Archive for the ‘trees’ Category

A Fulfilling Weekend in the Studio of Dreams

September 30, 2019

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Paintings in Progress Piling Up

My firm belief is that one paints, as one writes, not out of a theory but out of the vividness of an experience . . . Rational thoughts follow to anchor theoretically the truths that already have grasped us as a vision.

Rollo May, My Quest for Beauty

In the quiet of the dark Monday morning predawn, music wafting softly from the adjoining rootm, I sit at my desk, inhaling the pleasing aroma from this freshly pressed mug of coffee and . . . nothing. After forty-eight hours of wall-to-wall quiet and creative bliss, I thought surely by now that I would have something meaningful to blog. Twenty-two watercolors, in progress, are scattered across three drafting tables in my living room. The past two days have been pure heaven, moving from painting to painting, book to book, manuscript to manuscript. Yes, painting, reading and writing–three of my favorite activities for which I still work to find sufficient time, even in these glowing retirement years–and I now have this urge to blog, but nothing seems to bubble to the surface.

Opening one of my favorite volumes from Rollo May, I now re-read this timely word:

There is a danger in erasing chaos too easily, for it then takes away one’s stimulation. Several years ago I took the training for transcendental meditation. I have always been interested in meditating and have done it more or less on my own. When I finished that course and my mantra was given to me, I was instructed to meditate twenty minutes in the morning as soon as I woke up and twenty minutes at four or five o’clock in the afternoon. So I, being an obedient soul, started out doing that. I found that after meditating I would go down to my desk in my studio and sit there to write. And nothing would come. Everything was so peaceful, so harmonious; I was blissed out. And I had to realize through harsh experience that the secret of being a writer is to go to your desk with your mind full of chaos, full of formlessness–formlessness of the night before, formlessness which threatens you, changes you.

The essence of a writer is that out of this chaos, through struggle, or joy, or grief–through trying a dozen or perhaps a hundered ways in rewriting–one finally gets one’s ideas into some kind of form.

I suppose he has a point there. I recall one of Nietzsche’s maxims from Thus Spoke Zarathustra:

I say unto you: one must still have chaos in oneself to be able to give birth to a dancing star

I have managed to glide through an entire weekend without chaos. In fact, once I got on the other side of the two-hour presentation I gave a couple of weeks ago, a presentation that had pressed on my psyche for month after month, life has been slower and there has been no chaos to organize.

Not to say I’ve been indolent; I’m managing some kind of physical exercise daily and have thankfully taken off more than twenty pounds over the past couple of months. Energy is increasing, and I take much satisfaction in that reality. And . . . I now have twenty-two watercolors in the making. Perhaps soon I will be able to share some kind of insight and discovery while working on them. And of course, I’ll gladly post photos of the new work once it is further along.

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One of Twenty-Two Paintings in Progress

I feel the compulsion to go back into the studio now that the morning light is coming through the windows. 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.

Thinking

September 29, 2019

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We never come to thoughts. They come to us.

Martin Heidegger, “The Thinker as Poet”

The matter of thinking does not lie somewhere before us like a land of truth into which one can advance; it is not a thing that we can discover and uncover. The reality of, and the appropriate manner of access to, the matter of thinking is still dark for us.

Eugen Fink, Heraclitus Seminar

This delightfully still Sunday morning has found me in a pensive mood. I came to the writing desk early, not sure of what I was going to uncover in my reading. I had some specific ideas in mind, but seemingly unrelated thoughts entered my sphere instead and took my mind in directions I did not anticipate. I love these detours and welcome them.

I have written in another context that inspiration is like the wind that blows. We cannot know its origin or direction. We can only adjust our sails to capture it when it arrives. The word “spirit” in Greek literature is pneuma that we like to translate “wind” or “breath.” I find the same to be true in thinking; I have no idea how that originates. Years ago, I laughed when I saw a book by Heidegger titled What is Thinking? Looking at the title, I said to myself, “Are you serious? You cannot define thinking? What is complicated about that? Thinking is . . .” I couldn’t complete the sentence! I could not explain the nature of thinking. From that moment, I’ve been absorbed with this subject so easily taken for granted.

