afternoon studies.

A raffle mixer followed the workshop at the Florence Griswold Museum. Our paintings were set up for viewing by the rest of the group, and we enjoyed wine, hors d'oeuvres and banter. As George Strickland called random names drawn from a hat, students roared with cheers as lucky winners received an assortment of gifts.

Saturday night, we were reunited again for the grand opening of Plein Air Color & Light. It was a fine evening at the Lyme Art Association. as wine flowed and paintings sold. Smiles and laughter prevailed in "America's Giverny".

Pumpkin to Pumpkin Pie

A Memory --- The colors are here now; frequently I observe the transformation and imagine you with your easel and palette mixing the vast array of shades from green to brown, red to orange, cinnamon to wheat, blood red to eggplant purple, pumpkin to pumpkin pie, rust to brick. As I crunched through the leaves on the ground this morning, kicking them to stir them up, I imagined walking with you in the crisp cool air, as we did in France. I know that our friendship is something far and away more special, more significant, more far-reaching and consequential than most people ever are privileged to experience.

The Orchestra

A Memory --- (My story, which took place in June 2004, was published in the July 2004 issue of Plein Air Magazine. Below is the unedited version.)

The dramatic views of the Sierra Nevadas reprised at Caesars Tahoe in an exhibition and sale of over 200 exquisite plein air paintings set in early twentieth century style frames. While the string quartet lent a decidedly classical air, the paintings were the orchestra, strategically encircling the red carpeted ballroom. Each artist’s display of varying discipline and style seamlessly segued into one another. And as classical music evokes certain moods, these paintings captured some of the High Sierra’s most spectacular moods: exquisite predawn moments along the rocky coastline of Lake Tahoe and lavender mists of purple blossoms scattered in the valleys. Some paintings emulated the dizzying eddies of blue and wavelets of teal from the many waterfalls pooling into the pristine lakes, much like translucent fluorite stones reflecting every fluid indigo vein, every tint of blue and yellow and strata of deep rich color. This was an exhibit of drama and depth.

At Lake Tahoe Nevada, on June 18, 2004, the air was warm and yet the mountains looming beyond the cityscape still had patches of snow catching every flirty wink of light. Singer and avid watercolorist, Tony Bennett, arrived at the hotel shortly before the air began to cool and the setting sun shimmered to a velvety red. As Mr. Bennett was escorted past the plein air painter’s hospitality suite, his escort began to explain about the visiting artists, but Bennett stopped her because he knew exactly who they were.

It was a performance by Mr. Bennett that kicked off the 19th Annual Plein Air Painters of America Exhibition & Sale, hosted by Caesers Tahoe. "In the room tonight are the top painters in America,” Bennett said while pausing in the middle of his concert, “Unlike those who paint from photographs, these painters are the most honest painters in America ...because they paint outdoors on location, thus capturing the subtle colors and light that you cannot see in a photograph. I painted with them and have made many new friends." Among those he painted with, was Kevin Macpherson of Taos New Mexico. Bennett and Macpherson exchanged portraits they painted of one another.

 Mr. Bennett also visited many of the artists’ suites to view their paintings. “It was a matter of being in the right place at the right time,” explained John Cosby, a guest artist with the Plein Air Painters of America, who sold a painting to Bennett.

Unlike Catalina Island, where the PAPA Exhibition & Sale had taken place over the previous 18 years, the Lake Tahoe region, where the plein air painters converged to paint for two weeks prior to the show, is an expansive 22 miles long and 12 miles wide of dramatic snow-capped mountain views, waterfalls and of course, the beautiful and pristine lake. Denise Burns, founder of the Plein Air Painters of America, with Roy Rose, art collector and grand nephew of California Impressionist, Guy Rose, brought together twenty artists to participate in the first Annual Plein Air Painters Festival on Catalina Island in 1986. With a similar vision and passion, Mark Rittorno, president of Caesars Tahoe and an avid plein air painter, had a mission: to bring the Plein Air Painters of America to the Sierra Nevada. “One day I'd love to see our community become a center of fine art and a destination for art lovers,” said Mark Rittorno, “This is the first step in that direction. Maybe this will also help our local residents and others understand that Caesars Tahoe is something more than a casino and has the greater good of the community at heart.”

Joining the PAPA Signature members this year were guest artists: John Cosby, Glenna Hartmann, Peggi Kroll-Roberts, Chris Blossom, Lorenzo Chavez, Gerald Fritzler, and Don Demers. New signature members are Ray Roberts and Skip Whitcomb. The morning of June 19, 2004, a paint-out with all 35 painters, took place at Zephyr Cove. It was here that the public was able to witness them painting the fathomless cobalt blue and shimmering turquoise green waters, the dramatic mountain rising beyond the lake, sun drenched models on the beach and near by cabins in the woods. It was the second scheduled event after Tony Bennett’s Live Concert. The elegant Gala Dinner & Sale was the third event.

Later that day, from 6 to10 pm, collectors and guests enjoyed an elegant sit-down dinner and complimentary wine with the artists in the ballroom of Caesars Tahoe. At 9 pm the doors opened to the public. Paintings were sold off the easels with ease.

The final event was the Champagne Sale from 10:30 am to 1 pm the following morning, where a new show opened in the ballroom. Some easels were nearly bare, while others displayed a few new pieces to cover the empty spaces. The champagne flowed freely, gourmet coffee and pastries were served and there were smiles and laughter all around. This event emphatically proved the point: music and art co-exist beautifully.

From Sea to Shining Sea (Part II)

Continued from previous post:
Among the other painters we saw painting along the levee were Billyo O'Donnell, Eric Michaels, Gil Dellinger, Glenna Hartmann, Peter Adams, and Ron Rencher. Clark Mitchell stayed close by in the square. Jason Bouldin painted the palms from a shady locale on a side street. And Bill Hook painted near Weber Point not far from Lucinda Kasser. At noon, the artists gathered in the square to display their works and offer them for sale to the public. That’s when I noticed Mary Whyte’s charming little watercolor that she produced in front of the bus station. “Where’s the bus station?” I asked myself. Okay, so some painters go a bit off the beaten path during these paint-outs, so I’m sure I missed a couple of them.

Many of the paintings created in this nine-to-noon time slot, with their deceptive simplicity, expressed the painter’s keen eye for the interesting shapes of the Stockton scape- many comprising the fewest brush strokes- that provide depth, texture and color. Among the several that didn’t paint, some showed up for the sake of camaraderie. I noticed that among them were Matt Smith, Skip Whitcomb, Clyde Aspevig and Carol Guzman, who came to see what works were created among their peers. Ray Roberts made an appearance before the paint-out and he and wife, Peggi Kroll-Roberts, met up with everyone later at the opening.

That night at the Haggin, the painters at the opening displayed their own outward uniqueness much like the paintings themselves. From rugged to refined, casual to dressy, subtle to bold, they blurred the lines of categorization. While waiting for Peter Adams to finish signing my copy of From Sea to Shining Sea: A Reflection of America, I mused that about the same time people stopped trying to make me dress better, listen to good music and drink something other than domestic beer, I found that I actually liked Vivaldi, fine wine, and wearing satin. This was an occasion that myself, the painters, guests, and collectors could cozy up to, for at the Haggin Museum this fine spring evening, the only thing missing was Vivaldi himself.

Among those that I didn’t mention but participated in this exhibition are: Christopher Blossom, Scott Burdick, Marcia Burtt, William Davis, Donald Demers, M. Stephen Doherty, Gregory Hull, Wilson Hurley, William Scott Jennings, T. Allen Lawson, Denise Lisiecki, Kevin Macpherson, Joseph McGurl, Ned Mueller, Ralph Oberg, Peggy Root, George Strickland, Karen Vernon, and Curt Walters.

