Rainy Atelier

September 28, 2017

studio

You come to the place of your art from the swiftly flowing river of work and domesticity in which from choice and necessity you have swum and bobbed along with everyone else. You emerge from this wide and deep stream, towel off, slip into something more comfortable, and step into your atelier ready to do a new kind of business.

Peter London, Drawing Closer to Nature: Making Art in Dialogue with the Natural World

Waking early to a dark and rainy morning, I immediately recalled something I read yesterday from Peter London, found it, and post it now for you. What an inspiring word! Teaching every other day now gives me the richness of having these long days without appointment, and a studio ready to use. I am a YouTube junkie, and that wonderful resource plays nonstop on my large flat screen to give me the environment of my choice every day when I work/play in my studio. Of course this morning, I dial up one of those many delicious jazz-for-a-rainy-day stations.

I can almost hear the chug of steam locomotives in the background, reminding me it is time to get back to the watercolors.

Thanks for reading, and I hope you have the luxury today of emerging from the stream, totally refreshed and ready to pursue your personal enterprise.

 

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Rolling out the Train Watercolors

September 27, 2017

610 plein air

Before retiring to bed, I wanted to post the progress on this historic T&P #610 which is the property of the Texas State Railroad headquartered in Palestine, Texas. They towed this enormous steam locomotive out of its shed last weekend so photographers could photograph it. I began it as a plein air watercolor sketch, but the heat and humidity kept the paper too moist to work in satisfactory fashion, so I brought it inside and continued working from reference photos I took.

Thanks for reading.

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Catching the Wind

September 27, 2017

Blog Wed 2

Completed Durango-Silverton Railroad

It is as if our own body, the container that our very own being has been poured into, shrugs off its torpor and awakens to its possibilities to speak and take flight.

Peter London, Drawing Closer to Nature: Making Art in Dialogue with the Natural World

In my reading early this morning, I came across this line from Peter London that captured what I felt yesterday, and the effects linger still today.  I’m finished with my morning college classes and am returning to the studio with sustained enthusiasm.  As artists, we know that we cannot make the wind of inspiration blow, but at least we can trim our sails to catch the breezes once they do stir. Yesterday morning I found myself with a full day available to make art, and am glad I went to work at it. A short time after beginning, I felt the surge.

Waking early this morning, I enjoyed some quality reading and journaling, then went to class, inspired by the line I’ve posted above. I’m setting aside the Durango-Silverton posted above, because I feel that I’ve done enough to it to consider it finished. I’m still puzzling over the painting below, so I’m going to let it ride a bit longer.  I have two more works in progress that need my attention, so I’ll see what I can accomplish with them.

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Nearly Complete–Texas State Railroad #30

Thanks for reading.

 

Grinding, but Happy Again

September 26, 2017

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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.

 

 

Back to the Special Place Where I Belong

September 16, 2017

redlands sat

Decompression Time

A man, yet by these tears a little boy again . . . cautiously peering, absorbing, translating.

Walt Whitman, “Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking”

My body is weary this evening as I linger over some lines from Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass–a treasure to me since I discovered him afresh in 1989. These lines arrested my attention tonight, because I feel again the sense of wonder I knew as a child and felt evening time growing quiet around me. Tonight has offered a delicious quiet where I can read, think over the events of the day, and scribble ideas in my journal that could be worth recalling.

I rose early this morning and spent most of the day at First Christian Church in Arlington, Texas, offering outdoor watercolor lessons in their garden area during their annual bazaar and selling my art work out of a booth indoors. It was a beautiful day to be out and among people, and I enjoyed a number of quality conversations from old friends as well as new acquaintances.

booth

My Booth Indoors . . .

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. . . and my Painting Demo Outdoors

Once the festival ended and my gear was loaded with good help (thank you, Connie!), I rolled south for two hours till I reached my sacred home–The Gallery at Redlands in Palestine’s Historic Redlands Inn. I have been away from here for two weeks, and felt a warm feeling when I turned down Oak street and saw this site ready for my arrival.

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My Gallery Home

The City of Palestine has been so welcoming and accommodating to me and my art-lover friends. I never knew I could enjoy the conversations so much from the Inn proprietors, the gift shop employees, the fabulous Red Fire Grille personnel and professionals who keep offices in the suites upstairs–all of them have made me feel like I’ve found a home. It is now Saturday night, and I’m not alone in this office, because the Red Fire Grille has patrons coming in and out, and the proprietors are very gracious in visiting me.

