My pace has slowed, and things seems to be taking a new direction. This summer I received a request for a painting on an unusual canvas - a longhorn skull. It took a few months, and a few different strategies, but both the patron and I were pleased with the results. I'm currently working on a bison skull for the same patron.
Unconventional canvases call for unconventional easels. I painted this in our workout room, surrounded by gloves, mats, and muscular hunks.
Henri lent her services for showing the actual length of this magnificent animal's head.
It took two trips to Colorado this summer for this project to finally reach completion. The patron requested the 'Trail's End' image be included, but the rest was up to me. The background was inspired by Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs. Pictured are the North and South Gate, with Pikes Peak under a full moon.
Once I got started, I really enjoyed following the curves and lines in the bone with the drawing. The three howling wolves are something I wish I had been able to do in my travels - a visit to the wolf sanctuary near Colorado Springs.
Magpies are a personal mascot. I always take a magpie as a sign of good things to come, and I saw many in Vail this summer. So, one appeared in the painting!
This painting is a highly personal commission for a friend of the family who currently resides in Seattle. He requested spirit hearts, dead hearts, and the main character, a battle-worn heart, headed for his final trip into the sunset.
I've never painted a sunset, and could hear the soothing voice of Bob Ross in my head as I brushed gently over the canvas.
We took six days to drive up the California coast. Most of them were allotted beach time, saved up over a long winter to be cashed in during June. Warm sand, hot sun, salty tan skin, and water full of tiny creatures. The beach only blocks from our cousin’s apartment was perfectly, wonderfully deserted… because the weather looked like this. For three straight days. And so I learned of June gloom in California.
There was other fun to be had. Raw fish pulled from the sea right outside restaurant windows, family games of Trivial Pursuit over snacks on the balcony, and a giant Forever 21 kept us occupied in Oxnard. Farmers selling strawberries straight from their roadside fields offered absolutely the freshest, most delicious and beautiful fruit my tongue has ever tasted. I haven’t enjoyed a strawberry since.
Although the fog obscured most of our coastal view, on a sunny day we took the 17-mile drive on HWY 1 past Pebble Beach, seals, and big dark rocks.
We could have spent days at the Monterey Bay Aquarium.
And we met Benji. Okay, we also met his family. The Simms, parents of a college friend, welcomed us into their home sight-unseen. They let us play with their adorable dog, and even gave us a tour of their vast pantries (so many we wished we were staying more than one night). Another set of new friends to make the trip worth taking!
The last leg of our journey through California was as long as it was beautiful. Stopping for directions at a conservation center, we spotted a 10-year gypsy, as told by his signature in the guest book just before ours. He rode a bike with a buggy and had two dogs, one of which jumped into the buggy when commanded, “Load up!” I thought about our little adventure and wondered what his must be like.
Although I had planned to be 5 feet deep in blue salty water, I spent more time in California inside of enormous trees. It wasn’t exactly the way I had in mind, but I did feel wonderfully insignificant.
From its icy January beginnings, the beach was the motivation for this trip. I spent hours brooding over all the sunshine and warm air I was missing during the Iowa winter, dressed in black and painting with blood and tears on a canvas in homage to the sea, listening to music about the ocean and Google image searching serene destinations. Just kidding. Kind of.
Anyway, overall, I spent about five nonconsecutive minutes with my feet in chilly water. Maybe, MAYBE two hours in my swim suit, and most of those with goose bumps. I looked at the ocean a lot, but it definitely wasn’t the most impactful part of the trip. It turned out that once we were enjoying the road, there was no longer a destination in mind.
In May, I quit my job. I had no prospects—just the solid knowledge that I couldn’t stay where I was. I couldn’t be still. I had to move, move on, drive away. Emily agreed to join me on a crazy journey and the deal was done. We packed the car and followed the call of the wild west.
Armed with a GPS and wheels safely beyond the Continental Divide, Emily and I traipsed our way through Colorado and Utah to Cottonwood, Arizona. We caught our breath beside Lake Dillon after the frightening descent from the divide. We nearly suited up for a dip in Glenwood Springs, only to find that the springs looked just like swimming pools full of splashing summer kids. What? I thought these were going to be rocky holes in the ground…
On the advice of new Colorado friends, we left the main highway for a deserted road that took us along the Colorado River to Moab. I always thought Georgia O’Keefe was a little eager in her fondness of sand, rocks, and all things desert, but now I understand why. You win, Georgia.
