Archive for the ‘art studio’ Category

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.

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.

Serene Thoughts in the Morning

October 29, 2020
Morning Bliss–Coffee, a good book and positive thoughts

My morning ritual sets the tone for the day. I seldom go into the studio until I’ve had an hour or more over coffee, books and journal in our living room reading space. This morning I’m savoring Cowboy Coffee and re-reading portions of a biography I read and relished last year, David Michaelis’s N. C. Wyeth: A Biography. I have always been inspired by the details of his life fulfilling the wishes of publishing houses, magazines and advertising agencies. His drive continues to inspire me. He was also a lover of fine literature and his frequent references to Thoreau resonate with me. The year 2020 has been absolutely horrific on many levels. Yet in the comfortable isolation of my home and studio I have been fortunate to complete nine commission paintings and have a tenth waiting in the wings. As Thanksgiving approaches, I will be offering up my heart-felt sentiments for the gifts I’ve received during this dark era.

I also have a volume of the complete letters of N. C. I’m not sure if I will ever finish this one, as it is even thicker than the biography. We have lost the art of letter writing, I fear, with the advent of email and text messaging. I’m quoting from a letter he wrote to son Andrew near the end of his life:

The week has been, to me, a singular mixture of ineffable sadness and inspiration–two moods that often happen together. But there is a persistent melancholy which I seem unable to shake off.

To circumvent these feelings I have devoted most of my spare time to reading, especially at night when sleep eludes me.–Thoreau, Goethe, Emerson, Tolstoy–all have struck me, as always, with incisive vitality and freshness. My ruminations have again been vividly stirred.

These great men forever radiate a sharp sense of that profound requirement of the artist, to fully understand that consequences of what he creates are unimportant. “Let the motive for action be in the action itself and not in the event.”

I know from my own experience that when I create with any degree of strength and beauty I have had no thought of consequences. Anyone who creates for effect–to score a hit–does not know what he is missing!

N. C.’s letters are worthy of publication, he was such a master of the word and style. I feel the fervent beating of his heart when I read the words he penned to his family members throughout his life. And it bothers me, realizing that I write such few letters to my own friends and loved ones.

Maybe I’ll finish this one today?

I’m just about ready to enter the studio, a sacred space for me. When coffee, book and writing time are completed, I rise from this reading space with a glad heart and stroll across the living room to enter what used to be a master bedroom, now my cherished creative space that I’ve christened Studio Eidolons. Opening the blinds to the morning light is about to get much better–we’re replacing these 40-year old foggy windows with new ones. Once that occurs, I have pledged to stare out those windows and devote quality time to painting the beautiful trees in our front yard along with the view down the street of our quiet neighborhood.

I just may be able to wrap up this painting today. All I have left are details on the flatiron itself. I cannot believe how many bas-relief sculptures and decorative details cover its exterior. My friends who grew up in Fort Worth tell me of their days strolling past this building on their way to the public library. For years I have enjoyed hearing their memories of this city from long ago. I’m drinking my coffee this morning from the commemorative centennial mug of Leonard’s Department Store (1918-2018) where my friends used to go when they were children.

Outside remains cold and dark, but inside I feel the warmth of friendship and good memories. I’m ready to pick up the brush and resume work on the flatiron.

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.

Nearing Completion of the Fort Worth Flatiron

October 28, 2020

Blogging. That is so 2002!

Facebook post from Lubbock, Texas, October 28, 2020

A Facebook post was shown me this morning that still has me laughing. Lubbock is covered in snow and ice, the overpasses have been closed by the police, yet bloggers have flocked to the opening of a new H-E-B store. A friend of Sandi’s recorded the note above in response to those who hazarded their morning drive so they could blog about the new grocery store.

Blogging was around many years before I took the plunge, and I will never regret going this route. I enjoy throwing portions of my diary out into the blogosphere on days when I am so inclined.

Arlington, Texas has been dark and rainy all day with temperatures hovering around the upper thirties, a perfect day for coffee, books and watercoloring. I took advantage of the quiet and as a result nearly have this watercolor finished. I am posting it for viewers to enjoy, and always, I enjoy the posted responses.

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.

Leisure Painting on a Rainy Morning

October 27, 2020

We poets struggle with Non-being to force it to yield Being. We knock upon silence for an answering music.

