Archive for September, 2013

Painting on a Sunday Afternoon, While Dreaming of Fly Fishing

September 23, 2013
Nearly Completed Watercolor

Nearly Completed Watercolor

This is a lesson that Henry Beston set down more than sixty years ago in a book called The Outermost House.  “For the animals shall not be measured by man,” he wrote.  “They are not brethren, they are not underlings; they are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time, fellow prisoners of the splendor and travail of the earth.”

To embrace this knowledge in one’s inmost heart is to depart from the Redneck Way and to know, as Dick Blalock says, that “fishing is not about food.”  It is a way of interrupting the invisibility of these shining creatures and existing for a moment with them in their wildness and transience, their indifference to our approval and their dependence on our restraint if they are to add another hour to their ten thousandth year.

Howell Raines, Fly Fishing through the Midlife Crisis

Though it has been two weeks, my heart still goes back to Beavers Bend, Oklahoma.  It was two weeks ago that I finally “solved” the trout problem that had plagued me for over ten years’ worth of visits to that beautiful place.  I just could not catch trout of any significance.  I have been a passionate fly fisherman for over ten years, and have known the thrill of raising trout in Colorado, Arkansas and even in Texas winters, but never in Oklahoma.  Finally, two weeks ago, I managed to catch four beautiful rainbows.

The setting that I have worked on in this watercolor is the exact spot where I connected with the trout.  When I finished and left the stream, I took out my camera and managed several photographs of other fly fisherman that had moved into the vicinity.  They were welcome company because they were quiet, serene, and respectful of the rules in that restricted zone.  It is a barbless hook zone, though unfortunately not enforced.  If one fishes below the spillway, s/he could be checked three or four times daily by game wardens, as I have.  But never here in the restricted areas where it should matter most.  There was a sour moment when several Philistines moved into these waters with their treble hooks, live bait, beer and obnoxious noise and splashing about.  They had no luck, and fortunately for all of us, moved on, and quiet once more descended on this lovely evening sanctuary.  I released all my trout, as did the fly fishermen around me, and when I left, I left satisfied and fulfilled.

This painting of course will never do justice to the lovely setting that was mine for a day, but at least the memories will continue to wash over me as I look upon it.  I still have some decisions to make about the water surface dynamics, and some of the tree areas are still not to my satisfaction.  High school and university exacted a heavy toll from me today.  I didn’t finish my necessary prep work till 11:30 tonight, so alas, I have nothing left in me to paint.  Maybe, hopefully, I can return to this tomorrow, and perhaps finish it.  And then I’ll find a new subject to paint.

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to remember.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

Advertisements

Watercoloring on a Cool Autumn Saturday Morning

September 21, 2013
Second Attempt of Beavers Bend watercolor

Second Attempt of Beavers Bend watercolor

Those of you who have never painted a landscape probably don’t know how hard it is to hold together a green landscape; green is a really difficult color to give space to and to structure a landscape.  And therefore, if you paint a landscape that is predominantly green, you are risking failure.

Richard Brettell, “Cezanne and Pissarro in Pontoise” lecture

I knew I was asking for trouble, noticing that my photograph taken at Beavers Bend is predominantly green.  But still, I loved the composition, accompanied by the memories of that enchanting afternoon and evening standing in the Lower Mountain Fork River.  It remains one of my fondest of fly fishing memories.

Reference photo for the painting

Reference photo for the painting

My greatest challenge will be the task of separating the large, dark green mass of trees making up nearly 50 percent of the composition, weighted heavily on the right.  I still haven’t made up my mind exactly what I’m going to do, but I am absorbed with this composition, and am enjoying the delight of exploring every square inch of this picture plane.

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to remember.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.

Thoughts on Northern Hindu Temples and Cezanne’s Mont Sant-Victoire

September 20, 2013
Ink Sketch of Vishvanatha Temple, Khajuraho, India

Ink Sketch of Vishvanatha Temple, Khajuraho, India

We work in the dark–we do what we can–we give what we have.  our doubt is our passion and our passion is our task.  The rest is the madness of art.

Henry James

It’s been quite a week in Lake Wobegon.  I found myself teaching Southeast Asian Art in A. P. Art History at my high school, along with Buddhism in World Religions at the university.  My regular Art History class at the high school focused on Impressionism all week, and today looked at how Paul Cezanne transitioned from Impressionism into a modern style that served as a gateway for twentieth-century art.  All week my head throbbed with a thousand stimuli from all these courses, readings, musings of students–and then today something happened.

