Tuesday, December 31, 2013

2013 Favorites

As final farewell to 2013, I thought I'd share some of my favorite music and books from the year. I don't know about you, but I get a lot of inspiration from what I listen to in the studio, and what I read in my free time, and I love to hear what other people are loving too!

First, here are my top 13 studio songs of '13. As I was putting together this playlist I realized that a few of these songs came out before 2013, but I didn't discover them until this year, and they got so much play in my studio that I'm including them anyhow. It's my blog, so I can make my own rules, right? (You have to have Quicktime running to make this playlist work, fyi. I've also included song links below, in case it doesn't work in your browser). 

Miramare - Sons of the East - EP
Amsterdam - The Weatherman
The Truth Is a Cave - Through the Deep, Dark Valley
Bloom (Bonus Track) - Woodland - EP
Red Hands - R.E.V.O.
I Will Be Blessed - Every Kingdom (Deluxe Version)
She Lit a Fire - Lonesome Dreams
Just One - We Are the Tide
Shake It Off - Shake It Off - Single
Home - From Here to Now to You
She - Paper Hearts - EP
Only One - Only One - Single
This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody) - The Lumineers (Deluxe Edition)

My favorite two albums this year were The Weatherman by Gregory Alan Isakov (who put on an absolutely breathtaking show with the Colorado Symphony in November), and Through the Deep Dark Valley by The Oh Hellos (who I'm going to see play tonight to ring in the New Year - yay!!).

As for reading, I read a ton of books this year and can't really remember all of them, but a few stand out that are worth recommending. Here they are:

Favorite Art Book - E.T. Compton by Sibylle Brandes

This guy was a mountain climber and it shows in his paintings - he could paint mountains like no other, and this book is full cover to cover of beautiful images. I just wish it wasn't in German so I could actually read it! I also wish there were a book about his son, Edward Harrison Compton, as his paintings are even more amazing.

Favorite Outdoor Adventure Book - Be Brave, Be Strong by Jill Homer

I stumbled on this book in the kindle bookstore and bought it on a whim, and I was so inspired by Homer's telling of her adventures riding the Great Divide mountain bike race from Canada to Mexico. I've since read all of her books and am addicted to her blog - she writes as though she loves the landscape as much as I do, and I'm always inspired by her strength and persistence.

Favorite Psych Book - Mindset by Carol Dweck

I don't know how I ended up reading this book, but it was fascinating to me. I've always thought I was a fairly positive "you-can-do-it!" kind of thinker, but reading this really exposed a lot of the prejudices I have about myself (I'm a clutz, I'm bad at sports, I'll never be good at xyz). Reading through the ideas in this one made me realize that my thoughts were determining my outcomes in some of those areas. An interesting read for anyone, and I thought it was eye-opening as a parent too.

Favorite Non-Fiction - I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai

This was a bestseller this year for a reason. If you haven't read it, go read it. The autobiography of an amazing girl, I also found it interesting as an account of Pakistan's history and culture. I didn't know much about the country prior to reading this, and it was fascinating to read it through the eyes of a young girl.

So, there you go - my recommendations from 2013. Do you have any books or music that stand out for the year for you? I'd love to hear suggestions from everyone!

Sunday, December 29, 2013

2013 in Photos

Once upon a time I was really big on making all sorts of goals and tracking them every year, and for a while it really worked to keep me motivated. My goals have gotten a bit more nebulous over the years - I pretty much just want to paint better paintings, and get out more. As a landscape painter, it's my job to get outside and find beautiful places, and I take that pretty seriously. The more I paint outdoors, the better I get, and if I can't paint outside, getting out there to bike or run or camp is just as useful. Sometimes, just being out there and watching time go by is the best way to learn how light hits the landscape, or how things really feel.

So, in lieu of tracking a bunch of resolutions and goals, I put together my favorite photos from each month of 2013 as my little review of the year's adventures. These aren't necessarily the prettiest or best photos I took, but rather those that remind me of some of my best times this year. What was your favorite adventure this year?


This shot is from a two night hut trip with friends up to the Sangree Froelicher hut near Leadville, Colorado. I love the 10th Mountain Division huts. We trek in on snowshoes with our stuff on our backs, and get to experience a few days in the backcountry in the stillness of winter. Unless you want to camp in a snowcave, it's an experience you just don't get any other way.


In February, Nate and I took a grown-up vacation to San Diego for a few days. It snowed a couple of feet at home while we were gone, and I was happy to be able to hike along the beach every night and see views like this. I'm 100% mountain girl, but I can do the beach for a few days, especially when it's this pretty! I didn't bring my paints and kicked myself the whole time - next time, I guess?


We spent a few days back up in Granby over Spring Break in March, mostly skiing with the kids. It was nice to go back and visit the place we lived for four years. I miss the wide open views and big skies above the mountains - Evergreen is so forested that you could never find a view like this. This photo doesn't do this scene justice at all, but this is the moon rising from the deck of my in-laws' house in Granby.


Nate had a business meeting in Scottsdale in April, and plane tickets were dirt cheap so I decided to tag along for the weekend. I rented a mountain bike and explored the trails for hours every day. It was fun to ride in the desert - things are a little bit more prickly and unforgiving, but I love this part of the country and it was fun to get out on two wheels. There were a couple of days that I didn't see a single soul the whole time I was out, and it was kind of eery but also amazing to be so alone out there. I didn't get any decent photos, but I'm including one of my bad cell phone shots anyways, since I had so much fun.


Once again, a bad cell phone photo, but still my favorite from the month. I went down to Fredericksburg, Texas in May for the OPA national show, and went for a jog through the neighborhood by my hotel the night I got there. This was just a random empty lot between two houses, but I love it. I lived in Texas for a few years and this - the flowers and green and thick air - reminds me of some of my better times down there.


I was planning to just include landscape shots here, but I'm breaking my own rules for this one because it's hands down my favorite photo of the year and it would be dumb to pick something else. This is my superhero-obsessed son in all his glory, surveying his kingdom on a camping trip to Twin Lakes near Leadville. I love my kids so freaking much.


I spent every weekend in July in a different mountain town, so picking my favorite was a bit tough, but my trip to the Tetons for the RMPAP show was one of my favorite times painting this year. I took thousands of photos up there and they're all pretty, but I think Taggart Lake here is one of the prettiest places I've ever been. Pretty enough that we hiked up there with painting stuff three nights in a row, anyhow!

July Bonus

I'm including a bonus picture for July, because this one just makes me happy. I broke my wrist mountain biking at the start of June and was pretty devastated that I wouldn't be able to ride all summer. This was the first easy ride I took after I got my cast off and got the go-ahead to ride again. I was just plain giddy to be out there riding my bike at sunset - best feeling ever.


In August a bunch of artist friends and I spent a few days painting up at Broome Hut near Berthoud Pass (another 10th Mountain Division hut). It was so much fun to be out there dawn 'til dusk painting and laughing with good friends. And the views weren't too shabby either!


September was another month where I spent every weekend camping somewhere in the mountains - we spent a lot of time in Crested Butte, and I finally got to ride some of the trails after painting there for years. This isn't the prettiest picture I have, but it reminds me of one of the best days of the year, riding the 401 with my husband. This was by far the prettiest trail I've ever ridden on a mountain bike, and it was so much fun to be riding singletrack up above 11,000 ft. And it might have been awesome enough to convince Nate that mountain biking is fun after all, so yay for that!


This picture is another that might not be the most impressive, but it's another one with the best memories so it makes the cut. This is a shot from the top of Evergreen Mountain, my favorite local mountain bike ride. I'm up here all the time - one of the reasons I love where I live is having these places so close to home.


I had to deliver some new work to my Winter Park gallery one weekday in November, and it seemed kind of like a waste to do all that driving there and back, so I tossed my snowshoes in the car at the last minute and ended up climbing up to the divide above Berthoud Pass. I love the views from this area - still seems like home.


We headed down to Telluride after Thanksgiving so I could deliver some new paintings to the gallery there and do some plein air painting. I spent three days painting snow and it was awesome - kind of wish I had had a week. One thing I always forget about winter is that the days are so short, you can't produce as much as you can on a summer painting trip where you paint from dawn til dusk. Maybe I should start painting nocturnes? Anyhow, this is just a random view from the top of Telluride Mountain. Pretty rough, huh?

So, that's it. 2013 in pictures. It was a great year - I got out a lot and visited a lot of awesome places with great people. What more can a girl ask for?

Monday, November 11, 2013


Oil on Panel

I don’t know a lot, but it seems to me that this much is certain - life is messy.

No matter how hard you try, there are things that don’t go your way, things that don’t fit into a tidy box of how a perfect life should look. Some days – some seasons – are hard. And sometimes, life can be so heartbreaking that it’s overwhelming. But through all of this I find my life punctuated by moments of sublime beauty – moments of goodness that make me thankful to be a living, breathing part of this world.

