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Friday, October 30, 2015

Caledonian Waters

The mountains of Kintail. Water was retrieved
above this point.
High up in the mountain pass crossing Kintail, I paused. Not troubling to take the 40-pound pack off my back, I crouched by the trail. Sunlight glinted off spring water which funneled into the footpath and tumbled along that course down the mountain's flank. I fished out a 4-oz. plastic bottle from my pocket and filled it to the brim, secured its cap tightly, and placed it in the side pouch of my camera bag. It would be identified with a label at the campsite that night.

This action played out again and again all across Scotland as source water was collected along with sketches and many many photographs - Stirling Bridge, the River Affric, a spring on the Isle of Skye, high tide in front of St Columba's in Oban, a lakeshore in the Trossachs - and the ever-present Scottish rain, just to fill in the gaps.

It was an idea that was hatched this Spring, as I worked to improve ability in watercolor and colored
Water was obtained  from the river
under the Old Stirling Bridge.
pencil for sketchbook purposes. What if, when doing these field sketches and paintings in my travels, I find a way to collect water from these
places? What if I could bring that water home and employ it in watercolor in mixed-media creations in depicting the areas where the water came from?  It was one of those ideas that strikes in the early morning before one is fully awake, but it was an idea that stuck.  It was an idea well worth pursuing. While many use the water nearby when painting outdoors, I am not aware of anyone who has gone to the trouble of collecting such source water with great deliberation for purposes of studio work upon returning home again.

The idea immediately delighted.  One would
not know upon looking at a painting, of course, but that's where a certificate will come in. Each will have a certificate in a pocket on the back, explaining the idea and the process.

I've nine bottles in all. I do wish I'd filled more, but there was a factor of ever-growing weight involved, and as my whole world was on my back when going from one place to another, I had to be selective in what I would bottle.  All made it home safely, and now those nine filled bottles are safely tucked away in a studio drawer, awaiting image selection and the winter's work that lies ahead.

"Caledonian Waters" is one name under serious consideration for this body of work.  I look forward
Eight of my nine bottles.
to the creative process to come, and flights of memory that are sure to accompany as each dear bottle of source water is opened and applied to each geographic depiction.

Watch this blog, as these paintings will be presented here as this body of work grows and develops.

Until Monday - all the best!

Monday, October 26, 2015

Scotland - Cannich and preparing for the Affric Kintail Way

The little bus rumbled along rural road, with the driver chatting happily away to me as we made our way through the magnificent countryside.  This region of the highlands that is just west of Loch Ness looks remarkably like the region I live in, in Western Washington State. Two college girls clad in shorts and flipflops were the only other passengers on this van-sized bus. They were heading out from Inverness for a day walk around Loch Affric and were at the back of the vehicle, chatting amongst themselves, while I sat up front to listen to the driver and his wealth of stories.

This is something I've made mental note on many times. When one travels with someone else, one tends to do so in a bit of a bubble. You have a
built-in conversation partner, with no real need to reach outside of that sphere. If you are travelling solo, however, you must reach out,  converse with strangers,  get out of your comfort zone and talk with the folks you meet. This was no exception, and I learned a lot from the driver about this little community-supported bus, about his own travels abroad, and about renewable energy sources in the Highlands, just to name a few topics.

Because passengers were few and the schedule secure, the driver took me right to the office door of the campsite in Cannich.  This is a splendid place, nestled beneath the red-barked Caledonian pines at the gateway to Glen Affric, and the campsite is at a quiet and comfortable distance from the main road.  The campsite is also home to a very pleasing little restaurant, the Bog Cotton Cafe. Light, airy, of rustic construction, and carrying items by local crafters in their gift shop, this place immediately struck me as one that would be right at home in British Columbia, it had that kind of atmosphere.  The food is also good and the service is very friendly.

River views from walks along the main road
As soon as the tent was pitched and lunch was had, I set out walking to familiarize myself with this place and also with the location of the trailhead for the Affric-Kintail Way, as that long walk would be begun upon leaving here.  Walks around this community immediately put you at a slower, more relaxed pace, as that is the rhythm here.  The river tumbles along its stony course through the middle of the valley, forests line lush green meadows, and on this day the sunlight sparkled.   Soft rosy red is a dominant and signature color here - you'll see it in the bark of the Caledonian pines, in the fur of the pine marten and red deer, and in the plumage of crossbills and bullfinches.

I took an extra day here, just to take in the nature and the serenity. It truly is beautiful.  On the night before my long walk though, I hiked out to The Slaters Arms for a large protein-heavy meal and a pint. A spaniel welcoming crew are waiting at the door here to greet you upon your arrival, and the establishment has a wonderful and very traditional atmosphere. This was the first time I ever experienced mutton stew, which was just sublime. I would happily return here again, if given the chance.

