"The Time Between Times"

"Time Between Times" (22" x 34")

"Time Between Times" (22" x 34")

Sometimes when I am trying to get ready to begin a painting, it's difficult to know what I want to paint. I hear other artists say things like "I'm just waiting for inspiration...I'm in a dry season right now." That's not me. I've never been in a dry season. I've never waited for inspiration. If I dive into something (whether or not I feel inspired at the moment), inspiration comes quickly. It's like that inspiring little muse is always there (albeit quiet sometimes) but it can always be coaxed out. Sometimes it's like a pouting little kid that doesn't want to play and is sulking in the corner. And so you say "okay that's fine! I'll play without you" and before long, the kid slinks out of the corner and joins the play. 

So I am not slowed down when I don't feel "inspired". What I'm talking about is when I'm between projects and want to ready to paint...NEED to paint but I don't know what I SHOULD paint. How to decide...

What I usually do at that point is to look through all my photos in my camera and go to Bing or Google images and start the search for something to inspire my painting. I always tweak the photo so it's not a "copy" (I need the painting to be a unique piece), but I feel free to get inspired by a sunset, sunrise, interesting foreground or general composition of a piece. But the really big thing I'm looking for in a photo is not whether or not it's beautiful. There are lots of beautiful photos that make lousy paintings. I'm looking to create an emotion in the viewer. Manipulative, huh? It's true. 

The above painting is one I just finished this morning, "Time Between Times", and it depicts that five minutes of time between day and night that the world becomes magical with the quality of light and color. I'm looking to create a piece that evokes a sense of awe. I can imagine being there in the scene and thinking " (long pause)". If I were standing on the shoreline of this lake at that time of day, I would feel awe. My goal is that I can share that sense of awe with the viewer of my painting. 

So to me, it's not my primary goal to create nice art. That's part of my goal, but utmost in my mind is that I want to elicit emotion (usually a sense of awe or peace or joy, but sometimes sadness and pain). If I can do that, then I've touched on something powerful and that is a very heady thing to try to master. I'll always strive to that end. 

The Organ Mountains

"The Organ Mountains" (45" x 49")

"The Organ Mountains" (45" x 49")

This painting epitomizes my very favorite thing about painting a commission: I literally get to paint scenes from all over the world! This just completed piece "The Organ Mountains" is depicting a mountain range just east of Las Cruces, New Mexico. They were named the "organ" mountains because the jagged peaks reminded early settlers of a pipe organ (so the story goes). 

Planning for this painting began last December when a very nice local couple were visiting my art studio in Asheville's River Arts District. They liked my technique and asked if I ever did commission work. I love that question. I explained that "YES!" I do commissions and that they comprise over half of all I paint at this point. So they pulled out their iPhone and showed me photos of these incredible desert mountains and I was totally hooked. After agreeing to the size, they sent me several photos they liked, which I kind of combined together, i.e. I took the composition of the mountain range in one of the photos and sketched my composition based on that photo. But it was dark and the coloring was off, so I used the lighting and coloring of a second painting and vegetation from a third photo. After I completed the sketch, texturized it and applied the metallic leaf, I colorized it with multiple layers of oil paint and called in my clients to take a look. They asked if I could insert a massive cumulus cloud above the mountains, and insert an ocotillo plant and some yucca's (all cacti indigenous to that region). A week later, I completed the painting, applied the gold to the edges  and poured the resin. 

I love the American South West. I've spent a lot of time exploring the area but it's so, SO vast, there's no way anyone could see it all in a lifetime. If you like very wide open spaces and dramatic geology, the west is definitely worth a visit (and definitely worth commissioning a painting I might add). 

Winter in the Summer!

"Top of the Mountain" (18" x 22")

"Top of the Mountain" (18" x 22")

I have the tendency of being plagued with constant restlessness..."I'm too cold. I can't wait for summer"..."I'm too hot. I can't wait for winter". I have to remind myself to fully enjoy and appreciate where I am in the year, you know? I mean, each season has incredible beauty. I have learned two things living in a part of the country that gets four bonafide seasons:

1) Each season is a delight.

2) As an artist, winter always sells. 

I have no idea why my second point is true. I would have thought a winter themed painting would be a "slow mover" when it comes to sales but my winter paintings are still selling in the summer so...being the keen entrepreneur that I am, I will continue to paint winter themes as longs as they sell. This painting in particular gives me great joy. It is called "Top of the Mountain" and features a stand of balsam trees heavily laden will snow. And as in most winter paintings, it is almost monochromatic. I think reducing a composition to nearly black and white (as you do in a winter scene) is really challenging and if pulled off right (hopefully!) is really dramatic. 

