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  • Writer's pictureMiriam Diaz-Gilbert

My First Solo Art Exhibition: The Stories Behind the Paintings and My Journey as a Self-taught Acrylic Painter

Updated: Feb 18

First Solo Art Exhibition — Nature: Mountains, Trails, Sand, Water, and National Parks— February 2024

In a journal entry dated Oct 2, 2021 after I painted my tenth acrylic painting, I wrote, "One day I hope to have an exhibition..." On February 8, 2024, I experienced the opening reception of my first solo art exhibition in the Waterford Township Public Library's gallery in Atco, New Jersey. It was a wonderful, gratifying, joyful experience!

If you were unable to attend Nature: Mountains, Trails, Sand, Water, and National Parks, in this post I'll share the stories behind each painting, the source of and inspiration for my paintings, my technique, what I've learned from world-renowned painters about the journey that is painting, and the beauty of perfect imperfection.

The exhibition runs through February 2024 at Waterford Township Public Library in Atco, NJ. Photos by Jon Gilbert.

I am self-taught and have no formal art training. I found solace in painting after retiring early at age sixty-two from my adjunct professor position a year into the pandemic. I paint acrylics inspired by nature in national parks and in settings where I run ultramarathons. In these settings, I find calm, peace, and solitude.

I have watched YouTube videos to guide me as I paint clouds, grass, trees, water, waves, and more. I discovered on my own the unconventional method of adding dirt and pebbles to some of my paintings to add texture, and to create a distinctive sensory experience. I'm still mastering the art of mixing colors. And I'm learning so much from the brushes I paint with..

I paint by intuition. I let the Spirit move me. I learn more and more with every stroke of the many brushes that help me to express myself through my creations.

The source of and inspiration for my paintings are photos of the many memories my husband Jon and I have collected over the years during our adventures and hikes in America's beautiful national parks among the nature and landscapes that shape them.

"Art is harmony parallel with nature." ~ Paul Cezanne

While my largest collection of paintings is of national parks, I also have a growing collection of paintings of nature while running ultramarathons, nature at home, and the seasons. Jon and I have combined several hiking adventures in national parks with crewing and racing in nearby ultramarathons. Some of these twelve paintings are memories of tapering before an ultramarathon and recovering after an ultramarathon at a national park or in another nature setting.

Below are the twelve paintings, along with details about the history of each painting, displayed through the month of February.

"Art will never be able to exist without nature." ~ Pierre Bonnard

A View of St. Thomas While Hiking on Lind Trail in St. John, Virgin Islands National Park on Christmas Day 2016.

My third painting in my collection of national parks memories.

Painted on August 14, 2021. 16" x 20"

My first attempt at painting water.

Sunset at Badlands

Badlands National Park in South Dakota July 2022

My twenty-fifth painting in my collection of national parks.

Painted on August 17, 2022. 16"x 20"

Textured with dirt and pebbles.

I was recovering from running the Loopy Looper

12-hr ultramarathon the week before in New Jersey.

Buttes and Mountains

Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota July 2022

Painted on August 26, 2023. 16"x 20"

My twenty-seventh painting in my national parks collection.

Textured with dirt and pebbles.

A View of Lake Waramaug Before the Start of the Lake Waramaug 50-mile Ultramarathon

Lake Waramaug State Park in Connecticut in 2016.

Painted on April 19, 2022. 16"x 20"

My first painting in my collection of running in nature.

I was running my eleventh ultramarathon.

On a Hike to Moro Rock

Sequoia National Park in California in July 2014

My twentieth painting in my collection of national parks.

Painted on November 14, 2021. 16"x 20"

My first attempt at adding dirt and pebbles for texture.

Hiking was a good way to recover from recently running the Montour 24-hr trail ultra in Pennsylvania.

The Entrance to Mammoth Cave Before a Guided Tour

Mammoth Cave National Park in Tennessee August 2019

My seventeenth painting in my national parks collection.

Painted on November 3, 2021. 16"x 20"

I was tapering before the multi-day ultramarathon, A Race for the Ages (ARFTA) in Tennessee.

A View of Snow-capped Mountains While Running up Old Falls Trail Road to Alpine Visitors Center at 12,090 ft.

Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado July 2012.

My sixth painting in my  national parks collection.

Painted on August 29, 2021. 18"x 18"

After a slow eight-mile drive up the winding mountain road, I told my husband to stop the car. I got out and ran the last three minutes surrounded by snow-capped mountains. I was tapering for my first 24-hr ultramarathon, the Around the Lake 24hr in Massachusetts.

