Archive for December, 2013

Creative Eros

December 11, 2013
Another restless night in the studio

Another restless night in the studio

. . . those who present directly and immediately the new forms and symbols are the artists–the dramatists, the musicians, the painters, the dancers, the poets, and those poets of the religious sphere we call saints.  They portray the new symbols in the form of images–poetic, aural, plastic, or dramatic, as the case may be.  They live out their imaginations.  The symbols only dreamt about by most human beings are expressed in graphic form by the artists.  But in our appreciation of the created work–let us say a Mozart quintet–we also are performing a creative act.  When we engage a painting . . . we are experiencing some new moment of sensibility.  Some new vision is triggered in us by our contact with the painting; something unique is born in us.  This is why appreciation of the music or painting or other works of the creative person is also a creative act on our part.

Rollo May, The Courage to Create

All arts create symbols for a level of reality which cannot be reached in any other way.  A picture and a poem reveal elements of reality which cannot be approached scientifically.  In the creative work of art we encounter reality in a dimension which is closed for us without such works.

Paul Tillich, Dynamics of Faith

Though I have been away from the blog a couple of days, I have not been away from the arts, have not abandoned the creative eros.  Yesterday’s return to school after two snow-closure days pitchforked me back into the chaotic maelstrom of two schools trying to re-set the damaged bones of fractured schedules.  The college had to reschedule final exams, students had to set appointments to make up missed exams because of transportation issues on icy roads.  Yesterday I faced a hectic day in the high school, then spent the entire afternoon and evening at the college with final exams and scheduled make up exams.  But I did extract some quality library time spent in the arts section on the third floor.  I managed about ninety minutes of reading and reflection between appointments.  And my soul was elevated.  I didn’t want to leave that sanctuary.

Today was unusually different.  Coming out of the shower this morning, my mind and imagination shifted into overdrive.  I was scheduled to lecture on Paul Tillich in the 7:35 Philosophy class.  His ideas were tumbling about in my head, and I was having quite a time lining them up for presentation.  The class was ready and receptive, and I felt that the creative spirit of the man visited us.  If there is a heaven, and if I’m permitted to enter, then I would love for nothing more than to see Paul Tillich waiting at the harbor for me when my ship arrived, taking my hand and saying, “I’ve waited for this moment to meet you.  We should have travelled that earthly odyssey together.”  If only I could spend eternity asking him the questions I’ve saved up all these decades.

(I drew this with a fountain pen late one night in my office in 1999, as I was preparing to lecture on Tillich the following morning.  The text I generated spontaneously as I was sketching the portrait.)

After I finished my classes, I was able to return to the watercolor activity.  The top painting is 99% complete and will be delivered Friday.  The bottom painting is getting closer to completion.  A third one, in progress, is lurking in the docks and hopefully I will complete it this weekend.  I’ve made many promises this Christmas, and it appears that, thanks to the snow and ice days, I will manage to finish these tasks and (hopefully) make some patrons happy.

Meanwhile, I’m restless with all my reading throughout the day and evening with Rollo May and Paul Tillich.  I love reading about the creative process, the urge one feels to bring order to the chaos that greets us daily and to make something of it that speaks to our hearts and to others who look and appreciate.  My life as an artist and educator has had its shaky moments.  But as I draw nearer to this holiday season, I’m finding peace with a number of elements that have eluded me throughout the decades.  There are a few things I believe I am coming to understand better, and with that new sense of understanding comes a measure of peace.

Thanks for reading.  It’s time to return to the painting.

I paint in order to remember.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

Lost in Memories of Yesterday

December 9, 2013
Study of a Service Station Transitioning from Magnolia to Mobilgas

Study of a Service Station Transitioning from Magnolia to Mobilgas

The fancy is indeed no other than a mode of memory emancipated from the order of time and space.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Biographia Literaria

Coleridge nailed this one.  I have enjoyed the delicious warm indoors of my studio while looking out on the winter light throughout the day.  This painting is a close study of the transition of a 1950’s gas station from Magnolia to Mobilgas.  I’ve had such fun researching the signage, color schemes, advertising, architecture and vehicles of the era, and the longer I work on this, the more I recall my own childhood (by the way, I call my company Recollections 54 because it is my birth year, and I enjoy painting memories from that era).  My website is http://www.recollections54.com.  I have a Sinclair station on the front page of that site, a site that has been restored, located on McCart Avenue in Fort Worth, Texas.

