Archive for the ‘winter’ Category

Re-Stoking the Fires

January 1, 2018

high ridge

I always worked until I had something done and I always stopped when I knew what was going to happen next. That way I could be sure of going on the next day. But sometimes when I was starting a new story and I could not get it going, I would sit in front of the fire and squeeze the peel of the little oranges into the edge of the flame and watch the sputter of blue that they made. I would stand and look out over the roofs of Paris and think, “Do not worry. You have always written before and you will write now. All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.

Ernest Hemingway, A Moveable Feast

The first day of the New Year is a sluggish one for me, as I’m still shaking off this nagging respiratory infection that saps my energy. I’m spending more time in front of the fireplace under a blanket, watching TV when I would rather be reading, writing or painting. But I just don’t seem to have the energy or drive to be creative.  The Steve Jobs biography is still exciting to me, yet fails to fire my own spark plug of creativity. I did pull out an old watercolor abandoned from a year or two ago, and I worked on it for over an hour, but I never felt much of a rush or thrill, which is so unlike me when I’m painting. Nevertheless, I’ve posted a photo of its progress above.

I wish all of you the happiest of new years, as I myself am anticipating many new adventures. Meanwhile, I’m just going to keep taking it easy until my strength returns.

Thank you always for reading . . .

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Warm Sentiments for 2018

December 31, 2017

new year

It stimulated me, roused my long-held desire to be an architect of ideas.

John Sculley, after his meeting with Steve Jobs about becoming President of Apple.

New Year’s Eve finds me enjoying a quiet one at home. For the past couple of days I have fought back against an upper respiratory illness (I’ve been dogged with it for over a week now) an spent most of today in bed. Fortunately, I’ve felt much better since around 6:30 and have been at my desk reading stacks of books, scribbling resolutions in a journal and focusing my mind and heart on 2018 just around the corner.

I hope I feel good enough to resume painting tomorrow as I have several ideas seething that want to come to expression. Meanwhile, I’m continuing to find inspiration from Walter Isaacson’s biography on Steve Jobs. John Sculley left Pepsi to become President of Apple, and the quote above moved me. I myself have wanted to be an architect, or designer of ideas since the 1980s, and have given my life to pursuing that dream, both in classrooms and in the art studio. I am just grateful to move into a new era of 2018 and lay the foundations for new endeavors.

Thanks for reading, and Happy New Year to all of you.

I paint in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that 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.

breakfast

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

christmas painting

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.

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.

Grinding

November 19, 2016

grind

Nothing memorable was ever accomplished in a prosaic mood of mind.

Henry David Thoreau, Journal (undated, but among his pages written while residing at Walden Pond)

My coffe mug has “Daily Grind” wrapped around the outside.  I pulled it from my cupboard this morning as my message for the day.  As a school teacher for twenty-eight years, I know the daily grind–too many subjects to teach to too many students in too many class periods with too little time for absorption per day.  In twenty-eight years that has not changed, and I’m confident will not change.  I love the film Rounders and the role played by John Turturro whom they refer to as “The Grinder.”  He makes a living playing cards, finding a way to pay the mortgage, alimony and child support (“My kids eat.”).  He is portrayed as a rather joyless sage who knows what he has to do daily to pay his bills.

But the paragraph just written is not what I consider the core of my life.  For twenty-eight years, though grinding, I have blissfully educated myself, poring over the texts and materials necessary to put fresh bread before the students.  And even if they did not absorb that daily nourishment, I did, incrementally, semester after semester, year after year. And I felt the growth of my own soul, appreciating every new shoot.  My life has been enriched through the decades, doing what I’ve been hired to do.

For the earth bringeth forth fruit of herself; first the blade, then the ear, after that the full corn in the ear.

Mark 4:28

I echo the sentiments of Thoreau.  I don’t sense within me a “prosaic mood of mind.” Throughout life, I have found a way to celebrate as I have fed on the religious sentiment, the literary and the artistic.  It has all been good.  And this day particularly has been good. Rising to my first cold morning of the season, I chose not to turn on central heating, but to go out back to my woodpile, fill the fireplace and begin a day-long fire.  For four hours now, the crackling sound has soothed me as I’ve labored over a watercolor commission in my living room studio, enjoying the crisp winter light slanting across the drafting table and listening to Copland’s “Appalachian Spring.” This day has been filled with splendor because it marks the commencement of the Thanksgiving Holiday.  Our schools are closed the entire week, so I will not be returning to the workplace on Monday.  My holiday schedule is not exactly set in stone, but at least I know I have all the time necessary before me to complete this commission, then move on to the holidays.

Thanks for reading.  The morning has been truly delicious.

I paint in order to remember.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

Lost in the Labyrinthe

March 19, 2016

image

Newman chose his terms ever so deliberately: “plasma” (or “plastic”) connotes an organic fluidity; it also suggests the more familiar word “plastic,” which refers to an organic quality in materials. Semantically, “plasmic” and “plastic” are closely related (they derive from the Greek word for molding or forming); but they are also inversions of one another, with the one term oriented to living organisms and the other to inert matter. Simply put, the plasmic is lively and active (like the movement of thought, it gives form to things), whereas the plastic is passive (it is the form that thought and other forces produce). The various drafts of “The Plasmic Image” explore the links between “plasmic” and “plastic,” between creative thought and the material form it can assume. Newman’s guiding metaphor is this: plasma, as the fluid part of the body communicates thought. Thus the plasmic and the plastic bond together whenever “the new painter is concerned with his subject matter, with his thought”.

