Posts Tagged ‘coffee’

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.

Lingering in the Shadow

April 13, 2015
Raw Photo of a Watercolor Sketch Attempted Months Ago

Raw Photo of a Watercolor Sketch Attempted Many Months Ago

Between the idea
And the reality
Between the motion
And the act
Falls the Shadow
For Thine is the Kingdom

Between the conception
And the creation
Between the emotion
And the response
Falls the Shadow
Life is very long

Between the desire
And the spasm
Between the potency
And the existence
Between the essence
And the descent
Falls the Shadow
For Thine is the Kingdom

T. S. Eliot, “The Hollow Men”

WIth an art festival approaching this coming weekend, I came home from school today in a burst of energy and began cranking out reproductions of my recent watercolors, in images 5 x 7″, 8 x 10″ and custom greeting cards. This task ate up a number of hours of the late afternoon and early evening. Finally, I slumped in a rocking chair with coffee, deciding it was time to stop for awhile. An image suddenly flashed into my mind’s eye, and before I thought better, I was out of the chair and back at the computer, photoshopping, cropping, and playing around with one watercolor that I had forgotten completely over the past several months. Below are two cropped, photoshopped compositions of this painting:

Back in the rocking chair, I sipped my coffee and stared at these two images alongside my original, and like Andy Warhol, found myself fascinated in the abstract possibilities of the shadows and negative areas, not just the subject matter. I don’t know how much time elided as I sat, sipping and thinking, pondering these possibilies, But I was truly “drawn in” by these compositions. Since adolescence, I have looked at Andrew Wyeth watercolors, popularly called “vignettes”, and loved the way he allowed his colors to bleed off into a white wasteland beyond the focused subject matter. As for myself, I have often been too timid to leave my work this way, fearing that it would be judged “unfinished.” But I am changing my mind tonight. I’ve determined that I will eventually have this piece custom framed, leaving the unfinished boundary. After all, I’m not entering it into a competition. I’m not subjecting it to another judge’s opinion. And I really have no interest in selling the piece. I have not been “attached” to any single painting of mine for over a decade, but this one is definitely clinging to me tonight. And I am beginning to feel stirred by the idea of creative authenticity. After all these decades of practicing my craft, I feel that I could be drawing nearer to finding my own voice.

Another Partial Watercolor Sketch from Months Ago, and Forgotten

Another Partial Watercolor Sketch from Months Ago, and Forgotten

I decided I needed to get out of the house and do at least a two-mile exercise walk in the park. This habit of the past couple of weeks will hopefully provide a boost of energy that I’ve felt sagging in recent months. The longer I walked, the more my mind spun with ideas gleaned over the years from Paul Tillich, Robert Motherwell, Richard Diebenkorn, Andrew Wyeth and one of my high school art teachers, notably that compositional strength is frequently discovered in the boundaries, rather than the heart of the subject. No doubt, I have plenty of matters to ponder as I venture closer to the art festival, but these things definitely have my attention.

The borderline is the truly propitious place for acquiring knowledge.

Paul Tillich, Religiöse Verwirklichung (Religious Realization)

I did manage to return to a watercolor I began over the weekend, experimenting with some foreground texturing and figuring a way to transition from the painting itself to the surrounding white ground. My studio lacks decent photography lighting at night, so this is the best I can muster:

I close with this note from Irwin Edman that has lodged into my consciousness throughout this fertile evening:

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.

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.

Solitude in Season

November 7, 2014
A Relaxing Friday Afternoon

A Relaxing Friday Afternoon

No man ever will unfold the capacities of his own intellect who does not at least checker his life with solitude.

De Quincey

I still recall televised discussions of the Sarah Palin phenomenon following the failed presidential bid of Senator John McCain. Popular talk wanted her to run for President in four years, but conventional wisdom knew she was far short on political and world affairs savvy.  One of the pundits said that if she were to make a serious run in four years, she would need to retreat to the wilderness for an extended time (e.g., most of those four years) and study seriously the issues she had not yet mastered. After a thoughtful silence, he admitted that she would never do that–she needed the media attention too much.

