Tag Archives: Tucumcari

New job, new house, New Mexico

I’ve been threatening since 2001 to run away to New Mexico for vacation and never come back. Last month, I made good on that threat.

I’d intended to post an update earlier, but things happened so quickly, tonight is really the first chance I’ve had to catch my breath.

In late September, I interviewed for a job teaching English at House High School in House, New Mexico. I was offered the job Oct. 2, with an Oct. 9 start date. In between, we’d already scheduled our vacation, with plans to leave Cape the morning of Oct. 5 and arrive in Tucumcari the evening of Oct. 6.

This is the view from my front porch.
We rolled into town in time for dinner Oct. 6, put an offer on a mid-century house with a view of Tucumcari Mountain from the living room on Oct. 7, and I started my new teaching gig the morning of Oct. 9. House is up on the Caprock Escarpment, about 47 miles from Tucumcari; my 50-minute commute across the Llano Estacado and up the Caprock takes me past Tucumcari Mountain, Bulldog Mesa, and Mesa Redondo every morning and evening, usually just in time to watch the sun rise and set. That picture you see at the top of this post was the view as I came down off the Caprock one afternoon during my first week of school.

This is my new kitchen. I need to do a whole post about the glorious mid-century time capsule that is my new house.
We’re on a four-day school week, which basically means I get to use every Friday as a planning period, and I have a grand total of 14 students, which means I rarely, if ever, have to bring home papers to grade. My kids are hilarious, and I’m having a lot of fun with them. Living in a small town with limited amenities makes some of the prep work a little challenging (I can’t just run to Michael’s or a teacher-supply store when I need something), but ultimately, it forces me to plan better and be more creative, which isn’t a bad thing. I’ll have some stories about that — along with tips and tricks for other teachers — in future posts.

At the moment, the only real drawback is the fact Ron, Walter, and the dogs aren’t here yet because Ron is still trying to tie up loose ends in Cape Girardeau. (Speaking of which, somebody buy our house. It’s cute, energy-efficient, and totally move-in ready, thanks to all that work I did to whip it into shape over the past two years. Tell your friends.)

I’ll have more detailed posts about my adventures — with plenty of photos, of course — at some point in the future. In the meantime, keep chasing your dreams. They really do come true, and sometimes in finer style than you imagined possible.

Emily

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Make-It Monday: Bob Waldmire mural

I was so busy battling headaches when I got home from vacation this summer, I completely forgot to post my pictures from the trip — including the ones I took of the mural I traveled to Tucumcari to paint in one of the garages at the Blue Swallow Motel.

I’ll remedy that with some photos of the mural in progress on this Make-It Monday.

I think this was a couple of hours in. I'm not sure why I did the headlights first, but they kind of set the bar for the rest of the project.
I think this was a couple of hours in. I’m not sure why I did the headlights first, but they kind of set the bar for the rest of the project.
The license-plate frame made me want to cry, for reasons I can't explain.
The license-plate frame made me want to cry, for reasons I can’t explain.
It's hard to keep everything in proportion and lined up properly while working in close proximity to a large image. I don't always succeed.
It’s hard to keep everything in proportion and lined up properly while working in close proximity to a large image. I don’t always succeed.
After realizing the area around the headlights was completely wonky, I painted over it and tried again.
After realizing the area around the headlights was completely wonky, I painted over it and tried again.
It took several tries to get his face right, but I think I finally got it.
It took several tries to get his face right, but I think I finally got it.

This was the most challenging mural I’ve painted up to this point. Portraits are always tricky, but in this case, I was painting a portrait of two old friends, one of whom was an artist whose work influenced my style.

The first old friend is the late Bob Waldmire, the artist behind the wheel of the VW Westfalia. The second old friend is the Westfalia herself. She had almost as much personality as Bob did, and I adored her for it.

My fondness for Bob and my respect for him and his work made it imperative that I get a good likeness, and it took either four or five tries (I eventually lost count) before I was finally satisfied with it.

Getting the Westfalia right was a matter of proportion and symmetry, which are difficult to render at that scale. Compounding the challenge was the fact I’d tried to set things up relative to the ground, which — as you can see — is gravel and not really level itself.

I wound up repainting several parts of the Westfalia, and they still didn’t end up perfectly symmetrical, although both Ron and Kevin, the Blue Swallow’s owner, were quick to note that old Volkswagens are rarely 100 percent symmetrical, either.

