30-in-30: Plein air watercolor painting at 60 miles-per-hour

Distant water 3.5" x 2.5"  watercolor in Strathmore Mixed Media Journal
Distant water
3.5″ x 2.5″ watercolor in Strathmore Mixed Media Journal

This week I had to make a sojourn to the Bay Area. The fiddler likes to drive, so while the fiddler steered the infernal combustion machine, I painted.

I love passenger-seat painting. Give me a wide enough view and a straight enough road (I suffer from motion sickness), and I can paint for miles.

In the studio, it’s easy to get in that zone of hyper-focus where thought takes a backseat to conscious action. If you’re a painter, you know what I mean. Pick up some color with the brush, dab it on—ooo pretty—dab some more—ooo pretty pretty—dab, dab, dab—pretty pretty pretty—dab, no, wait, dang it, arggh! What have I done? If you don’t pause and move back, pretty soon you’ve created a muddy mess.

Green Hill 3.5" x 2.5"  watercolor in Strathmore Mixed Media Journal
Green Hill
3.5″ x 2.5″ watercolor in Strathmore Mixed Media Journal

Painting landscape studies in the car (while someone else is driving—duh!) is a good way to break that kind of zen-zoned out paint daubing. You can’t focus for very long on one scene, because the scene changes minute-by-minute. So you have to make your decisions rapidly and correctly.

Fallow field 3.5" x 2.5"  watercolor in Strathmore Mixed Media Journal
Fallow field
3.5″ x 2.5″ watercolor in Strathmore Mixed Media Journal

All you have time to do in the car is decide on a quick composition, draw the big shapes, get the right color and value on the palette, and paint the shapes. I start with the sky first usually, the brightest and lightest shape. The jiggling of the car prohibits any attention to detail; it’s all about composition, color and shape.

I love these little watercolors. The challenge is to bring this freshness and life into larger studio paintings.

Winter trees 3" x 6" watercolor in Strathmore Mixed Media Journal
Winter trees
3″ x 6″ watercolor in Strathmore Mixed Media Journal


After the wildness of Halloween, the racing and running, the sugar high, the monsters and witches and goblins and ghosts, the next day seems so quiet that I can hear the blood rushing in my ears. It’s a sign that I’m still alive, my heart still pounding the drum that keeps me moving. And I think of my ones, gone on ahead where no heart beats to remind them of life.

Amidst all the Halloween fright fest and fun, we shouldn’t forget that the holiday, or observance, or whatever you call it, is really about remembering the dead. Cultures like Mexico, that celebrate Dia de los Muertos, haven’t forgotten that. Some of my best memories of the small Mexican town in which I lived were at the cemetery on November 1 and 2. The warm night, the smell of basil and marigold and candle wax, the soft sound of women chatting, of a band playing a song at a graveside. I thought it seemed so comforting to visit the folks who’d left this earth. And I wished my culture had such a celebration.

Galina Kraskova, a modern-day heathen, writes in a guest blog on Pantheon:

At Samhain we are reminded that to neglect our honoring of the dead is to stifle their voices, smother their stories, invalidate the tangled tapestries of their lives. It is to commit a crime against memory, piety, and honor.

People all over the world honor the dead during this time of year, calling the celebration by different names. All Saints Day. Dia de los Muertos. Day of the Skulls. Dziady. It’s important to them.

Because we’ve all lost those we love, and seek somehow to find them.


Halloween seems to be the lighter version of a much older celtic festival, Samhain (pronounced Sa-wane). We don’t celebrate the date in quite the same way that the old ones did (or maybe I should say auld ones?), with quite the same darkness. We’ve given it mostly over to children, or childish (some say boorish) behavior.

But deep down I think we know what this time of year means. We have a genetic memory of the wildness and the mystery of the season when the daylight shrinks and the night ascends. We’re entering a season of uncertainty. Of cold, of darkness. We forget, those of us living in this blessed Mediterranean climate, that in other parts of the world, the night, and the cold, awakens during this season and stretches out over the land .

The green man takes on the colors of autumn. We can hear his voice in the crackle of leaves and fire. Some Wiccans say it’s the end of the time of the Goddess, and the beginning of the time of the God. Other people say that Samhain is the night during which the veil between the dead and the living is the thinnest, and that on this night the dead can cross over into the land of the living.

In this country, tonight is given over to wildness, to running loose in the autumn night that’s only just beginning to feel the taint of winter. It’s given over to costumes, and candy, and spooky stuff on every street. And kids know that the veil is thinnest tonight, and that what’s behind a plastic mask just might not be their beloved sister or brother, or the neighbor kid, but rather, someone dead who’s joined the hubbub of living kids, if only for an evening. And perhaps we know it too, as we willingly give out treats, just in case that cute kid in the the princess outfit is really not just a cute kid. She might really have been a princess.

While you’re waiting for or hiding from the little goblins and tinkerbells and obiwan-robot-vampire-princesses to come knocking at your door begging for candy, here are some Halloween links for you to explore.

50 best blogs for wiccans

The Witch of Forest Grove

Dante’s Worlds

Wyrd Designs – The Walking Undead