Archive for June, 2015

Returning from a Hiatus

June 30, 2015
Poured Watercolor Attempt of the Mermaid's Winecup

Poured Watercolor Attempt of the Mermaid’s Winecup

I begin a painting with a series of mistakes.

Robert Motherwell

For I have known them all already, known them all:–

Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons,

I have measured out my life with coffee spoons

T. S. Eliot, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”

I am like a feather floating in the atmosphere; on every side is depth unfathomable.

Henry David Thoreau, Journal, February 21, 1842

With joy and serenity, I return to the blog after a prolonged absence, combining travel with injury. An unexpected opportunity sprung up to travel to Kerrville and see the marvelous show of Dinah Bowman before it came down. Dinah has provided a wonderful wind at my back to help me set sail more vigorously in the past years. She accepted work from me in her gallery in Portland, Texas (Bowman Design and Framing), thanks to the introduction provided by her framer Mike Catlin, a former student of mine. She has also sponsored two watercolor workshops for me to conduct in her area, and then was the prime mover to land me in this recent Artist in Residence work in the Texas Laguna Madre. Below are a couple of photos from her show that closed last weekend, along with the link to her website:  http://www.bowmandesignandframing.com/

Dinah Bowman's Show

Dinah Bowman’s Show

Before I left for Kerrville early Saturday morning, I managed to wrench my lower back (a perennial problem) and I knew I was in trouble before I began the five-hour drive. I loved every minute of my time with Dinah and Dick, but suffered miserably from back issues. Driving back home Sunday only made things worse, hence no blog yesterday either. Now, after plenty of medication, I am functioning somewhat and really glad to return to my own studio.

Masquing the Mermaid's Winecup

Masquing the Mermaid’s Winecup

While I was at the Laguna Madre, the media came and visited me on the fourth day, and I am still warmed by every memory of that visit. Capt. Jay Tarkington waded out into the lagoon and brought back a specimen he pulled up from the bottom, presenting it to me as a gift. They call it the Mermaid’s Winecup because of the delicate cup shapes of the algae. I have already attempted two watercolor sketches of it, but am trying now to work larger and in more detail. I drew this specimen carefully this morning, and then spent a great deal of time masquing it so I can lay in a deep, dark background to make the light-green winecups and neutal stalks stand out more clearly. My intention is to pour the background–something I haven’t done for years and am looking forward to exploring again. The project has taken a lot of time already. First I had to soak and stretch the paper on the canvas stretchers, let it dry, then draw meticulously with pencil the entire specimen, then masque it (and the masquing took just as much time as the actual drawing). Now I need to let it dry thoroughly before soaking the paper and pouring colors onto the background.

Poured WInsor & Newton Transparent Yellow and Salt

Poured WInsor & Newton Transparent Yellow and Salt

This is going to take the entire day. Already it is 1:14 p.m. and I began this in the mid-morning. The masquing has dried, so I’ve soaked the paper and poured from a bowl Transparent Yellow from my WInsor & Newton pigments. I salted the edges as soon as the wet turned into damp, and now I wait for the puddles to dry before I apply the second layer (and at this moment, I have no clue what color that will be). I don’t like to push it with a hair dryer, and natural drying takes forever, but I’m enjoying my reading of Robert Motherwell: The East Hampton Years, 1944-1952. I am also writing a great deal in my journal today, and yesterday, I began indexing my journals, using Excel. That project will take years to complete, if I ever complete it, because I have over 130 volumes, and I am about 1/3 the way through my first volume. But I’m a patient man.

Second Poured Layer: Winsor Violet

Second Poured Layer: Winsor Violet

As the hour stretches into the late afternoon, I finally find the paper dry enough to work on a second poured layer. Using a spritz bottle, I sprinkle water, and adding water to a small squirt of Winsor Violet (Winsor & Newton) in a shallow bowl, I add water and pour it in places around the bottom portion of the watercolor. The spritz bottle I used for some additional acceleration, and sprinkled more salt around the damp areas. Now I need to let this sit and dry some more. Meanwhile, Motherwell reading and journal writing is keeping me content.

Introducing Olive Green (Luma Liquid Watercolor)

Introducing Olive Green (Luma Liquid Watercolor)

My third poured color is Olive Green from the Luma Liquid Watercolor series. After a full day of drawing, masquing, pouring, drying, etc. I’m probably finished with this until tomorrow morning. I need to make sure the surface is bone dry before stripping off all the masquing, otherwise, damp colors will be smeared into the white protected areas. Tomorrow I hope to do a good job detailing the algae and host shell to which it is anchored. The colors and patterns I see emerging from this background alone are so fascinating to my eyes that I just want to crawl inside this composition and explore possibilities awhile.

