New Beginnings

Yeah, I have been very negligent of my blog for — well, for a long dang time. Sooo, long story short: After living in Denver and Victor off and on for several years, I spent most of last year in Denver. Ick. If anything, that made it clear that I do not like cities… big or small.

We spent most of 2017 finding and moving to a bright spot in the mountains. Months of house hunting! Our wish list was long: proximity to a town, but not too close; a water feature (preferably a river, lake or stream) (but a fountain might work, too); no neighbors (or not-to-close neighbors); a couple of acres (at least); beautiful scenery; amenities (like dishwasher, garage, sunroom, lots of windows, etc, etc, etc). Sounds good on paper.

Yeah, we had to compromise. It IS Colorado after all. The prices in this state are through the roof. We found a great spot on acreage with a stream, privacy, views and most of what we wanted. The sunroom and garage — maybe later.

snow

There was the trauma of decluttering, packing, storing, moving, unpacking, replacing stuff that the movers trashed … you know all the life-things that get in the way of making transitions easy. But we are finally here, in the mountains, but not too high. Basking in sunshine almost every day and enjoying the flocks of redwing blackbirds and Stellars jays that feast in the not-to-close neighbors yard. At night, sometimes we are blessed with coyotes howling or an owl hooting. And, OH MY! the night skies are amazing!

My painting took a back seat for far too long. I finally got the spare bedroom converted (sort of) to a studio and the paintings are starting to happen. Feels good to be back in the saddle, so to speak.

letsplay“Let’s Play”, SOLD by Studio 8369 Art Gallery, Grand Lake, CO

The day I set up my studio and started painting, my gallery (Studio 8369) in Grand Lake sold one of my paintings. A good sign, I think. I’ve started several paintings from photos I took at last year’s American Frontier Productions photo shoot. And I just finished a commission — a surprise for the soon-to-be new owner.

Looking forward to some high creativity for the rest of the year. Hope I catch up with you somewhere out there in art-land!

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Aftermath

 Some revelations after wandering, painting and failing in Europe in 1998.

The trip to Europe really recharged me. I could see the benefit of having a job– money to do something fun! Or different. Then again, that day job was really draining my energy and leaving me nothing for my art except for financial resources (hmmm….).

While I still enjoyed my job and the feeling of financial independence (if counting on a paycheck can be called independence), I also had a taste of freedom. Aimless wandering, seeing new places, painting for hours every day. It felt like the kind of life I could really get into.

But (and this is one of what I call those “big butts”), I had a wonderful house and a house payment, an interesting project at work. And I wasn’t really sure if I could make enough money at art to keep the financial commitments rolling. I was in a live-in relationship that cemented the financial obligations, making it more difficult to go off tilting at windmills. (hmmm, at that time, it never occurred to me that I could earn enough money with my art..)

Yet the seed was planted and it began to grow. I wanted to paint and see the world, not live at the whim of an employer (or a boyfriend).  One thing for sure, I needed to “up” my painting game!

I immersed myself in art. All my spare hours and dollars went into learning as much as I could to maximize my skills.  Painting became my passion and my obsession. My day job was a small death every day. At the easel, my soul came back to life.

The time I spent in Europe brought me back to art and to myself. It was my first solo trip out of the country, an adventure in self-sufficiency and, quite seriously: waaay more fun than working. Yeah, I was very stupid about the workshop. I could have spent more of that time paying attention and learning some new things. For me, the ultimate lesson was that I had a lot to learn!

Once I realized that I didn’t know everything (I know, “surprise!”, right?),  I opened up to failing forward. Every painting does not have to be a masterpiece. In fact, the duds teach more than the successes. And the process becomes the point.  Painting is still hard and it’s still a learning experience. But, dammit, I am doing it! I am finally doing it!IMG_3874

Lavender Fields

Excerpts from my days at a workshop in Provence in 1998. 

Our second morning was spent at a nearby lavender farm — a stunning expanse of purple. I was actually freaking out over all that color. This would be much different than painting rocky mountains and pine trees. I had no idea how to begin. Failure was an option…

I chose to paint a value study of the buildings. The morning light was beautiful and (as I said) the colorful lavender was too scary. As usually happens in plein air painting, by the time I got set up and did a grid, the lighting on the scene had changed completely. So I painted, using the sketch as a guide. When the instructor came around, he said my painting didn’t look like the building.  Um… because the light is different now than when I started?  Or maybe, just maybe, the building I painted did not look like the building I was painting?  I don’t know. Obviously, information that I was not yet ready for.

