Monday, December 29, 2008

More "Vast Spaces"

As I may have mentioned at least (?!?) once, one of the things that makes the Southwest so attractive to me is all that space. Gazing into the night sky is awe-inspiring, yet with the naked eye, one really can't judge how far out there it all goes.

But in the deserts, the distances may not be infinite, but the views are somehow more manageable to us human beans. On a clear day, one can see many, many miles/kilometers until the earth fades into the sky.

I've attached a picture I took on a trip to Canyonlands National Park in 2007. The rock at the top is Mesa Arch, and the view through this "window" is amazing. Even in the relatively flat noon-ish lighting, this scene is spectacular -- and not because I'm some fantastic photographer. The landscape is what it is.

Some day I'll paint this and feature it here and on my Website (which, of course, is It'll be yet another example of "The Vast Spaces of the Southwest."

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Sonora -- More About Her

As I mentioned in a previous post, Sonora is a female Harris' hawk who "performs" at the Living Desert in Palm Desert, CA. Her routine spotlights a little of her hunting prowess.

In the top photo, she's emerging from an opening behind some rocks. She flies to the top of a saguaro skeleton (you can see her on top of this structure in the 12 December 2008 post), from where she looks towards the top of a nearby hill where an employee has placed a mouse (previously frozen, now thawed). Sonora then flies to the hilltop, eats the mouse, then "divebombs" back into the amphitheater (middle picture) where she lands on the rocks and enters the opening from whence she came (third pic), returning to the ethereal world where raptors dwell.

It's an amazing little show. All the critters do what they do in nature, but they do it in a way so we can see it happen. I've been able to collect a number of pictures of critters I will want to paint (and have already painted) in a much shorter period of time than if I had been in the field.

The Harris' hawks (including Hudson, a male who flies back and forth over the audience's heads) seem to fascinate me the most. I LOVE those little guys!

Friday, December 26, 2008

Christmas Lights

Si-i-g-g-h-h-h ... the day after Christmas. For me, the party is over, even though we'll leave our decorations up until January 1st. If we were REALLY traditional, we'd put the decorations up Christmas Eve and leave them up until 6 January, the Feast of the Epiphany, which commemorates when the three wise guys were the first gentiles to acknowledge the baby Jesus as our King. As you may know, the Christmas season runs from Christmas Day to Epiphany, twelve days long -- the "twelve days" of Christmas we sing about (with a partridge in a pear tree and all that).

So--no doing art the last couple of days. I made the turkey on the 24th (makes it SO-O-O much less stressful on the 25th!), visited families on the 25th and afterwards went to a town with a neighborhood that always goes all out with their Christmas displays.

Except this year, we had driving winds and rain, so although the storm was over by the time we got there, some decorations were knocked over and most weren't even turned on. But a few homes were lit up. I inserted a photo (sorry it's blurred -- no tripod!) showing half of the display from one of the houses.

I hope YOU had a great Christmas -- with lights or not!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Bunny Prints

The snow is mostly gone now. But I couldn't resist showing another photo of footprints in the snow. A bunny's footprints.

Can't you just imagine the little critter hippity-hopping along in the snow, looking for some tasty goodies to eat? And looking totally cute doing it?

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Winter Solstice

Winter solstice (or summer, or the vernal/autumnal equinoxes) would probably be ordinary, run-of-the-mill days for me. I don't have pagan beliefs, so other than the fact that today is Sunday, I did go to church. But I didn't take part in any of the local solstice celebrations that occurred in the area.

However, as a photographer (or at least, a photographer whose "instant sketchpad" is the camera and its resulting products), winter solstice is special in a number of ways:
  1. Dawn is later in the morning -- I don't have to wake up so darned early if I want to be "out there" at sunrise for a shoot;

  2. Here in the northern hemisphere, the sun is as low in the sky as it's going to get, reducing the time wasted waiting for the sun NOT to be overhead with its boring lighting;

  3. The sun is as far south as it's going to get for the year.

This last point was important for creating the painting I've shown in this post. This view, south of Palm Desert, CA, has become one of my favorite scenes. If you were standing there seeing the landscape before you, you would be facing northeast.

During the other times of the year, the sun is further to the left (north), resulting in a backlit scene which can be dramatic, but in this case, I preferred sunlight to come from the side. That only happens in the morning in winter, and winter solstice is the best day of the year to find that lighting at this site.

The problem? It's winter. No flowers. But he-e-e-y-y ... I'm an artist! I can fix that!

So -- the lighting in the painting is from when the sun is furthest south -- on winter solstice. (I should know -- I was there a few years ago). The flowers, of course, are from spring. I've combined elements from two different times of the year in this painting. Plus, I added the bighorn sheep ram, which actually do live in this area.

