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In some withdrawn, unpublic mead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. 

Half Baked Ideas...

I usually don't show anyone what a half-completed painting looks like, but then I thought it might actually be interesting for friends to see. Every painting I do goes through what I call "the ugly stage" and these pieces, each approximately 50% complete, have JUST come out the other side of that ugly stage. Admittedly, they ain't beauties yet but they're not as hideous looking as they were a few days ago (trust me on that). When these pieces are complete, I'll post side-by-side photos (in process / finished) if people are interested. 

Oaks on the Water

"Oaks on the Water" (34" x 36")

"Oaks on the Water" (34" x 36")

This painting commission was an interesting assignment. About a month ago, I got a call from one of the owners of the art gallery in Charleston, SC that carries my work (Mitchell-Hill Gallery on King Street) and Michael Mitchell asked me about a commission based on two paintings I'd previously done. The photo Michael had sent me to use for inspiration was fused together in Photoshop, the upper half being two gnarled old oak trees and the lower half had a peaceful stream of still dark water (from a completely different piece). The original "oaks" painting was more of a summer scene, with green grass and a pathway or narrow road in the foreground, but I liked the idea of going to golds and more autumnal colors and I loved the idea of adding the stream. So I tackled the assignment with excitement. 

Today, this painting is complete and will be packed up for shipment momentarily.  I absolutely love taking an older painting and examining it again after some time and deciding to rework a new priced based on that original, tweaking it and "re-mixing it" so to speak. The process is a blast and the end result is usually well worth the effort. 

Oak Tree by Bernard Shaw

I took an acorn and put it in a pot.
I then covered it with earth, not a lot.
Great pleasure was mine watching it grow.
The first budding green came ever so slow.
I watered my plant twice a week
I knew I would transplant it down by the creek.
One day it will be a giant oak, 
To shield me from the sun a sheltering cloak.
Lovers will carve their initials in the bark, 
An arrow through a heart they will leave their mark.
It will shelter those caught in a fine summers rain, 
Under its leafy bows joy will be again. 
Creatures of the wilds will claim it for their own, 
Squirrels will reside here in their own home.
Birds will build nests and raise their young, 
They will sing melodies a chorus well sung.
Under it’s branches grass will grow, 
Here and there a wild flower it’s head will show.
My oak tree for hundreds of years will live.
Perhaps the most important thing I had to give. 

Challenged to the Core


Usually, when I write these blogs, I think in terms of "what do I write about today? What might be the slightest bit interesting for some visitor to read?" Today is different. I am writing because I feel like if I don't, I'll burst.

Yesterday, a gentleman visited my art studio here in Asheville and was really engaging with my paintings and my technique. This afternoon, he called me and asked if I would consider a commission, the theme of which would be the holocaust, and would that be okay or would it offend me.

I'm shaking right now actually. I have tried to use my skills as an artist to depict beauty and "sacred spaces" -- places (real or imagined) that just feel special, places where you would want to just sit a while and "drink it in" so to speak. I want to depict beauty and sacred spaces because I think that too often, I am confronted with ugliness and "profane spaces" in this world, and this is my way of at least doing something -- my own personal thing -- to balance things out. My purpose with art is to speak peace into an not-so-peaceful world. That's what I want to do. But to use my art to depict the deplorable, the unspeakable? How do I do that?

And yet...

Spanish artist Francisco Goya did that. He clearly depicted the deplorable. I would never hang his painting "Saturn devouring his Son" above the couch in my living room but it is an unspeakably powerful painting. It's his way of saying to the establishment -- "Hey, you are supposed to be protecting the people but instead, you are devouring them and you remind me of THIS!" -- a father devouring his son. Unspeakable, but powerful.

I have no idea if this commission will actually happen but it has affected me already. Can I just be really vulnerable and honest for a moment? See, I love the Jewish people and their history and their God. He has become my God and my faith tradition demands I love and respect these people. The holocaust is a personal affront and it all happened under the noses of people of my own faith tradition. They just let it happen. What do I do with that? I mourn. I mourn. I mourn.

So I think that, yes. I would be honored to use my art and depict horror...and hope. There is beauty in hope as well, right? I hope I get this assignment.