By afternoon, I’d mustered enough courage to work in color. The grid thing was coming together for me and my sketch went together quickly. In the fields, the lavender harvest was beginning. I am not sure what the process is —  distillation, maybe? A heavy white cloud was pouring from a smoke stack; the smell was intoxicating. I’d heard that lavender is soothing to the nervous system — very soothing. And I was feeling mighty soothed.

A big man in a van pulled over and struck up a conversation. He was from Poland and was writing an article about lavender. He took my picture and asked a few questions. Then he wandered around and taking photos of the other artists. I never heard or saw any more about it, so who knows? Maybe I am famous (notorious?) somewhere in Poland.

Later a French-speaking couple stopped and started a conversation. With my limited French, I am not sure what we talked about. They may have said the lavender smelled and wished me luck with my painting. Or maybe that my art work stunk and I would need all the luck I could get. Sometimes, ignorance truly IS bliss.

The painting days, the vegetarian meals and the over indulgence in wines– it all runs together after awhile. We had days of painting and days of sightseeing. A visit to a local market yielded coffee and pastries — never disappointing.

brantes-bell-tower

We visited several medieval towns built on remote summits. Stone buildings and narrow pathways created a stronghold against invaders, I am sure. They DID let artists in, though. Entire towns were eye candy: truly a painter’s paradise.

In one town, I ALMOST painted (totally blocked by then). As I set up my easel, a red, white and black Citroen pulled into my view. A lady hopped out of the car and opened the trunk. It was full of old egg cartons and a huge yellow melon. Using the last of my film, I got a single shot of the scene, then whipped out my sketch book, frantically sketching and making notations, so I could reproduce it all in a painting.

citeonandmelonAfter the car left, the instructor came along to offer some tips. And I immediately wimped out.  I had no confidence to pull off a decent painting – especially with the instructor looking over my shoulder! Still trying to make masterpieces when (in retrospect) I wish I had focused more on LEARNING. I guess I forgot why I was taking a workshop!

After I got back home, I finally attempted a pastel painting of that magical moment.

We wrapped up the day at a restaurant in town, where most of us were delighted to load up on  meat, fat and sugar. The food at the workshop, while quite good, was on the vegetarian side. No fatty, greasy American food for us! After a satisfying repast, we stopped at a local church for a concert.  I remember that we left at halftime (or is that intermission?). As I recall, some of the artists didn’t like the music.  I am not sure what they expected in a tiny little town in rural France, but, as the say, “C’est la vive“.

As the days went by, I had to force myself to paint, no matter how inadequate and insecure I felt. After awhile, my paintings began to get better. Unfortunately, I don’t feel like I ever let myself open up to learning. I was simply repeating the same things that I thought I already knew. The instructor was beyond patient with me and slowly some of what he had to say sunk in.  Still, it took me months of processing to really integrate his lessons into my art. That is how it works when you are a thick-headed artist.

Next: Aftermath

Settling In

Excerpts from my travels in Europe 1998. After 9 or 10 days of wanderings, I finally arrived at a remote location in Provence for an art workshop.

We arrived at a retreat/compound in the country. The buildings seemed ancient, all made of stone, but nicely renovated. There was a residence for the owners, lodging areas for the students, a large studio area and possibly some other buildings that I have forgotten. We had a “meet and greet” with the hosts and workshop instructor. The place and the people were a delight, at least on the first day. Not that anyone or anything was bad, but as a loner, a week and a half with lots of people (and no car) would become a bit of a challenge for me.

We were on a rigorous schedule: breakfast at 7 AM, load up the vans (cringe) at 8, head out to paint. Return to the retreat for lunch and rest until 4 PM. Then back in the vans and off to paint until 8 PM. Finally, a late dinner, socializing (if there was enough energy) and bed.

With someone else doing all the cooking and driving and with all the wine we could drink, it was promising to be a stress-free painting experience.

Yeah, “stress-free” until my first attempt.

In the morning, we met in the studio for a slide show and lecture. Then (and this is a direct quote from my journal) (don’t laugh) … the instructor “took us outside to demonstrate some artist concept or other”. This is funny now, because it reminds me how arrogant and clueless I was back in those days. I really just wanted to paint, not to pay attention to boring demonstrations. (Or even interesting ones.) If ignorance is bliss, then I was delirious.

