The Stars at Night are Big and Bright
Deep in the heart of Texas is where I found myself these past two weeks. After arriving in Houston, I was greeted at the airport by my lovely girlfriend Lizzie and we promptly went out for dinner. We ordered an appetizer of fried alligator tail which was my first time eating reptile, it was absolutely delicious. Ordered the Texas Redfish dish with dirty rice (they wouldn’t tell me exactly what was in the rice and said I didn’t want to know – After finishing my plate clean, I learned it’s a Cajun dish consisting of white rice cooked with onions, peppers, chicken livers, and herbs.)
Then we took a trip to downtown Houston, well one of the downtowns. It is such a sprawled city with no zoning laws, that it has developed several “downtown” areas. The city hall building is something straight out of Gotham city. 1940’s fonts and murals covering the ground floors and ceilings. It’s a very beautiful building with some nice exhibits in the welcoming center, you just have to get past some of the tourist trap gift shop displays (you get that kind of thing anywhere though.) One exhibit caught my eye, a flag and patch which flew on the space shuttle Columbia, accompanied by a model of the the rocket and a lengthy history of the NASA program in Houston.
Bound for the coast, we headed to surfside beach near Galveston, Tx.
It’s been far too long since I had smelled the ocean air, 7 months in a landlocked Colorado will do that to a person. We spent forever driving up and down the beach looking for the public bathrooms, the spot our information said had free camping. After about 30 minutes, I hopped out and asked an old fisherman about it. Apparently Hurricane Ike had hit the area pretty hard and they hadn’t replaced much of the public amenities since. He had a pretty good haul of fish for the day though, three poles in the sand, bobbers in the surf, lonestar cans in the back of his truck. Can’t think of a better way to shop for dinner. We drove down the beach for a ways until we were the only people in sight, both directions.
The brisk 65 degrees and wind off the sea kept most locals inside, or back at their winter homes. Too cold for them. My friends up north were dealing with over four feet of snow in Buffalo, and single digit temperatures in Colorado, this felt like a tropical paradise in comparison. I spotted a great blue heron land just outside our camp and managed a photo through Lizzie’s binoculars.
Set up my easel, generously loaned by a friend in Boulder. It’s very compact when broken down, no bigger than a few sticks – Very good for travel. Tried to get some plein air painting done on the back of an old sketchbook, but I kept getting distracted buy the sunset. Started out with a color palette, then 15 minutes would go by, and it shifted from yellow/green to red/yellow to red/orange to orange/purple. The end result wasn’t much to write home about, but it served it’s purpose. I learned to work fast and worry about detail later, to stick to my original colors. Looking back now, I wish I had chosen to do four 15 minute color studies rather than a one hour landscape study. During the day hours you can get away with taking a bit longer on an outdoor painting, you just need to establish your shadows and stick to them, don’t work on one half of the piece and then by the time you get to the other side of the canvas, time has passed and the sun is at a different angle entirely. Be consistent across the board and worry about detail later on.
The next day we packed up and headed into Galveston, TX where we stopped for breakfast by the Pleasure Pier, home of Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. Our original plan was to head another 3 hours up to the big thicket in eastern Texas, but the sun and 75 degree high for the day made us change our mind. Spent the rest of our morning on the beach basking in the sun and painting instead. Again, the only locals we saw were either walking their dogs, jogging, or taking Christmas photos – All bundled up in coats and long sleeves. The looks we got.
Historical Galveston is a VERY neat place, once the largest city in the state, it was crippled by a hurricane in the early 1900’s and never got back on it’s feet. They moved shop to Houston and it turned into more of a vacation spot than anything. The buildings that did survive the hurricane are astonishingly beautiful. Old architecture with lots of French and German influences. It reminded me of a cape cod town up north, but things still screamed Texas. We took a self made, self guided tour around the city, stopping at an old bishop’s house (massive stone building that survived the Hurricane) as well as the remnants of the Pirate Jean Lafitte, a Frenchman of questionable values. He was a complete badass. Dude made Galveston his home for several years, commanding a fort, and building home which had cannons pointed at the bay and treasure packed within the walls. Eventually he was forced out of the area by the US government upon which he burned his house, burned the fort, and burned the TOWN to the ground. He then sailed off to South America.
