Bon Hiver!

I'm missing the snow terribly. I want poofy flakes that burst when they hit the ground. Branches heavy with white. It's not winter without it.

I've had the phrase "Bon Hiver" in my mind for a few days. It's french for "Good Winter" (not a misspelling of Justin Vernon's Bon Iver - although it is pronounced the same) and I've written more about my relationship to the phrase in the past. A page in my sketchbook was filling up with some hand lettering ideas and I decided to turn them into desktop wallpaper. If I can't have snow outside of my window, I might as well dream about it while I'm at my computer.

The images are available for download on my Flickr page here and here.


Chapel of the Holy Cross.

I didn't get enough time at the Chapel. We arrived fifteen minutes before they locked up. It was a bit of sensory overload. The architecture, the sun setting over the red rocks, and the overwhelming scent of the hundreds of candles lining the chapel walls. I've never felt so compelled to sit and just breathe and listen to God. But I didn't, and before I knew it we were being ushered out. It's the one thing I regret about the trip.

I don't have enough quiet moments in my life. I want to change that. 

(All of my Arizona pictures can be seen here.)


Plein Air Painting.

My goal for this whole trip to Arizona was to try something completely new with my art. New subject, new environment, new process. I got exactly that. 

I took a "hiking to paint" plein air workshop taught by Michael Chesley Johnson and spent four days learning all about the way he works and trying it out myself. To be honest, I was completely discouraged after the first day. I hadn't done any landscape painting in almost nine years and the whole experience of painting outside and on site was a bit overwhelming. I didn't even want to look at what I had painted that day. But after spending the evening attempting another piece using a photo reference I was feeling ready to try again.

I had to remind myself that I wasn't there to make a masterpiece. I was there to learn and try new things.

The last day that we painted was the most interesting and challenging due to the weather. Our view was sunny one minute, cloudy the next, followed by partial sun, a rainbow and more clouds until finally we decided to pack up right at the moment it started to pour on us. But that is the nature of plein air painting. It's constantly changing and as an artist you need to constantly adapt.

My two favorite paintings that I completed during the week (or the two paintings that I'm not completely embarrassed to share):

When the sun returns to Cleveland I'm going to try and connect with some plein air painters to continue to expand on what I learned. I'm interested in mixing more of my own style into this more traditional way of painting. I have so many ideas and images in my head from Arizona that I want to develop over these winter months.

(Some of Michael's paintings and photos from the week can be seen here.)


Beautiful Objects.

It's hard to not be bombarded with cheap gimmicky products this time of year. I've been making a conscious effort to buy quality gifts. Things that are handmade or local. Things that last. There's a quote from William Morris that I think is fantastic - "Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful." 
Those are words to live by. 

Here are some objects I've come across in the past week or so that I find to be beautiful and useful.


The Grand Canyon.

It's like a painting on a wall. The biggest painting on the biggest wall and it's just far too much to comprehend and appreciate. I needed a week with that masterpiece. A week at the least. Someday. 

We drove north from Sedona and spent a day in the park. After admiring the sites from the rim for a while, and nearly getting charged by an elk munching on the landscaping outside of the visitor center, we hiked a mile and a half into the canyon on the Bright Angel trail. 

Despite knowing that the return hike would be challenging, I didn't want to stop my descent into the canyon when we reached our turn around point. I wished that we were among the small group of people that would be bunking at the Phantom Ranch in the bottom of the canyon that night. I wanted to stand there, exhausted, and look up and feel terribly small. 

Golden hour at the Grand Canyon is something no one should miss. It's the one time in the day when you can almost grasp the size of what lies before you. It's no longer a flat plane of color and detail, it's now miles upon miles of rock and shadow fading into the sky. It's wonderful.

There is a moment in Donald Miller's Through Painted Deserts when he talks about watching the sunrise somewhere in the desert. He describes the color as "...a blue like no blue on and painting or picture. This is living blue, changing from one hue to another..." and I can't think of a better way to describe the blue I saw in Arizona. In the canyon, across Sedona's red rocks and under the prickly pear, it was the richest of blue shadows. I never saw it more intensely than that evening in the canyon. It was one of the things I will always think of when I think back on this trip. 



I had asked Andrew to pull off on the side of the road. There wasn't a light to be seen except for our headlights. We were just 15 minutes or so north of the main drag of Sedona and if you looked at our exact location on the map you'd laugh. I did. The section of road looked just like a knot in what was otherwise a rather straight line. So we stood between the winding road and a wall of red rocks and looked up to see a magnificent spread of stars. It's only the second time in my life that I've been able to see the Milky Way and it wasn't any less impressive than the first. It was my favorite moment of our entire week there.

