Archive for July, 2015

Watercoloring the Afternoon Away

July 23, 2015

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I have started another watercolor  sketch of the wildflowers I so enjoyed during my stay on the Laguna Madre last month. I’ve done plenty of salting and spritzing on this one. It only measures 9 x 10″ so it’s coming together pretty quickly.

July 23, 2015

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I am forcing myself to draw more, always believing that drawing skills are fundamental to improved artistry. Seashells are a real challenge for me, and I am determined to solve them, to reproduce their beautiful forms.

A Respite from Painting

July 23, 2015
Laguna Madre Painting

Laguna Madre Painting

Smaller Laguna Madre Painting

Smaller Laguna Madre Painting

In all studies we go not forward but rather backward with redoubled pauses. We always study antiques with silence and reflection. Even time has a depth, and below its surface the waves do not lapse and roar.

Henry David Thoreau, Journal, July 6, 1845

Now the best works of art serve comparatively but to dissipate the mind, for they themselves represent transitionary and paroxysmal, not free and absolute, thoughts.

Henry David Thoreau, Journal, July 14, 1845

This morning is a continuation of where I left off last night, staring at two recent paintings while writing in my own journal and reading the thoughts of the 28-year-old Henry David Thoreau from his journal, 170 years afterward, almost to the day. My amazement for the maturity of his young mind cannot be overstated. How tragic that his life ended at age forty-four. Living sixty-one years now, I am grateful still to have life and thoughts abiding within me, and still seek ways to express what’s inside me. These creative heroes from the past add a potent spark to my day-to-day life, and this morning I pause in gratitude that the young Thoreau left behind over four million words of publishable print when he passed. His ideas have enriched me so.

The first quote above is more primal than his famous Walden quote about time:

Time is but the stream I go a-fishing in. I drink at it; but while I drink I see the sandy bottom and detect how shallow it is. Its think current slides away, but eternity remains.

Having read and re-read Walden, I now find a stirring delight in reading these journal pages recorded while he resided in those woods, their primal utterance takes on a wilder side than the tamer, edited-for-publication sentences. Walter Harding once told us in a lecture that Thoreau revised Walden eight times before submitting it for publication.

The second posted quote, Thoreau’s statement about art, really holds my attention, and I’m not sure I’m interpreting it correctly. It is an isolated statement in his journal, separating two lengthy paragraphs of discussion on other matters. There is no context. From my personal background, I love reading it, because to me it contrasts visual and intellectual stimuli. Until I entered graduate school, I lacked the patience to study books slowly and methodically. Up until then, I was visual, requiring a quick pay-off, almost A.D.D. From graduate school until now, I have worked on both sides, the instant visual on the one hand, and the plodding page-after-page reading, note-taking, writing and revising, on the other. I love them both. And in this way, I agree with Thoreau, that the visual art hits quickly, whereas the reading requires time.

When I contrast the visual art with the literary or musical art, I like to look at it this way: reading, listening to music and watching a film all require time; you have to begin, go through the process, and get to the end. But art is instantaneous; you see all of it in the first glance. I like that. And then, having written that, art allows you to take a second look, a third, and so on. Art allows you to study, focus etc. But if you are not into that, then you can glance at it and move on. Hopefully though, it will stay with you, in your mind’s eye, and to it you will return again and again.

I hope this made sense. 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.

 

Taking Risks in Watercolor

July 22, 2015
Laguna Madre Painting

Laguna Madre Painting

The life that I have chosen gives me my full hours of enjoyment.
-Winslow Homer

Taking a page from Watercolors by Winslow Homer: The Color of Light, I am pushing the envelope, exploring possibilities in watercolor I never dreamt before. Homer tried out so many experiments and techniques throughout his lifetime that he became am able technician with his materials. I feel that I have become too settled in the ways I’ve been doing things in recent years. When I discovered that I was going to be Artist-in-Residence this summer, I decided I needed to venture into new frontiers of techniques, subject matter and compositional decisions. After all, I did not accept this assignment so I could keep whipping out paintings the way I had been doing. The purpose of the new assignment was to strike forth and find new ground. And so, I have to keep reminding myself to do exactly that. At my age, it takes courage to try something new, to gamble on a watercolor well under way. But I am getting bored with seeing the same results. All of us wish to keep growing, keep maturing.

