Archive for February, 2014

A Saturday Afternoon with Edward Hopper

February 8, 2014
Sketching from the Hopper Collection

Sketching from the Hopper Collection

People say, “It is only a sketch.”  It takes the genius of a real artist to make a good sketch–to express the most important things in life–the fairness of a face–to represent air and light and to do it all with such a simple shorthand means.  One must have wit to make a sketch.  Pictures that have had months of labor expended on them may be more incomplete than a sketch.

Robert Henri, The Art Spirit

This past month, I have taken more advantage of my local art museum’s offerings than previously.  The Edward Hopper exhibit has offered excellent schooling for me, as I admit with regret that I have never been a disciplined sketcher.  This current exhibit focusses on the preliminary sketches that led up to the masterpieces of Hopper that I have admired for so many decades.  I have forced myself to go to the museum again and again, to sketch, and sketch some more, study the results, and return to sketch some more.  I’m hoping that it will alter my studio approaches in the future.

Today the museum offered a workshop–Sketching Like Hopper.  I reserved a spot and showed up gladly.  Here, I have posted a pair of my charcoal sketches of his work.  I have always liked Robert Mothwerwell’s observation, “Drawing is a way of organizing space.”  In this pair of sketches, I focussed on the geometric shapes that made up Hopper’s compositions, then tried to put in the darks, middle tones and light areas, saving the details for last.

I emerged from the museum to a fifty-degree day, a nice respite from the string of frozen days experienced lately.  The food trucks lined the park north of the museum, and the experience of a Reuben sandwich in the sunlight was a deliciouis one.

Thanks for reading.

Lunch Outside the Dallas Museum of Art

Lunch Outside the Dallas Museum of Art

Muses in the Sanctuary

February 4, 2014

Sketching from the Hopper ExhibitSketching from the Hopper Exhibit

More Sketching from the Hopper Exhibit

More Sketching from the Hopper Exhibit

We must reserve a little back shop, all our own, entirely free, wherein to establish our true liberty and principal retreat and solitude.


It is not irritating to be where one is.  It is only irritating to think one would lilke to be somewhere else.

John Cage

Becoming a member of the Dallas Museum of Art has had its perks.  Waiving the $16 admission to see the Hopper exhibit, along with the $10 parking garage fee has been splendid, seeing that I have probably made a dozen visits to see the collection over the past two months.  But recently, I received an email, offering exclusive invitations for members to come to the museum February 4 after closing time to enjoy the collection during “quiet hours.”  I could not pass on such an opportunity.  As soon as I finished all my classes today, I headed for Dallas, getting there in the late afternoon.  I closed out the museum, sketching once again from the Hopper collection.  The “quiet hours” would resume thirty minutes after closing time, so I crossed the street to the Trammel Crow Center and toured their Asian art exhibit, enjoying some bench time and journal time as well.

At 5:30, I was back at the art museum, and felt the healing balm of a quiet space with very few patrons moving about.  I divided my time between the Abstract Expressionist painters (I loved the Motherwell, Pollock, Rothko and Gottlieb works) and Hopper.  I have attached a few of the thumbnail sketches I pushed out this evening as I enjoyed the calm.  Thoreau had his Walden Pond, Descartes had his thinking stove, and this evening Tripp had his quiet space in the museum, the refuge of the muses.  “Art still has truth,” urged Matthew Arnold, “take refuge there.”

Setting Our Sails to Catch the Wind

February 3, 2014
3 x 4' Acrylic Painting in Martin High School Library

3 x 4′ Acrylic Painting in Martin High School Library

Thoughts let us into realities.  Neither miracle, nor magic, nor any religious tradition, not the immortality of the private soul, is incredible, after we have experienced an insight, a thought.  I think it comes to some men but once in their life, sometimes a religious impulse, sometimes an intellectual insight.  But what we want is consecutiveness.  ‘T is with us a flash of light, then a long darkness, then a flash again.  The separation of our days by sleep almost destroys identity.  Could we but turn these fugitive sparkles into an astronomy of Copernican worlds!

Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Inspiration”

For a couple of days now, I have had the luxury of lingering over good books, scribbling out a few journal ideas, and making some stabs at some sketches.  And today I even broke the surface on a watercolor that had hardened from neglect over the past couple of weeks.  It was nice to pick up the brush again, feeling it had been ripped out of my grasp by an unforgiving work routine replete with deadlines and demands.  Every time I swear “Never again,” it somehow happens again.  Believe me, I don’t ask for it.

I cannot say that I have accomplished inspiring results, or that I have felt the winds of inspiration.  But I believe those breezes will stir again.  I am old enough now not to despair as I had in earlier years, when spiritual barrenness seemed to set in.  Perhaps my antidote for such despair comes from experience, or even from reading the works of former creators who chafed when they felt that inspiration had fled them.  Emerson’s “Terminus” comes to mind, as also Whitman’s “As I Ebb’d with the Ocean of Life.”

Emerson encouraged the 1837 graduating class of Harvard with his commencement address, knowing they would go out into the world and face those times when inspiration cools.  He told them that they could always find their tonic in books:

Books are for the scholars’ idle times.  When he can read God directly, the hour is too precious to be wasted in other men’s transcripts of their readings.  But when the intervals of darkness come, as come they must,–we repair to the lamps which were kindled by their ray, to guide our steps to the East again, where the dawn is.

