Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Reading the News

Here's my finished painting. I added the newspaper as a last-minute inspiration. I think it adds a focal point - maybe not a visual one, but a focus of the attention of the three men - and gives the painting a story.

That's my theory, anyway.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Current Project

Here's my current project. I thought I'd show you how it looks at this stage, because the three faces, from left to right, are in three distinct phases of completion. The guy on the left is almost finished. The face in the center has most of his features in place, or at least their foundations. The face on the right has only the beginnings of the shading taking place.

Desert Dunes

Lest you think I've been sitting on my hands lately. Actually, I've been pretty busy, as well as pretty sick. Don't worry - it's not swine flu. That's not allowed in Saudi Arabia. Instead, I seem to have picked up an intestinal hitchhiker. Hopefully the antibiotics I'm taking will evict the little bugger soon.

Thursday I'll be showing some of my smaller paintings at a bazaar at the US Embassy here in Riyadh. Then on the 13th of May, I'll be having of big exhibit, also here on the Diplomatic Quarter. Looks like lots of people will be coming, so it should be a good time.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

A Guy on a Camel

I know what you're thinking. "A guy on a camel - in Saudi Arabia! Wherever does he get these clever and unique ideas?" Well, all I can say is I paint what presents itself. Sometimes a particular subject or image just won't leave me alone until I've painted it. Twice. Or maybe three times. What can I do? I'm a slave to the muse. I think though, that if you were in my shoes (no, not sandals) you'd understand my recent fascination with camels. They are just plain weird critters. They have a very peculiar anatomy. Take, for instance, those bizarre toes. (They look like something that would be more at home on a bird, in my opinion.) Then you have those oddly-jointed legs, which are so strangely elongated, and that hump. Incidentally, I've noticed that there are two schools of thought when it comes to camel riding. There are the on-the-hump riders, who place a wooden frame over the hump, which allows them to sit atop it. And there are the behind-the-hump riders, who, like this guy, tie a large pillow behind the hump, and sit so that the hump rises in front of them. Do these two schools of thought imply social distinctions as do English and Western schools of horseback riding? Is there dressage for camel riding? See, I have many more questions still to explore. There will probably be more camel paintings to come.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

More Desert Camping Pictures

If you have an eye for texture, the desert will drive you crazy. I took hundreds of pictures of these undulating dunes, which on the one side are so perfectly smooth, and on the other side are sculpted into these waves. I can't wait to start painting them.

Desert Self Portrait

"The image in the mirror is not accurate."

The Right Way and the Wrong Way

There's a right way and a wrong way of doing just about anything, but when it comes to getting a vehicle over a steep sand dune, doing it the wrong way is very hard to avoid. At this point in our trip we were about 7 hours from the nearest paved road. Caution had been the hallmark of our every move so far, and would continue to be until we got home. In the case of cresting a steep sand dune though, a little caution can get you very stuck. In the driving course I took before coming out here, my instructor told me that you have to accelerate through the crest of the dune to avoid bottoming out and getting stuck. As you're climbing though, all you can see through your windshield is the sky, and, unless you're a maniac, the last thing you feel like doing is keeping the pressure on the gas pedal as your car seems to be launching itself into outer space.

The Right Way

And this is how it looks when you get it right - enough momentum to clear the crest, but not so much that you leave the ground and risk losing control.

Desert Hawk

As we drove along, we noticed this hawk landing off in the distance. I started shooting video as we drove closer, hoping to get a good look at him. I never dreamed we'd get this close. The best part of the video is the last few frames, when you get a good look at how colorful he is.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Finding a bit of America Here in Saudi Arabia


Some of you know that I'm a fan of Airstream and Argosy campers. I was talking about that fact, and about the great friends we've made attending Airstream Ralleys, as I was driving back with my friend from our desert camping trip yesterday. Just as I had finished explaining the differences between Airstreams and their lesser-known step siblings, I looked over to the side of the road and saw this '77 Argosy.
These aren't exactly something you see on a daily basis back home in the US, but here I'd have to say that I was probably looking at one of less than 4 or 5 in the entire kingdom - maybe the entire Arabian Peninsula. What are the odds that we'd drive by one just as I was talking about them?

Friday, April 17, 2009

Watch this Space




Coming soon, "How I spent My Weekend" or "Desert Camping in Saudi Arabia."

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Tax Day Tea Party in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

Today I'm blogging from my undisclosed Persian Gulf location (OK, my undisclosed location somewhere in Riyadh) as I add my voice to the thousands (millions?) of Americans who will express their displeasure with a government that has grown far beyond the limits imposed upon it by the constitution.

