Monday, November 21, 2011


Unfortunately, I continue to feel burned-out and lacking in any confidence whatsoever when it comes to the idea of painting for a living. I'm still considering trying my hand at writing, but I'm not feeling especially confident there, either. And I feel so TIRED all the time!

On a related note, one of the art business forums I belong to had a question posted in their Art Business section by an artist who has a lot of trouble selling his traditional landscape paintings. Following are excerpts from a couple of insightful (IMO) responses:

"I finally came to believe that with regard to traditional landscapes, people HAVE FINALLY SEEN IT ALL. What with exciting computer games, camera phones, youtube, etc., it takes a lot nowadays to visually stimulate people - they respond to things that are new and different. And traditional landscapes are...well...not new and different. They ARE regarded as out-of-date - they have been around for - how many centuries?"

"...landscapes are very old fashioned and unless there is something really interesting and unique to them, you better be happy simply painting for yourself and have no need to sell. Many of the traditional galleries in this region are not moving quiet landscapes at all, mainly because there are bigger, brighter and more interesting subjects and styles which get attention (figurative works are really hot right now). As well, landscapes are seen as something which parents or grandparents have on their walls and buyers are getting younger and younger. (or we're getting older!)"

Has this been my problem all along? Younger buyers aren't buying traditional landscapes because they're old-fashioned and not exciting enough? I've also seen landscapes on that look like they could be backdrops for video games or for movies like "Avatar." Is that the look I should go for (if I want to try selling artwork again?)

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Surreal Desert Paintings, Surreal Desert Landscapes and Other Art Stuff

Lots of big plans for the immediate future. Let's see if I have the time and/or energy to pull them off!

First: the end of the year holidays...Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas. (New Years always seems to be a downer for me, so it's not listed). Every year, I go looking for books with neat images of these holidays -- images along the lines of something I might do. And you know what? I never find books like that.

So-o-o...I've been thinking: maybe I need to paint up holiday paintings that I would want to see in a book, and then produce/write the books myself! I do have a bent toward writing as well as art, and this would be one way to do both. In fact, I've been trying to think up writing projects for years, ever since the late 1980's when I took a class in which the teacher had us write in a way that conjures up images in the readers' minds. Lots of adverbs, metaphors, similes and such. (I wrote my biography on my Website in this style).

Of course, I'm also thinking of other writing projects: perhaps short stories or even novels. I'm also considering a collection of essays on the trials and tribulations of artists. (Well, OK, the good things about the artist's life, too!)

Secondly: I haven't been painting wall art for a while now, but I've been thinking (OMG -- he's been thinking!!!)...

Sometimes I wonder if the traditional approach to making landscapes is seen as too old-fashioned, at least among the younger art buyers. My type of landscapes are what their parents and their grandparents have on their walls. This entire style of working has been done to death, and frankly, it's a lot of work for so little financial reward. It's certainly no way to run a business!

So, as I wonder to myself as I look at other Websites, maybe I should try making desert landscapes with strong hints of fantasy or surrealism to them. I've seen images that look like they belong in video games or in sci-fi/fantasy movies such as "Avatar." The landscapes look real, but they're unworldly or etherial at the same time. Is THIS what people want on their walls? Colorful and real-but-not-real?

As usual, this semi-burned-out artist has got lots to think about. I need creative outlets, yet I need to make more $$$ than the P/T teaching position gives me.

BTW, there's always a method to my madness. The title of this post came about because I Googled "surreal desert paintings." This blog came up #5 in the list! It's the exact title I used in a post a long time ago. Knowing that, I titled this post so, if I'm lucky, someone just might discover my paintings -- including the surreal desert kind which aren't even done yet!

If you're one of those -- be patient! Don't forget: I'm at

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Maroon Bells

Ahhh... it's finally autumn.

Autumn in the desert is much more subtle than the painting you see here. This scene is in Colorado. The distant mountains are the Maroon Bells near the town of Aspen.

Fall must be the most popular time to visit the area. The road leading to the parking lot is closed to all but a few people, and one must go to a park in Aspen to catch a shuttle bus that hauls tourists to the parking lot, where they can see the mountains and Maroon Lake which often appears in photos.

