Saturday, January 31, 2009

Nolde 1

These aren't mine - they were painted by Emil Nolde. I wish I had painted them, and that I could paint this kind of thing - I am playing with it some - we'll see what happens.

Meantime, though, another painting finally got started (pictures later) and I wanted to share some Nolde watercolors. These are from that wonderful book Dearest bought me for Christmas. It has 104 plates - and I allow myself to turn one page, and see two new ones, about every week or so. I look at them often, but I just look at the ones I've already seen. So I've viewed eight - these are the three favorites so far. These are all about 5 x 7 inches in real life - and he did about 1300 of them while he was forbidden to paint by the Nazis. I'm working, in a painting of my own right now, to understand a little of the technique and color depth that appears in these tiny, intimate pieces.

I drew and completely erased two 19x19 paintings today. Back to blank paper. It was OK - I'm trying to get somewhere in particular, and I don't know how to start. I'll keep trying.


Oui, my photo has been Obamicon'd. I consented to have this done - non, I encouraged this - because frogs everywhere are enthusiastic about the election of the Senator from Illinois. It is hoped that he will help clean up ponds and waterways everywhere.

Not that we expect to see the new president himself in tall rubber boots picking up bottles and old tires from our muddy banks (oui, picture the Secret Service detail in the trees and snorkeling), but we believe his example may inspire thousands of others to do so, and perhaps others not to throw the bottles and tires in the first place.

au revouir,


Friday, January 30, 2009

Fabulous Blog Award

While I enjoyed getting this award from The Pagan Sphinx, I was really most moved by her words about me in the post.

And I will do the half she would like most for me to do (the five addictions) - but I won't pass it on to five others, because I haven't got the energy to sort out who to choose.

But I will tell about five addictions:

1. Dearest's laugh. I will go to significant lengths to hear it, and I can't go long without it or I wonder if the world is ending.
2. French Ultramarine. It is in every painting I've done, I think, and it seems to get more and more space on my palette.
3. Olives. All kinds, but particularly green or black cerignola (from an Italian or Greek deli is best) and peppery calabrese.
4. Drawing the human nude. Who'd have thunk it seeing me hating figure drawing classes at my first art school experience.
5. Dunnys. I can not explain this one - at all. I have four Series 4 Dunnys and a French Series on my art table, and I have four of them in boxes (Series 5), unopened, under my art table. I am prolonging the feeling of not knowing which they are, and postponing (three months now) the opening. Four times now I've almost opened one - decided to do it, but then got distracted and resisted the temptation again. Maybe the fact that they are artist designed (street artists) has something to do with my fascination - but I think it's mostly about the surprise, and the suspense. And they have attitude. They are so not like me.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Life Drawing - Third Session

All drawings 18 x 24, drawn with burnt sienna and (the last two) ivory nupastel stick. Click for larger views.

I would guess our model this evening was over sixty years old. I was excited by this for several reasons. First, I've never had the opportunity to draw figures much over late twenties. I was curious what differences there would be, and what that would mean in the drawings. And second, I had a hunch there would be more of the sign of the bones beneath the flesh. And it's paying attention to the bones that makes a figure drawing convincing, it seems to me.

We did our usual run of four two minute poses, four five minute poses, then a couple of tens, and the last hour with two poses around twenty to twenty five. After the ten minute poses I switch to better paper (the short poses are in a cheap newsprint pad).

The two poses above (crossed legs and the back) were each five minutes. I loved both poses, and was fascinated by the shapes and the bones in in her knees and feet. The back pose was what I've been waiting for - an opportunity to try to better understand how the back is put together, and how the bones and muscles play over each other. This is my best back so far.

The next illustration leaning forward while seated on a folding chair, was still in the newsprint pad. It was my strongest drawing of the evening - and by accident we let the ten minute pose run to 17 minutes. I loved the way she had her shoulders up (resting her weight on her locked arms) and the way the shoulders were forward. I probably had one of the best positions in the room for this pose, with the arms and breasts so beautifully aligned. Another thing I love about this drawing is that while there are certainly signs of our model's age, there is so much young woman in this pose. I've spent a lot of time observing how we stay a certain age on the inside (for me it's 32), while our body ages on past us. This drawing captures a little of that.

The longer poses were less inspiring for me, especially the third photo here, where she knelt in the big wing-backed chair, with her back to the room. But it was an opportunity to try to draw the complex shapes of the lower back, brightly lit. All those long concave areas, and the bridge just below the last trace of spine.

The last pose, curled up in the big chair, looked like a tangle of limbs when I first looked. There were glimpses of portions of figure in so many layers going away from where I stood... I'm not unhappy with this drawing; it just doesn't do much for me. I'm actually pleased to have captured the pose pretty well.

After the session tonight I feel more relaxed and human again than I've felt in a couple of weeks. I totally forgot about work for the first time in too long. Oldest was worn out after a few days of work this week, too - but he came along and enjoyed it as usual.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

End of January - Last Two Weeks

There have been some good moments, and a few exceptional days and evenings in the last two weeks, but with the gloom, the excessive travel, the extraverted demands, the news, and the stress...

...this is what I have to say about the back half of January '09.

My older two are telling me that this is the best likeness I've done so far in my self portraits. What do you suppose that means?

Hat tip to MathMan for some inspiration on this pose.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

This Unity

Still on the road, still working long hours, still no art...

But I have had a few minutes in the evenings for commenting.

And we did pause for lunch yesterday where there was a big TV so our whole team of people could see and hear the oath taking and the speech. We didn't hear the speech well, just bits and pieces over the lunch crowd, but it was moving enough.

Today I took the paper with me to a solitary, quiet dinner (one crowd gone with three days of meetings over - another smaller crowd tomorrow - but peace in between) - and I walked from the hotel to a Frontera Mex-Mex Grill next door. I'm in GA - Lisa's and MathMan's current state, though I'm in a more metro area. Keep that in mind, and if you've read much of Lisa's and MathMan's blogs, some of the rest of this post may sound familiar.

