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An Artist's Journey

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Chapter 19: A vast ocean


When the internet was taking off in the 1990's, my friend Hugh Holub (now deceased) set me up with my first computer. He was upgrading, and in the spring of 1997 he passed his old PC on to me so I could help with cartoons and other graphics for his news parady website, the Frumious Bandersnatch. He observed then that "The internet is the world's largest vanity press." Now, 2014, the web is 25 years old and teeming with billions of self-published books, blogs, videos and personal websites.

It's probably true that most of the stuff out there is of dubious quality, but even if your content is really good and well-presented, It's easy and likely to be lost in the enormously huge, deep and crowded digital ocean—and it grows larger by the minute. Regardless of that reality, all I can think to do is to continue developing and offering my graphic art skills to the public and to continue creating my own writings, videos and other artwork for as long as I enjoy doing it.

...and my sleeping loft is a ship of dreams

loft ship

I climb into my loft to sleep every night and travel in the subconscious sea. This ship of dreams takes me to places unimaginable and connects me with people, animals, and other creatures. Some of them are familiar, but many others are not. The journey begins soon after my head hits the pillow and continues until I wake. For me, waking life feels suspiciously like another dream.



In January, 2014, Polla the cat was treated at the nearby University Pet Clinic. He had gotten out of the house after I carelessly left the kitchen door open for 30 seconds.

A few minutes later I heard an awful racket as he was attacked by a neighborhood cat that happened to be in the yard. He frantically ran back into the casita and dashed up the ladder to hide in the loft, but he was freaked out for days and the wound became infected.



His wounds healed, but the incident was a tremendous shock to the16-year-old cat and seems to have accelerated his aging process. It was a shock for me as well. We have become quite attached to each other.

Polla recovering

Polla recovered


Another round of SNAP assisstance


Even though the Great Recession is officially over, my business remains stagnant. Book projects have been few and far between, and other work amounts to a small graphic design job now and then, at best. So, once again I found it necessary to get whatever help I qualify for to buy groceries.

I applied in February, 2014, and the state calculated that I could receive $91/month in food stamps.

It's about half the maximum amount allowed for a single, childless adult, and $20 less than when I last applied two years ago because congress felt that SNAP benefits were too high and cut them. I may qualify for help with my Medicare premium, but that takes longer to determine. Hopefully, business will pick up and this assistance won't be needed for very long. The other two times I resorted to this, work came in and I didn't need to renew for another 6-month period. It's a humbling experience to live below the poverty line.


Digital art continues to develop...

guy on bike



Most of the graphic art I produce is digital anymore. I enjoy the continuous learning experience that comes with using professional software like Adobe CS or Corel Painter, and I'm always finding new features and capabilities to explore.

An important benefit of working this way is the physical space freed up that would otherwise be used for tools, supplies of paper and paints, and storing artwork. Now, the last decade of work is stored in a book-size hard drive, and almost all tools and supplies are built into the graphics software and implemented with Wacom's digitizing pen technology.

These two images were created from recent photos I took while visiting Tucson's popular 4th Avenue near 9th Street. They were manipulated with various filters in PhotoShop along with some painting with the brush tools.

For the first image, "Guy on Bike", I was nearby and the photo had a lot of detail to work with. But the second, "Cyclist 2" was a small section cropped from a much larger photo. It had relatively few pixels to work with but the simplified result is striking.

In both compositions there are accidental color harmonies that I didn't notice when taking the shots.

The red shirt and curb stripe in "Cyclist 2" are especially fortunate, but the splash of yellow orange that leads the eye to the rider in "Guy on Bike" is also pleasing along with the variety of grays and red accents.



In February, my brother Mick was in town. He lives in Rapid Ciry, SD, but most of the family live in the Phoenix area--they decided to caravan to my place on a Saturday morning so we could all visit while he was here.






I took photos of neice Leanne with Madison, her new daughter, to create an illustration of them. I'd done the same for the other niece present, Amanda, shortly after her son was born two years earlier.