Last summer my friends Ben and Kami bravely left Iowa for Arizona. They moved to Tucson, hunted for jobs and searched for a patch of grass amidst the red dirt for their bewildered dachshund. Ben was soon invited to stay with Don Reitz at his ranch and studio. Reitz is one of the most significant ceramic artists of the century, known best for his salt-firing techniques. The opportunity couldn’t have been better for Ben, who earned his BFA from the UI in ceramics.
Though Ben and Don were traveling to yet another show or conference, Kami generously offered us a tour of the Reitz ranch: studio, gallery, kilns, animals and the Verde River. I have zero talent in making three dimensional things, and am even worse at painting on them, so I was awed at the immense, beautifully decorated objects in Don’s gallery—on top of getting so close to the process of this expert.
I didn’t take any photos in the studio or gallery, but here’s a pretty representative picture of Kami and I conquering wilderness.
Okay, maybe we didn’t actually conquer anything wild. But I’m pretty proud (and envious?) of this lady for picking up her life and moving it to a brand new place. She’s done a commendable job of finding her way.
I couldn’t write about Arizona without mentioning my first tattoo. It lasted 10 days and was made completely of glitter.
Emily and I explored Cottonwood on our first day there. We blinked as we stepped out of the blinding Arizona sun into the sparkling Glitter Gallery at Art Institute Glitter, producer of over 400 colors and 11 types of glitter distributed all over the world. Glitter Guy (name unknown, but Emily maintains he was a Steve) welcomed us to the store. He insisted we dip our entire hands into a conch shell filled with tiny tiny flecks of gold glitter, finer than white sand. He proceeded to tattoo us both, first filling a stencil in with body glue and then using a tiny brush to cover the glue with our choice of glitter.
Steve told us he had a master’s in math, but decided to work in the family glitter biz. Trained in numbers, he now sells glitter as make-up, to crafters, and to travelling girls who want it glued to their skin. Are you telling me that someone with a math degree gets paid to use a paint brush, while I sit at a computer?!
Fine. I’m just glad to meet another person who chose to do what made them happy instead of what made them money. (Did I mention that Kris from Colorado is a freelance graphic designer? Her parents thought she was crazy when she decided to go out on her own, but she loves it.)
When Steve offered to give us a ‘tour of the sunshine,’ we shared a pointed glance as he dragged us out onto the street. How wrong we were again to be cynical! No wonder he chose glitter over numbers.
I admit it; I’ve been avoiding my blog. I’m working, painting, and I feel overwhelmed by the amount of material to cover (despite my handy timeline). I told myself I was still processing the road trip, but honestly, writing is processing. I won’t process fully until I write. I’ve decided to break it down into chunks, a few states at a time.
My sister Emily and I stayed in Denver with a couple we had never met (not the last time we’d pull that risky business), Kris and Greg. We arrived after a full day of driving, our longest stretch yet. Traffic was awful, or so we thought at this naive beginning, and we were starving and irritable. We were not sold on Colorado. Oh, how silly we were.
We rose to 6,500 ft in a land where things were suddenly measured by their altitude. We thought we were pretty high up. We were impressed by our ability to adapt to life with less oxygen.
Red Rocks Amphitheater, Morrison, CO. If we weren’t left breathless by the elevation, this did the trick.
Words will do no justice. Dispatch put on a great show, but it wouldn’t have mattered who was on stage.
I began falling in love. With rocks.
The next day we went to Garden of the Gods, where my growing passion for red rocks was fueled by dry heat and beauty like this:
After a shower and a delicious dinner made by our hostess Kris, we went to a second show: RATATAT at Ogden Theater. Great music, holograms, and a bar atmosphere. Completely different vibe; similar odor. (Emily observed later as we passed a dead skunk in the road, “It smells like a Dispatch concert.”)