With this painting, I am grinding my modified brushes into the surface of the stretched watercolor paper, scouring, and staining the colors into the paper. I’ve tried this in the clouds and am now trying it on the land. I have also decided to try out a pair of new colors in my palette, because I am once again exploring possibilities in nature’s green. I have added Winsor Green (Yellow Shade) and Permanent Sap Green to my Transparent Yellow washes, to see if I can get a different nuance when attempting to color broad expanses of grasses. I also tightened up my building a little more, working on the window frames. I’m still not quite satisfied with them. As for the clouds, I am a little shy about tinkering with them any further at this point. I may have done all I can with them. I’ll look at all this with fresh eyes tomorrow.

I have lost the natural light of the outdoors, so it appears that I’ll have to wait until tomorrow to work on the problem of separating the foreground sand from the grasses, and figure out how to texture up the sand patterns further.

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.

Thoreau Had His Walden

July 22, 2015
Back to Work on the Large Painting

Back to Work on the Large Painting

Within you there is a stillness and a sanctuary to which you can retreat at any time and be yourself.

Hermann Hesse

I have not made it a secret that I was a bored student throughout my public school days. It wasn’t until college that I woke up intellectually. As a day dreamer, I was drawn to a poster in one of my classrooms, and now cannot recall what grade in school it was–I believe it was high school. This poster featured a color photo of an attractive woman with the patterns of leaves shadowed all over the side of her face, obviously standing beneath a large tree. Her expression was pensive and this quote was on the poster. I wrote it in my school notebook so many times that I internalized it, believing throughout those young years (and ever since) that I was the one described on the poster. I didn’t even read Hermann Hesse until I was past thirty, but am delighted to learn that this quote originated with him.

In my adult years, I have appreciated every story of a creative individual who found sanctuary and explored independent thought: Thoreau at Walden, Emerson on his European odyssey, Descartes in a stove chamber in Ulm, Germany, Kant in his chair every morning, Hawthorne in an upstairs bedroom. I challenge my Philosophy students every semester: Where is your Walden Pond? Where is your Cartesian Stove? Anthony Storr has written that remarkable book Solitude, challenging his readers to take their quiet, alone time seriously.

This summer started well, with my invitation to reside on an island in the Gulf for about a week, followed by a summer vacation (my first one as a teacher in many, many years) with no summer school classes to teach. The days in my studio, my study, my writing corner, have been a healing balm, and I am most fortunate to have been handed this quality time and space for creative exploration. Today I have returned to a large painting of the island where I stayed in June. I’ve been working the clouds all afternoon, staining, soaking, scrubbing and brushing as many textures and neutral shadow colors as possible, trying to make them look like the cumulonimbus formations that took my breath away when I was at the Laguna Madre.

In the Journals of Henry David Thoreau, I have finally reached the days when he took up residence at Walden Pond. The following entry is from his third day, July 6, 1845:

I wish to meet the facts of life–the vital facts, which are the phenomena or actuality the gods meant to show us–face to face, and so I came down here. 

That matches well with my sentiments during that brief span I resided on the Laguna Madre. There was time for reflection, time to gaze at nature face-to-face, time to think over the things in life that really matter. And now, as I bend over this painting, I remember those sensations, that special space, that special time, and truly believe that the experience has brought genuine change and improvement to my life. If nothing else, it has reinforced my conviction that I need a Walden Pond in my life.

