Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Tahir's Done

This one's finally done. I scratched away some of the paint from his eyes to create a reflected highlight, and I reworked some of the shading on his face. I also took the tone of his teeth down a couple of notches. They were just too bright. I have the weekend, which is Thursday and Friday here, to make progress on my next painting, which will be the boy holding a pidgeon. I posted his photograph a few weeks ago.
By the way, Happy New Year.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Closing for Prayer, Jeddah

I still haven't taken another look at my portrait of Tahir. Instead, I did this painting of the souk in Old Jeddah. Tomorrow I'll look with fresh eyes at Tahir and finish him up. Then I'll start on another portrait you've seen in my earlier pages, the boy with the pidgeon.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Bike Ride in Riyadh

If I'm not working, painting, or video-conferencing with my family, and if I'm not playing with my cats, Pinky and Junebug, then chances are I'm riding my mountain bike on the trail that encircles this compound where we live. Come with me for a ride, and take a look at the trail.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Tahir al Sudani - Almost Done!

My friend from the Camel Souk, Tahir Al Sudani, is almost finished. I've actually made a few changes since I took this photo - mostly on his eyebrows and the shading of his light-side cheek. now I'll put him away for a couple days so I can't see him, and then when I look at him again, hopefully I'll see immediately what changes remain to be made. If I don't do it that way, I find I suffer from something akin to target fixation, and I can't get an objective view of what I'm doing.

Old Jeddah

As promised, here's a short video that gives you a glimpse of the souk (marketplace) at the center of Old Jeddah. In the background you can hear the imams issuing the call to prayer. People are hurrying to close their shops and get to the mosque.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Tahir Unfinished

It's Christmas Eve, and I'm hard at work in my studio. I've been looking forward to doing this portrait ever since I photographed Tahir at the camel souk in Riyadh, a month or so ago.
I should head to the Embassy for a party tonight, but it all depends on how my painting is going. Is that anti-social of me?

Monday, December 22, 2008

Right after I got back from home, I had to take a trip to Jeddah for some meetings. While I was there I got to visit the old part of the city, where I took lots of pictures of marketplaces and old buildings. I'll post more soon, along with some video.

I got to go home briefly over Thanksgiving. A fun project I did was building this Christmas star and hanging it on our windmill tower, 60 feet over the house.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Old Dira

I'm heading home for a couple weeks on Saturday. I'm so excited by the prospect that I haven't been sleeping well. Instead of lying there wishing I were sleeping, I get up and paint. This is one of the results.
Dira is a conglomeration of souks in Riyadh, near the clock tower, the courthouse, and the square where they administer beheadings and hand amputations. Surrounding the souks is a network of narrow alleys like these, where ancient buildings of mud and palm timber are stacked atop one another. Most of them are being torn down now, so whenever I can I prowl around taking pictures so I can paint it as it was.
This painting isn't finished yet. There will be a "no parking" sign in Arabic in that blank rectangle in the left-hand foreground when I'm done. I like the way it's shaping up though, so I thought I'd give you this preview. Besides, I won't be posting much for the next couple weeks.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Skyline, Old City

Here's my current project. I've signed it, but I'm not quite sure it's finished yet, so I'll give it a day or two before I put it in a frame.

Junebug and Bougainvillea

The weather's been really nice lately. Who'd have thought that in Riyadh, there's a season (however brief) when you can leave your doors open? The cats are particularly appreciative. They sit and watch the patio for hours, and when there are birds overhead, they hunker down below the bottom of the door as if they're stalking them.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Man and Camel

This is a post-card sized study for what I hope will be a larger painting. Below, you might recognize the photograph that provided the inspiration.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Tahir al Sudani

This is Tahir, from the Sudan. He was so good-natured and friendly that I spent quite a while talking with him. He was happy to let me take his picture, and I hope to paint his portrait.

A Boy and His Pidgeon

This Yemeni boy was fun to talk to. Most people express surprise or even insurmountable disbelief that I can speak Arabic. This guy though, took it completely in stride. Why wouldn't I speak Arabic? That made communicating with him much easier, and much more fun. It was natural and almost effortless, despite my unfamiliarity with his particular dialect.

Camel Driver

A man and his camel

Wadi Hannifa

Another view of the wadi adjacent to our compound.

Trail, Diplomatic Compound

Here's another view of the trail that surrounds the compound where I live.


The other day I got the chance to travel a ways out of Riyadh to get in some practice at a shooting range. Every time I get out of town the immensity of the desert surprises me. It's not an easy impression to convey in a little painting.


