Escaping the house and getting back to Nature

After being stuck at home like everyone else for way too long, we decided to take the Airstream out and meet some friends for a socially distant camp get together.  Finding a camp location with availability for 3 RVs was impossible. Thankfully a friend told me about a website called HipCamp in which people who own large plots of land allow you to pay to camp on their land.  Off we went to the Twisted Sisters 60 Acre lot in Florissant, CO.  This trip was not about a destination like most of our trips, but all about some good quality social time and emotional rejuvenation.

I can’t even tell you how great it felt to be out of “civilization” and to be surrounded by good friends and the great outdoors.  It was fantastic to be away from TV and the news, and to pretend that there wasn’t drama going on all around the world.  We had some great conversations, meals, dance parties and hikes as well as getting in some painting time.

Our very first evening while we sat and had drinks and dinner, the sun was setting.  It was a beautiful vista so I jumped up and painted an impressionistic sunset.  I captured the feeling but I knew it could use some refinement.  The first photo shows what I did out in “Plein Air” and the second photo shows the same painting with a few alterations made at home. 

On our full day in Florissant we went for a walk into town which had a few cute buildings but not much more. We then hiked up the mountain behind our campsite to get a little more exercise and to see the view.  Just as we were descending  a huge thunderstorm rolled in to add a little bit of drama to the campsite.  The rain broke conveniently in time for happy hour and a dance party.  Our evening sitting around our campfire sharing stories was exactly what I needed to feel some deep connection which I have been missing.

I awoke the next morning early and went outside to beautiful lighting in the small aspen grove behind our Airstream. I started off this painting with my new technique using a layer of vibrant colors as a base layer. After letting it dry for a few minutes I then painted over it and scraped through to let some of those colors come through. 

Morning Light

Before heading out that afternoon to return to Boulder we made a fast trip to the Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument.  We hiked into the monument, and enjoyed the scenery and cloud formations which were amazing.  This area is known for its petrified redwood forest remnants which occurred do to volcanic flow 34 million years ago.  The volcanic lava covered about 15 feet deep of the base of the redwoods and now after erosion the petrified wood can be seen.  In some of these pine trees are growing out of these old redwood trunks.

It was a short sweet and much needed trip!  We are looking to a few more in the near future.

Stay safe and healthy everyone!

Staying in place

Sadly, the Airstream sits parked in Boulder just as everyone is else is parked in their homes as well.  All our trips are cancelled and on hold until we can get back out there, so I thought it would be a good time to share my latest painting series that I am working on in the studio. 

Something I discovered long ago is that I generally prefer to paint while I am happy.  This is unusual because a lot of well-known artist painted in turmoil or sadness to express their emotions.  When the Corona Virus really started to ramp up here in the US, I was in Mexico at my happy place (Rancho La Puerta) where I usually go once a year to recharge.  This trip however was cut short and I flew home early to the pandemic, the stress’ of new life, no socializing (which for an extrovert is a huge struggle) and snow.  Yes, my first few says back at home were utterly depressing and I could not get myself to paint. 

I sat down and painted (and started a few now unfinished paintings) of my happy places.  It was nice to bring me back subconsciously to those fonder moments and feelings.  One painting is a half done watercolor scene of Italy (where I lived for 9 months) and the other is seen below from my last walk that I did at Rancho La Puerta the morning that I left.

I decided in this painting to play a little bit more and make the painting more whimsical and happier to express how I feel at that amazing place while focusing on the glorious trees.  I find that I am freer and looser in my painting when I am working with my palette knife instead of my brushes as is shown in this painting. 