After lunch, we went out to apply the theories we had been shown in the morning. Basically — value studies and sketches using a grid. So, I spent a frustrating afternoon at the cemetery … because… I wasn’t paying attention to the instructor. (Why was I taking this class again?) Eventually, the instructor gave me a bit of wisdom that I didn’t incorporate for a long time to come….something along the lines of … you came here to learn from me, so listen to what I am telling you. Sure, he was much nicer in his wording, but that was the essence. On the plus side, I listened enough to give it a try and another try and another try.

Can’t recall if I ever was able to do it right, but actually … the fact that I listened to someone else was a new paradigm for me! Let’s just say that by the time I returned for dinner, I was thankful for unlimited whine… um, I mean wine.

Next: Lavender Fields

 

The Vans

Excerpts from my travels in Europe in 1998

After catching up to the art group at the Avignon train station, I got to experience the first of many journeys in (cue dramatic music) THE VANS! (OK, I admit it… I was calling them “The Vans From Hell”). We had two large vans for 16 artists and 2 drivers.

Prior to the trip, we were told to pack light because luggage space in the van was at a premium. It seemed that some of us missed THAT memo. Lucky for me, I was one of the last to arrive and was able to drop my backpack on top of the heap of painting boxes, oversized suitcases and what? Is that a kitchen sink I see?

Not so easy, getting the people into the vans. I jumped in first, ending up in the waaay back. I was fine with that, just wanting a nice undisturbed nap. But the van was NOT air-conditioned and the only windows that opened were in the front. It was really hot and humid! So, there I was, suffocating (SUFFOCATING! I tell you!) in the fetal position (possibly sucking my thumb) as I waited for the others to get on-board. Imagine the fun of watching seven artists piling into a van:

You go first.”

“Oh no, my dear, you go first.”

“Are you comfortable there,dear?”

“Here, let me change seats with you, dear.”

” Oh, I get car sick, I can’t sit back here, every one will have to get out, so I can move to the front seat.”

And so on.

Finally, we got going. It was an hour and a half drive to our home base. But we had to stop at least once to see the lavender fields. Yes! they were gorgeous. We had hit the time of year just before the harvest. And yes! It was a nice respite, to get out of the stuffy back seat and stretch my legs a bit. And yes! The scenery was impressive.

But (and this is yer BIG but), at some point, we all had to get BACK INTO THE VAN!

“You go first.”

“Oh no, my dear, you go first.”

“Are you comfortable there, dear?”

“Here, let me change seats with you, dear.”

” Oh, I get car sick, I can’t sit back here, every one will have to get out, so I can move to the front seat.”

And me, all the way in the back, whimpering in fetal position, thinking “Are we there yet?”

(Oh snap out of it. This is your dream trip, remember?)

Next: Settling In

Restrooms, Train Stations and Meet-ups

Excerpts from my travels in Europe in 1998. Up to this point, I’d been poking around various countries for 9 days, riding trains and sightseeing. I finally arrived in Avignon, where I would hook up with artists for a workshop.

At least the Avignon train station was open for the night. I’d just settled down on the floor when a janitor decided to sweep where I was sitting. Ok. I can take a hint! I have to pee, anyway.

pointandshootBut NOOOO! The restrooms were closed until 5 or 6 AM. Someone directed me to a point-and-shoot (that’s my terminology): basically an outdoor hole in the ground with a place to put your feet. Not even a door. (And not as nice as the one in the photo). Um… I can wait.

Turning my attention to the activity around the station, I noticed two women with a LOT of luggage. As they got their last bag loaded, the train pulled away, leaving them at the station (one more reason to travel light). I hope they eventually caught up with their stuff.

After a long and refreshing stretched-across-two-chairs nap, the “real” restroom opened. Unfortunately, the attendee could not change a 50F bill. “Desolee,” she said (which is French for, “Sorry“).  “You ain’t the only one!” Did I really say that or just think it? Don’t know. Then I remembered the French coins I’d put aside for souvenirs to take home. Priorities, baby!  I could get souvenirs anywhere.

The train station was getting hot and miserably crowded. (In case you missed my last post, there was an Art Festival in Avignon; people were everywhere.) I couldn’t take it! Outside I found a vacant spot in the grass. A young couple next to me were stranded — as were many others. The first available seat for their destination (Spain) was not until 2 AM (and it was barely noon). They had been wandering Europe for 2 months and this was the first time they had any problems getting around. I was so relieved I would not need a train for the next couple of weeks.

