Posts Tagged ‘vintage fishing lures’

Imagination vs. Technique

May 4, 2013
Vintage Bomber Lure

Vintage Bomber Lure

These students have become masters of the trade of drawing, as some others have become masters of their grammars.  And like so many of the latter, brilliant jugglers of words, having nothing worth while to say, they remain little else than clever jugglers of the brush.

Robert Henri, The Art Spirit

Our famous American poet Wallace Stevens worked all his adult life in Connecticut for Hartford Accident and Indemnity Company.  One can only imagine how alone he was in his day-to-day work environment.  He called a colleague into his office one day and asked:

“Can you give me your idea of what imagination is”?

His colleague answered: “I don’t have an idea.”

Stevens replied: “Why don’t you think about it a couple of days and come back and we’ll talk about it.”

His colleague, years later, said he was glad the subject was never mentioned again.

For the past few days, I’ve been musing over the “imagination vs. technique” issue in art.  I suppose we all do that, wonder how much of our work is technical proficiency and how much of it really is “art”.  For years I wondered if I was just an illustrator or if I actually could regard myself as an artist.

I’m reading Robert Henri’s The Art Spirit.  I am haunted by this: “An artist who does not use his imagination is a mechanic.”

Recently, in the studio, I am trying to improve mechanics, explore techniques, learn to master a few more tricks.  But all the while I’m pondering that mystery–how does a composition become “art”.  What is it that makes a work of art worth looking at longer than a glance.  I of course don’t have answers for these.  Meanwhile, I just keep playing in the studio, enjoying this enterprise.  I’m glad I got one kicked out of my way already.  Time to move on to the next endeavor.

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to remember.

I journal because I am alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

Finishing the Tackle Box Watercolor

April 28, 2013
Finishing the Tackle Box Watercolor in the Cave

Finishing the Tackle Box Watercolor in the Cave

Finished Painting of Vintage Lures in Tackle Box

Finished Painting of Vintage Lures in Tackle Box

The day continues to flow smoothly, and I’m happy to be clearing out some watercolors that were beginning to stack up.  This one I started several weeks ago and really enjoyed picking at.  There wasn’t much left to do today, but clean up a few small details and try to heighten some of the contrasts here and there.  Time to move on to the next one now.

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to remember.

I journal because I am alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

A Late Night in the Studio with Ernest Hemingway and Winslow Homer

April 16, 2013
8 x 10" watercolor sketch of vintage lures

8 x 10″ watercolor sketch of vintage lures

“The hardest thing to do,” said [Hemingway], “is to write straight honest prose on human beings.  First you have to know the subject; then you have to know how to write.  Both take a lifetime to learn, and anybody is cheating who takes politics as a way out.  All the outs are too easy, and the thing itself is too hard to do.”

Carlos Baker, Ernest Hemingway: A Life Story 

I am not a slow reader.  I am a ponderous reader.  I linger over passages for days before moving on, extracting ideas from them that seem to compost slowly.  I read somewhere that Alfred, Lord Tennyson was a plodder in his thinking, leading some of his contemporaries to believe he was intellectually dim.  I started this Hemingway biography at the end of last year, and am now only 285 pages in, because I keep stopping and ruminating on its contents.  I’m fascinated with the man’s drive, his discipline in learning the writer’s craft, his conviction that if it took the entire morning to create one good prose sentence, that the time wasn’t wasted.  I opened with the passage above, because for two days now, I have slowed way down on what is supposed to be a watercolor sketch, to study my subject, and learn how to use my materials better.  Hemingway made me do that.

Winslow Homer has also been a great companion recently.  The book Watercolors of Winslow Homer: The Color of Light has returned to my Man Cave drafting table.  I am absorbed with all the ways Homer pushed his media to its limits.  Every time I study his watercolors and read of his methods, I realize that I have been approaching my task with one hand tied behind my back, that I have assumed a position of self-limitation, for no other reason than just mental laziness.

