The story behind my painting “Meditating on Love”

It has been a complicated year, which perhaps is every year. But this year challenged me to examine my beliefs on love, and beauty, and joy, and goodness in the world. It sounds simple enough, like a Hallmark greeting card, but real life doesn’t fit into one-liners sold in gift shops. Real life is hard, we get angry, we get scared, the world is falling apart, there is war, and poverty, and suffering, and hatred …and it’s just a downward spiral from there. Real life challenges us to look into the mirror and take a good long look into the darkness …the many facets of our lives, of this world …one day good, another bad …love, hatred …hope, fear.

Everyday is a decision …a decision about how to respond. Do I spiral down with the ugliness, or do I wake up and choose beauty and love? Do I say good-bye to someone with “have a nice day”, or do I say, “be safe”? Can I acknowledge the bad in the world without becoming negative, feeding into the power of fear, and the squabbles, and the hatred? …because really, it is easier to be negative, to complain, to be scared, to live in fear, to get into an argument. It is easier to give in to the power of anger and of fear, than it is to stand up and say I choose love and I see the beauty in the world …a beauty that is not sappy and frivolous, but that is necessary …a beauty that IS the currency that will facilitate change. Choosing beauty and love is a huge risk, one that is seen as weak, and interestingly enough is often associated with the female gender. It is not valued on the same level as power and control, the political discourse laden with anger and fear, coercive in nature and meant to elicit conformity.

And that’s where I found myself this spring; one event led to another and another, until I had spiraled so deep into the ugliness of the world that I found myself caught up in a darkness that seemed to have no way out. I stayed there for a while, because in so many ways those dark places are comforting; they’re easy and they’re safe. I took notes for a new series of paintings, paintings that were to have titles: Complacency and Fear, Living Scared at the End of a Dream, Training to be an American, Power and Control, and Calling for a Revolution. I sketched and I wrote, because that’s what I do when I am contemplating new work. But the whole time I kept hearing my words echo through the darkness: “ugly feeds ugly”, “beauty feeds beauty”, “what we feed grows”. And then it hit me that I needed a change. I had let things get too far, and I’d lost that which I hold most dear, and sacred, and valuable: my belief in the power of beauty and love.

And that’s where my painting “Meditating on Love” began. I had to change my current painting process, another big risk, because every time an artist changes something in their work they lose followers (potential buyers, exhibitions, etc). But I needed the new work to be clean, to say what it needed to say without a lot of frill, which also meant using less color. I wrote a few words to help keep me focused: Love, Joy, Beauty, Sound, Grass, Middle, Sky, Wind, Breath, Neutrality, Mountain, Body, Open. This all changed the relationship to the inspiration for my work. My previous work was inspired by nature and my experience in nature. This differs from my new work in that me, self, is no longer a separate thing in the experience of nature, but instead self is a reflection of nature and nature is a reflection of self. And then I began meditating on love…


Voellmer_Meditating on Love-42x48-CR

Meditating on Love, 42″x48″, mixed media on canvas.

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I know there is ugly in the world and something is always fraught with contention, but nevertheless I’m honored that my painting, Meditating on love, received the Baron Grand Prize at the 18th Annual Artlink Juried Exhibition at the Heard Museum in Phoenix, AZ.

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To view more of my work, visit my website:

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Excerpts from Time

A moment in time, unclouded from the outside noise, a small excerpt of a pure thought, pure intention …a brief note to capture it all.


EXCERPTS FROM TIME 1 through 6, 18″x18″ each, mixed media on paper.



EXCERPTS FROM TIME 2.1 through 2.9, ~6″x6″ each, mixed media on Canson water paper



EXCERPTS FROM TIME 1.1 through 1.9, ~6″x6″ each, mixed media on Canson watercolor paper.

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Works from this series are available in my store:

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Too see more of my work, visit my website:


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New work and more coming soon…

The inspiration for my new work began during our trip to New Mexico this last June. Since we’ve run out of state highpoints to climb (except for one), we’ve been working on the county highpoints of Arizona and New Mexico. My new work isn’t exactly inspired by the mountains we climbed, but standing on top of a mountain always reminds me of what matters most: love and beauty.

