Archive for the ‘fly fishing’ Category

Putting Down the Brush and Re-Opening the Books

August 16, 2021
Artist Cecilia Bramhall and myself experimenting in watercolor

After framing the six new watercolors I created, I found myself exhausted early yesterday evening. Sleeping in late today, I descended to the gallery a little later and found the atmosphere full of activity. Mondays are ususally slow in the hotel with the restaurant and bar closed on those days. But Cecilia was ready for a refresher course in watercolor, and I found myself in the mood quite quickly. In the middle of our exercise I was surprised by an offer from Texas Wesleyan University to teach an additonal class in Ethics. I accepted. So, come Monday I will deliver my first class lecture in several years and will open up a new online course simultaneously. Time to get back to the books, and my heart is filled with enthusiasm and gratitude for this new adventure.

I want to say a few words about the paintings that held my attention over the course of this past week that now are in the gallery for sale:

Georgia O’Keeffe’s Dream, 11 x 14 in the frame. $200

Georgia O’Keeffe once said that if she painted the Peternal enough times, God would have to give it to her. A few summers ago, we rented a casita adjacent to Ghost Ranch in Abiquu, New Mexico. The Pedernal was visibe from the front patio, and I painted it every day for a week. I modeled the painting above from a plein air watercolor I did from the interior of Ghost Ranch. The Indian flute player was added at the end of the exercise, on a lark. I thought the right side of the composition needed some weight.

Desert Odyssey in an 11 x 14″ frame. $200

This is my second attempt at a mounted vaquero modeled from a painting I did of the Fort Worth cattle drive that occurs daily in the Stockyards. I decided to transport the mount to an Arizona setting since I fell in love with the Sedona region a couple of summers ago. A few weeks ago, I was pleased at the results of some scumbling I did with a soft lead pencil as I attempted a watercolor sketch of a boulder. I tried some scumbling with a dark sepia watercolor pencil as I worked and re-worked the rock formations and ground cover in the background of this piece. I feel I have turned a corner with the use of these pencils on dried out watercolor surfaces.

Watching for the Rise. 8 x 10″ in the frame. $100

Several months ago I roughed out a few fly-fishing subjects, trying something I hadn’t done before–wetting my brush and “painting” with water the contours of the fisherman and then dropping in the pigments to watch the color flow and billow. After “fleshing” out the fisherman’s body, I then went back in and laid in a few essential details and accents.

Vaquero. Sold

This was my first attempt at recreating the vaquero from an earlier painting of the cattle drive. I wanted to experiment with a night sky and try to render a rocky horizon in something more than a mere silhouette. I still have much to learn about night colors. The most enjoyable part of working on this one was the myriad of details of all the rigging draped about the horse and rider.

Longmire Stroll. 8 x 10″ in the frame $125

This is my second attempt to render Walt Longmire from my favorite television series. Again I enjoyed looking for ways to shape and model the hat and shadows on the face. I’m still trying to figure out how to use watermedia for facial shadows beneath hats. Too many times I have revised subjects such as this until the area became overworked. I’m learning to stop much sooner and leave the simplicity of watercolor wash. While making this decision I thought of Hemingway’s philosophy of writing: “The Power of Less.”

Serene Pastureland. 8 x 10″ in the frame $125

Back in 2009 I often accompanied Sandi when she went to visit her horse to ride. I made several quick plein air watercolor sketches of grazing horses, keeping things loose. All those paintings sold years ago, but fortunately I kept photos of them. Retrieving this one from the files I decided to open up and experiment with colors I’m not accustomed to using in my work. I laid down the light green wash before painting the horse over it, so you can see the green in his legs. I also allowed some of the blue sky to show through on his body. Just experimenting with some ideas . . .

It’s past 10 p.m. now as I complet this. It’s been one of those days with many, many interruptions to my blogging attempt. But at least I finally got all of it down before retiring to bed. Tomorrow is another day and I still have much work left to do for Texas Wesleyan University. I’m glad to be back in the classroom, but will find ways to continue making the art and writing about it. Thank you always for reading.

I make art in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.

Finding the Seam

July 18, 2021
Sunday Morning, Home in Studio Eidolons

One week ago, we started out on our journey to South Fork, Colorado to enjoy a few days of cabin rest, walking in the mountain air and whatever else we fancied. I was enriched to enter the stream on three occasions to fly-fish and still feel the sensations of those moments now on Sunday morning a week later.

View from the Deck of Brookie Cabin
My First Catch was a Handsome Brown Trout
Second Catch was a Rainbow

The same day we returned from our road trip from the Rockies, we started out for Palestine, Texas to participate in the city’s Art Walk and maintain business in The Gallery at Redlands. Driving home late last night, I found on Facebook an inspiring note from one of my former students who had just experienced her first fly-fishing lesson in Colorado. She responded to my congratualtory note by reminding me of a sermon I had delivered in 2016 titled “Finding the Seam.” She also said she spoke to her guide about the seam.

