Posts Tagged ‘Robert Henri’

Drawing Trees over the Holidays

November 22, 2016

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Get one form that looks like the tree, rather than little pickings at the branches. Give the tree its gesture. Some trees are heavy, ample and full. In a tree there is a spirit of life, a spirit of growth and a spirit of holding its head up.

Robert Henri, The Art Spirit

Now that the trees are casting their leaves up here in Missouri, I’m pulling out the pencils and sketchbook and trying to capture some of their movement, their essence.  Since I was a child, I stared at bare trees more than leafed-out ones, and I’m really not sure why.  I wasn’t drawing them as a child, and when I became an adult, I foolishly drew and painted trees for years out of my imagination rather than the way I do now–gazing at them, studying them, contemplating each one’s figure and portrait.

Andrew Wyeth for years has fascinated me with his tree studies in pencil and dry brush. More recently, I have purchased a book on Leonardo da Vinci’s tree studies. I could spend he rest of my life learning this craft, I believe.

Thanks for reading.

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Autumn Return to the Cave

October 25, 2016

man-cave

First Night back in the Man Cave Studio

The man who is forever acquiring technique with the idea that sometime he may have something to express, will never have the technique of the thing he wishes to express.

Robert Henri, The Art Spirit

clutter-3

Studio Drawing and Debris

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More Studio Art and Debris . . .

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. . . and even MORE STUDIO DRAWING AND DEBRIS!!!  (guess it is time to tidy up!)

trees

Sketchbook Pages from my recent Festival

tree-bentOne of my Preferred Sketches

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Experiment with a Variety of Pencils

The fall routine of school has overtaken me to the point that I cannot seem to find quality time for painting, and scant time for sketching.  I have however managed to participate in a major art festival and have another coming up quickly.  In addition to a few tree sketches, opportunity has also presented itself to do some serious museum study, as the Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth has just opened up a major Monet exhibit featuring his early works.  Three visits to that exhibit have put me back in the mood to fight for studio time.

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Relaxing at the Modern Art Museum of Forth Worth after seeing the Monet exhibit at the Kimbell

With the fall temperatures dropping ever so slightly (Texas is so screwed up, with temperatures reaching the mid-80s daily as we close out October), I have managed to re-enter my garage and clear out two years’ worth of debris that filled in my Man Cave to the point where I could no longer work in it.  Tonight I sat down for the first time with charcoals and worked on some sketches of a woven fishing creel that I picked up a couple of years back in an antique store.  The surge of artistic desire returned, and I have now planned a weekend of plein air painting, thanks to this precious garage/studio time.

This evening, I have much on my heart for which I am thankful.  The school year is off to a better-than-usual start, and aside from some bureaucratic debris that crowds the schedule more often than it should, I can at least say that I am enjoying my students immensely, and I love the subjects I am teaching.  The same may be said for my college class.

I am also happy to feel the sentiments expressed above by Robert Henri.  For years throughout my artistic endeavors, I have fretted over technique, always thinking I had too few tools in my toolbox. At my current age, I now am convinced that making art (for me anyway) is much more centered on the feelings and emotions swirling about my subjects than on the techniques I employ in trying to render them.  Tonight in the Man Cave, I didn’t worry about how the creel was looking on my paper.  Rather, I reveled in the feel of the cold charcoal between my fingers, the smooth surface against my hand, the sound of the charcoal dragging across the rough paper, and the haunting words emerging from the Robert Frost documentary that was playing in the background as I sketched.

I am sixty-two years of age, happy to be closing out my third decade of classroom encounters, and extremely grateful that I still have the strength to pursue this daily and still draw sustenance from the educational dynamics.  I still thirst for knowledge as much or more than I did in graduate school days, read prodigiously, and cannot scribble enough pages in my personal journal.  I am now sketching with the pencil more than I ever have before in life, and finding abundant joy in this as well.  Once the weather cools some more, I will enter the countryside and watercolor en plein air, and experience the rush that that activity has always brought me in the past.

This evening I read with great pleasure Walt Whitman’s poem “Eidólons” from his Leaves of Grass collection.  In true Platonic fashion, he argued that behind every physical fact and wish we pursue, there lingers that spiritual perfection, always more than what we seek to attain.  This led me to think of all the phantoms I chased throughout all my life, all the disillusionments I suffered when I felt I had failed in reaching my ultimate goal.  A person could waste an entire lifetime seeking those things that remain out of reach, or worse still, attain to something, only to discover that it diminished once possessed.  When that happens, a person often gives chase to yet another eidólon.

At this stage of living, I am extremely grateful for health, for employment, for a home, and for time to explore and enjoy the arts and scholarship.  I’m happy that a school pays me to learn, pays me to share what I learn, and affirms my attempts at creation.  Life is good.

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.

