Archive for January, 2014

Sketching around a Full Schedule

January 12, 2014
Sketching a Hopper Composition

Sketching a Hopper Composition

Architectural Thumbnail Sketches

Architectural Thumbnail Sketches

Descartes Collage

Descartes Collage

The third characteristic of a symbol is that it opens up levels of reality which otherwise are closed for us.  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

The hour is very late.  I’ve spent an entire Saturday in social contexts that provided no space for art, but now am enjoying a quiet sanctuary environment, looking over recent sketches and designs I have scribbled out while musing over the past week’s subjects covered.  I posted yesterday evening the afterglow of students discussing poetry in my classroom over the lunch hour.  I haven’t yet gotten around to talking about my past week’s classes in Philosophy and Art History.  In A. P. Art History, we’ve looked at Romanesque and Gothic architecture, discussing the symbols of that era, and about architectural aesthetics in general.  In Regular Art History, we are in High Renaissance, and devoted the entire week looking at the remarkable creations of Leonardo da Vinci.  In Philosophy, we’ve discussed theories of knowledge, focussing mostly on  Socrates and Plato, while preparing a foundation for Descartes.

Three personalities who have occupied my attention the most in recent days are Leonardo da Vinci, Edward Hopper and Robert Motherwell.  Da Vinci, to me, is the quintessential sketchbook/journal artist–the only artist I think of immediately who balanced writing with drawing.  For over a decade I have chafed at my own practices, knowing that I scribble in journals almost daily, and paint almost daily, but never on the same page.  My journals are 100% written and my sketchbooks are 100% drawn. I have recorded in earlier posts that I have a set of twins in my A. P. Art History classes who faithfully sketch and record observations in their Moleskine journals.  They say that the practice helps them concentrate on their subjects better, and that is what I have believed to be true for years, yet I cannot seem to stay with the practice.

So.  After spending time lingering over the Hopper/Drawing exhibit at the Dallas Museum of Art yesterday afternoon, I began sketching and writing in my own Moleskine, and began reworking some collage ideas on Rene Descartes.  I have a strong notion to begin a watercolor sketch of the historic Fort Worth Flatiron building from a different angle than the one depicted in the watercolor I sold recently.  My intention is to study the details better, and become better versed in the technical names for the architectural elements peculiar to this building.

I am going to add this to my growing list of New Year Resolutions: draw more, sketch more, and find a balance between writing and sketching in the same journal.

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.