As we left Denver that weekend and headed west, I experienced a terror to rival 23 years of fears. It was just a road, and its name was Loveland Pass.
6,500 feet? Nothing.
This road forced us up 11,990 feet. The Continental Divide. My white knuckled, violently shaking hands were the only little suction cups holding our tiny car onto the earth. That earth, which has always been below me, jumped miles downward around every twisty turn. The road was populated by semis, which apparently were too tall to take the tunnel and seemed far too clumsy to be on this Wile E. Coyote mountain path. My body beat itself with forceful shivers while my mind scolded, “WHY DID YOU THINK THIS WAS A GOOD IDEA?!”
It was a great idea.
And it left us ready for whatever tiny bumps lay ahead.
For months, I’ve been considering making a big change. It was a long winter, spent working 40 + hours a week, painting during the down-time, and deliberating about what I should do.
Should do? I’ve learned that should is a flag word. It’s a signal that you’re making a decision based on what other people will think, that you’re under pressure to live up to some self-imposed standard. You should have a 9-5 job, you should have more friends, should be settling down, should pay off student loans.
Should you be crying before breakfast? Should you be vomiting afterward because you’re so freaked out? And why are you sad or stressed, anyway? You should be happy, because you’re learning a lot, you have a great work environment, you’re not a high-profile executive and you get your weekends off. You have plenty to be thankful for. It could be a lot, lot worse.
Spring is here. The windows are open, the breeze is warm, and the sun on my skin never felt so good. Should? Screw that. I’m 23. I’m single. I have no kids. Why should I be settling down and working full time? And who’s telling me to do that? Not my parents. Not my sisters or my friends. My sister Madison, at a wise five years of age, told me, "You need to tell your boss you are an artist!"
In fact, everyone I’ve talked to has said something like, “You gave it an honest try, no sense in sitting around being unhappy.” And some even say, “I wish I could make a change like that.” Alright, I understand that there are things you can’t control—you’re not in good health, you have kids to support. You aren’t ready to stop trying to make your current situation work. Fair enough.
But if it’s something internal holding you back—something like, oh, let’s just take a wild guess and say fear—maybe you can feel the fear and do it anyway. Fear that the change will be worse than the present, you’ll lose your comfortable routine, you’ll have to live more frugally. Fear that you really don’t know what will make you happy, or that people will disapprove of what does. I’ve noticed, though, that every time I want to make a change and I worry that nobody will like my choice (and therefore I won’t be able to enjoy it either), the people closest to me are supportive! Whaaaaat? My loved ones want me to be happy? Who would have thought?!
Am I scared to move across the country to a big city where I know no one? Um, YEAH. Am I afraid I’m not talented enough to get into a competitive grad program, afraid I’ll never meet someone and fall crazy in love, afraid I won’t get the life I really want (which is what, exactly?)? I’m SCARED SHITLESS! But I know I can’t stay where I am. Those things I want aren’t happening here.
Yesterday I joined in a scavenger hunt and spent 2 hours wandering around in the woods at a nearby nature center. When I decided I was done, I consulted my map and wished I had brought a compass. I walked around a family with lots of tiny children getting their itty-bitty shoes stuck in the mud. I crossed a couple of bridges. This trail seemed to be winding on a lot longer than expected. Eventually I reached a sign that said, “Public Hunting Area.” I stood still, deciding, and a big old turkey wobbled by. He was pretty, with oily, shiny feathers, and despite his awkwardness he was magnificent in the way that all wild animals are.
According to my map, I could stay on this safe path and be back to the parking area in another hour. Or I could turn around and choose a different fork, hoping another trail would take me a better direction. I turned around; passing the family (who must have thought I was ridiculous back tracking for no good reason) and crossing back over the bridges. I veered right onto a new trail and reached my car 10 minutes later. Okay, I’m a bad navigator—I abandoned the scavenger hunt and got lost, but I did see the turkey in the midst of all that. Then I took a risk and backed up, switched paths in order to reach my destination. You can connect the metaphorical dots here.