Magical Walk

The next few days we got dumped on with snow. As I begrudgingly took our dog for a walk, I found beauty.  I stopped and took photos and really looked at the scenes to try and record mentally my feelings, colors, and movement that is lost in photos.  I came home, set up my easel and took an old painting that I did not like and decided to paint over it.  I have found it is very freeing to paint over old “bad” paintings because I have nothing to lose. I decided to try a new way of painting by putting in a base painting with darker, brighter colors and then paint over that.  When I do this technique, I scrape on a variety of colors with a very loose idea. I then step back often see something that I did not expect.  In the case of this painting below, I saw the abstract purple mountains in the distance.  I decided to keep those even they do not exist in that location and used my palette knife to start creating the more impressionistic scene.  This painting is called “The Sun Will Come Out Tomorrow” which I think not only symbolizes the weather but also my hope that these will be an end to the Corona Virus sooner than later.

The Sun Will Come Out Tomorrow

The sun did come out and my mood improved. I decided to keep experimenting with this technique since I really like how the above painting came out.  The base of this painting was originally some Italian Villas (as can be seen in the rusty orange and maroon).  As I continued to add paint I saw mountains, streams and trees and voila the painting “Hidden Valley” came to be.

Hidden Valley

I was so inspired that I grabbed another old painting from my stash of rejects and started scraping left over paint from my palette onto a canvas.  I stepped back and could see a landscape with a waterfall.  I went through my gazillion photos taken over the years and found a few photos of waterfall and stream scenes and built on that.  This painting grew and changed and is purely a figment of my imagination but ultimately grew into “Winter Run Off”.

Winter Run Off

The following week we again got an unusual amount of snow for April, but the sun came out quickly and it was magical.  I bundled up and headed out the door with my trusty dog Buddy and headed for the trails of Boulder.  On our drive to the trails I had to pull over many times for photos.  It was one of those strikingly beautiful days in Colorado. There are a few old barns that I have always admired on my drive out to these locations, and with them covered in fresh snow and glistening light I had to stop.

I came home excited and ready to paint.  I started this background with scraping on colors that are more complimentary (opposite on the color wheel) to what I was going to paint.  I knew that when I started to cover up the background with my image I could scrape through the acrylic paint to get hints of color.  I also wanted to really accentuate the roughness, colors and lighting on the barn so I added copper paint and added some darker blues. Here is a photo of the base layer and some of the steps along the way as well as the final painting.  I was so pleased with the result that I had to create another one which is one the easel now.

After The Storm – The progression of the painting

I think this new series of paintings really reflects some of my agitation with being “locked” inside our home while being surrounded by beauty.

I hope you and your loved ones are all healthy and staying sane.  Enjoy my visions and if you have any questions or feedback about my latest paintings, please feel free to share them with me.  I’d love your thoughts!

Sedona and Santa Fe

Ross’ new truck…we are on the road again

Life is like a puzzle…..fitting pieces together to make the big picture beautiful.

I like to believe that things happen for a reason.  We had planned to get the truck repaired and on the road by midday on Jan 6th but by the time we left Scottsdale we realized that we were not going to make our original destination in New Mexico.  I suggested to Ross that we stop in Sedona since we had to cut that portion of our trip short on the way out. Harvest Host had a location at the Oak Creek Country Club golf course and it was available.  What a blessing that turned out to be.  We pulled in just before sunset and were surrounded by magnificent views.  The red rock formations of Sedona are breath taking and with the lighting of the sunsets and sunrises they are magnified. 

We woke up the next morning and were told that we were able to walk the golf course path with Buddy before the first tee time.  What a great way to start the day. 

The rest of the morning Ross spent hitting golf balls and I sat and did two quick paintings of the rock formations.  I wasn’t entirely happy with the outcome of the paintings, but I think I can use them as preliminary sketches to bring back to my studio.  I think these rocks might be better painted in acrylics than watercolor.  When I get back to Boulder I will make another attempt.  The late afternoon was spent playing 9 holes of golf on the beautiful golf course.  What a fantastic day, for a day that was not originally planned.  We both have really grown to love the flexibility of traveling on the road with a RV….. you can be spontaneous and go with the flow.

