Archive for the ‘ghost signs’ Category

Labor Day Wanderings

September 1, 2014
Plein Air Watercolor Sketchin in Hico, Texas

Plein Air Watercolor Sketch in Hico, Texas

Afoot and light-hearted I take to the open road,

Healthy, free, the world before me,

The long brown path before me leading wherever I choose.

Henceforth I ask not good-fortune, I myself am good-fortune,

Henceforth I whimper no more, postpone no more, need nothing,

Done with indoor complaints, libraries, querulous criticisms,

Strong and content I travel the open road.

Walt Whitman, “Song of the Open Road”

Monday.  Labor Day.  At around 11:00 this morning, I suddenly felt the window slamming shut on my three-day holiday.  I had not yet taken to the open road, and determined that it was today or not for a long time.  I gassed up my Jeep and felt the whisper of Hico, Texas, a town I had not visited in several years, but could still remember that quaint boulevard running down the center of historic downtown, replete with park benches and a gazebo.  The afternoon drive proved to be a long and arduous one, with termperatures lingering right at a hundred degrees, but I loved the old boulevard the moment I saw it. Once I began work on the sketch, I found the nonstop traffic rumbling along the highway through the middle of town to be a comfort, and I focused on the rough-cut stone facade of one of the historic buildings replete with a Coca-Cola ghost sign.  I had tried this composition a few years back and was glad to rest the watercolor block on my knees for a second try.

My Littered Work Area

My Littered Work Area

The play of the hot sun off the rusticated facade delighted my eye, and I spent most of this afternoon peering at those textures and colors, attempting to capture them on the page.  Throughout the afternoon, Walt Whitman’s words resounded in my memory, and I was grateful for his companionship.

Hico, Texas bench with watercolor and the view

Hico, Texas bench with watercolor and the view

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.

 

 

 

 

 

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“Things Seen But Not Looked At”

May 31, 2014
Ghost Sign on S. Rogers St., Waxahachie

Ghost Sign on S. Rogers St., Waxahachie

It is often said “The public does not appreciate art!”  Perhaps the public is dull, but there is just a possibility that we are also dull, and that if there were more motive, wit, human philosophy, or other evidence of interesting personality in our work the call might be stronger.

Robert Henri, The Art Spirit

It was a dark, overcast morning in Waxahachie, Texas when I arrived before 8:00 to begin painting en plein air.  The seventy-degree morning was inviting, and so were the cool breezes.  I don’t request bright, direct sunlight every time I paint, the way I used to do.  I strolled four city blocks before I decided to give this ghost sign a try; I have had more problems with brick facades in watercolor than most other subjects.  Twice when I walked past this building, it seemed to “put out a call” the way it was described when Edward Hopper shambled about town, looking for a space to enter and paint.  I felt welcomed by the bricks, the message, the ghost of a business that once welcomed many customers but now was shuttered.  The street was busy with traffic and pedestrians, and all the while I sketched and painted, the building stood contrastingly mute.  To borrow the phrase from Pop Artist Jasper Johns, I thought today I would paint something “seen but not looked at.”

I posted the Robert Henri quote with tongue-in-cheek, because pedestrians had to climb a hill to see what I was doing, and many of them did, the interest always seemed genuine, and the cordiality was heart-warming.  I even had the pleasure of conversing for a little while with a reporter for the Waxahachie Daily Light, their local newspaper.  In my past six years of participation in Paint Historic Waxahachie, I have always found the public in this town very interested in art made on site, and the conversations were always engaging.

I can’t wait to return to this town tomorrow in search of another subject to paint.

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.

Sailing to Byzantium

May 30, 2014

Ovilla, Texas Barn

Ovilla, Texas Barn

I

That is no country for old men. The young

In one another’s arms, birds in the trees

—Those dying generations—at their song,

The salmon-falls, the mackerel-crowded seas,

Fish, flesh, or fowl commend all summer long

Whatever is begotten, born, and dies.

Caught in that sensual music all neglect

Monuments of unaging intellect.

 

II

An aged man is but a paltry thing,

A tattered coat upon a stick, unless

Soul clap its hands and sing, and louder sing

For every tatter in its mortal dress,

Nor is there singing school but studying

Monuments of its own magnificence;

And therefore I have sailed the seas and come

To the holy city of Byzantium.

. . .