Richard Shiff, Introduction to Barnett Newman: Selected Writings and Interviews

Countless times while posting on my blog, I feel that I am wearing my underwear on the outside. This is one of those moments. I love reading artist’s writings about the task of making art. Robert Motherwell has been a favorite of mine for years, and now, one of his contemporaries, Barnett Newman has crossed my desk. A former student of mine, Ian Watson, now a serious painter pursuing a path that has issued from his serious study of Abstract Expressionism, has passed on to me this book on Newman’s writings. Though my painting style is nowhere near the Abstract Expressionists, the more serious thinkers among them engage my mind in the most satisfying way. I don’t feel that I have a clear-cut aesthetic theory of art, or even a style for that matter. I love the process of making art, and love reading the thoughtful writings of artists who engage in that same enterprise, always hoping one day I will figure out what I am trying to do and express it well.

Finishing my term as Artist-in-Residence day before yesterday has yielded an experience similar to jumping into a warm pond after emerging from a sauna. Yesterday, back home for the first time, I spent the day in galleries and museums, searching for some kind of direction of where to go next in my work. I enjoyed the museum time, but nothing really clicked with my own work. I had trouble going to bed last night, finally succumbing at 2:00 a.m. Waking at 8:00, groggy, I made coffee, built a fire (wow, a delightful 43 degrees outside!), settled into my reading chair before the fireplace, and read extensively from Thoreau’s journals and Barnett Newman’s writings. Coming across the introductory quote posted above, I thought about that conflict between the artist’s mind and the materials s/he is trying to manipulate, and I looked up at this watercolor I started last year and abandoned.

The painting is of a section of bluff carved out by Highway 30 west of High Ridge, Missouri. I drove through that section last Thanksgiving on a dreary rainy morning, en route to my Texas home. I was so taken by the soaked landscape under the dark morning skies that I turned my vehicle around, drove back, got out in the rain and took several photos.Once I got home I began the painting enthusiastically, but nothing seemed to go right. I tossed it aside and forgot about it. Once I found it again this year, and wished to give it another try, I could not find my reference photos among my computer files. I wasted almost an entire Saturday morning looking for them. Disgusted, I put the watercolor next to the fireplace and went on with my life. Then, I came across the photos just before leaving on Spring Break for Corpus Christi. I thought about this painting the entire time I was on the coast.

Reading the comments on Newman’s theory jolted me and I returned to the drafting table. I love the slice of landscape I viewed that morning, and have re-visited countless times in my mind’s eye. And this morning, I decided to push my mind and imagination harder against the resistant colors and shapes to see if I could wrest some kind of pleasing composition from it. I keep working back and forth between the complementary violets and yellows as well as the greens and reds. And, as many times before, I am lost in the network of winter tree limbs that trace out a labyrinthe against the sky. I purchased an atomizer from Asel Art yesterday (I lost mine from 1974!) and sprayed some Hydrus liquid watercolor across certain areas. I feel like a small child in the classroom, but that is O.K. I’m back to the joy of discovering new artistic possibilities and am enjoying this ride in particular.

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.

 

No Need for a Cruel Month

February 7, 2016

sunrise archer city

APRIL is the cruellest month

T. S. Eliot, “The Waste Land”

This opening to T. S. Eliot’s poem has always given me pause, wondering what was so cruel about lilacs blooming and the climate of April in general. To me, February was always the cruellest month. January, like the Roman god Janus, looked in two directions–ahead to new possibilities as well as backward in retrospect. The new year is still exciting as January unfolds. A spring semester offers a new beginning. January has many advantages. By February, often the world has gotten colder and darker (to me, anyway), and the newness of the year has already faded. I just always thought February had natural depressants imbedded, and I have frequently regarded it as the cruellest month.

Escaping to the country this weekend was my answer to a frenetic schedule and general weariness and inertia I felt settling into my bones. Archer City and its remoteness offered respite. One of my early visits to this town was for the re-opening of the Royal Theater (setting for The Last Picture Show).

royal theater

At this event, I watched Thornton Wilder’s “Our Town” performed by a local theater troupe. Since that night, I have thought of Archer City every time I have read “Our Town”, feeling that it had much to compare with Grover’s Corners.

Nice town, y’know what I mean?

Nobody very remarkable ever come out of it, s’far as we know.

Residents no doubt would say the same of this city, had it not been for a man named Larry McMurtry. His more than fifty novels and Pulitzer Prize have cast a long shadow across the north Texas consciousness. And now, he also possesses the 2014 National Humanities Medal, awarded to him last September by the President at the White House. Sarah, the lady with whom I visited yesterday, was priviliged to attend that ceremony as part of the media corps. I am posting the link of local coverage of that momentous event.

http://trailblazersblog.dallasnews.com/2015/09/president-obama-honors-larry-mcmurtry-in-elegant-white-house-ceremony.html/

The 29-degree morning that greeted me probably came as a shock to sleeping Archer City, as the forecast called for lows in the upper 30’s. Retiring to bed before 9:30 last night probably meant that the hotel bed was more comfortable on the second night. Waking several times in the darkness, I finally rose at 6:55, refreshed, and smiled at the rosy-fingered dawn on the distant ridge, happy to know that the lovely sight did not have to foretell a tragic day as it did in Homer’s Iliad. Perhaps February will not be a cruel month.

Breakfast will be served a quarter mile down the highway at Lucky’s Cafe, and I haven’t decided yet whether to drive or walk the distance (I walked last evening for dinner, but it was 46 degrees then). For now, I plan to enjoy this Spur Hotel with its coffee, and settle in for some quality reading during this quiet Sunday morning.

Thank you for joining me.

I make art in order to remember.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

 

 

Sunday Morning Sketch

January 24, 2016

image

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

image

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.