Archive for the ‘watercolor’ Category

Grinding, but Happy Again

September 26, 2017

rusk blog

Current Watercolor in Progress

The creative geniuses of art and science work obsessively. They do not lounge under apple trees waiting for fruit to fall or lightning to strike. “When inspiration does not come to me,” Freud once said, “I go halfway to meet it.” Bach wrote a cantata every week, even when he was sick or exhausted. Though most composers would kill to have written even one of his best pieces, some were little more than wallpaper music. Eliot’s numerous drafts of “The Waste Land” constitute what one scholar called “a jumble of good and bad passages [that he turned] into a poem.” In a study of 2,036 scientists throughout history, Simonton found that the most respected produced not only more great works, but also more “bad” ones. They produced. Period.

Sharon Begley, “The Puzzle of Genius,” Newsweek, June 28, 1993

Good morning, blog readers. I regret that I have been away so long, but I just emerged from a punishing two-week schedule of engagements and only this morning woke to a dawn with no appointments till tonight. I’m happy in the studio once again, and decided to take a break to write you . . .

The past several weekends have been spent in The Gallery at Redlands in Palestine, Texas, where I have begun four new watercolors of trains: the Texas State Railroad #30 (above) along with the Durango-Silverton, Cumbres & Toltec, and the historic T & P #610, now housed in Palestine. I have been working since last March on a train show I plan to open in the gallery during this upcoming holiday season. The show will feature a number of framed original watercolors of historic trains, along with limited edition prints, greeting cards and postcards. We’re really hoping to increase the traffic through our new gallery that opened last March.

I posted the quote above from a magazine article I tore out of Newsweek in 1993 and have shared with students every year since that day till I retired. I have to return to it to remind myself that I’ll never produce quality art until I am willing to make a large quantity of work and not fear the “bad” works that emerge. From my current four watercolors in progress, the one above is coming along as I like it. The other four, well, I’m not too pleased with what I see so far, but the one above didn’t start out so great either. I’ll just keep chipping away and grinding at the process. I do indeed love the work, and today has been sublime, and I’m not even close to the noon hour yet.

One week ago, I had the daunting task of demonstrating my watercolor techniques before the Society of Watercolor Artists who meet in Fort Worth, Texas. I was invited nearly a year ago to do this, and had the entire year to worry over the details. As the day drew nearer, I felt sicker. This is an assembly of outstanding watercolorists, and I constantly second-guessed my worthiness to stand before them. Once the night was over, I could breathe again. The members of the Society were generous and affirming beyond description, but I’m just so happy to have that one behind me. I love watching other watercolorists share their craft, but just cringe when it’s my turn to stand and deliver. Thank you, SWA; I am sincerely grateful for your kind words and encouragement that night.

SWA demo

Thank you, Heidi Russel, for posting this photo on Facebook

I need to get back to work, but thank you for reading. Below, I’m posting some of my recent photos–an instant replay of the life I’m loving when I get to stay and work in Palestine, Texas

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Working inside The Gallery at Redlands

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A collection of new paintings–several of them in progress still

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A spectacularly cool morning on the balcony of The Historic Redlands Inn

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The T&P #610 was towed outdoors last weekend for a photo-op

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I always linger a moment outside the Gallery before leaving to return home–I absolutely love working here, and remain so grateful to all those who made this available to me.

I paint in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

 

 

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A Life of the Mind

September 14, 2017

Blog Thursday

Morning Meditation over the Journals of Eugene Delacroix

Blog Thursday 2

Working on Watercolors as the Dawn Breaks

There, seated on a bench, I started to jot down in my notebook some reflections similar to those that I am tracing here. . . . I cannot and must not live in any other way than through the mind; the food that it demands is more necessary to my life than that which my body calls for.

Eugene Delacroix, Journal, July 14, 1850

Finally, a genuine “off” day between college lecturing. After the third week of the semester, I finally have my ducks in a row so that on the days I don’t have class I can actually spend my hours doing what I feel is most central to my life–reading, writing in my journal, blogging and making art. Tomorrow’s college lecture is ready so I don’t have to fret over those details.