My trip then took us to Austin where we visited both friends and family. Then onward to San Antonio. We found ourselves caught in the middle of a supercell thunder-hail storm of doom.
Ducked off the nearest exit and waited it out under a gas station overhand with 30+ cars packed in with the same idea. Once the storm had passed, we were back on the road to San Antonio. I was determined to find the Alamo’s basement.
Upon arriving in San Antonio, we met up with my cousin/lifelongfriend/brother/partnerincrime Ryan who by chance was there for a weekend teaching conference. He has been in Spain and London for the past 3 years, so it was quite a shock to see in in San Antonio of all places! We settled on a Denny’s after realizing the parking situation in downtown SA is atrocious (as well as the drivers, we almost got run over by a taxi while in a crosswalk.) Denny’s has never been so fun though, it’s always nice to catch up with somebody close. A mariachi competition had pretty much taken over the restaurant a few seconds after we had been served. At least 60 contestants decided to get Denny’s before their trips home, we got there at just the right time.
Lizzie’s sister was kind enough to house us for a few days, I didn’t get much artwork done, but we did see a ton of stuff. I took a LOT of reference and texture photos for my library to use in future paintings. My favorite part of the trip was the San Antonio Botanical Gardens. They have all of the Texas ecosystems, vegetable gardens, and two Bio-domes with artificial climate control with tropical and desert plants.
I took a TON of reference photos for the future, but I highly recommend this if you are ever in the San Antonio area. If I was a resident, you bet your ass I would have a membership and be there every week painting or sketching a different plant. We hit up the Alamo and the San Antonio Riverwalk the next day. The Alamo is very strange in the fact that there is a massive city downtown surrounding it. When I thought of the Alamo before, I pictured a little building on the Texas frontier. It’s a lot of people, a lot of buildings, and a lot of 10$ parking lots. The inside however is a delight, all very informative, and the museum itself is free!
Now lets talk a little bit of the San Antonio riverwalk. My cousin Ryan had mentioned it the other night and described it as very “Disneyworld.” I couldn’t agree with him more. Everything seemed to geared for tourists, expensive, cheesy,trinket shops with played out only in Texas slogans. There was no room for locals in a place like this. Not one dive bar or greasy texmex food. No mom and pop shops at all. You could really tell that the Riverwalk property cost a mint, and the people who bought it weren’t concerned with the business of those who operate the day to day affairs. I can’t imagine a waiter could afford to take a lunch break at any of the establishments more than a handful of times a month. It was all the more sad after reading the historical plaques mounted on the walls along the walk. The lead architect and planner of the project intended it as a river oasis of life and business for the people of San Antonio, and it has drifted so far from that into a harbor for tourists and the elite. We had enough of this city and It was time for turkey anyways.
Thanksgiving in the Texas hill country was more than I had hoped for. I was welcomed with open arms to Lizzie’s Aunt and Uncle’s Ranch near Johnson City, TX. 150+ acres of Live oaks, deer, cows, horses, good people and great food. We journeyed an hour or so out to Enchanted Rock, or “The Heart of Texas” a massive pink batholith. The entire place is surrounded by legend and tales of ghosts. Years of erosion formed small pools of water which are supposedly footprints of ghosts, forced to walk the surface of the rock for eternity. Neat stuff!
We headed back to the ranch for a wonderful turkey dinner and concluded our trip with the lighting of the Johnson City courthouse. A small town tradition that has been going on for 25 years now. we were presented with a 20 minute fireworks display topped off with the christmas lights covering the entire building. Santa and Mrs. Claus were nice enough to grace us all with their presence as well. Full of funnel cake and a corn dog, we drove back and soaked in the small town charm and big christmas spirit, excited for what December has in store for us. All festivities aside, I did have some time to do some outdoor painting at the ranch. Oil on board.