One artist's journey: Trying to live a creative life with grace, grit, gratitude...and a border collie.
(or perhaps I should say: greys, grit and gratitude)

15 February 2014

"Gimme Shelter"

UPDATE August 13, 2015:

Sad news today, a grizzly sow was euthanized.  It is possible that she was one of the grizzlies that I have watched, photographed and painted for over a decade. It is said that she killed a park employee who was hiking off trail without bear spray.

I cannot imagine the horror and pain that defined the last minutes of this man’s life. My heart goes out to his family and his friends as they deal, not only with his death, but with the horrific manner in which he died. As if their loss were not painful enough, they are being subjected to a barrage of insensitive barbs and rants by the wildlife lovers who insist on blaming him for the euthanization of the bear.

It does not matter if he was off trail, it does not matter if he was without bear spray, it does not even matter if the bear was protecting her cubs. A man is dead.  For those of us who choose to live in bear country, this is the sobering reality: this bear did not just defensively attack and run, she killed, fed, cached and returned to feed again. For that, the Park and bear management felt as if they had no option other than to euthanize her. Like many, I hoped and tried for better options. At least the lives of her cubs were spared...they will be sent to zoos, possibly re-habbed and released. Wherever they end up, I hope their story continues to be told.

Tears come as I write those words, for if this is the bear they say, I have watched her for over a decade as she skillfully raised a number of cubs by the roadside. She brought so much awe and joy to the countless people who were fortunate enough to have seen her. I have painted her, laughed at her antics, marveled at her parenting skills, cried for her lost cubs and admired her grown cubs as they go about their life being the bears that she taught them to be. There is a hole in my heart just as there is a hole in the ecosystem of the Lake area.

My grief and sympathy extends also to the bear management team. They know this bear and I have no doubt that it also pains them greatly to have to say goodbye.

What has saddened me in addition to the loss of this bear and the hiker, is the blame and hatred being leveled at the hiker, the park service and even anyone that did not post a dozen different petitions to save her.

The reality is that blood of this bear is on all of our hands…she dies not simply for killing and eating an ill-prepared hiker…but for all of us. She died because people, willingly or ignorantly, fail to abide by park rules and recommendations. She died because people love to see bears, get close for a few moments, take photos. Anyone who has ever stood in a bear jam or been closer than 100 yards carries some responsibility in her loss, because we helped her become acclimated to people rather than instinctively running from us. Everyone who visits the park, lives in the area or simply drives a car has to shoulder a little of the weight of her death. Because we want to visit or live in their habitat, consume the products created by destruction of wild places and allow our population to outnumber them by greater numbers every year...we threaten the wild things that we love. It is something we ALL need to think about.

I am still holding out hope that it wasn't the bear teveryone says it was...there are a lot of bears in that area.  Whether is was or not, a man was lost and a bear was lost...sad all around.

Here is the original post telling a story on one of my experiences with this bear:

There are countless reasons to spend time in the field if you want to paint wildlife...not the least of which is the chance of witnessing something truly extraordinary.  

This is the story of one of those days and one of the paintings it inspired...

It was May 17, 2011...I was driving the road South of Hayden Valley when a Grizzly with a tiny coy cub stepped out of the trees to cross the road.  "COY" is an anacronym for "cub of the year"...the wee bear beside its mama was just a few months old.

Roadside mama bears are often pretty traffic-savvy.  She waited for the inevitable stop of the traffic.

When there was an opening, she ran across first...

The cub followed...look at how TINY it is!

We had an extraordinary amount of Spring snow this particular year...and the burms created by the plows were mountains to a teeny coy bear.

Safely across the road...mama headed for the melt-off flushed Yellowstone river.  She started swimming and we wondered where the cub was...and how it could possibly make it across the wide, cold water.

Mama swam out a few yards...then turned back.

She met the cub in the water...

then turned around and waited as the cub climbed on her back.

Then she ferried the wee one across the river.

On the other side, she shook him off...

Then the two headed away from the road, no doubt, to rest and nurse.

In my MANY years of bear watching, I had never seen anything like this (and haven't since).

Throughout the Summer the cub often climbed up to sit on mama's back, much to the delight of anyone who saw them.  In watching the two later in the season, I wondered if the cub learned that behavior because of unusually late (and deep) snow.  It would be much warmer on mama's back!

The only other time I have seen a cub "ride" its mama was during the first summer that the sow with four was roaming the area south of Mammoth a few years ago.  Once in a while, if the little runt of the litter was having trouble keeping up, she would turn back and wait for it to climb on before continuing to go where ever she was headed.

These moments of discovery are simply magical...and can only be found by being out there.

"Gimme Shelter"
Oil on Gessoed Panel
9" x 12"

10 February 2014

Collect the Art You Love

by Lyn StClair

Having just finished hanging the booth at the 1994 Grumbacher Gold Show in Prescott, AZ, I was walking through to have a look at the work of other artists.  One painting stopped me in my tracks…Dan Robinson's "Canyon Lake Nocturne".  It was a small oil painting of a lake South of where I lived in Arizona.  I asked the price and it was more than I could really afford…but I kept thinking about it.  

When awards were handed out, my paintings and drawings had won awards in several mediums…

Dan's "Canyon Lake Nocturne" had won first in Oil and the Grumbacher Gold medal.  

I headed to his booth and asked if the price was still the same…it was…and I bought it.

This was probably not the most practical thing to do as a struggling artist…but, thankfully, sometimes my gut wins out over my pragmatic Scottish side.  

Though I had traded with artists many times, this was the first painting that I bought.

Nearly twenty years later, my treasured "Canyon Lake Nocturne" still hangs prominently in my home.  It is as lovely to me today as it was the first time I saw it and is truly a masterful little jewel of a painting.

