His second career as a self-styled “beginner painter” has become an unexpected passion: he paints upstairs at his North Dallas home and keeps another easel busy at his Crawford ranch near Waco, exhibiting a discipline surprising even his closest pals. Friends say he’s getting better, beginning to master the intricacies of composition with regular visits by an accomplished local artist.

“I’m done with politics but I’m not done with life and I’ve got a real good life,” he recently reminded a political ally, not for the first time.

“He’s very content, and his new granddaughter is the exclamation point,” echoed Brad Freeman, one of his closest friends, referring to Margaret Laura “Mila” Hager, born in New York City April 13.

“He’s enjoying the hell out of life, “ a close friend told National Journal. “He’s his loosey-goosey self again, the way he used to be.”

Various confidants describe 43 as “mellow,” “serene” and “tranquil,” happy with his self-imposed exile from the political grind he never really liked and ecstatic with his new life below the radar.