Boston Marathon live sketches!

These were sketched this morning from a live stream of the 118th Boston Marathon. Stay tuned for a more detailed color report of this historic race; the first American winner at Boston since 1983. You runners out there, email Runners World or Running Times magazine that you want to see more Walter Cumming race sketches!

Boston sketch1


Boston sketch2

Boston sketch4




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1995 Appalachian Adventure remembered

In March of 1995, reporter Bo Emerson and I hiked 100 miles together on the Appalachian trail on assignment for the AJC in 10 days. That assignment was, hands down, the most memorable and fun assignment in my 28 years at the ajc. Five newspapers joined us for a 2,000 mile relay hike and the book “Appalachian Adventure” is still out there somewhere on the internet (Amazon?). My sketchbook journal (in addition to thousands of original art for published illustrations since 1980) is here in my studio.

Bo filing story

Above is a page from the journal that I carried the 100 miles with daily entries

Bo and Walter Nantahala

This is a shot taken by ajc photographer Chris Hunt of me and Bo running Nantahala falls on day 10. The store manager of Nantahala Outdoor Center generously loaned us a boat so I could give Bo his first whitewater experience (I’m not sure if Bo had as much fun as I did)


Look for these wildflowers blooming right now on the corridor of the Chattahoochee River and, in about 2 weeks, in the North Georgia mountains.

Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Above is a quick sketch in tribute to the passing, yesterday, of the great Colombian born writer Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

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2 new pastels and the Boston Marathon live

Just finished these two new pastels for an upcoming show. The first is based on a live sketch in front of a Picasso in the Metropolitan Museum in New York. the second is a study of winter light on the Dahlonega courthouse.

Last year, just before the bombs exploded  at the Boston Marathon, I was sketching live studies from an internet stream which I posted on my blog. They were were published the next day with a David Pendered column in The Saporta Report. Next Monday, I’ll publish more live sketches during the race. American record holder Ryan Hall is a strong favorite to be the first American to win Boston since 1987. Stay tuned!

Queue de cheval

Queue sketch1

Dahlonega courthouse

Finish line sketchBeating the T-train

Leaders sketch

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Sled dog fight!

DAY THREE, March 4

This, my third morning in Quebec, saw 20 below zero for the third day in a row. Stepping out of the cabin into the first light of morning, the utter stillness and crystalline beauty of the dry cold took my breath away, I felt my nose hairs freezing while Tanook and I walked the 100 yards on squeaking snow to the lodge. Hot cocoa, café au lait and a hot breakfast of homemade crepes with homemade wild cherry preserves and cream cheese filled our bellies with much needed calories. Another 35 kilometer day lay ahead with new dogs on new trails.

First light

The starting moment arrived and I pulled my quick release cable for the explosive start of our run. But, instead of the peaceful “huh huh huh..”sound of my dogs panting joyfully down the trail, my two lead dogs stopped and locked jaws onto each other’s necks in a death-grip fight, while my other 4 dogs ran over them entangling all 6 dogs in the tug lines. Total chaos followed.

An experienced musher would have seen the fight coming and stopped in time to prevent a tangle. I was obviously not an experienced musher. I dropped anchor, stomped on my brake and waited instructions. What followed, is still not clear in my mind what happened. From behind me, “J.B.” leapt from out of nowhere and dove into the middle of the fight, and began pounding repeatedly with his mittoned fist, the muzzle of the instigator while grabbing the collar of the 2nd dog, Meanwhile, Michele jumped into the tangled mess and began untangling lines. Deafening snarling, growls, indecipherable shouts of french obscenities filled the air. My heart pounding, the fight finally was stopped and we were off again following  Jean Christoph’s lead sled down the trail. “huh, huh, huh”. Within the next 30 seconds, my 2 lead dogs were at it again in another fight. MERDE!

Montreal auberge

This time, I stopped my sled in time to avoid a tangle but the fight was back on. I saw Jean-Christophe striding angrily and powerfully back to my brawling dogs. He looked like a Russian Cossack in his long parka and what happened next is still not clear in my memory. I saw him bend down and bite the ear of the instigator, then held his throat with both hands and started bellowing in load, passionate, and inventive french profanity inches from the face of the offender ‘ÇA SUFFIT MERDE!! TU A COMPRIS?!!” or words to that effect. Whatever he said was understood and was, in dog language, “an offer he couldn’t refuse”. We finished the 35 kilometer run without another incident. My lead dogs were, to my amazement, unhurt by the fight.

