Oil study of horse by water for Crossnore Gallery. Painting by Daniel Ambrose

First study for Evening Paint. Oil, 8 x 6 in.

I have a fond memory of walking through the doors of Crossnore Gallery that afternoon, when it was beside the River Dog Cafe just outside Linville, North Carolina. A nice lunch, a new hat, conversations, sunlight glinting off the cars in the parking lot. Possibilities and new opportunities.

Little did I know then, opening that door would lead to a new friendship, and wonderful association with a gallery on an island off the coast of Florida. Little did I know a lot of things would happen back then.

But that’s another story.

Over time, that initial encounter has evolved into a beautiful relationship. And I have met so many fine people at Crossnore dedicated to creating an amazing, nurturing environment to help children.

I’m donating this painting, First Study for Evening Paint, to Crossnore Gallery for an October fundraising event. 100% of the proceeds from the sale of this painting will go towards the Crossnore School Stepping Stones Program.

“The Crossnore Fine Arts Gallery supports The Crossnore School’s Stepping Stones Program which transitions students from foster care to successful independent living.”

The small oil painting is an early study for an egg tempera painting, Evening Paint. You can see between the two, how much an idea evolves. A single idea can generate several paintings. The idea or concept is always the vital thing in art.

egg tempera painting of horse by Daniel Ambrose

Evening Paint, egg tempera painting by Daniel Ambrose. Private collection.

The painting was inspired by a bucolic scene late one afternoon on the drive back from Crossnore Gallery to Spruce Pine. I saw a road with a creek and turned down it to explore. Some of my happiest memories are of idly rambling around Appalachian back roads that summer in my big blue Chevy truck. You just never know what gem you will discover around the next curve.

It was late afternoon on that day. Rounding a bend, a small pasture with two horses grazing came into view. A fenced lane ran perpendicular, ending at a white church. A large apple tree anchored the intersection at the corner of the pasture. Mountains rose in the distance.

Further along, the road dead-ended at a cabin nestled under trees beside the creek. A small bridge crossed over to a trail leading up to the Blue Ridge Parkway. I did not know this at the time, but found it later as I went back often to paint.

Eventually, I learned that the pasture and horses belonged to dear friends of Crossnore Gallery. I was invited over for dinner a couple of times and Joe, the husband, made buttermilk fried chicken from his mothers family recipe. I spent peaceful times on their porch, overlooking the creek at sunset, watching horses graze in the pasture along the river, thinking how pleasant a place to have a home.

For more information on how you can acquire this painting, contact Heidi Fisher at Crossnore Gallery, 828.733.3144 or hfisher@crossnoreschool.org.

As a bonus, your purchase is tax deductible. You can learn more about Crossnore School and the Stepping Stones Program here.

By purchasing this painting, I hope you enjoy knowing how much you have helped enrich the lives of children at Crossnore.

Feel free to share this with your friends. 🙂

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Before I Sleep

by Daniel Ambrose on September 10, 2016

Before I Sleep, egg tempera work in progress by Daniel Ambrose

Before I Sleep. Egg tempera. Beginning stages of repainting.

It was coming on the end of day and I was heading home. Ahead lay about 600 miles of road. At the top of a mountain just outside Spruce Pine, North Carolina, I paused. It was the summer of 2010.

Gazing down into the valley, I suddenly wished I could spread wings and sail home, soaring over rivers and roads. The leaves beside me stirred in the breeze, and a dusky memory swept into view. A sunset—a night sleeping under the stars in Death Valley—A time when I was an adventurous, 17 year old wandering the West in an old Chevy van. Far from the sea.

Over the next several years I made a couple of paintings of that reflective pause atop that Appalachian rise just outside Spruce Pine.

daniel ambrose egg tempera painting crescent moon

Crescent Moon. Egg tempera

The first was a vertical egg tempera titled Crescent Moon. The second version was a large oil painting titled Going Home.

daniel ambrose at his easel

Ambrose in studio with Going Home.