Primary school in Cannich
Glen Affric has a wealth of nature and beauty to take in, and is the ancestral home of Clan Chisholm.  Glen Affric and all its splendid walks, is also an easy drive from Cannich.  I would recommend this quiet little community as a base, if one wishes to take day-trips into the glen to explore.  I certainly enjoyed my restful stay here.

I love the letterboxes to be found throughout
the rural highlands!

Our Lady Catholic church in Cannich

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Scotland Snippets - Morvich

White sheep grazing happily on steep green hillsides, purple foxglove with backdrop of dry stone walls, quaint cottages with Gaelic names - Tigh na Mara, Tigh an Alt; fishermen with outboards slowly making their way across the sea loch, wait staff at the little restaurant cheerily waving to them as they pass. The scent of peat fires drifting from older cottages in the evening breeze.  Sunlight dancing across the water before settling behind the Isle of Skye for the night, the towering mountains of Kintail standing sentinel over all.  That - is Morvich and vicinity.

Monday, October 19, 2015

The Dextral Case for Spiral Stairs

Even when the journey is over, it isn't really over - for one continues to learn.

It's an enormous stack of photos that must be gone through. I am doing so, methodically, painstakingly. They are being grouped by location, by timeline, and by subject.  In so doing, I paired two photos from two different weeks and two different locations.

Descending the stairs of St Rule's Tower in St Andrews, Fife.
A kind university administrative friend in Saint Andrews showed me Saint Rule's Tower at the ruins of the old Saint Andrews Cathedral. A talented musician friend showed me some of the hidden gems in downtown Glasgow, among which was an architectural center known as The Lighthouse.  In both locations I snapped a photo of the whirling pattern of a descending spiral staircase, but it wasn't until now that I noticed that both sets of stairs spin downward in a counter-clockwise fashion. And I began to wonder why. Do all spiral stairs run in this direction?

Add caption
After some very interesting online dialog on the matter with friends and a bit of Google research, the facts and reasons began to reveal themselves. Once known, it was rather obvious. Most spiral stairs in the UK do this, and the practice has its roots in medieval history.  Castles, towers and other such buildings were defended from the top down. Having a spiral staircase that descends in a counter-clockwise fashion makes it easier for the owner to ward off invaders, as his right hand is not obstructed and he may freely swing his sword.  The invaders who climb these stairs are doing so clockwise, so it is more difficult for them to fight. Most people are right-handed, so this is why this construction is effective.

There are notable exceptions to this, though. There are a few castles whose owners were left-handed, and so theirs were built with left-handed stairs so they may more easily defend their castle.  Ferniehurst, owned by Clan Kerr, and Bolton Castle in Yorkshire are two examples of such. There are stories that Clan Kerr trained their swordsmen to fight left-handed, so that they would have an advantage in attacking castles and ascending the more commonly built right-handed stairs.

So how are such spiral staircases built here in America? Did architecture continue this medieval practice, or does the direction of the staircase rely completely on aesthetics and design?  I don't have the answer to this, but one thing's for certain - next time I find myself in a large building, I'll opt to take the stairs!

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Sights and Sounds of Saint Giles Cathedral

Although I don't want to be too wordy with today's post, I would like to give acknowledgement to the wonderful array of portable technology and connectivity that we have at our beck and call these days, and all the doors that are open because of it.

Imagine being in Edinburgh, and mentioning on social media that you wish to head out and visit Saint Giles Cathedral as you've not yet seen it, and then hearing back from a talented musician that he just happens to be performing in that cathedral within the hour. That's an opportunity that you would likely have missed otherwise, or an opportunity that would not have existed at all just ten years ago.

Now imagine you're also going to that cathedral with a head full of fresh knowledge, because a mason friend from Canada, who recently visited Edinburgh, mentioned on his social media page the presence of something you'd not heard of before - mason's marks - and he posted a photo of one. Intrigued, you did a fair bit of research into these and determined to find some when you get to the cathedral. You successfully find a few, because the kind volunteer there put you on the right track when you asked about them.

Your visit just became that much richer with this wonderful tapestry of knowledge and experience that you probably would have completely missed otherwise.  I would not have known anything about mason's marks, let alone having looked for them on the cathedral's central pillars. I would not have heard the haunting duet between stone and instrument when Tom Oakes gave such a spellbinding performance inside that grand building.  They were experiences and knowledge that could be readily collected and brought home to be shared with others.  It is an amazing time we live in.