For the past day and a half, I have spent more time looking at my subject and my painting, and in addition to painting, I have been drawing and re-drawing over it, salting it, re-wetting it, sponging it, scraping it, blotting it, rubbing it–all the techniques Homer employed to get a different look, to push my painting to the edge of the envelope.  After all, it’s just a sketch, right?  And sketches are laboratory experiments, right?  And sketches don’t have to be framed, right?  Don’t have to be gallery worthy, right?  I am just having to relearn and reapply what I’ve already known for over a decade.  And I’m having fun with it.  I have already settled it in my heart, that this vintage tackle box overflowing with lures is not going to be a one-shot composition.  I have much to learn from this still life, much to figure out about form, composition, color arrangement, and who knows what else.  And I have the time, the space and the interest to pursue it.

I received word also tonight, that my private art student from last year, who entered the Booker T. Washington School of Performing and Visual Arts, took first place with the oil still life that I posted last week!  The exhibition that I viewed last week during its reception was actually a competition.  I did not know that.  And this remarkable 15-year-old took first place!  Words cannot express my pride for her.  I look forward to our next time together to make art.  She is going to go far, and always inspires me with her drive and focus.

The hour has gotten late.  The past two mornings I have risen between 4 and 5 a.m., to get an early jump on the school task, and now I feel the energy beginning to wane.  I have a heavy teaching load tomorrow, and am already concerned about potential regrets.  I cannot let that happen.

So, thanks for reading, for staying up with me, with Hemingway, with Homer.

I paint in order to remember.

I journal because I am alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

Painting a Still Life with Thoughts of Hemingway, Cezanne and Jasper Johns

April 15, 2013
Watercolor Sketch in Progress of Vintage Lures

Watercolor Sketch in Progress of Vintage Lures

The French novelist Joris-Karl Huysmans, writing of Cezanne, described one of his still life paintings as “set down quickly in crude strokes and smudged with a thumb: seen from close to, they are a wild mess of bright red and yellow, green and blue.”  From the correct distance, Huysmans, wrote, the work was pleasing, “and suddenly one becomes aware of altogether new truths, truths one had never paid attention to before: unfamiliar yet real shades, patches of colour with a character all their own.”

These are some of the sentiments I feel as I scrutinize the colors and forms of this vivid assembly of vintage fishing lures.  I was amused earlier to day when I read of the Pop Artist Jasper Johns, that he wanted to paint objects “seen but not looked at.”  From my youth, I was taken by the bright colors of the wooden fishing lures that filled my dad’s tackle box, long before I was old enough to learn how to fish.

Hajo Duchting, in his book Paul Cezanne describes the dynamics of one of the artist’s still life arrangements: “The various contrasts of reddish-orange and green recur in paired formations throughout the canvas, setting up echoes and correspondences.  The slow transition from light to shadow means that in every colour there is a wonderful range of deep, velvety nuances.  The shades range from the delicately transparent to patches of thick pigment, ever-changing yet nonetheless contributing to a consistent overall texture.”

I am trying to take a page from Cezanne as I figure out how to make these intense colors “pop” in company with one another.  I still have so much to figure out about how to arrange the warms and cools, the complementaries, the high and low intensity of colors.  Such a complicated set of possibilities!  And before I began, all I thought I had to do was try to match my colors to my models!  Already, this composition is intriguing me, and I can hardly wait to resume it tomorrow after school.  Tomorrow will be my first day to breathe freely.  As I testified earlier, I finished all my income tax research Saturday night.  What I didn’t mention was that it took until tonight to get my tax preparer to sort all of it out and file it, which she did this evening.  I drove home a free man (but too tired to paint for more than an hour).

Tomorrow, then.  Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to remember.

I journal because I am alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

Closing Out a Weekend of Quality Studio Time

April 14, 2013
The Man Cave on Sunday Afternoon

The Man Cave on Sunday Afternoon

Still Chipping Away at the Tackle Box Assortment

Still Chipping Away at the Tackle Box Assortment

Right now a moment of time is fleeting by!  Capture its reality in paint!  To do that we must put all else out of our minds.  We must become that moment, make ourselves a sensitive recording plate . . . give the image of what we actually see, forgetting everything that has been seen before our time.