This scene has been popular with the Palm Springs - Palm Desert crowd, especially with folks who visit from somewhere else in the country. In a sense, my paintings of this place show everything that is good about the desert: the flowers, the red-bloomed ocotillo, the overlapping hills that extend a great distance, and an example of the endangered peninsular bighorn sheep. And I was able to combine the best of two different seasons, including the magic lighting of winter solstice.

Wanna celebrate solstice, anyone?

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Some Experiments in Life

Tomorrow night begins Hanukkah. We're not Jewish, so we don't celebrate it ourselves. But we know a number of people who do.

One of them is my graduate advisor from college. I earned (earned?? WORKED MY A*S OFF is more like it!!) a masters degree in microbiology at Cal Poly, Pomona, CA in the mid-1980's. By the time I finished, I realized it wasn't all just about science. The experience changed me as a person as well.

I came from a family where making mistakes was not a good thing, especially when it came to my father and second-oldest brother (I'm the youngest of three), MORE so when the mistake/accident cost us money that we didn't really have. Growing up in an environment like that turns you into an extremely cautious person, sometimes paralyzed with fear at trying something new because ... heavens ... YOU MIGHT FAIL! And if you failed, you didn't hear the end of it. Of course, the gloom-and-doom sayers in the family always knew you WOULD fail because that's just how it is. Don't even bother reaching for the stars, because they're out of reach, anyway. Always and forever.

My advisor, "Dr. J," has a different attitude towards life and towards science. Life is more exciting when you learn new stuff. If you do an experiment and it turns out exactly as you expected, what have you really learned? On the other hand, if an experiment has unexpected results or if it simply doesn't work: NOW you've learned something, even if it involves nothing more than tweaking a procedure or making adjustments so you can move forward. Sometimes experiments can help you realize a particular study isn't worth doing -- but you wouldn't learn that if you hadn't tried it first.

I've found that when you learn through mistakes and failures, the lessons tend to stay with you. There's something about doing things the hard way, or even failing miserably at something, that makes permanent changes in you that can last a lifetime. Hopefully, those changes are positive (although for people who believe failure is negative, failing can make that person even more cynical and bitter).

In my case, accepting this attitude was a necessary step before I could even dream of launching a career in art. If one goes into an art career (or any other profession) with an expectation that it will fail, it will. Changing that expectation MUST be done. I've already endured mistakes, and I certainly have times when I feel pretty discouraged, especially during this economy when sales appear to be as far away as those stars we reach for. Thankfully, "Dr. J" and grad school did much to alter my expectations of myself. Since then, I've learned to avoid discussing chance-taking with the gloom-and-doom sayers.

I hope I can continue and, eventually, prosper, in art. But if it doesn't work out, at least I will have known that I tried. Whatever regrets I might have, THAT won't be one of them. It's been a learning process, and from what I hear from other artists, it will always be a learning process.

So, "Dr. J," Happy Hanukkah, and thanks for turning me into a scientist as well as giving me the attitude to pursue my dreams.

"Sail forth - steer for the deep waters only, Reckless O soul, exploring, I with thee and thou with me, For we are bound where mariner has not yet dared to go, And we will risk the ship, ourselves and all." -- Walt Whitman

Thursday, December 18, 2008

ANOTHER Future Painting

At least the storm has moved on, I've been taking lots of pictures, and I could see some paintings coming out of this.

(But I STILL think snow belongs in Colorado where we lived in the '90's, NOT in southern California!)

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

More Snow

Good grief!!! We knew it snows in the Mojave desert. But we moved from Colorado, in part, to get away from THIS much snow!
It started snowing in the early morning hours, it's snowed all day, and it won't stop until early tomorrow morning.

At least snow IS pretty. It's just a pain if you have to go out in it. I was outside today, knocking snow off of tree and bush branches before the weight of the snow could break them.

The picture on the right shows a Joshua tree with its north-facing side totally coated with snow. (Compare with the photo from Monday, 15 December). The lumpy snow on the ground is covering a forest of cholla cactus. The second picture is of a couple of house sparrows who don't seem to be bothered by the weather around them.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008


Confused arrows trying to point the way???

Dinosaur footprints???

Mysterious symbols left by ancient extraterrestrials???

Abstract art???

Nah. These are just tracks left by some Gambels quail in the snow.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Desert Snow

It's been snowing here this morning, and continues to do so as I write. Snow in the desert is actually not that unusual. What would be unusual is if the snow sticks around for more than a day.

We get it all in the Mojave -- a little snow in the winter, and blazing heat in the summer.

I wonder if we'll have desert snow for Christmas??

Friday, December 12, 2008


I visited the Living Desert again today, specifically for the purpose of getting photos of some of the critters in their "Wildlife Wonders" program. In case you've forgotten, the Living Desert is a combination desert botanical garden and zoo specializing in desert animals. "Wildlife Wonders" is a showcase where desert critters perform things they do in nature, only they perform them where we can see them.