That day, I arrived there in the early afternoon. I didn't know where the park was and didn't have enough money for the shuttle. So I walked. I was told at the gate that the Maroon Bells come into view after the first six miles, and the parking lot and lake were two miles beyond that.

Well, I managed to trudge the first six miles uphill, and that was all I could handle that day after picking up unsold artwork from an exhibit in Glenwood Springs. Plus, although the day was partly cloudy when I arrived, in typical Colorado fashion, it completely clouded over by the time I saw the peaks. I even got drizzled on. It figures.

So I took pictures of the Bells and the surrounding area, saw some deer and eventually turned around and walked back to my truck.

This painting, then, is one of the works I made from that little walk. Instead of the usual Maroon Lake, I included Maroon Creek in the scene which -- except for the distant mountains -- is not exactly how things looked. (I pulled out my artists' license for this painting). I wanted to paint a different version of Maroon Bells, not the same view that millions of other folks photograph or paint.

One of the problems with painting the creek instead of the lake is how it brings out the "everyone's a critic" tendency in people. One man at an art show who saw the piece rolled his eyes in -- disgust? -- and pointed out there should be a lake there. I told him the lake was two miles up from where I was at that time. I'm not sure he believed me or not, but that does happen in the world of art.

Well, anyway, I love fall -- it seems like a feeling similar to the migratory instinct comes alive in me. Autumn makes me feel both excited and anxious at the same time.

Maybe I'm part duck. =)

Friday, September 23, 2011


Arches National Park has gotta be one of my most favorite places on earth. The reddish sandstone, the spires and -- of course -- the many arches gives the land an eerie, surreal sense of the very rocks being alive.

That's why I saw a painting of a scene in the Park that showed unearthly colors and dramatic lighting that added to the mystery of this place. The painting was entitled, simply, Arches and was executed by a living artist I greatly admire, D. Michael McCarthy. He and I are both inspired by the works of 19th century painter, Thomas Moran:

When I saw Michael's Arches painting in a gallery window, all I could do was stop in my tracks and stare at it...for I don't remember how long. This was one of those pieces that changed my life...or at least, changed how I wanted to portray the world in my art from that time forward. Seeing reproductions of Moran's work was one thing. Experiencing Michael's work was quite another.

So, my version of Arches was inspired by, but is not a copy of, Michael's artwork. I can't tell if my piece affects others the way Michael's painting affected me. I hope so.

I'd like to think I made the world just a little better by painting this:

Friday, August 19, 2011

May I Borrow Your Crystal Ball?

Had a bit of a scare this week...

As some of you know, I teach microbiology part-time at a local community college. When the semester started this past Monday, I had only six students enrolled in my class. That's not very many, and I know the college folks were seriously considering transferring the six to the the morning class, taught by another instructor. And I'd be unemployed for the rest of the year.

However, all six students work full-time during the day and were unable to switch. Since micro is the last course these guys need to continue on into nursing school, simply canceling the class would have screwed them up majorly. So the class will continue on, and I'll be receiving a paycheck for the rest of the year, barring complications on my part.

But the scare brought to mind why I promised myself, years ago, that I'd never again have only one financial lifeline. It's so easy to have that lifeline cut for any number of reasons, or for no reason at all. I'd love to have a Plan B -- some kind of income-generating enterprise to supplement the teaching position.

Frankly, other than selling paintings, I don't have a Plan B, and art sales are definitely suffering during these horrid economic times (which could get worse in the days ahead according to some economists).

The only thing I can do at this point is to go ahead and make paintings that will be put up for sale...some day. I don't know if this recession will end in my lifetime -- I hope so, but who knows?

In any case, I still plan to paint landscapes that I want to keep -- but sell them if/when the right opportunity comes. Not just any opportunity, but the right one. I won't be so easy-going in the future, even if it costs me sales. I just can't invest large quantities of time or money, or have pieces hanging in a gallery with no financial commitment on the part of the gallery owner, while I try to figure out how to survive.

Sometimes I really wish I could look into the future. Maybe I could then figure out where to go with things. But I guess all I can do is my paint my best artwork possible and hope enough people (who are surviving the recession) will like the paintings, too.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Fairies in the Desert???