This has also been said of Ralph Waldo Emerson.  His Harvard years were solitary ones, because he was too poor to be social, and too intellectually clumsy to master his studies quickly.  After 1836 he lit up the literary world like a meteor across the night sky and was suddenly in demand as a public speaker everywhere.  Some have opined that he levelled off during the 1840’s, because he kept such a busy speaking schedule that he no longer had time for solitude, reflection, writing and cultivation of new ideas.  After all my years in the educational arena, I say with some embarrassment that I have not checked the veracity of this opinion, but the scenario is certainly a life lesson for anyone to follow.

The nature of my work has propelled me into the public from time to time, but my preference for the quiet sanctuary has also been fed consistently throughout the decades.  I love the rhythm between the solitary and public circles, and am most grateful this afternoon as I write this to accept the gift of an “unscheduled” weekend–my first in a long time.  Temperatures are cooling across north Texas, nights and mornings are cold, and I’m loving the books-and-coffee weather feel to all of this.  Right now I’m cozied up in my bedroom with freshly-brewed coffee, a stack of books, and my ever-present journal. Hopefully I’ll get into the “studio mood” later and see what I can do with art.

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.

Six Still-Life Subjects in Search of a Painter

January 14, 2013
The Beginnings of a Small Watercolor Still Life

The Beginnings of a Small Watercolor Still Life

I long ago lost a hound, a bay horse, and a turtle-dove, and am still on their trail. Many are the travelers I have spoken concerning them, describing their tracks and what calls they answered to. I have met one or two who had heard the hound, and the tramp of the horse, and even seen the dove disappear behind a cloud, and they seemed as anxious to recover them as if they had lost them themselves.

Henry David Thoreau, Walden

With temperatures outside dipping to 34 degrees, I find the Man Cave still tolerable, as long as I wear this hoodie, and keep pouring the coffee.

I left this blog last Wednesday, boarding Amtrak on the following day to St. Louis to spend the night at my sister’s house, then drove four hours north to Hamilton, Illinois to say Good-bye to my friend Steve Mullins.  The funeral was difficult, but much love and comfort were offered, and I had the opportunity to visit once again with some whom I had not seen in over forty years.  Then it was time to return to St. Louis, board the train for the 16-hour trek back home and sleep a little before returning to classes today.  After an exhausting afternoon spent preparing for tomorrow’s classes, I finished my work around 8:30 tonight and decided it was time to re-enter the studio, set up a new still life arrangement, lay down the preliminary drawing, throw down some watercolor washes and hopefully find time to post a new blog.  And of course, the entire time I labored (played, really) over this task, my mind moved down a number of scattered paths.

I borrowed the title of this post from a 1921 Italian play by Luigi Pirandello–“Six Characters in Search of an Author.”  In the play, a director struggles to manipulate six unfinished characters seeking an author to finish their story.  As I search for a new still life arrangement to paint, I realize that I myself am also working to manipulate the pieces of my own life, my job, my relations with others, and now the sorting out of feelings and memories surrounding the friend we just buried.  Steve and I produced a plethora of scattered fragments–stories, shared wisdom, life observations–waiting now for an author, waiting for direction, for placement, for meaning.  As I work on still life arrangements, drawings and paintings, plenty of memories blister to the surface of the hours Steve and I spent in the studios of our high school, the makeshift studios in our bedrooms during those high school years, and then the university studios in later years.  We spent plenty of late weeknights together in the painting studio on the third floor of Baldwin Hall at Northeast Missouri State University.  Those memories are giving me comfort and warmth in the midst of this cold night in the Man Cave.

Thoreau wrote above about losing something earlier in life, and of his struggle to recover it.  None of us know what it was that he lost, and I suppose it is just as well–it makes it easier for us to pour ourselves into the subject he addressed.  There are plenty of things I have lost in my past, and have sought to recover in the succeeding years.  But I suppose we all are doing that–arranging, interpreting, re-arranging, re-interpreting our memories, priorities, life pursuits, and, oh yes, those New Year Resolutions.  So many floating, fleeting, flickering synapses of thought seeking order, meaning.  Six Characters in Search of an Author.