The accompanying picture shows Sonora, a female Harris' hawk, silhouetted against the sky. Her "job" is to fly to an observation point (in this case, the skeleton of a saguaro cactus), then fly to the peak of a nearby hill to get and eat a tasty morsel (a thawed frozen mouse). Afterwards, she divebombs back into the amphitheater and exits through an opening in a fence. The divebomb can be hard to catch on a camera, since she can easily be traveling 80mph (129km/h). I have caught her in her dive, but so far, the resulting pictures aren't worth showing, 'tho' they may still be useful for paintings.

At this time, this is the best picture I have of Sonora who, I expect, will appear in a painting sooner or later. As a painter, I have the advantage of being able to refer to other pictures to fill in the silhouette with some color and details.

This silhouette would strike fear into the little hearts and minds of any mouse that saw it.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Yet ANOTHER Small Painting

Probably the last in a series of small (8" x 8"/20cm x 20cm) -- the last for a while, anyway.

This piece shows a beavertail cactus in bloom among some rocks in Joshua Tree National Park. I guess that's why I titled it "Beavertail on the Rocks"!

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Why Not Impressionism?

You've seen my paintings (online, anyway, if not in real life), so by now, you know I work in a fairly traditional/academic way with just a hint of surrealism to add a little mystery. Three-dimensional brushmarks are minimal, if they exist at all.

And one characteristic that you can't see online (or in any reproduction): I paint in transparent glazes. The paintings have a stained-glass quality, an Old Masters-style "inner glow" that, frankly, adds a lot of time to the painting process. After all, when you paint a layer and let it dry, then paint another layer and let it dry, and again and again and again ... it's a little like making the same painting mulitple times, but on the same canvas or panel. There are many times when I feel if I did abstract work or even Impressionism where globs of color are applied quickly, often while working on site in the great outdoors (my paintings must be done in the studio), life might be much simpler. In fact, my sales might even increase: Impressionism is a more popular style in the USA than the academic style I prefer.

So why not Impressionism? Well, I don't really have anything against that look. I've seen some attractive pieces that were done that way.

However, an impressionistic piece draws attention to itself as a painting. By working as I do, I can do subtle things in paintings that wouldn't seem believable if the painting was much looser; in fact, some of those things might seem like mistakes. Plus, honestly, I really like the look of the Old Masters, including works created in the 19th century. I love the "inner glow" of a Rembrandt portrait or other artwork, which--in many examples--elevates an otherwise ho-hum painting to a higher level because of the sheer beauty of glazes and other techniques that tend to go with them.

At some point, I'd like to discuss some of the techniques of the Masters and how I incorporate some of those methods into my own work.

The attached image is Madonna and Child with Book by Rafael (who did some fabulous glazing on this piece!) The original painting is in the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena, CA. The Museum Bookstore sells prints of it, but they don't do justice to the painting.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Small Desert Painting

Another in my series of small (8" x 8"/20cm x 20cm) paintings of the desert!

(BTW, don't forget -- my Website is Since the small paintings are already at the Christopher Morgan Gallery, please contact him directly if you're interested in acquiring a small -- or a large! --painting).

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Religion and Politics

Religion and politics -- these are topics of conversation that are best avoided at parties. At least, that's the traditional wisdom for anyone who doesn't want to get caught up in pointless, nonproductive arguments.

I belong to four online forums for artists. Three of those have moderators who insist on keeping the topics related to art. The fourth is mostly that way, but it also features a sort of "let's chat about whatever" where one can start or participate in any subject that's on one's mind.

Prior to the November elections, some of the threads dealt with politics, led mostly by a few people who felt quite passionately about then-candidate Barrack Obama. The problem was: some of us, myself included, felt the pro-Obama folks weren't looking at Obama's claims with any degree of skepticism at all. If we asked for the Obama-ites to offer explanations or evidence that supported those claims, we were treated in an insulting manner and -- needless to say -- were not given explanations or evidence. The forum moderator, in fact, threatened one of the Obama-ites with banishment from the forum if she didn't restrain herself, so this person avoided outright flaming -- but the comments were still insulting.

Now -- I have a Masters degree in microbiology. I did research in college and in several jobs afterwards. A procedure exists for looking at evidence, asking questions and looking for the holes, and trying to find the answers to questions to whatever extent that is possible. The political "discussion" on the forum would not cut it in circles that are used to dealing with evidence -- certainly not science; I'm sure lawyers would have had a field day with it as well.

Mind you -- none of this has anything to do with where I or others stood regarding Obama or McCain. This was strictly about the lack of critical thinking on the part of adults who, I'm sure, are convinced they "won" the discussion.

And the result of all this? Many forum members have not appeared on the forum since the election -- not, I'm convinced -- because Obama won the election, but because we have hard feelings about the way the Obama-ites conducted themselves. The worst of the insulters is still there; in fact, after the election, she brought up the California Proposition 8 "anti-gay marriage" initiative -- but this time, nobody took her bait. A few of us, in fact, sent each other private messages, and we agree this person has a compulsive need (seriously bordering on mental illness) to be the center of attention and to win regardless of her methodology. I and one other forum member have worked with or around mentally ill people before, and what we were seeing was disturbing. Unfortunately, the pro-Obama extremist got away with it, and I don't know if I or the others will return to that forum.

