Archive for August, 2020

In the Studio Eidolons with Thoughts about Color

August 17, 2020
Watercolor from the 1990’s

In every case have they mentioned the poetry that I succeeded in getting into the pictures and not the effect or action–I consider that a big victory! . . . It has thoroughly stirred up in me the desire to make that poem a life work . . .

N. C. Wyeth, letter dated June 7, 1907

[Andrew] Wyeth’s depictions of commonplace visual realities are always charged with high emotional content. Without tricks of technique, sentiment or obvious symbolism . . . he can make a prosperous farmhouse kitchen or a rolling pasture as bleak and haunting as a train whistle in the night . . .

Elaine de Kooning writing in Art News about Andrew Wyeth’s work

This morning’s reading in the studio involved N. C. and Andrew Wyeth books side-by-side. Andrew has been my hero since ninth grade; N. C. only in the past few years. Throughout my life of watercolor experiments, I have tried to focus on the drawing aspects of the medium as well as the neutral color schemes favored by Andrew. Only in the past decade have I dared to venture into more high-key color combinations favored by N. C.

I am still trying to figure out color. Whether I linger in the neutral palette or try for spontaneity in higher key colors, in either case I have far more questions than satisfactory answers. And I am certainly open to any ideas, insights or suggestions my readers wish to contribute.

Most recent example of Andrew Wyeth palette
Most recent example of higher-key palette

One major difference in my neutral palette of today (the trout fly) vs. one from the 1990’s (pictured at the very top of this post) is that my palette of the old days was loaded with colors including Yellow Ochre, Sepia, Burnt Umber, Raw Umber, Burnt Sienna, and Raw Sienna. Those colors disappeared from my work several years back. The trout fly above is primarily Winsor Violet and Transparent Yellow. When needed, I’ll stir in Winsor Red or Winsor Blue. For the blackest hue, I mix Winsor Green and Alizarin Crimson. I have found much more satisfaction with my restricted palette of recent years.

As soon as I feel safe to travel again, I intend to revisit canyons in west Texas and Colorado. When that day occurs, I have a fistful of new colors I am ready to try out, all of them Daniel Smith quinacridone colors (I’ve exclusively worked in Winsor & Newton since the 1980’s). My new quinacridone colors include Gold, Deep Gold, Sienna, Coral, Burnt Orange, Rose, Purple, and Burnt Scarlet. I’m excited to see what kind of combinations I can produce from these.

I am beginning work on my second trout fly, an 8 x 10″ of the Royal Wulff. The colors will be much brighter on this pattern than the one posted above. I’m looking forward to the challenge.

Thanks for reading.

I make art in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

The Perpetual Turn of the Crank

August 16, 2020
Sunday Morning Meditations

In precipio creavit Deus caelum et terram . . .

Genesis 1:1 Latin Vulgate

Genesis 1:1 Septuagint

Sunday mornings for me usually mean translating from the biblical texts. Before going into the studio to paint, I decided to do some work on the Genesis creation story, always inspiring to me. On this day I chose to work from the Latin Vulgate alongside the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible. The opening verses describe how God looked upon a chaotic mass and then spoke a world into order, by degrees. I always think of this when I approach a white rectangle of paper and make my first marks upon it, whether it be strokes from a pencil or a brush. As Robert Motherwell put it, each mark calls out for another, and drawing involves the organization of space. After about an hour of reading, I turned my attention to completing another commission that has been before me for several weeks now.

Just a few more adjustments to complete this work

I always seem to enjoy painting more after spending some time reading early in the morning. Paul Cezanne’s habit was to rise at 4:00 a.m. and read for two hours before painting. I choose not to set an alarm, so my rising from bed usually occurs somewhere between 7 and 8:00. Coffee is made first, then leisure time reading over coffee and recording ideas in the journal. In these simple pleasures I find the greatest joy and satisfaction, the beginnings to a potentially perfect day.