From Sea to Shining Sea (Part I)

A Memory --- It was May 8th, 2004. The first look at the plein air paintings of the Sea to Shining Sea Exhibition at the Haggin Museum leaves one speechless. Only with closer inspection does one begin to take note of the process of each painter and how this collection is a melting pot of distinguished flavors: some loose and painterly, others tight and realistic; some modern, some classical. Some were complex with color, yet others quite tonalistic. But all characteristic in their own way, with a unique vision- depicting scenes of individual relevance with their own regional style of painting. Here we have a seamless blend of the talent and mastery from across the nation that has undoubtedly made this exhibition a success. Behind each painting should be a label: “Warning, not suitable for pre-fab homes, office cubicles or rooms at Motel 6. Hangs equally well on a neutral white wall or one painted with Ralph Lauren Suede Finish.”

I had arrived Stockton earlier that day with my studio-mate and instructor, Camille Przewodek. She had been graciously introducing me to those I hadn’t had the opportunity of meeting until now. These introductions continued throughout the afternoon and into the evening. And in the occasional lapses away from my trusted side-kick, I had intrepidly introduced myself to such well-knowns as Albert Handell and Clyde Aspevig, using my safe, quiet demeanor, while anonymously calling myself, “Carole” (only later to reveal myself as a devoted plein air student). I would receive some brilliant reply such as, “aren’t we all”, and finally I would add, “Oh yes, can I take your picture for Plein Air Magazine?”

The day started before the sun. Camille and I reached downtown Stockton at around 8:30 am, just in time to mingle with a few painters prior to their setting up easels for a three-hour paint-out. As we took a few minutes to sip on our much-needed espressos, I noticed how Stockton is beginning to stick out like a colorful thumb. The architecture surrounding the newly revitalized downtown was structurally varied and full of color.

It certainly must have inspired John Budicin when he chose to paint the beautiful Hotel Stockton and a row of buildings fronted by spirally palm trees from the waterway; and Kenn Backhaus, Marika Wolfe and Phil Sandusky, as they painted the majestic fountain and the commanding architecture that surrounded them. Charles Waldman even painted standing in the center divide along Weber Avenue! On the other end of the spectrum, Jean LeGassick, John Cosby, Joe Paquet, Nancy Bush and Michael Godfrey chose to paint the heap of rusting corrugated steel buildings lining the waterway.

[Next post will be Part II of the story.]

Snip, Snip, Snip...


Snip, snip, snip. Bright bits of paper flew like tropical birds as Matisse created his brilliant collages. You might imagine he'd been at work here, too. For the vivid yellow mustard flowers that sing against the blue of the sky along Adobe road do seem possessed  of his signature style. Slowly at first, almost imperceptibly, a faint play of rose light flickers on the distant hillside, heralding the dawn of a new day.

An Enchanting Diary

Moleskine Stefano Faravelli notebook @ Detour exhibition

A Story --- Stefano Faravelli was born in Turin. After his studies at the Academy of Fine Arts, he graduated from the University of Turin. Since 1987, he has worked as stage designer and painter at Guido Ceronetti's "Teatro del Sensibili".

He displayed his works at many exhibitions in Italy and abroad. In 2000 he presented "De Contrapuncto Triumphi" at the Galleria Jannone, for which Giorgio Soavi announced him best artist of 2000 (Il Giornale dell'Arte, January 2001). His works appear in a wide number of publications, and critical appreciations of his work have been written by Giovanni Arpino, Guido Ceronetti, Fabrizio Dentice, Nico Orengo, Massimo Rosci, Vittorio Sgarbi, Giorgio Soavi, Marco Vallora, Renata Pisu.

The enchanting diary of the artist's trip to the Far East makes urban and natural landscapes relive through vibrant and suggestive illustrations.

Glories of the Sonoran Desert

A MEMORY --- It was the spring of 2003. And it was a Saturday when Sangha and I had started off on an extended two-week long adventure. We headed south on the 101. The local rock station had faded in and out as I dipped and turned down the twisting route dotted with majestic oaks and rolling hills. I had memories of my rebel biker days: the wind rushing through my hair, the belly-drop surge of adrenaline as I leaned into the turns, the click of the playing cards in the spokes of my Schwinn.