So this summer, as you're about to enjoy a long weekend of inhaling bar-b-qued hot dogs, hamburgers and enjoying home made ice cream, remember...there are less than six months till Christmas. 

Woods in Winter
by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

When winter winds are piercing chill, 
And through the hawthorn blows the gale, 
With solemn feet I tread the hill, 
That overbrows the lonely vale. 

O'er the bare upland, and away
Through the long reach of desert woods, 
The embracing sunbeams chastely play, 
And gladden these deep solitudes. 

Where, twisted round the barren oak, 
The summer vine in beauty clung, 
And summer winds the stillness broke, 
The crystal icicle is hung. 

Where, from their frozen urns, mute springs
Pour out the river's gradual tide, 
Shrilly the skater's iron rings, 
And voices fill the woodland side. 

Alas! how changed from the fair scene, 
When birds sang out their mellow lay, 
And winds were soft, and woods were green, 
And the song ceased not with the day! 

But still wild music is abroad, 
Pale, desert woods! within your crowd; 
And gathering winds, in hoarse accord, 
Amid the vocal reeds pipe loud. 

Chill airs and wintry winds! my ear
Has grown familiar with your song; 
I hear it in the opening year, 
I listen, and it cheers me long.

The Last Sunset (is that dramatic or what?)

Sunset over the Blue Ridge Mountains

Lest anyone become weary of sunset paintings (is that even possible??), this one is the last sunset themed piece in the most recent grouping of paintings I've completed. In all seriousness, I feel like I've really grown from this. I usually do "daytime" paintings but was asked to work on two coastal sunset themed commissions about a month ago. Because I was in a sense forced to tackle a sunset, I took my time and applied what I've learned in the last couple years to both pieces. As it turns out, I had so much fun with those sunset paintings that I had to try more, working on a mountain (as opposed to coastal) setting.

I think I will be painting more sunsets (and maybe some sunrises too). They're just too much fun. You really can play with extreme dark and extreme light, and extreme contrast in the complimentary colors (i.e. the oranges and yellows in the sky playing against the blues and violets in the mountains). Everything is extreme. Too much fun!

The Blue Mountains
by Henry Lawson

Above the ashes straight and tall, 
Through ferns with moisture dripping, 
I climb beneath the sandstone wall, 
My feet on mosses slipping. 

Like ramparts round the valley's edge
The tinted cliffs are standing, 
With many a broken wall and ledge, 
And many a rocky landing. 

And round about their rugged feet
Deep ferny dells are hidden
In shadowed depths, whence dust and heat
Are banished and forbidden. 

The stream that, crooning to itself, 
Comes down a tireless rover, 
Flows calmly to the rocky shelf, 
And there leaps bravely over. 

Now pouring down, now lost in spray
When mountain breezes sally, 
The water strikes the rock midway, 
And leaps into the valley. 

Now in the west the colours change, 
The blue with crimson blending; 
Behind the far Dividing Range, 
The sun is fast descending. 

And mellowed day comes o'er the place, 
And softens ragged edges; 
The rising moon's great placid face
Looks gravely o'er the ledges.

My Largest Painting to Date...

Last August, I was hiking with my wife Joy around the mountains of western North Carolina and my mind was relaxing. I could feel it. And when that happens, when my soul "breathes deeply"...that is when I come up with crazy ideas. I can't help it. I'm convinced Joy was brought into my life to consistently bring me back to reality when I start a conversation with "Hey, I have an idea!"

But this time, she just listened and said, "I think you should try it." The idea I had shared was to create the largest painting I've ever done by far. Most of my paintings take about one month to complete. What my mind was questioning whilst hiking that day was "what would a six month painting even look like?" I had no idea. Hmmm.

I still have no idea. This baby is going on nine months now, but it is 90% complete thanks to yesterday. See, yesterday was the last day of studio stroll and it was pouring rain most of the day which was perfect weather to get going on the final stretch of my "big mamma" painting, since no one was exploring the River Arts District in such horrid weather. And because I needed to be there all day, I painted through the downpours and now I'm nearly done.

