Wednesday, November 11, 2015

open studios, new work & a shop update

Fenway Studios' annual Open Studios Event is just a few days away! My art studio (#201) will be open to the public from 11am-5pm on Saturday and Sunday, November 14-15. I'll have all my work from the past 6 months on display and available for sale.

I'm busy tidying up and putting the finishing touches on everything this week. Here are a handful of the new original paintings that will be on display... for those of you who can't make it, I'll be putting them in my shop on Friday afternoon (exact time to be determined.)

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

on the road: santa monica, big sur, monterrey and some california art

Finally... California!

It's been fun playing around with all the little bits of material and photos I collected out west. Though closer to my next cross-country road trip than my last, going through these photos, printing them and tearing them up and layering them with shells and stamps and papers brought me right back to campgrounds and coastal roads between Santa Monica and Monterrey.

After packing up my tent at Joshua Tree, I drove west, sad to skip the incomparable Slab City and Salvation Mountain, but happy to stand in the icy tide at Santa Monica Beach as the sun went down over the lifeguard huts, and, after two weeks by myself, even happier to hear my future sister-in-law say "Let me grab your bags! Also, I have mojitos waiting for us inside." Um, yes!

I stayed in Santa Monica two nights and while she was at class, I ventured south to San Onofre, a little town of friendly surfers and big waves at Old Man's and Trestles surf breaks. Heading north at dawn, I passed through Ventura, Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo, Morro Bay, stopping at San Simeon State Park to camp overnight. 

San Simeon is a nice campground – nearly empty, flat tent spots, nice rangers, good fire pits and a little creek leading to a driftwood beach – but the real beauty here is Moonstone Beach down the road, overlooked by towering red sunburnt cliffs covered in ice-plants, and a beautiful spot to make a sandwich and watch the sunset.

I left my towel drying on a tree and my little camp stove outside my tent while walking to the beach and they were both stolen. Other than having my car broken into in Manhattan, I've never had anything stolen on a road trip before. The silver lining: I got to (nay, had to) experience Centrally Grown, the most beautiful coffee shop and market ever, with an "edible flower island" overlooking the early-morning-fogged Pacific before heading up to Big Sur.

Just north of San Simeon is a sea lion rookery, a protected crescent beach where hundreds of sea lions haul up on the warm sand and raise their chubby babies. And then.. Big Sur!

A stretch of coastline in between the Bay Area and Los Angeles, Big Sur is held in a kind of reverence by many people because it is just so extraordinary. Enormous brush-covered cliffs slope and dive dramatically into a perfectly turquoise ocean. Cerulean waves smash their thousand-mile stories upon the white shores and swirling white foam licks rocky islands as the current retreats, an endless pounding symphony of salt water meeting ninety miles of sparesly populated, nearly undeveloped, sun-kissed coast. After the most expensive gas station in the country (the only one for sixty miles) there's two hours of windy cliff-hugging roads, a couple campgrounds and state parks, two or three restaurants and a lot of beautiful blue.

One issue while road tripping with a small budget and without a set plan is difficulty finding lodging on weekends in popular but remote destinations. After snagging the very last open site in Joshua Tree, I wanted to avoid stress and find one early at Big Sur, but every state campground had its 'full' sign hanging by 10am. I went to McWay Falls, hiked Julia Pfieffer State Park, had lunch at the stunning silver crescent of Plaskett Creek beach and hiked around poppy-strewn cliffs until late afternoon and nothing had opened up yet. 

The undeveloped nature of this beautiful area means there are no hostels, few hotels, private campgrounds cost $70/night and even "rustic" cabins and yurts run over $150/night. The most interesting boondocking spot I've ever found was a small dirt pullout on Nacimineto-Fergusson Road, a moderately terrifying, cliff-hugging washboard road five hundred feet up and straight out of a Jeep commercial, and even that was already claimed by RV-ers who's bravery earned them the most spectacular campsite on the California Coast. Signs prohibiting overnight parking dot the main roadside of Route 1, and ignoring them could mean free camping, or it could mean a state trooper's flashlight in your face at 3am. I was saved when I started chatting with Ben, the camp host at Kirk Creek campground (also full), who listened to my situation and allowed me to pitch my tent in the host spot.

Kirk Creek is on a cliff overlooking the crashing waves of the Pacific, with a wobbly, rusty fence and a couple little trails down to the beach and a spectacularly hazy, salt-rippled sunset. At dusk I found Ben with his guitar and we settled into a campfire and a few beers and he shared stories about hitchhiking in the southwest, being a conscientious objector during the Vietnam War and other tales of growing up in the sixties until near midnight.

