Posts Tagged ‘The Art Spirit’

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.

 

 

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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.

 

 

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.

A Cold, Rainy Afternoon in the Studio

April 14, 2014
Quiet Retreat to the Watercolor Studio

Quiet Retreat to the Watercolor Studio

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.  It is aristocratic and will not associate itself with the commonplace–and we fall back and become our ordinary selves.  Yet we live in the memory of these songs which in moments of intellectual inadvertence have been possible to us.  They are the pinnacles of our experience and it is the desire to express these intimate sensations, this song from within, which motivates the masters of all art.

Robert Henri, The Art Spirit

The day has been physically and intellectually dreary.  Forty-four degrees, dark and rainy outside.  Indoors we have studied A. P. Art History, focusing on the German Neue Sachlichkeit (New Objectivity) movement fueled by World War I.  George Grosz, Max Beckmann, Otto Dix and Ernst Barlach all served in the German army during that Great War.  They entered as enthusiastic patriotic idealists, exited as horrified, burned-out and disillusioned artists.  As we looked upon their paintings and reflected on the writings of Nietzsche that transformed the world views of the young soldier Otto Dix, as well as the chaplain Paul Tillich, I felt the cold of the outside gripping my own artistic sensitivity.  The longer we looked at these works and talked of the war’s atrocities, the more I wished to retreat to my studio and revive the song that has stirred my heart recently, encouraging me to paint and explore beauty.

The first thing I did when I got home to my studio was put on a fresh pot of coffee to help stave off the cold and wet climate that settled into my bones and offset the dark gray world peeking through the miniblinds of my studio windows.  Then I tilted the surface of my drafting table and settled into drawing, erasing and re-drawing the details in the shadows of the buildings lining the winter streets of Hermann, Missouri.  Slowly, the depressing themes of the morning studies melted away and I was once again looking upon a beautiful watercolor world, unscarred by war and destruction.  The winter atmosphere in this painting is cold and hazy, but within my soul, I feel a clarity and sense of color and warmth.  I still need to add more layers of shadow to the areas on the lower left of this composition, then along the facades of the stores facing the street.  This is going to take awhile, it appears.  But I have time, and renewed energy.  Making art today has lifted me from the despairing subjects of the morning classes.  Once again, I am grateful for that gift.

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.

 

 

 

Pulled by the Charms of a Midwestern Winter Town

January 1, 2014
Enjoying the New Year sentiments as I work on a Watercolor

Happy to Work on a Watercolor on New Year’s Day

We realize that there is no one way of seeing a thing no matter how simple that thing may be.  Its planes, values, colors, all its characteristics are, as it were, shuffled before each new-comer arrives, and it is up to him to arrange them according to his understanding.

Robert Henri, The Art Spirit

I am back in Texas, but my heart is still in Hermann, Missouri.  Hemingway said he could not write about Michigan until he was in Paris, and could not write about Paris until he was back in the United States.  Well, here I am in Texas, painting from a photograph I took last week in Hermann, Missouri, a German town perched high on a bluff overlooking the Missouri River, a town that was blustering cold on the day I took this photo, yet the sun was knifing its way across every facade down this main street.  I don’t know how many photos I took of this historic town–all I know is that I wished I could stay there a few weeks and just sketch and paint every street corner.  But I had promises to keep.  And miles to go before I’d sleep (Robert Frost knew).  So I find myself back home, with only visual memories of Hermann, and attempts to capture some of it on paper.  And I suppose I feel some of that Hemingway Hangover (though I didn’t imbibe last night).  This cold wintry Midwestern town is still all over me.

I’ll be frank about this–I find zero environmental satisfacion in a 61-degree New Year’s Day, such as I work in today.  I am a Missourian, and yes, I was sick of winter weather when I moved to Texas in 1977, but after my first two boring winters in this state, I was begging for a sight of snow, for a wintry sky, for something, anything, to make me remember real winter seasons.   Today, as I chip away at this small watercolor, I have the NBC Winter Classic on TV.  105,000 fans are huddled in the stands at Michigan Stadium, snow is blowing everywhere, and two teams from the NHL Original Six are battling on the rink below.  It reminds me of my high school days in Missouri, playing hockey on frozen lakes, bonfires on the banks, hot chocolate beside the fire, layers of clothing–and now here I am in Texas, New Year’s Day, and it is 61 degrees and sunny outside.  I have already gone out into my backyard barefoot, in shorts and a T-shirt–hardly my thought of a genuine New Year’s Day.

