Monday, December 29, 2014

Christmas and Easter Girls

As noted in several recent blog entries, the encouragement of Karen and friend, John McCabe, has lead me to devote more painting time to portraits.  "Tesla" comes courtesy of Paul Newman via one of his Facebook posts while a photograph Karen or I took a few winters back provided my "model" for "Amanda Home for the Holidays."

It still seems unorthodox to be “borrowing” images from Facebook without asking for permission, but how can I surprise friends with a painting if I tell them in advance?  This way, if it doesn’t work out (like one currently sitting on my easel that isn’t likely to see the light of day) I can always deep six the unsuccessful effort and no one will ever know.

                                                                  Tesla   12x12   Alkyd on Canvas

Wanting to paint something for Tesla's grandparents who are always giving unselfishly to others I chanced upon Paul's Newman's photo of his niece in her Easter finery.  He posted the original image on his Facebook page, a photo that  captured something extra special in her personality.  I couldn't pass it up.  My thanks to Paul for making this one possible.

                                      Amanda Home for the Holidays   18 x 24 inches   Alkyd on Canvas

Last year I tried two painting techniques side by side.  For one portrait I mixed the colors I wanted directly on my palette and applied them to the canvas.  For the second, this one our our daughter Amanda, I used glazing techniques where thin transparent layers of paint are applied over each other to achieve the desired hue.  Alas, I overdid it.   Mandy's backlit face looked more like she was trying to stay out of sight in a dimly lit room.  She needed light.  Thus, the painting has languished in a corner of my studio until early this winter.  OK, I needed to finish it.  This time I went over it just once with a thin layer of the colors I wanted and presto, Amanda appeared.
But wait, it needed one last critique.  Karen!  She had one recommendation -- "add snow flakes."  That meant adding white blotches over her hat and coat that I had spent so much time getting "just right."  Gulp!  I even put a few "flakes"in front of her face at which point I panicked and asked for third and forth opinions.  No, Mandy exudes so much warmth that any snow in front of her face would have melted.  Paint thinner saved the day just in time for our daughter to arrive home for the holidays.


Sunday, November 30, 2014


Three nights at the vacation rental approximated the charges for a one week cruise in the Caribbean although it didn’t include breakfast, lunch, dinner and a chocolate on our pillows each night.  However, it did have the worst beds we’ve ever encountered except for the roots under our tent at Tombstone Campground in Canada’s Yukon.  Karen and I opted to climb an almost vertical ladder into a funky loft with a double bed providing the comfort level of a Salvation Army thrift store reject.  Too soft proved to be just one of it's failings.  Worse, whenever one of us moved -- like scratching their nose or rolling over -- the entire bed rocked like a half inflated rubber raft on the Bering Sea.  Karen would get seasick in any rubber raft on the Bering Sea -- or at least get vertigo. 

Meanwhile down below Mandy commandeered a mini-futon which she described as tantamount to sleeping on a piece of cardboard.  With her reputation for being able to sleep on any surface including a piece of cardboard, it became obvious the next day that this was not “corrugated” cardboard.  To add insult to the situation, we paid an additional $25 per night for use of that derelict futon.

The remaining nights Mandy borrowed a cushion from a porch chair while now seasick Karen abandoned the rocking raft to join Mandy using an air mattress for reinforcement.  Alone on the upstairs "craft" I slept like a golden retriever on a living room sofa.

Unlike past road trips, the curse of the beds followed us off and on throughout the trip. Sometimes we both slid into the center of the bed like positive and negative charged ions “spotting” each other in a physics lab.  Other nights we vied for position on that one high ridge knowing that a shift to the left or right would send us on a prolonged slide towards a precipitous cliff.  Yes, we also found comfortable beds, but fewer than we find at any Motel 6.

On our way south (actually in a north-easterly direction along this stretch of highway) to our destiny with the beds, we paused at Seeley Lake, British Columbia.

There we thought we were enjoying the peak of color in the autumn foliage.  Wrong!  Three weeks later we echoed the same statement.

Further south at Spences Bridge, British Columbia we stopped for Karen's forth pass through a thrift store, conveniently located next to a somewhat moribund church.  Judging from the condition of the structure, it may be fortunate that the door was locked because Karen sure wanted to go inside.

We rendezvoused with our daughter, Amanda, at La Conner, Washington where we found beaches much to our liking...