All the staff in the restaurant were Latino. They sang with the music (in Spanish, of course) and called and joked with each other. Like so many Latino's I've met, they were quick to smile, looked me right in the eye, and were affectionate and open. I love this result of the cultures that raised the people I met tonight. So I was not surprised when my wait person, a good looking, sunny young man with a ready grin, on hearing it was my first time in a Frontera, made an animated recommendation of a particular meal. I have a long standing view that God is acting through little pointers like this, and even if my meal choice is a relatively trivial thing, I have learned to follow the lead. The Tacos Alambra were, indeed, extremely good, especially when I squeezed the lime all over them. Wow.

Before my order came, though, I opened the paper to the Obama parade and the Obama address. I was planning to read the address in full. My wait person was back with my water, and he asked me what I thought of Obama being President. It was asked openly, with genuine interest in my reply - but it was the first guarded face I had seen in the restaurant. I said I was excited, and relieved, and I was elated that we had elected an African American, because it was about time. He lit up. He said that so many of the people he had asked were not happy about it. I recalled where I was - GA. I thought about most of the clientelle of this restaurant, even here in the more urban Metro Atlanta area. I thought of several posts of Lisa's and MathMan's, about encounters at their jobs. All in a moment. Then he was asking me why I was excited. So I waxed eloquent about the Obamas, and the hope for repairing the American image abroad, and our unity. I think I got a little ahead of his English a few times, but I didn't tone it down for him at all. He drank it in. There was a warmth of exchange, and lots of use of the word, "friend" the rest of the evening when he came by to check on me, which he did often.

Until I began reading the address. He left me uninterrupted for that - I think he could see what I was reading, or perhaps my posture spoke to him, because I was very focused and lost in the words.

I still can't believe we actually managed to elect this man. I know his road will be tough, and I know that his compromises and positions on things will be complex, and not popular with people on either the extreme left or on the extreme right. But I deeply believe this man will do the right things, and we will all be better for it. Because of our position in the world, the whole planet will be better for it. And I think we will follow him. We can all learn from his example - such as his breaking with tradition and walking the Bushes to their helicopter. Another gesture for unity, for moving beyond divides.

I had a rush of fear and joy and admiration when I saw the photos of the Obamas out walking on the parade route. I hope we are always deserving of such trust and selfless courage. I pray God will protect these people and keep them safe and whole, and that we will, in increasing numbers, have the good sense to listen and get behind his ideas and his leadership.

I am excited about this presidency because the things I love most about people - like the warmth and openness of the young man who recommended my dinner, his courage to keep asking people for their thoughts - will prosper far more in this atmosphere than in any other I can recall. There is a gentle and decent human being in the Whitehouse - a strong, principled, thoughtful and brilliant couple, very much in love with each other and with their girls - and that will spill over into politics, policy, and posture, everywhere.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Painting Today - Watercolor Progressions

Here are three progressions, showing the changes made in this morning's painting session. All of these read from top to bottom, with the earlier versions on top. Click any of them to view them larger. The top image is where they started at 9:00 this morning.

The first is a small one, about 7 by 10. I have no idea where it's going, but I am laying on color.

The next (four shots) is one that I am using to build up the surface with watercolor, going for an effect like Emil Nolde achieved by putting more and more color on, always managing to avoid muddying the colors, and achieving a surface of rich depth and transparency. I'm seeing what happens.

And the last one is the latest version of Flight. I put the one from my last post on top, and today's results below it. MLight mentioned not liking the way the trees progressed upward, with confusing breaks in them, so they look like those optical illusions that split vertical bars from the bottom to the top... The more I looked at this, the more I didn't like the strangest of these, either, so I painted it out (acrylics) and fixed the trunk all the way up. It helps the entire composition, I think.

I also made the smallest bird dark, instead of light. the rest are minor adjustments here and there to improve shadow continuity, b;end the beams of light better, add visual interest, and create a series of rose elements from the cat up and to the right all the way to the top corner, to help unite that side with the rest of the painting. You can't see it in this photo, much, but the big crow in the bottom right is not more aqua than ultramarine.

I won't be on-line much the next four days - big set of meetings at work, with evening sessions, etc. - so little or no time for anything but work, eat, and sleep... See you Friday, maybe.

Six Randoms Meme

I've been painting for two hours without pause (man, the water got so dark) and my back is aching, and I have to wait for both of them to dry before I do more. So it's time for a quick break. I visited Liberality and found she'd tagged me as part of her triple Six Random Things Meme (triple because she was tagged three times and she did all three - 18 random things - I'm impressed). Unfortunately I can't follow the rules completely because almost all the people I blog follow also follow each other (kinda like a family) and so they've all tagged each other already. I'll tag a few people, but not six, I think.

So there are the rules - copied from Liberality's blog.

The Rules
1. Link to the person who tagged you.
2. Post the rules on your blog.
3. Write six random things about yourself.
4. Tag six people at the end of your post and link to them.
5. Let each person know they’ve been tagged and leave a comment on their blog.
6. Let the tagger know when your entry is up.