I have this amazing pair of twins in my A. P. classes.  They are both artistic, carry moleskine journals (as do I), and continually draw in them as well as record their musings.  They keep legitimate sketchbook/journals in true Leonardo da Vinci fashion, going back and forth frequently between drawing and writing.  One of them told me that it helped her concentrate better on the objects studied in art history.  Today, during a lull in the A. P. class, I opened my book to the Southeast Asian chapter, pulled out my ballpoint pen, and sketched this Hindu Temple that follows the northern style of architecture, with its towers (shikharas) bulging to emulate the Himalayan mountain range.  I experienced what I heard this young twin mention to me a couple of weeks ago–as I drew this structure, I was forced to look at architectural details I had never before noticed.  She was right–drawing something makes you stare at every cubic inch of the form, enabling you to take in details not seen before.  I was amazed to see this range of mountains emerge from the architecture, and especially loved the way the base flanged outward to meet the ground.

As I drew, my mind drifted over to Paul Cezanne and his theories, and his late fixation on Mont Sainte-Victoire.  As I thought of his attempts to contrast warm and cool colors across the face of the mountain he painted at least sixty times, I suddenly recalled the mountain I had begun as an 8 x 10″ watercolor sketch a week ago and abandoned.  Going home during my conference period, I found a 140-lb sheet of D’Arches cold-pressed watercolor paper, soaked it in the shower, and stapled it to an 18 x 20″ stretcher frame to dry.  This evening I have spent, bent over the composition, trying once more to capture the essence of this gorgeous mountain I stood beneath last weekend as the evening descended and the rainbow trout began to rise.  I’m so glad I lingered long enough to take photos of other fly fishermen in the stream beneath this outcropping of rock. I will put them in place later.

Beginning of an 18 x 20" watercolor of Beavers Bend.

Beginning of an 18 x 20″ watercolor of Beavers Bend.

I hate that I had to work on this under artifical light, but I just couldn’t bear the thought of waiting until morning.  I just hope the colors turn out to be O.K. when the natural light hits them in the morning.  I genuinely hope that this weekend will yield quality time to focus on this mountain, as I continue to think about Cezanne, the Hindu worshippers, and that amazing pair of twin artists that have helped me move in a new direction.

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to remember.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

A Weekend of Needed Restoration

September 15, 2013
An Evening of Fly Fishing at Beavers Bend State Park, Broken Bow, Oklahoma

An Evening of Fly Fishing at Beavers Bend State Park, Broken Bow, Oklahoma

A hobby is a defiance of the contemporary.  It is an assertion of those permanent values which the momentary eddies of social evolution have contravened or overlooked.  If this is true, then we may also say that every hobbyist is inherently a radical, and that his tribe is inherently a minority.

Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac

Arlington, Texas never looked better to me, as I viewed it from my rearview mirror last Friday afternoon.  The week in school was crushing, and as I looked at my calendar, I saw no relief in sight.  So, I loaded the Jeep and set out for Broken Bow, Oklahoma, a three-and-one-half hour drive, with a mind full of good memories of conversations with eager students, and a heart that lightened with every mile left behind.  I checked into my hotel in Idabel, Oklahoma, road-weary but hopeful for the coming day.

Saturday morning found me in a trout stream in Beavers Bend State Park.  It felt good to wade cold waters on a 65-degree morning (Texas temperatures since July have been the worst kind of hell).  I felt the calm, serene happiness of Nick in Hemingway’s “Big Two-Hearted River,” even though I could not raise a single trout throughout the morning.  I stopped for lunch and a refresher back at the hotel, watched a little TV (didn’t mind watching Johnny Football take it on the chin–being a schoolteacher, he reminds me of too many privileged students I’d just as soon forget), then re-packed and returned to the stream about 4:30 in the afternoon.

The gorge I chose this time was cut so deep that shadows were already falling across the waters, and the signt of flyfishermen beneath the overlooking cliffs made me wonder whether I wanted to paint or fly fish.  I took pictures, and decided to paint later.  Entering the stream, I tried everything the fly shop recommended–lead sinkers, yellow bobbers, an assortment of nymphs, and nothing worked.  Finally I returned to about the only thing I know how to do:  I tied a size 18 elk-haired caddis on, soaked it in floatant, and then tied 18″ of 5x leader off the hook and attached a size 20 red midge to use as a dropper.  Success.  Four rainbow trout, up to 14″, struck within thirty minutes, and I felt that everything I had wanted to happen on this weekend vacation happened.

14" rainbow trout in the net

14″ rainbow trout in the net

A second rainbow . . .

A second rainbow . . .

. . . a third rainbow . . .

