Cabin in the Woods

After over a year of COVID isolation, who isn’t ready to just pack a bag and get away for a little while… but still maybe a little anxious about getting back out into the world? That was the case for Tom and me last weekend. Though we’re now fully vaccinated and reasonably safe, we were still cautious about our visit to Raystown Lake. So we rented a cabin and didn’t interact much with anyone but our dearest friends (also fully vaccinated), whom we hadn’t seen since 2019.

Our cabin was very rustic – just a step up from camping. This was quite new to us, as Tom’s idea of roughing it is when the Holiday Inn is in the woods. We didn’t even have heat, and of course, it was pouring rain and freezing out there all weekend. However, it wasn’t something two space heaters and an umbrella couldn’t handle!

It was all worth it for the wonderful memories we made… and as you know, memories are what I’m good at!

Speaking of memories, yesterday was a sad day for fans of the Original Hot Dog Shop in Oakland. With the last of the O signage taken down, new students arriving in the fall will never recognize that building as a place that was always jumping, filled with laughter and comradery. And of course, they’ll never experience those famous hotdogs, accompanied by what was probably the biggest serving of fries the world has ever known.

Were you one of those happy students or Oakland workers who look back fondly on good times at the O? Now you can relive those moments with my painting, “Remembering the O.”  If you look closely, you’ll see Rick Sebak – a man who really knows his stuff about Pittsburgh dining – walking out with his big bag of leftover fries. The print is an archival giclee open-edition ($85.00) and would make an ideal gift during this graduation season.

Once again, I’d like to thank everyone who has completed my brief survey to help determine the direction my product line will take in the coming year. Your time and your thoughts are much appreciated, and by filling out the survey, you’re helping me bring joy to others.

If you haven’t yet completed the survey, just follow the link in the P.S. below and enjoy a savings of 10% off your next online order.

Also, while you happen to be on my homepage, check out our new look!

Have a great week!

P.S. – Again, here’s the link to the survey. Just answer five easy questions to get 10% off your next online purchase!


Can You Help Me Out?

I hope you and your families are healthy and enjoying the recent Spring weather and getting outside a little more as the temperatures warm up.

I’m writing you today with a special request – I need your help to create my new art products line for the coming year.

Due to the pandemic and the tough economy in 2020, I’m sorry to say that some of my supplier partners didn’t make it. For that reason, some of my popular items are no longer available. But while it’s sad that this has happened, I’m looking at this setback as an opportunity to explore some new product ideas.

And that’s where you come in!

Over the years, your purchasing choices and feedback have helped guide me in these decisions, and I thank you for that.  Now I’m directly requesting your input on which products I will pursue and develop in the future.

You can help me out by taking a brief five-question survey about the kinds of items featuring my artwork that you might like to purchase. I hope you’ll take five minutes to provide your personal insights to help me reset my product offerings.

Thank you in advance for your encouragement and support. Artists really need and treasure that kind of feedback — your “Painter of Memories” really appreciates it!

As my way of saying thanks, you’ll receive 10% off any item on my website (except candles) for completing this short survey. A code will be sent to you by email after your survey is submitted.

Just click here:

Happy Spring!

It’s Finished!

This week I’m officially announcing the release of my new painting, “Lincoln Highway’s Historic Ship Hotel.”

When I last showed you my progress on the painting, it didn’t seem like there was a lot more to do to finish it.  It was pretty much done except for just the road itself… I mean, how hard is to paint some pavement?

Actually, the road is central to the theme of this painting. The Lincoln Highway brought people to this particular spot… from sightseers who had heard about this unique landmark, to motorists who just happened to be driving by and pulled over to get a better look at that amazing view. Part of the road was eventually incorporated into the parking lot of the Grand Ship Hotel. Because it was so important to the hotel, I thought long and hard about how to depict it.

As always, I made adjustments based on trial and error.  At first, it was too light and blended in with the Avanti. Thank heavens pastels are so forgiving! See if you can catch the change towards the end of the video.

(What video, you ask? Well, we tried something new with this painting…)

Each night before I left my studio, I took a photo of how far I had progressed that day. My daughter Brittany (my Social Media Guru) put all the photos together, added some nice piano music for a soundtrack, and created a slideshow video of the making of the painting. You can find it on my website, – just scroll down to the bottom of the page.

