Surf Check Daydream

December 22, 2009

The first art teacher I ever had used to always tell us that all art is a lie. I never really understood what he meant by that, but it sounded pretty neat and quite teacherly.

Generally, I gravitate toward truth-telling with my art and most inaccuracies in my paintings are accidents of omission. I’m just not one to paint every single blade of grass and individual leaves on every tree.

There’s an ancient text that repeats the theme that all men are like grass, referring to the brevity and fleeting nature of our lives on the face of the earth.

More often than not, I treat humans in the landscape as the blades of grass that they are, fleeting, ephemeral, just passing through for a moment before they move on.

Sometimes it lends to an eerie silent vibe in my paintings of places that should be full of human activity, but showing no trace of it except those features we’ve built into a more
semi-permanent state on the landscape itself- roads, benches, stairs, paths, etc.

This is one of those spooky ones.

That said, I’m not sure which is the bigger lie here: the complete lack of human beings on a glorious sun-filled afternoon here… or the sandbar creating ruler edged perfect waves from that outside rock all the way to the sand 200 yards later.

Neither of those ever happen.

Hence the title: Surf Check Daydream indeed.

Waxing Moon

December 21, 2009

My favorite story about this one isn’t my story at all. It’s something a Patagonia employee said the first time they saw this piece in the back of my van in their HQ parking lot in Ventura, California. It went something like this:

“This is heavy, no way, check it out, when you look to the right it’s what’s already happened, the wave has gone by, that’s the past, you don’t want to live there. But then when you look to the left that’s future, what’s to come, something to look forward to, but that’s not where you want to live either. When you look at the center that’s the present moment, that’s where you want to be.”

I’ve always remembered that, even though I’ve forgotten his name and have lost all touch with the fellow who uttered that wisdom off the cuff like only a barefoot surfer in a parking lot in southern California could muster…


December 20, 2008

Some things are easy to overlook⠀
Others take a little more work⠀
Natural beauty⠀
Simple love⠀
So often get left where they lie⠀
While the headlines print bold⠀
On our aching flesh⠀
These haunts where our demons lurk⠀

Crashing stocks upon the shore⠀
Homes condemned to their blight⠀
The need to eat⠀
A will to survive⠀
We’ll do what we must to get by⠀
Sell our daylight for leprechaun’s gold⠀
That will vanish⠀
In the dark of the night⠀

We wake to a frozen sunrise⠀
Empty and cold and ruined⠀
It’s easily missed⠀
But always there⠀
The lift in our hearts at the sight⠀
Of these earthen glories before us⠀
By which we know⠀
That we are nowhere near the end⠀

So we’ll use our bodies for kindling⠀
To build this blaze bright and warm⠀
Our skin burns hot⠀
This smoky font⠀
A poetry of ash in the wind⠀
As we soak in the beauty around us⠀
We are fire⠀
Just in a different form⠀

Some things are hard to overlook⠀
Others take a little less effort⠀
The pressing needs⠀
The desperate pain⠀
Can grow louder till all else recedes⠀
While the light within and around us⠀
Steadily burns and waits⠀
To bring joy in the midst of the hurt 


November 16, 2008

A fine line
Divides the pursuit
Of overwhelming joy
From sheer
And loathsome

The high tide line
The rest

Consider us divided

Even the Spaniards
On the tall ships

Both victory
And defeat
Taste better
With a dash of salt
And lime

Afternoon on the Coast Route

November 15, 2008

This is one of the first paintings I painted of this location. I’d go on to paint many more over the years, but none quite as refined as this one painted over ten years ago. It was
painted at home in the quietness of my studio.

This is as good a time as any to point out what I love about painting on location in “plein air” instead of in the studio- real stuff happens out there. You never know what you’ll see when you post up for a few hours in a single spot and simply observe the world around you.

The last time I recall painting here on location with a friend, as we stood at our easels on the side of the frontage road above the train tracks we heard some yelling down below, just to the south. Some folks across the inlet were yelling at a hobo lady to get off the tracks. A train could be heard in the distance and after a string of fatalities on these
very tracks, nobody was eager to see another one.

