Archive for the ‘pencil’ Category

The Bowery Bum

March 17, 2019

Why, I just shake the buildings out of my sleeves.

Frank Lloyd Wright

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8 x 10″ watercolor sketch of Archer City–$75 in white 11 x 14″ mat

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8 x 10″ watercolor sketch of Missouri snow scene–$60 in white 11 x 14″ mat

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8 x 10″ watercolor sketch of Palo Duro Canyon–$80 in white 11 x 14″ mat

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8 x 10″ watercolor sketch of Missouri snow scene–$50 in white 11 x 14″ mat

Years ago, at the close of a state convention (the Texas Council of Teachers of English), several of us were sitting in the Dallas convention hotel lobby. I was in my second year of teaching, and felt energized after two days of sessions. As we sat in silence, soaking the afterglow of the event, one of the “more seasoned” teachers remarked: “At the close of these things, I often feel like a Bowery bum with an empty bottle.” We all laughed at the brilliant, poetic analogy, and I then wondered to myself: “Will I one day know that kind of weariness?” What a dumb question, I now realize three decades later.

The past forty-eight hours were the kind that used to energize me, but now I know the sentiments of that seasoned English teacher. For a few weeks, we advertised a beginning watercolor workshop that I would hold in the lobby of our Redlands Hotel. We decided we would limit the session to twenty applicants, but before we knew it, twenty-eight had thrown hats into the ring, so I decided to add a second session immediately following the first. By the time the day arrived, we had nineteen committed to the morning event, and fourteen for the afternoon. Setting up the lobby for the event proved to be exhausting, and I was glad we did that the day before. Nevertheless, the evening before the event, I knocked out a pair of watercolor samples of what we would attempt (and found neither of them satisfactory). Then, at the two workshops, I did a second pair as a live demo, one for each session, and found little satisfaction with both of those. Nevertheless, the participants were enthusiastic beyond description, and today I am still warmed at their remarks and sentiments throughout the day.  I couldn’t have asked for more eager and focused participation, and I can proudly say that the students’ attempts were all better than mine! So I can at least take pride knowing there was quality art created throughout the day.

By the end of the second session, I barely knew my own name, and understood the Bowery bum analogy–I certainly lack the energy I knew in earlier days. Going upstairs to bed (the Redlands Hotel is a beautiful place to reside!), I turned off my phone, vowing to sleep from 9:00 till sometime the following afternoon. But by 8:30 this morning, after waking a dozen times and feeling that it was nearly noon, I decided I had had sufficient rest for the new day. My plan was to do nothing all day but read. That didn’t happen. By the time I had finished my coffee and read about twenty more pages from the N. C. Wyeth biography, the itch returned to go back downstairs and open the gallery.

Once inside the gallery, I matted and sleeved five watercolors that needed presenting–four of them completed over the past couple of weeks (No, I will not mat the four demos I worked on the past couple of days!). The N. C. Wyeth biography, along with the affirming remarks I heard all day yesterday among the workshop participants, inspired me to go to work on a fifth attempt of what we painted in yesterday’s workshop and see if I can turn out a decent painting of the subject. I posted the Frank Lloyd Wright quote above, because when I crank out several paintings at a time I am reminded of how prolific he was as an architect late in life, and hope that I will be able to keep up that kind of production and enthusiasm.

It is Sunday, and I expected to see no one in the gallery today. Sundays are very quiet in downtown Palestine, and the weather is gorgeous today, inviting people to flock to the lake. But surprisingly, in the first 45 minutes, three people have already come in to browse and chat, so I guess I figured that one wrong.

At any rate, it feels great to be painting again, and if I can turn out a decent effort this time, I’ll post it for you to see.

Thanks for reading.

I make art to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.

 

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.

Evening at the Parisian Café

January 19, 2016

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At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor fleshless;

Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is,

But neither arrest nor movement.  And do not call it fixity,

Where past and future are gathered. Neither movement from nor towards,

Neither ascent nor decline. Except for the point, the still point,

There would be no dance, and there is only the dance.

I can only say, there we have been: but I cannot say where.

And I cannot say, how long, for that is to place it in time.

T. S. Eliot, “Four Quartets

Today I finished reading one of the most satisfying books in a long time: Bernard Jacobson’s Robert Motherwell: The Making of an American Giant. The text is comprised of 120 pages of fine print, and I do not like reading fine print, but this was a genuine feast, begun Saturday and finished today (Tuesday). I simply could not put it down. I have been a devoted student of Motherwell’s life and work since the late 1980’s, and have chafed that there were no biographies written on him. Last year marked the centennial of his birth, so this book has come out, and another is coming out the first week in March, which I have already ordered pre-publication, compliments of Amazon.

