Archive for the ‘woods’ Category

David, don’t you ever finish anything?

February 17, 2018

St. Louis winter

St. Louis Snow Scene

David, don’t you ever finish anything?!

That’s exactly what a man said to me years ago when he walked into my temporary studio and saw half a dozen half-finished watercolors. Of course, he wasn’t present when I delivered all of those, plus three more a few weeks later to be framed. Long ago, I realized that if I continually start new pieces, especially when I get stuck on one particular watercolor, that I could increase my productivity. Sometimes I feel like Andy Warhol’s “factory”, especially when a show is approaching. But I consider it a luxury to finish several paintings in a day or two rather than linger two-to-three weeks on one piece, finish it, then lack the momentum to begin anew. With several pieces in progress, I can work on whichever one interests me at the moment, and anytime I get hung up on a particular composition, I can lay it aside and let it compost awhile before returning to it.

The painting above I finished after beginning it last Christmas. I just now framed it and hung it here in The Gallery at Redlands. It is an 11 x 14″ framed watercolor that I’ve priced at $100.

Little Ox

Here is the smaller “Oxbow” watercolor I began yesterday after framing the larger one. I’ve started and stopped on it a dozen times, continually questioning its direction and how to complete the composition.


South Fork, Colorado

During one of my stops today, I returned to this piece that I began en plein air last summer in South Fork, Colorado.  The view overlooks the South Fork of the Rio Grande from the porch of the cabin I love to rent at Riverbend Resort. The stream is teeming with rainbow and brown trout and remains one of my all-time favorite places to fly fish. I just completed reservations for that same cabin this coming summer and already I am fantasizing over the adventures waiting there. This piece is also 11 x 14″ framed and priced at $125.

It is 48 degrees, rainy, dark and cold outside the gallery here in Palestine, Texas. I’m used to seeing people walking up and down the streets and sidewalks outside my window, but not today. It’s been a great day to paint.

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.


Ancestral Voices

August 19, 2016

bluff 2

Trying to pierce the mystery with our categories is like trying to bite a wall. Science extends rather than limits the scope of the ineffable, and our radical amazement is enhanced rather than reduced by the advancement of knowledge.

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

Good morning, Friends. I awoke with the thoughts of the divine Abraham Heschel surging through me. I guess it is nearly time to start school again. And I am ready, spiritually (intellectually may be another matter). Today is Friday, the last assigned day to have our classrooms ready (although we are allowed access tomorrow, if necessary).

Mornings that begin over a watercolor are better than those that do not. Over coffee, I lingered awhile re-reading this magnificent biography by Robert Richardson, Jr., Emerson: The Mind on Fire. While reading and allowing my mind to drift, I thought over the collage of role models who have motivated me over nearly three decades of classroom experience: the erudition of Paul Tillich, eloquence of Emerson, wildness of Thoreau, inventiveness of Shakespeare, alertness of William Carlos Williams, confidence of Walt Whitman, daring of Picasso, and more recently the sensitivity of Annie Dillard. I suppose I’m never sure what exactly David Tripp will be as the semester unfolds, but in these later years, I hope I’m not as conscious of that as I am of the richness of ideas, dreams and explorations offered as we enter that arena of education.

This watercolor I’ve posted is a small sketch, approximately 9 x 12″ unframed. I think it may be done, and will probably decide when I get home from school this afternoon. I’m ready to plunge into a larger work, more like 18 x 24″ taking as my subject another of the Big River bluffs my friend Wayne White photographed and sent to me.  Again, I can relive the kayaking experiences I knew this summer with both Wayne and Mark Nelson, grateful that such gifts are still offered in this life.

Time to leave for school, again. Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to know.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.

Lost in the Labyrinthe

March 19, 2016


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.


Remembering Robert Frost’s Snowy Evening

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

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

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

Unmasking the Picket Fence

June 3, 2014
18 x 24" Watercolor of Historic Louisiana Home

18 x 24″ Watercolor of Historic Louisiana Home

An artist has got to get acquainted with himself just as much as he can.  It is no easy job, for it is not a present-day habit of humanity.  This is what I call self-development, self-education.  No matter how fine a school you are in, you have to educate yourself.

