Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Light and Dark

I should soon finish a painting that -- to me, anyway -- will be reminiscent of 17th century Dutch painter Jacob van Ruisdael (if you're rusty in pronouncing Dutch, that's YAH-cobe von ROYCE-doll: roll the "r" a little).

While his works weren't strictly naturalistic, they do seem to impart a mystical or spiritual feeling (a value I treasure highly in art) to what would otherwise be a flat and possibly boring landscape. If you read my Artists Bio and Statement on my Website (, you'll notice JvR is listed as one of my main influences, although I don't always emulate him as much as I should.

But this time I'm doing it! Dramatic darks with spots of light breaking through the heavens that dance across the scene and give it rhythm. And lots of space -- just like in the desert. With any luck, I should be able to post my latest piece soon. I also expect it'll turn up on the homepage of the Website.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008


Earthquakes -- those, and state politics -- can make life interesting for California residents.

If you've heard the news today, we had an earthquake today --5.2 magnitude, about 90 minutes drive from here. We received a little shaking from it. But my brother lives much closer to the epicenter. At least all he lost was a plastic model of a US Navy destroyer which was crushed when something fell over on it.

Earthquakes can be surreal experiences, especially if you've never gone through one. Waves roll through the ground like waves through the ocean. Buildings and trees sway and rock back and forth. Items inside the home rattle and clink together as though a truck was passing outside -- close to the house! Sometimes, stuff tips over and falls to the floor. And something I've never had to deal with personally (so far) -- a building collapses, highway bridges crumble, water and/or power delivery fails, roads crack or sink into the ground.

They tell us The Big One is coming -- sooner or later. It may or may not impact our area, and it may or may not happen in my lifetime. It sort of reminds me of growing up wondering if America and the rest of the world might have to deal with nuclear warfare -- never knowing if a cataclysmic event would be our fate. Or not.

Let's hope they're wrong about The Big One and a nuclear war.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Jurassic Mark

Jurassic Mark is a name I came up with for myself soon after the movie, "Jurassic Park" came out. I've always sort of liked dinosaurs anyway, and the movie, especially the first of the three, is one of my favorites. (I love the roar of the T. rex in the first "JP"!) So I couldn't resist doing a takeoff of the title, besides the fact that sometimes I feel like I'm 150 million years old!

The movie does have it's scientific issues; i.e., they as much as doubled the dinos' sizes --velociraptors were about 3 feet/1 meter tall, NOT 7 feet/2 meters high as they are in the flicks. Also, if dinosaurs were so closely related to birds, they would have used bird DNA, not frog DNA, to fill in the missing dino DNA sequences.

But Steven Spielberg did a fantastic job of bringing dinosaurs to life on the screen in a way I hadn't seen before.

I have considered painting a few dinosaur images (well, they'd be landscapes with dinos in them), the way I paint modern-day wildlife into my landscapes. But I'd really have to become much more familiar with dino anatomy than I am now. In any case, that's a "someday" project.

Oh--the photo. That's a little plush dino my wife bought for me as we were on our way to see "Jurassic Park II: The Lost World." Cute, huh?

Sunday, July 27, 2008

A Religion of Art?

Years ago in college, I took a class called "Writing for the Arts." Thankfully, the instructor avoided "Artspeak," that nonsensical style of writing about art that amounts to, well, nonsense.

Anyway, the professor mentioned that she was brought up Catholic, but that her religion became art and psychology. That thought has stuck in my mind for over 20 years. I learned some good ideas about writing from her, but her comment always bothered me a little.

I think most artists -- all but the most commercially-driven ones, anyway -- would say that creating art is almost like a religious experience for them. Taking one's loves (or hates) and, in a sense, a pictorial expression of one's inner being and putting it on canvas, paper, clay, whatever, can be a cathartic and freeing event for an artist. Perhaps it's a little like going to confession and absolution--getting it all out and feeling so much better afterwards. At least, that's the idea.

I've also heard the notion that art is the output of a neurotic condition. We can certainly see examples of that out there! On the other hand, perhaps art is made in spite of, NOT because of, the emotional baggage we carry.

