Find Your Park Through Art !!

Posted in Art, Artist Residency, Drawing, flora and fauna, historic sites, Ideas, National Parks, Personal History, Wanderings, Woodblock Printing with tags , , , , , , , , , , on September 9, 2015 by WanderArtist

Find your park through art poster

Recent Prints

Posted in Art, Artist Residency, National Parks, Personal History, Soul Food, Southwestern US, Woodblock Printing with tags , , , , , , , on August 13, 2015 by WanderArtist

There have been clouds of wood shavings flying from the woodblocks in my studio these days – I’ve also been focused on drawing and making prints. I believe I’ve generated more prints in the last four or five months than the many previous years combined. Some might say I have been visited by my muse. I appreciate the concept of the muse in art – a spirit or source inspiring art creation… However, ideas and creations are not solely the responsibility of a potentially fleeting spirit outside the artist…

Another definition of muse is to have deep thoughts, or to meditate. This is a large part of how I see my artistic muse these days. It is not merely a presence visiting and inspiring – it is hard work, observation and time spent in the outdoors – and being driven as well by the desire to push my ideas to the next level ~ along with many hours of drawing and carving fine lines in wood.

I hope you enjoy my musings from the last few months…

Find Your Park Through Art

Posted in Art, Artist Residency, Drawing, historic sites, Ideas, National Parks, Personal History, Soul Food, Wanderings, Woodblock Printing with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on July 1, 2015 by WanderArtist

I am a printmaker, environmental sculptor, exhibit designer, writer, photographer, graphic designer and museum professional. I just completed an eight year tenure as Director/Curator of an exceptional museum in northern New York founded by Alice T. Miner in 1924. These days I travel – drawing, photographing, running, biking and hiking in some of the most inspiring places in the country, and I am currently creating a series of woodblock prints celebrating our national parks as part of my Find Your Park Through Art campaign.

For many years I have made a living as a graphic designer and freelance illustrator. Although I once owned my own gallery and studio, and may again in the future, for now I have chosen to prioritize working with people through teaching, creating art, and studying/re-creating my current surroundings in favor of pursuing my art in the more traditional sense of creating pieces for sale in the “art world”. I believe this direction will bring me closer to the essence of the creative process. Mine has become a literal and figurative journey, exciting and fulfilling through it’s components of travel and direct connection to the things in this world that inspire me, and with the by-product of confirming that gallery shows and exhibits needn’t necessarily be the primary means to define an artist’s work. For the near future, as our national parks commemorate their 100 year anniversary, my theme has become Find Your Park Through Art. To help draw attention to the Find Your Park initiative I will be creating artwork in numerous national parks. Through Artist-in-Residence programs, I hope to partner with other artists to help emphasize this theme by holding public events at which we will draw, paint, photograph and create artwork in the parks themselves.

drawing Tapestry Arch at Arches National Park

drawing Tapestry Arch at Arches National Park

Throughout my life I have cherished our national parks. From long trips as a child traveling with my family in a VW bus to my current open-ended journey, I have wandered the parks – committing them to memory and re-creating them on paper. When I am able to take the time to more fully comprehend each place and the significance of its past-present-and future, I then begin to interpret many of its gems in my artwork. Indeed much of this new awareness occurs through the very creative process itself. As an artist I hope to “translate” park resources into images that enhance others’ enjoyment and deepen their understanding of public lands, and in the process perhaps even stimulate more interactive and protective practices among the millions of visitors to our fantastic natural and historical wonders.

mule skull with moqui marbles

“It’s just flashes that we own, little snapshots made of breath and of bone… And out on the darkling plain alone, they light up the sky”…

During residencies in the national parks I make sketches in preparation for creating woodblock prints, interacting with visitors as I work. My public presentations include demonstrating the printing of a woodblock, or visually explaining the process of creating woodblock prints through lectures/multimedia presentations. I also hope to have others join me for a day of Find Your Park Through Art – during these events we will draw, photograph, create environmental sculpture and/or paint in the park together. A large component of this time will be offering tips and tricks, helping younger artists, and sharing different facets of our love of the park, and of art in general. Later we will gather again to share and discuss what we have created and explore how public lands can inform and inspire our art. I make my living as an artist while maintaining a more humanistic approach to my public. Teaching art and inspiring others has long been a goal and a passion for me. My primary inspiration is to live within the art itself, and to help others do the same.