I share almost nothing in common with Motherwell’s style of painting and collaging, but I absolutely love his writing, and he wrote prodigiously. The Collected Writings of Robert Motherwell remains one of my favorite art texts of all time. I love his lifestyle which combined reading, writing, publishing, editing, teaching and making art across multiple genres. He was a contemplative, quiet man, and I have felt an affinity with his solitary side during my own hours of work and study. Nearly every day when my job is done, I retreat to my home and studio-my sanctuary. Tonight, as temperatures drop outside, I am enjoying this fireplace and re-reading all the notes I took in my journal from the reading of this excellent book. I posted the drawing of the tree above in a brief blog earlier this evening. I went to La Madeleine Cafe on the north side of Arlington to meet some kindred spirits, and got there a half hour early. So I took out my sketchbook, and with a cup of coffee at an outside table, did this 5 x 7″ drawing with great pleasure and gladness of heart. For years I have stared at winter trees, and questioned myself why I was not studying them with a pencil. Last November I got in the groove of this, and don’t want to get out, I enjoy the practice and discovery so much.

Once my friends arrived, we repaired ourselves indoors to the warmth of the cafe and excellent, spirited conversation. It has taken me decades to find such rich camaraderie and verbal exchange among artistic spirits. The French Impressionists had their Café Guerbois. Picasso and friends had their Les Deux Magots. The Ash Can School had 806 Walnut Street in Philadelphia. The Abstract Expressionists had the Cedar Bar in Greenwich Village. I myself have ached for an art cafe where I could show up once a week or so and just talk with other creative people, and finally I found a married couple who possess this overflowing zest for art, ideas, music, literature and film. Their enthusiasm is contagious and I could listen to their ideas all night. How marvelous to have this space on Tuesday evenings for sharing a table, cups of coffee, and an abundance of dreams. Thanks Z and Elaine. You are truly the best! I’m still buzzing with the things we talked about this evening.

Now back at home, I’m enriched in front of the fire with memories, a journal, good books and a glad heart.

Thanks for reading.

I make art in order to explore.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

 

 

Happy New Year 2016

January 1, 2016

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Don’t mope over it all day, he said.  I’m inconsequent.  Give up the moody brooding.

James Joyce, Ulysses

Good day, Dear Friends, and Happy January 1, 2016.  One of my New Year resolutions was to work on art every single day of 2016.  Halfway through my morning, while reading from James Joyce, I suddenly said to myself “Oops!  Haven’t done the art thing yet!”  So, I returned to my favorite tree next to my living room and gave it another shot above. I guess I don’t have much to say about this one except that I turned the art wheel of momentum one more revolution.  May it continue.

I may be returning to this blog later today–I woke up to this wonderful morning and immediately began composing a short story about my late Uncle Paul, experiencing deep cathartic feelings from the experience.  I don’t want to put it on the blog until I have it completed and (hopefully) polished.

Thanks for reading.

I make art in order to understand.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.

 

The Purity of the Winter Morning Light

December 31, 2015

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Introibo ad altare Dei (I will go to the altar of God).

James Joyce, Ulysses

This entire serene morning was spent in front of the fireplace, and I read slowly the first twenty-six pages of Joyce’s Ulysses while enjoying the delicious warmth and sounds of the fire.  My only break from reading was to draw again the tree outside my living room window.  The winter light is so clear and crisp, and the sun was out for the second consecutive morning, lighting up the tree in contrast from its dark background.

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I’ve placed this 5 x 7″ drawing in an 8 x 10″ mat and have placed it on the market for $40.  As I continue the practice, I’m growing more comfortable to rendering tree bark in graphite, and am already looking forward to the next try.

Listening to Youtube documentaries last night on James Joyce put me in the mood to re-try Ulysses before the fire this morning.  I had never managed to get past the first dozen pages without losing interest, and don’t understand why I’m finding it more readable now.  Joyce’s grappling with his Jesuit past parallels my own coping with my Southern Baptist roots.  I suppose that is a start.  But there is much more–I really enjoy the musicality of Joyce’s language when I am alone and reading aloud.  Harold Bloom reminded me of the importance of hearing quality literature, not just reading it.  After twenty-six pages, I am stunned at the artistry of Joyce’s writing, and this makes me want to take my own writing more seriously.

James Joyce also has much to say to anyone who would follow his/her artistic bliss.  He himself fought through so many snares (he called them nets) as he sought to fly above the standard literary canons of his day.  I’ve always been aware of the snares, but I feel that my own are more internal–that I have to fight through personal laziness and lethargy and moodiness rather than interference from outside, social forces.  In my later years, I’m more conscious of the energy required to create consistently.  I’m working on that.

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.

 

Drawing into the Night

December 30, 2015

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You are an artist, are you not, Mr Dedalus? said the dean, glancing up and blinking his pale eyes.  The object of the artist is the creation of the beautiful. What the beautiful is is another question.

James Joyce, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

Et ignotas animum dimittit in artes.

Ovid, Metamorhposes–(“And he applied his spirit to obscure arts.”)

This evening, I’ve been in a James Joyce mood.  I read his Portrait of the Artist back in 1988, when I was working nights as a dispatcher for the Fort Worth Police Department.  I would begin teaching that fall, and I never forgot the ideas Joyce instilled in me, particularly with this autobiographical creed.  I wish to read the work again in its entirety–I have re-read large portions of it throughout the years since I first read the entire work.