I painted the first two works, Transformation I and II, along the Rio Honda after climbing Wheeler Peak. They’re not really part of this new work, but they mark a shift and a new grounding for me …and from there, the inspiration took off; fueled by the words: “middle, joy, breath, sky, open, neutrality, love, mountain, body, sound, grass, wind, beauty”.

I’ve added these new works to my website and my store. And there’s more coming soon. I’ve been working on some new paintings on paper this last week, and building more stretcher frames for canvas paintings.



Voellmer_middle journey-30x30_CR

Middle Journey, 30″x30″, mixed media on canvas


Voellmer_Meditating on Love-42x48-CR

Meditating on Love, 42″x48″, mixed media on canvas


Voellmer_holding up the sky-30x20

Holding Up the Sky, 30″x20″, mixed media on canvas


Voellmer_horizon 1-13.5x13.5-CR

Horizon 2, 13.5″x13.5″, mixed media on canvas


Voellmer_Between the Distance 1-48x60-CR

Between the Distance 1, 48″x60″, mixed media on canvas


Voellmer_Between the Distance 2- 48x60-CR

Between the Distance 2, 48″x60″, mixed media on canvas


Voellmer_Distant Rain-30x30-CR

Distant Rain, 30″x30″, mixed media on canvas


Voellmer_Distance series-paper

Distance 1 through 6, small series on paper



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Taking It Slow

Standing in the Middle (triptych)

Standing in the Middle (triptych)

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Changes in the seasons always seem to bring about changes in my work. And this time I’m digger deeper for those changes. I’m taking it slow, one thought at a time, one small piece of paper at a time. I’m still working with my black shapes, but I’m limiting the color, at least for now. We’ll see where this takes me…

This last week I’ve started working those thoughts onto canvas, so in the next blog post I’ll have some brand new work to show you.


Detail – New work in progress…



Voellmer_Transformation 1

Working at the source

. . .


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Movement and Environment

Movement is an important element in my work. I’m captivated by movement in nature; it is not static. In my travels, I watch the way the plants move, the wind, the clouds, the animals… There is movement and flow in the changing colors of the sky, the way the light changes in a landscape. It’s all very alive and active. This influences a lot of my own process. I rarely sit at my easel. I walk around the canvas, which is flat on the ground, I pour paint over it, tip the canvas, watch, tip it again, move the paint with a brush, or my hand. I do this several times, using my whole body in the process. It is a dance with the paint and the canvas.

I make marks, using the motion of my whole body, with soft pastels, oil sticks, graphite, brushes, and other media. And when the weather is suitable I perform most of this process outside. Sometimes the wind is gentle and sometimes it blows hard, the trees sway, and the lizards scurry. We are all engaged in the moment, reacting to the environment. This very much influences my work. It is not only a reflection of the experiences that I bring to it, but it is also a reflection of the environment it is created in.

Voellmer_working outside-CR



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The Inspiration of a Blank Canvas

The studio smells of wet gesso. I stare at the blank white canvases, wondering what life has in store, where this path might lead. I look out at the sun setting on the horizon, its path so certain, so beautiful. But even its rays change with each new setting. I look back at the blank canvases, like a blank future, about to embark on a new journey… … …

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Inspiration and Mark-Making

After our county highpoint adventure in New Mexico we headed to Baboquivari, the beautiful mountain I see everyday from my studio, for our annual summit climb. Baboquivari has become my muse, my home beacon on the horizon. It is the point from which I view how far the sun is setting north and south of west on the horizon, and features in many of my sunset photos on other social media. It is a magical and healing mountain that fills me with much inspiration in the time that I have lived here.


Baboquivari, from the west side.