Six Random things - my goal is to find things I've never mentioned to anyone, including Moomin Light - she's the one I'd most like to entertain with these:
1. My hair started going gray when I was in my early twenties, and this accelerated around 27, when I became a father and work got a lot more complex and stressful. So the random thing is that I've always enjoyed being silver early - BUT I don't want my thick Hungaro-Italian mono-brow to turn gray. If it starts, I will be tempted to dye it. I doubt I'll do it, but the thought goes through my head. I might have told MLight this one...
2. I wear my red beret on walks, etc. but I have very complex feelings about this hat. I've already said that it's linked to childhood ideas of what an artist was, and how they looked, but I also have it mixed up with the Prince song Raspberry Beret and the idea that this is really a girl's hat, not a guy's hat. I wear it in part to thumb my nose at this overly gender conscious part of myself, and in part to please my color sweet tooth, and in part because it DOES seem to me to be what an artist would wear. It's what I wear, after all. I'm not sure I own anything else for which I have such a tangle of feelings.
3. I am thinking of naming my paint brushes - at least the three I use most often. Is that weird? Paul Klee named his engraving tools... And he seemed pretty sane.
4. I want to paint scenes where the rules are broken - and things are oriented whatever way I want (sideways, upside down, etc. - like Hundertwasser) - but I am having a hard time doing this. I push up against this, like a doorway I want to walk through but there is a soft pliable membrane blocking the way. The membrane is actually distended quite a bit into my "normal" artistic space, which is a sign to me that there is a lot of pressure behind there. I think I'm concerned about popping that bubble and what will pour into my inner world. I would like to do it today, but I have four days of meetings and conferences starting tomorrow, and I won't get to follow through. I'll have to get back to all of you on this one...
5. I am disappointed with my clothes. I want them to be as colorful as a harlequin's - reds, turquoise, violets, vivid greens, yellows so hot they cast light on surrounding objects, orange so pregnant and voluptuous that it simultaneously makes you crave and satisfies the craving just to look at it. Not only do I not own this kind of clothing, but I've never seen any of it anywhere. I have seen objects this colorful, but not clothing. And I doubt I'd have the cheek to wear this clothing if I owned it.
6. I dislike the points on the top of the tower of Duke Chapel - I can't figure out how I'd like them to be different, but I find them too tall, too thin, odd, owl-ear-like. I think I wish the top was a different shape entirely.

Tagging others (but I'm going to break rule #5 as well as rule #4, and if they see it here and want to do it, fine).
1. Moomin Light - hoping for 6 things I don't know...
2. Vicki
3. Mary Stebbins Taitt
4. Genie Sea

Back to painting - they're dry, so I can get back in there...

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Eleven by Fourteen Sketch Book Start

Tonight Oldest was painting at my art table. Portfolio next weekend, so he was trying a larger piece and paint (he is usually a fine-tip pen and Prismacolors kind of guy). He painted all day today - possibly 8 or 10 hours worth. It went well, and I was certainly not going to interrupt him.

So I took the 11 x 14 sketchbook that I got myself for Christmas (I got one for Oldest, too - it was on his list, actually, and I just copy catted for me) and started the first page, doing my usual random lines, blind contouring the balloons left over on the living room floor from the ten year old birthday party last Saturday, and the leaves of the broad ferns in the rose arrangements in the sconces on the wall. After over half an hour of erasing and adding lines a figure emerged. Usually it's things like trees and cats that come out of my memory and the random lines, but after the life drawing, figures seem more likely. (Linda commented that she expected this, back on January 9th).

I still don't recall the upper back well enough to fill it in. That bothers me a little. But I'll learn that later, and I'm pleased that I caught something of the beauty of the pose the Renaissance Italians called contrapposto, a weight shift to one leg, which the ancient Greeks used. Medieval Europeans lost the idea until Roman and Greek sculptures were excavated in the 14th century. And I seem to have learned a little about the pelvis from Thursday night's model.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Life Drawing - Not in the Groove

Figure drawing again this evening. Neither Oldest nor I felt like we were in the groove tonight. And our drawings reflected that. I'm going to show them to you regardless, I decided - whether I like them or not. I've heard that life drawing does this - sometimes it falls into place, other times it's a struggle and it almost seems like a waste of time. But it isn't.

All drawings here are 18 by 24 inches (typical big newsprint pad size - or pastel paper for the longer poses).

The first photo, above, is of two five minute poses. The right hand drawing isn't bad. The second photo is a ten minute pose, and it shows another change from our first session, last week. Our model this evening was completely different. She had beautifully defined bones beneath well proportioned limbs and torso. She was an ideal model - but I always find it more challenging to draw thin women, the same way I find it more challenging to draw men. There are so many straight lines and nuances of light around the sternum, ribs, and clavicles. I'm getting better with knees and elbows, but I still have trouble with the bones of the torso. I'm looking forward to getting better with practice.

So it was difficult, but absolutely fascinating, to draw her pelvis, which was so well defined. A number of the poses were ideal for me to attempt that, like this ten minute pose, and probably my best drawing of the session. I'm also more comfortable with the red chalks, not the black or gray. I remember finding that out at college - that I felt so much more in touch with the drawing when I switched colors.

The first long pose led me to try smudging, which I have never been good at. Looking at the drawings this evening it was probably a mistake on my part. The results are better when I just apply the pastel and leave it, except to blur sections for depth, to reduce contrast, or to make corrections. I'm not at all happy with the face of this drawing, and I didn't get the top of her breast correct, either. I hadn't gotten everything else lined up right, and it distorted the top when I got back around to there.

But the section of the pose that struck me the most, the area around her hand, turned out fairly well for a short drawing. She had long hands, and she placed them with grace. This was the most enjoyable part of the pose to draw, and it shows in the drawing, as well. That's the only place I think I played - the rest was more like work. That's one way to describe being in or out of "the zone" when I draw.

The last pose was tough for me in many ways. I only had this green paper, which was not appropriate. I switched to blue pastel (which I've never used for a figure before) and I was still smudging. Some aspects of this are OK - but I still had the hardest time with all the subtle complexity, foreshortening, and proportions of the torso. Again, though, what I found fascinating about this model, and this pose, was the beautiful lines of her pelvis and her pubic bone. I'll be glad to have another opportunity to draw her - maybe when I'm more right brained.

