Archive for the ‘fall colors’ Category

Winter Closing In

November 15, 2014
Road Trip in the Crisp Cold

Road Trip in the Crisp Cold

I awoke today and found

the frost perched on the town.

It hovered in a frozen sky

then it gobbled summer down.

When the sun turns traitor cold

and all the trees are shivering in a naked row.


I get the urge for going

But I never seem to go.

I get the urge for going

When the meadow grass is turning brown

Summertime is falling down and winter is closing in.

Joni Mitchell

After a second shivering night without a furnace, it was a genuine pleasure to meet with a writer and creative spirit for a 6:30 breakfast in front of a roaring fire place.   The conversation was first rate, and there just doesn’t seem to be enough of those available today. So . . . (you know who you are!) . . . thanks for a fabulous breakfast and most soulful chat.  Thanks for a wonderful beginning to this cold morning.

I’ve posted these lyrics above that have haunted me for years now.  I had no idea that Joni Mitchell penned the words, as I’ve listened to the song performed by Crosby, Stills, Nash.  And though the song was never a hit, it remains one of my favorite, most soulful pieces.  I love the approach of the year-end holidays and the change in climate, mostly for the memories–an admixture of joy and sadness, gratitude as well as regret.  Soulful.  That is the best way I can describe the coming season.  And I welcome it.

Painting is the trade that takes longest to learn and is the most difficult.  It demands erudition like that of the composer, but it also demands execution like that of the violinist.

Eugene Delacroix, Journal, September 18, 1847

Right now, the house and studio are too cold for painting, but at least I could study it further with the plethora of books I have surrounding me now.  And I have the time . . .

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to remember.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

An Escape to the Small Town

December 1, 2013
Plein Air Watercolor Sketch of the Edom Business District

Plein Air Watercolor Sketch of the Edom Business District

He talked about himself and said he didn’t feel he was creative anymore and that it was probably because he was secure, and he asked me how I felt, and I said hat I wasn’t creative since I was shot, because after that I stopped seeing creepy people.

Andy Warhol, The Andy Warhol Diaries, August 29, 1979

I awoke at 9:39 this morning, glad for one morning of “sleeping in” since school dismissed for vacation last Tuesday.  I have risen about daylight every morning because there was much to do and because I wanted a quiet “morning watch” to give a measure of Quality to my daily life.  But I got in late, late last night from Edom, Texas.  I set up my display at 6:30 Saturday morning, and shut it down at 9:00 p.m.  The two hour-plus drive home left me in shambles.  Now, a good night’s rest, followed by a steaming mug of coffee has me sitting up in bed, catching up on correspondence that has piled up the past 48 hours, reading some quality books (sampling diaries and journals from Warhol, Delacroix and Thoreau–strange bedfellows to be reading while I’m still in bed).

I have always been amused at Warhol’s wry comment about his creative juices drying up after his tragedy because he cut off the “creepy people” from his daily social life.  And I’m always interested in the topic of creativity ebbing and flowing.  I still re-read Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way because I’m interested in the issues of “blocked arrists” though I haven’t felt blocked in years.  I first came to peace with this issue when I read Emerson’s “Terminus” and Whitman’s “As I Ebb’d with the Ocean of Life.”  It was then that I realized that creativity and stagnation are a natural cycle.  We cannot avoid them.  They are as natural as inhaling and exhaling, intake and exhaust.

I have endeavored for years to stoke fires and keep creative fires burning.  I sincerely believe that my biggest obstacle has been an employment issue–I have taught full-time and part-time simultaneously for a number of years now, and often sign a summer teaching contract, so I don’t fit that mold of “public school teacher” whom the general population thinks works only 8-9 months out of the year.  I am a year-round educator working under two contracts.  About three years ago, I decided to stop using this as an excuse for not putting out much art work.  If art truly is my life, then I must fight to live.  And when I made that commitment three years ago, my artistic output increased from ten-to-fifteen watercolors per year to over a hundred (though of course, some of them are small 8 x 10″ “sketches”).  I make art year round, because I feel that I must “make something” daily, and I do.