Paul Cezanne

I cannot recall a more pleasant day of painting and reading.  The Man Cave has been still since 7:00 this morning.  The Hemingway biography, and reading I’ve been doing in Cezanne has me feeling serene, and this explosion of color in the vintage tackle box before me has filled me with a boyish sense of wonder.   I know it’s selfish to say, but . . . I regret having to set the alarm and return to my “real job” in the morning, what I would give for another day in the studio!  I envy those who are blessed with retirement, and regret that I started my profession so late in life.  Oh well, in good time.

Cezanne is noted for saying “Treat nature in terms of the cylinder, the sphere, the cone, all in perspective.”  That’s all I’ve had to concentrate on, with this composition before me, that and the arrangement of bright color combinations.

Regretfully, I have to close the studio.  Tomorrow is the “heavy” end of my teaching schedule, and I have much to prepare.

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to remember.

I journal because I am alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

Painting on a Sunday Morning with Hemingway

April 14, 2013
Sunday Morning Painting in the Man Cave

Sunday Morning Painting in the Man Cave

Ernest remarked that there was no such thing as fiction.  He talked of his “autobiographical short stores” and of the “combinations of characters,” he had used to make up one character in a book.  “He was making the point, and very forcibly, that there was no such thing as pure imagination in writing, that we simply did not pull ideas and characters and concepts out of left field.  He intimated that his own novels could be called biographical novels rather than pure fictional novels because they emerged out of ‘lived experience.'”

Carlos Baker, Ernest Hemingway: A Life Story

I awoke without an alarm at 7:00 exactly.  Breakfast was quick and simple, because I wanted to get back into the Cave as soon as possible.  Brewing a carafe of coffee, I began the Cave morning, reading from the Hemingway biography (267 pages into it, still a long way to go).  I was delighted with the above passage.  He was drinking Irish whiskey and chatting it up with Irving Stone, who has just published Lust for Life, the story of Vincent Van Gogh.  When Stone remarked that his biographical work was difficult because he had to research facts and stick with them, Hemingway responded with the comments posted above.

I find this true in painting, the blending of fact and manufactured composition.  I have arranged this jumble of lures in the tackle box countless times, trying to make them look as they would with a spontaneous opening and shaking of the box.  But of course, they never “shake out” quite the way I want them to, so I spend long stretches of time, pointing them in the direction I want them to point, uprighting the ones that have turned over, overlapping the ones that won’t, etc.  And then, as I try to paint them as truly as I see them, I look for ways to make them “pop”, intensifying contrasts, enriching primary color contrasts, using all the tricks I have learned over past experiences.

This has been a glorious morning.  While staring at these and making decisions with my brush, I have heard in my mind conversations from my past–Mr. Scucchi in 9th grade, Mr. Hoeh in 10th, Mr. Karl in 12th, Professor Unger in college–all these men giving me counsel in drafting, color, composition–the things that go into a successful painting.  I find myself working at this very deliberately, though I remind myself it is only a sketch, only a dry run, only a practice session.  I feel as though I have returned to the art class, and these great men of the past (two of whom are now deceased, sadly) are now whispering their encouragement, their affirmation, in my ear.  I’ll never forget the way they gave themselves to make moments like this possible.

Thanks for reading.

Applying the “Hemingway” Rule after a Delicious Night in the Studio

April 13, 2013
Quick 8 x 10" Watercolor Sketch of Tackle Box

Quick 8 x 10″ Watercolor Sketch of Tackle Box

I always worked until I had something done and I always stopped when I knew what was going to happen next.  That way I could be sure of going on the next day.

Ernest Hemingway, A Moveable Feast

Wow.  After more than a full-week hiatus from the studio, it felt great to pick up the brush again this evening.  Last weekend I had a three-day art festival, followed by a heavy week of school, and every evening spent gathering tax data to file my Income Tax returns.  I managed to get that out of the way this afternoon, and the evening was pure bliss in the Man Cave.

