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)

13 June 2016

Choose to Love

Last night I stood on the deck of dreams listening to the chorus of birds singing the day into night.  My mind was turning over the tragedy in Orlando.  Then I caught a shimmer of setting sun through the aspens by the deck.  

When I processed the image, I discovered that bumping the saturation a little revealed the innate rainbow of color in the “green” leaves.  

“White” light is actually a combination of all colors.  We see our world only because of the light that falls on it.  “Color” is determined by the type of light that is reflected back to our eye from the surfaces we see.  When we see “black”, it is because that surface is absorbing the light rather than reflecting it.

As an artist, I constantly look for the color and light that isn’t immediately apparent.  I am captivated by the way surfaces reflect not only the light that strikes them from a source, but also the light that is reflected off the surfaces that surround them.  Everything is connected by the light.  The more I choose to look, the more colors I see in the world around me.  

The aspen leaves filtered and reflected sunlight and were impacted by the color of the sky and other leaves that reflected off them.  A black bear isn’t simply “black”, it reflects the light that bounces off its habitat…the blues of the sky, the browns of rock, greens of the grass and the myriad colors of the light as it finds its way from sun through filters of atmosphere to strike black bear fur.

On countless levels, I have found there to be a profound connection between art and life.  Light connects the elements of a painting and, on a grander scale, represents the interconnectedness of all life.  

Love is like white light…it is made of all colors.  Choosing to live with compassion means choosing to see, and actively look for, the less obvious “colors” of those around us. The more I open my mind, the more depth and beauty I see in the people around me.  

We’ve all met people so dark that they seem to suck the light right out of us.  We’ve also all met people whose light is so strong they lighten us just by being close.  Some of the brightest lights I have met have come from the darkest of places…yet they have chosen to shine.  

We all have within us the capacity for light and dark.  We can choose to draw everything into our own darkness or to reflect back the light the falls on us and is reflected from those around us.  

Choose to share the light, choose to love.

06 May 2016

Come on Baby, Light My Fire

The Road to Thomasville: Chapter 2

This morning I woke to a hazy view that reminded me of the Southern mornings of my youth.  It seems the smoke from Canada’s tragic fires has found its way into Montana.  It is wrong to think that arbitrary lines on maps can separate us…the wind always reminds us that we are one.

The smoke also reminded me that I needed to share the second chapter in my “Road to Thomasville” series.  

In March, I’d just wrapped up my “Encore Artist” year at Natureworks in Tulsa and decided, rather than work my way home to Montana, I’d head home to Tennessee and then make a little detour.  I arrived at Mom’s in Nashville late in the evening on Tuesday and, with Mom joining me, headed toward Thomasville on Wednesday morning.  Toward the end of the day, as we rolled through Southern Georgia in the dark, I was fading.  The weeks of long painting days, nights of sporadic sleeping in sight of the easel, then days of driving, the show and more driving were catching up.  Then I saw the fire.

Like a moth drawn, I pulled off the highway onto a red clay road and parked next to the burn.  The flames licked at the bases of the tall pines and cut winding, jagged lines through the forest.  My camera came out and I tried to capture what I was seeing.  The headlights of a four-wheeler came toward us and I thought the driver would send us on our way…but it turned into the fire and vanished.  I kept taking pictures and watching…burning the experience into my memory.

Another four-wheeler headed for us and this one kept coming.  The driver rolled up and stopped.  I expected him to ask us to leave…but I was wrong.  With a wide hospitable grin, the driver said “if I had known y’all would be here taking pictures, I’d have built a better fire!”.  
“Oh my”, I thought happily, “I am in the South!”

The gentleman, whose name I was too tired to remember, went on to explain that he would have made straight fire lines if he’d have known we would be watching.  Since the winding arcs of flame had appealed to my artist side, I asked “are crooked lines bad?”.  “Oh no”, he laughed “I just like ‘em to look like the seven dwarves, all lined up straight”.  

I thanked him and asked if it was okay to keep taking photos.  He said “sure, and you’re welcome to drive or walk in there if you want”.  He told us how to get to another burn that was going nearby…and invited us to come back the next day, since they’d still be burning.  

My hosts were waiting for us in Thomasville and I was tired, so I took some more photos and stared into the flames a little longer…then headed on.  Thinking that we’d be seeing more burns, I did not go back the next day.  Wish I had, if only to get his name.