It looks like I’ll return to school tomorrow after a glorious four-day weekend.  I’m sorry to leave this painting schedule I’ve enjoyed so much.

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to remember.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.

Every Brushstroke Matters

December 9, 2013
Work on a Vintage Jeep

Work on a Vintage Jeep

Every sentence is the result of a long probation.

Henry David Thoreau, Journal, February 28, 1841

But sometimes when I was starting a new story and I could not get it going, I would sit in front of the fire and squeeze the peel of the little oranges into the edge of the flame and watch the sputter of blue that they made.  I would stand and look out over the roofs of Paris and think, “Do not worry.  You have always written before and you will write now.  All you have to do is write one true sentence.  Write the truest sentence that you know.”  So finally I would write one true sentence, and then go on from there.  

Ernest Hemingway, A Moveable Feast

Writers inspire me as an artist.  They have for years.  I feel their struggle as they grapple with words just as I struggle, grappling with images.  Today is the fourth consecutive day of painting in the studio for me, and fatigue is trying to set in.  I know that is true when the breaks I take for household chores become attractive and I find more tasks to perform.  Sometimes it is hard to keep the artistic juices flowing, and I am always grateful when a kindred spirit reaches me through the printed word.  Thoreau wrote something in a Journal that I read and posted previously and returned to this morning to re-read and write in my own journal.  His comment led me to recall a similar sentiment from Hemingway during his early Parisian days as a struggling writer.

“Every sentence is the result of a long probation,” muses Thoreau.  So also is every brushsroke of a watercolorist.  Currently working on an 8 x 10″ piece, I feel a bit of a squeeze, knowing that brushstrokes have a much smaller stage and are more easily exposed than when woven into an 18 x 24″ composition.  It is in these small pieces that I remind msyelf of the importance, the strength, the expression of a single stroke, and follow up with the realization that I can do this.  I have done this for years, and will again today.  Make each stroke direct and true, as Hemingway did each sentence.  Realize, like Thoreau, that I have a long history in each stroke, a long regiment of training and rehearsal.  This is not new.

I just needed a jolt from the writers.  I am grateful for them today.  And grateful for this day, this space, this time.

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 Satisfied Sunday Painter Receives Yet Another Gift

December 8, 2013
Sunday Work  on the Gas Station Watercolor

Sunday Work on the Gas Station Watercolor

I was given the gift of a school closure last Friday.  I rose around 5:30 a.m. or so, and put in somewhere between twelve and fourteen hours watercoloring in the studio with genuine bliss.  Saturday I arose around the same time, and though I didn’t have quite the same energy, I nevertheless pushed myself and painted most of the day.  Sunday I slept a little later, but was still up around 8:00, and divided the day between painting and preparing for Monday’s classes.  Then came the evening announcement–school closed again Monday!  Wow.  Laying aside the school preparations, I have returned to the studio to do some more work on commissions that are due over the Christmas holidays, with an eye toward rising early again Monday morning to spend a fourth consecutive day in the studio, ever grateful for this string of studio days.  Making art, to me, is genuine bliss.

Beginning Work on a Second Commission

Beginning Work on a Second Commission

The world is filled with people who were given great natural gifts, sometimes conspicuously flashy gifts, yet never produce anything.  And when that happens, the world soon ceases to care whether they are talented.

Even at best talent remains a constant, and those who rely upon that gift alone, without developing further, peak quickly and soon fade to obscurity.  Examples of genius only accentuate that truth.  Newspapers love to print stories about five-year-old musical prodigies giving solo recitals, but you rarely read about one going on to become a Mozart.  The point here is that whatever his initial gift, Mozart was also an artist who learned to work on his work, and thereby improved.  In that respect he shares common ground with the rest of us.  Artists get better by sharpening their skills or by acquiring new ones; they get better by learning to work, and by learning from their work.  They commit themselves to the work of their heart, and act upon that commitment.  So when you ask, “Then why doesn’t it come easily for me?”, the answer is probably, “Because making art is hard!”  What you end up caring about is what you do, not whether the doing came hard or easy.