But returning to the religion aspect -- maybe it depends on what we expect our religion(s) to do for us. For many of us, it has to do with being imperfect beings trying to stand before Perfection -- and falling short. So life is about living as perfectly as we can and seeking forgiveness when we don't. In this case, I would think art (and/or psychology) as religion would be terribly inadequate, as touching and moving as really good art can be.

The above-mentioned teacher moved on to assume an editor position at an art publication and afterwards became the curator of an art museum. I've since lost touch. I hope she's still involved in art and in writing about art. But I also hope she found something more substantial than art and psychology in which to invest her soul. If not, I feel rather sad for her.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

eBay Art

How did we ever survive without eBay?

Seems like we can find anything we want on that online auction site. So it should come as no surprise art is available there, too!

I frequently place small pieces on eBay for bid. These items are a little different from what I normally do: besides the smaller sizes (8" x 10"/20cm x 25cm; and on panel, not canvas), they don't have the transparent layers of color that give my "regular" paintings the appearance of stained glass. But since I know I need to keep the prices low, I can't spend a great deal of time creating them.

However, I still feel pride in what I produce, and sometimes it gives me a chance to try things that I might re-create on a larger scale later.

The attached image is an example of this. It's obviously not a desert scene! But it was fun to do, I want to paint a bigger version someday soon, I enjoy the colors of autumn, and I believe I captured the spiritual essence of the place.

(To find me on eBay, simply search for "Mark Junge." You can narrow the search by searching under the "Art" category).

Friday, July 25, 2008

The "Real" Surreal

I used to use electron microscopes a lot in some of the research jobs I had. One type is the scanning electron microscope (SEM), which makes images that resemble black-and-white photographs. (Nowadays, SEMs can be linked to computers that add false color to the images).

SEMs can be used in research, quality control and forensics. But for the artistically-inclined, they can be wonderful tools for showing the surrealistic world that exists right under our noses!

The scanning electron micrograph (the fancy name for a picture taken on an SEM) to the right is a highly magnified object common to many, if not all, of us. Can you guess what it is?

It's salted popcorn! The cubes that are scattered about are salt crystals.

The "mountain" that rises in the background is not part of the popcorn -- it's some of the dried electrically-conducting carbon paste that we use to adhere specimens to a sample holder which, in turn, is inserted in the SEM. But I always thought it helped give the image the look of a landscape, so I didn't crop it out.

We know about the concept of the universe being a vast place with stars, planets and many other things (but with LOTS of empty space). But we live in another universe as well, and one that is equally hard to see and comprehend -- the universe of the microscopic and the infinitely small.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Let This Be a Sign Unto You

If you ever happen to get a close look at the way I sign my paintings, you'll see more there than just my name.

The "Mark Junge" is followed by the date of creation -- nowadays without the copyright symbol. (I do put copyright notices on jpegs of paintings I post on the Internet as a way of discouraging lowdown slime from downloading and using my work without paying me for it).

I also include the Latin phrase, Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam. The translation: "To the greater glory of God." Catholic readers will recognize it as the motto of the Jesuits.

I heard many years ago that J.S.Bach used to write the initials "AMDG" on his manuscripts. That sounded like a good idea to me, and it seemed appropriate, not only in terms of my beliefs but in keeping with the 19th century American Hudson River School painters' philosophy where landscape painting was the ultimate expression of your reverence for God.

So--I started printing "AMDG" on my paintings, then eventually spelled it out as long as the painting was large enough to accomodate it.

Finally, I sometimes include designs based on Anasazi petroglyphs of desert bighorn sheep. I used to stick these on any large rocks that might appear in the immediate foreground, but lately I've just been adding them to the signature.

Maybe someday I'll simplify the entire signature process, and I often do on paintings that might be classified "modern." But most of what I do is traditional with a surreal twist, and somehow all of the above symbols seem to work as a sign unto you.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

A Bunny Named Bunny

Referring to my previous post, I could mention that Bunny #3 (named Bunny), was my favorite. I attended California State Polytechnic University, Pomona (aka Cal Poly Pomona), California, where I received both a Masters and a Bachelors degree in Microbiology (more about all this another time).