I lost my sister a couple of years ago. She was far too young to die, and the whole thing was unexpected and awful, and I miss her. Since then, I've found myself more purposefully seeking out those moments of beauty. In darkness, I suddenly felt more gratitude for those infrequent glimpses of perfection that seem to make the messiness of life so worth it. I found solace in music, in art, in climbing the hills around my home, in the easy smiles of my kids. And as I immersed myself in those things, it seemed that things got better, bit by bit. I stumbled along, gathering up these happy moments like beads on a string, until I had created something that had started to resemble a normal life again.

It might be a piece of music that brings tears to my eyes, a masterful painting that gives me goosebumps, or a sunset that stops me in my tracks and makes me still. It might be nothing more than a good laugh with friends or my children’s warm hands in mine, trusting. It might just be the way raindrops ripple across the surface of a mountain lake on a summer evening.

I drink these moments up, greedy.

I wish I could capture these things in paint. Someday, I want to transcend the mundane details of sales and technique, and translate that gut feeling though pigment and color. I might be working on that for the rest of my life, but that challenge is what makes me love what I do.

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Taking the Leap - Revisited (YET AGAIN)

I was organizing some photos on my hard drive the other day when I came across this picture of me from my engineering days. Hard hat, fire resistant coveralls, and a full gas mask – ready to inspect a distillation column in a chemical plant in Baton Rouge. I've posted it before, but it cracks me up, so you get to see it again:

Every time I see this photo, I am SOOOOO THANKFUL that I’m an artist now. BEYOND thankful, honestly. So thankful that sometimes I think I should frame it and hang it in my studio so that I have a daily reminder of how thankful I should be.

Because the girl in that photo was miserable. Really, truly, miserable.

For starters, this is what it looks like when I’m on the job now:

Big improvement, right? But that’s just gravy. Even when I’m stuck inside in my unfinished dungeon of a basement studio, I still feel blessed.

I realized the other day that I’ve actually been doing this art thing for a living now longer than I was an engineer. My job has become so much like eating and breathing that I don’t normally give it much thought – it’s just ME, it’s what I do.

But less than ten years ago I was a ball of stress, agonizing constantly about what I could do for a living that would make me happy, or at least less miserable. I went through a phase where I was going to go back to school for physical therapy, another where I was going to be an accountant (oh my, it’s embarrassing to even admit that), and another where I was convinced being an art teacher was the way to go. Art was my thing, even back then, but it took me a long time to decide that I was going to hang it all up and paint for a living – mainly because I was afraid.

See, I’m a closet security freak. I used to make a lot of “safe” decisions. I picked the sensible school, the sensible major, the sensible job, the sensible place to live, and figured since I was minimizing risk, everything would turn out well and life would be great. BIG surprise when I found out that the sensible job in the sensible place was pretty much awful! All of the sudden the floor dropped out from under me, and my perfectly planned life seemed like a big mistake.

Since then, Nate and I have both quit our jobs and moved around a lot, just trying things out. Some things worked for us, some didn’t. Some choices we made were kind of dumb and we laugh at them now (buying a house in Highlands Ranch – I’m talking to you!). Some things were wonderful surprises (moving down to Evergreen when we thought we’d be up in the mountains forever). Sometimes it was scary, a lot of times it’s stressful, and it’s always completely ambiguous this way - there is no road map when you decide to strike out on your own. And I’m not gonna lie, the art paycheck is lower than the corporate one was. Essentially, nothing is all that secure for us anymore, but I love it.

I love that I get to wake up, spend time laughing with my kids, then spend the hours while they are at school doing what I love. I love the process of creation. I love that even the business side of my art is an ever evolving process. I love that I don’t have all the answers. I love that sometimes, I can go hike to a crazy beautiful place with some good friends, laugh the whole time, do a painting, and call it work (okay, I confess - I usually feel sort of guilty on those days). And while Nate might not always love his job as much as I love mine (lawyers, accountants, and contracts, oh my!!), I think he loves the challenge of creating a business too. It’s a constantly moving target – always a challenge.

It’s not for everyone – this sort of job takes a lot of self-discipline and motivation, and pretty thick skin. Well, REALLY thick skin, actually. But in the end, I've gone from a very sensible, structured life, to something that resembles constant chaos – a beautiful mess, if you will. I’m never caught up, there are no guarantees, and sometimes I have to work really hard to stay positive when things are slow. But I think it’s good. No regrets.