At the end of one story about a long-ago love Ben laughed, wiped his eyes and said "I haven't thought about that in twenty years. Thank you for that." I don't know why this stayed me or why I'm writing it now, but something about that struck me: explicitly thanking someone for helping bring back a long-lost memory, and the gratitude I felt for having been allowed into that moment. I sort of feel like that's something I want to accomplish with my art as well: an appreciation of each others' experiences and nostalgia and understanding of the world around us, what has happened before us in old places and what awaits us in the new. I am not always a good listener but I have a heart and a canvas that want to be.

At dawn I was up with the sun, momentarily melted by the peachy haze of morning light settling on the ocean, and then headed north on Route 1 over the Bixby bridge, over twisting roads and into the Monterrey peninsula.

Point Lobos State Natural Reserve, an incredible rocky peninsula full of wildflowers, wind-twisted pines and gentle seaweed-strewn coves. I happened to be there just in time to watch a sweet harbor seal give birth to her pup on a bed of beached kelp, the surprised pup learning right away how to stay close in crashing waves.

After a few hours of wild cliffs, Central California smooths out into gently rolling fields and bluffs. Up the coast through Carmel, 17-Mile Drive, Santa Cruz and Pescadero. I stopped at Pigeon Point Light for a hazy, sun-kissed afternoon picnic and then drove a little north to Point Montara Light. 

Both lighthouses are owned by Hostelling International and the light keepers' quarters have been turned into private rooms and bunk rooms for roadtrippers and international travelers. Pigeon Point even has a hot tub perched on the edge of the cliff under the stars! I stayed in a women's bunk room at Point Montara for two nights, quickly claiming a top bunk, leaving everything that wasn't a camera lens and then roaming around Montara's private beach cove and nearby Half Moon Bay until dark.

Half Moon Bay is a beautiful, sleepy but eclectic little beach town about an hour south of San Francisco. I walked around the beach watching the full moon rise over Maverick's Pier, a sneak peek at the impending lunar eclipse. Sometime in the afternoon a fierce homesickness started to sneak up on me and by night it was full-blown. Like, so sad. I like traveling alone and, in the deep middle of nowhere, I even prefer it for the chance to really be alone with my thoughts and my sketchbook. But Half Moon Bay was so lovely and relaxing that all I could think was, Mike would really like it here, and I would like it more in his company, and was overwhelmed by the realization that my roaming may not always get to involve both of us.

At 3am the rustling and whispers of my German roommates woke me up as they headed out to watch the eclipse. A dozen of us – students, international travelers, Silicon Valley escapees, a weed picker and an artist headed down to hike the PCT – sat out on the cliff together underneath the light tower, wrapped in blankets, chatting and watching as the moon and clouds grew rusty and then blood red. Around 5am the cold ocean air sent us all inside to warm bunks. Something about the conversations I had at Point Montara stirred me a bit and made me feel more grounded and less far from home and I was deeply thankful for that full moon.

As the quote by Rumi goes, "We are all just walking each other home."

Friday, October 2, 2015

through fences and flowers

Finally finished! "Through Fences and Flowers" (90"x36" triptych) was a personal project I started a few months ago.

Over the past year I have really loved working on larger scale canvases... I like the challenge of sourcing a lot of material, choosing which images and paper will stand out and which will be smaller supporting details, and the physical work of stretching and moving around between areas of canvas. In this piece, I wanted to play around with different things I love about where I live: iconic landmarks, obscure buildings, hidden alleyways, the outlines of long-faded ghost signs and the contrasting geometry of an architecturally old city with new growth.

Juxtaposing my photographs against one another with several different collage techniques created an abstract city skyline that travels from my current neighborhood (Fenway) through the Back Bay, Financial District and into Fort Point/Seaport, framed by Commonwealth Avenue's famed spring magnolias and the derelict (but equally intriguing) chain link fencing that separates my street from the commuter rail train tracks.

At nearly 8 feet long it is full of layers, texture and details. It's on display at Flour in Fort Point near downtown Boston for the rest of October in case you'd like to check it out in person. If you see it, I'd love to know what you think!

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

on the road: coyote camping, joshua tree, the golden desert

Coyote camping!

(These blog posts have been sitting in my travel journal for a while now. Better late than never, I hope!)

I first heard the term "coyote camping" from one of the REI workers in Flagstaff, who mentioned that while the Lake Mead area was painfully crowded with river resort goers, her family used to pitch tents and swim right on the bank of Lake Mojave a little south of it... for free! So I headed west towards the intersection of the Arizona, Nevada and California borders, and between a helpful gas station attendant and a few sketchy Google results managed to find directions to what seemed like the right place.

Until you've driven through or flown over the American west it's hard to get a sense of just how much open land is out there: sprawling thousand-acre stretches of forest, open range and grassland unclaimed, unused and undeveloped for a variety of reasons. Mostly it is managed by the Bureau of Land Management for the ecological wellbeing of the land and enjoyment of travelers. Coyote camping, also known as dispersed camping, means camping for free in undeveloped areas of publicly owned land. It can be a specific area designated for boondocking and big enough for RVs, or just a single flat space alongside a road or trail, marked by a brown BLM sign and a few old tire tracks. These areas are further from populated areas and generally without facilities, hosts, electricity or other amenities you'd find at a commercial campground, so it's not for everyone, but when you're attempting a long trip or trying to budget, you can't beat free.