The opportunity to pass time with my sole occupation as artist-in-residence has been an invaluable experience and inspiration for my art – it allows me long stretches of time within the parks to work on creating drawings, environmental sculptures and prints. Deadlines also push me to focus more fully on my surroundings and on drawing and printmaking. I hope to learn the flora and fauna of many of our national parks, and by slowing my pace and observing the daily and weekly changes from the broad scope of the landscape to the tiny details of things, I will find what most inspires me and create drawings from those ‘snapshots’ in my mind and in my camera.

preparing the ink palette

preparing the ink palette

rolling ink onto the block with the resulting edition of prints

For many years I have worked to interpret a museum collection for visitors of all ages and backgrounds – always managing to find common ground from which to foster enthusiasm and closer examination/interest in what they are seeing and learning. My experience and love of interpretation lend themselves well to being an artist-in-residence – I am able to connect and converse with whomever I meet as I draw or create prints in the parks.

Art can open people’s eyes to new and exciting perspectives on the places they visit. It is my hope that artwork, created during residencies, will act as a two-dimensional ambassador for the parks and waterways I interpret. There is power in the connection artwork can help to create between visitors and nature – and this further connection will be a boon to any park or open space. Through art I believe we can reach whole segments of the population of visitors who may not connect as intrinsically to their surroundings and who may find their own niche through combining art and time out-of-doors. Take the teenaged boy who has his nose buried in a video game… I guarantee he will look up to see what I am working on – he will look around – he will take it to heart. There is something magical to young people when they see someone working on art in a public setting… It spurs their imagination! That experience in turn allows them to observe their surroundings on a deeper level to discern what might be so special… And it makes them wonder if this could be part of their future.

wake robin

columbine

My Find Your Park Through Art campaign will be repeated at other national parks and I will spread the word through my public presentations and posts to my blog wanderartist.com. I have already helped to inspire others to take up this campaign and will be presenting a weekend with two other artists at Bighorn Canyon in the autumn with the title ‘Find Your Park Through Art’. We will work in the park together for two days with other artists from the public who choose to join us. It is my hope that this idea will catch on and will help others to embrace the Find Your Park campaign and to visit their national parks. Upon completion of each park residency I will donate one print to each park – offering them each a unique artist’s view of the park and it’s resources.

image donated to Homestead National Monument

My residencies have included:

Homestead National Monument of America (spring 2015)

Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area (autumn 2015)

Guadalupe Mountains National Park (spring 2016)

The Ancient Art of Horseshoe Canyon

Posted in American Indian, historic sites, National Parks, petroglyphs, pictographs, Soul Food, Southwestern US, Wanderings with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 10, 2015 by WanderArtist

Canyonlands National Park in Utah is an amazing destination for people who enjoy solitude, desert environments, hiking, camping, mountain biking, archeology and more. The park is composed of four distinct zones – Island in the Sky, the Maze, the Needles, and the series of rivers that divide these districts – including the Colorado River. It is a huge expanse of land – 527 square miles – and it simply cannot be covered in one day, in one week, or even in one month.  Canyonlands gets an average of 440,000 visitors each year, yet many of the people who pass through the park never see what I consider to be one the most fascinating and inspiring places in the entire world. It’s a site called the Great Gallery, located deep in the very remote Horseshoe Canyon, that I had dreamed of seeing for a long time before first taking the opportunity to visit some 20 years ago. This isolated canyon can be found in the Maze District and receives only about 3% of the parks annual visitors. It’s a great place to “get away from it all.” In fact, Wikipedia calls it “one of the most remote and inaccessible areas of the United States”.