And both sessions have one huge difference from when I was in college. Many of the poses strike me powerfully with the beauty of one area or one line or one gesture or proportion on the model. For instance, on the third photo from the top, the red ten minute pose, it's that long line down the right hand side - and that's why I placed the edge of the figure in the center of the page (I overdid it, though). I am, for the first time, seeing what turns these from sketches and drawings into works of art - the compelling gorgeous instance, the unique glorious beauty of an individual human being captured and emphasized by the drawing. I didn't used to even see them - now I sense them instantly, at the start of the pose. Now if I can get good enough to capture those moments... I think I could happily chase this the rest of my life. Even though the drawing was a struggle this evening, the two hours FLEW by. I was so sorry when it was over.

I can hardly wait to see who we get to draw next, and what is beautiful about their poses - but it will be several weeks, since I will be tied up with a conference and meetings out of town almost all of next week. Sessions run into the evenings, and I will get little or no art done next week until Friday.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Flight - Still not Finished

I discussed this painting with Moomin Light today, and she had some ideas that put me on the right track to the next round. So tonight I tackled some changes, starting with one of her suggestions, and moving on from there. Draw some things out more, push some things back, remove two birds that were distractions, remove some red, add some other red, add some orange, warm up some trees with yellow, add a fish...

The important stuff. Click for a larger view.

Still not finished - not sure what's next, though. I'm happy this is stronger after this evening's effort. Removing the large green bird and darkening under the cat were strong helps. Changes in the upper right (as MLight suggested) helped bring that corner more into the picture, though there is only so much I can do there now. That corner had drawn her eye because it was so flat, before, and not united with the rest.

Listening to Jimmy Eat World's album Futures - one of the songs was on last night's soundtrack, and it stood out.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009


Monday I left in the dark for an overnight trip to one of our offices. I had to deliver the news that one of my team member's position was being cut due to our merging with another group. I've known for weeks, of course, and I've been suppressing all sorts of emotions trying to keep my dread at bay. I would rather cut myself open and bleed rather than deliver bad news.

Just before sunrise I was coming out of a rest stop. Over the trees was the biggest moon I have ever seen. Emotion welled up and threatened to drown me, but I got it back under control and got back in my car.

This morning I arrived at work quite jittery. I had slept badly, my heart was pounding, and my hands were shaky. When the employee arrived for the 1-on-1 meeting I'd scheduled, I had to make small talk for five minutes before the HR person arrived. She had taken Monday off to be on the beach for her birthday, and she said the moon is as close to earth as it ever gets, and it was incredibly beautiful. Badly shaken inside, but still outwardly in control of myself when the HR guy came in, I delivered the required short speech and left according to policy. I could see the employee was shocked - she turned startlingly pale - but then she was as professional as anyone I've ever seen in this difficult situation. I admired her poise, I was numb, I have no idea how I looked. I got through it, knowing that as hard as that had been for me, it was harder for her.

I had some carefully planned meetings and conversations with other employees affected by the changes, but for everyone else it was just changes of management, not loss of a job. Those conversations were also emotional and complicated, but they all went well. I have a change of boss, as well, but it's one I've expected and hoped for for almost a year.

I could feel emotions gradually coming back on line all morning. It was like a caffeine buzz. My new boss called me around noon to see how I was doing. He knew how hard the morning had been for me - he had no other purpose for the call. "If this ever gets easy for you," he said, "You need to go see a psychiatrist." Later that afternoon, when I saw him in person, my emotions were in full swing, and like a ball held deep in a swimming pool, they now shot way up into the air. I deliberately gave them some free reign, as I'm doing now, to say some things that need saying. I told him that I was eager to work for him for two reasons. First, because he knows what the hell he's doing. And second, because he cares about people - some of the directors he brought in have worked for him before, and one, in particular would follow him into a lion's den. I told him I saw that and appreciated that, and the phone call he'd made to me earlier was typical, and I was grateful for it. He's a quiet man - he laughed out loud and thanked me heartily.

On the way home this evening I stopped on the road to call the employee I'd let go. I asked how she was doing. She was OK - feeling like she'd been kicked in the stomach, she said, but OK. I told her that the morning had been so difficult that I had stuck to the corporate speech, but I regretted that I had not then told her how incredibly grateful I had been for her years of hard work, and her heartfelt devotion to the company, to the team, to her product. And that I wanted to help in any way I could with her next opportunity. She said this made her feel better - she was really glad I'd called.

I stopped to eat at an Applebees on the way home, to wait out the daily traffic jams in one part of the route. I had a waitress who also had a trainee with her. They were both quick to look right in my eyes, and to smile. I probably smiled hugely back, because the trainee, who was on her last day of training, and handled me more or less alone after the initial introductions, smiled more and more each time she checked on me. I read (as I like to do when I eat out alone) and relaxed and thoroughly enjoyed my dinner, and even had a chocolate dessert - a rarity for me. The waitress, when she brought my bill, gave me a particularly unguarded smile and said she hoped I'd enjoyed the meal. I said, "I did, and I enjoyed you, your service, very much." She positively lit up. I left a large tip.

At the table beside me was a young couple, and I'd unobtrusively enjoyed watching them throughout my dinner. The young lady was beautiful, guileless in her laughter, and so unaware of her charm. She glowed with pleasure to be in conversation with the young man. He was good looking, pleasantly well muscled, relaxed, quietly confident as only the unhurt can be, and also charmingly unaware of his beauty. He had eyes only for her. As I was leaving I wanted to step up to them and say, "You, sweet lady, are enchanting. And you, young man, seem gentle enough and attentive enough to deserve her. While you will not always look as beautiful as you do now, you can see each other this way for the rest of your lives, if you love each other enough."

Because this is how I see my Dearest. She and I both are growing older and more interesting to look at, but when we are really seeing each other we are as radiantly young as when we first met, when we first fell in love. Every time we get really close in conversation, and every time we make love, all this light pours out, and it feels like another stitch is taken, sewing us closer and closer together, the connection now running for miles and years. Time has made the bond quieter and more intense at once, with some of our unions being so powerful I can hardly breathe. I lie in bed with her sleeping in my arms, and my heart shouts silently to God my amazement and my ferocious flying joy. I wanted to tell this young couple what their young love can become, how huge and potent it can be. How it can burn the world down in one minute and renew it in the next.