I look at some of my blog posts about taking the leap from years ago, and I want to tell my younger self that it worked out okay. That it might not be how she envisioned it, but it works, and that she shouldn't be so freaked out about everything. That she should just breathe, and try to be more authentic.

Back then, this was my favorite quote, and I think it still is. It’s how I try to live my life:

"What we have is based upon moment-to-moment choices of what we do. In each of those moments, we choose. 
We either take a risk and move toward what we want, or we play it safe and choose comfort. Most of the people, most of the time, choose comfort. 
In the end, people either have excuses or experiences; reasons or results; buts or brilliance. 
They either have what they wanted or they have a detailed list of all the rational reasons why not." 
~ Anonymous

I found this one more recently, and it speaks to my inner security freak:

"Too many people are thinking of security instead of opportunity. They seem more afraid of life than death."  
- James F. Byrnes

So, there it is. I took that leap a while ago and it’s all right. It really is. And if you’re thinking of doing the same thing (or you already have), I hope you’re in for an awesome, wild ride.

Wednesday, August 07, 2013

Keep Your Eyes on the Trail

"City Lights"
Oil on Panel

When I moved to Evergreen last summer, I took one look at all of the fantastic trails out my back door and decided it was time to learn how to mountain bike. If you know me in real life, you know that I can be a bit clumsy (EXHIBIT A: broken wrist this summer), so maybe this wasn't the most logical of ideas, but who needs logic when awesome trails are involved, right?

(Disclaimer: I promise that this post has everything to do with your art career and not as much to do with biking – trust me and keep reading!)

Since I’m kind of a klutz and not the most athletic person in the world, I immediately signed up to take a skills clinic so I could have someone tell me how not to kill myself while hurling myself down mountains on two wheels. I showed up the first night thinking we were going to practice wheelies and drops and how to muscle our way over rocky obstacles, but instead we headed up a pretty mellow trail and worked on some things that seem really basic, but make EVERYTHING else about mountain biking come easier once you've figured them out.

The one that was the biggest challenge for me? 


Don’t look down at the rock you’re about to ride over. Don’t look at that tree on the side of the trail that you want to avoid. Don’t look down in the middle of that switchback. Instead, look down the trail at where you’re headed.

Here’s the deal:

As soon as you focus on that rock you’re trying to clear, you’re going to lose your equilibrium and come to a stop. As soon as you look at that tree you’re trying to avoid, your brain is going to make your body head that way and you’re going to clip your handlebars. But if you keep your eyes on the place you want to end up, your brain is going to get you there. The body is amazing like that.

Now, every time I’m out riding the trails, I’m constantly reminding myself to focus on where I want to go. It doesn't come naturally to me. And every time I do this I start thinking to myself what an awesome metaphor the whole thing is for how to handle a career in the arts.

Do you see where I’m going with this?

Being an artist is tough. There are obstacles. There are always new things you’re trying to achieve. And to make things more complicated, you’re constantly surrounded by other awesome artists who are making all of those things look really easy.

Enter frustration.

I see a lot of artists who are so focused on getting into a certain show or gallery that they lose sight of where they want to go. They focus on those things so much that when they don’t get in, they’re crushed and can’t figure out what to do next. They don’t know where to go.

I see a lot of artists who go to shows and keep track of every painting that sells, making a mental note the entire time of who is selling and who is not. And when they happen to be the artist who isn't selling, they get so focused on the guy who is that they make themselves miserable. They put so much energy into keeping tabs on the other artist that they lose sight of where they want to go.

I see a lot of artists who take a few workshops and get inspired, then go home and hit the studio only to paint a bunch of scrapers. Instead of seeing each failed painting as a learning opportunity, they get upset that it isn't coming easy anymore, and as those scrapers pile up on the studio floor they lose their motivation to paint. They’re so focused on results that they completely lose sight of where they want to go.

When you lose sight of where you want to go, you lose your equilibrium. You forget that you love to paint, that you have the best job in the world. You stop working. You find something easier. Essentially, when you focus on the wrong stuff, you fall.

Usually in art, it really isn't about where you are and what you’re doing RIGHT NOW. It’s about knowing where you want to be.

What is your vision for your art, ultimately? What is your vision for your career, long-term?

If you start focusing on all the little obstacles along the way, you’re going to lose your balance and fall. But if you keep your eyes focused on where you want to be, you’ll get there eventually.

I promise.

Monday, July 08, 2013


Because sometimes a picture is worth a thousand words:

Every time I log onto my Juried Art Services account to enter a show, I see this list of my entries and have a good laugh.

