Posts Tagged ‘trees’

Happy New Year 2016

January 1, 2016


Don’t mope over it all day, he said.  I’m inconsequent.  Give up the moody brooding.

James Joyce, Ulysses

Good day, Dear Friends, and Happy January 1, 2016.  One of my New Year resolutions was to work on art every single day of 2016.  Halfway through my morning, while reading from James Joyce, I suddenly said to myself “Oops!  Haven’t done the art thing yet!”  So, I returned to my favorite tree next to my living room and gave it another shot above. I guess I don’t have much to say about this one except that I turned the art wheel of momentum one more revolution.  May it continue.

I may be returning to this blog later today–I woke up to this wonderful morning and immediately began composing a short story about my late Uncle Paul, experiencing deep cathartic feelings from the experience.  I don’t want to put it on the blog until I have it completed and (hopefully) polished.

Thanks for reading.

I make art in order to understand.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.


The Purity of the Winter Morning Light

December 31, 2015


Introibo ad altare Dei (I will go to the altar of God).

James Joyce, Ulysses

This entire serene morning was spent in front of the fireplace, and I read slowly the first twenty-six pages of Joyce’s Ulysses while enjoying the delicious warmth and sounds of the fire.  My only break from reading was to draw again the tree outside my living room window.  The winter light is so clear and crisp, and the sun was out for the second consecutive morning, lighting up the tree in contrast from its dark background.

living room tree

I’ve placed this 5 x 7″ drawing in an 8 x 10″ mat and have placed it on the market for $40.  As I continue the practice, I’m growing more comfortable to rendering tree bark in graphite, and am already looking forward to the next try.

Listening to Youtube documentaries last night on James Joyce put me in the mood to re-try Ulysses before the fire this morning.  I had never managed to get past the first dozen pages without losing interest, and don’t understand why I’m finding it more readable now.  Joyce’s grappling with his Jesuit past parallels my own coping with my Southern Baptist roots.  I suppose that is a start.  But there is much more–I really enjoy the musicality of Joyce’s language when I am alone and reading aloud.  Harold Bloom reminded me of the importance of hearing quality literature, not just reading it.  After twenty-six pages, I am stunned at the artistry of Joyce’s writing, and this makes me want to take my own writing more seriously.

James Joyce also has much to say to anyone who would follow his/her artistic bliss.  He himself fought through so many snares (he called them nets) as he sought to fly above the standard literary canons of his day.  I’ve always been aware of the snares, but I feel that my own are more internal–that I have to fight through personal laziness and lethargy and moodiness rather than interference from outside, social forces.  In my later years, I’m more conscious of the energy required to create consistently.  I’m working on that.

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.


Drawing into the Night

December 30, 2015


You are an artist, are you not, Mr Dedalus? said the dean, glancing up and blinking his pale eyes.  The object of the artist is the creation of the beautiful. What the beautiful is is another question.

James Joyce, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

Et ignotas animum dimittit in artes.

Ovid, Metamorhposes–(“And he applied his spirit to obscure arts.”)

This evening, I’ve been in a James Joyce mood.  I read his Portrait of the Artist back in 1988, when I was working nights as a dispatcher for the Fort Worth Police Department.  I would begin teaching that fall, and I never forgot the ideas Joyce instilled in me, particularly with this autobiographical creed.  I wish to read the work again in its entirety–I have re-read large portions of it throughout the years since I first read the entire work.

The Ovid quote that opens Joyce’s book haunts me, as did my first encounters with Andrew Wyeth art.  I’ve never been able to explain what it is that I see in particular subjects that is “beautiful” or why the subjects hold me the way that they do.  I have stared at winter trees, stripped of their foliage, since 1969 when I first saw the Andrew Wyeth drawings, drybrush sketches, watercolors and egg tempera pieces.  In recent weeks, I’ve been doing drawings of trees from life, then when they were no longer available, drawings from my drawings.  This morning I was enchanted by a tree in the winter light just outside my living room window, and I drew it with a great sense of well-being.  Tonight I’m drawing it again, using my first drawing as a model.  I also photographed the tree twice today, and plan soon to do drawings from the photo.  In time, I plan to switch to watercolor to see how well I can handle these subjects in color.

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.

One of Those Mornings

December 30, 2015


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.



Drawing Away the Christmas Day

December 25, 2015

imageI’m feeling somewhat embarrassed to sail so many things out on the blog today.  I used to force myself to blog daily.  Then after reading Hamlet’s Blackberry, I took the author’s message seriously and began spending longer stretches “offline”, and enjoyed my quiet time of reading and making art, determined that I would not throw something out on social media unless I really had something to say.  Today has been one of those sweet days spent reading, drawing, playing Solitaire, chatting with family, and just soaking up the spirit of Christmas and family.  And for some reason, I keep firing up the laptop to upload a photo of what I’m doing.

I was seized with the impulse to work on another section of this same tree I’ve been observing outside my sister’s patio door.  The more I study and try to copy the “architecture of trees”, the more convinced I am that it will pay dividends with future attempts at landscape painting.  And I am indeed enjoying what I see as I stare at the congeries of limbs and try to plot the movement and mass on my sketchbook page.

Thanks for reading.

Architecture of Trees

December 24, 2015



Life is a dream already over.

Jack Kerouac

Happy Christmas Eve, dear friends.  The drive to St. Louis was long and laborious, but I’m glad to be settled now with my parents, siblings and extended family about me.  My sister has been such a gracious host during my family visits.  Seated with coffee this morning, looking out her back patio door, I could not stop looking at the trees across the neighborhood.  Reaching for the sketchbook/journal, I again attempted to draw a single tree, studying its structure, its natural architecture, as closely as possible.  I always get lost in the process, but just love the act of drawing.

