Blue Ridge

Only North Carolina?

“El Capitan” circa 2013

“El Capitan” circa 2013

A few years ago (before I moved to my current studio on Depot Street, I was in the Wedge Building in Asheville’s River Arts District. At that time, I was painting mostly local Western North Carolina mountain scenes — places that were within an hour or two drive from Asheville. I was beginning to sell well (much better than I’d ever thought I would or could) and I was really excited about what I was doing. I was selling artwork to people from the north as far as Maine and south as far as Florida, and from the east coast to the west coast.

Because my clients were from all over North America, the thought occurred to me that maybe I was unnecessarily limiting myself in my subject matter. My musings at the time went like this… “Since my art buyers are coming from literally all over the country, maybe I shouldn’t JUST paint local Western North Carolina landscapes. Maybe I should I branch out and paint some of the iconic scenes from all over the country.” ???

So I spent several months painting some of the most amazing landscapes this country has to offer. The painting I’m featuring on this blog post “El Capitan” is from that series. What I found though was that my sales shriveled to a small fraction of what they were before. Because I am dependent on making the most people happy as possible with my artwork, I gave up painting anything but generic or local North Carolina landscapes and…my sales went back to where they were before my little theme-based experiment. I learned something from that, although I confess I wish I could make a living painting more than JUST my own backyard. I love this part of the country, but this country is so huge and so beautiful — as an artist, I’d love to be able to paint all of it. But as a homeowner, I need to sell my artwork so I can pay my mortgage. So that has been my quandary.

So I write this blog post to ask for the opinions of anyone out there that might feel inclined to share…

1) Would you like to see at least some paintings that were not “North Carolina themed” and, if you could, would you be more inclined to purchase them than local themed paintings?

2) If you answered yes to question 1…What part of the country would you love to see depicted?

3) Do you have a favorite place in your own state that you would love to have depicted in a painting? Or have you visited somewhere in your travels that would make an awesome piece of art?

If the only artwork I can sell here in Asheville is North Carolina themed and generic landscapes, I’m content with that. I’m just wondering if I chose the wrong photos to work from or if the paintings I did back then just weren’t all that great (I hope I’m a better artist now than I was six years ago!). But I’d love your input. I really do listen. So thank you ahead of time for any opinion you have on the matter!

The Price of Being a Landscape Painter

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Being one of Asheville, North Carolina's landscape artists, it's important for me to continually find new things to paint. So Joy and I do a lot of hiking (one of the sacrifices one must make for the job, right?). I love hiking. It's like a divine "re-set" button. And definitely, one of my very favorite places to visit is about an hour drive west of Asheville: Max Patch.

Max match is a 4,600-ft. bald mountain that was cleared and used as pasture in the 1800s. Today, it's a 350-acre tract of wide-open land on a high knob with 360-degree views. It's one of the most spectacular places one can experience in the Blue Ridge mountains.

The Great Smoky Mountains, only 20 miles away, completely dominate the southwest horizon. To the west the terrain drops more than 3,600 ft. into eastern Tennessee. Off in the west rises the dark ridgeline of the Black Mountains, including Mount Mitchell (the highest point this side of the Rocky Mountains. Seemingly endless ridges and peaks and valleys are in every direction you look. It's really  amazing.  Nearly every time we visit, we bring a picnic lunch or dinner consisting of a nice loaf of bread, chicken, and a nice bottle of wine, finished off with Pim's biscuits (cookies). Why Pim's? I don't know. It just seems so festive when we include them. What can I say

Left unmanaged, the field would naturally fill back in with shrubs, and later become peppered with young trees, eventually terminating the cherished 360-degree views of the Great Smoky Mountains and of Mount Mitchell to the east, so from time to time, the Forest Service mows down the grass to keep these incredible vistas open for people to enjoy.