While painting this morning, a passage read recently from Zola’s Masterpiece stayed planted in my mind:

Paris? What were the others doing in Paris? Oh, nothing particularly new, really. Still, they were putting up a pretty good fight to see who would get to the top of the tree first. And, as might be expected, folks who stayed away from Paris were making a sad mistake; Paris was a good place to be in if you didn’t want to be forgotten altogether. But surely talent would out, wherever it was, and didn’t success depend to a great extent on strength of will? Oh, there was no doubt about it that the ideal was to live in the country and pile up masterpieces and then go back to Paris and swamp it with them!

What I am about to write is an example of the kind of stuff I scribble daily in my journals, what Harold Bloom would refer to as “overhearing myself.” Warning to the reader: you might be finished with this blog, and if so, thanks for reading!

Zola was referring to the cadre of artists we now call the French Impressionists as they clustered in Paris, the epicenter of the art world, and tried to make their mark. This reminds me of days long ago, through high school, college, and then later in my early stages of the “emerging artist.” There was that perpetual scramble for recognition–awards in competitions, interviews for newspapers and magazines, public exhibitions in art galleries that continually stirred us all up with ideas and aspirations of fame.

Some years ago, I happily settled down. I no longer chafe at the notion of art being a solitary enterprise. I have always enjoyed solitude, and now I find more satisfaction than ever before with just the mere act of creating, of turning the crank, rather than reaping some reward in the form of public recognition. I still enjoy the company of fellow artists and really miss them now with all this social distancing. But I’ll see them again, soon I hope. In the meantime, I plan to continue enjoying the quiet time in the studio and leisure reading of art history, literature, philosophy or whatever sparks my interest.

Thanks for reading.

I make art in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.

The completed work

Saturday Morning in the Studio Eidolons with N. C. Wyeth

August 15, 2020
Finished this Commission of Elk Hair Caddis Fly

Nothing can discourage me as I know too well the deficiencies in my work. How I hope the time will never come when I shall feel satisfied. To reach the goal of one’s ambitions must be tragic. And another thing I hope is that I will always be able to judge my own work with a sane and unprejudiced mind.

N. C. Wyeth, letter dated January 18, 1907

This morning in my Studio Eidolons I am warmed by reading the letters of N. C. Wyeth in his mid-thirties while he was carving out his identify as an illustrator trained under Howard Pyle. When I was that age, I was starting out as a public high school teacher, musing that I had failed to reach the professional mark I had targeted for myself. Now, more than thirty years later, it feels good no longer to feel those regrets but to find richness in this life as it is.

I hope to read N. C.’s letters in their entirety. So far I have covered 211 of the 844 pages published. I would not have stayed with them this far had they not been so electric. What a man of passion! I loved reading his adventures traveling out west to sketch on location the commissions he was fulfilling for magazines. He was a man of enormous appetite for the outdoors, and right now he makes me miss the canyons of west Texas. Nevertheless, in my suburban home, in a studio with windows looking out across a sun-kissed neighborhood, I can still enjoy the richness of literature as N. C. did his entire life. The inspiration he gleaned from the American classics he was hired to illustrate seemed to know no bounds.

The letters to his mother that I’ve been reading this morning address that tension he always knew between illustrating and fine art–he never felt he arrived as a painter, instead being paid to do hack work. I understand that; it just doesn’t eat me up the way it did him. I guess it’s because I no longer have these dreams of being famous; I just love the process of making art, even when I think it’s bad art. Most of my work this summer has been commissions, and I’ve found endless satisfaction making pieces to please others, and especially hearing back from them on how pleased they were with the results. All the while I’m making art for others, I feel that I am nevertheless making art. And giving it up to someone else’s possession stopped bothering me long, long ago. Currently I have such a deep inventory that I dream of a possible day when all of it goes away. I really don’t need to collect my own art. My house is full, my galleries are supplied, and still I have so much work in storage. But, I digress . . .