Thanks for reading.  I’m grateful to be back in the studio tonight, grateful for an opportunity to put my thoughts on the page, and grateful to know that someone else will read this and connect in some way.

Resuming the Watercolor of Trinidad, Colorado

December 5, 2012
Savoy Coffee Shop in downtown Trinidad, Colorado

Savoy Coffee Shop in downtown Trinidad, Colorado

For about two months, I have been of a mind to throw this watercolor away, nothing was going the way I wanted it to.  After letting it lay dormant for weeks, I took it to school today and decided after my classes were finished to see if I could salvage it.  Fortunately, the painting turned itself around today, and I am very pleased with the direction it is taking.  I darkened the shadows in many areas, and intensified the reds in several other places.  Finally, I laid in the basic wash for the street and put down the yellow striping.

Sitting and staring at it from across the classroom, I recorded eight more observations of things that need to be done with the picture, so I am still a good ways from finishing it.  But I am much happier with it today than I have been in a long, long time.

The watercolor measures 22 x 28″ and I must say I was lost in it for a good while.  That is why I laid it aside.  I was exhausted by the process and unhappy with the results, until this afternoon.  I have locked the painting away in my classroom, and for the time being, have decided only to work on it during the afternoons following classes.  I’ll tend other important matters at home in the evenings.

I have all my art work on display and for sale in my classroom (Room 114) at Arlington Martin High School until December 21 when we go home for the Christmas holidays.  This is something I have done every December for a number of years now.  It is nice to see all the work out in front of me, not only while I’m teaching (it’s in the back of the classroom, in my line of sight, over the students’ heads) and in the afternoons while I’m enjoying coffee and working on my big Trinidad watercolor.

Thanks for reading.

 

Lazy Afternoon at Zula’s Coffee House. Last Day of Waxahachie Plein Air Competition

June 2, 2011

Lazy Afternoon at Zula's Coffee House, Waxahachie, Texas

Today marks the end of the plein air competition in Waxahachie (for me).  The deadline for entering work is tomorrow (Friday) at 2:00, and I will be stuck in school for the entire day.  The last week of public school is a total waste of time and resources, if I may offer my frank opinion.  Prime time every day this week has been spent in a high school where everyone–student and teacher alike–has already mailed it in.   I’m happy that I managed to crank out seven paintings since last Friday–six of them between Friday and Monday, and then the past three days on this one (again, prime time spent in school, and left-over, late-afternoon time, painting).

Zula’s Coffee House is my favorite place to land when I’m in Waxahachie, Texas.  Terra, the proprietor, has this way of making any patron comfortable and grateful for setting up in this coffee haven, any time day or night.  It has become a popular venue for folk singing, book discussions and various other small group activities.  Wi-Fi makes it a great place to work on the laptop when deadlines are pressing.  The coffee house is located on Business Highway 287, on the north side of downtown Waxahachie (Main Street).  It is far enough away from the town square to escape the traffic noises of midday, and has a life of its own (which the town square lacks after 5:00 p.m.).  The open meadow across the street provides plenty of space for anyone with an active eye and a dreamy imagination.  During the fall of last year, I painted the meadow in all the bright colors that the late afternoon sun yielded.  Again, this is a sweet spot to land for anyone who is a lover of art, books, music and of course, coffee!

Thanks Terra for a very rewarding three days.  I’m glad I finally got around to painting this splendid venue.

Thanks for reading.

Ghosts of Eureka Springs Past

March 13, 2011

Ghosts of Eureka Springs PastI just got my painting framed at the Weiler House Gallery (http://weilerhousefineart.com) and will soon deliver it to the Eureka Springs School of the Arts for their first faculty art show.  I haven’t seen the town since I left it last June, when I was privileged to teach a one-week plein air watercolor class to an outstanding group of painters.

I’m glad the painting is finally framed, and that I am at the beginning of a one-week Spring Break from school.  Already I’m in the garage planing out my next composition, and hopefully will have it posted soon.

Thank you for reading.