Robert Henri, The Art Spirit

Today was a day requiring a large measure of self-motivation.  The classes this morning were long, as was the one this afternoon.  There were a lot of grades to record, and I just didn’t feel like it, but managed to do the task nevertheless.  By school’s end, my body was totally exhausted.  But I pushed myself toward Waxahachie, and am so glad that I only needed an hour to straighten out the watercolor that yesterday started out so badly.  Driving home, I felt the weariness descend again.  I had a substantial stack of papers to grade for tomorrow morning’s class, and this large studio watercolor that I’ve tried to keep developing.  Somehow I managed to reach deep enough within to do what I needed to do.  I’m quite satisfied that what needed to happen, happened.

I’ve removed the masking fluid from the picket fence and am glad to see that it is popping out against its background the way I had hoped it would do.  The Indian paintbrush in the foreground also seems to be off to a pretty good beginning.  And the white building is managing to peep through the foliage O.K.  I’m glad it’s going the way I’ve wanted it to do.

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.


What if Every Class Began with Heidegger?

May 18, 2014

North of Waxahachie, Texas

When on a summer’s day the butterfly

settles on the flower and, wings

closed, sways with it in the

meadow-breeze . . . .

            All our heart’s courage is the

            echoing response to the

            first call of Being which

            gathers our thinking into the

            play of the world.

Martin Heidegger, “The Thinker as Poet”

Reading the text above left me breathless, late one night recently.  I had been working over several days, trying to prepare a lecture on Martin Heidegger for my high school philosophy class.  Anyone who has tried to read his work, especially Being and Time, knows that Heidegger’s thought is a difficult nut to crack.  Finally, I read his piece titled “The Thinker as Poet”, read it again, and read it still again.  I couldn’t believe the ideas that washed over me.  For several decades now, my life has zig-zagged between art and academics.  I am salaried to teach academics to high school and college students (art history, philosophy, literature).  I have never stopped making art, and I have pursued watercolors for a number of years now.  And I love the kindredship I feel when I read words such as these from a writer who loved both fields.

With only a few weeks of school remaining, I oftentimes find this time a year the best of times, for me.  Most students (and teachers) have given up by now and are on cruise control.  I always find this an excellent time to pursue studies in areas outside my comfort zone, and I feel that I am a student again, off-balance, leaning into new ideas, and stretching to understand the more nuanced teachings from the masters.  Right now, I am loving my reading and my art endeavors more than ever, and hope that the trend continues a long time.  I can think of nothing better.

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.


Life Surging with Details and Challenges

April 29, 2014
Small Watercolor Sketch of a Fly Fisherman

Small Watercolor Sketch of a Fly Fisherman

             He went to his library.  He sat reading for a few hours.  Then he stopped.  He stopped short, without reason, in the middle of an important sentence.  He had no desire to read on.  He had no desire ever to make another effort.

            Nothing had happened to him—a happening is a positive reality, and no reality could ever make him helpless; this was some enormous negative—as if everything had been wiped out, leaving a senseless emptiness, faintly indecent because it seemed so ordinary, so unexciting, like murder wearing a homey smile.

            Nothing was gone—except desire; no, more than that—the root, the desire to desire.  He thought that a man who loses his eyes still retains the concept of sight; but he had heard of a ghastlier blindness—if the brain centers controlling vision are destroyed, one loses even the memory of visual perception.

Ayn Rand, The Fountainhead

I’m surprised that I’m finding time to fiddle with my watercolor sketching, being absorbed with a novel I began reading at the end of last week.  I am about 500 pages into it and cannot seem to put it down, yet somehow I’m still preparing my classes, grading, writing in my journal and experimenting daily with watercolor in my studio.  I don’t know how this is all happening, but I’ll accept that gift with gratitude.

This is a small watercolor that I began while sitting in a festival booth a few weekends ago.  I forgot about it until last evening and decided to push onward with it.  I’ve just now peeled away all the masquing, so there are quite a few raw areas that now have to be doctored and detailed.  It looks as though the painting will have to be abandoned on my drafting table for the rest of this night, however.