On the remaining long drive home I was listening to the CD I'd thrown together and burned for this trip - the CD I'd heard now for over seven hours of driving, and which was full of emotional songs that kept me alive on the way down, and now sent me reeling on the way back. For the last leg of the journey I turned east on I-40, and the moon rose enormous and orange over the distant horizon. I cried out to God with my surprise, and with all the suppressed emotions of the last two weeks, and with wonder and awe that our planet is made this way. I thought again of the lady who had reacted with courage and grace to the bad news this morning, and who was warm hearted enough to care about me and how it had been for me when we spoke on the phone later. I was overwhelmed with how wonderfully WE are made, and how powerful we can be for each other.

And I realized that feeling these things, and reacting to the world around me with art and tears and loud laughter and gentle quiet makes me feel more manly than anything else I do. I know how little I felt that way when I was in my teens and early twenties, and it dawned on me (again) that I have become this man in particular by watching my reflection in the eyes of my Dearest. It made me love her all over again.

Sunday, January 11, 2009


I may fiddle with this a little, but it's mostly finished. I've had much of the day to work on it. Daughter drove Dearest to church. Dearest had been asked to sing with the first sopranos, and had practiced today's anthem all week, so she was determined to get there. But she was just as determined to have me paint all morning. So they had their first drive together (I've been teaching Daughter to drive) out of our little town. Church is in the larger little city of Chapel Hill.

Since so much was done to ensure I could paint, I concentrated on it - not moving from in front of this painting for the three hours they were gone. I was a bit stiff when they got home...

This comes closer than I have before. I guess this idea will keep coming up. Click the image for a larger view.

>>>> Appendix de Grenouille <<<<

Some things cannot be returned to the bottle. When once I had sampled a mayfly I was forever ruined for midges. After the first kiss of a mademoiselle grenouille, I will forever want more.

Etienne says the ladies did him the same way, when he was five. And since then he is fascinated with the femmes, and he was looking for his Dearest. Though years passed, he was not able to forget the looking. And now that he has her he still feels he cannot ever have enough of her; the desire cannot be returned to the bottle. He would not wish it any other way.

And the painting is the same for him now - it is all the way out of the bottle. Inside the vessel is only a trace of the perfume of the arts - the rest is all in the air around his head, and in his nose and on his tongue. It goes with him everywhere, he is not ever rid of it. This feels well and it feels strange, like having the scent of wintergreen or balsam fir mixed into everything else. Wine with eucalyptus. Cinnamon toast with camphor. All the daily pleasures and daily scenes are overlaid with this incense of the fantastic.

What is out of the bottle for you? What surrounds you like a perfume and when was it released?

Au revoir,


Saturday, January 10, 2009

Flight - Continued

Youngest's birthday today (ten) and Oldest started his second cold of 2009, so we had a bit of a scramble finishing things for the birthday party without him. Oldest had drawn a big parachute for the "pin the ____ on the ____" that happens at every party, but the paratroopers weren't drawn yet. And we had some items to pick up at the store. And there were balloons to blow up and streamers to put up (Daughter did that - she was not feeling great either, having the same cold that Oldest came down with, but in recovery), and a treasure hunt with multiple clues to create and hide, and...

So I didn't get to painting until much later than planned, and I only did a few hours today. Here's the result so far. Lots to go.

The highlight of my day was that Dearest's knee was recovered enough that we took a walk - the first in four weeks that covered more than our little street and a bit of another. We walked over a mile and a half, and did some of our favorite streets. It was a gorgeous day, and about 60 degrees. Deep blue sky to the north, light on the trees, bright sunshine. We made a point of taking the walk, no matter what still remained of the party preparation. I have missed the walks terribly. It was a hunger like the one I get if I don't paint, only it felt more like a thirst. I had missed the conversation we have in the rhythm of the walking, the way we compare notes on things, share feelings, catch up. It felt so good it got me through the rest of the day, including the party, in a really good mood.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Playing with Stones - Flight

OK - I said I would be away a while and then I post these posts... Thing is I won't be able to tell you when I'm under water at work, so I forewarned you.

Anyway - tonight I played for a while with the watercolor I started a week ago. I was working on it with my favorite neon Prismacolors, just reacting to the colors and playing games with contrasting and analogous colors. This has a long way to go, but I can work on it in little snatches of time - handy right now.

Then I decided to play. Sometimes I arrange elements in my drawings by casting pebbles. I have seven of them from the Atlantic coast of NC on my desk, and I cast them like knuckle bones, foretelling the future of my drawing. Today I just drew lines from the edge to the stones. Then I cast again and drew more. The results accumulated. Click on the images to see them larger - I blew up the contrast, so you can hopefully see the pencil lines.

Here are two shots - the first one was taken after one cast, so you can see what I was doing to start with. Eventually I started sweeping the pencil around the stones, as well. Cast and draw. Cast and draw. Even if the stones left the board and were out on the table, I drew something for them. I cast some with my eyes closed - those were often the best ones. So this second drawing is after a number of casts (though not after all of them).

Once there were plenty of lines all over, I started seeing trees and spaces between trees, and editing them. Adding lines, erasing lines, working fast - too fast to overthink it. I was building a forest, so I could tackle a theme that recurs for me - birds rising in a copse. And I also wanted to play with shattered light and broken zones of color, like I did in Spring, the Green Phoenix, which a friend in Winston-Salem bought and has hanging in her guest room. I am more confident in many ways than I was when I painted that, and I am interested to see how that place in my heart looks now with a stronger brush and brighter colors. Can I keep it together, or will it spin out of control like a sled full of laughing kids going down a snowy hill too fast? Here is a partially edited version of the drawing, with the start of trees emerging. The little curving disturbances were where the birds wanted to go.

