Archive for August, 2015

A Meaningful and Needed Gap Between Responsibilities

August 21, 2015

imageMoving into my final weekend of the summer, I was tortured as I attempted to prepare my classes for Monday while looking up from time to time at this small watercolor I began weeks ago and laid aside. And so this evening, I decided to move on a recent idea–creating a serpentine line of grasses, foliage and beach debris, connecting the dark green area on the lower left ultimately to the horizon line of the lagoon. The process was enjoyable, as I combined masquing with drybrush, pencil and blotting to create this meandering line of terrain. Though I did not get out any of his works, the drybrush watercolor sketches of Andrew Wyeth were my inspiration, as they have been since before I started the Artist-in-Residence last June. I suppose what I am saying is that I had the “essence” of Wyeth’s compositions in my visual memory as I worked on this piece this evening.

The painting time has been delicious, and I’m appreciative for that space. Now it is time to return to classroom preparations. Monday is approaching quickly.

Thanks for reading. I hope to have time, space and a quality idea to post on the blog tomorrow or sometime this weekend.

I paint in order to explore.

I journal when I am alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

Conflicted, as Usual

August 21, 2015
Trying to Get Day One Prepared

Thrashing my Way through Preparations for Monday

I force my mind to become self-absorbed and not let outside things distract it. There can be absolute bedlam without so long as there is no commotion within.

Seneca

I shun father and mother and wife and brother when my genius calls me.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Self-Reliance”

In Arlington, I am seated in the rear of my classroom, hammering out Advanced Placement Art History teaching points for Monday’s first day of school. Meanwhile in Corpus Christi, my new friends are assembling a one-man show of my watercolors from the Laguna Madre Artist-in-Residence experience last June. The show will be held in the university library the last three weeks in October. A larger show will follow next March in the Art Center of Corpus Christi. Focusing on my job here is demanding a Stoic resolve.

But that is what life contains-conflicts. Always. Currently, I am wrapping up a week of meetings, and my time would have been much better spent organizing the teaching points for my five subjects. But that point is never considered by those in charge of setting up these calendars. I suppose it is the state legislature that believes they are developing us as professionals by requiring long hours of sitting through meetings that penetrate our classroom efforts as effectively as a spider does water.

As I thrash out this new curriculum for Advanced Placement Art History, mandated by the College Board, I find my eye drifting to this watercolor in front of me that I began several weeks ago, and forgot to finish. The hiatus turned out to be good, I believe, because when I looked at it this morning while packing my books, I suddenly got a compositional idea I am anxious to apply–a serpentine line of grasses, foliage and coastal debris beginning with the wildflowers in the lower left foreground, and arriving eventually on the horizon line. Right now, that is all I really want to explore. But . . . I have a job to do, and I cannot put it off any longer.

Thanks for reading, and I hope this day holds great surprises for you.

I paint in order to learn.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

Focus

August 19, 2015
Pre-Dawn Drawing and Thinking

Pre-Dawn Drawing and Thinking

Of the mind’s many aptitudes, the most remarkable is its power of association, the ability to see new relationships among things. The brain is the most amazing associative device ever created, with its roughly 100 billion neurons connected in as many as a quadrillion different ways–more connections than there are stars in the known universe. Digital devices are, in one sense, a tremendous gift to the associative process because they link us to so many sources of information. The potential they hold out for creative insights and synthesis is breathtaking. The best human creativity, however, happens only when we have the time and mental space to take a new thought and follow it wherever it leads.

William Powers, Hamlet’s Blackberry: Building a Good Life in the Digital Age 

Waking at 4:40 this morning in the predawn darkness came as a surprise, as well as a reminder that I had retired to bed early last night, exhausted by the past 48 hours of work-related activity. Returning from my restful two-week St. Louis vacation, I plunged immediately into the headwaters of new semesters at Texas Wesleyan University and Martin High School. After two days of meetings and conferences on both campuses, I collapsed and slept very well last night. So, refreshed and unable to return to sleep, I stretched, smiled into the darkness, rose and headed for the shower.

Rapturous solitude has enveloped me the past two hours, and I am smiling inwardly, knowing I still have two hours before my first meeting today. Coffee, sketching, reading and journaling have managed to combust some energy and enthusiasm for this new day. I now sense the percolating coffee pot as a metaphor for what my brain is doing. And drawing a sea shell has been relaxing, helping me ponder over things that matter in my life.

This book was given to me as a surprise gift over the weekend (how timely, just as school is beginning!), and I cannot say enough about how it has seized my attention in the richest manner. Throughout my adulthood, I have believed that a creative life demands solitude and a controlled focus that filters out distractions from a myriad of sources demanding attention. From my graduate school days, I have been excruciatingly aware of the difficulty of thinking and maturing ideas when deadly schedules filled every hour of every waking day. I was told that it would never get any better, and that I must learn while still in school to get control of this. I was told the truth. At age 61, I can honestly testify that my life has never slowed down, that work schedules and appointments have always demanded attention, and I never found a way to add a 25th hour to the daily schedule.

