Archive for August, 2012

Composting Today

August 15, 2012

Savoy Hotel

I have decided to pause in the midst of this painting, because I am unsure of where to push it next. Yesterday was a good day, but the painting changed too fast, and I now have questions concerning how to finish out the composition.  I call this “composting” because I am letting the thing settle for awhile into my consciousness, as I keep it in front of me, and across the room on an easel.

My Studio

We received another good storm last night, a good soaking, the second one in three nights.  Today it is 75 degrees and overcast outside.  I have opened my studio windows, and have decided to settle into some quality reading.  As usual, I am working on too many books.  Lately I have found real treasure in Paul Tillich’s The Courage to Be and Cardinal Newman’s The Idea of a University.  I also have begun Thomas Hardy’s Far From the Madding Crowd.  Until I get my second wind on the painting, I’ll choose to read, reflect and write things in my journal.  It’s a good day for that.

Thanks for reading.

Watercoloring Ghost Signs and Weathered Bricks

August 14, 2012

Savoy Coffee Shop and Hotel

I awoke this morning with a passion for working on ghost signs and weathered bricks in watercolor.  I had been avoiding that part of this large watercolor I began a few days ago.  For several hours now, I have been masking, drawing, spattering, pouring and salting layers and layers of flowing watercolor onto the weathered side of this historic building.  It has been years since the last time I pursued this kind of a subject.  Ghost signs have fascinated me since I was a child on road trips, trying in vain to read through the layers of the painted palimpsests adorning the sides of recycled businesses.  Fortunately, I have a number of photos of this building to study and seek to emulate.

The intellectual company has been sweet this morning.  I listened (for the thousandth time) to the DVD of Robert Motherwell and the New York School:  Storming the Citadel.  I miss him since he passed away, and will always be grateful that he left these sensitive interviews behind.  John Donne’s Meditation has always moved me, his words saying that someone else’s death diminished him.  I certainly feel that concerning Motherwell.  I share his intellect, his aesthetic, and his love for literature, even if his style is totally foreign to what I attempt to do as an artist.  The poems of Gerard Manley Hopkins and George Herbert have also kept me good company during the drying stages of this watercolor that have forced me to walk away from it.  And speaking of which, I suppose it is dry enough to resume, so I guess I’ll go back and see how much further I can kick it this afternoon.

Thanks for reading.

Watercolor has come along very slowly, but has been most enjoyable.

August 11, 2012

In the Studio with a Large Watercolor in Progress

Good afternoon.  I wish I had more progress to report.  The painting today has gone very, very slowly, and has been painstaking.  The ghost signs and window sashes have really slowed down my progress.  The light has started to fade, so it looks as though I’ll have to lay this aside till tomorrow.  At least I have some momentum building, and that’s a good thing.  It’s good to be painting in the studio again.

Thanks for reading.

Studio Watercolors on a Quiet Saturday

August 11, 2012

Savoy Hotel and Coffee Shop

It’s a hot Texas Saturday, so I’ve chosen to stay in and enjoy the air conditioning and work at my leisure on my latest large watercolor.  This is part of an historic downtown scene I photographed and have always wanted to paint.  The building is covered in ghost signs and still features a viable cafe.

I blogged earlier this morning that the poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins put me in a reflective state of mind, and in the mood to pursue watercolor.  This afternoon I have been listening to Andy Warhol documentary DVDs.  I’m always inspired by his genius, his business sense, and his amazing sense of color.  Recently I traveled to North Park mall and photographed a set of ten of his silkscreen prints on display there.  I’m saddened that he died prematurely, before he had the chance to pursue graphic arts on the home computer.  I’m thinking of re-opening a couple of books I read over this past year: Pop: The Genius of Andy Warhol and Popism: The Warhol Sixties.  Several years back, I read and thoroughly enjoyed Factory Made, but darn it, someone stole that book, and I regret having to buy another just to mark it all up again and retrieve the information I found so valuable.  I hate book thieves.  I guess that’s what I get for moving half of my private library into my public school classroom for easy pickins.

I don’t have too many hours of quality daylight left to pursue this one, and I hate painting after dark, under artificial light.  I think it’s dried enough now that I can go ahead and give it another push.

Thanks for reading.

Saturday Morning in the Studio with Watercolor and Gerard Manley Hopkins

August 11, 2012

Saturday in the Studio

Good morning.  I finally decided to tackle a 22 x 28″ watercolor of a downtown scene, featuring a coffee shop and hotel.  I just finished laying in the sky and am waiting for it to dry and set up so I can get to the building details (plenty of ghost sign work lies ahead, and I love tinkering with that).

Gerard Manley Hopkins has seized my attention of late.  I will be teaching a little senior English in the coming year, and gave it my best shot during summer school, and found myself in awe of British poetry (I’ve been stuck on American writings for over a decade, it seems).

I have a background in theology, and was interested in the dimension of Hopkins writing poetry as a Jesuit priest.  One of his early works, “The Habit of Perfection”, opens with these words:

Elected Silence, sing to me

And beat upon my whorled ear,

Pipe me to pastures still and be

The music that I care to hear.