The main point I wish to make this morning is that I absolutely love the task of making art. In the act of drawing and painting, time elides and I experience genuine bliss. And now, when a work is complete, I no longer feel flat or spent; there is another piece waiting, another idea waiting to be formed, another dream to fulfill. I guess what I’m trying to say is that I am living the dream.

I spent a good part of the day this past week with Kelly Wilson, a friend I knew since junior high school. We went our separate ways at high school graduation, but thanks to social media, found one another again, and now have had two pleasurable in-person visits over the recent years. I hope there are many more. We shared our visions and how grateful we are still to be alive, retired, and gifted with quality time to do what pleases us.

I am posting a pair of pictures of the works that have had me occupied recently. One is finished and the other should be completed this weekend. Meanwhile, I wish all my readers well, pray that you remain safe and enjoy the life you’ve been given.

Still working on this one.

Thanks for reading.

I make art in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.

Studio Eidolons

August 13, 2020

I met a Seer,

Passing the hues and objects of the world,

The fields of art and learning, pleasure, sense,

To glean Eidólons.

Wat Whitman, “Eidólons

After weeks of consideration, I finally christened my studio with a name: Studio Eidolons. My inspiration came from the Whitman poem quoted in part above. The Greek word eidólons, from which we get our word “idols”, is far richer than the restrictive idea of “false gods” I carried in my opinions much of my life. I spent a large part of this morning researching the word in Homer’s epics along with other Greek literature, and discovered that it carries the notion of “likeness, image, phantom, shadow, and idea.” From the system of Epicurus, the word refers to the film given off by any object and conveying an impression to the eye. I plan to spend much more time working on the development of the word eidólon, but now I need to get back to my commissions. Meanwhile, I christen this space Studio Eidolons.

Researching Eidolons
Nearing completion of the trout fly

I should have this elk hair caddis dry fly completed today. The background will remain white per the wishes of the patron, so not much remains to do with it.

Working on a commission of a home

This house I’ve been painting has gone very slowly, there is so much detail to tend. I am confident that it will be finished by the weekend. With the completion of that, I should have only three more commissions to complete, so I’m beginning to see a glimmer of light at the end of this commission tunnel. It’s been a most rewarding journey and I really love working and dreaming in this new space.

Thanks for reading.

I make art in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.

Early Morning Slog

August 11, 2020
Early Morning Reading before Painting

Life belongs not to those who know, but those who discover.

Le Corbusier

My arguments with myself are long and wearisome. They involve theories that are not writable by me at least.

After all this vivid and intense introspection I have determined upon a couse that takes nerve above all, concentration and a long hard fight.

N. C. Wyeth, letter to his mother dated January 25, 1907

The early morning reading over coffee has been so satisfying that I hesitate to lay it aside. But I have commissions to complete and the patrons have been so patient. I owe them a respectable turnaround time. I have set a self-imposed deadline for the weekend, and believe I’ll get these done. Then, I have only three more to complete.

My love for N. C. Wyeth runs down a different track than my sentiments for his more famous son Andrew. The son has had the most profound influence on my subjects and overall technique, but I was never ingratiated by his disdainful remarks about those who spend too much time reading books. Thus, I find most of Andrew’s interviews very unsatisfying, while on the other hand, find myself continually bowled over by N. C.’s letters and papers left behind. N. C. was a lover of Thoreau and Emerson and showed an exquisite literary flourish in his own writings. His allusions to classical music are also refreshing. I grieve over the tragedy of N. C.’s end. He never reached the mark he wished to achieve as a painter, always being tagged as an illustrator. Though he achieved great wealth through his illustrating career, he grew increasingly morose in his final years because he could not make his mark as a free-lance artist, instead watched his son make his mark on history. Of course when I read I am always measuring my own life against the standards of the heroes I follow. I’m extremely happy that as a teacher I was able to earn an income that supported my habit, and now retired, have plenty of time to study and pursue art. Probably years ago I had dreams of being a well-known artist, but certainly found a good measure of sobriety in finding satisfaction merely with having an ability to make art and enjoy it so.