The following morning, we got up at sunrise and again walked the golf course with Buddy.  If we didn’t have to get back to Boulder in a few days, we would have stayed longer to paint more and enjoy Sedona.  It will definitely be on our list of places to return to.  The rest of the day was on the road making the trip to Santa Fe, New Mexico.    We have found that a great way to past time on the road is to listen to Ted Talks and then discuss them.  I have also taken up knitting…so beware you may all be getting scarves from me if we continue on these long road trips.  My first attempt has a few holes but it has kept me occupied in the car and Ross says the he will wear it with pride. It is another fun creative outlet for me.

Starting a new hobby

Our day in Santa Fe was primarily spent at Meow Wolf.  I had read about Meow Wolf and had heard that it is something not to miss. For those of you who don’t know what Meow Wolf is, I’m not sure I can even explain it.  The best description that Ross and I came up with is: An experiential art exhibit, by a collaboration of avant-garde artists, who are trying to tell a story mixed with a playful hint of The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe.  One enters what looks like a standard Victorian era house, and then as you wander through each room, there are secret doors that lead you to other magical fantasy like rooms.  There is an underlying story that people are supposed to discover but would take days to figure out.  The rooms have clues to read to help decipher what happened.  Even without getting through the story we were mesmerized.  We had some favorite rooms and the best adjective that I can come up with to describe it is Fantastical! Photos do not do Meow Wolf justice so we highly recommend if you are in the area to stop by.  Fortunately for us they are building a Meow Wolf in Denver and is scheduled to open in 2021.

Our intention was to head to Taos to go ski for a few days but the weather started to turn and so we made a game day decision to pack up and drive back to Boulder.  So we are now back in Boulder tucked inside our warm home.

We both feel like it was a great adventurous trip and a fantastic way to start the new year.  We are energized and excited to see what 2020 has to offer. The time away gave us lots of time to reflect on 2019 and to plan and set goals for the new year as well as discuss a few other road trips. We hope to have some exciting posts in the coming year.

Wishing you all a Happy New Year in which you live your dreams!!! May you have more success than Buddy in putting the puzzle pieces of life together.

Scottsdale and Surrounding Areas

Sonoran Desert

Our life lessons continue, but hopefully the stars will align and we will be back on the road again tomorrow afternoon.  It is a long boring story about the truck, so we will skip that, but we can say that the people of Scottsdale have been extremely helpful and friendly.

Since we had more time in Scottsdale than we had planned, there have been a few benefits.  First of all, we have been enjoying all the hiking that is around Scottsdale and have covered way more trails and miles than expected(60 miles in a week).  We have also been able to play a few rounds of golf and more importantly for me, have been able to paint. 

On a few of our quieter evenings I sat down and painted from a photo that I took at Dead Horse State Park.  The composition of the painting ended up being weak, but there were several individual elements of the painting that I liked.  I love working in watercolors because I can crop and cut a painting.  The end product was able to capture the snow on the rocks as well as the light in the valley and some of the colors of the background.

Sunlit Rocks

There were a few stops that we had originally planned before the truck breakdown, so we decided to make them day trips from Scottsdale.  Our first day trip was to the Sonoran Desert National Monument.  One would think that with a name like, that there would be some substantial infrastructure, but that is not what we found.  We drove to the location based on a GPS system and found nothing but an empty trailhead sign. 

Ross trying hard to read the trail map 😉

We are still not sure that we were at the correct main entrance but hiked in along a trail.  It was extremely quiet, not a soul in sight and beautiful in its starkness.  When we got to a good spot we settled in and I spent the next two hours painting while Buddy and Ross enjoyed some quiet time.  It was great to test out my new travel stool and painting palette and to find that they are a good addition to my plein air painting tools.  I was happy with this painting since I feel that it captures the simplicity of the landscape, the quiet and the colors of the desert and the mountain backdrop.

Sonoran Desert

The next day trip was the Lost Dutchman State Park. This state park has the striking Superstition Mountains as a backdrop.  We enjoyed a beautiful hike through the Cholla Cactus and several other varieties.  After a long hike we sat down at the day shelter and I pulled out my paints.  I wanted to experiment with a little bit different technique for the mountains. The goal was to paint the mountains with a looser style and more color.  I have noticed while hiking through the “red rocks” of Utah and Arizona that there are some beautiful colors in these rock formations.  I completed this painting in an hour and was pretty happy with the outcome.