OK...we normally associate fairies with green, fern-filled, moist, woodsy habitats, which is entirely understandable. So what are we desert lovers supposed to do if we kinda/sorta like fairies, too? Why, we paint desert fairies!

Like this one. Size is 12" x 12" / 30cm x 30cm and is available at Crystal Fantasy in Palm Springs, CA. Stop by and check it out!

Friday, July 1, 2011

New and Improved

I finally finished a revision I wanted to make to a painting I completed about three years ago. The version on the left is the old, original image, and the revised work is on the right.

Frankly, I like the newer version MUCH better! I'm happier with the "new, improved" view of the desert in springtime.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

When Food Is the Enemy

Alright, I'll admit it: food has always been my drug-of-choice when I think I need a pick-me-pick. And if you're trying to lose weight, a little excess (aka "cheating"), on occasion, isn't such a bad thing.

But if you're a diabetic, it can be dangerous. Or deadly.

I'm one of the many Type 2 diabetics in this country. We don't have to shoot up insulin -- that's a "privilege" normally reserved for the Type I folks. We make insulin, but for various reasons, we're "insulin-resistant" -- meaning, the insulin doesn't work as well as it should. Being overweight is one of those reasons -- as I understand it, the fat around our cells literally gets in the way of the insulin, which is needed to get the sugars into our cells. (That's why we're supposed to get our weight down and keep it down).

Well, last night I cheated. The Wiffee came home from her sister's around dinnertime and wasn't hungry yet. So I snacked on a little leftover macaroni salad. And a bite-sized Snickers bar. Then The Wiffee got hungry and Carls Jr hamburgers sounded good.

Now -- one each of any of the fastfood burgers has my maximum number of carbohydrates for one of the three major meals: around 45 grams of carbs. But my snack had carbs too, and I ate it thinking The Wiffee might not get hungry for anouther two hours, when it would have been OK to eat again.

But nope! I went right over to get the burgers -- three of them -- and we split one of them. That probably put me up to around 66g of carbs, plus the macaroni salad and the candy bar. Then we had dessert -- a bowl of ice cream. I'm already had too many carbs, and now I added even more. Bad mistake for a dude like me.

First came the headache. Even before I was diagnosed with diabetes, I would often get bad headaches if I ate too many Christmas goodies. Untreatable headaches. Very painful headaches. And I sure got one last night. And it went downhill from there.

Briefly: nausea. Profuse sweating and feeling like I was burning up. And on the verge of passing out.

I should have tested my blood sugar while all of this was going on. But I wasn't up to it. But I did check it when I was feeling a bit better, and you know what? It wasn't that high. It was only a few points higher than what it normally is before having breakfast after I wake up in the morning.

I suspect my blood sugar was too high, and then dropped quickly. I crashed.

In the end, I'm still alive and functional this morning, although I still feel a little drained. And icky from all that sweating last night.

Food feels like a friend, and most of the time it is. But sometimes food is the enemy. It's an unregulated drug. I believe in "all things things in moderation," but I'm not moderate enough about food. It tastes too good, especially when chocolate is involved!

Even Confucius advised against making food too tasty, less we're tempted to eat too much of it.

Ahem, bro!

Friday, May 6, 2011

Relief Is in Sight!!!

The end of my teaching time is only about two weeks away! If only I can survive that long!

If you don't remember, I've been teaching at a local community college since mid-January: microbiology, zoology and a lab for basic biology. (The first two each have lectures and labs). Teaching, especially putting together lectures for zoology, has been my life this year. As art was the only thing I did before, zoology is all I've been doing in 2011. Unfortunately, the textbook publisher provided very little instructional support, and I've had to put it together as fast as I could, doubtlessly not the best quality.

One of the bureaucratic obstacles I and other P/T instructors have to deal with is: decisions about who is teaching what and when are made at the last minute. That's fine if the lesson plan is already put together, but when I'm asked to teach a subject that's totally new to me and with very little time to put it together, it ends up making me look bad.

Why? Because the students get to evaluate their instructors every couple of years. But if some of the comments are bad, students continue to evaluate the instructor every time the course is taught, until the reports come back entirely positive.

I can see that this is a setup for failure. And I've come to realize I may have to say "No" to teaching requests in order to stay out of those situations, as well as to save myself from the overwhelming task of trying to stay ahead of my students.