                   Except where access to the beach at our vacation rental was blocked by a previous tenant.

                                      To add insult to the situation, this gull thought it was all pretty funny.

No problem.  We just headed on down to Washington's Deception Pass State Park.  Er -- Mandy, what did that sign we just passed mean -- I think it said something about leashes?

We also connected with friends John and Michale Edgington who abandoned Petersburg several years ago to enjoy the benefits of a more temperate climate.

We ate breakfast the last morning in La Conner where the bakery was stuffed with people stuffing themselves so we sat outside.  Although a tad chilly, a fringe benefit was the presence of the diner at the next "table" -- a great blue heron.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014


This fall, Petersburg’s Wild Celery Gallery, Karen’s and my only “brick and mortar” (really more of a wood and drywall structure) outlet for our art, closed it’s doors.  Brenda, the owner wanted to retire and buyers were harder to find than hairs where I once had a cowlick north of my brow line.  With no impending shows and limited opportunities to hang paintings in public venues, I figured maybe the good Lord was giving me a nudge.  But in what direction?

I've had suggestions that I devote more time to portraits.  Maybe the pendulum on my personal clock has reached that "hour."  Here are my most recent efforts -- two painting that seemingly have little relationship until I realized both share one common denominator -- the innocent joy that so draws us to children,

                                                 Nora "Berry"   12x 12 inches   Alkyd on Canvas

I frequently look at Becca's photos of her family on her Facebook page.  Oh my, she catches so much personality in her shots.  I spotted one of Nora with her brother, Gus, that kept saying "paint me, paint me."  But Gus's gaze in this photo just didn't work with Nora.  OK, maybe I could temporarily move her brother a little further to the right (like off the canvas).  Don't worry, Becca, I still have my eye on Gus.

                                                      David   12 x 12 inches   Alkyd on Canvas   

I based "David" on a photograph I took of my now 44-year-old son back when he had weathered considerably fewer Alaskan winters -- back when he showed me the pleasures of a dusty Matanuska Valley back road.  What wonderful memories.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Two Lasses

I have to admit, I’m guilty of larceny.  Yep, I used several friends photos (one from a post on Facebook and the other a family photo sent to us via email) as reference material for a couple of paintings.  My “excuse” is probably the same one heard many times in courthouses throughout the country:  “I just couldn’t help myself.”

I always have my eye out for good painting subjects and several of our friends unknowingly dangled the bait right in front of me.  Like a cutthroat trout eying a Royal Coachman fly, I bit.  Their photographic skills were just too hard to resist.  Both had captured that extra something, a personality that spoke volumes.  A more scrupulous artist would have asked permission, but then the “need” to produce what they expected would have put unwanted pressure on me.  This way, I could just throw away the paintings if I deemed them unworthy and they would be none the wiser.  So in the absence of expectations by others, I just followed my whims.  

In the end though, I had to turn myself in, but oh the fun I had during my “crime spree.”  I hope the grandparents of the subjects enjoy their new paintings.

                                         Olivia     12x12 inches   Alkyd on Canvas     Private Collection

It started when Olivia's grandma sent us photos of her grandchildren.  Something about those eyes, her innocence spoke to me and off I went.  The original photo depicts Olivia's full figure while the background is a lawn covered with autumn leaves.  Enter Photoshop's cropping tool.  I didn't want any distractions in the painting resorting, instead to a somewhat neutral setting.  Of course my original attempt drew a "NO" from my chief critic (Karen) so that had to change.  Similarly lettering on Olivia's sweatshirt somehow disappeared.  Alas, so much for my depicting unedited history.

                           Miss Brooke     12x12 inches     Alkyd on Canvas     Private Collection

Her mom posts many photos of Brooke on her Facebook page.  Annie's a terrific photographer and has captured quite a number that I've secretly moved onto our computer.  I based this painting on an image in which Brooke appeared in an elegant maroon dress holding a violin.  It's a classic and I wonder if it was her first recital.  Opting for a close-up portrait, I decided to change Brooke's clothes, choosing instead a dress she wore in another Facebook photo.  Later I found out that Annie had even made the dress, thus adding meaning to the painting.  Sometimes I get lucky.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Return to Kluane

About 30-years ago, Karen poked into a thicket of willows on the west side of Kluane Lake in Canada’s Yukon Territory.  The day had turned into the kind that make the lake famous for treacherous winds screaming out of the Slims River valley in Kluane National Park.  The roar of the waves, the slapping of branches twirling and dancing like the tail of a hereford shooing away horse flies, masked all extraneous sounds. 

