Archive for November, 2020

Ideas Surging during Class Preparations

November 17, 2020
Prepping for tomorrow’s watercolor class

The first principle announces that “spirit consonance” imbues a painting with “life’s movement.” This “spirit” is the Daoist qi, the breath that animates all creation, the energy that flows through all things. When a painting has qi, it will be alive with inner essence, not merely outward resemblance. Artists must cultivate their own spirit so that this universal energy flows through them and infuses their work.

Marilyn Stokstad, Art History

I seldom work on my art at night, but I have a watercolor class to teach tomorrow at Arlington’s Show Me the Monet gallery from 2-5:00. We’re going to render the historic stable that housed Royal Ford, a prize racehorse. The structure is on the campus of Arlington Baptist University, and Sandi and I strolled the place in the early evening a few weeks ago to take pictures of the subject.

photo of the Royal Ford stable, Arlington Baptist University
Sketchbook page

I opened a small sketchbook at the table tonight and worked out a quick drawing, using the Blackwing Matte pencil I’ve come to enjoy using while journaling (I feel a spiritual connection, knowing the pencil was used by Chuck Jones when he created Bugs Bunny, along with writers including Steinbeck and E. B. White as well as composers Aaron Copland and Leonard Bernstein).

As I sketched, the mere mechanics of drawing soon gave way to spiritual musings and I found my mind drifting back to ideas I had studied years ago involving the sixth-century Chinese thinker Xie-He and his Six Canons for Painting. The first principle involves “spirit consonance” and refers to the spirit that animates the work of art. This I find hard to describe in words. It reminds me of Dean Moriarty in Jack Kerouac’s On the Road when he tries to relay his experience of listening to a musician who had “it.”

“Now, man, that alto man last night had IT–he held it once he found it; I’ve never seen a guy who could hold so long.” I wanted to know what “IT” meant. “Ah well”–Dean laughed–“now you’re asking me impon-de-rables–ahem! Here’s a guy and everybody’s there, right? Up to him to put down what’s on everybody’s mind. He starts the first chorus, then lines up his ideas, people, yeah, yeah, but get it, and then he rises to his fate and has to blow equal to it. All of a sudden somewhere in the middle of the chorus he gets it–everybody looks up and knows; they listen; he picks it up and carries. Time stops. He’s filling empty space with the substance of our lives, confessions of his bellybottom strain, remembrance of ideas, rehashes of old blowing. He has to blow across bridges and come back and do it with such infinite feeling soul-exploratory for the tune of the moment that everybody knows it’s not the tune that counts but IT–” Dean could go no further; he was sweating telling about it.

All my life I have loved making art. And when I am not making it, I am thinking about it and always looking at the world for possibilities to draw or paint. But when I sit down to create a piece of art, I am always second guessing what exactly I am doing. I have been trained extensively in the mechanics, and I have practiced the mechanics. But I know that “art” is more than the mechanics. Much more.

I am nowhere near the musician that I am the artist. I love my Martin D-35 guitar, and love the way it sounds. I was first taught the guitar basics when I was in fifth grade. I know how to play the guitar. But I know that when I play, I am obsessed with the “correctness” of my playing. I understand the chords, the notes, the fingerpicking patterns. But I feel that I play with the sensitivity of a machine. I can listen to another play an instrument much inferior to my own Martin, and yet the sounds that emanate from the instrument can bring tears to my eyes. That musician has IT. I don’t.

Visual art I know much better. But when I am making art and watching what emerges from my pencil, or flows out from my brush, I feel that there are those times when the only thing occurring is the mechanics, the correctness of my techniques. But then there are those other moments . . . moments when the picture seems suddenly to take on a life of its own, seems to be painting itself, and I feel that I am a passive instrument in the hands of a superior spiritual force. In moments such as that, I draw or paint, feeling I could do no wrong. In moments such as that, I’m not aware if I am making art for a matter of minutes or engaged for hours. Time elides. And there is no sufficient way to describe that experience. It happens with me sometimes with the guitar, but very rarely. I feel that dynamic much more when drawing or painting.

