Thursday, July 29, 2010

Sitka sketches

Sitka, Alaska is a beautiful little town. We are tied up at the dock and daily walk (uphill) into town to look at all it has to offer. The Indian River is chock full of salmon now. The cruise ships have tied up near downtown (I always hate that part) and the streets are jammed with tourists. Better are the days when no cruise ships crowd the harbor and we can wander at our own pace.

St Michael's Cathedral sits at the heart of downtown and reminds everyone of the Russian influence here. Gift shops are filled with stacking dolls, Russian pottery, and furs. On one of my walks, I watched four 20-something year old guys playing basketball. They were razzing one another IN RUSSIAN! Sadly, the original cathedral (Russian Orthodox church) was burned in the 1960s and rebuilt. The copper spires are still nicely aged and green.

As I put this post together, I can look out the window of the boat and see bald eagles swooping down to catch fish in the harbor. Just the other day, I was talking to a friend on the phone when a mother and baby orca swam within 100 feet of me! This photo of a page of my sketchbook is typical of what I do when I am busy out and about while we are tied to a dock. Quick sketches and then running to catch up with my husband. Color comes later.

Finally, a quote from Ezra Pound, "The artist is the antennae of the race." Do you agree? Disagree?

We'll be leaving Sitka tomorrow and starting our journey back South, toward home. About 1000 miles of Alaska, British Columbia, and Washington before I rest my head on my pillow at home. More art ahead. And flat water, I hope!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Sitka posts from my sketchbook

As I stepped off the boat today, a fisherman nodded to me and I said, "Hello."

"Nothing worse than a leaky boat unless it's a complaining woman," he responded. Even though I laughed out loud over his statement, I was a little stung. I admit it, I've been complaining lately. I think I'm just tired of this trip. We are more than 1000 miles from home and even though we are heading back south, it will be a while before I sleep in my own bed at home. I guess I am worse than a leaky boat. Sheesh.

I am a sucker for cemeteries and I never pass one by without going in and looking at the stones. This one, in Juneau, kept me busy for a few hours.

Masks are irresistible!

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Between Juneau and Sitka: Appleton Cove

Painting while we hang on the anchor has been a comedy of errors. And a source of frustration. If the wind blows or the current/tide shifts (which it always does), then my subject is no longer visible.

While we waited for the weather to improve and the wind to stop blowing through Peril Strait, I decided to try something new. I studied the arc of the boat and selected three subjects along that arc. Then, I painted all three paintings at once. As the boat swung, I just painted what was in front of me.

Swinging on the hook. I will try this again.

Between Juneau and Sitka: Tenakee Inlet

On a long boat trip, it's important to get out and walk when the getting is good. From my standpoint, walking on a logging road with bears in the woods nearby is OUT OF THE QUESTION! But, when we turned into Tenakee Inlet, we were able to tie up at the dock of Tenakee Springs and walk through the charming small town. With a population of less than 100, this is a very small town. Homes line the 10'wide (1.5 miles long) dirt road and we walked the road and talked to the people we met.

We anchored near Crab Bay in Tenakee Inlet and I painted this in the time before our 10:00 sunset.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Sketches posted in Juneau

The commercial fishermen are busy on the docks and on their boats. This fisherman told me about how a whale swam through his gill net and he was repairing it. He called it "networking." That totally cracked me up!

I'm reading Art and Physics by Leonard Shlain and in one chapter, he talks about how early scientists often had to contend with assumptions that did not match their observations. They assumed that a perfect God would create orbits that would be perfect circles. Then, they would try to manipulate the data to match their assumptions. What an idea! I've been thinking about that a lot!
In one of his bi-weekly art letters, Robert Genn talked about "Retsu Wabi-Sabi." Please click on the link and read his entire letter, it's very thoughtful and thought-provoking. I took his comments to heart and walked the town of Petersburg, AK. I walked alone and slowly and looked and saw and noticed things just for the joy of noticing. A discovery walk. I discovered a rusted metal Viking Ship welded to the top of a forgotten fence pole. What joy there is in such discoveries! I came back filled with creative energy and ideas for future work. Try it! You won't regret it!

A page from my sketchbook the day we worked our way up to South Sawyer Glacier in Tracy Arm. The sound of the ice bergs and ice pack against the boat alarmed me and I worked hard to keep all that ice away from us as we worked our slow way in. When we came to an open area, I had my sketchbook in the flybridge and drew the glacier as we floated there for about 30 minutes.
I can explain, really! Fresh water is dear on a boat, especially if you don't have a water maker. One way I conserve water is by washing my long hair every two or three days and not using a conditioner. So, unruly hair meets kelp and it's, well, it's crazy!

