The universe is really big but most of us never get to appreciate its size because we aren’t directly exposed to it. One of the great subtle blessings of my life as a tortoises biologist has been the chance to lay under the stars and planets and galaxies and meteorites and comets and space night after night.
Ah, the desert! The silence. The peace, The thirst. The starvation. The boom of artillery.
Blog Entry 1. Dream Job
Deep in sleep deprivation mode I was teleported by Alaska Airlines into the belly of the southern California beast on November 12. I made haste to the domicile of my friends and clients Steve and Mercy. They live in a bucolic setting twenty miles west of Paso Robles, near the central California coast. Rolling hills covered with oak trees and no other humans in sight. Quiet and quite lovely.
After a two day rain delay I have had two full days splashing paint. It feels very good. Surface prep is vital for the longevity of an outdoor painting. I have applied many coats of primer and gesso to the walls I am painting but wielding a roller was a bit maddening when my hand wanted a brush. Now I am well and truly launched.
Today, 23 November, I started painting dinosaurs. I wake every morning and in the pre-dawn clarity I allow my mind settle on what the subject of the day's efforts will be. It doesn't feel like decision making so much as a form of listening. Today it was time to paint critters. The mural is already roughed in- yesterday I added the first sky wash. All the major landscape lines are in and I've played with some details like rocks and a few shrubs.
Now I am deep into painting dinosaurs. Having put in one of the critters, to see the highlit eye shining, staring out at me, to see the skin patterns emerge, to make up reasonable color schemes for animals whose true colors will never be known- pretty dang fun. So I have painted my way across 120 million years or so- from the late Triassic to the mid-Cretaceous.
Here are a few of the recent additions to the bestiary, with comments.
A friend sent me an email imagining me to be painting in t-shirt and shorts. Hardee-har-har! Winter is the rainy season here and the second big storm of my stay has me pinned beneath a tarp, fighting drips that melt my paints and carry them down the walls. Despite this I am progressing on the monster, albeit only on a small section of the Cretaceous.
The trick of convincing a viewer that a flat surface has depth is called perspective. This is a complex set of visual cues that our eyes interpret constantly as we make our way through a three dimensional world. Texture, color, position (especially overlap and relationship to eye level) all cooperate to let us know where we are. An artist can use these components in making the flat seem deep.
Mostly photos this time- I want to show the beauty and some of the quirks of the place I’ve been living for the last five weeks. These are shots I’ve taken mostly on walks in the area. When it wasn’t pouring rain I got out most mornings for a ramble in the hills- to clear my mind and to absorb the patterns of a landscape before I turned to trying to create the image of one on concrete walls. One of the challenges facing a landscape artist is to avoid too much regularity. We moderns spend our time in well ordered grids of boxes. 90 degree angles and s
Thrice Three: The End of the Beginning
This painting is 56’ long and 5 to 10’ tall. It is really big and complicated.
I was trailing 29 on a huge loop through his home range. Three days into the assignment I had seen the life of an alpha male tortoise at the height of the mating season- a search for sex made with the expectation of combat. In the search for love male tortoises follow a connect-the-dots path between the known dens of females and fight males they encounter. “My” tortoise was approaching the usual burrow of #58, a small female very popular with the males in the area. My interest was heightened considerably by the fact that another male, #55, was already paying court to her.
Lizard scuttle and croak of raven, faint perfume of desert wildflowers, kiss of gentle sun: I stroll through a magical Mojave morning. This desert, always fickle, has decided to smile on me. Instead of the vicious, forty mile-an-hour westerlies of early spring, I am caressed me by a gentle breeze. I have shed the many layers of clothing that March demands and instead I wear a simple, hand-sewn dress of unbleached muslin, my standard field uniform. I wear clothes that protect my delicate Celtic skin with minimal restriction of air flow.