Archive for the ‘trees’ Category

Closing out the Art Festival

May 28, 2017

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Art on the Greene, Booth #30

There are two things in painting: the eye and the brain, and they have to help each other; you have to work on their mutual development, but painter-fashion: the eye, for the vision of nature; the brain, for the logic of organized senesations which give the means of expression.

Paul Cezanne

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During a quiet moment in the festival yesterday afternoon (humidity and temperatures exceeding 90 degrees thinned the crowd), I sat in the shad behind my booth and sketched the trees above me, applying Cezanne’s two-pronged theory of making art.  My eye studied the textures and tones of the bark on the tree trunk above, but my brain knew that the composition needed more than a diagonal tree trunk.  So I selected a network of limbs from someplace else, as there were no limbs to fill out the composition I felt was needed here.

Today we close out Art on the Greene.  It’s raining this morning, but preliminary reports indicate it could quit by noon (we open at 11:00) and the duration of the day will be twenty degrees cooler than yesterday.  I’m bringing along my Cezanne biography just in case bad weather chases away patrons for the day.  We close at 5:00, and six hours with few-to-no patrons is a long stretch if one has nothing to do.

Thanks for reading.

Autumn Return to the Cave

October 25, 2016

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First Night back in the Man Cave Studio

The man who is forever acquiring technique with the idea that sometime he may have something to express, will never have the technique of the thing he wishes to express.

Robert Henri, The Art Spirit

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Studio Drawing and Debris

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More Studio Art and Debris . . .

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. . . and even MORE STUDIO DRAWING AND DEBRIS!!!  (guess it is time to tidy up!)

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Sketchbook Pages from my recent Festival

tree-bentOne of my Preferred Sketches

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Experiment with a Variety of Pencils

The fall routine of school has overtaken me to the point that I cannot seem to find quality time for painting, and scant time for sketching.  I have however managed to participate in a major art festival and have another coming up quickly.  In addition to a few tree sketches, opportunity has also presented itself to do some serious museum study, as the Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth has just opened up a major Monet exhibit featuring his early works.  Three visits to that exhibit have put me back in the mood to fight for studio time.

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Relaxing at the Modern Art Museum of Forth Worth after seeing the Monet exhibit at the Kimbell

With the fall temperatures dropping ever so slightly (Texas is so screwed up, with temperatures reaching the mid-80s daily as we close out October), I have managed to re-enter my garage and clear out two years’ worth of debris that filled in my Man Cave to the point where I could no longer work in it.  Tonight I sat down for the first time with charcoals and worked on some sketches of a woven fishing creel that I picked up a couple of years back in an antique store.  The surge of artistic desire returned, and I have now planned a weekend of plein air painting, thanks to this precious garage/studio time.

This evening, I have much on my heart for which I am thankful.  The school year is off to a better-than-usual start, and aside from some bureaucratic debris that crowds the schedule more often than it should, I can at least say that I am enjoying my students immensely, and I love the subjects I am teaching.  The same may be said for my college class.

I am also happy to feel the sentiments expressed above by Robert Henri.  For years throughout my artistic endeavors, I have fretted over technique, always thinking I had too few tools in my toolbox. At my current age, I now am convinced that making art (for me anyway) is much more centered on the feelings and emotions swirling about my subjects than on the techniques I employ in trying to render them.  Tonight in the Man Cave, I didn’t worry about how the creel was looking on my paper.  Rather, I reveled in the feel of the cold charcoal between my fingers, the smooth surface against my hand, the sound of the charcoal dragging across the rough paper, and the haunting words emerging from the Robert Frost documentary that was playing in the background as I sketched.

I am sixty-two years of age, happy to be closing out my third decade of classroom encounters, and extremely grateful that I still have the strength to pursue this daily and still draw sustenance from the educational dynamics.  I still thirst for knowledge as much or more than I did in graduate school days, read prodigiously, and cannot scribble enough pages in my personal journal.  I am now sketching with the pencil more than I ever have before in life, and finding abundant joy in this as well.  Once the weather cools some more, I will enter the countryside and watercolor en plein air, and experience the rush that that activity has always brought me in the past.

This evening I read with great pleasure Walt Whitman’s poem “Eidólons” from his Leaves of Grass collection.  In true Platonic fashion, he argued that behind every physical fact and wish we pursue, there lingers that spiritual perfection, always more than what we seek to attain.  This led me to think of all the phantoms I chased throughout all my life, all the disillusionments I suffered when I felt I had failed in reaching my ultimate goal.  A person could waste an entire lifetime seeking those things that remain out of reach, or worse still, attain to something, only to discover that it diminished once possessed.  When that happens, a person often gives chase to yet another eidólon.

At this stage of living, I am extremely grateful for health, for employment, for a home, and for time to explore and enjoy the arts and scholarship.  I’m happy that a school pays me to learn, pays me to share what I learn, and affirms my attempts at creation.  Life is good.

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.