Henri’s Wisdom

September 12, 2016

The technique learned without a purpose is a formula which when used, knocks the life out of any ideas to which it is applied.

Robert Henri, The Art Spirit

The words of Henri, always an inspiration to his disciples, fuel my imagination this morning. The original Ash Can School would gather in his apartment at 806 Walnut Street in Philadelphia where he would read to them from Whitman and Emerson. Later, at his school in New York, he would continue to lecture and inspire, and his writings are now collected in The Art Spirit.

At my age, I’m still learning technique, but still wonder what exactly it is, to select a subject and assemble a composition that creates a work that will inspire. Perhaps artists, writers and musicians never really know the secret to this big picture.

Thanks for reading. I’m getting close to finishing this passenger rail car relic (I think).

One of Those Mornings

December 30, 2015

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It may be that when the angels go about their task praising God, they play only Bach.  I am sure, however, that when they are together en famille they play Mozart. 

Karl Barth

For years, I’ve laughed at that quote, and have asked myself what I believe to be the most sublime music ever created.  My vote would have to go to Giovanni Gabrieli’s Canzon septimi toni.  This particular morning has been most beautiful because I just received this CD as a late Christmas gift, and the music has filled my house with a sense of good will and lightness of Being.

My intention to head for the shower this morning was interrupted when I opened the living room blinds and saw this enormous tree next to my house bathed in the morning winter light.  I scrambled for my sketchbook and pencils and scratched out the sketch posted above before showering.  I had to, the impulse was so strong.  And as I drew, it felt as though the pencils were dancing between my fingers as I worked to keep them inside the boundaries of the tree trunk.  I am still amazed at how little effort it takes to render the textures of tree bark by simply letting the pencil have its way as it skips over the surface of my paper.  All I do is twist the pencil back and forth between my fingers, jiggle it about, and vary the pressure of the point against the paper.  It does the rest.  Last evening, while lounging on a window seat in Espumoso Caffe, I scratched out a couple of tree sketches, marveling at how easy the endeavor was, and began to develop this idea of the contrast between a dancer and a grinder.  I seem to cycle between those two.  As a dancer, I can flit lightly from book to book, drawing to watercolor, journal to blog, and back again.  I seem to be A.D.D., but I’ve had this tendency at least since graduate school–too many interests for one person to keep under wraps.  And then there is the other mode, the grinder.  As a teacher, I grind out lesson plans, and as an artist, I grind out inventory for commissions and art festivals.  Either way, I am producing.  It’s just that one way is marked with much more felicity than the other.  Both produce results, but one is much more enjoyable.  Sometimes I play, and sometimes I work.  With a two-week Christmas holiday, I am much more “at play” and am loving it.

In the cities, in the studios, there is usually too little time to think matters through.  Most things are skimmed, and people often believe they are doing quite a good deal themselves when they are only jostled by others.

Robert Henri, The Art Spirit

When I read this last evening, I exploded in my journal for another couple of pages.  I love it when writers such as Henri set me off on a tangent of thought.  With the holiday more than half over, I am delightful that despite much traveling and social time I have managed to have more quiet time than usual, and have pondered many matters, preparing for this new year.  I am excited as 2016 draws near, and have pledged not to get caught by the perennial deadlines and wingnuts that accompany my day job to the extent that there is no time for creative, meaningful thought.  Life just isn’t long enough, and I regret in these senior years finding myself often chasing my tail because of schedules that are, in the long run, meaningless.

Another thought from Henri: Don’t ever stock your head so full of “learning” that there will be no room left for personal thinking.

Thanks for reading.

I make art in order to understand.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

 

 

Happy Thanksgiving

November 26, 2015

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Life is being wasted.  The human family is not having half the fun that is its due, not making the beautiful things it would make, and each one is not as good news to the other as he might be, just because we are educated off our natural track.  We need another form of education.

Robert Henri, The Art Spirit

Happy Thanksgiving to anyone out there reading this.  I don’t think I could have planned a better one for myself.  Waking in the darkness before dawn, enjoying the warmth of covers, and thinking good thoughts, I decided the first thing I wanted to do once I got up was go back to the third watercolor I started over the past three days, and see if I could finish it.  I did.  I took some chances in color that I’m not used to taking, and am glad I did.  I also tried out some new techniques in drybrush with the foreground–a combination of masquing, staining with a drybrush, and pencil rendering/scribbling–which was also enjoyable.

Returning to a book I’ve read once all the way through and am nearly finished with my second reading, I’m amazed at the insight and clarity with which Robert Henri wrote.  The man was truly a prophet, a seer, a visionary, and I’m grateful that he recorded his thoughts for posterity.  He has been a real gift to me personally.  I love the quote posted above.  And I’m glad, in retrospect, that I returned to my artistic roots.  I laid down the pencil and brush to pursue graduate studies in academic subjects, and followed a career in education.  But one day I woke up and decided to return to what gives me the most deep-seated pleasure in life–making art.  My job is still a good experience for me, but I live to pursue my passion when not on the job, and the activity never lets me down.  The holidays have been meaningful this year because I’ve had uninterrupted time to pursue painting and thinking, and it’s all been very, very good.