Six years ago, I added something to my daily work schedule: I took up this blog about the same time that I purchased a smart phone. Since then, every day, this phone has jangled to get my attention that something is happening somewhere–email, text message, phone call, private message, facebook, blog response–and I responded as failthfully as possible until I found myself in a spot where I worried that if I skip a day posting on my blog, I would become irrelevant. The digital age had managed to take over my life. How serendipitous for this book to arrive now, at the fulness of time.

William Powers does not trash our new technology. Rather, he argues that it serves us best when we create space for the richness of a “connection” to sink in, to take root in our lives, rather than clicking on to the next response, the next, and the next, etc. He’s right. The richness of a creative life evolving is still right there for the taking, but it requires some time, some quiet, some space, some slow down. And the digital obsession can crowd out creative expression just as effectively as a crowded social schedule, or working too many hours at jobs. Thirty-five years ago, I learned that I would think better and perform better as a graduate student if I would set aside a quiet time and space to sort out my thoughts and write reflectively, instead of cramming in one or two more books for research and footnotes. It became imperative to stop and let the ideas compost so they could flower into something precious. Today, I seek ways to turn off the digital machine periodically so I can sort out the gifts presented to me and see if I can find a more creative way to express these ideas and images, and so enrich my world and ours.

Thanks for reading. I’m not sure where this new insight will take me, but I trust it.

I make art in order to focus.

I journal always when alone.

I blog, knowing I am never really alone (and I like that).

Leaf Watercolor Studies

August 11, 2015

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Our life is an apprenticeship to the truth, that around every circle another can be drawn; that there is no end in nature, but every end is a beginning; that there is always another dawn risen on mid-noon, and under every deep a lower deep opens.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Circles”

Despite a myriad of interruptions, I’ve had some delicious moments experimenting with watercolor. Gathering various leaves from my parents’ yard, I recalled the young Henri Matisse and his scrutiny of leaves, and tried to draw their contours with discernment. Once I established the shapes, I tried to render the veins properly and then work on the various colors. All of this I found challenging, along with decisions concerning the background colors and textures. I think I’ve done all I can on this one. Tomorrow I have some errands to run and don’t know for sure if art will happen at all. But I want to . . .

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to learn.
I journal when I feel alone.
I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

Opening a Vein

August 10, 2015

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The sincerity and marrow of the man reaches to his sentences. I know not any where the book that seems less written. It is the language of conversation transferred to a book. Cut these words, and they would bleed; they are vascular and alive.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Montaigne; or, The Skeptic”

Last night, severe thunderstorms mashed the sky (as Emily Dickinson) would have it, knocking out the electricity west of St. Louis for over an hour. I found it  cumbersome, reading Emerson by flashlight, but Bloom’s book about genius turned me on to the essays of Montaigne and Emerson, and the later I read, the more my imagination was stirred.

Annie Dillard once wrote that the task of writing wasn’t difficult; you just sit at your desk and open a vein. Her words, along with the others I’m currently reading, are seizing my attention with regards to blogging and journaling. I have always taken my writing seriously, and the ideas I post seriously. But I know that I could put more scrutiny into the actual mechanics of writing: anything worth expressing to the public is worth expressing as soberly as possible.

Last night’s storms knocked down leaves and scattered them all over my parents’ driveway. I received word from a dear friend in Athens, Texas that she is watercoloring leaves today, and experimenting with new techniques. That inspired me to try the same. Here is my beginning, as I ruminate in the shade over Emerson’s words.

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to learn.
I journal when I feel alone.
I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

Sketching Marine Subjects, Still

August 7, 2015

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Just completed another close-up pencil study of shells and the hard head catfish skull. It’s been a relatively quiet summer day, and I’ve been fortunate to get in some good reading, journaling and sketching.

Thanks for reading.

Vacation Sketching

August 7, 2015

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Proust, another superb ironist, wrote an extraordinary essay on reading as self-overhearing in the preface to his translation of John Ruskin’s Sesame and Lilies. Reading, Proust says, is not conversation with another. Its difference consists “for each of us in receiving the communication of another thought, but while we remain all alone, while continuing to enjoy the intellectual power we have in solitude, which conversation dissipates immediately.”

Harold Bloom, Genius

Waking at 6:30 this morning was not in my plan, but I’m glad I rose and walked into a quiet, sun-drenched living room. The family cat insisted on some bonding, and that was a good moment. Reading  Bloom was even better, and then Dad got up and asked if I would drive us to Spencer’s Grill for breakfast, and of course I was delighted to sit down to a breakfast of eggs, scrapple and sourdough toast. And then, my 86-year-old dad shocked me by asking if I would stop at a Barnes & Noble Store. I sat in their cafe, reading more Bloom and scribbling in my journal while he browsed and shopped. Getting back in the car, he inserted the CD he had purchased so he could play Billy Joel’s “My Life”!!!!!! He even cranked up the volume as we sailed down Highway 30. Of all the music Dad has ever played in my presence (Slim Whitman, Tennessee Ernie Ford, etc.), this is the first time I ever heard him respond to the words of a song–at 87 years of age. Parents will always amaze us.

