Archive for the ‘landscape’ Category

Waiting for the Morning Light . . .

August 11, 2017

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When the early morning light quietly 

grows above the mountains . . . . 

Martin Heidegger, “The Thinker as Poet”

I set the alarm for 5 a.m. and rose to a 48-degree morning in South Fork, Colorado. My lovely stay here is drawing near a close, and I am still probing this engaging poem of Heidegger’s written from his days in the Black Forest. Following a long black night’s slumber, I felt kissed by the dawn, and rose gladly to dress, put on coffee to brew, and step outside onto the cabin deck while the darkness was just beginning to withdraw.

The world’s darkening never reaches

to the light of Being.

For the first time, my attention froze on those words. Looking up at the lit sky behind the mountains, I noticed that nature’s shapes below were beginning to emerge and take on color and identity. And I meditated on this–the light gives shape to the forms below; the forms do not reach up to the light.

Reaching for my Greek New Testament, I turned to John’s Prologue (John 1:1-18) and began reading that text that I had learned to translate since my graduate school days decades ago:

The light shines in darkness, and the darkness is unable to extinguish it (John 1:5). What a thought–it is the nature of light to invade darkness, push back the darkness. The darkness does not come to the light, nor does it overpower the light. My mind raced in a dozen directions, from the wisdom shed by European thinkers during the 18th-century Enlightenment to some of my own personal, biographical memories. Light overcomes darkness. As I sat on the darkened porch, watching the Colorado landscape take shape beneath the light of the dawn, I decided to set up my plein air easel and get ready to resume the watercolor that I had sketched out the evening before. As my eye trained on the boulder and fir tree below my deck, I delighted in the rose colors appearing on the rock as the sun rose in the east. The fir tree seemed suddenly to dance in the yellow-green glory of the light cast from the sun, and I excitedly reached for my brush.

But alas, the rosy sun suddenly dissolved into a gray overcast, and the rock and tree returned to their neutral tints. I shall patiently wait for the sun to return. I want this watercolor to depict a bright landscape, not an overcast one.

Returning to The Gospel of John and laying it alongside Heidegger’s poem, I continued with delight to draw out parallels between the texts, and by the time I stopped, I had scribbled out 5 1/2 pages in my journal, sketchy thoughts waiting to be fleshed out as the day progresses.

Thank you for reading. This has been a soul-stirring morning in Colorado.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Drawing Trees over the Holidays

November 22, 2016

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Get one form that looks like the tree, rather than little pickings at the branches. Give the tree its gesture. Some trees are heavy, ample and full. In a tree there is a spirit of life, a spirit of growth and a spirit of holding its head up.

Robert Henri, The Art Spirit

Now that the trees are casting their leaves up here in Missouri, I’m pulling out the pencils and sketchbook and trying to capture some of their movement, their essence.  Since I was a child, I stared at bare trees more than leafed-out ones, and I’m really not sure why.  I wasn’t drawing them as a child, and when I became an adult, I foolishly drew and painted trees for years out of my imagination rather than the way I do now–gazing at them, studying them, contemplating each one’s figure and portrait.

Andrew Wyeth for years has fascinated me with his tree studies in pencil and dry brush. More recently, I have purchased a book on Leonardo da Vinci’s tree studies. I could spend he rest of my life learning this craft, I believe.

Thanks for reading.

Working Sometimes from the Fact

November 17, 2016

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I can’t work completely out of my imagination. I must put my foot in a bit of truth; and then I can fly free.

Andrew Wyeth

It was 85 degrees in north Texas yesterday, November 16.  I have been impatiently waiting for fall weather and winter to follow.  One of the reasons is that I enjoy so much gazing at winter trees with their core anatomy on view.  Leaves, like clothing, conceal the tree’s essence, and I regret that living in the southwest, I see the bare trees for such a short span of the year.

I have posted the Andrew Wyeth quote because I feel those same sentiments.  Beginning last winter, I drew trees in pencil, rendering them as accurately as I could see them.  I know that Wyeth and Edward Hopper said that in later years they could work out of their imagination, no longer requiring the “fact” in front of their eyes for scrutiny.  I am not there yet; if I try and draw or paint something that I am not looking at, then it comes out looking like a cartoon or cheap illustration.