The two commissions that have my attention the rest of this week involve the one above and below. (Above): This is a home the patron wants to remember through an original painting. It is requiring a great measure of paintstaking detail, but I’m finding satisfaction in the process, slow as it may be. (Below): This is my first attempt at painting a trout fly of this size and scale. In past paintings, I have put a sprinkle of flies into still lifes, and the images of the flies have been close to actual size. Now I am called upon to present one in great detail. The process is requiring a number of disciplines I haven’t pursued in awhile, but so far, they all seem to be working out fine.

I suppose it is also time to return to painting fishing lures. I did a number of 5 x 7″ bass lures a few years back. They all sold rather quickly, and now one of them has been published on the cover of a new novel. I just received it in the mail yesterday and am posting a copy of it.

Thanks for reading.

I make art in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.

Fits and Starts

August 10, 2020
Working at my Study Desk

Throughout the entire summer all he did was work in fits and starts, sketching-in part of a picture, leaving it on the slightest pretext, without any attempt at perseverence. His feverish passion for work which once used to get him out of his bed at dawn to wrestle with his rebellious painting, seemed to have departed and given way to indifference and idleness.

Emile Zola, The Masterpiece

The timing of this morning’s leisure reading was extraordinary. Closing my book, I went to the table in my studio and immediately began scribbling out new stories for my book. I will soon introduce a third member to add to the Hank and Randy cycles; several short stories have been written about him already. I’m now looking for a way to bring him into their orbit. As I wrote, however, several other ideas and projects hatched in my mind and it was all I could do to sketch them out quickly in my journal. Then I received this text from my friend Dian Darr:

My mind is like my internet browser. I have 19 tabs open, 5 are frozen, and I have no idea where the music is coming from.

That perfectly described my morning, that along with the text of the artist in Zola’s Masterpiece. As I worked on my stories this morning, I had jazz playing from a Youtube channel on my laptop. And then, when I approached one of the commissions I’ve been working on, I turned on audiobooks to Comanche Empire and began listening to the narration.

Despite the spastic description of my morning activity, the day has been shaping up magnificently. I only pause from my commission work to post this quick note on the blog. I’ll close with pictures from my new studio as well as the two commissions I have in progress:

My entire Saturday was spent in Palestine at The Gallery at Redlands. It was a remarkable day and I so enjoyed renewing many friendships. But honestly, the day was so fast-paced, from 10 a.m. till 9 p.m. when I left to return home, that I never opened a book, never wrote in my journal, and of course didn’t even blog. But here are some pictures of the newly reconfigured gallery collection:

Thanks for reading.

I make art in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.

New Image Added to Turvey’s Corner 63050

August 7, 2020

This early August morning has been delicious. I entered the studio early for what I absurdly label “executive time.” While reading Zola’s The Masterpiece, I lingered over the lyrical depictions of the artist and lover’s excursion to Le Havre. Zola painted the northern French landscape with a luscious brush, describing sun, atmosphere and lovely rolling hills. And as I read, the sound of a lawn mower in our neighborhood transformed me back in Proustian fashion to my childhood August mornings, waking up and lying in bed lazily in High Ridge, Missouri. We had no air conditioning in the house so we slept with our bedroom windows open. And as I lay there, I would listen to the sounds of a distant lawnmower, children shouting as they played outside, the voice of a radio broadcaster on KXOK, the popular St. Louis AM station.

The visitation was a warm one, stimulating me to return to the manuscript of Turvey’s Corner 63050. Going through files of my art work from years gone by, I came across the watercolor posted at the top of this blog, and decided to insert it into one of the chapters I’ve recently revised.