My reading throughout the morning has followed quite a labyrinthe–from Harold Bloom to Martin Luther to the Greek New Testament to Karl Barth, and finally to recording my own musings.  I cannot express the depth of gratitude I experience when I have the time and space and quiet about me to read, to reflect, to record what I feel is worth remembering, and finally, to write, in my own words, what is on my heart.  Harold Bloom often speaks of “overhearing” oneself.  When I experience that, I feel a genuine desire to adjust some things in my day-to-day life, to improve, to grow, to write a new chapter.

Christmas eve

Thanks for reading, and Happy Holidays to all of you.

I make art in order to learn.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.



Pushing Aside the Traffic to Linger Over a Drawing

December 10, 2015


The mind has shown itself at times

Too much the baked and labeled dough

Divided by accepted multitudes.

Across the stacked partitions of the day–

Across the memoranda, baseball scores,

The stenographic smiles and stock quotations

Smutty wings flash out equivocations.

The mind is brushed by sparrow wings;

Numbers, rebuffed by asphalt, crowd

The margins of the day, accent the curbs,

Convoying divers dawns on every corner

To druggist, barber and tobacconist,

Until the graduate opacities of evening 

Take them away as suddenly to somewhere

Virginal perhaps, less fragmentary, cool.

Hart Crane

Being profoundly enriched recently by the writings of Harold Bloom, I am now reading Hart Crane poetry for the first time that I recall in my life.  And I find this writer connecting with me in ways I haven’t known since the days of reading Walt Whitman and William Carlos Williams.  The portion of the poem above really gave me pause, highlighting the kind of days I seem to live as this holiday season draws near.  I love Thanksgiving and Christmas, and feel deeply the warm sentiments that permeate the atmosphere about me.  Yet at the same time, deadlines seem to double, meetings triple, and responsibilities quadruple.  The pace, the interruptions to any kind of flow, the rising noise about me–I find myself seeking ways to repel all of this rather than explode in frustration and petty verbal outbursts.

In the afternoons, I’m now sitting in my classroom/gallery, surrounded by my art, listening to soothing music, reading poetry and bending over the daily drawing.  The one attached above is what I did yesterday before the 4:00 hour arrived.  There were plenty of appointments waiting for me after 4:00, but the pause for reading, for music, and for art made all the difference.

And today offers the chance of being another good day.

Thanks for reading.

I make art in order to remember.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

Wrinkled Shadows

December 9, 2015


Driving early to school in the pre-dawn, listening to Youtube on my phone, I was taken by Hart Crane’s poetry reading, particularly the juxtaposition of the words “wrinkled shadows.” As soon as I got to school, finding plenty of time before the first class began, I took up my pencils and worked on another quick tree sketch, thinking about those shadows with their wrinkled bark.  And as I worked in silence, I thought of T. S. Eliot’s refrain concerning the shadow in “The Hollow Men.”

I’m finding a fascinating world in these tree renderings, and am starting to find amusement in their reproduction, like wild mushrooms (I have now eight 5 x 7″ drawings of trees in 8 x 10″ white mats and shrinkwrapped, priced between $25 and $40).  I am finding great pleasure in drawing them and cannot help but wonder where this is going to take me next.

Thanks for reading.

I make art in order to understand.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.

Autumnal Rhapsody

December 7, 2015


Holiday conversations pulsated in the warm house

As I sat with coffee, gazing out the window

At falling yellow leaves

Flickering like fireflies

Descending backlit against burgundy shadows.

Sensing the gentle invitational tug,

I rose quietly amidst the talk,

Threaded my way through the crowded parlor,

And exited through the screen door.

Settling into an Adirondack chair,

Sitting quietly in the autumnal embrace,

I watched as a tree slowly grew

Across the waiting space of my sketchbook page.

. . . Thanks for reading.

Thanksgiving Hangover

November 27, 2015



Throughout this lovely Thanksgiving holiday season, I have managed to awaken every morning without an alarm and rise around 6:00.  I felt every morning that the muse was stirring, and I usually responded with a watercolor attempt, followed by quality reading and writing.  This morning I awoke again around 6:00 to a dark, rainy climate, and immediately sensed a Thanksgiving Hangover–no appointments today, no time to spend with friends or family, no culinary feast to enjoy, just a quiet, dark day to do as I please.  I found myself in the mood to read first, then sketch later.  The dim morning light never did intensify, so I finally looked out the window at a tree in the neighborhood and decided to give it a try with pencil.  The effort contained its own reward;  I always enjoy the process of making art, regardless of the outcome.  The process is always more fulfilling than the final picture viewing, for me.

I pulled a book from my library that I have enjoyed immensely since the mid 1980’s: Heinz Zahrnt, The Question of God: Prostestant Theology in the Twentieth Century, published in 1966.   It opens with the theological revolution of Karl Barth, and these words really resonated with me today:

Once it has pleased God to speak, all theology, being human speech about God, can only be a stammering repetition, a spelling out of what God has said, a thinking over of his thoughts.  

A long time ago, when I was in the pastoral ministry, I harbored these ideas as I went about the task of preparing weekly for the church pulpit. Convinced that God had spoken, I tried faithfully to reproduce in word and action the essence of the New Testament message.  Today I feel similar sensations as a plein air artist–the creation before me speaks in all its grandeur, and I haltingly attempt to capture its essence on paper with pencil and watercolor.  The response never reaches the heights of the primary stimulus, but boy, what a rush to participate in the task!  This morning has already been sublime, just from moments spent trying to record the essence of a tree in a sketchbook and writing in my journal responses from the heart to what I’m reading this morning.

Thanks for reading.

I make art to understand.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not really alone.