Despite the best efforts of some great folks, we never did find ourselves in the midst of a good daytime burn.  Perhaps that was as it should be…I’ve seen artists paint burning in the daylight…but I did not remember many, if any, paintings of night burns.

For me, painting is not so simple as seeing something and painting it.  I want to experience my subjects, to soak them in and discover what fires up my muse.  No matter what the subject, photos are not enough…it is the being there that fuels my work.  The time spent discovering, trying to understand and, even, falling in love with my subjects is, hopefully, what lights up my work.

I’ve always had a serious crush on Thomasville, this trip was about tipping the scale into something more…and there’s nothing like a good fire in the night to spark some passion.

07 April 2016

The Road to Thomasville: Chapter 1

Nearly ten years ago, I attended an art show in Thomasville, Georgia for the first time.  My first year at the Plantation Wildlife Arts Festival wasn’t spectacular sales-wise (typical of most first appearances at a show)…but there was something very special about the people involved.

PWAF 2008
A year later, I would be back…just a couple of weeks after my cancer diagnosis.  It was no surprise that my artist friends embraced me with support, sympathy and priceless good humor.  What was a surprise was how many of the folks in Thomasville rallied around…
Then again, after getting to know them, that is no surprise either.

A few weeks ago, I was in Yellowstone looking for wildlife when, remarkably, the phone rang.  
It was remarkable because I was passing through one small spot where reception was occasionally possible.  The caller was Gates Kirkham, the PWAF show director.  He was calling to invite me to be the Featured Artist for the 2016 Plantation Wildlife Art Festival.

Over the years, I have been the featured artist at several shows…the most recent being Natureworks (Tulsa) in 2015.  It is always an incredible honor…but even more so in the case of the Thomasville invite.

With my Encore Artist appearance at the Natureworks show coming up, I decided to hold off announcing the good news until after my trip to Tulsa.  

As I headed East after Tulsa to see my Mom, a light bulb turned on.  I decided to make an impromptu trip to Thomasville to research some paintings for the show.  A couple days would turn into nearly a week and I would fill a pile of memory cards…but more about that a little later.

First things first…I would like to thank some of the people who made my little research trip so much fun (and so inspiring).  My Mom, Betty Horton, joined the adventure and was incredibly patient with my long days, early mornings and, often, slow drives as I looked for inspiration.  Debbie and Mike Gaskins were kind enough to offer their wonderful hospitality for our stay as well as great conversation, some good connections and the opportunity to see a fabulous cellist perform at Pebble Hill.  Marty and Daphne Wood once again allowed me access to their gorgeous Live Oak Plantation and Marty hauled us around with him on the last hunt of the season.  Gates Kirkham showed me some bird dogs, dolled up his mules, offered access to his Sinkola Plantation and then tried to get me on a fire.  Warren Bicknell was kind enough to allow us to watch some burning on Warbick Farm.  Steve Parrish gave us a wonderfully inspiring and informative tour of the Merrily Plantation.  Wallace Goodman set us up with a grounds pass for the pebble Hill Plantation.  Jim and Ann Lattay invited us to dinner with some delightful guests at their lovely home (and I found some inspiration right in Ann’s gorgeous yard).  When I stopped by Kevin’s to try to shoot reference for a painting idea, Kevin Kelly invited me into the *vault*. Kathy Barnett shared a pass to visit the red Hills Horse Trial.  Louise Dunlap offered access and Ellen Shine gave us a wild ride of a tour in search of active burning on the Woodfield Springs Plantation. 
PWAF 2015

Last, but not least...
Thank you to the PWAF crew for the honor of being named the 
Plantation Wildlife Arts Festival 2016 FEATURED ARTIST!

Between now and November, I will be writing about the journey, the inspiration and the art...on the road to Thomasville.

21 February 2016

In a Small Moment

At first glance, it is a sea of sagebrush…then a remarkably camouflaged predator appears.  The coyote’s focus is directed at something in the sage…

In nearly three decades of wildlife photography, this is one of my favorite photos…in some ways, it tops the list.  This photo speaks to me of so many things I love about wild places and the wild creatures that inhabit them.  It is a small moment suspended between two creatures, the fleeting segue between the immediate past and the infinite mystery of the future.  In this moment ANYthing can happen.