Daraiyah is an ancient walled city on the outskirts of Riyadh. The substantial ruins there are being pulled down and a sort of replica is being built. This mosque is one of the remaining old buildings.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008


I just received my last shipment of household goods from home. As you can see, the cats really enjoy helping me unpack.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Carpets and rooftops

This one's not quite finished, but I think it's getting there. What do you think? I use only transparent watecolor, and no white, so the white details in the carpets are areas where I avoided putting any paint. It's a little trickier than other media, like oil, or acrylic, where you can just put a little white paint wherever you want it, but watercolor gives me things those other media can't, so I stick with it.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Thorn Tree

The Eid holiday is over, and I'll be back at the office tomorrow. I've enjoyed these last few days of seemingly limitless time for painting.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Colonnade, Diplomatic Quarter

The Diplomatic Quarter, which is where I live and work (and yes, for those who know me and are wondering, I do appreciate the irony) has lots of beautiful architecture. The Ethiopian Embassy, the Tunisian Ambassador's residence, the Palace of Culture, I hope to paint them all. Unfortunately, I'm not allowed to photograph embassies or official residences, or I'd show you what some of them look like. As I paint them though, I'll post them here for you to see.
This painting is from part of a warren of narrow passages and colonnades on the outskirts of the Palace of Culture, which, as far as I can tell, has very little to do with culture, and is more like a collection of shops and offices radiating like spokes from a mosque at their center. Even on hot days (and I'm happy to tell you that the weather lately has been much more pleasant) these places are shaded and seem to channel the breezes, which make them a nice place to sit and read or to take discrete photographs of scenes I hope to paint later.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Rising Trail

If you scroll down, you can see a photograph of the view that inspired this painting. Likewise with the painting directly below.

Palm, Wadi Hannifa

You may have noticed that I haven't been posting these last few days. (Then again, you may not have noticed, but I prefer to imagine that you did, and that the suspense has been driving you nuts.) It's because I've been working pretty consistently on this painting, which I am happy to say is now complete.

The month of Ramadan just ended, and Eid, the festival that celebrates the completion of the month of fasting, is in full swing. That means that the embassy is closed for the next couple days, and I will be painting pretty much full-time.

I'll be sure to show you how it's going.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Latest Painting

Here's the painting I finished tonight. It's called "Ruined Watchtower II" since I can't seem to come up with a more creative title.

A Morning Ride

If you came along with me on a morning ride, these following images are some of the things you'd see.

A View of the Wadi

Here's a view of one of the shallow valleys that feeds into Wadi Hannifa. The trails I ride wind back and forth along the faces of valleys like these.

Flagstone Trails

Some sections of trail are paved with big, rough flagstones. These sections are tough to negotiate at speed because, like everything else, the stones are coated with a dusting of fine well, dust, which is slicker than deer guts on a doorknob. And did I mention that they're rough? They make the cobbles of the Paris-Roubaix look like child's play. Notice the safety barriers that keep you from plunging down the cliff into the wadi. I'm not sure whether smacking into those stones would be better than falling, to tell you the truth.

Sandy Trails

Sometimes the trails hide pockets of deep, loose sand, which plays havoc with your steering, not to mention your momentum.

Palm Trees

Palm trees are everywhere, of course. I probably bash into two or three every time I ride the singletrack trails. Still, they seem exotic to me.


There are several of these ponds on my morning ride. Sometimes I surprise foxes and wild dogs drinking from them.

Rising Trail

The trail rises in many places to overlooks like this one. Usually, the approach is a smooth grade, and the descent is stone steps. If I have to choose between the two, I'd rather climb; I don't like riding down steps very much.

Palm Grove

The sun rises behind a date palm grove near my house.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Arab Motorcycle Gang

Marlon Brando never had to face these challenges when he was leader of his pack.

Dusty Morning

This is the larger painting of the study that you see below. I usually don't paint the same landscape twice, but once in a while an image won't leave me alone until I've painted it a couple times.

Date Palm

The dates are ripe here, which means they've exchanged the yellow you see in this painting for a red that's so deep it's almost brown.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Dusty Sunrise

Now that my mountainbike is here, I'm riding in the mornings. I'm usually on the trail just before 5:30, and although the sun is up by then, the temperature hasn't yet gotten into the 100's, so it feels downright pleasant.

Riding is always fun, but it's even better when I see scenes I know I'm going to want to paint, which is the case with the landscape above. This is a little post-card sized study that I'll begin working into a larger painting tomorrow.

Friday, September 12, 2008

We're Lazy and We Don't Care Who Knows it.