I decided to follow Hemingway’s rule and stop while I was hot with desire on this new watercolor sketch.  As soon as I am out of bed in the morning, I’ll have no trouble returning to it.

So, until tomorrow, thank you for reading.  I’m really getting into this new painting.

Taxes Done. Return to the Man Cave to Watercolor with Gladness

April 13, 2013
Beginning an 8 x 10" Watercolor of Tackle Box

Beginning an 8 x 10″ Watercolor of Tackle Box

I could be biting off more than I can chew, but I’ve ached to paint for over a week now, and the durned tax data gathering has been my focus for well over a week.  Finished this afternoon at 2:35 and immediately re-entered the Man Cave.  Ugh!  My booth gear from last weekend’s festival was stacked all over my drafting table, due to the threat of hail several nights ago, and the need to clear space to get my Jeep into the garage.  It took a good hour today to hollow out space for my Man Cave once again.

I am barely underway with this, and hope I’ll have more to post and say later tonight.  But for those of you who follow me (thank you) I just wanted to post something to let you know I am back in the watercolor mode with gladness.

Thanks for reading.

I paint to remember.

I journal because I am alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

Bursts of Color: A Fresh Start

April 9, 2013
Tackle Box Filled with Vintage Lures

Tackle Box Filled with Vintage Lures

She ran the section of the shop that sold housepaints, making up the customers’ orders and advising on colour schemes.  The colours impressed Henri as a boy much as they did another future painter, Felix Valloton, whose parents also kept a provincial hardware store in the 1870s:

“The second shopwindow was the best: twelve tubular glass bottles, drawn up in battle order on a stand and filled to the brim with colours whose very names made me feel proud.  They were, in order, pale chrome yellow, dark chrome yellow, cadmium, cobalt blue, ultramarine, Prussian blue, milori green, English green, rose madder, Austrian vermilion, Turkey red and pure carmine.”

Matisse said he got his colour sense from his mother, who was herself an accomplished painter on porcelain.

Hilary Spurling, The Unknown Matisse: A Life of Henri Matisse: The Early Years, 1869-1908.

Resting up from the weekend art festival, I had an idea of the subject I would take up with my next watercolor endeavor.  That idea was confirmed this morning before school began, when a student entered my room delivering a package (posted above): a locked tackle box, that, when opened, exploded in color with vintage lures and paraphernalia from a fisherman’s supply of yesteryear.  The benefactor was a remarkable man I met at the festival who took an interest in my recent watercolors of vintage lures, and made a purchase.  Others followed suit, as the weekend progressed and I was delighted to find these small paintings to make such a hit with the public.

The Matisse biography by Hilary Spurling I had the privilege of reading back in 2006 when I took an extended Jeep odyssey, looping from my Dallas/Fort Worth region to Oklahoma, Missouri, Kansas, Colorado, New Mexico and finally back through Texas.  As I fly fished and watercolored along my journey, I spent hours poring over the pages of this book, again and again reading of how the young boy Matisse’s eyes lit up at the sight of the paints in his mother and father’s general store, along with the brightly-colored exotic fish in beakers, birds in ornamental cages, and finally the tray of watercolor pigments given to him as a gift.  It made me think of my times as a small boy, when I was surprised by the brilliant colors of fishing lures when dad shopped at the sporting goods store, or the gumball machines just inside the doors of the drugstore, or the color chart at the hardware store, when mom and dad shopped for interior household enamel paint.

Seeing this tray of lures has made me decide it is time to see how bright I can make future watercolor compositions.  Until 2006, I had followed the somber, neutral palette of Andrew Wyeth drybrush.  In recent years, plein air activity has forced me to match colors with what I saw in architecture, on automobiles and in botanical gardens and arboretums.  Now, it is either fishing lures in a tray, or a gumball machine.  Until someone lends me a gumball machine, I believe I will stick with these vintage lures, eternally grateful for recent friends lending me these treasures to explore in drawing and painting.