I later asked Jean-Christophe what caused the fight between the male and female leaders of my team. I knew that males or females are NEVER teamed together with same sex partners (in sled dog sense, if you please) to prevent competitive fighting. Two female dog fights are the worst. He explained in french that a male/female fight was rare but happens occasionally. “Violence domestique?” I asked. He chuckled “Oui, c’est ça!”

So how did I get out of my predicament of being stranded, alone, 6 miles on the wrong road in zero degree weather on day one? I had maybe 3 minutes to try to hook my ill-fitting chains on to one rear wheel before my fingers would be numb and useless. The chains did not fit so I had to hook them together on the outside with the rubber, 8 pronged “spider hook”. It was a risky rig. With great care I began a 10 point turn around on a snow trail no wider than the length of my car. I exhaled deeply as I was finally pointing in the right direction to get out. Now comes the big test. Can we climb out of here?

hockey in Montreal

I slowly started back up the first steep hill. “Clack, clack, clack, clack” the loose chain was hitting my wheel guard. Even at a 2 mph crawl, it sounded like my wheel was going to fall off. Miraculously, the chain held and we crested the first of 3 to 4 steep hills on the 6 mile return to safety. “Clack! clack! clACK! CLACK!!1″ the cadence increased in tempo, volume, and urgency as I accelerated to a risky 10 mph for momentum to make the next steep hill. Nearing the summit we began spinning and slowed to a crawl. My “check tire pressure’ light came on. Then, I heard an unnatural noise.

My i-phone was ringing!. What the…??? On impulse I picked up my phone “Allo oui?” I answered. The voice on the line spoke the first and only English I heard in my 5 days in Quebec and it offended my ears. “Hi! Mr. Cumming?” CLACK, CLACK,CLACK! My subaru crested the summit!. “Yes?!” I answered the call. “This is a courtesy call from Comcast reminding you that your payment is past due. Would you like to pay your bill?” “Uh…can I get back with you on that?” “Certainly sir”. click. I crested the final summit successfully and clack, clack clacked the remaining miles back to the correct road. Jean-Chistophe and Michele were waiting for me to guide me the correct 6.2 miles to the Matawin Lodge. “Faut pas avoir les chains. Le route est bon!” Michele explained I wouldn’t need chains. I took off the clacking chain. Oui, le route was bon. Très bon!

Dashboard temp

This is my dashboard the morning of day 4…

Tanook 20 below

… and a very comfortable Malamuste at 19 below.

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Fresh off the easel…and more live from Québec!

Just finished this portrait commission (actually still finishing it) Also, an excerpt from day 2 in Quebec. Stay tuned for day 3, a bad dog fight! Also details on upcoming show at Alliance Française.


This is a detail of a portrait commission

April finalAbove is the final… still in progress

April start

this is the first step, blocking in the composition…

Live journal entry

…and now back to Québec, here’s a live journal entry with my notes of dog sled tips from a pro…

And here’s an excerpt from DAY 2 , “French emersion at 20 below”

I had met the current 2 owners/guides of the Matawin lodge last summer for an overnight visit. Jean-Christophe and his wife Michele bought the lodge in 2007. They were raised and trained in Savoie France near the alps. They spent their lives in winter sports. Like Swiss Bergfürers (alpine guides), France requires a rigorous 4 years of training and testing before being a certified “Guide de traîneau de chiens” (dog sled guide). Jean-Chistophe said no such standard exists in the U.S. for dog sled guides.

The lodge was a cozy, wood heated, solar powered, energy efficient , log structure with wireless internet and cell service. Aperatifs were served during “coctail hour” from 6;00-7:00. We sipped local micro brew beer and watched a you tube documentary (on a giant flat screen) in french about North and South Korea. Around 7:00 I was very hungry and was beginning to worry that dinner was earlier and I had missed it when i smelled delicious curry baroma’s wafting from the kitchen and “À table!” was announced . Of course! These are French! You’re not going to bed hungry or without a very lively 2 hour dinner conversation. Subjects ranged from Canadian wildlife stories, mushing techniques and dog nutrition, to world politics and religion. Unlike most U.S. dinner conversation taboos, different opinions on politics and religion are not only welcome in french dinner topics but essential. The feast included curried chicken on rice, homemade bread and butter, red and white french wines, a plate of cheeses, coconut tapioca au chocolat for dessert. The day ended perfect. Tanook slept inside the cozy wood-heated guest cabin with me and 5 others, auberge style: 4 french, one Belgian, and one American.