No more words. Let me show you a few snapshots from this magnificent cathedral.

Until Monday -- all the best!

Monday, October 12, 2015

Back from the Show!

Amidst the hustle and chaotic flurry of activity that defines prep and setup at a major art show, that Thursday post proved to be irretrievably elusive.  It's Monday now, and post-show decompression is well underway.

"Luminous" - inspired by
the swans of Edinburgh
The Fred Oldfield "Celebration of Western Art" is always a blast, and always feels like a big happy family reunion. I would not ever want to miss it, no matter how small my inventory.

And my inventory was quite small!  With two summer months away in Scotland and all the months of work and preparation leading up to that, my booth was only left with a handful of art.  For this show, I determined instead to focus on networking and promoting the upcoming book. I wanted to see how the response would be.  Interest was great!  I set up a display table in my space with maps, books, and remnants from the trip. My booth stayed busy, with folks eager to hear how everything went with the trip, and thumbing through the sketchbook I used on the journey. 

I'm more excited than ever to see this book to realization. This winter is going to be very busy indeed!

Tuesday, October 06, 2015

Hello, Scotland! I've Missed You!

It is difficult to convey in words the joy in one's return to a place that has so captivated one's heart.  I first set foot in Scotland six years ago. That was my first trip overseas in a very long time, and done completely solo. Here it was, July 2015 and I was back again, committed to a two-month journey with only my backpack, my tent and camping gear, kind friends throughout the country, and a determination to slow down and completely immerse myself in this magnificent country and its culture. My first stop, as it is for many, was Edinburgh.

Edinburgh is an unusual place, unlike any other in all of Scotland.  The city in its 'Old Town' section was
built up within the confines of Flodden's Wall out of matters of security following a devastating defeat at the hands of the English army centuries ago. The resulting growth within those parameters left  Edinburgh nowhere to go but up, which lead to a fascinating evolution in architecture - towering ornate sandstone edifices standing shoulder to shoulder with one another, and so many quirky little closes and wynds burrowing between them, each with its own unique personality.

Tourists tend to follow the Royal Mile and not give these little offshoots a glance, but in so doing
they miss a fascinating feature of the town.  One can duck into any number of these, escape the humming noise and bustle of modern tourism, and slip into a pocket where time seems to jump back a century or three.  I found the masonry all by itself compelling, and the quiet solitude a welcome relief.  There is so much history to explore here, one is hard pressed to even begin to fathom its depths.

The first two days were spent just adjusting to the time zone and reacquainting myself with this magnificent town.  Shoving jetlag aside, I explored as much as I could in the time I had before I was to head north.  Everywhere you look, there is more to see, and there are museums built around every aspect of this town.  I visited a few of them during my second visit into town, with the guidance of a kind friend who was born, raised, and still lives here.

Bear with me, I am a day late in getting this up as I am simultaneously prepping for an art show, but I'll show you a little bit more of Auld Reekie on Thursday - with some of Edinburgh's trad music too.

Until next post, all the best!

Thursday, October 01, 2015

An Adventure Realized

No matter how well you lay the groundwork, some things refuse to go according to plan. "The best laid schemes of mice and men," as Scottish poet Robert Burns so famously put it. Well - I never
On the shores of Loch Eck
claimed to technologically adept.

I was not able to access and utilize Mailchimp from my 7-inch android tablet in Scotland, nor was I able to access and update this blog. Hell, I wasn't even able to access my website's email, no matter how secure the internet access - so I had to ask my husband to monitor that for pertinent messages while I was away.

There were only two online-communications platforms that I could use with ease, that proved their unflagging reliability - Gmail and Facebook. So with that, I utilized Facebook as my means of communicating with friends, family, and anyone who wished to follow along in what proved to be one enormous two-month-long adventure in Scotland.

All those posts are readily available on my personal page, in public updates and uploads.  It takes a bit of scrolling back to get to July 2nd. I did so today, skimming as I went. When I finally reached the start of the adventure, I sat back and said aloud, "Good grief! Did I really do all that?"  Indeed, it's a lot to take in when you look at it all together.

Something else that is a lot to take in when you look at it all together is the mind-numbing pile of photos that were taken all throughout the country.  There are literally thousands of shots!  I am in the process of going through and organizing these so they may be uploaded - whether it will be to Picassa or to Flickr, I am as of yet undecided.  It will ultimately be whichever I think will be the easiest for those good folks who supported me in this journey - they will need to decide what they want me to paint for them, after all!  These are to be ready for perusal later this month, some time after the Fred Oldfield Western and Wildlife Art Show.