I am moved by the words I’ve posted above from the novel I’m reading.  My Advanced Placement Art History students challenged me last week to read it because of our recent studies in twentieth-century architecture.  I’m finding to book to be very engaging, and am really enjoying what I read of the characters.  I shuddered this morning, before dawn, as I read this text.  The words are spoken of a successful New York City publishing mogul who at age fifty-one comes to this flat level of existence.  I would hate to come to that state of mind.  Currently I find myself wishing I could split into two or three persons so I could have time to pursue every challenge that interests me currently.  I cannot understand a sentiment of emptiness, of vacuity.  I have to leave soon for a social function this evening, and knowing that when I return I will be crowded to finish grading before bedtime, and probably have zero time remaining for reading this novel or working on this watercolor already frustrates me.  I cannot understand one’s being bored, or feeling that life has reached a stage of non-purpose.  To the contrary, my life has always had more details than I could ever chase down and solve.

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.



A Winter Stop in Arcadia

March 6, 2014
Whittling Away at the Hermann, Missouri watercolor

Whittling Away at the Hermann, Missouri watercolor

An awful lot of painting is just sitting and thinking.

Robert Motherwell

Recently in Advanced Placement Art History, we looked at the art of Nicolas Poussin, and this image of the young men looking intently at the epitaph on the monument has remained with me.  I see their focused scrutiny, and feel that same sentiment often when I lean over and peer deeply into the masterwork of some celebrated artist from the past.

Et in Arcadia Ego, by Nicolas Poussin

For the past couple of days, I have been listening to a new DVD celebrating Andrew Wyeth’s work: Self-Portrait: Snow Hill as I have worked in my studio.  This in turn has led me back into some of my books of his work, and I have taken another look into his brick texturing of vintage buildings, and his incredible build-up of dry brush of winter forests.  I am experimenting with some different techniques on the bricks and background forest in this winter painting I’ve begun of Hermann, Missouri.  My enthusiasm is building as I’m watching some of the results emerge that I hoped would take place.

As I write this and as I paint, a cold, grey northern winter light is slanting through my studio windows.  And I like it, deeply appreciate it.  There is a mystique to the winter light that I have been cognizant of since my early childhood, and I always wished I could capture a sense of it in my painting.  That is what I’m earnestly seeking now in this watercolor as I focus on the photographs I took last December when I tramped through Hermann, filled with delight at what I saw.

Funny thing–a cold, overcast day could just as easily lead to depression, I realize.  But today, it is filling me with a desire to paint, and I feel an exhilaration as I enter into this Arcadian zone.

Life is a train of moods like a string of beads, and as we pass through them they prove to be many-colored lenses which paint the world their own hue . . . 

Ralph Waldo Emerson

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.

Inspiration for Sketching and Composition

December 4, 2013
Preparatory Studies for a New Watercolor

Preparatory Studies for a New Watercolor

Art lies behind the cloth of surface things, it is always deeper than appearance and must be delved for.  Within or about every living work of art, or thing of beauty, or fragment of life, there is some strange inner kernel which cannot be reached with explanations, clarifications, examinations, or definitions.  This kernel remains beneath, behind, beyond.  It is this dimensionless particle which lives, beathes, and means.  It is this living particle which makes art mystical, unknown, real, and experienceable.

The best way to talk about art is to work.  The best way to study art is to work.  The best way to think about art is to work.  art is to work hard and one day it may become art and you may discover the artist that you are.

Richard Pousette-Dart

After two extensive visits to the Dallas Museum of Art to view the new Hopper Drawings exhibit (, I am still vibrating with newfound energy and a renewed sense of joy about making art.  One primary element that’s been missing from my work over the years has been the discipline of sketching and compositon in preparation for my finished paintings.  Naturally when I watercolor en plein air I go directly to the painting with just enough pencil work to provide a scaffolding for the watercolor sketch.  But when I work on a serious studio painting, I usually go directly at it with a pencil to sketch in the structure of the painting.  I have not had the discipline or interest to do thumbnail sketches and compositional studies.  And I have always been bothered by this.