As might be expected, hobo ladies don’t like to be yelled at any more than you or I would, even when we’re doing something foolish, so she did what any self-respecting
hobo lady might do and promptly flipped the bird to all. To the shouting crowd, to the painters on the cliff, and to the oncoming train.

You could hear the train straining to come to a stop, whistle blowing, tension rising with each passing second revealing the momentous impossibility of this train stopping in time. It appeared a certain suicide by desperate defiance was about to unfold.

At the last possible second the hobo lady stepped off the tracks, and of all the times to slip and fall on one’s rear end, this was not the best of them. The train just missed her
head and finally came to a stop 50 yards down the line.

To her credit, even though she fell, she never dropped the bird. Take that, world. She quickly regained composure and sauntered off into the bushes as the conductor got
out and walked the line, likely looking for her lifeless body, which would not be found today, thank you very much.

Just another afternoon on the coast route.

Drink Deep

October 21, 2007

For the ordinary soul who owns not a boat or a plane, the only way there is by your own two feet, one step at a time. Unless you are the ordinary soul’s dog, in which case it’s more like your own four feet, two steps at a time or something like that. In other words you’re just gonna have to hike. Eight miles. On sand and cobblestones loosely piled up between vertical mountains and the deep blue sea. Only at low tide. Higher tides and the surge of large swells will submerge that little eroding sand bridge to which your feet (or paws) will hopefully remain planted upon. One such surfer and his dog endured that hike in the late spring one year, after a season of heavy storms, which swelled the creeks and brought with it a series of rock shattering swells and a fierce longshore current that removed all but the most stubborn sand deposits. Oh sure, they scored some quality surf, but it was a ride they took on the hike back that would define the trip. It was one of those days when the low tide wasn’t really very low. Combined with the somewhat unruly and large swell, these were not the optimum conditions for attempting this hike. But since boatless , planeless, and now foodless ordinary souls and their dogs tend to need to get back into town once in awhile, they really had no choice. The day was getting late. Only a mile or so to go and then it happened. The ocean seemed to calm a little, and the air became quiet. There was no reef or sandbars on this particular stretch of sand, just deep water. Taking a check of his surroundings as an alert surfer will do when the ocean changes her tune, he knows he’s in a tight spot. Sheer crumbly cliff greets his left hand, the big lulled ocean his right. Up ahead about 60 yards is a somewhat higher sand berm he’s been heading toward for the last ten minutes. So close, but with the forty plus pounds of gear on his back, it’s a good minute or so away, even at full speed. The swell is running at a 17 second interval. He grunts and picks up the pace, but no sooner than he became aware of making that decision, he sees the deep water welling up on the shore. Seeing the futility of racing this impending wall of water he braces for the worst. He sees his dog running for high ground and as he digs his hands into the course and cold sand he watches the first surge of water envelop his companion of the last seven years. A second later it’s his turn. Larger than he had anticipated, the oncoming whitewater makes quick business of uprooting him and tossing him shoreward into the cliff. Then comes the rebound back to sea. Like a rolling stone he is pulled off the beach, barely getting a gasp of air before going deep into the drink. Being dragged to abnormal depths by the pack on his back he wrestles himself free of it and begins the task of exiting through the large shorebreak. Finally making his way up the beach, he stops and looks for his dog. Scanning the shorebreak for any sign of life, he finds…


Happy Cows

August 5, 2005

While painting this one from behind a rusty barbwire fence running along the overgrowth by the riverbank, I had an odd thought of what would happen if a cow came charging down the little path I was on. I sorta game-planned how I would step back into a little clearing behind my easel to let it pass, then dismissed the thought as the product of too much coffee working on the ol’ brain. About halfway into the painting I heard some rustling in the brush up a little ways, and sure enough, COWZA! I stepped back as the bovine stomped its way happily down the trail, out to the road, and off down the lane. I went and knocked on what appeared to be the farm house door to let them know of the great escape. They just shrugged and said it happens all the time, them cows are all branded anyway, she’ll be brought back soon enough. OK, back to painting then. Interesting times.

