Valley of Shadows

inspiration for new oil painting

While we were in Germany the last couple of weeks, one of the things I needed to do was to visit what remains of the concentration camp at Dachau, just outside of Munich. I needed to see it because several weeks ago, a gentleman visited my Asheville studio and asked me to consider doing a painting commission based on the Holocaust, which was the strangest and most daunting request for an art commission I'd ever received. But I felt like this was something I needed to do.

The commission itself did not work out, but the idea was planted in my head and it's been growing. It will be dark and disturbing, but artists before me have depicted dark and disturbing subjects before (Goya comes to mind). So I wanted to visit Dachau (since it's so close to Munich where we were staying) and soak it in -- let it do in my heart whatever it wanted to do so that I could then depict that in my future painting.

It was not pleasant.

The only way I could take it in was to not fully take it all in. I don't know how anyone can "fully" take it in. I felt myself hardening while I strolled slowly through the grounds. Row upon row of barracks foundations still stand, and I felt a horrible weight. I've never felt anything so miserable and dark and dreadful before.

Row upon row of barracks.

Close your eyes and you still can't imagine the pain of the place. These were real human lives and I wanted to hear them but again, I felt a self-protective "deadening" of my heart. It was the only way I could keep walking; could keep "listening".

It got darker still.

We walked into the very room where people were told to strip. We walked into the next room, tiled floor to ceiling as though it were a shower. I walked into that dark room, silent now but you can still feel a horrible weightiness there. Crushing.

We saw rafters in front of crematory ovens from which people were hung, so that the last thing on this earth they would see would be the open oven door.

No one speaks at Dachau. Communication is in short whispers. It is a holy and horrible place. No one knows how to take it all in and comprehend it. How can you? How can you even begin?

How did this happen? Germany was not a third world country full of back-woods people controlled by superstition. They were a major western civilization, full of creative people. It was a country full of world famous musicians, painters, writers and scientists. But it was a struggling country. They felt like they were not in control of their destiny anymore. They wanted Germany to be great again and they found someone who promised the moon. And then they turned their head when the horrors began to happen. How could this have happened? I think the scenario sounds hauntingly familiar. Similar things could happen anywhere in any generation unless we remember and learn from the past. If you listen, in places like Dachau, the past still has a voice and it is dark and absolutely crushing.

I know now what I need to paint. Some would say it's a waste of time because it may never sell. But art is my voice. And right now, I want to speak.

More to come.

the breakers

"the breakers" (18" x 24")

"the breakers" (18" x 24")

This was was...uh...interesting. I hear people come in my studio and say silly things to each other like "well remember, there are NO MISTAKES in art". Rubbish. I've made them all. I originally started this one several weeks ago and I liked the idea: very subtle gray, dark, muted colors. Anyway, it should have been hanging on my wall this last month except I was so disgusted with the original version of it that I took my paint-thinner soaked rag to it and wiped off as much paint as I could, then completely re-covered it with aluminum leaf and started over. This time, I switched gears and went with aquatic colors. As usually, I had no idea what was going to happen in this abstract as it progressed, but the very last day of paint application, it took the form of an abstracted seascape: waves crashing. I was very happy. 

So the next time you hear someone say something ridiculous like "there are no mistakes in art", just butt in please and tell them " mean there are no mistakes that can't be corrected". Happily, most "mistakes" can indeed be remedied with some grit and determination. 

So enjoy "the breakers".

The Three Voices
by Robert W. Service

The waves have a story to tell me, 
As I lie on the lonely beach; 
Chanting aloft in the pine-tops, 
The wind has a lesson to teach; 
But the stars sing an anthem of glory
I cannot put into speech. 

The waves tell of ocean spaces, 
Of hearts that are wild and brave, 
Of populous city places, 
Of desolate shores they lave, 
Of men who sally in quest of gold
To sink in an ocean grave. 

The wind is a mighty roamer; 
He bids me keep me free, 
Clean from the taint of the gold-lust, 
Hardy and pure as he; 
Cling with my love to nature, 
As a child to the mother-knee. 

But the stars throng out in their glory, 
And they sing of the God in man; 
They sing of the Mighty Master, 
Of the loom his fingers span, 
Where a star or a soul is a part of the whole, 
And weft in the wondrous plan. 