That one quickly sold, while Crescent Moon lingered on until I decided to cut the top two thirds off. I reworked it and renamed it Miles to Go, part of a verse from my favorite Robert Frost poem.

Miles to Go, egg tempera painting by Daniel Ambrose

Miles to Go. First version.

Initially, I thought the inspiration for the paintings was a landscape carved under a crescent moon, with a pathway leading home. I thought it was about dusk, the early moon, Venus or the peaceful end of day. I thought it was about looking froward with a contented eye towards home.

I was mistaken.

In hindsight I realize my concept of home was tangled up like a twisted string of Christmas lights. Amid tumultuous changes in my life, home had become a notion, not a location.

During the winter of 2004, I lived in the empty house of my grandma Dewey and used the living room as my studio. I brought all my paintings and leaned them along the walls around me.

At night I slept on a couch, surrounded by my paintings. A comforting glow encircled me, as if I was enveloped in a luminous, serene bubble—in the genial company of old friends. My paintings emanated a vibrant, organic presence, and I experienced the emotional power of art to elevate the human spirit.

In the mist of that blue winter, I felt the inner light, understood the alluring mystery an original painting held to arouse and soothe the senses.


November Glory. Oil study. Plein air painting. 2007

This summer, as I left for a painting trip to Maine, I pulled the tempera painting, Miles to Go from the wall, and took it with me intending to work on it further.

While in Maine, I shared a house with a group of professional artists who I admire and respect. Painting, dining and laughing with my peers felt like a family reunion, minus the name calling. It felt like homecoming.

The morning I left Maine, I went down to the harbor to watch the boats arrive and depart. Like six years earlier on top of that Carolina mountain, I thought of the long drive ahead of me—the home I was coming back too. A serene structure close to the sea, filled with beautiful paintings and a sweet cat with a brain tumor who might be wondering where I was.

My idea of home has changed direction over the years. I recalled being a restless kid crisscrossing the country in my old Chevy van. Traveling deserted winter back roads, in the bluing dusk, I’d see the amber light of windows appear in the raw, twilight void. As I passed through town, I could see families moving around inside the warm rooms. Then I turn to look at the dark road ahead of me and drive on, searching for another place to sleep in the enfolding darkness.

Searching, always searching…What was my restless spirit seeking?

“Home is a perjury, a parlor trick, an urban myth” — Conor Oberst

During the 25 hour drive south from Maine this summer, I pondered the painting Miles to Go, and my 3 attempted iterations of that journey home I began that summer of 2010. What was it about? What was I trying to say? Maybe I’d been traveling down that road for forty years.

When I hit an ominous thunderstorm passing through the Carolina’s, and I could not see the road, the word “longing” came to mind. How do you paint that?

I realized I never was trying to reproduce the landscape with those paintings. I was trying to paint a feeling of longing….Or is it belonging? The same feeling I get being with my friends at Nanatuck house in Maine.

Humans are tribal souls that have sought connection with each other since our beginning. Don’t we all want to belong to something…to someone? Someone who is a witness to our life? A soulmate?

The day after I returned to the studio from Maine I started repainting Miles to Go.

Miles to Go, Before I Sleep, egg tempera work in progress.

Miles to Go, Before I Sleep, egg tempera work in progress.

I’m still chewing on it and have a ways to go painting it, but I thought I’d invite you on the journey.

The second part of the verse in Frost’s poem is “before I sleep.”

Home is not where you are—It is who you are with. Home is connection.

Home is a kind heart.

I have learned to carry home in my heart,

but I still have miles to go…

Before I sleep.


Maine Moonset at Sunrise

by Daniel Ambrose on September 4, 2016

Maine Moonset at Sunrise. Plein air oil painting by Daniel Ambrose

Maine Moonset at Sunrise. Plein air oil painting by Daniel Ambrose

August 21

I’m perched on a massive 500 million year old knuckle of granite bedrock above the ocean. I just finished a plein air painting of a tranquil moonset at sunrise in Port Clyde, Maine.