Calling Out to Jackson Pollock

August 2, 2016

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Just a quick progress report on my Eureka Springs train–the depths of the surrounding forest is driving me nuts, and I feel that I am resorting to Jackson Pollock techniques as I weave skeins of paint from border to border. I’m having fun as I experiment, but of course those all-too-common anxieties begin to enter when one wonders over the likelihood of losing what could have been a good painting while “having fun.”  So . . . I think I will lay this aside, perhaps for the rest of the day, until I know for certain where to go next with it.

Thanks for reading . . .

The Source

August 1, 2016

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Plein Air Beginnings in Rolla, Missouri

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Reference Photo for Unfinished Pine Sketches

It is the sense of the sublime that we have to regard as the root of man’s creative activities in art, thought and noble living.  Just as no flora has ever fully displayed the hidden vitality of the earth, so has no work of art ever brought to expression the depth of the unutterable, in the sight of which the souls of saints, poets and philosophers live.

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

On Saturday morning, my new friend Lorraine McFarland–a remarkable pastelist residing near Rolla, Missouri–led me to the side of a lily pad-infested pond where we set up our easels in the cool morning and looked into the depths of the forest beyond. Surprisingly, the Missouri sun heated with enough intensity to chase us from our spots after about an hour of work, so we had to take reference photos with a vague promise that this work would be completed later. Returning home the next day, I discovered my A/C had quit, and the interior of my house was at 95 degrees. This morning, from yet another hotel room, I at least reside with the gladness of knowing an A/C man is arriving this morning to repair it.

Above, I have posted lines from the latest book that I read with a sense of amazement.  I am only five pages into the text, but I have re-read and re-marked them four separate times already, because I am unable to move beyond; this man’s words are going straight to my heart. I was experiencing these words as I gazed into the forest two days ago, my eyes moving all over the contours of three pines reaching upward through the dense growth, all the while sketching, correcting, blotting Annie Dillard’s “color patches”, and constantly catching my breath as snatches of beauty came and went across my paper just as fleetingly as they did across the highlighted trunks of those pines. For the space of one hour as I labored over this pair of compositional sketches, I realized as before that the forces surging through the artist’s eye and soul never translate onto the painted page. I have come to accept that.  As a guitarist, I still laugh at the story of the master asking his pupil why he was frustrated.  The pupil replied that he could always hear the music better than he was capable of playing it.  The master asked, “And why do you think that is ever going to change?”

As a Romantic, I am held captive by the Sublime. My expressions always fall far short of my experience, and I just have to accept that.  I enjoy trying, nevertheless.  Every painting, every sketch, every line of words I scribble into the journal are merely footprints, ciphers, eidolon, of what is happening to me as I encounter the Sublime.  My vacation travels have ended, I am home, but not yet Home.   In my soul, I am still journeying, wandering, and the odyssey far exceeds in beauty what I am able to express.

I close with a re-post of the pine tree that greeted me every morning in Colorado as I sat drinking my coffee on the porch.  I do indeed miss those 39-degree mornings, having returned to this triple-digit Texas hell.

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Earlier Sketch of Pine Tree from South Fork, Colorado

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to encounter.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.

Sketching on a Friday

July 29, 2016

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There are three aspects of nature which command man’s attention: power, loveliness, grandeur.  Power he exploits, loveliness he enjoys, grandeur fills him with awe.

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

Closing out a sublime vacation has always proved difficult for me. This morning I ventured into an old-fashioned diner for an old-fashioned breakfast. When I stepped outside, the unseasonable Missouri temperatures were suspended at 81 degrees. Without a moment’s hesitation, I fetched my journal and packet of pencils from my vehicle and took a seat on the sidewalk outside, adjacent to the Post Office in High Ridge, Missouri, and sketched a tree stretching over the fence of the property next door.  The traffic swished, the birds chirped, the breeze chased loose leaves and debris across the paved parking lot stretched out before me. And I felt that I was embraced by nature’s grandeur.  Unfortunately the photo above is not sharp, because I cropped it from the corner of the journal where I was writing my most private thoughts.

I was sad to close a three-day chapter with friends I knew from high school.  We laugh at ourselves (old farts) when we gather to kayak and fish the river (the Gasconade this time). But on a sober note, I miss these guys sorely right now-their stories, their laughter, their ideas and above all, the fact that they no longer take themselves as seriously as half-a-century ago.  We are not the center of the world as we thought we were in high school. As it turns out, our parents and teachers knew what they were talking about (most of the time) when they tried to teach us how to live and succeed. I never thought I would be caught talking about “the good old days” but now that it’s happened, I can genuinely say I feel much better about life all around now. Thanks, Mark and Wayne.  I can’t wait till the next time . . .

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I had to lay down the brush a few days ago to make way for the river and fishing. Today I’m just sitting quietly with my reading and my thoughts, glad for the respite from work, and gladder still that school is still a few weeks away.

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to remember.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I’m not really alone.

Decompressing After a Satisfying Day

June 29, 2016

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The virtue of art lies in detachment, in sequestering one object from the embarrassing variety.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Art”

 

When I began plein air painting about seven years ago, the first lesson I had to learn was to abstract from the visible world that overpowered my vision and intimidated me before my easel.  Robert Motherwell wrote that “abstract” comes from a Latin word meaning “to take from”, and that a painter abstracts every time s/he selects an object and reconstructs it on a two-dimensional surface.