Although I may not get to paint every day, I always find time for sketching. Day 65 of this adventure and I have 65 days of sketches to show for it. Time to head south!

Friday, July 16, 2010


It is a thrill to paint in Alaska!

Water tinted green from glaciers. Seals floating on icebergs.

Dawes Glacier, Endicott Arm. South Sawyer Glacier, Tracy Arm.

Murmur of Twilight in Sanford Cove

Inside Holkham Bay, we anchored in 40' water and watched the fog roll in and out, the clouds sitting on and then lifting off the hills. I fell in love with the light and the softness of the values here.

I'll post again with some photos of this amazing place. Freshly calved icebergs from Dawes Glacier in Endicott Arm and South Sawyer Glacier in Tracy Arm floated nearby as they were pushed and pulled with the tides.

I've been thinking a lot about how paintings are different from photographs. People have argued a lot of positions on this subject and I am curious to hear your thoughts. I want my plein air paintings to describe not only what I saw but how I felt about it.

Saturday, July 10, 2010


self-portrait -- when it's raining and windy and I have to jump off the boat to tie it to the dock

the black flies that decorate this page were a plague on our sunny day

My sketchbook is filled with words and more than 100 illustrations and still isn't complete. More to come!

Art, not just for museums

Independence Day in Wrangell, Alaska. There were the usual things like fireworks, the egg toss, gunny sack races, funnel cake, and ice cream cones. There were the less usual things like log rolling, axe throwing, and long saw contests. But, best of all was the parade.

Just the day before, I had seen many Tlingit art pieces in the museum in Wrangell. On the fourth, the same objects were being used, worn, displayed and used in their intended ways in the parade down Main Street. Hats made from woven cedar bark, drums with iconic paintings, and the beautiful button blanket, along with singing and dancing and celebrating.

Art, not under glass, but part of life. Part of contemporary life. I love it!

Friday, July 9, 2010

Thomas Bay near Baird Glacier

The sun finally came out and the sky was vibrant with color here at 57 degrees North! The water was milky green from the melting ice from Baird Glacier. Wind blew 22 knots off the glacier and kept everything cool.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Between Wrangell and Petersberg

Rain, rain, rain, fog, clouds. The sun, weak and submissive, bows out and lets the dreary weather borrow summer days.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Another interpretation

After a day devoted to painting, I don't want to stop! Any day spent painting is a good day.


Working with the same idea on Wallis Museum Paper. I stuck my watercolor under painting out the window to add some real water drops. Texture! Like magic!

Feminine can also be forceful.

A new way to work

Ever since we cruised through northern British Columbia and I saw many waterfalls. I have had an idea about painting them. While we were there, I did many gesture drawings of the shapes of the water. The waterfalls felt feminine to me.

Since it's raining here in Wrangell, I decided that today was a good "studio" day for painting. I set up my materials on the sundeck (might need to rethink that name after all of these gray and wet days) and started.

The bottom photo shows the simplified contour drawing I did from my original gesture drawing. Simple lines. Simple shapes.

From that drawing, I painted a washy watercolor under painting on BFK Rives paper. I wanted to establish dark to light, cool to warm shifts across the painting.

Once the paper was completely dry, I applied the pastel to follow the plan of the under painting. In this painting, I wanted to express the passive inevitability of the water falling down. Does it look feminine? Passive?

Rainy and 58 degrees in Wrangell, AK today. But I was kept warm by working with an idea.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Logistics: Plein air notes from a boat in Alaska

Not only do I need to decide the subject for my painting, I have to figure out where I can stand on the boat to see it well enough to paint it! Though cloudy, it wasn't rainy in the morning and the water in Santa Anna Inlet were mirror-smooth. This was my subject (looking out toward Seward Passage) and I could see it very well from the cockpit (a small open deck at the back of the boat).The inflatable kayak had to be moved so that I could get my easel in place. A tight fit!

Watercolor underpainting to block in the big shapes and attempt to get some of the values in there. As I painted, the boat shifted and my subject moved about 30 degrees.

While not wildly successful, I can always find something of the day in my plein air paintings. Something I got just right. In this one, it was the way the water and the sky worked together. By the time I finished, my subject was only visible by looking over my left shoulder.

Any day painting is a good day!

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Helm Bay shelter

Caamano Point was covered with white caps and the boat dipped and tipped and swirled and rocked. Plan B -- find shelter in Helm Bay where the water was quiet. The clouds sat on the hilltops and set up a great painting subject. Everything was silvered and lovely.