William Butler Yeats, “Sailing to Byzantium”

Forgive me.  I am not a trained literary critic, so my comments on texts may not fit mainstream published interpretations.  However, I am a bona fide lover of literature, a lover of the printed and spoken word.  I delight in lingering over language, believing that revelation is always possible.  As I’ve been painting this sign-covered barn, these words from William Butler Yeats have been washing over me in successive waves.  No doubt some of the reason is due to the recent passing of beautiful Maya Angelou.  Incidentally, I did read her poem “On the Pulse of Morning” at the opening of yesterday’s Philosophy class.  And yes, I choked on the final stanza, as I always do.  Her words flood me with uncontrollable emotion.

Funny–in years long past, I have wrestled and fretted over this William Butler Yeats text, was required to teach it in senior English, and always felt unable to “get it.”  But now it speaks to me soothingly as I come to peace with my own aging, and feel a serenity when I linger in the presence of unaging monuments erected in days gone by.  This well-preserved barn from Ovilla, Texas, clothed in advertisements by companies–many of  which no longer survive–whispers a presence to me during silent moments as I gaze upon it.  The barn still stands in quiet majesty, though many of the companies advertised exist only in the memories of aging intellects.  Thus, I experience that dual feeling of presence and loss as I look upon this subject.

I have had difficulty finding quality time to work on this painting since the end-of-year procedures at school are taxing my daily hours, leaving little time in late afternoon to paint.  But when I do enter the studio, I feel that I have sailed into the holy city of Byzantium.  The fading northern light of these spring afternoons provides a warmth and comfort to me, and bending over these watercolor compositions leads me into a sublime realm.  The Waxahachie plein air experience begins tomorrow and will run non-stop for a week.  I am anticipating a rich experience of painting in the open air once again.

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.

Sailing to Byzantium

May 25, 2014

Maypearl Bank

That is no country for old men. The young

In one another’s arms, birds in the trees

—Those dying generations—at their song,

The salmon-falls, the mackerel-crowded seas,

Fish, flesh, or fowl, commend all summer long

Whatever is begotten, born, and dies.

Caught in that sensual music all neglect

Monuments of unageing intellect.

William Butler Yeats, “Sailing to Byzantium”

I am following up the broad lacuna of my blog by acknowledging another grueling week of school (only two weeks left now), followed by a three-day art festival.  I have been watercoloring consistently, but without time or computer access for posting.  My art work is in Booth #11 at the Downtown Arlington Levitt Pavilion Music Festival.  We set up on Friday, opened that afternoon, then I rose early Saturday and drove forty minutes south to the quaint little town of Maypearl, Texas, where I twice painted the Dr. Pepper billboard on the side of an aging hardware store.

This time I looked across the street at what used to be the bank in downtown Maypearl, and devoted my morning hours to cranking out this watercolor en plein air.  I was forced to stop at 1:00 and returnn to Arlington in order to shower, re-pack and get to my festival booth by opening time at 4:00.

As I painted, I thought of these words from the W. B. Yeats poem, and the reality of loss that comes with time passing.  Though it was Saturday, hardly anyone stirred on Main Street in this town as I whiled away the hours painting.  It could just as well have been Edward Hopper’s depression-era Early Sunday Morning.  Nevertheless, I chose to look at this bank building as one of our American “monuments of unageing intellect.”  And as I soaked in the cool breezes of the overcast day and painted the building in the gray light of a Texas morning, I thought of how time passes, yet we find ways to hold fast the memories of things that we knew as stable and dependable, much as the citizens of Maypearl did this bank.

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.

 

Dr. Pepper Painting and Thoughts about Purpose

May 13, 2014
Beginning of a Large Ghost Sign Watercolor

Beginning of a Large Ghost Sign Watercolor

Most of what we express creatively is prelinguistic.  The deeper insights are obviously coming from somewhere.  They are not logiclly structured in the mind, but it may take logic to get them expressed.

Ian Roberts, Creative Authenticity

Every artist has a central story to tell, and the difficulty, the impossible task, is trying to present that story in pictures.

Gregory Crewdson

Having finished the Kennedale clock tower, I’m turning my attention now to a subject I’ve tackled twice already en plein air.  This hardware store is located on Main Street in Maypearl, Texas.  I figured it was time to go after a large studio version of the composition.

Some of my students recently took up a discussion over life and its purpose.  One of the issues discussed concerns those who find life boring or without meaning.  I have to admit that I have not been able to sympathize with boredom.  For me, as long as I can remember, there has not been sufficient time to do everything I wish to do.  Any day that I have free time I have a fundamental struggle over whether to read or to paint.  I cannot do both simultaneously.  Even blogging takes time away from my books, my journal, and my art.  And there are many, many other things I like to do.  I had a long day at school, followed by a one-hour required session, followed by a school function.  When I finally got home at 7:30, I realized that the evening was nearly spent, and I had all these ideas I was wanting to uncover concerning Jean-Paul Sartre (our subject in tomorrow morning’s class).  I also had this Dr. Pepper watercolor on my drafting table, barely underway.  And I have found a renewed delight in the poetry of Walt Whitman.  Alas, too many interests, too little time.