The chapter now reads as follows:

Winter in Turvey’s Corner 63050

Early morning polar winds snapped through the narrow valley of Turvey’s Corner, a Missouri town still sleeping through the harsh winter. George Singleton emerged from the Terra Lounge bar with his snow shovel and leaned forward into the frigid air. Overnight winds had hardened the drifts across the walkway and he felt the sting in his cheeks as the wind cut across his face. As he bent to his task, a loud cacophonous whistle from a Frisco Railroad F9 diesel signaled its approach to the crossing, half a block from the tavern, and George felt beneath his boots the vibrations of the thundering freight cars as they rolled by. Assorted box cars and rusting reefer cars crawled through the town, the bells continuing to clang with lights alternately blinking at the crossing.

Turning his head, George looked back up the empty street to regather his thoughts. It was a sixteen-degree December morning in Turvey’s Corner, and his mind was numb to the possibilities of anything memorable happening on this particular day. The Korean Conflict was two years behind him, the 38th parallel over 7,000 miles away. But Randy, his first-born son, not yet a year old, slumbered in a dark bedroom on the second story above. These thoughts caused George to smile in the face of the frozen morning, forgetting the stiffness in his lower back.

George had just opened a new chapter in his life. Striving to put the madness of the war conflict behind him and determining not to return to the shores of the Mississippi River in southeast Missouri to resume the impoverished tenant farm life that had raised him, he set his compass toward St. Louis in search of a better life. For two years he had served his country overseas. Now returning, he wondered if his country, his government, really had anything to offer him. The Missouri motto he was forced to memorize in the country school salus populi supreme lex esto (let the welfare of the people be the supreme law) never penetrated to his center of belief. Convinced of the need to provide for his own welfare and that of his new family, he came to Turvey’s Corner, invested the army pay he had sent home to his folks for two years in this tavern property, and was determined to make it work.

Turvey’s Corner, population 582, was situated on Highway 30, twenty-three miles southwest of St. Louis. Historic Route 66 lay a few miles north of town but was beginning to deteriorate with the arrival of Interstate 44 that bypassed the once thriving midwestern towns. George was O.K. with that, however. In the army he had lived a life surrounded by hordes of men in close quarters. He was ready to carve out a livelihood in a town that time would likely forget.


It’s time to turn my attention to a pair of commissions I’ve been working on for awhile now. Tomorrow (Saturday) I’ll return to Palestine to work in The Gallery at Redlands for the day and evening.

Thanks for reading.

I make art in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.

Studio Solitude

August 6, 2020
Early Start in the Studio

Very well then, as you please. Withdraw from the world, wrap yourself in mystery, I won’t stop you.”

Emile Zola, The Masterpiece

In recent communications with my artist friends, I note the common thread of our talks–the coronavirus has given us the excuse to avoid public activity and to indulge in the delicious solitude of the studio, doing what we love best–exploring possibilities in art.

My plan is to show current paintings in progress as they take shape, but at this point they are still in the very early stages of construction. One of my commissions is to paint trout flies, 8 x 10″, something I’ve wanted to attempt for at least ten years but never got around to doing. And I must say, the experience has so withdrawn me into a monastic state, that I feel the taunt posted above, Zola needling Cezanne about his need for privacy.

Over the past two days, so many ideas have surged through me that I’m wanting to engage in multiple experiments. In this little project, I’ve been pulling out all the stops–spritzing the paper and adding salt and stale bread crumbs for texturing, using fine, pointed brushes, sharpened graphite and colored pencils, watercolor pencils, tech pens, masquig pens–the works! And I feel like a kid in the sandbox attempting his first intricate sand castle with multiple stories, corridors and labyrinth configurations. Right now, I’m trying to solve the puzzle of overlapping hackles–I’ve been opening my art books to study closely the way Albrecht Dürer and Andrew Wyeth handled long stem grasses in transparent watercolor. It’s wonderful having my art library in the same room as my studio, and various work stations to pursue scattered yet related projects. I am feeling confident that these experiments are going to pay off, and I’ll continue to post photos as this painting develops.