After returning home I went back to work in the studio, laying  down the first few layers of color on a canvas; like the opening line in a play, anticipating how the story will unfold. The next step is always difficult, and takes much contemplation and looking, waiting for what happens next. Sometimes everything flows with ease, but it’s often difficult to trust my instincts, to let go, to stop thinking, and make that first mark over the beautiful color layers. I sit and watch, staring at the canvas, then look away, for fear I will lose it with the next mark I make. This is the difficult part–to trust the movements of my body and the deeper parts of myself to complete the story.


Working outside, in front of the studio, on what I refer to as “the beach”.



Making marks, adding layers.


It’s been a busy week in the studio as I’ve been pushing hard on this new body of work, but I’m excited to see it all come together. Aside from studio work, we’ve also made great progress on the rock walls of our tiny house. I think I’m already ready for a few days in the wilderness…

If you live locally in Arizona you can see several of my paintings at the Easy Street Galleria, 100 Easy St in Carefree, AZ through the summer. I also have a few of my Arizona photographs in The Accidental Tourist exhibition in the Bokeh Gallery at the Monorchid, 214 E Roosevelt in downtown Phoenix. You can also view a solo exhibition of my work, Inner Wanderings, online through April 30th in a virtual gallery space at Thermal Gallery here:  …click on the link on the website and you can view the exhibition virtually on your computer or mobile device (mobile devices will need to download an app).

Here are a few recently completed works…

Voellmer_Sweet scent of spring-30x22-BFK paper-CR

Sweet Scent of Spring, 30″x22″, mixed media on Rives BFK paper.


Voellmer-through the reeds-30x22_CR

Through the Reeds, 30″x22″, mixed media on Rives BFK paper.


Voellmer_caressing the day-48x60-CR

Caressing the Day, 48″x60″, mixed media on canvas.


Voellmer_Touching the Silence-32x60-CR

Touching the Silence, 32″x60″, mixed media on canvas.


Voellmer-Rising Clouds-48x42-CR

Rising Clouds, 48″x42″, mixed media on canvas.


There’s more new work on my website and more coming soon:

You can also follow my process on Instagram:

and find me on facebook, twitter, and snapchat @onnavoellmer


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The Journey Home

After our section on the Hayduke we headed to New Mexico to climb a few more NM county highpoints; Beautiful Mountain, Mt Taylor (one we had climbed while thru-hiking the CDT, but didn’t get a picture),  and Alejandro 9166 (near Mt Taylor). From the Summit of Taylor we saw the beautiful Rio Puerco Valley and Cabezon Peak, a peak I fell in love with on the CDT and decided, though not a county highpoint, that we needed to climb it, and so we did.

The quest to climb little bumps and giants in the sky always feels like a journey home, perhaps because it is often a journey inward, one of letting go, and embracing my connection to the land, the sky, and all that surrounds a place: the mountain, like a castle in the sky. In just a few short days my affection for New Mexico was rekindled, perhaps partially from my nostalgia and love of the CDT, but it really is an enchanted land.



Beautiful Mountain is the slight rise you can see on the mesa of cliffs on the horizon.


Sunset, near the CDT, between Mt Taylor and Alejandro 9166.


Cabezon Peak


A small work: Sunrise at Beautiful Mountain.


Small works created in the field – The new modern pleinair.

Voellmer_mountains and canyons-25x18

Mountains and Canyons, 25″x18″, mixed media on canvas. Inspired by my recent time in Utah.


To see more of my work, visit my website:

You can purchase my paintings and works on paper through the store link on my website or contact me directly to inquire about a work:




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I PROMISED THE TREES MY RELIGION (~85 miles on the Hayduke trail)

The Hayduke is an ~800 mile route across Utah, from Moab to Zion. It goes through several national parks and wilderness areas, and has many alternates. Knowing that the Hayduke is more of a route than a trail, we conservatively planned on five days to complete ~eight-five miles. It took us six days. We began our hike at the northern end of Salt Creek Canyon in the Needles District of Canyonlands and ended near Hite Marina at Lake Powell.