One of the classes I took in my undergrad years was Immunology and Serology. Part of the lab work was to inject cute little albino bunnies with stuff (nothing that would make the bunnies sick), then collect blood from them and go through an isolation and purification procedure to get the antibodies the bunnies made against the stuff. When the academic quarter was over, we had a choice of bringing the bunnies home (only catch -- we had to donate some of our own blood for the same class), or leave the bunnies there. If we left them, they ended up in one of the zoology classes' labs where, sadly, they would endure open-heart surgery and then would die. Needless to say, I took my team's bunny home.

Over a period of a few months or so, Bunny had the free run of an enclosed patio. She could hippity-hop around, hide, eat or do whatever she wanted.

The best part was when I called my girlfriend (now my wife). The phone was by a door that led out to the patio. So I'd sit on the doorstep, talking on the phone, often for an hour or more. Bunny would come over, go in betwen my legs and turn around, facing away from me. Then she'd settle down while I petted her until well after the phone call was finished. None of the other bunnies or the guinea pig seemed to appreciate the affection the way Bunny did.

One of Bunny's favorite places to be petted was just a little above her nose. I noticed that when a male and female are together, the male will lick and nibble the female there, and the female seemed to be in bunny heaven when he did.

Bunnies also like being petted and rubbed around the base of the ears. So--if you have a bunny or the next time you're in a bunny's company, consider letting it know how cute you think it is by petting it in those places.

Monday, July 21, 2008

More About Bunnies

My favorite pets of all time have been: guess what? BUNNIES!!!

Bunnies are low-maintenance pets. They can be paper-trained, believe it or not. We've had bunnies that have had the free run of the rooms we kept them in and really didn't have to clean up much after them. They always had a cage on the floor where we kept their water bottles and food, and those little critters "did their business" in the cages. So the cages needed cleaning every day, of course, but the room itself was pretty much OK, except when the bunnies were shedding.

I was never creative when it came to naming them. One pair was a brother and sister--they were simply "Girl Bunny" and "Boy Bunny." The third and fourth (we didn't have them at the same time) were both named "Bunny." Our last critter was the only lop-earred rabbit we had, and it came with a name: "Maggie." The previous owner thought it was a female, until a trip to a veterinarian uncovered the truth: "she" was a "he"! But the name stuck.

We once had a guinea pig, too, in between bunnies. They're cute,too. They squeak and whistle and scurry around in their cages. And they always have this expression like they're constantly startled. Cute. Very cute.

Some day we'll probably get another bunny (or guinea pig). But for now, we're too busy to take on the responsibility of having a pet. And we do have the wild bunnies outside. They won't let us pick them up or pet them, of course. But they're still cute!

Sunday, July 20, 2008

No Sun on Sunday

Well, very little sun, anyway. Summer in the desert (or the Southwest in general) means putting up with tropical storms from the Baja area, which usually brings rain to southern Arizona while we get nothing but humid, muggy conditions. At least the air temperatures aren't as high, but it still feels quite uncomfortable. However, the Palm Springs area DID get rain today, enough to cause some flooding.

We don't have air conditioning -- just an evaporative cooler. Since it's dry here most of the time, the cooler works just great. But when the dewpoint is 55 degrees or more, the cooler doesn't work as well, although it's better than nothing. BTW, the dewpoint today was 62 degrees. That's pretty tropical for us dry air folks.

The picture shows how it looked this morning. Instead of the electric-blue skies we usually have, we had cloudy, humid air that almost dripped moisure. (The distant hills are part of Joshua Tree National Park).

Saturday, July 19, 2008


Fairies are not something you might expect from a desert painter. After all, fairies live in heavily-wooded places, not among the sparse, prickly plantlife of the arid regions.

But even though I really like to paint landscapes, sometimes a change in subject matter seems to free me from my self-imposed restraints. Hey -- we all need some variety, right?

