Archive for February, 2012

Filling Stations from my Youthful Memories

February 21, 2012

Route 66 of Yesterday

A major grading deadline looms at midnight tonight.  Therefore, I have had little time to give to this latest watercolor today.  I spent some time building up the gravel textures along the shoulder of the highway, and darkening the shadows and enriching the wood textures along the siding of the service station.  That is all I have had time to pursue.  I hope I can return to the garage studio tonight to work further on this piece, but that will depend on the grading process.  So far, it is going quite slowly and painfully, as always.

I take delight in focusing on this setting for a watercolor.   Being a child of the fifties (, I look at a scene like this and recall the sounds of the bell cables the car rolled over as it pulled alongside the gas pumps.  On hot summer days, I recall my surprise seeing station attendants move so quickly and enthusiastically out from behind their oscillating fans to service our car–pump the gas, check the oil under the hood, check the tire pressures, wipe off the windshield and wipers, and take the $5 bill from my father’s hand.  One day when I asked Mom why Dad never asked for $10 worth of gas, she replied: “The tank won’t hold $10 worth.”  Gasoline choices back then were between regular and ethyl.  I recall the horror one day when Mom read the gas price on the front of the pump: 32 cents per gallon!

The memories are not fading quite as rapidly from my mental landscape as this physical structure is from our American landscape.  One thing I enjoy doing with watercolor is keeping these conversations and memories alive.  I miss route 66.  I miss full-service gas stations.  I miss those 1950’s automobiles.

Thanks for reading.

My Answer to Wordsworth’s “Tintern Abbey”–an Abandoned Service Station in a Ghost Town

February 21, 2012

Abandoned Service Station in Robertsville, Missouri

During my three-day weekend, I chose to return to a composition I painted several years ago, titled “Cold Desolation”(  I had taken more than a dozen photos and processed them on 35mm Kodachrome slides a couple of decades ago.  The “Cold Desolation” painting was of this abandoned gas station from a frontal perspective.  Now I have chosen to paint it from this 45-degree angle, including the fuel tanks and the neighboring brick building, as well as trees backing the composition.  I also have chosen a full sheet of watercolor paper (22 x 30″), rather than the mid-sized “Cold Desolation” composition.  The original title was selected due to the weather being about 10 degrees when I photographed this site.

Robertsville, Missouri is the setting for this defunct service station.  Robertsville is defunct as well.  The town is south of historic route 66, west of St. Louis, in eastern Franklin County, just six miles southwest of the town of Pacific.  (,_Missouri) I have photographed several abandoned structures from this town, but this service station is the only one I have managed to paint.  The winter light was better on these buildings than the ones facing across the street.

The three-day weekend was packed with plenty of obligations, but I found some space and temperate weather to retire to my garage studio and begin this painting after hours.  My “companions” for the most part were VHS documentaries on Willem deKooning and Paul Gauguin.  I enjoyed the communion as I thought of those great artists and their contributions, saddened that they are no longer among the living, though their immortal works will remain.  And the sighs of melancholy that I experienced as I thought back over past memories that grow faint over time had an effect on this painting’s process that probably I alone know intimately.

I was also tinged with the sad note of William Wordsworth and his “Lines Composed a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey; On Revisiting the Banks of the Wye During a Tour, July 13, 1798.”  I recalled some of the words from this lyric poem on that winter morning when I encountered this “wild secluded scene” that impressed on me “thoughts of more deep seclusion” that connected “the landscape with the quiet of the sky.”  This particular holiday weekend offered a few spaces of quiet seclusion, and I accepted those gifts in sincere gratitude, particularly late Sunday and Monday evenings in the studio.  A part of me thinks that I could have been happier spending this day working in the garage studio, but on second thought, I doubt that.  I’ll accept those late night gifts, and look forward to the next time I find space to paint.

I’m going to close this post with the portion of the Wordsworth poem that touched me the most profoundly, and I felt were my own sentiments as I worked over this painting, and remembered that scene from the dead of winter:

These beauteous forms,
Through a long absence, have not been to me
As is a landscape to a blind man’s eye:
But oft, in lonely rooms, and ‘mid the din
Of towns and cities, I have owed to them
In hours of weariness, sensations sweet,
Felt in the blood, and felt along the heart;
And passing even into my purer mind,
With tranquil restoration:–feelings too
Of unremembered pleasure: such, perhaps,
As have no slight or trivial influence
On that best portion of a good man’s life,
His little, nameless, unremembered, acts
Of kindness and of love. Nor less, I trust,
To them I may have owed another gift,
Of aspect more sublime; that blessed mood,
In which the burthen of the mystery,
In which the heavy and the weary weight
Of all this unintelligible world,
Is lightened:–that serene and blessed mood,
In which the affections gently lead us on,–
Until, the breath of this corporeal frame
And even the motion of our human blood
Almost suspended, we are laid asleep
In body, and become a living soul:
While with an eye made quiet by the power
Of harmony, and the deep power of joy,
We see into the life of things.

On a separate note (one which probably has no connection to this post), I did manage some quality reading over the weekend, mostly from Immanuel Kant, of all people.  I have, throughout the years of my education, found this man’s thought a tough nut to crack.  But this weekend, a few fissures opened, and I finally caught a glimpse into some of his work that yielded some fine food for reflection.  I am most intrigued with his intellectual “Copernican Revolution” and its implications for thinking in the centuries since the 18th.  I may be posting some of those a little later, when they’ve had more time to mature.

Thanks for reading.  I have had no computer access for four days, and am most happy to be back at the blog, especially since I have a new painting emerging.

My website has just been updated.

February 17, 2012

Sunlight on the Fort Worth Flatiron

I regret that I let my website languish for so long.  I am at  It just got updated, and should be updated further next week.  My latest watercolor is now on the home page, and the actual painting is now in the Weiler House Fine Art Gallery. (  I have every intention of beginning my next watercolor over the 3-day weekend that is beginning in just a few hours.

Thanks for reading.

Public Murals in a Local High School

February 17, 2012

Arlington Martin High School Little Theater Mural

Since I have  been unable to pick up the watercolor brush for a few days, I decided to post a few of the eight public murals I was privileged to design and paint at Arlington Martin High School, where I teach full time.  This is on the second floor, outside the Little Theater.  I painted it sometime in the late 90’s over a 17-day span one summer.  I was given total license as to subject matter.  I chose as an interior the Trent River Coffee Company I discovered on vacation that summer in New Bern, North Carolina.

I chose my favorite heroes of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  I was inspired by the murals inside the Barnes and Noble cafes I was seeing in those days, with writers sitting around the tables, conversing.  I chose my favorite philosophers, poets, novelists, playwrights, painters and musicians to fill this environment.  Most visible from this perspective are Maya Angelou, Arthur Miller, Bernard Shaw, Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse.  I must admit that I did harbor somewhat of a communion with them as I worked on this, particularly on one of my 18-hour days.  Spending that much uninterrupted time alone on a large scale work tends to do those kinds of things to me.

I may post some additional images in the days ahead.  I hate to let this blog languish during the hiatus when nothing new is being created and I’m buried in grading and lesson planning.  Times like this are certainly low moments in my life.  I look forward to the day when space returns to create.

Thanks for reading.

Flatiron Watercolor Delivered to the Gallery

February 15, 2012

Sunlight on the Fort Worth Flatiron

I have delivered this watercolor (size 30″h x 22″w) to the Weiler House Fine Art Gallery, 3126 Handley Dr., Fort Worth, TX   76112.  Now that it is out of my sight, I am more than ready to begin the next adventure, hopefully by this weekend, seeing that it’s a 3-day weekend off from school.  Thanks to all of you who watched this painting from its birth to its completion.  The journey was a rewarding one for me.  I only hope the next one proves to be half as fun.

Thanks for reading.

Musings on the American Railroad

February 15, 2012

Kansas City Southern Trackside, Waxahachie, Texas

I find it hard to believe that I have gone eight months without returning to Waxahachie to paint.  This quaint Texas town has been the setting for some of my most enjoyable plein air experiences, including the one posted above.  Every June, I participate in the “Paint Historic Waxahachie” event, a 10-day paint-out that brings 30-50 painters from north Texas into the town for the purpose of improving in the discipline of plein air painting.  Most of the artists are oil painters (and very professional, I might add).  A handful of us are watercolorists.

I have painted this setting twice during my three years of participation in the annual paint-out.  This one posted was created in June of 2011.  If you have been following my blog, you probably realize that the railroad is one of my favorite subjects for watercolor.  To me it is the symbol of the American Odyssey, and certainly an outlet for anyone experiencing wanderlust.  How many of us have fancied what it would be like to “hop a rail” and see where the freight takes us over the next 24 hours?

I am fortunate in that business cards have been handed to me by railroad employees and supervisors with invitations to come to their offices and gain access to rail yards for plein air opportunities.  I regret that I have yet to cash in on one of those offers, though I have saved the business cards.  Perhaps this summer there will be time to explore that possibility.

In my photo archives, I have countless shots I’ve taken over the years of trackside structures such as this one posted.  But I have always found those watercolors so unsatisfying.  Being on location opens so many more exciting possibilities, and I still remember my two visits to this Waxahachie site as yielding favorable results (and I sold both paintings within days to Waxahachie residents).

When I return in June for this year’s paint-out, perhaps I will walk to the other side of this structure to see the view from that perspective (hoping that I’m not trespassing).  And I think the time is past due to put a passing freight train on that main line.  That would be a challenge, but necessary, I believe.  Currently I have more ideas for watercolor compositions than time to execute them, but I guess that’s a better problem to have than the alternative of too much time on my hands and “blocked” for an idea of what to paint next.  If you have been following me, I have not given up on my Ridglea Theater idea.  In fact, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram published an article a few days ago concerning the renovations going on at that site.  I saved the article, hoping to return to Ridglea within the next few days to work on some thumbnail sketches and ideas.

Thanks for reading.

Andrew Wyeth in the Art History Class

February 14, 2012

Wyeth Overturned

Good morning.  Though we covered Venetian Renaissance in my high school art history classes this morning, I could not resist dragging Andrew Wyeth into a key discussion over the art of Titian.  Titian used a method I like to call “composting,” as he would rough out a composition with four oil colors while the model posed, then turn the canvas to the wall, and walk away for months.  Helen Gardner wrote of this technique.  During his time away, he would think through his painting, then return to the studio and complete it, drawing from the image in his mind’s eye.

Edward Hopper seemed to take this approach as well.  When his sculptor neighbor would see him strolling through the park, he would ask: “What are you doing, Mr. Hopper?”  The answer: “I’m thinking out my painting.”  His wife Jo said he would take months thinking about a particular composition before he finally got around to stretching the canvas and beginning it.

Andrew Wyeth revealed the following in an interview: “I’ll take weeks out doing drawings, watercolor studies, I may never use.  I’ll throw them in a backroom, never look at them again or drop them on the floor and walk over them.  But I feel that the communion that has seeped into the subconscious will eventually come out in the final picture.”  I’ll never forget the time I read of Wyeth and a curator pulling some 1600 watercolor and drybrush studies from his storage drawers and cupboards.  Such an extensive body of work lies beneath Wyeth’s egg tempera paintings, like 90% of the iceberg lying concealed beneath the waves.

For years, I have carried in my mind’s eye the images of Andrew Wyeth’s drawings and drybrush renderings of pine cones piled up in a German helmet, no doubt belonging to Karl Kuerner from the first World War.   One day I purchased in an antique store this baby blue pail for the precise reason of filling it with pine cones and attempting an Andrew Wyeth-style drybrush.  But I let this pail sit in my garage for nearly a decade.  Finally, I took it out to a horse pasture, filled it with pine cones, turned it over beneath a tree, and gave it a try.

I believe I still have this sketch somewhere among my piles of watercolors in the studio closet (not 1600 of them!).  I need to look for it and give it a second look.  I was pleased at the time I painted it, but completely forgot its existence until this morning, when I lectured my classes.  I have always shied away from still life compositions in my watercolor attempts, and think it is time to give this genre a try.

Thanks for reading.

Re-Visiting the Edward Hopper Legacy

February 13, 2012

412 W. Martin St. Waxahachie, Texas

I just finished an enjoyable conversation with a watercolorist friend who recently returned from a visit with his Boston family.  Though I have never visited the city and only hit Concord with a glancing blow over a decade ago, I just love learning all I can of Boston, Cambridge, Provincetown, Truro and all those surrounding areas.  He brought me a recent article from the Boston Globe concerning an order to demolish a new $10 million mansion erected in Truro right in the middle of “Edward Hopper” territory, in fact next door to his 1930’s home and studio. Apparently, this 8,333 square-foot contemporary mansion overpowers one of the 18th-century houses nearby.  It’s been described as a “Malibu-type” mansion sitting in the midst of this quaint New England community.

Anyway, talk of Edward Hopper (whom my friend also loves) took my imagination back to some of my earlier plein air watercolor sketches, such as the one posted above,  inspired by the early watercolors of Hopper.  This particular Victorian home is situated in Waxahachie (ironically next door to a Walgreen’s) where many of these 19th-century structures still survive.

As I look at the intricate details and craftsmanship that adorn this home, I think of the beautiful and exacting structure of a Mozart composition, so ably described in the Amadeus motion picture:

“Displace one note and there would be diminishment; displace one phrase and the whole structure would fall.”

This is how I feel when I observe the beauty and dignity of a Victorian home.  And this is how I would like to feel about one of my watercolors that “works.”  How wonderful to regard a composition in those terms.  An arrangement that has the necessary pieces to stand on its own, not overstated, or incomplete.  I always shake my head in wonder when I get to that stage of a work of art, and wonder if it is time to stop.  How does an artist know when to quit?  To borrow from a comedic line from Amadeus, how often has a  composer been criticized for using “too many notes”?  In like manner, how many times has a painter seen his/her composition collapse because one element too many was added?

I wish I had more studio time this week.  My personal schedule is too demanding at present, and I see no immediate light at the end of the tunnel.  But I will pick up the brush as soon as humanly possible.  Meanwhile, I hope you will forgive me for posting older works while my mind continues to kick up new ideas in the midst of this current maelstrom of job-related activity and responsibilities.

Thanks for reading.


Plein Air Watercolor with thoughts of Andrew Wyeth and William Carlos Williams

February 12, 2012

Fall Foliage watercolor sketch

Good day!  As stated yesterday, I have too much on my plate this weekend.  Considerable band activity, rehearsal time and general fun has eaten away at much of it.  Business-related paperwork and school preparations have taken the rest of it.

But yesterday, I had a moment’s respite to dive back into some William Carlos Williams poetry.  I purchased volume 1 of his Collected Poems this past year, and swore I would not lay out the money for volume 2 until I had read all of volume 1 (such promises usually keep me from every buying a volume 2).

As I read his poems “Spring Strains” and “To a Solitary Disciple” I experienced what Robert Motherwell often described as a “shock of recognition.”  This young physician/poet was constantly calling out the complementary colors of blue and orange as he rhapsodized on the landscape enveloping him.  It reminded me of that time in my youth when I felt I had finally found the key to unlock the door to landscape colors.  Always being fond of Andrew Wyeth’s drybrush renderings of fall and winter landscapes, I always found dissatisfaction with my own efforts, relying on neutral colors purchased in the art stores (sepia, burnt umber, payne’s gray, yellow ochre, naples yellow, etc.).  I always thought my colors were flat and barren, while Wyeth’s colors glowed with some kind of energy that I see when I look upon nature herself.  One day I decided to work the complementary colors, and voila!  my natural compositions began to take on a life of their own.

The sketch posted above was kicked out in about 30 minutes.  It is rather small, approximately 9 x 9″.  But I worked exclusively in reds-greens, blues-oranges, and violets-yellows to get this autumnal late-afternoon effect.  I then felt a connection to Andrew Wyeth (wish I could say that I was “channeling” him!), and this morning, as I mused over the William Carlos Williams lines, I suddenly went back into the studio to pull this piece and look it over again.  Wow, I now wish I had this afternoon available to paint!  But, appointments linger . . .

Thanks for reading.

Wide Open Spaces in New Mexico

February 11, 2012

New Mexico Landscape

I’m taking a break from my business-related paperwork to re-post a New Mexico favorite I created last fall during an art festival in Mineola, Texas.  I took a series of photos in New Mexico at the end of a summer road trip about 3-4 years ago.  This is the second composition I painted from this abandoned structure I found along the road while a storm was gathering.  In the earlier painting, I darkened the sky, but chose to lighten up this particular composition.

I was happy with the way the salt textured the roadway as I kept sprinkling new layers and spritzing with a spray bottle.  I was also pleased with the way in which the masquepen left the dead limbs intact in the midst of the darkened cedar behind the building.  The painting came along rather quickly, and I hope to try a third composition from it in the near future.

Thanks for reading.