Visiting the Great Gallery takes determination and time. It’s not really close to anywhere! Moab, Utah, the nearest town of significant size, is about 3 hours away. After nearly 2 hours of paved road, the final leg of the trip begins on a very rough dirt road dotted with steep dips and potholes the size of a small car! The “graded” dirt road is 30 miles long, and if you take it late in the season (i.e. months after the last time it was graded) you might think it’s not maintained at all. The washboard surface will rattle one’s teeth! It can be navigated in a car – carefully, slowly… but a high clearance vehicle is better. If you’re patient enough, and don’t mind risking a broken axle, you might even drive in pulling your Airstream trailer (more on this later).

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As I mentioned, the first time I visited Horseshoe Canyon was 20 years ago. We drove in with a large group, camped on the canyon rim, and hiked down to the Great Gallery the next morning. The descent down into the canyon is 780 vertical feet, following along old mineral exploration roads over slick rock and sandy trails, which provide very little shade. The Great Gallery itself is a 3.5 mile hike from the canyon rim, meandering upstream along the wash. The hike is challenging in that most of the way along the canyon floor one is walking in soft sand, which can sap one’s energy after only a few miles. Upon returning down the canyon from the rock art sites you have to then scale up that 780 foot canyon wall! It is certainly a long day but well worth the effort and exhaustion.

a cairn along the trail

During that first visit I finally arrived at the Great Gallery very excited to see rock art I had studied in school years before but, until that time, had only seen photos of… When I arrived at the site I was shocked to discover that, by chance, I happened to know the steward who was on duty down in the remote canyon!  The ranger, Craig Root, owned a ski school where I had worked the winter before my visit. Needless to say, after greeting him and discussing at length the gallery of amazing work, we invited him to join us for dinner at the canyon rim later that night. His was a lonely post and I think he enjoyed our company and antics that evening.

Craig below a portion of the Great Gallery in the 1990s

In the autumn of 2014 we visited this ancient site again. We arrived at the canyon rim before sunset, prepared our gear for the hike, had some dinner and tried to get some rest before our long next day. We felt a tad lonely as we sat in the deep silence with just a few birds (one of which was the relatively rare Loggerhead Shrike) and a couple of parked vehicles, one of which, to our great surprise, was a relatively new medium-sized Airstream trailer! It belonged to the volunteer currently stationed at the Great Gallery, and it was his last day there – the busiest part of the season had drawn to a close. We spoke to him for a short time when he came back out of the canyon that evening. He said when he had driven in a few weeks earlier he had tried various methods to minimize the teeth rattling, including driving really fast over the washboard parts of the road … but that hadn’t worked! So he finally slowed his pace and took his time. I would have loved to have seen him hauling his rig along the 30 miles of challenging road back out to the paved road the next day but we had already begun hiking toward the Great Gallery when he left.

a loggerhead shrike guarding the trailhead

This two minute video shows part of the trail down the canyon wall. The clip begins about 30-40 minutes after we began our hike at the canyon rim. It shows the gate that prevents livestock (and motorized vehicles) from wandering into the canyon, and the first full view down into the wash. The trail we followed toward the rock art is shown heading down the wash to the right. The trail you see across the canyon floor  leads down from the other side and another part of the Maze District.

Autumn color had begun appearing in the cottonwoods and other deciduous trees in the canyon, and the hike into the wash was dry and relatively easy going (at least on the way in… it would feel far more difficult to our tired bodies on the way back to our campsite that evening). Stopping frequently to explore and take photos, we saw a few handfuls of people later in the morning as they caught up with us on the trail.

Though the Great Gallery, which is about 300 feet long and consists of an estimated 80 figures, is really the visual “plum” of this trip, there are other smaller groups of petroglyphs and pictographs along the way that are well worth experiencing and photographing.