Tomorrow we hope to be heading North East to New Mexico for some new scenery. 

Monument Valley/Sedona/Scottsdale and the trials and tribulations of traveling in an RV in winter.

The Cactus of Arizona

What will this day be like….I wonder?  Ross and I have a few quotes from movies that we reference, and this one comes from the Sound of Music when Julie Andrews is leaving the monastery and is going to the VonTrap Residence.  Well this phrase seems especially apropos for this segment of our blog.

On the last blog we left off excited to see the sunrise at Monument Valley.  Anyone who has RV’d knows that part of the RV experience is being able to roll with the punches.  I like to think of it as a little bit of a Buddhist practice of living in the moment and being open to all the experience has to offer.  It is also a lesson in letting go of control of situations that you can not control.  So that being said….we awoke to 3 inches of snow and no view at all of Monument Valley.  We were okay with that because the snow on the rocks surrounding our camping spot were beautiful and we felt fortunate that we drove in the day before and had the views we had. 

The bigger issue that morning was that we also woke up to no heat.  Our furnace stopped working around 5 am and we had no idea why, and our fear was that our pipes would freeze up.  Fortunately, we turned on our oven for awhile to heat up the interior and then got on the phone with Brian (our new best friend) at Airstream in Scottsdale Arizona.  He trouble shot over the phone with us and low and behold after unscrewing a few things and resetting some buttons we had heat again.  I can’t even tell you how happy we were, and when we got to Scottsdale Brian got a visit and chocolate from us!

Life is a learning experience, that might be our motto for this trip.  The other realization that we had on this trip is that it is not feasible to boondock (go off the grid) in a cold climate.  The first night at the Alpaca farm our heat also turned off because our batteries had drained in the cold and because the heat cycling on and off so often killed the batteries.  So unfortunately that means we are going to have to buy a generator in order to boondock during this trip if we are in cold weather.

Next stop was Sedona to visit a real estate client of mine in her new second home.  We loved seeing her, and Buddy thought he had died and gone to heaven, since she has two dogs and dog toys all over her house. It was wonderful to see her and Sedona is a beautiful location however, the temperatures had been lower than we had hoped for and that last two days wetter than anticipated.  So with that, we changed our plans and instead of staying in Sedona for a few days we headed further south to Scottsdale.

Buddy getting spoiled in Sedona

Our main purpose for traveling to Scottsdale was to visit with my brother and his wife who were there for a quick vacation.  Our camping spot was for sure one of the least beautiful we have ever stayed because we were at the Westworld Event Center.  We were basically set up in a parking lot with RV hookups (meaning electricity and water), because the location was close to my brother and very centrally located. There was a horse show going on as well, so we enjoyed watching the horses and an event or two. Once again we felt like the smallest trailer around.

After getting set up we headed out for a hike in the close by mountain trails.  Cactus were everywhere and it was so interesting hiking through them instead of hiking through the trees of Colorado.    

Over the next few days we did several more hikes, a bike ride and were able to visit Taliesin West.  Taliesin West was Frank Lloyd Wright’s winter home as well as an architecture school and is now a Unesco World Heritage Site.  Having studied about it in Architecture school I was thrilled to see it in person.  He was truly a genius in working with local materials, using great lines and transitioning spaces from small to large as well as from interior to exterior.

On our final morning in Scottsdale (or so we thought) we packed up to go and we thought “What will this day be like we wondered? “  As we started to drive out of town Ross’ truck’s engine light came on so we drove over to the RAM dealership and low and behold the fuel injectors on the truck had failed.  Ah, the powers to be were sending us another test. It was Dec 30th and it now appeared that we were going to be staying in Scottsdale for awhile longer.  We are hoping that by January 3rd we will be back on the road again.

In the meantime we are making the most of our time here.  We have had several great hikes, played some golf and been able to spend more time with my brother and his wife. 