. . . and a fourth rainbow to round out the evening

. . . and a fourth rainbow to round out the evening

They were all beautiful, beyond description, as I raised the net and let the late afternoon sun fall across their forms and beheld a dazzling spectrum of colors.  Trout colors overwhelm my eye.  I released them all, happily.  I love watching trout swim away to their freedom.  Once I caught and released the fourth one, I was exhausted.  I struggled to the bank, sat awhile, took more photographs of the surrounding fly fishermen, then found my way to a rural diner for a late dinner, then back to the hotel.

Today I’m home, rested and grateful for the weekend.  I have attempted an 8 x 10″ watercolor of the lovely place where I landed the trout.  I even tried to put a solitary fly fisherman down below in the shadows, to stress how dimutive we feel when we’re enveloped with the grandeur of this stream.

Fly Fishing Beneath the Gathering Twilight

Fly Fishing Beneath the Gathering Twilight

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to remember.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

Sinclair Watercolor Finished

September 12, 2013
Finished Watercolor

Finished Watercolor

When we delight in a thing in nature all our accounting of its environment is selective.  

Robert Henri, The Art Spirit

My schedule today opened a 2 1/2 hour hole in my teaching rhythm (conference period and lunch combined).  I decided to see what I could do with this painting during that gap, and to my surprise, finished it.  I finally got around to deciding how to render the surface of the rooftop, re-worked the foliage all around, detailed the power lines, pebbled the foreground some more, and established a horizon (finally).  Following the thread of Henri’s quote above, I’ll say that my “selected” interest in this entire painting was the lit-up background, and the attempt to put some kind of “heat” into the compositioin to offset all the cool shades of green between the Sinclair station and the pickup truck.  I tried to balance the complementary greens and reds, along with complementary yellows and violets.  The shades of violet are not apparent, but I mixed Winsor Violet into so many of these colors that I’m surpirsed to see it blending into the picture instead of sticking out as some kind of brazen purple.

What’s next?  I have no clue.  But I have an entire weekend to cotemplate my next adventure, and I’m really happy to set this painting aside.  I’m ready for the next task.

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to remember.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am never alone.

Still Scraping for Quality Painting Time

September 11, 2013
Pushing Ahead on the Sinclair Station

Pushing Ahead on the Sinclair Station

Good evening.  I did manage to put in a little work on this painting late this afternoon, but had no time to fling it up on the blog.  I worked on the pebbly textures in the pavement, enriched the seams a little more, then reworked the shadows under the truck and refined the tires some more.  I also worked more on the shadows on the left side of the building and the white columns between the gas pumps.  I’m still trying to make up my mind about the orange sunlit backdrop, how many more trees to drop into it, and how to transition the ground into the atmosphere in the back.  I’ll get to that later, maybe tomorrow.

While reading late last night, I came across this gut-wrenching passage from the Autobiography of William Carlos Williams.  I hated to go to sleep on such a passage, and indeed it contributed to the rough morning I endured shortly after I awoke this morning.  But here it is:

I’ll never forget the dream I had a few days after [Pop] died, after a wasting illness, on Christmas Day, 1918.  I saw him coming down a peculiar flight of exposed steps, steps I have since identified as those before the dais of Pontius Pilate in some well-known painting.  But this was in a New York office building, Pop’s office.  He was bare-headed and had some business letters in his hand on which he was concentrating as he descended.  I noticed him and with joy cried out, “Pop!  So, you’re not dead!”  But he only looked up at me over his right shoulder and commented severely, “You know all that poetry you’re writing.  Well, it’s no good.”  I was left speechless and woke trembling.  I have never dreamed of him since.

How horrible.  I had trouble sleeping after that, and I didn’t awake to the best of days this morning, probably largely because of that residual memory.  I am not very far into the Autobiography, but so far I have gleaned that his father wasn’t around much, always working to support the family.  I can identify with that.  My father worked long hours, came home late, and needed his space.  And he never said much to me as I grew up.  But I recall only a time or two when he verbally put me down, but never as seriously as this.  In fact, what I recall as a teenager is my father constantly bringing his mechanic buddies into my bedroom to show them my art pinned to the walls.  He always said good things about my skills to them, though not to me.  But it was O.K.  I knew he was affirming my work the only way he knew how.  I don’t know how I would survive if he ever would have said to me what WCW encountered in his dreadful dream.

Though it’s been twenty-four hours since reading that, I’m still feeling kind of heavy tonight, unable to shake that.  I guess we all go through this, but I find myself second-guessing many ways I handled younger people in my years as a father and as a public school teacher, and tonight I seem to be remembering those bad moments more than the good.  What we say to others indeed impacts, shapes lives and has a way of living on for years in memories, theirs and ours.   Perhaps this will find me entering the classroom tomorrow more sensitive and caring than I’ve been in the past.  I hope so.