This is the first time I have hiked such a short section of a long trail, and in a group. I wasn’t really sure how the experience would go. There was no particular goal involved; no mountain summit, no Canadian border or state line. We didn’t even start at the beginning, or the end, of the Hayduke. Our plan was simply to hike “section 3”, about eighty-five miles of the route. For me it takes about a month on a thru-hike to reach the point that a shift of consciousness occurs, and two months to become fully grounded in the experience. I knew I would not have that experience on this hike, but I did hope to learn something new about myself as I wandered the wilds of Utah.

It was an easy first day, ~twelve miles to our permitted campsite in Salt Creek Canyon. Our packs were heavy with the added weight of a bear canister, a new requirement for Salt Creek Canyon. The weather forecast called for some rain, and possible snow. As we got closer to our campsite, we hoped we might find an alcove, or overhanging cliff, nearby so we could camp without setting up the tent. The last half mile before our camp wound through overgrown willow saplings, and through what seemed like more of a recently flooded marsh than a canyon creek. Pink marking tape, tied periodically to the willows, marked the trail as we pushed the last mile through the brush to our campsite. We emerged from the thick vegetation to a signpost with the number of our campsite, and to our amazement, there was indeed an overhanging cliff, a beautiful alcove, to camp under. The evening was warm and we all hung out talking about the next day’s miles and the sites we’d see along the way.

The next morning was cold and we woke to a light drizzle. The drizzle slowly turned to snow as the temperature dropped. We hiked on …more snow, then sleet, occasional hail; not exactly what we had expected, even having seen the weather forecast ahead of time. We were all beginning to feel a little desperate as we approached Four Faces, a petroglyph and ruin site, where we found a perfect overhang, up high and out of the weather. We stayed for several hours, drying out our clothes and getting warm, while we waited for a better weather window. I wondered how many others had sat here throughout time, under this same overhang, huddled out of the weather. A small twinge of connection to another time began to tug at the inner parts of myself.

Bits of blue sky began to shine through the clouds, and the falling snow slowly subsided. We packed up and took a moment to greet the Four Faces petroglyph at the ruin site below, before venturing back on trail. The wind was cold, but there was promise of better weather on the horizon. Our desperation slowly turned to smiles as we approached the “All American Man” petroglyph site. We stopped for photos. Multiple layers of history filled the canyon. After a series of selfies, with this strange figure, we marched on, through the fallen snow, across the mud, and deeper into the canyon. The skies grew white and the snow, wet and heavy, fell with the furry of what felt like a full blown blizzard. Maverick, our permit holder for Salt Creek, marched ahead quickly, having brought very few bad weather layers. Neon and Marie fell behind, then Neon out of sight. Visibility became difficult. I stopped to wait for Neon. Maverick was gone. Marie passed. I hollered into the white, snowy, fog, “nEoN…”, and again, but no response, I turned back and headed down the trail in the direction we had come from …”nEoN…”, nothing… After a few minutes I thought I heard something, it was Neon. He had stopped at an overhang to rest and eat. 

He packed up and we headed back down the trail. After a bit we came across Marie wandering up a different trail. She had lost track of Maverick and wasn’t sure which direction, at a fork, was the trail. She followed us, and after a few minutes we came across Maverick waving at us from an alcove he had stopped to wait for us at. The snow was still falling heavy and we were all a little frazzled in the wet, cold, experience. 

Hiking in a group is a very different experience than hiking alone, or as a pair. There is a different feeling of responsibility, expectation, and order to the experience. For myself, when I am alone, or hiking with Neon, I feel completely grounded in the rhythm of the experience, fully competent, and with little worry about speed or obstacles in my path. But in a group, the dynamic is very different; the worries, tension, and control become paramount to the experience. And for myself, my personal speed and rhythm become compromised. I no longer feel fast, moving along with the path of the sun and the rhythm of my body. I become fully aware that these other animals posses a speed and a strength that I have never had. I begin to feel weak, and my rhythm and needs rushed. My strength has always been my perseverance, and long-term will and determination, but rarely short-term speed or brute strength. No, my strength is my will, and my ability to find a way through the obstacles in front of me, without using brute strength or speed to plow through the moment. 