This morning I took out the sermon and re-read it, and have now decided to go ahead and post it. Thank you for reading.

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Finding the Seam[1]

          Good morning. The title of this morning’s meditation is “Finding the Seam.”  I shared with you last Sunday that my mind has already surged ahead to summer, that I have already booked a cabin in Colorado so I can pursue my passion of fly fishing for wary trout.  I only regret that I still have twelve weeks of classes to endure.  Once that final bell sounds, I will experience escape velocity.  I’ll begin by visiting Mom and Dad in St. Louis, but only for a short time.  I believe it was either Benjamin Franklin or Mark Twain who once remarked that fish and house guests begin to smell after three days.  So I’ll only trouble my parents for three days.  Then I’ll point my Jeep west for a nice, extended over-the-road trip, Jack Kerouac-style, to pick up, as though it were a hitchhiker, a life that I dropped off a few years back. 

I recall the words of the author Robert Travers, snickering at the reputation of the frustrated artist, and identifying himself as an unfrustrated fly fisherman.  I don’t think I have ever been a frustrated artist, but I do know that I regard myself as an unfrustrated fly fisherman. It was not always so.  In my redneck days of rod-and-reel river fishing, I heard people say that if you spend the beautiful day outside and never catch a fish, it’s still been a good experience, imbibing the beauty of the outdoors.  Well, I knew that for me that certainly was not true.  If I fished all day and got skunked, it sucked.  But once I converted to fly fishing all that changed profoundly.  There is a ritual that comes with rigging up.  I used to want to jump out of the vehicle, and get my line into the water as quickly as possible. I always wished that I could have the rod-and-reel ready and baited up, and that I didn’t have to drag a tackle box and folding chair and minnow bucket and stringer and lunch pail and all that stuff down to the river’s edge.  I just wanted to catch fish and catch ‘em fast. 

Fly fishing, for me, was a revelation, an entrance into a new world.  Indeed I’ve heard some speak of fly-fishing as reverently as religion.  In fact, Norman Maclean opens his famous book with this hook: “In our family, there was no clear line between religion and fly fishing.”[2]  I have to testify in all seriousness that Colorado fly-fishing always restores my weary soul.  I take my time, rigging up the fly rod, tying on tippet and flies, pulling on waders and boots, all the while sensing the river rolling by as it has for millions of years. And then, to approach the river, survey its dynamics, and step into the stream—at that point, I feel my breathing change and sense that my heartbeat has settled down. And yes, if I fly fish the entire day without a hit, it’s still been a most magnificent day to be alive, outside, and away from the daily routine.

          Ever since I read the book by former New York Times editor Howell Raines titled Fly Fishing Through the Mid-Life Crisis, and then saw that marvelously engaging film based on Maclean’s novella titled A River Runs Through It, I knew I was missing out on something spectacular in this life.  Even in high school, when I read Ernest Hemingway’s two-part short story “Big Two-Hearted River,” I knew I wanted to hold a fly rod in my hand one day, and step into a mountain stream.  It would be different from what I had known as a child growing up with a cane pole and later a rod and reel.  Over the past decade, every time I stood in a stream, beneath the shadows of a Colorado canyon, Emerson’s words from his very first book would come whispering back out of the atmosphere to soothe  me, as he wrote: “the currents of the Universal Being circulate through me; I am part or parcel of God.”[3]  Drawing from another Emerson metaphor, I can testify that when I enter that place, I cast off my years like a snake does his skin, and remain forever a child.  In the river I find perpetual youth.  In the river, I return to reason and faith.

As I listen to the sounds of water rushing over and around the rocks, past my boots, as it cuts through the banks is a virtual symphony,  Maclean’s words come back to me: “Eventually, all things merge into one and a river runs through it.  The river was cut by the world’s great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time.  On some of the rocks are timeless raindrops.  Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs.”[4]

          Now, when one steps into that swift stream, the casual eye will see only a large volume of water surging past.  But there is so much more going on, as anyone observing long enough will come to realize.  The water is running past in channels, or separate lanes, if you please.  Some of those lanes are flowing faster than others.  And oftentimes you will notice that there are pockets of water that are hardly moving at all. 

          What the fly fisherman is looking for are the seams dividing those channels.  More specifically, the fly fisherman is looking for the seam that separates moving water from still water, or at least the swifter water from the lazy current.  The trout, you see, are lined up in the slower lanes, where they can just hang out with as little effort as possible, and they have their noses in the seam, watching the swift current carry the insects by.  The fly fisherman drops his fly in the seam and lets the current carry it down the lane, past those lines of fish, in hopes that the fly looks real enough that one of them will dart out and take it.

           Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau are institutions of American literature, but few people really know what these nature writers are doing. Their school of thought is called New England Transcendentalism, and it urges that for every physical element we perceive, there is a higher, corresponding truth.   And that is where I am going with this morning’s remarks about fly-fishing in mountain streams.  This morning’s topic is about that seam that divides the forces, the fault line separating the dual channels.  There are several modern thinkers I wish to share with you this morning who had intriguing ideas about these seams we find in life.