There is an excitement that can only come from a much-anticipated trip finally being realized. Traveling the back roads, I noticed a remarkable common thread, an enduring symbol of America that says life can be simple if you let it. In front yards, from my buffeted home in Northern California to the desert ruins in Southern Arizona, the weathered picket fences helped me feel like I've arrived.

Don't let anyone tell you that there's no productivity in inertia. Sometimes the most unstructured warm-weather days can elicit the best of times. Maybe a long overdue girl’s weekend at the cabin, a stroll through the fiery glow of California poppies, or quality time with my dog on a secluded Catalina lake.

There was an almost perfect lull: the summer sports nuts hadn't arrived yet. My dog and I had the lake all to ourselves for long, hushed meanders. The sun traced an arc across the sky, and we wandered paths suffused with the first colors of the season in blissful solitude.

Crossing on Route 60, great shadows of clouds stampeded the hills like ghostly buffalo. When they reached the road, I was tempted to match the speed of my truck to that of the shadows ahead. The "John Wayne" room at the Legends West in Wickenburg and endless pastures of majestic horses were waiting for us. I knew that my five days in Wickenburg would not be any less than pleasurable with having had the opportunity, once again, to paint the landscapes while being instructed by a few of the instructors of the Plein Air Painters of America group. 

At the Glories of the Sonoran Desert Workshop, there must have been 35-45 painters invading this little town nestled in the desert. Landscapes of cacti and rocky peaks yielded to the bright sky and a play of gentle clouds above an emerald carpet of undulating thickets of sage. The changes in elevation, the sudden curves, and jagged horizon have an exciting yet soothing effect on the eye and spirit.

To see the landscapes of Wickenburg, we went slow and on foot. We painted at the Vulture Mine, and as the colors in the sky changed from early morning to late afternoon, I was awed by the way the sun cut through shifting clouds to spotlight and scatter deeply hued shadows over the rocky landscape. By day two, I had seen enough jaw-dropping scenery to send me into cardiac arrest.

On a list of essentials, espresso and chocolate rank somewhere close to food and shelter. So, I was delighted to have found the "Pony Espresso" downtown - but even more delighted to have stayed at Legends West with my golden retriever among the eclectic variety of cowboy paraphernalia while being tutored by some of America's finest Plein air painters of today.

Plein Air Painters of America

A MEMORY --- It was the fall of 2002, Sangha, my golden retriever, and I packed ourselves in the 4x4 and headed off for a road trip to Colorado. I, to paint with a group from the Plein Air Painters of America, and Sangha to play with the Plein Air Painters of America.

We had been on the road for awhile, having left northern California. We pulled off 70E at a rest stop, and we happened by surprise upon this blaze of Utah autumn hues while hiking around a rocky outcropping. A vendor was selling tacky leather crafts while Sangha and I took pleasure in visiting with the weary eastbound travelers. Then off we went, crossing the rain-soaked terrain.

It's summer's last hurrah when colors go darker, deeper, more delicious entirely. As here, in the raisin-hued mud. The mountains are as intriguing in texture as a Braque collage. As rich in red wine hues as a Caravaggio. Its a stunning tour-de-force joining as one. A radiantly conceived landscape, both jubilant and restful, like an abstract painting, mingled hues of charcoal, mocha, and golden taupe chart the land. It tells the tale of transformation, of change wrought deep within the earth.

As the rain poured, I could see a mountain transforming before my eyes! Rock and water mixed to form a soup mixture, and it roared down the mountain with such force- I know by tomorrow the mountain will have transformed tremendously. And the lightning! What a bonus. Like the lime in my Corona, it's all the little extras that make life enjoyable. On our approach to Grand Junction, Colorado, I was thinking to myself, Henny Penny might have been right about the sky falling. I knew skies like this existed in Van Gogh's paintings, but I didn't know they were for real. Swirls dark and light mingled together above the searching lightning rods. It was like some higher power above stirring, sending feelers down to connect with the earth.