The trail of a red fox had lured Karen from the “safety” of the lakeshore and into the thicket.  Winding her way in a half crouch through the dense willows, Karen parted overlapping branches blocking her path.  She froze in horror as, there, a handful of feet in front of her, she found herself face to “face” with the hind quarters off a grizzly bear -- tearing into the ground like it was plowing a field --  totally focused on digging a tasty morsel buried among the willows.  Camouflaged by only the wind and the direction the bear faced, Karen gently eased the willow “door” shut and crept back to the lake --  praying fervently that she hadn’t been discovered.  Only the crashing waves and the slapping brush kept the grizzly from knowing it’s territory had been invaded.  To say that the gauge measuring Karen’s adrenalin level, when she arrived back at our tent,
registered well above the "yikes, I've been called into the principal's office" line would be an understatement.

We both have a long history with Kluane Lake.  In the aptly named outpost of Destruction Bay also on the lake’s western shore, the muffler fell off Karen’s 1976 raw umber plymouth station wagon during her first trek up the then 1000-mile gravel-topped Alaska Highway.  Her dad, copilot and mechanic for the adventure, wired it back in place with a coat hanger.

                                Sheep Mountain (yes it really has sheep -- Dall sheep) across Kluane Lake

In the mid 1960s a couple of us set out on the lake in a Grumman aluminum canoe.  Reflections of the far shore made the lake appear about as threatening as a New England mill pond.  So tempting, yet, aware of the reputation of these northern lakes, we followed the shoreline, hugging its’ every bend and curve. Suddenly, without warning, the lake erupted into a tempest as a wind storm roared out of Kluane National Park.  Yes, my foresight isn’t always dim.

Still, Kluane Lake remains one of our favorite Yukon destinations.  This spring we opted for three nights on our northward journey and one on the return, this time on the easterly side of the lake -- no longer tenting, but spoiling ourselves at Kluane Bed and Breakfast.  The B and B is the only remaining habitation in, or at least adjacent to Silver City, a bonafide ghost town whose other mammalian inhabitants include red and ground squirrels, chipmunks, snowshoe hares and according to Cecile, our hostess, an occasional wandering grizzly.

This chipmunk at Kluane Bed and Breakfast may offer a clue to how a chipmunk showed up on our deck last fall.  All one would have to do is stow away in a trailer or back of a pickup truck, bound for Petersburg, get a free ferry ride and jump ship when it reached our island.  There aren't supposed to be chipmunks in Alaska.

Deep and 150 square miles in size, Kluane Lake doesn’t freeze over until late in the fall nor does it thaw until late in the spring.  We timed our visit perfectly to coincide with it’s breakup.  Only a narrow band of water surrounded the ice-covered lake when we arrived late in May, yet three days later open water dominated it’s surface.  

Kluane lake still mostly frozen over at the end of May, but certainly not real inviting for a skating party.  Yes, that's fresh snow in Kluane National Park.

           If the scientist in you wants to study ice crystals, Kluane Lake at breakup will provide an ample sample size.

According to the website Sights and Sites of the Yukon, 300 to 400 years ago, the outlet from Kluane Lake flowed southerly down what is now the Slims River drainage to the Gulf of Alaska.  That ended with the advance of Kaskawulsh Glacier which cut off the drainage.  After rising some 30 feet (10 meters in Canada), the river cut a new channel north to flow into the Yukon River drainage -- thus the lake’s waters that once ended in the Gulf of Alaska now end in the Bering Sea.  Interestingly, Cecile told us that chum salmon that have run over 1800 miles up the Yukon River drainage now spawn in front of Kluane Bed and Breakfast.  She has photos to prove it.  It sure makes me wonder about the history of that amazing run of fish.

Savoring the luxury of the bed and breakfast was quite a change from past visits -- but then we were consoled that our favorite campground -- the only designated public camping area along the lakeshore -- was closed to tenting anyway.  Tent campers were having too many close encounters with bears.  Besides, ground squirrels may have have vacated the campground, but not Kluane Bed and Breakfast and Karen needed a squirrel fix.

                                           An Arctic Ground Squirrel eases Karen's rodent withdrawal symptoms.

