Posts Tagged ‘New England Transcendentalism’

Quick Plein Air Sketch of a Conifer Tree

August 8, 2012

Damaged Conifer Tree

I took a quick moment while temperatures were mild, to step outside and scout for a single tree to paint.  I chose this conifer tree, because I still haven’t solved the problems of needles vs. leaves when I’m “faking it” en plein air.  I loved the damaged bark in the upper ranges of this tree, recording storms from the past, and etching character across the face of this portrait.  I’m starting to get the hang of tree bark, both in texture and color, and have found a satisfying way of blending graphite with watercolor as I render the textures of the bark.  As to the pine needles, I’ll still have to find a way.  It hasn’t happened yet.

I would have loved to talk to the landowner of this single tree on his property, but have serious questions over whether or not he has even noticed it among the hundreds that cover the acreage.  I recently came across this non-judgmental sentiment recorded by Henry David Thoreau in the nineteenth century when he penned his book A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers:

(he was speaking of the men of Concord who worked their lands):   . . . greater men than Homer, or Chaucer, or Shakespeare, only they never got time to say so; they never took to the way of writing.  Look at their fields, and imagine what they might write, if ever they should put pen to paper.  Or what have they not written on the face of the earth already, clearing, and burning, and scratching, and harrowing, and ploughing, and subsoiling, in and in, and out and out, and over and over, again and again, erasing what they had already written for want of parchment.

Farmers and property owners scratch the surfaces of their land, I only scratch the surfaces of paper (and as a teacher, occasionally the surface of someone’s mind, perhaps).  Throughout my life, I have made little contribution to real estate, but have tried from time to time to reproduce its wonders on paper, as I try again this day.  And in that endeavor, I do find great satisfaction.

Thanks for reading.


Composting Ideas Between Paintings

May 16, 2012

Sifting Ideas Between Paintings

This is a comfortable interim for me.  The school year is winding down, grades are pretty much settled, all my students are passing, and we see no need for stressing between now and final exam days.  I am about a week-and-a-half away from my next art festival, and once that day arrives, I will enter a 10-day marathon of art events and school closures simultaneously.  I will try to be as discerning as possible during that grind in order to avoid tragedy.  My gradebook is caught up, and daily I make sure all the latest entries are in place before I come home.  I have also begun cleaning out my classroom and disposing of all materials so that I can walk away on the last day.

Memorial Day weekend will kick off a three-day art festival at the Levitt Pavilion in Arlington, coinciding with the opening of their 2012 concert season.  That weekend will also kick off the Paint Historic Waxahachie ten-day event.  Waxahachie will be a day event, Levitt will be evenings.  I plan to do both over the weekend.  Then when school re-opens for the final week, I will work school by day, and Waxahachie by afternoon and evening until dark.  It should be interesting.

Between Ezra Pound and Natalie Goldberg, I am drawing plenty of inspiration right now.  Much of what I glean for painting ideas comes from writers.  I’m pleased to learn that Robert Motherwell and Edward Hopper also turned to literary works for inspiration to paint.  Ezra Pound launched “Imagism” (using the term for the first time in 1912) as a new movement in poetry that called for “direct treatment of the ‘thing’ whether subjective or objective.”  William Carlos Williams also wrote in Paterson: Book I–“Say it!  No ideas but in things.”  Edward Hopper made no apology for avoiding abstraction in his painting, saying “I choose to work from the Fact.”  As for myself, I believe that objects contain the stuff of revelation in them.  I am probably closest to the New England Transcendentalists who proclaimed that for every physical object, there is a higher spiritual corollary.  Emerson built his essays on this bedrock, and Thoreau lived out his Walden experiment as an exercise in it.  So also, I choose to paint subjects that point to themes of my growing up that have come to mean a great deal to me.

Natalie Goldberg, in her book Writing Down the Bones, has a chapter titled “Composting” that sums up much of what I feel about my experiences in choosing subjects to paint–“It takes a while for our experience to sift through our consciousness. . . . Hemingway wrote about Michigan while sitting in a cafe in Paris.  ‘Maybe away from Paris I could write about Paris as in Paris I could write about Michigan.'”

Goldberg referred to this latent period of sifting as “composting.”  To quote her further:

        “Our senses by themselves are dumb.  They take in experience, but they need the richness of sifting for a while through our consciousness and through our whole bodies.  I call this ‘composting.’  Our bodies are garbage heaps: we collect experience, and from the decomposition of the thrown-out eggshells, spinach leaves, coffee grinds, and old steak bones of our minds come nitrogen, heat, and very fertile soil.  Out of this fertile soil bloom our poems and stories.”

Composting New Ideas in the Studio

I compost my ideas by drawing.  I wish I had the beginning of a new painting to post to this blog, but right now, I’m reading, sketching and looking through my photo files for ideas for the next painting.  I’m sifting out my world as captured on camera, earlier sketches, and dozens of plein air watercolors, waiting for the next idea to blister to the surface of my consciousness.  Something will come soon, I’m sure.  I’m going to close this entry with one of my favorite passages from Ralph Waldo Emerson’s “The American Scholar.”  He of course is referring to the writer, but the artist fits this mold:

“The scholar of the first age received into him the world around; brooded thereon; gave it the new arrangement of his own mind, and uttered it again.  It came into him life; it went out from him truth.  It came to him short-lived actions; it went out from him immortal thoughts.  It came to him business; it went from him poetry.  It was dead fact; now, it is quick thought.”

Thanks for reading.