At last, Sangha and I arrived Winter Park. It was more beautiful than I had imagined. Imagine Moroccan tiles patterned with vivid squares woven in intricate geometrics that glow in a tamarind soft sage and hibiscus. It's like a dark, sultry purr... one great spill of color. Like tongues of a flame, a thicket of leaves in hues of pumpkin, burgundy and deep red, are exuberantly welcoming autumn. Deep in the backcountry, the late-day sun slanted into a hidden ravine. The cascading stream shone as golden as the precious flakes and nuggets hidden in the river's sands.

After the PAPA orientation, I went up to the cabin to settle down for the night. And I watched in awe as the full September moon rose- a vermilion sphere in the coloring sky.

On my first day of the workshop, I spent the afternoon studying with George Strickland. He did a nice little demo- a real jewel. He worked methodically and kept a dialogue with the 15 or so of us. He likes to call neutrals, "greys." And he provided a good explanation of why a "grey" is not "carbon black" mixed with "titanium white." Joseph Mendez uses the term, "color neutral," same difference. I think I prefer the term "color neutral." There is something of the language that can affect the way I approach painting. It helps me to remember that there are neutrals in nature, but there is always color in those neutrals.

I lit a fire in the fireplace to warm my chilled feet. Twice earlier in the day, it rained on me. Do you know that feeling of having your back warmed- just inches from the fire? It's as comforting as a bowl of oatmeal and cream on a storm-tossed evening. Do you know that feeling of settling down with your favorite dog-eared book? Well, I feel the same feeling when I'm lugging around my weathered easel looking for the next subject. That easel casts the same kind of spell- it's been on countless trips, blustering days and cozy sun baths. Infused with the color of turning trees, pumpkin patches, and full-bodied merlot, here the start of autumn takes a form one can cozy up to.

Early morning that next day, fresh droplets of dew fell from a leaf outside my window- a liquid shape- like the crescent moon. (I just thought it was beautiful.) Several painters came to my cabin after painting all day, including George S., John Budicin, and Ken Auster. It seemed that I had the best accommodations with having a dog on the grounds. I suppose that Snow Mountain Ranch prefers to keep dogs away from the central hub. So I was placed in a cabin at the end of a long spiraling road. Quite a distance from where the rest of the group were staying. They were sharing rooms in one of the lodges on grounds. Of course, everyone brought beer, wine, and vodka, to boot. Dappled light, laughter ringing and a silky pour of merlot glinted velvet in the light. A sweet afternoon interlude with a few new friends, in the floaty atmosphere. This place is exotic- like the 100th viewing of Casablanca for an agoraphobic.

The "Marketing Discussion" among the PAPA group was long, but well worth the bags under my eyes the following morning. I learned about a few more national painting groups that I hadn't heard of, one being "North West Rendezvous". Ned Mueller, John Budicin and Matt Smith belong to this group. A familiar name came up from time to time, Clyde Aspevig, another painter that I've yet to meet. And Carl Rungius, a wildlife artist has inspired Jean Le Gassick over the years. And Sergei Bongard made the spotlight through Gay Faulkenberry. Sergei is someone I wish I could have known among others, but he left behind great work for me to study. Ralph Oberg had glorifying things to say about him. George S. was eloquent stating that "art is an extremely jealous mistress and it needs your entire focus." Smith and Oberg talked about their 15-year-old friendship and their infamous road trip to Canada where they painted from morning 'til night before the spotlight had struck plein air painting in America. I learned about those that inspired these plein air pioneers of today, such as Michael Lynch and Ray Vinella whom Budicin studied under.

I'm not one to show much patriotism, but here I've wrapped myself in down-home pride from dawn's early light to days end. One red rose, big as a showman's boutonniere, might be good enough for some, But, when I call up my inner diva, I accept nothing less than a lime in my Corona. Oops, lost my train of thought.

The autumn-lit leaves seem to be trembling. As if spun from a hodgepodge of blooms spied behind an old farmhouse, here is fragrant globe thistle mingling with stalks of green wheat, white tiny rice flowers and their own special charm. I breathe in the crisp autumn air of wood smoke and listen to the rustle of aspen leaves underfoot. For so warm are the quality of the afternoon light and so crisp the strong verticals of the sentinel trees, that only to gaze at this evocative backlit scene awakens all my senses. To paint it? Think pumpkin autumn leaves and caramel hued fields. New green apples, wood smoke and bales of yellow hay. 