As I’ve written before, the Polar Express begins its holiday season soon in Palestine, and I’m hoping to have plenty of new train-related paintings to display and sell this season. For several months, I’ve been travelling, photographing and sketching historic trains and tonight have them spread out on a bench in the gallery. Patrons coming through have spoken glowingly of them, so I guess I’m doing something right.

train paintings

My Newest Railroad Project in Progress

Darkness has descended outside and the gallery lights are too soft for working on the paintings–I’m too tired anyway. Reading and thinking in the quiet has been most pleasant, and a number of restaurant patrons have come through to look at the work and comment. Good conversations have emerged as well, and that just adds to the quality of the night.

Tomorrow, when the sun comes through the gallery windows, I’ll paint again. I’m ready.

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.

 

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.

Return to the Watercolor Studio

September 13, 2017

rusk train

Beginning Study of the Texas State Railroad in Rusk, Texas

While considering my composition for the ceiling, which pleases me only since yesterday, thanks to the changes that I made with pastel in the sky, I was saying to myself that a good picture was exactly like a good dish, containing the same ingredients as a bad one: it is all a question of the artist who produces it.  How many magnificent compositions would be nothing without the grain of salt of the great cook!  That power of the indefinable thing is astonishing in Rubens; what his temperament, his vis poetica, adds to a composition, without seeming to change it, is prodigious. It is no other than the turn of the style; the way he does it is everything, the matter he deals with is comparatively unimportant.

Eugene Delacroix, Journal, June 8, 1850

I was pleased to find a large quantity of time and space this afternoon and this evening to return to my watercolor studio and begin work on the magnificent excursion train that runs between Palestine and Rusk, Texas, through the piney woods. A couple of weeks ago, I finally was able to board that train, thanks to a generous benefactor who booked me first class (I appreciate you, Ben!). I took dozens of photos during the pleasant four-hour experience, and am delighted now to compose some watercolors of that phenomenon.

Even though my lecture preparations have chewed up most of my time recently, I’ve managed to continue my reading of the Journals of Delacroix, and find myself mesmerized at that artist’s erudition. My feeble abilities in Latin were at least able to translate vis poetica as “poetic genius” or “artistic force.” And I’m always wrestling with that notion of what exactly gives art work its lasting quality. I’ve always believed that skill is necessary, and am grateful that I seem to have been born with a talent for it, and had excellent instructors in high school and college. But that “indefinable thing” mentioned by Delacroix still drives my query.

Throughout my life I have played guitar for the pure joy of it. And I believe in my heart that though I know how to play the guitar, I am not much of a musician. What escapes me is that “touch” that I envy so much with excellent guitar players who know how to coax the sweet strains of music from those strings. In comparison, I always feel that I am “clunky.” Still, that doesn’t stop me from playing my guitar.

In similar fashion, I have looked at art all my life, and am convinced that there are many skilled people that still are not artists, because that “indefinable thing”, or vis poetica, doesn’t appear in their work. I laugh every time I read those portions of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road where Dean Moriarty says that a particular musician has “It.” It is precisely that quality that separates “art” from “art work”. The joy that I feel in the pursuit of art is the quest for that spark, that element that makes the composition become “art.”

Sorry if I seem to be rambling. I haven’t blogged for quite some time, and tonight I’m just happy to be painting again. The start I have on this train is promising, and I’m loving the tight detailing just as much as the splash and dash of the looser parts of it. And as I continue to look into this composition and make decisions, I’ll continually wish for that “indefinable thing” to come to the surface. Every time I attempt a painting, I am hoping for something transcendent to emerge.

I only have a few months left to finish my big project–a series of train paintings to sell as originals, prints and greeting cards through The Gallery at Redlands this Christmas season. I’m happy to find a large project to target, and hope this one works out.

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.

 

The Sublime in the Pre-Dawn

September 6, 2017

Hegel

Like a bird which alights nowhere, but hops perpetually from bough to bough, is the Power which abides in no man and in no woman, but for a moment speaks from this one, and for another moment from that one.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Experience”

I could not resist pushing aside my morning’s work for a moment to hang out another blog entry. While looking for an Emerson reference to illustrate one of my points in this morning’s lecture, I came across this one that I underlined in my book about a week ago and forgot, until this morning’s reminder. What a wonderfully poetic way to describe what I’ve known for decades–that the “power” of ideas is always flitting from one voice to another, and we can never pin it down in one place to stay put for us to dissect. I recall the theologian Karl Barth saying that attempting to describe God was like painting a bird in flight; you can only follow it with your eye.