We didn't discuss religion (although it has come up before in this forum), but we did get into politics. I guess we allowed ourselves to get sucked into an unreasonable situation with unreasonable people. And I fear we all lost continued opportunities for building an online community of other professional artists.

Religion and politics -- these are topics of conversation that are best avoided at parties. And online forums.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008


I was in Palm Desert today running a number of errands (I always run myself into the ground when I'm there!) and visited the Living Desert again, as I often do when I'm in Palm Desert. My favorite thing to see is the "Wildlife Wonders" show where the critters do what they normally do, only they do it on cue.

My absolute favorite critter is a Harris' hawk named Hudson who flies back and forth over peoples' heads, often close enough to smack people upside the heads with his wings -- but I love it! However, Hudson had the day off, and the other Harris' hawk (Sonora, a female) is on sick leave right now.

But the Living Desert also has other raptors, although the close encounters with them are not as close as the encounters with Hudson.

One of these critters is Sundance, a female redtail hawk. I've painted redtail hawks in landscapes before, but I was always limited to just a few photos I've been able to take over the years of redtails. So the more pictures I can get of Sundance (along with Hudson), the better equipped I'll be for making more paintings with hawks in them.

Also, Harris' hawks are more or less limited to southern Arizona scenes, while redtails are more widely distributed throughout the US. That increases the options for hawk-"infested" landscapes besides the Sonoran desert.

Whenever I see a hawk catch prey, I always feel a little sorry for the prey. Yet, hawks are beautiful animals and efficient predators, they have an important job to do and I'm always thrilled to see them in flight.

Monday, December 1, 2008


For the benefit of anyone who hasn't spent much time in the West, the name of this plant is pronounced "yuck-a." (Some people tend to call it "you-ka").

I've shown another one of my recently-completed small paintings (10" x 8"/25cm x 20cm). Rising in the background is Mt. San Jacinto. The San Jacinto Mountains are a large part of why the land off to the left (including this spot) is desert while the area to the right is influenced by coastal weather patterns. The mountains form a "rain shadow" because their elevation is high enough to block most of the moisture-laden clouds that come from the ocean.

A scene like this is classic Palm Springs, CA. Spring flowers (the yellow-flowering shrubs are called brittlebush -- Encelia farinosa), yuccas in bloom and Mt. San Jacinto which lies immediately west of Palm Springs. If we get enough rain this winter, the desert will look like this next March and April.

Including that yucca!

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Earthquake Markers

Upon request by one of my gallery owners, I completed a number of small (8" x 10"/20cm x 25cm) -- and smaller -- paintings.

This particular piece shows a spot along the infamous San Andreas fault that runs through the California desert and north to San Francisco. This area features many groups of desert palm trees which -- typical of fan palms -- grow on or near the fault since the crack in the earth's crust allows groundwater to seep to the surface. Palms (as well as the hills in the near distance) mark the fault.

Yup! It's a pretty place. And it's earthquake country. Someday, it's possible this spot could be the site of tremendous devastion of the desert communities, including Palm Springs. Frankly, I hope it doesn't happen in my lifetime, since it's likely a major earthquake here will also affect us in the high desert, one way or another. It's not a pleasant thought -- but it IS life in California.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Merry Christmas to All...Except:

Black Friday is normally the start of a fun and, for many (including yours truly), a sacred time of year. But somehow, this particular Black Friday wasn't fun for people at a Toys R Us store in Palm Desert, CA, not real far from where we live.

Some details are unknown at this time, but apparently, two teen girls in the store (which was filled with shoppers and kids) got into a loud argument about something, and two young men who knew the girls pulled guns and opened fire, killing each other as customers ducked for cover or ran out of the rear exits.

No one knows yet what started this incident. At this time, gang affiliations have been ruled out. So--was it all over who would get to purchase the last-toy-of-its-kind in this particular store? Was there bad blood between these families who seemingly knew each other?

And WHY would people go shopping at a toy store while carrying loaded firearms???? Is this practice more common than I realized?

I suspect a couple of families are not going to have a Merry Christmas this year, including one child who approached one of the bodies on the floor and said "Daddy, wake up!" No holiday cheer in 2008. Perhaps instead of presents, these families will be paying for funeral or cremation expenses.

For more details, the link to the story is:

Merry Christmas to all...and to all a sad sight.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving!

I don't paint scenes like this very often, but sometimes a break from desert landscapes is nice!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 24, 2008

Ajo Spirits

Ajo Spirits is the name of a painting I did in the early 1990s. "Ajo" refers to a mountain range in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument in which we found this scene. The title also alludes to an almost supernatural presence I feel whenever I'm in places like this.