Last time I made a change I ignored my urge to move somewhere warmer, closer to the ocean. I made the 'should' choice. I’m not saying it was the wrong choice, because a lot of good things have happened. I’ve learned tons at my job, made wonderful new friends, and been super productive in the painting studio. There are wrong paths, but I think we mostly decide between an infinite number of right ones. And I’m ready to choose a different fork.
February, you saucy minx. If I could enter a room the way February entered 2011, I wouldn't need a website to advertise my work. That minx dropped snow so thick I had to sleep at the American Gothic House Center under the copy machine. Okay, not really. I slept next door on Beth’s couch. But when you have to close the bathroom curtain so you can’t see your office from the shower, that’s basically like being at work. Naked.
In 2011 I am keeping a sketch diary. Nightly, I reflect on the day and choose what's worthwhile or funny enough to immortalize with one sketch. I make a point not to limit myself to positives. If something awful happens, and I feel like including it, so be it. For someone who spent the last few months of 2010 in tears, I’m happy to report the first five weeks of drawings are shockingly pleasant. There are lots of pictures of food (pies, my new crock pot, steaming mugs of tea, a jar of homemade yogurt), a guitar, a turtle shaped loaf of bread (oh wait, that’s food again), a big fuzzy chair. Maybe this little project, which takes only a few minutes a day, is actually improving my outlook.
At least it was... until February.
A couple things happened to downshift my mood.
One: I rediscovered this music video of John Mayer (my guitar idol and new boyfriend) playing Slow Dancing in a Burning Room. This song makes my soul hurt. It’s a great torture device.
Two: February covered up all the blades of grass that were starting to show beneath January’s leavings. There’s just no way I can keep pretending it’s mid-March when my car is stuck in the driveway.
So I’m back to battling my wanderlust. I made a playlist called Sea Songs, which consists completely of stylistically unrelated music about the ocean, the beach, or sea creatures. It didn’t help. I baked and gave away a couple of pies. That felt nice, but then I went back outside and February confronted me by immediately freezing the insides of my nostrils.
I don’t know what it is about the ocean that's pulling me. I haven’t spent much time there—a few weeks or months in total, spread out over years of vacations. Add a couple more days if you count transatlantic flights spent holding my breath in fear of crashing into my big soggy friend.
I remember meeting the ocean and knowing without a doubt it was the best thing I’d ever encountered. I was 11, staying at Clearwater Beach with my parents and my sister. I feel still when I think about watching the water, listening to it, getting in it, breathing the air around it. It’s so vast, so powerful, so eternal—I forget my ‘individual human being’ issues and become another grain of sand on the beach. No memories of the past, no fears about the future. Just a tiny, inconsequential piece of something much larger.
It's February in Iowa, but I have the leftovers of our brief meetings. I find them in the deep pockets of dark suitcases, or in a shoebox in the back of a closet. Or on my easel.
I’ve been thinking about movement. I even got out my trampoline last weekend. Unfortunately I can move up and down and around as much as I want under these 12 foot ceilings, but it won’t cure my urge to run. (Running itself being absolutely out of the question.)
On a day to day basis I enjoy my life. Except I can’t pass 12 hours without daydreaming about getting in my car and driving until I feel something. Something like the freedom to take a deep breath at the top of a mountain, to scream and cry and laugh and sing; or to rip off my clothes and sprint into the ocean and fight against the waves until I wash up on the shore exhausted.
Whew. Quarter-life crisis? Strange to realize that what I’m really craving is strong emotion, because lately I cry a few tears about three times a day. The sunset, the movies, roadkill, babies, music, doing the dishes, social interactions, paying bills at work, and generally any happy occasion. Pretty annoying and completely out of character for me. You’d think I could just be thankful for my health and friends and family and good job.
Anyway, in an attempt to counteract the selfish madness I’ve been mapping out a month long cross country road trip. I think I will begin by jet skiing at the lake house in Kansas, and then on to Colorado (Springs or Denver?). Thirteen hours later is Tucson and my friend Kami, who I haven't seen since before graduation. Also my god-dog Lizzy. My absence is making me a very a poor role model.
About 8 hours from there to L.A., and somewhere else in California where my mom’s sister lives, maybe San Francisco. Leisurely trip up the coast to Portland (Beth, do you think I can stay on your friend’s 40 acre Mount Hood property? Pretty, pretty please?!). Seattle’s only 3 hours north of there, and Idaho holds lots of family members.