Afternoon Inside the Point

August 3, 2004


What day is it now?
How long has it been?
I miss my lover and my friend
And while it’s not quite really a sin
I’ve now fallen in love
With a very light wind
Someone to speak with
This breeze she is mine
We’ll speak with each other
And we’ll speak in rhyme
While my body’s become
A negative space
Where flesh used to be
And what once had a face
I’m beginning to wonder
If I’ll ever return?
Is this absence forever
Or just a lesson to learn?
A fire to cook with
Or just something to burn?
I’m losing track of my thoughts
Like ash from the urn
But the wind she has born
On her wings my concern
What day is it now?
Has it been long, or rather tall?
What does it mean to be a day?
Or to even have a name at all?
Are they still keeping track?
Still going to, and still going fro?
Is there a go to be there now
Or is there another name to go?
Another long to be this day?
A who to speak when time won’t show?
A hot beneath when would it be?
They say it’s high, but feels quite low
It won’t be then, but it could have been
Blue sky within these hungers grow
Wars could be fought
And we’d still know not
Who lit the fire beneath the pot?
And where is the fish that wasn’t caught?
And what is the point of all this talk?
The wind is quiet, there’s not a lot
To say, and again, what’s the point?
This is the point
And the afternoon inside it
Where all things end
Like the sea upon the shore beside it
Our time, it nears
We’ll be leaving soon
Back to the minutes, hours, and years
Because our food is gone and we can’t hide it
Just how long have we really been gone?
Its better not to speak, or even write it
With lead or ink or flame or blood
But we’ve seen the mid-day low
Become the noon high flood
And the moon that was halved
Now both halves show
And that’s it
And that is that
And that is all we need to know

Right After Breakfast

August 1, 2004


Rising up with the sun
Oh how we are blessed
We’ll get it all done
Right after breakfast

A lonely spigot
Sweet water from rust
We’ll refill our jugs
Right after breakfast

We’ll hang our food high
Or else bury it we must
We’ll hide it from bears
Right after breakfast

We’ll commit our damp gear
To the morning sun’s trust
It’ll warm us up too
Right after breakfast

Our coffee rings true
In shining blue metal cups
We’ll drink it down slowly
Right after breakfast

Excuse me for a minute
There’s something I just…


Urgent business buried
Where the tide last blushed
And I’ll burn the paper trail
Right after breakfast

Rising up with the sun
Indeed we are blessed
We’ll get everything done
Right after breakfast

There’s so much to do
But we aren’t feeling rushed
Think I’ll paint this instead
Right after breakfast

Trying to Paint in the Rain

September 2, 2003

After two straight days of rain and a not so inspiring view from inside the tent, I broke down and attempted to paint on this masonite panel even though it was still drizzling. Luckily it never became a downpour. The thought of painting in the rain has resonated with me ever since though…


She cooks an extra portion of every meal
Delivers it to the kids
Whose father is sick and maybe dying
And whose mother travels with him
To doctors far away
Because nothing can be done

She leaves their dinner on the porch
And feels their fear and pain
Seeping up through the floorboards
She’s trying to paint in the rain

The storm is upon us
The paints drip and run
Their colors are true
But we’ll never be done
Though we cannot see clearly
The vision is plain
We wish we could do more
Than just paint in the rain

He asks the waitress what she’d recommend
He’s an artist passing through
Looking for something in this town
Anything to catch his eye
She looks at the table
At the tacos and beers
At the floor below
Her own worn out shoes
And explains to him that
There really isn’t anything interesting

He plants his easel across the corner
And paints the taqueria in her name
It’s just after lunch under a desert sun
But he’s trying to paint in the rain

To make things better
To right the wrongs
To speak the truth
To sing the songs
But the words fall flat
The notes ring in vain
And this song is nothing
But paint in the rain


When the Rain Finally Stopped

September 1, 2003

I’ve been in a storm
That seems like it will never end
And it still howls and hammers to this very day
I’m learning to accept
The shivering soaking that follows
Whenever I step out of the shelter
I’ve built in this old heart
It’s walls are made of driftwood
Branches and limbs
From long dead trees
Discarded ideas of the future
That this storm ripped from their roots
And sent into the raging sea
To be worn smooth
And returned to land again
It’s roof is made of a cheap vinyl tarp
A matter of convenience
And lightness
And bang for the buck
It’s all that keeps me dry
But for warmth
Oh for warmth
For warmth a man must step out
And endure the fury of the skies
Crashing upon the earth
He must find something to burn
Like a dead branch on a living pine tree
Heartwood full of pitch that burns hot
Even in this driving rain