                                Our morning view of the Kluane Range while we ate breakfast on the deck.

You can almost hear the wives of the miners living in Silver City telling their husbands they just mopped the floor so, "please wipe your feet."

Flowers and rodents constitute Karen's favorite photographic subjects (besides anything else that lives).  So, of course she was delighted to find this Pasque Flower.

            OK, this Wandering Tattler isn't a flower or rodent, but stalking it gave Karen a great deal of pleasure.

The sun drops below the northern horizon some time after 11:00 PM to provide a brief period of twilight before reappearing a few hours later. 

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Haines Highway

Karen and I have several favorite drives in America, whoops -- better add the adjective North to the location.  That’s because one near the top of the list is the Haines Highway connecting Haines, Alaska with Haines Junction, Yukon.  There’s no relationship, as far as I know, with the Haines’s of the north and the Hanes brand of BVDs.

The Haines Highway as seen by a ground squirrel doing what ground squirrels like to do -- sit in the middle of the toad.

An Arctic Ground Squirrel contemplates when it should head for the middle of the highway -- probably to show off for Karen.

Since you must be curious, both Haines’s were named after Francina Haines (really -- a guy with a name ending in “ina”) who in 1879, along with S. Hall Young was one of the first missionaries (Presbyterian to be exact) in the area.   Back then, if you were the first to do something, you could get a spectacular road and a couple of towns named after you.  It’s harder these days since most of the best places have already been spoken for.  

Google maps pegs the distance between the two Haines’s at 148 miles.  However since most of the road runs through British Coumbia and the Yukon, you should think of that as 41 miles plus 172 kilometers.  Our favorite section is the Canadian portion of the road running above timber line, but then the backdrop in the US portion, the Chilkat Range, is so stunning that movie director, Randal Kleiser, chose it as the backdrop for the movie, “White Fang.”  For those of you unfamiliar with Jack London’s novel, White Fang is a dog -- albeit a pretty smart one.

We spent a day driving each way along this section of highway.  Over the little more than two weeks between our traverses the season changed from pre-green up spring in late May to summer (sort of) in early June.  I say "sort of" because fresh snow fell on nearby peaks as we motored south.  Come to think of it, it also made an appearance on our northward journey.

Hikes on the wide open tundra easily topped the list of our favorite activities going in both directions. Both were precipitated by a desire to photograph willow ptarmigan.  Of course Karen proved most adept in finding and photographing them.

                                    Don, I think I may have found a male willow ptarmigan in breeding plumage. 

                                                  No way, sweetheart.  It's a female willow ptarmigan.

  Oops, guess we're both right.  For the record, the third critter (the one in the blue checkered shirt) is not a ptarmigan.

We’ve driven the Haines Highway multiple times over the years and our track record for conversations after every trip remains 100 percent along the same line of thinking -- how can we spend more time there?  This trip was no different.   

A cottonwood tree surrounded by equisetum growing along the Alaska portion of the Haines Highway provides quite a contrast with...

                            Reindeer Lichens growing in the tundra on the British Columbia side of the border.

  Lofty unnamed peaks in Tatshenshini-Alsek Provincial Wilderness Park close to the Alaska/BC border contrast with...

       Rolling tundra further into Canada.  Note the sole distant ribbon of highway bisecting this wild corner of the world.

From a distance the tundra looks barren, but a closer looks reveals it is anything but void of beauty -- for example these Alpine Azaleas -- appear so delicate yet able to survive the harsh climate which can dip below freezing any month of the year.

              Look closely and even a seemingly bare rock will be covered in lichens framed by other tundra vegetation.

Back in Alaska, on our homeward journey, we make one last search for an NPR (a near perfect rock).  Karen's pockets will soon be bulging and the springs on our car sagging as we leave one of our favorite places in all the world.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Return to the North

Karen and I share a common bond -- one of many that drew us together some 35ish years ago.  We both love the north, especially wild places in the north -- places where as far as you can see in any direction there’s not a sign revealing the imprint of the hand of man.  It truly gives both of us a natural high.

            Wild as far as we can see in any direction!  Roadside view along the Yukon's portion of the Alaska Highway.