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to remember.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.

For Whatever They’re Worth, My Watercolor Opinions

June 26, 2015

Talking to a fellow watercolorist today, the question was raised why I don’t share my opinions on this blog concerning my preferred brands of watercolor products. There are several reasons for this. First and foremost, that is not the reason I started this blog; I merely wanted to share my work and my ideas with anyone out there interested in reading, and have been surprised and gratified at the number of readers who have paid attention.

A second reason is that I don’t engage in debate about the superiority of name brands; I listen to anything another has to share, frequently try out other products and occasionally change my position. But the bottom line is that I don’t try to win arguments over who is right. Every artist chooses what works best for his/her methods.

Having said this, I do have strong opinions about the materials I use, and never hold back information when asked by an individual or addressing a workshop. So, here goes:

PAPER. I have always used D’Arches. Usually it is cold-pressed, but I have switched to hot-pressed a number of times in the last six months, because I enjoy working with precision on a smooth surface. My only caution about hot-pressed paper is that I love to stack layers of transparent wash, and with the slick surface, I occasionally obliterate the underlying washes when applying new ones. I will frequently use 300-lb. paper for the convenience, but I really prefer to use 90 lb. or 140 lb. I soak it in water, then stretch it over canvas stretchers, using a staple gun. When it  dries, it is as tight as a drum skin, and dries quickly when painting en plein air, since both sides are open to the air for quicker drying. When the painting is finished, I pry out the staples and re-use the stretchers. I detest the price of watercolor blocks, and hold my nose every time I purchase one, but sometimes do because of how portable they are. But frequently, before I’ve used half the paper, the edges start pulling away from the board underneath, and I have to wrap duct tape around the edges to secure the paper, which I resent, seeing how much I already paid for the product.

I have been burned a couple of times in the paper category. I know that Blues musicians say Keb ‘Mo can pick up a cheap WalMart accoustic guitar and make it sound like a Gibson, because he is that skilled of a guitarist. But I am not the Keb ‘Mo of watercolorists. I have tried Canson paper and Utrecht paper, and both times turned out crappy watercolors–they just don’t respond to the water and pigments the same way that D’Arches does, so I no longer chafe over the extra dollars I have to spend for superior paper.

PIGMENTS. I have always used Winsor & Newton. I don’t buy the Cotman version, because that is a cheaper schoolboy version, and I compare that to musicians buying a cheap Martin accoustic guitar made of composite wood, thinking that because “Martin” is inscribed on the headstock that they have a quality guitar. They don’t. I had to pay four times the amount for my Martin D-35, but the money was well-invested in that rich tone and the ease of working the fretboard. Now, maybe if I was Keb ‘Mo I could make a composite-wood Martin sound like my D-35, but I am not. I use Winsor & Newton artist pigments, and have always been happy with their richness and permanence.

COLOR PALETTE. I depend on primary colors. My palette consists of Winsor Red, Winsor Blue (in both Red and Green Shades) and Transparent Yellow. I mix black by combining Alizarin Crimson and Winsor Green. I also have Winsor Violet and Cerulean Blue for certain needs. That is my complete palette. I have over a dozen tubes of other pigments which I almost never open.

I have fistfuls of colored pencils and watercolor pencils that I occasionally reach for in particular needs. My favorite watercolor pencil is Albrecht Durer by Faber-Castell. I lean on the Dark Sepia, as well as Cool Grey VI and Warm Grey VI. For drawing, I use the #2 pencil a great deal (Andrew Wyeth did) but also the HB pencil in whatever brand is close at hand.

BRUSHES. I don’t use very many, but one is very expensive–the Winsor & Newton Series 7 Kolinsky Sable Pointed Round, size 10. I call this my fountain pen, and it retails for about as much as a Montblanc fountain pen. It holds a great deal of water, and the tip is razor sharp. I can draw dozens and dozens of grass blades or weeds without having to refresh my brush, it holds that much water and pigment. For foliage, I use an “ugly brush”, taking a flat chisel watercolor brush of high quality, so it doesn’t disintegrate, and, using an Xacto knife, cut it diagonally, then tear out chunks of the brush hairs, leaving a ragged, jagged edge. This is perfect for tree foliage and tree bark, as it leaves a very irregular pattern on the paper.

O.K., so there is my set of essential prejudices regarding watercolor materials. I welcome any shared information, but will not argue with anyone about whose ideas are better.

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.

