Palimpsest

April 23, 2014
New Watercolor Sketch over the Lunch Hour

New Watercolor Sketch over the Lunch Hour

The creative process is determined not only by the medium but also by the inner vision.

Edouard Manet

I decided to come home from school over the lunch hour and begin a second watercolor sketch of the same subject as the one I attempted late last night.  I titled this blog entry Palimpsest which refers to a manuscript or piece of writing material on which the original writing has been effaced to make room for later writing but of which traces remain.  I could have called most of my past oil and acrylic-on-canvas paintings palimpsests, because I continued to revise and obliterate my earlier rescensions of design.  I do some of that in watercolor as well, but late last night decided to begin a series of sketches of the same Victorian house and compare them side-by-side to get a sense of what I want to do next.  Next month I will begin my annual plein air excursion to Waxahachie, Texas, a German town rich in Victorian and Gingerbread architecture.  This year I would like to feel more practiced and primed for those kinds of compositions that I will do on location.  For now, I’m studying photos that I’ve taken over the years, hoping to improve my skills in architectural rendering and composition.

Thanks for reading.  I need to get back for an afternoon class.

I paint in order to remember.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

Lacunae

April 22, 2014
Quick Sketch of a Victorian House after a Long Work Day

Quick Sketch of a Victorian House after a Long Work Day

Must a painter paint everything?  Can’t he leave anything to my imagination?

Diderot

“Lacuna” (plural lacunae) is defined as “a gap or missing part, as in a manuscript, series, or logical argument; hiatus”.  I have gaps in mind as I work on a quick, quick watercolor sketch late at night, after a long afternoon of art history preparations for tomorrow’s slate of classes.  I began this sketch with the deliberate intention of leaving large parts unfinished.  Some refer to watercolors as “vignettes” when they have undeveloped perimeters.  But I am thinking seriously of letting pencil work finish out much of this Victorian house I’m rendering.  At any rate, I won’t “complete” it tonight.  I still have more art history to prepare and the hour is getting late.

In my weekend reading, I spent considerable time in Diderot’s writings.  He began publishing critical articles, reviewing the annual Salon in Paris as early as 1759.  I like his comment (posted above) and the way Andrew Wyeth echoed those sentiments in recent years.  Wyeth always said the strength of the composition lay in what you could leave out.  As one who has always enjoyed chasing and nailing down details in drawing and painting, it takes real fortitude for me to stop and walk away from a work when I feel there is so much left to be done.  But tonight, being tired, and still behind in my responsibilities, I thought “Why not?”  Do a quick, quick pencil and watercolor sketch, leave it, and see how it looks in the days following.

Thanks for reading.  I have more work to do.

I paint in order to remember.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

 

Return to Drawing the Fort Worth Flatiron

April 18, 2014

 

Returning to Work on the Fort Worth Flatiron Building

Returning to Work on the Fort Worth Flatiron Building

It is something to be able to paint a particular picture, or to carve a statue, and so to make a few objects beautiful; but it is far more glorious to carve and paint the very atmosphere and medium through which we look, which morally we can do.  To affect the quality of the day, that is the highest of arts.  Every man is tasked to make his life, even in its details, worthy of the contemplation of his most elevated and critical hour.

Henry David Thoreau, Walden

Throughout this morning, while working on atmospheric qualities in watercolor, I was moved to find this passage from Thoreau that once impacted me while studying him back in the early 1990′s.  I don’t pretend to be consistent in living an artful life while making art, though it is sublime when life’s details and the tasks of making art are both at their best.  I can certainly vouch for a beautiful morning in the studio.  I reached a point in the Hermann, Missouri painting that I was willing to give it a rest.  Then, without a moment’s hesitation, I pulled out this closeup of Fort Worth’s flatiron building that I abandoned months ago and went right after it.  So far, the colors are working, and I am drawing, drawing, drawing.  I hesitate even to refer to this as a painting.  The sharp brushes are doing just as well as sharpened pencils, and I probably am feeling the same kind of satisfaction that an old-timer feels while whittling on a stick with a penknife.  The more I scratch and chip away at these details, the happier I feel as an artist.  I may not be too far from finishing up this work as well.