It has its flaws, but I think it looks like Bob, and I really like the way the headlights and reflectors on the Westfalia turned out.

Emily

Another recent project

Following up on yesterday’s post, here’s another little project I did recently. The Blue Swallow Motel on Route 66 in Tucumcari, New Mexico — which we have long since established is my favorite place in the known universe — has a set of black cardboard information boards under the glass on the front counter. The boards have been in existence for as long as anybody can remember and provide information about other local businesses and services that might be of use to guests.

I’m not sure what was used to make the white letters on the boards, but it doesn’t respond well to spills, and despite the glass over them, moisture occasionally reaches the signs and smears the lettering. I’ll be in New Mexico soon to lead a motorcoach tour, do a few projects at the Swallow and spend a couple of days signing books at a festival.

The owner asked whether I could include restoration or replacement of the information boards among my projects. Based on the historic nature of the originals, we decided the best course of action would be to leave them as-is, remove them from harm’s way, and replace them with a set of updated boards featuring current businesses. Using paintmarkers and black poster board, I created these modern versions, designed to approximate the style and dimensions of the originals. The originals will preserved in some manner that maintains their historic integrity and protects them from further damage. I had the new ones laminated. Hopefully they’ll last as long as their predecessors.

The originals advertised a package-liquor store and a restaurant, both of which have since closed.
The originals advertised a package-liquor store and a restaurant, both of which have since closed.
A funeral home seems an odd thing to promote to travelers, but at the time the originals were created, there was no 911, and the local funeral home also ran the ambulance service, so it was good for guests to have ready access to the phone number in case of a medical emergency.
A funeral home seems an odd thing to promote to travelers, but at the time the originals were created, there was no 911, and the local funeral home also ran the ambulance service, so it was good for guests to have ready access to the phone number in case of a medical emergency.
The original version of the top featured a local car dealership, with stylized logos for the brands they sold. The bottom was just like this, except it had the original owners' names.
The original version of the top featured a local car dealership, with stylized logos for the brands they sold. The bottom was just like this, except it had the original owners’ names.
The original featured the Odeon and a long-closed drive-in movie theater.
The original featured the Odeon and a long-closed drive-in movie theater.

I’m looking forward to getting to Tucumcari and starting work on the mural I’ve got planned, which will be something of a tribute to Bob Waldmire. I haven’t had a good dose of New Mexico since October, and I really need one. While I’m out there, I’ll be signing copies of Greetings from Coldwater and the new print edition of Route 66 for Kids, which has been updated for 2016. (There’s also a Kindle version of the guidebook, but it’s the 2015 edition. I haven’t had time to figure out how to update it and link it to the print version yet. The information is mostly the same, but a few places have raised their prices or changed their hours in the past year.)

Emily

Why I’m not buying a Powerball ticket

This ever-increasing Powerball jackpot has prompted a lot of conversations revolving around what people would do if they won.

I appreciate that people enjoy dreaming, and they’re willing to spend a couple of bucks on lottery tickets to fuel those dreams, but I’m not buying a ticket, because I don’t have ten-figure dreams. I don’t even have seven-figure dreams. Everything I want is either free or within reach using resources I already have.

I want another marathon. I can’t buy that. I have to earn it, and the only way to do that is to get up off my arse and train.

I want my hair to grow out and finish turning gray. I can’t buy that, either; I just have to let time do its work.

I want to get up every morning and watch the sun rise over Tucumcari Mountain. It will take money to move, but I don’t need a billion dollars; I just need to pay off my mortgage so I can afford to work for a smaller paper. A lottery jackpot would do that overnight, but I’d lose something precious in the process.

Y’all know I’m a road-trip junkie. I never fly anywhere I can drive, because I enjoy the trip itself almost as much as I enjoy the destination. In many ways, this quest to move to New Mexico is the ultimate road trip. It’s slow. It’s tiring. But it’s teaching me lessons I’d never learn otherwise, showing me things I’d never see otherwise, and introducing me to people I’d never meet otherwise.

If I had a plane ticket — or a winning Powerball ticket, as the case may be — I’d end up flying right over all the sights and lessons and experiences this journey has to offer.