Situation normal; cats are lounging around, yawning, and licking when they can stay awake long enough. Pretty nice life.

Pinky's curiosity is aroused. It's a close struggle at first between inertia and curiosity, but ultimately he has to examine the camera I've set in front of him. Toward the latter half of the video you can see the odd little kink in the end of his tail.

Songbirds in Riyadh

Contrast this with the video below. This is a short clip from one of the dozen or so parks that dot our compound. They are irrigated and shady, and they attract several species of songbirds.

I was surprised to hear such beautiful sounds in this place, which, so far, has been characterized in my mind by intense heat, and human harshness.

First Night in Riyadh

Do not attempt to adjust your screen; you won't be able to see anything on this video. I shot it from my rooftop the first night in my house. I just wanted you to hear what it's like here at night.

The call to prayer is something you get used to hearing all the time, so much so that you don't even notice it, even when there is a minaret within a stone's throw of your bedroom window. It reminds me of that line from the Blues Brothers movie, after a train goes by and rattles everything in Elwood's apartment so loudly that nobody can hear what anyone else is saying. "How often does that happen," Jake asks. "So often that you don't even notice." is the reply.

Anyway, I was jetlagged and nowhere near sleep, so, used to it or not, this particular call to prayer didn't bother me, even though it was issued well before dawn.

Thursday, September 11, 2008


Just a day or two after I moved here, I started feeding the cats that live in the park across the street from my house. It's right on the way to work, so I walked through every day. Even after I'd been feeding them regularly for quite a while, only these two would come within arm's length. In fact, the one on the left climbed right into my lap from the first day, and the other one would lean against me and let me pet him.

Well, I'm a long way from home, and I have big empty house, so I thought about adopting a cat. I made contact with a vet and made sure I'd be able to get them treated, and then I brought these two home to live with me.


They made themselves right at home from the first day. Within the first half hour, they'd both used the litter box. (And they haven't failed to use it since then, either.) Unless they're jumping on me while I'm trying to read, or chasing their toys around the house, this is how they spend most of their time.

Always together

I think bringing both of them home was a good idea, don't you? Either one of them solo would have been too lonely.

Still not home from work? Fine. We'll knock the cushions off the couches.

The cats like to let me know when they think I've been at work too long. I come home to find the pillows and cushions from my couches on the floor.

I haven't declawed them, but they allow me to clip their claws often, and they never seemed to get into the habit of scratching things, so even if they knock stuff on the floor, they don't do any harm.


Here's Pinky. You can see the pink nose and ears that gave him his name. What you can't see is the tip of his tail, which curls completely around, and which almost caused me to name him Kinky.


Here's Junebug. You can't tell from this picture, but she's doing what she always does, which is to say keeping an eye on her brother. She loves to hide behind the curtains or atop the back of a chair or couch and spring on him when he passes by looking for her.

A View of My Back Yard

Here's a view of the wadi that runs along the perimeter of the compound in which I live. Here in Riyadh, lots of people live in compounds, which are pretty much like gated communities. Within the walls of compounds, people enjoy a little more freedom than they would if they just lived in the regular neighborhoods of Riyadh. For instance, women can walk around (or even run) without wearing abayas, although driving by women is still not allowed anywhere.
My compound is called the "DQ" Which, instead of "Dairy Queen" stands for "Diplomatic Quarter." This is where the embassies are located, and where most of the diplomats live. There are housing complexes here for westerners who work in hospitals. Some foreign companies also rent housing for their employees here.
This view doesn't really show you much of the wadi, which is a deep valley in the floor of the desert. It's pretty wide at this point too, and the floor is covered by palms. There's a huge palace complex belonging to one of the princes, too.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Ruined Watchtower

I've been in Riyadh for nearly six weeks now, and I finally had my household goods delivered today. I've had a small paint set with me, and these are some postcard-sized paintings I've done as I awaited all the rest of my gear.

Souk at Prayer Time

Three Camels

Palace of Culture

Mosque Near My House

Diplomatic Compound

Across the Wadi

Monday, July 07, 2008

Frog Heaven

This place is some kind of frog capital. Every morning I fish about a dozen frogs and toads out of our swimming pool. The all-time record haul was just a few days ago; I removed 42. This little tree frog is one of two that seems to have found a home in our pool-side umbrella.

Good Times

We rented this dumpster and filled it with the brush that's been accumulating around here. It took Zach and me about a week, with plenty of swimming breaks. Even though it's been very hot and humid, Zach never complained. His fencing instructor recently identified him as a sabre fighter, so we figured clearing up brush piles was a good way to prepare him for fighting with a heavier weapon.