Here by the camp-fire's flicker, 
Deep in my blanket curled, 
I long for the peace of the pine-gloom, 
When the scroll of the Lord is unfurled, 
And the wind and the wave are silent, 
And world is singing to world.


When the Sun Went Dark

Solar Eclipse over Western North Carolina

What an amazing day yesterday in Andrews, NC right under the very center of the area of totality. So many interesting things about the eclipse...1) the temperature dropped from 87F to 63F in about an hour. 2) cumulus clouds that had been building in the heat and humidity dissipated. 3) the sun, even at just a sliver uncovered kept us nicely lit and then...the sun was covered completely, thousands cheered and it was like someone switched the light off. Instantly, stars appeared and streetlights went on. The event itself is impossible to describe -- the terrible beauty of the black hole in the sky surrounded by streaming tendrils of light. Absolutely incredible. And 4) it brought new friends together! We noticed Daryl walking around with his two adorable little girls (Layla and Jasmine) and we invited them to join us on our picnic blanket. Joy jumped right in and pumped the girls with cookies and we had a really great time getting to know each other. What fun! I love random friendships like this!

The energy and elation at witnessing 2 minutes, 38 seconds of this spectacle has deeply affected me and will I'm sure affect my work at the art studio in Asheville. I doubt I'll start painting eclipses, but experiencing that level of absolute awe can't help but move you and inspire you. Let's see where this goes! 

Friends we met in western North Carolina

Secret Blog Post

"Secret Falls" (20" x 30")

"Secret Falls" (20" x 30")

Secret Falls is a graceful little waterfall on Big Creek, just south of Highlands, NC, not that far from some of my favorite waterfalls in the state (Rainbow and Turtleback in Gorges State Park). The western part of North Carolina is absolutely filled with awesome waterfalls, great and small and so many of them are an easy hike from the road. What is there about the sound of falling water and the feel of icy water on hot sweaty feet after hiking? Agh! This is my heaven right here and now. This is what I love to paint. With so much ugliness in the world these days, I have to remind myself that there is beauty and wonder all around me -- in the faces of so many really sweet people in my life and in the natural landscape so close by. That is why I love having an art studio in Asheville. 


O Nature! I do not aspire
To be the highest in thy choir, -
To be a meteor in thy sky,
Or comet that may range on high;
Only a zephyr that may blow
Among the reeds by the river low;
Give me thy most privy place
Where to run my airy race.

In some withdrawn, unpublic mead
Let me sigh upon a reed,
Or in the woods, with leafy din,
Whisper the still evening in:
Some still work give me to do, -
Only - be it near to you!

For I'd rather be thy child
And pupil, in the forest wild,
Than be the king of men elsewhere,
And most sovereign slave of care;
To have one moment of thy dawn,
Than share the city's year forlorn. 

--Henry David Thoreau

Waterfalls Everywhere!

There are a lot of things I learned from my grand experiment of painting a 6' x 8' painting of Cullasaja Falls. One of the things I learned is how to paint a waterfall! I was so happy with the way my giant painting went, I decided to work on a couple of smaller paintings featuring iconic waterfalls of western North Carolina. This first piece (below) depicts Dry Falls, a truly beautiful and majestic waterfall on Hwy. 64 north of Highlands, NC. Actually, Dry Falls is one of six waterfalls on the same river that eventually plunges over Cullasaja Falls. 

If you're in western North Carolina and want an absolutely beautiful drive, head west from Asheville to the town of Highlands. From there, you'll want to head north on a very narrow, windy and wonderful road (Highway 64), you get to the first of six waterfalls, Sequoyah Falls. These falls tumble out of Lake Sequoyah and into the Cullasaja River. A few miles north is Bridalveil Falls followed by Dry Creek Falls, Dry Falls, Bust Your Butt Falls (apparently aptly named) and finally Cullasaja Falls (the subject of the largest single panel painting I've ever completed). 