Education Under the Radar

January 10, 2014
Watercolor of Fort Worth Flatiron Building Just Sold

Watercolor of Fort Worth Flatiron Building Just Sold

Introduction to Poetry

BY BILLY COLLINS

I ask them to take a poem
and hold it up to the light
like a color slide
or press an ear against its hive.
I say drop a mouse into a poem
and watch him probe his way out,
or walk inside the poem’s room
and feel the walls for a light switch.
I want them to waterski
across the surface of a poem
waving at the author’s name on the shore.
But all they want to do
is tie the poem to a chair with rope
and torture a confession out of it.
They begin beating it with a hose
to find out what it really means.
When lunchtime arrived, I had completed my first week of the spring semester at Arlington Martin High School.  One minute after the last student filed out of my English II class, the door swung open and another student entered who was not on today’s roster (we’re on a block schedule; she was in one of yesterday’s classes).  She was soon followed by another, then another.  Seven students casually clustered in the back of my classroom, and the first girl read the poem above.  Fifty-five minutes later, the bell rang, ending the lunch hour, and the students had not yet had time to peak.  They had moved from Collins to Keats to Shelley to Wordsworth to Frost to Eliot to Browning to Williams to Stevens and . . . no doubt I have left out some names.
This was not a scheduled meeting.  They were not my English II students, but students from regular and A. P. Art History classes and past Philosophy classes.  Some of them are not even my current students anymore.  And this spontaneous outpouring of poetry lay far outside the box of literary analysis.  I would call it a phenomenological exploration, as ideas from the poetry were meshed with philosophy, art history and personal experiences.  Before the hour ended, we were discussing multiple intelligences and theories gleaned from the books of Howard Gardner from the 1990’s.  We discussed Picasso, Hopper, Dali, Pollock, Warhol. There were no apparent limits to the imagination and curiosity of the students.
I really don’t know what to say this evening as I reflect on this encounter.  I knew such a group of thirsty students before–way back in 1990.  They would invite me into their homes, we would fill living rooms with bodies and discussions, and I would drive home afterward, overflowing with this indescribable feeling of educational bliss.  Throughout the ensuing decades, I have wondered countless times if such a student-driven movement would ever occur again as it had in 1990, and arrived at the assumption that it would not.  And now the surge has returned.  This current core of enthusiastic explorers has been intact since the beginning of the fall semester, and they have visited my classroom at lunch nearly every week, though they very seldom notify me in advance that they are coming.
This is the level of education that fulfills all my dreams.  These are the moments that fly under the radar.  The students don’t get class credit for coming into my room at lunchtime.  No grades are given.  There are no lesson plans.  I don’t lecture, though the students are constantly digging out journals and scribbling notes from what I say or what they are saying among themselves.  They come into class with their books, their journals, their smart phones, but above all, their ideas and contagious enthusiasm.  And moments like this will not be included in superintendents’ or principals’ end-of-the-year reports.  They will not be addressed in my summative meeting.  These encounters will not be recorded on spreadsheets or discussed under the heading of common assessments.  They cannot be measured.
It is my opinion that most of the politically-induced directives that comprise public education in this day have managed to suck all the joy and enthusiasm out of learning.  So it stirs my blood to watch these students put the joy right back in where it belongs.  And they are doing it on their own time, driven by their own spontaneous agendas.  I’m very, very privileged to catch this wave.
When school ended, and the last student left, I drove to the Dallas Museum of Art to view the Hopper/Drawing exhibit again that ends February 16.  I hope I can visit it several more times before it goes away.  I spent the closing hours of the museum seated in the cafe, drawing in my moleskine journal, overwhelmed again at the draftsmanship reflective of Hopper’s compositional and value sketches.  One of my New Year resolutions is to sketch more consistently and in a more explorative fashion.
Finally, I posted the above watercolor because I was notifiied yesterday that it has sold.  I’m thrilled that it has finally found a home, and have considered it one of my best works over the past few years.
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.

Back to School, and the Painting Continues

January 7, 2014

Nearing the Finish of this Hermann, Missouri Watercolor

Every spirit builds itself a house, and beyond its house a world, and beyond its world a heaven.  Know then that the world exists for you.  For you is the phenomenon perfect.  What we are, that only can we see.  All that Adam had, all that Caesar could, you have and can do.  Adam called his house, heaven and earth; Caesar called his house, Rome; you perhaps call yours, a cobbler’s trade; a hundred acres of ploughed land; or a scholar’s garret.  Yet line for line and point for point your dominion is as great as theirs, though without fine names.  Build therefore your own world.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nature

Today was the first “teaching” day of school (yesterday was a work day).  I have managed to keep painting on this small watercolor, and have started a second of the same composition (much larger), as well as a couple of experimental still life watercolor sketches.  I just have had problems stopping long enough between school assignments to get the blog up and running again.  This watercolor posted is nearly finished, and should be wrapped up once I put in a solid hour of uninterrupted attention to it.

As the new semester dawns, I am filled with this Emersonian sentiment of building my world from the inside out.  I have a number of ideas percolating about art, literature, philosophy, and am nearly ready to start posting them.  Tomorrow begins a brand new philosophy class.  Enrollment shot up from 16 to 30 between Christmas break and now.  I am anxious to meet them at 7:35 tomorrow morning.

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.

