Finding power in the landscape and creation close to the sky

Mountains in distance
View from the Lehman Cave Visitor Center in Great Basin National Park
Watercolor on Arches #300 hot press

“Wildness reminds us what it means to be human, what we are connected to rather than what we are separate from.” —Terry Tempest Williams

Earlier this summer I traveled with a friend to Eastern Nevada. We’d been talking about taking this trip for a long time, and this year it finally came together in a clatter and clank of camping stoves, tent pegs, and way too much painting equipment.

In late June the hills of California already rolled golden and tinder dry, but the deserts and mountains of Eastern Nevada were fresh and minty green. In some parts of the Ruby Mountains, the snow had melted only a few weeks before we arrived, and it made me giddy, the sight of so much water—it gushed off cliffs, roared through valleys, or just spread over the ground like it hadn’t a care in the world.

At higher elevations, spring ran crazy like a wild child, ribbons trailing and bare feet muddy, splashing up flowers at every step. Columbine, paintbrush and penstemon spangled meadows and glens; starry white clusters of Queen Anne’s lace dreamed in the flickering light of aspen groves; and cactus blossomed prickly under pinyon and juniper. If the earth laughs with flowers, the planet was falling out of her chair, cackling until she nearly peed her pants.

I felt like laughing too, trailing along these high mountain trails beside water and flower. And I felt something else: a sideways space of awe and joy that slid into my chest and made my dull-thudding heart want to leap and shout and spin.

This feeling was something so big and so full that it took my breath away. Gasping so close to the sky, I felt a belonging, a coming home, a connection that thrummed from the ground into my feet, shook my body, and shot like a rocket out of the top of my head. For a moment I became a small, bi-pedal conduit to a power far greater than my tiny humanity.

I’ve felt this way only a few times in my life, and all of those times have been when I’m outdoors: on a beach, or a mountain, or deep in a redwood forest. In between times, I forget these places of power, and I know I need to seek them out more often, for it’s in those places I find my life. I hope they help you find yours.

Aspens and rock painting
Spring meadow at 9,000 feet
Watercolor 5″ x 7″

Some people catch the spirit and speak in tongues. Others fall and writhe. Still others weep or sigh or sing. Me? I paint. I write. I create because the world spills out of me; to do anything else would be to waste what the earth gives me. And I owe it to the beautiful blue marble that gives me my home.

Peak at Lamoille Canyon
Oil on canvas panel  5″ x 7″



Open Studios Profile: Sylvia Dahlgren

Today I’d like to interview you to another Silicon Valley Open Studio artist, Sylvia Dahlgren. Sylvia’s paintings have a good sense of design that give them a graceful yet strong presence.

Describe your artistic journey

My earliest memories are of observing a daisy in front of our apartment building in Germany. I spent my elementary years  drawing in class until my world upended by moving to Japan. When, finally the family got back to the US, I was interested in design. The combinations of European, Asian and US culture and design surrounded me. When I was faced with a choice of career, I decided towards design while continuing my painting on my own.

His Church, Ireland 7" x 10" Oil on linen © Sylvia Dahlgren
His Church, Ireland
7″ x 10″ Oil on linen
© Sylvia Dahlgren

Where has art taken you in life?

Around the world several times, from the corporate board room to cottage. From mountains in Kathmandu to skyscrapers in Manhattan.

What do you think about when you begin painting?

At what point do I stop the planning of the painting and let go? How do I capture the feeling that attracted me to the scene?

Nicasio Road 24" x 18" Oil on linen © 2014 Sylvia Dahlgren
Nicasio Road
24″ x 18″ Oil on linen
© 2014 Sylvia Dahlgren

Tell me about one of your favorite paintings or drawings that you’ve made. Why is it your favorite?

My favorite paintings seem to be effortless, immediate and spontaneous. I have no idea afterwards how I did it.

King Wenceslas 9" x 12" Oil on linen © 2014 Sylvia Dahlgren
King Wenceslas
9″ x 12″ Oil on linen
© 2014 Sylvia Dahlgren

If you could ask one question of an artist you admire, who would it be, and what would you ask?

I’d ask Sargent, Zorn and Sorolla: How much of it was planned before they let go?

Sylvia will be exhibiting on May 10 – 11 at Site 116, 1471 Hollidale Court, Los Altos, CA 94024