As for the blog, I will be posting retrospectives of this amazing journey.  Watch for posts on Thursdays and on Mondays. Just snippets, mind you, as there is still a book to come from it.  The working title for that is "Off the Beaten Path - an Artist's Adventure in Scotland". The target for release is by June 2016.

Until the next post, Mòran taing, and all the best!

Friday, May 22, 2015

Into Scotland's Wilds, an overview

Friends and regular readers of this blog will be familiar with this Scotland project of mine. I have been scheming on its details for a couple of years now, and with more intensity over the last 18
Hiking up to the Old Man of Storr. Isle of Skye, 2009
months as it comes closer to realization.  The post you now read is mainly intended as an introduction and overview for the members of Slighe nan Gaidheal, but even if you are familiar with the project's basics I encourage you to read on, as the project has certainly evolved since its initial inception.

On July 1st I will be embarking on a multi-faceted solo adventure, not to return to the Pacific Northwest until August 26th.  Initially I had intended 4 to 6 weeks for this, but in the reading and the maps and the research it was concluded that this must be treated as though it is the one and only chance I'll have to do it. No toe-dipping, let's give it everything we've got!

The project began as a gathering of photographs and research in order to produce a new body of artwork.  My method of travel and discovery is unusual though, and not many would or even could attempt it the way that I do - but I am convinced that many would certainly enjoy reading about it, and travel vicariously along with me.  I want to show folks what it's like - to travel all on one's own with a backpack and a tent, to immerse and lose one's self in the landscape and culture so far from home and well off the beaten tourist routes.

Some of these places I hope and plan to get into are quite remote and will necessitate a fair amount of isolation and wild camping.  The journey will begin, however, with the first few days in Edinburgh.  I'll meet with a couple of good friends who are Edinburgh residents who generously agreed to take me to very worthwhile places within the city that are missed by most tourists.  From there, it's a couple of days in Inverness.  After that, the journey will get a bit more rugged. I'll camp at Cannich, then walk across Glen Affric, over the western mountains by Kintail to Loch Duich, and across the Skye Bridge to Broadford. I estimate this leg of the journey to take at least 4 days.  A couple of days on Skye will be spent, along with a two-day walk and camp up the Trotternish Peninsula to meet the ferry to Harris.  I hope to catch the Heb Celt Festival on Lewis, which is celebrating its 20th year.

Beyond that point I am keeping my schedule very open and flexible.  I don't want to rent a car unless it's absolutely necessary to reach some of the places I hope to visit.  Some of these places include Torridon, Loch Maree, Mull, and Knoydart to name a few.  The only other part of this journey that is set in stone is Glasgow and the piping festival.  I want to retain a certain amount of agility in this adventure - to get far and away and into places seldom visited by the usual tourist - to slow down, touch each moment, absorb and notice - to linger when drawn to do so, or take a detour to take advantage of an opportunity which might suddenly present itself.  Immersion and a good deal of flexibility are key.

What will come of this
During all these wanders and experiences, I will be photographing, field sketching, painting, and writing the whole way through.  New bodies of work will come from this - the feather paintings for which I am most known, but also other media and in quite a few cases, mixed media. I'll be keeping a sketch journal throughout this adventure to capture wildlife, villages, scenes and more which I anticipate will be encountered along the way. I've been developing skills with pen and ink, watercolor and colored pencil, often on location, for this purpose.

Upon return of the trip, I will be producing a book - an artist's travel journal - filled with photographs, field sketches, polished art, and literary documentation of the adventure.  I intend to utilize every method available to me within its pages in order to really capture the sense of the adventure and present the full picture.  I wish to show people what it's like to remove one's self from the tourist treadmill and really experience Scotland's heart and spirit.  I hope to have this in print before the next Fèis, and I wish to donate a portion of each sale of this book (which will also be available on Amazon) to Slighe nan Gaidheal in support of its language, music, and cultural education programs.

Another body of artwork I hope to bring about when I am home again involves use of multiple artistic media, and including source water which I will collect with great deliberation, as this water will be used in the depiction of the places where the water was collected.  Imagine a painting of the mighty Liathach which uses water from the wild burn that tumbles down its side, or a painting of the recently dedicated statue of Tom Weir (who has been a massive inspiration in this journey), painted with water from his beloved Loch Lomond where the statue stands.  I truly do feel that the inclusion of such source water will make these creations all the more special. I have found 4-oz. shatterproof bottles just for this project, and continue to experiment locally with its development. I'll try salt water next as I would very much like to paint Eilean Donan with water from Loch Duich.