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Completed Experiment

I have decided to cut this blog off rather short and go ahead and post. For nearly two hours now I have grazed from so many pastures, reading from over a half dozen books and taking furious notes. And in the midst of it all, I suddenly “saw” in my mind’s eye what I want to try out next (thank you Henry David Thoreau and your marvelous words from A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers). I am posting a watercolor I completed a couple of days ago, another experiment. Suddenly, I have decided to try yet something else new, and hopefully will get it posted on this blog.

Thanks always for reading . . .

I make art in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.

Late Saturday Night Bliss . . .

September 28, 2019

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A New Watercolor Experiment

Art, Cezanne reminds us, is surrounded by artifice.

Jonah, Lehrer, Proust was a Neuroscientist

I decided to put some wraps on an all-day experiment in watercolor, grateful for such a long space in time with no appointments or engagements. I anticipate more of the same on Sunday. Before retiring to bed, I wanted to post some of my experimental work. Tomorrow, under natural light, I’ll be able to present better photos than these taken at night under artificial lighting.

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Thanks for reading.

A Life Measured with Coffee Spoons

September 9, 2019

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The Place Becomes the Book

For I have known them all already, known them all:
Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons,
I have measured out my life with coffee spoons;
T. S. Eliot, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”
The entire weekend has been a blissful one that I kept intending to blog, and now Monday morning finds me still contentedly submerged in projects as deadlines near. The T. S. Eliot line occurred to me as I was reading Jack Kerouac this morning (my God, Visions of Cody, to me, is On the Road on steroids, or more likely benzadrine). I have come to love the stream-of-consciousness style of writing I find in James Joyce and Virginia Woolf, but WOW! Reading Visions of Cody leaves me short of breath. I try to imagine the author reading this before an audience, unable to pour out even one-tenth of a sentence in one long breath. The interior narrative just surges on and on with unabated intensity, filling the reader’s inner eye with city images that just won’t stop. I find myself pouring cup after cup of coffee as I continue to read and imagine with amazement.

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Happily Buried in my Upcoming Presentation

Life for me has been measured out the past seventy-two hours in coffee spoons as I have divided time between reading for my own enrichment, scribbling in my journal, drawing in its margins, working on a public presentation coming up in a week, and experimenting further in watercolor.

On Monday evening, September 16, I will make a two-hour presentation before the Society of Watercolor Artists in Fort Worth at the University of Texas Health Science Center. My friend Cindy Thomas has plans to film the event for a project we began several months ago, and the days now find me buried in the editing of computer images and a manuscript I have been working on since last March. My project will be in three parts–comments on the creative process, followed by a watercolor demonstration and finally the unveiling of a watercolor series that has consumed me for decades (I really hope this will become a book of images and stories one day).

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Experimenting

My demonstration Monday night will center on some techniques I discovered and developed while trying to paint evergreens in colorful South Fork, Colorado two summers ago. I am still refreshed with the memories of the spectacular morning scene presented to me, along with the birds and critters that visited me as I painted. My artist friends started calling me Saint Francis.

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Feeding chipmunk4

I am looking forward to a good time when I share my experiences and ideas with the Society.

Another warm memory from my weekend was the renewal of friendship with a student of mine from my earliest years of high school teaching. She now is a teacher, has a lovely family and has invited me to give art lessons to her daughter who is consumed with drawing and experimenting with visual expression. We had our first session yesterday and her drawings were stunning with imagination and enthusiasm. And, to add further seasoning to the recipe, her dog visited me and later chose to nap at my feet while we worked.

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Thank you, Joanna, for a heart-warming day!

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It’s time to get back to the task. 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.

Welcoming 2019

January 1, 2019

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The passions are a kind of thirst, inexorable and intense, for certain feelings or felt states. To find or invent ‘objects’ (which are, more strictly speaking, relational structures) whose felt quality satisfies the passions,- that for me is the activity of the artist, an activity which does not cease even in sleep. No wonder the artist is constantly placing and displacing, relating and rupturing relations; his task is to find a complex of qualities whose feeling is just right – veering toward the unknown and chaos, yet ordered and related in order to be apprehended.

–Robert Motherwell

What an exhilaration to awake to a 19-degree winter morning on New Year’s Day 2019! With no appointments on the books, I felt a soothing calm as the day presented itself with leisure and books. Reading passages from Abstract Expressionist artist Robert Motherwell put me in the frame of mind to explore drawing with renewed vigor. He defined drawing as a method for organizing space on a two-dimensional plane.