I tell myself that hiking is important to get new ideas for subject matter for my oil paintings. And it is, but honestly, it's so "grounding" to get out in nature and to just be quiet...to listen to God...to listen to the wind and the birds and feel the sunshine on your face. I can't paint without that. And with relatively easy access (when the weather is good), this Blue Ridge mountain bald is the perfect place to enjoy the benefits of hiking in a quick afternoon trip. If you ever visit Asheville, I'd highly recommend the drive up to Max Patch. Just don't forget the Pim's!

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Thoughts on New Directions, New Possibilities

I'm an oil painter in the River Arts District in Asheville, North Carolina. I love our spot in the Blue Ridge mountains. It's really a fun, dynamic and sometimes crazy little city here in Western North Carolina. I've been painting in a studio in the arts district for almost eight years now and in my current studio for three years this month. It's been amazing. I get to paint and talk to people interested in artwork all day long, five days a week.

It is very much in my personality (maybe it's a basic human tendency??) to think "this will last forever". I love to "pigeon-hole" things so that life looks organized. And as much as I love change, there is something almost intoxicating about the idea of stasis, you know? Predictability can be comforting. The trick for a person with an artistic-adventurous spirit like me to find the line between predictability and unplanned adventure. The balance between predictability and adventure, comfort and fun -- that is the goal.

Sometimes though, so many things can change so very quickly. This season I am entering looks like one of those seasons of change, and from where I sit, it all (thankfully) looks like very good change. There are possibilities of new interesting painting commissions here in Asheville, new painting themes, expansion of my technique with a variety of finishes on my work, expansion of my market with international art galleries and the development of a new part-time art studio in the Dallas area (where three of our four kids live).

So over the next few months, I'm looking forward to sharing my adventures (if they work out) and maybe some disappointments (if my expectations do not work out) but it may be a pretty interesting next several months. In the mean time, I will keep painting, keep my studio doors wide open and totally enjoy the fall season (traditionally the busiest time of our year).

 

Rejuvenating Creativity!

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As primarily a landscape painter, I'm repeatedly asked how I get inspired. Really? I live in an absolutely gorgeous part of the country! How could I not get inspired? Creative inspiration is all around me. Other artists live here, constantly creating (over 220 of them within a square mile of where I'm sitting). Asheville is full of amazingly creative restaurants, buskers, craft breweries and (last but oh not least)...nature. Quiet, peaceful and restorative nature. So, if you take just a bit of time, inspiration is really easy here. 

Yesterday, I made time. It was my day off (thanks Ruth for keeping the studio open for me!) and I needed to slow down and breathe a little. It being high tourist season, I've been really busy with commissions and paintings for my own studio here in Asheville's River Arts District. I love the pace this time of year but after several weeks of "pedal to the medal" frantic painting, I really needed a breather. And my gosh, I got one yesterday. 

Yesterday morning, I'd read about a trail I'd not tried before "the "Bust your Butt" trail. I couldn't resist it with a name like that.

I packed my lunch into my camelback, put on my hiking shoes and drove 3000 feet up! Nearly to Mt. Mitchell (highest point east of the Rockies), it was a pleasant 71 degrees (compared to 85 degrees back home in Asheville). Yesterday morning, I'd read about a trail I'd not tried before "the "Bust your Butt" trail. I couldn't resist it with a name like that. I soon found out why it got that name. It was a real workout. But here and there, I had to stop walking and just stand still and listen. Nothing. Really -- nothing at all. Silence. Some clouds enveloped the mountaintop and I walked through silence in the woods. Oh my gosh, "this is where good introverts go when they die!" I thought. Awesome. 

I've written before about the concept of "inhaling" in order to be able to create (or exhale). See my blog on that topic if you're interested. Why did it take me so long to slow down? I think I'd actually get more done if I made myself do this more often! 

This was definitely a very pleasant afternoon of "inhaling". I can't wait to get back to painting today. I'm so ready. 