Paul Tillich, early in his life, published a book titled On the Boundary.  His “boundary” is the same as the “seam” I’ve just been discussing.  The boundary is what separates opposing forces—it’s the seam that separates opposing ideas.  It is the seam that not only divides the camps, but appears to hold them together in tension.  Tillich found that boundary cutting through his religious traditions, his university responsibilities and his daily tasks.

In Friedrich Nietzsche’s masterpiece Thus Spoke Zarathustra, he described the human condition as a rope stretched over an abyss, between the beast and the person of excellence.  The actual life is the journey across that rope, a dangerous on-the-way, a dangerous across, a process and not a destiny.  Life is that narrow seam, cutting through the abyss. On one side are the traditions and on the other are the discoveries. We keep threading the path, one step at a time, between the standards and the experiments.

Karl Barth, a contemporary of Tillich, and likewise indebted to Nietzsche, used the same imagery when he described his life as a dialectical theologian.  He said he had to walk a narrow precipice and keep moving so he would not be in danger of falling to one side or the other.  He was describing the extreme party positions of his day, between the Protestant Liberalism of the late nineteenth century, and the Neo-Orthodoxy of the early twentieth.  Barth testified that the challenge lay in threading the seam between them, always moving forward.

          What is that fault line?  What is that junction in the midst of the dualism?  Where are the seams in your life?  Well, I’d like to take the time to point out a few possibilities for thought this morning.  In his first book The Birth of Tragedy, Friedrich Nietzsche argued that there was indeed a seam in the human spirit, but not a division between soul and body as Plato and all his descendents assumed.  Taking his lead from ancient Greek theater, Nietzsche said the two patron gods Apollo and Dionysus personified this dualism, with Apollo representing our reasonable side and Dionysus portraying our passionate side.  Apollo was the tradition and Dionysus was the exploration. These sides are not to be equated with good and evil, by any means.  Nietzsche urged that either extreme was unhealthy.  In the centuries following Greek theater, Aristotle himself urged that all forms of extremism are wrong; the healthy human soul should seek the Golden Mean, another nice synonym for the seam, the fault line that passes between the extremes.  It is easy to see the two sides of reason and passion in our individual makeup.  One side of our makeup is given to order, to rules, to convention, to propriety.  The other side explores the drama, the new, the adventure, the creative impulse.  Neither side can yield a fullness of life.  Regimentation is no way to live life in its fullness, but neither is recklessness. 

          Another seam that could be found in personal life, if I may draw from the world of basic mechanics, is that line separating Intake and Exhaust.  As human beings, we require nourishment as well as exercise, intake as well as output.  And in our everyday social lives, we take steps to take care of ourselves, and we also find opportunities to reach out to others in our circle.  Throughout my life, in the workplace, and among my circles of friends, I’ve seen many suffer from a dreadful imbalance, and I certainly have suffered it myself.  Exhaustion occurs when you spend all you have in personal resources to prop up others, and neglect your own basic needs.  I still remember the first time I heard the word “burn-out.”  It was used by NFL head coach Dick Vermeil, when he abruptly retired from coaching the Philadelphia Eagles after a Super Bowl loss.  He had been driven like a locomotive, sleeping little, skipping meals, and even keeping a cot in his coaching office instead of going home at night to his family.  Finally, he collapsed in exhaustion and retired.  In his press conference, he described his personal life as “burned out.”

          Then there is that other extreme—the individual who lives only for the self and develops a kind of spiritual autism.  When people are elderly we sometimes use the word shut-ins to describe a lifestyle that no longer leaves home, and experiences no one coming in to check on welfare.  They turn in on themselves and eventually their world is just an internal world.  Likewise there are those who in younger years find ways to close themselves off from meaningful contact.  Many times they are diagnosed with clinical depression.  Some are brutally honest and say they just don’t like people and prefer to be left alone.  At times they can degenerate into suspicion and paranoia.

          I have often in the past held up Jesus of Nazareth as a prime example of one who poured himself out in the service of multitudes, but balanced it with retreats into solitude where virtually no one knew where he was staying.  He avoided the exhaustion by taking quality time to pay himself and revive.  You could count on it.  If the New Testament record testifies to his spending an entire day teaching, arguing, healing and resolving disputes between parties, you could then find him in absentia the following day.  He is in a mode of prayer and meditation.  In solitude he regains his focus and determines what to do next in his ministry.

