When Triathletes Commission a Painting

August is a month of pilgrimage for Americans. It’s the month we return to our holidays of choice, the special places we feel most alive or inspired to be free.

August is when we return to places that nourish us, even if that’s just gardening at home. We enjoy that collective breath before the rush of school and September begins. 

We all have places like this, even if they’re not particularly picturesque to others. Places so special to us that even a small tug can break the dam on our memories. 

An old snapshot of the family ski condo may looks like a terrible place to our spouse. But those old, poorly-lit photos remind us of why we loved (or hated) being there. There are some places, just like some people, who help us become more of who we are. 

If it’s a place of home for us, we grow nostalgic over the way it smelled, the way we were able to sleep without fear. My Mexican grandparent’s home, where we never rushed. The smell of a vitamin store still reminds me of their house.

All these memories from a smell, or a snapshot, or a riff of music from that wonderful weekend. We know why that particular spot on earth held safety and hope for us. And we know why we want to remember it as long as we breathe.

Those are the places I have the privilege and pleasure to paint, when some of you ask me.

So for August, while many of us are on vacation with family and visiting our special places, pull up a chair for some special family stories.

Today, the story of the Hale family. And how I came to paint their place of pilgrimage.

Jon and Jess Hale are old friends from our Jeeping days. We met in Moab during the Rubicon Owner’s Forum yearly trips. I have witnessed Jon ruin or roll his Jeep more than once. He’s the guy who looks for the roughest patch of road and announces, “I’m in.”

Years later, we all ran the Rubicon trail in California. I’ll never forget how we celebrated the finish. Each couple rented a jet ski to scream over the sapphire waters of Lake Tahoe.  

Jon and Jess are nurses who work in Seattle.  Seven years ago, Jon and Jess swapped their Rubicon for running shoes, bikes and wet suits. Instead of off-road driving, they’re off-road running.

Jon ran his first Ironman at age 40, swimming 2.4 miles, biking 112 miles, and running 26.2 miles. That’s just one race.  Jess, who joined the Ironman ranks, too, recently shared about one Ultramarathon. This one was a 50 mile race. She remembers the huge highs and lows, feeling strong and invincible one moment, then not sure she could do it the next. But, when she finished she said,

“I never felt so alive and was ready to sign up for the next event. 😊”

They’ve learned together how, with hard work, their bodies can carry them farther than they ever thought possible. This coming weekend they are running Mount St. Helen’s trail for another event together.

Being outside, climbing new peaks, and training together is the Hale family’s special place. Special enough to want it painted. So, they asked me to capture this in a commissioned watercolor piece. 

I worked with a picture of them running across the San Francisco Bay Bridge (view the pics above the “Artist’s Note” at my site), but placed them in front of a mountain lake with huge peaks in the distance.

This 22″ x 30” watercolor is the result. It now hangs in their entrance hallway. They see it every time they leave and return home after an event. As Jess just shared this week “We still smile every time we look at it!”

Now, I don’t run marathons, but capturing a family’s places of pilgrimage. Knowing my art, even two years later, is still bringing them joy and satisfaction. Well, that’s my version of a runner’s high!  Be sure to read the Artist’s Note for more.

Let me hear from you! What is your special place?

Next week, another story!


This is a great way to see the paintings behind the final painting.

First, I had the fantastic photo of Jon and Jess running on the San Francisco bridge. And I knew they liked the colors in my Blue Mountain Painting (pic 2). My plan was to re-light the reference photo (pic 3) with more sunshine and color.

Next, the tiny (thumbnail) sketch, which is the only pic in pencil. In real life it’s only 2 x 2″. But you can see how important a role it played in directing the final piece. The value study painting is right after the thumbnail. A value study is a light and dark map, which is especially important to be sure I know where the light areas need to be protected.

Notice the studio pics to see how all these background paintings help with the final. I’m particularly proud of how Jon and Jess turned out. Even though they’re tiny, they actually look like these two, their stride and body language. This is how they run and do life: together.

I had to paint that final painting twice, the first time I overworked the mountains. That’s another tricky thing about watercolor, you cannot keep going over an area. You get one or two passes before you have to stop.

No mercy, but such huge satisfaction when you finish a piece well.

Subscribe to Jonalyn’s blog

We respect your privacy.

Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

We have one of those special paintings, as well….thank you Jonalyn….

And as I am sure you know, that wonderful neighborhood is changing quickly…so many gone, and so many new, that you and I will never know…glad we had/have each other!!!

So honored to be mentioned in this blog post, Jonalyn! Even more honored to have this beautiful painting in our home. So thankful for you and Dale, and our continued friendship 💕

We miss you too! 💞

You might also enjoy

Who Tells Your Story?

We can all remember certain stories that define us. When you think of your favorites stories growing up, …

What They Said After the “Saving Lives” Virtual Gallery Experience

When you finish an event, two years in the making, it’s wonderful to be able to share the …

Auction Sneak Peek

I’m offering a LIVE auction event following my Saving Lives Show this Saturday. Enjoy a look at the …