Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Green Hound

Perhaps a color sweet tooth is not the best judge of color during the darkest days of the winter. Sometimes when I paint in December I feel like someone who would put a pound of butter on their mashed potatoes. Yellow and Orange are my particular favorites this season (orange always is - and French Ultramarine).

This painting is about green. And frolic. And sun. And really really green.

Too green? Part of me thinks so, and the rest of me grins crookedly and won't paint over the green. I also like the freshness of this, and I would hate to spoil it.

But what do you think? I might still tinker with it. Watercolor on Arches hot press - 19 x 19 inches. Click the image for a slightly larger view.

It was good to visit this place, regardless of how the painting is or isn't. I felt high up, bathed in sun, and hearing the sea. I got to be there for four or five hours this weekend and Monday evening. I could hear the quiet sounds of the stupid sheep. This time I invited them - I needed them for scale and composition.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

A Little Doodling

Over the last few weeks I had painted without plan on a few small pieces of watercolor paper. This was the result of one - and by the time I thought to photograph it I had already decided to pull goldfish out of the background, and started with white charcoal. It gave me a good reason to spend some time browsing the web for photos of goldfish, especially "fancies." Click on images to see them larger.

This is the final result - white charcoal, more watercolor, a little black ink, some prismacolors. It's about 10 x 14. I think the dark one is my favorite.

Saturday, November 14, 2009


This post was written immediately after our October trip, but held until now...

This piece is much simpler than the last. It came more effortlessly, like a simple sketch. It involves memories of another trip to this same place, several years ago, where a sunlight line of goldenrod near Beacon Heights stuck in my memory.

I realized I hadn't looked at goldenrod closely enough to draw it from memory. So I had to get a stalk. Out on a late afternoon photographing trek with just Dearest (the rest of the family skipped that hike), I forgot about my need because she was finally really getting into her new camera, and getting some results that pleased her. We ended up alone on a dirt road, in a freezing wind, where I'd carried her tri-pod so she could experiment with it for the first time on a late sunset. Everything was blue and purple and darkening all around us, and we were watching the sky change colors over the big shape of Grandfather Mountain on the horizon.

On the way back to the car, in the dark, I found a stalk of goldenrod just as I needed it, on the edge of the road. Like it was being held out to me...

I realized after this composition appeared on the page that the leaves are Dearest and I. We're even holding hands.

This image plays with a few things that tickled me and wanted to get out on the page. One is the long red stems of the maple leaves. Another is the curve within the square that I keep coming back to with the same kind of enjoyment I feel when I see certain curves on Dearest. Another is the simple asymmetry of the goldenrod, different from most other flowers in that regard, and the lovely play of the bent leaves. And then there is the yellow on the French Ultramarine... Like the French Provence fabric we used for the curtains in the brightest room in our house.

Watercolor on 140 lb. hot press Arches. 19 by 19 inches.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

The Leaf

One of the paintings I did on vacation was a struggle. At first the colors were all over and totally out of control (some might say they're still out of control, but they're now where I want them to be). I hated the composition (it was going to be something completely different than what it is now). This went on for several days. I barged out of our rented house at one point to come up for air, feeling like it's tentacles were around my throat instead of my hands around it. I wanted to run it under the hose - I almost did. I was having a good time. I was feeling very alive.

The leaves on the ground, out there during my break, were amazing. Every one uniquely flawed and with the sweeping lines of their veins and edges accentuated by the changed colors and the movement in the wind. I always notice fallen leaves - I still pick up hands full every autumn. This was nothing new (and it's always new). But this time the leaves echoed with the painting. I carried several back into the house. Then I saw how one should be overlaid on the diabolical mess the page had become to that point. I drew and redrew the leaf to get it how I wanted it in the square, and to get the asymmetry and the veining correct, so it said "Sugar Maple" and not something else. One or two small sections seemed to make sense and I could gradually expand the order into the chaos until the whole thing finally got where I wanted it. The negative and positive spaces got pleasantly crossed and slightly ambiguous, like the flickering light of autumn under trees in the wind.

I was totally lost in the doing of this.

I set it aside, finished, I thought. Then several days later I reversed the negative/positive play of foreground and background of a significant section of it, improving it.

As I remarked later, to Dearest, I could paint more of these, and I know they'd sell (this one will have a higher price on my website than others). But this isn't where I want to spend the time yet. It's nowhere near big enough or interesting enough. I'm still looking for that. I'm still looking for the answer to, "What do you want to paint?"

19 x 19 inches - watercolor and white charcoal on hot press Arches 140 lb.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Painting in the Mountains

We packed a lot into our two week vacation in the mountains. A lot of walking in beautiful places. I had less time for painting than I hoped, but I think I relaxed more deeply because it was more of a break from everything usual.

