Sunday, November 16, 2014

It Was a Long Summer in Tuttle Creek Campground

and it’s over. I haven’t written a post since July, so I’ll y’all up on happenings since then. In September I searched for, found, and bought a new-to-me trailer from a retired doctor living in a 3-storey cabin at the north end of Lake Tahoe. It’s an A-frame pop-up by Chalet of Oregon. The triangular walls are made of a foam core-plexiplastic-sheathing laminate, and fold up on long piano hinges somewhat like one of those white Chinese food take-out cartons. Makes a low, flat, lightweight  package pretty easy to tow. Has the same floor plan and square footage of my Santa Fe Trailer, but more elbow room and less storage. It has good brakes, intrinsic stabilizers, and best of all: a refrigerator! 

The falling-out back end of my bohemian Santa Fe bed-sitting studio was re-fastened to its undergirding by a resourceful and reckless camp host, Shane, and wife Jasmine. We agreed on a price (cheap) and Shane jimmied the springs (crawled under the trailer and pounded boards into rusting iron sections) to raise the frame high enough to clear the speed bumps-drainage gutters out of the campground, and then towed it south to the Salvation Army in Ridgecrest, where it was accepted as a “donation.”  I told them the truth about its condition, but they seemed to think it could still be welcome extra housing for a poor family out in the boonies around Ridgecrest or Inyokern. Maybe a Grannie House — I’d like to think of it as being again a peaceful shelter for a woman.

It’s kinda like moving out of a lath-and-plaster apartment from the 20’s and into a suburban subdivision condo; “you’re moving up!” as a friend teased. And it is a well-preserved 2003 that was handled gently and stored for six years in a carport before I drove it to Lone Pine. I don’t love it the way I loved my splintering vintage Santa Fe tinder box, but it is a clean machine that keeps out the rodents, the rain, and the cold. 

I dunno about painting in it, tho. May be too “nice.” A studio is a place where you can make a mess, nail stuff to the walls, screw stuff to the table, spill paint, slop paint. I think I”ll buy a replacement dinette table and keep it in storage, so I can make my art messes on the one I’ve got without anxiety about “ruining” it. (How does that middle-class “nice” still have the power to make me nervous about ruining it for the sake of making art? Maybe I should just stomp out to my truck, retrieve the hatchet stashed therein, charge back inside and whack some liberating ruination into this Flawless White Formica before I go to bed tonight, already, dammit.) I have lotsa drawings and plans for new work but haven’t felt “seated” or “centered” enough to let go of vigilance and sink into the deep interior pool of focus and feeling that painting requires of me.

As it gets colder, I am thinking about moving south for the winter — maybe check out Yuma, Quartzite, other Snowbird winterhavens. I am visiting Tucson for a week before Thanksgiving, and if I like it, I may look for a winter campground nearby. 

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Lanterns in the Wind

Ten lanterns from the windy slopes below Lone Pine Peak. Small paintings, all 6 x 8 inches on watercolor paper. Lanterns or lamps. Using up a small pan of Pelikan genuine gold watercolor that I think I've been carrying around since I left Los Angeles in the late '80s.

Monday, April 28, 2014

ART NEWS: Teaching Technique in Ridgecrest

Ridgecrest is surprisingly rich with Arts Action: potters, sculptors, painters, crafters. Members of local art groups support the Maturango Museum and its Flora Lamson Jewlett art gallery, where my paintings gilded the walls for two months January 17 - March 18 this year. The "Four-D" art group (Four-D as a riff on "3-D" or three-dimensional art, meant to open its membership up to a wide range of media and makers) invited me to present a workshop in my Pencil-and-Watercolor Technique by which all the paintings I showed had been created, and I accepted.

To illustrate what kind of color can be produced by my pencil-paint method, I made a rather free-form color chart by painting a grid of watercolor background swatches, dark-to-light, and then built up color pencil areas on its surface, so that the color of the background shows through the sketchy pencil, instead of white paper.

Usually, color pencil images show a lot of paper white, and consequently the media color looks "pastel", meaning that all the colors are mixed down with white. A (dried) watercolor underpainting essentially stains the paper, and that stain-color shows through the gaps left by "scumbled" wax pencil color. This technique is a way of mixing colors on the paper; mixing different transparent colors of stained paper with overlaid strokes of different wax color. Similar to painting with "broken" color in oils, where distinct colors in the brush do not mix on canvas but make a richer color when mixed in viewers' eyes, and the colors can be saturated.

