I thought it might be fun to share the layers of a recent watercolor painting. The painting was made at home after my summer trip to Colorado. I had in mind the sunset that greeted me just an hour or so after getting off the plane.
First thoughts and memories.
Sky and mountains.
Sunset, Sand Mountan, Routt County,Colorado
Painting by Kevin Macneil Brown, watercolor and graphite on paper, 2017.
In July I traveled to Routt County, in Northwest Colorado. I visited family and did some historical research for a novel in progress. On family outings and on solo trail runs I carried small sketchbooks and a minimal pocket watercolor set. I made sketches of landscapes that caught my eye and heart, with the plan of making larger paintings from them in the months ahead. Here are a few I would like to share.
Mount Zirkel and Big and Little Agnes Mountains as seen from Steamboat Lake.
Hahn's Peak from Steamboat Lake. In 1866, Joseph Hahn found gold, but succumbed to a brutal winter storm in 1867, before much could be mined. Others finished what he had started. The peak, part of the Elkhorn Range, dominates the landscape around it.
A solo trail run on the South Fork Trail in the Routt National Forest took me up though spruce and aspen and open meadows. One long meadow descent brought me to the quiet power of the South Fork on its way to the bigger Elk River. I stayed a while, waded in the cold, rocky waters, then settled in to sketch.
Two views of the Zirkels as seen from the South Fork Trail.
All watercolor sketches by Kevin Macneil Brown, July 2017.
With the first draft of a novel
put away to rest---or cure, or proof, or ripen-- for the next two or
three months, I have been thinking about the way each book seems to bring to me
an inner crisis.
Some books actually begin with the crisis: the thing I’m
feeling a deep need to work out; a yearning and restlessness beyond any
understanding or resolution except via the irrational magic of making it into a
At other times the crisis gathers force only when I am well
into the writing, and suddenly the narrative takes over most of my energy and
focus, until the story is shaped, completed.
This can be exhausting, physically and mentally.
Each book has had its own arc of crisis and resolution, and
with experience I have come to learn—to feel inside—the moment of passage.
That’s when I know the first draft—what I call the story draft—is ready, along
with its writer, to rest for a while.
As one who is fond of sky and water metaphors, I can
describe it like this: The story that
forms and becomes visible is shaped by things unseen, just as the waves on the
surface of a lake or sea take their shape and form and motion from the vectors
of the wind and tides, from the shapes and proportions of whatever lies hidden
Island- Mixed media collage and scan by Kevin Macneil Brown, April 2017.
My focus this winter had been on writing, with mornings spent on a first draft of the sixth Liam Dutra New England mystery novel.
I have nonetheless managed to find some time to paint, usually in the afternoons. These painting sessions have often become a sort of meditation on what is right here all around me-- a welcome respite from the immersed- in- another- world feeling that comes with writing fiction.
Here are a couple of recent watercolors.
Afternoon, Late January
Whiterock and Mount Hunger in Morning Light, January
Paintings by Kevin Macneil Brown, watercolor and graphite, 2017.
First Light, First Day of the Year
Painting by Kevin Macneil Brown, watercolor on paper, 2017
It happens each year, of course, but I am always surprised at how noticeable the lengthening of the days and the strength of sunlight become, just a couple of weeks past the winter solstice.
Another kind of light has found me in recent days also. In December I was struggling to see my way further into the novel in progress. My production slowed way down-- despite a good start, I was feeling stuck.
Just yesterday, however, something shifted. Here's what I wrote in my journal:
....logjam seems to breaking up...I think I need to just keep writing, letting the story come to me and take shape around the energy points that I do have in place already. It's a bit like a submerged mountain range: the high peaks are clear and visible, as is some of the ridge line. But there's a lot of mountain still beneath the water, waiting to be found. I've never had a story come to me this way before...