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Back In The Saddle

June 10, 2019

For some reason, old cowboy songs started playing in my head when I sat down to type this.  There’s an old Sons Of The Pioneers song (yes, I’m that old) titled Tumbling Tumbleweed.  It popped into my head as I was trying to think of what I would say about being away from this blog for so long.  I could say I’ve been “…drifting along like a tumbling tumbleweed…” but I figuured most of you have never heard of the song.  Then I decided that since I’ve gotten started on a major painting project the old Gene Autry song Back In The Saddle Again was appropriate.  (Yep, Gene Autry… google it)

If you’ve followed along, (and bless you for waiting) you know that my wife Nell and I live in a Fifth Wheel RV in a nice RV park northwest of Austin, Texas.  And you know that I draw, paint and create books in the RV.  For those of you who are new, here’s what that looks like:

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I came out of hiding to share this project with you because it’s something I’m pretty excited about.  Now in my 75th year, I was beginning to lose a little artistic steam.  This work came along at exactly the right time.  It started out with someone saying “I’ve been thinking I’d like to have a mural on the upstairs game room wall.”  My response was “I’ve never done a mural.”  I wasn’t counting the Egyptian mural we did on the wall of my grade school classroom one year.  As I recall, we used an overhead projector for that.

As we discussed the current project over several conversations, the client accepted that a mural painted on a wall of his house wouldn’t move with him and his family.  The solution we came up with was a collection of large paintings hung close together on the wall.  There will be eight 30″ x 40″ paintings on a wall that is 9 feet high and 18 feet long.  I looked it up.  It’s called an octaptych.  The subject matter in the paintings will represent the family’s wide range of interests.

The first painting (below) is at the 80% stage.  That, of course, is the stage where all the little details and cleanup wok still need to be done.  Here’s that first painting:

brown star wars paintingThe client is obviously a huge Star Wars fan, so I chose to do it first.  The painting below is very much still in progress, but it’s coming together.  It’s intended to be placed  to the left of the Star Wars one.  When finished, it will reflect some of the family’s special travels.

brown travel painting

I’m really enjoying this for several reasons.  First, it’s the largest painting project I’ve ever done.  Second, while there has been some collaboration, I’ve pretty much got a free hand.  And third, almost all of the subject matter and the styles are very different from anything I’ve ever done.  (I can’t imagine when I would have ever painted the Roman Forum or the Coliseum.)  I’m looking forward to seeing all this come together.

I’ll try to do better at posting.



A New Acrylic Painting

October 18, 2018
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San Gabriel Cliffs, 16×20, Acrylic on canvas

Sometimes a painting just doesn’t work. The beauty of acrylics is that a canvas doesn’t have to be wasted. I painted over a painting that just didn’t do anything for me and ended up with something worthwhile.  This wasn’t actually a complete overpaint. The river bed survived, but there were trees where the cliffs are now.  Odd trees that were totally different from any I had ever painted.  So I painted over the entire right side of the painting and eliminated a badly painted cow .  This painting has received such a nice response on Facebook that I’ve entered it in the Bold Brush Online Painting Competition.  You can find it here:

If you’re so inclined, you can even vote for it.  Your vote doesn’t win my anything, but it will make me feel good.

Paint On.

Just In A Slump? Are You Sure?

September 14, 2018

If you’ve followed along here for very long, you know that I have multiple artistic interests.  Sometimes I don’t feel like painting, so I pick up pencil and pen and do some sketching.  I may work on storybook art, or draw an old barn or conjure up an image of an old gnarly, twisted tree. Maybe work on one of at least two books I have in mind. If I don’t want to do one thing I do something else. My mind rarely rests and I’m always working as an artist in my head. But recently something had changed.

I had been told that, after my heart surgery it might take a year, but I would feel much better than before, I’d be a new man.  At the one year mark this past June I did feel pretty good. Then things started to go downhill. Not dramatically, not instantly, just a gradual awareness that the renewal had been a bit short-lived. Our trip to Ohio during the summer included a day trip to Chicago. Hoofing it along the Miracle Mile was difficult. I chalked it up to just not quite fully recovered yet, even after a year.

In the last month or two, I’ve felt my creativity slipping. There was an occasional burst when I produced a nice piece of art or two, but in between those I struggled to maintain interest. Sometimes even sketching didn’t give the result I was used to.  I began to feel that old artist nemesis The Slump rearing its ugly head.   Maybe I just needed a change of pace, a new interest. I had finally replaced my electronic keyboard while in Ohio.  A few years ago I had learned a few chords and was able to play a few old standards, even wasn’t too bad at improvising some jazzy blues stuff, purely for my own entertainment. Then I had given my Yamaha keyboard to one of my grandsons when we moved into the first motorhome and after several years I had recently begun to miss picking out a tune. So I bought a new keyboard while in Ohio and have been relearning some things. YouTube is a great resource for just about everything and I have found musicians posting all kinds of “how to” videos with just what I need.  At the same time, I dug out a Blues Harp harmonica from the back of a cabinet. It’s still shiny and new. Again, more videos, especially some that might teach me to bend notes.

