Saturday, December 8, 2012

Pieces of the Heavens

We saw a little piece of the heavens last night. A meteorite.

In the past, I've gone outside at 2:00am to watch recurring meteor shows like the Leonids and Perseids. I always enjoy watching the brief streaks of light radiating from a point in the corresponding constellations, although I rarely happen to be looking at the right place when a meteorite descends. (I always see a streak from the corner of my eye, and by the time I glance toward the streak, it's already gone).

But once in a rare while, I'll happen to be gazing, either by pure luck or by the grace of God, directly into a part of the night sky when an unexpected little fireball blazes brightly and briefly, then disappears into the darkness from which it came.

In recent years, I was fortunate enough to have experienced two sightings like this. First, The Wiffee and I were in Joshua Tree National Park for a "Star Party," a gathering of local amateur astronomers, to look through their telescopes at the rings of Saturn and the craters of the crescent moon. I was staring toward the southern sky and was stunned when a yellowish flash lit up silently across the desert floor, seemingly a few hundred yards/meters away. I could easily have missed it (as my Wiffee did) by facing some other direction. But seeing it was thrilling, and being in the National Park made it especially meaningful.

Then, last night, The Wiffee and I happened to be looking toward our living room window. The red-maroon curtains were drawn, yet through the fabric, we saw a white, quiet flash of light that looked like a bottle rocket explosion -- except the rocket was traveling down instead of up. Another meteorite, somewhere over the hills of Joshua Tree National Park, entered the earth's atmosphere and gave us some God-given fireworks.

There's something exciting about objects from space that fall from the sky. At the Star Party, one man passed around an iron (and nickel, I believe) meteorite he had found. It was about the size of a child's fist, yet was uncharacteristically heavy. And it came from -- out there.

I've sometimes contemplated making a painting of a meteorite burning in the desert skies. But meteorites always involve two important features: movement and brevity. How would I convey that in one of my desert paintings?

Guess I need to do some thinkin' 'bout that. I hope I can pull it off!

Friday, October 26, 2012

Autumn Revisited

When one lives in the desert, one must give up certain things in exchange for other, hopefully equally good things.

Fall colors are one of those things. We have some trees and shrubs that change color -- cottonwood trees, when they occur, are an example -- but mostly, the view looks pretty much the same all year round.

So last weekend, The Wiffee and I went up into the mountains; specifically, a place called Big Bear. The mountains in this area do have native trees that turn to yellow, albeit not a bright yellow. But the oak trees that are planted along the streets can be magnificent!

One of the streets in the Village area. It looked better in real life than in the picture, but you can see examples of colorful trees!

We parked under this bee-you-tee-full oak tree. The Wiffee even collected some of the leaves.

We ate lunch at The Old Country Inn, which makes the BEST pumpkin soup in the universe! We've made this pilgrimage an annual tradition -- our wedding anniversary is 19 October, but we drove to Big Bear on the 20th so we'd have more time to relax, have fun and eat pumpkin soup!

Now...what does this have to do with desert paintings, you may be asking yourself? Well, nothing, really. I don't know if I'd ever do paintings of the Big Bear area. But it was sure a nice escape for a day.

But now it's time to return to working on some non-autumnal desert art!

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Three Little Desert Paintings

I recently entered a show that takes place in Tucson, AZ this fall. I haven't heard yet if I've been accepted, but I hope at least one of these three little desert paintings will get me in!

I say "little" because each of them is 11" x 14"/28cm x 36cm.

This first piece is a place we saw while cruising around the reservation (we're not sure if it was the Navajo or the Hopi rez) in Arizona. Obviously, we were in a part of the painted desert. I think the locals are fortunate to be able to live surrounded by such beauty

And then I found this view right alongside the road as I entered Saguaro National Park near Tucson, AZ. (I don't remember if this was in the western or eastern portion of the Park). All of those palo verde "shrubs" have grown quite a bit and are now trees. The scene is not as open today as it was all those years ago.

