Archive for the ‘snow’ 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.

 

The Search for an Anchor

March 13, 2019

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A Second Snow Scene in Progress

            He kept trying to find among his peers the degree of emotional intensity he had achieved with Howard Pile. “It is the search for living co-workers and the everlasting failure to find one that can measure up to one’s active standard that is the constant source of my depression,” he wrote.

. . .

            Yet he continually wished Chapin would hold him to higher standards. He wanted to be challenged, not only aesthetically but morally, spiritually. Wyeth’s search for an omnipotent male figure had an Eastern quality; he felt that the ideal master should be something of a mystic.

. . .

            “I’m not crazy,” he insisted to Stimson, though as N. C. began his thirties, his search for a spiritual guru often left him feeling unreal. “I’m not holding a living or dead man up as an example of what I should be; I go beyond that—I want to be myself, and better, to be myself without the whole damn world knowing anything about it!”

            But he was holding up a dead man as his model. Taking Walden as his guide, he contended that Thoreau “is my springhead for almost every move I can make” . . .

            He liked to think that if Thoreau were alive, if they could talk an hour every evening, Thoreau would understand him. With Walden in hand, N. C. could “feel his approval surging within me now, and I lay my hand on his precious book . . . with the deepest reverence I am capable of.”

David Michaelis, N. C. Wyeth: A Biography

These quiet winter mornings have recently been a genuine salve for my soul. As I sit over a fresh cup of French-pressed coffee, the aroma filling this dark room and Bach playing softly in the background, I am preparing to launch into yet another small watercolor, allowing the one posted above to sit quietly awhile, waiting to see what next to do with it. Five watercolors are scattered about the room, a couple of them probably finished, the other three sitting there saying, “Well?! . . .” My spirit soars when I sense that my creative blood is stirring once again. When I’m on hiatus, I don’t really want to say I am “blocked”, rather I am reading, journaling, thinking, and musing over what to pursue next.

Having ventured over 200 pages into this N. C. Wyeth biography, I feel a primal connection with much that he expressed in his letters and diaries. Currently, I am reading of his constant quest for a spiritual partner or mentor to complete his personhood. As I reflect over my past, I recognize that he and I both circulated between the living and the dead for role models. And we weren’t really looking for someone to imitate, but rather assimilate, absorb and re-apply to the things we were attempting to do in our own lives. N. C. Wyeth did not want to paint like Howard Pyle; he was trying to find his own style and character in his paintings and illustrations. Pyle was a genuine inspiration and guide for him in his early career, and a sounding board when Wyeth wished to road test his new techniques and compositions.

While writing my own memoir, I am constantly sifting through all the men and women who have been my spiritual guides and sounding boards, and like N. C., I often felt that shock of recognition when reading the works of those who had passed in the centuries before me. Much of what N. C. admired in Thoreau’s writings have also smitten me in the past three decades. And frequently, I think of what it would be like to sit in intimate conversation with a Thoreau, an Emerson or a Tillich. So many times when I read them I feel they are writing directly to me, addressing my current condition. And I revel in these encounters. And then, when I am permitted an intimate conversation with a living being in my present, I count that among the richest gifts in life. Such conversations are rare.

I am just a few days from a monster pair of beginning watercolor workshops. More than thirty have already registered for my Saturday event to be held in the Redlands Hotel lobby in Palestine, Texas. I am trying to limit the 10:00 session to twenty participants. It will last three hours (including lunch) and the fee is $30. Then I will hold a second 1:00 session for two hours (no lunch this time) for $20. I already have four committed to the afternoon session. Twenty-eight are trying to crowd into the 10:00 group, but perhaps some of them would prefer to move to the 1:00. We’ll see. The bottom line is that I am pumped to do this! I absolutely love exploring the wonders of watercolor with willing participants. I anticipate a great time together.

Well, let’s see if we can kick some life into this new fledgling painting . . .

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.

Finishing a Small Snowscape

March 12, 2019

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Recent View of Fresh-fallen Snow in High Ridge, Missouri

Wyeth had of course pleased everyone but himself. His apprenticeship now appeared to him shallow and degrading. the Pyle School had been nothing more than a factory where successful pictorial journalists had been–his word–manufactured. He and the others had been “whipped into line,” taught artificial shortcuts, trained to think as the audience thinks, not for themselves as artists.

David Michaelis, N. C. Wyeth: A Biography

After more than 200 pages of reading, I am finding it very difficult to put down this volume on N. C. Wyeth. His son Andrew has been my patron saint since high school, but in the past year I have been studying more about N. C., and love his fixation on the writings of Emerson and Thoreau. Now, reading of his training as an illustrator, and his subsequent struggle to navigate his way between the identities of illustrator and painter, I am finding so much to think about as I find my own way as an artist.