And then I realized that the lower left was where the cat was that was causing the flight and all the avian ruckus. I'm looking forward to painting this over the weekend, maybe. There are beams of light all over this, illuminating different things (including the cat's face).

My family, knowing I have some tough weeks ahead at work, have taken all of my usual chores from me for the next few weeks. They've also taken on the preparation for Youngest's birthday party tomorrow. He went to bed a single digit, but will rise a double digit kid. He came to say goodnight and gleefully told me that...

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Life Drawing - Twenty Two Years Later

When I was originally in art school I dreaded figure drawing class. I was nervous about the nude model (I got used to that - though I never felt even the slightest sexual stirrings, no matter how lovely the model - too many other fears). I had no idea how to draw something so complex, and so beautiful. I was overwhelmed by the amount of information I had to process. My left brain took over and did sticks and straight lines and over simplifications and horrors for proportions.

So when I went to the life drawing studio at a local arts center with Oldest this evening, I was mildly apprehensive. I was afraid it would be just like it was in college. I've actually been having college flashbacks all week. I had been meaning to go ever since I found out about it, and after seeing my first sample of The Pagan Shpinx's Friday Nudes. Probably four months ago. But one thing and another got in the way (conveniently?). So I never had gotten to it.

But now Oldest is preparing his portfolio for the School of Art and Design at NCSU, and he hadn't done any figure drawing yet. So we both went this evening. The model was supposed to be a male, which didn't thrill me (I'm just not as interested in the male body - I wonder why...) but we arrived and it was a lovely, curvy young lady who had not modeled for this group before. She posed beautifully and imaginatively - several commented on it afterwards, and I will be calling the director tomorrow to say we would like her back sometime soon.

The first poses were four two minute warm-ups, and then four five minute warm-ups, then two ten minute poses. You don't get to see those. They were like the bad old days. But it didn't bother me - no professor coming up behind me, etc. - I just drew and got into the beauty of the young person before me, and by the last warm-up drawing I was finally getting what my professors had been saying about tones, line quality, and SEEING. My right brain was gaining control. Then, after a short break, I put a big arm chair on the platform for her, some other artists (regulars) lit some lights which were behind her, from my position, and we did three twenty minute poses. And things came together for me and I drew. This is how the best drawings in college came out - maybe one in two or three classes. I had three in a row tonight. It felt incredible. And I could see, no suprise, that Oldest had several drawings which he could be comfortable putting in his portfolio. We hope to go again next week - last chance before the portfolio interview.

He really got into it, as did I, when we switched (for the long poses) from the light newsprint and one color of pastel, to the medium toned paper and the two colors (one for darks, one for highlights). He loved that way of working, especially given the strong lighting we had on the figure for those three poses. And so did I. I had a great time doing this - the beauty of the experience, of seeing the human body that deeply and enjoying the lovely details that reveal the bones or show the soft flesh, was a bit intoxicating. And with the medium toned paper you get to concetrate on the exciting highs and lows.

And I suddenly understand why some artists always draw or paint the human figure.

These are all 18 x 24. They were drawn standing at an easel (Oldest also insisted on this, though tables were available and several of the other artists used them). They were all finished in twenty minutes or less. The time limit also tends to clear the head - keeps you focused - scares away the left brain - and it's merciful for the model.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Not Posting Much... A Chorus Line

Day job and other events consuming much of my time and energy these next few weeks - can't be helped, and it's mostly exciting stuff, and creative, too - but nothing I could post here. So you may not see much of me here or on your blogs these next two weeks - participation will be spotty indeed.

Last night was consumed with going to see a Broadway touring company do the revival of A Chorus Line. What a terrific show. Dearest and I saw it back around 1980, but a small touring group, not Broadway level like this. Strong dancing, great acting and singing, very moving performance - particularly for Daughter, who is a dancer. I spent much of the evening with tears streaming down my face, or on the edge of my seat for those characters. Artists - all of them - in different ways, but recognizable to me.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Artwork - Cobwebs and Argiopes

I have spent the last two days on other things - and not on art... Well, actually I DID spend this evening on art, but my oldest's art, not mine. He is applying to the NCSU School of Art and Design (he's accepted at NCSU, but there is a separate process for Art and Design) and in a few weeks he has a portfolio interview. We were looking over his art from the last few years and discussing what pieces stand out and why. The decisions and the portfolio are his to make - but as his art teacher (we home school) I'm doing some mentoring. I also gave him a crash course on my watercolor setup, how the paints behave, the half a dozen most important things to remember when handling these tools, and invited him to tackle something on one of the 19x19 pages I have stretched and waiting. He wasn't sure he wanted to use my best brush - but maybe my second best... It's been a long time since he tried paint (he prefers the precision of pencils and ink) but he quickly gains some form of mastery of nearly any medium - art is created with the brain, the materials can be anything at hand.

So tonight I offer something I wrote but didn't post back in October...

In the mountains autumn sent us several days of blowing mist. If the day is gentle enough, every surface will collect these tiny droplets. I've returned with every hair of my beard, mustache, eyebrows, and eyelashes jeweled, and if I was wearing my beret ("a raspberry beret - the kind you get from a secondhand store") it would also be seeded with these tiny pearls.

We rarely have misty days at home. On Sunday drives to church down Old Eighty Six, there are long stretches where the phone and electrical lines spoon from pole to pole, just several feet apart. The large red spiders (with the black and white striped stocking legs) make webs at regular intervals, and these days reveal a quarter mile of arachnid construction, as evenly spaced as homes in a subdivision, or like postage stamps in the rolls of a hundred my mother used to buy when we were kids.

Our most spectacular autumn weaver is the garden Argiope, or Black and Yellow Garden Spider. I took this photo in the mountains, but we have one every year somewhere in our extensive flower beds. This year ours was in the Joe Pye Weed of the bed we call Australia. They make this stitch down the center of the web, and usually sit in the center of the web, with their legs in pairs, so they look like an "X." I have read that this combination of things makes them invisible to birds.