Creating My World in Watercolor

January 5, 2014
Detailing with Joy in my Heart

Detailing with Joy in my Heart

The problem of restoring to the world original and eternal beauty is solved by the redemption of the soul.  The ruin or the blank that we see when we look at nature, is in our own eye.  The axis of vision is not coincident with the axis of things, and so they appear not transparent but opaque.  The reason why the world lacks unity, and lies broken and in heaps, is because man is disunited with himself.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nature

I laid the watercolor aside for a couple of days, and relaxed.  I return to school tomorrow, so I knew I needed some downtime, and I got it.  This morning, I awoke feeling restive and knew immediately that I needed to return to my Source.  Settling into my favorite reading chair, I scribbled out several pages of journal musings, read some more from Isaacson’s biography on Benjamin Franklin, then turned to Emerson’s Nature.  Twice a year, I introduce my philosophy students to the first half-dozen pages of this publication.  But this morning, I intentionally turned to the final four pages.  The conclusion just hasn’t gotten enough attention from me.  The reading was timely, became an Oracle for me.  I know that my life is obsessed with the pursuit of Beauty, Quality.  And I was struck by Emerson’s notion that we need to redeem ourselves if we are to find redemption and beauty in Nature.  So, I knew it was time to get back to work (play) over the watercolor that’s been composting in my mind the past 48 hours though I haven’t touched it with a brush.

When I bend over and peer into the surface of a watercolor in progress, my world improves dramatically.  This morning, I focussed on details in this little town–a myriad of details probably not seen by passersby, but nevertheless there.  And the longer I looked, the more I enlarged the photo on my laptop screen, the more details I saw, and all of them delighted me.  So . . . I’ve spent a large part of the morning, chipping away at details that probably don’t change the overall appearance of the painting significantly, but nevertheless fill me with a sense of satisfaction.

We’ll see where this one takes me.  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.

Composting in Winter

January 2, 2014
Lingering over the Small Watercolor

Lingering over the Small Watercolor

“I’ve tried through drawing to dissect the anatomy of my inner and outer world.”

Jim Dine

What a delicious day.  I cannot say that I accomplished a great deal of external, measurable progress on this watercolor.  I have poked at it, for the most part, this entire day.  But if anyone could have watched me through the window, they would have mistaken me for Willem de Kooning.  It was said by those watching from across the street at night when he was in his New York studio that he would stand there for thirty minutes in front of his canvas, step forward and add a brush stroke or two, and then step away for another 30 minutes or so.  This seems to have been my kind of day.  I have been drawing much more than painting today, constantly tweaking, erasing, correcting things as I go along.  As a watercolorist I know that I am always drawing far more than I am painting.  And that is O.K.

Actually, my mind has been overrun with ideas, all of them inspiring, and all of them making me appear to be A. D. D. (and perhaps I am).  But it has been an excellent day.  I don’t know how many books I have opened, how many pages I have written in the journal, or how many files I have added as well as edited while working at the computer.  But all day long I have been soaking ideas from art, literature, philosophy, theology, and I still haven’t stopped.  Perhaps I was taking Emerson seriously this morning when he spoke of the alembic nature of the creative spirit.

How wonderful it is, in these later years, to feel energy emerging from inumerable disparate ideas internalized from so many courses and so many books and so many lectures throughout the decades.  No longer cramming for exams or obsessing over writing original lesson plans, but engaging in the act of painting, listening to artists interviewed on DVD and experiencing all these endless configurations of thought.  How do I begin to explain that kind of education to an adolescent?  I was just as disinterested and unmotivated as they, when I sat in those public school desks long ago.  Maybe it’s because I’m no longer being tested, graded, evaluated.  Now I can pursue ideas for the pure delight of the discovery, and enjoy my education the way it should have been enjoyed from the beginning.  How is it that institutions find ways to suck out all the joy of education with their endless data?  Oops–I don’t need to go there.  I would rather stay here.

Thanks for reading.  It’s been a satisfying day.

I paint in order to remember.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

Nature Wears the Colors of our Spirit

January 2, 2014
Hermann, Missori in the Winter

Hermann, Missori in the Winter

Thus is Art a nature passed through the alembic of man.  Thus in art does Nature work through the will of a man filled with the beauty of her first works.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nature

I should paint my own places best.  Painting is but another word for feeling.

