Archive for May, 2016

Soothing Moments in the River

May 5, 2016


brown trout 1 photoshopped

Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it.
Norman Maclean

My friend Bill Barksdale arrived at my door at 6 a.m. and we made our second journey to the waters, this time the White River.  The water levels were low and sluggish, and so were the trout, but I did manage to coax this 5-inch brown to take my fly. Fortunately, I was able to lift his sweet face out of the waters for a portrait, and then a quick release.

I was pleased with the kind of photo my Samsung phone was able to make, but Bill went to work with his high-end camera and took several shots to record our morning:  I’m surprised that I’m not scowling more deeply as this river has required tiny flies that my eyes don’t see as well as they did in younger days.



I could not have dialed up a more perfect day, spending most of it in the river. Watching trout rise to sip flies from the surface (except for mine), thrills me to the core.  For much of the morning, I gazed at row after row of trout, lined up to feed on whatever drifted past them (except for my own flies), their tails and fins undulating softly in the current.  All of it produced such hypnotic sensations, and I felt that I could have watched these sights for days.  And wade fishing in trout streams has always settled my pulse rate.  The past week has been fast-paced for me, with much travel, many daily appointments and responsibilities, and plenty of second-guessing.  I now face two consecutive days of judging art competitions, but tomorrow’s will be held late in the day, and then Saturday’s will happen in the morning. Fortunately for me, the activities are spread out, allowing me quality time to unwind between my responsibilities.  And so far, I’ve managed the perfect blend of making watercolors outside and fly fishing.  The week has flown by at warp speed and I’m astonished tonight to realize I have only two full days remaining at this event, before journeying back home to return to my full-time job.  I’m confident that once I return home, my batteries will be charged sufficiently for me to resume my duties.

Thanks for staying with me this week.



Living the Dream

May 4, 2016

Cotter Bridge lampposts

Hold fast to dreams, for if dreams die, life is a broken-winged bird that cannot fly.
Langston Hughes

My best friend told me a couple of weeks ago (upon learning that I would be engaged in art festivals and workshops heavily in April and May) that I was “living the dream.”  I didn’t realize when I heard those words that she was right–this is what I love doing, and the gift has been laid at my feet.

I have been too exhausted to blog over the past day or so, and am trying now, with a second wind, to catch up.  The two-day workshop in Cotter, Arkansas for the White River Artists finished yesterday, and I was sitting up in the night, watching the St. Louis Blues (my home team) play the Dallas Stars in the Stanley Cup playoffs, when the phone rang, and my dear friend Bill Barksdale was inviting me to go fishing in the morning.  Bill is an astonishing photographer, and I have pored over the shots he took of me in the White River years ago, including this one:

fishing the White River

He arrived at six this morning, and drove us to the Norfork River.  I hadn’t caught a trout in three years (disgusting fact), and this morning I landed three rainbows and lost another. I can’t describe the sensations I felt, stepping into the river again, and finally holding a trout in my wet hands.  We used barbless hooks, so there was little effort in removing them and releasing those beautiful creatures back into the wild.  Watching a released trout swim away also stirs my heart.  Bill just phoned awhile ago, and he’s coming back again in the morning.  Six o’clock.  Wish it was now!  Bill is one of the most accomplished fly fishermen I know, with an intimate knowledge of the local rivers here that he’s fished since he was a teenager.  He is a walking encyclopedia when it comes to understanding fly patterns and what works in these waters.  I always know I’m going to be successful with his guidance.

After spending some time driving around and enjoying the landscape, Bill and I joined his wife Sandy (whom I hadn’t seen in years) for lunch and I got to converse with these two friends I’ve missed greatly during this long gap.  Sandy is a watercolorist with a reputation spreading across Arkansas and Texas (and probably other areas as well).

When I returned to my hotel room, I felt too tired to perform my next required task–a 4:00 watercolor demo for the plein air artists who arrived today for the first day of the White River Plein Air event.  Once I met them and felt their gracious manner, however, I quickly got in the mood to paint and cranked out a watercolor sketch in about an hour (I’m not posting it, because I dislike it, even though they said nice things about the work).

Coming home, I sat outside my hotel room to gaze at the golden late-afternoon sunlight. Opening my journal to write, I looked up and saw the light playing off the pair of lamp posts at the entrance of the Cotter Bridge, and thought it so lovely that I unpacked my gear and did a watercolor sketch of them, because I had to. And as I sketched, I wondered what I had ever done to deserve moments such as this. The answer came quickly: Nothing. I had done nothing to deserve this; it was a Gift. And I deeply appreciate the Gift. I appreciate every invitation to Live the Dream.

Thanks for reading. Please, keep dreaming. Dreams keep us alive, keep us believing.


Up early for another round

May 3, 2016


It is something to be able to paint a particular picture, or to carve a statue, and so to make a few objects beautiful; but it is far more glorious to carve and paint the very atmosphere and medium through which we look, which morally we can do.  To affect the quality of the day, that is the highest of arts.  Every man is tasked to make his life, even in its details, worthy of the contemplation of his most elevated and critical hour.