Corpus Christi Caller-Times Just Published the Artist in Residence Experience

June 26, 2015

http://www.caller.com/entertainment/arts-and-culture/watercolorist-captures-coastal-bend-nature_71330938

I think that one’s art is just one’s effort to wed oneself to the universe, to unify oneself through union. Sometimes I have an imaginary picture in mind of the poet Mallarmé in his study late at night–changing, blotting, transferring, transforming each work and its relations with such care–and I think that the sustained energy for that travail must have come from the secret knowledge that each word was a link in the chain that he was forging to bind himself to the universe; and so with other poets, composers, and painters.

Robert Motherwell, “What Abstract Art means to Me,” February 5, 1951

If anything could have surpassed the surprise and joy I felt, waking this morning to this published article in the Corpus Christi Caller-Timesit was coming across these words from Robert Motherwell during my quiet reading. Granted, this should be the final published piece covering my Artist in Residence experience, I am still awash in the afterglow of those days, and enter my studio daily with renewed energy and faith.

I have never been able to put into words what I feel when I’m making art, and now Motherwell has published the words for me. Making art grounds me, connects me to this life as I try to express the wonder that envelops me daily. I am delighted to be on vacation now, but I am not exaggerating when I say that teaching public school the past twenty-six years has been a daily wonder, and has in no way hindered my exploration of life, but has enhanced it, enabled it. The creative juices are not suffocated by the institutional schedule, though I admit I spend too much time grousing about deadlines and mandatory meetings, paperwork, etc. Still, I have always found a way to do what matters to me–express what I feel about life and this fascinating web of mystery that surrounds us, and intrigues us all. And as an educator, nothing has stood between me and the ability to pass this joy on to the students who enter my circle every year.

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. 

Completed the Algae Study

June 23, 2015
Mermaid's Winecup

Mermaid’s Winecup

I wish I could write something profound tonight, but my brain is fried after my second day of A.V.I.D. training in Dallas. I rise before daylight to catch a train, and arrive home well after 6:00 in the evening. I don’t know how I found enough starch to stare into this watercolor and try to bring it to a close after only two evenings spent on it. I may have pushed too hard, but in another couple of days I’ll be free of meetings and travel, and should be able to relax and explore some new angles in the Laguna Madre studies 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.

Experiment Working, So Far

June 23, 2015

image

Unfortunately, I have to leave for an all-day conference, but I took the time this morning to peel gently the masquing from this small sketch. I’m pleased that the reds did not smear into the masqued areas. Tonight, I’ll see if I can render the delicate algae colors and highlights into the subject matter, then arrange some shells and sand into the composition.

Thanks for reading!

Acetabularia Crenulata (Mermaid’s Winecup)

June 22, 2015
Beginning of the Mermaid's Wine Cup

Beginning of the Mermaid’s Winecup

At 9:00 p.m., the hour is already late for me. I rose before dawn this morning to attend an all-day A.V.I.D. Summer Institute and will have to do the same tomorrow.  The eight-hour sessions require plenty of rest.

I came home this evening exhausted to the bone, as expected. But the conference was inspiring, and I did decide to begin another watercolor study of the Mermaid’s WInecup. I regret for my readers that I have not yet started on the actual algae painting, and will not be able to until tomorrow night. I masqued the algae carefully, then flooded the paper with several deep-toned washes and sprinkled with salt. I will not be able to remove the masquing until the entire area is bone dry, and that is not going to happen tonight. My fear is that even if I wait until tomorrow night, when I strip off the masquing, the Alizarin Crimson is going to drag into the masqued areas, leaving them pink rather than white. I would hope I could preserve the white so I could then paint carefully the delicate greens of the algae and the cream and ochre colors of the dried out stalks. I don’t know if that  will happen, but we’ll find out tomorrow evening. Watercolor is always a labratory experiment, and I believe that is one among many reasons that I felt such an affinity with the scientists when I explored and painted the environment of the Texas Laguna Madre.

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.

Clarity of Mind

June 21, 2015
My Thoughts are Still at the Laguna Madre

My Thoughts are Still at the Laguna Madre

Hilary Spurling, in her magnificent two-volume biography of Henri Matisse, pointed out that he traveled to exotic places for the same reason as Eugene Delacroix before him–to cleanse the eye. He also took his cues from Paul Gauguin in his visits to Tahiti. Spurling wrote that Matisse’s year in Tahiti led to “clarity of mind”. This is what I am hoping to experience, compliments of a week spent on the spoil island in the Texas Laguna Madre. The quiet, the space, the ability to paint daily unhindered, with no appointments–all of these added up to a terrific week of watercolor output, plenty of journaling and blogging, and my eye was never weary of what surrounded me.