Yesterday turned out to be a fine day at The Shed Cafe in Edom, Texas.  I was invited to be their feature artist during the commmunity’s Art Jam.  When the afternoon sun broke out, I walked away from my indoor display and took up a position on the front porch where I could see down the main drag.  The fall colors were still rich enough for me to attempt this plein air watercolor sketch while enjoying the live acoustical performances at the other end of the porch.  As I was nearing the finish to the sketch, I looked up and to my surprise saw two of my favorite students–twins that take my Advanced Placement Art History course and are quite prolific in making their own art, along with their mother and father.  Their mother is also an accomplished artist and photographer whom I met and became friends with last year while she was student teaching in our school.  The family had spent Thanksgiving with relatives in Tyler, Texas, and stopped on their way back to Arlington to see the Art Jam.  I cannot adequately express the heartfelt thanks I feel when I see friends at an art event so far away from home.  Their company, conversations and patronage touched me profoundly.  Not long after they had departed, I was surprised also by a visit from a watercolorist who participated in a couple of my workshops at Star Harbor over the past two years.  She had seen in an advertisement that I was going to be at this event, so she took time out of her schedule to drive up to Edom and renew our friendship.

As the night came on, and I began breaking down my show, a patron came and began looking through my scattered crates, found this watercolor and purchased it.  I’m always glad when a fresh painting finds a home so soon.  As it turns out, she and her family came from Fort Worth, so they drove even further than I did to attend the event.  Her young son is an aspiring oil painter of amazing skill.  I was delighted at the opportunity of looking at images of his work that he had on his phone, and closing out a quality day with meaningful conversation over making art.  Every time I meet a kindred spirit such as this, I feel that my own life has extended.  To me, nothing in life is more sacred than creation, and I cannot have enough conversations with others about the creative act.

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to remember.

I journal when I feel alond.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

Finding One’s Passion in the Midst of the 10,000-Hour Rule

July 8, 2013
Stage Coach Hotel, Fort Worth Stockyards District

Stage Coach Hotel, Fort Worth Stockyards District

Every art form conveys a message.  When an artist is young and still learning, that message is usually about technique: see what I can do.  Decorative art has a perfectly valid message, one of beauty.  As we mature, in both our art and in our life, we learn to understand our passions and these then become the subject we express in our works.  But at the same time, passion is not the only source of expression because thought can also come into play.  So an artist’s expression evolves from the heart (passion), the brain (thought) or a combination of the two (with usually an emphasis on one or the other).  

Alex Powers, (Interview) The Art of Watercolour, 2nd issue

I am posting my second attempt at watercolor sketching the Stage Coach Hotel in the Fort Worth Stockyard District.  When I photographed this portal a couple of weeks ago in late afternoon, the temperatures had already reached triple digits.  My eye was “held” at the richness of reds in the sun-damaged door, and the smoky, grimy window panes that survived above.  I couldn’t stop looking at these details, and took quite a number of photographs of the subject.  I knew I wanted to take this one back to the studio and see if I could make something of it.

Following the thread from the Alex Powers interview, I am finally settling down to watercoloring my passion after years of adding techniques and tricks to my toolbox.  Reading Robert Henri’s The Art Spirit finally got my attention about that–it is time to let techniques support my objective in painting rather than building “interesting” paintings on a myriad of techniques.  The immediate result is that my paintings are coming along even faster now, and I’m spending less time combing through my toolbox for gimmicks to toss out onto the painting.

Portals have fascinated me for decades, but it wasn’t until this past winter that I took my first crack at painting close-up studies of door knobs.  I next turned my attention to the surfaces of weathered old doors.  When the spring came around, I began experimenting with screen door compositions.  All of these studies took place in my studio.  For the past few weeks I have been traveling about, painting portals on site and enjoying the speed and decision-making of plein air painting.  Now that Texas has settled into its inferno summer temperatures, I am perusing photographs that I’ve taken of these portals and making plans for additional compositions.  All of this has been fulfilling for me.  I don’t know how to explain my passion for the subjects I paint.  I suppose I could just toss out the adage: for those who don’t understand, no explanation is possible; for those who do, none is necessary.