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to remember.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nearing Completion on a Long-Range Watercolor Project

April 18, 2014
Nearly Finished With This Watercolor of Hermann, Missouri

Nearly Finished With This Watercolor of Hermann, Missouri

The book, if you would see anything in it, requires to be read in the clear, brown, twilight atmosphere in which it was written; if opened in the sunshine, it is apt to look exceedingly like a volume of blank pages.

Nathaniel Hawthorne, Twice-Told Tales

Retiring to bed at 2:00 this morning, I was surprised to wake without an alarm shortly after 8:00.  There is no school today, but the routine 6:00 alarm apparently has me waking earlier in the mornings these days, even when no such alarm is set.  I came into the studio eagerly, ready to take the next step on this watercolor, but instead just sat and looked over it, in no hurry to stitch up the final details.  So instead, I have been sitting in a comfortable chair with coffee, books and journal, and have set the painting on an easel ten feet in front of me in the morning light, and occasionally I look up at it, much as Andrew Wyeth did with his near-completed compositions.  Wyeth would put them in a prominent place in his living room, so he could catch glimpses of them (“from the corner of my eye”, he said) as he walked throughout the house in the course of a day.  Eventually he reached a decision of whether or not the painting needed further work.  I suppose that is what I am doing now.  Two days ago, a student whose opinion I respect highly saw the painting and thought it looked finished already.  Many times I have pushed a watercolor past its completion point and felt disappointed that it had been overworked, overdone.  So, I am letting this one breathe for awhile.

This latest watercolor contrasts starkly with the one I have generally used as a measuring-stick against all subsequent work:

Summer Morning on Sundance Square

Summer Morning on Sundance Square

Completed several summers ago, I found great satisfaction in the hot sun-filled composition of this piece.  I was at my boldest in the use of color and sharp contrasts not only in value but in the complementary colors.

Last Christmas season, when I trekked through that quaint German town Hermann, Missouri, I felt an exhilaration I cannnot describe as I took picture after picture, all the time hoping, wondering if I could possibly render a watercolor to capture the cold winter light that diffused across that cityscape, and the sense of mist that crept up from the Missouri River far down below.  I knew that a muted, misty painting could possibly come across as boring when juxtaposed with a sharp, summer composition such as this one in Sundance Square.

As the Texas summer approaches, I will no doubt return to plenty of these hot compositions.  But right now, I am really loving the look of my muted, atmospheric piece, and believe I’ll continue to look at it “from the corner of my eye” and make a decision of whether to leave it as is, or look for ways to put some spice into it.  Right now, I just don’t know.

I have some abandoned watercolors littered about my studio, so I believe I’ll find one of them to focus on for the time being.

Thanks always for reading.

I paint in order to remember.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

 

 

Lining Up the Vehicles and Rendering the Streets

April 18, 2014
Working Late on a Thursday Night

Working Late on a Thursday Night

The hour has reached nearly 2:00 a.m.  There is no school for me on Good Friday.  I’m feeling kind of mellow as I sit up late and work on the details of a line of parked vehicles and all the shadow changes on the pavement to the right.  I’m not rushing this and can say that I’m feeling satisfied so far with how it is finishing.  Hopefully I’ll have it complete before I return to school next week.

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to remember.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

Reds in the Shadows

April 16, 2014
Working on the shadows now

Working on the shadows now

Aut lux nata est aut capta hic libera regnat.

The light is either born here, or, imprisoned, reigns here in freedom.

