Archive for May, 2022

Working on a New Story

May 29, 2022
Watercolor Sketchbook exercise

For days now, stories have been blistering up in my imagination to add to the book I’ve been working on these recent years. I’m thinking about adding a third character to the Hank and Randy saga. Not sure of his name yet, but for now he is Sonny . . .

Sonny was in a rage this morning. Standing at the bandsaw in the maintenance shed of POCO Graphite, his blood pressure continued to surge. It wasn’t spurred by any particular incident of this day or the day before; he had merely reached the end of his rope in this careerless job that was making his graduate education possible. His Bachelor’s degree from Northeast Missouri State University was funded by his parents’ blue-collar support, and he knew that they expected more from him than landing a mere teacher’s position in a public school. So he had made the pledge to pursue a Masters of Fine Art degree in North Texas, which was going to be expensive. To support this effort, he hired in as a maintenance helper at this industrial plant, and was now in the midst of training as a welder.

As a budding artist, Sonny had hoped that acquiring metalworking skills would help him find his niche in the art world, but it wasn’t happening. Instead, every day found him standing at the bandsaw, cutting stainless steel two-by-four channel iron at forty-five-degree cuts, each one requiring forty minutes of standing and staring at the saw in case something happened–the blade binding or snapping, or the piece of stainless steel shifting under the grip of the vises holding it in position on the cutting surface. Boring. As Sonny stood there, he found himself sketching the images of bison with soapstone on the cutting table as he watched the saw grinding away. Every night after supper, he wearily sat at his apartment dining room table and sketched in watercolor herds of bison that he hoped he would one day see if he ever fulfilled his lifelong ambition to visit Wyoming or Utah, or any state preserving bison herds.

Watercolor Sketching Outdoors

May 29, 2022

Temperatures rose in the St Louis area today, making it difficult to paint during the afternoon hours. But I did manage this small sketch in my watercolor SketchBook.

Painting Day

May 29, 2022

My 5th day in the St Louis region, and finally I am rested enough and have enough quiet about me that I can begin some water coloring. I have enjoyed several days of sketching in the sketch books, but I’m eager now to pick up the brush.

Going “Down Home”

May 28, 2022
Dad, in the family plot of Indian Creek Cemetery

These mist covered mountains
Are a home now for me
But my home is the lowlands
And always will be
Someday you’ll return to
Your valleys and your farms
And you’ll no longer burn to be
Brothers in arms

“Brothers in Arms” Dire Straits

Before I arrived home for a visit, Mom asked if I would mind driving us “down home” while I was here. “Down home” always meant returning to the farms where Mom and Dad grew up in Jackson County, Missouri. We rose early this morning and made the two-hour drive south from St. Louis.

My birthplace

Before we reached the farm, Mom suddenly requested I turn off on a road I had never driven before, taking us through “Pink Root Hollow.” For the first time in my 68 years, I saw the house still standing. It was here I was brought home from the hospital to live the first years of my life. We moved to St. Louis when I was two, as my dad searched for a better life. From there we drove to the family cemetery so Mom and Dad could put flowers on the graves.

Once Mom and my sister Cheryl completed the task of putting flowers on the graves of our departed family members, Dad then walked the cemetery, pausing before the sites of all the veterans laid to rest there. I saw dozens of graves from World Wars I & II, Korea and Vietnam, all up and down the hill. Dad remained silent and we stayed until he was ready to move on.

I didn’t know till this evening that Cheryl had photographed me approaching the house where Mom grew up and I stayed for several summers as a child between school terms.

I’ll have more to add later. My friend Wayne White (“Hank” in my stories for the book) and I will return to this area next week to fish Indian Creek, the waters that became a part of me from childhood to the time when I “came of age.” We plan to write some stories about that location when we fish the waters next week.

Thanks for reading.

Tooling about St. Louis

May 27, 2022

Driving Mom, Dad and Sister about St. Louis was most enjoyable this morning. While driving on Grand Avenue, I chanced turning my head and looking down Washington as I drove through the intersection. I had to drive around the block, park and get out to photograph the jazz club I had painted many years before. Some of its name, signage and facade has been altered over the years but the edifice is still splendid.

My sister shared a photo she took recently at Lone Elk Park west if St. Louis. I decided to try and sketch that as well.

Thanks for reading.

Chilling in Missouri

May 26, 2022
Better Times

When are you gonna come down?
When are you going to land?

Elton John, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road

With all the Midwest rainfall and falling temperatures I cannot complain about a 60-degree morning, reading outside, and eventually needing to don a long-sleeve denim shirt because the winds are too cold. After a couple of days, I’m glad I can finally feel rested from my long drive and do some creative eros. Responding to Elton John, I believe I am ready to come down, ready to land.