All of this to say: I'm beginning to miss doing art again.

Now, don't get me wrong. I'm grateful to have a job when so many others don't. The hourly pay rate is better than any other job I've ever had. We still don't have medical insurance -- my wife always had that with her employers, but she lost her job last November and hasn't been able to find anything since then.

And frankly, I keep getting reports about how bad the art shows have been this year. If the economy really is getting better, it's still a long LONG ways from SoCal. In addition, I've been so busy with teaching, I feel I never had the chance to get over being burned out from art. I still need a break. Badly.

Soon enough. When the college is out in late May, I plan on taking two weeks for doing...nothing! And evaluating what I need to do and where I need to go. Teaching has been bringing in the $$$, but I feel like I can't depend on it for more than a semester at a time. All my eggs are in one basket, and it ain't a very stable one.

As usual, I have to do lots of thinking and planning to do. I haven't got it all figured out yet. But first, I have to finish out the term. Take a do-nothing vacation. Then paint and, maybe, re-work course materials for next fall or spring semesters, in case they need/want me to teach again.

Or I'll try to develop a Plan B. Would that be art? I wonder...

Sunday, April 17, 2011


This weekend was quite the time for critters. Living in a rural/semirural desert area, one expects to see critters -- especially when they're encouraged to come around when people like us put food and water out for them.

Unfortunately, some critters are more welcome than others. Like ground squirrels. They can be pretty destructive.

So we invested in a "catch-'em-alive" trap so we could catch them and relocate those little varmints to other parts of the desert.

But we weren't prepared for the bees we saw for the first time yesterday! They took up residence under the roof where there was no piece of lumber to keep them out. $200 to have them removed this morning. They, like the ground squirrels, were taken to a rocky place out there where they can do what bees do in peace. They weren't Africanized and thus weren't dangerous, but they were too close to our front door and walkway.

Then there were the rats. The rats we have in the desert aren't like the disgusting Norway rats one finds in the cities. They're actually kind of cute!

They seem to like moving into a bale of Bermuda-grass hay that we use to add bedding material for our pet bunny and guinea piggy. But since that hay must stay clean, I caught the two rats and relocated them elsewhere.

Then, in the afternoon, we heard some faint "squeeks" coming from the bale, and my worst fears were confirmed: baby rats! They had fur but still had their eyes closed:

So, what do we do with them? I doubt they were old enough for us to take care of even if we had a way of doing so. I'm sure they were young enough so if we wanted to keep them as pets, they would have been perfectly socialized to life with humans.

But where does one get rat's milk? With two critters already keeping us busy, where would we put more critters (there were three babies)? I doubted Animal Control would want them. And I didn't have the heart to kill them myself.

So we thought about it, and -- as cruel as the Circle of Life can be, we decided to continue the Circle: we set out a shallow container and put the baby rats in it. For a roadrunner to find.

It didn't take long. The babies disappeared, one at a time, and thank God we didn't happen to see the roadrunner take them.

I hate stuff like this, and I wish we could have thought of an alternative. I hate killing, or being responsible for the killing of, animals, especially the cute ones. It literally sickens me. Sometimes the guilt is overwhelming. And it makes me hope there's a critter heaven someplace where beloved pets and wild animals alike go and spend eternity without fear of being attacked or harmed.

Is that too much to hope for?

Friday, March 25, 2011

Changes, Continued

Life this year has been so-o-o different from the life of the previous ten years. As I mentioned in a previous post, I decided not to continue as a professional artist; at least, not until I see a good reason to try it again.

So far this year, I've made almost no art. Instead, I'm spending a LOT of time teaching at the local community college: microbiology, zoology and a lab for a biology class intended for non-science majors.

Before, my days, nights, weekends and holidays were all about making and selling art...and that was it. Now, my days, nights, weekends and holidays are all about teaching and preparing to teach...and that's it. Next week is Spring Break, but it'll be no vacation for me. I've got lab books to grade and more lectures to prepare for.

I'm not complaining...well, not really, I guess. I'm certainly making more $$$ than I ever made from art.