Oh well.  I still have plenty of prepping to do for tomorrow’s classes and the hour is drawing late.

Thanks always for reading.

I paint in order to remember.

I journal when I feel that I am alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

What Could Painting an Hour a Day Bring?

September 10, 2013
Taking the Painting in Small Daily Bites

Taking the Painting in Small Daily Bites

He’ll tell you he has three books out, and then he’ll tell you how he wrote them–that he was working a job, he had four days a week he could be home for an hour and fifteen minutes.  After he ate lunch, he’d have an hour and fifteen minutes to work, four days a week.  He said, “Every year and a half, that should be a book.”  And darn, if he didn’t do a book every year-and-a-half, just writing like that.

Bruce Dobler, University of Pittsburgh, talking about Bob Downs, author

The above interview was taken from one of my favorite portions of the film “Stone Reader.”  When I am confronted with an author who has found a way to crank out novels on his lunch hour, I realize that I too should be able to put out watercolors on my schedule.  I teach four subjects at the high school full time, then six semester hours at a local university in the evenings.  With the semester now in the midst of its third week, I still haven’t really found my groove in this new lifestyle, yet I have made myself a promise that I would not use my job as an excuse to leave the watercolor studio.  So, if I can only muster an hour a day, I’ll do that until I find a way to open the time window wider.

One thing has not changed–it is the act of watercoloring that gives me a reason to smile, that puts the wind in my sails, that gives me something to look forward to each day.  The daily pace I now know in the educational endeavor would have found me in despair by now.  Finding quality time to grade, to prep for classes, and still sleep at night and eat regularly has not been easy, but still doable.  And in the meantime, I have continued to paint, and have found joy in those moments.  This is going to work after all, I’m confident.

Thanks always for reading.  Talk to you tomorrow . . .

I paint in order to remember.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

Fighting for Quality Watercolor Time . . .

September 9, 2013
Painting before Open House

Painting before Open House

Open House is tonight.  We always hate that it falls on Monday evenings, leaving us exhausted the entire week.  But there it is.  I had a number of errands to run between the end of classes today and the beginning of Open House, so here is the little that I did.  I worked on the door behind the truck, then enriched the yellow-orange backlighting behind the pumps.  Last of all, I began the gravel texturing in the lower left foreground–something I love to do, but it takes a long, long time, and plenty of patience.  I just barely got that under way before having to leave for tonight’s meeting.  After Open House I have plenty of grading to do still.  Fortunately I got the weekend grading swept away.  But today’s classes generated plenty more of it.  Perhaps tomorrow I can squeeze in a little more time.  We’ll see.

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to remember.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

In Search of a Daily Watercolor Rhythm

September 8, 2013
Closing Out the Weekend, Watercoloring

Closing Out the Weekend, Watercoloring

There are moments in our lives, there are moments in a day, when we seem to see beyond the usual–become clairvoyant.  We reach then into reality.  Such are the moments of our greatest happiness.  Such are the moments of our greatest wisdom.

It is in the nature of all people to have these experiences; but in our time and under the conditions of our lives, it is only a rare few who are able to continue in the experience and find expressions for it.

Robert Henri, The Art Spirit

I wish I could call this a weekend of joy.  About ninety per cent of it was devoted to grading.  I am not yet finished early now on this Sunday evening, but I will be finished before bedtime, and I’m confident that that will give me an emotion close to “joy”.  Close.

I’m glad I rose early Saturday morning and spent about ninety minutes chipping away at this composition before laying down the brush for twenty-four hours.  Today I made a concerted effort to keep myself on a time budget, balancing grading and painting.  I came to this watercolor three different times–all the rest of the time was spent bent over a stack of papers.

The light is gone from my studio as I write this, so I will have to lay down the brush for good and return to the school work.  I’m glad I got to spend time working on the truck, nearly finishing it.  The truck would be “finished” if it didn’t appear to be too timid to me.  I feel that I got all the proportions right but that I didn’t lean into it much with the pigments or shadows.  I’ll give it another hit tomorrow.  The section of building behind the truck got plenty more work in the shadows and some detailing.  I also finished the apex of the gable roof of the station.  A little more warm shadow color was added to the pavement as well.

