Archive for December, 2012

Final Art Studio Posting of 2012–Watercolor Still Life Still Growing

December 31, 2012
Watercolor Still Life in the Man Cave

Watercolor Still Life in the Man Cave

The drilling machine for the Aargau lecture (“Biblical Questions, Insights, and Vistas”) is going at full strength and an unbroken pillar of smoke is rising from my pipe to the ceiling as in the best times of my life. 

Karl Barth, letter to friend Edouard Thurneysen dated March 17, 1920

What an amazing age in which we thrive today!  The above fragment is from a letter sent by one Swiss pastor to another.  They lived on opposite sides of the mountain and traveled once or twice a week to see one another for hours of conversation.  Between visits, they sent letters almost daily back and forth.  In this letter, Barth paints in words the picture of a day in his study where he worked furiously on a lecture and the smoke from his pipe never ceased.

Well, today, the water and pigment in my watercolor brush never ceased or dried up.  And as I painted alone in my Cave, I was inundated with phone calls, emails, text messages, Facebook messages and Blog comments from dear, dear friends and associates, all of them kindred spirits.  Thank you, I love you all.  You made this day very, very meaningful.  I can close out 2012 and move with confidence into 2013.  You’ll never know what a Gift you gave this day.

I have posted my last picture for this year.  I spent most of this afternoon and evening tinkering with the Maxwell House coffee tin, the stove top percolator, the Texaco oil can and the kerosene lantern.  Of course, I continued to play all over the rest of the composition–the darkened background, chips in the paint on the doors, the locking plate, the Mobilgas sign, the frying pan.  I work all over the composition, even while focusing on one key object.  And all of it was just as grand as the conversations I enjoyed with friends.  I can retire to bed happily tonight, thank you again.

Thanks for reading.  All of you have made me even more enthusiastic about blogging my painting experiences.



Further Musings on New Year’s Eve

December 31, 2012
Man Cave New Year's Eve

Man Cave New Year’s Eve

The profane never hear music; the holy ever hear it.  It is God’s voice, the divine breath audible.  Where it is heard, there is a sabbath.

Henry David Thoreau, Journal, June 28, 1840

After the cat woke me, I sat in silence over the Thoreau Journals, and marveled at this meditation on music.  I had no choice but to take out my Martin guitar and play the Neil Young song “Looking Forward.”  Fitting, as I lean into this new year.  Reading on in Thoreau, I had the wind knocked out of me with this entry:

I sailed from Fair Haven last evening as gently and steadily as the clouds sail through the atmosphere.  The wind came blowing blithely from the southwest fields, and stepped into the folds of our sail like a winged horse, pulling with a strong and steady impulse.  The sail bends gently to the breeze, as swells some generous impulse of the heart, and anon flutters and flaps with a kind of human suspense.  I could watch the motions of a sail forever, they are so rich and full of meaning.  I watch the play of its pulse, as if it were my own blood beating here. . . . So am I blown on by God’s breath, so flutter and flap, and fill gently out with the breeze.

Henry David Thoreau, Journal, June 30, 1840

From my former days in the ministry, and my love of the Greek language, I recall the word pneuma, translated Spirit or breath or wind.  I recall in the Petrine letters the remark that men of old wrote as they were “moved by the spirit.”  That notion always stayed with me–the stirring of the wind, the breath, the spirit, as a muse stirs and gets my attention and prompts me to respond, to create.

On a much funnier and lighter note,  I made a pre-New Year’s Resolution: to finish Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast before the New Year.  And so I decided to read just one page, further putting off my painting in the Man Cave.  And this is what I read (bear in mind that this work is an autobiography of Hemingway’s early writing years in Paris cafes)–

The blue-backed notebooks, the two pencils, and the pencil sharpener (a pocket knife was too wasteful), the marble-topped tables, the smell of cafe cremes, the smell of early morning sweeping out and mopping and luck were all you needed. For luck you carried a horse chestnut and a rabbit’s foot in your right pocket.  The fur had been worn off the rabbit’s foot long ago and the bones and the sinews were polished by wear.  The claws scratched in the lining of your pocket and you knew your luck was still there.

Some days it went so well that you could make the country so that you could walk into it through the timber to come out into the clearing and onto the high ground and see the hills beyond the arm of the lake.  A pencil-lead might break off in the conical nose of the pencil sharpener and you would use the small blade of the pen knife to clear it or else sharpen the pencil carefully with the sharp blade and then slip your arm through the seat-salted leather of your pack strap to lift the pack again, get the other arm through and feel the weight settle on your back and feel the pine needles under your moccasins as you started down for the lake.

Then you would hear someone say, “Hi, Hem.  What are you trying to do?  Write in a cafe?”

Your luck had run out and you shut the notebook.

