Posts Tagged ‘Aldo Leopold’

Tearing Off and Beginning Again

August 23, 2015

imageTo fend off the crowd, Stoics believed, it was essential to cultivate inner self-sufficiency, and Seneca returns to this notion over and over. Learn to be content within yourself, to trust your own instincts and ideas. Those who achieve this autonomy, he argues, are best able to enjoy and make the most of their outward lives. They thrive in the crowd because they’re not dependent on it. 

William Powers, Hamlet’s Blackberry

Within you, there is a stillness and a sanctuary to which you can retreat at anytime and be yourself.

Hermann Hesse, Siddhartha

The photo above was taken early Saturday morning in the back of my darkened classroom, and it became a sacred space for me. Nearly three months of summer solitude and quiet are about to end as I enter the public classroom arena in the morning and write the first page of a new chapter for all of us. I’m choosing the title above because I have torn off and discarded a number of teaching points I have grown to love over the years, replacing them with some new ones.

This latest book I’m reading Hamlet’s Blackberry: Building a Good Life in the Digital Age has seized my attention and held it like no other in recent years. Not only am I appreciative that the author got my attention of how social media can drive one’s personal agenda, I am glad now to seek a more satisfying lifestyle that balances my quiet solitude with the demands of a social business schedule. The summer has furnished an excellent training ground for the quiet side of my life, and tomorrow I’ll find out just how successful I am at balancing the tumult of daily school with the quiet of my study. I find such attractive sweetness in the lives of Emerson, Thoreau, Annie Dillard and Aldo Leopold because I imagine them to have found ways to balance their quiet inwardness with the demands of business. I see them as very positive role models for anyone who wishes to pursue creative exploits.

I did fight for some painting time in the studio this day before school begins. Here is a 20 x 24″ beginning of the same Laguna Madre painting that I completed a couple of days ago. I want to explore the serpentine countour of land in the foreground as I did in that very small watercolor.

Sketchbook/Journal Experimenting

Sketchbook/Journal Experimenting

This morning, while reading something completely unrelated, my mind drifted to drawing, and I’m glad I closed the book and let the imagination run. This is not something I’ve been taught or read in any art manual–I have always balked at drawing landscapes in pencil, because I could not solve the problem of lightly colored grasses against darker backgrounds. I had solved that issue in watercolor through masquing, but could not think of a way to render light grass blades against darker ones in pencil. Recalling that I could impress shapes into paper with a hard pencil (6H or 8H) and then skate over it with a soft lead pencil, I wondered if I could take a ballpoint pen that had run dry, and use it to press lines of grass into the paper, and then drag a soft pencil over the top of it. The sketchbook/journal page above shows my first attempts. Turning to another sketchbook, I then worked more deliberately and got closer to where I want to go:

Combining stylus indentions with soft graphite drawing

Combining stylus indentions with soft graphite drawing

To get this effect, I used an empty ballpoint pen for the impressions into the paper, then skated over it with a 6B pencil and rubbed some of it out with a paper blending stump. Finally, I drew in darker grasses, first in 6B, followed by a #2 pencil and then finally a 6H. I’m getting closer to what I want to accomplish.  Too bad I have to break this off and return my attention to tomorrow’s first day of classes.

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.

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A Weekend of Needed Restoration

September 15, 2013
An Evening of Fly Fishing at Beavers Bend State Park, Broken Bow, Oklahoma

An Evening of Fly Fishing at Beavers Bend State Park, Broken Bow, Oklahoma

A hobby is a defiance of the contemporary.  It is an assertion of those permanent values which the momentary eddies of social evolution have contravened or overlooked.  If this is true, then we may also say that every hobbyist is inherently a radical, and that his tribe is inherently a minority.

Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac

Arlington, Texas never looked better to me, as I viewed it from my rearview mirror last Friday afternoon.  The week in school was crushing, and as I looked at my calendar, I saw no relief in sight.  So, I loaded the Jeep and set out for Broken Bow, Oklahoma, a three-and-one-half hour drive, with a mind full of good memories of conversations with eager students, and a heart that lightened with every mile left behind.  I checked into my hotel in Idabel, Oklahoma, road-weary but hopeful for the coming day.

Saturday morning found me in a trout stream in Beavers Bend State Park.  It felt good to wade cold waters on a 65-degree morning (Texas temperatures since July have been the worst kind of hell).  I felt the calm, serene happiness of Nick in Hemingway’s “Big Two-Hearted River,” even though I could not raise a single trout throughout the morning.  I stopped for lunch and a refresher back at the hotel, watched a little TV (didn’t mind watching Johnny Football take it on the chin–being a schoolteacher, he reminds me of too many privileged students I’d just as soon forget), then re-packed and returned to the stream about 4:30 in the afternoon.

The gorge I chose this time was cut so deep that shadows were already falling across the waters, and the signt of flyfishermen beneath the overlooking cliffs made me wonder whether I wanted to paint or fly fish.  I took pictures, and decided to paint later.  Entering the stream, I tried everything the fly shop recommended–lead sinkers, yellow bobbers, an assortment of nymphs, and nothing worked.  Finally I returned to about the only thing I know how to do:  I tied a size 18 elk-haired caddis on, soaked it in floatant, and then tied 18″ of 5x leader off the hook and attached a size 20 red midge to use as a dropper.  Success.  Four rainbow trout, up to 14″, struck within thirty minutes, and I felt that everything I had wanted to happen on this weekend vacation happened.

14" rainbow trout in the net

14″ rainbow trout in the net

A second rainbow . . .

A second rainbow . . .

. . . a third rainbow . . .