I did paint four pieces. These two were smaller, and faster. They were like warm-ups after not painting for several months. The other two are larger and each will have its own post.

Both began with random blind contour drawings and then "found" themselves. My surroundings affected all four paintings - certainly for content.

The first is watercolor on cold press paper (not my favorite - I don't care for the texture) = about 7 by 10 inches.

The second (with the bird) is watercolor with a little white charcoal, on hot press - about 10 by 14 inches. One of the things I "eat up" while in the Blue Ridge Mountains is the way the wild and the tame (woods and field) are arranged over the land, and the feeling of being up over everything. This latter piece captures a little of that - and my longing to break free and soar out over it instead of being earth bound beside the trees.

Neither of these pieces are as free as I want. I wasn't as engaged as I wanted to be. But what do I expect after neglecting my brushes for several months...

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Roofs and Birds

Been on the road a lot lately. In Minneapolis' airport (the only part of Minnesota I've seen yet) I worked through a few hour layover. This was my "office" away from my office. The bookstore in the background was a temptation, but I resisted and stuck with the powerpoint project I was finishing up. Not exciting, but I feel better having it out of the way.

I had a quiet weekend with family and my paintbrushes. This was the visible result.

I also updated my gallery - got the most recent pieces out there, including this one.

I've been listening to Frou Frou's album, Details. I like it a lot, which surprises Daughter because it borders on Techno, and that's not usually my thing.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Tiny Frogs

Last weekend we went to Duke Gardens to wander and take photos. This small fountain, planted in papyrus and lotus, had lots of possibilities, and I took a number of shots.

But it soon became about the tiny tree frog which Oldest discovered on a papyrus plant. Then we found another. So I looked further and found two more in that same small fountain garden, one golden colored, instead of green. They were each just a little over half an inch long. Soon we had other passers by stopping to see what we were seeing, and we had fun watching their faces as they finally spotted the frogs.


Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The Last Pie of Summer

A pie was requested - chicken, mirepoix, ricotta, garlic, salt, pepper, basil, and sage. It's either the first pie of autumn, or the last pie of summer...

or both.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

All the Black Roll-ons Look the Same

I have been flying more lately (not my favorite, but I'm getting almost used to it). On a recent trip home, arriving around midnight, I stood at bag claim and watched all the luggage. Half the bags looked enough like mine that I had to look at every one carefully. Inevitably they come out on the belt upside down. From that view my own bag looks unfamiliar.

I had tied some yellow yarn on one side of the top handle, and I do spot it that way, but it's too subtle for midnight grouchiness. If I'd been a comic strip at that point the thought balloons over my head would have been liberally sprinkled with strings of energetic symbols, like Sarge in Beetle Bailey. In the last frame of the strip I vowed to paint something on my suitcase so I would not be doing this again.

When I considered the job I realized part of the problem is that in the crush of bags I might see one or two of the six faces, but there would be no predicting which ones. The front, with the red Victorinox button, is the only one that I recognize, and it's the one I see least on luggage conveyors. So I knew I had to do something on five sides. And I'm seeing more of the Victorinox bags... I want to prevent a mix-up.

At first I considered some stenciled symbol that would be easily spotted from a bit of a distance, so I could, "Excuse me" through the human crush to the conveyor in time to grab my passing bag. But as I thought of the symbol, I couldn't come up with anything that interested me or seemed unique enough.

Oldest's various projects for Design school inspired me to push past such a mundane solution. I thought of Chinese dragons (lungs) twining around the bag - because I've always loved them, and because they are thin enough to work between all the leather and hard plastic caps, handles, and corner guards on the bag.

So here is the result. I only did two legs each, not the traditional four, due to space constraints. I had thought to do it in color, after underpainting in white to get brightness, but I liked the elegance of the black and white, and so I just brought out light and dark with repeated coats of the white. The bag material was challenging to paint on - it's a nice tough weave.

One lung is upright, the other is head downward as the bag is set on it's rollers. They're rivers and air creatures in Chinese lore, so rightside up is arbitrary, and having them twining all around the bag is what I was after. Some part of the dragons is visible on every side but the front.

Oldest asked me, before I started drawing them, how many toes I would put on them... I immediately replied that I would use the imperial five toed lungs. But on further consideration, I like the reserved status of the imperial dragon. And I prefer the four toed configuration aesthetically.

I know they will get scuffed, stained, and worn - that's just part of the story.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Where Did Summer Go?

I flew home this weekend, in the middle of a business trip, and then back out of town on Monday to continue it. First time I've left my car somewhere else and flown in and out of home, instead of the other way around with a rental car. It still has me feeling inside out somehow.

But mostly I feel like the summer vanished while I wasn't looking. Our oldest started college; the weather turned cooler and rainier; the crickets took over the insect chorus from the waning cicadas.