          Another seam that I would like to address this morning was brought up last Sunday, and that concerns what lies between the individual and the social dimensions of our being.  I once heard a psychology teacher defining introvert and extrovert in the following way: the introvert knows the self and stands confidently in that identity, whereas the extrovert depends on others to define his or her identity.  Some people are more private, so they may be referred to as introvert, whereas others are more gregarious and are therefore deemed as extrovert.  But the human being functions in solitude as well as corporate activity.  And as a teacher I’m just as concerned with one extreme as the other.  Parents are understandably upset at a son or daughter that comes home and broods, choosing to withdraw from family and friends.  Other parents are equally perturbed at the child who comes home with the cell phone perpetually in the line of vision, knowing it’s going to stay there for the duration of the night.  Because, you see, some teens are terrified at the thought of being alone.  If no one out there is talking to them, then they have become meaningless.  And Tillich testified that the fear of becoming meaningless is one of the gut-level anxieties that plague the modern consciousness.

          And finally, the seam dividing Time from Eternity. While living for two years, two months and two days in a cabin beside Walden pond, Henry David Thoreau penned these words:

Time is but the stream I go a-fishing in. I drink at it; but while I drink I see the sandy bottom and detect how shallow it is. Its thin current slides away, but eternity remains.[5]

That makes my heart flutter.  In the sixth century before Christ, two pre-Socratic philosophers argued over whether the essence of life was time or eternity. Heraclitus said “You cannot set foot in the same river twice.  All things flow; nothing abides,” while Parmenides argued that time is only illusion; there is only Eternity, there is only Being.

Henry David Thoreau, bending over to drink from a flowing stream said:

Time is but the stream I go a-fishing in. I drink at it; but while I drink I see the sandy bottom and detect how shallow it is. Its thin current slides away, but eternity remains.[6]

Norman Maclean wrote: “Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it.”

So, life as a river surges forward, cutting a path between the extremes: Reason and Passion, Intake and Output, Individual and Social, Time and Eternity.  At any rate, it moves forward, in a perpetual flowing stream, never stopping. Emerson mused that few people could look at a flowing river and not make the transcendental leap to contemplating life as a moving stream meandering along its path, enriched by the seams embedded in that contextual flow. 

That is my testimony this morning.  Life’s river is comprised of many seams dividing the channels.  And in those seams are clues that offer a greater understanding of life’s choices and rich possibilities.


[1] Sermon delivered at Arlington First United Methodist Church, 6 March 2016.

[2]Norman Maclean, A River Runs Through It (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1976), p.1.

[3] Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nature in Selections from Ralph Waldo Emerson,ed. Stephen E. Whicher (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1957), p. 24.

[4] A River Runs Through It, p. 113.

[5] Henry David Thoreau, Walden and Civil Disobedience (New York: Penguin Books, 1983), p. 142.

[6] Ibid.

Unwinding after the Show

March 25, 2021

To paint is to love again. It’s only when we look with eyes of love that we see as the painter sees. His is a love, moreover, which is free of possessiveness. What the painter sees he is duty bound to share. Usually he makes us see and feel what ordinarily we ignore or are immune to.

Henry Miller, To Paint is to Love Again

Rolling across Missouri, I will attempt to voice text this blog. I am peering through a windshield at a soggy terrain with intermittent rain. Two days ago, Wayne and I set out for the long journey home, stopping at Beavers Bend State Park to fly-fish, then drove all the way to Hot Springs, Arkansas to stay the night. The following morning, I found the subject for my next watercolor in downtown Hot Springs. The words of Henry Miller came back to, compliments of the lovely gift Stacy and Leigh gave me the night of our gallery opening. When I’m driving across several states, my eyes are constantly soaking up the world beyond the windshield, and I am automatically painting the passing scenery in my mind, puzzling over how to render certain color combinations and figuring out compositional problems. For me, “to paint is to love again”, and what I try to capture on paper I definitely feel “duty bound to share.”

After taking the picture we set out for Wayne’s home in Bonne Terre, Missouri. Before saying goodbye, we decided to fish some more, since we had no luck at Beavers Bend. We managed to land a few small ones, and felt that we had at least accomplished something as anglers!

After spending the night in High Ridge and getting to visit with my parents and siblings, I now begin the long journey home.

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After several days of trekking across Oklahoma, Arkansas, Missouri and Texas, I’m thrilled to be back in the Gallery at Redlands for the weekend. New work has been hung to replace what sold last week, and tonight the Redlands Hotel is extremely busy with two tour buses and folks soaking up the second weekend of the Dogwood Festival. Since we’re busy tonight, I’ll postpone beginning my watercolor of the ghost sign-covered building from Hot Springs until the morning. It’s too hard to paint when people keep dropping in, and the last thing we wish to do is appear too busy or preoccupied with other tasks. I have decided to pursue a palimpsest theme once I get started on the Hot Springs building with ghost signs. Already I have scribbled out some broad themes in my journal and have begun another Hank and Randy story to accompany the new painting. Friends have asked me since we took over the gallery if I would stop painting. Absolutely not! Tune in tomorrow . . .

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.

Winter Solitude and Artistic “Visitations”

February 12, 2021
Pleasing Winter Fire and Hygge Environment

All my life I have been haunted by the fascinating questions of creativity. Why does an original idea in science and in art “pop up” from the unconscious at a given moment?