(“The American Scholar”)

During spells of creative barrenness, I have found solace in contemporary works, like a pair of books by Julia Cameron: Finding Water: The Art of Perseverence and The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity.  Recently, I have also found genuine warmth in The Collected Writings of Robert Motherwell and Mark Rothko’s The Artist’s Reality: Philosophies of Art.

For a number of years now, I have tried to keep my skills and aesthetic sensitivities sharp, always looking for ways to improve my craft.  From my youth I was aware of possessing a talent for visual art, but figured out years ago that talent is worthless without development and discipline.  Furthermore, if I am not producing art, who gives a hoot about whether or not I have talent?

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.

You make good work by (among other things) making lots of work that isn’t very good, and gradually weeding out the parts that aren’t good . . . 

David Bayles and Ted Orland, Art & Fear: On the Perils (and Rewards) of ARTMAKING

I read years ago in an issue of Newsweek an article about creative geniuses, asking where are the Einsteins and Picassos of today.  The article pointed out that geniuses created a large amount of good work and a large amount of bad work–they just created, period.  I have never forgotten that.

Currently,  I am inspired to create, indeed am salivating at every opportunity to create.  But I cannot say that my results have been inspiring.  No worries though.  I’ll get it back.  The winds will blow again.  Meanwhile, I’m just trying to keep my sails adjusted, so as to catch those winds once they blow my way again.  Incidentally, I like to post current photos of my work, when I think it is good.  Since recently the stuff is not looking so hot, I’m posting a golden oldie.  This is one of about a dozen or so 3 x 4′ acrylic on canvas pieces I created years ago to hang in the library of the high school where I teach.  The librarian of that day requested a series of “book cover” canvases, asking me to design each cover instead of copying one that was already published (and copyrighted).  Here is how I would have designed a cover for Fitzgerald’s Great Gatsby, had a publisher asked (and paid) 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.


A Quiet Weekend–Quality Time to Listen to the Sages

February 1, 2014
Relaxing and Sketching at the Dallas Museum of Art

Relaxing and Sketching at the Dallas Museum of Art

[James] Joyce served my purposes then and now.  If you have taken on the adventure of modernism as I have–and the history of it–there have to be a few prophets to help you when you get discouraged.  You go back to them for reinforcement.

Robert Motherwell, Collected Writings

His soul had arisen from the grave of boyhood, spurning her graveclothes.  Yes!  Yes!  Yes!  He would create proudly out of the freedom and power of his soul, as the great artificer whose name he bore, a living thing, new and soaring and beautiful, impalpable, imperishable.

James Joyce, Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

By the time Friday afternoon arrived, I was thoroughly beaten down and discouraged from a grinding, thankless week in school.  I drove straight to the Dallas Museum of Art, convinced it was time to repay myself for enduring what I endured.  As soon as I entered the sweetness of the Edward Hopper Drawing exhibit, I knew I had entered a sanctuary.  Finding a padded bench, I sat for a few minutes, exhaled, then drew out my sketchbook and began working on thumbnails of Hopper’s figures.  Figure drawing has always been my Achilles heel, and I was determined to stay away from the comforts of architectural rendering and just stick with the human figure, trying again and again and again, until I had filled a page.  Long before the page was filled, I knew I had been restored.  So, I went on and filled a second page, then later began a third.

Going next to the museum café, I ordered a Starbuck’s coffee and sat sipping it while enjoying the view of downtown Dallas through the enormous windows.  Once the coffee was drained and a few more notes scribbled into my journal, I wandered upstairs and drifted slowly through the dark galleries of Central and South American Art.  Before I knew it, the time had arrived for the museum to close.  I headed for a warm home, restored and satisfied.

Rising today after a good night’s sleep, I determined that I was just going to sit, read, scribble in my journal, and think.  It was Saturday, and for the first time in weeks, it seemed, there was nowhere I had to be.  Why not just make a day of it?  After several years, I finally completed my reading of The Collected Writings of Robert Motherwell.  This is not to say that I am a slow reader, or that I did not enjoy this artist’s mind.  On the contrary, I cannot read Motherwell quickly, because he makes me pause, again and again, ponder, take notes, cross-examine, and shake my head in wonder.  What a marvel of an artist, philosopher, writer and romantic!  I was truly saddened when I turned the last page, and seeing Appendix A, realize that I had completed the volume.  I did not just read from this book today–I also read several more chapters of Edward Hirsch’s The Demon and the Angel, Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Mary Ann Caws’s Robert Motherwell: With Pen and Brush, and Ralph Waldo Emerson’s essay “Circles.”  And of course, I continued to sketch.

The communion of this day was the sweetest I have known for awhile. I wholeheartedly agree with Motherwell when he testifies that an artist needs some prophets to offer encouragement now and then.  And my greatest encouragement as an artist comes from the “dead men”.  I chafe every time I hear someone scoff at those who draw inspiration from books instead of from live company.  Frankly, I do not find myself surrounded by the likes of Hopper, Wyeth, Motherwell, Emerson, Tillich, et al.  And those men (to me) are not dead, but encourage me daily in this enterprise.  Every time I find myself second-guessing my abilities or strategies, I return to the volumes and the museums and listen and view what these men have to teach me.  They are finer than any graduate school I have had the privilege of attending, and I shall forever remain grateful for the ways they have enriched my life and given me hope and encouragement.

As this Saturday night draws to a close, I am holding out hope that Sunday can offer more of the same.  I would cherish a full weekend, bathing in the aura of the arts.  This has been a true delight.

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.