. . .

Be shelled eyes, with double dark

And find the uncreated light:

I love these words, because I have always welcomed the “inner” music emerging from the Silence of my studio, and as an artist and student of the history of ideas I have pondered throughout the years the Medieval Schoolmen’s notion of “uncreated light” (lux increata) which some have said was a reference to the creative energy of God’s mind.  I am still moved by the opening words of Genesis, describing a pre-created world of chaos.  The text says that the spirit of God, like a wind, moved over the face of the primeval waters, and then the light broke.  There is so much mystery in the words of that Hebrew text.  This motion, or spirit, or wind of God moved.  The word can also carry the connotation of “brooded, or hovered, or lingered.”  There seems to be something intimate here in this story of that divine creative act.  I believe that Hopkins had that text in mind when he wrote “God’s Grandeur”–

Because the Holy Ghost over the bent

World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.

Hopkins has given me much to ponder as I paint today.  By now, I believe the sky has dried, and  it is time to return to the watercolor.

Thanks for reading.


Finished the Historic Church 8 x 10″ Watercolor Sketch

August 8, 2012

Historic Church

I’m calling this one “finished” and have already moved on to a nice home with an Edward Hopper-style composition.  I’m rather excited about the new one I have undertaken (also an 8 x 10″ sketch).  At the present, I’m kicking out small, quick sketches, in order to get my chops back; I feel rather flat and stale, not having attempted a watercolor in at least three weeks.  It feels good to be chipping away at this again.  I have ideas for a couple of large-scale watercolor paintings on full sheets (about 22 x 28″), and hope to get after them soon.  For the time being, I’ll keep working at the small sketches, and will try to continue reading for inspiration.  With only two weeks before entering full-time school teaching, I would like to accomplish a few creative tasks.

Thanks for reading.  Perhaps I’ll have more to report tonight.

Quick Plein Air Sketch of a Conifer Tree

August 8, 2012

Damaged Conifer Tree

I took a quick moment while temperatures were mild, to step outside and scout for a single tree to paint.  I chose this conifer tree, because I still haven’t solved the problems of needles vs. leaves when I’m “faking it” en plein air.  I loved the damaged bark in the upper ranges of this tree, recording storms from the past, and etching character across the face of this portrait.  I’m starting to get the hang of tree bark, both in texture and color, and have found a satisfying way of blending graphite with watercolor as I render the textures of the bark.  As to the pine needles, I’ll still have to find a way.  It hasn’t happened yet.

I would have loved to talk to the landowner of this single tree on his property, but have serious questions over whether or not he has even noticed it among the hundreds that cover the acreage.  I recently came across this non-judgmental sentiment recorded by Henry David Thoreau in the nineteenth century when he penned his book A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers:

(he was speaking of the men of Concord who worked their lands):   . . . greater men than Homer, or Chaucer, or Shakespeare, only they never got time to say so; they never took to the way of writing.  Look at their fields, and imagine what they might write, if ever they should put pen to paper.  Or what have they not written on the face of the earth already, clearing, and burning, and scratching, and harrowing, and ploughing, and subsoiling, in and in, and out and out, and over and over, again and again, erasing what they had already written for want of parchment.

Farmers and property owners scratch the surfaces of their land, I only scratch the surfaces of paper (and as a teacher, occasionally the surface of someone’s mind, perhaps).  Throughout my life, I have made little contribution to real estate, but have tried from time to time to reproduce its wonders on paper, as I try again this day.  And in that endeavor, I do find great satisfaction.

Thanks for reading.


Picking up the Brush Again

August 7, 2012

Historic Church

It has been more than three weeks since I last posted, since I last took up the watercolor brush.  Much has happened around me that has impeded my work and desire to pursue watercolor.  I’m trying to find my way back.

I’m glad that summer school has ended, and I have a little under two weeks before reporting back to school for the fall term.  During this interim, I did allow myself a short vacation, read a great deal of great literature, and scribbled many pages in my personal journal.

I look forward to getting back into plein air activity, but with Texas offering triple-digit temperatures daily, it appears that that is going to have to wait awhile longer.  Going through my archives, I have selected some historic church sites that I have photographed in my travels over the years, and thought I would give this one a try.  This church sits in the historic district of Leadville, Colorado, and I have photographed it on two different occasions while visiting that mountain town.  I am using my laptop to view the image as closely as I can, and truly regret that I am not on the actual premises (it would probably be just as cool outside there as it is inside my air-conditioned home here!).  But, we work with what we have.

As I resume this blog, I am having serious thoughts about sharing what I’ve been reading the past few weeks from Henry David Thoreau, as I read from his Journal and from his Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers.  After all, it is Thoreau and his writings that have given me this impetus to pick up the brush again.  And for that, I am grateful to this beautiful man.

Thanks for reading.  I’ll be back tomorrow with progress on this 8 x 10″ watercolor sketch.  Today is my first day back in the studio, and I’m glad for this moment.