Riviere St. Maurice

Above is a shot of Rivière St. Maurice at 5 k on the correct route to the dogsled outpost

DAY TWO, March 3
As dawn’s arctic rose fingers touched the sky, the temperature hovered around 20 below zero Farenheit. Today was a perfect day of French mushing. Perfect cold sunny weather, homemade french food, new international friends, and not a single word of English was spoken, yet lively french dialogue never stopped. As a pathological francofile, I have driven to Quebec at least 30 times since 2001 just to immerse myself in french language and culture. This was my first trip to Quebec where I didn’t have to strain to translate the 17th century patois/”franglais” spoken in Quebec into french spoken in France. Everyone was french!

Our expert French mushing guide,Jean-Christophe, does not fit the profile many Americans may have of a stereotypical “frenchman”. Clearly cultural differences exist but to avoid offending either my French or my American friends, a “typical Frenchman” is as impossible a label as a “typical American”. To me, Jean-Chistophe fit more the profile of a Gaulic or Viking warrior with a light sense of humor. French comic strip character Asterix’s rotund partner, Odelix came to mind. Except, unlike Odelix, Jean-Christophe is fit instead of fat and competent instead of bungling. Jean Christophe is a barrel chested, solid 6 feet of hard working muscle. In full mushing gear, he looked huge and intimidating, and his voice was deep and booming over the roar of barking sled dogs. This is an important trait when breaking up serious dog fights, which happened the next day.

No dog fights today. We covered 35 kilometers of pristine winter wilderness trails. There were 5 sleds with 6 dogs each: Jean-Christophe leading followed by Belgian client “Annie”, then me, then the two “handlers” Jeremy (a young professional musher from Lyon, France) and, in “sweep” position was Jean-Baptiste, a 31-year-old Parisian building contractor and part-time musher.

The start was a familiar 30 minute chaotic frenzy of deafening howls, shouts, harnessing and hitching dogs, and waiting for the release from the anchor posts. One by one, the quick release calbes were tugged free and each sled was off like a sprinter out of the blocks. Instantly, the deafening, howls stopped and the only sound was the “huh, huh, huh” breathing of my six dogs and the clean soft, hiss of sled runners on hard cold snow “ssssssshhhhhh”. No offensively loud 2-stroke roar of snow mobile engines here. The sensation was familiar to me. Like running a whitewater rapid in a canoe or catching a strong wind with a sail, or maybe even horseback riding; harnessing and feeling the power of a force of nature taps some primal genetic knowledge of travel that has existed in our genetic memory for thousands of years before the invention of internal combustion engine.

The first sharp left turn, flipped Annie’s sled in front of me. She held fast and pulled the sled back upright. The first rule of mushing is “LACHE PAS!” (never let go!”) A mile later, my sled flipped on a sharp right turn. I did not “lache’. Flipping a sled is as common for experts as well as beginners. Jean-Baptiste flipped on the same turn I did.

Jean Baptist

Lunch break at Branche du Nord, a public auberge or “gite d’etat”

Back at the lodge that evening, Jean-Baptiste (or “Jeh Beh” for short) replayed on his laptop his video from a head cam attached to his sled handlebar. He performed daredevil stunts (“Casse cou”) for the camera while his sled was in motion, posing while balancing on the sled frame. “Ha! An extreme selfie” I told him. He chuckled. His english was the best of our group (although “selfie” is as international as “google”) but he caught my scowl of disapproval whenever he broke into english for my benefit. “En français je t’en prie J.B.!”

The dinner and conversation that evening surpassed even the happiness and “après ski” glow of the previous night. (By the way, the expression “après ski” doesn’t exist in French.) Two minor casualties of the 20 below zero conditions last night: 1. My laptop died in my car and the hard drive had to be erased and reinstalled back at the Apple store in the U.S. and 2. my dinner gift of a bottle of Mouton Cadet red wine froze, then thawed, ejecting the cork, yet passed the test of approval of a true frenchman’s pallet. Jean-Christophe sipped cautiously, paused thoughtfully, and gave a french verdict “Bahhh, c’est bon! Bon appetite!” We ate a hearty fill of scrumptious lentil stew, sausages with mustard, ample bread and butter, red, rose and white french wines, and Michele’s homemade tarte de la mason, tarte aux pommes. A perfect day. Tomorrow I will experience my first serious sled dog fight.