Before I close however, I want to address this:  I never feel “blocked” as an artist.  I never feel that I go through spells of being unable to begin a painting.  I do acknowledge that my skill is not always “on”, that I don’t always “hit” when I attempt a new composition.  But that is not the same thing as a painter’s block.  I am painting, with joy, even if it’s not going well.  Instead of issues of being blocked, or dried up, I have issues of hot and cold: sometimes it seems I can do no wrong when I’m moving the pencil or brush; sometimes I am clumsy and obtuse.

Walt Whitman wrote “As I Ebb’d with the Ocean of Life,” when he felt that his second edition of Leaves of Grass was not as crisp as his original one.  As he walked the shores, watching the ocean tide advance and withdraw, he drew parallels with his creativity as it surged with renewed energy as well as those times when it seemed to ebb.  Before he closed out the poem, he voiced the conviction that the flow would return.  And that is what I try to keep before me when I feel that the painting is not going too well.  I think this helps me keep my sanity.

Thanks for reading.  I want to pick up the brush now . . .

I paint in order to remember.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

 

 

 

A Second Day for Plein Air Painting in a Small Town

May 4, 2014
Hardware, Feed & Supply Store Maypearl, Texas

Hardware, Feed & Supply Store
Maypearl, Texas

Our life is an apprenticeship to the truth that around every circle another can be drawn; that there is no end in nature, but every end is a beginning; that there is always another dawn risen on mid-noon, and under every deep a lower deep opens.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Circles”, 1840.

The season of plein air painting has dawned in Texas, and after a long winter of painting from photographs I am glad to stretch my limbs, go outside and engage the three-dimensional enveloping world that greets me.  I took Emerson’s mantra seriously this morning, deciding that yesterday’s feeble attempt at rendering the Dr. Pepper sign in Maypearl was an O.K. start, but I could do better.  And so today I returned to the scene of yesterday and gave the subject a second try.  The temperatures were unbearably hot, but the shade of the oak tree did its part, and I felt O.K.

I found Maypearl, Texas deserted on Sunday afternoon.  Only the biker shop and a cafe were open.  There were no people to be found up and down the sidewalks, though I did notice there were four other plein air painters engaged in painting the town, two in oils and the other two in watercolor.  I began around 1:30 and finished 4:00.  Two-and-a-half hours proved to be enough in the hot afternoon.  I took my time, and promised not to hurry, but also not to do too much.  It’s only a sketch.  Only plein air.  Only practice.  It’s my conviction that time spent in the field will pay dividends in the studio.  I loved the quiet of the town and the space in my schedule to pursue this kind of activity.

Tomorrow begins another weary round of school.  We’re in the final grading cycle, so it won’t be much longer.  Hopefully, I put some of the extra time into serious painting.

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.

 

The Charms of Painting a Small Texas Town

May 3, 2014
Main Street Maypearl, Texas

Main Street
Maypearl, Texas

My God, how difficult painting is when you want to express your thoughts with pictorial rather than literary means.

Paul Gauguin, Journal

The annual Paint Historic Waxahachie event has extended its activities this year in a most excellent way.  The weeklong Paint Out will actually commence on June 2 and run through June 8, but this year the organization decided to expand the painting hours to include all the weekends in May.  Today marked Day One, and the location was downtown Maypearl, Texas, a town I have been aware of for over thirty years, but never once visited.  It does not lie on any of the major Texas Interstate arteries.

I found Main Street so filled with traditional American images that I cannot wait to return tomorrow.  Every storefront was worthy of a cover illustration for a Sinclair Lewis novel.  I stopped at this Dr. Pepper ghost sign on the corner of Main and First, probably because the sun was up and hot, and there was this immense spreading oak tree directly across the street, throwing a twenty-foot cool shadow across the soft, velvety grass.  I set up my easel in the shade, and worked on this piece for a few hours at my leisure, not once having to chafe at the sun.  I saw five other plein air painters at their easels further up the street, all of them working directly in the sun.  I cannot do that.

Last night I received the benefit of the best night’s sleep in a week or more.  I suppose that was one reason I was able to stay with this piece and see it to its conclusion.  Granted it’s only a plein air watercolor sketch, measuring 8 x 10″, I still found myself absorbed with the brick exterior of this old building and the weathered, faded ghost sign running along its side, and I just couldn’t rush it.  I didn’t want to.  It’s been ages since I’ve painted outdoors, looking directly at my subject with delight, soaking in its details and trying to solve the problems on paper of composition, contrast, faithfulness to colors, detailed drawing, etc.  The small picture presented plenty of problems, but all of them worth fighting through.