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to remember.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not really alone.

 

 

A Second Watercolor over the Holiday

November 24, 2015

tire shop

After all, the goal is not making art.  It is living a life.  Those who live their lives will leave the stuff that is really art.  Art is a result.  It is the trace of those who have led their lives.  It is interesting to us because we read of the struggle and the degree of success the man made in his struggle to live.

Robert Henri, The Art Spirit

Thanksgiving break could not have come at a better time for me–time to rest up, get stronger from this lingering sinus infection, and devote some quality time to reading and watercoloring.  Going back over my computer files, I’m glad I dug up this photo of an abandoned tire shop somewhere in Atoka County, Oklahoma.  Whoever owns this wretched piece of real estate has no idea that someone drove by, turned his head, continued to think about what he saw in passing, and turned his vehicle around on the highway to return to the spot, get out and photograph it from multiple angles while nearby a pair of deer hunters dressed in camouflage smoked cigarettes and stretched their legs, walking around their parked vehicle.  I have now completed two small watercolors of the site in two days.  Maybe tomorrow I’ll tack on a third.  Every square foot of this structure seems to narrate a story to me.

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to remember.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.

 

Sentries in a Quiet Space

April 3, 2015
Abandoned Gas Station,  Revisited

Abandoned Gas Station,
Revisited

Today we do not know how much we owe to Shakespeare. His work is no longer confined in his writings. All literature has been influenced by him. Life is permeated with the thoughts of Plato, with the thoughts of all great artists who have lived. If you are to make great art it will be because you have become a deep thinker.

Robert Henri, The Art Spirit

I could not have scripted a better Good Friday, rising at daylight and getting many domestic, business and bookkeeping chores accomplished as well as finding some quality time to focus on this watercolor with no classes to teach or meetings to make. As the hours stretch deeper into the night, I am now filled with a deep sense of satisfaction, sipping my coffee, listening to Mozart’s Symphony 34, and poring over this watercolor to discern what to pursue in the morning when the natural light returns. This is one of those times I’m choosing not to paint under house lights. The northern lights bathing this watercolor over the past week have given me a different perspective of the dynamics of watercolor on paper.

The Henri quote above resonates with me. Throughout my schooling, I was a plodder when it came to thinking, often considering myself inferior to my peers. None of it came easily for me. By the time I was finishing my Bachelor’s degree, I had acquired an unquenchable curiosity and could not seem to learn fast enough. None of that has changed over time. For a number of years, I have mused over developing some kind of theory, a personal aesthetic to guide my art endeavors. I have created and organized a myriad of files on art theory, mingled with my own essays on the subject, and can honestly say I feel no closer to figuring it out than I did five years ago. I just love to watercolor, and when I’m focused on a subject, eveything else seems to melt away, most of all time. And as I paint, ideas emerge from the gloom and comingle with others. I love thinking over things I have read in philosophy, theology, literature and art history. And I love the feel of my mind moving through those subjects unbridled as the brush continues to work its way over the surface of the painting. Sometimes I fantasize that the two sides are playing off of each other.

I am referring to his pair of abandoned gas pumps as “sentries” because I see a certain personality, or demeanor in their posturing. And I’m trying to find a way to make a pleasing complementary color scheme with the green foliage behind the red staging area. I’m still not sure if I’m going to keep the Texaco oil can that I inserted on a whim in the window (I still laugh as I recall N. C. Wyeth taking Andrew’s brush and scrubbing out an unnecessary object in his painting under construction, brusquely saying: “You don’t need that.”). And there are still matters to figure out with the shadows and contrasts, as well as the balance of warm and cool colors. All kinds of technical details crowd into my consciousness, but I feel that in the end all that is going to matter is whether or not this painting finds a way to resonate with an audience, beginning with me. These are good things to ponder, and I’m glad I still have a couple of days in front of me this weekend.

Thanks for reading. And speaking of such, I haven’t gotten to read all day. I shall attempt that now.

I paint in order to remember.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

The Delicate Balance Between Inspiration and Composition

April 2, 2015
Pushing a Little Further with the Lexington, Texas Gas Station

Pushing a Little Further with the Lexington, Texas Gas Station

There are moments in our lives, there are moments in a day, when we seem to see beyond the usual–become clairvoyant. We reach then into reality. Such are the moments of our greatest happiness. Such are the moments of our greatest wisdom.

It is in the nature of all people to have these experiences; but in our time and under the conditions of our lives, it is only a rare few who are able to continue in the experience and find expression for it.