When it comes to collecting art...listen to your heart.  If you truly fall in love with a painting...you will always love it.

09 February 2014

Something Good

It was below zero when I pointed the faithful Tundra toward the barn to bash my way two miles through a foot of new snow. 

Twice a day, seven days a week...hauling cartloads of hay and spreading it for the ponies...no matter what the weather. You'd think I'd complain...but, no...instead, I feel like the luckiest girl in the world. 

How did it happen that I found this wonderful house to rent and such a great landlord (I adore his whole family!) and a breathtakingly grand place to live...? (Not to mention having my fabulous family and friends...a good dog, sweet kitties, silly ponies and work that I love)
As I waded through the snow feeding ponies in the bitter cold, I found myself singing (with apologies to Julie Andrews)...

"Nothing comes from nothing
Nothing ever could
So somewhere in my youth or childhood

I must have done something good"

08 February 2014

Are We There Yet?

When is a painting finished?  This is a subject that could easily fill a dozen posts (and may, yet). Today I posted an image of a new painting on FaceBook.  It has been leaning against a wall "finished" for a couple of weeks so I could study it...yet, after I posted the image, I saw things that needed just a wee bit of work.

There are several ways to give yourself some perspective on a painting.  The classic is using a mirror...nothing will reveal flaws in your drawing or composition faster than a mirror image.  I am happy with the drawing on this piece...some of the colors look a little intense, but that is due to a less than accurate photo.

Historically, some artists would use a reducing glass.  With the convenience of cell phone cameras and digital images, though, today's artist only has to shoot a photo and look at the image. It can tell you a great deal about your piece.  Now, if you really want to see how your values balance...make a black and white image...

So...in re-evaluating this painting...what do I think it needs?  

The outline down the front edge of the fore horse's face it what really bugs me.  It was like that in the reference, just the way the light hit him...it was something I'd meant to fix earlier, but forgot.  Remember, just because it is that way in the photo, does not mean you should paint it that way!!
By losing the edge of that line, it should give it a little more dimension

The shadow on the rear leg under the belly of the grey horse also bothers me...it is just a little hard...the value is a little strong.  A few whiskers wouldn't hurt.  The highlights above the darker horse's eye might need to be just a tad less strong...and the edge of his jaw and neck should be softened.  The star marking on the darker horse seems a little strong in the composition...it would be easy to paint it out...but I would prefer to keep their markings accurate...so maybe push it back just a bit.

Obviously, it would be easy to nitpick and noodle it to death...I don't want to do that.  The changes I want to make will take about ten-fifteen minutes...then they'll be done.  Period.

Finished piece...

"Lean on Me"
24" x 18"
Oil on Stretched Canvas

01 February 2014

Gotta Strada!!

It's here!  My Strada easel arrived yesterday!!

First thing...inspection by bomb-sniffing house lions (it passed).  Despite the box looking like it had been mauled by an angry weasel... everything was well packed and in good shape.

Many artist friends have been raving about the Strada plein air easel...but the original Strada was a wee bit big for what I wanted.  Then, a few days ago, Strada posted that their new mini was available...and I jumped.

Right out of the box, I was impressed.  The Strada Mini is small, sturdy and beautifully designed.  It is slimmer than a ginger cat!

The holder for the top of your canvas doubles as a self locking system...ingenious.

Despite the rugged aluminum build...it is light enough to balance on a dog's head.

It is 11" x 7.5" x 1.5", weighs less than three pounds and closes up into a clean box with no protruding parts (super nice for sliding in and out of a pack).

It is so easy to set up...your cat could probably do it.

It can accomodate an assortment of panel/canvas thicknesses and has position control hinges that rotate 180 degrees.

Though, if you want a palette big enough to hold a cat...you might want to consider the standard Strada.

Even though the light was fading fast, there were several inches of fresh snow and a temperature of 27 degrees...I couldn't resist taking it out for a spin!  It was love at first brush stroke...

Standing in the snow in the bitter cold, with a snow storm rolling in from the West that was quickly erasing the mountain...I got lost in painting.

So much so that, while I was vaguely aware that Newt was running back and forth from the creek, I never noticed the pine cones he was piling up at my feet, in hopes I would play.
This little 5"x7" oil is the first painting done on my new Strada easel.  The first of many, I suspect...

With an assortment of easels in my arsenal...why a new one?

For several years I have been wanting to pack an easel on my horse and head into the hills to paint.  Now that I have countless acres (and miles) to ride...it's time to start.

None of my other easels were compact or sturdy enough to fit in saddlebags...and I didn't want to have to always bring a second horse just to haul the painting gear.
It fits!!

Everything I need to go plein air painting, including lunch, will go in one set of saddle bags!

Sorry, no room for kitties, though!
This morning, even though it was only 5 degrees, I couldn't resist taking it out again.

So I fed the ponies and set up to paint one of them from life.  The light was pretty on "Woodchip's" furry buckskin backside...

Of course...thanks to horses being horses and all nine constantly trading hay piles...he didn't pose perfectly still.

It was so cold, Newt begged to be put in the car with the old "I can't walk 'cause my paw is frozen" bit.

Meanwhile, my toes were freezing and I was trying to paint in clunky gloves...
To get this...

Oil on Linen covered Birch Panel

It was so much fun that, even though I couldn't feel my toes, I stopped on the way back to the house to paint another...of one of my favorite views of the creek that runs along the road to the main ranch.

This time I sat in the truck, engine off.  By the time I finished, my toes were blue...literally.

It was worth it...

"Horseshoe Bend"
Oil on Linen covered Birch Panel

Oh my...this little easel and I are going to have so much fun together!

For more information on these lovely easels, heck out Strada's website:

and their blog: