Archive for May, 2012

Sunday Morning Watercoloring in the Studio

May 20, 2012

St. Elmo, Colorado

Awoke around 7:30 this morning to a beautiful Sunday.  The man cave is nice and cool, and it has been a pleasure, chipping away at this watercolor of St. Elmo’s Colorado.  During the morning hours, I’ve enjoyed working on the paint-peeled facade of this building and the decrepit windows.  So far, I’m moving rather slowly through this as I keep “feeling it out.”  I seem to have more of a Willem DeKooning rhythm, as I spend more time stepping back and staring at this than I do actually painting it.  I keep making compositional decisions as I move along, and it results in very slow progress.  But . . . I don’t feel any kind of deadline looming, and my next art festival is still five days away.  Eventually I will have to break away from this and get back to organizing, packing, printing new greeting cards and post cards, and doing all those tasks that precede an art festival.

I had the pleasure of meeting Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price last night at the Weiler House Fine Art Gallery’s open house.  I was delighted to find her very personable and communicative, despite being hemmed in by so many admirers.  There was quite a crowd present.  I did have a photo taken with her, and will post it if it gets forwarded to me.  It was also a good night for meeting patrons and other artists.  The Arts Goggle festival in south Fort Worth was also fun.  It was a street festival with plenty of artists’ booths in place.  I had the pleasure of visiting with Steve Moya (who will also participate in next weekend’s festival along with me).

Next weekend I will be set up Friday-Sunday at the Levitt Performing Arts Center in downtown Arlington.  (  The music will be fabulous, featuring Michael Martin Murphey (Friday), Ray Wiley Hubbard( Saturday), and Asleep at the Wheel (Sunday).  There will be approximately 20 vendor booths set up on the perimeter.  The event is free, so I would love to see you if you have the time to come out and have fun with all of us.

Thanks for reading.

New Watercolor Beginning of St. Elmo, Colorado

May 19, 2012

St. Elmo, Colorado

I managed to make some headway on this new watercolor today.  I laid in the sky, then worked on some basic wash techniques for the mountain horizon, and finally did some shadow work on  some of the foreground buildings and sheds.  I’m starting to get a feel for this one.

Studio time was at a premium, as there was some art business to tend as well.  I have new limited edition giclee prints coming out of my recent painting of Saint Ignatius Academy, as well as one I did over a year ago in Eureka Springs, titled “Ghosts of Eureka Springs Past.”  I also made a trip to the Weiler House gallery to drop off my original painting of Saint Ignatius Academy (  I will stop by their open house this evening, honoring Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price.  Afterward, I plan to attend the spring ArtsGoggle festival on the southside of Fort Worth (  My artist friend, Steve Moya, will have his booth set up on Daggett, near Main St.  (  I hope also to snap some quality photos of some of the Fort Worth south side sites around Magnolia.  So, I have a busy art evening planned, but am glad I got to put in some studio time nonetheless.

Thanks for reading.

Beginning a Colorado Watercolor, in the Man Cave

May 19, 2012

Saturday Morning in the Studio

It is a delicious sunny Saturday morning in suburban Texas.  The sun is bright, and temperatures have not yet risen.  I’m in my new studio/man cave beginning a watercolor of St. Elmo, Colorado.  I took a number of 35mm slides years ago, using my SLR camera, and thanks to an old carousel projector, I am able to project the image nice and large in the back of my garage.  The portable antique doors have shielded the bright Texas sun from this rear wall, so the projection is quite good.  The two bucket candles of citronella seem to be driving the mosquitoes away (they’ve sucked plenty of blood out of me the past several days and I’m sick of them).

I have a Mystic Fire Video playing of James Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.  Reading that novel changed my life back in 1988, convincing me to turn to art and teaching as a profession.  I read it while dispatching for the Fort Worth Police Department late nights.  I am so grateful that someone produced a film of it–a quite moving one.  It has convinced me that it is time to read the novel again.

But now, I turn my attention to painting.  I took a number of slides of St. Elmo before taking my 4-wheel drive Jeep Grand Cherokee on a foolhardy climb over Tin Cup pass.  We survived, but I still marvel at my stupidity in that effort.

Hopefully, I’ll have more to show you before this day ends.  So far, I have only drawn the composition and blocked in the cerulean sky.  I have masking drying on the highlights of the evergreens, and will turn my attention to the distant horizon next.

Thanks for reading.

Commission for a Gorilla Drawing

May 17, 2012

Gorilla drawing

O.K.  This is not what I do.  But for money, I’ll do anything.  I had a commission to draw a gorilla and this is what happened.  No comments necessary.  I just always wish to post a picture with my blog.  So, now with that out of the way, I can write about what’s on my mind today.

With the weekend approaching, my time will be divided between preparing my inventory for next weekend’s art festival at the Levitt Pavilion in Arlington, and beginning a new watercolor.  I wish I could focus on the latter, since I still have not made up my mind what to paint next.

First Methodist Church Fort Worth

I am giving serious consideration to a watercolor of First Methodist Church of Fort Worth.  For years, I have wanted to paint a French Gothic cathedral, but having never journeyed to France, I keep considering an American clone of one.  I have eyed this church for over a decade, and am closer to a decision.  I thoroughly enjoyed the Catholic Church I completed last week, and have mused over the possibility of leaping into another one immediately.  In fact, I photographed this church on the same day as I did the one just painted.

I cannot say that there is a church structure to strike me the way the medieval ruins of the Tintern Abbey church moved the likes of William Wordsworth and Joseph Mallord William Turner.  I only attended this church twice in my lifetime, but spent a most rewarding afternoon in conversation with a former pastor of this congregation, the Reverend Barry Bailey.  He studied under Paul Tillich at Union Theological Seminary–the only human I know personally who had this experience.  I will never forget the observations that Rev. Bailey shared with me, and the sensitive way that he entertained my endless questions that afternoon.  I have always found it difficult to find a minister so willing and interested in discussing theology and the directions it took during the twentieth century.

So, perhaps I’ll turn my attention to this edifice this weekend, and thus begin my new adventure in watercolor.

Thanks for reading.


Composting Ideas Between Paintings

May 16, 2012

Sifting Ideas Between Paintings

This is a comfortable interim for me.  The school year is winding down, grades are pretty much settled, all my students are passing, and we see no need for stressing between now and final exam days.  I am about a week-and-a-half away from my next art festival, and once that day arrives, I will enter a 10-day marathon of art events and school closures simultaneously.  I will try to be as discerning as possible during that grind in order to avoid tragedy.  My gradebook is caught up, and daily I make sure all the latest entries are in place before I come home.  I have also begun cleaning out my classroom and disposing of all materials so that I can walk away on the last day.

Memorial Day weekend will kick off a three-day art festival at the Levitt Pavilion in Arlington, coinciding with the opening of their 2012 concert season.  That weekend will also kick off the Paint Historic Waxahachie ten-day event.  Waxahachie will be a day event, Levitt will be evenings.  I plan to do both over the weekend.  Then when school re-opens for the final week, I will work school by day, and Waxahachie by afternoon and evening until dark.  It should be interesting.

Between Ezra Pound and Natalie Goldberg, I am drawing plenty of inspiration right now.  Much of what I glean for painting ideas comes from writers.  I’m pleased to learn that Robert Motherwell and Edward Hopper also turned to literary works for inspiration to paint.  Ezra Pound launched “Imagism” (using the term for the first time in 1912) as a new movement in poetry that called for “direct treatment of the ‘thing’ whether subjective or objective.”  William Carlos Williams also wrote in Paterson: Book I–“Say it!  No ideas but in things.”  Edward Hopper made no apology for avoiding abstraction in his painting, saying “I choose to work from the Fact.”  As for myself, I believe that objects contain the stuff of revelation in them.  I am probably closest to the New England Transcendentalists who proclaimed that for every physical object, there is a higher spiritual corollary.  Emerson built his essays on this bedrock, and Thoreau lived out his Walden experiment as an exercise in it.  So also, I choose to paint subjects that point to themes of my growing up that have come to mean a great deal to me.

Natalie Goldberg, in her book Writing Down the Bones, has a chapter titled “Composting” that sums up much of what I feel about my experiences in choosing subjects to paint–“It takes a while for our experience to sift through our consciousness. . . . Hemingway wrote about Michigan while sitting in a cafe in Paris.  ‘Maybe away from Paris I could write about Paris as in Paris I could write about Michigan.'”

Goldberg referred to this latent period of sifting as “composting.”  To quote her further:

        “Our senses by themselves are dumb.  They take in experience, but they need the richness of sifting for a while through our consciousness and through our whole bodies.  I call this ‘composting.’  Our bodies are garbage heaps: we collect experience, and from the decomposition of the thrown-out eggshells, spinach leaves, coffee grinds, and old steak bones of our minds come nitrogen, heat, and very fertile soil.  Out of this fertile soil bloom our poems and stories.”

Composting New Ideas in the Studio

I compost my ideas by drawing.  I wish I had the beginning of a new painting to post to this blog, but right now, I’m reading, sketching and looking through my photo files for ideas for the next painting.  I’m sifting out my world as captured on camera, earlier sketches, and dozens of plein air watercolors, waiting for the next idea to blister to the surface of my consciousness.  Something will come soon, I’m sure.  I’m going to close this entry with one of my favorite passages from Ralph Waldo Emerson’s “The American Scholar.”  He of course is referring to the writer, but the artist fits this mold:

“The scholar of the first age received into him the world around; brooded thereon; gave it the new arrangement of his own mind, and uttered it again.  It came into him life; it went out from him truth.  It came to him short-lived actions; it went out from him immortal thoughts.  It came to him business; it went from him poetry.  It was dead fact; now, it is quick thought.”

Thanks for reading.

Courthouse Watercolor Attempt

May 15, 2012

Ellis County Courthouse finished

Before closing up the studio for the night, I decided to try and finish this attempt of the Ellis County Courthouse that I began last Saturday.  I took a reference photo with my cell phone, and managed to crank out an 8 x 10″ print to look at as I decided how to finish the details on this piece of architecture.

I’m ready for my next adventure.  Hopefully my next blog will show a new work under construction.  Currently, I’m exhausted by the school schedule I had to keep today, and feel that I need to retire to bed early to catch up on some much-needed sleep.

Thanks for reading.

First Watercolor Attempt in the Newly-Designed Man Cave

May 15, 2012

Colorado Peak

I’m not sure how to finish out this mountain piece.  I’m working on a full sheet of watercolor paper, 22 x 30″.  My model is an 8 x 10″ photo I took a few summers back while traveling.  I hope to get back to Colorado some day and learn to paint these peaks en plein air.  I’m enjoying the new palette I began exploring a few weeks ago.  But I’m not comfortable working from a reference photo that is as old as this.  I don’t even remember this particular site.  I need a better connection to my subject.   Nevertheless, it’s nice working in this revamped studio this evening.

Thanks for reading.

Meditations from the Man Cave

May 15, 2012

A Voyeuristic Peak into the Refurbished Man Cave

For over a year, I have made jokes about the “man cave” in my garage.  My space contained no sofa, no refrigerator, no wet bar.  In place of power tools and a pool table, I had a pair of small drafting tables pushed to the center, a director’s chair, and all my watercolor supplies.  During the scarce temperate months of Texas, I enjoyed retreating to the garage “studio” to make art, and thus called it my “man cave” with the disclaimer that there was nothing to photograph of my surroundings to post to the blog.

All of that changed over the weekend.  With the addition of an antique drafting table, measuring 4 x 7′, and using my antique doors to enclose this new space in the back of the garage, I have managed to carve out a new environment better suited for what I like to do when I’m not at my day job.

Temporary closure walls for the Man Cave

If I were a student in today’s public school, I would probably be tested for Attention Deficit Disorder.  I chase too many interests.  Friends who have admired me have labeled me as a Renaissance Man, assuming I was multi-talented.  I wish that were accurate.  In reality, I am multi-interested.  I probably have too many interests, too little focus.  My new studio is a reflection of that.

I love to create art.  I love to read.  I love blogging on the computer and writing in my daily journal (Lord, I have over 110 volumes of journals, going back to the late 1980’s).  I have loved scholarly research since graduate school days.  With my library in place, I now have an excellent space to pursue these studies in art, literature and philosophy.  I love music, especially the blues, and playing my guitar.  I’m delighted now to have a space that allows me to explore all these venues.

A portion of my library moved to the Man Cave

Abstract Expressionist artist Robert Motherwell remains one of my intellectual and artistic heroes.  For years, I have perused photos of his studio and library.  He was a scholarly man, conflicted throughout his life between painting and writing for publication.  He had majored in painting during his undergraduate years at Stanford, then turned to Art History and Philosophy during his graduate studies at Harvard.  General history paints him as a man who dropped his academic research and became an Abstract Expressionist painter.  That is not accurate.  Throughout his illustrious career, he continued to pursue scholarly endeavors and write for publication.  He was a prolific writer as well as painter.  I have read The Collected Writings of Robert Motherwell as though they were scripture, equally amazed at his fertile mind along with his paintings and collages.  Though criticized on the one side by editors, and on the other by galleries, he nevertheless pursued those two avenues throughout his creative life.  The monograph on Robert Motherwell titled With Pen and Brush also chronicles his dual pursuits in these venues.

My life would be simpler if I had only two pursuits–watercoloring and writing.  But life isn’t that simple for me.  To these pursuits I must also add writing in my journal, listening to music, playing my guitar, reading for pleasure, studying for research and writing lectures for classes and public discourse.  Every day, all these venues clamor for my attention, as I dress and pack my bag to spend yet another day earning my living, teaching in a public school.  And, as readers of my blog well know, my public school exercise is not one of quality, by quantity, daily checking the appropriate boxes of required tasks fulfilled: teaching Art I, Philosophy, Humanities, Regular Art History and Advanced Placement Art History, maintaining a grade book, and keeping tabs on whether students are wearing their I.D.’s complying with dress codes, and behaving themselves.  Quality teaching went out the window a long time ago, when there were fewer subjects to master, fewer and smaller classes to maintain and fewer legislative hoops through which to jump while flapping my arms like a chicken.  Now, my daily routine involves little more than documented baby sitting or herding cats.  So, I come to the school to earn my living, but enter the studio to carve out a world of ideas and art.  The latter has succeeded the more in returning to me a sense of dignity and meaning.

Keeping a journal puts me in company with artists such as Eugene Delacroix and Paul Gauguin, and essayists such as Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau.  It keeps my thoughts and pictures out in front of me, fuels my daily fires of inspiration.  My journals are maps for organizing wonder.  And, like my blog, my journals are first drafts, beginnings of thoughts, ends of thoughts, never pretending to be published gems.

Journaling and blogging are my lifeblood.  I journal when I am alone; I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

Thanks for reading.

Carving out New Studio Space in the Man Cave

May 13, 2012

Man Cave Reformation

I didn’t retire to bed till around 3:00 a.m., I was enjoying so much the adrenaline that comes with a new project.  Of course, I’m a little sluggish today, because this “project” has taken on a life of its own, and has found ways to extend!  I was sure that my new garage/art studio/man cave would be finished yesterday.  Now, I’m convinced that it won’t be finished today either.  Sigh.  But I am enjoying the process, so I guess that counts for something.

Some wonderful friends gave me a precious gift of a vintage drafting table, 4 x 7″ and fully operational.  Late last night, I got it dragged to its current location, and then slowly began building my studio around it.  What I cannot squeeze into this photo yet (I’m a poor photographer) are the antique doors (seven of them) that have enclosed this area into a nice intimate space for making art, reading, journaling, eating, watching TV and listening to my stereo.  Today Anita Baker is serenading me from her Rapture album that I have on vinyl.

Breakfast the first morning in my new, emerging studio

The  morning started on a terrific note.  Even though I retired to bed around 3 a.m., I slept soundly and awoke without an alarm at 8:00.  I took my time making breakfast, and then decided to enjoy it in the new studio, with the garage door up and the beautiful cooling breezes filling the space.  I also took time to look over yesterday’s plein air sketch of the Ellis County Courthouse.  I now have some ideas of what to do in order to finish this up and sign it.  But I can honestly say I’m conflicted between making art and continuing to putter around, arranging the furnishings of  this emerging studio.  To close on a sad note–this is Texas, and I am fully aware that by the time this studio is ready, that I’ll have to abandon it until September.  Texas suburban garages are not places to work in the summer months.

Thanks for reading.

Plein Air Saturday in Waxahachie

May 13, 2012

Ellis County Courthouse, Waxahachie, Texas

I had the privilege of being offered a ride to Waxahachie Saturday morning.  I chose to be dropped off on the town square to pass away a few hours and take a plein air stab at this magnificent Ellis County Courthouse.  I have painted it at least half a dozen times, all of the attempts unsatisfactory.  This one is a little better, but not much!  I still haven’t solved this structure, but I remain interested.

I’m sorry to report that I felt fatigue instantly today, and never really got into the mood to pursue this one.  That is so unlike me–even when I start out sluggish, I find another gear and get caught up in the painting enterprise.  Not today.  It could be due to my working on my garage studio/man cave for extended hours recently.  I was given an antique drafting table by some lovely friends last week.  It measures 4 x 7 feet and is a spectacular piece of furniture.  I worked in the garage until 1:00 Saturday morning, rearranging things to make room for the new piece of furniture.  Then after returning from Waxahachie, I continued working in the garage, and now at 1:10 Sunday morning, I have most of my furniture and supplies in place.  With a decent night’s sleep, I could perhaps paint in the studio later today.

Thanks for reading.