Rollo May, The Courage to Create

We never come to thoughts. They come to us.

Martin Heidegger, “The Thinker as Poet”

Winter weather in Texas cancelled our plans to work in The Gallery at Redlands this weekend. Fortunately, creativity is not restricted to a particular space. We now continue our gallery opening preparations in Studio Eidolons. With temperatures hovering now at 19 degrees along with meteorological rumors of snow, it was pleasing to build a fire and enjoy coffee, journals and books here in the living room with dogs sleeping nearby. Glowing candles about the room have enhanced the hygge environment Sandi and I have been reading about in recent weeks. Time, weather and space have mingled to create a lovely zone for reflection.

As a compulsive re-reader, I have re-opened Rollo May’s The Courage to Create. The author and psychologist was inspired by his mentor Paul Tillich’s work The Courage to Be, where the argument is advanced that courage is demanded to affirm life while living in a threatening enviornment. Rollo May responds: “one cannot be in a vacuum. We express our being by creating. Creativity is a necessary sequel to being.” This called up deep reminiscences of my own sojourn in this life. Though nurtured by my family, I endured anxiety throughout my entire childhood and adolescent years, feeling inferior among my peers at school. The only talent I felt I had was in art, and engaging in this activity gave me inner strength to face my small world. As an adult, self-confidence took hold, and making art fell by the wayside for the most part as I went to work the way everyone else seemed to do.

Since retiring a few years back, I have been writing my memoirs, seeking a better understanding of my past. I cannot overstate the luxury of time to think on these things and write out my perspectives of what has happened. Perusing stacks of personal journals accumulated over the years, I’ve been trying to determine when it was exactly that art came back to the center of my life. At this point, I feel that art was something I did as a coping skill when a child, then something induced by talent in teenage years, only to be dropped completely in favor of academic study during college and graduate school years. Once I entered the teaching field, art came back into my life, but it seemed more personal, more reflective than it had been in younger years.

Now, art is something I have to do. Ideas and mental pictures cascade into my consciousness throughout the day. Visions invade my dream world while I sleep. Every morning, I awake to compulsions to pursue an idea or draft an image. Echoing the sentiments of May and Heidegger quoted above, I find myself wondering over the origin of these visitations. Throughout the years I have enjoyed reading musician Neil Young’s biographies and autobiography, along with listening to his interviews with Charlie Rose replayed on YouTube, where he discusses his songwriting experiences. Frequently, Young has admitted that particular ideas and jarring images just arrived uninvited–he has no idea what prompted them to visit his imagination. That is exactly how I feel. For instance, the picture below–a couple of days ago, I “saw” this remembrance in my mind’s eye of a lone fisherman I saw many winters ago while fly fishing for trout stocked in the Brazos River beneath the Highway 16 bridge below Possum Kingdom dam. Going back through my archives, I located the picture I took of him with a digital camera years before the smart phone took over. I had to go to the drafting table and give this image a try in a quick watercolor sketch.

Life is like that, for me, and has been for years. I am excited and overwhelmed to take over the ownership of The Gallery at Redlands, and look forward to our opening event in late March. Sandi and I have been consumed with ideas for this space for nearly two weeks now. I have answered several friends who have questioned whether my new life as a gallerist will impede my work as an artist. I honestly don’t see that happening. My attention to creative pursuits has not waned in past weeks. Ideas continue to stampade through my consciousness throughout each day and night. I cannot refuse to answer the call when it comes.

Still adjusting this 5 x 7″ watercolor

I placed a mat over this 5 x 7″ watercolor sketch, but have decided to tweak it further. I have already added another framed 5 x 7″ to The Gallery at Redlands and plan to join it with this one once it’s finished.

Already on dispaly at The Gallery at Redlands

It appears that I will need to bring this meditation to a close–I’ve received another visitation.

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.

Watercolor Sketching in Studio Eidolons

January 28, 2021
Working in the Watercolor Sketchbooks this morning

Then in the Arctic half-light of the canyon, all existence fades to a being with my soul and memories and the sounds of the Big Blackfoot River and a four-count rhythm and the hope that a fish will rise.

Norman Maclean, A River Runs Through It

Waking early with these words in my memory, I rose from my bed knowing what I wanted to do as soon as I entered my space in Studio Eidolons–sketch the solitary fly fisherman. For the moment, I am ready to lay aside plans for finished watercolor paintings and instead fill up some pages in the sketchbooks with experimental techniques. My hope is that experimentation will free me up to discover new ways and methods for rendering subjects in water media. I have always been afraid and tight when it came to inserting the human figure into my compositions. Hopefully I can break through that barrier with these new attempts.

I am sketching these from photos Sandi took of me with her phone while fishing recently in the Guadalupe River and last September when I was in the South Fork of the Rio Grande. Both locations provided an abundance of memories that visit me as I work on these this morning.

