Archive for March, 2014

Early Morning Watch in the Studio

March 11, 2014
Rising Early to Paint

Rising Early to Paint

Every morning was a cheerful invitation to make my life of equal simplicity, and I may say innocence, with Nature herself.  I have been as sincere a worshipper of Aurora as the Greeks.

Henry David Thoreau, Walden

Daylight Saving Time still has my circadian rhythms out of whack.  I sat up reading until 2:00 a.m., and still awoke at 6:00 which is my normal time to rise on workday mornings.  Spring Break has been sweet up to this point, and I am now glad that I decided to rise at my normal time.  Already I’m on my second cup of coffee and have poured a ton of attention into this Bait Shop watercolor.  The morning light is flooding my studio and I am enjoying the quiet serenity that envelops me.

Painting the human figure still terrifies me.  I am out of my element.  Having spent hours visiting the Hopper exhibition that recently closed at the Dallas Museum of Art, I have resolved to study and sketch the human figure and incorporate these studies into my watercolors.  I believe my biggest fear is making these innocent people look like caricatures or cartoons, even though I think many of Edward Hopper’s masterpieces render the human figure in the likeness of a comic strip.  I need to stop worrying about this and just proceed.  I have four people in this reference photo taken last November, and most of my attention this morning has been on them.  For better or worse, I believe I’ll be finished with this piece by lunch time.  Then I hope to return to my large painting of Hermann, Missouri.

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.

Watercoloring Late into the Spring Night

March 10, 2014
Painting Late into the Night

Painting Late into the Night

As best we could, we have just pointed out and then explained color as living matter; like the body of a living being.  Now we must talk about its soul, that elusive fluid which by means of intelligence and the heart has created so much and stirred so much–about color that helps our imagination to soar, opening a new door onto mystery and the infinite. We cannot explain it, but perhaps indirectly, by using a comparison, we can suggest its language.

Paul Gauguin, “Miscellaneous Things,” from The Writings of a Savage

This night is getting late, but I am enjoying the mix of reading from Gauguin and exploring color in this small 8 x 10″ watercolor.  Funny how I feel that the older I get, the less I know about color, even though I seem to be learning things at a much faster pace than when I was younger.  In a few days, I’ll teach a watercolor workshop, and already wonder how much these new discoveries will disrupt my comfort zone as a teacher.  That is no doubt a silly anxiety.  We are all in pursuit of improvement, and just need the constant reminder that teachers aren’t expected to know it all.  The truly educated never graduate.  I am, for all practical purposes, still a student, and an enthusiastic one at that.

So far, this Spring Break has provided a delicious respite from the daily grind.  It is pure joy to soak up the quiet of the studio late at night, to enjoy reading, to enjoy chipping away at a watercolor.  Life is good.

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.

Spring Break and Time for Quality Reflection

March 10, 2014
Using Spring Break to Catch up on some Watercolor Endeavors

Using Spring Break to Catch up on some Watercolor Endeavors

My God, what childish things will be found in these pages, written either for personal entertainment or for the sake of classifying favorite if somewhat foolish ideas, rather than trusting a poor memory, and so many rays reaching to the vital center of my art.  But if a work of art were a work of chance, all these notes would be almost useless.

I don’t think it happens like that at all.  I believe that the line of thought which has guided my work, or part of it, is very mysteriously linked to a thousand others, either my own or those heard from other people.

Paul Gauguin, Noa Noa 

Yesterday I celebrated the beginning of my Spring Break from school, spending about six hours reading from Paul Gauguin’s journals as well as writing in my own.  My own journals date from 1985, and have grown to about 120 volumes.  I still go back and re-read them, finding plenty of junk, but also plenty of quality quotes and ideas that would have been forgotten (amazing at how much we fail to retain in our memories over the years).  My personal journals are my own thoughts co-mingled with what I read and experience in daily life.  Reading back over them reminds me of connections between writers, artists, musicians and philosophers that I have forged from my own perspective.  One thing hasn’t changed through the years–I still journal in an attempt to find myself and determine what I want to do in this life.  The journals have been my greatest source for teaching in the public schools and universities, and have also helped me come to grips with this artist quest that consumes me.

I am re-posting the large watercolor that I resumed during the last week of school, glad now for an opportunity to poke at it without a daily schedule to obey.  It would be wonderful to finish it this week, but I have my doubts about that.  I am enjoying the slowness of its development, intrigued at the possibilites that emerge with each successive stroke of the brush or pencil.  Truly, the process of creating a watercolor excites me far more than looking at the finished product.

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.

The Nightingale’s Song

March 10, 2014
Revisiting an earlier start on a Texas Coast Bait Shop

Revisiting an earlier start on a Texas Coast Bait Shop

A given arrangement of colors, lights, and shadows produces an impression.  This is what we might call the music of the painting.  Often you are seized by that magical harmony before you even know what the subject of a painting is, as when you enter a cathedral and are too far away from the painting to make it out clearly.

Paul Gauguin, Miscellaneous Things” from The Writings of a Savage

This afternoon, I returned to a watercolor abandoned a few months ago.  I abandoned it because it started out badly.  The reason I chose the composition was because I was enchanted with the abundance of blue tones I found on site when I took the photograph.  And I was confident that I could solve the overall blue composition.  But the painting went south in a hurry, and I tossed it aside in disgust.

Oftentimes, I’ll look at a discarded work repeatedly as months go by, and sometimes I’ll give the composition a second chance.  This is one of those times.  Taking my lead from Paul Gauguin, I am trying to bring out the “music” in the subject that so captured my fancy last November when I was on the coast.  I am more pleased with how the painting is shaping up today, and think I’ll stay with it some more.  Sometimes I find a way to rescue a painting that starts out badly.  Maybe this will happen again.  At any rate, I’m not attached to it, so we’ll see what happens.

Yesterday, while reading Gauguin’s journals (I’m nearly 200 pages into them now, and astounded at his erudition and vision), I came across his criticism of the French Impressionists for relying on the eye more than the intellect.  In the final analysis, he dismissed much of their work as merely “the song of the nightingale.”  This prompted me to revisit Hans Christian Andersen’s 1844 story “The Nightingale.”  As I read, I sighed at the thought that in my studio, my works of art are strewn about, and outside my window, the nightingale of Art sings a sublime music that lifts my soul to another level, much like in the Andersen fable.  For years in my study of art history, I have distinguished Art from works of art.  Our landscape is strewn with works of art, and all those creators had one thing in common: they were striving to create Art.  We fashion singing nightingales, but are always moved at the song of the real one just outside the 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.

Affecting the Quality of the Day

March 6, 2014
Working into the Night on this Winter Watercolor

Working into the Night on this Winter Watercolor

To affect the quality of the day, that is the highest of the arts.  Every man is tasked to make his life, even in its details, worthy of the contemplation of his most elevated and critical hour.

Henry David Thoreau, Walden

No man ever will unfold the capabilities of his own intellect who does not at least checker his life with solitude.

Antoine C. Quatremère de Quincey

There was something about today’s school day that felt it had been extended by several hours.  And I felt by day’s end that I had been treading water in an ocean of humanity.  I couldn’t drive home fast enough.  Entering my home, I turned on soft music, and sat quietly in the winter light streaming through my studio windows.  This 20 x 20″ watercolor lay waiting before me on the drafting table.  I started it on January 21st, but walked away from it after only one session.  It was only a few days ago that I returned to the composition, and attempted to revive it.  This afternoon, finally, I felt the momentum building.  I spent the entire afternoon and evening working on this, and it is nearing midnight as I pause now to write.  I certainly did not set any speed records this evening.  I worked very slowly, very deliberately, and, in Motherwell and DeKooning fashion, spent long moments in silence just gazing at it.  And I can say without reservation that I have felt a deep, deep satisfaction from this encounter.  This afternoon and evening presented me with a Gift, and I am grateful from my depths for that Gift.

An art history student today, during lunch, asked me why I thought so many famous artists throughout history were depressed.  I tried to answer honestly that I believe most people hold that stereotype for artists because of Vincent Van Gogh (we had just finished studying him in class).   However, for those artists who did suffer depression, I offered this possibility–nearly all artists work alone, and those who suffer depression do so because they feel lonely.  Paul Tillich, in his sermon “Loneliness and Solitude”, offered those words to describe our duality as a solitary species.  When we hurt from being alone, we call it loneliness.  When we draw strength and serenity from it, we call it solitude.  Tillich called the former the cross of humanity, the latter the glory.

When I’m lonely, I’m not much good as a creator, or a reader, or a writer in my journal.  But when solitude reigns, I am able to do my best work, or if the work is no good, I can still feel that I put in quality time.  And this afternoon and evening were definitely in the quality column of my ledger.  For that I am grateful.