The tree above, I guess, is a hybrid.  I began drawing it from life Tuesday evening, as I awaited my artitistic friends for our weekly gathering at the cafe.  I didn’t get very far before they arrived.  So, I finished the drawing yesterday, using my imagination rather than a reference photo.  I’m satisfied with the result, and am now ready to move on to the next tree.  Unfortunately I spend my workdays indoors in an interior room without windows.  So I’ll have to wait . . .

Thanks for reading.

I make art in order to understand.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

A Place Far Away

October 31, 2016

Note:  I’ll never have the artistic eye of photographer Cindy Sherman, but I do know how to take selfies with a 10-second timer on my phone.  I was alone for the weekend, and the silence was beyond description.

selfie

I don’t really have studios. I wander around people’s attics, out in fields, in cellars, anyplace I find that invites me.

Andrew Wyeth

Since my ninth grade year, I have read of Andrew Wyeth’s focused painting adventures as a guest at Kuerner’s farm in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania and at the Olson house in Cushing, Maine.  Throughout my life I have been drawn to his subject matter because it took me back to own primal childhood memories of life on my grandparents’ farms in rural southeast Missouri.  One of my most cherished memories was Marlin’s store, located in rural Jackson, Missouri, next door to McLain’s Chapel and across the road from an abandoned schoolhouse. The Marlin family lived in the rear of the store, and always I have been fascinated with stories associated with business owners living behind their store or filling station.

As these memories lingered with me, I always envied Wyeth for having loving friends who opened their doors to him in that way.  Well, I have recently been on the receiving end of that kind of friendship.  A very dear couple living in rural Texas has invited me onto their property in time past, and this weekend they invited me to spend a weekend living in the back of their restored general store.  I felt tears when I first entered the front doors and saw the kind of environment that always greeted me as a small boy inside Marlin’s.

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With deep-seated joy, I resided in the back of this store from Friday night till Sunday afternoon.  The entire time was given to painting what I could see inside and outside the building, along with reading, thinking and journaling.

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(Another Selfie)

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fog

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Both mornings were enveloped in dense fog till around 10:00, and then the sun came out and washed the landscape in beautiful color.  Besides the interior watercolor sketch, I attempted two plein air sketches, the first in the fog and the second in the clear.

I cannot describe the beauty and serenity of the quiet countryside that was my home for the weekend, nor can I express the depths of my gratitude to my friends for extending to me this delightful invitation.  My life has been enriched beyond description.

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

 

A Weekend Given to the Arts

October 2, 2016

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. . . there is something else in painting beside exactitude and precise rendering from the model.

Eugene Delacroix, Journal, March 5, 1849

I celebrated this first weekend in over a month when I had no work-related responsibilities to fulfill. The entire weekend was given to reading, journaling, and watercoloring, and now my soul, finally, feels restored. The abandoned gas station from Claude, Texas is coming along slowly and with much feeling, as I spend more time staring at it compositionally than actually painting. Reading the Delacroix journal this morning confirmed me in this practice, that I should spend more time contemplating my work as art instead of the craftsmanship of drawing or painting.

I spent a large part of Sunday painting all around this composition, and I believe the most satisfying discovery was the way the stale bread crumbs responded in the foliage above the roof of the station. As the paint dried around the crumbs, I continued to mist the paper with a small spray bottle given to me by a dear fellow watercolorist/friend. Thank you, Elaine! I feel that finally I’m learning how to cope with the difficulty of tree foliage and texturing.

claude-unfinished

Over a week ago, I began a smaller sketch of Queen Anne’s Lace, intrigued by the warm and cool greens that surround the blossoms, and wondering how actually to shape and render the blossoms themselves.  After alternating several layers of masquing and color washes, I finally peeled away all the masquing this afternoon and tried to go back into the composition and render the blossoms.  So far, it isn’t working the way I wish for it to, but it’s early still.  I’ll keep studying and trying new things.

queen-annes-lace

I wish I could pick up the brush again in the morning, but I have a job to fulfill, so I guess I’ll see if I have any gas left in the tank after finishng my Monday classes.

Thanks for reading.