I have probably mentioned in earlier blogs that I play guitar.  I have not been able to accomplish with music what I have with the visual arts.   I suppose that would fall somewhere under the “10,000- Hour” rule of Malcolm Gladwell in Outliers.  I have easily put in my 10,000 hours of study and application in the visual arts.  On guitar, well that’s another story.  But my point in opening with the quote from Alex Powers is this: younger, less experienced artists can easily get caught up in the fascination of learning many, many techniques and tricks that “wow” the observer, just as many younger, less experienced guitar players load up their toolboxes with tricks and gimmicks to stun listeners with their performance.  And yet, many young and less experienced artists still do not know how to build a painting, just as many guitar players in the same class cannot play a single song all the way through.  And when they do (painters and guitar players), they often show creative flourishes, but not a finished masterpiece.  I don’t say this with the sadness that I used to: when I play guitar, I am conscious that I can play all the notes correctly and sometimes even keep my timing consistent.  But the “soul” is not there.  My guitar does not gently weep.  My listeners do not feel what I feel, because it is not  coming through my fingers, not emerging from my guitar.  I have witnessed scores of guitar gods playing my instrument, and I would swear that it was not the same instrument.  I marveled at how they coaxed that sound, that soul, from my acoustic box.  At this point, I still cannot.

I used to complain this way about my paintings–that they were fine illustrations, ably constructed, correctly rendered, and so on.  But now, I want feelings and moods to emerge from my pictures, not gimmicks.  I want viewers to see my work, and feel what I felt in constructing it.  And, to borrow a line from Hemingway: “I’m not there, but I feel I’m getting closer.”  I am more excited about painting now than I ever recall feeling before.  Because I know what I want.  I know what I seek.  The passion is there.  And I’m starting to believe that the passion can emerge from my brush.  Who knows? Maybe some day passion will rise from my guitar strings as well.  But, one thing at a time.

Thanks for reading.  Sorry if this was too much navel-gazing.  It’s been on my mind awhile now.

I paint in order to remember.

I journal because I feel that I am alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

Locomotives in Fall Colors, Grand Saline, Texas

November 7, 2011

Grand Saline UP and GATX in Fall Colors

One day after the Mineola Holiday Bazaar, I find myself decompressing (still pretty exhausted from the return trip and unloading all my freight late last night) and trying to finish this watercolor sketch I began yesterday afternoon.  The fall foliage back-dropping the bright road colors of this pair of diesels I found very striking on an early autumn morning last weekend.  I’m glad the fall finally has arrived (although a dreary one, color-wise–I made up some of the colors in this composition, recalling the vistas I enjoyed last year).  I hope to get in plenty of plein air activity this year.

Railroads have held my attention since childhood.  The bright color schemes fascinated me as a small boy.  They still do, of course, but I also find myself musing over where these huge diesels pull their freight daily, weekly, annually.  I always wondered about what the railroad crew got to see as they road the rails across this country.  I know there has to be the issue of boredom and bone-weary stretches of miles over time, but still, I would love to see American from the perspective of the rails.  And so, every time I’m driving in my Jeep and I look up to see a sight like this, I am filled with wonder and wanderlust.

In a few days, I’ll leave for Galveston, Texas for a four-day conference.  I’m not sure if I’ll have time or space to create art over that time span, but I’ll soon find out.  Meanwhile, I’ll try to push out another watercolor sketch or two in the next couple of days before I leave for that trip.  Incidentally, this watercolor sketch measures 12 x 16″, was done on a watercolor block (D’Arches 140-lb. cold press), using Winsor and Newton watercolors and Prismacolor watercolor pencils.  I’m enjoying this blend of materials for creating quick sketches.

Thanks for reading.

Looking Forward to Fall Colors and Plein Air Watercoloring

September 18, 2011

Looking Forward to Fall Colors and Plein Air Watercoloring

The cool, autumnal temperatures that lightly kissed the four-day Grapefest have left me yearning for the changing colors that announce the plein air season for passionate watercolorists.  Though the art festival season will be extremely heavy from September through October, I am of a mind to commit my weekday afternoons to plein air watercolor sketching.