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 New Card Honoring Dad’s Service in the Korean Conflict

July 22, 2015
A New Drawing of my Dad

A New Drawing of my Dad

Friends are still sending greetings to my father, so I’m all-too-pleased to continue making new drawings and watercolors for greeting cards to honor him August 4. I just finished this pencil drawing today from a black-and-white photograph of him in the combat zone. He will be making the Freedom Honor Flight to Washington D.C. to see the memorial. He doesn’t know that when he returns, I’ll be at the airport, along with Mom, brother, sister, nieces and nephews with banners, balloons, and a mailbag of cards for him. I’m doing this because I learned that with communications being so inadequate in his war days, and his parents living on a remote farm without a phone or automobile, that no one knew when his train was arriving. Therefore, he arrived in Cape Girardeau, Missouri tired, and got off the train with no one to meet him, and had to find transporation back to the farm. He was a Bronze Star medal recipent, had been reported in his local newspaper as a war hero, and yet no one was there to greet him. It still brings tears to my eyes to think of that. He deserved better. This time we’re going to do him right. I’m grateful to everyone who has sent him a greeting (he was Sgt. Jerry Tripp) and I have been printing each greeting separately inside a custom greeting card (so far three editions–a Bronze Star, a portrait of him wearing his helmet, and now this  one.

Thank you for your time and interest in reading this.

Preliminary Sketches

July 21, 2015

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After spending most of the day working on Dad’s surprise greeting cards, I turned my attention back to the Laguna Madre project, trying to sketch out some ideas for my next painting of the field station where I resided. Between my father’s and that of the lagoon, I’m reminded that I need to devote more time to drawing. The seashells I attempted the other day were enjoyable. Perhaps I’ll get more comfortable with rendering land forms as well.

My Latest Greeting Card, Honoring Dad

July 21, 2015
Watercolor of Dad's Bronze Star

Watercolor of Dad’s Bronze Star

A heart-felt thanks to those of you who have honored my dad with your personal messages. I still have two weeks before meeting him at the airport with a mailbag to present him, filled with notes from my friends honoring him for his Korean War service. He will be returning from Washington D.C. on the Freedom Honor Flight after viewing the war monument.

I’ve just completed a 5 x 7″ watercolor of Dad’s bronze star medal awarded for valor during his tour. I have framed it and wrapped it as a gift to include in the mailbag. There are greeting cards also printed with this image on the front, the inside blank for messages still pending.

If you are still interested in writing my dad, then you could send whatever you wish printed inside the card to me. He was Staff Sgt. Jerry Tripp. I cannot thank you enough for this. The outpouring of support has already been deeply stirring.

Thank you so much,

David

Early Morning Gleanings

July 21, 2015
Drawing and Collage

Drawing and Collage

A book should be a vein of gold ore, as the sentence is a diamond found in the sand, or a pearl fished out of the sea.

Henry David Thoreau, Journal, March 26, 1842

Good morning! It is rare for me to wake before 6:00 on a summer morning, when there is no appointment. But it seemed, as I sat in my study before the dawn light broke, that my appointment was actually with Thoreau. His journals are magnificent, his skill in writing matched only by his depth of thought. Indeed, I am mining gold every time I turn to his pages to read. I had fancied that I would give the entire morning to reading, writing and reflection, but somehow this young mind has inspired me to get to work on a task that I laid down a week ago–to make greeting cards for my father who will be honored as a Korean War veteran in a couple of weeks. (See “Tribue for my Dad, a Korean War Veteran” eleven days ago.)  Many readers have sent greetings to him which I will print on the insides of custom cards I am making. And now, I am in the mood to resume the creation of cards. Incidentally, I have posted an image at the top of a collage I created many years ago when I was making more collages and turning them into greeting cards.

More later . . . thanks for spending this part of the morning with me.

I make art in order to remember.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

Meditations on “Genius”

July 19, 2015
Nearing the Finish of an Earlier Painting of the Laguna Madre

Nearing the Finish of an Earlier Painting of the Laguna Madre

What makes men of genius, or rather, what they make, is not new ideas, it is that idea—possessing them—that what has been said has still not been said enough. . . . Novelty is in the mind that creates, and not in nature, the thing painted. . . . That fever, you take it for the power to create, but it is, rather, a mere need to imitate. . . . Ah, no.  The fact is that they have not said the hundredth part of what there is to say; the fact is that with a single one of the things that they skim over, there is more material for original geniuses than there is . . . and that nature has put in safe keeping in the great imaginations to come more new things to say about her creations than she has created things.