Still, although the learning process was beginning, I found I was spending more time watching the videos than I was actually playing.  And while I had a full stock of sketchbooks, watercolor paper, pens, pencils, paint and brushes, I couldn’t conjure up anything exciting to work on. I also began to find myself getting a bit winded when I did little things that really didn’t require that much energy.  And my legs felt tired at times.

Saturday, a week ago as of this writing, Nell and I went to the grocery store.  Back home, I carried the groceries in while Nell started putting things away. Three trips to and from the car, five steps up and down… and I was exhausted.  In fact, I had to sit down. I was out of breath and my limbs felt heavy.  After a few minutes things settled back down.  On Sunday morning, I decided that my problem was that I had not been exercising, not even doing much walking, and I needed to get back to it.  So we went to the gym to put in some treadmill time. I set the treadmill on my usual incline and speed and started walking. In less than five minutes, I was out of breath and getting dizzy. I stopped and climbed down off the treadmill and quickly made it to a machine with a seat. I felt like I needed to lie down, but I was afraid to. My body just didn’t want to function. Nell looked at me closely and said I was gray. “We’re going to the emergency room.” She announced.  After a few minutes, I was able to walk to the car and we headed to the hospital. All I could think of was that my afib (atrial fibrillation) had returned.

All a person has to do in an emergency room, especially a nearly 75 year old, is use the words “short of breath” and “dizzy” in the same sentence and one is immediately whisked off to an examining room. An EKG showed a good sinus rhythm with no indication of afib. I think the ER doctor keyed on the fact that I had a history of heart issues. Even when an x-ray showed nothing and the EKG was normal, I was considered a cardiac patient. I was quickly admitted and installed in the cardiac wing of the hospital. I was hooked up to monitors and the usual blood tests were run. We were at Seton Medical Center (Williamson) so I knew I was in very capable hands and my cardiologist’s office was in the building next door.

Eventually, a doctor who is part of the group that includes our primary care physician and which has a strong focus on seniors, came into the room. After a quick introduction, she asked “Has anyone told you that you are anemic?” Now, I must confess that I had always associated the term “anemic” with weak, undernourished and frail.  And while I was admittedly weak at the moment, I was definitely not undernourished or frail. “What does that mean?” I asked. “Your hemoglobin level is at 7.4.” she said. “The normal level for a man is between 14 and 16. Think of it as a car about to run out of gas. If you were below 7, I would be ordering a blood transfusion.” Apparently, I had been losing blood and I wasn’t bleeding outwardly anywhere. I was kept overnight so I could be monitored.

The next morning, my blood level had dropped to 6.5. A doctor with the same group, one who had kept tabs on me after my heart surgery a year ago, came in and we talked. This doctor had given me good advice a year ago and I trusted him completely. I was started on a blood transfusion and on his advice I agreed to an endoscopy and colonoscopy.  The purpose was to find some indication of a cause of bleeding in my gut. I was given two units of blood to replenish some of the loss and an infusion of iron to get my body started on producing more. That afternoon, Monday, I began the dreaded preparation for the colonoscopy.

My blood level went back up to 9.2 and the procedures were done on Tuesday morning. By Tuesday evening I was eating solid food and feeling much better. Wednesday morning I walked around the 3rd floor ring five times. The procedures found no cause of blood loss in my gastrointestinal tract. While that does mean there is still a question regarding the cause, the good news is that a) there are no issues with my heart; and b) there are no serious concerns regarding my colon. On Wednesday I was released from the hospital and while I’m still not 100%, I feel much better and am optimistic about the future. I had a follow up with my primary care doctor yesterday and they took another blood sample. While writing this, I’ve just learned that my blood count is now up from 9.2 to 9.5

Why tell you all these details?  I think it’s important for people, especially creative people to be aware of what their body may be telling them. Blood produces oxygen and oxygen fuels the body. A loss of blood can affect everything from the tips of our toes to our brain. The doctors agreed that this condition was not only affecting my breathing and my extremities, but also possibly slowing down my brain function as well. Ergo… a slump in creativity (and maybe along with it some loss of dexterity).  A huge clue should have been that while I wasn’t feeling creative I also wasn’t feeling like doing much of anything else either. Sure, the flu can do that to us as well.  But in the absence of flu-like symptoms, it just might be wise to visit your doctor anyway.  This may have been happening over a period of time, but when it really hit, it hit fast!  I just thought I needed more exercise when it turned out that exercise was the last thing I needed at that moment. I didn’t have enough fuel to support that exercise.