"Dry Falls" (24" x 32")

"Dry Falls" (24" x 32")

"Cullasaja Falls" Completion photo

North Carolina Landscape - Cullasaja Falls

Well here it is. Done. After just over 13 months, it's now hanging on my wall, and it's hard for me to get used to. It's actually shocking every time I pass by. "OMG! Okay yes, there you are!"  It's like someone belting out a strain from a Wagnerian opera every time you walk by it (it's very hard to ignore).

I learned a whole lot from this project. I hadn't really don't much with the "waterfall theme" before, but now that I've gotten my feet wet so to speak (pardon the pun), I've got two other waterfall paintings nearly done (though much smaller in scale). 

No other painting has been so challenging and really, no other has given me so much joy in it's creation. 

"Under The Waterfall" by Thomas Hardy

'Whenever I plunge my arm, like this, 
In a basin of water, I never miss
The sweet sharp sense of a fugitive day
Fetched back from its thickening shroud of gray. 
Hence the only prime
And real love-rhyme
That I know by heart, 
And that leaves no smart, 
Is the purl of a little valley fall
About three spans wide and two spans tall
Over a table of solid rock, 
And into a scoop of the self-same block; 
The purl of a runlet that never ceases
In stir of kingdoms, in wars, in peaces; 
With a hollow boiling voice it speaks
And has spoken since hills were turfless peaks.'

'And why gives this the only prime
Idea to you of a real love-rhyme? 
And why does plunging your arm in a bowl
Full of spring water, bring throbs to your soul?'

'Well, under the fall, in a crease of the stone, 
Though precisely where none ever has known, 
Jammed darkly, nothing to show how prized, 
And by now with its smoothness opalized, 
Is a grinking glass: 
For, down that pass
My lover and I
Walked under a sky
Of blue with a leaf-wove awning of green, 
In the burn of August, to paint the scene, 
And we placed our basket of fruit and wine
By the runlet's rim, where we sat to dine; 
And when we had drunk from the glass together, 
Arched by the oak-copse from the weather, 
I held the vessel to rinse in the fall, 
Where it slipped, and it sank, and was past recall, 
Though we stooped and plumbed the little abyss
With long bared arms. There the glass still is. 
And, as said, if I thrust my arm below
Cold water in a basin or bowl, a throe
From the past awakens a sense of that time, 
And the glass we used, and the cascade's rhyme. 
The basin seems the pool, and its edge
The hard smooth face of the brook-side ledge, 
And the leafy pattern of china-ware
The hanging plants that were bathing there.

'By night, by day, when it shines or lours, 
There lies intact that chalice of ours, 
And its presence adds to the rhyme of love
Persistently sung by the fall above. 
No lip has touched it since his and mine
In turns therefrom sipped lovers' wine.'

Finishing up "My Marathon"

Pouring the resin (FINALLY!)

Pouring the resin (FINALLY!)

I have been waiting for this resin pour for over a year now. This painting, my depiction of Cullasaja Falls, (pronounced Kull-uh-say-ja) was begun a year ago now, and at 6' x 8', it is the largest single panel painting I've ever done. It also is the most detailed piece I've worked on. Over this past year, I've had multiple visitors to my River Arts District art studio ask "Oh, when are you finishing THAT one!?" My answer has usually been "I have no idea. I'll just keep working on it until it says it's done".

The Journey

My first post about this piece was back on July 18th of last year. That post shows where this all started (a blank wood panel). A month later, my panel was prepped and I was beginning to apply my texture sketch. By November, my texture was applied and I was ready to seal the painting, preparing it for the application of the aluminum leaf. Eleven months later, I was in the "home stretch, starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel. 

It's been really nice working on the painting this way. My original idea was that it would probably take six months to complete. Considering the fact that the rest of my oil paintings take about a month, I thought I was being generous with my six month time schedule. But six months came and went, uh, six months ago and I didn't care. The goal I had was to produce something that would (at least for this day in 2017) represent the very best I could possibly do, and to do that took a lot of time.

Well this painting is done now and last night, I poured the resin. And this time, rather than achieving a thick glassy smooth surface, I wanted to apply just one layer of resin. This left a lot of the texture quite visible. I spent weeks and weeks of texture application and didn't want to cover it all up, and with just one layer, the painting will sparkle.