As I worked through the afternoon,I found the surroundings of this sleepy Texas town very idyllic.  The occasional passerby was always friendly, and people even pulled over in their vehicles, rolling down their windows to inquire, pay complements, and chat.  I felt as though I were home for the first time in decades.  The occasional thunder of a group of cruising Harleys also added to the small town’s charm.  A cook-off was happening half a block away, and the aromas were enough to stir up anybody’s appetite.  Everything worked–the sights, the sounds, the smells, the overall serene, unhurried feel of a Texas Saturday under a bright sun.

Today was the gift that kept on giving.  Later, I was surprised while driving to find an old-fashioned diner where I could relax over a classic small-town American supper:  Liver and onions, fried okra, red beans and rice, sweet iced tea.  I pushed the empty plate aside and followed the sumptuous dinner with coffee, a good book, and a journal for scribbling the day’s highlights, and there were so many.  No appointments, no deadline, no clock.  Just what the doctor ordered.  I could not have planned a more perfect Saturday.

I’m ready to retire for the night and hope to greet such a painter’s paradise again tomorrow.   I just cannot believe the good fortune of this day.

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.

 

 

 

 

Reminiscences of an Extended Plein Air Road Trip

April 12, 2014
Abandoned Zephyr Station on Historic Route 66 Southwest of St. Louis

Abandoned Zephyr Station on Historic Route 66 Southwest of St. Louis

I paint so I’ll have something to look at. . . . I write so I’ll have something to read.

Barnett Newman

My reason for not posting on the blog all week is a legitimate one.  It’s called Income Tax.  My appointment with the accountant is this afternoon.  I spent every day Monday through Friday of this past week gathering receipts, spreadsheets and files of data to organize for this afternoon’s meeting.  Twice I went to bed at 1:30 a.m. (I have to rise at 6:00 to teach school).  Another pair of nights saw me retiring to bed at midnight.  My earliest night was 10:30.  But now it is behind me (except for the meeting and the filing).  I am letting out a deep sigh of relief.

Understandably, I have not been able to pick up a watercolor brush, though thoughts of it remained with me on the hour each day.  I have posted above a watercolor I completed a few years ago.  I traveled to this site in Villa Ridge, Missouri (southwest of St. Louis, just north of Interstate 44).  Before leaving Arlington, Texas to travel home to St. Louis to visit family, I checked on the Internet and found photos of an abandoned quonset hut Zephyr station on historic route 66.  I tried to find specific directions to the location with no luck.  I concluded that all I had to do was get to Villa Ridge and ask directions.  Ten hours into my drive, and very road-weary, I took an exit off I-44 for Villa Ridge and drove in circles for about an hour, constantly re-entering the freeway.  I tried following every “historic route 66” sign I could find in a ten-mile radius, all to no avail.  While sitting in a left-turn lane at a traffic light, waiting for the green arrow, I changed my mind and decided to go straight through the intersection.  Crossing over the solid white line resulted in my being pulled over immediately by a Missouri State Highway Patrolmen who happened to be in the left-turn lane behind me (smart move).

When the patrolman approached my window, I explained that I was a watercolorist who had just driven ten hours straight from Arlington, Texas, looking for this route 66 landmark to photograph and paint.  I handed him my stack of papers and photos printed off the Internet sites, along with my driver’s license and proof of insurance card.  Returning five mintes later from his patrol unit, he mildly handed me a warning citation and gave me verbal directions on how to get to the Zephyr station.  What a Mensch!  I am not used to getting that kind of courtesy from traffic law enforcement officers.

First Sight of the Zephyr Station

First Sight of the Zephyr Station

Once I pulled into what was left of the parking lot of this derelict station, I saw that all signage, lights and gas pumps (visible on the Internet historic photos) had been removed.  Nevertheless, the structure remained, so I got out of my Jeep and set up a portable easel, quickly knocking out a plein air sketch of one end of the station as it began to get dark.  A curious neighbor approached me to see what I was doing, and gladly took me on a tour behind the station to show me what was left of the roadbed that preceded route 66.  It was then called The Old Post Road.  She was full of stories, and I filled several pages of my journal later that evening as I recalled as many details as possible.

Plein Air Watercolor Sketch

Plein Air Watercolor Sketch

Walking to the far end of the parking lot, I was enthralled at the sight of this Zephyr billboard completely overgrown with leaves.

