Archive for February, 2013

In the Sanctuary of the Man Cave

February 8, 2013

Tripp painting

Tripp Painting in the Man Cave

Good afternoon!  I’ve been hitting the watercolor hard this Friday afternoon.  However, it hasn’t changed enough from what I posted late last night to justify a fresh picture of it, so I thought I would try shooting myself working on it (after all these years of owning this digital camera, I finally found the timer so I could set the shutter on a 10-second delay, then rush to take my seat in the picture!).  I tried to train my cat to photograph me, but he isn’t too bright.

I am lowering the values in this painting now, and that is coming along very slowly.  The skillet has been darkened considerably, and I have managed to darken the armature of the lantern.  Now I am skinning up the doors, trying to give them the look of abused, paint-peeled surfaces exposed to the elements for decades.  I am about ready to paint the suitcase below.  But again, there really isn’t much to show you, yet I wanted to post on the blog before I get to late into the evening.

I am happy that the weekend has arrived, and hope to dive into some quality reading and painting in the studio.  I have James Joyce on the mind, thanks to the Joseph Campbell lectures I’ve listened to on video.

Thanks for reading.

Between the Darkness and the Light

February 7, 2013
Still Life of Fishing and Camping Memories

Still Life of Fishing and Camping Memories

Nodding gently in his rocker beside the rusting lantern, the weathered farmer stared across the dimly-lit garage at the jumbled remembrances of his former years–fishing, camping, Dining Car coffee and Lucky Strike cigarettes.  His tired eyes were growing dim at the close of the day.  The Jim Beam in his tumbler was slowly drawing him down.  But his memories waxed even as his strength and vision waned.  Once more, he read from the small volume of poetry that lay in his lap.

I cannot find my way: there is no star 
In all the shrouded heavens anywhere; 
And there is not a whisper in the air 
Of any living voice but one so far 
That I can hear it only as a bar 
Of lost, imperial music, played when fair 
And angel fingers wove, and unaware, 
Dead leaves to garlands where no roses are.

No, there is not a glimmer, nor a call, 
For one that welcomes, welcomes when he fears, 
The black and awful chaos of the night; 
For through it all–above, beyond it all– 
I know the far sent message of the years, 
I feel the coming glory of the light. 

Edwin Arlington Robinson 

Looking up from his book, the old man peered intently into the darkened recesses of the Canada Dry crate, barely discerning the dark, distressed leather knapsack from his early touring days . . .

The summer morning in the Athens Plaka was as dreadfully hot as any Texas summer day.  Sitting wearily at an outdoor cafe table with the taste of Greek coffee in his mouth, he gazed across the street, through the white dust rising from the shambling sandals of tourists, and saw, hanging on a post of a leather shop, this dust-coated dark-leather, used knapsack.  Dashing across the street, he inquired of the short, stocky mustachioed Greek proprietor:

“How much for the knapsack outside?”

“Oh no!  Too old!  Too dirty!  Have new ones! From Italy!  Finest leather!”

“No.  I want the one outside.”

“It’s used!  Worthless!  Only for show!”

“I like it.  I’m American.  From Texas.  I like old and dirty.”


“Character.  More interesting.  I want it.”

“Twelve dollars, OK?”

“Deal.  Here you are.  And an extra gold coin, with my thanks.  Kalimera!

Gazing at the abused knapsack this night, he mused over all the places it had traveled, and the assorted cargoes once wrapped in its embrace: books, journals, tools, tobacco, bottles of beer, small boxes of leaders, dry and wet flies, fishing reels . . . What a contrast between the darkness of the leather, the even darker inside of the crate, the ultimate darkness within the knapsack, and the blazing light of the Greek sun on that hot day, the whiteness of the dusty street, and the gleam of the marble monuments everywhere.  Darkness and light.  Laying aside his poems, he reached to the small table beside him and picked up his old worn and tattered Latin Bible, glad for what he retained from Catholic School.  Thumbing through the crinkled yellow-stained leaves, he found what he was looking for:

Et lux in tenebris lucet

Et tenebrae eam non conprehenderunt.

And the light shineth in the darkness;

And the darkness apprehended it not.

John 1:5 (American Standard Version)

He reflected on the reality of life as a balance between the light and darkness, thinking of his fading days, his ebbing strength, and what still remained within his abilities.

Yet a little while is the light among you.  Walk while ye have the light, that darkness overtake you not.

John 12:35

He smiled inwardly as he slowly nodded off to sleep.  The room was dark, but he remained in the light.  The memories were bringing back the light.  And the printed words on the page were bringing light (“The entrance of Thy word bringeth light”).  And the dawn would soon bring new light, a new day, and new opportunity.  It was the closing of another good day.  It was alright for now that the darkness was drawing near.

Thanks for reading.

Watercoloring Nostalgic Subjects and Listening to Robert Frost

February 6, 2013
Watercoloring in the Man Cave

Watercoloring in the Man Cave

I have been one acquainted with the night.

I have walked out in rain — and back in rain.

I have outwalked the furthest city light.