Finally, here we have another version of one of my favorite views in the world in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, AZ, looking south toward the Sonoyta Mountains of Mexico. I'd build my house here if I could!

I hope I hear from the show soon. You know how anxious waiting can be. Wish me luck!

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Gee -- Thanks, Google!

I heard that changed some of its rules about how websites are ranked following a search. It used to be that my website (, if you Googled "desert paintings," would list as high as #1 or sometimes into the 20s or 30s. Now my site is hovering around #172!

And I don't know why! What did Google change? Is a certain group of us being "punished" for doing or not doing something?

I built my website myself, and I think I did an OK job, especially considering the high rankings I used to get. But web design is not my job. Making and selling paintings is. I just don't have time to try and figure out what Google wants from me so I can fix whatever the issue(s) is/are.

So all I can say at this point is: Gee -- thanks, Google! I hope you peeps understand that when you do stuff like this, you may be literally affecting someone's livelihood -- if not an individual's (like me), then even entire companies of people.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Mount of the Holy Cross

I've heard some people express disbelief at paintings they had seen that featured a mountain with a cross etched in the rock. I'd hear comments like "No cornball...that would never happen in nature."

Y'know what? They're wrong! There IS such a mountain!

The mountain is the Mount of the Holy Cross. It's in Colorado, east and slightly south of Vail right off of the Interstate 70. There's even a turnoff for it. I've never been there myself (one of those things I always meant to do when we lived in Colorado), but others have told me there's a parking lot for it, and one has to hike in a little on a trail before it comes into view.

The Mount of the Holy Cross has been known to white explorers and artists since the 19th century. Since I don't have photos of my own, I'd like to share some historical photos so I won't violate any living photographers' copyrights.

 Here are two images by 19th century photographer William Henry Jackson. When there's just the right amount of snow, the cross stands in sharp contrast to the rock around it.

To the left is a stereoscopic (3D) photo of the Mount. If you know how to look at stereo pictures without a viewer (your eyes must be looking straight ahead as though staring into the distance, not crossed as when you look at things up close), you'll see the rock outcroppings at the bottom seem to push the Mount itself back away from you.

Now we're looking at some paintings by my favorite 19th century artist, Thomas Moran. I never read how many times he painted the Mount of the Holy Cross, but here are four examples of his work -- all different, but equally impressive!

So, yes, there ARE mountains with crosses on them!

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Desert Paintings III -- Deep Canyon

Deep Canyon is a special place south of Palm Desert, CA. It is one of a number of places I've painted numerous times -- different with each execution, yet similar in what the artwork shows. As in the previous two posts, I'd like to share a few examples of paintings I've made of Deep Canyon and the ocotillo-covered hills that surround it.

This is the most recent piece I made. Deep Canyon itself is barely visible here -- it is down below, to the right of the closest ocotillo. This view is the most literal view of the area (except for the cloud shadows), with the Little San Bernardino Mountains in the far distance, the foothills of the Santa Rosa Mountains on the other side of the Canyon, and the foothills of the San Jacinto Mountains in the foreground.

Here is a similar viewpoint with a peninsular desert bighorn sheep ram intruding into the space. These magnificent animals are endangered -- I hope they somehow manage to survive the loss of habitat the sheep are enduring at the hands of humans.

This is the smallest of the paintings -- 8" x 8"/20cm x 20cm. The other works are much larger. Instead of the grand vista I typically portray, I focused on a more intimate portion but (hopefully) still captured the sense of place and the vast distances found in the desert. In this case, Deep Canyon is almost dead-center.

Finally, these two examples are the least literal of the view of Deep Canyon. I added bighorn sheep to each of the paintings. In the second piece, I went for a much more dramatic interpretation than any of the other creations

Although I'll continue to paint many other desert scenes and, in some cases such as Monument Valley, I'll produce numerous pieces of the same or similar views of those places, too, these three desert spots that I discussed in these three posts are views that I could capture over and over and over again. These sites seem to scream "desert" to me, and they touch me in ways I can't really explain.

