Monday, May 25, 2015

Unplugged & Off The Grid

Sometimes it feels like time is speeding up. With social media, texting, tweeting, and GPS, we seem to always be on, and Life threatens to become a blur. So, from time to time, I relish pulling the plug, leaving the network, and falling off the grid. And that's just what I've done for the past 3 months: no Facebook, no internet, no cell phone, and -- yes -- no blog posts.

I've been roaming Texas backroads and byways with my wife and kids, sketching wildflowers and expansive landscapes (on paper and panel), reading a few books (all printed on paper), listening to the murmur of the cottonwood trees, and recharging my soul. It's been a delight!

the first bloom began appearing on the trees before the final frost was 
behind us, and I was there to record it

For the first time in several years winter rains were at near-normal levels and everyone was hopeful that this would mean the return of lush carpets of wildflowers.

As our depleted pond has gradually refilled the shoreline has been decorated with the wave after wave of wildflowers

Wildflower season always begins along the border and gradually works its way north. So, as soon as we heard the first reports of wildflowers in the San Antonio area, we hit the road.

I frequently find it useful to use my free hand -- to steady flowers against 
the breeze, and to convey the scale of my subject

From Fort Worth our first road trip of the season took us southwest to my favorite small highway in the state -- US 281. Route 66 was known as "Main Street USA" but most of it disappeared with the coming of the interstate system (which bypassed many smaller communities) and it only stretched from Chicago to LA. US 281 runs from the Mexican border all the way to the Canadian border and its route literally runs down Main Street in most of the small communities it passes through (not a fast way to cross the country but, oh!, such a wonderful way to discover it.)

limiting color to the subject adds focus and depth to the image

Our backroad adventures are very slow going. Anyone can call a halt by simply exclaiming, "Oh! Would you look at that?" In fact, if the average traveler's road trip is equated to a brisk walk, our is a leisurely window shopping stroll; we don't get anywhere fast, and there's lots of "oohing" and "awing". (Actually, it could be said that our road trips are less one long journey and more a chain of very short trips: each culminating in an adventure, sketch, or painting.)

stages of a bloom are sometimes captured through a simple sequence of images

During our stop-over in the San Antonio area we spent several days circling the city on the 1604 Loop. (Parts of the Loop have been heavily developed over the past decade, but some sections still retain a rural feel -- with only scrub cedar, prickly pear cactus, and rolling stretches of bluebonnets and Indian paintbrushes going on for miles.) 

I am delighted and amazed at the variety of color, texture, scent, and leaf pattern

and, of course, where there are plants there are insects (such as this fascinating parasite wasp)

On our return leg we made a brief side trip to Buda, TX, to visit the folks at Ampersand Art Supply, where we were treated to a tour of the facilities and a demonstration of how my favorite panels are manufactured. (In addition to all the different surfaces available, I found it interesting that Ampersand manufactures different lines for the U.S. and metric markets, and offers customized service for artists who require panels in non-standard sizes.)

After leaving Buda we also opted to leave IH-35 and find our way west to intercept US-281 (which meant exploring a route we'd never driven before and making lots of additional sketching stops along the way -- Slow Travel at its very best.)

over the years I've gradually lost most of my sense of smell (due, I suspect, to spending too much time with 
volatile solvents in inadequately ventilated studios), but the massive carpet of bluebonnets (only hinted at 
in the photo) we discovered in Marble Falls, TX gave off waves of intensely sweet perfume -- 
a divinely intoxicating experience

I hope spring (autumn, if you're in the southern hemisphere) has been as colorful and enjoyable for you in your neck of the woods. Thanks for letting me share with you, and I hope to see you again soon.