As I re-read this, I feel somewhat embarrassed. I will probably have enough mental editors in place tomorrow that I won’t babble and scare my watercolor students. But I do hope that somehow I can instill in them that there is more to watercoloring than learning techniques. My wish for anyone who endeavors to make art is for him/her to know the ecstasy that comes from being seized with a dynamic that transcends technical methods.

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 First Morning

November 13, 2020
New Windows in Studio Eidolons

(I am attempting this entire entry with my smartphone)

I have kept my promise. This is the first morning in my studio with newly installed windows open to this quiet suburban world of mine. The dogs woke me at 6:01. Sun rose at 6:57. And at 7:30 I sat down to the drafting table with my watercolor SketchBook and attempted my first sketch of this beautiful morning.

Baby Paddington beneath the drafting table

Our three month old rat terrier seems to have forged a bond with me. For over a week he has nested beneath one of the drafting tables while I worked in the studio. I love his presence! He also seems to enjoy the ability of looking out windows that are no longer foggy.

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.

Quiet of the Morning

November 12, 2020

Between the idea

And the reality

Between the motion

And the act

Falls the Shadow.

T. S. Eliot, “The Hollow Men”

I am out of the studio all day today as window installers are working in there and three other rooms of our house. I have posted above the second bison painting as I left it late last night. Until I return to it, I’ll let the words of T. S. Eliot seep into my consciousness and ponder just exactly how I wish to finish up the watercolor.

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 Kitchen of the Mind

November 11, 2020

Instead of celebrity philosophers we have celebrity chefs, dozens of them. But they never talk about how delicious life itself could be if we followed a different recipe. That’s what McLuhan was all about, really, recognizing that the kitchen of the mind is stocked with all the best ingredients. Each of us could be in there every day, cooking up a masterpiece. Why aren’t we?

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

This morning’s reading did not disappoint. I just responded to an artist friend who last night posted a nice long response to my blog. We both know the thrill of multiple ingredients available through books, film and various other media. Entering the studio daily to create something new is not difficult when surrounded by “so great a cloud of witnesses” (Hebrews 12:1). I feel the affirmation of those creative minds when I read their testimonies and look for ways to express my own particular vision.

Today will be my last day painting on this bison composition, until Friday or Saturday. A work crew will show up bright and early in the morning to replace several windows in our home, including the ones in Studio Eidolons. These forty-year-old windows to the south and west are fogged beyond use, and it’s past time to install energy efficient ones that will provide a much better vista across this portion of our quiet neighborhood. I anticipate watercolor sketching the views outside my windows as soon as they are in place.

I have just about finished with the entire herd of bison in this new picture. I am currently dividing time between the horizon forest and detailing the timbers of the windmill. Soon I’ll return to the waters and grasses.

Today on Veterans Day we salute those who served our country through the armed forces. My father and brother both served, in the Army and Marine Corps respectively. When I visit home, Dad and I frequently have breakfast at Dave’s Diner in High Ridge, Missouri. I’m touched by all those moments when strangers approach our table and thank Dad for his service (he wears with pride his Korean War Veteran cap when he goes out). Dad is always modest, quiet, low-key. His response is always understated as he never really knows what to say. He never thought twice about his service. The story is amusing. He was working on a Mississippi River tugboat when the draft board caught up with him in New Orleans. He was to report immediately to Fort Sill, Oklahoma, only to learn that it was an artillery base that didn’t need him. He then was sent to Fort Bragg, North Carolina to be trained by the 82nd Airborne. Then off to Korea. His comrades said the war would probably be over before he got there. It wasn’t. He’s just glad that he made it through and was able to return here, marry and start a family.

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.

Working into the Quiet Night

November 10, 2020

. . . there was a way to avoid the pain and thrive in the global village. McLuhan said it was a matter of understanding that you were living in this new world and then adjusting to it.

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

This is so unlike me. I’m sixty-six years old, and staying up at night stopped being an option by the time I reached forty. I look with nostalgia upon those all-nighters I endured during university and graduate school years. Whether it was final exams or papers needing to be written, I lived that life, developed a thirst for coffee and late-night music. I even worked midnight shifts as a dispatcher, first for the TCU Police Dept, then later for Fort Worth PD.