Having said that, I never felt figurative painting (or drawing) is my strong suit. I'm the type who wouldn't be happy unless I was cranking out Rembrandt-quality images!

Still, every so often, I have to give it a shot. The accompanying image is one example of a painting I did last year of an autumn fairy. I intended to contact some greeting card companies to see if any of them might like to use it, but I didn't get around to doing it -- and now it's too late for this year. (Some companies are already poised for the 2008 Christmas card season!) But who knows ... you might see this image on a card -- maybe next year.

And do fairies exist? Hoooo noze ... ?

Friday, July 18, 2008

Desert Heat

Y'know, it's not always easy painting the joys, beauty and glory of the desert wildlands when you step outside the house or car and right into an oven -- at least, that's what it feels like out there. At least we're at 3000 feet/910 meters elevation, so it's not as hot as it could be.

Most of our landscaping consists of cactus, Joshua trees and other native plant species. Except for a few things I recently transplanted, I don't have to water much. However, I do water underneath some of the more densely-foliated bushes -- not so much because they need it, but because it gives the bunnies damp places to lie down on and keep cool. They certainly take advantage of the things I do for them!

If you don't know what a Joshua tree is, I've inserted an image of a painting that features some. These plants, members of the lily family, were supposedly named by Mormon pioneers who thought the branches of the trees resembled the upraised arms of the biblical character, Joshua crying out to the Lord.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Continuing the Continuation

I'm still working on the smoke tree painting -- frankly, I'll be quite glad when it's finished. That could be as early as later tonight or as late as this coming Sunday night, depending on how much more stuff I need to paint into it and how many breaks I take between now and The Conclusion.

The "mistake" I made (not really a mistake, actually) was in choosing a viewpoint that looks like the viewer is standing right there. Most people like that "I can walk right into it" approach, and it isn't so bad when a painting is smaller or even medium-sized. But when it's 36" x 48" (91cm x 122cm), a ground-level view has an almost overwhelming amount of detail to paint!

Next time (and from now on), I expect larger pieces to have a bird's-eye point of view, which is a look I prefer, anyway.

The photo shows the largest painting I've ever done: 4' x 6' (1.2m x 1.8m). This desert view shows what used to be a lake in ancient times: the waterline from the lake is still visible on the closer mountain. The painting appears in the background behind me on my Website Bio & Statement:

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Not All Fun & Games II

I'll admit -- there are times I wish I was more into making abstract paintings rather than the detailed realist works that I prefer. I love the end result, but sometimes the process of getting to the end isn't always fun. Abstract Expressionists are free to do whatever -- not that this is easy, either. But when I'm sitting there, painting leaves or twigs one at a time (especially on LARGE paintings), the drudgery of it gets to me.
That's been happening this week. I've been working on a large painting of a desert wash with smoke trees. Trying to make the smoke trees look right, and with the detail they need since they're somewhat close, has been enough to make me want to set the stinkin' thing aside and do something else.

BUT -- I'm getting to the end, and something inside me says "Don't quit on it now!" So I keep going, take frequent breaks, and figure I'll finish it by the end of the week.

The attached picture is the photo I'm working from, although I'm making some minor changes. The image shows a smoke tree-lined wash in Joshua Tree National Park just before sundown. And mind you -- I always work from my own photos along with reference material (drawings, color sketches, plein aire paintings, whatever).

Finally, don't forget -- my Website is

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Not All Fun & Games

Making art isn't always the cakewalk some-to-many nonartists think it is.

When an artist dude (say, for example, me) is a representational painter, one might think all we should have to do is paint what's there. Some realist painters do that -- every leaf, every blade of grass, every feather, every hair...whatever.

Problem is -- that slows down the process a lot, which means the painting takes longer to do, and a higher price tag has to hang from the finished piece.

Perhaps more importantly, a painting where every square inch/square centimeter is sharp and detailed can be hard to look at. If you look at the Old Masters, you may notice most of the edges are softened and blended EXCEPT for a spot the artist considered most important--that spot will be sharp and often contains the area of highest contrast -- the darkest dark and the lightest light -- within the work. The sharpness and contrast tends to draw (no pun intended!) attention to itself. In essense, the artist makes you want to look at the important feature in the work.