Art & Fear, by David Bayles & Ted Orland

Life may have been more pleasant for me in the past, had I learned this lesson earlier.  At this stage, I find more satisfaction with making art than ever before, I suppose because I no longer obsess over whether or not I am any good, whether or not I’ll be remembered, whether or not I am making a contribution to the art world.  I just love the work now, and more often than not, like the results of what I do.  But even when I crank out a bad piece of art, I can merely toss it aside and move on to the next.  And when a work doesn’t go well, I no longer have to finish it.  I can quit, and move on to the next attempt.  For years and years I groused over whether or not I had talent, whether or not I was a “good artist.”  Somewhere along the way, those albatrosses fell from my neck, and I can stand straighter now, taller, and paint with more confidence.  I love making art.  I love studying art.  I love looking at other people’s art.  I’m glad I finally got to this juncture.  I’m glad to find peace with my art.

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.

Expanding the Circle

December 8, 2013
Sunday Morning Watercolor in the Studio

Sunday Morning Watercolor in the Studio

Another analogy we shall now trace, that every action admits of being outdone.  Our life is an apprenticeship to the truth that around every circle another can be drawn; that there is no end in nature, but every end is a beginning; that there is always another dawn risen on mid-noon, and under every deep a lower deep opens.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Circles”

As my eyes opened to the dim winter light of another morning, I felt the pull of the watercolor entering its third day.  It was time to rise and widen the circle.  After the painting got too wet to manage, I went to my reading chair and opened Emerson’s Essays.  “Circles” has been a favorite of mine since I was introduced to it in the summer of 1992.  In this meditation, Emerson describes in visual fashion the difficulty of continuing to expand one’s circle of creativity:

The life of man is a self-evolving circle, which, from a ring imperceptibly small, rushes on all sides outwards to new and larger circles, and that without end.  The extent to which this generation of circles, wheel without wheel, will go, depends on the force or truth of the individual soul.  For it is the inert effort of each thought, having formed itself into a circular wave of circumstance,–as for instance an empire, rules of an art, a local usage, a religious rite,–to heap itself on that ridge and to solidify and hem in the life.  but if the soul is quick and strong it bursts over that boundary on all sides and expands another orbit on the great deep, which also runs up into a high wave, with attempt again to stop and to bind.  But the heart refuses to be imprisoned; in its first and narrowest pulses it already tends outward with a vast force and to immense and innumerable expansions.

As I age, I am aware of the difficulty of breaking new ground, of exploring new pastures of creativity.  Every time we push out a creative idea or work of art, it rises and hardens as a berm, a dam, an enclosure, to keep us where we are.  It is hard to burst that retaining wall and push the boundary further out still.  I love exploring watercolor, I am astounded every time I learn something new from experimenting with a new painting.  And this particular piece on which I now work has been no exception.  As it continues to spread, to develop, I look at it in wonder, savoring every new experience.  But the time will come to sign it and move on to the next.  As long as I breathe, there will be a next.  And my fervent wish is that I continue to develop, evolve, improve, learn.  I hope never to reach a plateau where I find that I am merely whipping out Tripps for the Trade.  Hopefully, as long as I stay plugged into Emerson, I can avoid that trap.

Thanks for reading.  It’s time to get back to this painting, which by now is dry.

I paint in order to remember.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

Second Snowbound Day, Perfect for Studio Painting

December 7, 2013
Second Frozen Dawn

Second Frozen Dawn

Nothing goes by luck in composition.  It allows of no tricks.  The best you can write will be the best you are.  Every sentence is the result of a long probation.  The author’s character is read from title-page to end.  Of this he never corrects the proofs.  We read it as the essential character of a handwriting without regard to the flourishes.