A Route 66 Christmas Odyssey Requires a 1940’s Diner

March 5, 2011

Spencer’s Grill, Kirkwood Missouri, est. 1947

The good news today was that the aunts are going to be just fine.  After only 4 1/2 hours sleep last night, I decided I needed to nap this afternoon if I had any hopes of finishing this painting today.  I’m glad I did.  Sleeping from 2:00 until 4:00, I rose and resumed work on this in the garage (my Man-Cave!) with a beautiful afternoon Texas sun shining in the open door.  The light was exquisite for working on this painting.  Once it got dark, the winter temperatures plummeted, and I was forced to lower the door and continue work under house lights (I hate that!).   But . . . I did not want to tinker with this another day.  So . . . here it is . . . signed and out of my hands!

Tomorrow I plan to take it to the Weiler House Fine Arts Gallery (http://www.weilerhousefineart.com/#home).  I already have my next watercolor composition lined up, and I just may get after it tonight–I’m in the mood.

I’m grateful for the companionship I felt from the Voices and Visions video documentaries of Walt Whitman and William Carlos Williams.  What fabulous poets!  What vision!  I felt a particular connection to them as they painted the American scene in penetrating words, as I hope to do some day with watercolor.  Both men were driven by wanderlust as they traversed the American landscape, both urban and rural.  And though I don’t look at the TV while painting, I could certainly see these poets’ images in my mind’s eye as I continually sought to refine my own.  I still hear Williams’ voice in my conscience: “No ideas but in things!”

Thanks for reading.  Hope you enjoy this one.

A Close Second to a Parisian Sidewalk Cafe

February 24, 2011

Sidewalk Cafe Life at Eureka Springs

Texas temperatures are getting better–80 degrees and sunny today.  My garage has turned into an art studio/man cave for me, with a portable TV/VCR playing an assortment of tapes for my listening pleasure while I paint–lectures on Friedrich Nietzsche, T. S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, William Carlos Williams to name just a few.  I feel myself entering this composition that I’ve tinkered with for several months now.  I can almost hear the voices around the table discussing poetry, philosophy, theology, books–all the artistic elements that keep us alive and alert.

This setting is in downtown Eureka Springs, Arkansas, where it was my profound privilege to teach a week of plein air watercolor classes for the Eureka Springs School of the Arts.  It was my first time, and I have an application pending there now, hoping with all I have that there will be a class again this year.  My two favorite towns so far are Waxahachie, Texas and Eureka Springs, Arkansas, for on-site watercoloring.  Both towns boast streets lined with Victorian architecture, flower beds, cute shops around the downtown district, and compositions for painting in any direction one looks.

This particular painting is huge by my standards–30 x 22″–and it involves elements that are outside my comfort zone–people and a myriad of details.  I have avoided genre painting for a number of years, realizing that there are countless artists “out there” who do it so exceedingly well.  But I recently read something from the Journals of Henry David Thoreau that convinced me to go for this: “There is always room and occasion enough for a true book on any subject, as there is room for more light on the brightest day, and more rays will not interfere with the first.”  All I had to do was substitute “painting” for “book,” and I got his point.  My contribution to this genre of painting will in no way diminish what has been done by others, and yes, there is room in this world of art for me to contribute as well.  So . . . with that in mind, I was liberated to go after this composition.

Today was quite a full day–high school classes by day, a trip to the veterinarian this afternoon, and a college class tonight.  But there is still time to engage in the arts, and I so love returning to my studio, even when the day has been filled with “work.”  Thoreau said (I believe in Walden) “To effect the quality of the day is the highest of the arts.”  That I must remember.  Though packed to the rim, today has nevertheless been “artful.”

Thanks for reading.  Talk to you again tomorrow . . .

Christmas at the Diner on U. S. Route 66, Missouri

February 3, 2011

Christmas at the Diner on U. S. Route 66, Missouri

Tomorrow will mark our fourth consecutive day of school closures.  I’m still tinkering with this late into the night, reminiscing about late-night diners, coffee and conversations that remain with me.  Hopefully I can keep my momentum going right into tomorrow and the weekend.  This painting is growing on me.

Thank you for reading.