My colleagues at Arlington Martin High School, Dan Darr and Patrick Schneider, are excellent draftsmen, always sketching, always drawing seriously, filling up sketchbooks as fast as I fill up journals with my scribbled thoughts.  I have twins in my Advanced Placement Art History classes this year who are continually drawing in their Moleskine journals as well as taking notes.  Daily I see them bent over their work, and am inspired to follow suit.  A fellow artist/blogger, Corey Aber (, is a master sketcher, and I am always moved at the sight of his prolific output.  I have been an admirer of Leonardo da Vinci throughout the years because he went back and forth between writing and drawing in his sketchbook journals.  History is replete with authors who filled journals and artists who filled sketchbooks, but how many Leonardos have there been?  For several decades, I have marveled about this, yet I keep my journal activity separate from my art activity, and as said earlier, have done very little sketching over the years.

Last night, I sat down to do some serious sketching, and continued during my breaks at school this afternoon.  I am making preparation for another mid-sized watercolor of a service station from the 1950’s and am excited about getting this one right.  Taking a page from Edward Hopper, I started with some thumbnail preliminaries (not posted) and then moved on to some larger tonal sketches, using a dark sepia Faber-Castell pencil.  I thoroughly enjoyed poring over the composition and making decisions of where to place objects, where to deepen the shadows, where to place mid-tones, etc.  I got lost in the study.  I feel that I am nearly ready to begin the painting.  And I am very enthused about this new direction and where it could take me next.

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.

Retreat to the Wilderness

March 27, 2013
"Walden" Painting hanging in Arlington Martin High School library

“Walden” Painting hanging in Arlington Martin High School library

I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”

Henry David Thoreau, Walden

Rene Descartes crawled into a stove late one winter night, to think things through.  Ralph Waldo Emerson launched his two-year European odyssey following the tragic death of his young wife, hoping to figure out what to do next.  Henry David Thoreau retreated to Walden woods for two years, two months, two days, building a cabin and residing there to listen to nature, to learn directly from her, and figure out how to proceed with his life.  We always refer to these retreats to the wilderness as times to retool, to rethink, to retread and figure out how next to move on.

I just came off a disastrous art festival this past weekend–three days outdoors in the rage of arctic temperatures and gale winds (Texas weather the weekend before was in the 80’s and sunny).  The horrendous weather managed to chase away all patrons, leaving artists and musicians hanging out to freeze in the cold winds.  The event was finally canceled Sunday morning.  We folded our tents, packed our creations, loaded out, and headed for our home shelters.  In breaking down my tent, I sliced open my thumb on the right hand, making it impossible for a couple of days to hold a pen, a paintbrush, or even play a guitar.  Gloom.

Monday following the event saw me looking down the bore of a cannon called Progress Grade reporting.  Deadline was midnight.  So, after a day of teaching (following that disastrous arctic weekend of loading, unloading and injuring), I came home from school and inputted grades on the computer until 12:37 a.m.  Then it was up again at 6:00 a.m. for another weary round of teaching.

All of this to say, I haven’t blogged since Friday because I have been up to my eyebrows in trouble.  I have been unable to paint due to the injury and the crushing deadlines and loss of sleep.

But now, the wilderness has opened up and beckoned.  I have been invited to accompany the art club from my high school on a field trip to the Dallas Museum of Art.  And at the end of the day, an invitation awaits to attend the evening events at the Amon Carter Art Museum in Fort Worth.  That, to me, is a gift from the Divine.  A chance to retreat to the wilderness, to immerse myself in the finest art, and to reflect on where to go next with my own pursuits.  A healing balm.  Long overdue.

My earnest hope is that the next blog post will be soon, and will feature my next endeavor.  I really want to push something else out, something new.  But for tonight, I leave you with a 3 x 4′ acrylic canvas I painted for our Martin High School library, featuring Thoreau and his treasured book Walden.  

Tomorrow, before leaving for the museum odyssey, I am thrilled to sit with my Philosophy class and discuss the text of Walden and to apply this spiritual principle of retreat and renewal, found in the solitary wilderness.

Thanks for reading.