Paula, a ceramicist and jeweler, generously hosted the workshop in her large studio, and 12 artists signed up for a day of flat art on paper using watercolor as underpainting, and Prismacolor wax pencil for building up the final image. Most participants worked from landscape photos, but also offered advice on a parrot, two cats, an angel, and a cupcake. There was a short potluck lunch break, but my students arrived early, worked earnestly, and all had produced an original piece by closing time. I floated around, encouraging increased contrast, more robust application, and a wider palette of color. My first-ever workshop was judged a success, and I hope this was at least generally true for all who attended -- I enjoyed the entire thing more than I'd imagined. Paula put me up for two nights and also invited me to a ham Easter Dinner on Sunday with some friends.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Tuttle Creek and Trailer Trashed

Tuttle Creek Campground

Looking south: 
 Looking north:

 New Stone Foundation for Trailer! 

My wooden Santa Fe travel trailer, built in the late 1960s, is literally falling apart. While I was driving up the access road to Tuttle Creek Campground, I had to slag it over high, angled speed bumps that caused extreme side-to-side lurching of my rusted-springs-and-no-shocks trailer, which busted loose its last splintering fragments of stability, and the bottom fell out the backend and dragged its aluminum-alloy skirt in the dirt up a guttered fifty yards of dirt road to what will be its final campsite. 

Dry rot had splintered out the buttress-like armature that holds the side wall up over the wheel well, and so the wall was slowly sagging down outside the tire to the ground. My stove was attached to this wall, not resting on the floor as you would suppose, and is now bulging out the side as the wall slips down. The stove top tilts, so my pots and pans kinda roll off the burners a bit.

Ramshackled!  But it still keeps me dry and warm and out of the wind in the late storms of April this year, and it is home and comfy in a very beautiful area. The down-slope gusts from the Sierras shake it like a terrier shakes a rag doll, but so far it hasn't stumbled off its pins, its stabilizers.

I have shored its corners up with piles of stones, but when it leaves this site (and it has to leave Tuttle by the end of October) it will ride out on a flatbed. Where this flatbed is coming from I do not yet know, but rumor has it that a non-profit in Ridgecrest will haul away old trailers to fix up for low-income housing. One local said just leave it on a side street with a "FREE" sign, or call a rancher who will pick it up for bunk housing during roundup.

So I must be buying another trailer this year -- am looking for an up-to-date fiberglass model with a genuine 3-way refrigerator, indoor plumbing, and maybe even an awning. But this little beach shack on tires has been my home for four years and it will be hard to let it go.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Three Treasures, Independence Creek Campground

The Grave of a Beloved Cat

I met a fellow fulltimer in Independence Creek Campground who calls himself Calamity Chris. Retired from a career as a chef at a restaurant in Death Valley, he lives in a big 'ole 5th wheel trailer surrounded by an array of solar panels of mixed size, age and amperage, set up to feed a battery bank that powers his 36" hi-def TV. Honey Bunny was his companion for many years. So far, no one has disturbed this grave, and campers leave small mementoes on the stones, such as coins, toys, wildflowers.

Indian Grinding Stones

According to Calamity Chris, Independence Creek campground was built on a shelf of dirt bulldozed over an ancient Indian gathering site just west of what is now the town of Independence. Indian Tribes in the EA normally lived in small bands, hunting and gathering, but gathered at turns of the season to trade, socialize, party, exchange information and grind pine nuts. He says he was digging a levelling sink (depression dug in a campground site for a trailer tire to sink into) there once and dug up an Indian metate -- says there's lots of Indian artifacts buried in the Eastern Sierra, obscured by DWP maintenance practices. This may be true, may be a myth.

Iron Staircase Over Barbed Wire Fence

Between the Campground and the town are several interconnected footpaths lined with washstones. According to a jogger from the town, most of them developed from local custom, and recently were renovated and extended by a local Boy Scout as part of a service project for earning Life Scoutship. Some of the paths branch out to the Independence Museum and a local park, at least one of them climbs up the alluvial plain, following the creek into Onion Valley. During a self-guided tour one morning, I found this staircase over a fence, but don't know the story of its construction.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Rusty TinCansters

Tree trunks look like torsos to me and I suspect that's where my anthropomorphization of rusty, flattened cans begins: reinforcing bands in the tin cylinder look like ribs, the almost severed circular lid flips up to form a head, the bottom kicks out and down to suggest feet or legs.