I have looked down the saddest city lane.

I have passed by the watchman on his beat

And dropped my eyes, unwilling to explain.

I have stood still and stopped the sound of feet

When far away an interrupted cry

Came over houses from another street,

But not to call me back or say good-bye;

And further still at an unearthly height,

O luminary clock against the sky

Proclaimed the time was neither wrong nor right.

I have been one acquainted with the night.

Robert Frost

I leave for school every morning while it is still dark, and the past two mornings have brought steady rain.  Both mornings, driving through the rain, these words from Robert Frost came back to me in the darkness and brought a presence and a comfort.  Perhaps Robert Frost is what the doctor ordered.  I have enjoyed working in the Cave late at night, bending over this watercolor, trying to unlock some of the secrets of the darkness and shadows that fueled the drybrush watercolors of Andrew Wyeth, and the oil paintings of Rembrandt.  I am becoming more fascinated in the low-value areas of the painting composition, and am directing more of my attention there.

Canada Dry Crate and Vintage Lantern

Canada Dry Crate and Vintage Lantern

This has been such a serene night for painting.  I hate to stop and go to bed (perhaps I won’t for awhile longer).

Thanks for reading.

There is a Certain Slant of Light

February 6, 2013
Watercoloring in the Afternoon, with thoughts of Emily Dickinson

Watercoloring in the Afternoon, with thoughts of Emily Dickinson

There’s a certain slant of light,
On winter afternoons,
That oppresses, like the weight
Of cathedral tunes.

Heavenly hurt it gives us;
We can find no scar,
But internal difference
Where the meanings are.

None may teach it anything,
‘Tis the seal, despair,-
An imperial affliction
Sent us of the air.

When it comes, the landscape listens,
Shadows hold their breath;
When it goes, ‘t is like the distance
On the look of death.

Emily Dickinson

This afternoon, as I chip away at this still life, I am flooded with the silence of the day, the slanting light that I cannot keep away from my garage door windows (all the blinders I taped up day-before-yesterday have fallen off), and the sense of relief that follows a noisy day of high school teaching.  Only the drone of my clothes dryer just on the other side of the utility room door is heard, except for the occasional rustle of dead, dry leaves blowing across my driveway.  It is an affirming ambiance for painting.

Emily Dickinson’s poem is considerably darker than what I feel right now.  I thought about her “slant of light” as the sun came out a few minutes ago and threw its shafts through my windows and across my still-life arrangement.  And I recalled that it was a winter light of which she spoke.  And I knew that the poem was overflowing with the mixed feelings of sublime and depression in regard to religious sentiment.  That final note is not on my heart as I write this.  I’ve been listening to Voices and Visions broadcasts of the works of Robert Frost and William Carlos Williams, and I once again am finding myself lost in these objects before me, and I regard that as a good thing.

Thanks for reading.

Reminiscences of Fishing Days, Through a Watercolor Lens

February 6, 2013
Working Late Night on the Fishing Still-Life

Working Late Night on the Fishing Still-Life

It is never enough that our life is an easy one.  We must live on the stretch; not be satisfied with a tame and undisturbed round of weeks and days, but retire to our rest like soldiers on the eve of a battle, looking forward with ardor to the strenuous sortie of the morrow. . . . As our bodies court physical encounters, and languish in the mild and even climate of the tropics, so our souls thrive best on unrest and discontent.

Henry David Thoreau, Journal, February 11, 1840

I wish I could say that this has been an interesting week in Lake Wobegon.  The harder I work on my daily lesson plans and try to stay caught up on the grades, the more determined I am not to let my watercolor languish in the studio.  Today was a day that cried out for me to leave the art work alone and just grade and prep for tomorrow’s classes.  But I had to do both.  I painted all afternoon, then graded and prepped all evening, and, once finished with school responsibilities, returned to the Cave to continue painting.  I wish I could show more progress on this piece.  I have been working on minutiae, but I love those tiny details, those little struggles in the shadows, those decisions on how to match a cool or warm color in the shadows and the half-lit areas of this still-life.

I am still working like the dickens on the darker portions of this still-life, trying real hard to capture the nuances lurking in the shadows and the half-lights.  I never knew so much went on in those regions, because I never gave them much thought in previous watercolors.  I have always cranked out light compositions.  Absorbing the light and enriching the dark tones, I find to be very challenging.  But I’m loving every minute of it, and just wish to God I could give it more hours in the day (and night).

Anyway, I echo the sentiments of Thoreau.  I seem to find a way to stay busy, to keep challenges in front of me, never to stop, never to let inertia creep in.  I know the risks of burn out and I am trying to keep a discerning eye on that as well.  But at this stage of my life, I just don’t want to go into cruise control with my watercolor activity.  I am trying to carve out new pathways, to pursue new directions,and that is taking a lot out of me lately.  But that, I think, is a good thing.

Thanks for reading.