I have to admit that this first dispersed camping experience of this past trip started out a little scary. The directions to the dispersed area on Lake Mojave said to watch for a particular mile-marker and then take the next turn onto a 5-mile downhill dirt road. The road wasn't well maintained, had a few confusing forks, steep curves and washboard surface. Driving at only 10mph in quickly darkening dusk made it feel like I was on this creepy Deliverance-esque road forever. I didn't even get out of my car for this photo:

Twenty minutes and two coyote sightings later, just as I was kicking myself for putting so much blind trust in a website called "" while traveling alone, I finally reached Telephone Cove, a beautiful flat sandy riverbank dotted with trees and a handful of other cars and tents right up against the water's edge. There was one pit toilet, primitive fire rings along the water and a whole lot of nothing else. So perfect!

The sky is already purple; the first few stars have appeared, suddenly, as if someone had thrown a handful of silver across the edge of the world.” - Alice Hoffman

I pitched my little tent, cooked dinner and headed out with my lantern into the edge of Spirit Mountain Wilderness to try more star photography. Incidentally, coyotes howled off in the distance as I plodded my way through the dark among smoke trees and startled hares.

Facing northeast towards Spirit Mountain, with the far-off glow of Las Vegas on the horizon. It's not obvious in this photo but the spring constellations were absolutely on fire -- Orion, Cassiopeia and the dippers just blazed in the dark sky surrounded by a million pinpoint stars. I had the best night's sleep next to the softly lapping water, and woke up to a pair of ducks chatting outside my tent.

The only person awake on the shore, I waded out into the water and watched the buttermilk sunrise blossom in the cloudless bluebell sky before packing up. This would have been an awesome place to just relax for a few days or weeks (the BLM technically allows free camping up to 14 days per location, though I didn't see anyone enforcing that.) My closest neighbors were two older couples in an RV and a tent and I felt very safe, though there were more than a few empty beer cans and bullet-riddled signposts on the way out and one or two people obviously living out of their trucks off in the far reaches of the cove.

It's a trade off: incredible silence, unintruded nature and a feeling of adventure comes with a bit of unease and risk. There's a real weirdness vs. freedom judgement system in play when you want to travel cheap and alone, especially as a woman.

Up with the sun, driving out of Spirit Mountain Wilderness.

I wouldn't have thought for a second that southern Nevada would be so pretty. The combination of rolling roads sheathed by jagged stone mountains caught the sideways morning sunlight and bounced it off yellow wildflowers, low white sage and bare brush alike, causing the whole mountainside to glow warm and gold. 

Crossing into California (yay!) the land got flatter and longer, the sky bigger and bluer as I drove south towards Whipple Mountain, through the closed-diner-trailer-park-train-depot of Vidal, past long-scorched attempts at desert civilization.

West on 62, south on 177 and into the oasis of Joshua Tree, where I planned to spend the whole day and night. There is backcountry camping within the park, overflow (parking lot) camping at each entrance and a few questionable boondocking spots on the outskirts that all would have been free, however I managed to snag the very last camping spot in Cottonwood (and possibly the last in the whole park, as there was a sign at Cottonwood saying that all campgrounds north were full) so I took it with gratitude.

Unlike the northern campgrounds which are famous for their tent sites beneath enormous boulder formations, Cottonwood is wide and brushy, with a red mountain ridge to the east and not much but flat cactus-strewn desert land past the small fire pits and tent pads. I went on one loop hike that brought me back to the flowering cholla field next to my tent just before dusk.

During the hour before sunset, known to photographers as "the golden hour," the sun is low on the horizon and sunlight travels through the most atmosphere, getting diluted into a dimensional, soft glow. As someone who is familiar-but-not-great with my DSLR, I feel it's the best time of day to take the kind of photos that actually look how the moment feels, if that makes sense. It is the easiest time to get those vibrant but soft colors, backlit halos and dreamy, magical dimension. 

And then just like that, it's gone, Sun sets on Joshua Tree and it's time to prowl around the desert taking night photos and creeping out my neighbors.

(Just kidding. As I wrote back in Maine, I usually chat up neighboring campers when appropriate to make myself visible; families seem to appreciate knowing they're next to a quiet neighbor, even if she is wandering around in the dark, and in my experience having more of a presence actually leads to less unwanted attention. I have never felt unsafe camping alone but if there were to be trouble around, it's better to have people know you're there than to have tried to hide away. Even if it does result in a lot of "Does your boyfriend/husband/parents know you're here?" and resisting the urge to answer, I have my permission slip the car.)

Anyway, stars.