"Is this a commission?" people ask. "No," I explain. "This is the most impractical art related idea I've ever had." But I had to do it. I am so incredibly thankful that my wife Joy blew on the spark and didn't douse it. Will this ever sell? Is it actually worth the time and effort I put into it? I have no idea and for this one, it doesn't matter.  I want this to be the absolute best oil painting I am capable of creating to date. That is what it is for.

Most of what I do is for very practical reasons, but now and then, I am convinced people need to be okay with doing something simply and only for the joy of doing it. This monster painting is giving me great joy. And when I complete it and it's hanging on the wall in my studio, I will have a party and celebrate. And you'll be invited.

Favorite Hikes (Inspiration in the Making)...

Asheville Hikes

Hiking and exploring are a huge, huge part of how I regenerate when I'm "spent". Fresh air, exercise and immersion in nature -- that's where I go to recharge and I usually go home inspired with a new idea for my artwork. What does a mountain trail have to do with oil painting and my art studio? Everything.

So if you're visiting Asheville, here are a couple more hikes I am always recommending: Graveyard Fields and Skinny Dip Falls. Both are a wonderful way to spend the day and are both easy hikes (no excuses not to enjoy!).

Graveyard Fields

Graveyard Fields is a super popular hiking destination on the Blue Ridge Parkway (Milepost 418.8). The Yellowstone Prong is the water source for two waterfalls in a mile-high valley filled with wildflowers and surrounded by Blue Ridge mountains with 6,000-foot peaks. The area got it's name years ago from the tree stumps and surrounding trees that looked like grave stones in a graveyard setting. The trees were toppled by a huge wind several hundred years ago. Then in 1925, an intense fire burned the recently logged area, and the forest has been slow in recovering since. This provides a stark contrast to most hiking in the Asheville area.

Their beautiful hiking trail (Graveyard Fields Loop) is about four miles. Start from the overlook on the Blue Ridge Parkway. There is a map on the sign at the parking area. Take the trail at the lower end (right side looking away from Parkway) of the parking area. This descends down a paved path through a thick patch of rhododendron, down some steps and to a bridge. Cross the bridge, turn right along the trail until you come to the first trail intersection to the right, and descend a long flight of steps to viewing platform for Lower (or Second) Falls. You can get a closer look from the boulders at the base of the falls. You can even slide down a portion of the waterfall!  This beautiful waterfall is just short hike from the parking area. It's a popular swimming hole to get splash around in the cool mountain water and slide down part of the waterfall. The rocks are slick and there are no lifeguards on duty. So be careful!

Skinny Dip Falls

Skinny Dip Falls are beautiful. Really one of our favorites. It's a refreshing swimming hole and soaking spot on a hot summer day with clear, cold water. And it's a beautiful waterfall setting to enjoy any time of the year without getting wet with multiple cascades and pools. Located on the Blue Ridge Parkway (at Milepost 417 at Looking Glass Rock overlook), it's easy to find at the end of a 1/2 mile hiking trail from the Parkway overlook.

Sorry, Skinny Dip Falls is not clothing-optional.  And In addition to a nice "jump off rock" into a deep pool (about six feet deep), there are several places to wade or have a seat in the cool mountain water.

Inspiration is Everywhere (some of our favorite hiking trails)

Recharging one's batteries (so to speak) is essential to me as an artist. Getting out and hiking is the best way to "reboot" my system. Get some fresh air and miles under my belt and creativity just flows naturally. Maybe everyone is that way but I've always had to get out and breathe, you know?

And because with an open painting studio in Asheville's River Arts District, I am sometimes the unofficial town greeter, and am asked about fun things to do (including hiking). So it seemed like a good idea to share some of my favorite hiking trails around here. 

Dupont Forest Waterfalls

This three-mile hike to two awesome waterfalls is the most popular waterfall hike near Asheville and one of my favorites. The moderate hike has a few hills but is perfect for about all fitness levels and families. Since it's so popular, weekends especially in the summer and fall bring big crowds.

Triple Falls
Triple Falls has three cascades with a total 120-foot drop. Just past an overlook, a trail forks off to the left and heads down to land on a large rock area below the top two falls and atop the third. It's a great place to relax or have a picnic, while you enjoy the views up and down the waterfall.

High Falls
From Triple Falls, continue about 1/2 mile on the High Falls Trail to the largest waterfall, a 150-foot cascade down an inclined plane of granite. En route, you'll see the River Bend Trail to the left. Take this detour to reach the base of High Falls (includes rock hopping along the river).  