Today (Tuesday) is my day off (THANK YOU RUTH VANN FOR WATCHING MY STUDIO ON TUESDAYS!) and I'm making myself wait until tomorrow morning to go in and inspect the piece. As long as I didn't have any gnats or flies dive-bombing into the resin while it was still curing, I'll be fine.  And tomorrow is party time! By the end of the day, the largest painting I've ever painted will be hanging on my studio wall!


resin application
art process

One of the Best Days Ever!

Me with my amazingly beautiful daughter Ceilidh on her wedding day (July 28, 2017)

Me with my amazingly beautiful daughter Ceilidh on her wedding day (July 28, 2017)

Of all the creative works my wife Joy and I have been involved with, there is none like this. We work at an art studio in Asheville, North Carolina and have created literally hundreds of oil paintings; landscapes and abstract. We've experimented with different textures and glazes. And we have a great deal of joy and healthy pride when it comes to what we create. But honestly, it all pales to the family of six that began with just us two. Our children were and continue to be the most wonderful and challenging and rewarding creative projects we have ever dreamed of taking on. And this last Friday night, in Cleburne, TX, our last and youngest child (our daughter Ceilidh) was married. There is no way to describe the satisfaction, happiness and pride I feel because of her. She chose a wonderful guy, Schyler Shaffer who has been embraced by my whole family as being every bit as weird and wonderful as they are (good thing!)

Ceilidh and Schyler,

‘“The Lord bless you
    and keep you;
 the Lord make his face shine on you
    and be gracious to you;
 the Lord turn his face toward you
    and give you peace.”

All my kids and grandchildren. So thankful for these people.

All my kids and grandchildren. So thankful for these people.

"Glacial Fractures in situ"

"Glacial Fractures" (45" x 70")

"Glacial Fractures" (45" x 70")

Every now and then, I receive a very welcomed email from a client that a includes a photo of one of my paintings hanging in it's new home. The piece shown here, entitled "Glacial Fractures", was shipped to Chicago and is now part of someone's home. Honestly, this is still so weird and wonderful to me -- the idea that I can express myself very personally on a canvas, and then that part of me -- this "thing" I made is now detached from me completely and becomes part of the life and home of another. It's pretty cool really. It's kind of like conceiving and giving birth to a baby daughter, watching her grow up and then leave you to get married (moving to Chicago in this case). Sorry for the lame analogy, but my daughter Ceilidh IS getting married this Friday so I have that whole theme on the front burner of my brain right now. So exciting. 

Back to Business...

Next week, I'm back in my art studio in Asheville and though I've absolutely enjoyed the break, I'm really anxious to get back to the paintings I started a couple weeks ago, and I'm really enthused to get going on some brand new ideas I have now (this always happens when I take time to rest). 

And (drum roll)...I will actually be finishing up my "Big Mama" 6' x 8' painting this next week. More on that to come. This of course means that this piece, "Cullesaja Falls" will have taken a full year to complete. Whew!

Inspiration and Rest

Fishing on the lower Blue Lake, Breckenridge, CO

Fishing on the lower Blue Lake, Breckenridge, CO

Last week, my whole family (kids and grandchildren) were given the opportunity to spend time at a cabin of some friends/clients in Breckenridge, CO. We spent the week hiking, biking, fishing and a lot of laughing (especially during endless games of Settlers of Catan). If you ever need to be recharged and inspired, the Rocky Mountains will do the trick. Awesome and severe and covered with wildflowers this time of year, we left them inspired and ready to dive back into the Asheville summer season!

I enjoy my job so much as a painter in my studio in Asheville's River Arts District. I usually am not even aware of the fact that it would be good to get a break. See, painting FEELS like my "break" and I get to do that five days a week. For those of you who have purchased my artwork...THANK YOU for giving me the privilege of doing what I love to do. It's not lost on me that I can joyfully create because people like you support and encourage me by actually purchasing what I create. 

But I can get so blissfully caught up in the creating of art that it's really easy to miss the fact I need a break, and that even with art, I need to take time to recharge and to fill my depleting creative tank. 

Well, now that creative tank is full again. I left the Rocky Mountains rested and inspired and with some new ideas I want to try. If these ideas work, then some exciting things are in the making in the next few months, and I'm really excited about that.