The white vertical structure is the skeleton of a saguaro cactus. After they die, the fleshy part of the cactus dries up and falls away, leaving the skeleton which, in time, also falls apart, scattering poles on the desert floor. In fact, this particular skeleton is no longer there--I've tried to find it during subsequent trips to Organ Pipe, luck.

The paintings I made in the late 1980s-early 1990s were in a photorealistic style -- very detailed, and very accurate as far as showing exactly what was there. Since then, however, I work more in the style of my artist hero of the 19th century, Thomas Moran. Sometimes he showed a place as it really looked but idealized the scene somewhat--or a lot, depending on the mood he wanted to create. Other times, all he wanted was the overall look of a place and took some liberties in the process.

I've discovered factors such as mood, lighting, composition and all those other tricks artists use work better if the artist isn't trying to reproduce the landscape exactly as it appears. Like Moran's, my paintings definitely have recognizable elements in them, but I may add or remove other elements if they don't add strength to the painting.

In fact, implying a sense of the spiritual is the most important aspect of my work. I'm not sure if I always succeed of not -- sometimes it's hard to tell when I'm so close to the paintings. I sure hope you and other viewers get the message I want to convey -- the spirit of the desert.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Death Valley Hues

One of the things I like about Death Valley National Park are the colorful hills and formations there. Although the place isn't officially called the Painted Desert, there are areas that could be.

Case in point: this hill, located between the exit from the Artists Drive (what a great name, huh?) and Golden Canyon. Love the colors.

I plan on painting this "painted desert" soon!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

For Thomas Kinkadeophiles

I once had a commission for a painting that would somewhat resemble the colors and look of a Thomas Kinkade piece, but with a Southwestern subject.

I wouldn't want to do too many paintings this way because I don't want people to look at my artwork and say: "Wow--this looks like a Kinkade!" But I might create works once in a while that carries the man's signature look. Like this little "Casita."

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Desert Water and Desert Critters

One doesn't think of the desert as being a place where water collects. Yet, in Joshua Tree National Park, there are places where we can find water!

One such place is Barker Dam, constructed by 19th century white settlers/cattlemen who wanted to make sure they'd have a year-round water supply.

Of course, other critters besides cattle like having water around. In the painting I've shown (a commission I did a few years ago), the first view shows the entire painting. The second view is a detail, showing a scrub jay, undoubtedly looking for some tasty bugs who enjoy the aqueous environment.

Besides bugs and birds, this little lake attracts coyotes, bighorn sheep and other residents of an otherwise arid region.

Where there is desert water, there are desert critters.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Rainbow of Stone, Continued

In a previous post (1 November 2008), I showed a photo of a place I wanted to paint -- Rainbow Bridge.

Well, here's the painting! I may tweak it a little bit -- an artist friend made some recommendations. I'll need to decide if it's practical to do those things or save it for the next time I paint Rainbow Bridge.

The scene was actually more complicated to paint than I originally thought. One of the problems was: most of the time, the humidity at Rainbow Bridge is very low, even though it's near Lake Powell and, in fact, the water from the lake used to extend from the main body of the lake to under the bridge. (Now, with the ongoing drought in the West and water levels so low, the wash underneath the bridge is essentially dry).

Thus, very little atmospheric haze occurs there, which means as objects get farther away, they don't get lighter and grayer/bluer with the distance. Only the most distant mountain in the scene (Navajo Mountain) has a blue cast. So, I had to take a little artistic license and put some haze into the view, enough to separate the various overlapping features to indicate distance.

After all, the bridge is about a half mile/0.8km from this spot! It's also quite tall (290 feet/88.4m), and I wanted to give an sense that this thing is HUGE!!! Hopefully I succeeded.

Incidentally, if you want to go there, you can't drive to it, and a hike to it would take a lo-o-n-g time. People get there by boat, either your own or a rented small craft, or you pay for a tour that takes you there and back. For more information, go to

Saturday, November 15, 2008


One of the things I like about living in the desert is that I'm fairly close to the Living Desert!

The Living Desert is in Palm Desert, CA and is a combination desert botanical garden and zoo that specializes in desert-dwelling critters. The place started with North American animals, but has expanded to include many African species as well.

One activity I enjoy is "Wildlife Wonders," which is something like a trained animal act. However, the critters don't do cutesy, anthropomorphic tricks. They're trained to do things they normally do in nature, only they do these things on cue.

My favorites in this show are the raptors, or birds of prey: owls, hawks, eagles. I've inserted photos of three birds I've used, or intend to use, in my paintings of the desert. From left to right: Sundance the redtail hawk, Hudson the Harris' hawk, and Olympia the golden eagle. (So far, only Sundance hasn't appeared in a painting -- but she will some day!)