It was at this precise moment of reading that my cat (yes, the same damned cat that woke me in the pre-dawn with his sprints across my bedroom floor and into the windows, around the furniture and back out the door) jumped up on top of a pyramid of vintage suitcases I had stacked precariously in the Man Cave, knocking them over with a clatter, causing books to tumble off the edge of the table and across the garage floor.  I felt like a babysitter, stuck for the entire day with a 3-year-old that will not stay out of things and leave me at peace!

O.K. Now back to reality.  The painting has been serene, as I have spent most of this morning tinkering with the textures on the kerosene lamp and attempting to capture the nuances of light and grime on the globe.

New Year's Eve Still Life

New Year’s Eve Still Life

The cat continues to prowl about the Cave, yowling, knocking things over, and trying to get my attention.  I feel a kinship with Hemingway in the Paris cafe with the intruder trying to talk to him:

I thought I would ignore him and see if I could write.  So I ignored him and wrote two sentences.

“All I did was speak to you.”

I went on and wrote another sentence.  It dies hard when it is really going and you are into it.

And so, I continue to chip away at this still life, sentence by sentence, as the cat continues to do what cats do.  I wish he would just settle down and take a nap, take a bath, read a book, or something.

Thanks for reading.


New Year’s Eve, Morning Musings

December 31, 2012
Still Life over Morning Coffee

Still Life over Morning Coffee

For nature is not always tricked in holiday attire, but the same scene which yesterday breathed perfume and glittered as for the frolic of the numphs is overspread with melancholy today.  Nature always wears the colors of the spirit.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nature

I was awakened in the pre-dawn by my cat chasing spooks throughout the house.  An aging cat, I had not seen or heard him sprint across the house in over a year.  He made up for it this morning, and finally I had to get up.  It was impossible to return to sleep.

It is 40 degrees outside, dark and wet with the rain.  Stepping out into the cold to put the trash at the curb, I recalled the Emerson thought posted above, and was glad to realize that such weather is not dampening my spirit today.  New Year’s Eve always turns me pensive, but not depressive.  I am grateful to be alive, grateful to have a creative surge welling up within me, grateful to be surrounded with great books and another week of holiday before returning to school.

On dark, cold, overcast, rainy days, a man such as I could just as easily feel a sinking depression as he could feel the desire to put on a pot of coffee, open a book, or begin a new watercolor.  Today, it is the latter for me.

I put my watercolor on an easel in the bedroom last night, beside my writing desk, so I could look at it until I fell asleep.  And, in the same vein as Hemingway’s sentiments, I was glad that I had stopped painting right in the middle of something that really held my interest.  It will make it easier to return today.

However, I hear Thoreau whispering through the darkness, and I know that I must linger awhile longer over his Journal.  So to the Journal I return, and then perhaps to a first draft of my own New Year’s Resolutions (I usually have them underway before now), and then, back to the Cave to paint.

What a splendid morning for inspiration!  Thanks for reading.

A Frigid Day Warmed by Watercoloring, T. S. Eliot and Soulful Conversations

December 30, 2012
Still Life in Progress

Still Life in Progress

Subject matter, if the artist is even using it, is just an armature for the artist to engage his intensity of feeling.  It is the quality of your attention that influences how you see and how deeply you feel.

Ian Roberts, Creative Authenticity

Before painting this morning, I sat down to breakfast and played part of a taped lecture by the late Robert Solomon on Husserl, Heidegger and Phenomenology.  As he spoke of “intentionality” and the emphasis on one’s consciousness directed at a particular object, I came to the conviction that I had found another piece to my “Imagist” puzzle and my efforts to grasp William Carlos Williams’ “No ideas but in things” remarks.  Staring at this still life brings to my remembrance Uncle Lloyd, in his full beard, working in a Texaco filling station in Cape Girardeau, Missouri.  The Mobilgas sign stirs my earlier fancies in the Pegasus images I used to stare at as our car rolled past those stations in southeast Missouri.  The coffee pot reminds me of the predawn sounds and smells of coffee percolating as Mom prepared Dad’s breakfast before he left to work a full day at a filling station in south St. Louis.  I read somewhere that art helps us remember.  Perhaps I paint to remember.  I don’t know.

What I do know is that I am coming to the close of a very sublime day.  The 42-degree temperature outside has a “real feel” of 36, so The Weather Channel informs me.  And, despite the close proximity of this space heater, I am feeling a chill in my bones that I cannot seem to shrug off any longer.  So, I’m going to put this painting on my bedroom easel to look at tonight while I cozy into my bed and read T. S. Eliot’s “Four Quartets.”  I always appreciate the comments received from those who follow my blog.  And today, a kindred spirit has pointed me back to Eliot.  I am most grateful for that prompt as well as the many other rich ideas that have been born from fabulous chats throughout the day.  Thank you.