The petroglyphs and pictographs in Horseshoe Canyon are done mostly in the Barrier Canyon Style, dating from approximately 2,000 BC to 800 AD, during what is called the Archaic Period. (These dates I include merely to suggest how very long this has been a significant place to humans… the timespan is theoretical and this site could be significantly older, or younger.) There is newer artwork done by other groups who passed through as recently as 1300 AD. Some artifacts found in the area, however, date as far back as 9,000-7,000 BC! The canyon was basically abandoned by Indians by 1300. These amazing petroglyphs and pictographs have been well preserved and protected by the sheer remote inaccessibility of the canyon… and more recently by the National Park Service. Volunteers are stationed in the canyon during the busy season from spring through autumn. They hike down the wash each day, answer questions, direct visitors to leaflets with information stored in boxes (along with binoculars to enable viewers to get a close-up view without having to closely approach the panels).

This site captivated me so when I studied it in college because of mysterious appearance and sheer size of many of the figures. The paintings indicate to many who have studied them that these people were not only trying to convey a message, but also probably simply enjoyed the medium of painting. The images are often human-sized or larger, often armless, with interesting and varied designs comprising the body of the figure. There are much smaller, more recent additions done by Fremont and Ancestral Puebloan people that are lyrical, life-like and beautiful. I was deeply interested in symbols and American Indian art and this site represented an exciting adventure that only served to enhance the general intrigue.

Theories about the meaning of the figures and the reasons these early people would take the time to create so many panels in the Barrier Canyon Style abound. Were they recording some important event in their history? Creating visual prayers to ensure the survival of their people? We’ll never know for sure… I am less interested in theorizing on a meaning I can never fully verify than I am in merely standing in awe of their legacy, embracing the very mysteries, and sharing the images and impressions with friends. It is important for me to know that these places exist, and that others have made it their life work to help preserve them.

After a long, tiring, and exciting day exploring Horseshoe Canyon we joked that every sound outside our van that evening was the Archaic People coming for a visit. The stars were awe-inspiring and any other human habitation seemed so far away. A few people pulled in to the parking area after dark and camped in preparation for their canyon experience the next day. We vowed to return to this magical place while our bodies would still carry us. Here are links to some more interesting reading about the archeology of Horseshoe Canyon… and another informative article about the Barrier Canyon Style.

Art @ Homestead

Posted in Art, Artist Residency, Drawing, historic sites, Museum, National Parks, Personal History, Wanderings, Woodblock Printing with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 20, 2015 by WanderArtist

For a few weeks earlier this year I was awarded the opportunity to be Artist-in-Residence at Homestead National Monument of America. This wonderful National Park commemorates the Homestead Act of 1862, signed by President Abraham Lincoln. It is located in southeastern Nebraska (about an hour south of Lincoln) on the site of the first homestead awarded under the act. That 160 acres was homesteaded by Daniel Freeman and his family.

commuting to the Heritage Center through the tall grass prairie

Homestead boasts the oldest restored tall grass prairie in the US – restoration began in 1939 and takes up 60 acres of the park. The scenery, even in early spring, is stunning. One of the things I enjoyed most was walking along the path and listening to the wind move through the tall grass. I also had the pleasure of spooking some white tailed deer one morning, I could just see their ears over the grass.

The bird life was in full spring mating mode – glorious, rambunctious and plentiful! We saw wood ducks, red-winged black birds, larks (the Nebraska State bird), red-bellied woodpeckers, blue birds and various raptors. Another great pleasure was the sound of coyotes after dark.