Henry David Thoreau, Journal, February 28, 1841

I put in a fourteen-hour day yesterday, watercoloring in the studio, grateful for an inclement-weather-school-cancellation.  I awoke this Saturday morning around 5:40 a.m., stretched, and went to my garage to record this photo of the frozen tundra which is my neighborhood.  After showering, dressing and making breakfast, I decided on a quarter-mile walk to the neighborhood Walgreens rather than risk taking my vehicle out onto this hockey rink.  I’m not sure how clear this photo is, but my driveway incline is quite steep, and I didn’t want to sled my Jeep into the yard across the street.

Gas Station Watercolor in Progress

Gas Station Watercolor in Progress

Once I returned home from the walk, I picked up the brush and pushed this mid-sized gas station painting further toward completion.  I’m currently working on the flatbed truck, a little at a time, trying to get all the details and contour color changes right.  As I work, I’m really enjoying this 1950’s environment as it takes me back to childhood memories.

The Thoreau quote posted came up in my reading early this morning.  I found it timely.  Thanks to the Dallas Museum of Art esxhibition titled “Hopper Drawing: A Painter’s Process”, I am focusing more than ever before on the importance of drawing composition and revision before the actual painting.  This particular work went through several revisions before I settled on what I am working on now.  And as I work, I realize that composition is not accidental, it is hard focused work (for me anyway).  And the more I focus on the task, the more involved I become in the creation of the final art form.

I cannot express adequately the deep sense of joy and gratitude I feel for this space and time to think, to reflect, to compose, to paint, to blog.  I feel that time has slowed down considerably, and there is so much more Quality in the day now.

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.

Accepting the Gift of Inclement Weather

December 6, 2013
Beginning Work on a Gas Station

Beginning Work on a Gas Station

Writing, at its best, is a lonely life.  Organizations for writers palliate the writer’s loneliness but I doubt if they improve his writing.  He grows in public stature as he sheds his loneliness and often his work deteriorates.  For he does his work alone and if he is a good enough writer he must fae eternity, or the lack of it, each day.  For a true writer each book should be a new beginning where he tries again for something that is beyond attainment.

Ernest Hemingway, Nobel Prize acceptance speech

Today’s school closure was a genuine gift for me.  I am up to my neck with three Christmas commissions that I could not give sufficient attention to with my school schedule this semester.  The three-day weekend could not have come at a better time.  The Hemingway statement rings true to me.  Making art is a solitary exercise, as is writing.  I love the fellowship of other creative spirits, but they cannot help me when the task of painting beckons.  And the quiet of the studio throughout this day has been perfect.  I cannot drive anywhere, even if I wished it.  And tomorrow is Saturday–no schoolwork to prepare immediately.  It’s been a great day to get the tasks underway.  I’m posting part of what I’ve accomplished today.  I’ve done quite a bit more, but not sufficient yet for photography.  Three paintings are underway and I’m feeling the satisfaction of accomplishment.

Thanks for reading.  Gotta get back to it!

I paint in order to remember.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

Winter Dawn from the “Best Part” of the World

December 6, 2013
The Neighborhood from my Front Door

Winter Pre-Dawn from my Front Door

My neighbor says that his hill-farm is poor stuff and “only fit to hold the world together.”

Henry David Thoreau, Journal, February 13, 1841.

Last night, at 7:26, my school district canceled today’s classes due to inclement weather.  I wanted to celebrate, but was already beaten down by the week.  So, I retired to bed around 9:00, and awoke this morning at 5:24 without an alarm.  It didn’t take long to shower, dress, prepare a breakfast of eggs sunny-side up, bacon, orange juice and coffee, tidy up the kitchen, and sit down to the Journals of Thoreau.  When I read the above passage from his 1841 entry, I said “Wait a minute!”  I knew I had read that somewhere in Emerson (and I’ve always enjoyed the synergy between those two kindred spirits).  It took a little while, but I found this from Emerson’s “Experience,” published in 1844 in his Essays: Second Series–

Every ship is a romantic object, except that we sail in.  Embark, and the romance quits our vessel and hangs on every other sail in the horizon.  Our life looks trivial, and we shun to record it.  Men seem to have learned of the horizon the art of perpetual retreating and reference.  “Yonder uplands are rich pasturage, and my neighbor has fetile meadow, but my field,” says the querulous farmer, “only holds the world together.”