Now that I have been back home for a week, I desire to compost this island experience and translate it into worthy writing and a collection of paintings. Currently, I am carrying with me the Hemingway wistfulness from his book A Moveable Feast–“Maybe away from Paris I could write about Paris as in Paris I could write about Michigan.” My mind is locked on the Laguna Madre, and daily in my journal, new ideas are pouring out, whose seeds were sown that week. The only aggravation I’m experiencing is my return to these demanding appointments that try to make me think of other things. I just finished 32 hours of A.P. training for Art History, which was a daily grind last week, and tomorrow I face a three-day (all-day) conference for A.V.I.D. training in Dallas. As I came home whupped every day last week from T.C.U., I anticipate coming home everyday this next week from Dallas, whupped. And throughout these days, voices will be hammering in my ears, urging me to think on a different objective than the one that owns my heart and will right now.

Realistically, nothing we achieve is performed under ideal circumstances. We give our best, working as best we can with what is given us. So, I guess I’ll just suck it up, and do what I can these next three days. BUT!!!!! Beginning Thursday, my calendar is completely clear for a few weeks. And I’ll certainly be ready to churn out some serious “island stuff” once I am free of all these appointments. There. I feel better already.

Thanks for reading (and listening to the whining).

I paint in order to remember.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

An Oliver Wendell Holmes Kind of Day

June 20, 2015
Still Life Set Up

Still Life Set Up

Resulting Watercolor

Resulting Watercolor

This is the ship of pearl, which, poets feign,
   Sails the unshadowed main,—
   The venturous bark that flings
On the sweet summer wind its purpled wings
In gulfs enchanted, where the Siren sings,
   And coral reefs lie bare,
Where the cold sea-maids rise to sun their streaming hair.
Its webs of living gauze no more unfurl;
   Wrecked is the ship of pearl!
   And every chambered cell,
Where its dim dreaming life was wont to dwell,
As the frail tenant shaped his growing shell,
   Before thee lies revealed,—
Its irised ceiling rent, its sunless crypt unsealed!
Year after year beheld the silent toil
   That spread his lustrous coil;
   Still, as the spiral grew,
He left the past year’s dwelling for the new,
Stole with soft step its shining archway through,
   Built up its idle door,
Stretched in his last-found home, and knew the old no more.
Thanks for the heavenly message brought by thee,
   Child of the wandering sea,
   Cast from her lap, forlorn!
From thy dead lips a clearer note is born
Than ever Triton blew from wreathèd horn!
   While on mine ear it rings,
Through the deep caves of thought I hear a voice that sings:—
Build thee more stately mansions, O my soul,
   As the swift seasons roll!
   Leave thy low-vaulted past!
Let each new temple, nobler than the last,
Shut thee from heaven with a dome more vast,
   Till thou at length art free,
Leaving thine outgrown shell by life’s unresting sea!
Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr., “The Chambered Nautilus”

What a nice, leisure Saturday. A day with no appointments, no deadlines. Yesterday evening, I set up a few shells and the “Mermaid’s Wine Cup” algae specimen given me by new friends from the Biology Dept. of Texas A&M University Corpus Christi. As I stared into that tangle of dried grasses topped by small green “cups”, I became engrossed in their design and tried to find a way to translate this onto paper. After working on the mermaid’s cups, I flowed some washes and salted the background, then retired for the night.

Today, looking at the collection of shells with fresh eyes, I found myself wanting to look very, very closely at their constructions and their nuances in colors. The longer I looked into them, the more engrossed I became, and thought about those tiny microcosmic worlds beneath the salt water to which we humans pay no attention in the midst of our agenda-driven lives. I thought of Oliver Wendell Holmes and pulled his poem from the shelf. Wow, “the outgrown shell.” What a powerful metaphor! I also love the charge: “Build thee more stately mansions, O my soul!” Immediately my mind went back to the thought in Ralph Waldo Emerson’s essay “Circles.” He says that our lives are a series of self-evolving circles, all the time pushing the horizon further and further back. Our task, he said, is to draw a larger circle.

I am filled with joy that the school term is behind me and a summer stretches before me now, inviting me to expand my circle, to read another book, think another thought, create another work of art. The truly eduated never graduate. The drive within us is to improve, to grow. Aristotle opened his Metaphysics with “Each person by nature desires to know.” Immanuel Kant challenged readers with his essay “What is Enlightenment” with “Sapere aude!” Dare to know! There are uncharted waters stretching out before us, and last week as I daily looked across those waters, I wanted to respond to the challenge. Now that I’ve returned to my domestic familiarity, I don’t want to become complacent, don’t want to stop. It feels good to explore, and it feels even better to feel that inspired challenge rising from the chambered nautilus.

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.