I keep returning to these places, and I hope they'll make you want to go there, too.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Desert Paintings II -- Joshua Tree National Park

Last time, I began a short series of special desert places that I keep returning to because I love to make paintings of those places. This is Part II of a three-part series.

Joshua Tree National Park is a region I live close to and that I love to visit. So far, there's one site that I've painted many times over, although it has changed over the years.

(Sorry about the less-than-stellar quality -- these were scanned from slides, made before digital cameras were around!)

I always liked the "V" made by the Joshua tree on the left and the rock formation (I believe climbers call it "Eagle's Nest" or something like that) on the right. I usually paint clouds that repeat or add to the "V," and it didn't matter to me if the scene appears in daylight or under the magical glow of a full moon.

This is a much more recent -- and smaller -- version of this scene. Unfortunately, Joshua trees tend to grow toward the sun, resulting in imbalances that often cause the trees to fall over in time. All of the above paintings are based on photos I took, since the scene now looks like this:

This photograph of how the site looks today shows the changes: the Joshua tree (which has finished toppling over, and the suckers have grown longer) is surrounded by a parking lot complete with trash dumpsters.

I imagine I'll create more art based on this Joshua tree scene -- the way it used to look!

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Desert Paintings I - Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument

As you may know by now, the southwestern deserts of the USA are my favorite places to paint. The two areas I tend to paint the most are Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument (which I'll discuss now) and Joshua Tree National Park (which I'll discuss in the future -- perhaps next time!)

One of my all-time favorite vistas is the view of the Sonoyta Mountains of Mexico. (Organ Pipe Cactus NM is in southern Arizona on the border with Mexico). I've created paintings of this desert spot many times, with minor variations each time.

This image shows one of the pieces I like the best; in fact, I consider it a signature picture that I use on my business cards and as avatars on several websites -- including my own ( or and this blog.

Then I have this newer version without the wash:

Some years back, I painted this large (48" x 60"/1.2m x 1.5m) work. You may recognize the organ pipe cactuses (used to be "cacti") from the previous images), but this painting of this special desert also features a cactus wren:

Here I included a Harris' hawk, which tend to fly low near the ground rather than soar high in the air as do redtail hawks:

Finally, I painted another large piece (36" x 48"/0.9m x 1.2m) with a mostly imaginary foreground and a couple of desert bighorn sheep:

These desert art pieces are only a sampling -- there are other smaller artworks I've also made of this particular view, as well as numerous other paintings that show other scenes from within the Monument. Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument is high on my list of beautiful places to visit -- and to paint!

Friday, June 8, 2012

Google and the Website

Or maybe I should call this "The Website Blues."

One of the things we website owners want is for our sites to rank highly when someone uses a search string that describes our site. So, for example, I figure people who are looking for paintings of the desert would Google "desert paintings."

As someone who built and maintains my own site (which, by the way, just happens to be or, I spend a lot of time trying to make sure Google finds my site quickly when search strings like "desert paintings" is used. Most of the time, I think I've done OK -- usually ranks in the top 20 in a list of literally millions. I have ranked as high as #1!

However, if I make no changes to my site, it slowly slips back in the rankings. Frequent changes is one of the ways Google determines if a given site is worthy of being ranked highly.

Some changes are better than others. Switching out images of paintings or rewriting text are normally fine. Changing the name of a page is iffy. I did that with the two pages that feature my available paintings. The first of those pages was entitled ".../Purchase,", but I recently changed it to ".../Purchase-Desert-Paintings" as a way of using "desert paintings" more often so Google would find it easily.

Problem is: Google isn't as fast as I am when changing page titles. My website has been bumped all the back into the 130s at this time. The original title still shows, and if you click on it, you'll get a "Page Not Found" message, since "Purchase" is no longer the title of that page!

Thus -- my website is buried back further than most people would search for, and if they do manage to find it, the link in the Google list of sites doesn't work!