Sketching Bison
Working on some Blues Themes

While on vacation, I am hoping to continue exploring Western themes including bison and longhorns. I am also wanting to sketch and watercolor selected Blues themes.

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.

Missouri Sketchings

May 25, 2022

Wednesday night in High Ridge, Missouri finds me sketching bison as I fight back drowsiness from the 10-hour drive through last night and early this morning. Hopefully, tomorrow will find me more rested and ready to pick up the watercolor brush.

Here’s a Truck Stop Instead of Saint Peters

May 24, 2022

I could not resist the R.E.M. allusion in my title. I have a fetish for truck stop food, and Big Cabin, Oklahoma serves up great fried chicken livers. But alas, I got a late start on this trip, much too late. And so I find the deli counter cleaned out, and have to settle for a hog sandwich wrapped in foil.

“Here’s plenty-a-napkins if ya need ’em,” chirped the cashier.

“Yeah, I’ll probably end up wearing this” was my response.

He roared out with a fabulous belly-laugh. I like truck stops and road trips. I should reach St. Louis by 3 a.m.

Thanks for reading. More later . . .

Re-Working the Manuscript for my Book

May 23, 2022

Good evening from Studio Eidolons in Arlington, Texas. I’m preparing for departure to St. Louis for some long-awaited vacation. During this interim, I have been inspired to return to work on the book I started years ago. I am submitting for my readers a revision of a story I’ve been working on as part of the book. Thanks for reading.

________________________

Two Uncles: Leo and Paul

“Well, as I live and breathe! Uncle Leo’s countenance lit up at the site of a disheveled Hank at his front door. Little Hank! How long’s it been?”

Hank was unsure of his decision to drop in unannounced. The prairie fire scent clinging to his clothes and hair no doubt was incommensurate with the lovely azaleas fronting the magnificent structure of Uncle Leo’s tidy historic dwelling. Now, standing on the Persian rug in Leo’s living room with his stained boots, Hank furtively announced that he was merely “passing through.”

“Nope!” came Leo’s reply. “You look like you got some work in ya. How ’bout yer own room, a clean bed, three squares a day and some money in yer pocket in exchange for some good honest labor?”

How refreshing to be inside a house again after sleeping out in a field. Hank showered, sat down to a hot supper, and afterward Leo poured a couple of shots of Jack Daniels, and they sunk into the comfortable living room armchairs. As the western sun waned through the living room windows, Leo began talking about family.

“You ever hear from yer Uncle Paul?”

“Why would you expect me to hear from him?”

Leo smiled sheepishly. You thought we were all asleep, but I hear’d what he said to you by the fire that night.”

Hank was thunderstruck to know they had been overheard. His memory returned to those well-traveled corridors of a story he thought only he himself knew . . .

Uncle Paul was one of thirteen siblings born to tenant farmer parents in southeast Missouri.  Educated in a one-room schoolhouse until he was old enough to work the fields, Paul did the things farm boys did in those days until World War II came calling.  Finishing his service, he chose not to return to his humble southeast Missouri roots, much like Hank’s own dad. Instead, Uncle Paul moved to the West Coast in search of a better life. 

Landing a position with Greyhound Lines, Uncle Paul stayed with the company twenty-five years, promoting to supervisory status, and choosing to work night shifts so he could have sufficient quiet and space to pursue his real interests: writing and story-telling.

Extending the Mark Twain/Will Rogers tradition, Uncle Paul developed a love of humor and stories covering country life.  Carefully researching the history of rural Jackson, Missouri, he recorded his personal memories, listened in on the reminiscences of others who grew up there, and carefully committed these stories to print after telling and re-telling them to anyone who would listen.

Growing up, all Hank knew was that Uncle Paul was special.  On the rare occasions that he made the excursion from California to Southeast Missouri, all the Singeltons would gather to greet him, and sit in living rooms until late at night, drinking beer, listening and laughing as he spun his humorous tales and smoked his White Owl cigars.  In those moments, Hank felt he was re-living the days when people gathered to listen to and laugh at the humor of Mark Twain.

When Hank reached his teenage years, the Uncle Paul events had transferred from the indoor parlors to wiener roasts along the banks of Indian Creek.  Aunt Bea and Uncle Bus lived in a ramshackle house on the banks of the creek, and Paul chose to roost with them every time he came home.  There was one problem–Bea and Bus were early risers and preferred retiring to bed early.  They became resentful of the all-night parties and as the years wore on, they began leveling their protests, but Paul had a tin ear.

With a broad smile, Hank recalled the day Aunt Bea put her foot down and swore there would not be a wiener roast this time.  “We’re turnin’ in early tonight—no wienie roast.”  By mid-afternoon, cars began pulling into the driveway. 

