Cairns: Stacks of Paintings of Stacks of Rocks

Back at the beginning of April I pulled an old watercolor sketchbook out of my desk. The year before, I had slathered white gesso on each page to try using it with oil paints. The paper was just too rough for the type of watercolor work I like to do, and the gesso would "seal" the paper and make it work with oils instead. I hadn't yet used it much, even in its new form, so I made a little doodle of a cairn: a stack of rocks marking a trail.** Cairns are made to mark established trails that may become extremely obscure in dense fog or under the snow. In some places above treeline, cairns are the only distinguishing mark to tell you where the trail leads. 

The little cairn painting I made was fun and good practice in drawing out and creating shading on the individual rocks. I didn't think much more about it until I had some enthusiastic encouragement from folks when sharing it around. That's when I decided to deconstruct the sketchbook (which I still did not love anyway) and use the individual sheets for practice pieces, all of cairns.

Thirty-six cairns later...I've had a lovely month and a half of experimenting, revisiting old photos, trying out new color palettes, making some goofy things, and generally doing something for the shear fun and creativity of it. It has been a welcome break for longer projects and the subject gets to the heart of my love for this region - trails, summits, windswept rocks and rugged landscapes in all their beauty and variety.

I mentioned in a recent interview that my paintings are love letters to the mountains. Well, the cairn series paintings are like little, daily love notes to those hills, sent just because. Each one brings back memories of days above treeline, skimming along the trail, stopping to take in the view, photograph an amazing alpine flower, and just breath it all in.

So there you have it. Thirty-six love notes to the mountains mountains here in my backyard. They measure about 4 by 6 inches each, with an extra paper border on most of them. The edges are rough, the paper itself is rough, and they're a little bit funky. Probably the closest to abstract work I've ever done. They'll go live on the site on June 3 (also known in these parts as 603 Day - for our area code), and you can pick up one or two to remind you of alpine days. They will be in their own little "Cairns" section of the site (look for that menu link at the top of each page). I hope you are able to get out on the trails this summer!

**The cairns I'm painting are not to be mistaken for the little stone stacks people have taken to making all over the place. Those are actually bad because they are misleading for folks trying to follow trails, and for the creatures living on and around the stones that have been moved; in some cases you're disrupting and destroying their homes. I'm talking about cairns built to permanently mark an established trail. Please don't make little rocks stacks all over the place in the wilderness.


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