How you can participate, and help me bring this about-
Last Autumn I introduced a package and made it available to any who wish to support this project.  Those who purchase will receive much more value than the price of their initial investment.  Right away you will receive a limited edition print certificate which is signed, numbered and embellished with a hand-painted thistle, suitable for framing. You'll receive a postcard of one of my Scottish paintings with a personal message mailed to you from somewhere n Scotland. when I am home, I'll upload a sizeable selection of photographs and you may go through them and tell me what you would like painted, and I will create for you a multi-feather painting that is matted and framed at 8x10. My paintings of this size normally sell for $200 to $220, but the entire package is only $85 ($95 Can, $115 int'l). That is the full price, nothing extra for any of the shipping. This package is my way of saying Thank You!  Thank you for your interest, your support, and helping me make this all it can be!
You may find the package here, as well as a photograph of a feather painting like what you would receive.
I can only offer this for a bit over  a month longer, to allow time to produce and paint on certificates before I fly.
Thank you so much for your time and your interest, and I will keep blogging as I continue to prepare for the adventure, and once the adventure is underway... when I have a connection and may do so. Mòran taing!

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Shelters - or, "Home is where you... happen to stop for the night!"

'Behold, the Trail Snail.... She may be slow, but she always gets to where she's going. Eventually.'

This pen drawing in my journal was inspired by a little snail down at the bottom of the canyon and above the Falls at Palouse last April during my preparatory hike and camp-out. Yes, I stopped right there and drew her, and those words entered my head as I did so, for she is surely me.

Perhaps one of the reasons she's slow is she's carrying her house on her back.  That will be me too, come July and August.  I'll be far away from home, but 'home' in its basic sense will be with me, and wherever I happen to stop for the night - no matter how wild or isolated that stop might be.

The two-night camp at Palouse Falls in April let me know precisely the current state of my gear.  Some needed replacing immediately. My old worn out tent let me know that pertinent bit of information as I set it up. The carbon pole split when I bent it into position, and I felt a seam on the fly begin to give when I pulled it taut.  The shattered pole could be made to endure that one last camp though - wrapping it tightly cord convinced it to stay put for those two nights.  This particular tent is only guaranteed three years, and here were were, going into year 8.  I think I got my money's worth out of it!

Indeed, the little tent has been so good to me, I opted to replace it with another of the same make and model - a Saguaro backpackers tent by Texsport.  When the new one arrived, I took note of the changes they made since I bought the other 8 years ago; the most noticeable and significant was the reflective silver on the fly.  When I realized this silver was on the outside and not the underside, I thought surely this was a manufacturing blunder - why on earth would you want to keep heat out??  Should this not be to keep heat IN?  It turns out that it was intended this way, which is not a thought that would cross the mind of a typical camper of my latitude.  I pitched it in the back yard and slept in it during rain and calm. It definitely keeps solar heat down to a minimum, and it also seems to stay warm and
any wonder why I'm calling it the Silver Slug?
cozy at night.  I suppose silver really isn't any more obnoxious than bright red or yellow in the grand scheme of things, and if I manage to get myself lost in the west highlands, that silver might make me locatable with a few aerial passes by Search and Rescue!  I am kidding, of course. I've since nicknamed it the Silver Slug.  It's heavier than its predecessor, weighing in at four pounds.  It's bigger though, and could comfortably contain two people.  It has reinforced stitching at stress points, where the predecessor had none.  Another nice feature is the addition of velcro tabs to further secure the fly to the poles.  Having camped before in the high winds of Glen Shiel in the west of Scotland, I know that will be a welcome thing.

Now Scotland, particularly the west, is notorious for wet weather at any given time of year - much like our mossy Pacific Northwest.  With that in mind, a rain fly for cooking and dining is vital.  I went without on my last trip there, and regretted it on more than one occasion.  Amazon sold me a very nice 8'x12' tarp of good quality and of a minuscule 4 ounces in weight.  After a few embarrassing and futile attempts at setup with cord and trekking poles in the safety of my yard, I turned to Youtube for advice.  There were many videos with fancy flies and fussy configurations, but thankfully I found one fellow in the UK who subscribes to the 'Keep It Simple' philosophy.  I include here a couple of views of the configuration I'm settling with (for now), with the 90-pound retriever clearly under the impression that this is his new house.  I'll also include at the bottom of this post the video I found that has allowed me to set up a rain fly with a bit of confidence, two trekking poles, and no trees.
As a friend rightly stated, "It's a pup tent!"

This should keep the rain off my back and my cooking.
And hopefully the wind too.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Building a writing habit.

