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Saturday, August 27, 2016

So Much Learned in Prolonged and Far-Flung Travels

As I'm nearing the completion of compiling the best photos from the Scotland trip, I have also been capturing the social media posts I made when overseas.  Such little gems are proving to be profound in their value, because they do not come from just one person. Many knowledgeable readers fed into the information through conversations and their own observations.  Through this, the book in its final form will be so much richer than it ever could have been had I been on my own in this.  Local residents, folks kind enough to meet up with me, show me their own unique little corner of Scotland, those who shared their music, their art, their knowledge and their insights - it all adds to the experience.

Long delays in painting production endured in the wake of ever-changing eyesight difficulties, and my having to adjust and learn to see true color and value once again. But I think I finally have it nailed and the photos will be released for patrons this coming week and I will get cracking on those paintings with fervor. The retraining. It's been much too long, but I am obsessive in my need to get it right and produce the best that I can.

I know that I came home a different person from the one who left. When you bound far beyond your comfort zone and engage in something completely different and far from all that is familiar, such is inevitable. As I capture the social media posts in the wake of the adventure, this collection of observations still rings loud and clear.  Here is my basic list, my heartfelt advice, to anyone traveling far from home to explore unfamiliar horizons.

~ Slow Down. 
Allow yourself to absorb all that is around you. Don't feel like you'll be wasting precious time if you stay in one place for several days. Trust me, you'll learn more and experience more by doing so, and gain a deeper insight to a particular place than the "went there, bought the t-shirt" crowd will ever see.

~Be flexible.
Allow yourself to be spontaneous and impulsive. Be ready to change directions quickly when an unexpected opportunity arises. Chances are, you'll be oh so glad you said "Sure, why not!"
Absorb the little things that are around you. Notice the little things that people often overlook. Unique stone colors in a particular region, intricate details on a building's facade. The insects that gather to a particular wildflower. Tracks of a deer in a distant wilderness. A pathway tucked away and not easily noticeable by the usual throngs of tourists. Closes and Wynds that lead away from the main streets.  The unique color of the sea in one place, and how it differs from the other shores you've seen. There was a magnificent sunset in Oban, and I stopped, transfixed, absorbing all its ever-changing colors while talkative tourists bustled all round me. At least from what I saw, I was the only one who stopped to notice... the others never saw it, but I still carry the treasure of its recollection in my mind's eye.
~Reach out.
Introduce yourself to folks. Be curious. Ask questions. Come to know the people as well as their unique insights into their hometowns. Listen. Learn new things. Your experiences will be so much richer for it!
~Be adventurous. 
Take a chance. Put yourself out there. Instead of touring in the conventional ways, try ways that most people don't. Go by public transport, get out of the tourist hub and visit a pub where only locals go, and talk with the locals who are willing to do so. Try hiking, try camping. Don't just look for the "postcard shots" that everyone else with a camera is after, look for something that is unique and every bit as special, and by all means, get away from the heavily used tourist routes! Seek out the smaller town, the quiet side of the loch, ride a bus where everybody else on board knows one another by first name, family, and local gossip. You'll come home with perspectives that most travelers never encounter. 
Just a few observations.  Don't limit yourself to package tours.  Do your research, compile a list of not only what sights you'd like to visit but also what cultural experiences you'd like to encounter along the way.  Try to do these things in your travels, and you will come away with memories far richer than those of average tourists. Do remember, the most magnificent scenery often lies just a half-mile off the road - so don't be afraid to Get Off The Beaten Path.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016


Rua MacMillan  - acrylics on blue slate turkey feathers
Last November I had a fright with my eyesight. The change happened abruptly, virtually within the span of a day. An urgent trip to the ophthalmologist revealed a condition that occurs with lots of folks with nearsighted vision, and that's the release of debris within the eyeball. It leaves one with 'lightning bolts' in the peripheral vision, and floaters, cobwebs, and other interesting bits in one's field of sight.

More troubling than these ever-present ocular objects is the fact that the affected eye now perceives everything darker than the other, normal-sighted eye. This new normal had left me very afraid to pick up a paintbrush again. What if my color perception has been so greatly altered that it will redefine the course of my painting ability? What if what I now produce will look okay to me, but atrocious to folks with normal vision and color perception? What if?

Even worse was the fact that a feather painting currently lay incomplete. It was a carefully planned multi-feather display that was well on toward completion, a portrait of a talented musician friend from whom I sought permission to paint for inclusion in the illustrated book underway, 'Off the Beaten Path - an Artist's Adventures in Scotland'. Color registers differently now than it did when this was begun, color and skin tones are so subtle in a portrait, oh this won't do at all!

Thoroughly intimidated by the circumstances, I set all color work aside and threw myself into a project that went in an entirely different direction - the production of a fantasy-themed, all-ages coloring book. This was a project long residing in my head, but offered a creative outlet while I adjusted to the change in vision. Black and white, the biggest contrast of all, right? Difficult to mess that up.

That coloring book project grew and grew, and took on a heavily researched life of its own. What I initially perceived as a three-month project evolved to a six-month creation, but that coloring book is another story for another article.

Meanwhile, color work sat patiently waiting, always present, always within view. Eventually the need and desire to complete that work grew larger than the intimidation and apprehension. It had to be met and concluded! The challenge was met, lots of the artist's music was played to carry the work through, adjustments were made, and the work? Complete.

My point is it wasn't as dreadful and impossible a task as I feared it would be. But when you get down to it, few things are.  Fear will prevent you from trying, fear will make things look bigger than they are. In the end, fear wants to be held as an excuse, leaned on as a crutch. 'Don't take on that daunting thing, stay down here with me. It's much safer here.' You can send fear packing by meeting it, acknowledging it, and then rolling up your sleeves and doing that intimidating thing anyway. And that is the place where we learn, grow, and evolve - on that alluring precipice on the other side of fear, just beyond our comfort zone.