I rose at 5 a.m., with a sense of joy and anticipation. Following breakfast, I found myself in the watercolor studio picking at a composition I had been working on the night before. I now have three railroad watercolors in progress, and am happily moving to and fro among them. By 6:15, I decided to break from the painting and retreat to my study to continue my reading from Delacroix’s journals. I laughed out loud when I read the passage posted above, because I have felt foolish keeping a handwritten journal religiously since 1985, and still scribbling in it almost daily, then occasionally writing a blog from what I’ve already written in my journal. And here, I find Delacroix admitting the same thing–keeping a notebook, then re-writing, editing what he first wrote as he transfers it into the journal now published. From time to time, I wonder if I should print out all my blog pages, then wonder if that is really necessary, since I’ve already recorded most of this stuff in my handwritten journals.

I have always loved this notion of “the life of the mind” and am gratified this morning to read Delacroix expressing the same sentiment. I’ve always feared that it sounded arrogant to say that I live a life of the mind, perhaps even foolish and impractical. But it’s accurate. Forty years ago this fall, I embarked on the life of the mind when I entered graduate school, thrilled at the daily pursuit of the history of ideas, and over these decades, reading has been my food, and attempting to express my ideas by making art and standing to deliver in classrooms has been my exercise.

On Monday evening, I will stand before the Society of Watercolor Artists in Fort Worth for the purpose of doing a watercolor demonstration. To describe this event as daunting is a gross understatement. I’ve known of the assignment for a number of months, but still, the anxiety of standing and delivering amidst a body of seasoned watercolorists keeps my inner doubts churning. At any rate, I’m preparing daily now to have something (hopefully) worthy to say and demonstrate when that hour arrives. Wish me luck!

Much of what I express on these blog pages is being shaped into the coming presentation. So, again, I thank all of you for your reading and your responses.

Until next time then . . .

I paint in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

The Harmony Beneath the Disarray

August 29, 2017

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Nearing Completion of Another Watercolor 

The ancients, struck with this irreducibleness of the elements of human life to calculation, exalted Chance into a divinity, but that is to stay too long at the spark,–which glitters truly at one point,–but the universe is warm with the latency of the same fire. . . . Underneath the inharmonious and trivial particulars, is a musical perfection, the Ideal journeying always with us, the heaven without rent or seam.  Do but observe the mode of our illumination. When I converse with a profound mind, or if at any time being alone I have good thoughts, I do not at once arrive at satisfactions, as when, being thirsty, I drink water, or go to the fire, being cold: no! but I am at first apprised of my vicinity to a new and excellent region of life.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Experience”

Rising at 5:40 this morning, without an alarm, it didn’t take long before I felt bathed in the warmth of Emerson’s words. As an older man, he soberly assessed “experience” as a replacement for his earlier romantic flourishes as a thinker and writer. I love the quote above as he acknowledges that the spark in later years may lack the white hot dynamic of ideas that struck him in his youth, but the warmth and duration remained. Ideas such as this have helped me in my transitions in life, from a young educator, to one middle aged, and now retired.

More than ever before, I have come to embrace the “musical perfection” underlying the “inharmonious and trivial particulars” of daily life. In my early days of the ministry, I would devote all my energies of a particular day to poring over the biblical writings, believing that they contained the Word of God, and that I would be encountered, confronted by their message. I expected some kind of an oracle. For the past several decades, I have known that oracles would come through a multiplicity of avenues–literature, philosophy, conversation, art, music; I would no longer have to seek an encounter aggressively, but rather let it happen when it happens.

Today has been spectacular, though the bare details of the day sound pedestrian. I have divided my time between reading Emerson, writing a college lecture for tomorrow, listening to documentaries on YouTube on Hemingway and Joyce, finishing up a watercolor begun two days ago, and practicing guitar songs for tonight’s Open Mic. And all day long, a Presence has lingered with me, though I live alone. That Presence has been the underlying harmony of all the disjunctive tasks I have pursued. And I didn’t have to force any kind of encounter; it just happened, as it always does.

open mic

Fun at Dr. Jeckyll’s Open Mic

Thanks for reading.

 

Thoughts Concerning Creative Energy

August 26, 2017

train drawing finished

Did our birth fall in some fit of indigence and frugality in nature, that she was so sparing of her fire and so liberal of her earth, that it appears to us that we lack the affirmative principle, and though we have health and reason, yet we have no superfluity of spirit for new creation? . . . We are like millers on the lower levels of a stream, when the factories above them have exhausted the water. We too fancy that the upper people must have raised their dams.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Experience”

As I grow older and find creative energy harder to sustain, I take solace in reading testimonies from Emerson and Walt Whitman, who knew all-too-well the difficulty of continuing the push for creative eros.  Emerson’s essay “Circles” has a great metaphor, describing the endeavor as pushing outward in concentric circles one’s creative energy. Each circle goes out a certain distance, then piles up and hardens into a berm. A harder effort is required to push the new wave of energy with enough force to burst that dam, but alas, the new circle also rises into a new berm, further away and higher. As one continues to create, more and more force is required to break through the earlier barricades.