Eventually, I excused myself to go find my ride.  I was supposed to meet up with other artists and an instructor — none of whom I’d ever met. I wasn’t sure how to find them. After 45 minutes of looking around, I was getting just a bit uneasy that I prepaid for room, board and classes and what if there is no class? (aw geez… the monkey mind is on the loose again!)

Considering how crowded Avignon was, I decided it was too soon to panic and continued wandering until I noticed a man with a van in the parking lot and a group of people with easels. (clue!)

 “Please, tell me that this is the art workshop.”  It was. Whew!

Some observations about train stations:
Train stations have a wonderful rhythm. When a train arrives, clanking, hissing and squealing, people pour out the doors dragging luggage, kids, chattering and rushing about. Other people pile in and the train chuffs off to it’s next destination. The sounds calm down to the occasional conversation and rustle of clothing. Repeat, when the next train arrives.

Traveler conveniences at most stations: a place to change money or an automatic teller;  a tourist office; food vendors; luggage lockers and, of course, toilets. Some are pay toilets;  some are free. (I want to say, “It’s a crap shoot“, but I won’t).

Train stations are generally not air conditioned.

There is less body odor among people in train stations than I had been led to expect. I was the exception after spending a night there.

It seems that everyone in the station smokes, except me.

There is always an old woman asleep on the floor of a train station late at night and she isn’t always me.

Train stations are a great place to meet and visit with people you would probably never meet anywhere else. Even if your language skills are weak, you’d be amazed at how much you can figure out by listening and observing.

Next: The Vans!

A Long Night

Excerpt from my travels in Europe in 1998.

When I arrived in Avignon it was already dark, the tourist office was closed and, for the first time, I started to get a little nervous. But, hey, there’s a hotel right over there! I’ll just go get a room. Surely, if they were booked up, they would have a vacancy sign out. Surely. HA!  I forgot that there was a very popular Art Festival happening in Avignon that week. Without reservations, chances for a room in any direction were zero. The hotel clerk told me my best bet was to go to Marseilles.

Marseilles, by the way, has the highest crime rate in all of France (or so I heard). Somehow, my desire to go there — a lone female with no arrangements at 10 PM — well, it just did NOT resonate. I could spend the night in the train station or, with my rail pass, ride for at least 2 more hours without using an extra day. Hmmm. I could go to Valence, about an hour north.  As the train left the station I realized that to get to Valence and back would use up another day of my rail pass. Suck it up! Too late now. C’est la vie, as they say.

At Valence I considered looking for a hotel but I didn’t have the energy and chances seemed slim. I sat down to plot my next move — no clue, really.

A man with a dog and 4 black teeth (in his mouth, not in his hand) sat down and started chatting. In French. I tried to tell him my French was weak. Not really sure I made my point because he had already told me quite a bit of his life story, including showing me a picture of his wife and making a big show of kissing her picture. With the use of a map, my sketchbook and many gestures, I “explained” my journey so far.

As we gesture-chatted, he put his hands up by his head (to look like ears) and starts to hop and say “meow. Something about a “rabbit-cat-thing gone wrong” maybe? When he asked for my address (so he could visit me in America), I admit it; I pretended not to understand. Not very friendly of me, but I am leery of strangers with Dr. Moreau-style pets.

We parted ways when the train station closed. What? Wait.. I need to catch a train at 2 AM to get back to Avignon. Looks like I will be sitting outside on the platform. A (kind of creepy) midnight walk through a (well-lit) underground tunnel led to the platform. First, I looked for other options, but there were none. A suspicious-looking man was pan-handling (I think) in the tunnel. My brain was sooo tired, I didn’t even try to understand – instead walking by and saying “No merci,”  (which I think is like saying “no thank you”) (but I could be wrong, because) he responded, “Koont.” All righty then. Insults will get you … nothing. Some words ARE universal!

I really wanted to sleep, but there’s a very vulnerable feeling to being outside at night, in a strange country, language-impaired and among strangers. I pulled out my sketch book which attracted several observers. More opportunities to attempt conversations about … well, who knows, really? I was pretty good at “I’d like some cheese“, “hello, good-bye” and “where is the toilet“, but for every day conversation I was a Neanderthal trying to talk to a quantum physicist. OOO-GAH!  On the bright side, nobody beat me up!

Finally the train, hopefully the last for awhile, arrived and I was on my way back to Avignon.

Next: Restrooms, Train Stations and Meet Ups