I wasn't prepared to be overwhelmed by Sedona. I didn't expect that I would be amazed by it every single day that we were there. I was. I spent a lot of time wondering if the people who lived in Sedona ever stopped during their day to look at the red rocks in awe. But how could you not? And what was it like to be an early settler there? What did it feel like to stumble upon such a place?

I had come to Sedona to be inspired, to experience a new landscape and paint it, and to forget about responsibility for a little while. When I wasn't painting we were hiking and exploring whatever we could. Every step was another amazing view accompanied by the smell of the Cypress and Juniper.

This will be the first of a few posts about Sedona. It's taken me a little bit of time to gather my thoughts about the experience.  



Last week I was blessed with the opportunity to take a "creative recharge" in Sedona, Arizona. I paid for nothing but my meals and, with some frequent flyer miles on hand, Andrew was able to tag along for free. It was one of the most inspiring places I've ever seen. I took hundreds of photos and spent four days painting along side, and learning from, an accomplished plein air artist. I am recharged to say the least. 


After the wind and rain.

Last night I was restless. The sound of the wind and rain and sirens was never ending. With every snap I was sure we were losing a tree in the backyard. We didn't. We were lucky. In the morning it seemed as if we were the only people we knew that had electricity. I was thankful to have the opportunity to work from home on a day like this, especially with the wind still roaring between the houses in morning. The sirens haven't stopped but the now weather is calm and grey. It's a day for blankets.


Sketchbook Project - On the move again.

I just found out that my submission to the 2011 Sketchbook Project will be on the move again, and this time it's coming to Cleveland! Unfortunately I won't be able to attend the event, but I'd love to get the chance to flip through all those sketchbooks that will be traveling around with mine. 

(Sketchbook Project - 2011.)

**EDIT: Due to the hurricane, the dates for the Landmark & A Mission tour have been changed. The tour will now be coming through Cleveland on Sunday, November 18**


Between projects.

It's kind of like that first week after you've graduated college and you can't shake the feeling that you're supposed to be working on something, but for the first time in weeks you actually don't have a project looming over your head. That's how I feel right now. 

Last Saturday we spent the entire day installing a sandstone walkway to our front door. Sunday was spent nursing sore muscles. The weeks and months prior to that were devoted to restoring our office space. Now we're between projects. The next will be our currently un-useable downstairs bathroom. I love making this house ours.


Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.

It was hard for me to ignore the feeling that the sand dunes seemed incredibly out of place. Especially when they became the backdrop for an idealistic white farmhouse and red barn with a field full trees changing into their fall colors. You just don't expect to see massive sand dunes in that picture. 

We spent some time on the scenic drive which was called a "must see" by one of the rangers that we had talked to. I'd have to agree with her. It offered some of the best views of the dunes that we encountered and we paired the views with some of our favorite fall music. Nick Drake for me, Matt Pond PA for him. 

Both of us were eager to camp that night. In fact, backpacking at Sleeping Bear was something I've been wanting to do ever since my dad mentioned it to me as a possible destination for a backpacking trip we took years ago. We headed out with plenty of time to set up camp and get in a short hike to the beach without packs before it started to get dark. The landscape nearest to the dunes was different from everything that we had seen so far. Pine after pine covered in lichen and a few wildflowers still blooming in the dropping temperatures.

We crossed paths with a talkative ranger on our way to the backcountry site. After discussing my camera, Cleveland, and our careers with us, he mentioned to us how important it was to keep all our food and anything with a perfume scent in the bear box at the site. Bear box. Apparently the number of bear sightings in the area was rising. If it hadn't been for that knowledge, we might have slept a little more soundly that night. As it was, we were both wide awake at nearly every snap of a twig in the woods. While we had no bear encounters, I did hear a chorus of coyotes howling in the middle of the night while Andrew snored. You don't get that at home in your bed.

 Seven thirty in the morning was still a little cold and dark, but I made a fire for us and Andrew attempted to toast his bagel over it while the water for the tea boiled. The morning is what I love most about camping. Feeling rested, awake, alive. Our friendly ranger had suggested hiking along the beach to return to the trailhead instead of the trail through the pines. I'm glad we took his advice, that morning hike was my favorite of the entire weekend.

All of my Michigan trip pictures can be seen here.