So, what gives tonight? Well, Sandi is out of town and it is just me and the pups for a few days and nights here. The days have been spent painting in Studio Eidolons, but my habit has always been to shut down around dark, and then the family would gather around the television or do something together before retiring for the night. Last night found me retiring early and rising early. But late this afternoon, inspiration really bit down hard on me, and so I brewed a pot of Cowboy Coffee, decaf (I haven’t had night coffee in ages) and nestled into the studio to divide time between my second buffalo painting and reading at my desk.

Paddington is turning into quite the studio companion. All day he napped beneath my drafting table when he wasn’t chasing and tussling with Patches about the house and out into the backyard. Most of tonight he has spent in my lap, which makes reading, writing and typing ponderous.

When engaged in creative work, I often listen to something that helps my mind relax. While painting I have been listening to episodes of Mad Men. I have watched the entire series all the way through twice, and now on my third round I am already into Season 6. I am inspired by the “creative” branch of the Madison Avenue ad agency as the story unwinds. I didn’t know that Jon Hamm, the actor who played Don Draper, was a St. Louis native as am I. When the St. Louis Blues won the Stanley Cup, I was thrilled at all his appearances at rinkside, in the locker room, and at the Stanley Cup parade. I think he is larger than life in this series, and the words he utters in the script often stir me intensely.

While reading, I listen to music. Tonight I am playing cassettes I made in the winter of 1987 while dispatching on midnight shift at the TCU Police Department. One of the Dallas FM radio stations featured “Enerjazz at Night,” playing jazz from 8 till 2 a.m. It’s funny now listening to these cassettes with the DJ frequently breaking in to announce the time, temperature and local concerts on the horizon. It takes me back to those winter nights. Now that we find it getting dark shortly after 5, I’m settling into the winter mood.

The composition I am working on now measures 18 x 24″. The bison herd was photographed in the early evening just outside Zion National Park in southern Utah. With all the commissions I’ve worked on recently, I have had to lay aside the bison watercolors. I’m delighted now to have the time to engage them.

The opening quote above concerning Marshall McLuhan peaked my interest while reading tonight because it sounded the central theme of my doctoral dissertation. My topic was anchored in the Hebrew wisdom tradition, and I described it as a practical philosophy that steered the anxious mind through troublesome times by finding ways to adapt to the world forces shaping the times.

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.

Building the Altar

November 10, 2020
Morning Reading before entering Studio Eidolons

[Marshall McLuhan’s] overriding theme was that, even in a hyper-connected world, everyone has the ability to regulate his or her own experience.

William Powers, Hamlet’s Blackberry: A Practical Philosophy for Building a Good life in the Digital Age

My morning ritual involves building an altar in hopes and anticipation of a fire falling to consume the sacrifice. Decades ago, while in the ministry, I began my mornings in solitude, poring over the Bible, waiting for some kind of message, an oracle, a mantra, a direction. After leaving the ministry, the morning watch didn’t change; I just found myself reading everything I could lay my hands upon, instead of exclusively reading the Bible.

My morning watch habits continue today (Sandi and I chuckle, calling it “executive time”) with my lingering over coffee, books and journal for at least an hour before entering Studio Eidolons to pursue whatever art has my current attention. When I sit to read, I have much trouble these days deciding what to choose for the morning. Now that I have downsized my library, every volume on every shelf in every room has the utmost quality (to me), all of them crying out, inviting me to “take up and read” (something I recall from St. Augustine).

This morning I returned to Hamlet’s Blackberry, desiring to re-read the final chapter on Marshall McLuhan’s contribution to what he termed “the global village.” Long before we reached the digitally-connected world we now know, McLuhan saw it coming and had plenty to write in response. The chapter has been inspiring as I re-think all that has happened since last March–COVID, a restriction in social planning, an uptick in art commissions, and a thorough rehabbing of our house. While cloistered in our home, I have researched social media further and opened an Instagram account. Suddenly, a new portal is bringing many more people into my studio; I find it more difficult to bury myself in my art with all the distractions coming in through the digital avenues.