Sunday, January 4, 2009


Trees amaze and inspire me regularly. I have spoken to trees, and deliberately spent time with particular trees. I've grieved and wept over the loss of certain trees. I'm deeply moved by their silhouettes. I'm excited by their movements in the wind.

The picture above is of the dominant tree on our lot; it's behind our house and more than twice as tall. We told the construction people that if they damaged that tree we would not close on the house. They spray painted neon orange all over the multiple trunks and erected police tape around it - something we never saw them do on any other lot.

And here, from yesterday's walk in Duke Gardens, is the base of a cypress that has a whole collection of what many people call "cypress knees."

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Sisu, Gardens, Watercolor Starts

Sisu is a Finnish word. It's not easy to translate - it's a kind of stubbornness, an ability to stick with things until they are done, regardless of the difficulty, a drive to see things through. In Dearest's father's case (and in her case) this manifests itself as unusually strong drive to push through sporting events, hikes, etc. Dearest's father played tennis until he got tennis elbow. So he taught himself to play with this left hand, and played until he get tennis elbow in that arm, too. Gritting your teeth, smiling, saying you're "Fine," and going on to do what you want might be common in many cultures, but it has a certain look in Finnish.

So I recognized some of this in Dearest's insistence that we walk in Duke Gardens today. For anyone tuning in for the first time, she had arthoscopic knee surgery a few weeks ago, and has been gradually getting back to walking normally. She's also a bit anemic. So Duke Gardens was a big challenge. She brought her camera, to document her trek (see her post of this adventure, here - I love that we both have blogs), and she walked in with a huge grin on her face. A Finnish grin. I brought my camera, too. The first shot, above, is of our shadows, enjoying the incredible light, which was so welcome after so many gloomy days in the last three weeks. One of the things we love about NC is the 250 sunny days a year (as opposed to Michigan or NY, where we were born and grew up - where there are 250 cloudy days). This next shot is into the sun, not ideal photography, but it catches some of the golden quality of the day.

Duke Gardens are lovely in any season, because they have beautiful bones. The lay of the land itself is pleasing, but the trees, walks, walls, bridges, terracing, stairs, and other features make this a garden even if there weren't a flower in sight. But, of course, being NC there were at least some quiet blooms. Pansies, winter jasmine, camellias, creeping phlox, a daffodil (so early!) and even some pinks were blooming in the formal section.

Dearest went much farther into the gardens than I expected, and we walked around for the better part of an hour, with only about ten minutes of sitting. Up to now she hadn't done even fifteen minutes at a stretch. Gardens, aerobics, hikes, our children - they all bring out her Sisu.

This afternoon I did some painting prep and then some watercolor. Here are two sheets doused with a hose outside (boards, too) waiting for the three minute flip (when they are re-doused and then twenty minutes later stapled down). These are 22 x 22 - and I've already drawn the 19 x 19 squares that are the largest square I can get out of them leaving enough room for stretching and tape.

Here is a small watercolor ( approx. 7 x 9) that I started back at Christmas, based loosely on the shapes in a painting by Fra Angelico of a Madonna (yellow arches, red arch, blue stair sides, and some blue of the Virgin's garment). It moved beyond that today as I added a lot of red (looks orange on my monitor...) and aqua. I haven't looked at this for possibilities yet - that's tomorrow, and it may be too early, anyway. I've been working this way (paint first, then find what it will be) since Linda got me started on it. And I read this morning in my Nolde book that he worked the same way - paint on the paper first, react purely to the colors, see what emerges, then help it along from there. He called it painting without his brain - I think he meant what we now call painting with the right hemisphere (the right side of the brain, not the left). I was overjoyed to read that his gorgeous watercolors (1300 of them done in secret under Nazi prohibition!) were created in a way that at least sounds similar to what I'm learning.

And finally, this is one of the 19 x 19 squares, before I tape it (I always tape first, before painting). Today, though, I wanted to work on the just stretched surface while the paper was still damp. This composition is based on a landscape photo, but I don't intend for it to stay as a landscape. Starting with drawing or painting from one type of photo (or several) and then pushing the image (maybe after rotating it) into something else is one way I get surprise working for me. It keeps me from falling into my usual very dull compositional ruts.

I'm already emotionally into this image. About half way through the hour or so I worked on it I was hooked.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Coming Home - Some More - Red Bird

So with all of Linda's revisions of Landscape in Red (1, 2, 3), I had to look again at Coming Home. I was not totally happy with the bird. I realized I wanted him to be more red. And while I was at it, there were some green, blue, and other things to do, especially in the lower far left, where the light shape was stronger than I wanted (aiding visual exit from the picture plane, something I try to avoid). And I wanted to emphasize more of the positive and negative bars from the sky down to the roof tops. So here it is after those revisions.

But I made the bird too red - under the wing - and so I had to paint him yet again. Done now? I don't know.

And I just realized that he's probably another manifestation of Virgil Tangelo. When I look at him and ask I hear a silent laugh. Are all of my paintings self portraits? And why is my alter ego a redhead?

>>>> Appendix de Grenouille <<<< For Noel Etienne's cheri gave him a lizard. A lizard tres tres rouge. I am revealing to him the ropes, as Etienne puts it. For instance, how to stay up on this shelf without falling off, and how to get attention so more photos will be taken. Today the bird in the painting was making red the prima donna color (oui, perhaps rouge is always the prima donna) and this got the lizard some attention simple. Eventually he may even have a name, but that was twenty years for moi. Etienne may have removable teeth prior (I will, of course, retain both of mine - firestone is eternal).

And I should, perhaps, introduce the Dunny Francois. He is a Dunny series quatre, of the French special editions. Voila, he is exactimonde the Dunny 4 French that Etienne most desired, and the only one he received (Noel, last year). He even has his baguette and vin rouge, his beret noir, and the nez rouge of the Frenchman epicure. Now I understand Etienne has stashed four boxes with Dunny series cinque. He is being tantalized, he says, enjoying resisting the urge to open the boxes. He thought of opening one today, when he got home from work, but he resisted. So there are still four to anticipate. I foretell he will open the first only when the temptation wanes.