Thank you for following me over last two months as I researched, gathered resources, sketched, and painted my way through this piece. I hope you like it, and that it reminds you (or someone dear to you) of good times and happy touring memories of days gone by.

Please share this link with your family and friends. Note that this is a very limited edition of 75 with 10 Artist proofs and 10 Artist-Enhanced prints – the smallest print edition I’ve ever done. So order yours today!

Again, the link is I hope you’ll check out the video of the start-to-finish creation process of “Lincoln Highway’s Historic Ship Hotel.” I think it’s pretty cool!

P.S. – Meet Alex – the genius who turns my original pastel paintings into perfect prints! He works really hard to make them the absolute best they can be.

What a Difference a Day Makes

My plan on Wednesday was to take pictures of my backyard garden, as some of my readers have asked about it. I was all set with beautiful, artfully composed photos of every detail… so many photos, in fact, that you might have died of boredom. Then something unexpected happened… an odd late-season snowstorm!

What did you think of this sudden throwback to Christmas? I was like a kid on Christmas morning!  I knew it would only last a few hours, so I couldn’t resist running around my garden, taking pictures of my beautiful blooms covered with snow.

Here are photos of my front yard garden, taken just one day apart.

I was remembering when there was an April storm like this some years ago as I was setting up the modeling session for my painting, “A Grand View of Pittsburgh.”  After enjoying many 70-degree spring days for what seemed like weeks, we were all quite surprised that Sunday when we met up on Grandview Avenue. A huge cold front came through at that very hour with what seemed like the world’s biggest snowflakes. Of course, it was very opportune for the snowy winter scene I had planned, but everyone wasn’t just pretending to be freezing… they actually were!

Since I last wrote you two weeks ago, I’ve been in “The Zone” with my latest painting, now officially entitled “Lincoln Highway’s Historic Ship Hotel.” I added the lettering on the red sign and painted in all of the windows. That was quite challenging – did I ever mention that windows drive me nuts? Still, I had a lot of fun with the reflections and unique shades of orange. At one point, I realized I had miscounted the windows and had to add an extra one. Luckily, I caught it before it was too late! Sometimes being a perfectionist comes in handy.

Painting the cars was very interesting. The owner of the Avanti was a big help in identifying the other cars that I had found in my resources to fill up the parking lot. The VW Bug was a must, as it was my client’s first car!  I had to change the color of one of the cars because it was white – otherwise, it would have just faded away into the background of the Ship Hotel’s white exterior walls. Bill (my client) and his family are in the painting, and of course, Tom and the girls make an appearance, standing over by the wall and enjoying the view!

All that’s left is to finish is the foreground, then I’ll go back add some more detail. Once I make sure everything looks good, it goes off to the printer. By this time next week, I hope to have prints of the painting ready for you to see… wish me luck!

“Ho-ho-ho, Happy Easter!”

I hope all of you had an enjoyable holiday weekend. Between Easter celebrations and working hard on my painting of the Ship Hotel, it’s been a very busy week for me and my family.  Easter is such a pretty time of year as the trees begin to sprout tiny green leaves, and flower buds are opening, scenting the air with their fragrance.

Yet amid all this springtime fun, my granddaughter Autumn is still obsessed with Santa. “Ho-Ho-Ho!” is her favorite phrase, and she never gets tired of talking about Santa and what he might be up to. Remember the Jolly Old Elf book I published just before Christmas last year? Well, Santa signed a copy for her family, and I of course drew a remarque (a small original work of art, hand-drawn or painted directly on the piece by the artist) inside the cover.

Well, this limited-edition signed and numbered book has been so well loved and read so many times that it now looks like it went through a war!  Sadly, it may not be much of a collector’s item by the time Autumn grows up, but I have no doubt she’ll always treasure it and remember how it brought her so much joy as a little girl.

One day last week, we “read” that book at least four times over the course of the day. Later, I was face-timing with my daughter, when I heard “Ho-ho-ho!” – and there was Autumn, pointing to the book up on the shelf, asking to look through it one more time.

As the world begins to open up again, I’m looking forward to bigger and better sales for the book for the 2021 Holiday Season, when if all goes well, I can show off the book in person. Maybe I should bring Autumn with me to my book signings… she’s definitely its biggest fan!