I laugh at the truth ringing forth from that text.  That tends to be our life experience.  But let me say without reservation that I am delighted this morning to envy no one else.  I love the corner of the world in which I was blessed to awaken this morning.  The sleep was refreshing.  The landscape outside my studio window fills me with rapture.  Time spent in quiet over the texts of Thoreau and Emerson have fed my imagination, fueled my fires, and now I am ready to resume my painting, so grateful for this surprise three-day weekend. What a gift!

Dawn Outside my Studio Window

Dawn Outside my Studio Window

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.

Inspiration for Sketching and Composition

December 4, 2013
Preparatory Studies for a New Watercolor

Preparatory Studies for a New Watercolor

Art lies behind the cloth of surface things, it is always deeper than appearance and must be delved for.  Within or about every living work of art, or thing of beauty, or fragment of life, there is some strange inner kernel which cannot be reached with explanations, clarifications, examinations, or definitions.  This kernel remains beneath, behind, beyond.  It is this dimensionless particle which lives, beathes, and means.  It is this living particle which makes art mystical, unknown, real, and experienceable.

The best way to talk about art is to work.  The best way to study art is to work.  The best way to think about art is to work.  art is to work hard and one day it may become art and you may discover the artist that you are.

Richard Pousette-Dart

After two extensive visits to the Dallas Museum of Art to view the new Hopper Drawings exhibit (http://www.dallasmuseumofart.org/View/FutureExhibitions/dma_507810), I am still vibrating with newfound energy and a renewed sense of joy about making art.  One primary element that’s been missing from my work over the years has been the discipline of sketching and compositon in preparation for my finished paintings.  Naturally when I watercolor en plein air I go directly to the painting with just enough pencil work to provide a scaffolding for the watercolor sketch.  But when I work on a serious studio painting, I usually go directly at it with a pencil to sketch in the structure of the painting.  I have not had the discipline or interest to do thumbnail sketches and compositional studies.  And I have always been bothered by this.

My colleagues at Arlington Martin High School, Dan Darr and Patrick Schneider, are excellent draftsmen, always sketching, always drawing seriously, filling up sketchbooks as fast as I fill up journals with my scribbled thoughts.  I have twins in my Advanced Placement Art History classes this year who are continually drawing in their Moleskine journals as well as taking notes.  Daily I see them bent over their work, and am inspired to follow suit.  A fellow artist/blogger, Corey Aber (http://coreyaber.wordpress.com/), is a master sketcher, and I am always moved at the sight of his prolific output.  I have been an admirer of Leonardo da Vinci throughout the years because he went back and forth between writing and drawing in his sketchbook journals.  History is replete with authors who filled journals and artists who filled sketchbooks, but how many Leonardos have there been?  For several decades, I have marveled about this, yet I keep my journal activity separate from my art activity, and as said earlier, have done very little sketching over the years.

Last night, I sat down to do some serious sketching, and continued during my breaks at school this afternoon.  I am making preparation for another mid-sized watercolor of a service station from the 1950’s and am excited about getting this one right.  Taking a page from Edward Hopper, I started with some thumbnail preliminaries (not posted) and then moved on to some larger tonal sketches, using a dark sepia Faber-Castell pencil.  I thoroughly enjoyed poring over the composition and making decisions of where to place objects, where to deepen the shadows, where to place mid-tones, etc.  I got lost in the study.  I feel that I am nearly ready to begin the painting.  And I am very enthused about this new direction and where it could take me next.

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.

Demonstration at the Trinity Arts Guild in Bedford, Texas

December 3, 2013

The demo watercolor in progress

The demo watercolor in progress

Art is only a means to life, to the life more abundant. . . . In becoming an end, it defeats itself.

Henry Miller

Today was a particularly trying day at school, and a long one at that.  But I felt generally buoyant, with memories of last night’s encounter with the Trinity Arts Guild.  I was delighted this afternoon to receive some photos taken by the host last evening, and gladly post them now.  I met an amazing group of artists, and really enjoyed the flow of energy back and forth as we talked for over two hours.

Thanks for reading, and thank you, Nancy Thielemann, for sending the photos.

I paint in order to remember.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.