The first day of the new year often witnesses a different trajectory in my art. Currently I am working on commissions, and will begin posting them, but I also laid down a New Year resolution that I would draw more. So . . . a few years ago, I drew one winter tree per day for the month of January, then matted each 5 x 7″ drawing, framed a few, and sold a large quantity of them. This year, I’m not thinking about the sale, only the hope to improve with the careful discipline and repetition of drawing. My intention is to spend January with a focus on drawing nature.

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.

 

Morning Coffee with Dave and Abraham Heschel

August 27, 2018

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Heschel and The Torah

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. The attempt to convey what we see and cannot say is the everlasting theme of mankind’s unfinished symphony, a venture in which adequacy is never achieved. Only those who live on borrowed words believe in their gift of expression. A sensitive person knows that the intrinsic, the most essential, is never expressed.

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

This book by Heschel was a real treasure I found at Half-Price Books two summers ago. The only reason I pulled the volume off the shelf was because I recognized the name, invoked on the first day of class in Hebrew Prophecy, when I was studying at the seminary. The Professor read an extensive quote from Heschel, and I promptly went to the campus bookstore to purchase volume one of his work titled The Prophets. It proved to be a very technical book that I found useful in my studies way back then. But this current volume that has kept me company for two years now certainly provided a compelling word for me during my morning reading.

I lack that scholar’s eloquence when I try to describe my own pilgrimage. To put it succinctly, when I was a child, I pursued art because it was the only talent I possessed. Art was the only way I could gain entrance to a university. Once I “grew up” (I was a very late bloomer), I tumbled headlong into the study of ideas, falling profoundly in love with scholarship and the power of the word. After fourteen years of earning degrees, I picked up the pencil and brush again, and not only discovered that I had solid thinking behind my “talent”, but a reverence for the power of art that I had not acknowledged throughout the years of my youth. Even during my years of undergraduate study (majoring in art) professors would occasionally refer to art as having a “religious” foundation, and I only scoffed in immaturity, because my only notion of “religion” was liturgically based, and I thought art was a “worldly” or “arrogant” endeavor.

All of that changed after my personal “earthquake” in 1984, that I won’t go into at this point. All I wish to say, is this: following my personal crisis, I slowly moved into that circle of art as a religious instinct. And Heschel uttered with genuine erudition my heartfelt belief about art emerging from a sense of the sublime. And I am on the same page as he is, in admitting that this sublime “power” is never fully released in the finished work of art. No human can harness completely that divine force and reveal it to the viewers.

Along with reading Heschel, I am also chipping away at the Hebrew text of the Genesis creation account. I will always be grateful to the seminary for training me in Hebrew, and though my skills are clumsy now compared to back then, I can still work with the language. I am most intrigued with the first two verses in Genesis, reading about the earth as a chaos of unformed matter, and I shudder when I translate that the spirit, or wind of God “brooded over the face of the waters.” And then God spoke, and the world began to organize. In a series of words, the world began to shape with opposing forces: light and darkness, day and night, water and land, etc. Later, the Greeks would coin this word “logos” that we like to translate “word.” But this particular word points to a gathering, and organizing, a pulling together. My feelings intensify when I think of the artistic process–organizing, separating, identifying, coordinating–all the things described in the account of God creating a cosmos. When the Genesis narrative states that God created people in his own “image”, I tend to think that that “image” is one of a creator. An artist is a creator, and in that endeavor is most like the divine. Michelangelo believed that when he made people from marble, that he was doing something comparable to God’s act.

This is why I falter when I try to explain to others the profound feelings I undergo when I am drawing or working in watercolor. There is a primal force urging me forward in this endeavor, and I never feel that I rose to the intensity of that primal force when I view my finished works, no matter how good I think they may be. The act of making art, to me, is always much, much more than the satisfaction of looking at a finished piece.

Hopefully, I will have a chance to pick up the brush later today. I still have some college work to complete before class tomorrow, but I feel the itch to explore these new techniques in rendering trees that began several weeks ago.

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One of my Colorado tree experiments

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.

Hoping to Turn a Corner

August 5, 2018

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Sunrise View from my Cabin Deck

All good poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings . . . 

