The Tempest: Stage Set

The Tempest: Stage Set – Pencil, ink, watercolor, gouache – 8 x 10 inches.

The Tempest begins with a storm that will wreck a ship and deliver its passengers into the hands of a vengeful magician, who wants to harm them. This drawing from my sketchbook shows the stage of the outdoor Elizabethan Theater at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland before a recent evening performance.

In a few minutes darkness will fall and the sound system will shock the audience with deafening blasts of thunder and flashes of lightning. Crew members of the ship will scramble over the stage trying to trim the sails, represented by the three triangular shapes. We have no doubt that the ship is doomed. Mother Nature helps too: rain falls steadily and I have to stop drawing because the paper gets wet.

Most of the audience has prepared for the storm with ponchos, umbrellas and raincoats. But the temperature is 41 and the rain is relentless. The actors suffer the most, especially the four who, as part of the play, have been enchanted by a magic spell and have to pretend that they are asleep in the puddles on the stage.

At intermission, stagehands emerge to swab off the stage. Rain still falls and many in the audience head for the exits. Connie and I want to stay for the rest of the performance, but we’re soaked and miserable. So we stagger up the street to our B&B, quaking with the shivers as if we had palsy.

The sketch is not a product, like Shakespeare’s play. It’s more like a rehearsal, a process of paying attention. Days later, I added ink and colors, like layers of memory. We didn’t get to see the entire Tempest, but now, how can we ever forget it?

New Roof

New Roof – Watercolor – 21 x 29 inches.

“The world is overflowing with things to paint, waiting only for you and your imagination. Your final assignment of this course is to paint a watercolor of any subject you wish.” One would think that after three months of drawing and painting under my direction, the students would have been happy to be set free, to paint whatever they wanted and not what I told them to paint. But no, of all the assignments during the semester, this one caused them the most dismay. Why? I wondered.

A few said that “the real world was intimidating;” there were too many subjects to choose from. They felt lost: “How do you choose?” My advice was “if you’re in doubt, just paint whatever happens to be in front of you.”

That watercolor class ended a long time ago and I forgot about the assignment until one morning when I looked out of the window of my studio and saw the house next door getting a new roof. This painting has nothing to do with dreams or mythology or symbolism or any of the other things that make me wonder. It’s just the result of being in doubt and following my own advice.


Ripley – Oil on canvas – 31 x 40 inches.

It was summer, remember?
The world belonged to big
people, parents and other
adults, all big. Except for
a gift, the morning after
a lightning storm.

Puddles glistened, crows were
silent, fishermen made their
momentary appearances in oil
paint before you made them
all disappear: their boats, the
telephone wires, the summer
cottages, everything erased
except light and trees
and water.

Every thing appeared again later
after you opened your eyes.
You were a child, remember?
You, the one who disappeared
miles and years ago?
The trees and the lake haven’t
paid the slightest attention
to your absence.

You were a wiser child then,
when you knew nothing, when
a luminescent summer
morning opened its forest
arms, as dark and deep as
a storm at night, as wild
and blue as the wings of
your imagination.