McLuhan’s charge that we retain that ability for introspection and cultivation of a life of the mind encourages me to continue the habits I have sustained over a lifetime–to set aside a backroom, a sanctuary, a cloister, and treat myself to quiet introspection during the morning hours.

This painting of the bison is nearly complete, so I am setting it aside for awhile so I can look on it with fresh eyes to determine what else, if anything, needs to be done before signing it. This morning I’ve decided to resume work on another bison piece, much larger, that I started before this one, but abandoned as I wished to put in a pair of bison that would be larger, more prominent. The larger painting has an enormous herd, but they are much smaller in the composition.

Baby Paddington is ready for me to join him

To make room for the crew who will install new windows in the studio, I am having to move everything away from the window wall. Baby Paddington has found the new location of his bed beneath one of the moved drafting tables. I think he is ready for me to join him, and I am certainly in the mood now to paint.

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.

Returning to Work on the Bison

November 8, 2020
Resuming One of my Bison Watercolors

Having put the Fort Worth Flatiron watercolor to bed, I’m glad to return to one of my bison compositions taken from a visit to Zion National Park back in September. Before painting, I engaged in my morning ritual of reading over coffee and then moved to Studio Eidolons to write in my journal for awhile, but found the move difficult.

Meet our new additon to the family, Paddington, a rat terrier we adopted when he was five days old, but couldn’t acquire till a few weeks ago, once he had all his shots. It’s been a joy having him in our household, though a few days ago he has become more “clingy.”

Hard to Journal with a Rat Terrier in your lap

I found writing difficult and didn’t have the heart to push him off my lap. I figured that soon enough he would decided to do something else, which he did.

Preparing to Nap next to my Foot

Jumping down, he began looking for a comfy spot between my foot and his baby lamb . . .

. . . but after my third trip back to the kitchen for a coffee refill, he apparently decided he would sleep better in his bed beneath the drafting table. All is well, and I am ready to return to the painting . . .

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.

Dad turns 92 Today

November 5, 2020
Happy 92nd Dad!

Though 600 miles away, I can envision my dad playing solitaire in his special room stocked with his favorite possessions including this Pennsylvania RxR kerosene lantern he lights almost daily. At 92 today, he is still independent and does what he pleases every day.

Korean Conflict–Dad holding a 45 cal. Thompson

Though a recipient of the bronze star, Dad would not talk about the war while we were growing up. About twenty years ago, he finally began talking as the V.A. convinced him to make weekly visits to Jefferson Barracks for group sessions. Nearly all the men in his group have now passed away, but we’re glad Dad can finally talk about the events he endured that traumatized him in his early years.

A Proud Moment–the Honor Flight

A few years ago, Dad took the Honor Flight to Washington D.C. and spent the day touring. The veterans did not know of the huge homecoming awaiting them when they returned to St. Louis International Airport late that night (at least my dad didn’t know). I put out a plea to my blog readers, Facebook friends and teacher colleagues to send cards for my dad, providing them all necessary details. Thanks to these lovely people, I was able to hand Dad an enormous canvas mailbag stuffed with cards containing the most touching messages inside. Dad frequently takes the bag down from the hook in his room to re-read every one of those cards. At least once a year while visiting, I read them too. I cannot sufficiently thank those of you who wrote and touched him so.

Home from the War Bonding with his Beagle
In the Park with Me, his First Born
Turvey’s Corner 63050

As many of you know, I’ve been working on a book of my watercolors and stories titled Turvey’s Corner 63050. The town is fictional as is the Zip Code lying midway between the town where I grew up (High Ridge 63049) and where I attended church and high school (House Springs 63051). My opening story in this manuscript is based on my Dad, though the setting is fictional as is his name:

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 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, and now returning, 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.

Happy Birthday, Dad, and thank you for providing us with a good life growing up. I’ll phone you a little later today.

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.

Fort Worth Flatiron Painting Completed

November 5, 2020

I will have more to say about this painting in a future blog. I completed it last week but have been busy with a number of work-related errands.

Thanks for looking!