. . . the imagination must learn to ply her craft by judgment studied.

William Wordsworth, “Lyrical Ballads”

Every morning for this past week, I have been spellbound at the sight of this evergreen below my cabin deck when the sun rises and washes it like this.  After making a couple of watercolor studies of the rugged pine that is closer to my cabin, I mused about how to paint such an evergreen as this. For days, I ruminated over how to approach the problem. This morning, reading Heidegger’s “The Thinker as Poet”, I came across the following:

As soon as we have the thing before our eyes,

         and in our hearts an ear

         for the word, thinking prospers.

Recently, I revisited Annie Dillards reference to “the tree with lights” in her Pilgrim at Tinker Creek.  This morning, as Dillard, Heidegger and Wordsworth converged in my imagination, I decided to try and paint evergreens in experimental fashion.  I have brought along on vacation with me a children’s book, titled -Ish by Peter Reynolds. The story is a delightful one that has reminded me that I don’t have to copy nature with the accuracy of a photographer. Rather, I just need to make these trees look “tree-ish.” During my years of teaching art history, I was always intrigued by Xie He’s Six Canons, and decided today to see if I could put his principles to work. I split my time evenly between painting, reading, and scribbling observations in my journal.

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Work in Progress

I painted all morning, took a break for lunch, then again all afternoon. Throughout the morning, I was continually visited by the little wild critters.

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Here is a Bold and Hungry Little Fellow

Chipmunks continually scurried about the deck, searching for scattered sunflower seeds I had tossed about me. This one in particular climbed up my pant leg and looked in my lap for seeds. I decided to gather a few in my palm and reach down. Sure enough, he came fearlessly to me and ate every morsel.

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Guarding my Paintings

This gorgeous bird (I believe he is an Evening Grosbeak) has spent the last three days perched near me on this deck while I painted or read. When I take sunflower seeds to him, he might scamper a few feet away from me, but never flies away. He just stands nearby, like he’s waiting for something, and remains long after he’s eaten all my offerings.

I’m not certain that I have yet arrived at a solution for painting evergreens in watercolor, but I certainly pulled out all the stops as I experimented today, following Wordsworth’s message of spontaneously pouring out all my passions at first, then returning after the pieces dried to try and complete an attractive composition “by judgment studied.” I am exhausted by the process, but am exhilarated by the feelings I experienced today in pursuit of this process.

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That’s all for this day. Thank you for reading.

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I paint in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.

Stuck in a Rut? Never.

June 14, 2018

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Watercoloring with a Glad Heart

. . . it is more salutary for thinking to wander into the strange than to establish itself in the obvious.

Martin Heidegger, “Logos (Heraclitus, Fragment B 50)”

For days now, my mind has been driven in various directions, all of them fascinating. After a splendid weekend of viewing mountains and sketching them in Cloudcroft, New Mexico, I decided to devote some serious scrutiny to color theory and composition applied to plein air painting. For any of you watercolorists who haven’t yet checked out the magazine The Art of Watercolour: The Art Magazine for Watercolourists, I cannot say enough for this amazing publication. I haven’t purchased every issue that has come out, but I have perused every single one from the past three years closely, and have really enjoyed the work of David Parfitt in this current edition. His work has made me revisit my paintings of the Texas Laguna Madre from 2015-16, and I am now inspired to try some different techniques on that subject. Today I am experimenting with some color combinations I haven’t tried before, as I resume a watercolor sketch that I began in Cloudcroft last weekend.

I posted the Heidegger quote above because I spent a couple of hours yesterday morning while seated outdoors in the cool morning breeze that I’ve been enjoying recently during my stay here in west Texas. His translation and exposition of this Heraclitus fragment has forced me to push my thinking down different channels than before, and I also find that kind of experience exhilarating. I have never wished to find myself in a rut. Life is too short to waste on boredom. A good friend and mentor has recently said some things to me that has inspired me to re-open a manuscript I began, chronicling my artist-in-residency experience while on the Texas Laguna Madre in 2015. After six chapters totaling over forty pages of text, I stalled on that project. But now I have resumed editing and have begun pushing out new chapters, and am enjoying my revisit of those memories.