I am posting below a close up of the still life as it stands now.  I spent considerable time on the Texaco oil can, laboring over the letters and logo.

Sunday Night Still Life

Sunday Night Still Life

I have decided to lay this to rest for the night, not only because of the cold, but because of the inadequacy of light on the objects.  I posted yesterday that the frying pan is little more than a silhouette at night.  Likewise the lantern, which I really want to work on now, loses much of its highlights  and middle-tones in this darkened garage.  So, I suppose I’ll need to await the morning light.  I’m fatigued anyway, for now.  So I’ll say Good Night to you, and Hello to Eliot.

Thanks for reading.

2012 in review

December 30, 2012

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

4,329 films were submitted to the 2012 Cannes Film Festival. This blog had 57,000 views in 2012. If each view were a film, this blog would power 13 Film Festivals

Click here to see the complete report.

Sunday Afternoon in the Studio, Digging Deeper into the Still Life

December 30, 2012
Chipping Away at the Still Life

Chipping Away at the Still Life

And as imagination bodies forth

The forms of things unknown, the poet’s pen

Turns them to shapes, and gives to airy nothing

A local habitation and a name.

William Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night’s Dream

I have been spoiled by this long day of silence, choosing not even to turn on the TV/VCR in the Man Cave.   I finally got to rough up the surfaces of the skillet and the Barq’s Root Beer sign.  I am using the watercolor medium now for drawing just as much for painting–I love simulating textures of old, abandoned, abused objects.  This is what I always liked about the Andrew Wyeth drybrush paintings.  Between the Winsor & Newton pigments, my assortment of graphite pencils and the X-acto knife, I am finding all kinds of texturing varieties, and am having the time of my life.

I need to take a break, stretch my back, prepare a late lunch, and then hopefully return to the Cave later in the afternoon.  I have the notion to read, as I haven’t done any, aside from Thoreau’s Journal first thing this morning.  I laughingly recall the line from the film Amadeus, when Mozart is unable to make up his mind, choosing between three different powdered wigs: “They are all so beautiful!  I wish I had three heads!”  I often wish there were three of me.  I love to watercolor, and even wish I could simultaneously work on two or three paintings.  I also love to read and write in my journal.  Alas, I still know how to do only one thing at a time, but I cannot seem to focus my mind on that one thing at a time.

More later.  Thanks for reading.

Sunday Morning Solitude

December 30, 2012
Large Watercolor Still Life in the Works

Large Watercolor Still Life in the Works

Conversation enriches the understanding, but solitude is the school of genius.

Edward Gibbon

After retiring to bed long after midnight, I arose a little later this morning and couldn’t wait to re-enter the Cave.  The fried eggs and sausage just couldn’t cook quickly enough!  Coffee is brewed, I allowed myself the luxury of reading from the Journals of Henry David Thoreau (I’ll post that below), and I have now completed two hours in the Cave, loving the silence that envelopes me (even my cat is keeping still, as long as he can lay close by).

Now that I have some daylight streaming through the garage windows, the skillet has ceased being a silhouette.  It was nice to add some modeling to it.  I then went to the locking plate and doorknob below, and then the blistered paint of the door.  The Mobilgas sign I worked on after midnight last night (this morning, actually!) and I am still tinkering with the Barq’s Root Beer sign.  The circles are starting to expand concentrically as I try to find my way back to the perimeter which I darkened before I began the actual painting (the end is in the beginning, said Heraclitus and T. S. Eliot).

I have turned to this blog, because I was warmed by the thought (as I was working in absolute silence–44 degrees outside means the neighbors are not working in their yards or getting into their cars to go somewhere) that I have an environment of silence and solitude that allows me to paint at my leisure–no deadlines, appointments or meetings until January 8.  Realizing that this could go on for another week warmed me all over.  I have always dreamed of this kind of space and time, and I don’t recall it ever happening, except perhaps that year in 1987 when I worked on a doctoral dissertation and did little else, living far out in the country of north Texas.  It is a nice sentiment.  If I live long enough to retire, maybe I’ll know more of this kind of life.  But for now, I’ll accept the gift.

I close with something I read this morning from Thoreau’s Journal.  A most unusual thought:

Unless we meet religiously, we profane one another.  What was the consecrated ground round the temple, we have used as no better than a domestic court.

Our friend’s is as holy a shrine as any God’s to be approached with sacred love and awe.  Veneration is the measure of Love.  Our friend answers ambiguously, and sometimes before the question is propounded, like the oracle of Delphi.  He forbears to ask explanation, but doubts and surmises darkly with full faith, as we silently ponder our fates.