Oh, brother!

All I can do (as far as I know) is wait it out and hope things get fixed...eventually.

And I'll moan "The Website Blues."

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Mojave Sunset

Mojave Sunset is my newest painting. And it's already "sold"!

We needed to get a higher gas-mileage car for The Wiffee to commune to work in. The dealership was willing to accept a painting as part of the deal. So here it is!

Only in small-town America!

Thursday, April 26, 2012

The Trouble with Galleries

Most artists look upon galleries as the business arm of our creative pursuits and our efforts to make a living at art. Galleries are definitely less work than doing art fairs, and we love the thought of our artworks hanging somewhere getting constant exposure and selling while we continue to do what we really want to do: paint.

Sigh...if only.

I've been in a number of galleries, all in towns known for being artzy communities. While all but one of those galleries have made sales, I was never overwhelmed with piles of $$$s. And after galleries take their commissions (anywhere from 40-60% of the price you see next to the art), and especially if it takes a long time to receive a check from the galleries, one begins to wonder if there isn't a better way to make and sell art.

The trouble with galleries is at least two-fold:

  1. They like working on consignment. There is no upfront cost to them. Essentially free inventory.
  2. They seem to be full of ideas about what they want the artists to produce. Bigger, smaller. Try some other subject matter, or try a contemporary slant on what you do (in other words, I like what you make, but make something else). Do it on speculation -- no obligation to them when you do different things. Gallery owners supposedly know their clientele, and I always thought following their advice would be a good idea. We-e-l-l...
Here's the upshot: I've wasted too much time and materials following gallery owners' advice and ending up with paintings I have no use for.

No more!
  • I've resolved not to agree to consignment deals anymore. I can't afford to. Wholesale only. I believe that gallery folks are more likely to work at selling their art when they've made that financial commitment. They'll want to get their money back and then some!
  • No more taking advice. I do what I do, and if that isn't want the galleries actually want, don't take (buy) my paintings. Simple, huh?
Of course, I realize keeping to this policy will limit my ability to get into galleries. The world is full of artists, and galleries have gotten awfully used to doing things a certain way. But there are galleries that do buy artworks outright, and there may be others who prefer consignment deals but who might want pieces badly enough where they'll make the investment.

For now, I'll keep painting, at a rate of speed that I'll be comfortable with, and painting only those things I want to paint. (I'm not even doing commissions at this time). Let's hope it all works out in the end.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Continuing into the Desert

Alright -- I mentioned in the previous post that I was planning on making a painting of a tropical scene, hopefully in time for a show I'm doing in early May. Nope! I needed to finish a piece that I'm donating to The Wildlands Conservancy for a benefit auction. You can read about the whole thing here.

And this is the painting:

This is a view from within the Whitewater Preserve, an area managed by the Conservancy. It's a beautiful spot to go hiking and take in the desert which usually has a river running through it (which isn't visible from this vantage point).

I hope the piece sells in the auction this weekend. I'd love for the Conservancy to make some serious $$$ from the sale so they can continue acquiring pristine lands and keeping them pristine.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Coming: A Jungle Painting

I've been inspired to do a tropical/jungle painting...with a white peacock sitting on a branch or something!

It'll be somewhat of a first for me. But I entered an exhibition at the Huntington Gardens in San Marino, CA. If accepted, I'd like to have this painting in the show, along with some desert subjects (always gotta have desert subjects!)

OK, OK...this peacock isn't white, and he's not sitting on a branch, either. It's likely the treeferns will be moved around somewhat, too, and the scene will be darker than the photo.

But having the photos gives me some raw materials to look at as I work out the details. I may include coconut palms, too -- the idea for that came from a digital image I saw on In the end, the finished image will be completely my own, and it'll have a mystical, fantasy feel about it.

Now -- if I don't get into the exhibit...well, I'll probably still make this painting. But it won't appear on my Website, which will feature only desert artwork. (If it appears there at all, it would be on my monthly newsletter.