Eugene Delacroix. Journal

Recently I listened on Youtube to the late Abstract Expressionist painter Robert Motherwell, fielding questions from an audience. He was asked about why he painted “Elegy to the Spanish Republic” over a hundred times. Was it a series. His response was No, not a series. His reason for the repeated paintings was that he felt that he never found what he was looking for as he explored that composition. He believed that was the same reason Paul Cezanne painted mont sainte victoire over fifty times. Delacroix, in his journal, pointed out that “genius” believes there is still much to be said in the subject under consideration.

The topic of genius is one that has intrigued me for a number of years.  I confess that in graduate school I dreamt of publishing an original idea (probably the dream of over 90% of dissertation authors).  Once I landed in the teaching arena, I continued to look for that original idea to publish, to put myself on the map so to speak.  As time went on, I came to this notion that creative genius is manifest in the act of configuring ideas in a way not done before.  As history continues to unroll, it becomes increasingly impossible to be “original.”  Once I began to think down this track, I tossed the vision of originality and instead found my joy in the act of creating, no longer fretting over whether or not my work would stand the test of time.

Back in 1993, I was enraptured by an article published in Newsweek, titled “The Puzzle of Genius,” written by Sharon Begley.  I saved the issue, and twenty-one years later, I still read it, and now quote from it:

The creative geniuses of art and science work obsessively. They do not lounge under apple trees waiting for fruit to fall or lightning to strike. “When inspiration does not come to me,” Freud once said, “I go halfway to meet it.” Bach wrote a cantata every week, even when he was sick or exhausted. Though most composers would kill to have written even one of his best pieces, some were little more than wallpaper music. Eliot’s numerous drafts of “The Waste Land” constitute what one scholar called “a jumble of good and bad passages [that he turned] into a poem.” In a study of 2,036 scientists throughout history, Simonton found that the most respected produced not only more great works, but also more “bad” ones. They produced. Period.

A few years back, I stopped using my full-time job as an excuse, and leapt from averaging fifteen-to-twenty watercolors per year to well over a hundred.  Sure, some of them are 5 x 7”, but some are 22 x 28”.  Some are quite bad, but others are quite alright.  I’m pleased that I’m cranking out creations, no longer fretting over every one of them being worthy of framing and hanging.  Funny—around the time I began feeling somewhat smug over cranking out great quantities of art work, I read about the day in 1975 when Andrew Wyeth was approached by Thomas Hoving to assemble a major exhibition for the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  Wyeth unlocked his cabinets and drew out more than fifteen hundred pre-studies for his tempera, dry-brush and watercolor masterpieces.  Fifteen hundred!

In my life today, I frequently encounter colleagues who describe themselves as “frustrated artists.”  Oftentimes, I discover that they haven’t created anything in years, using as an excuse their job, family, health—any number of obstacles that all humans encounter during this all-too-brief sojourn on earth.  David Bayles and Ted Orland collaborated on a book that has impacted me probably more than any other book from this recent decade: Art & Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking.  I was stung by this observation: “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.”  I loved the musings of Howell Raines, long prior to his becoming the Executive Editor of The New York Times.  He movingly testified that “we are not on this earth for long.  Part of what a midlife crisis is about is figuring out what gives you pleasure and doing more of that in the time you have left without asking for permission or a financial or emotional subsidy from anyone else.”

As I write this, I am aware of file cabinets jammed with my old sermon manuscripts, my graduate school term papers, my lectures from college and high school classrooms, public speeches given, and over 130 volumes of my journals dating back to 1987.  And I look across my library shelves jammed with volumes filled with highlighted, underscored and marginally-noted texts spanning over three decades.  The shelves are also crowded with VHS tapes and DVDs of documentary and Teaching Company lectures.  And they continue to whisper their invitations for me to explore new pastures, but I simply cannot get at them all, not just now, and probably never will.  Yet still I find time sufficient to think on these treasures, and tonight am delighted to have a little space to write what’s on my heart.  On this day, I also had the pleasure of picking up a painting that I had stopped working on a few weeks ago. Though I was at a crowded art festival, I still found some time to tinker with the painting, trying to learn a new angle in watercolor. I enjoyed the time painting, and I enjoyed the wonderful chats with patrons throughout the afternoon. It’s been a good day.

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to remember.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not quite alone.