My time was spent drawing and creating a woodblock print of the log cabin on the grounds. The Palmer-Epard cabin is visually and historically inspiring. (By the way, I could find no connection in my family to the Palmer family who built this cabin.) I worked quickly on my drawing in order to have enough time to, in turn, cut the woodblock and then run a small edition of prints in order to have them on hand at my lecture, which was to be held at the end of my two week residency.

some scenes from Homestead National Monument

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the wonderful plowed-shaped Heritage Center with tall grass prairie in the foreground

 

 

Creating a drawing was about a ten hour process. Once I had the image where I wanted it I traced it, flipped the tracing over, and traced the back of it onto the block using carbon paper between. The image has to be flipped in order to print in the proper orientation. This step is not as necessary if it’s an abstract image, or something loose – but for a building or words, one generally does not want to print them backwards ~

IMG_20150319_155342769

IMG_20150319_162411189 the tracing, flipped horizontally, and affixed to the woodblock with carbon paper between (top photo)

Once the image was transferred to the wood block the process of cutting out what I want to remain white on the final print began – this process took approximately eight hours for the Homestead block. The next step was to make a print or two in order to decide if I wanted to cut more away… I usually do this step before I feel the cutting is final in order to see how the various components of the image are working together as a print, and to get a better visual on my cutting progress. I often want to cut more away, and that was indeed the case with the Homestead block. The rule of thumb however, is to always cut less than I think I want since I cannot go back!

cutting on the Palmer-Epard cabin block

cutting on the Palmer-Epard cabin block in the park’s Heritage Center

I prefer to use oil-based ink even though it requires mineral spirits for cleaning up. The quality of print is much better in my opinion – yeilding finer lines without the ink ‘blocking up’ in the board cuts – and the wood grain tends to show through in a subtle but alluring way that I have not seen with water based inks.

 thanks to Photopia for the photographs

After a few printing sessions – with more block cutting between – I started to get prints that more closely matched my vision for a final print of the Palmer-Epard cabin. Another session or two netted me a small edition of woodblock prints. One of the final prints was donated to Homestead National Monument of America, and several went to buyers. One of my goals with these residencies is to eventually create a large series of woodblock images of some of my favorite National Parks. This summer I will be working on a quartet of different prints of Zion National Park scenes. I recently received the good news that I have been awarded another residency for this autumn in Bighorn Canyon National Park in Montana. Stay tuned for more imagery!

APalmer-HomesteadNM

The Beatrice Daily Sun published a nice article that helped to net a good audience for my public presentation at Homestead. Thanks to everyone who visited with me at Homestead, and to all the staff and volunteers who helped to make my stay a very pleasant one!

A Winter Rest

Posted in California, Central Coast, flora and fauna, Migration, Soul Food, Wanderings, wild creatures with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 7, 2015 by WanderArtist

Animal and insect migrations can be truly fascinating. I have enjoyed the snow goose migration in northern New York for a number of years and have never tired of them ushering in winter as they pause on their way south along Lake Champlain. I’ve also recently experienced the wonderful “over-wintering” phase of the Monarch butterfly migration in southern California. Many of us have seen photos of Monarchs clustered in the thousands on their favored eucalyptus trees. Witnessing it in person is, however, truly magical.

WaltWhitmanButterfly1873

Walt Whitman studies a butterfly, 1873. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Division

“Not for a moment, beautiful aged Walt Whitman, have I failed to see your beard full of butterflies.” – Federico Garcia Lorca

royalty graces my thumb

According to monarchwatch.org early settlers who came to North America from Europe, particularly those from Holland and England, were impressed by the sight of the brilliant orange butterfly so they named it “Monarch” after King William, Prince of Orange, stadtholder of Holland, later named King of England.

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Monarch butterflies born in the spring and summer live a brief 4-10 weeks. Those that migrate south for the winter, however, live as long as 8 months, spending a large portion of their lives in semi-hibernation. That’s what the butterflies in California’s Pismo State Beach Monarch Butterfly Grove are doing right now – spending most of their days clustered in trees seeming to just be resting. When the sun warms them they tend to become more active and flutter about looking lovely. They are just now beginning their mating season and pairs can often be seen during warmer days locked in an embrace.