The title of this blog post may seem overly ironic, as I have been in the unfortunate habit of neglecting this blog.  In the midst of gathering up all the strings of this summer's project and pulling them all together, I've let a couple of things rest by the wayside - this being one, and Gaidhlig studies being another.  Time grows painfully short and I want confidence that I've put my attention to the most necessary matters.

It is not to say building up writing skills has been neglected, however.  When I want to fully commit to something, I do it with pen and paper. The tactile act of writing triggers parts of the mind that typing on a keyboard does not. So it made sense to pursue this through use of a paper journal over the past year, and also by expanding this learning through the reading of several books produced for such a pursuit of improvement.

The summer's project is about more than producing art, and it is about more than travel in immersion, slowing down, and getting well off the beaten tourist track.  It is about presenting such travel to people who might not be able to visit another country in such a way.  To do this to the best of my ability, I need to be able to do so through carefully crafted words as well as through photography and art. It's the only way to present the full picture.
Palouse Falls, in Southwest Washington
Allow me to paint for you in words some of what I intend in this journey. 

Marmot babies
A life which awakens to birdsong in the early morning breezes, and pauses to bask in the late afternoon sunlight.  A life that slows down to touch every moment, that lingers to learn from and appreciate the people and places encountered along the way. A life that cherishes and savors the growing of friendships, old and new, and notices and appreciates new landscapes and each creature that crosses one's path in the journey.  This is travel that is fully experienced.
Field study of the yellow-bellied marmots at Palouse Falls.  Produced in
watercolor and colored pencil, and using source water gathered from
the Palouse River in the canyon above the Falls.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Determination, and self-determination

This topic is something I've wanted to write a blog post about for quite a long time, but for a long time I wasn't sure how to go about it. It's a story that I have shared with students, particularly when they seem a bit reluctant to jump in and try.

This scenario occurred at my very first Big Art Show, back in 2003.  Before this I had been entering paintings into juried art shows in local communities and county fairs, and for a long time prior to that I had work in a number of galleries and gift shops.  But this? This was a big annual art show that was well attended and drew around a hundred artists from several states and required one to fill up a booth space with one's work.  This was much bigger than I felt I could do, but I sucked it up, gathered my courage, and did it anyway.

Nearly all the artists at this show were very warm and welcoming, and generous with their
After The Harvest - painted October 2014
encouragement.  Their kindness and advice during this show did so much to bolster my confidence, though I still felt like I was way out of my league.  The work these folks could produce was astounding, far better than anything I felt I could do, but they never made me feel like I didn't belong.  I was the new person, the one oddball who was painting birds and animals on feathers, a highly unusual choice of canvas and something that no one had seen before.  I had a lot to learn, but I was there anyway and giving it my all.

There was just one artist who was not so accepting. He was well established in his art career, and his work certainly showed it. I was mesmerized by the beautiful oil paintings in his booth; they were very traditional in style, beautifully rendered and lifelike landscapes and detailed scenes.  He eventually strolled into my booth that weekend, eyeing my work without speaking. I was too timid to say anything more than a brief greeting, but he didn't respond anyway so it didn't matter.  Slowly he leaned in to examine one of the framed painted feathers hanging on the gridwall, considered what he was seeing for a long moment, then slowly leaned back again and thought for a moment more.

Then, without looking at me, he spoke.  "You shouldn't be here," he said.  This is an art show, you don't belong here.  You should be down at the flea market."  And with that, he left my booth.

I was so stunned, I couldn't speak, but it didn't take too terribly long for the thought of Well who does he think HE is? to form in my mind.  I wasn't going to allow myself to be deterred by this one person, and could not let him get to me.  I shook it off and determined to go on with the show.  This one opinion did not matter, not when everyone else was so kind and encouraging.

I still exhibit at this show, and I have attended every year ever since that awkward nervous first exhibition.  My work has grown a fair bit since then, as has my audience.  These little feather paintings I do have been written about in over 40 countries, collected on five continents, and have been collected by many, even a few  politicians and royalty.

The purpose of this post, or moral, if you will?  Actually there are three.  First and foremost, never ever let someone else's opinion define you.  That determination is yours and yours alone.  If what you do happens to be a bit unusual, don't let that stop you from putting it out there.  Uniqueness is a good thing, and if it is your passion and your heart's work, that authenticity comes through and you will find your audience.  Keep at it.  Lastly, when you engage with someone new to the circle, choose your words carefully, don't ever discourage a hopeful new person.  You don't want to run new folks off with an ill-considered thought, and you sure don't want to be remembered for an ugly opinion.  First impressions really do last.

Friday, January 30, 2015

2015's Word of the Year

With the recent writing challenge, I'm striving to post to this blog twice weekly; Tuesdays and Fridays.  Let's see how that goes.