This small 8 x 10″ watercolor sketch is really drawing me in.  I now wish I had started this on an 18 x 24″ or larger page.  I am absolutely loving the details of the photo and wanting to capture all I can, yet feel so hemmed in by the smallness of the composition.  I’m applying all I’ve learned about cold winter environments and trying to capture that sense of coldness that enveloped the town the morning I walked across it.  All I could think about as I walked along was how much the town looked like a Christmas card, and I was existing insde the Christmas card.  I just absolutely loved every sight.

This morning has been an excellent experience, as I have felt the embrace of 2014.  I was reading from the Isaacson biography on Benjamin Franklin about his retirement at the age of 42, because he saw no need to make more money than necessary to sustain life.  What he would seek from that moment forward was “leisure to read, study, make experiments, and converse at large with such ingenious and worthy men as are pleased to honor me with their friendship.” What a wonderful goal.  I am now adopting that as my mantra.

Thanks for reading.  What a wonderful start to the New Year (weather notwithstanding).

I paint in order to remember.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

Sinclair Watercolor Finished

September 12, 2013
Finished Watercolor

Finished Watercolor

When we delight in a thing in nature all our accounting of its environment is selective.  

Robert Henri, The Art Spirit

My schedule today opened a 2 1/2 hour hole in my teaching rhythm (conference period and lunch combined).  I decided to see what I could do with this painting during that gap, and to my surprise, finished it.  I finally got around to deciding how to render the surface of the rooftop, re-worked the foliage all around, detailed the power lines, pebbled the foreground some more, and established a horizon (finally).  Following the thread of Henri’s quote above, I’ll say that my “selected” interest in this entire painting was the lit-up background, and the attempt to put some kind of “heat” into the compositioin to offset all the cool shades of green between the Sinclair station and the pickup truck.  I tried to balance the complementary greens and reds, along with complementary yellows and violets.  The shades of violet are not apparent, but I mixed Winsor Violet into so many of these colors that I’m surpirsed to see it blending into the picture instead of sticking out as some kind of brazen purple.

What’s next?  I have no clue.  But I have an entire weekend to cotemplate my next adventure, and I’m really happy to set this painting aside.  I’m ready for the next task.

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to remember.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am never alone.

In Search of a Daily Watercolor Rhythm

September 8, 2013
Closing Out the Weekend, Watercoloring

Closing Out the Weekend, Watercoloring

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 expressions for it.

Robert Henri, The Art Spirit

I wish I could call this a weekend of joy.  About ninety per cent of it was devoted to grading.  I am not yet finished early now on this Sunday evening, but I will be finished before bedtime, and I’m confident that that will give me an emotion close to “joy”.  Close.

I’m glad I rose early Saturday morning and spent about ninety minutes chipping away at this composition before laying down the brush for twenty-four hours.  Today I made a concerted effort to keep myself on a time budget, balancing grading and painting.  I came to this watercolor three different times–all the rest of the time was spent bent over a stack of papers.

The light is gone from my studio as I write this, so I will have to lay down the brush for good and return to the school work.  I’m glad I got to spend time working on the truck, nearly finishing it.  The truck would be “finished” if it didn’t appear to be too timid to me.  I feel that I got all the proportions right but that I didn’t lean into it much with the pigments or shadows.  I’ll give it another hit tomorrow.  The section of building behind the truck got plenty more work in the shadows and some detailing.  I also finished the apex of the gable roof of the station.  A little more warm shadow color was added to the pavement as well.

I am taking to heart the above words from Robert Henri.  I count myself as part of that minority that actually knows those feelings he expresses.  But I do find it hard to get into the zone when so many other duties pull at me.  This weekend I had to answer several bells, including household chores, laundry, and other uninteresting details.  But still, I managed to carve out some quality time to paint, and I consider those moments the highlight of my weekend.  I will consider this “practice” because I have a very long, demanding day of details to tend tomorrow, and already tonight I am determined to insert painting into that mix.  I will do everything possible to paint daily, even if it is for short sessions such as the recent ones.

Detail of the Sinclair Truck

Detail of the Sinclair Truck

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.