My artist friend Cindy Thomas has created a seven-minute film of me painting in Studio Eidolons and fly fishing in the Guadalupe. The rough cut has already been given to me, and watching it has been so warmly satisfying. Once the film is complete, I look forward to sharing it online for those who wish to view it. The water in the Guadalupe was clear as an aquarium, and the sunlit beauty of the setting was stunning, as was the thirty-degree temperatures.

My experience last September at South Fork, Colorado was also scintillating, to say the least. A foot of snow had fallen the day before, and as I stood in the stream, a fresh, heavy, wet snowfall doused me, and the brown trout rose with an enthusiasm I have seldom experienced on the stream. I have those photos laid out for potential sketches as well.

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.

Too Busy to Stop and Write

December 22, 2020
Quiet Reflective Momentss in Studio Eidolons

He was too busy living to stop and write.

Edwin Way Teale, “Introduction,” The Wilderness World of John Muir

Life has been a whirlwind since my last post. Christmas Eve finds our family nestled in New Braunfels, Texas. My plans are to enter the crystal waters of the Guadalupe River later today in quest of trout. Several weeks back I was enraptured, wading the stream while Cindy and Gary filmed me for her MFA project. I was enchanted at the sight of large trout gliding beneath the surface of those glistening waters. Today I anticipate seeing more of the same.

During my recent visit to Missouri, my friend Wayne White surprised me for Christmas with a Dutch oven and the John Muir book quoted above. Thanks to those two thoughtful gifts, I’ll be feeding the body and the soul in the days ahead.

He was too busy living to stop and write.

That simple line encapsulates what I’ve experienced since taking up the blog a few years back, the journal a few decades back, and my thought life an entire lifetime back. For as long as I can remember, reaching even back to my early childhood, I have mentally narrated my life from one moment to the next. The late Harold Bloom wrote of this experience of “overhearing oneself.” Well, that is precisely what I have known since childhood. As I moved through my days, I heard an interior voice narrating what I was experiencing, much like a documentary. By the time I was in graduate school, I wondered “Why don’t I keep a journal?” In 1985, I finally began scribbling my wandering thoughts on legal pads, tearing off and dating the pages and putting them in file folders. Later I graduated to spiral notebooks, and ultimately to bound books. Recently counting the volumes I came to the number 213. Still accumulating. I have yet to count the number of fat file folders jammed with thoughts from 1985 to 1988.

Though the journal receives words several times a day, the thoughts are frequently random, cursory, and therefore not blog-worthy (unfortunately I often feel that many unblogworthy thoughts get launched in the blog anyway). Nevertheless, today’s blog acknowledges that I’ve been in flight for awhile, not stopping to blog. This morning I’m going to try and catch up.

A Gem from Robert Henri

I have written before of treasures I’ve gleaned from multiple readings of Robert Henri’s The Art Spirit. This amazing artist opened up our twentieth century with a revolution tagged The Ashcan School. His magnetic personality drew around himself a gaggle of newspaper illustrators who submitted paintings and etchings of America’s urban blight, a radical departure from the accepted subjects of landscape, still life, genre painting and portraiture. The general public was horrified (“Why do you wish to publish the armpits of America for all to view?”). But the paintings depicted a truth that viewers could not avoid contemplating.

Like a prophet or sage, Henri gathered his followers in his studio at 806 Walnut Street in Philadelphia where they sketched and discussed their art, and listened to their leader’s readings from Emerson, Whitman and other American divines. Eventually, Henri’s loose assortment of lectures, articles and letters were published in this marvelous book that I read the way many read their Bibles.

The man who has great emotions might burst into tears–but that is as far as he will get if he has no practical side. The artist must have the emotional side first, the primal cause of his being an artist, but he must also have an excellent mind, which he must command and use as a tool for the expression of his emotions.

The idea, which is the primal thing for a picture, is all in the air; the expression on canvas is a case of absolute science as it deals with materials. A great artist is both a great imaginer and a great employer of practical science. First there must be the man, then the technique.

Robert Henri, The Art Spirit

These ideas expressed by Henri have percolated in me for most of my life, but I never could relay them as eloquently as he has in this passage. My own art has sought that balance between my emotional and technical dimensions. In recent roadtrips, my eyes have feasted on the land rolling past my windshield, and my heart has raced at the thought of watercolor possibilities while using my smart phone to snap impressions of these future compositions. Later today, when I enter the stream, my eyes will survey the waters, the banks, the trees, and the distant horizon, and I will mentally paint the scene engulfing me. Hopefully, I’ll land the occasional trout as well.

I want to wish all my readers the safest and most serene Christmas season. May you always find Quality in your life and surroundings.

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.

Good Morning from Studio Eidolons

December 10, 2020

A fishing prodigy, like a musical prodigy, is perforce a solitary.

David James Duncan, The River Why

Quality Journal time in the Morning

North Texas skies are dark and rainy this morning, which seems always to make the coffee taste better. The environment seems more conducive to quality reading as well. I am an unapologetic bibliophile; I could spend an entire day doing nothing but reading. Since yesterday, I have been chained to The River Why. I have thoroughly enjoyed the film, watching it countless times. And the book is almost always better than the film, I know that. But I was totally unprepared for what would happen when I opened this volume yesterday; my feet have been swept out from under me as from a tidal wave.