We gave ourselves a three week high this spring -- a late May/early June road trip north -- the Yukon and Alaska.  We never got any further from Petersburg than Wasilla, AK so left plenty of room for reruns.  We put something over 2300 miles on our Mazda Tribute plus a couple of hundred miles each way on a ferry just traveling from one part of Alaska to another.  Since it’s about 700 miles from our mainland ferry landing at Haines, Alaska, to Wasilla, I figure we covered about 900 miles side tripping -- a drive to Talkeetna plus lots of miles in search of photo ops -- critters from bears to moose, caribou and all manner of rodents, particularly porcupines and ground squirrels.  Yes, Karen will drive miles just to commune with a squirrel.

                                       "Hey, it's Karen!"  Arctic ground squirrels, Denali Highway, Alaska

Of course we both packed our paints.  Karen’s never saw the light of day.  Mine didn’t do much better.  Eventually, after painting a couple of dumpster stuffers, I decided to focus on chasing photos for future studio paintings, and the joy of finding those subjects.  Thus we drove pretty slow, but with little traffic we just pulled over to let other travelers pass.  You can’t do that on a mainland interstate.

During the ensuing weeks we’ll share some of our photos from our latest adventure.  It’s already fun reliving the trip.  Here’s a primer:

                                              The ultimate lure:  Karen with David and Tamia in Wasilla

                                                        "Er, Karen, Are you sure that's a squirrel?"

                                                                "And, are you sure that's just a stump?"

                                                 "What was that sound?"  Trumpeter swan, Yukon

            "You mean we traveled all this distance just to take a picture of a bug on a dandelion?"  Swallowtail butterfly

The sight of a flower triggers the kind of Pavlovian response in Karen as the word "bakery" in a storefront window does to Don.

                              It doesn't look like Karen's porcupine friend has been flossing his teeth regularly.

Now isn't Memorial Day supposed to be warm and sunny -- a chance to head out for a picnic?   Denali Highway, Alaska

                           If perchance Don would look up he might notice something -- like maybe a willow ptarmigan.

       Yes, it's fun recounting this trip in the rear-view mirror of our camera lenses.  We'll share more in the near future.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Fruits of the Wedding

Returning from our daughter, Tamia’s, wedding with Cash Philo last July we came back with a hugh bonus.  Karen had captured gigabytes of images with her Canon Powershot -- painting subjects.  Her photos from just that one trip could keep my brushes moving for years.

So, a pending road trip north last spring (look for future blog posts) gave me a quest this spring.  You can’t visit family without gifts so I dug through Karen’s photos easily finding subjects to paint for Tamia and Cash.  What a way to relive one of the highlights of our lives -- that cold summer day in Alaska’s Hatcher Pass where the glow of the bride turned that near-frozen corner of the surrounding tundra into a tropical paradise.  I spent much of this past winter and spring re-basking in that glow as I happily moved paint from my palette onto a clean white canvas.

I selected two images to paint, one at that moment of moments during the wedding, the second at the reception when Karen focused on three children who drifted into their own worlds at the affair. 

I love to paint people -- if the image captures a moment that speaks to me on an emotional level.  A batch of photos may show the likeness of a person or persons, yet if one expresses their personality, takes me into that moment -- a moment I feel will still resonate with viewers over time -- that’s what I want to depict on canvas.

                            And the Bride Said "I..."   18 x 24 inches   Alkyd on /Canvas

In the case of Tamia, I have long wanted to paint a close-up of a face -- just a person’s head without the supporting “cast” of a background and the clothes (as much fun as they are to paint).  When I saw Karen’s wedding photos, I knew she had unearthed an “adit into a gold mine.”  After multiple passes rendering the textures and variety of colors in her face, I gave a sigh of relief, “well done.”  I set it aside.  Several days later I took another peek.  “Yikes, it looks like she had visited a make-up artist at the Alaska State Fair.  No one’s skin is that perfect.”  Gulp, I didn’t want to lose it, but I had to go back and undo perfection.  It needed more passes to bring life to her complexion.

                                                 Mothers in the Making   18 x 24 inches   Alkyd on Canvas

The image of the three girls speaks to how the maternal instinct of girls seems to express itself at a young age.  I hope I’m not being sexist, but I don’t have that ability to relate to very young children.  I suspect it’s a symptom of many males.  Like a final exam in a physics class, they strike fear in my heart.  I simply don’t know what to do with them -- at least until they are old enough to be read to and draw with.  In the case of this painting, I moved the girls into another part of the yard and even “planted” some different flowers in the foreground.  It’s an artist’s prerogative.