John Constable

Yesterday I complained and groused about a 61-degree (later a 65-degree) January 1st in Texas.  Today winter has returned and I am in aesthetic ecstasy.  It is 25 degrees outside at 8:35 in the morning, the cold winter light from the north is flooding my studio and I am watercoloring with a sense of renewed purpose.  Emerson got it right in his first book Nature when he said that nature wears the colors of our spirit, that it indeed reflects back to us what we carry inside.  When I awoke, I needed to draw the quilt a little tighter around me, realizing that the temperatures outside had plummeted, and by the time I arose and put on coffee, I was smiling.

I cannot express the level of satisfaction I am feeling as I poke around at this small watercolor.  The town is coming to life beneath my brush, and I can almost hear the sounds of the winds coming off the Missouri river adjacent to the neighborhood.  I feel once again that exhilaration as I stomped up and down those streets, snapping the shutter of my camera over and over, saying: “THIS would make a wonderful watercolor!”  And now I am doing it.  This New Year holiday and time away from the classroom came at the fulness of time.  My morning meditation over the essays of Emerson certainly kindled my fires and I am happy in this work.

Thanks for reading and Happy New Year.

I paint in order to remember.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

Pulled by the Charms of a Midwestern Winter Town

January 1, 2014
Enjoying the New Year sentiments as I work on a Watercolor

Happy to Work on a Watercolor on New Year’s Day

We realize that there is no one way of seeing a thing no matter how simple that thing may be.  Its planes, values, colors, all its characteristics are, as it were, shuffled before each new-comer arrives, and it is up to him to arrange them according to his understanding.

Robert Henri, The Art Spirit

I am back in Texas, but my heart is still in Hermann, Missouri.  Hemingway said he could not write about Michigan until he was in Paris, and could not write about Paris until he was back in the United States.  Well, here I am in Texas, painting from a photograph I took last week in Hermann, Missouri, a German town perched high on a bluff overlooking the Missouri River, a town that was blustering cold on the day I took this photo, yet the sun was knifing its way across every facade down this main street.  I don’t know how many photos I took of this historic town–all I know is that I wished I could stay there a few weeks and just sketch and paint every street corner.  But I had promises to keep.  And miles to go before I’d sleep (Robert Frost knew).  So I find myself back home, with only visual memories of Hermann, and attempts to capture some of it on paper.  And I suppose I feel some of that Hemingway Hangover (though I didn’t imbibe last night).  This cold wintry Midwestern town is still all over me.

I’ll be frank about this–I find zero environmental satisfacion in a 61-degree New Year’s Day, such as I work in today.  I am a Missourian, and yes, I was sick of winter weather when I moved to Texas in 1977, but after my first two boring winters in this state, I was begging for a sight of snow, for a wintry sky, for something, anything, to make me remember real winter seasons.   Today, as I chip away at this small watercolor, I have the NBC Winter Classic on TV.  105,000 fans are huddled in the stands at Michigan Stadium, snow is blowing everywhere, and two teams from the NHL Original Six are battling on the rink below.  It reminds me of my high school days in Missouri, playing hockey on frozen lakes, bonfires on the banks, hot chocolate beside the fire, layers of clothing–and now here I am in Texas, New Year’s Day, and it is 61 degrees and sunny outside.  I have already gone out into my backyard barefoot, in shorts and a T-shirt–hardly my thought of a genuine New Year’s Day.

This small 8 x 10″ watercolor sketch is really drawing me in.  I now wish I had started this on an 18 x 24″ or larger page.  I am absolutely loving the details of the photo and wanting to capture all I can, yet feel so hemmed in by the smallness of the composition.  I’m applying all I’ve learned about cold winter environments and trying to capture that sense of coldness that enveloped the town the morning I walked across it.  All I could think about as I walked along was how much the town looked like a Christmas card, and I was existing insde the Christmas card.  I just absolutely loved every sight.

This morning has been an excellent experience, as I have felt the embrace of 2014.  I was reading from the Isaacson biography on Benjamin Franklin about his retirement at the age of 42, because he saw no need to make more money than necessary to sustain life.  What he would seek from that moment forward was “leisure to read, study, make experiments, and converse at large with such ingenious and worthy men as are pleased to honor me with their friendship.” What a wonderful goal.  I am now adopting that as my mantra.

Thanks for reading.  What a wonderful start to the New Year (weather notwithstanding).

I paint in order to remember.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.