Building the Silverado Trail
Oil on canvas, 24″ x 12″, unframed
Oil on canvas, 00″ x 00″, unframed
For most of my life, painting was the road not taken. I’ve been a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist for more than 30 years and a historian and author for about 20. I’ve published eight books on various aspects of Napa Valley history, and one novel, and I do private historical research, including title searches.
What led me to art was a photograph I took one day of reeds in a pond back around 2005. The way the lines went reminded me of a modern abstract painting. So I bought some small inexpensive brushes, a 14” square canvas and a few acrylic paints. Not wanting to go overboard on the project, I only purchased a few colors, unwittingly creating what artists call a “limited palette:” a selection of hues that challenge the painter to emphasize tone and composition.
I drew a grid on the photograph and the same grid on the canvas and copied what I saw square by square, with a few small changes. I discovered that I could give the reeds dimensionality by varying the colors from dark to light, against the darkness of the pond water. I saw that there was a tiny snake on one of the reeds, so I put him (or her) in too.
It didn’t occur to me to think of the meaning of the snake – evil to some, but in many ancient traditions a symbol of creativity, passion, rebirth and transformation, immortality and healing. The results amazed me. I immediately went out and bought more paints, brushes and canvasses and began taking photographs all around Napa Valley. I started with landscapes, but also painted fruit and vegetables, structures, animals and even people. Since I work full-time and couldn’t attend local art classes, I hired a consultant (Sheila Ticen, whose work I enjoy very much) to critique my work. This was exceedingly helpful, and representational art just poured out from my brushes. A year after I began, I sent some of my work to be juried by Open Studios and was accepted. I switched to oils and then to classic oil-based paints, which seem richer to me.
After about five years of this I decided that I’d progressed about as far as I could and would benefit from some outside instruction. I learned that UC Berkeley offered art classes through its extension in San Francisco on Saturdays. I took two classes there- one on color and one on mixed media. For the mixed media class I invented a technique for creating art with a combination of photographic equipment, my computer and painting.
In the meantime, I have continued with my MFT practice and my work as a professional historian. I paint whenever I can.