I’m sure it is different for everyone, but I’m perfectly comfortable alone. I don’t feel lost or lonely; I feel part of my surroundings, not separate or isolated. I feel competent, grounded in the rhythm of the earth and the sun. I become the tree, run with the elk, and fly with the birds. I become as timeless as the rocks, the stars, and the wind. Something very giddy, calm, and excited overcomes me. It passes through me as if everything else is moving and I am standing still. And when I am fully grounded in the experience, I am completely transported, floating above the landscape like a dream or a vision. It is truly a gift, that as an artist, would do me wise to capitalize on this strength: my rhythm, my speed, this connection to the landscape …and to find this in my connection with a group. 

The day, moving toward evening now, finally broke into full blue sky. We dropped our bear canisters at the Cathedral Butte Trailhead, to retrieve at a later date, and ventured into the cross-country route to Dark Creek Canyon …over a rise, up a wash, and then steeply up loose sand and rock, seeming nearly vertical at times …and this with the weight of 4+ liters of water added to my pack. I began to feel that rushed, where the heck are we going, and is this really the best way, feeling. This can’t possibly be the “route”. There’s nothing sustainable or maintainable about multiple hikers scaling this vertical loose sand and rock. But everything was moving so fast. It felt more like being chased by a lion than being part of a migration. 

We reached the plateau. The sun was low on the horizon. With some discussion and pointing we settled on a campsite. I thought there, Neon there, Maverick there, Marie settled on a rock slab as to not puncture her air mattress on the prickly pear that covered the area. Neon and I finally agreed on a location for the tent. I cleared the area of rocks and pine cones, as he squished his face and said, “You want the door to go thEre?”. I said, “well, yEAh, I don’t want to climb out of the tent, uphill, and into a tree truck when I get up to pee in the night, so, yeah, then the door would face this way!” He shook his head and pulled out the tent stuff sack. He opened it, reached inside, and then some quiet, then loud, exclamations came forth. “What, is that not the tent?” I said. He looked at me. I paused. I thought about the rain last night. The cold, wet, snow today. I looked at the sky …and then said, “Well, that simplifies things then. With no tent, we can have our heads the direction you want and it will be even easier to get up to pee in the night.” We all laughed, ate, and spread out our stuff. The winds blew heavy in the night, with little snow. Our anxieties about the weather and no tent allowed for little sleep through the night, but we woke rested enough and promptly started our day to warm our bodies in the ice cold morning. 

The day took on a new rhythm …breaking and hiking periodically together, and sometimes in pairs. The day seemed to pass quickly, alternating between hot sun, and cold wind with dry snow flurries. Up steep ridges, down rocky ledges, through washes, overgrown sage and willows, and up again. Toward the end of the day we hiked through Ruin Canyon and up to a ridge with a ruin watchtower that looked out over the surrounding ridges and creek valleys. I began to feel again that connection to another time tug at the inner parts of myself.

The night was cold with some snow. By morning my water had partially froze. Our route followed the middle of the ridge. We wound our way through the trees. It felt like a labyrinth intended to obscure the way. We broke through the trees to a view of high cliffs above, and a ramp of rocky ledges ahead of us. This was our way up. 

The sun was feeling warm now and my jacket hot. I started to get that rushed feeling as everyone plowed forward. I finally stopped, packed away my jacket, and took a moment to review the route. I chose a line on the rocky, fourth-class, ledge to ascend. We all climbed up different areas to the top of the ledge. Looking up, more ledges, and snow, lots of snow. It quickly turned into a race for the top, and best to just get up, and not think too much about it. Up snowy slopes, more fourth-class ledges, and through the trees. 