Finishing Touches

September 26, 2016

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An artist learns by repeated trial and error, by an almost moral instinct, to avoid the merely or the confusingly decorative, to eschew violence where it is a fraudulent substitute for power, to say what he has to say with the most direct and economical means, to be true to his objects, to his materials, to his technique, and hence, by a correlated miracle, to himself.

Ezra Pound, Literary Essays

Rising early this Monday morning, I decided to try and finish this piece I began as a demo for a workshop last Saturday. As I looked over the composition, I decided the lower right-hand corner needed more grass and texture work. Then, I decided to build an “action line” leading the eye from the lower right corner up to the barn in a serpentine fashion.

Thanks for reading. I’m ready to start a new one!

 

On the Road with Wordsworth

September 25, 2016

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Ye blessèd creatures, I have heard the call    

    Ye to each other make; I see          

The heavens laugh with you in your jubilee;  

    My heart is at your festival,             

      My head hath its coronal,

The fulness of your bliss, I feel—I feel it all.

William Wordsworth, “Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood”

As soon as I was free from school Friday, I headed eastbound on I-20 for a 2 1/2 hour drive to the Tyler, Texas vicinity–a small town called Flint.  There, in the facilities of Saint Mary Magdelene Catholic Church, I led an all-day Saturday watercolor workshop.  The first painting posted above was the demo, with all participants observing and practicing the compositional pieces throughout the day: cloud-filled sky, barn, horizon foliage and ground texturing. When the day was done, each of us had a 9 x 12″ watercolor of a barn in a field.

Later that evening, my host and her husband took me to the shores of Lake Palestine just as the sun was setting.  We had ten minutes to kick out a watercolor sketch as we sipped wine, and my attempt is posted below:

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Throughout my combined five hours of driving, Friday afternoon and Sunday morning, I drank in the east Texas countryside and felt the shivers of joy I knew as a small boy growing up the first four years alone in Missouri.  Actually, my brother didn’t really become an outdoor playmate until he was about four, so I guess I had eight years of the outdoors to myself growing up with no company except for a vivid imagination.

I drank in that ever-expanding universe that enveloped me as I played in my yard, the garden, and the neighboring pastureland. And while I drove this past weekend, I recalled my childhood questions: is there a person behind those clouds watching me, why are the distant hills blue, and why do trees so far away appear to be no larger than my hand? As I grew older, scientific explanations drove away most of the magic, but not the curiosity and attraction of this world.

The Wordsworth poem flooded my consciousness as I drove home early in the morning. I cannot describe the feeling of overhearing oneself reciting the portion posted above while driving alone through the countryside, but 8:17 Sunday morning marked a sublime feeling of “eudaimonia” as I recited the words aloud, and looked at the sprawling, affirming countryside outside my windsheld.

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

Ancestral Voices

August 19, 2016

bluff 2

Trying to pierce the mystery with our categories is like trying to bite a wall. Science extends rather than limits the scope of the ineffable, and our radical amazement is enhanced rather than reduced by the advancement of knowledge.

Abraham Joshua Heschel, Man is Not Alone: A Philosophy of Religion

Good morning, Friends. I awoke with the thoughts of the divine Abraham Heschel surging through me. I guess it is nearly time to start school again. And I am ready, spiritually (intellectually may be another matter). Today is Friday, the last assigned day to have our classrooms ready (although we are allowed access tomorrow, if necessary).

Mornings that begin over a watercolor are better than those that do not. Over coffee, I lingered awhile re-reading this magnificent biography by Robert Richardson, Jr., Emerson: The Mind on Fire. While reading and allowing my mind to drift, I thought over the collage of role models who have motivated me over nearly three decades of classroom experience: the erudition of Paul Tillich, eloquence of Emerson, wildness of Thoreau, inventiveness of Shakespeare, alertness of William Carlos Williams, confidence of Walt Whitman, daring of Picasso, and more recently the sensitivity of Annie Dillard. I suppose I’m never sure what exactly David Tripp will be as the semester unfolds, but in these later years, I hope I’m not as conscious of that as I am of the richness of ideas, dreams and explorations offered as we enter that arena of education.