A Quiet Afternoon, Contemplating the Still Life in the Cave

February 4, 2013
A Fishing Still-Life, Growing Like Corn in the Night

A Fishing Still-Life, Growing Like Corn in the Night

Aeschylus had a clear eye for the commonest of things. . . . This universal wonderment at those old men is as if a matured grown person should discover that the aspirations of his youth argued a diviner life than the contented wisdom of his manhood.

Henry David Thoreau, Journal, January 29, 1840

Anyone peeking inside my Man Cave now would draw the wrong conclusion that this Monday afternoon is a quiet and serene one.  I have Joseph Campbell on the TV/VCR lecturing on James Joyce and his Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.  I have this splendid still-life arrangement spotlighted before me, and slowly, deliberately, I am chiseling out details with pencil and brush, and applying washes.  Beside me, my cat purrs and stretches in his comfy chair (mine actually, but he doesn’t realize that).  The neighborhood is quiet this afternoon, and all seems calm and leisurely.

But what is on the surface often belies what lies beneath.  This has been quite a day, filled with my Philosophy Class discussions of St. Augustine, my early readings from the Journal of Thoreau, my musings over a past weekend packed with activities and people, my preparations for tomorrow’s A. P. Art History (Dutch and Flemish Baroque) and English IV (the Victorian Age).  And then, my own thoughts, independent even of all this, that just will not settle down and fly in formation.  When all this mental, emotional stimuli swirls as it does now, I believe that the best I can do is sit down at my drafting table, gaze at the composition before me, and work.  My breathing changes.  My heart rate changes.  And the swirling world slowly settles down, as I settle down.

Now, having said all the above, let me address the painting.  The weekend was packed with activity, so I couldn’t even look at it.  But I never stopped thinking about it, and I knew that as soon as I could touch it this afternoon, I wanted to get into the “guts” of it–to the heart, to the congeries of rods, reels, fishing tackle and assortment of highlights and shadows right in the midst.  So, today’s attention has been given to the coffee can, the bait caster resting on top of it, the leather backpack behind it, a piece of the door, one of the rods with its facets and wrappings, the lures in the tackle box–so much more to go after, but it will happen, in good time.

But for now, I paint, I think, and I enjoy life this Monday afternoon, grateful to be in the Cave again.  I think the cat is glad to see me too.

Thanks for reading.

Continued Work on a Still Life of Fishing Equipment

February 1, 2013
Friday Afternoon Segment of the Fishing Still Life

Friday Afternoon Segment of the Fishing Still Life

While listening to a Robert Motherwell DVD documentary, I spent Friday afternoon in the Cave tinkering with this fishing-equipment still life I began last night.  I spent most of the time trying to establish the dark shadow areas, and laying in the bright red accents on some of the detailed objects (and there are many–fishing lures, coffee can. Lucky Strike cigarette package, lettering on the feed company sign).  I am now up-to-my-elbows with it, and starting to feel the fatigue of too-little sleep from last night and a heavy teaching load today.  So I think I will lay it aside before I start making lazy short-cuts (which I do when I’m tired).  I will either return to it tonight or tomorrow, but I shall return.  I’m getting attached to this one early.

Thanks for reading.

Painting a Still Life, while Contemplating Neo-Classical and Romantic Matters

February 1, 2013
Fishing Still Life Composition

Fishing Still Life Composition

. . . with an eye made quiet by the power

Of harmony, and the deep power of joy,

We see into the life of things.

William Wordsworth, “Lines Written a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey”

As a watercolorist or draftsman, I think I have a Neo-Classical eye for detail and composition, but as an artist, I believe I have a Romantic heart that beats with emotion as I engage in creating art.  The way I breathe, the serenity I know and the memories that stir my blood convince me that I am a Romantic at heart, though probably Classical in mind.

As my eye explores every cubic inch of this assembly of objects before me, my heart throbs at memories of fishing in my youth.  On this particular day, I cannot stop thinking about an adolescent day on a neighborhood lake in House Springs, Missouri that found me in a rowboat with a gorgeous blonde goddess who took my breath away.  I was there reportedly to fish, and I did have a Shakespeare combo rod & reel in hand, but I could not keep my eyes off this striking girl as she struggled with the paddle, trying to navigate us toward a popular fishing hole.  I was supposed to be the helmsman, but as I recall, I successfully guided us into a cluster of low-hanging tree branches.  I guess, to me, fishing and women never mixed.

I stayed up late last night, blocking in shadows on this composition.  I plan to post the in-progress painting later this afternoon (for now, it doesn’t look very presentable, and there is more faint pencil line than pigment to display on this blog, hence mostly a white rectangle.  That should be changing within the next few hours).

As an English teacher, I am conscious of my shortcomings in trying to lead seniors to an appreciation of Pope and Wordsworth, but today the students seemed to give the task a serious try.  I have Wordsworth’s “Tintern Abbey” experience dripping all over me, as my mind is awash in good primal memories of presence and loss from my youth, and as I ponder these memories, I am glad to keep my eye engaged on the surface of this paper, watching the puddles of water, the billows of watercolor wash, and the pencil lines emerging slowly to give shape to the forms  that lie in front of me.

Thank you for reading.  I’ll have more posted later this afternoon.