At my age, I find that I’m sleeping longer and having to be more thoughtful of my diet. And I have to be more reasonable about deadlines and how much time is required to do quality work. Drawing and painting today has been a genuine joy, but I feel the weariness, and notice that the work requires more scrutiny than it seemed to before. But I still want to create, to live an artful life. I’m grateful to Texas Wesleyan University, for giving me a creative outlet in classes only three times a week, and to The  Gallery at Redlands for giving me a place to create and display my art. The patrons today have given me profound joy in conversation and encouragement. Palestine is a remarkable town.

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.

 

Life Slowing Down

August 26, 2017

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Nestled in The Gallery at Redlands for the Weekend

A political orator wittily compared our party promises to western roads, which opened stately enough, with planted trees on either side, to tempt the traveller, but soon became narrow and narrower, and ended in a squirrel-track, and ran up a tree. So does culture with us; it ends in head-ache. Unspeakably sad and barren does life look to those, who a few months ago were dazzled with the splendor of the promise of the times.  . . . Do not craze yourself with thinking, but go about your business anywhere. Life is not intellectual or critical, but sturdy.  . . . We live amid surfaces, and the true art of life is to skate well on them.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Experience”

Now, in my semi-retirement days, Emerson is even more a friend and kindred spirit than he’s been in the past twenty-five years for me. When I was younger, I was more of a romantic enthusiast who truly believed in promises delivered by politicians on a national, state and local school district level. For years, I believed in the substance of political stump speeches and beginning of the school year pep rallies. After I stopped believing in the promises, I believed that the speakers themselves believed in their own empty promises. Now I even doubt that, and choose not to listen much any longer. Instead I choose to do what I do, and try to improve over the years in my own performance. Voltaire encouraged us to cultivate our own gardens. Emerson challenges us to learn to skate well on the surfaces of life presented to us.

After a summer on the road, filled with new vistas and fresh encounters, I began to feel a renewed enthusiasm and confidence that had been reduced to dying embers over recent years. I have returned to my home turf to begin a semester at Texas Wesleyan University as an adjunct instructor. I knew the change would be good, but had no idea it would be this good. I have now shifted from a full-time high school schedule with four subjects to teach across six classes, all day Monday through Friday (and an online college course as well), to a university campus where I teach one subject in the classroom for two hours Monday, Wednesday, Friday mornings, plus my one online course. That’s it.

The culture shock cannot be overstated; in nearly thirty years I have not been allowed the luxury of space and quiet and time between classes to think, write, re-think, revise and flow into a classroom environment (smaller classes too!) of older students who show up ready to think and engage in dialogue. Of course, the biggest change has been the university requiring only a syllabus to be submitted by me on the third week of school.  By this time, I would have submitted stacks of documents to my school district to satisfy some bureaucratic monster. And even larger still–at the university, I will submit a progress report at midterm, then grades at semester’s end.  In high school, progress and report card grades are submitted six times by semester’s end. All week long, during this first week at the university I felt that I was forgetting to do something; I couldn’t believe I had 48-hour lapses of quiet between class lectures. And 48 hours is a broad expanse of time to research, write and edit classroom lectures. I feel genuinely spoiled, and my heart is full of warmth and good feelings. I’m sorry I had to wait so long to get to this day.

This  weekend and next will find me at one of my favorite places–The Gallery at Redlands in Palestine, Texas. I’ll keep the gallery open all day today and into the evening (there is fine dining across the hall at the Red Fire Grille with plenty of patrons coming and going).  I will also keep basic Sunday hours (10-5) as well. I have rotated five new paintings into the display and will take the replaced five back home for awhile. The summer has kept me away from here, but I look forward to putting in as many weekends as possible, maintaining some kind of presence here.

train drawing

Initial Stages of a Locomotive Drawing

Palestine is an extraordinary town with a magnificent railroad heritage. I began a project in the spring, involving vintage railroad scenes, and have already completed four watercolors with more in progress as I write. Above is the beginning of a pencil drawing, as I plan to present a showing of drawings and paintings this winter, just in time for Palestine’s Polar Express experience. The Gallery at Redlands hopes to have a sound artistic presence when the holidays arrive.