This project will emerge slowly.  The dreaded tax deadline is nearly here, and I am spending countless deadening hours gathering my tax data so I can get this stuff filed.  And of course, school is relentless as the year draws to a close and more testing is just around the corner.  And the endless grade reporting.  But these paintings will get done.  Soon I will be breathing much easier as I get out from under these other deadlines and demands.

Thanks for reading.

I paint to remember.

I journal because I am alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.

Six New Watercolor Greeting Cards for the Festival

April 4, 2013
Lurking Bomber

Lurking Bomber

The ten-year-old boy looked bewildered as his uncle tied the red-and-white bomber onto his pale blue monofilament line.  “Why does it go backwards?”  His uncle paused, took one last deep drag before tossing his Lucky Strike, exhaled, and said “Dunno.  Maybe it’s supposed to look like a crawdad.”  The boy just shook his head, held down the button on his Zebco 202, and tossed the plug into the dark pool, just on the edge of the stand of cattails, and began his slow retrieve.

Darting Heddon Zara Spook

Darting Heddon Zara Spook

The sun rose hot that August day, on the final morning of the boy’s first fishing trip with his cousin.  They rowed the dilapidated dinghy to a quiet, shaded cove on Hunnewell Lake and anchored just on the edge of the brightly-colored lily pads.  The Zebco 202 whirred as he tossed his Heddon Zara Spook to the far edge of the floating foliage and the lure landed with a quiet plop, just six inches from the largest pad.  He began his slow retrieve, and his heart pounded as he saw the slow-moving shadow emerge from beneath the pad, closing on his lure.

Shallow Descent of the Lucky 13

Shallow Descent of the Lucky 13

“Trust me,” said the old man standing and peering over the surface of the lake.  “I’ve been on these waters my whole life.  I know these fish.  Just let that plug lay out there a full minute, till all the ripples are gone  Then jerk your rod to make her plop and go under, and reel as fast as you can for about four or five feet to make her dart back and forth.  That makes the bass mad.”  So he did it.  And sure enough, on the first cast and retrieve, he made a four-pound, nineteen-inch large-mouth bass mad.

Trolling the Tiny Lucky 13

Trolling the Tiny Lucky 13

It made no sense to the boy, tugging on a pair of oars, rowing a John boat across the spacious Hunnewell Lake. His uncle told him this is how trolling works.  “You just cast as far behind the boat as you can, prop your rod-and-reel in the stern, and let the jerking motions of the boat provide the action for the lure.”  No sooner than the uncle spoke those words, the boy let out a gasp as he saw the three-pound large-mouth bass launch from the distant wake of the boat, shaking his head back and forth, the brightly-colored lure flashing next to his gills.

"It's a Dream"

“It’s a Dream”

The Red River stills flows through my home town
Rollin’ and tumblin’ on its way
Swirling around the old bridge pylons
Where a boy fishes the morning away
His bicycle leans on an oak tree
While the cars rumble over his head
An aeroplane leaves a trail in an empty blue sky
And the young birds call out to be fed. 

(text by Neil Young, “It’s a Dream”)

Plein Air Botanical Gardens

Plein Air Botanical Gardens

The aging artist angled his Jeep into the diagonal parking lane at the Gardens.  It was Good Friday, the sun was emerging slowly from leaden, overcast skies, and the Gardens were beginning to come alive with walkers, joggers, photographers, and children at play. Setting up his easel in a stand of pines, the man trained his eye on the bark of one solitary trunk, and considered how he would go about rendering its gnarled portrait against a forest-green field of shaded pine needles.

Today concluded our four days of STARR testing.  As I walked about the room filled with ten students testing, monitoring their work, I composed five new narratives for these new greeting cards coming out at tomorrow’s festival.  It was a good way to spend the walking around time, and helped the day pass.

Time to pack and load.

Thanks for reading.