I have always picked them up to fondle and admire, but regretfully denied myself the pleasure of taking them home. It's trash, and I can't, I reasoned, fill up my increasingly smaller living quarters with trash. But one cold dawn at the Pleasant Valley reservoir parking lot, waiting for my fishing buddy to figure out my phone message and meet me at the dam and not the gas station, I pocketed an exquisite, one-of-a-kind, gold and silver (tin and rust) masterpiece -- which when painted became a bluish Clam Samurai the First, a charming little five-by-seven painting that later fell unseen out of the back of my truck in some other parking lot and was lost, or perhaps reclaimed by its plane of origin. I was unexpectedly overwhelmed by anguish that found solace only in repainting Clammie and giving myself Poet's Permission to henceforth gather up whatever crusty old cans call out to me and paint as many Tin Cansters as I like. Here's the first batch:


TinCan Dumps, speculation on 20th century Eastern Sierra town middens

I have been rotating through three of the six County Campgrounds in the unevenly enforced restlessness of the County Fulltimer Anti-Resident 15-Day Maximum rule, and in search of inspirational treasure, have discovered the existence of Old Can and Bottle Mines adjacent to their flat-dirt hospitality. 


Just south of Baker Creek Campground I found a pavement of broken glass spread over an area of undulating dunes, planted with cans in a sort of English Garden lawn-and-pansies way. No whole bottles -- most of the glass in an similar state of shardliness, and the cans likewise disintegrating in a uniform patina of rust. In places, the rust heap and shard slurry appears to lie in a nest of cinders.  I surmise that the even size of glass pieces results from bottles having got shot to bits until there no longer exists anything large enough to aim at. 

Similar Can Dumps can be found around all the towns, and I wonder if the County Campgrounds were nestled in the ground of informal municipal dumps by design -- nobody wanted the land for anything else. Or, did the dumps accummulate around the campgrounds? The presence of cinders suggests that cans were burnt in fire rings and dumped nearby; the flattened, burnt look a result of Good Camping Practice in days of yore before recycling and dumpsters. Or perhaps they hearken back to when trash was routinely incinerated in California, before the advent of landfills. The Lone Pine Campground Can Dumps also contain cushion springs from automobiles, the occaisional chassis and fender, and scrunched up fencing material, suggesting a wider donor mix than mere tourists. Heavier iron and steel parts may have already been gleaned for sale as scrap. 

I remember a car decorator in Berkeley who would glue whatever you wanted onto the car body of your choice. Many cars had monster-dinosaur themes, or hot pink Barbie scenes; one was covered with PC green motherboards, another shingled in shiny-side-up CD disks to look like carp scales. Perhaps I could get an old van cloaked with rusty cans and "stealth" camp anywhere in Owens Valley without a ranger prodding me to move along. Just pull off a county road, back into a sand wash and deflate the tires. Stay put long enough and you may become a subject in another artist's painting or photo essay.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Solo Show at Maturango Museum

My name in lights!


Friends from Los Angeles and Emeryville, left to right:
Jerry Lerma, Jim Chandler, myself, Janet Nippell, Bonnie Barrett, Kate Thornton, Steve Skaar and Vickie Sowell

It was wonderful to see old friends sitting together in a restaurant booth, sorting out previous acquaintance, chatting and chuckling, making plans to lunch sometime. I wished I could join in them all. I don't get much good company in the campgrounds where I am living now. I miss everyone!

By the time we posed for this photo, I was so wired up in being extroverted that I was almost numb, but happy. I felt I had babbled into a microphone during my Keynote (the Mac Powerpoint) slide show presentation, but Gallery Coordinator Andrea Pelch told me she thought it went very well, that I was coherent, interesting and poised. Friends and members of the museum were enthusiastic and generous — buying several paintings that night.

Check out:

I got to see my best paintings of Eastern Sierra subjects, done up in my watercolor wash and pencil graphic style, all together, framed and accessible, and had a chance to talk about them. It left me with a sense of fullness, of something accomplished, and also of closure. I still have many subjects from the area to realize in this style, but I may have to consider that I have come to a point of completion about my sojourn in the Eastern Sierra. Drought conditions are changing the landscape to resemble areas of the lower Mojave, and the mystery I have found in the waters that flow out of the mountains is literally sinking out of sight.

Meanwhile, for a change of pace, I have been splashing about in my acrylics supplies -- look for a blog on the Rusty Tin Cansters, soon!