There is no doubt that we all go through slumps from time to time. I think we artists generally can recognize it for what it is: maybe a little burn-out or exhaustion or distraction. But we also need to be aware that if that slump includes other symptoms, especially loss of energy, it’s time to get checked out. So there you go.  My sermon for today.

I wish all of you good health and creative days ahead. As for me… it’s time to test out my shoulder. I’ve got an acrylic painting of the North San Gabriel River that’s been sitting for months and needs to be looked at and worked on.

Art on.

Big Red… a gouache painting

August 28, 2018

I posted an image of this barn a month ago, a pen & ink and watercolor sketch.  This old barn really grabbed me, so I decided to do it again, larger, in gouache.


Big Red, 10 x 16, Gouache on w/c paper

It’s a bit tighter than the sketch, but I wanted to see if I could still paint one of these in pure gouache and capture the character of this old structure.  Unlike most of my earlier gouache paintings, I didn’t use heavy paint on this one.  In fact, I pulled out an old plastic gouache palette and did the entire painting with thin, revived paint that had dried in the palette.  Simply rolled a wet brush around the paint piles until I had a usable consistency.  Toward the end I did squeeze out a little titanium white to give a couple of colors a little more light.

An artist friend is headed to Wyeth country.  An oil painter, he’s reviving his watercolor work and, like most of us, is a big Andrew Wyeth fan. What better place to gain inspiration than the actual locations where Wyeth painted.  Not to be a copycat, but to give myself a challenge, I think I’ll go at another barn, again in gouache, and try to explore something resembling a Wyeth color palette.  I don’t think my friend will object, and I need the challege.

A Rural View

July 30, 2018

Rural America fascinates me.  I suppose any rural locale anywhere in the world would have the same effect on me.  Old barns and houses, sheds and shacks, fruit and vegetable stands beside the highway, rusting farm implements… they all draw my eye.  But barns…

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Barns, like old houses, have stories to tell.  Nell photographed the barn above somewhere in Ohio during our recent visit there with family.  There were bales of hay in the loft and the sun poured through the openings and lit the hay up like stacked gold. There was an old metal folding chair beside the big barn door, begging the question: who sat there? Does someone still sit there?  The long shed on the left had all manner of things sitting in the dark recesses, most probably rusted and unused but some perhaps waiting for the next planting or the next harvest.  This appeared to be a working barn and, as I recall, was surrounded by corn fields. I remember seeing one truck and a house nearby.

I grew up in the flat countryside outside of Houston, Texas.  We didn’t have a barn, but we did have a shed which served originally as a chicken coop, and when the chickens were all gone, it served other purposes. We did play inside it… and on top of it.  It wasn’t big, but for us kids it was big enough to be part of a castle fortress that needed defending or part of a fort on the southwestern plains or a hideout for gunslingers hiding from the sheriff.  It depended on what movies were showing downtown at the Majestic Theater.  I sometimes like to imagine what it would have been like to play in a real barn, with stalls and a loft.

We’ve traveled to Ohio annually for nearly twenty-five years, passing through northeast Texas, Arkansas, Tennessee, Kentucky and a lot of the eastern and northeastern part of the United States.  We’ve noted the barns along the way, and on our recent trip we noticed that many of them are once again falling into disrepair.  When I see one that has obviously been long abandoned, with trees and vines almost taking it over, I can’t help but wonder what it was like there when the farm was in its heyday and the barn stood strong.  People worked long hard days there.  Hay was stored, cows were milked, horses were shod… and i suspect in most cases children played with farm cats and dogs and played hide-and-seek in the shadowy interiors of those barns.

My relationship with rural America has been mostly a drive-by one.  The last time I was on a farm was several years ago when we visited one of Nell’s uncles (named Ralph, incidentally) in Virginia.  While Nell and her  siblings visited with him on his front porch, I roamed the farm with my camera.  Around the same time, we stopped to visit some friends in Alabama and I painted at the farm of a lady who has become a collector of my drawings and paintings and a dear long-distance friend.

I love these old places, even at a distance.  There’s just something about old wood and rust that continues to call to me.

Sherwin, A Snail’s Tale

July 28, 2018

The first reader reaction is in and I couldn’t ask for a nicer review:

“I loved the moral of the story and believe that my grandkids will love this book also. I cant wait to read it to my 6 year old. She loves animals and has such a big heart for them. She is also super petite, so the lessons of being small and different is something to embrace, not hide from.”  ~R.H. in Texas

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Finally! A New Book!