As we ascended the fourth class ledges through the snow, I told the trees that I loved them, because they held the ground together and helped make the air I breathe. They stand tall into the sky and bring my thoughts to something old, perhaps even ancient; reminding me of the cycles of nature when we were just another entity, an animal roaming the earth. I reached for a branch, testing its strength before grabbing tight. My foot slipped a little on the icy sandstone. I pulled hard on the tree limb, and whispered, “I promise you my religion, just don’t let me fall”. 

It was all very exhausting, and tricky in the snow. After a few more ledges and steep snow slopes we stopped for a break. It seemed we were through the worst of it …until we came to another ledge, just a little too steep to get footing on in the snow. I reached deep into the snow and grabbed tight ahold a prickly bush, pulled hard, and up I went. My hands so cold now, they hurt. I had to stop and breathe warm breath into my fingers. They were burning. But there was more rock ahead. It all started to look like a wall, and a wall of snow. There was nothing to pull on except the trees and the bushes. We moved around a corner, steep on the cliff. My foot holding on a thin ledge of snow that sloped off to the valley below. I wedged between a tree and the rock face. Neon was already up. “How’d you do that? I can’t do that!” I looked back at where we had come from, and then tried pulling up the rock. Neon said, “Use that pocket finger hold right there, then grab that dead tree branch.” “With this pack on? I don’t think so!”, I said. I tried. It wasn’t working. Maverick was right behind me and held my back as I tried again. I stepped up, pulling on the pocket hold, held from behind, I grabbed the branch and I was up! I swung around the branch, stepped up again and I was atop the rock, but quickly became tangled in the branches of the bush above. I was pulling, trying to use that brute strength I don’t possess, when I decided to catch my breath, balance, and reach back to gently remove the branches that were caught on my pack, and then I thanked the trees for holding on. I heard Maverick yelling below. It didn’t sound good. “Did you slip?” I asked. More yelling. I couldn’t tell what was going on. I broke free and moved out of the way. “Is everything ok?” “I slipped and lost one of my trekking poles”, he shouted. Finally we were all up and Marie was waiting for us. I looked ahead, hoping that was really the last of it.

We moved across the slopes and finally made it to the Trail Canyon trailhead. There was still a little snow, but there was also trail. We quickly descended down the trail and into the canyon. We camped at Woodenshoe Canyon. It poured down rain through the night. We were drenched and cold, but warm enough, or at least we didn’t actually freeze rolled up in our ground sheet. The next day we made it through the rest of Dark Canyon. Across trail, through the creek, traversing the limestone ledges and the trails above the narrowest parts of the canyon. We camped at the base of the Sundance Trail, our trail out of Dark Canyon, and to the road walk back to the car. The night was warm, and thankfully dry. 

We woke in good spirits and climbed out of the canyon. I felt as though I’d just exited a wormhole. It took a few minutes, but I shook off the experience, looked at the map, consulted the gps and took course across the landscape. Polarized sunglasses, check! Headphones, check! I looked behind me, everyone was there, check! And off I went …transported, gliding across the landscape like a hawk hovering in the wind. It all came to life. I wondered what I had learned, and then I let go, stopped thinking, and just walked…


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Current and Upcoming Exhibitions

My work, The Forest Calls Me Home, is on view in the Semi-annual ALL AZ Group Exhibition in the THERMAL Gallery presented by Art(ist)serv. This is a new virtual exhibition online at THERMAL Gallery, featuring artwork by 10 Arizona artists, on view March 1st through March 31st. The show can be viewed on any device connected to the internet. You can link directly to the exhibition HERE.



In April I’ll have three of  my photographs in The Accidental Tourist group exhibition at the MonOrchid Bokeh Gallery, 214 E Roosevelt in downtown Phoenix. The show will be on view April 1st through April 29th. All three of my photographs were taken in Organ Pipe National Monument. The prints will be 8″x10″, framed, and available for $95.


The Guardians – Organ Pipe National Monument


In addition, I have a solo exhibition of my paintings coming up for the month of April. I’m also shipping work off to a new gallery with a design company in the Miami Design District this week, which is an exciting new direction for my work. And I have a few other things in the works so stay tuned for more details.





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