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 Winter Stop in Arcadia

March 6, 2014
Whittling Away at the Hermann, Missouri watercolor

Whittling Away at the Hermann, Missouri watercolor

An awful lot of painting is just sitting and thinking.

Robert Motherwell

Recently in Advanced Placement Art History, we looked at the art of Nicolas Poussin, and this image of the young men looking intently at the epitaph on the monument has remained with me.  I see their focused scrutiny, and feel that same sentiment often when I lean over and peer deeply into the masterwork of some celebrated artist from the past.

Et in Arcadia Ego, by Nicolas Poussin

For the past couple of days, I have been listening to a new DVD celebrating Andrew Wyeth’s work: Self-Portrait: Snow Hill as I have worked in my studio.  This in turn has led me back into some of my books of his work, and I have taken another look into his brick texturing of vintage buildings, and his incredible build-up of dry brush of winter forests.  I am experimenting with some different techniques on the bricks and background forest in this winter painting I’ve begun of Hermann, Missouri.  My enthusiasm is building as I’m watching some of the results emerge that I hoped would take place.

As I write this and as I paint, a cold, grey northern winter light is slanting through my studio windows.  And I like it, deeply appreciate it.  There is a mystique to the winter light that I have been cognizant of since my early childhood, and I always wished I could capture a sense of it in my painting.  That is what I’m earnestly seeking now in this watercolor as I focus on the photographs I took last December when I tramped through Hermann, filled with delight at what I saw.

Funny thing–a cold, overcast day could just as easily lead to depression, I realize.  But today, it is filling me with a desire to paint, and I feel an exhilaration as I enter into this Arcadian zone.

Life is a train of moods like a string of beads, and as we pass through them they prove to be many-colored lenses which paint the world their own hue . . . 

Ralph Waldo Emerson

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.

The Pivot Point

March 5, 2014
Hermann, Missouri--watercolor in progress

Hermann, Missouri–watercolor in progress

You know, it’s not easy to retrace the development of one’s own sensibility.  One can readily see what one has become, which events have shaped the course of one’s life.  But what always stays out of reach, what remains more or less concealed, is precisely what might have catalyzed these events, the “something” that caused one’s mental life to take a particular turn.

André Breton

As I lingered over these words from an interview with surrealist André Breton, I began to think back over the experiences in life that caused my life to pivot.  That certainly is a broad question, but I know unmistakably what first turned me to watercolor.  As a dreamy ninth-grader, terrified of the enormous high school that had become my new educational home, sitting in an Art I class peopled with beefy, sideburned varsity football players, I was surprised one morning when my teacher laid in front of me an enormous coffeetable-sized volume titled Andrew Wyeth.  It was a 1968 Houghton-Mifflin publication.  As I opened its leaves, my eyes widened at the sight of those drybrush studies that combined meticulous scrutiny with spontaneous splattering and staining of the media.

Forty-eight years later, I am astonished to see what a turning point that would be.  Though the years ahead would bring a college art degree focusing on oil painting and art history, two seminary degrees focusing on biblical studies and theology, and teaching tenures straddling university and high school, I will always feel that I came back home when I picked up the watercolor brush, determined to recreate the Americana of my memories in a style reminiscent of the likes of Andrew Wyeth and Edward Hopper.

This afternoon, as I bent over my drafting table and watched this image pull focus from beneath the tip of my brush, I relived the same delight I knew from ninth grade when I first pored over Andrew Wyeth’s detailed studies.  It was a good moment then, and it is a great moment now.

The oldest Egyptian or Hindoo philosopher raised a corner of the veil from the statue of the divinity; and still the trembling robe remains raised, and I gaze upon as fresh a glory as he did, since it was I in him that was then so bold, and it is he in me that now reviews the vision.

Henry David Thoreau, Walden

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.

Painting Again, with Some Added Thoughts about Style and Technique

March 4, 2014
Back in the Watercolor Studio, and Loving It!

Back in the Watercolor Studio, and Loving It!

Expression . . . is the very soul of composition–it animates its characters and gradations, as the human soul doth the body and limbs–it engages the attention, and excites an interest which compensates for a multitude of defects–whilst the most admirable execution, without a just and lively expression, will be disregarded as laborious inanity . . . 