The attached image is "The Adoration of the Shepherds" by Guido Reni from the National Gallery, London. The painting is detailed throughout but also features softened lines and relatively dark colors throughout -- except for the infant Jesus. He is the lightest, brightest area in the piece, and I suspect (not having seen the original) probably has the sharpest detailing of the entire painting. How can you NOT look at the cute little guy?

There you have it -- your art lesson for today. A good painting is more planned than you may have thought. And doesn't it just make you feel all warm and fuzzy to know that you've been manipulated by the artist to look at what s/he wanted you to look at?

Monday, July 14, 2008

Dreams of Tuscany

Images of Tuscany are somewhat of the popular thing these days, at least in this area. Many new homes are designed with a Tuscan/Mediterranean look, and people like to put Tuscan-themed artwork in these homes.

One of my galleries asked me to paint some landscapes that have a Tuscany feel, but I have to confess: I've never been to Italy, so I have to depend on others' photos to see what the place looks like (although I don't copy other artists' photos). Tuscany seems to look like a combination of southern California and the Napa Valley vineyards.

Still, I've never been content to do what all the other Tuscany artists do. So I try to make some changes in the "look." Whether that helps or hurts as far as sales go, I'm not sure. But I don't make that many Tuscany paintings, since I consider the desert to be my forte anyway.

The inserted painting is an impression of Tuscany with the borrowed distinctive classical look of Claude Lorrain, a favorite 17th century French artist. Luv da guy!! (I think that's French for "I love this artist"!)

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Cute Quail

Besides bunnies, I really enjoy the Gambels quail we have in the desert. I love their rounded forms, cute little topknots on their heads and--preferring to run rather than fly--feet that move unbelievably fast when they're on the move. And apparently, quail don't need to bob their heads back and forth as most other birds do when they walk or run.

Quail have some habits that remind me of chickens. Males will charge and jump at each other with wings open, although fighting is relatively rare. When they're looking for seeds or other goodies to eat, they'll scratch the ground --just like chickens. (They scratch three times with one leg, then once with the other).

I noticed if a coyote comes through, the quail will follow along behind at a safe distance, sort of chirping and "wimpering" as they go--in other words, not being particularly inconspicuous. A book I have about quail mentions this peculiar behavior, too, and no one knows why they do this. (They sure don't follow ME around like that!)

As with bunnies, I like to include quail in paintings, although admittedly painting a quail is more involved than painting a bunny. Sometimes it depends on how much energy I have left by the time I get to the point of inserting a desert critter into the desert.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Ocotillo Heaven

Ocotillo ("oh-koe-TEE-yo") are the clumps of spindly sticks with the green leaves and red-orange flowers seen in the painting on the right. We desert dwellers, as well as people who love the desert but who don't live there, really seem to get off on these things. It's fun to see them in their natural state, but you'll see them in desert gardens everywhere.

The painting depicts one of many areas where you'll see ocotillo grow. This is south of Palm Desert, California in the foothills of Mt. San Jacinto. You can see a part of Deep Canyon way off at the base of the distant hills. Deep Canyon is a biological research station and is closed to the public. I've been to this overlook many times, until I found out these hills are part of the research center and, therefore, I was impacting the region just by being there! Oh, well. I won't be hiking there again, although there are some well-worn trails made by other human beans looking for the same beauty of the desert as I was.

In the foreground I painted the commonly-occurring zebra-tailed lizard. I love lizards almost as much as I love bunnies, and in fact I often include one or the other, or both, in my paintings. It's fun to "hide" critters in the paintings, which is how you'll often discover the animals--blending in with their surroundings; they see you but you don't see them, until you get too close--then you'll see a puff of dust, a rattle of dry leaves or the blur of an undistinguishable figure as the critter bolts for safety.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Those Wascally Wabbits

...or those cute little bunnies, as I'm more apt to say.

I normally don't take pictures of critters with my digital camera--the autofocus feature makes it respond much too slowly for anything that's not inclined to sit still for me. But sometimes I get lucky, as the picture to the right proves.

