We were always looking for simple subjects ZZ could paint when she came to visit. Desert scenes were simple enough, blue sky with one cloud, sandy ground with a few patches of scrub brush. Then we needed a subject, like a yucca plant or as in this case, a group of adobe houses connected with each other to make a small pueblo. Starting with a few ‘boxes’ and adding ladders to get to the upper levels, vigas~or wooden beams~ then doors and windows. Shadows were the fun part, they made the different rooms stand out from one another. ZZ painted several of these scenes when she was around 11 years old. Some she gave away, some she sold on e-bay and others she kept. (when you paint, pretty soon you have a lot of pictures). New Mexico is rich in ancient history and these kinds of pueblos are scattered throughout the state. These that she painted were made up, no real places, just remembering those we had seen.
We found this pretty little Mexican girl selling bread at a market in Guadalajara, Mexico. Dan took her picture, bought all of her bread and a few weeks later when we came home, I put her on canvas. This was in the summer of 1966. Since then, she has held a special place in the study over his desk. Dan could speak Spanish well, and liked to visit with people. (I understood enough of the language to know when someone told me how pretty and clean my little boys were). We traveled in a tiny 17′ Airstream trailer, I will have more stories about that later. One of the nicest things I can think of is when we bought the trailer, I finally had my playhouse. Always a good bed, good bathroom and a wonderful meal. I go out in that little trailer often just to smell the nice smells and remember those wonderful times with my family.
I painted quite a few pictures with guns in them. They made the painting more interesting. Here is one of the boys sighting in a .30 30 rifle. The gun was one my daddy owned that had belonged to his grandfather, one of the original 1894 Winchester lever action models and a good gun for deer hunting. It had a soft recoil and a range of 200 yards. It got it’s name from the shell that held 30 grains of smokeless powder. When I grew up, everyone who had a pickup truck had a gun rack above the back seat. Their rifles were within easy reach and didn’t get all scratched up, (they usually had a .22 and maybe a shotgun). My mother loved to hunt and every deer she ever killed was with this .30 30. She didn’t have a gun rack or a pickup but she always had that gun in the back floorboard of her car. This was back in the time when no one locked their car doors, they didn’t need to.
I painted these two orangutans a long time ago and have had them hanging around my house ever since. They now hang in my sun room with the other animal pictures. I saw a photograph in an old National Geographic magazine and knew I wanted to paint them. Of all the primates, the orangutans are my favorites, they look like little old men and seem more like humans than any of the others. I enjoyed painting these two and like having them. Believe me, they are better than the real thing. We had a monkey when I was growing up and it was not easy. We all loved him but a dog is the world’s most perfect pet.
This is another one of those great snapshots. It didn’t take any cropping or enhancing, it was just what it was. I used it in a painting and added a couple of goats because it looked like what a goat would enjoy, they are playful and they are climbers. It was probably more coyote and mountain lion country. It was natures perfect scene.
This is a fall scene painted in 1988. There are several kinds of trees with leaves that turn brilliant red around November. Spanish Oak, Red Oak, Chinese Pastiche, and some of the prettiest are the medium size Sumac that grow in the right of way along the highways. Those are bright green in the spring, make purple berries in the summer, then in the fall, they turn red. They are spectacular and showy. They grow from a meandering root system so they are thick and a stand of them can be a hundred feet long or more. If you ever get them established, they can make it on their own, they don’t need any kind of special care. I love all trees~Anna and I dug up roots and planted several around the gate at their house and it has taken eight years for them to take hold. Worth the wait~
This is a West Texas ranch scene that I snapped a picture of in the 1970’s. It looks the same today. It was a perfect setting with the old house, windmill, tank and oak trees. It is in the western part of Schleicher County and was owned by Elizabeth Rae Powell. Her father Mr. John Rae established the ranch in the 1800’s. The ranches in this area cover many sections, they are big and have been owned by the same families for decades. This is one of my favorite photos, tranquil and peaceful. There is nothing like country life.
I painted animal pictures from when I was in Kenya, and found some wonderful tableware on Amazon. When the workers went home in the evenings, I would run out and set things up to see how everything looked.
The six double windows are large and insulated, Frank Cranik came and installed a vent from the heating and cooling unit so it is perfect winter and summer, it is a dream room. Tomorrow I will show you the new sun room all finished.
Here is another place between Eldorado and Mertzon. I think I painted every scene from here to there at some time. There are a few pretty live oaks, some windmills and rock tanks, and only about three houses in the 32 miles. A woman who lived on a ranch out there was at a bridge party one time and we were all telling funny stories, she told us that one freezing day she went out to see if ice was forming on the water in the tank and dropped her car keys in. She had to do what was necessary so she ran to the house. put on her bathing suit and went back and jumped in the freezing water. She found the keys and was climbing out when Mr. Halbert drove up in his butane truck to deliver gas. She said she headed straight for the house like nothing had happened. She was sure he must have thought she had lost her mind. It was a good story and I know none of us ever forgot it. When I look at the paintings from Mertzon, I think of her.
I can’t just paint a man on a horse, I need a photograph to go by, it is the same with animals. I have so many pictures I have taken of sheep, cattle and horses, even pigs. I just single out a few and paint them into a picture. Proportion, color intensity and detail is important to give the painting it’s third dimension, otherwise it will look flat. In this painting, the horse is as tall as the windmill, the prickly pear is the same height as one of the cows, the rider and the horse are as tall as the tallest tree. Also, the sharp details need to be at the bottom of the painting, and should fade out toward the horizon. You paint what you see, not what you know. If you have something way back in the pasture, you know he has eyes but if you paint those details in it will bring him right up front and you will end up losing the depth. Same with bluebonnets, those at the bottom of the canvas will show the detail and the brilliant colors, they need to start fading fast into the background to a faint pale blue. (An interesting way to see the depth is to make a fist and look through a hole at the painting on the screen). Knowing proportions has made it easy for me to carve all the little miniatures, I made the first chair for instance and proportioned everything else to it’s size.
This is a companion picture to the bluebonnet painting on my blog a while back. It is a sumac tree beside a creek. When the days start getting shorter, the leaves start to turn a fiery red. They keep the color for a few weeks in the fall and are beautiful. They grow along the road in the bar ditches and there can be a long string of them in a cluster. These are natives and can make it on their own. I like this picture, it has water and bright color. Anna and I tried for two years to get some sumac started in their pasture. We would go out in the country and dig up cuttings from the roadway, which I think is not allowed, but we were desperate. Every time a car would come along, she would grab the camera and we would start ‘taking pictures’ of trees instead of digging. We finally got some seedlings started and they are spreading along her driveway up to their house. They will be turning a brilliant red before long. Lots of work and well worth it.