It is New Year’s Day and we both looked at each other and have said, What will this day be like? And What will this Year be Like…I wonder?  Here is to hoping that 2020 is a great year filled with lots of good health, happiness, great travel adventures and some art as well.  Happy New Year to you all!

Alpaca Farm/Dead Horse State Park/Monument Valley

Our First Night at the Alpaca Farm

December 22-26, 2019

Ross and I left Boulder mid-morning and were excited to stop at Copper Mountain for a few hours of skiing.  It always is a special place for us since Copper Mountain is where we met, and we have a few great friends who we caught up with.  After leaving Copper Mountain we drove to Silt, CO and stayed at the Sopris Alpaca Farm (through our Harvest Host Membership).  We had a great first experience.  We pulled in after sunset and therefore could not see much of our surroundings. The next morning what a pleasant surprise to pop out our door and be surrounded by gorgeous mountains and extremely cute alpacas just a few feet away. We were the only campers there and enjoyed walking around the farm and seeing the animals.  The owners Kim and Cory were extremely kind and full of enthusiasm about their farm and gift shop.  We were able to spend time with both to talk about how they started their farm, learn more the alpacas and their lifestyle. 

After a beautiful calm morning at the farm, we packed up and headed to Dead Horse State Park in Utah (just outside of Moab).  The name of the park is not the most inviting and to be honest I had very low expectations, but Ross had read about it and wanted to see it.  Well, it was an amazing!  To give you a brief explanation of the name of the park, in the late 1800’s Cowboys would drive herds of wild horses across the land to this narrow spit and block them at the narrowest section called the neck. The cowboys would take the best horses and leave the rest of the horses to die on this mesa with no way out.  Not the nicest of thoughts for sure and I’m glad that era is over.

Fortunately, the name of the park is not indicative of its splendor.  The park has a lot of the same dramatic, awe inspiring landscape as the Grand Canyon in a smaller scale.  We pulled into camp at dusk but awoke to a beautiful sunrise and a dusting of snow. 

A magical sunrise at Dead Horse State Park

Since it was Christmas Eve day there were very few people there and even less on Christmas Day.  It felt like we had the whole State Park to ourselves which was really special. The weather was a mixture of sunshine and clouds with increasing clouds and snow in the afternoon, so we headed out early for a hike along the East and West Rim Trail.  The East Rim trail in particular took our breath away.  The rock formations, the sheer drop offs, the snow-capped mountain back drop and the Colorado River at the bottom was worth the trip.  I could have spent at least a week painting there.  Fortunately, I took a lot of photos for me to paint back in the studio since the temperatures outside were a bit on the cold side.  The following two days we hiked on the West Rim and then out along the Northern side of the East Rim…..all of them had glorious views and were beautiful.

Even with a horrible name and past Dead Horse State Park is well worth the drive.  There are lots of mountain bike trails as well which we had hoped to try out but the weather wasn’t conducive so we might have to return. 

We headed South and had plans on staying near Blanding, Utah but had trouble finding any RV parks that were open in the winter.  It turned out to be a huge blessing in disguise because we drove an additional hour and half and accidentally ended up in Monument Valley, Utah.  It was such a surprise to be driving on the road looking out our window at so many beautiful vistas but then in front of us was a surreal view.  There was a fog enveloping massive rock formations (1000 ft high) that looked like a sci-fi movie set.  It was as if we were looking at castles, fortresses etc. rising out of the clouds.  We had to stop and take photos.  Then as we passed by these same rock formations the sun came out and we could see them in all their colorful splendor.  Low and behold there was a campground in Monument Valley so we have pulled in for the evening and are looking forward to seeing the sunrise tomorrow.

Next stop Arizona……

Prepping for a 3 week trip

Ross and I are very excited to have hit the road again and have been busy prepping for a 3 week trip through various climate zones.  This might just be what I envision to be a perfect road trip since we are hoping to go skiing, golfing, biking, hiking and of course do some painting.  Anyone who knows me/us knows that that mixture of activities pretty much is perfection.  Ross would probably add in some surfing which we are hoping will happen this fall. 