The sketch above is anti-climactic I’m sure, but I was too buzzed to read when I got home. So, I figured I could always draw.

Thanks for reading. This is the most notable vacation I’ve had in awhile, and it’s barely underway.

Vacation Splendor

August 6, 2015

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We tend now to regard genius as the creative capacity, as opposed to talent. The Victorian historian Froude observed that genius “is a spring in which there is always more behind than flows from it.”
Harold Bloom, Genius: A Mosaic of One Hundred Exemplary Creative Minds
Finally, I embark on an extended vacation, without clock, without calendar.  My studio today is outdoors and temperatures remain in the low 80’s which to me is heavenly. A friend I’ve known since the ’90’s recommended this Harold Bloom book to me, and I have no idea how it sailed under my radar all these years, but I’m feeling such a renewal and deep-down satisfaction as I pore over his pages. I’m feeling deeply privileged, having this space and time to read with pleasure.
The watercolor I started recently of this hard head catfish skull may be completed  now – I’m not sure I should push it any further. The Laguna Madre paintings now exceed 30 in number and I feel that I’ve just gotten started on this study. The latest word is that a one-man show will be held in the library at Texas A&M University Corpus Christi the last three weeks of October. Details are still being finalized.
Thanks for reading.
I paint in order to discover.
I journal when I feel alone.
I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

Can You Go Home Again?

August 4, 2015

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When I visit again some haunt of my youth, I am glad to find that nature wears so well. The landscape is indeed something real, and solid, and sincere, and I have not put my foot through it yet.
Henry David Thoreau, A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers
After an 11 – hour drive through the night to the St. Louis area, followed by a few hours’ restorative napping, I awoke to a silent house, my extended family scattered about, running errands. Tonight, we’ll meet Dad at the airport, returning from his flight to Washington DC to see the war monuments. I have a bulging bag full of fan mail to greet him, thanks to all of you who sent greetings. He’ll be surprised to see me as well, thinking that I am teaching summer school.
Right now, I’m seated outside in 80 degree weather, missing the Texas climate as much as the measles. I have a quality book open in my lap, happy to be embraced by a landscape that  nurtured me through 18 idyllic summers.
Thanks for reading.

So, Where Really does the Work of Art Reside?

August 3, 2015
A little bit of detail work on the catfish skull

A little bit of detail work on the catfish skull

The true poem is not that which the public read. There is always a poem not printed on paper, coincident with the production of this, stereotyped in the poet’s life. It is what he has become through his work. Not how is the idea expressed in stone, or on canvas or paper, is the question, but how far it has obtained form and expression in the life of the artist.

Henry David Thoreau, A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers

How heartwarming to read words penned over a hundred years ago that match perfectly with your own sentiments! For years, I have loved art and literary history because of how the lives of the creators inspire me. Yes, I stil love the visual beauty of the plastic arts, and the intellectual and auditory pleasures derived from literary works, written as well as spoken. But the humanity is what always moves me–I am inspired every time I perceive an example of how someone felt that inward compulsion and expressed the powerful forces surging from within.

Today could have been written off as boring, since I had a myriad of tasks to complete, appointments to keep, etc. And it wasn’t until the hours began to wane at the end of the day that I even got to enter the studio and look over this catfish skull that I began last evening. But the image remained on my mind throughout this harried day. And though the natural light didin’t stay with me very long this evening, the time spent over the drafting table was still sublime. I’ve been playing Enya’s “Shepherd Moons” on the stereo and those songs transported me back to July 1992 when I was studying Emerson and Thoreau at Oregon State University. We teachers involved in that National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Seminar laughingly referred to the corner suite of our fifth-story dormitory “The Penthouse”, as we were given a key to that room, to use it as a study. The week before my presentation was due, I occupied that Penthouse during the day hours and enjoyed Enya as I studied, wrote and typed, looking out at Mary’s Peak in the distance, wanting to be there. The memories, so many years later, are still strong. And I found them a comfort as I listened to the music and focused on this skull. I felt that her lilting, soothing voice was affirming what I was trying to accomplish.

The face of the skull, on close observation, has a number of fascinating serrated lines etched into it, and some subtle colors in the stains. I’ve also tried to keep from coloring in the cavities as mere black holes, because I can see plenty of variety going on within those holes. There is a myriad of tiny bumps, texturing the surface, perfect tiny hemispheres rising from their sepia/green floor. I’ve attempted a masque pen for the bumps, and then scoured an ugly brush of neutrals over them, hoping that when I strip them off, they will appear as they should. Once the masquing was removed, I was happy with what emerged, and believe that I will stop now that the light has darkened in my window. Tomorrow is another day. The second photo shows what happened to the masqued area, once I scraped it clean.

I still haven’t studied up on my ichthyology. I am told that this skull belonged to a gaff topsail catfish, commonly called the hard head catfish, or, because of the structural cross on the underside, a crucifix fish. I’ll try to post more on that later.

Thank you for reading.

I paint in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.