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More live sketches from Quebec

This is the start of  my report from Quebec last week. Stay tuned for more. Also, coming soon, 2 solo exhibits this summer and a 2 man exhibit at Alliance Française d’Atlanta. Details coming next week…

Lunch breach sketch









3 days in Quebec by dogsled


by Walter Cumming (copyright 2014)




DAY ONE, March 2 – Lost and alone in Canadian north woods in winter




Anyone who has found themselves in a wilderness “emergency” and survived to tell their tale will agree, we are forever changed by the experience. Whether real or perceived danger, fear and panic is the number one killer in all wilderness emergencies. My training with the National Outdoor Leadership School almost 40 years ago played a major role in avoiding panic and surviving a terrifying winter wilderness experience last week in Quebec.




My heart was pounding in fear and my hands had a death grip on my steering wheel. My all-wheel-drive Subaru slowed to an all-wheel-spin up the steep snow packed mountain road in remote Quebec woods. I barely managed to crest the first hill  of a 6 mile route to my destination: a  dog-sled lodge in remote woods of central Quebec. Cell phone service had died 50 miles earlier.


Last light over St. MauriceThis is Riviére St. Maurice at sunset. 20 degrees below zero.


The sun was sinking fast and the temperature was near zero and dropping. I had driven this route at least 20 times in summer but this was my first time in snow and nothing looked familiar. I plowed ahead nervously. My companion on this journey was my 1-year-old Alaskan Malamute “Tanook”in the back of my Subaru. He was observing this new, northern, winter wilderness with cool, wolf-like interest and patience. “If we get stuck, Tanook, we can walk the remaining miles to the lodge if we have to”. I explained to Tanook. Malamutes love and need children’s hugs and verbal explanations from humans.




At mile 6.2 on my odometer, I looked for the familiar lodge on my right. I descended a very steep hill and my heart froze in horror. “Oh my f…..g God.” I heard myself say calmly to Tanook, “We’re on the wrong road”. My breathing increased and I felt dizzy. Instead of the familiar lodge there was a whitewater river half covered with ice. If I tried to turn around on this narrow snow packed road, chances were good that a wheel would drop into the soft  3 foot unpacked snow and we would bottom out. Also, even if I could manage to turn around, I would never be table to climb back up the steep hills I had just descended without chains and even that was doubtful. I had chains but they were not the right size for my new snow tires. Houston, we have a problem. We did find a solution which I’ll explain later.




When we finally arrived at the lodge 2 hours later, the sun was down below the fir trees while distant hilltops flamed in the last light of winter alpenglow, I can’t remember feeling more joy and relief to be surrounded by the familiar sound the french language and of 40 howling sled dogs being fed. After 20 years of studying and speaking french, to my ears it sounded not like I was in Quebec but in the French Alps. In fact,  of the 8 of us at the dinner table that night, not one was a Quebequoi! French children of visiting clients smothered Tanook with hugs (a malamute’s greatest joy) .

Jean Christophe-1


This is a quick sketch of our guide, French musher extrodinaire from Savoie France, Jean-Christophe.

Quebec map-1


Tarte de la maison


Homemade tarte de la maison, Jeremy and Isa, a perfect end to day 2. Tomorrow: my first serious sled dog fight.


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Live mushing from Quebec. 20 below zero!

20 below zero for two nights in a row here in Quebec. Tanook is very happy. Stay tuned for a full report including:

1. How to survive being lost for 6 miles solo on a remote snow mobile trail in sub zero weather.

2. How to break up a serious sled dog fight of 6 tangled sled dogs

3. How to experience the ultimate back woods authentic french cuisine with complete immersion in french language, culture and comraderie.

Quebec live sketch

Riviere St. Maurice live sketch

Mon equipe 2This is me and my team at 25 k of a 35 k run (after the bad dog fight)

Tanook kissing french kids


These masked french children were instant friends with Tanook.

The lodge at dusk

This is the Matawin lodge at dusk before our 3 hour french feast.

And Tanook’s first run up Mount Royal in Monteal.



Tanook in Montreal1






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