My semi-retirement rhythms have found a nice pattern, despite the flitting of ideas from branch to branch. I’m teaching a course at the university that I’ve never taught before, yet as I research the themes necessary, I continually uncover thinkers I have studied over the years, and synthesizing my old knowledge with the new discussions keeps me fresh (I hope) and certainly enthusiastic. My pattern has emerged thus: I teach on Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 9:00 and 10:00 (same course, twice). Preparing one fifty-minute lecture every forty-eight hours has not been as difficult as I had imagined. I’m only sorry I couldn’t do this over the past twenty-eight years. My routine has been to write out the lecture and power-point it the night before. Then, rising at 5 a.m. the morning of, I go over it one more time, always refining, consolidating, rewriting, cutting, adding . . . with coffee steaming in my mug. By the time class arrives, I am ready and enthusiastic. I cannot express the contrast of this newly-found university freshness and joy against the high school treadmill of a four-or-five subject load, Monday-through-Friday delivery, with grading and paperwork and deadlines stacked atop all that. I had no idea how difficult my past was. I know I am older, but feel much, much younger now. The feeling of hope and enthusiasm often borders on euphoria.

I have always enjoyed working at my desk, when I knew that I could put quality time into the work. My routine now often entails extensive reading and note-taking through the daytime hours. As night descends, I draft the lecture on the laptop, then reshape it in a powerpoint presentation. Later, as I sleep through the night, I believe that my mind has its way of composting all the raw materials I have poured into the class lecture. Rising at 5 a.m., knowing that I have another four hours before class time, I re-open the lecture, and as I re-read it, I find all kinds of ways to tighten it up with revisions, and the structure of it firms up. All the while, I find myself smiling inwardly, enjoying the work as it grows in me.

Today we focus on Machiavelli and Hobbes, and I’m using the philosophical framework of the later Hegel to package the discussion. I’m loving this because the final form of my lecture is not copied and pasted from someone else’s textbook, yet the subject I’m covering is congruent with the chapter of assigned reading from the class text.

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Cartoon of Hegel lecturing his students

Before my re-writing session this morning, I found this image on the Internet that I have enjoyed over the years, printed it and placed it in front of me as I worked.

The light is finally coming up at my window, reminding me that it is time to finish up my classwork and get to the university. I have a job to do, and I am loving it.

Thanks for reading.

 

 

The Harmony Beneath the Disarray

August 29, 2017

grapevine train.jpg

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.

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Fun at Dr. Jeckyll’s Open Mic

Thanks for reading.

 

Quiet Reflections during a Rain-Soaked Sunday Morning

August 27, 2017

gallery

To finish the moment, to find the journey’s end in every step of the road, to live the greatest number of good hours, is wisdom.  . . . Since our office is with moments, let us husband them.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Experience”

I’m deeply saddened for residents on the Texas coast who have endured the hell of this weekend’s hurricane. Homes and businesses destroyed and infrastructure horribly fractured–I made many friends in Corpus Christi and Rockport over the past few years, and my heart aches for them and their friends. It takes long stretches of time to repair property and lives. Spending this weekend in Palestine, I have known only continual rain and darkened skies. My home is hours north of the coast, so I know I’ll return this evening only to a wet neighborhood, but not a storm-ravaged one.

I gave myself some quiet space in the gallery this morning to pore over some of Emerson’s writings and see if I could scribble out something meaningful in my journal. The statement above resonated with me because I have believed it for years, and it helped me keep my sanity during all those high school classroom sessions. I appreciate the words this morning, because I have plenty of college work to complete for classes in the morning, a watercolor lesson to give in the gallery this afternoon, and several paintings in progress before me that need to be completed for the coming holidays. I could be overwhelmed at the tasks, but instead pause to appreciate how delicious the moments are here.

I have been a YouTube junkie for over a year now. On my laptop I’m always dialing up something for “company” to listen to while I work. This morning’s companionship is titled “Rainy Jazz.” Every time I look up to see rain pouring outside my window, or hear the blast of a diesel horn in the railroad yards two blocks away, or the swish of a car slushing down the street below my gallery window, I feel something warm inside me. The Historic Inn at Redlands will be quiet inside, today. The Red Fire Grille across the hall will not open. Throughout the morning, I’ll hear the door outside open as parishioners attending mass across the street at Sacred Heart Catholic Church will drift into the hotel to look at historic displays in the windows and take a swing through the gallery. Looking up from time to time from my work, I’m feeling good inside, seeing my work all over these walls. This is without a doubt one of the proudest moments of my life.

Thank you for reading, and remember the ones living on the coast.

I make art in order to remember.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.