It took parts of two somewhat blurry shots to compose the scene I wanted to draw. Although line is still an important component of the artwork, painting is a little more developed than the typical book illustrations I do.




family visitsMadison

...along with a rustic, mid-town lifestyle

A key aspect of my environment is the re-use of old lumber and other salvaged materials to create functional and decorative objects for the hermitage. The color and texture of weathered wood and paint have great charm and appeal to me, and the more they weather, the better.

The idea is to use stuff from or very near the property itself as much as possible. This includes lumber and debris left after various remodeling and yard projects as well as interesting found objects from around the neighborhood. Neighbors on either side have also donated old fencing lumber to my stockpile when they upgraded to cement block patio walls.

Readers might see similarities to the Shabby Chic style of interior decorating, or echoes of the Wabi Sabi tradition in Japan. Both find beauty and continued functionality in the old, worn-out and discarded objects around us. My rustic attitude is a version of those sensibilities.


For example, in April of this year, I built a housing for the mail box to bring the rustic theme to the front curb. The boards were originally a neighbor's fencing that found a second life as a storage counter in the studio. Recently, that counter was disassembled and some of the boards re-reused for this piece.

And below is a small assemblage, about 7"x5", made from scraps left over from the mail box project.

cow plaque


Many other examples can be found throughout this bio, and more will be coming. It's a way of life for me.

More rustic revisions to the hermitage

This gateway on the east side of the studio was the next project after the mailbox. It adds a rustic element and helps divide the front yard from the more private inner spaces. It was made from odd scraps of lumber and other salvage that seemed to belong in the space.

East gatewayEast gateway2

One goal of this work is to use up as much of my huge stockpiles of old lumber as possible.The next project would go a long way to meet that goal. It was to devise a way to add height to the west patio wall to increase privacy.The neighboring duplex has become a rental for University of Arizona students, and I thought we could all benefit from a higher fence. A plan arose that would utilize old fence lumber on hand so that the only cost was for brackets, screws and masonry drill bits.

fence plan


Fence 01

fence 02

I began by removing hundreds of old boards that I'd stacked against the the wall by the front gate. It was a decorative, temporary way to hide the blocks and store the boards for future use. They had been there13 years and many had suffered from rot. However, the plan called for 36" pieces, so a lot of the damaged ones could still yield a useable board..

Then, 2x2 rails were attached to the blocks with 2" corner brackets fastened to the masonry with anchor screws. I drilled the required size holes into the mortar joints for the plastic anchors.

The rails sat on the brackets and were fastened with coarse thread screws from underneath.

The entire length of the fence (about 120') needed preliminary clearing of old vines and other debris as I continued. This became a job in itself.



Each board was cut to size and wire brushed to remove dirt and debris. They were fastened to the rails with coarse thread drywall screws after pilot holes were drilled to eliminate splitting. With this method the boards are easily removeable and replaceable.



The trim along the top and bottom came from a rediscovered pile of lattice strips. They hide ragged edges, especially along the bottom, and nicely frame the boards.




Work continued in this manner for the entire length of the fence. It actually looks better than I imagined, effectively screens the apartments next door and used up a ton of old lumber.





I worked my way in sections until reaching the back of the property. It took about a month.





fence midsection

Fence, SW corner

More out of town visitors

Coryn & Brian

Late in May, Brian Best and Coryn Leaman, from the San Diego area, were in town for a few days to attend a relative's big wedding. They visited with me before and after. I was treated to dinner at the Blue Willow and got a thorough back massage from Coryn.

Brian, a landscape designer, approved of the fence, as did Coryn.

The casita roof gets attention

Next up was recoating the casita roof. Preparation included permanantly sealing the loft hatch door.

It is a recycled refrigerator door that had to be covered with a tarp during storms, but was prone to leaking and had become a nusiance to deal with. I could get along without it.

I also decided to paint out the lower three panes of the east and west windows to minimize sun heating instead of using curtains inside. The north window remained as it was.

The roof has not looked this good in a long time.

A problem arose when I discovered a leak in the gas line that runs over the roof to an old wall heater below. I immediately turned off the gas--no telling how long it had been leaking.

