Click on images to enlarge

Building the Silverado Trail

Oil on canvas, 24″ x 12″, unframed

Building the Silverado Trail


The historical photo from our collection that inspired the artwork above.

Lin Weber

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.