If you'd like to learn more about, or visit, the Living Desert, their Website URL is:

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Final Leg of the Trip

After we left Death Valley (it's hard to believe we arrived there a week ago tonight!), we happened to pass a group of formations called the Trona Pinnacles. I've seen these surreal forms before in pictures, in at least one car commercial and in one of the "Star Trek" movies (I believe it was #5--"The Final Frontier," where Kirk and Spock encounter "God" who needs a starship). So when we could see these forms from the highway and we saw the road to them was about seven miles (11km), I decided to overcome my anathema to dirt roads (we and our truck hadn't recovered yet from our trip to the Racetrack) and make a quick drive to the Pinnacles.

A little TOO quick -- most of the dirt road was do-able, but we crossed one badly-eroded rut in the road that sent all of our stuff airborne and gave us quite a jolt. (Dirt roads ... bah ... humbug!!!) But we soon arrived at an overlook where we at least saw the Pinnacles from a high point. I would have liked to continue down the road where we'd be at the Pinnacles' base (as is the SUV in the photo), but we simply couldn't handle any more dirt road than what we HAD to negotiate to get out of there. Besides, clouds were rolling in, and the Pinnacles were already under a cloud's shadow while the distant hills were still sunlit.

Oh, well. Maybe another time, when the Trona Pinnacles will be the FIRST leg of the trip.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Death Valley Part 2

Last Saturday, the Wiffee and I made a pilgrimage to one of the places in Death Valley we hadn't visited yet -- the Racetrack.

The Racetrack is the name of a playa -- a basin where water runoff from the surrounding mountains collects and evaporates. In this case (and in many other cases in Death Valley), the runoff contains various salts and minerals. When the water evaporates, the salts are left behind as a completely flat, level, dazzling-white lakebed.

This particular playa is named the Racetrack because one can sometimes find rocks scattered about with evidence of the rocks moving across the flats. It's believed high winds blow the rocks around while water levels are low and the rocks skid across the slippery mud, leaving tracks behind them. (That's the theory, anyway -- no one has actually seen the rocks move).

It was fun visiting the Racetrack -- the quiet was unworldly, as was the place itself. The downside was: getting there and back. One must travel a dirt road, washboardy in some places and rocky in others. For 27 miles!!! EACH WAY!!!!! (That's 43.5km for you metric folks). Drive time each way was 1.5-2 hours. ("Racetrack" definitely does NOT describe the road!) We made it OK with our two wheel-drive pickup truck, although some parts came loose along the way.

The views we saw there and on the "road" (I'm using the term loosely here!) were fantastic, and I'm glad we went. But I doubt we'll ever return to the Racetrack, unless the National Park Service improves the road significantly.

On a related note: the night before, we heard a singer, Kerry Christensen, performing cowboy songs. We bought one of his CDs, and one of the tunes is "Cool Water." I've heard the song's first two verses many times about two guys trying to find water in a place that may have been quite similar to Death Valley. I hadn't heard the third verse before, and for me, it makes the song especially sad and tragic:

The shadows sway and seem to say tonight we pray for water,
Cool water.
And way up there He'll hear our prayer and show us where there's water,
Cool Water.

If you'd like to check out Kerry's music (some of these are accompanied by his daughter, Emilie), his Website is:

And, of course, don't forget -- MY Website is:!

Monday, November 10, 2008

Death Valley Part 1

We visited Death Valley National Park, CA for a few days -- in part because it's just a beautiful place and feels like a second home to me; also, a western art show and other activities were going on that weekend. I used to participate in that show for many years, so this was a great opportunity to visit artist friends that we don't otherwise get to see.

What felt strange was not running all over the place taking millions of pictures to use for making paintings. But we've visited Death Valley many times and have already taken millions of pictures. Almost all of those millions are in the form of slides, which I can scan to make digital images; however, I wouldn't consider the quality high enough to post here.

Nevertheless, I did manage to take lots of digital pictures of sites I haven't photographed before, including some along an absolutely horrid dirt road we took (more on that in Part 2).

For all the times I've been in Death Valley, I haven't gotten around to painting more than a handful of pieces of the place. I just gotta do something about that. Soon!

The photo shows a portion of the Mesquite Flats sand dunes, one of the sites I have managed to paint a few times.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

A Western Place for Westerns

We just returned from a three-day trip to Death Valley and some other places on the way there and back. I'll discuss some of these places in the next few posts.

On the way there, we stopped in an area called the Alabama Hills, which are not in Alabama but California. This place is immediately west of Lone Pine. Besides appearing in some photos I've seen, many western movies have been shot there. (One of my personal favorites is "Joe Kidd" starring Clint Eastwood).

The Alabama Hills feature low-growing scrub, formations that look like piles of boulders, and the eastern face of the rugged Sierra Nevada Mountains, including Mt. Whitney, the highest peak in the lower 48 states of the USA. (It turns out the highest AND lowest points in the 48 continental states are about two hours' drive apart -- the lowest spot is Badwater in Death Valley).