The Monarch travels as much as 1500 miles, more than any other butterfly, to their winter grounds. Those we see in the east in summer usually migrate to Mexico. The butterflies here in Pismo may have come from as far away as the Rocky Mountains or even western Canada. Groves in Mexico usually hold much higher numbers of butterflies than those in the US.

Monarch numbers have fallen precipitously!!

Monarch numbers have fallen precipitously!!

The current estimated butterfly population in the Pismo grove is hovering between 20,000-30,000, a very significant drop from an estimated high of 230,000 twenty years ago. The Monarch population is obviously dwindling and there are groups such as the Arizona-based Center for Biological Diversity trying to get this butterfly placed on the endangered species list to help protect it. In the meantime, since milkweed is the only plant on which Monarchs will lay their eggs, one small way that we as individuals can help is to plant milkweed in our yards (and don’t mow it down).

Five counties along the coast of California have sites where Monarchs over-winter, with Pismo generally considered the best spot to see them up close in large numbers. The cypress and eucalyptus trees they cluster in to enjoy protection from wind and rain were planted here about 100 years ago. People began to really notice the butterflies in Pismo around 1940 and it was designated a state park in the 1960s.

A group of very dedicated volunteers give lectures during peak season; answering questions, setting up viewing scopes and selling goods to support the grove – also warning visitors when a mating pair of butterflies is underfoot! (as was the case with the mating pair featured in the attached video, which was saved by a sharp-eyed docent named Ralph just before we began to film it!) Fellow visitors often stand for long periods just marveling at the butterflies clustered on the tree branches or while they are engaging in their mating ritual – and mating, as you will observe in the video, is quite a ritual! A male will glom onto a female, bring her to the ground and initiate a ‘negotiation’ period. She may then accept or reject him. If accepted he carries her into the trees for a mating session that can, according to one docent, last as long as 16 hours.

After enjoying seeing Monarchs in northern New York during summer to early autumn for a number of years, it’s really a thrill to finally see this huge gathering of the beautiful little creatures in the warm California winter air. The Monarchs present in California groves this season are separated from last winter’s butterflies by a staggering four to five generations! Those who left last year mated, headed north and east, and laid their eggs on milkweed. That generation then headed further north, mated, laid their eggs on milkweed and so on – with each cycle living only four to ten weeks – until finally the autumn generation came along and began to head south. They leave their northern homes in late August to early September, arriving in Pismo in October. They will stay in this grove or move to another nearby until warmer weather, and perhaps other phenomena, signal the beginning of their breeding season.  They then begin moving north and inland, and the circle begins anew.

Unlike the snow geese this group of creatures have never actually seen their winter homes! We can imagine what guides them – surely instinct and temperature. But might smells also provide clues? – such as the ocean air, or the eucalyptus trees’ distinct fragrance? Perhaps the orientation of the sun in the atmosphere?  Traveling only in daylight, they spiral up into the clouds until they hit the south flowing jet streams. They hitchhike on those winds to warmer weather so the species will survive the winter and continue this multi-generational cycle. Truly amazing ~

Our understanding of monarchs and their habits has increased significantly as a result of visiting them in their winter home. For more about the Pismo State Beach Monarch Butterfly Grove check out their website www.monarchbutterfly.org

Update! The Washington Post has an article on the front page about disappearing Monarchs and a new effort to try to save them: The Monarch Massacre… 

Check out the video from Yosemite of Monarchs and other creatures feeding on milkweed – amazing footage including rare, slow-motion video of monarchs and other insects doing spectacular things! Yosemite Nature Notes’ Monarchs and Milkweed Produced by the National Park Service and Yosemite Conservancy

One Way To Nurse Twins

Posted in California, Central Coast, elephant seals, flora and fauna, Migration, Soul Food, Wanderings, wild creatures with tags , , , , , , , on January 30, 2015 by WanderArtist

So many blog subjects, so little time ~ but we just couldn’t wait to reveal this preview for an upcoming post because it just makes us smile, and we hope it does you as well… Onward!!

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