This is an open meadow across Business Highway 287 on the north side of Waxahachie, Texas.  I had stopped by Zula’s Coffee House late one autumn afternoon in 2010, and enjoyed my coffee outdoors at a picnic table while watching the sunlight sweep across the field across the highway.  I took out my watercolors and made quick work of this vista.  Now I’m ready to chase autumn colors with the brush again.  They cannot come soon enough.

Thanks always for reading.


Equestrian in Fall Foliage, December 17, 2010

December 17, 2010

Equestrian in Fall Foliage

Here is a large 18 x 24″ watercolor I began over a week ago.  It’s been difficult finding quality time to paint, trying to close out the fall semester at school.  My wife Sandi is riding her horse Andante just as the leaves are beginning to turn in south Fort Worth, Texas.  Most of the foliage at the top is poured from bowls onto the wet paper that was previously masqued, then treated with salt and a spray bottle, along with plenty of tissue-blotting.  For the first time, I’m introducing the color aubergine into the shadows of the bay horse–I’ve never before known for sure how to shadow this guy.  I think this is going to work.  I did a plein air sketch of the pair of trees behind the fence, several weeks ago while we were on location.  I also took several digital shots of Sandi and Andante.  Now I’m hoping to combine two photos to create this landscape.  Hopefully I can finish this one by Christmas.

Thanks for reading.

Autumn Afternoon at Zula’s Coffee Shop Waxahachie, Dec. 17, 2010

December 17, 2010

Waxahachie Autumn Afternoon

Finally out of school for Christmas vacation!  I am pretty backed up–I have completed a number of watercolors and have many more in-progress, but haven’t found quality time to blog any of them.  Too many school responsibilities as the semester comes to a close.

One afternoon, at the height of the fall season, I traveled south to Waxahachie, Texas.  There was some art business to wrap up at the Ellis County Art Association.  I always love to stop at Zula’s Coffee House, now located on the north side of town on Business Route 287.  As the afternoon light began to fade, I saw this fabulous meadow across the highway from the coffee shop and decided to sit at a picnic table outside and try to capture it before the light was gone.  The wind made things pretty difficult, and the darkness came quickly.  Fortunately I had taken a decent digital photo of the site.  I returned to the site one more time to tweak the plein air colors in the foliage.  Then I took this painting out to my garage to paint in the pure light of the afternoons, looking at an 8 x 10 print I made of the photo.  I’m happy with how it finally came out.  Texas has had a lengthy and comparatively colorful autumn this year.  I find these rare, and am very grateful that I got out a number of times this season to capture the colors and light.

Thanks for reading.

More Fall Colors from the Afternoon Garage Studio, December 1, 2010

December 1, 2010

Afternoon Fall Colors from my Garage Studio

My brain was sucked dry by early afternoon.  Today was Philosophy with Emerson and A. P. Art History with Byzantium.  What a privilege to find bright sun, 50-degree termperatures, and the fall foliage still hanging around for the likes of me to chase it in watercolor.  My French easel was still set up in the garage (the Jeep hasn’t been too happy with me, parked out in the cold on recent nights), and for once I’m glad I was a slob in not putting away all my watercolor supplies–they were all laid out, ready for me to pick them up.

This is the second of the two paintings I started on the morning before Thanksgiving.  After masking and pouring the purples, I left it alone, till this afternoon.  The time spent on it was rewarding for me–all cares simply elide when I’m stooped over a watercolor, and the thoughts improve in every area of life.  I think the process is more restorative to me spiritually than the finished work is to others visually, even when I receive kind words for my work.  I wonder if I should even call this “work”–it seems like play, and very wholesome play at that.  I’m filled with gratitude for afternoons like today.

Thanks for reading.  I did pour the first two layers of gold foliage on my newest equestrian painting.  There isn’t enough to post yet, but I shall get it out there before you, quite soon, I believe.

Thanksgiving Fall Foliage from my Garage Studio, November 26, 2010

November 30, 2010

During the Thanksgiving Holidays, as the temperatures dropped and the sunlight grew stronger against the fall foliage, I got this crazy notion to set up my French easel in my garage and do some quick watercolor sketches of the neighbors’ trees across the street.  Keeping warm with a thermos of coffee, I had the time of my life that afternoon as I worked on two quick sketches that involved plenty of masking and pouring of the watercolor pigments.  I’m still messing with the two pieces but decided to post one of them tonight to show anyone interested how the experiment is coming along.  I had a fabulous time, working like a mad scientist in his laboratory that day.  I hope to do it again soon.