We plan to go back to the Alabama Hills some day and spend more time there, preferably before the day gets too late and the sun is too far behind the mountains, placing them in their own shadow -- that was somewhat of a problem the day we were there. Although the picture I've shown here doesn't happen to include Mt. Whitney (which is to the left of this view), it gives a good idea of what this place looks like. If you're a fan of westerns, you may even have a deja vu moment!

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Desert Shack

A shack in the Mojave desert. Somewhere ... out there!

If only these places could talk. You just know there's a story to go with these remains of what was once someone's home.

It's hard to imagine living out there without air conditioning or even evaporative cooling, but in the "good ol' days," people did that. They must have been a lot tougher than I am!

Sunday, November 2, 2008


I was able to get a quick photo of this hawk sitting on one of the water pans we have outside for the wild birds and bunnies. (I had to shoot through venetian blinds--if I would have gone to an unobstructed window, the hawk would have flown off long before I could have gotten the shot). As near as I can tell, this is a Swainson's hawk, not yet fully mature.

I mentioned once before that when you feed (and/or water) the prey, you feed the predators as well. These hawks know the routine -- the critters gather around before sunset, when I put out rabbit pellets for the bunnies and scratch for the quail and doves. I'm sure there's nothing a hawk likes better than to see a concentration of goodies in the open, all in one small area. (Of course, the #1 thing a hawk likes is to catch and eat one of these goodies!)

Most of the time, the quail and doves see the hawks coming and take cover under cholla cactus long before the predators can snag the prey. But on occasion, a hawk gets lucky -- and we witness what my wife calls "a wildlife moment," when the cycle of life turns a little more in it's never-ending revolution.

This day, all the hawk got was a drink of water -- and the other critters lived another day.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

A Rainbow of Stone

I've been working on a painting of Rainbow Bridge, similar to this photo I shot just before Memorial Day of this year. I set the painting aside to finish up some small pieces that needed to be finished ASAP.

I've seen lots of pictures of the Bridge. What never comes across in photographs is how BIG the bridge is! In this view, an adult would be too small to be visible if s/he was standing directly under it. My job as a painter will be to paint the scene in a way where it's obvious the Bridge is still over 1/2 mile away and is a large formation.

Hopefully, I'll finish the painting later this coming week. We'll see if I succeed in conveying not only the beauty of the place, but the enormity of this rainbow in stone.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Wotta View Mr. Keys Had!!

I love Keys View in Joshua Tree National Park. Lots of potential for doing paintings!!

Keys View is named for Bill Keys, a pioneering type who settled and worked in what is now the Park. The distant mountain is Mt. San Jacinto, part of makes the desert a desert by blocking rain-carrying clouds that come from the west (which is to the right).

Someday, I need to paint this place. Many times over!!

Monday, October 27, 2008

eBay Paintings

Sometimes I paint small (8" x 10"/20cm x 25cm) paintings for the express purpose of putting them on eBay and seeing how they do with this online auction. Most of the pieces I put there do sell; a few do not.

In general, autumn landscapes (like the one to the right) and desert scenes do reasonable well. The few Colorado views I've painted haven't sold at all!

It's hard to figure out what collectors might be interested in, so I try to follow the old artist's adage -- just paint what you want, and don't think about the marketplace when you do. That can be a hard bit of advice to follow, but I try!

As a sidenote: it's likely I'll stop placing paintings on eBay and sell them directly from my Website (which just happens to be I'll need to create a page just for this purpose -- it's on the agenda! Someday. When I have time. (Yeah, right!!!)

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Art Rocks

A Thing from space! An uncouth being, risen from the dead for Halloween!

No, it's just another petroglyph. Like the other petroglyph I shared, this one is also in Joshua Tree National Park, not far from the previous one.

But as before, how do we know what this rock art means? How accurate is the depiction? What if the ancient artist simply rendered what s/he saw? Does the thought make you wonder what else might exist among us, possibly unseen by our modern-world eyes?

Welcome to rock art, where art rocks!

Friday, October 24, 2008

Portrait in Rock? Or...?

Whoa!!! It's autumn, and here's a picture of a football!

No, wait -- maybe that's a mask, with a big frown, furled eyebrows and faint eyes and nose.

Maybe it's a portrait of an extraterrestial.

Hard to say. It's one of the petroglyphs in Joshua Tree National Park. I doubt that the ancient ones who made this rock carving knew what a football was, and we today can only guess as to its meaning -- if it has a "meaning" at all. Maybe it was simply the equivalent of a modern-day doodle, as we might scribble on a piece of paper (a much easier process than chiseling into rock!) when we're feeling a little bored.

I'm sure I'll say this again, but sometimes I wish I had a time machine. There are SO many things I'd love to know. Of course, having a TM would open up the possibility of changing things in the past that could affect the world today.