The sentence opening this blog opens Chapter 3b in the book. Everything preceding it managed to set the hook in me already, but the statement above found me re-opening scores of computer files of the memoir I’ve been composing for over two years. As if that were not enough, I went to the file cabinet and retrieved a stack of manila folders to go through pages stored decades ago. The “solitary” note has once again grabbed my attention.

. . . I grew up osprey-silent and trout-shy and developed early on an ability to slide through the Public School System as riverwater slides by the logjams, rockslides and dams that bar its seaward journey. It wasn’t that I was antisocial; I simply suffered from that lopsidedness of character, typical in prodigies. As young Mozart cared for nothing but keyboards, strings and woodwinds, so I cared for nothing but lakes, rivers, streams and their denizens.

I have often wished I was sufficiently financed to spend years on the psychiatrist’s couch in order to uncover the layers of mystery from my personal past. To be frank, I was not a prodigy. But there was only one thing I could do well from my childhood, and that was draw. Once I entered the public school, I found nearly all classes boring, and chose to draw in the margins of my assignment papers, tuning out teachers and class discussions. By the time college arrived, I felt I did not deserve to enter, and indeed art was the only reason I could qualify with a scholarship. Academic interests did not arrive until I had a year of college under my belt, and since those days I have fought to feed both the art and knowledge obsessions.

Amazing Morning Reading

This encounter with The River Why has reawakened my craving to return to the streams of the Guadalupe River, so at the time of this writing, I am making plans. Meanwhile, betweeen watercoloring for this commission coming due and packing my fly-fishing gear, I am enjoying quiet time over the fishing books in my studio.

I am also dashing out some quick watercolor sketches of fly-fishing subjects. All of it is turning out to be very enjoyable.

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.

Holiday Bounty

December 9, 2020
Merry Christmas from Studio Eidolons

There is no adequate explanation for my lengthy blog hiatus. November and December have been full and bountiful for me with much travel and an abundance of art-related obligations. Having read Hamlet’s Blackberry some years back, I was convinced that it didn’t matter if my blogging fell by the wayside for a season; who would notice or care? Well . . . this morning I received a heart-warming email from a reader inquiring if I was OK. I’m truly touched by this, and want to take a moment to tell everyone Yes, I am very OK and didn’t realize it had been so long since my last post.

Autumn Morning through the new Studio Window
Is it still Plein Air when you are Indoors?!

Most mornings for the past month have been the same–Sandi and I enjoy coffee, books, and the dogs’ affections for an hour or so. Then I go into Studio Eidolons to work on some kind of art project, whether its class preparations, a commission or just my own joyful explorations. Lately I have been doing many more watercolor sketches in my sketchbook and exploring techniques not tried before. My Wednesday watercolor classes at Show Me the Monet gallery in Arlington have picked up; instead of teaching twice a week, I’ve been doing them weekly. My last one for December will be on the 16th. I’m not sure yet what is happening in January . . .

Baby Paddington beginning to Fill Out

Our baby Paddington is growing like a weed and seldom holds still long enough for a picture, but I was quick enough to capture this pose. Every day when I work in the studio he takes a nap in his bed nearby, and his presence is a joy to me. Now that the Christmas tree is up he enjoys his bed next to the tree.

Partial Demo for this Afternoon’s Watercolor Class

I am dashing this blog out quickly because I have a watercolor class this afternoon, 2-5:00. Above is the beginnings of what we will paint today–an historic cabin in Arlington’s Knapp Heritage Park.

Cindy and Gary setting up for a Film Shoot

Work on the film by Cindy Thomas has kicked into high gear this past month. She is putting together a presentation that combines my watercolor activity with fly-fishing and journal activity. Time divided between the studio and the outdoors has piled up over many days now, and who knows how many hours she has spent in the studio editing. I was privileged to see the first cut a couple of days ago. The film will also feature narration by Kevin Harris of Smooth Rock FM that I came to know as a friend in recent years. A music student from University of Texas Arlington is also composing a score to accompany the piece.

Cindy Filming on the Guadalupe River
Beginning the Shoot
The Amazing Clarity of the River
That’s a Wrap!

Recently we spent two days on the Guadalupe River in New Braunfels, Texas. The temperatures were in the frigid thirties, but the quality of light and clarity of the stream were breath-taking. We are planning another film shoot on that location in the coming weeks.

Beginning Work on Christmas Cards

For over a week, I have tried daily to create a blog, but there have been too many disruptions (thankfully the Christmas shopping is finished, and the home decorating near completion). Hopefully, I won’t wait as long before posting the next one.

Thanks for reading.

I make art in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.