Black Balsam Knob

A must hike along the Blue Ridge Parkway (milepost 420.2, about 26 miles from the Asheville exit on the Parkway) is the Black Balsam Knob area that includes some of the most spectacular mountain balds in the Southern Appalachians, including Black Balsam Knob (or Black Balsam Bald), Sam Knob, and Tennent Mountain. These treeless mountaintops in the Pisgah National Forest draw people from all over to soak in the sweeping views with an alpine-like feel. Almost entirely devoid of trees above 6,000 feet elevation, the summits are more reminiscent of New England than North Carolina.

Max Patch

This 4,600-foot mountain was cleared and used as pasture in the 1800s. Today, it's a 350-acre tract of open land on a high knob with 360-degree views. On a clear day, you can see from Mt. Mitchell on the east to the Great Smoky Mountains on the south. What a picnic spot! And great for star gazing and enjoying wildflowers. The summit is a short walk from the parking lot. Max Patch is part of the Pisgah National Forest. The Great Smoky Mountains, only 20 miles away, dominate the southwest horizon. To the west the terrain drops more than 3600 feet into the flatlands of eastern Tennessee. To the west 50 miles, rises the dark ridgeline of the Black Mountains. Endless ridges and peaks fill every vista.

"No Boundaries"

The Great Smoky Mountains

Becoming a national park was not easy for the Great Smokies. Joining the National Park System took a lot of money and the hard work of thousands of people. Establishing most of the older parks located in the western United States, such as Yellowstone, was fairly easy. Congress merely carved them out of lands already owned by the government—often places where no one wanted to live anyway. But getting park land in this area was a different story. The land that became Great Smoky Mountains National Park was owned by hundreds of small farmers and a handful of large timber and paper companies.

A New Idea

The idea to create a national park in these mountains started in the late 1890s. A few farsighted people began to talk about a public land preserve in the cool, healthful air of the southern Appalachians. A bill even entered the North Carolina Legislature to this effect, but failed. By the early 20th century, many more people in the North and South were pressuring Washington for some kind of public preserve.

Efforts to create a national park became successful in the mid-1920s, with most of the hard-working supporters based in Knoxville, Tennessee and Asheville, North Carolina. Surprisingly, motorists had the biggest role in the push for a national park. The newly formed auto clubs, mostly branches of the AAA, were interested in good roads through beautiful scenery on which they could drive their shiny new cars.

In May, 1926, a bill was signed by President Calvin Coolidge that provided for the establishment of Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Shenandoah National Park. This allowed the Department of the Interior to assume responsibility for administration and protection of a park in the Smokies as soon as 150,000 acres of land had been purchased.

Since the government was not allowed to buy land for national park use, the former political boosters became fund raisers. In the late 1920s, the Legislatures of Tennessee and North Carolina appropriated $2 million each for land purchases. Additional money was raised by individuals, private groups, and even school children who pledged their pennies. By 1928, a total of $5 million had been raised. The Laura Spelman Rockefeller Memorial Fund matched what had been raised and donated $5 million, assuring the purchase of the remaining land.

But buying the land was difficult, even with the money in hand. There were thousands of small farms, large tracts, and other miscellaneous parcels that had to be surveyed and appraised. The timber and paper companies had valuable equipment and standing inventory which required compensation. Worse, in some ways, were the emotional losses to people who had to walk away from their homes. Lifetime leases allowed some people to stay temporarily, particularly if they were too old or too sick to move. Others could be granted leases on a short-term basis. However, they could not cut timber, hunt and trap at will, or otherwise live as they always had.

The facts about this place (to me anyway) are interesting, but the real interest is the nitty-gritty history of this place. People lived out their lives here. They composed their music here, wrote their stories here and crafted their poems here. And walking the trails, you can still make out the presence of the past if you listen...

There’s an old weather bettion house
That stands near a wood
With an orchard near by it
For almost one hundred years it has stood

It was my home in infency
It sheltered me in youth
When I tell you I love it
I tell you the truth

For years it has sheltered
By day and night
From the summer’s sun heat
And the cold winter blight

But now the park commisioner
Comes all dressed up so gay
Saying this old house of yours
We must now take away

They coax they wheedle
They fret they bark
Saying we have to have this place
For a National Park

For us poor mountain people
They don’t have a care
But must a home for
The wolf the lion and the bear

But many of us have a tltle
That is sure and will hold
To the City of Peace
Where the streets are pure gold

There no lion in its fury
Those pathes ever trod
It is the home of the soul
In the presence of God

When we reach the portles
of glory so fair
The Wolf cannot enter
Neither the lion or bear

And no park Commissioner
Will ever dar
To desturbe or molest
Or take our home from us there

-By Louisa Walker

Appalachian Trail

The Appalachian Trail is the longest "hiking only" footpath in the world, and extends from Georgia to Maine. Some of our favorite places to hike in North Carolina cross-cross the AT here and there. This painting is from one of my favorite balds near the border of Tennessee.

