A New National Monument in the California Desert

JTNP_s Support a New National Monument in California

Plans for a new National Monument that would connect Joshua Tree National Park and the Mojave National Preserve in the California Desert.

Solar Energy Firm Drops Plan for Project in Mojave Desert (Louis Sahagun, Los Angeles Times, September 18, 2009)

Brightsource Energy Inc. drops plans to build a renewable energy facility in the eastern Mojave Desert wilderness, the area that is being considered for the new National Monument.

(Thanks Kerri for the tips)

Winslow Homer's Maine

A Summer Night Interesting article on Winslow Homer's studio in Prout's Neck, Maine, recently from the NY Times. Makes me miss Maine. Something to aspire to - surrounded by what you love so you can just work. It looks as though his studio will become a small museum in the near future.

“Nowhere else is there so rich a spectrum of an artist’s chosen subject matter,” said Daniel O’Leary, a former director of the Portland Museum of Art and the studio project. “There is no place like it in America because no where else can you see a great American artist’s inspiration take shape and observe the actual views that he enriches and preserves. At no other single spot can you see 15 or 16 views that inspired great paintings.”

Winslow Homer (1836-1910), West Point, Prout's Neck

Paintings from Joshua Tree

See more paintings and photos from the trip on Facebook. Roaring_Rock_s

The Roar of Time, 14" x 11", Oil on panel, © Eric Merrell


Joshua Nocturne, 10" x 10", Oil on board, © Eric Merrell


Near Desert Hot Springs, Afternoon, 10" x 11", Oil on panel, © Eric Merrell


Fallen Joshua Tree, 10" x 10", Oil on board, © Eric Merrell


After the Storms, 14" x 14", Oil on panel, © Eric Merrell


Out Over the Desert, 10" x 10", Oil on board, © Eric Merrell


Fire Victims, 11" x 14", Oil on canvas mounted on panel, © Eric Merrell


Hidden Valley, 10" x 8", Oil on canvasboard, © Eric Merrell


Lack of Shade, Midday, 10" x 11", Oil on panel, © Eric Merrell

Ending on a High Note in the Desert

Less_Traveled_s The Road Less Traveled, Joshua Tree, 14" x 14", Oil on panel, © Eric Merrell


As the end of the residency approaches, I'm trying to get in everything I wanted to work on. July was windy and then really hot, but August has been beautiful. Mostly in the 90's during the day and in the 70's at night. Just awesome. I wonder if this bodes badly for September? I've worked on broadening my approaches, trying some new things, exploring new places. I think I have some 70-odd paintings. (I haven't been able to shoot very many of them yet, but will at some point for a future post.)

Some of the best memories: out looking for a spot to paint the full moonlight, I stopped along the road in Lost Horse Valley. As I stood there in the moonlight, I started to notice a shape or two flitting about in the half-darkness: bats. Then I noticed a few more. After my eyes adjusted, although only a handful were ever visible at any given moment, you could sense the hundreds of bats flying all around you, sometimes only a foot away. I don't know if something with the moon brought out more bugs, or that they naturally congregate there, or something else. But it was so quiet, the only sound was of the approaching bats' clicking, echolocating, like the sounds of a few marbles bouncing quickly onto a tile floor.

My easel and umbrellas were quite battered by the winds, and knocked over a few times. One evening, though, in the lower Colorado desert, I set up to work about 20 feet to the side of a large wash. After painting a bit, I heard a noise like a car approaching in the distance. As it grew closer, the sound distinctly became the rushing wind, barreling down the mountains - straight through the wash. From my vantage, I could see the smoketrees and creosote in the wash straining under the onslaught; but the only thing that reached me was a nice cool breeze. As this tended to happen every so often, I grew accustomed to it and congratulated myself for being clever enough to avoid painting in the wash, my original intention. As I heard another gust approaching, I must have reached over to grab a tube of paint, or brush, or something - I don't recall what - but as soon as the wind hit the wash this time, it made a quick turn and blasted into the easel from the one weak spot. Though it was tied down, the easel was still thrown a few feet, and the palette skidded face-down across the sand, leaving streaks of yellow and orange on the desert floor. I decided to call it a day, and laughed while I cleaned everything up. Not much of the paint was salvageable.



I can't wait to return home now and sort through everything from the residency. Already have many ideas from the sketches and notes.

Update from the High Desert

Breaking camp to find another spot. I've been painting out in the high desert now for just about a month, and thought I'd mention a few things since I've been asked (Yes, mom, I'm wearing sunglasses and plenty of sunblock). Although I've been here numerous times previously to paint and hike, this is the first really extended period of time I've had with the landscape. Being able to plan out ideas and know when certain effects will happen throughout the day.

My schedule has been (modified) to head out very early to paint when it is still cool (in the 60's or 70's), rest or take a nap during the hottest part of the day (no idea exactly, but 100-108, somewhere in there), and return to paint later on when the heat starts to taper off (the high desert is much cooler than the lower desert areas, like Palm Springs, which tends to be around 115 degrees. You can't do anything when it's 115 outside). Knowing when to return indoors is key, as you acclimate easily and don't notice the temperatures rising. I've tested myself a few times, intentionally or not; once painting at the Oasis in 29 Palms at 4:00 p.m., it must have been 110 degrees. I put frozen water bottles in my pockets to stay cool in addition to a hat, sunblock, sunglasses and umbrellas. Also nearly blinded myself - it's very reflective out there - not so fun. The desert is wonderful, but you are made much more conscious of how far you should push yourself working in this environment.

The wind is also another constant factor, so staking and weighing everything down is now part of the normal routine. Easels blow over, sand blows into your paints, tumbleweeds blow into your easel (yep, they do). I once had to stand and just hold onto everything for about 10 minutes until the wind died down. (If you have a rock band and need to shoot photos for your album, the desert is great because you always have that wind.)

One of the local papers out here, the American Free Journal, picked up on the residency. The publisher happened to pass by one evening and they ran a photo of me standing out against the wind in front of Mount San Jacinto one week, and the following week had a short article on the residency and the artists, both of which were nice to see. The local artists, residents and artists-in-residence have all been wonderful to meet and very hospitable.

Glenn Dean painting in Joshua Tree National Park

The Palm Springs Art Museum is a great place to visit in the summer, they blast the air conditioning and have some nice artwork to enjoy. I managed to make it there when a few paintings by members of the Taos Art Colony were on view. Plus, every summer the museum hosts artwork from an anonymous local collector - including Manet, Monet, two Van Goghs you've never seen, one of which he left his thumbprints in when carrying the canvas; plus Matisse and Degas, among others. The cicadas outside are deafening.

Maynard Dixon (18

This little guy likes to eat all of the cacti in the yard. So I give him watermelon rinds and he's pretty pleased.

My apologies to the residents of Pioneertown and the Joshua Tree Highlands if I startled anyone with my easels and umbrellas.

Tony Peters, San Diego

TP-TP_s I drove down to San Diego recently to scope out some new locations and paint with fellow artist Tony Peters. Tony and I went to Art Center together awhile back, and have been in a couple of exhibitions together, so it was great to catch up. We talked quite a bit - the journey of art, ideas and inspiration, artistic philosophies, etc. - when your work demands that you spend most of your time working solitarily, it's great to have a meeting of the minds (and some drinks). Tony has a lot of great ideas that he puts into his work, and has been developing a very personal approach. He's also a collecting nut when it comes to art books. If you don't know Tony or his work, check out his blog when you have a chance, as there are a lot of good thoughts to peruse.


Looking Outward, 32″ x 48″, Oil on canvas, © Tony Peters

We sketched over at Torrey Pines State Park most of the time and stopped by the harbor too; I did a sketch around sunset overlooking Los Peñasquitos Canyon Preserve before I made my way back home.

The Oldest in California

rancho-camulos_s Rancho Camulos ["Home of Ramona"]; Built 1843, Piru, California; 11" x 14", Oil on panel, © Eric Merrell

Since I've been interested in history, it was only a matter of time before I started discovering and painting the historic adobes around southern California. Most date back to the early 19th century, with the oldest I've found so far having been built c.1806 in what is now Long Beach (this is, of course, excluding the twenty-one California missions built earlier). It's a great way to study fleeting light and color while keeping your values in check, as most of the adobes have white-washed exteriors.


Hugo Reid Adobe; Built 1839, Arcadia, California; 11" x 14", Oil on panel, © Eric Merrell


Mission San Gabriel Museum; Built 1812, San Gabriel, California; 11" x 14", Oil on panel, © Eric Merrell

Each building is usually very modest, but many have great stories attached to them, each different from the next. For example, Rancho Camulos was one of the locations that Helen Hunt Jackson visited on her tour of California, prior to writing her famous novel Ramona; the real rancho was included in the book as the fictional Ramona's home. Subsequently, it became a huge tourist destination in the early 20th century when the book became incredibly popular - everyone wanted to see where Ramona "lived." It still retains a good sense of what old California probably looked like - tucked in the Santa Paula Valley between expansive orange groves, with cacti and roses blooming around the property.

At another, the Juan Matias Sanchez Adobe in Montebello, California, I met Bud Sanchez, the grandson of the adobe's namesake, Juan Matias Sanchez (1808-1885). Bud's grandfather and father both lived to an old age, marrying more than once and producing many descendants. The amazing story that Bud told was that his father was still in school when Lincoln was President! His grandfather would have been about 52 at the time.

There are more and more adobes I'm discovering as I drive around California, each with a unique history that is still with us today. Possibly even more astonishing is that so many are still around, that they haven't succumbed to earthquakes or other natural disasters, or been destroyed by development. Many were dilapidated and run-down not so long ago. (See more of the adobe paintings on my website, under Paintings > Adobes.)

There's a State Park in Downtown L.A.?

Painting at LASHP Yes, and I went painting last week at the relatively new Los Angeles State Historic Park (LASHP) and met some of the rangers. We chatted for a little bit, they snapped some pictures and put up a short post on me - check it out and leave some comments on the LASHP blog. From their posts it looks like the park is well-used and features lots of events. Although still in progress, there are about 13 acres available for public use now; in the photo below, it is the large green swath that stretches from near the skyscrapers of downtown L.A. to the Broadway Street bridge at about the middle of the photo. Chinatown and Olvera Street are within walking distance.

The park is a nice (free!) spot to paint with views of the bridge, downtown L.A., and some of the hills leading up to Elysian Park. Later in the afternoon there are lots of folks out running, walking dogs, etc. Although nearly finished for the season, the flowers in the park are pretty spectacular, too. There were still poppies and sunflowers blooming last week. I loved the slower pace and open space of the park, in such close proximity to the hectic freeways and industrial areas. There are even a small group of goats in the park right now!


I neglected to mention earlier another blogger whom I met while out painting in Pasadena this spring in the Arroyo Seco, Petrea and her husband John of Pasadena Daily Photo. They also took some nice photos, and  frequently feature all sorts of intriguing and well-written stories about the Pasadena area and life. Send them a hello when you stop by -