Those of you who read me fairly regularly, either here or on Facebook, know that I've been using Christine Kane's 'Word of the Year' angle of designing and developing focus for the year at hand, instead of doing the old tired New Year's resolutions.  It has transformed how a 12-month period manifests itself for me, and what I learn along the way.

Climbing Sulphur Mtn. in Banff to leave a stone
 in memory of  my brother
Last year's word was 'Adventure!' and I certainly had a few of those. One of the things that word taught me is that no matter the significant situation, even when it's a bad situation, positive things can be had from it. Memorable things. Even a grim matter can be  turned, at least in small part, into a positive thing, and yes, even into a bit of an adventure.

This year begins with many things on my radar, things that must be carefully planned for, and potential things that absolutely cannot be planned for but instead will require enough mental agility for them to be met head-on.  I need to learn many things, develop new skills, brush up on old skills and train physically in order to achieve all that can be achieved in this summer's adventure.

At the end of last year, all this was written down and attentively examined in order to come up with a good focus word for 2015. It didn't take long before a potential word stood out clearly from the other candidates.  Vitality!  That's the one.  Here are a few definitions that really ring out for me - exuberant strength and mental vigor; the state of being strong or active, energy; a lively or energetic
One of the easier climbs here in Washington. I'll be
hitting many hikes and overnighters in the coming
months to increase my strength and stamina.
quality; the capacity to live or develop, also physical or mental vigor; the quality or state of abundant or intense activity; power of enduring.

Many of the synonyms are even more appealing than mere definition:  buoyancy, brightness, cheer, pizazz, sparkle, zest, verve, vivacity, drive, spiritedness, keenness, ebullience, enthusiasm, fire, passion, mettle, power, stamina, fitness, hardiness, health, wellness.

Vitality needs to be present in the work I produce, as well - in imagery and in writing. So, with thoughts on all the matters that lie ahead this summer, much of it quite physical and other aspects involving significant learning and a certain amount of agility in attitude and direction, 'vitality' is certainly a good word to embrace in all its aspects.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

of Water and Water Media

7-Day Blogging Challenge, day 3.  I failed.  A post did not get completed in time to post last night.   That's okay though, because the important thing is, it got me writing again.

A Gathering of Gulls on Oregon's Coast
It is fascinating when a small pebble of an idea, once it is set into motion, develops legs and grows.  I'm getting more comfortable with the colored pencils, graphite, and watercolor pencils obtained for plein aire sketching.  Discoveries along the way have been rewarding, as I learn to mix it up, layer, and experiment.  This image is a result of the ongoing learning, and was produced in studio from photographs taken during a recent trip to Oregon's coast.

Ideas have a way of growing legs though, and now as I wish I had produced this while in Oregon, or at least collected sea water while there, I need to take the idea and try it out locally to see how feasible it might be.

Imagine if when producing the plein aire sketches, paintings and illustrations created in the west highlands and islands, I use a bit of water from local sources in the depiction of places and subject matter, and did so with focused intention and identify it as such.  Examples would be Liathach painted with water from the burn that tumbles down that mountain's side or from Loch Torridon if painted from a distance; Eilean Donan castle at dusk, sketched and painted with water from Loch Duich; other locations from the rivers Ness and Clyde, or depending on the scene and the location, a bit of collected rain water.

The idea has me stewing on all sorts of possibilities.

First things first though, I need to experiment with this locally here in the Pacific Northwest, just to determine if this is something I could do.  How will sea water affect a watercolor painting?  I'm eager to find out.  Roll on Spring, there is a list of things I'd love to try!

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Think Differently

Seven-Day blogging challenge, Day 2.

Early last week I acted upon an idea. I went into Walmart, picked up two large 100-count bags of wooden clothespins and took them to the express checkout line. The clerk's eyebrows shot up when she saw my purchase, and she laughed.

"Now are you going to use all those to do your laundry, or are you doing something else?"

I could not resist. "No, these are for craft items which will help me financially with expenses during an overseas trip this summer. "  she asked me to repeat that. Then she laughed again.

All she saw was an enormous quantity of wooden clothespins. An end product in a retail environment, and one of limited use or value.   She did not and could not see their potential. What I saw was something far greater.  What I saw were handy and attractive clothespin magnets, all neatly painted with custom-requested tartan sett patterns, made to order. What I saw beyond those very unique magnets included things like food purchased from Tesco and Morrison's, cooked outdoors in Scotland's wild country. Cans of fuel purchased at Tiso in Inverness, to cook those meals. A cold-press watercolour tablet, to replace the one I'll inevitably fill up while trekking through the West Highlands. And possibly a replacement bottle of Skin So Soft, to keep the voracious midges at bay.