This weekend I painted this little piece - a reach back towards fading summer, end of childhood, the last pinky golden light of the day, wistful ends and exciting new starts, my favorite season of autumn. The landscape and creatures are jumbled as in my dreams. It took a few hours to start looking anything like I wanted, then it finally got in line. I had to get the pigments dark enough to make the light work. About 10.5 by 14 inches, watercolor. It was nice to see when I got in late this evening after over six hours of very steady driving. I was so eager to get home. I feel like I've been gone for weeks. I guess I sort-of have. I held Dearest for a long time when I got in the door. Youngest came out of his room and threw himself at me when he heard my voice. Life can be as sweetly lovely as the theme of this little painting.

Friday, August 21, 2009

The Palouse

I spent most of this week in Spokane - a town I love more every time I go. Possibly the town is basking in the reflected glow of the people I work with when I'm there. Possibly I've always been there in nice weather... Like the roads I saw in the Palouse, with signs at their starts that warned "Summer Road." I doubt I could handle the dark of an East Washington winter, but the two glowing trips I've made in the fall and now in August, have left an indelible impression of clear air, golden light, and a solid reality to the people and the place which I found hard to match anywhere else I've been. I'll write more about Spokane in another post.

On my last evening in Washington, after four days of hard travel and intense work, I was very tired. But I wanted to visit an area south of Spokane called the Palouse, a wheat growing area of rolling hills and small canyons. I called my Dearest to discuss my long made plan, but also how tired I was, and she provided the little boost I needed to go.

Just a thirty minute drive south on 195 and you leave the mountains and can see, off to the east, rolling golden hills, sweeping up onto the southern slopes of the ridge that hides the Spokane River Valley from this side. I was mesmerized by all the gold curves off in the distance. I abandonded the highway for the first real road heading east, cutting out through fields of wheat in various stages of harvest.

I've included some large shots (this one, and the one above, click to view larger), so you can view them too wide for the screen and can pan back and forth the way you must in reality. The place is too large to take in. I wanted to turn and turn to capture it all. I wanted eyes on all sides of my head so I could drink it all in at once, and SEE that I was surrounded on all sides by space and wheat and light. I could not open myself wide enough to let even a fraction of it in, though I tried for hours.

I wandered and got farther south and east into this beautiful place, mostly on dirt roads. Huge harvesters were raising clouds of dust as they slowly moved across fields that rolled up to the tall horizon. At one point I thought I was far enough off the road, taking photos, when a dull roar behind me turned out to be a harvester coming over the hill. I had to hurry and leave because it took the entire road and then some, and I was in the way. As busy as the people here are, and as hard as they work from first light to after sunset during harvest, I was sorry to delay them even twenty seconds.

The light was amazing. I had turned off the air conditioning and rolled down the windows as soon as I got off the highway. It was 90, but I wanted to feel and hear this place. I had brought water and I kept drinking... For three hours I meandered roads like Rattler Run, Spangle Road (I drove through Spangle), and many more without names. The white Malibu I was renting got thoroughly filthy from the dark dust; I grinned every time I got in and out; my clothes smelled of it; I could taste it on my tongue. The air was full of the smell of road and wheat, dry heat, late afternoon light, and the sound of grasshoppers and distant harvesting.

I called Dearest from a spot on the road where I found a wide shoulder to pull off. Green grass was growing on the slopes, and the road twisted provocatively away from me toward the northwest. Here are photos showing the road forward, and then back toward the car.

We talked for thirty minutes or so, as I walked up and down this hill, oblivious of the cloud of small flies that flew around my head, biting me. I was too enraptured by the light, and talking excitedly to my sweetheart. I only noticed the bites after I got back in the car.

I knew I had to start heading back when the sun dipped below the edge of the little valley I was in. I wandered back towards the slopes of the mountains, planning to cross the ridge in a different spot and come back into Spokane from the east. The last photo below was taken just after the sun set, from the edge of a road lined with daisies and mullein. I knelt in the soft silt so I could capture the foreground detail as well as the one long golden hill in the background, with the small, neat farm on the south side.

My post sundown wandering was done by watching the ridge on my left, and taking roads that looked likely. Elder Road looked like what I wanted, but it was closed. I passed through Rockford, and took 278 southeast, then crossed into Idaho onto Idaho route 58. Eventually I got on 195 north, because it said it went to Coeur d'Alene, and I knew that would get me to I-90 and back to Spokane. I got into Coeur d'Alene with enough light to see the lake, and then to walk the main street where all the pubs and restaurants are. I sat outside the Beacon and ate fish and chips thinking of Steve, the Kiwi on the team, who had just that afternoon nearly ordered chips forgetting that they wouldn't be fries... The fish was hot and delicious (black cod), the "chips" were OK. They weren't served with vinegar, though - tartar sauce, of course.