So, as you can see from the latest photo (at the top), I did manage to make some progress on the painting. The front of the hotel is in, and I’m currently lighting up the windows on the long side of the building. I hope to have a lot more to show you this time next week.

In the meantime, I hope you can get out in the springtime sunshine and have a great weekend!

P.S. – Here are the girls enjoying a swing ride, compliments of Bop-Bop!

A Secret Message for Sailors!

From my family to yours, Happy Easter!  We’re not even going to talk about the fact that it’s freezing outside. It’s almost like Mother Nature is saying, “Ha ha! April Fools!”  Regardless of the weather, we’re looking forward to a beautiful Easter weekend as we reflect and enjoy.

This last week was filled with delightful days of painting the Ship Hotel. I think the sky in this piece may be my most exciting one ever! I was tickled pink as I applied each layer, running up and down the steps to my studio between sessions, as my inner art critic screamed “I love this!” and “I’m actually getting the look I want!” You might think that I should know it all by now, and that nothing would surprise me about painting after all these years. But I feel as if I’m always discovering more with each new project. To me, learning new things is an essential part of life’s journey.

Speaking of learning… I learned about something very cool this week! As I’ve shared with you in these last few weeks, I’ve had to put a lot of “puzzle pieces” together for this painting, and this week was no exception. As I was looking at old photos, I noticed that some showed nautical flags running from flagpole to flagpole above the ship-shaped hotel, though I couldn’t make them out. I also realized that there were other photos that didn’t seem to show the nautical flags at all.

Having been a sailor in my younger days, I thought it would be cool to use those nautical flags in the painting. But was there a special meaning to the flags and their order? Who better to ask than my oldest and dearest friends… who just happen to live on their sailboat full time and have for nearly a decade?

I knew the flags meant something, which I may have known in my previous life but had totally forgotten since then. Were they displayed in a particular order to convey a message? Or were they just randomly hung up there for fun? I learned that each flag pattern represents a letter of the alphabet. As we brainstormed on the subject (always one of my favorite parts of creating), Ron came up with the idea of spelling out THE SHIP HOTEL! So, as you can see below, he put together the sequence of flags to spell out the hotel’s name.

I painted them hanging straight at first, and then I bent them as if they were flying in the wind. I absolutely love that I could use the flags to send a secret message – just one more piece that will make up the story behind this painting.

Next up, I’ll be working on the top decks and the front of the hotel… so stay tuned for more!

Have a beautiful weekend, and I’ll update you again next week!

P.S. – Don’t forget to browse my website if you’re looking for a special gift or a memory to share.

Thank You Very Mulch

Spring officially arrived this week and brought some warmer weather with it, so I’ve enjoyed spending a lot of time outdoors working on my garden. After I took the first spring photo (above), I went on to clean both the front yard and the back yard to get it ready for mulch. I’m thinking Tom and I may lay all the mulch ourselves this year instead of hiring a landscaper. The front yard won’t be so bad, but the back yard is four times the size. So no promises… let’s see how we do!

We’re looking forward to the blooming of some new bulbs we added this year to brighten up the yard. We were very pleasantly surprised with the beauty of our winter garden with its shades of red, green, blue, yellow, and burgundy. Even in the cold, gray winter, our garden was a lovely splash of color. Claire from Exceptional Gardens designed it for us. The way everything works so well together in our small space is a living testimonial to her talent.

In addition to our ongoing art project in our garden, art is happening in my studio as well. The Grand View Ship Hotel painting is taking shape, and progress is being made. What started as a thumbnail sketch was turned into a pen-and-ink drawing, then it was enlarged and transferred onto the museum pastel board, carefully (dare I say meticulously?) redefined, and then sprayed to be painted over.

I have actually started brushing watercolor on as an underpainting. This will help map out the piece before I start using my pastels. I also painted a small pastel color version to get a feel for what I want the mood to be in the piece. (This is basically just a helpful exercise for me, not really something worth showing you.)  I hope to have more progress to share with you next week.

Enjoy the weather, enjoy spring… and as always, stay tuned!

Hail to Pitt!

I hope you are all well. With the coming of Daylight Savings Time, Tom and I have been enjoying the extra sunlight, and we love seeing new life emerging in our garden with the change in weather.