In no presence we are so susceptible to shame.  our hour is a sabbath, our abode a temple, our gifts peace offerings, our conversation a communion, our silence a prayer.  In profanity we are absent, in holiness near, in sin estranged, in innocence reconciled. 

Thanks for reading.

Detailing the Still Life and Enjoying Kindred Spirits

December 30, 2012
Large Still Life in Progress

Large Still Life in Progress

That night there was a party to welcome us at the Casino, just a small party, the MacLeishes, the Murphys, the Fitzgeralds and we who were living at the villa.  No one drank anything stronger than champagne and it was very gay and obviously a splendid place to write.  There was going to be everything that a man needed to write except to be alone.

Ernest Hemingway, A Moveable Feast

Temperatures have fallen to 27 degrees, I’m huddling closer to the space heater, and finding joyous communion with kindred spirits tonight.  I am halfway through Part 2 of the video lecture of Joseph Campbell on James Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.  And I have been intermittently “tagged” by phone calls, emails, text messages, blog responses and Facebook comments while working tonight.  I thought I was going to be alone in the studio, but such has not been the case, and the company has been most welcome.  Thanks, all of you!

I really want to get up to my elbows in rendering this frying pan, but I cannot get good light on it in the studio tonight. It has a different look that I prefer during the daylight hours, so I guess I’ll have to leave it alone until the day comes.  Meanwhile, I suppose I’ll keep chipping away at the two rustic signs hanging on the door, and re-working the shadows cast.

Thanks for reading.

Working Late Night in the Studio as Temperatures Drop

December 29, 2012
Close up of the Still Life

Close up of the Still Life

An artist learns by repeated trial and error, by an almost moral instinct, to avoid the merely or the confusingly decorative, . . .  to say what he has to say with the most direct and economical means, to be true to his objects, to his materials, to his technique, and hence, by a correlated miracle, to himself.

Irwin Edman, Arts and the Man

Temperatures have dropped to 29 degrees in Arlington, Texas tonight, but according to The Weather Channel, they are not expected to drop any lower.  The Man Cave is filled with the chill, but a space heater at my elbow is making this environment tolerable.

I hit the wall this afternoon, and had to retire for a nap.  Now, with supper in me and a full pot of coffee on, I intend to work as late as I can endure in the studio tonight.  I just want to do some significant things while I am out of school.   I am listening to a video I recorded about twenty years ago of Joseph Campbell discussing James Joyce.  Campbell and Joyce are great studio company tonight.  Funny that the discussion is Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.  I have had that book on my mind all day today, as I have thought back over my life (does the approaching New Year have anything to do with that) and tried to make some decisions on where to go next.

I am focusing on the Barq’s Root Beer sign and dilapidated door right now, as I work more deeply into this large still life.  I am enjoying the interplay of watercolor, graphite pencil and drybrush as I work on the various textures of the aged and abused objects before me.  These relics were the kinds of things that surrounded me when I spent summers at my grandparents’ farm in southeast Missouri as a young child.  And during this cold night, I recall with delight those winter nights spent wrapped in patchwork quilts, seeking warmth from kerosene heaters and watching black-and-white television late at night.  These are moments of Proustian delight for me.  My grandparents passed from this earth forty years ago, but I still recall with gratitude those memories that they made with me, memories that I now carry in my senior years in this studio.

Thanks for reading.


Small Watercolor Still Life Sketch with Gibson Guitar

December 29, 2012

Gibson Guitar Still Life

A dear friend yesterday planted the idea with me to begin a series of watercolor guitar sketches.  So, I have pulled out this one begun back around 2006 or so.  I was working in an upstairs studio space at Burson Gallery in Hillsboro, Texas during the summer.  The guitar is a pre-World War II Gibson archtop that belonged to my uncle.  He is one of the reasons that I took up guitar myself.  I watched him play before I was old enough to read, and knew I wanted to make music the way he did.  When he passed away at age 91, I purchased this from his estate, and learned that he had bought it, second-hand, after he was discharged from World War II.  It was his main “box” throughout the decades, though his collection expanded to include a Martin, a banjo, mandolin, and a couple of electric guitars.

The Aussie hat was the first I ever owned, back in 1990 (I guess I have purchased and worn three or four since this one).  The denim shirt I wore back in the 1980s.  The suitcase is the same that I painted recently (for those of you who follow this blog) with a coffee can in front of it.  Sadly, the chair, which I purchased in an antique store a long time ago, has disintegrated and been discarded.

This sketch is about 14 x 11″ in size, and rather crude.  I believe it is too small for what the subject demands.  Nevertheless, I am still tinkering with it to see if I can learn a few things from the experience of working with it.  I’m not sure if it will ever be a keeper.  But it is a diversion while I’m working on the 28 x 22″ piece that I began earlier today.

Thanks for reading.