. . . and a fourth rainbow to round out the evening

. . . and a fourth rainbow to round out the evening

They were all beautiful, beyond description, as I raised the net and let the late afternoon sun fall across their forms and beheld a dazzling spectrum of colors.  Trout colors overwhelm my eye.  I released them all, happily.  I love watching trout swim away to their freedom.  Once I caught and released the fourth one, I was exhausted.  I struggled to the bank, sat awhile, took more photographs of the surrounding fly fishermen, then found my way to a rural diner for a late dinner, then back to the hotel.

Today I’m home, rested and grateful for the weekend.  I have attempted an 8 x 10″ watercolor of the lovely place where I landed the trout.  I even tried to put a solitary fly fisherman down below in the shadows, to stress how dimutive we feel when we’re enveloped with the grandeur of this stream.

Fly Fishing Beneath the Gathering Twilight

Fly Fishing Beneath the Gathering Twilight

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.

Early Saturday Morning, Exploring a Large Watercolor

August 24, 2013
Early Saturday Morning, Working on the Watercolor

Early Saturday Morning, Working on the Watercolor

Education, I fear, is learning to see one thing by going blind to another.

Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac

The statement above by Aldo Leopold could be taken in a number of ways.  Having completed a week of Inservice before beginning the new year at my high school, I heard a number of pontificators telling the audience what was wrong with public education and how to take steps to remedy it.  As in former years, we were covered with enough statistics to make our heads swim, along with bullet lists of guidelines designed to correct the shortcomings perceived from the statistics.  From my perspective, every year a new educational flavor is passed down from officials on state and district levels, accompanied with new books, written by the latest education gurus.

My reason for posting the Leopold quote is this: education is a lifestyle, not an institution, and learning is always more comprehensive than the lesson plans and statistics that are printed up and passed out each year.  I awoke at 7:50 this Saturday morning, because my mind was overflowing with ideas spawned from what I ingested the past week, from art history, philosophy, literature, religion and music. My reading, as always, has been diverse, as I have pored over poetry, essays, private journals, fiction novels, short stories, histories and biographies.  I have also been soaking myself in watercolor theories found in books, DVDs, Youtube and my own experiments in the studio.  This past week, for me has been a stimulating education, and virtually none of it rose from my Inservice meetings.  None of the issues that  excite me right now were revealed by a speech, lecture, a stack of handouts or curriculum guides.  I love learning, I am starving to know more, I am obsessed with exploration, and unfortunately, I feel that I have to work overtime to safeguard that enthusiasm, while the machinery of public education continually finds ways to squelch it.  If it were not for the affirming, supportive administration and faculty within my own building, I would probably have walked away from this profession long ago.  Right now, I am as excited as I have ever been to meet my new students on Monday, and that excitement took root Thursday and Friday, when finally I was allowed time and space for privacy in my classroom, to set up my environment, read, reflect, and write up my strategic plans for the opening week of classes.

Rising early this morning, I entered my studio when the northen lights were clean and refreshing, and spent a long while poring over this watercolor before deciding what to do next.  I found myself in a “detail” mood, so I finished the Sinclair sign, painted the slogan under the roof and added the “Dino”, shaded the red post of the lamp, then went to work on the details under the awning, where shadows play among the I-beams and framework.  I also re-worked the reflections on the windows of the station.  Lettering is still my Achilles’ tendon, particularly Gothic lettering.  I didn’t fret much over the white Gothic “Sinclair” letters, knowing that a good flat brush would allow me to paint around the letters, leaving the white paper to stand alone.  But the red “Go with the Dino” lettering had me worried.  Since it was in deep shadow, I mixed Winsor Green with the Alizarin Crimson, hoping it would pass for “shadow red.”  I first outlined all the letters, continually sharpening a Tuscan Red Prismacolor Pencil.  Then I wet the insides ofthe letters and floated the Alizarin Crimson mixed with Winsor Green, letting the colors run to the waxy edge of the Prismacolor outline.  Maybe one day I’ll solve my lettering anxieties.  I certainly haven’t yet paid my 10,000 hours’ dues in that discipline.

Thanks for reading.   I hope to return to this painting tomorrow.  As for the meantime, Advanced Placement Art History is demanding my attention for Monday’s classes.

I paint in order to remember.

I journal because I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

Finishing the Archer City Filling Station

August 12, 2013
Archer City Filling Station and Hudson

Archer City Filling Station and Hudson

Our ability to perceive quality in nature begins, as in art, with the pretty.  It expands through successive stages of the beautiful to values as yet uncaptured by language.

Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac

I feel that this watercolor may be finished, though I have yet to sign it.  This afternoon I took a long look at it, made some compositional notes in my journal, returned later, and added only what I had suggested in the journal: darkening the ground  between the building and Hudson, completing the jutting piece of property to the left of the building, completing foliage in the left background, rendering the shingled roof, applying washes of color to the right of the Hudson, finishing the crepe myrtle tree behind the building.  The painting looked much different (and better) to me after those tweakings.  Now I’ll lay it aside for a few days or weeks and decide later if anything else needs to be done.

In response to the quote from Leopold (I’m still trying to finish that book that I started reading years ago!), I’m fascinated with nature and what exactly it is that we consider “beautfiul.”  As stated in an earlier blog, I myself love to look at gnarled dead trees, the kinks in their branches, and the myriad of limbs that dissolve into the sky. No doubt I did more work on the dead trees to the left rear of the gas station than any other single part of this painting, though I doubt sincerely if viewers will even as much as look at that part, which is alright with me.  As a painter, I have never obsessed with what the viewer finds attractive in any of my compositions, so long as the viewer finds the painting worth a second look.

Perhaps tomorrow I can attack the large composition of the Fort Worth Sinclair station I visited yesterday.  I had planned on doing that today, but could not obtain some of the supplies needed to start the painting.  Hopefully tomorrow.

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to remember.

I journal because I feel that I am alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.