But in addition to the seasonal joys of the arrival of Spring, this last week has also brought us a bit of excitement. (I’m sure you’re asking “Excitement? What’s that?”) I was honored to be part of a special surprise for someone… an anniversary surprise to be exact!

It all started in January when I received an email from Michelle, wondering if my painting, “Game Day at Pitt Stadium,” might still be available. Both Michelle and her husband Corey have deep roots at Pitt.  They’re both Pitt grads who met and started dating while working at Pitt, and they were married at Heinz Chapel. They hope their 2-year old son will continue the family tradition and attend Pitt when he grows up.

Corey had wanted a print of my painting from the time it first came out, but by the time he got around to purchasing it, he was disappointed to find it was completely sold out. Since then, he had looked for it everywhere, but to no avail.

Michelle, knowing how much he wanted the print, thought it would be a perfect gift to celebrate their 10th anniversary. It was obvious from the moment I met Michelle how much she loves her husband and wanted to fulfill this wish for him.

Michelle came to my home gallery to see the original painting and fell in love with it. I promised her I would take the painting and have the glass switched from regular glass to museum glass.  (Back when the painting was originally framed, museum glass wasn’t commonly used.)  She returned the week before their anniversary to purchase the painting and loved how the new glass enhanced its beauty.

After I had shared some stories with Michelle about how I developed “Game Day at Pitt Stadium,” she had a special request.  Could she and Corey come back to my studio on the date of their actual anniversary? She thought it would be a wonderful surprise to present him with the painting, and I could share those stories with both of them.

So last Friday at 2 pm, true to her word, Michelle and Corey appeared at my home. He had no clue what was going on and was absolutely surprised! At first, he thought she had found a print but soon was delighted to find out he had been gifted with the original pastel painting.

Michelle sent me photos of “Game Day at Pitt Stadium” hanging in their beautiful home and wrote me this thoughtful note…

“The original pastel now hangs in our home office among our other Pitt memorabilia. The detail in the pastel is amazing! The colors are so bright and vibrant. We have such a special connection to Pitt, and this will be a cherished piece for us for many years to come.”

There is something very special about owning a piece of original art.  It brings me great joy to know that every painting I have ever sold has gone to a good home.

Road Trip Weekend!

I pray you all have been well this week. As for me, I’ve had more excitement and adventure in the last week than I have in the past year!

As you may have read in my most recent newsletters, I’ve been working on my upcoming painting of The Grand View Ship Hotel that was once located in Schellsburg, PA.  This week we took our first road trip in what seems like AGES to collect the some of the resources I needed to develop the painting.

I’ve always loved this part of a project. It’s a little like being a detective, sleuthing about and gathering images and information that will help bring my painting to life.

Last week, I mentioned that I was looking for a specific vintage car. My client told me he had always dreamed of having a gold 1969 Studebaker Avanti. Putting out the word to all my readers paid off big time, because I was blessed with the perfect answer right away. Soon after last week’s newsletter went out, a reader got in touch to tell me he knows a guy who has the car we were looking for!

On Saturday, we drove about an hour to the home of Bob’s old school teacher, Fred, who just happened to have a gold 1963 Avanti. Wow! It was exactly the car we were looking for! Not only was it in great shape, but it was an award-winning 399- out of 400-point car (I just learned that this was a thing). It was truly a piece of automotive art, refurbished with tender loving care over a period of 14 years.

And not only did Fred have the perfect car, but he also expertly helped identify the make and model of every car that I wanted to paint in the hotel parking lot.

Then on Sunday, Tom and I drove out to the former location of the Ship Hotel – now just a wide place in the road – and pulled off to the side to see the view. We were there in the late afternoon, the perfect time to see the rolling hills, farms, and trees, surrounded by mountains. There were still a few footings down below the cliff where the foundation had been, and someone had placed an American flag on the corner near the road. It was a gorgeous day, so we treated ourselves to a walk in Shawnee State Park (recommended by a few of you in your emails – thanks for the tip!) after our photo shoot.