I do this from an undisclosed location because, where I'm currently living, public dissent is not quite as welcome as it might be. Also, because, as a military man, my role in public discourse, especially regarding politics, must be very limited. (That's one of the freedoms I forgo gladly in order to ensure that you have yours. I hope you make the most of them.)

Still, at some point, if one is sworn to defend the constitution, one's duty can come perilously close to something that resembles politics. This is especially likely if the means by which political entities attempt to achieve their goals is to circumvent the constitution. Because I believe that is currently the case, I can say without a shadow over my conscience, that I support wholeheartedly those fine Americans who are taking time today to remind our government that it was called into existence to protect the God-given rights of individuals, not to empower select groups of the population through the depredation of other groups.

I hope that this marks an awakening in the hearts and minds of my fellow citizens that our nation was designed to be a republic, and not a democracy, the difference being that in a republic, the powers of the government are strictly limited in order to prevent the majority from being able to impose its will on minorities. Clearly, we have failed to keep our republic from degenerating into mob rule, which is nothing more than another way of saying democracy. It is taken as a given these days, that every issue should be decided by a majority vote, and that every person is entitled to vote. Nothing could be further from the Founding Fathers' intent.

There certainly seems to have been that awakening in Texas, where the governor has thrown his support behind a resolution reminding the federal government that it is bound by the law of the land - the very law that called it into existence - to refrain from interfering in the business of the states, and incidentally, the people. As one who, for the last two decades or so, has lived under an oath to support and defend that constitution against all enemies foreign and domestic, I congratulate the people and the governor of Texas, and I call on the remaining states to demonstrate their support for the rule of law, and to pass their own resolutions remind the federal government that it serves at the pleasure of the states, not vice versa.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

He Is Risen!

He is risen indeed.

Years ago, when I was stationed in Greece, I loved the joy with which my neighbors celebrated Easter. There were fireworks, there was roasted lamb, and everyone greeted each other saying "Xhristos Anesti!" (I can't really write in Greek, but that's an approximation.) to which everyone answered in Greek, "He has risen indeed."

This marks another Easter away from my family. There have been enough now that I'm not certain how many times I've been separated from them on this important day. That's one of the prices I pay for the privilege of doing what I do. (And no, I'm not being sarcastic. I really am privileged to serve our nation and to work with its finest young people in some of the most exciting and challenging places in the world.) I like to think that not many more Easters away will be required of me. My kids are growing up, and I fear that by the time I'm home again, they will be that much closer to losing interest in Easter baskets and egg hunts.

One thing they won't outgrow, though, is an appreciation for what Easter is all about - not the baskets and the eggs, not a mysterious Harvey-sized bunny hopping along distributing candy - but a God that loves them so much that He would send his only son to lead a blameless life, die a horrible death, and rise from the grave in order to pay the penalty for their sins.

I hope you share that appreciation, and the joy of my old neighbors in a small village on a Greek island, and I hope you will greet someone today with that same reminder of God's great love for us. He has risen indeed.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Desert


I went out into the desert this afternoon. Pretty soon it'll be too hot to visit during the day, so I wanted to get as many photos to paint from as possible. This is a view of the edge of the plateau upon which Riyadh is located. You're southwest of Riyadh, looking to the east.

Worry Beads


Here's my latest painting. It's not quite finished, but I figure it's close enough to let you have a look. What do you think?

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Thanks to Donald Douglas




Welcome to new friends who're stopping by via American Power Blog, and thanks to Donald Douglas for linking to me. (Please click on the title of this post and pay him a visit if you're not coming from his site.)

I'm nearly finished with another painting, but in the mean time, I'd like to repost something I wrote during my first deployment. Several people have thanked me for serving in the military lately, and I think this sums up why I feel lucky to be able to do so.



Fear of Fueling

Since the start of the war our crew has logged over 100 hours in Iraqi airspace. We've flown enough miles to circle the globe several times. While nothing is routine, we are a little more adjusted now to being in hostile airspace. The things that previously caused us a burst of adrenaline (friendly missile launches that looked like surface to air fire, random tracers reaching skyward, the moon) are now more or less commonplace. We keep an eye on them, but a less anxious eye than before. Some of the comforting signs of normalcy (an occasional Hawaiian shirt worn over a flight suit, pushup contests on the floor of the jet) are seen again.

That could be why the pilot called me forward during the second in-air refueling yesterday. I've always been uncomfortable with what our pilot calls the "ballet of elephants." I am a firm believer in vertical and horizontal separation of aircraft, and he's taken it upon himself to show me there's nothing to fear.