Inscription in the Archiepiscopal Chapel at Ravenna

Mark Rothko is an abstract expressionist painter who still intrigues me, particularly in his discussions of light in the shadows.  As I inch closer to completing this winterscape watercolor of Hermann, Missouri, I’m struggling with the storefront shadows and row of parked cars.  There will be more shadows creeping across the street.  I am not sure how it happened, but in a mindless moment, I introduced a plethora of neutral grays into the building facade shadows, and I don’t like them at all.  Today I decided to experiment with some red washes over those gray regions–Alizarin Crimson, Quinachridone Red and Pemanent Rose.  I then introduced some Pthalo Turquoise in the same areas, hoping to replace the gray deadness with some kind of living color.  I feel that it’s starting to improve.  The parked vehicles in the shade are also proving a challenge, and I’m trying not to repeat the same mistake with neutral grays.  There remains a significant puddle of ugly gray above the parked vehicles that I still have not decided what to do with yet.  In good time.

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to remember.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

If I Would Have to Choose a Sleepless Night . . .

April 15, 2014
Lunar Eclipse Over Arlington, Texas.  2:00 a.m.

Lunar Eclipse Over Arlington, Texas. 2:00 a.m.

Lunar Eclipse in Full Zoom (with Shaky Hands)

Lunar Eclipse in Full Zoom (with Shaky Hands)

. . . I suppose it would have to be this one.  I couldn’t sleep tonight.  Once the clock rolled toward 2:00 a.m., I decided to rise, dress warmly for a 44-degree night, and step into my backyard to witness a full lunar eclipse.  In these parts, they don’t come around very often.  In fact, the last time I witnessed a full lunar eclipse was on the night of September 26, 1996.  I attempted a Prismacolor rendering of that splendorous sight in my journal:

Journal drawing from 1996 viewing of lunar eclipse

Journal drawing from 1996 viewing of lunar eclipse

I’ll have to rise to teach in about three-and-a-half hours.  I’m still not sleepy, and filled with good thoughts about what I witnessed in the stillness of my backyard tonight.

Thanks for reading.

Getting Lost in the Shadows of Watercolor

April 14, 2014
Working the Shadows and Parked Vehicles

Working the Shadows and Parked Vehicles

Drawing is a way of organizing space.

Robert Motherwell (I think!)

The paper is the atmosphere in which the watercolor breathes.

(author unknown!)

I open tonight’s blog with two questionable quotes.  The first I am relatively certain came from Robert Motherwell, my idol of Abstract Expressionist thought and erudition.  But tonight I have been unsuccessful in tracing it to him.  The second quote came from an artists’ magazine I read back in the 1980′s, before I actually made watercolor a serious pursuit.  I have never been able to forget it.

Both of these quotes are swimming in my consciousness as I work on this piece tonight.  Temperatures outside are dropping to the point that I decided to don a heavy sweater rather than turn up the thermostat.  I am sitting adjacent to an entire wall of northern windows, and I feel the freeze warning that has been forecast throughout the day.  The chill is reminding me of the cold December morning that I walked the streets of Hermann, Missouri and took the photograph for this composition.  There was such a clarity of light that morning that I knew would be conducive for watercolor–I love the clear, sharp, cold light of a winter’s day and have worked hard to get that atmosphere into this painting.  I love what watercolor paper lends to the atmosphere of a landscape painting.

As for the drawing/organizing space principle, I have been handcuffed, trying to render the shadowed facades of this row of storefronts adjacent to a line of parked vehicles.  The Motherwell quote surfaced, and I decided to break the shadows into rhythms of geometric configurations, alternating warm and cool colors as I filled in the spaces.  I feel the way I did in high school when we painted large nonrepresentational acrylic-on-canvas compositions.  We were challenged to experiment with the combinations of warm and cool colors and seek some kind of pleasing balance.  That is what I am attempting to do here.  I have no serious aspirations to copy the myriad of representational images in my small photograph.  We’ll see how it turns out.  If it doesn’t work, I’ll try something else.  At any rate, I am enjoying this evening in the studio.

This is probably all the painting I’ll be able to post this evening.  I still have work to do on a Nietzsche lecture for tomorrow morning’s Philosophy class.  I cannot seem to create a lifestyle with a singular focus–there is always another task to perform.  I love reading, writing and talking about Nietzsche.  But I also love watercolor.  With tonight’s limited time, I need to find a way to address both.