Chinese poet

I am tearing myself from this painting long enough to send a blog post of the flag pole. So many readers have responded that I feel compelled to continue sending up the posts.

This cold, dark rainy morning called me from my bed before dawn. Sitting comfortably in the studio, I opened and re-read a chapter from Rollo May’s The Courage to Create, a book I highly recommend to any one who pursues creativity. The chapter titled “Creativity and Encounter” I have read more times than I can count. In it, the author explores the state of anxiety that many creators cope with in their exploits. The reading prompted me to write over a half dozen pages in my journal, exploring my entire past life ridden with anxiety and how that state fueled my pursuit of the arts.

Since retiring in 2017, I can honestly testify that most of that anxiety has elided, and I don’t feel that a life of leisure has blunted my artistic sense or drive. All I can say is that I am truly thankful for the time to pursue activities like this current commission without the distractions of class schedules, grading and lecture preparation. The last five years I spent in the classroom were indeed miserable, and I’m so happy finally to leave that environment.

I’m itching to get back to the drafting table. Above is a photo of the flatiron as it now appears before me. I am truly loving these late stages of composition. More later . . .

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.

Looking for the Parking Lot

October 25, 2020
In bed, Looking for the Parking Lot

You can’t cut yourself off from the mystical or you’ll be-you’ll remain-completely lost. You have to see these things as expressions of God’s will. You don’t have to like it, of course. . . . things aren’t so bad. Look at the parking lot, Larry. Just look at that parking lot.

“A Serious Man”

I awoke this Sunday morning recalling the hilarious lines from the Coen brothers’ movie “A Serious Man.” The film’s protagonist went to a junior rabbi to pour out the details of his life in shambles. In thoughtful response, the young rabbi discussed the importance of hashem, a term popular in Judaism that refers to the ineffability of God’s personal name. As the rabbi became more animated, discussing the thrill of experiencing the divine, he pointed out the window to the parking lot as an example of finding God in the mundane.

Since early childhood my life has been consumed by that romantic notion of the divine in daily experience. I have loved literary references to it, from Emerson’s “transcendent eyeball” to Kerouac’s “It.” And so, waking this morning tired from yesterday’s eight-hour session bent over the drafting table working on the large watercolor of the Fort Worth flatiron building, I stayed in bed with coffee for a long stretch, reading for inspiration. I needed some kind of a jolt before returning to the studio because frankly, I was still fatigued from yesterday and not really in the mood to continue work with such concentrated intensity. Poring over a stack of books in bed, I continued to read, looking for the parking lot.

I found the parking lot while reading A Writer’s Eye: Field Notes and Watercolors by Paul Horgan. As I read, I thought of the work of Eugene Delacroix, Paul Gauguin, Robert Motherwell and Barnett Newman–artists who found a creative way to blend their disciplines of writing and making art. I entered the studio, determined to mix painting and writing throughout the day. Hence, another blog post.

Studio Eidolons
Focus on the Details

I have reached a stage with the painting that I have to lay the brush down and pick up pencil, ruler and templates to resume drawing. The flatiron building is covered in bas-relief sculpture and decorative embellishments. My eyes glaze over at the abundance of details, and I have to block out ninety percent of the building’s surface to work on one tiny section at a time. Yesterday’s eight-hour session yielded very little change in surface area and I marveled at how long I could work on something, and a viewer entering the room would not be able to see the difference between where the painting stood today versus yesterday.

Baby Paddington (2 months old), Napping beneath my Drafting Table

Yesterday, Paddington slept for hours under my table as I worked. I was so grateful to be in the company of such a low-maintenance living being!

At one point of the day, while waiting for an applied wash of watercolor to dry, I walked away from the drafting table, and my eye lighted on the cover of my high school yearbook, sophomore year, fifty years ago. Opening the book out of curiosity, I wondered if there were pictures of me besides class photo. Surprisingly I found two art room photos I had completely forgotten about over the decades. So there I was, focused on a detailed subject with patience, even in adolescent days! Fifty years. Wow.

Here I am, fifty years ago
1970 Yearbook, my sophomore year in high school

So, here is the work as it stands now. I’ve spent the entire Sunday morning working on the north end of the building, drawing in the sculptures and decorative elements as well as framing in more portals. The work is proceeding very slowly, but deliberately. At this rate, I intend to finish this in about a week to reach the deadline.

At this Stage, Much more Tedious Drawing than 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.