At such times there is a song going on within us, a song to which we listen. It fills us with surprise. We marvel at it. We would continue to hear it. But few are capable of holding themselves in the state of listening to their own song. Intellectuality steps in and as the song within us is of the utmost sensitiveness, it retires in the presence of the cold, material intellect.

Robert Henri, The Art Spirit

The week has been a trying one, as I have found myself daily fighting for just enough time to touch a few brushstrokes to this painting that wants to be born. Two days of school were given to state-mandated testing (each day consisting of five straight hours of testing, followed by two abbreviated classes). I came home totally wiped out each time, barely able to struggle to the drafting table and look at this gas station painting. Lesson plans were needing to be written for the following day, and stacks of tax data piled on my tables needed consolidating. Other domestic responsibilites needed tending as well. It’s not been an easy week to pursue creative bliss.

Yet I could not stop thinking of this abandoned gas station that caught my attention last year on one of my trips to the Texas coast, and I’ve stopped and looked at the site on every trip since. The scene resonates with me, and I really want to create a work to reflect my feelings and memories for such places as this. WIth the Easter holidays now upon us, I have three days before me, replete with chores that cannot be bypassed. But I anticipate I’ll find ways to put in more focused work on this composition.

I posted the meditation above by Robert Henri, because as I grow older I become more conscious of this struggle between inspiration and compositional, artistic control. I don’t anticipate I’ll solve all these issues in my lifetime, but I do enjoy facing up to the challenge.

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.

Trying to Keep the Book Open

January 5, 2015
Three Watercolors in Progress

Three Watercolors in Progress

When the artist is alive in any person, whatever his kind of work may be, he becomes an inventive, searching, daring, self-expressing creature. He becomes interesting to other people. He disturbs, upsets, enlightens, and he opens ways for a better understanding. Where those who are not artists are trying to close the book, he opens it, shows there are still more pages possible.  

Robert Henri, The Art Spirit

Alas, today I returned to the classroom for a mandatory teacher work day, preceding the spring semester.  Before I entered the room, I knew I would have too many details to tend and not be able to pick up a brush. But I did carry my work-in-progress to school in a portfolio and suspended three watercolor projects on my blackboard so I could look up from my computer and books from time to time and view them from a distance. The largest on the right measures 16 x 20″, and I sat close enough so I could see the overall composition of each and try to assess where to go next, when I have time to work on them further. I still have much to prepare for A. P. Art History, Philosophy, A.V.I.D. and Logic and don’t really know when I’ll be painting again.  I sincerely hope to get back after these watercolors by the time the weekend arrives.  Already I miss the communion with the subjects, and really am trying, in the spirit of Robert Henri, to keep my own book open to new changes and experiences.

Thanks always for reading.

I paint in order to remember.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am never really alone.

Contemplation

June 3, 2014
18 x 24" Watercolor in Progress

18 x 24″ Watercolor in Progress

No one can get anywhere without contemplation.  Busy people who do not make contemplation part of their business do not do much for all their effort.

Robert Henri seemed the perfect combination of thought and action.  We read about how much of a fireball he was in his studio at 806 Walnut Street in Philadelphia.  Students from the Pennsylvania Academy of Art filled his apartment and hung on his every word as he read to them from Whitman and Emerson, challenging them to find a style all their own.  The Ash Can School emerged from this leader and his band of disciples.  I had always known Henri from history as a man of action.  But now on my second reading of his book The Art Spirit, I am continually shocked by his erudition, his depth and breadth of thought.  Such powerful ideas as his could not have been drawn from a life on the run.

This week’s schedule is horrendous.  It is our last week of high school and the beginning of Paint Historic Waxahachie.  I am teaching school by day and dashing forty minutes south to Waxahachie to create plein air paintings in late afternoons and evenings.  On top of that, I have some studio projects that must be completed as well.  Today during lunch, I chose to go home and work on this 18 x 24″ watercolor of a nineteenth-century historic home in Louisiana.  I spent the first half of the lunch hour working on some of the small details, then decided to sit in a chair with my journal, a good book and a cup of coffee.  Henri’s comments about contemplation affirmed what I have believed for decades.  We need to stop in the midst of the hustle and let our thoughts even out.  I tossed the watercolor into the middle of my living room floor so I could look up at it occasionally from my book.  Andrew Wyeth always put up his works in progress so that he could catch glimpses of them “from the corner of the eye” when leaving or entering a room.  The first time I looked up from my book, I uttered “Wow.”  This painting was much better than I thought.  I had only been looking at it from a very close and tight focal point.  I was unprepared for how it actually looked from across the room.  Now I cannot wait to get to the end of it.  But  . . . I have another high school class to conduct and a trip to Waxhachie for the purpose of making another painting.

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.