I set aside my paintbox and reach for my sketchbook.

This summer in Maine, I’m drawing more than painting. Sketchbook in hand, I wander these primal shores, quietly observing the coastal rhythms, absorbing the textures of tidal life that drifts among these islands.

Bathed in their ethereal light, the swaying harmonies of sea islands serenade my soul with their ageless lullabies.

The first couple of years I came to Maine, I was overwhelmed by the plethora of interesting subjects to paint. Islands, boats, birds, rocks, water and weathered structures leaped at my senses in every direction. I bounced around with my paintbrush like a rabbit on Benzedrine.

I’m beyond that now.

This morning, I’ve been observing circles… the lobster boats circle their traps, the incoming tide encircles the rocks, birds wheel in the sky, as the Earth and Moon revolve around the Sun.

Far out in the ocean, the faint sound of a bell buoy rings.

A curious word, “ring”, encompassing various meanings… a bell rings, a ring of thieves, a ring encircles a finger. The ring of truth. Love signified as a circle.

Is there truly such a thing as a circle of love…unwavering, bound without end? Or does love ebb and flow like the tides?… Wax and wane like the moon?

The mystery of these circuitous questions is my muse.

“We dance round in a ring and suppose, but the Secret sits in the middle and knows.” Robert Frost.

A gull splashes in the water below me. It’s snow white head, soft and pristine against the wet and hard and dark rock. The water is too cold for me to swim in, but this bird is simply being a bird. It has no need to think of such things as water temperature or mysteries.


I draw this coastal landscape with confidence now. I know these trees, rocks and water. On an elemental level, they are I. Indeed this very granite rock I’m sitting on contains the same chemical elements that nourish my body.

Science tells me that my body is made of the same 6 elements as the stars. And because a star died, I live. Yet science can not tell me how a nonliving thing became a living one.

Science does not adequately explain the conflicting undercurrents that sway the human heart, or why life-giving water has covered the Earth since its beginning. In the second sentence of Genesis 1, it is written:

…and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. NIV

Scientists and theologians seem to agree about water’s timetable. I ponder these questions as my pencil pauses over the drawing on my paper.

Direct observation of nature has taught me that light alters the appearance of things, shattering my childish illusions that a particular tree, or bird appears the same at all times. If you carry preconceived images into the landscape you will find them reversed at times. The sea can be lighter than the sky, white can be darker than black.

The tide is receding and a rocky ledge suddenly appears. A reminder that danger to careless mariners resides beneath these tranquil waters.


In its simplest application, plein air painting is reactive recording. Organizing elements and painting the effects of rapidly changing colors of light. While drawing is deeper editing and detailed observation—getting down to the essence of a thing. Stripping superfluous elements from a scene, understanding structure, patterns and interactions.

If you’re a quite sensitive painter, you’ll use the power of your aesthetic faculties to scan the landscape like radar, picking up tones and subtle vibrations. Using external motifs to express your inner world of associations, emotions, imagination and memories.

Or you can just pick up a brush, enter the landscape and thoughtlessly swing away at a blank canvas. A simple exercise in fun. That is the offer of art, you can take it as shallow or deep as you want. But like many of my artist peers, I’ve found art has taken us far deeper into ourselves than we have taken art.

Rather than show me another painted postcard, I want to see heart and soul, your truth. Show me the bones of your beauty.

Art is about connection. Look at this the artist says… and you say, yes, I know this too. And look at this as well…isn’t life amazing? So fragile and precious.

Sitting on this ancient rock, beside waters present at the birth of Earth, makes me realize, in the span of geological time, my life is like the brief and tenuous flicker of candlelight.

For most of us, our names will not be emblazoned in the history of humanity. No epic deeds carved after our name. But the lives we touch matter. Hearts matter. Honest intent and commitment matter.

Maybe it’s about commitment and compassion. Like stone and water. Find and know your life purpose to be firm as granite, and let your heart yield like water.

The star is on fire, the rock is sliding into the sea, and the water is rising…

Find what you love, and make it yours.