Living as an artist in Western North Carolina, the Appalachian Trail is never far, and is always an inspiration for my oil paintings. I simply never run out of creative fodder! In thinking about this awesome trail, and the amazing adventures found upon it, the landscapes, the trees, the rivers and the mountains, it seemed like I needed a poem to really do it justice.  (See some of my favorite hikes in the area)

Endless Ranges

The month of February I will begin

a trek through woods as wide as the seas,

from the foothills of Georgia 

to rock altars in the mountains of Maine,

a pilgrimage of whole hearted discovery.


I shall walk on this Appalachian trail,

following the blazes of white,

beneath the wide open sky,

gazing north, always north 

across wide rivers, rocky ridges, and green meadows.


Twenty-two hundred miles it is,

twenty-two hundred miles to reach the end.

From this point on I now must find the will

to go onward every day until Autumn’s chill,

with the last days my youth has left to lend me.


And in these lonely months of walking,

when I’m lost amidst fog draped mountain peaks

timeless truths I hope to find as I am quiet and just listen --

to the whisper of branches, the gurgling of the stream,

the roaring wind -- listen for The Voice. He is here.


This trail I trek not because I’m bold or brave,

but from fear of that days when I've grown old,

I will with regret, I’ll only quietly sigh

because of the unlived life that has passed me.

This is an adventure is not one I can ignore.


While I do not know if I shall succeed,

I do ask the reader -- listen!

Live your one-time Life. Really live!

And should you find your path twine across my own,

Welcome home. 

Process: Rocky Mountain Commission

I love working large. Large artwork is commanding. Whether it’s intended as entrance art to grab you as soon as you enter a house or just a large wall piece, a sizable painting is artwork on a grand scale. I am currently working on a large commissioned art project for some nice folks in Austin, TX. The composition is triptych, and is based on a scene of the Rocky mountains -- mountains and birch trees reflecting in a lake. I just finished applying the metallic leaf to the textured surfaces of the panels yesterday and I was ready to go home -- turned off the lights and went to the back of the studio to get my keys, and when I turned around, I saw the panels reflecting back the late afternoon sunlight and I had to get a photo. Sorry. I get excited about stuff like this. One day, I'll have to just do a painting with no paint at all -- just metal covered with resin. I think that would be cool. Anyway, this one is ready for paint now, and by the end of the day, I'll have that first layer of paint applied. 

Sometimes, when I get into a piece, it's cool to explore the background story. This scene from Glacier National Park required just a bit of research so that I'm not just painting a painting, but I'm depicting a place. I want to capture the "spirit" of that place. Throughout time, people have sought out Glacier National Park's rugged peaks, clear waters, and glacial-carved valleys; its landscape giving both desired resources and inspiration to those persistent enough to venture through it. Evidence of human use in this area dates back to over 10,000 years. By the time the first European explorers came into this region, several different tribes inhabited the area. The Blackfeet Indians controlled the vast prairies east of the mountains, while the Salish and Kootenai Indians lived in the western valleys, traveling over the mountains in search of game and to hunt the great herds of buffalo on the eastern plains.

The majority of early European explorers came to this area in search of beaver and other pelts. They were soon followed by miners and, eventually, settlers looking for land. By 1891, the completion of the Great Northern Railway sealed the area’s fate, allowing a greater number of people to enter into the heart of northwest Montana. Homesteaders settled in the valleys west of Marias Pass and soon small towns developed.

Around the turn of the century, people started to look at the land differently. For some, this place held more than minerals to mine or land to farm…they began to recognize that the area had a unique scenic beauty all to its own.

By the late 1800s, influential leaders like George Bird Grinnell, pushed for the creation of a national park. In 1910, Grinnell and others saw their efforts rewarded when President Taft signed the bill establishing Glacier as the country's 10th national park.

This painting has a way to go before completion, but I love the process: texture, aluminum leaf, paint and finish. More to come on this one...