Ross and I have found that we prefer the simpler life with less “things” and more experiences and perhaps that is why we love the RVing experience so much.  You can only pack so much stuff, and life is simpler in a lot of ways on the road and more complicated than others when there are RV issues.  Prepping for this trip though has forced us to make a few purchases which I thought I’d share with you.  If you are an RV’er some of these items might interest you and the other items are for those more interested in the art/painting side of life.

RV Items

Ross and I have joined a newer RV club called Harvest Host (https://harvesthosts.com/) which will allow us to stay for one night at various farms, wineries, golf clubs and museums around the US.  The idea is that we can stay at select locations for free with our membership in exchange for us buying something from each location.  We love the concept of staying at these locations and have a personal experience with the owners of each.  On this trip we are hoping to stay at an Alpaca Farm and several golf courses. We will share more about each experience in our upcoming blog posts.

Since we will be traveling through Colorado, Utah, Arizona and New Mexico we will have many different climates and therefore a variety of outdoor adventures.  In order take more gear, we have purchased a Thule Cargo Box that mounts to the top of Ross’ truck bed so that we can now fit two bikes and store our skis and golf clubs in the box.  It will be our first trip carrying this much equipment so that should be interesting.

Ross with all our “stuff:

Making up a bed at home or in an RV is not my favorite thing to do.  I recently met an entrepreneur who has a bedding business which helps solve the problem of putting on the fitted sheets and having it stay in place, as well as a duvet cover that is easy to put the down blanket inside.  She had recently started an RV line of sheets as well (since the mattress’ are slightly smaller and it is harder to make up the bed when you are squeezed against a wall) and kindly gave me a set of sheets and a duvet cover to try out.  Well Ross (who is very particular about his bedding) loved the feel and quality of the sheets as well as the ease of making up the bed.  We love these so much that we are going to buy them for the house as well.  If you are at all interested you should check out https://quickzipsheet.com/pages/rvsheets and you can use the coupon code of 15RV to get 15% off. That code is good for RV sheets as well as sheets for your home.   Now that I have these sheets I hope I never have to wrestle with putting on a fitted sheet again or putting the duvet cover back together after washing it.

Another product the we purchased (which Ross is more excited about than I am) is an air compressor so that we can pump up our tires (truck, bike and RV) wherever we are.  RV’s have a higher risk of blowouts, and since we plan on trying to get off the grid a fair amount it will hopefully give us a little peace of mind that should we get a flat or lower tire pressure we are prepared.

Art Items

Lately I have been focusing more on my watercolors than acrylics which means that I needed a little bit better set up for traveling with that painting medium.  I recently order a collapsible light weight stool so that I can sit and paint (which is my preference with watercolors).  Additionally, I ordered a very compact painting palette that contains my paints, space to mix paints as well as two water wells to clean my brushes.  Both items are very compact and fit into my travel backpack for plein air painting (painting outside on location).  Part of the challenge of Plein Air Painting is that often the view you want to paint is not right next to the road.  So that means walking into a location with all my supplies and setting up to paint as quickly and easily as possible.  I will post photos on our next blog of my set up with the new stool, palette and backpack.

A second challenge of plein air painting is that you can only carry a limited number of paints with you.  Additionally the lighting can change quickly so you need to be able to mix a variety of colors with a limited number of paints as well as mix them quickly.  So I have chosen which paint colors I will be traveling with (based on what I am assuming will be the colors of the landscape in places we are going to) and made a chart of some of the colors mixes that I can make with the 11 colors plus white.  In this photo you can see that even with a limited color paint palette there is a huge range of colors that can be mixed.  This is an exercise that I recommend anybody who is interested in painting do with the colors that they have.  It is a great way to learn what colors are made when mixing paints as well as how to adjust the color if you want something different.  If you are interested in learning more about this please feel free to reach out to me.

Well that about does it.  We will be writing more from the road soon. Happy Holidays from the two of us and Buddy!

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