There are two main problems with this trip.
1.Wyoming and Nebraska
2.I’m missing the entire northeast (and my roomie in D.C.), where I’ve never been outside of airports.
3.I need a copilot. I’m taking auditions now. Qualified applicants are:
a.Excellent drivers, mechanic(or at least tire changing) experience a plus
b.Able to introduce me to wondrous new tunes and appreciate my favorites
c.Willing to sing shamelessly at the top of our lungs and vocal ranges
d.Ready to go with the flow and enjoy each mile with no emphasis on a final destination
e.Awed by nature and happy to make pit stops for staring at it
f.At least six feet tall with a dry, sarcastic sense of humor and long messy hair (oh, and male)
December 1, 2010—five years since my littlest sister was born. This time of year makes me nostalgic. I smell snow, wood smoke, scents from the previous winter on my long brown coat. I look forward to snuggling in, lighting candles in my broken fireplace, watching the wind from the floor to ceiling windows in my apartment. (Which is great in theory, but a broken fireplace and a wall of windows does not equal a warm or efficient living space.)
I daydream about my favorite places.
Bruges, Belgium. May of 2009. The Belgians know what’s up—chocolate with breakfast, hundreds of beers in the bars, and three official languages (none of which are English). A French fry museum, waffles sold by street vendors, and just in case you’d rather be elsewhere, an Irish pub serving hard cider. Oh, and then there are the canals. No big deal.
My bedroom in Urbandale. I was able to fund my trip to the U.K. because I spent a semester interning full time at the Des Moines Art Center, and living rent free with a wonderful couple who were basically strangers before I arrived. A few of weeks ago I went back to see my adopted aunt and uncle. Played pool on the table in the basement while Bob had a cigarette, browsed books Sandi strategically left out for me. When I climbed the stairs to go to sleep that night, I realized there was a big dumb grin on my face. I was happy to be home.
Portland, OR. On spring break, I drove 36 hours through a variety of weathers and 8 states to spend two days in Portland. Say what you will about the city’s rain, I still can’t get over the moss growing on every possible surface. Portland’s got mountains on one side, ocean on the other, and waterfalls connecting the two. There’s no better way to get a grip on life than realizing you’re an insignificant speck among the absolute freakin’ beauty of nature.
The Art Farm!Easily the most worthwhile month of my life, and probably the reason having a full-time job is so unappealing. In addition to painting, this month consisted of crazy amounts of ice cream, absolutely no structure, and unlimited access to warm raspberries. I had to steal these photos from the other residents (thanks guys!).
It wasn’t until my last year there that I really started to appreciate Iowa City. Due in part, of course, to my quirky Old Capitol coworkers. You never know what kind of people you’re going to find working a museum. Wait, I take that back. You know exactly what kind of people you're going to find. You just have to be one to appreciate it.
My home sweet home and the home of two of the coolest people I know: My mom, now an empty nester, and my sister Emily, a student at UNI. I thought moving to another small town in Iowa would be just like going home, and in some ways it is. But mostly, it isn’t. It’s not the same as being surrounded by people who probably changed your diapers, or your parents’ diapers, or people whose diapers you changed. The Des Moines River, which is one of Eldon’s borders, is far from the Mississippi. There is no Pup Hut, where I sweated my ass off for six dreadfully hot summers. And mainly, there’s no mom or sister to bike laps around town with me!
At some point, in some order, I plan to spend more time in all of these places. A day, a month, a year or twenty, with lots of travel and life and energy in between. As Beth keeps telling me, ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE! And now, if possible, I'll take some sleep please!
About the Artist Molly Moser currently resides in Des Moines, Iowa, where she finds lots to love in the people, the cultural events, bike trails, water, and farmer's markets. She continues to study art and to paint, draw, and take photos. Molly hopes to move west to attend graduate school.
Molly’s paintings explore the relationships, emotions and interactions that occur between families, friends and partners, humans and nature. She creates interior spaces to tell these stories through the personal objects they contain.