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.