Driving through Yellowstone one Spring, I looked out to see this coyote moving through the sage…it paused…listened…then focused and froze.  That alone was beautiful…then I followed the line of focus to find the ground squirrel, also frozen.  Amazingly, in that sea of sage…both predator and prey were visible.  They held one another in a stare…

Take a moment to imagine, if you will, how many encounters like this you drive (or walk) by every single day.  These creatures have evolved to dissolve into their environment…and they do it well.  Even when we are aware of the camouflage and LOOKING for wildlife, we miss countless encounters like this because we are looking for something else or lost in thought or irritated by that slow driver who will just not use the darn pullout.  We miss so many of these moments, in great part, because we are not in the moment.

Over my ears of observing wildlife, I have seen many interactions between predator and prey.  Chases, ambushes, pounces, dodges, captures and narrow escapes…success and failure (the definition of which depends on who you’re rooting for).  It is the compelling and tragic and beautiful dance of survival.

These two creatures held one another’s eyes for what seemed like minutes…then a sound caused the coyote to flick an ear and the spell was broken.  In that nanosecond, the ground squirrel vanished.  The coyote relaxed and then continued making its way through the sage.

14 February 2016


In early June of 2004, I was wandering Yellowstone in search of inspiration.  As I drove along the Calcite cliffs above the Yellowstone, I saw a couple photographing from one of the pullouts. The man stood back watching as his blonde companion stood on the rock wall shooting through the trees into the canyon.  Being ridiculously shy, I couldn’t bring myself to approach and ask what they were watching…and the trees were too thick to see for myself.  I waited for a few moments and then left…but I was intrigued.  Several times I drove past and they were still there.  As soon as I noticed them gone, I pulled in to have a look.

Through one small opening in the trees, I could see one of the calcite pillars…and an osprey sitting on top amid a pile of twigs.  As I watched, her mate started calling from above and then came in with a branch to add to the nest they were trying to build.  My biggest lens at the time was a 300mm and I had no tripod.  I stepped up onto the rock wall and started shooting.  As I would learn later, they returned and drove by several times figuring that I would quickly lose interest and leave “her” spot.  That didn’t happen…despite wicked thoughts flung in my general direction.  Focused and fascinated by the osprey pair, I was oblivious when the couple returned….even when the girl stood glaring daggers at my back.

Introvert that I am, I didn’t take my focus off the birds to start a conversation (maybe I could feel the thought daggers, lol).  Eventually, the girl realized I wasn’t leaving…so she set up her tripod and began moving closer and closer, finally edging in next to me to aim through a gap barely big enough for the two lenses to shoot through.  Without a word, I made as much room as I could and we started photographing the osprey pair together.

We’d been shooting for a little while when, suddenly, a third osprey rose from another nest out of sight below as the male we were watching arrived at the nest.  They faced one another, suspended above the nest and then lifted into the air, fighting…locking talons, then tumbling toward the river below.  Our shutters clicked and when the birds vanished from view, we looked at one another with wide-eyed surprise, simultaneously exclaimed “COOL!” and then started laughing.  

In that moment, a great friendship began.  In the nearly 12 years we have known one another since then, Cathy and I have shared some amazing experiences with the wildlife we love.  Along the way, we have seen one another through some rough times, as well.  We discovered that we shared similar philosophies about so many things…not the least of which being our approach to observing the wild creatures that inspire us.

This is one of my favorite images, an extraordinary moment captured with the luck of timing.  The nearly mirrored osprey  remind me of the “jinx” moment (first of many) that sparked a treasured friendship.

There are so many reasons I choose to find my inspiration in wildlife that is truly wild…and it isn’t always about the animal.  Sometimes it is about the people…

10 January 2016

Take a Deep Breath

In his 1967 essay "Breathing the Future and the Past", astronomer Harlow Shapley wrote:

"Your next breath will contain more than 400,000 of the argon atoms that Gandhi breathed in his long life. Argon atoms are here from the conversations at the Last Supper, from the arguments of diplomats at Yalta, and from the recitations of the classic poets. We have argon from the sighs and pledges of ancient lovers, from the battle cries at Waterloo..."argon atoms associate us, by an airy bond, with the past and the future...
"Our next breaths, yours and mine, will sample the snorts, sighs, bellows, shrieks, cheers, and spoken prayers of the prehistoric and historic past.."