The interior of the loft then took on a new look. I painted a triangle pattern on the blocked out panes and used the same color on the now sealed door. The windows glow all day and on moonlit nights. Very nice.

The roof was ready for the first monsoon storm in late June, a few days after I'd finished.


loft hatchloft hatch & window


Loft re-do

First monsoon storm

Surprise income from elsewhere

In June I received an email from Stan, an old friend of my deceased friend and mentor, St. Andrew Noble (see Chapter 4). He said he enjoyed my bio and had something to send to me. He didn't say what it was, but my expectation was a piece of artwork or writing that Andrew had left with him long ago, or maybe one of those interesting trinkets that Andrew acquired on his travels and gave away.

The mailing was from Australia and arrived about two weeks later. It was a standard envelope that couldn't have had more than a piece of paper inside and I was amazed to find that the piece of paper was a significant check, a complete surprise! Our mutual friend had somehow inspired this gift--a testament to Andrew's enduring influence on both our lives and to the cosmic generosity of his old friend, Stan.

Once again, I did not renew my SNAP benefits (the application for help with the Medicare payment is still pending after six months). This episode was so unusual and unexpected that I live each day with a somewhat deeper sense of amazed gratitude. Life is, indeed, a dream.

Piano upgrade to 88 keys

Kawai CS 100

My piano skills had improved to the point that the 61-key Casio I'd been using for the past few years was feeling inadequate. This is a Kawai ES100. It's a no-frills instrument focused on a realistic key action and an authentic grand piano sound. It has made playing a deeper pleasure. Hardly a day goes by that I don't sit at it and practice for awhile. This was a gift to myself from a portion of the surprise income.

The attractive and functional dust cover was made by my friend Debra Irons.

Piano Cover

Rebuilding the back fence

After re-coating the Casita roof, attention turned to the fence at the back of the property. The 50' fence had become a hodgepodge of recycled lumber over the past 35 years and was falling apart. It needed help staying up in places and many boards were rotting away.

Back fence before

Old fence looking west

Soutwest corner

This is the state of the back fence a year before any of this year's projects began.


Southeast corner








Central area







Southwest corner





Work began at the southeast corner. As usual, preparation became a job in itself. I had to trim trees and clear away weeds, bamboo and its roots that had creeped into the yard.

The first post was in place on August 21. But because the ground in this area is very hard, with concrete-like caliche below the topsoil, It took about two hours to dig the first 24" deep hole with the digging bar.

The posts were set without concrete. I've tried both ways in the past and found that this way lasts as long or longer.

The rocky soil was thoroughly tamped every few inches as the holes were filled.and the post checked for straightness frequently


SE post

It was clear that this would take a while to complete.

Rather than tear down the entire old fence at once, work proceeded in sections so new fencing could replace the old as I went along.

I say "new fencing" but only the posts and rails are new lumber. The fence boards come from my still abundant stockpile of old fence lumber.

SE corner


SW corner of the fence

After the east side of the fence was established with two completed 8' sections, I moved to the west corner.

That post location needed to be determined so the posts between could be evenly spaced and lined up.

Ideally, this post would stand next to the stack of blocks set there long ago to fill a gap in the old fence. Instead, because of an especially dense area of caliche, the post ended up about 30" away. Even that location was very difficult to break through and the hole is an inch or two shy of the full 24', so this post is a bit higher than the others.

Because of that placement, however, only seven posts were needed instead of eight, and I had one less hole to dig.


west fence section

Fence center section

Mick visits

The next post after that was a relative breeze, but all the post holes were major chores.

Short rails were placed between the first post and the blocks and the first boards installed.





Then the remaining posts and rails went up.







Mick was in town again as I was installing the last run of boards for the center section.



Work progressed but was intermittent because of on and off summer rains. It took about two months, overall, and was completed on October 22. It was a dramatic change for the back area.

Completed fence-east

Any useable boards with paint on them were concentrated into this central section. It is now a history of all the fences that had been there in the past. The triangular cut-out at the bottom is a passthru for cats and the occasional rabbit.

Finished center section of the fence

The dead tree in the west corner was uprooted and now stands in the same place with a new personality.

Branch being1





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