This week, I heard back from the Lincoln Highway Experience Museum. I asked for their help to try to figure out all the words on the red sign that was on the front of the hotel; when the photos were enlarged, the words became unreadable. Director Lauren actually reached out to Brian Butko, the author of the book that appeared in my email two weeks ago.  Brian, Lauren, the historians, and I put all our heads together, and we think we finally figured them all out.  So that will be something for you to look for when the painting is done.

Next up:  Start painting! Wish me luck!

P.S. – My granddaughter Autumn is in love with Santa – but then, what kid isn’t? Every day Tom would babysit, she would want to see his phone and would immediately go to my website to see “Ho-Ho-Ho.” So yesterday I brought over a set of my Santa cards, and Autumn carried them around with her everywhere.  All you had to do was ask, “Autumn, what does Santa say?” and she would look you straight in the eye and say “Ho-Ho-Ho!”

Sailing into Spring

Isn’t it nice to finally see some sunshine? I know I’m enjoying it. The sun inspires me. Tom and I actually got out last night and took a walk.

I also was finally able to spend some time in my garden. Gosh, I wish I were a better gardener! I think I may have cut back some of my bushes a bit too far. I hope not. I guess time, sunshine, and Mother Nature will let me know!

Meanwhile, the process of creating my new painting of the Ship Hotel has begun.

After last week’s newsletter, many of you wrote to me about your experiences with the S.S. Grand View Ship Hotel. Your stories were so much fun to read, and I really appreciate your sharing them with me.  A common thread was that feeling of surprise – driving in the country along the mountain highway, then all of a sudden saying, “What the heck is that?!” For many of you, stopping at the Ship Hotel became a family road-trip tradition on the way to a favorite vacation spot. Some remembered the excitement of watching for the ship or looking through that big telescope up on the top deck.

Your memories, in fact, would be really helpful to me right now. I’m gathering the resources to start on my new Ship Hotel painting, and I have papers and photos strewn all about my office. In the old days, I had to visit the library to look up old photos, but nowadays, Google Images is my jam. I look at everything I can get my hands on to get the best possible sense of what I want to paint. One photo may show the spectacular view to its best advantage, but another photo may give me a little more detail of the sign… Sometimes my compositions are cobbled together from multiple photos.

It sure would be a lot easier to go there and take my own photos, which I typically do every time I paint a new piece.  Unfortunately, the Ship Hotel was lost to arson not long after 9/11, taking away any chance for a new owner to come along and lovingly restore this wonderful bit of Americana.  So in this case, I must use old resources and base the painting on research.

The client who commissioned the project told me that, back in the day, one of his favorite cars was a 1969 Studebaker Avanti. I’ve been trying to find anything I can online, but if you happen to know of anyone who may have one that I could take a look at, it sure would be a big help. The car will be front and center in the painting, so it’s really important that I grasp its essence.

Here’s what I have in mind: Based on old black-and-white photographs, I’ll paint my client’s father entering the car and his mom sitting in the front seat.  The actual photos are really of his dad with friends in a living room and his mom (wearing cat’s-eye glasses!), playing cards with her friends. In another part of the painting, I’ll place my client and his sister with a dark-blue VW that he once owned. It’s my way of personalizing the painting for him and adding real people into my work – I think putting them into my paintings really adds to the story. And of course, I will find a place for Tom!

Once I had my composition in mind, I started with a pencil sketch, about 7 x 9 inches. Then, because the photos are a little difficult to see, I made it into a pen and ink drawing to shore up the detail. Next, I sent it to my client for first approval before translating it into a larger format.

While I’m searching for resources, I’m making other important decisions: What time of day will it be? What will the background look like? What elements do I want to pull forward to showcase, and which ones will I push into the background to support the painting? In the meantime, I can start the actual sketch.  Eventually, my process will be to sketch the entire painting onto a museum-quality pastel board that I will then paint over with my soft pastels.

Stay tuned for the next steps as the painting takes shape! Any thoughts?

P.S. –  My Facebook friends may have seen this story, but I would like to share it with all of you.

Three of my original paintings and my new Jolly Old Elf  book are displayed in the front window of Lee Heckman Custom Framing and Gallery on Beverly Road in Mt. Lebanon. I am greatly honored that a few of my clients were willing to donate their pieces. The display will be up in the window for a short while, so if you happen to be in the area, please stop by and see! Lee and Paul are amazing at creating the unique, perfect frames to showcase my art.