But I'll have to admit: I'm looking forward to late May, when classes will be finished, the grades will be turned in, and I can collapse and sleep all summer. I know I'll miss my students: it's hard not to get at least a little emotionally attached.

But I'll be more prepared to teach those classes again in the future should the college want me to, and this summer I plan to make revisions and changes so the classes will be closer to what I want them to be.

And I expect to do more painting again. And (dare I push my luck?) pursue my other hobby/passion: model railroading.

The light is at the end of the tunnel. I've needed a break for a long time, and I'm totally expecting the break to come in late May.

I'm ready.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Into the Sunset

The time had come to make one of those decisions that changes one's life. They're always hard and sometimes sad, but necessary.

I decided it was time to give up the dream of making art as a business.

The art business never did make enough money for us to live on; in fact, we lost a LOT of money over the years. A sale here and a sale there just doesn't do it. After a couple of decades (literally), with one of those decades being full-time as an artist during this never-ending economic depression, it's time to stop the money leak. I've reached my "stop-loss": the gambler's term for the maximun amount one is willing to lose in the pursuit of riches.

I've gotten a lot of advice over the years from artists who say they're surviving just fine, although their income may have gone down somewhat over these last few years. Some of the advice was conflicting: "Keep your prices low until you get better established" vs. "You really otta double your prices."

In fact, I've taken a lot of the advice I've gotten, and ya know what? NONE of it made any difference, one way or the other!

The recession (or depression, as I call it) affected many artists badly; for me, however, sales dropped even before the housing bust. I saw sales decline when gasoline prices rose in the mid-2000's, supposedly because of the worldwide demand for oil, especially from emerging economies such as China's, and from every storm that blew through the Gulf of Mexico. It cost more for people to get around, so they stopped traveling to art shows or galleries. Those who still drove their cars just weren't buying.

On top of that, the galleries I used to be in had their own ideas about what I should paint -- paint BIG (something I never felt I was good at), and paint Tuscany scenes (Gallery A) or local desert scenes (Gallery B). There were a few sales, but now we have closets stuffed with large paintings. And no interested galleries.

In addition, buyers in California and Arizona -- even in the art mecca of Scottsdale -- want non-Southwest, impressionistic/expressionistic/abstract works that match the sofa or "tie the room together." In fact, I'm still amazed at how many people re-decorate their homes and save the art-buying for last. It's easier to switch out paint and furniture color than it is to find art that's truly meaningful to the buyer, regardless of the colors in the art. But then, maybe that just demonstrates the low priority people place on art.

I'm left with quite a mixture of emotions: sadness, anger, bitterness, disappointment, frustration. I know I can always re-enter the art market if/when things change. But I'm not counting on anything like that happening in my lifetime. For now, painting is a hobby that I'll work at when I can. I'll take my time, work when the mood strikes me, and produce works that are as close to perfect as I can make them, given the skills I have at that time. If I happen to sell any paintings, great; if not, well, the pieces will look wonderful on our own walls.

Meanwhile, I'm still a part-time instructor at the local community college, and I've applied for a full-time biology instructor position that recently opened. And I'm looking for a Plan C in case the college loses the funds to pay my wages and I become unemployed. Plan A (the art business) is finished.

So for now, I'm heading off into the sunset. If you happen to be one of my buyers, I say: thanks so much for fueling the dream. But the paint brushes and supplies have been put aside for now, and I'll revise my Website (which I still plan to keep online) to become a portfolio of my favorite paintings rather than a selling site.

Yo voy a Dios.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Flickering Flames

The Wiffee and I are fans of the CBS program, Sunday Morning. On today's program, they featured a story about Herb Albert (of Tijuana Brass fame) and his wiffee, singer Lani Hall.

They live on six acres in Malibu, CA, overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Herb paints, sculpts, suppports music programs (as in the Harlem School of the Arts, or whatever the exact name is) and pretty much does whatever he wants. Hey -- they can afford it! He and Lani recorded an album together and will soon be touring the country in concert.

In many ways, Herb's life is quite similar to the life I envisioned when I began dreaming of an art career -- originally as a fine-arts photographer, then as a full-time painter. I never figured on achieving the fame or wealth that Herb has, but I thought we'd be able to live on my modest income and to reside wherever we wanted to -- not in Malibu, necessarily, but perhaps in the hi desert of CA or the Sonoran desert of southern AZ. (Well, OK, we do live in the CA hi desert, but this is hardly our dream home!)

