Archive for December, 2015

Muses Stirring in the Pre-Dawn

December 29, 2015


Somewhere between sleeping and waking, ideas stormed like wild mustangs through the dark hollow canyons of my consciousness, pushing me out from beneath the warm covers on a 31 degree morning. Now, showered, dressed and with coffee, I sit at my desk and meet with the muse, while Arlington continues to sleep in the darkness around me.
Before reading, I decided to mat and sleeve a pair of my tree sketches from St. Louis. They should keep me in good company as I read and write.

Watercoloring on a Winter Night

December 28, 2015


door knob winter 2015

My fiftieth year had come and gone,

I sat, a solitary man, 

In a crowded London shop,

An open book and empty cup

On the marble table-top.

While on the shop and street I gazed

My body of a sudden blazed;

And twenty minutes more or less

it seemed, so great my happiness,

That I was blessed and could bless.

William Butler Yeats, “Vacillation”

Returning from my St. Louis Christmas vacation through torrential downpours while engulfed in darkening skies, all I can say is that Sunday was forgettable. Awaking this morning in the pre-dawn to find snow all over my Jeep was exhilarating and the first thing I did was build a fire in the fireplace–a fire that still burns tonight as I write this.  Aside from a few business errands, today was a truly quiet and rewarding day before the fire with excellent books to read and only the best thoughts to think.

Rediscovering the work of Harold Bloom has returned me to a number of writers I abandoned years ago, and I am now re-reading them with a renewed sense of vision and satisfaction.   I’m still recording ideas in my journal from a recent reading of “Hamlet.”  This morning I chose to open a volume of William Butler Yeats from my personal library.  I began with “Sailing to Byzantium”, “Byzantium” and “The Second Coming.”  But then I read “Vacillation” for the first time and felt moved in the best way.  I loved his description of a peak experience similar to what Emerson referred to as a “transparent eyeball” when everything is perfect for a short season.  Proust also writes warmly about the way childhood memories revisited lifted his spirits to a different zone.  I have known this throughout my life, and today enjoyed a series of such visitations.

My research took me to a 1917 essay Yeats wrote titled In Per Amica Silentia Lunae.  In this work, Yeats explores the creative process from a number of angles, and I could see portions of the essay making their way into the 1932 poem “Vacillation.”  These words came at a good time for me.

My time spent pondering lines from William Butler Yeats were comingled with long meditative moments gazing into this fire that has burned the entire day, filling my living space with lovely crackling sounds and the luxury of warmth penetrating my sweater.

Finally this evening, I resumed poking at a watercolor still life set up before I left for St. Louis.  With renewed interest, I redrew some of the door’s locking system and began laying in details on the rusted surface.  I’m beginning to rough up the door as well, combining pencil, watercolor wash, and smudging with my fingers and Q-tips to get different textures on the abused wood.  Bach music has played through most of the evening as well, lending a quality to the atmosphere that I cannot describe except wtih words like “sublime”.


This has been a beautiful day for reflection, thanks for reading.

I make art in order to remember.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.

Drawing Away the Christmas Day

December 25, 2015

imageI’m feeling somewhat embarrassed to sail so many things out on the blog today.  I used to force myself to blog daily.  Then after reading Hamlet’s Blackberry, I took the author’s message seriously and began spending longer stretches “offline”, and enjoyed my quiet time of reading and making art, determined that I would not throw something out on social media unless I really had something to say.  Today has been one of those sweet days spent reading, drawing, playing Solitaire, chatting with family, and just soaking up the spirit of Christmas and family.  And for some reason, I keep firing up the laptop to upload a photo of what I’m doing.

I was seized with the impulse to work on another section of this same tree I’ve been observing outside my sister’s patio door.  The more I study and try to copy the “architecture of trees”, the more convinced I am that it will pay dividends with future attempts at landscape painting.  And I am indeed enjoying what I see as I stare at the congeries of limbs and try to plot the movement and mass on my sketchbook page.

Thanks for reading.

Christmas Surprise

December 25, 2015

imageMy biggest Christmas surprise was this gift from my brother. I’ve never owned a Fender Strat, and now look forward to getting used to one.  I’ve played acoustic throughout my life, and have always been clumsy on the electric.  Now, I’m more interested than ever before to see what I can do with one.