I had the opportunity to paint with Gay Faulkenberry during the last two days of the workshop. Her stance in front of her easel reminded me of Camille. They work with a similar kind of passion and intense fervor. She inspired me by how sensitively she painted- and how carefully she arranged and positioned her still-life objects. And as she painted the field of hay bales under the stormy clouds of mid-morning, I was so moved that I bought the painting before it left the easel.

Those that I didn't have the opportunity to paint with among the group were Ken Auster, Ned Mueller, John Budicin, Ralph Oberg and Matt Smith. But I observed them painting demos and received valuable criticism from them. And I'm grateful for having had the opportunity to be among the many that had the chance to steal a week of their time.

By the end of the workshop, my slightly tired fading denims were slipping away for a well-deserved rest in peace. Sangha and I enjoyed our drive back home. I sipped espresso every chance I got, and soaked in the beauty of the autumn leaves.

heART and SOUL

A MEMORY --- My opening post takes us back ten years, just a few years after I had started down a new path in my life. In 1996, I had embarked upon plein air painting and began to devote my life to it. This blog starts a few years into that journey.

Fall 1999- Initial hints may seem too subtle, though effervescent warnings and the tender caress of a gentler sun suggest something has changed.

Only after nature sprinkles colored leaves like confetti across city lawns and woodland pathways, will I be confident autumn has returned. Yes, the trees get to unmask colors that still surprise, and the air carries its own invigorating spell. The real reasons why I eagerly await the fall, relaxing evenings in front of the fire, contemplating my next project. 

Others may delight in winter's first snowflake - I revel in autumn's first chill. That intoxicating time of wood-burning smoke, piled leaves, crunchy textures, and colors of sumptuous russets, browns, and dusty gold tones. Even though I look forward to fall, I'll miss summer. Spending summer months in Europe gives me the opportunity to enjoy the golden splendor of radiant suns and witness the pleasure of sunsets made of color dark, rich and gloriously resonant. Even the silvery light from the moon takes on a mysteriously different quality. From time to time, when I miss home I trace the little Dipper's handle to the outermost tip and find Polaris, the North Star. A single diamond-bright, dazzling dot, larger than its rivals and boldly outshining them all.

One of the most precious places Camille Przewodek and I visited on our travels was in Anguiano, Spain. We stayed in a large monastery nestled in the mountains and a distance from the nearest village. There I was in the Basque country, mesmerized by the beauty. The tile rooftops were of a cinnabar hue of such intensity that it rivaled nature's ripe palette. I could have stayed there and painted much longer than I had. 

Carole Gray-Weihman
That's me working on the fireplace.

In Soreze, France, where the 400-500-year-old ruin I purchased with Camille, rests, we rested as well and began to make plans to restore our quaint little dwelling.

Another memorable resting place, was Chamonix, France, a touristic city among the French Alps. Nature here overwhelmed us. We enjoyed our evenings at the Bistro, sitting at woodblock tables sipping espresso. There was mood enough to go around and the nights made for cool riffs and easy conversation.

Camille painted my portrait on the beach in Nice. The back of my head was in sunlight with tiny spots of light bouncing off the contours of my face. The reflection of the sea and sand gave off a surreal glow. My head was a silhouette against the background. This method of painting a portrait is called a "mud head." And it was here that I saw silver-winged seabirds carve arcs across the pale morning sky. My heart yearned to fly with them. To swoop and soar, to glide unfettered through the rarefied blue, destination unknown.

I was ill during my time in Venice, Italy, but I still managed to enjoy myself. I didn't realize it, but the day before arriving Venice was the last day I was to paint during our travels. Like a soothing indigo shadow, I would sit and watch the Italian boats move swiftly on the waves of great arcs on the sea. And the birds soaring solo on singing winds. And early in the morning, the fog would hang gray and mysterious; the world seemed so far away.

Camille and I had continued to journey to Europe nearly every year since our meeting in the summer of 1996 up until a few years ago.