The major problem I encountered with the trout fly commission was finding photos of flies large enough to scrutinize the details. Images I Googled off the Internet and printed always pixilated horribly when I enlarged them. How surprised I was when I took my own smart phone (Samsung Galaxy S10+) and photographed a size 12 elk hair caddis from my own fly box, cleaned up the image on my laptop, enlarged it to 8 x 10″ and printed it on my own printer. The image is sharp and the color is good. So, on my drafting table, I have both the 8 x 10″ photo I made, and the actual tiny fly lying there for me to study.

I have decided to spend all day Saturday in The Gallery at Redlands in Palestine. I have missed working there and so look forward to seeing my friends again. If you’re in the area, I’d love to see you. I should be in the gallery by 10 and will stay through the dinner hour that evening before returning home.

Gotta get back to work! Thanks for reading.

I make art in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.

Inspiration vs. Work

August 5, 2020
Two Drafting Tables. Two Simultaneous Commissions

Inspiration is for amateurs; artists just go to work in the morning.

Chuck Close

I keep this Chuck Close quote on one of my drafting tables as a message to myself every morning when I set to the task of fulfilling commissions. I have several assigned to me now, and have spent today going back and forth between two of them–when one is drying I move to the other, etc. When I don’t have an assignment, I find myself looking for some kind of inspiring message from my morning reading. But when there is a job to do, I go straight to it, usually.

Having said that, I did nevertheless spend about an hour this morning reading from Zola, Thomas Jefferson, and my New Testament. I also spent considerable time scribbling out some new ideas for my next art-related endeavors. And I also decided to pick up the guitar and loosen up. I changed the strings on two of them yesterday and swore I would not neglect them as I have the past six months.

I will show pictures of the two commissions I’m working on, as soon as there is enough to photograph. Meanwhile, here are some other images I’d like to share:

I posted this one earlier today to show my Facebook friends, and it has gotten plenty of attention. Years ago, I acquired a garden gate and this 36″ Coca-Cola sign. I decided to put them together and see how much detail I could manage to capture on a large sheet of watercolor paper. We now have it framed and hanging in the bedroom. I read long ago that when a work is designated “Collection of the Artist” the underlying message is that the artist was never able to sell it. In that case, this belongs in the Collection of the Artist. After years of exposure and no sale, I’m delighted to know that Sandi loves it, so I’ve taken it off the market and given it a home.

Here is another section of my renovated studio. When I look up from the drafting table, I have plenty of objects on which to fix my attention and wander my imagination.

Thanks for reading.

I make art in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.

Barricaded in the Studio

August 4, 2020
Hemmed in all Day

How rapidly things change. Yesterday I was gloating about my new renovated studio space. Today I have been barricaded in that same space this entire day. Three rooms of our house are having new flooring installed and the furniture, books, guitars and assorted paraphernalia had to go somewhere. I’ve spent the entire day in this cramped studio, unable to do the artwork I had planned. But I did manage to change out the pickup batteries on two of my guitars and put on new strings. So I guess I have something positive to say about the day, in addition to the excitement building when I finally emerge from this room and get to see the rest of the house and how it looks.

When the studio is ready for work again, I should have renewed energy. I just received three more commissions today while barricaded. Though the coronavirus has shut us down in the marketplace, the online commerce has kicked it up several notches, and for that I am grateful. I have also been scheduled to teach two more watercolor classes in late August. As I posted before, I “have brush, will travel.”

I promised that I would send detailed photos of my studio. Here is the top of my roll top desk. I’m proud of my first editions. The cycladic head is made from the same grade of Parian marble used 5,000 years ago for these kinds of figurines found on the Islands of the Cyclades. This particular marble came from the Greek island of Paros. I purchased it when touring there in 2001. I purchased the replica black-figure amphora from Pompeii during the same tour. The portrait of Democritus I picked up in Athens.

I’ll send more pictures in the next blog. By then, I should have the studio back in shape where I can use it again.

Thanks for reading.

I make art in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.