I am taking to heart the above words from Robert Henri.  I count myself as part of that minority that actually knows those feelings he expresses.  But I do find it hard to get into the zone when so many other duties pull at me.  This weekend I had to answer several bells, including household chores, laundry, and other uninteresting details.  But still, I managed to carve out some quality time to paint, and I consider those moments the highlight of my weekend.  I will consider this “practice” because I have a very long, demanding day of details to tend tomorrow, and already tonight I am determined to insert painting into that mix.  I will do everything possible to paint daily, even if it is for short sessions such as the recent ones.

Detail of the Sinclair Truck

Detail of the Sinclair Truck

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to remember.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

Imagination

September 7, 2013
Saturday Morning in the Studio

Saturday Morning in the Studio

I do recall one time when I got to know him a little better, he called me in the office one day and he says to me, “Brownie,” he said, “Can you give  me your idea of what imagination is?”  And I said,”No I don’t have any idea.”  He said, “Well, why don’t you think about it a couple of days and come back and we’ll talk about it.”  But he never brought the subject up again.  I’m very thankful, too.

Lynn Brown Jr., recalling a conversation with poet Wallace Stevens while working at Hartford Insurance Group.

Sleep did not come easily last night.  Though darkness had descended, this watercolor, along with its possibilities, was burned into my retina, and I really wanted to return to it, but I have really become attached to the natural light.  Before falling into sleep, I turned the light on one more time, and scribbled in my journal a reminder to check out the ideas of William Carlos Williams and Ezra Pound on Imagism.

Waking at 5:30 this morning, without an alarm, I rose to a dark, pre-dawn world, and, waiting for the studio window light, I took out my copy of The Literary Essays of Ezra Pound.  In the early summer of 1912, he agreed with H. D. and Richard Aldington on three principles which would later be called Imagism:

1. Direct treatment of the ‘thing’ whether subjective or objective.

2. To use absolutely no word that does not contribute to the presentation.

3. As regarding rhythm: to compose in the sequence of the musical phrase, not in sequence of a metronome.

I used these words as a reaffirmation of my current philosophy of watercolor composition: (1) to paint my subjects as directly as possible, (2) to purge ornamentation from my compositions, and (3) to work all over and around my painting, instead of following paint-by-number compositional steps from start to finish.

Reading further in Pound, I was moved profoundly as I contemplated the Subject, or Image, that I always chase in my watercolor pursuits:

An ‘Image’ is that which presents an intellectual and emotional complex in an instant of time. . . . It is the presentation of such a ‘complex’ instantaneously wihich gives that sense of sudden liberation; that sense of freedom from time limits and space limits, that sense of sudden growth, which we experience in the presence of the greatest works of art.

And then I laughed out loud when I encountered these words:

It is better to present one Image in a lifetime than to produce voluminous works.

Wow.  In all my paintings, I am confronting some kind of Image that has held me spellbound, making me want to linger over it and use every means possible to capture its essence and put it on the page.  When viewers tell me they are “held” by a painting of mine, I’m gratified, knowing that what moved me got to them as well.  But as to presenting that “one Image” versus a great volume of work–well, how can one accomplish the former without the latter?  Frankly, I have no idea which painting from my past is my “best”, nor do I lose sleep wondering.  I find my deepest satisfaction in being prolific, and when my final painting issues from me, I can only hope that something in that “volume” can approach the notion of Quality, can meet the standard of Image in its ability to reach out to someone else besides me.

The “volume” is where I find my satisfaction, and for years now, I have enjoyed the process of painting much more than standing back and looking at my finished, framed work hanging on a wall or positioned on an easel.  My joy comes in the act of painting, and much of my struggle currently as a schoolteacher is the knowledge that the majority of my daily hours now is given to the classroom, along with all the attendant “stuff” necessary to support the classroom hours.  My reality this weekend is an enormous stack of papers to grade, because after all, I am paid to produce numbers on a spreadsheet to give an indicator of a student’s educational growth.  No pressure there.

I did manage about ninety minutes of uninterrupted, slow-moving work on my watercolor.  Using purples with some yellow, I worked in the shadows beneath the truck, finished the front end of the truck, worked on the curbing in front of and behind the truck, and then did further corrections with pencil, trying to make the drawing portions of this work as accurate as possible.  I’m still working on the complementary balance of a lavender pavement in the foreground against a warm gold background.  The complementary greens against the reds are also a constant challenge.  I’m enjoying these matters of composition and decision-making, and it was a good ninety minutes.

Now, wIth reluctance, I lay down the brush and wade through the stack of papers, hoping to return to the Image before the weekend runs its course and I begin the next five-day round in the classroom.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep

But I have promises to keep

And miles to go before I sleep

And miles to go before I sleep

Robert Frost

Thanks for reading.  It has been a lovely Saturday morning.

I paint in order to remember.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.