The Ovid quote that opens Joyce’s book haunts me, as did my first encounters with Andrew Wyeth art.  I’ve never been able to explain what it is that I see in particular subjects that is “beautiful” or why the subjects hold me the way that they do.  I have stared at winter trees, stripped of their foliage, since 1969 when I first saw the Andrew Wyeth drawings, drybrush sketches, watercolors and egg tempera pieces.  In recent weeks, I’ve been doing drawings of trees from life, then when they were no longer available, drawings from my drawings.  This morning I was enchanted by a tree in the winter light just outside my living room window, and I drew it with a great sense of well-being.  Tonight I’m drawing it again, using my first drawing as a model.  I also photographed the tree twice today, and plan soon to do drawings from the photo.  In time, I plan to switch to watercolor to see how well I can handle these subjects in color.

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.

Drawing Away the Christmas Day

December 25, 2015

imageI’m feeling somewhat embarrassed to sail so many things out on the blog today.  I used to force myself to blog daily.  Then after reading Hamlet’s Blackberry, I took the author’s message seriously and began spending longer stretches “offline”, and enjoyed my quiet time of reading and making art, determined that I would not throw something out on social media unless I really had something to say.  Today has been one of those sweet days spent reading, drawing, playing Solitaire, chatting with family, and just soaking up the spirit of Christmas and family.  And for some reason, I keep firing up the laptop to upload a photo of what I’m doing.

I was seized with the impulse to work on another section of this same tree I’ve been observing outside my sister’s patio door.  The more I study and try to copy the “architecture of trees”, the more convinced I am that it will pay dividends with future attempts at landscape painting.  And I am indeed enjoying what I see as I stare at the congeries of limbs and try to plot the movement and mass on my sketchbook page.

Thanks for reading.

Partial Tree Portrait

December 25, 2015

imageThe sketch hunter has delightful days of drifting about among people, in and out of the city going anywhere, everywhere, stopping as long as he likes–no need to reach any point, moving in any direction following the call of interests.

Robert Henri, The Art Spirit

While reading, I glanced up at the view out the window, found myself staring at a tree against the morning sky, and decided, “Well, why not?”  I never feel boredom when I stare into a network of tree branches, trying to discern their basic direction, and capturing it on a page with pencil.  The trees I draw from life are always much, much better than what I draw from out of my own imagination, because the trees are always doing much more than I perceive in my memory.  I don’t think I’ll ever tire of looking at them and trying to capture parts of them for the sake of future drawings and watercolors.

Thanks for looking . . .

Good Morning and Merry Christmas

December 25, 2015

image. . . the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light . . . 

Matthew 4:16

Traditionally, Christmas is celebrated by my family on Christmas Eve, with the festivities lasting literally into Christmas Day.  And so, coming back to my sister’s house well after midnight, full of food, images, memories and sounds, I finally collapsed into bed, thinking I would sleep till noon today, satisfied.

By 8:30, I  realized I was not sleeping any longer.  I’m glad I rose to the quiet Christmas Day, with a beautiful sun rising in the East.  Before retiring to bed around 1:00 a.m. I had read the Christmas Story from Luke’s Gospel.  Now, freshly rising from a quality sleep, I have chosen to spend the morning lingering over the Greek text of Matthew’s Christmas Story.  After all these years, I’m still very fulfilled, reading the New Testament from its original language and savoring words layered in meanings.

The passage that arrested me this morning (a portion quoted above) was lifted from Isaiah 9:2 and resonates with the warmth one knows when emerging from darkness and confusion to a world of light and understanding.  As I spent time pondering this and writing in my journal, I turned to Psalm 119:130 to read “The entrance of thy words giveth light .”  I still love the King James Version, and spend more time recently reading texts from Shakespeare and savoring the language from that era.  A better translation of the Psalms passage would be “The unfolding of your words gives light . . . ”  That text takes me back to my early college years, as I was drawn into the ministry.  Feeling the compulsion to study the scriptures, I spent hours at my desk working on the passages required for exposition on Sundays, and hoping for a day that I could learn Koine Greek.  When the day finally arrived in 1977, I felt that a change had come that would bear fruit the rest of my life.  So far, none of that has diminished.

Being far from my personal library, I regret that I did not pack my Latin Vulgate or Biblia Hebraica or Septuagint.  This would be a morning that I would have all the volumes open at my desk, grazing from the words and writing personal observations till I could hold no more.  At least I brought a couple of Luther biographies, so I suppose I could vicariously enjoy his pursuits during those early Erfurt days in the cloister.

Thanks for reading.  I’m not sure that I put out much of a “Christmas” greeting, but I’m loving the warm sentiments of this quiet morning, and all the feelings that accompany the holiday season.

I make art in order to remember.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

 

Drawing of my Drawing

December 8, 2015

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Seated in my classroom after hours, I wanted to draw, but my room has no windows.  So . . . I took out my Sunday drawing of the tree and decided to draw from the drawing.  Unfortunately, the lighting is not good for photography here, but I’m happy with the result of this drawing-of-a-drawing.  At least this will hold me till I can get outdoors again to draw from the real subject.

I will forever be grateful for Youtube!  Listening to Harold Bloom discussing Emerson in an interview gave me great company during this quiet afternoon.

Thanks for reading.