Thanks, Rick!

Partial Tree Portrait

December 25, 2015

imageThe sketch hunter has delightful days of drifting about among people, in and out of the city going anywhere, everywhere, stopping as long as he likes–no need to reach any point, moving in any direction following the call of interests.

Robert Henri, The Art Spirit

While reading, I glanced up at the view out the window, found myself staring at a tree against the morning sky, and decided, “Well, why not?”  I never feel boredom when I stare into a network of tree branches, trying to discern their basic direction, and capturing it on a page with pencil.  The trees I draw from life are always much, much better than what I draw from out of my own imagination, because the trees are always doing much more than I perceive in my memory.  I don’t think I’ll ever tire of looking at them and trying to capture parts of them for the sake of future drawings and watercolors.

Thanks for looking . . .

Good Morning and Merry Christmas

December 25, 2015

image. . . the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light . . . 

Matthew 4:16

Traditionally, Christmas is celebrated by my family on Christmas Eve, with the festivities lasting literally into Christmas Day.  And so, coming back to my sister’s house well after midnight, full of food, images, memories and sounds, I finally collapsed into bed, thinking I would sleep till noon today, satisfied.

By 8:30, I  realized I was not sleeping any longer.  I’m glad I rose to the quiet Christmas Day, with a beautiful sun rising in the East.  Before retiring to bed around 1:00 a.m. I had read the Christmas Story from Luke’s Gospel.  Now, freshly rising from a quality sleep, I have chosen to spend the morning lingering over the Greek text of Matthew’s Christmas Story.  After all these years, I’m still very fulfilled, reading the New Testament from its original language and savoring words layered in meanings.

The passage that arrested me this morning (a portion quoted above) was lifted from Isaiah 9:2 and resonates with the warmth one knows when emerging from darkness and confusion to a world of light and understanding.  As I spent time pondering this and writing in my journal, I turned to Psalm 119:130 to read “The entrance of thy words giveth light .”  I still love the King James Version, and spend more time recently reading texts from Shakespeare and savoring the language from that era.  A better translation of the Psalms passage would be “The unfolding of your words gives light . . . ”  That text takes me back to my early college years, as I was drawn into the ministry.  Feeling the compulsion to study the scriptures, I spent hours at my desk working on the passages required for exposition on Sundays, and hoping for a day that I could learn Koine Greek.  When the day finally arrived in 1977, I felt that a change had come that would bear fruit the rest of my life.  So far, none of that has diminished.

Being far from my personal library, I regret that I did not pack my Latin Vulgate or Biblia Hebraica or Septuagint.  This would be a morning that I would have all the volumes open at my desk, grazing from the words and writing personal observations till I could hold no more.  At least I brought a couple of Luther biographies, so I suppose I could vicariously enjoy his pursuits during those early Erfurt days in the cloister.

Thanks for reading.  I’m not sure that I put out much of a “Christmas” greeting, but I’m loving the warm sentiments of this quiet morning, and all the feelings that accompany the holiday season.

I make art in order to remember.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.


Architecture of Trees

December 24, 2015



Life is a dream already over.

Jack Kerouac

Happy Christmas Eve, dear friends.  The drive to St. Louis was long and laborious, but I’m glad to be settled now with my parents, siblings and extended family about me.  My sister has been such a gracious host during my family visits.  Seated with coffee this morning, looking out her back patio door, I could not stop looking at the trees across the neighborhood.  Reaching for the sketchbook/journal, I again attempted to draw a single tree, studying its structure, its natural architecture, as closely as possible.  I always get lost in the process, but just love the act of drawing.

My reading throughout the morning has followed quite a labyrinthe–from Harold Bloom to Martin Luther to the Greek New Testament to Karl Barth, and finally to recording my own musings.  I cannot express the depth of gratitude I experience when I have the time and space and quiet about me to read, to reflect, to record what I feel is worth remembering, and finally, to write, in my own words, what is on my heart.  Harold Bloom often speaks of “overhearing” oneself.  When I experience that, I feel a genuine desire to adjust some things in my day-to-day life, to improve, to grow, to write a new chapter.