July 12, 2018

I have finished my children’s book Sherwin ~ A Snail’s Tale!

This little 6″ x 9″ softcover 26 page book is a must for anyone traveling with children and is an easy read. Add it to your library for those rainy weather days.

Sherwin is a snail who lives by a pond. A Snail’s Tale follows him on his first adventure away from home. This is a sweet story to read to children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews and will be enjoyable for young readers as well.. Eighteen full color illustrations filled with whimsical forest scenes show Sherwin meeting other small animals who help him find his way.

Sherwin ~ A Snail’s Tale is now available for purchase directly from the publisher!
Copy & paste this link into your browser:
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My Art “Go” Bag

June 17, 2018

Since I’m not painting at an easel these days, I’ve put together an art “go” bag. It’s a soft-side fishing tackle bag.

0617181607b.jpgIt has a small 8 color watercolor set, extra small tubes of watercolor + watercolor pencils (which I haven’t quite mastered yet); a large watercolor palette for gouache + large tubes of DaVinci gouache; a canvas holder for gouache brushes; a zipper brush wallet with pencils; pens and watercolor brushes; sketch books ( 7 x 9 and 5.5 x 8.5); and a jar for water. Zipper pockets hold folded paper towels and other misc. items.

0617181631This is my resource at home and when we travel. I can work at a table inside or sitting in a canvas folding chair outside. It’s all here for sketching, drawing and painting small works.

And We’re Back!

June 14, 2018

Me and gouache, that is.  The little children’s picture book is done for now. I uploaded it to the publisher and now we’re waiting for a review copy. If it looks good, then we’ll set up for publication. We should have it in about a week.

Meanwhile, I pulled out some paint tubes and a Canson Mixed Media sketchbook and got reacquainted with gouache.

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Smithy, 5×7, gouache


“Smithy” was the first thing I worked on yesterday. It’s a real departure from my typical subject matter, but hey, why not start with a challenge, right? There are a number of issues with this little piece.  The drawing is off in places and some of the edges need to be softened, but the idea was to sort out which brushes to use and getting the paint consistency where I wanted it. I liked this scene from Old Bedford Village in Bedford, PA and have wanted to attempt it for several years.  Now that I’ve done it once, I may do it again, work a bit on the composition and take a little more time with it.

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Little Barn, 5×7, gouache

“Little Barn” was today’s effort and I felt better about what I was doing.  I should note that instead of working on cold press illustration board, I am working in a Canson Mixed Media sketchbook (the blue spiral one).   Thus, the surface is a bit different from what I’m used to.  But I decided it had been so long since I painted with gouache that it wouldn’t matter what the surface was, and besides, not knowing how this was going to go, I chose to use an inexpensive sketchbook rather than buy illustration board.  I think it was a good choice.  Once I started getting the consistency I wanted, the paper took the gouache beautifully.  I won’t varnish these. I think they will work better matted under glass when and if that time comes.

I discovered a Facebook group called Gouache Sketchers that some of you might be interested in. It appears that many/most of the members are plein air gouache users, but they’ve accepted my studio work, so I don’t think it matters. There are some folks in the group who are doing some beautiful gouache work.

I’m working at the dining table rather than one of the easels, so I’m not putting undue stress on my shoulder and elbow. I started out painting that way, so it’s not a big deal.  The shoulder/arm is improving as long as I do the exercises the physical therapist gave me.  I’m not the most conscientious about that, so while I’m thinking about it, I suppose I should go do them before starting another gouache piece.



A Note to My Gouache Friends

June 7, 2018

I know that gouache is the main reason most of you come to this blog.  The statistics show me that. This isn’t an apology because every day I’m doing what I love to do. But it is a recognition of what most of you expect.  I’m very close to finishing the work on The Book Of Sherwin.  I do anticipate starting some preliminary work on another picture book, but I won’t feel the need to push everything else to the back burner.  I started the work on Sherwin a couple of years ago, and it has taken so many different turns that work simply stopped at times. It has languished off and on over that time and I finally felt the need to meet the commitment I made to myself to do this book.  It’s almost there.

sherwin at the y

Doing these illustrations has truly been a labor of love, but once it’s finished and ready for publication, I want to get back to doing some work in gouache.  Of course I will still move back and forth among all my interests because that’s just simply what I do, but I’ve gone too long without moving some gouache around.

I have some thoughts as to what I want to work on, but ‘ll start small because I’ve got to get my touch back.  I’ll get there.

Bear with me.