See all those red x's? Those represent years of rejection.

I know a lot of artists who take it personally when they don't get into a particular show, but here's the deal - behind EVERY artist you see posting excitedly about their latest show acceptance on Facebook, there is a long list of rejections. Rejections from shows, galleries, whatever. And every successful artist had to brush off those rejections and keep trying to get to where they are today.

So, even though it sucks when I don't get into a show, I try not to take it personally. That show up there that I got rejected from for five years in a row? I got into it the previous two years and won awards. Totally unpredictable.

You have to laugh when you fall, brush yourself off, and keep on trying. And also, just use it as motivation to make your paintings even better - sometimes getting better is the best revenge.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Just Let it Go

The DeWalt Sander - one of my most valuable studio tools!

I'll never forget the first time I saw Quang Ho give a demo. He was painting from a model at the OPA national show with a huge audience, and when he was about 45 minutes into the painting, he decided that he wasn't quite happy with the eyes and wiped the whole thing down to canvas and started over. The entire audience gasped in horror (it looked great to us!), and he proceeded to tell everyone that the biggest mistake you can make in painting is to get too attached.

It made a huge impression on me because at the time I was the poster child for getting too attached to my paintings. If I painted a scene and liked one little thing in it (the color! the sky! that tiny brushstroke in the corner!), I would get all invested in it. I just couldn't let go. And even if everything else in the painting went wrong, I couldn't bring myself to scrape it or set it aside. And so I ended up with a LOT of mediocre paintings. A lot of mediocre paintings with a couple of small parts that worked, and a whole lot of big parts that didn't work at all.

Since then, I've learned to let go. When something isn't working, I'll scrape it and start again. When a finished painting doesn't do it for me, I'll trash it, no matter how many hours of studio time it took me to paint it. And if a painting has been floating around my galleries for a few years without selling, I have no problem getting rid of it.

I still can't paint like Quang Ho, but being able to let go has made me a better painter. It allows me to move on, and leave failures in the past.

When you get too attached to your work, you are subconsciously embracing failure. It's difficult to improve when you're surrounded by things that didn't quite work.

I spent three hours this morning sanding down a pile of rejected paintings that has been growing in the corner of my studio for three years. There's something amazingly cathartic about watching hours of struggle disappear into a ghost of an image. Without that pile of bad paintings on the floor, I can go into my studio without seeing failure blinking at me from the corner of the room. I can move on, get better.

And I'm not gonna lie, it's nice to have a fresh stack of panels to paint on without having to spend hundreds of dollars on new ones. I'm cheap!

Do you get too attached?

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Get Out There

"Finally Spring"
Oil on Panel

I've been feeling rather suffocated in the studio lately - it’s a feeling I get every Spring. I’m a bit of a fair weather painter, so I often spend most of the winter in the warm confines of my studio, sipping hot tea and working on larger paintings while the snow falls outside. Come Spring, I’m stir-crazy and ready to get outside so I can infuse my work with a breath of much-needed fresh air.

As the years go by, I’m realizing that I need to get out more. That I need to brave the elements in the winter, and get outside on grey days that might not excite me. That the comfort of my studio isn't always the best choice for my development as an artist. There’s something about getting out in the world that gives my work more life, and a winter spent in the studio makes things stagnate. My paintings become a chore, and it shows.

I've been heading outside to paint at least once a week this spring, rain or shine, and painting scenes close to home that I would probably otherwise overlook. I've painted on dull days with flat light, and learned more than I expected about the beauty of grey in the landscape. I've painted scenes that didn't excite me, only to find myself experimenting with new compositions and formats. I've painted with friends, and spent far too much time talking about art and too little time painting. It’s been great, but my studio has still been feeling like a dungeon.


It’s taken me a while, but I've finally realized that sometimes, in addition to just getting out the door, I need an escape. I need to see a new landscape, go somewhere new, and get excited about the world that’s out there. Put the car in drive and get a few hours from home, where the air is thinner and the landscape less familiar. I need to go somewhere beautiful and wake up at dawn to watch the sun bathe the mountains with orange light. I need to get my feet wet walking through a marsh at sunset. I need to see the afternoon sun light up my kids' hair like a halo as they play on the beach. 

Whether I’m painting or not, getting out there is what gets me excited about the landscape. It makes me enthusiastic to get back to the studio and work out new ideas. It's the core of what I do as a landscape painter, and without it my work falls flat.