John Flaxman, “Lectures on Sculpture”

I felt a renewed sense of joy and vigor as I left school this afternoon and returned to my studio.  My reading early this morning was so serendipitous that I just had to post this quote.  I re-opened a volume I had put down several months ago (I hate it when I get distracted from excellent books!): From the Classicists to the Impressionists: Art and Architecture in the 19th Century, edited by Elizabeth Gilmore Holt.  This volume is replete with primary source material handed down by the artists–some are speech manuscripts, some are published pamphlets and yet others are lecture notes recorded and preserved by their students.  I am mining so much gold from the discussions.

I love this notion of expression (or style) animating one’s work the same way the soul animates the body.  Without it, we are left with only mechanical skills.  I appreciated so much reading the comments posted today from my blog responders.  Once I got back into the studio, I thought of that line from the film Bull Durham: “Just throw the ball!”  The pitcher was off his game, because he thought too much about it; he just needed to throw the ball.  So, today I am throwing the ball, and feeling so much relaxation as I draw, revise, paint, revise, re-draw and revise some more.  I am not thinking about style right now.  I am just painting, and enjoying the quiet immensely.  The afternoon winter light slanting through my studio windows is so inviting and so affirming.  I have really missed these moments.

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.

Personal Questions about Style and Technique

March 3, 2014
Recent 8 x 10" commission completed

Recent 8 x 10″ commission nearing completion

The man who is forever acquiring technique with the idea that sometime he may have something to express, will never have the technique of the thing he wishes to express. . . . The technique learned without a purpose is a formula which when used, knocks the life out of any ideas to which it is applied.

Robert Henri, The Art Spirit

A considerable stretch of days has elided since my last blog post.  Art history has held my focus for nearly a week now, as I’ve sought to strengthen my Advanced Placement classes during this stretch of Baroque, Rococo and Neoclassical units.  A Vincent Van Gogh biography has also kept me engaged, with attempts to rewrite stronger Post Impressionist units for my regular art history students.  All of this has been most enjoyable and restorative for me personally.

In addition to the classroom preparations, I have spent quality time in my watercolor studio.  I have posted above the last picture I took of a commission I finished last week (but forgot to photograph the completed work, which has already been delivered).  The larger 20 x 20″ composition of Hermann, Missouri I have also resumed, but so far have only some vague “blocking” to show for my efforts–large washes that don’t photograph too well at this point.

For several weeks now, I have been focussing on matters of style vs. technique.  Last week, while teaching a watercolor workshop to art educators, I realized that my objective was to help them load their “technique toolbox” so they would have a number of options to explore while experimenting with the watercolor media.  As it turned out by a show of hands, none of them considered themselves watercolorists, and they were present to give it their first serious stab.  I am always more than happy to demonstrate various techniques I have picked up over the years from my own reading, attending of workshops, and serendipitous moments.

Style is another thing.  I don’t want to say I am obsessing over this, because I don’t believe that I am.  But at this point in my life, after years of enjoying the watercolor experience, I still have no clear sense of identity, or style.  For awhile I worried that I was just illustrating, but thankfully I read enough about Edward Hopper and Andrew Wyeth to learn that critics accused them of being mere illustrators, and they themselves worried about that.  So, I no longer wonder or fret about illustrating and whether or not it labels my style.  But still, I would like to obtain a notion of what I actually am accomplishing in my watercolor output.  I want to be able to talk about it, to understand it, to be able to share some sense of vision.  For years, friends have told me that they recognize my “signature style” and that makes me laugh, because I myself cannot see it.

I love this statement from Friedrich:

The artist should not only paint what he sees before him, but also what he sees within him.  If he does not see anything within him, he should give up painting what he sees before him.

Caspar David Friedrich

I honestly cannot say that I “get” this, but I do know that I have a passion to make art, and that I want to explore watercolor further, that after all these years, I feel that I have gotten nowhere near the bottom of it, and that indeed I never will.  But I still want to dig deeper.  And as I dig, I hope to find out more about myself and what I am trying to accomplish in this enterprise.  There is no doubt something “within me” that pushes me to paint what is before me.  But that inner life, or style, is what I am still trying to understand and articulate.  In this past year, I have become much more interested in reading art history, biography and interviews with the great artists throughout history.  When I read their words, I feel that I am entering into a Great Conversation over the arts, and cannot wait to hear more.  And what makes the experience so lovely is the reality that I am not doing this to earn a grade, or another degree, or even to earn accolades as some sort of Super Teacher–I am doing this for my own enrichment and personal growth.  And I hold out hope that these great creative spirits will aid me in my own personal quest for a sense of style.

Thanks for reading.  Sorry if this meditation is wandering and incoherent.  I am still searching . . .

I paint in order to remember.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.