I must confess to my sins, however. I do actually attract critters like bunnies to our area, partly because it makes me feel good and mostly because I try to take pictures of them to use in paintings. What is my sin, you may ask? I have containers of water for them, and I put out rabbit pellets for the bunnies and chicken scratch for the Gambels quail (actually, bunnies like the scratch, too!) More on the quail later.

Living in a desert region where habitat is sadly disappearing, I feel like I'm giving the critters a helping hand. On the other hand, I'm concerned I may be enabling them to reproduce beyond the region's ability to support them without help. Feeding wild mammals can be an especially bad idea, particularly when the mammals can produce LOTS of offspring.

Of course, we're indirectly feeding the predators, too, since we're supporting the prey. But the predators had a hard time catching the prey around here due to all the wickedly-thorny cholla cactus that grows around here. Still, we have witnessed "wildlife moments" when we happen to look out a window just in time to see a hawk catch and eat a dove or we see a roadrunner with a lizard or quail chick in its beak.

BTW: those roadrunner cartoons where coyote tries to lure the bird with a pile of birdseed while coyote attempts to drop a boulder or dynamite or something equally lethal on the poor roadrunner? IT AIN'T LIKE THAT!! Roadrunners are carnivorous, not seed-ivorous! And since they don't have talons or hooked beaks like hawks and eagles, they have to tear up the meat by whipping their prey against rocks. That's really hard to watch when their prey is a cute "fuzzball" quail chick, but it's all part of how nature works.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

The Vast Spaces of the Southwest

"The Vast Spaces of the Southwest" is the tagline I use on my biz cards, stationery, Website, wherever. The line sums up what I love about the desert the most -- all that uncluttered space and distance that seems to extend to infinity. The accompanying photo, taken in Joshua Tree National Park, California, is a perfect example of what inspires me to paint. In fact, I've already painted this scene once, and I expect to do at least one more. IMO, it's a great view, especially with the lighting and the cloud shadows that add rhythm to the landscape.

Unfortunately, I haven't felt like visiting the Park this week. It's been hot and humid lately (it's not always a dry heat around here!). 'Tho' we have A/C in our vehicles, our house has only an evaporative cooler, which doesn't cool as well when it's humid. So I've been a little unmotivated lately!

BUT -- art must go on!

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Wotta hole!!!

The Grand Canyon...there's nothing like it. My wife and I went on a trip to to the area and arrived at the East entrance to the Grand Canyon amidst a rain/snow mix. We couldn't see the Canyon at first. But we continued on, thinking we'd just head to the hotel and stay out of the weather. Then we arrived at Moran Point, where the clouds were clearing and spots of sunlight were dancing across the formations. OF COURSE, I just had to paint it! I painted it the way it looked; next time I may make it even more dramatic.

The next turnout, Grandview, had similar lighting and clouds floating by. I've seen that in photos and paintings, but I've never seen that for myself in real life. It didn't last long, however, and soon we were back to gray fog out there. But we had a few moments of magic, and they'll stay with us for a lifetime!

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Welcome! you've stumbled across my blog ... or perhaps you were actually searching for me by name and discovered me here! Either way, thanks for checking in on me.

As the above blurb mentions, I'm an artist who paints landscapes of the West. I especially love the Southwestern deserts -- these are places that can only be described as surreal and infinite, with lots and LOTS of space, grotesque plantlife and rugged, primeval geological features. Painting the deserts helps fill my need to paint surrealism (my favorite style of art) while celebrating the stark beauty of some very special places. You can see examples of my paintings and my artistic influences on my Website: I frequently make changes to my site -- please visit often. I expect to change it from a mere online portfolio to a virtual gallery where you can acquire works simply by clicking on the appropriate buttons.

As for my comment about bunnies: I live in the California desert, and we have lots of desert cottontail rabbits around here. They often make their way into paintings, and I've created the above bunny-featured avatar that I use on a number of other sites. Personally, I think bunnies are cute. A pain, sometimes -- they eat everything -- but they're cute.