That concept first crossed my radar when I read it as paraphrased in "The Snow Leopard" by Peter Matthiessen:
"each breath we take contains hundreds of thousands of the inert, pervasive argon atoms that were actually breathed in his lifetime by the Buddha..."

To me, it is compelling to think that we are connected to everything that is, was and will be...by something so simple, vital, and intimate as our breath.

By Shapley's math/philosophy we are in an intimate relationship with everything that breathes or has breathed. For what can be more intimate than a shared breath?

In contrast to this inescapable intimacy, like most creatures, we are extremely territorial....and, like most other species, we mark our boundaries with sign.
Like bears reaching their height to claw mark a tree...or cats backing up to scent mark as high as possible...or Daffy Duck defiantly wrapping his arms around a pile of cartoon gold and squawking "mine, mine, mine!"...we go to great lengths to define what "belongs" to us.

Human signs may be literal: "no trespassing", "don't touch", "no parking","keep out"...marking boundaries of geographical property "ownership". We often take that one, or two, or ten steps further, though.  Our boundaries and "territory" may be political, theoretical, theological, ideological, artistic, intellectual, social, racial or sexual.

Maybe George Carlin put it best: "My shit is stuff and everybody else's stuff is shit."

What is it that makes us so determined to draw lines and build fences on the ground, in the air and in our minds?
We scream for our individuality and independence...but, in reality, we are a species that moves in bands, herds, tribes, cliques, teams, gangs, societies and committees. Most people seek to gather with like minds...be it over politics, religion, music, race, fashion or myriad other "clubs". Do we require "them" to define "us"...or do we need an "us" because we are afraid to stand alone?

Darwinist vs Creationist...Democrat vs Republican...rancher vs environmentalist...good vs evil...straight vs gay...fundamentalist vs athiest...PC vs Mac...black vs white...and there it is, the bottom line...black and white.
So many people seem to long for everything to be as simple as "black and white".

From the time we are children, we begin to judge, categorize and label everything around and within us.

It begins on the simplest level...Mom/Dad, good/bad, hot/cold, inside/outside, red/green. As we gather more information, we subdivide the categories further and further...simple dichotomous forks become complex systems of branches.

If the move to a polychotomous key for labeling what we encounter isn't bad enough, there are constant variables, tidal shifts, observer effects, "new" discoveries and so forth to keep us guessing endlessly.

Black and white is far easier to grasp than the infinite shades of gray and innumerable hues of color that paint the countless planes of reality.
But what would happen if we could forget about the black and white for a moment and immerse ourselves the plethora of colors in between? If we could stop auto-labeling and begin trying to cultivate empathy and understanding?

Every individual has their own unique perspective on life...their own set of dreams, experiences, hopes, tragedies, sorrows, accomplishments, failures, beliefs, fears, desires, struggles, passions, losses and loves.

How do we learn to find some common ground via our archetypical similarities rather than pre-judging based on race, gender, religion, fashion, politics, geography, sports, ideology or whatever?

It is one thing to have compassion and understanding for "us" and the people/creatures with which we have a sympathetic/empathetic/charismatic connection. Shapley and Matthiessen speak of breathing the argon of Gandhi and Buddha respectively...but we have that same "airy bond" with the Iraqis, Gengis Khan, mosquitos and the guy who cut us off in traffic. Having compassion does not mean you have to agree with or even like someone...but rather respect that they have a different point of view and remember that they share essentially the same dreams, fears, sorrows and air as you do.

Maybe being territorial is about being afraid...a base, primal reaction to the "unknown". Sadly, many societies channel that fear into a "strike first" mentality...convert them or conquer them...and if we can't make them into "us", then kill 'em. How sad to think of the innumerable lives and cultures lost in the name of one god or another, one political system or another, one oilfield or another, one color or another...and to what point? The fact of the matter is that, despite our best efforts to hold tightly, nothing is ever "ours" for long anyway....

Maybe, if we could let down our guard a little, fight our innate tendency to judge and label...we might just learn that "they" have a great deal to offer...and we all have a lot more in common than we'd sometimes like to admit.

And maybe, just maybe...with a little compassion and cooperation, we could channel our "superior intelligence" into finding non-violent solutions for the problems facing this planet and ALL who inhabit it.

So, take a deep breath...