Maybe it's safer just to guess about the past ... and keep alive our wonder and amazement about things we can't really know about.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Art in Cyberspace

Ahhh...I finally got around to updating my Website (which, in case you missed it, is

I now have "Add to Cart" and "View Cart" buttons beside the paintings, making it easy for N-E-1 to acquire one of my desert or western landscape paintings. I'm always excited about the idea of someone adopting one of my paintings. For a small adoption fee, of course!

Doing all this has definitely cut into my painting time, but in these economic times, I realize I need to spread the ol' eggs around into as many baskets as possible.

So the next step might be to figure out how to increase my presence in search engine results, which won't be easy. If you Google "desert paintings" or "desert art," you will get literally millions of hits -- and I'm not even in the top 100 pages of hits! It may be too late in the Internet game to wiggle my way closer to the top, but I gotta try anyway. It'll definitely take time -- that's why I need to get things moving NOW.

See ya in cyberspace!

Monday, October 20, 2008

Lotsa Space -- No Time

Here's another picture from my quick trip to Joshua Tree National Park yesterday. As you may know from previous posts, I like to paint scenes like this: lotsa space, overlapping mountains that become more obscured by distance, and the surreal forms of the desert.

You may be asking yourself: "Self -- why does this Mark Junge dude keep posting photos of the desert instead of his paintings"? Well, frankly, it takes a long time to get paintings done, especially when life gets busy (like, for example, going into Joshua Tree National Park instead of the studio). But I've also lost time from having to get some work done on our pickup truck, wedding anniversary stuff, having to convince our mortgage lender we have enough flood insurance (yes -- flood insurance...we live in the desert on a hillside!) and other distractions.

However, you can, of course, visit my Website (, which hasn't been updated in a while, but at least you can see some paintings! And someday, you may see a painting of the above photo.

If I can find the time.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

A Desert Lizard

I made a quick trip to Joshua Tree National Park today for some inspiration and to see how the fall-flowering shrubs were doing. I didn't see as many flowers as I would have liked, but there were some. Perhaps I can post some pix of scenes that inspire me beyond belief to paint.

But first, I must share a picture I took of a lizard. I think I saw more lizards than flowers. Cute little guy, isn't he? Or she? I don't know how to tell males and females apart. I'm sure, however, they can tell; otherwise, we would soon run out of lizards! Regardless, I expect this little lizard (about 6"/15cm nose to tip-of-tail) to appear in some paintings someday.

I'm not sure of the species, but I believe this is one example of a side-blotched lizard (Uta stansburiana). The coloring varies somewhat, and this one appears to be banded rather than blotched. But you know--even lizards gotta do it "their way"!

More desert pix to follow.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Pumpkin Fairies

I just had to do a painting of a Jack O' Lantern and fairies. As a landscape painter, this is a little outside of my realm, but it's fun to do something different once in a while. Size is 14" x 11" (36cm x 28cm).

I've considered approaching greeting card companies to see if they'd be interested in licensing rights, but I don't know...most Halloween cards are either photographs or cartoon-style illustrations. Not sure if this style would go over with that crowd.

But at least, I got it out of my system!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008


My brother sent me this pic. Love it!!

Monday, October 13, 2008

A Squeaker in Disguise

The Wiffee and I acquired a very cute and adorable guinea pig over a month ago. As with bunnies, we melt at the sight of guinea pigs. Because of their tendency to whistle and "squeak," we often refer to guinea pigs as "squeakers."

The former owner was unable to keep the squeaker (named Gracie) because of changes in work schedule, kids and a pet dog. Gracie has a quieter environment now, and we have time to hold her (she's VERY well socialized!) and give her goodies to eat.

She's a "rough-haired" type, meaning her fur always looks disheveled, and is black and white (the brownish coloring in the photo isn't really there). Sometimes she looks like a skunk without a tail!

A squeaker in disguise!

Sunday, October 12, 2008

The Coming Holidays

Funny thing about me (well, one of the funny things about me, anyway) -- many people talk about having, or not having, the Christmas spirit when that holiday arrives.

I'm subject to that same malady. But in my case, I also have to get into the autumn "spirit," usually by mid-September. Then I have to get into the Halloween spirit and the Thanksgiving Day spirit before I can get into the Christmas spirit. Without that sequence, Christmas comes and goes, and it's just another day except for all the decorations we have up and the gift giving and receiving. The Christian aspects of the day are still there, of course, but I really like the whole package.

Christmas 2007 ended up being one of those "just another days" that seemed to create a lot of stress and busy-ness. I never "got into it." To add insult to injury, I even got sick that day -- and a few days later, my mother-in-law suffered a stroke and died on New Years Day.

This year, I'm determined to immerse myself in the thoughts, images (especially the images!), sights and sounds of the seasons. I'm even working on my first-ever Halloween-themed painting -- not because I expect to make money on it, but because I simply want to do it.

Since I'm no longer surrounded by fellow employees who decorate their cubicles and do things that remind me of the holidays, I have to work a little harder at it on my own so I can enjoy the times. Already I feel autumn is slipping by me. My work is cut out for me.