I’ve been in a storm
That seemed like it would never end
Until the tender touch of my lover
Calmed the seas
And tamed the wind
Until the hopeful look in my child’s eyes
Pierced the clouds
And sent the darkness back into the light
Until my words built a shelter
In your very heart
And you thanked me

And for me the rain finally stopped
No storm lasts forever

I cannot stop the rain for you
It is enough to know you’ve found shelter
Beneath these weathered lines
But for warmth
Oh for warmth
For warmth you’ll need to venture out
And endure what you must
To find the living tree
And burn it’s dead branches
Heartwood full of pitch that burns hot
Even in this driving rain

Backside of the Dunes

October 1, 2002

One of the last plein air paintings I did before my first daughter was born. When she came along we bought a house and painting was put on hold for several years while frantic nest-building ensued. That was nuts. Two weeks before she was born we were walking to the gas station down the street for the restroom. My wife had taken to cooking on a campstove on the back porch. We managed to get one room finished along with a functional toilet/shower, and stove by the time she was born. Then it was a race to finish the rest of the house and floors before she started crawling. We stayed one milestone ahead of her and managed to pull off a nice little remodel, but it would be another ten years before I’d start painting outside again.

But yeah, distant memories now… I’d forgotten about this painting entirely until a collector recently notified me it was up for sale on craigslist. Once I saw it, I immediately remembered the day I painted it, scouting around for hours being all kinds of particular about the view not being what I wanted. I probably passed up 35 great paintings before settling on this one. I’m pretty sure my thinking at that point was just to not go home empty-handed. I don’t recall what came of the painting- who bought it, or if I gave it away or what, but I was pretty stoked to see it once again. When my collector friend bought it and brought it over to my studio for some touchup, varnish, and re-framing it was a little like being reunited with a long lost child that had gone off into the world and lived a life of its own now back to say hello to Dad once again before heading out on another chapter. I wasn’t so sure of it back then, but now after all these years I reckon it turned out alright after all.

California Poppies

August 1, 2002

After this piece I came to the conclusion that the nearly unbearable intensity of the color of California poppies in bright sunshine may just be one of nature’s cruelest tricks ever hoisted upon unsuspecting plein air painters. It’s just not fair, really.


June 1, 2002

This was the first full studio landscape I completed after spending about 2 years pretty much exclusively painting outdoors. The outdoor approach ended up completely altering my approach to painting in general. Most of the studio landscape work I’ve done in more recent years that folks know me best for wouldn’t exist if I hadn’t spent those couple years outdoors relearning how to see nature.

First Hike Up the Canyon

December 20, 2001

This one goes way back…

I first became interested in painting outdoors after seeing work from some of the early California Impressionists at a show in Los Angeles.

I’d been painting for a solid ten years already, a dedicated artist since the age of 16. But those California Impressionists did something with their art that I couldn’t do at the time- make you feel the place. I’d already been painting different spots from memory here and there, but their lifelike renditions tapped into my experiences of being on the coast in a whole different way. I spent the next couple of years painting exclusively outdoors from life.

This was maybe my 7th plein air painting I’d ever done. During this brief time we lived in the heart of the concrete sprawl of Southern California and it was a 45 minute drive to the base of this canyon. But I’d return here time after time to paint because (aside from the mountain bikers) there were no signs of modern civilization up here. It was like returning to the Old California that the masters had painted so well, and along the way, I fell in love.

-Entry on March 5, 2015

The Top of the Canyon

December 10, 2001

This is from way up the canyon, to the top of the ridge from where it starts. If I painted the scene behind my back you’d be looking at the 5 freeway or the toll road or something near Irvine and a bunch of strip malls and houses. But hiking up here from the trailhead a few miles down at the coast you don’t see or hear any of that. It’s just rabbits and snakes and birds and the very occasional group of brightly colored cussing angry spandex clad men in a hurry on their wheelie toys. Aside from them, it’s a full sanctuary back there.