Overgrown Zephyr Billboard

Overgrown Zephyr Billboard

By this time, it was too dark to paint, and I was extremely exhausted from the ten-hour drive and quick painting session.  So I snapped a photo and decided to return the next day.  My parents lived about an hour further down the Interstate.

All night long, it rained and rained.  Returning the next day, I sat in the back of my Jeep and watercolor sketched this sign until the rains resumed.  I would have to take the painting back home with me to finish on a subsequent day, relying on photos I took.

Completed Watercolor of the Billboard

Completed Watercolor of the Billboard

The only thing remaining for me to do was to take photos of the parking lot that had been transformed into a reflective pool by the hard rains and take up a serious studio project of the subject in the future.

After the Rain

After the Rain

Completed Studio Watercolor

Completed Studio Watercolor

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.

Every Brushstroke Matters

December 9, 2013
Work on a Vintage Jeep

Work on a Vintage Jeep

Every sentence is the result of a long probation.

Henry David Thoreau, Journal, February 28, 1841

But sometimes when I was starting a new story and I could not get it going, I would sit in front of the fire and squeeze the peel of the little oranges into the edge of the flame and watch the sputter of blue that they made.  I would stand and look out over the roofs of Paris and think, “Do not worry.  You have always written before and you will write now.  All you have to do is write one true sentence.  Write the truest sentence that you know.”  So finally I would write one true sentence, and then go on from there.  

Ernest Hemingway, A Moveable Feast

Writers inspire me as an artist.  They have for years.  I feel their struggle as they grapple with words just as I struggle, grappling with images.  Today is the fourth consecutive day of painting in the studio for me, and fatigue is trying to set in.  I know that is true when the breaks I take for household chores become attractive and I find more tasks to perform.  Sometimes it is hard to keep the artistic juices flowing, and I am always grateful when a kindred spirit reaches me through the printed word.  Thoreau wrote something in a Journal that I read and posted previously and returned to this morning to re-read and write in my own journal.  His comment led me to recall a similar sentiment from Hemingway during his early Parisian days as a struggling writer.

“Every sentence is the result of a long probation,” muses Thoreau.  So also is every brushsroke of a watercolorist.  Currently working on an 8 x 10″ piece, I feel a bit of a squeeze, knowing that brushstrokes have a much smaller stage and are more easily exposed than when woven into an 18 x 24″ composition.  It is in these small pieces that I remind msyelf of the importance, the strength, the expression of a single stroke, and follow up with the realization that I can do this.  I have done this for years, and will again today.  Make each stroke direct and true, as Hemingway did each sentence.  Realize, like Thoreau, that I have a long history in each stroke, a long regiment of training and rehearsal.  This is not new.

I just needed a jolt from the writers.  I am grateful for them today.  And grateful for this day, this space, this 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.

After the Fireworks

July 5, 2013
Door Sign Residue from Archer City Gas Station

Door Sign Residue from Archer City Gas Station

Arlington, Texas looked pretty good in my rearview mirror July 3 as I traveled to Athens, Texas to spend a couple of delicious days with dear friends.  Now that I’m back, I thought I would go ahead and put my latest watercolor sketch on the blog.  This was in its finishing-up stages when I left town, but I took it along, worked on it a little outside a local Starbuck’s, then got it out again late yesterday afternoon at my friends’ house and nearly finished it before the fireworks broke out last night.  Once I got it home this morning, and took a look at it, I realized I only had about two minutes’ worth of detailing left to do.  Now it has everything except my signature.

I was amazed to find this door intact in Archer City last weekend.  It is part of an abandoned filling station just off the town square, near the Spur Hotel.  I had completely forgotten about Viceroy cigarettes–advertisements that were ubiquitous in the days of my childhood.  Just seeing the ad on the door filled me with Proustian sentiments.  I found it challenging, reprducing the colors of the dirty, reflective glass where the sign had been torn away.  The longer I peered at it, the more I noticed–store hours posted, open and closed notices, details on the cigarette package–and the longer I looked at it, the more I liked what I saw.  Of course, I still get excited at wood grains and distress marks all over the door jamb.  I still want to improve with my drawing skills, so I spent plenty of time lookimng at the textures and trying to reproduce them in graphite as well as watercolor.  The X-acto knife came in handy quite a few times as well.  I’m getting more and more comfortable with my tool box of watercolor and drawing supplies.  Robert Henri has probably gone further than any other teacher I’ve known, in convincing me to let technique support my objective rather than going stir-crazy with watercolor “tricks.”  I still have so much to learn.  But I feel that I have learned plenty from this piece.  And now it is time to look for something else.

Thanks for reading.

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.