Thanks for reading.  Hopefully I will be able to post before long a new painting of my wife on her horse, along a fence line, beneath fall foliage.  This is going to be another large poured piece.

Fall Colors in the Horse Country, November 27, 2010

November 28, 2010

Fall Colors in Horse Country

Saturday morning found me waking to temperatures in the upper 30’s.  Sandi had a riding lesson scheduled in south Fort Worth.  Since it was the first time to take her horse trailer out, I decided to come along to offer an extra set of hands for some of the details of loading a trailer and helping get the horse in and out.  Once we arrived, I found the world to be extremely bright and clear with sunlight.  Sandi got her horse prepped for the lesson, and I photographed her and Andante riding about the pen, stretching and loosening up.  By the time her lesson appointment arrived, I looked around for something to do.

These trees were “calling out” to me from the time we arrived on the property.  The incredibly bright yellow and orange leaves against a dark forest just would not let go of my imagination.  The sight of leaves falling between that dark space of tree cluster and bare ground also raised my ecstasy.  I walked around, looking at this site from three different directions, all the time trying to talk myself out of the commitment to a plein air watercolor.  I felt rusty, out-of-practice, uptight, not ready.  All of this added up to the “dance of avoidance” Ian Roberts writes about in his Creative Authenticity. I knew that, like Edward Hopper and Andrew Wyeth before me, there would be rewards waiting if I would just respond to the call.  But I was overwhelmed as I continually gazed at the complications–the masses of fall foliage, the dark forest behind, the bald, dirt ground beneath, the shadows spinning out from the trees and their gnarled trunks.  I felt there were just too many details to chase, and I felt tired.

I pulled out four unfinished watercolors, along with the 8 x 10 photographs I had taken of the subjects.  Nothing moved me.  I took out my digital camera and photographed the scene before me repeatedly, trying to convince myself that I could do a better job working from the photographs and inserting a grazing horse beneath the trees.  I knew that I would not do that, however.  Trees from photographs just don’t “do it” for me.

I even contemplated reading; I had a whole bag full of books.  I even thought of writing in my journal.  But I knew I would live with regret if I passed on this opportunity, and Sandi’s riding lesson was going to take up an hour.  So I sat, and looked, and thought–and finally drew out my watercolor block and sketched in the tree trunks and fencing.

Next I pulled the Super Nib Masquepen and began to dot in the hundreds of leaf clusters and falling leaves, along with the pipe fencing.  Once everything dried, I laid in a quick Cerulean Blue sky.  Fortunately the steady cold winds were drying out the surface of the watercolor block quickly.  Quinachronine Yellow, Cadmium Yellow, Alizarin Crimson and Sap Green were the predominant pigments to help see me through the fall foliage.

I was pleased at my overall draughtmanship on the gnarled tree trunks.  I mixed plenty of Alizarin Crimson, Cadmium Red, Winsor Green and Ultramarine Blue to come up with my blacks and grays.  An HB pencil also aided me in drawing in the tree bark, along with some help from an 8B Derwent watersoluble pencil.  The tree trunks came together quite quickly.

I felt pretty lost on the shadows across the dirt, so I used more of my black and gray mixings from the colors listed above, and swirled them about on the dry paper with my “ugly brush”–a real staple for me.  My “ugly” is a flat sable that I cut diagonally and then used an X-acto knife to pull out some of the bristles, leaving a jagged chisel-looking brush for my foliage, weeds and tree bark.

I’m really delighted that I responded to this opportunity, instead of passing it by.  I was really taken by what Annie Dillard referred to as the “tree filled with lights.”  I could not get over the beauty and splendor of the bright, bright sun reflections coming out of those brassy-colored leaves.  And to think that I almost passed on this to read instead.  I recall Nietzsche talking about how “positively wicked” it was for a writer or scholar to spend the prime time of the day reading–lost in other men’s thoughts–instead of producing one’s own.  I’m grateful that this day was a day that I decided to create.

Thank you for reading.