Henry David Thoreau, Walden

Rarely do I retire to bed before 9:30, but I hardly remember last night.  Driving through severe rain storms from Arlington to Tyler, Texas for a one-day workshop, and then driving another six-and-a-half hours to Cotter, Arkansas for a two-day workshop took its toll finally.  My hosts have offered wonderful accommodations and hospitality, but finally I physically and mentally cratered.  Last night I wanted to blog, and did in fact put something up, but don’t care to return and read it.

The six o’clock alarm found me refreshed, optimistic and oh so happy to go the next round.  Today will be my final workshop day, followed by some days of demonstrating and judging a plein air competition, but the hardest part of the schedule is just one full day away from completion.  So glad to be rested!  And so glad I set the alarm for a three-hour cushion before going to class. Can’t wait to see the participants again, absolutely love their drive to paint!

Henry Thoreau is a man I wish to God I could have met and spent time with.  So grateful am I that he cared enough about us to leave behind such precious words.  I’m angered every time I read of how his fellow citizens regarded him as a waste of a life when he died at forty-four without ever holding down a regular job.  His two books were failures in his lifetime.  Yet when his family opened his locked trunk after his death, they found over four million words of publishable print.  Why did he write and save all those manuscript pages after his failed publications? Because he believed he had something to say and that someday there would be grateful souls with hands outstretched to receive his message.  I am one of those hungry souls. His every word nourishes me.

My waking thought at six a.m. was the quote I’ve posted above.  I love carving out pieces of the world to put onto paper for myself and others to view, but wish all-the-more to carve and paint the atmosphere through which I peer daily and thereby to live a more artful, satisfying life for myself and others.

Trout Lodge bridge

Early morning attempt

It is a chilly fifty-one degrees early this morning in Cotter, Arkansas.  Yet the sun is bright and warm enough that I decided to pull up a table outside my lodge door and do a quick watercolor study of this magnificent Cotter Bridge just one hundred feet from my door. My fingers finally stiffened enough in the cold that I decided I pushed this one far enough and have a good record to take back to the studio.  No doubt this subject would make a beautiful painting to frame one day.

It’s nearly time to leave for class now.  Thank you always for reading and spending some of your morning with me.

I paint in order to learn.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not really alone.

A Good Kind of Weariness

May 2, 2016

cotter bridge

The evening is still early, but feels as it were past midnight. Settled into my hotel room, I look back with gladness on this first day of the White River Association Plein Air Workshop in Cotter, Arkansas, particularly grateful for the new artist-friends I’ve had the pleasure of making.  The coffee now smells good, the bed is firm, and I’m enjoying some good reading, journaling and thinking as I await sleep.  Tomorrow is the second and final day of my workshop and I hope for it to be even stronger and fulfilling than today’s.

Above I’ve posted my second demo of the day.  We gathered at the Cotter Bridge in the park and looked across the White River, picking out spots to sketch in watercolor.  The participants turned in at least two watercolors apiece on this first day, and it was rewarding to see them so eager and aggressive to pursue plein air work–to some it was the first time ever.  I still remember how intimidated I was with my first try.

Thanks for reading.

Workshop Ponderings

May 2, 2016


The Bible opens with the words “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” That is an adequate summary statement, but the curious reader wants more.  And the following verses provide more:

And the world was without form and void and darkness was on the face of the deep. And the spirit of God moved over the face of the waters.  And God said, “Let there be light.” And there was light.

There is a quality image: a world of chaos, a Mind that is brooding, moving, and suddenly creation occurs.  As one continues to read the account, the record shows God creating the world by a series of divisions, organizations.  The artist Robert Motherwell said that drawing was the division, the organization of space.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, in “The American Scholar” testified that the scholar of the first age received into himself the world around, brooded thereon, gave it the new arrangement of his thought, and uttered it again.  It came into him life.  It went from him truth.

In about an hour, I will stand before my second watercolor workshop in the midst of this circuit I’ve been traveling. This will be a plein air watercolor workshop.  And my sincere hope is that the participants experience this parallel that Emerson drew from the opening verses of Genesis. They will stand enveloped in a world swirling with myriads of visual stimuli, holding before them a void, a square white rectangle.  As they ponder this visual world of complexity, their minds will begin to sort, to sift, to edit, and as their brushes move over the surface of the papers, worlds will begin to flow out of their brushes, first the wash, then the divisions, and finally the focused details.  There is little more rewarding than watching a world flow out of the tip of your brush, and realize that you are the one creating this world.

The Bible says that God created humans in his own image.  What is that image of God, that imago Dei?  I believe it is that essential urge to create.  The first word written about God identified him as a creator.  And he created people after his image.  My position is that people, by nature, create.  They have to, because it is in their essential nature to create.

Gotta go.  Workshop begins in one hour and five minutes, and I still have to drive to the location.

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to understand.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.


Blogging On the Road

May 1, 2016


Discomfort with the chasm between this morning  and my last post urges me to put out a few words as I push my way across east Texas. As soon as I closed out my last art festival, I knew what lay ahead–a series of four workshops and a major art festival. Coming off yesterday’s unforgettable workshop near Tyler, Texas, I’m now heading toward Cotter, Arkansas  (the trout capital) with a heart overflowing in gratitude toward this weekend’s hosts. I had the time of my life at the one-day session, followed by an evening at the lake and one quick plein air attempt.


I can truly testify that I am living the dream, and thanks to all my precious friends back home, along with new ones on the road, I am not feeling like a wandering mendicant.