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Behind the scenes – What I look at in a museum

What do I look at? When in Phoenix … I visit the Phoenix Art Museum (PAM). I saw some old favorites and new things, too. The Heard Museum is great, too, just up the road, but it was a PAM sort of day today. Here is a bit of what I spent my time looking at.

PAM sign 400

The highlight was the traveling exhibition of Circle of Animals / Zodiac Heads: Gold by Ai Weiwei. It was very worth the trip. It’s a conceptual exhibit, so one has to read about it as well. Ok, one does not have to, but it helps. Another place for info is Ai Weiwei’s site (

I spent a lot of time studying the painting by Edouard Vuillard. I looked his brushwork, the layers of his colors, how he placed colors to create the illusion of shapes, and more. I also visited a bronze by my favorite sculptor Barbara Hepworth. It was class Hepworth, a powerful piece. I did not like where it was placed, on a shelf across a staircase, too far away to get its full impact. I also noticed a dreamy image by Agnes Pelton. It was almost a bit too surreal for me, but it was well done and its imagery pulled me in. My photo doesn’t do justice to her painting. If you cannot make it to the museum, take a look online at Oh yes, then there was Rodin.

Ai WeiWei and me200horse-snake-200


Hepworth200Rodin 200



List of images

· Ai Weiwei Exhibit (
· Madame Lucy Hessel Working at a Dressmaker’s Table by Edouard Vuillard, oil, 1908
· Aloe by Barbara Hepworth, bronze, 1969
· Kiss by Rodin, bronze, 1880
· Day by Agnes Pelton, oil, 1935


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Refreshed by a dirt road

Going nuts with work. Grab sketch gear. Grab water. Drive to end of earth.

Okay, maybe not THE end, but close enough. I found a dirt road that was suitable only for my jeep:  Rocks, very narrow in places with occasional steep drop offs to one side of the jeep or the other. Cool. It’s been too long since my jeep and I have enjoyed the solitude of a remote trail. There were not any recent tire tracks from other vehicles. Nice. It was scenic, but not dramatically pretty. The road is used by the Forest Service to fight fires and by the power company to service large power transmission towers. There were also signs of bird hunting (spent shotgun shells). Still, it was quiet and off the beaten path. My jeep thanked me for getting it off pavement. I drew its portrait, then drove home, refreshed.

FYI:  That’s Superstition Mountains and Weaver’s Needle in the distance.

Happy Trails

My jeep along Fire Road 285 north of Phoenix (watercolor, 7x5in, 2011)
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Looking Works Best

First of three posts on painting your travels.

When you take a photo, are you really looking at your subject? What do you remember? Think about it. How many levels does the Roman Coliseum have? What does the ceiling look like in the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul?

Travel watercolor sketches, that you paint, are an excellent way to create long-lasting memories of your travels. Research has shown that travelers who sketch, or even just look, remember more than people who take photos.

Cannot draw? So what? If You Travel, You Can Paint. No excuses. If you think you cannot draw, then please read my next blog post. But first…

Travel watercolor sketches are easy for everyone. I am not talking about painting the Sistine Chapel here (arts equivalent of rocket science). A 3×5 piece of paper with a square building, a tree, some stick figures, and a splash of color makes a wonderful travel memory. Try one, I dare you. Then look at it when you get home. You will be amazed at what you remember; not just the subject of your little sketch, but your feelings, who you were with, the temperature, what you had for lunch, the ceiling, and way more.

In my next post I will talk about philosophical, procedural, and practical issues with travel watercolor painting. If you survive, then in my last post in this series, I will give you my ideas on what supplies you should carry as you travel.

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Artist Tired After Painting Two Phoenix Mountains.

It’s true, and I’m working on a third mountain. I work out at my local YMCA to stay in shape.

Thankfully, the mountains are small, 8 by 10 inches. They are part of my new project: A tribute to Phoenix mountains.

The project did not start as “a project”. It grew out of a visit to the Phoenix Art Museum. I looked at the buildings near the museum. I have painted many buildings in many cities in the world. I wondered if there were any Phoenix buildings I should paint. I really hate to look for things to paint, but I threw caution to the wind and began a series of short-range travels around Phoenix, searching for interesting scenes that defined Phoenix, and the larger metropolitan area.

Driving from one end of metro Phoenix to the other is not easy. Roads and highways go up, down, and around many hills and mountains. Then it struck me. The mountains around Phoenix define the city. They influence roads, city and neighborhood boundaries, the location and orientation of buildings, parks, and golf courses, property values, and more. Yet, they are often taken for granted by many of us who live here.

A project was born. I picked some of the better-known mountain peaks to begin the project:  Piestewa, Camelback, and Superstition. More will follow. I welcome suggestions. The paintings are done in oil. Piestewa and Camelback are finished. Superstition is in progress. Artists debate the value of showing incomplete work, but this project began by throwing caution to the wind, so here is Superstition as it is at the moment. It will look different by the end of today.

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Drawings from Lost Dog Trail

Wow. I’ve been away too long, from painting and this blog. Last post was a photo of me on Lost Dog Trail. It’s near my home in Scottsdale, Arizona. Below are three drawings from yesterday’s hike. I must admit I do not hike very far because of the time it takes me to draw. My focus was on hiking so I stopped briefly to sketch and added color later. I don’t like to do that, but I wanted to walk a little.

I drew with a new compressed graphic stick (very cool) and added the color later. It can make narrow and wide lines. I experimented with different color media on each piece. I used combinations of ink, colored pencils, marker, and watercolor.

Ramada at Lost Dog Trailhead © Michael Liebhaber
View along the trail © Michael Liebhaber
Trail view at sunset © Michael Liebhaber