Archive for August, 2009

Sometimes it just Rains

August 18, 2009
Abandoned oil station on Business 287 in old town Decatur, Texas

Abandoned oil station on Business 287 in old town Decatur, Texas

I began this watercolor in the early afternoon of June 11, 2009.  I loaded the Jeep and left my home in Arlington, Texas early that Thursday morning, heading west on Interstate 20 for Weatherford, in search of subjects to paint.  By the time I reached the town, it was dark and pouring down rain.  I turned northward and drove all the way to Springtown, to find more of the same, and debris scattered everywhere from severe storms the night before.  Not knowing what to do, I kept driving north till I found myself in Decatur, and just laughed at the long, circuitous route I had driven, mostly through rain.

Decatur was filled with spectral ghosts from my past.  I lived there from 1977-1980, struggling as a young graduate student, a welder at POCO Graphite Inc. and pastor of a country church north of Gainesville.  Not the most promising of days back then.  I guess you could say it rained on me quite a lot back then.

I was surprised to find, on the backside of Business Hwy. 287, an entire row of fascinating structures, some dating all the way back to the 1930’s.  I immediately began work on this watercolor en plein aire, as the sun was breaking through, and the temperatures were tolerable for an early afternoon in June.  I thought this old corrugated iron building needed some “pop,” so I added a Texaco sign from the gas station across the street.  I completed about 70% of the painting, then forgot about it as I returned to Decatur the following morning and began another watercolor (still to be completed).

I returned to this painting after two weeks passed.  I was in Hillsboro, Texas on Saturday, June 27, promoting an event at Burson Gallery, where my work is usually displayed.  During some of the quiet afternoon hours, I set up outside beneath the trees, and worked on this from a photograph I had taken while on location in Decatur.  Finally, I finished the work last Saturday, August 15, while at Sons of Hermann Hall in Dallas, Texas, during some slow moments in the festival.

It’s getting harder to find stations such as this.  But as long as they are out there, I will continue to record them as best I can.  They are an important part of my personal past, as well as our collective American memories.

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First Watercolor from my Vacation Odyssey

August 18, 2009
Abandoned Caboose near Southmayd, Texas

Abandoned Caboose near Southmayd, Texas

On Saturday, 15 August, I completed my first watercolor from my “Vacation Odyssey.”  I found this abandoned caboose on Texas Highway 82, west of Sherman, near Southmayd.   I pulled the Jeep over and took several digital photographs.  A few nights later, at my parents house in High Ridge, Missouri, I sketched the caboose and painted in the sky, then left the watercolor to “compost” for a couple of weeks.  At Saturday’s SonsStock Art & Music Festival at Sons of Hermann Hall, I created a small “working space” in the midst of my booth display, and completed this painting by early evening.

Trains have been my fantasy since my earliest, pre-literate years.  The bright colors always held my fascination when Mom & Dad took me to Union Station in St. Louis to pick up Grandma who had come for a visit from the country.  Over one hundred passenger trains per day pulled into that 31-track trainshed, and I still remember the brilliant crimson of the Frisco “F” diesels.

Now as I look upon this faded green & gold of the “Katy” railroad, I recall my boyhood wonder the first time I was allowed entrance into a caboose.  The beds, the kitchenette with coffeepot, the small office space, and oh my, that wonderful view out the windows above, over the top of the railroad train, and the vista of the surrounding fields.  The brakeman must have felt like the skipper on a ship at sea.  I always wished I could read a book, or even write a book, while riding cross country, living in a caboose.

Today, they are detached from the trains, and cast aside.   My company is Recollections 54.  In 1954, cabooses completed the trains.  Now they are only remembered as a part of our American past.

Back to Plein Air

August 5, 2009

On Monday and Tuesday, I found Queen City, Missouri filled with spectral ghosts from my 32-year-old past.  A number of significant landmarks had been removed.  However, the removal of one of those buildings revealed a ghost sign that had been covered since about 1885.  With great delight, I set about the task of recording this image in watercolor en plein aire.  When I lived in this town in 1976, the business was Schmitter Farm Supply.  Pictured is Marilyn, the owner in that day.  After 32 years, I found Marilyn to be just as dear a friend as she was in those days long past.  The building now is owned by Kevin Myers (also pictured), a local electrician whom I knew as an elementary school student in my former days.  He now lives in the top floor of this structure, that he himself renovated in such a way to make a Manhattan loft dweller swell with envy.

Also pictured is the watercolor in progress of this structure.  I apologize that the yellowish masking fluid is still in place, but I haven’t yet finished toning the brick facade, and therefore cannot remove the masking  just yet.  I will continue posting this image as the watercolor progresses.  Also pictured is the “gypsy ambience” I created when I pulled my Jeep over, lifted the rear gate to form a sun shield, then set up a work space, littering the area around me with various tools and supplies (I did clean up afterward).

Thank you Marilyn and Kevin for what you did to make today a splendid “day in the studio”!

Watercolor SchmitterWatercolor Schmitter gypsyWatercolor Schmitter and MyersWatercolor Schmitter actual photo

My first attempt at pouring watercolors

August 2, 2009
My first attempt at pouring the watercolors onto the wet paper.

My first attempt at pouring the watercolors onto the wet paper.

After weeks of reading about this technique, and watching a DVD demonstration, I finally worked up the nerve to “pour” my watercolors onto the dampened page, using only primary colors. This will be a fox hunt by the time I am through. Masking fluid has covered completely the equestrians and the pack of hounds leading the hunt. Hopefully I’ll have the foliage enough under control by tomorrow that I can begin working on the humans, horses and hounds.

Fort Worth-to-St. Louis Odyssey

August 2, 2009
The sight of this '49 Chevy made me turn around and come back for a closer look.

The sight of this '49 Chevy made me turn around and come back for a closer look.

This '50 Studebaker is crying out for a watercolor composition.

This '50 Studebaker is crying out for a watercolor composition.

The '58 Chevy stationwagons were all over the church parking lots when I was a child.

The '58 Chevy stationwagons were all over the church parking lots when I was a child.

My childhood 4th of July always witnessed scores of tourists milling around this establishment.  Those days have ended.

My childhood 4th of July always witnessed scores of tourists milling around this establishment. Those days have ended.

Early Friday morning, I pointed my new Jeep (thanks Cash for Clunkers!) toward St. Louis and began the 12-hour journey. As I neared Tushka Oklahoma on Hwy. 69, I caught a glimpse out of the corner of my eye a wrecked ’49 Chevy beneath a tree, alongside an abandoned service road. Like the sentiments expressed by Andrew Wyeth and Edward Hopper, it was enough to make me turn the Jeep around and get to that place. A very friendly man, Bob Hall, greeted me as I stepped out of my vehicle, and allowed me full access to his property where I photographed about a dozen wrecked vintage automobiles. I can’t wait to get to the studio and try out these new compositions.

As the journey stretched into its ninth hour, I could not resist pulling over again off Interstate 44 near Sarcoxie, Missouri to take photographs of an abandoned Ozark Souvenir establishment long since shut down. These were the places where I would see scores of tourists milling around, when I was a child. I’m saddened to see this chapter close.