Christmas eve

Thanks for reading, and Happy Holidays to all of you.

I make art in order to learn.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.



One Final Commission Before Christmas

December 22, 2015

fly fishing watercolor photoshoppedTime 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 thin current slides away, but eternity remains.  I would drink deeper; fish in the sky, whose bottom is pebbly with stars.  I cannot count one.  I  know not the first letter of the alphabet.  I have always been regretting that I was not as wise as the day I was born.

Henry David Thoreau, Walden

The first days of the holiday have been busy, but I finished my final commission for Christmas and now am ready for some r ‘n r.

Thanks for reading.

Sunday Afternoon in the Studio

December 20, 2015

imageWe 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

With the sinus infection subsiding slowly, I found myself working today with more energy than the past several.  While the natural light was available (though the day remained somewhat dim and overcast) I worked on a watercolor next to my windows to the north, enjoying the dynamics of the pigments playing in the daylight.  I’m working hard on a fly fishing composition, and finding myself trying a number of techniques I haven’t tried before.  It’s coming slowly, but I’m happy with the results so far.  I should have it wrapped up by tomorrow or Tuesday.

Once the daylight ended, I cozied in front of the fireplace with Shakespeare, finishing “Hamlet” with a deep-seated sense of satisfaction.  Reading Harold Bloom since late summer has led me back to a number of sources I hadn’t consulted for years, though I never ceased to praise the authors (wasn’t it Twain who said a classic is a book that everyone praises but no one reads?), particularly Shakespeare and Cervantes.  I believe my reason for feeling such a deep satisfaction from reading Shakespeare stems from the reality that I am slow and clumsy in understanding his lines, but when I linger and unpack the meaning, I always acknowledge that it was worth the effort.  There is real power and beauty in his language, and the psychology of his characters leaves me breathless.  Hamlet in particular sobered me in tonight’s reading.


Two days into my holiday vacation finds me a much happier man (aside from this wretched sinus condition).

Thanks for reading.



Warming to the Christmas Holiday

December 19, 2015


I have heard what the talkers were talking, the talk of the beginning and the end.

But I do not talk of the beginning or end.

There was never any more inception than there is now,

Nor any more youth or age than there is now, 

And will never be any more perfection than there is now.

Nor any more heaven or hell than there is now.

Urge and urge and urge,

Always the procreant urge of the world.

Walt Whitman, “Song of Myself”

Today marks the first day of my two-week Christmas vacation, and I regret that I am observing it with my second nasty sinus infection this season.  Today marks the fourth day of the corruption.

At any rate, I scraped together sufficient energy to spend the day working on a watercolor commission and doing basic chores about the house.  Now that the sun has gone down and I’ve lost my natural light, I lay the watercolor aside and pursue my passion, reading and writing in the journal.

While painting today, I played a couple of DVDs about the Beat Generation, and felt a rush from their energy.  Much as those writers did in their day, I tire of the antiseptic environment that surrounds me daily in the public school sector.   I shared with one of my classes recently the quote from N. C. Wyeth about how education frequently levels the students: “We are pruned to stumps, one resembling the other, without character or grace.”  All I can hope for my students is that they understand their creative growth depends on many factors outside the classroom walls.  My own educational experience gave me the essential tools to expand my horizons, but the creative urge came from a different source.

library painting

Last week, I worked on a commission for the City of Kennedale, near where I live.  I chose not to post this watercolor image before the city delivered it to the recipient–a librarian who was retiring from service.  I failed to photograph the finished work, and now it is out of my hands!  The finish work included considerable darkening of the foreground grass, some fall trees to the right of the clock tower, and toning down the overall redness of the brick building.  I also added consierable mass to the tree limbs at the top of the composition, as well as more clusters of dead leaves.

winter tree

I have also made about ten more 5 x 7″ tree drawings that I’ve been pricing between $25-40 (matted with 8 x 10″ around the outside).  Drawing has proved relaxing, especially with the way things have gone the final three weeks of school leading up to the holidays.

winter tree & fence

This particular drawing was purchased by a dear friend this past week.  I’ve appreciated all the encouragement offered by friends recently, and really look forward to more opportunities over the holidays for making art.

Thanks for reading.