Snow Rhapsody on the Stream

September 10, 2020
South Fork of the Rio Grande

The river was clear and smoothly fast in the early morning.
Down about two hundred yards were three logs all the way across the stream. They made the water smooth and deep above them. As Nick watched, a mink crossed the river on the logs and went into the swamp. Nick was excited. He was excited by the early morning and the river.

Ernest Hemingway, “The Big Two-Hearted River”

Riverbend Resort has been my favorite Colorado haunt since our friends the Darrs introduced us to this place twenty years ago. The South Fork of the Rio Grande cuts through the resort, and I decided to rent a tent spot for $30 so I could fish on this private stretch of water that I have come to know so well.

With temperatures hovering at 34 degrees and the one-foot snowfall thawing enough to make trudging through the meadows easier, I pulled on sufficient winter gear to enter the stream and not suffer chills with the icy winds coming down the gorge.

Rhapsody in the Stream

After working the waters for nearly two hours, I only encountered a small brown trout for five seconds before he shook free of the fly. Copper Johns have always been the trouts’ nymph of choice, and I was advised that they were still doing the trick this time of year in these parts. But I was having near-zero luck this time.

Nevertheless, the waters were beautiful as was the fallen snow all around, and I felt a serenity I always cherish when wading a mountain stream. The solitude was rich; I only enountered one other fly fisherman who hailed me from the shore as he was trudging back to his cabin, having caught only one small rainbow. Temperatures continued to hold steady in the mid-thirties, but I felt no discomfort. In the third hour, I finally reached my favorite hole–an enormous shelf of rock the size of a pickup truck slanting into the water, the darkness beneath making my pulse quicken.

My first cast into the shadow of the rock was greeted by a fourteen-inch rainbow whose aerobatics entertained me for about half a minute. By the time I had him within three feet of my net, he broke free and was gone. Still, watching his antics sent thrills throughout my being, and I knew there had to be more action where that originated.

After missing another trio of strikes near the rock, I finally hooked and netted a small brown and took a moment to admire the beautiful bronzes, golds and scarlets that played along his flank as he lay on the rocks. I wasn’t fishing for food today, and was glad to see him dart into the depths once I released him.

All at once the heavens opened and the air was filled with enormous snow flakes. This is the first time I ever stood in the midst of a mountain stream with a snow shower falling all over me and plopping all over the stream. I’ve been surprised before by sudden thunderstorms, always exiting the waters as quickly as possible, but this was different–the enormous flakes fell hard and thick all around me, and the sight was gorgeous. I wanted to take out my phone and shoot pictures, but the waters suddenly rippled in several areas at once as the trout were rising with a vengeance. Because I was using a nymph, I held little hope of landing any of these surface feeders, but I suddenly saw a good-sized brown rolling in the water just underneath the lip of that enormous rock outcropping. I dropped the nymph upstream and watched the grasshopper I used as a strike indicator drift along the shadow of the rock. Suddenly the hopper was gone and I saw the bright flash of gold beneath the surface. A minute later, he was in the net, all fourteen inches of him.

After a quick photo I lowered him back into the water and he was off like a shot. All I could think of was the Hemingway short story (a portion posted above) that I’ve loved since high school. And I laughed at recalling the prosaic line “Nick was happy.” That’s all I could say. Dave was happy. And exhausted. As I turned to leave the stream, grateful for such a day and thinking nothing better could possibly happen, a bird suddenly visited me. He landed on my fly rod and remained perched there. After a few frozen moments of our staring at one another, I reached into my pouch, fished out my phone, flipped to the camera mode, aimed, and caught his picture. He stayed another thirty seconds before deciding to move on. I couldn’t believe it: a bird suddenly perching on my flyrod as I waded toward shore. And staying awhile as I stood still, holding the rod as steady as possible.

Bird on the Flyrod

Two summers ago, while here at Riverbend Resort, I was watercoloring on the porch of my cabin and was visited by a bird who perched on the painting I was working on en plein air. He also remained to be photographed for warm memories. My friends laughed at the encounter, calling me Saint Francis.

Bird on the Painting

In the morning we continue our Odyssey as we venture into Utah. Thanks for reading. This has been a heart-warming day for me.

I make art in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.

Three Fly Patterns Completed and Packaged

September 1, 2020
Working in Studio Eidolons
Elk Hair Caddis
Royal Wulff
Parachute Adams

I have happily drawn this commission project to a close–three fly patterns, all of them 8 x 10″. For over ten years, I have had the desire to attempt these subjects in watercolor, but was always too timid to try. Once this commission “made” me take the plunge, I found out how enjoyable such an endeavor can be. The nature of the hackles forced me to develop more sensitivity with brushstrokes. In the midst of the project I returned to the Six Canons of Painting by the Sixth-Century Chinese painter Xie He. I really needed this reminder about the “bone method” in the second principle which calls attention to the integrity of the individual brushstrokes. I believe I’m going to take the next step and see if I can market such images in the future. Already I’m thinking about creating greeting cards with these images on the front and boxing them in sets to sell.

More jobs await. 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.