The Art of Dinner (at the Grove Park Inn)

Ashville's Historic Grove Park Inn

Ashville's Historic Grove Park Inn

Last night, several artists in Asheville's River Arts District were asked to take part in a very special dinner at Asheville's Grove Park Inn. We each submitted a piece of our art to the executive chef along with an explanation of our technique and the story behind the piece. Then the chef created a course of the dinner that was inspired by the art and the story. What an amazingly creative idea! And the ultra cool part of it is that this was all put on for the Dallas Cowboy's!

The painting I submitted was one of my favorites: "Stroll Through the Birch Trees". The inspiration for this piece is from one summer up in British Columbia (Canada) at Francois Lake when I was a teenager. We were staying on a family farm (an ancient log cabin) on the lake, and there were fields of wheat right on the lake. But there were also "upper fields" which you could only get to via a walk through the now overgrown forest path. One sunny morning after a rainstorm the night before, I explored this path and it was magical. Sun rays were glinting off the mist rising from the forest floor. I remember the smells of the woods, of damp, of water, of pines and birches...this is what became the inspiration behind this painting. 

Dinner was spectacular. I've never eaten food like this. There were more eating utensils around my plate than I'd ever seen (except on Downton Abbey maybe). The company, the friends, the art, the music -- what an honor to have been a part of it! 

So to help you get an idea of how this all went down...here are some photos! Bon appetit!

FIRST COURSE

Matt Tommey's basket/art sculpture was pared with smoked foie Gras macaroon, black garlic dirt, apple honeycomb and micro flowers.

Matt Tommey's basket/art sculpture was pared with smoked foie Gras macaroon, black garlic dirt, apple honeycomb and micro flowers.

SECOND COURSE

My painting ("Stroll Through the Birch Trees") was pared with salsify, fennel, pea tendrils, local cheese and smoked onion ash. Note: there was fog coming from the bottom plate, wafting up around the pea tendrils. Amazing!!

My painting ("Stroll Through the Birch Trees") was pared with salsify, fennel, pea tendrils, local cheese and smoked onion ash. Note: there was fog coming from the bottom plate, wafting up around the pea tendrils. Amazing!!

THIRD COURSE

The wood sculpture of Melissa & Graeme Engler was pared with braised butternut squash, garden crust, pickled melon jus, basil cream and local snap pea.

The wood sculpture of Melissa & Graeme Engler was pared with braised butternut squash, garden crust, pickled melon jus, basil cream and local snap pea.

FOURTH COURSE

John Almaguer's Venetian glass vase was pared with sous vide beef tenderloin, sweet pea puree and butter poached North Carolina shrimp.

John Almaguer's Venetian glass vase was pared with sous vide beef tenderloin, sweet pea puree and butter poached North Carolina shrimp.

DESSERT

Hayden Wilson's Venetian glass vase was pared with vanilla cheesecake, blueberry cream puff, blueberry compote, with chocolate Chantilly and lemon sauce.

Hayden Wilson's Venetian glass vase was pared with vanilla cheesecake, blueberry cream puff, blueberry compote, with chocolate Chantilly and lemon sauce.

What a night. I'm dieting today, but not too strict -- these portions last night were small, but I have to say, it's the best tasting food I've ever had. This was gastronomic art at it's best.

Four Seasons on the Blue Ridge

"Four Seasons on the Blue Ridge" (Each panel 10" x 24")

"Four Seasons on the Blue Ridge" (Each panel 10" x 24")

What is it about the theme of the Four Seasons? It's always a winner. When you think about it, it's almost strange because I think most people hate change. We are indeed creatures of habit in nearly everything we do. There's a security in habit, in sameness, in routine. But all the rules are broken with the very popular theme of the Four Seasons (which is all about change!). Maybe we're not as addicted to sameness and routine as they say we are. 

What would it be like if all four of the above panels were winter? Or spring? Boring. It would never sell. But show the same scene as it undergoes the annual metamorphosis from death to life to death again (going out in a blaze of glory) and it immediately gets attention. 