When I stepped out of my vehicle at South Fork, Colorado last weekend, I was overwhelmed at the complex beauty of this mountain environment that I have enjoyed for over a decade now. This was the first time I was determined not only to bring along my art supplies, but to give plein air just as much attention as trout fishing.

The first object I selected was a solitary pine tree directly in front of my cabin porch.  I sketched it in pencil the first afternoon I was here, and mosquitoes chewed me up as I worked quickly.  After several subsequent days of sketching forests and mountain bluffs, I returned to this lone pine and gave it my full attention after lunch today with my friends.

Annie Dillard’s references to the “color patch” in her excellent book Pilgrim at Tinker Creek flooded my consciousness this afternoon as I stared at this tree and attempted to capture the colors threading through the bark and the limbs.  Much of what Annie wrote about the “color patch” reminded me of ideas gleaned from Paul Cezanne and Camille Pissarro in the early days of French Impressionism.  The longer I stared at this tree bark the more amused I was at recalling Jasper Johns’s statement that an artist paints things that other people look at but never see.  It was true that I was indeed seeing the bark of a pine tree for the first time up close in concentrated study. I still have so much to learn.

Looking back over this past week, I can honestly say that I have not been as successful fly fishing in the stream as I’ve been in previous years here, but I’m willing to chalk that up to high waters and very fast currents.  I refuse to feel badly about that because I am delighted that I’ve had the finest opportunities for plein air painting, and I’m so glad I took advantage of those opportunities.  I feel I have learned a great deal, just as I did recently while spending a week on the island in the Laguna Madre.  I’m certain that my studio work will improve as a  result.

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to learn.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

Sunday Morning Sketch

January 24, 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 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.

Irwin Edman, Arts and the Man

My morning has been given to the richest reading imaginable–Lewis Hyde’s The Gift and Jonathan Haidt’s The Happiness Hypothesis. After a couple of hours of easy-chair reading and scribbling ideas into my journal, I felt the urge to draw, and pulled up on my computer one of many photos I’ve taken in past weeks of winter trees, and begin to draw. This is as far as I have gotten. I have an obscene stack of papers to grade for school tomorrow, classes to prepare, and so on. Time to get back to my job.

Thanks for reading.

 

When the Imagination is Flat, Draw Anyway

January 22, 2016

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Books are for the scholar’s idle times. When he can read God directly, the hour is too precious to be wasted in other men’s transcripts of their readings. But when the intervals of darkness come, as come they must, — when the sun is hid, and the stars withdraw their shining, — we repair to the lamps which were kindled by their ray, to guide our steps to the East again, where the dawn is.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, “The American Scholar”

This advice from my beloved New England sage I have taken seriously throughout my adult life. As a schoolteacher, at least one idea begins percolating in my consciousness while getting ready to go to work every morning. That way, if the classroom dynamics are flat, I have something going on in my head worth exploring that makes the day better, anyway.

But this morning, of all rare times, nothing came. And as I moved through my classes, it never did come. Now that I am into my Friday night, with a welcoming weekend stretched out before me, I still have no idea to pursue. Following Emerson’s dictate, I now have a stack of quality books at my elbow. But before opening one of the volumes, I was struck by the thought: “Hey! You haven’t drawn or painted today! Do it.” But I didn’t feel like it. I did it anyway, and the drawing is posted above. Things are already looking up, and I am ready to read and relax into the rest of the night now. If nothing happens tonight, I’m confident that I’ll wake up with an Idea tomorrow.

Thanks for reading.

I make art in order to learn.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

 

Quality Hours before the Fire

January 21, 2016

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Texas has been cold, dark and rainy the entire day. Once home from school, I built a nice fire, brewed a pot of coffee and then got under the blankets in front of the fireplace and read with a glad heart. My imagination has been fueled by an article I read today in Culture that popped up on my facebook: “The Death of the Artist–and the Birth of the Creative Entrepreneur.” I found the article very engaging, as it traced the history of the artist, from artisan to genius to institution to our current digital age of entrepreneurship. Some of it could have been disturbing, but it rang true, and provoked me to think soberly about what I’m attempting to do at this point in my life. After I read the article, I turned to something I had heard about my entire adult life but never once read: Arthur Miller’s play “Death of a Salesman.” What a probing, sober-minded piece of work! The rest of the afternoon found me thinking and scribbling in my journal.

I finally went to my drafting table and worked further on something I started between class periods this morning and posted earlier today:

Jan 21I’m still intrigued by the tangle of winter trees, and never seem to tire of their twisted, gaunt anatomy.

Thanks for reading.

When the Day is Jammed . . .

January 21, 2016

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There are times like this day, when the public school schedule is so jammed with details, that one cannot find quality moments even to think, but just react. So . . . I decided to see what I could do during the mindless passing periods between classes (about seven minutes). Even when one has seven minutes here and seven minutes there, opportunities for sanctuary still present themselves. And so I retreat into the start of another drawing, with delight, knowing I could always finish the piece tonight in the studio, or tomorrow night, or . . .