This morning I finished the painting I started of the view across my sister’s backyard. The snow was falling heavily that day a couple of weeks ago, and I used a toothbrush to spatter masquing fluid all over the page before commencing the actual painting. The ony part I found most difficult (and rewarding) was the attempt to draw the houses and rooftops peeking through the winter trees. It has been awhile since I studied and sketched winter tree anatomy, and I have missed the experience. I have a second snow scene nearly finished as well, and hope to be  posting that one soon.

Between reading, painting, and preparing materials for my pair of workshops this coming Saturday, there has been little down time. Still, I love the life I’m able to pursue, balancing my reading with my studio art endeavors. I hope I can continue to find room and space for both in my daily life.

Thanks for reading.

I make art in order to remember.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.

Settling into the Cold Nights

December 30, 2017

snow high ridge

“A mind forever Voyaging through strange seas of Thought, alone.”

William Wordsworth

I picked up the quote above from my recent reading of Walter Isaacson’s Steve Jobs. After a hundred pages of reading, I can say I am genuinely hooked on this biography and am grateful that the frigid weather now gripping north Texas waited for my return from a St. Louis Christmas (which featured delightful snow!). Now I’m snuggled in front of my fireplace as temperatures promise to reach lows in the upper teens the next few days.  I’ve posted above a watercolor I did today (8 x 10″) from a photo I took of a Christmas eve snowstorm in St. Louis.

And . . . I seem to lapse into the habit of photographing breakfast in front of the fireplace on those rare occasions that Texas gets cold enough for a fire in the winter.

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Thanks for reading.

I make art in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

A Soothing Christmas Respite

December 27, 2017

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Watercolor Sketch along the Meramec River

Christmas 2017 in St. Louis was blessed with fresh-fallen snow, and I could not stop staring at it out of windows, and even spent time walking in it and taking pictures with my phone. Over the past few days I have been looking at the pictures uploaded to my laptop and finally dashed out this 8 x 10″ watercolor sketch of what I saw during a stroll along the Meramec River in Fenton, Missouri.

Thanks for looking.

Remembering Robert Frost’s Snowy Evening

December 3, 2014
The Property Behind my Parents' Home in High Ridge, Missouri

The Property Behind my Parents’ Home in High Ridge, Missouri

Whose woods these are I think I know.   
His house is in the village though;   
He will not see me stopping here   
To watch his woods fill up with snow.   
My little horse must think it queer   
To stop without a farmhouse near   
Between the woods and frozen lake   
The darkest evening of the year.   
He gives his harness bells a shake   
To ask if there is some mistake.   
The only other sound’s the sweep   
Of easy wind and downy flake.   
The woods are lovely, dark and deep,   
But I have promises to keep,   
And miles to go before I sleep,   
And miles to go before I sleep.
Robert Frost, “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening”
I know–I have posted Robert Frost’s immortal words on previous blogs.  But this poem surged through me as evening arrived and I stood at the backside of my parents’ property during the Thanksgiving break and gazed upon this tree laden with snow and the broken down fence beneath it.   All I could think of was the lament of Robert Frost–his wish to visit the snowy woods, but obligations preventing him, so he could only imagine the possibilities.  It was Thanksgiving.  I was out of school.  I was seven hundred miles from home.  Nothing prevented me from standing in this winter wonderland and exploring the surroundings.  This is my third and final plein air watercolor sketch of my holiday season, and I did it with gladness in my heart.
This 5 x 7″ watercolor is matted in white and installed in a wooden 8 x 10″ frame with glass.  I am offering it for $50, grateful to Robert Frost for giving me the inspiration to sketch this composition.
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.

Rising Toward a Poetic, Divine Life

December 3, 2014
Second Plein Air Attempt at Snowscape at my Parents' Home

Second Plein Air Attempt at Snowscape at my Parents’ Home

The millions are awake enough for physical labor; but only one in a million is awake enough for effective intellectual exertion, only one in a hundred millions to a poetic or divine life.  To be awake is to be alive.  I have never yet met a man who was quite awake.  How could I have looked him in the face?

