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The art of travel

Art and the act of putting pen to paper or paintbrush to canvas has always called to Dave Christian. That and a desire to roam the globe. When the Arnold resident found a way to combine the two loves it seemed like life had laid out a brand new path for him. 

Christian creates travel prints of destinations around the 209 area and beyond. His creations have become so popular that he was able to turn it into his full-time profession. His art has also served as a physical and mental retreat as he first battled a brain tumor and then rehabilitation after a life-threatening collision.

Since childhood, Christian has loved to draw and had what he describes as “an incessant pursuit of excellent penmanship.” That pursuit was honed during the trips he and his wife, Annalisa, would take and Christian would create detailed ink drawings in his travel journal of the sites they were seeing, along with a location title that resembled vintage travel posters.

“In 2011, we went on a long three-month trip to Europe and South America and on this trip I was keeping a journal with drawings of the places we visited,” Christian said. “And at the same time, we had collected a few of those vintage travel posters of the Swiss Alps. When we went to South America, I wanted to find something similar of the Patagonia region but couldn’t find any. And so, I told my wife that I wanted to make my own and I did when we got home. I made three of my own posters and later when a friend saw them, he suggested I should do some of Yosemite.”

Travel posters were originally created for advertising purposes for travel agencies that wanted eye-catching visuals of exotic locales and awaiting adventures that would inspire people to book trips. Since then, travel posters have become vacation momentous and pieces of collectible art.

That initial Patagonia travel series sparked Christian’s imagination.

“I realized there was a need for a new generation of travel prints depicting local scenes of our iconic area in the Sierra and beyond,” Christian said.

Christian typically works off of photographs he takes of a particular area because a single painting can take 50 to 60 hours to complete. He starts with a sketch and once he is satisfied with it, he moves on to the watercolors.

“My goal is to create a travel print with a vintage yet contemporary feel, combining a scene with hand drawn lettering,” Christian said. “Although I didn’t realize it as a child, lettering has become one of my main forms of art which goes hand in hand with my paintings.”

His works were shown at area galleries and art spots and they started to sell at regional fairs and festivals. The reception was overwhelmingly positive, so they set up an online shop to meet the growing demand.

As the art business was thriving, Christian’s health was beginning to decline. The headaches that had long been a part of his life were becoming more frequent and growing in intensity. The pain and symptoms were severe and kept Christian away from his family, work and art.

On Jan. 29, 2016, Annalisa had to rush him to the hospital with what looked like stroke symptoms - loss of speech and sensation on one side of his body. A CT scan showed a large mass on the left side of his brain. One ambulance ride to UCSF later and an MRI revealed a softball size tumor. Within days he underwent a craniotomy and surgeons removed the tumor. 

“The doctors believe that the tumor had been slow growing for as long as a decade of my life, allowing my body to adapt to its presence except for the occasional ‘episode’ or bizarre symptom that would preclude a migraine headache,” Christian said. “Then over the year and a half before my brain surgery, the bizarre symptoms went from occasional (every three or four months) to monthly, to then almost weekly.”

The recovery process began for Christian and his family and by the following year it seemed like all his health issues had been resolved. He had experienced one seizure after undergoing radiation therapy, but had not had any other episodes.

Then on Oct. 14, 2017, Christian had another seizure and this time he was driving to Southern California for a wedding.

“Due to the trauma of his brain surgery and radiation in 2016, Dave was on a maximum dose of anti-seizure medication,” Annalisa said. “His seizures were well controlled and there was no reason to be concerned.  He had resumed most of his regular activities and had been doing well.”

Christian was transported to a hospital in Fresno and was diagnosed with two fractured vertebrae in his neck and a dissection in his vertebral artery. He and Annalisa were told neither required surgery, but days after being released Christian was in extreme pain and was eventually taken to UCSF again. Imaging showed a bone fragment impinging a nerve, in addition to the cervical fractures. Surgery stabilized the neck fractures, removed the agonizing pain and improved the weakness and numbness on his right side.

Once again, Christian’s days were busy focusing on the business of recovery and it wasn’t long before his art was playing an important role in that recovery.

“It didn’t come easy, especially at first,” Christian said. “It was mentally taxing to concentrate the way I needed to. And so doing a painting that takes 50 to 60 hours was incredibly difficult. It was something that I just had to throw myself back into. I needed that creative outlet.”

It may have been a struggle, but Christian persisted and now he is once again capturing the natural beauty in the 209 and beyond.

“Over these past four years my family and I have had to endure disappointments, trials and hardships of many kinds,” Christian wrote on his blog. “We have also experienced times of joy and God’s blessings, provision and favor in our life and over our family.”

To view Christian’s art, visit: