Posts Tagged ‘Walt Whitman’

Back to the Special Place Where I Belong

September 16, 2017

redlands sat

Decompression Time

A man, yet by these tears a little boy again . . . cautiously peering, absorbing, translating.

Walt Whitman, “Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking”

My body is weary this evening as I linger over some lines from Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass–a treasure to me since I discovered him afresh in 1989. These lines arrested my attention tonight, because I feel again the sense of wonder I knew as a child and felt evening time growing quiet around me. Tonight has offered a delicious quiet where I can read, think over the events of the day, and scribble ideas in my journal that could be worth recalling.

I rose early this morning and spent most of the day at First Christian Church in Arlington, Texas, offering outdoor watercolor lessons in their garden area during their annual bazaar and selling my art work out of a booth indoors. It was a beautiful day to be out and among people, and I enjoyed a number of quality conversations from old friends as well as new acquaintances.


My Booth Indoors . . .

plein aire

. . . and my Painting Demo Outdoors

Once the festival ended and my gear was loaded with good help (thank you, Connie!), I rolled south for two hours till I reached my sacred home–The Gallery at Redlands in Palestine’s Historic Redlands Inn. I have been away from here for two weeks, and felt a warm feeling when I turned down Oak street and saw this site ready for my arrival.


My Gallery Home

The City of Palestine has been so welcoming and accommodating to me and my art-lover friends. I never knew I could enjoy the conversations so much from the Inn proprietors, the gift shop employees, the fabulous Red Fire Grille personnel and professionals who keep offices in the suites upstairs–all of them have made me feel like I’ve found a home. It is now Saturday night, and I’m not alone in this office, because the Red Fire Grille has patrons coming in and out, and the proprietors are very gracious in visiting me.

As I’ve written before, the Polar Express begins its holiday season soon in Palestine, and I’m hoping to have plenty of new train-related paintings to display and sell this season. For several months, I’ve been travelling, photographing and sketching historic trains and tonight have them spread out on a bench in the gallery. Patrons coming through have spoken glowingly of them, so I guess I’m doing something right.

train paintings

My Newest Railroad Project in Progress

Darkness has descended outside and the gallery lights are too soft for working on the paintings–I’m too tired anyway. Reading and thinking in the quiet has been most pleasant, and a number of restaurant patrons have come through to look at the work and comment. Good conversations have emerged as well, and that just adds to the quality of the night.

Tomorrow, when the sun comes through the gallery windows, I’ll paint again. I’m ready.

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.



Autumn Return to the Cave

October 25, 2016


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


Studio Drawing and Debris


More Studio Art and Debris . . .


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


Sketchbook Pages from my recent Festival

tree-bentOne of my Preferred Sketches


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.


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.

Afternoon Thoughts

September 5, 2016

As the sleeper hovers between consciousness and dream, a shadowy thought emerges from the twilight gloom, sharpens eventually to a silhouette, takes on color and finally assumes three-dimensional form, yet casts from itself a second shadow.

–my own words

Pausing on this final afternoon of a three-day holiday weekend, I take full delight in writing out my ideas, happy that space has been given for quiet solitude. Grateful to re-visit early scraps of thoughts hastily scribbled in old journals. Happy to re-read handwritten notes poked into dented manila folders running back to the 1980’s. In doing this, I recall a Whitman poem where he sensed a specter rising before him and gesturing toward his manuscripts, perhaps mocking his efforts. I knew of such days when I mocked my thoughts as shallow and immature. Today however, I feel little such humiliation while reading half-baked thoughts from my past. Granted, the stuff I wrote thirty years ago lacks the growth of what I am capable of composing in my older years, and why shouldn’t it? We grow up. Life files off many of our sharp, brittle points, replacing them with better-rounded, more durable surfaces. Still, it is exciting to find those occasional recorded thoughts from earlier days that still pack a punch of authenticity today. And as we continue to revisit our earlier dreams, we oftentimes find intriguing shadow-twins emerging next to them. And in these shadows we find new adventures waiting, new ideas worth exploring.

Thanks for reading.


The Greatest Poem

August 13, 2016

station new

The United States themselves are essentially the greatest poem.

Walt Whitman, 1855 Preface to Leaves of Grass

Good morning, Beautiful People. Aren’t Saturdays luxurious when one is allowed to sleep in, recharge the weary batteries weakened by the week, make coffee and enjoy the silence and space? I wanted to take this moment and post a watercolor I finally completed, a small one (9 x 12″ unframed) of a restored 1921 Shell station in New Cambria, Missouri.  A dear friend from high school had alerted me to its existence, and with difficulty I was able to gain access and take a number of reference photos.  The image has been emblazoned in my mind’s eye for about a month, and I’m glad finally to bring this small composition to its conclusion.

I have posted Whitman’s quote because for months I’ve been hearing a myriad of unnecessary, unpleasant remarks being tossed about on the air waves and social media as this current election runs its bloody course. I love Whitman’s assessment of this country and its beauty in that a number of disparate peoples have been knitted together in a pattern of cities, counties and states to create a United States. I am stirred by that metaphor.

But I am more deeply stirred when I encounter that word “poem” derived from the Greek poiēma and better translated “work of art.” The letter to the Ephesians in 2:10 states “for we are his workmanship” (King James Version), the translation of poiēma. Some translations prefer “handiwork.” I like the idea of you being a poem, a work of art, something splendid that has been created and given as a Gift to this world.

So, whatever happens to you on this day, I urge you to pause and reflect on the magnificent poem that is you.  Unique.  There is no one else like you in this culture, and you are placed here where you can color and enrich those who surround you.  Above all, be a Gift to yourself.  Love yourself.  Take great joy in that you are what you are.

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to encounter.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.


Good Morning, America

August 12, 2016

loco (2)

I hear America singing, the varied carols I hear, . . . 

Each singing what belongs to him or her and to no one else.

Walt Whitman, “I Hear America Singing”

Good morning again, blogging and facebook friends. I unplugged from your company a couple of weeks ago, needing some time away to sort out some unsortable issues. After a week, I experienced little success in sorting, and then didn’t really know how to return to you, and still don’t, actually. Wayne White, a loving friend from high school days (, used to open his daily facebook with the warmest greetings to us all, and I still feel the warmth from reading his posts. So, here is my hope this morning to leave words of good cheer for anyone needing such. Wayne always encouraged us to spread the love, so I shall try.

A number of watercolors have been completed since I last posted, including the one above. This is a larger work by my scale (16 x 20″ unframed), and recalls a good moment from last spring while I was judging and workshopping at a plein air event in Eureka Springs, Arkansas, one of my favorite American towns for painting.

This summer has provided the luxury of grazing amidst many lush literary pastures.  A host of luminaries have shined a light before and within me throughout this sojourn, and I love them all for sharing their literary gift. During a joyful re-reading of William Powers’s Hamlet’s Blackberry, I revisited this passage:

Depth roots us in the world, gives life substance and wholeness. It enriches our work, our relationships, everything we do. It’s the essential ingredient of a good life and one of the qualities we admire most in others. Great artists, thinkers, and leaders all have an unusual capacity to be ‘grasped’ by some idea or mission, an inner engagement that drives them to pursue a vision, undaunted by obstacles. Ludwig van Beethoven, Michelangelo, Emily Dickinson, Albert Einstein, Martin Luther King, Jr.—we call them ‘brilliant,’ as if it were pure intelligence that made them who they were. But what unites them is what they did with their intelligence, the depth they reached in their thinking and brought to bear in their work.

Balancing social encounters with a quiet contemplative life has made this entire summer truly unforgettable, with a host of splendorous emotions accompanied by a commensurate number of stumbles, bumps and bruises. That happens, and we should welcome it. After all, we know the sentiments of Henry David Thoreau as we continue to pursue the phantom of fulfilment throughout this Odyssey:

I long ago lost a hound, a bay horse, and a turtledove, and am still on their trail. Many are the travellers I have spoken concerning them, describing their tracks and what calls they answered to. I have met one or two who had heard the hound, and the tramp of the horse, and even seen the dove disappear behind a cloud and they seemed as anxious to recover them as if they had lost them themselves.

We know of that which Thoreau speaks. Each of us still tracks that phantom whose memory continues to haunt. And as Whitman observed, each of us sings our own carol.

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.



The Creative Impulse in Later Years

July 17, 2015
Work on a Laguna Madre Landscape

Work on a Laguna Madre Landscape

Artists and poets are the raw nerve ends of humanity. By themselves they can do little to save humanity. Without them there would be little worth saving.

Inscription on a headstone in Green River Cemetery, Springs, New York, where Jackson Pollock is buried

We don’t read and write poetry because it’s cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion. And medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for. To quote from Whitman, “O me! O life!… of the questions of these recurring; of the endless trains of the faithless… of cities filled with the foolish; what good amid these, O me, O life?  Answer. That you are here – that life exists, and identity; that the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse.” That the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse! What will your verse be?

John Keating (Robin Williams), “Dead Poets Society”

Throughout this day, I have been responding to friends who commented on yesterday’s blog about aging, and coming unto one’s own. In recent days, I’ve had several opportunities to engage in conversation with friends of whom the creative impulse has taken hold in recent years. Many of them are the same age as I. Having spent a lifetime at a profession, they now feel the impetus to do something creative, and I am thrilled at that. The only matter that disturbs me is the hesitation I often hear from others, stemming from the fear that they have no talent.

Does the bird singing outside your bedroom window in the mornings have any idea of the beauty of its song, or is the bird just doing what the bird naturally does? How about the spider spinning the web in your garden? As the web glistens in the slanting rays of the morning sun, does the spider have any clue as to the beauty, the design, the symmetry of its web, or is the spider simply spinning out of its own essence?

Why do people create? Are they aware of the beauty of their works, or could it be that they are only doing what naturally comes to them, obeying an impulse? I was never an effective art teacher in the public schools, for a variety of reasons. But a major reason stems from the dilemma of grades. How could I possibly grade the quality of a student’s work? As a workshop instructor, I can answer questions, and I can help a student improve his/her technique, but at least I don’t have to assign a grade and give the illusion of quantifying the value of someone’s creation. I love the creative impulse, period, and wish that all humans would respond to their muses. Everyone has ability, and everyone has desires for expression. Words, pictures, sounds–these all contain powerful aesthetic forces and are in the consciousness of the active mind. What a terrible waste, not letting that impulse run its course. When one feels the tug of inspiration, s/he should respond wholeheartedly and not worry about whether or not the creation is “good.” Personally, I can think of few things that match the sublimity of creation, the mere notion of starting with a void and finishing with something of visual or auditory pleasure. The integrity of creation is its own reward, not what others might say, despite the reality that others might not even notice.

Today I had a little time in the studio, and worked further on the cloud definitions in the center and to the right. I also began planting some growth in the bald sandy spot in the lower right corner, tried to correct the color of the field station, which has a green tint against the blue sky. I’m also working at transitioning between the foreground wildflowers and the grasses surrounding the building. All this has appeared to be tinkering, but the devil is in the details and I enjoy that too. The fact of the matter is that I have been lost in abstract patterns while working on the textures of the sky and the ground. And I’m always crazy-in-love with abstract patterning. Lessons from my high school art teacher kept blistering to the surface as I worked on the ground textures, as he was the first to instill in me an appreciation for abstraction.

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.


Ringing the Bell for Recess!

March 4, 2015
A Cozy Night in the Studio

A Cozy Night in the Studio

As I ponder’d in silence,

Returning upon my poems, considering, lingering long,

A Phantom rose before me with distrustful aspect,

Terrible in beauty, age, and power,

The genius of poets of old lands, 

As to me directing like flame its eyes,

With finger pointing to many immortal songs,

And menacing voice, What singest thou? it said,

Know’st thou not there is but one theme for ever-enduring bards? . . .

Walt Whitman, “As I Ponder’d in Silence”

At 8:50 this evening, the joyful message arrived: “Due to inclement weather, classes tomorrow are cancelled!” I felt like an elementary student when the recess bell rings. Two days ago, I scratched out some time to play with and blog my “Harold and the Purple Crayon” watercolor sketch, and just ached to return to the studio yesterday, but too much school stuff intervened, and next thing I knew, the hour was late and I had to retire to bed. Today was a grueling A. P. Art History stretch of classes. But now, I’m free again, a sailor on a 24-hour pass! A student sprinting toward the swing set!

For a few days, I’ve wanted to begin a series of charcoal sketches of a bust I own of Democritus. He sits peering at me through the darkness, just outside the pallor of my desk lamp late nights and pre-dawn mornings. And as I study, I’m always conscious of his presocratic contribution toward the discussion of what lies at the core of Being. The Greek word archē is difficult to translate with facility. We use it to form words like archaeology, architect, archbishop, etc. It refers to the chief, the source, the head, the first. The presocratic thinkers debated among themselves as to what it was that lay at the headwaters of all that Is.

The Whitman poem has haunted me recently, because he felt the chill from the witnesses of antiquity looking over his shoulder when he struggled to give birth to something sublime through his verses. I also feel that shudder when I’m thinking in solitude, writing in my journal, reading pensively, or leaning over a drafting table trying to carve onto the surface of paper some kind of image in the name of Art.

As temperatures outside slide into the 20’s and snow fills the black night sky, I’m delighed to be inside with coffee, my books and art supplies, the sounds of Mozart’s String Quartets coming from my turntable, and a heart filled with gratitude.

Thanks for reading.

I make art in order to remember.

I journal whenI feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.


Things Fall Apart; The Center Cannot Hold

February 17, 2015
Musing Late into a School Night

Musing Late into a School Night

“It is not the fault of abstraction that few people can really think abstractly, any more than it is the fault of mathematics that not many people are good mathematicians,” a modern logician tells us, adding that correct abstraction is one of our most powerful, necessary, and efficacious modes of thought. It is a form of emphasis, as A. N. Whitehead said, of expressing what one wants to without being involved in everything else.

Robert Motherwell, 1950

Days and days have passed without my posting to this blog, as a tempestuous world of details, deadlines and appointments has swirled about me with little-to-no respite. As the hour draws late into a school night, I am pleased that tomorrow’s promises have been met and I am not yet sinking into sleep. In this comfy chair, I enjoy this serene moment, this gift, this opportunity to hear classical music playing softly with the lights of my study turned low, a cup of hot tea steaming and a volume of exquisite reading open in my lap. I snatched tonight’s blog title from a 1921 poem of William Butler Yeats that I have always loved: “The Second Coming.” When life swirls about me the way it is now, I frequently know that sinking feeling of a center no longer holding, and details flying away from the tidy files and compartments where they had been formerly placed.

For over a week now, I have scribbled countless words across the pages of my journal and plucked myriads of notes from the strings of my guitar when not tending my daily duties of the classroom. And all of these endeavors have felt sublime. But my mind has never strayed from a dogged desire to understand my centre, my archē, my Grund. I have resisted posting to the blog, I suppose out of fear that these words would be interpreted as whining, complaining, or musing over some kind of winter of discontent. This is not what is happening to me. What I am feeling is not despair, just a desire to know, a compulsion to understand. Maybe it is something that comes with age, I don’t know. All I can say is that I find these thoughts intriguing and cannot dismiss them, nor do I want to. I find more satisfaction these days reading the queries of restless minds seeking to know more intimately this precious mystery of life, and at the same time seeking ways to express these notions more creatively. Through music, through painting, and through writing, I still reach for these sublime heights, and am grateful to know this urge, this procreative urge, as Whitman would have it. The past week has been filled with studies of Leonardo, Michelangelo, Dürer and Grünewald in art, along with William Carlos Williams and Walt Whitman in poetry and Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters and Neil Young in guitar work–all of this has been soul stirring for me. Sometimes I wish I could walk away from the daily appointments, retreat to the mountains or a monastery for a few weeks and just let my thoughts explore these mysteries without interruption. But that is fantasy.

I’ll bring this to a close now, hoping I haven’t planted the notion in some of my readers to send mental health experts to my door. I think I’m fine, just not yet satisfied, still searching, still wondering–but very happy to have the strength in me to search, still.

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.


Labor Day Wanderings

September 1, 2014
Plein Air Watercolor Sketchin in Hico, Texas

Plein Air Watercolor Sketch in Hico, Texas

Afoot and light-hearted I take to the open road,

Healthy, free, the world before me,

The long brown path before me leading wherever I choose.

Henceforth I ask not good-fortune, I myself am good-fortune,

Henceforth I whimper no more, postpone no more, need nothing,

Done with indoor complaints, libraries, querulous criticisms,

Strong and content I travel the open road.

Walt Whitman, “Song of the Open Road”

Monday.  Labor Day.  At around 11:00 this morning, I suddenly felt the window slamming shut on my three-day holiday.  I had not yet taken to the open road, and determined that it was today or not for a long time.  I gassed up my Jeep and felt the whisper of Hico, Texas, a town I had not visited in several years, but could still remember that quaint boulevard running down the center of historic downtown, replete with park benches and a gazebo.  The afternoon drive proved to be a long and arduous one, with termperatures lingering right at a hundred degrees, but I loved the old boulevard the moment I saw it. Once I began work on the sketch, I found the nonstop traffic rumbling along the highway through the middle of town to be a comfort, and I focused on the rough-cut stone facade of one of the historic buildings replete with a Coca-Cola ghost sign.  I had tried this composition a few years back and was glad to rest the watercolor block on my knees for a second try.

My Littered Work Area

My Littered Work Area

The play of the hot sun off the rusticated facade delighted my eye, and I spent most of this afternoon peering at those textures and colors, attempting to capture them on the page.  Throughout the afternoon, Walt Whitman’s words resounded in my memory, and I was grateful for his companionship.

Hico, Texas bench with watercolor and the view

Hico, Texas bench with watercolor and the view

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.







Dr. Pepper Painting and Thoughts about Purpose

May 13, 2014
Beginning of a Large Ghost Sign Watercolor

Beginning of a Large Ghost Sign Watercolor

Most of what we express creatively is prelinguistic.  The deeper insights are obviously coming from somewhere.  They are not logiclly structured in the mind, but it may take logic to get them expressed.

Ian Roberts, Creative Authenticity

Every artist has a central story to tell, and the difficulty, the impossible task, is trying to present that story in pictures.

Gregory Crewdson

Having finished the Kennedale clock tower, I’m turning my attention now to a subject I’ve tackled twice already en plein air.  This hardware store is located on Main Street in Maypearl, Texas.  I figured it was time to go after a large studio version of the composition.

Some of my students recently took up a discussion over life and its purpose.  One of the issues discussed concerns those who find life boring or without meaning.  I have to admit that I have not been able to sympathize with boredom.  For me, as long as I can remember, there has not been sufficient time to do everything I wish to do.  Any day that I have free time I have a fundamental struggle over whether to read or to paint.  I cannot do both simultaneously.  Even blogging takes time away from my books, my journal, and my art.  And there are many, many other things I like to do.  I had a long day at school, followed by a one-hour required session, followed by a school function.  When I finally got home at 7:30, I realized that the evening was nearly spent, and I had all these ideas I was wanting to uncover concerning Jean-Paul Sartre (our subject in tomorrow morning’s class).  I also had this Dr. Pepper watercolor on my drafting table, barely underway.  And I have found a renewed delight in the poetry of Walt Whitman.  Alas, too many interests, too little time.

Before I close however, I want to address this:  I never feel “blocked” as an artist.  I never feel that I go through spells of being unable to begin a painting.  I do acknowledge that my skill is not always “on”, that I don’t always “hit” when I attempt a new composition.  But that is not the same thing as a painter’s block.  I am painting, with joy, even if it’s not going well.  Instead of issues of being blocked, or dried up, I have issues of hot and cold: sometimes it seems I can do no wrong when I’m moving the pencil or brush; sometimes I am clumsy and obtuse.

Walt Whitman wrote “As I Ebb’d with the Ocean of Life,” when he felt that his second edition of Leaves of Grass was not as crisp as his original one.  As he walked the shores, watching the ocean tide advance and withdraw, he drew parallels with his creativity as it surged with renewed energy as well as those times when it seemed to ebb.  Before he closed out the poem, he voiced the conviction that the flow would return.  And that is what I try to keep before me when I feel that the painting is not going too well.  I think this helps me keep my sanity.

Thanks for reading.  I want to pick up the brush now . . .

I paint in order to remember.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.