This painting will be a lot of work, but I think it'll be fun, too. And it'll give the creative juices to flow in a direction I'm not used to.

Once again...wish me luck!

Friday, March 9, 2012

Changing Colors

"Changing Colors" -- no, this is not about what happens to leaves in the fall.

The colors that we see in the world are not absolute. What we see depends on many factors: other colors that are nearby, time of day, and in this case -- the amount of light that is falling on the colored object.

Model railroading is sort of a combined hobby/kinetic sculpture for me. As a painter, I rarely make three-dimensional objects. But a model railroad fulfills that need in me. I've often had layouts in progress, but most I never finished. Except for one.

It was a small (3' x 3'/less than 1m x 1m) HO scale setup with red rock scenery typical of southern Utah. I even collected containers of the reddish soil found in the Monument Valley area. I had some house paint mixed to match, then I painted the layout and dusted it with the sand I collected to provide a realistic texture.

There was only one problem. That beautiful rusty red coloring soil when viewed outside in the sun, looked like dried blood when seen inside under typical home lighting. Red-rock soil is darker than it appears when seen in nature.

I often wondered why so many of the older en plein aire paintings (or, as I like to say, "in plain air; it's French for "in the open air," or it's painted outside) sometimes seemed too dark, with muted colors and low-to-moderate contrast. My lesson with red rock scenery was this: if you paint outside with accurate colors, those colors will be accurate only when the painting is outside!

I still believe that landscape painters like my myself need to do some en plein aire painting -- it teaches the artist many things about color. But if the artist is a studio painter like me, colors, lights and darks may have to be adjusted to look correct, even if a direct comparison shows that the colors and values are not.

Thus, although my paintings look real to most people, I usually manipulate things so that I can direct the eye around the canvas and give the impression of reality.

By the way, I hope to start a new, small model railroad soon. I collected some red soil from the Page, AZ area -- it matched a color swatch I made before going. The dirt appears lighter and more golden than the Monument Valley soil and should work better. If it doesn't, I guess I'll need to apply the sand and rocks and THEN paint the entire thing so that it looks good indoors, while keeping the rough textures I want. (I'll post photos when it's done -- which could be a while).

It's been a long time since I've made a piece of 3D art. I'm ready!

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

A New Year for More Desert Paintings

Well, heck! Here it is, ten days into the new year, and I haven't had time to write anything yet!


OK -- so what's in store for 2012?

It appears I won't be teaching microbiology or anything else biology this spring, and I never teach during the summer. Maybe next fall. I'll be looking for other teaching positions at other community colleges, but I doubt I would teach this semester no matter who hires me (if anybody). But I'll try.

Meanwhile, I seem to have gotten over the funk I was going through last year -- I'm starting to do art again, with the idea of selling it. So far, I have only one venue: the Crystal Fantasy, a kind of an Enlightenment/crystals/fairies gift shop with gallery space. They've sold a couple of my paintings within the last few weeks; more fun: I even sold a large piece off of my Website!

So I'll continue to make artwork that Crystal Fantasy may be able to sell to tourists and locals alike, and otherwise I'll be optimizing my Website (which, by the way, is or so I can hopefully sell more from it. No more art shows, no other galleries (unless they want to buy the works outright -- no more consignment stuff) -- just Internet sales.

At the same time, I'm not blind to the concept of how hard Website sales-only is going to be. But the costs will be minimal. I'd like to have postcards printed up with an image, my name and logo, and the two URLs mentioned above. Then I'd send these to frame shops (or any other place where potential art customers might come to) with an incentive offer: I'd pay the shops for any clients who see the postcard and buy a painting from me as a result of the shop's cooperation. It sounds workable, and I'd get an image and name out in areas where people never heard of Mark Junge, desert paintings, before.

Finally, I still plan on writing an illustrated book about the end-of-the-year holidays.

We'll see how 2012 works out. Meanwhile, this is the painting I sold off of my Website. Happy New Year!!!