The online summer school class for the university is also providing daily stimulation and opening new portals for discovery. We recently wrapped up discussions on John Donne’s “Meditation 17” and a portion of Thomas Paine’s “Age of Reason.” And if I didn’t find stimulation enough from this new Humanities class barely underway, I was yesterday offered another course for this fall at Texas Wesleyan University, in addition to my two sections of Logic. For the first time, I’ll teach an online course on “Classical Judaism.” I am thrilled to the bone about this one. I have never had opportunity to devote an entire semester to Judaism. I’ve taught courses in the Hebrew Bible before, and have always welcomed the chance to dust off that language and work on some translations and commentary. I’ve also taught World Religions and enjoyed including that unit on Judaism. And I’ve had the opportunity of bringing the contributions of Jewish scholars into courses I’ve taught in Philosophy and Ethics. But I’ve never before been offered this opportunity to focus exclusively on Classical Judaism for a semester. So . . . I have another exciting channel to navigate this summer. Thanks to Amazon, my textbook will arrive by mail on Saturday and I can begin to flesh out this course of study for the fall.

Throughout my life I have been chided (in good humor) about my chronic mental distractedness. All I can say in response is this: I have no sympathy for anyone who complains of boredom. I do not understand how one can fall into boredom. I refuse to allow boredom to enter the mental portals of my life. There is too much to explore, and not enough time.

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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 I am not alone.

Portals and Thresholds of Wonder

June 9, 2018

cloudcroft

Our national parks are blood. They are more than scenery; they are portals and thresholds of wonder, an open door that swings back and forth from our past to our future.

Terry Tempest Williams

Greetings from Cloudcroft, New Mexico, elevation 8,663 feet. Temperature at 6:38 a.m., 54 degrees and lovely. Walking this quaint mountain town last evening was a chilly and exhilarating experience. My plan later this morning is to journey into the surrounding mountain ranges, not visible from where I’m residing. I did step out this morning at first light, though, and do some sketchbook drawings of some of the tree tops against the dawn sky. Eventually, I stretched two 9 x 12″ sheets of watercolor paper and sat down to dash out this quick study of one of the tree tops in the neighborhood.

As I sat and sketched, the words posted above from Terry Tempest Williams soaked in my consciousness. I liked the idea that I read years ago from James Joyce about the artist encountering portals of discovery in his book Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. And this is what I anticipate during my brief mountain sojourn–some kind of portal of discovery as I continue to explore watercolor and plein air possibilities. I am so ecstatic to leave the city behind and range about in these wide open spaces.

I brought on my trip a biography on Joseph Mallord William Turner that is providing a wonderful read. I’m amazed that the young boy of fourteen managed to obtain entrance to the Royal Academy and in his very first year exhibited one of his watercolors in the annual juried exhibit. He was the youngest student to be juried into the show since the Academy’s inception. I’m drawing inspiration from his disciplined use of the sketchbook as a tool for his watercolor work, something I have never faithfully practiced, until this morning. I pledged before falling asleep tonight that I would never approach plein air watercoloring without working in a sketchbook at the same time. If all goes to plan, this discipline should yield some results in my work as it progresses.

Thank you for reading.

I paint in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.

Pondering Georgia O’Keeffe

May 2, 2018

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The evening has been serene, as I’ve resumed work on a small watercolor I began en plein air a few weeks ago while staying at a goji berry farm near Taos, New Mexico.  The morning was crisp and cold, below forty degrees, and the New Mexico sunlight was spectacular, lighting up this shaggy, ragged tree on the perimeter of the property where I was staying a couple of days. I set up my easel beneath an arbor and worked, keeping warm as I sipped coffee, for about an hour. Returning home to a busy art and college schedule, this painting had to languish in the studio, until today. I’ve been experimenting with toothbrush splattering and sprinkling the damp washes with stale bread crumbs and salt. I’ve also applied a great deal of masquing that I won’t remove until tomorrow.

All the while I worked in the studio, I played the Georgia O’Keeffe movie starring Joan Allen and Jeremy Irons.  I played it twice, I’m so moved by it. After that, I dialed up a BBC documentary on O’Keeffe on YouTube and listened intently as I worked. All the while, I felt a profound connection, as I recalled those splendorous days spent at Ghost Ranch and Taos. I cannot wait to return to those sacred places.

Thanks for reading.