–Why’s everyone comin’ here? 

–The wienie roast.

–Oh no!  There ain’t no wienie roast tonight!  I said so.  Where’s Paul?

–At the store buyin’ wieners and buns.

–No, no!  We’re not havin’ a wienie roast!

Children were dragging up driftwood and tree limbs from creekside for the bonfire. 

–Stop draggin’ that brush up here!  There ain’t no wienie roast tonight!

Coolers of beer were hauled out of car trunks.  Folding lawn chairs appeared, arranged in ranks around the pile of timber. 

“Get that shit outta here! There ain’t gonna be no wienie roast!  Do it someplace else!  We’re goin’ to bed!”

“Leo, you gotta match?” Paul was squirting lighter fluid on the pile of limbs. In a few moments, the blaze went up.  Bea yawned.  Bus mumbled that it was getting dark and time for bed.  People dragged up chairs.  Children cut tree limbs to support wieners and marshmallows for the roast.  The guitars came out.  Music filled the air.  Beer bottles clanked. The wiener roast was on.  And soon Paul would be holding court. “Did I tell you about the time . . . ?”

Around 2:00 in the morning, all grew quiet.  Having had his fill of cold beer, Paul was out of stories.  People were dozing in their lawn chairs, having pulled blankets and sleeping bags over them.  The guitars had stopped.  Scattered, intermittent conversations were still softly emerging.  At one point, Paul turned to Hank.  “You have a good vocabulary,” he observed. 

Looking up, Hank was startled.  “What?”

“You should write.  There aren’t enough people writing these days.  People want stories.  You can provide them.  You have a good vocabulary.  You should write.” 

Drawing out his wallet, Paul removed a folded piece of paper.  That strange lighter-fluid smell emanated from the slick paper as he unfolded the “Xerox copy” of a check in the amount of $75 Paul had been paid by a West-Coast magazine for one of his stories.  “There’s money in this,” Paul mumbled, “but you’re too good to write this kind of stuff.”  Looking up from the check, Hank could not hold back his amazement:

“Seventy-five dollars for a funny story?” 

“Not funny. Scroungy.  I wrote it in one night in the office while on shift at Greyhound. You know—the story of the backwoods boy coming down out of the hills and screwing the high-society girl.”

Hank knew Paul was full of stories.  He knew he had the gift to deliver humor before a live audience.  What he didn’t know was that Paul had been writing stories for porno magazines and collecting good sums of money over the years.  “You don’t need that,” Paul advised, “You have much more going for you.  You should write. Write about things that matter.”

Looking across the living room, Hank searched Leo’s face for some sign of teasing. “You really heard all that?”

“Every word. Paul was better’n all of us.”

“Why do you say that?”

“We all went to school the same amount of years. But Paul was different. When he went overseas, somethin’ got into ’im. ’Guess he kept on readin’, I don’t know. All I know is when he come back, he wadn’t like the rest of us no more.”

Hank could understand what Leo meant. Throughout the years, when Paul came from the West Coast for a visit to the homeplace, he was the prophet emerging from the western wilderness, the one speaking in even-sounding sentences and pleasing cadence. The one who pronounced all his words carefully, with textbook exactitude. He was sagacious. We sat around those bonfires like Native Americans on the prairie, listening to his stories. Hanging on every word. He tuned us up with humor, but later into the night, as the beer toned down the rhetoric, with sleepy yet searching eyes, he rolled out the proverbial lines in short pithy aphorisms. And late on that historic night, he spoke to me.

“Is Uncle Paul the reason yer on the road?”

“Not really. I hadn’t thought of it that way.”

“Well,” Leo mused, “Maybe you should. Paul saw something in you. Maybe you should be writin’ ‘bout this trip. Who knows, you might sell yer first story to a magazine! Got any scrounge stories in ya?”

After three weeks of working out of Leo’s shop, consisting of basic woodworking and occasional arc welding, Hank had $300 in his pocket to add to the $42 he carried into Dallas—road money to convey him further west.

The restlessness had returned, and Hank felt the west Texas Caprock whispering to him in the Dallas nights where he lay in his bed, reading Leo’s books on the Texas Comanche culture.

A Nice Evening at the Opening

May 22, 2022
2022 Summer Show at Baron’s Creek

We’re exhausted today, but Saturday evening in Granbury at Baron’s Creek Winery provided a lovely venue for the opening of our summer show. I was proud to stand with a host of artists from The Gallery at Redlands and to renew my friendship with fellow cover-artist Sabrina Franklin. Also on hand were other artists I had worked together with at plein-air painting events, art festivals and other gallery openings. The show will remain open till July 6 and we hope you’ll have time to come see it before it comes down.

My framed watercolor that shared the cover with Sabrina Franklin’s work