I enjoy painting from life, especially landscapes and figures. I love watercolor for its vivid hues and the strange liquid shapes that the medium creates. Sometimes water acts like “its own artist” or “with a mind of its own.” I think this is part of the challenge and the beauty of water color. It is so simple, too, and I love the way I can put everything in a backpack and go outside and paint.
I find painting to be a meditative experience, requiring patience and both a sense of adventure and caution at the same time. Watercolor is a way of exploring the world, and it helps me see beauty wherever I go. I hope my art may provide a similar experience for those with whom I share it with.
I live in Springfield, Oregon, with my wife Lisa and our two cats, Chai and Mocha.
How It All Started
I remember in 2nd or 3rd grade, saying that my favorite subject was art. Perhaps it is cliché, or even silly, to draw comparisons between the first doodling of a child and the artistic processes (and products) of an adult. But I think there is really something there, that as children, we really know ourselves better, more immediately.
So of course I never pursued this youthful spark of interest.
By the time I was in college, I was preoccupied with increasingly abstract, scholarly pursuits: I earned a philosophy major and a second major in Ancient Greek at the University of Oregon. It was interesting, to be sure, and I learned a lot. But somewhere along the way my interest in creative pursuits was lost.
When I graduated, I felt a sense of freedom, and I realized that all these books and theories had not been making me happy, but I had been possessed by an increasing sense of loneliness and isolation that I hadn’t quite realized was there until I left it behind.
Move to Rhode Island
I moved across the country to Providence, Rhode Island, and lived there for two years, working with the AmeriCorps on a variety of volunteer projects. I had hoped that volunteer service with the AmeriCorps — hands on, practical — would be a nice antidote to my abstract experience at university. And it was. I definitely honed some skills that I never thought I had. Among other things, I finally conquered my fear of cold calling, after making call after call to prospective volunteers (although that doesn’t mean I enjoy it).
It was while I lived there, one blazing spring day, that I took a bike ride down the East Bay Bike Path, a rails to trails path that follows the east shore of Narragansett Bay, and went into Barrington Books and bought a small little tome that, in retrospect, would change my life.
The Book That Changed My Life
It was called Radical Simplicity by Dan Price. It was a book about a man (the author) and his attempts to live self-sufficiently in Joseph, Oregon. The best part was the way that Price combined his sketches and his words together on the page. It was so odd and quirky and creative. I loved it.
My interest was piqued, but it took a while to sink in. Meanwhile, I developed an interest in bicycle touring and embarked on a cross country trip from Rhode Island to Oregon. It was a thrill, I saw some fantastic parts of small town USA and meant friendly and generous people. I kept a careful journal of the trip. But no sketches. It was only in the time right after this bike trip was over, when I was stuck between jobs, not quite sure of my next step, that I took up sketching again. My first attempts were in the vein of Dan Price, a combination of words and pictures. I documented a trip to Montana in that way, when I stayed with the Buffalo Field Campaign for a month. It felt so exciting to sketch, after having not done it for so long. Liberating. Almost transgressive. Like I was tapping into a secret of some kind, a secret place, a secret language.
This was the real antidote to books and theories, endless texts and meaning based in words. To loneliness, even. Drawings, sketches, pictures — they are a language without words, meaning that is visual and immediate, that anyone can understand.
More Sketching, More Bicycling
That spring I went on another bicycle trip, from Oregon to the Grand Canyon. I was possessed by an intense focus, on journaling, sketching, journal-sketching. To this day, I look back on that brief period of all consuming focus with a mixture of admiration and disbelief. I sketched all the way to the Grand Canyon and edited it all together in a short book when I was done.
I learned a lot about sketching on that trip. The spare desert landscapes that I traveled through lent themselves easily to pencil sketches I was working on. Southern California, Nevada, Utah, Arizona, these places are filled with areas of little or no vegetation. There is just sun, and air and earth. It means that light and shadows were at the center of any sketch I tried to do, no lush trees or bushes to get in the way. On that trip, if nothing else, I learned to appreciate the power of value contrasts.
Peace Corps Teacher, West Africa
Meanwhile, I had been trying to apply to the Peace Corps. Finally, all my paperwork was in. I was going to Sierra Leone, to work as an English teacher. This new experience launched another round of journal-sketching. Eventually I abandoned journaling all together in favor of a series of brief illustrated pamphlets about Sierra Leone and the community where I lived. The basic task of journaling – to note the remarkable things that happened that day — felt insufficient. Because the remarkable things about the experience of living in Sierra Leone was the everyday minutiae: the place I lived, the spots I frequented, the foreign culture that I was in the middle of.
Up until now, all this sketching was in black and white. In Sierra Leone, I made copies of my pamphlets, zine-style, and sent them back home to family. When I got back to the US, I knew that I wanted to experiment with color, but I wasn’t quite sure where to start. Tentatively, I tried adding watercolor to some of the pencil and ink sketches I had done before. But it was when I took a watercolor class at Lane Community College that I really was inspired.
Watercolor Classes at Lane Community College
Since I was an AmeriCorps volunteer, that meant I earned an education award, more or less a scholarship for tuition that I could use at any educational institution that qualifies for federal financial aid. That year, I took one class at term at Lane Community College, a random collection of classes, for sure: intro to journalism, computer programming, and watercolor. That last class, of course, was my favorite. The teacher was Satoko Motouji, and I threw myself into learning as much as I could. And I did. I ended up taking that class twice, actually. The second time, as an intermediate student, I focused on landscape painting in particular, and attempted to do a series about climate change and the environment.
I really had to take that class twice before stuff really soaked in. But it changed everything, how I look at painting, how I look at art, how I look at landscapes.
I am still trying to put into practice the things I learned in the class. I have also found Catherine Gill’s book particularly instructive, Powerful Watercolor Landscapes. It’s all about composition, really, and it is so hard to wrap my brain around it all and put into practice. I still feel inconsistent in my work. Usually, I fall well short of the vision in my head. Every once in a while, though, I surprise myself, usually when I least expect it.
Still, whether or not my work seems “perfect” to me, I feel compelled to share it. That is because if I wait for my work to be perfect, I might be waiting a long time. Ha! But also, I feel it is important to share, to put myself out there. I don’t just want to share perfect images, but a part of myself, as conflicted and confused and jumbled as that may be. Art, I hope, moves towards unity, towards wholeness, a coming together of people and the world in new and different ways.