Henry David Thoreau, Walden

Today my Philosophy class discussed this passage among others from Thoreau’s Walden, and tried to describe what is meant by a “poetic or divine life.”  As the discussion ensued, my mind kept drifting back to this second plein air watercolor sketch I attempted as it snowed in High Ridge, Missouri over the Thanksgiving holiday.  As I walked about the property on the second day of the snowfall, my attention was arrested by this solitary tree bathed in winter sunlight with snow still clinging to some of its branches, and the expansive thaw on the ground surrounding the tree. I knew that sketching the tree’s structure would prove difficult enough, but my attention actually was on the contrast between the dead, ochre-colored earth beneath the tree and the surrounding drifts of snow.  The longer I looked at these, the more excited I grew, and I knew I was going to have to attempt to render it.  Most of my life I have looked at those beautiful Andrew Wyeth drybrush renderings of thawing snow on the Pennsylvania farmlands, and have always wanted to see this with my own eyes.  This is one of many reasons I regard this particular Thanksgiving season as a genuine gift to me.  I arrived in High Ridge in the fullness of time.

I have matted this 5 x 7″ watercolor in a white mat and enclosed it in a wooden 8 x 10″ frame with glass.  I’m offering it for $50.  This is truly a turning point for me in drybrush studies.

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to remember.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.

A Heart Filled with Thanksgiving and Meditations on James Joyce

December 3, 2014
Property Adjacent to my Parents' Home in High Ridge, Missouri

Property Adjacent to my Parents’ Home in High Ridge, Missouri

To speak of these things and to try to understand their nature, and having understood it, to try slowly and humbly and constantly to express, to press out again from the gross earth or what it brings forth, from sound and shape and colour which are the prison gates of our soul, an image of the beauty we have come to understand–that is art.

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

While enjoying the holiday rest at my parents’ home outside St. Louis, Missouri, I re-opened James Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and was so enriched by what I read, having forgotten most of what touched me when I first read this fine work back in the late 1980’s.  Snow fell on High Ridge, Missouri, and I found myself walking about in it late in the afternoon, no doubt feeling much of the wonder that Andrew Wyeth knew when he strolled about the property of Kuerner’s Farm in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania. I just did not want the darkness to descend, the late afternoon was so enchanting.  We just don’t get snow to speak of in Texas.

I am always daunted when I look out at the landscape and contemplate a plein air experiment.  What do I select? What do I omit?  How do I match up the colors that I find in nature, particularly when the winter light keeps changing in the late afternoon?  As I continued to trudge through the snow, I suddenly remembered the text from Joyce that I posted above, and how well it connects with one of my favorite Emerson passages posted below:

The scholar of the first age received into him the world around; brooded thereon; gave it the new arrangement of his own mind, and uttered it again. It came into him, life; it went out from him, truth. It came to him, short-lived actions; it went out from him, immortal thoughts. It came to him, business; it went from him, poetry. It was dead fact; now, it is quick thought. It can stand, and it can go. It now endures, it now flies, it now inspires. Precisely in proportion to the depth of mind from which it issued, so high does it soar, so long does it sing.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, “The American Scholar”

The artist has the privilege of selecting his/her subject for recreating, and furthermore, has the privilege of omitting anything that interferes with the objective.  The editing process, even in a simple watercolor sketch such as the one posted above, fills me with delight, and working on this small 5 x 7″ study was a genuine highlight of my holiday.

I have placed this in a white mat and installed it in a wooden 8 x 10″ frame with glass.  I’m offering it for $50.  In the meantime, I’m enjoying its presence in my home.

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.

Snowscape at Wayne White’s Ranch

January 3, 2012

Winter at Wayne's

Last winter in St. Louis, snow was everywhere.  I stayed as a guest at my friend Wayne White’s ranch west of St. Louis and was delighted at this view off his back deck.  I completed one watercolor sketch of the woods and fields, and then started this second one, but quit because it wasn’t going the way I wanted it to.   After a one-year hiatus, I got the idea this morning to add a row of mailboxes, deepen some shadows in the woods, complete some more snow shadows and then call it a painting.  I’m ready to look at a new project now.

I look at this and think of one of my favorite Robert Frost poems:

The woods are lovely, dark and deep

But I have promises to keep

And miles to go before I sleep

And miles to go before I sleep.

I return to school tomorrow for a work day.  Students will show up the day after.  The winter break is nearly over.  And I’ll probably recite that Robert Frost poem as a mantra in the months ahead.  I do resolve this time not to let school completely crowd out my discipline of completing new paintings.  I look ahead to the prospect of discovering new things as I continue to explore watercolor.

Thanks for reading.

Finished the Wyeth Winter Snowscape

January 3, 2012

Wyeth winter finished

I’m ready to move on to the next watercolor sketch.  A few finishing touches were added to this copy of an Andrew Wyeth drybrush of a snowscape at Kuerner’s Farm in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania.  I spent most of this evening reading reflectively, writing in my journal, and just now, around midnight, found the notion to pick up the brush again.  I regret that my camera abilities are severely limited with the kind of lighting I have in my studio–I do much better photographing these pieces in the daylight outside.  Nevertheless, this one is finished and I choose now to move on.

Thanks for reading.