And I suppose you can emphasize different ideas by how you organize the panels. Start with Winter and end with Autumn (as I've organized the panels above), you might emphasize resurrection and growth to maturity (and that maturity is a beautiful thing). Start with Spring and END with Winter, you might emphasize the whole natural life cycle: Birth (with Spring) and ending with death (in Winter). I did not organize the panels that way because by all accounts, I'm getting into the Autumn phase of life and I'd rather not emphasize my impending doom. 

So whether it's my artwork, or Vivaldi's famous "Four Seasons" or any number of takes on the theme, we keep coming back to it...the beauty of the passage of time, and it's new every time it's illustrated. This was a fun project and I think I may come back to it myself from time to time. 

So, if you're visiting Asheville's River Arts District soon, come on by and take a look in person. And you can rearrange the panels to send whatever message you'd like!  Cheers!

Mountain Top Experiences

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I'd heard of Roan Mountain for a long time. It's one of those "you have to hike this trial!" sort of places you hear about. I feel a bit like I've cheated myself because I've lived in Asheville, North Carolina for almost ten years and Joy and I have hiked countless trails, but we had not tackled Roan Mountain. And it's kind of odd that we waited so long, because as a landscape painter in the River Arts District, I paint local mountain scenes all the time. Every hike we take, I've got my camera ready and when I get back to my art studio, I start composing the next painting based on the best of the best photos. So hiking and photos go hand-in-hand for me, and they are both a very big part of what I end up painting. So, why did it take this long to discover Roan Mountain for myself? I have no excuses.

It turns out Roan Mountain isn't just a peak (i.e. it's not a singular mountain) but a whole range of bald peaks (no trees on the top) morphing into each other as you walk along Appalachian Trail heading north. So with our hiking poles, Camelbak's and lunch sacks in hand, we trekked from Carver's Gap north. The day was unusually clear and comfortable (I guess that's sort of unusual for that location) and we made good time -- even with all my stops to take photos. Finally, we reached the monument at the top of Grassy Ridge Bald and honestly, this afforded the most spectacular view I'd seen in Western North Carolina. Look one way, and you gaze about a hundred miles into North Carolina. Turn your head to the left, and you gaze about a hundred miles into Tennessee. Absolutely spectacular.

That hike gave me ideas for several paintings for the coming year. What kind of awesome job do I have anyway!? I just realized I can take my gas expenses as a tax write-off!

For more info on Roan Mountain, here's a great link.

Song of Autumn

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"Song of Autumn" is inspired by a drive Joy and I took on the Blue Ridge Parkway last month. This was one of those "WAIT! Stop the car and drink this in!!" moments. Magical. It was mid-afternoon on a wonderful, crisp October day and we drove through one of those "tunnels" of tree branches stretching out overhead. Up ahead was a clearing and a scenic viewpoint (we have many of those on the parkway). I didn't really notice it then, but when I got back to my Asheville art studio, I looked through the photos I took and one of them in particular really struck me --  I loved the blue dot at the end of the tunnel created by the clearing. Since blue is the complimentary color of orange, it worked! I geeked out and thought this would make an awesome painting. So I got busy creating. I am very happy with the results of that photo.

To Autumn
by William Blake


O Autumn, laden with fruit, and stain'd
With the blood of the grape, pass not, but sit
Beneath my shady roof; there thou may'st rest,
And tune thy jolly voice to my fresh pipe,
And all the daughters of the year shall dance!
Sing now the lusty song of fruits and flowers.

"The narrow bud opens her beauties to
The sun, and love runs in her thrilling veins;
Blossoms hang round the brows of Morning, and
Flourish down the bright cheek of modest Eve,
Till clust'ring Summer breaks forth into singing,
And feather'd clouds strew flowers round her head.

"The spirits of the air live in the smells
Of fruit; and Joy, with pinions light, roves round
The gardens, or sits singing in the trees."
Thus sang the jolly Autumn as he sat,
Then rose, girded himself, and o'er the bleak
Hills fled from our sight; but left his golden load.