Still Wondering Over This One

Still Wondering Over This One

P.S. I’ve posted this just to remind readers that it is still there, still unfinished, and I’m still gazing at it every day, wondering what exactly to do next. I’m not going to touch it again until I have a better idea of what to do. It may be waiting only for my signature.

A Close Study of Laguna Madre Specimens

June 19, 2015

image

After a grueling week of mandatory appointments, I’m delighted to settle down Friday night and look  closely at some specimens the scientists gave me last week while on assignment.

During Media Day, Capt. Jay Tarkington waded out into the lagoon and pulled an algae specimen up from the bottom. One of his colleagues wrote the identification into my journal: acetabularia crenulata. They call it the “mermaid’s winecup”. I wanted to paint it while on location, but feared the high winds would blow it away. Now that I am home and indoors,  I can protect it better.

Revised Friday on the Laguna Madre

June 19, 2015

Note to reader: The following is the article I composed on my laptop last Friday as I was preparing to depart from the Texas Laguna Madre. There was no Internet access then, so I saved and edited it for now.

F R I D A Y

Departure Day

Waking at 3:45 a.m. was not my plan. Unable to return to sleep, lying in the darkness, listening to the winds whipping through the screened windows and knowing I would depart in a manner of hours, I finally rose and pulled up a chair to the long conference table. With no lights available, I fitted my LED flashlight between the eyepieces of the field glasses at my elbow, and adjusting it to a 45-degree angle, fashioned a perfect desk lamp. Adjusting the second flashlight in similar fashion to fan out over the rest of the table, I then spread my eighteen watercolors across the surface so I could see them all and write. After about an hour of musing and writing, I returned to bed around 5:00 and slept till around 6:00.

Eighteen Paintings

Eighteen Paintings

Sunrise of the Final Day

Sunrise of the Final Day

Morning of the Final Day

Morning of the Final Day

Today is departure day. The boat is expected to arrive around 11:00. Tugging the rope to the gas-powered generator, I fired up the coffee maker and made my two cups, drank them slowly while gazing across the western waters, then took out a sketch I had begun the evening before while looking off the back porch of the field station. My technique was attempting the Albrecht Dürer style as I had tried with painting #4, with alternating layers of green washes and masquepen applications. Stripping off the masquing applied the night before, I again found too many white weeds, and so tried to tweak them by flowing pale warm green washes over the strands.

Once it dried, I positioned my coffee cup on the workbench on the west side porch of the field station, and drew it in pencil, using the circle templates I keep on file. Coffee cups are still the worst still life object for me to render. I can never seem to get that perfect oval on the top, or capture the edge of the rim. Any part of the drawing that dents or flattens the contour of the top of the cup draws my eye to it immediately and I feel incensed.

This time I got the mechanical oval in place alright, but painting on a Fluid watercolor block, I was impatient letting it dry (blocks never dry quickly as stretched paper does) and continued to work on the layers of wash on the cup that ran into each other because of the moisture. I didn’t care. I know better, and plan to try this one again once I get home, letting it dry so I can control the details better.

The 18th and Final Painting

The 18th and Final Painting

The boat arrived on schedule (funny to use the word schedule, considering I’ve been on “island time” nearly a week—there was no such word in my thinking), and Bobby Duke, Chriss Shope and Beth Almaraz got out with a bundle of technical equipment. Efficiently they walked about the island using their instruments and recording scientific data for the records they keep on the island’s ecosystem. They also followed a list of procedures in shutting down the field center and removing the gas-powered generator as well as the propane tank. All windows were closed, locked, blinds closed, doors locked, and bagged trash taken to the boat. In the midst of this, all three were pleasantly conversant and in good spirits. I don’t like to parody science personnel with their seriousness and uncommunicative airs. Let me just say that this trio was a genuine pleasure to have in company on this of all mornings. I found that true with all science personnel I have met in connection with this Texas A&M University Corpus Christi project.

And now, let me talk about the mood of this morning. It wasn’t the downer that I thought could happen. My internal clock adjusted to a six-day cycle, and when departure time came, I was ready. Maybe it was because I had accomplished my objectives. I managed to create a large body of work that was up to my standards, and made a number of discoveries that I plan to follow up in the studio. I wrote a great deal, managed to get blogs and facebook information launched, read, thought a great deal, and fly fished. I slept long and well every night (except last night) and was never tired or irritable. There were no negatives. And I am not returning home to something unpleasant. Compared to past travel excursions, my Colorado fly fishing vacations always ended on a depressing note, because I was not ready to stop fishing, and always returned to the first day of a fall semester of mandatory inservice training. That was always a downer. Right now, I have the rest of the summer stretched out before me, and that is a positive.

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.