And that glass between the lizard and the Dunny is a toy from the days of the queen of Angleterre called Victoria. One fills it with deliciously detailed small objects (Etienne chose some intricate trres petit sea shells) and you agitate them gently, look, agitate encore and look encore. Oui, exciting, no? Actually, Etienne has given me a glimpse, and it makes me wonder how I would appear from inside the glass. Le Grenouille Tres Grand! Terror to bullfrogs Americain!

Even un petit grenouille tres confiant (c'est moi) may amuse himself with dreams.

Au revoir,


Thursday, January 1, 2009

Sandman - Post 1

Linda has been gently after me to show this canvas I've had going for over nine months. Some things take longer to incubate. And some of it's just laziness on my part - I have a lot of work to do before I can get to the next plainly fun part (the fun will be with the paintbrush again). I have to finish the research and drawing of the buildings. And I haven't rushed that because I've been choosy about the houses and placement... So that brings me back to incubation, rather than laziness.

This is 30 x 30 - a bit large for me. And I hadn't really been interested in showing it until I was more certain of its direction. But with Linda's coaxing I think I see that I might do better now to have it out and thus a little more motivation to work on it and finish it. Glee 1 could also have taken months if I hadn't been showing it every week or so. I think Creative Every Day 2009 will also help keep things moving on this piece, as well as others.

Here is the Sandman, in a detail from the top of the canvas (click any image for a larger view). He's done; this is not the art school way to work a painting, for sure - more on that below. The story in this painting is that the Sandman is showing the image of these buildings on his cloak. So I have to figure out how I'm going to do the cloak part, besides the contour of his long muscular arm at the top. The buildings will be jumbled with images of figures, in arches, on sides of buildings, etc. (more research and drawing). They'll be doing various things.

The hand, out of sight already on the right, was sprinkling that famous sand - the yellow line I drew on this third image will be where I paint in the falling sand crystals/dust. Above the line, where it's already fallen past, the color scheme will be cooler and darker, and the people will all be asleep or sleepy. Below the line, where it hasn't fallen yet, the colors will be warmer and lighter, and the people will still be active and awake.

As for the art school approach - I'm really just grinning about that. I sometimes work up a surface as I was taught, but in this case I needed the Sandman done before the rest could happen. He's inspiring the rest, dreaming and speaking it into being for me - and he's also where I set the bar for this piece; the rest has to be as good as he is, which is some of the best I've done in acrylic. And the drawing has to be up to snuff, too - hence the careful work so far, which will get even more careful when I start to fiddle with the figures. And I might need to wait for a few life drawing sessions to get me back into figure drawing before I'm ready to tackle them. I might even need the figures to come from the life drawing sketches. I just don't know. I'm not rushing this - seeing how far I can push myself to make this as strong and rich as possible.

So now that I've let this cat out of the bag (thank you, Linda), what do you all think?

Doodle - New Years Eve Hangover

I started this watercolor over a week ago, and waited until it became something to bother posting it. So here it is from the first stage (still wet, even). Then I edited out some things with white acrylic (next image). Then I dropped in some black ink and some orange pencil (third image). Finally, after looking at it for a week and seeing nothing inspiring, I realized one of the things it seemed like was a sky at sunset. The final piece is not very original (fourth image), but it was a fun few hours and a good warm up for a New Year's Day when I have a mild hangover. I was inspired somewhat by our trip to France (Provence) many years ago - but also, I think, by Jul in Munich's Tuscan paintings. And I think the colorful hill and sky has to have been influenced by Linda's Landscape in Red, a recent painting with the barns and sheep. Though her painting is more bright and clear than this doodle of mine.

We had a progressive dinner party last night on our incredible street. We did this last year, as well - we progress from house to house (change every 30 minutes), with each house serving some interesting kind of appetizer and a well paired wine (or two - or three - or...). We call it the progressive dinner party without dinner.

So we did five houses last night, starting with the Zinfandel/Merlot house with spanikopita, several delicious cheeses, asian pear, etc., and through several others (toasts with cheeses and scallions (with or without cayenne) vegetables and dip with a cabernet and Fat Bastard, mushroom dip on French bread and a white Burgundy, etc.) until we got to the house with the chocolate fountain, another good red, and also a muscato and a prosecco. At each house we were a little louder, there was a little more laughter, and people were less inhibited in conversation. By the last house (next door to us - belonging to Alex and his lovely wife, who organized this affair - their son is Youngest's best friend) things were in full swing. Alex has a pool table dominating his livingroom, and we played pool and talked and laughed. The idea was to stay there until the New Year. Upstairs the big bonus room was full of kids from six or seven households.

Dearest joined the party for the middle, because that's all her knee was up for. Daughter had come with me for the whole thing, and tried each of the wines from my glass. She stayed for the entire thing, one of the last six adults at the party (and our neighbors treat her like an adult, which surprises and delights her, since she's 16), and she brought her younger brother home with her, because I left around 10:30 to check on Dearest and to see if the PC was virus free after the last sweep I had left running. Success! That's when I posted a few comments last night. I fully intended to go right back over to the party.

But then I started to feel dizzy, as much from the rough night I'd had before (starting virus sweeps and then sleeping a little all night long) and from muscle tension in my neck. But the accumulated wine sampling had added up to about three glasses, which is a lot for me, and that didn't help. So I went to bed around 11:00. If I didn't move it was bearable.

Today I feel relaxed, but a bit low, and slightly headachey. Not sure if that's the wine, the neck tension, the "day after the day after" a lost night of sleep, or all of the above.

So today's creative offering feels formulaic to me - not much mental or emotional effort in this one. But it was fun to play with. And it has some nice passages in it.