A View of Snow-capped Grand Teton Mountains While Hiking

Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming July 2011.

My fifth painting in my national parks collection.

Painted on August 23, 2021. 18"x18"

I was tapering for the Beast of Burden 100-mile ultramarathon, my second 100-miler, in New York.

Mary Campbell Cave on Gorge Trail

Cuyahoga Valley National Park in Ohio July 2018

My eighteenth painting in my national parks collection.

Painted on November 7, 2021. 16"x 20"

I was tapering for the Burning River 50-mile ultramarathon. Part of it runs through the park.

I added dirt for texture on the trail.

Prairie Grasslands

Wind Cave National Park in South Dakota 2022

My twenty-sixth painting in my national parks collection.

Painted August 17, 2022.

I was tapering for the Hainesport

24-hr ultramarathon in New Jersey.

A Stroll on the Beach

Island Beach State Park in New Jersey 2020.

The first summer of Covid-19.

Painted on June 9, 2022.

My first beach collection painting.

My first attempt at painting crashing shore waves.

Peace and Solitude

White Sands National Park in New Mexico December 2019

My twenty-eighth painting in my national parks collection.

Painted on November 20, 2023. 16"x 20"

I was tapering for the Across the Years 48-hr ultramarathon in Arizona.

"Painting is another way to keep a diary." ~ Pablo Picasso

I hope these twelve paintings (to date, I have painted fifty-four acrylics), bring you peace and calm. I hope they inspire you to visit national parks, state parks, beaches, and to immerse yourself in nature. I hope you are inspired to play with paint and to create on canvas.

Painting has opened a whole new world to me. As I shared with those who came to my exhibition, I am inspired by painters I meet at art festivals. I learn from them. I'm inspired by painters long-dead and painters very much alive, many of whom were and are self-taught.

I am especially inspired by Clementine Hunter, an African-American self-taught painter. She began painting in her fifties. She's described as a memory artist who painted folk art about life on the plantation in Louisiana. By the time she died at age 101 in 1988, she had painted over 10,000 paintings. Her paintings are stories filled with vibrant colors and no perspective. They are very childlike. Her paintings resonate with how I paint. I first learned about Clementine Hunter and her paintings in an episode of Antiques Roadshow on PBS. Her paintings, like mine, are childlike.

While some tell me my paintings exude a feeling of peace and calm, I can confirm that my paintings are also childlike. A couple of years ago, a young technician in his twenties, who came to our home to check out our broken furnace, gave me the biggest compliment of all. While we were standing in our dining room, he was admiring my paintings hanging on the walls and in the den that is home to many books and more of my paintings.

Like a kid in a candy story with eyes wide open, he said, "Wow. I like your paintings. Did your grandchildren paint them?" My eyes lit up with delight. I smiled and said, "No. I painted them." "Oh, I'm sorry. I didn't mean....I hope I didn't insult you," he apologized, a little embarrassed.

"No, not at all," I said with delight as I grinned from ear to ear. "Thank you. Thank you. That is one of the nicest compliments I've gotten about my paintings. That's how I hope people who see my paintings will feel. When I paint, I paint like a child. The national parks and nature keep my childlike sense of awe and wonder alive. I hope my paintings do the same. And you've just confirmed it."

Having never been to a national park, he said, "I can't wait to take my son and my wife to a national park."

My paintings are not perfect. But I find joy in my perfect imperfections. With every stroke of the brush, I'm learning that painting is a beautiful, meditative, and calming journey that requires the willingness to create pleasing imperfection. Formally trained Scottish painter Peter Doig says, "It's not about perfection. What's a perfect painting? What's interesting about a perfect painting?"

At the end of the opening reception, I shared my first acrylic painting, painted on July 24, 2021. The inspiration was a pot of ginger root plant sprouting alongside a beautifully bloomed sunflower in our vegetable garden. I call this painting A Sunflower Grows in a Ginger Root Pot.

I hope the painters that have inspired me and the painter that I have become will encourage you to take the first step. Unless you take the first step, you'll never know the possibilities. Don't be afraid to take the first step. Don't be afraid to play with paint at any age.

"Creativity takes courage." ~ Henri Matisse

If you are a curator, have a gallery, or would like to exhibit my paintings in a library, hospital or other setting, please contact me.


Visit my Ultrarunning page


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I am also the author of Come What May, I Want to Run: A Memoir of the Saving Grace of Ultrarunning in Overwhelming Times. The beginning of my painting journey makes an appearance. You can order the book here from from the publisher, Amazon, Bookshop, or Barnes & Noble.


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