A bed at the Blue Swallow is never more comfortable than when I’ve driven 14 hours to get to it. This is the magic of the road, and I trust it will hold true for my current journey: That first sunrise over Tucumcari Mountain will be that much more dazzling, that first bite of green chile stew at Watson’s that much spicier, and that first sopapilla at the Pow Wow that much sweeter for having been hard-won.

I wouldn’t trade the spoils of that journey for a billion dollars.

Emily

More artwork

It’s been an artsy sort of weekend. I made a double batch of hot-process soap yesterday and had enough time left to paint the prototype for my next mural, which is going on the side of Tee Pee Curios on Route 66 in Tucumcari the first week in October:

kokopelli

I’m looking forward to that project, although I’m a little antsy about having to work so high up off the ground. This mural is going on the side of a building that’s quite a bit taller than the garage walls I painted last spring. We’ll see if the magic of New Mexico is powerful enough to override my acrophobia.

I’ve also been using every spare minute to add more book illustrations. I’m looking at about 28 images by the time I finish. Here are the most recent ones:

officeweb

journalweb

letterweb

laundryweb

pickweb

smokeweb

scoutsweb

milagroweb

dianaweb

snakeweb

cellsweb

monolithweb

Each image precedes a chapter and represents something significant from that chapter. You’ll have to read the novel to find out what a neon sign, a journal, a letter on motel stationery, a clothesline, a guitar pick, a burning cigarette, a snow cone, a milagro, a toy camera, a gopher snake, a seventh-grader’s biology assignment and a replica of the monolith from 2001: A Space Odyssey have to do with the story.

Barring any unforeseen circumstances, I’m about four illustrations away from being able to submit this thing for publication, although I’m sure I’ll spend at least another week fussing over it before I work up the nerve to send it out into the world.

Emily

Relighting the darkness

Ron and I got back a few hours ago from Tucumcari, where I spent the better end of a week painting what I hoped would be a photorealistic mural depicting some of the neon signs that once glowed along the shoulders of Route 66 in Tucumcari and San Jon.

I’ll leave it to you to determine whether I lived up to my Robert-Bechtle-inspired goal:

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Here’s the work in progress, in case you’re interested:

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And here’s a tutorial breaking down each step in this technique, which is ridiculously easy:

Step 1: Use chalk to draw a rough sketch on a black background.
Step 1: Use chalk to draw a rough sketch on a black background.
Step 2: With a stencil brush, create a glowing effect by tracing the chalk lines with paint. Use a pounding motion to apply a quick layer of paint along the lines, then come back and pick up some of the paint you just applied, using the same pounding motion to diffuse it toward the edges.
Step 2: With a stencil brush, create a glowing effect by tracing the chalk lines with paint. Use a pounding motion to apply a quick layer of paint along the lines, then come back and pick up some of the paint you just applied, using the same pounding motion to diffuse it toward the edges.
Step 3: With the "glow" applied, come back with a flatter brush and paint a black line where each neon tube will go.
Step 3: With the “glow” applied, come back with a flatter brush and paint a black line where each neon tube will go.
Step 4: When the black dries, paint the "tube" over it, leaving a black hairline border all around it. (This should literally be the width of a hair.)
Step 4: When the black dries, paint the “tube” over it, leaving a black hairline border all around it. (This should literally be the width of a hair.)
Step 5: Paint a very light-colored line down the middle of each neon tube to give the illusion that current is moving through the tube and lighting it up.
Step 5: Paint a very light-colored line down the middle of each neon tube to give the illusion that current is moving through the tube and lighting it up.

As I do with every mural project, I learned some lessons.

Lesson 1: When working on a gravel or concrete floor, wear rubber-soled shoes if you intend to be on speaking terms with your feet and hips the next day.

Lesson 2: If you have to kneel to reach any part of the mural comfortably, a foam-rubber gardening mat is your best friend.

Lesson 3: Leave enough room between the bottom of your design and the ground to allow clearance for your elbow so you don’t have contort your body into awkward positions to paint.

Lesson 4: A mahlstick will help keep you from smudging the paint and can be made easily from a half-inch dowel with a chair tip on the end, but make sure you use a rubber chair tip rather than plastic so it won’t slip while you’re using it.

Lesson 5: Interior latex does not like desert air and will turn into a gummy mess on the brush while you’re painting. Regular craft paint works much better.

Emily