That dream has been rapidly fading or, should I say, that flame is flickering madly, in danger of going out.

For years, I attended grad school, doing experients in microbiology that left me little time for anything else. Then I entered the working world where I worked full-time, commuted for hours on California's freeways, and worked on my art as much as possible. In between jobs, I worked full-time on art: days, nights, weekends, holidays. Then, in the last ten years, I considered my full-time job to be: professional artist, with the same hours I worked as the "between-jobs" artist.

And ya know -- I'm tired!

Sales have been mixed, but over the last few years during the recession, sales have been very low. I can't even speculate on when, or if, things will ever go back to "normal" -- whatever that is. Some of the other landscape artists I admire are struggling, too.

Now, mind you -- surviving, or even thriving -- financially as an artist is certainly possible. I know artists in that category, too. But most of their artwork has a noticable contemporary twist: VERY colorful, impressionistic/expressionistic and often not showing the grand views that I love. One rarely finds the type of art I enjoy at art festivals.

Even supposedly traditional art havens like Santa Fe and Scottsdale feature little of this style of painting. I must be part of a dinosaur generation that's becoming extinct.

I do, on occasion, see/hear rumors that the avant garde styles are becoming tiresome with buyers and that realism is making a comeback. Maybe so -- but not in MY part of the world, it ain't!

But we'll see. I haven't given up on the dream just yet. But the flame keeps flickering in the dusty winds of the hi desert.

Herb Albert -- my hat's off to you.

Friday, February 4, 2011

A Little Neoclassical

This is a painting I finished recently. It's based on a piece by 18th century French neoclassical painter Hubert Robert, who painted ancient Roman ruins overgrown with vegetation with the people of his time working, dancing and playing among the remains of antiquity.

One of my favorite paintings of all time is entitled "The Bathing Pool." My artwork is based on it, except I made it a moonlight scene.

I've considered painting more scenes like this, but it's one of those areas that I go back and forth about. sort of like doing dinosaur paintings: should I or shouldn't I? To sell, or to do it just for the fun of it?

Honestly, I can't decide. It's really too busy to do much painting right now, but it's something I can certainly think about!

Friday, January 21, 2011

The Desert Under a Moonrise

The latest completed painting (finished before Christmas 2010) is a small (8" x 10"/20cm x 25cm) piece showing a desert scene right after sundown and as the moon was rising.

We had a day like this a few months ago -- I believe it was in September 2010 -- and the experts have a special name for this kind of event, although I've forgotten what it was. One can still see the pink of the upper sky as the sun, now mostly below the horizon, illuminates the atmosphere. Meanwhile, the lower portion of the sky is blue as the earth casts its shadow, the bluish edge rising as it eventually overtakes the sunlit air. And the full moon rises over a magically-colored desert landscape.

I live for special times like these. They make me the artist that I am.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Colors of the Desert Skies

We've had some lightweight weather fronts moving through the hi desert lately. Temperatures went from freezing to springlike in a week's time!

The best part, however, have been the sunsets we've been getting. I've amassed a huge collection of photos with cloud of all kinds and colors, and I refer to them when the appropriate paintings present themselves. cloud pictures like these:

Friday, January 7, 2011

Beginning the New Year

So far: I have a commission to finish, a to-be-donated piece to finish, and THREE classes to prepare for so I can begin teaching them in less than two weeks! I mentioned in previous posts I'll be instructing microbiology and zoology -- both lectures and labs for each -- but I was recently asked to teach the lab for a biology class for non-bio majors. Wow -- I'll be busy, and not with art!

Well, maybe I'll be a little busy with art.

I've been working days, nights and weekends for years, and frankly, I'm tired! I know I'll busy with teaching and squeezing in art; yet, I know I MUST find time for myself -- just to relax, play, do things that are not so much like work. I can't keep up this pace for the rest of my life -- or my life isn't going to last as long as it should.

So -- I'm trying to pace myself and realize I just can't do it all. I'll have to sacrifice some of those responsibilities so that I can be better at the things I WILL be doing.

And you know, after all these years -- that's easier said than done...