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to remember.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

A Cold, Rainy Afternoon in the Studio

April 14, 2014
Quiet Retreat to the Watercolor Studio

Quiet Retreat to the Watercolor Studio

At such times there is a song going on within us, a song to which we listen.  It fills us with surprise.  We marvel at it.  We would continue to hear it.  But few are capable of holding themselves in the state of listening to their own song.  Intellectuality steps in and as the song within us is of the utmost sensitiveness, it retires in the presence of the cold, material intellect.  It is aristocratic and will not associate itself with the commonplace–and we fall back and become our ordinary selves.  Yet we live in the memory of these songs which in moments of intellectual inadvertence have been possible to us.  They are the pinnacles of our experience and it is the desire to express these intimate sensations, this song from within, which motivates the masters of all art.

Robert Henri, The Art Spirit

The day has been physically and intellectually dreary.  Forty-four degrees, dark and rainy outside.  Indoors we have studied A. P. Art History, focusing on the German Neue Sachlichkeit (New Objectivity) movement fueled by World War I.  George Grosz, Max Beckmann, Otto Dix and Ernst Barlach all served in the German army during that Great War.  They entered as enthusiastic patriotic idealists, exited as horrified, burned-out and disillusioned artists.  As we looked upon their paintings and reflected on the writings of Nietzsche that transformed the world views of the young soldier Otto Dix, as well as the chaplain Paul Tillich, I felt the cold of the outside gripping my own artistic sensitivity.  The longer we looked at these works and talked of the war’s atrocities, the more I wished to retreat to my studio and revive the song that has stirred my heart recently, encouraging me to paint and explore beauty.

The first thing I did when I got home to my studio was put on a fresh pot of coffee to help stave off the cold and wet climate that settled into my bones and offset the dark gray world peeking through the miniblinds of my studio windows.  Then I tilted the surface of my drafting table and settled into drawing, erasing and re-drawing the details in the shadows of the buildings lining the winter streets of Hermann, Missouri.  Slowly, the depressing themes of the morning studies melted away and I was once again looking upon a beautiful watercolor world, unscarred by war and destruction.  The winter atmosphere in this painting is cold and hazy, but within my soul, I feel a clarity and sense of color and warmth.  I still need to add more layers of shadow to the areas on the lower left of this composition, then along the facades of the stores facing the street.  This is going to take awhile, it appears.  But I have time, and renewed energy.  Making art today has lifted me from the despairing subjects of the morning classes.  Once again, I am grateful for that gift.

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to remember.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

 

 

 

Late Night in the Studio

April 13, 2014

Hermann close upWorking Late Sunday Night on this Hermann, Missouri Cityscape

The ideal modern artist must become this unobserved but “passionate observer” who watches the world yet remains hidden.  He is a flaneur (a stroller), a tourist in his own land, whose scenery of choice is the crowd, “a prince who always preserves his incognito.”  He delights in “the rippling, moving, fleeting, infinite” multitude.  Here is the artist as voyeur, seeing but unseen, “a mirror as immense as that crowd; a kaleidoscope endowed with consciousness.”

Beth Archer Brombert, recording the ideas of Baudelaire concerning the contemporary artist

The Entire Composition in Progress

The Entire Composition in Progress

Though I’m confined to the studio, working from photographs, the Texas weather is inching toward plein air capability, and I am happy to see a couple of events on the horizon where I am invited to engage in it.  The Baudelaire sentiments remind me of Emerson’s comments in Nature when he describes the observer as a “transparent eyeball”–he is nothing, he sees all.  Andrew Wyeth enjoyed such a feeling when he sat in the Olsen household in Maine, creating watercolor and tempera works inside the dim interior of their house as they went about their daily chores.  He oftentimes felt that he wasn’t visibly present because of the ease in which they worked as though incognizant of his company.

I felt the same transparency when I walked the streets of Hermann last Christmas holidays.  I know no one in that town, and no one was out walking in the frigid weather that morning.  I was delighted to take photos, knowing I would try my hardest to convert some of these into decent watercolors once I got back to my warm studio.

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to remember.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

 


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