Thank you for reading. Now that life has slowed considerably for me, I hope I’ll find the energy and enthusiasm to update this blog and let all of you know what is happening in this part of the world.

truck

Tell Me Where the Road Is

Watercolor, 27 x 24″ framed

$700

Here is a watercolor I’ve introduced into the gallery collection that hasn’t been here before.  This fall, many new works will be added and displayed here. Stay tuned . . .

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Call of the River

July 7, 2017

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Fly Fishing Big River Earlier this Week

At 2:51 this morning, I decided to rise from my bed with a bruising headache, take some Ibuprofen, and sit up to wait for the pain to subside.  Headaches for me are an extremely rare occurrence, but when they do arrive, there seems to be no dispatching them without medication and a period of time sitting upright.  As I wait, I suppose I’ll attempt this blog.

I have posted above a photo my friend Wayne White took of me during our first attempt at kayaking Big River–a comedy of errors involving my capsizing my own kayak more than once, and Wayne having some difficulty transporting supplies on a separate vessel. At this point, we decided to beach the yaks on a sandbar and spend some time fishing this beautiful stream of water.

The river still calls out to us, and I am supposed to rise at 6:30, in just a few short hours, to join Wayne again for another boating expedition.   Despite my current pain, I am eagerly looking forward to this event, as Wayne is going to take me to a bluff that I tried to render in a watercolor sketch last year from a photo he took and sent to me.  I look forward finally to seeing the bluff with my own eyes.

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Watercolor Sketch of Big River Bluff

Earlier today, I managed to work further on the Palestine Texas and Pacific #610 that I began a few days ago.  I am getting bogged down in the details of the locomotive and choose not to rush the process, as I still have a number of unanswered questions concerning the actual tones of this complex subject.

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Night Train

Fortunately, my headache has ceased. Time now to return to bed and hopefully get some quality sleep before rising to meet the river again.

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.

Still Working on the Night Train

July 5, 2017

night train

I have had difficulty finding quality time to work on this old iron horse, but found a second wind late this evening, and decided to give it a few more nudges.  Hence I’m posting it for any of my blogging friends who have been interested in watching it take form. My biggest trials at this point are the rendering of all the details on this machine, as well as differentiating between so many shades of gray.

Thanks for reading.

Closing out an Intriguing Odyssey

June 17, 2017

last morning

Reading Annie Dillard at the Store

But if I can bear the nights, the days are a pleasure.  I walk out; I see something, some event I’d otherwise have  utterly missed and  lost; or something sees me, some enormous power brushes me with its clean wing, and I resound like a beaten bell.

Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

This is the first time I’ve been able to lodge at my favorite place, “The Store”, for more than a weekend.  Waking at 6:11 on my fourth and final morning, I took the leisure to enjoy a cup of coffee and read Annie Dillard as the sun pinked the eastern skies over rural Texas.  During the past two morning watches, I certainly felt some sort of affirming power brushing me “with its clean wing,” and I went to work in the gallery with a renewed sense of purpose.

last gallery

The Gallery at Redlands, 400 N. Queen St., Palestine, Texas

We don’t know what’s going on here.  If these tremendous events are random combinations of matter run amok, the yield of millions of monkeys at millions of typewriters, then what is it in us, hammered out of those same typewriters, that they ignite?  We don’t know.  Our life is a faint tracing on the surface of mystery, like the idle, curved tunnels of leaf miners on the face of a leaf.

Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

Reading Annie was a soul-stirring event again this morning.  I drove the fifty minutes to the gallery, and by the time I arrived, I knew that I wanted to begin a fourth watercolor on this fourth day.  Something inside drives me to create, to express, and now that I am retired from a full-time job, I am enthused about responding to this compulsion.

Thanks for reading.

I make art because it’s in me.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.

Almost Finished with Old #610

June 16, 2017

610 near complete

I am proud of how this locomotive is progressing and wanted to post it tonight before shutting down. I have already signed it, but have little doubt that I’ll find several things tomorrow that I want to do with it.  I’ll be working in The Gallery at Redlands until about 9:00 tonight, so I still have nearly three hours to do whatever I feel like doing, probably resuming work on the abandoned mailbox I started this morning. Tomorrow, with fresh eyes, I’ll look at the locomotive again and perhaps do some final tweaking on it.

Thanks for reading.