This watercolor I’ve posted is a small sketch, approximately 9 x 12″ unframed. I think it may be done, and will probably decide when I get home from school this afternoon. I’m ready to plunge into a larger work, more like 18 x 24″ taking as my subject another of the Big River bluffs my friend Wayne White photographed and sent to me.  Again, I can relive the kayaking experiences I knew this summer with both Wayne and Mark Nelson, grateful that such gifts are still offered in this life.

Time to leave for school, again. Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to know.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.

They’re Coming, and I’m Ready

August 18, 2016

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The whole secret of the teacher’s force lies in the conviction that men are convertible. And they are. They want awakening. Get the soul out of bed, out of her deep habitual sleep, out into God’s universe, to a perception of its beauty, and hearing of its call, and your vulgar man, your prosy, selfish sensualist awakes, a god, and is conscious of force to shake the world.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, Journal, April 20, 1834

Today the anticipated feeling arrived. Today I rose to enter my classroom, free of any further meetings this week, free to retreat to my classroom, my sanctuary, and prepare for the arrival of students Monday morning. I still have tomorrow, and Saturday, if necessary to finish preparations, and my spirits are rising.

Monday is when the magic may begin. Students will enter my world, my sanctuary, my playground, Room 114 of Martin High School. They are invited to enter my arena of ideas, of enthusiasm, of new beginnings. Art, philosophy, literature, the humanities, the core of human creativity–these are the forces beckon all of us to partake in the Event. As Whitman wrote: “the powerful play moves on, and you may contribute a verse.”

I have been told that my students are lucky to have me. I always appreciate that kind word. But it is I who am lucky to have them. They are the ones who keep me alive. They are the ones who challenge me. They are the ones who ask questions I can never anticipate. The curiosity is epidemic, and they are the carriers, not I. So I look forward to a new year, to new beginnings, to a new hope.

After a week of watercolor dormancy, I am happy that I got to pick up the brush again this evening. My friend Wayne White shot a magnificent photograph while kayaking the Big River in Missouri, and was kind enough to send the image to me. I’m working hard to reproduce the wonders and floods of feelings I get every time I look at this image and remember one of the highlights of my summer vacation. Thanks, Wayne.

And thank you for reading.

I paint in order to learn.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

 

 

Addled

August 16, 2016

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Second Plein Air Sketch from Rolla, Missouri

Curly:  You city folk, you worry about a lotta shit . . . . You all come here at about the same age, with the same problems. Spend about fifty weeks a year getting knots in your rope, and then you think two weeks out here will untie them for you. None of you get it. Do you know what the secret of life is?  . . .  One thing. Just one thing.

City Slickers

I awoke this morning with this motion picture dialogue in my head. Yesterday was the first day of Inservice as I returned to my high school job. As expected, the day dumped a myriad of details on our heads, and life by last evening was everything but simple. My college job resumes tomorrow. But I’m happy tonight, because all the knots in the rope of my online course got untied today, thanks to timely help again from Texas Wesleyan University’s CETL department–they are always, always there to assist, thank you Natalie and Linda.

A parallel dialogue to Curly’s (minus the profane language) is found in The Gospel According to Luke, chapter ten. In that text, Jesus offers a calming word to a frantic Martha, pointing out that she is distracted over many things, but only one thing is necessary. Both of these dialogues flooded my heart with peace this afternoon as I sorted out school matters, preparing to begin a new year, and remembering what exactly this is all about.

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I will never, ever successfully dot all the i’s and cross the t’s that are demanded of me. But I’ll still pour my best into the task, as I have for nearly thirty years. And at the end of most days, I’ll look back, satisfied that I did the best I could with what time and resources I had.

Posted at the top is the second plein air watercolor I began in Rolla, Missouri a few weeks ago with my friend Lorraine McFarland. I suppose I’ll always be enchanted at the site of a stand of pines. I cannot call it “finished” yet, and probably didn’t give it the best of my attention as I was “distracted” on that day as well (story of my life). I was on my way Home when I began the work, but now that I have arrived, I’m looking at it every day, trying to figure out what to do next.  I’ll post it again when it’s finished.

Thanks for reading.

I paint, wondering what I’ll learn next.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog, always grateful that I am not alone.