You have to be willing to think differently, and be bold enough to act upon those ideas.  Don't think
about things as they are as though that is all they can be and nothing more.  Dare to innovate.  That is what I am doing here.  By the way, I am taking orders for these magnet clothespins in any tartan sett. I'll paint a set of eight for $20, shipped anywhere in the world.

The clerk's mockery in her laugh was unmistakable, but I really didn't mind.  After all, she only saw a pile of clothespins and thought it ridiculous that someone would purchase so many.  Where will she be in July? Very likely here, doing the same thing she was doing this day.  As for myself though, I've got my sights set at something much bigger - because I'm not just accepting things as they are as though that is all they ever will be, but instead looking forward with eager anticipation at all the great things they can be.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Late to the party (but starting anyway)

An interesting and timely challenge came across my screen today as I browsed blogs while between layers of freshly applied paint.  It was the blogging for seven days challenge put out by Seth Godin. That official challenge ends tomorrow. Yes, I'm late to the party, but I'm not letting that stop me.

I only very recently began listening to Seth Godin's videos through Youtube, he happened to be on one of Dave Ramsey's videos. Dave Ramsey is someone I listen to fairly often, along with Zig Ziglar, Brian Tracy, and a few others, but it was the first time I'd listened to Seth while I worked away in the studio. Yes, that's me, late to the party again.

I'm late, but present nonetheless, and that is what matters. So much of what I heard in his videos this week really resonated with me... more than that, much of his material really switched on some lights.

Even though I am late to the party and the official party concludes tomorrow, I'm using this prompt nonetheless, but I shall apply it only in this blog and not on the official platform. Why? It's a matter of personal growth and development. I need to quit waiting for the perfect draft and just. Simply. Blog.  My story-telling needs to grow, as does my writing style, especially in the face of all that I plan to achieve this coming year.

My hope is this will provide the kick-start to get the gray matter and writing muscles moving. Consider this the first of a seven-day daily writing challenge.

Tuesday, January 06, 2015


How do you attempt something that is far bigger than anything you've done before?  This is where I am now, in the throes of learning, practicing, planning, and taking on physical training in order to meet this upcoming adventure with as much preparation and readiness as I can muster.  I have a bit over six months remaining before I'm on that plane with backpack checked and bound for Scotland - and in order to meet that challenge with the best success, I must become the person who can pull it off.

Some of the preparations have been pretty straightforward and clear, but with others I have chosen more creative avenues in order to achieve them.  In the case of fitness for the strength and endurance required of lugging a 50-lb. backpack for days at a time over rugged country, I looked at options. I could hike as often as time, weather, and studio work would allow, which I do as often as I can. I could pay money to go to a gym... that one really didn't set well with me, as I don't want to spend any money unnecessarily while I'm saving for this.  Then, as I worked away in the studio, an ad came over the radio - UPS driver helper!  Perfect!!  I can go through hours of intensive physical work on these remaining days leading up to Christmas and get paid for it! Who could ask for better?

This was a 2nd-hire UPS was doing as they found themselves short-staffed just before Christmas, with not enough helpers. The work was very intense with long hours. I came home exhausted each night.  It's definitely been a jump-start in fitness during these cold dark winter days though, and the driver's route and schedule provided plenty of motivation to keep moving at a rapid pace.  The wide variety of terrain on our semi-rural route was great for increasing stamina, balance, and agility. Happily, I am still on call - so I may get some more fitness training out of this yet!

More growth underway - this involves various art media for field sketching.  I've been gradually gathering a variety of graphite, charcoal pencils ink pens, colored pencils and watercolor pencils - and I am experimenting and exploring which combinations of these will do well for me.  As I become comfortable with them, I'll begin paring down their quantities and colors to see what will be adequate in the field, providing color array and versatility without being too burdensome.  When your home is on your back for two months, every ounce saved really does matter!  As Spring approaches, I'll be using my pared-down plein aire sketching kit in a variety of circumstances and terrain.  Expect a lot of camping trips and field sketches from me in the future as July draws ever nearer.

There will be other areas of growth in the coming months. These will include training hikes with elevation gain and a full pack, brushing up my skills with map and compass, testing all gear in bad weather, drawing out-of-studio and on location whenever I can, indoors and out.  I will also be immersing in more studies in the Scots Gaelic language.

The graphic at the top of this post really sets 2015's tone for me. I've printed it and pinned it to the wall above my art table to remind me daily of everything that I need to become.

Until next week!