We'd been in the air since evening, and unbeknownst to me, at work in the back with my window covered tightly, the sun had risen and was already filling the cockpit and burning the endless desert below us. Blinking, I felt my way to the observer's seat and buckled myself in.

After I'd plugged my headset into the comm system the pilot explained the plan for meeting the tanker. We would continue describing a small circle in the sky as the tanker finished a larger orbit, fueling its current customers. The navigator would adapt our speed and the size of our circle so that when the tanker finished it would be just ahead of us. We would simply roll out of our turn and find ourselves positioned to take fuel. As he explained I heard the nav and the copilot in the background, mentioning the tanker, "chicks in tow," and discussing its current position.

I looked in the direction they indicated and picked a small speck out of the sunshine. I squinted at it until it resolved itself into the distinct shape of the tanker accompanied by two fighters, one on the boom, and one off its wingtip. The perigee of our orbits brought us within a few miles of each other - close enough to see the fighter pilots in their cockpits, and bring the air-superiority-gray of the aircraft into sharp relief against the flat light reflecting off the desert. It was a breathtaking sight, but not the last I'd see that morning.

We held our gentle turn long enough for me to begin recognizing features on the ground. Through binoculars I watched black rivers of basalt - ancient lava flows - roll in and out of view. An occasional lonely road stretched from horizon to horizon, and in one place (a route of our advance?) countless sets of vehicle tracks left shadows across the undulating dunes.

Then it was our turn for gas. Our navigator brought us out of our turn about 5 miles behind and a little below the tanker. I watched over the pilot's left shoulder as the big jet got closer and closer - until it filled the little window above our heads, and my fingers left grooves in the armrests of my chair. The boom projected toward us, creeping forward until I was looking straight up into it; a nozzle about 8 inches in diameter bobbing gently in the wind blasting between our aircraft. The copilot began calling out the position of the boom, (over the nose... over the throttles...) allowing the pilot to know its location while keeping his larger perspective and monitoring our position with respect to the tanker. I watched the face of the boom operator peering at us from his tiny portal in the back of his jet. I found I could gauge the closeness of his nozzle to the receptacle above and behind our heads by the expression of concentration on his face. There was a loud thump-clunk, and we were connected.

The connection of the boom completes a comm circuit allowing the boom operator to talk to our flight deck without broadcasting over a radio. The operator asked us our tail number and base of origin - accounting for the destination of the several-score thousand gallons of gas he was already flowing into our tanks. That brief exchange, and an occasional, "Up four..." or “Down two..." were the only words exchanged. The flight engineer in his swivel seat to my right distributed the arriving weight evenly across our jet, helping the pilot maintain level flight.

And he had plenty to do in that regard. A set of lights on the belly of the jet above us, activated by the boom operator, allowed our pilot to know whether to advance or retard our position with respect to the tanker. I watched, waiting for the pilot to use throttles to adjust our position, but he relied on far more subtle means. This is something those of us who live in the back of the jet always appreciate. A pilot who accomplishes refueling without constantly speeding up and slowing down goes a long way toward preventing what flight surgeons like to refer to as "stomach awareness" on the part of the mission crew. With hours of mission to perform before landing, the last thing anyone wants is airsickness. Even for those without the problematic connection between stomach and inner ear, being on the same fight as someone who is sick can be very unpleasant. Little things like this give us confidence in our pilot.

It's always the little things that add up to significant impressions. Rarely are our opinions formed as the result of grand gestures or big statements. Our pilot formed a favorable impression of the tanker crew on just such a small detail. "This is an experienced guy," he commented via intercom. He explained that the tanker had canted the refueling orbit slightly, causing his plane to block the sun from our eyes. The copilot, who'd folded a chart and was ready to use it as a sun block for the pilot, registered his approval with a grunt.

This tiny gesture was greatly appreciated by all of us in the cockpit, but perhaps by me most of all. Aside from not having to squint painfully into the sun, which was nice, I was comforted by the fact that in spite of everything that was required to support this monstrous imposition on all the physical laws (It still surprises me that these ponderous machines fly, let alone can be maneuvered so precisely, and under such difficult conditions) someone had the presence of mind to consider something so insignificant.

And when we had received the last of the fuel required to complete our mission and we broke right, I watched the giant that had fueled us slew away to the left. Within seconds it had dwindled to a speck. In a second more it was gone, swallowed by the immensity of sky and desert. With it went my fear of aerial refueling.

As always, and in constantly renewed ways, I am amazed to find myself a part of the finest Air Force the world has ever known.

Steven