I was back to Spokane and in bed by 10:30. Now, back in NC, home and at my studio table, I can easily call up the sounds, sights, and taste of the Palouse, but the size and space remain beyond my grasp, and these photos are tiny fractured reminders, wondrous bits and pieces of a glorious late afternoon.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Out of My Bubble

It may seem obvious to the rest of you (but it's easy for me to forget somehow) that I can paint whatever I want. Within the limits of my talent and skills I can paint anything in any way I wish. But it's not that easy, to me. In my mind there seem to be all sorts of expectations and reasons crowding in around me, and the space is much smaller than you might think. Like what you can see in the light of a midnight campfire.

I'm unable to get beyond my small bubble of murky light. I'm afraid to trip over things in the dark further away. I don't want to get stung or bitten. I don't want to fall. I'm worried I won't be able to find my way back to the fireside. I'm afraid my nearest will not recognize me and their faces will reflect me a stranger.

Then events conspire to push back the boundaries or, better yet, the sun comes up for a bit and I can see further than usual. Further for me. I'm still oddly limited in what I will attempt, or in what I will imagine, but my reach is extended.

Yesterday I had a lot of pent up emotions, and it came to boil just as everyone else was leaving for a play. So I stormed around the house alone, moving furiously from one chore to another, moving things fast and slamming what was safe to slam, and cussing and snarling and enjoying it. And after about twenty minutes of that I felt surprisingly free to paint.

So I did this. And I worked on it some more today.

I don't always feel like I have a beard - my inner artist (when I catch glimpses of him) is clean shaven. And lately my eyebrows are getting crazier, reaching all over. I keep them trimmed, but I wonder what would happen if I let them go. So I thought of a self portrait with my facial hair gone wild, expressing more of me than I feel it does now.

19 x 19 Watercolor and a little white charcoal.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Summer - Home

We have spent this summer under the spell of the Muses.

Daughter has built pressure for months, unable to dance, recovering from a sprained ankle. That pressure was finally released this last week in an intense, week long, 12 hour per day camp of song and dance, called Next Stage. There were 26 numbers performed after just a week - nearly 100 kids, from fourth grade to rising college freshmen. It was inspiring. It was her first dance in over two months - she looked great, released back into her element.

My day work has been creative and full of the satisfaction of taking the right road, regardless of the risk. And my night work has bloomed into more painting, as I've realized that I MUST make time for it. Above is this weekend's effort (finished except for final twiddling), called Home. It looks nothing like anywhere I've actually lived, but it represents some of what I feel about my home, and the home my heart seeks and wants beyond the one I can see and touch. I am living half-phased in and out of reality and dream, present, past and future. That's the story of what I'm doing at work. That's where I paint. This piece is watercolor, acrylic, and white charcoal.

And the last two months have been full of preparation for the Orange Community Players production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. It's an Andrew Lloyd Weber musical we have not seen or heard before this, and I'm glad we waited, so we could experience it through our local director's eyes, and performed by our local band of actors. Dearest and Oldest were both in it. We saw it twice, and I captured a lot of it with my camera the second time.

And during this time I have had many evenings alone with Youngest, and we've both really enjoyed that. Lots of conversations, joint investigations on line, a first bike expedition together, and yo yoing. I intend to keep doing more of this - it's time.

There will be a quiet spell now, with some post event blues. I hope to keep right on into this new spurt of painting, but the others around me are going to wind down somewhat, and they have to adjust to being without projects for the moment. I hope they will have new ones to look forward to soon. Oldest starts college in just over two weeks - Daughter will get her license soon. We are on the edge of changes. It has been a potent, fruitful summer.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Obsessions and Yo Yos

I took a few days off because there is so much going on in our house. Two in a musical, another in a very intense dancing and singing camp. Both with performances Saturday - we will watch them one after the other, with a mad dash of 25 miles between. Should be a totally exhausting weekend.

But this week is what the summer has been about, for two of us, and the timing was not ours to control. And we're all glad to be doing this - it's just going to consume us completely. In a good way...

I took the days off to get some perspective on work projects, and to be able to help as much as possible with the logistics.

Several days ago Youngest and I were talking about yo yos. He has a cheap one that doesn't work, and another that is basically a plastic party favor. We looked up yo yos on line, because I was curious if the old Duncan Imperial was still made (my yo yo as a kid was a translucent orange-yellow Duncan Imperial). I was bemused and surprised to discover that, like bikes, yo yos have been completely re-engineered since I was kid. Bearings, weight rings, star and ring response systems, hybrid response systems, lots of discussions about mods, categories of play, off-string yo yos... The prices run from two dollars (the Duncan Imperial - strongly discouraged in reviews because it is so difficult to get it to behave consistently) to over four hundred. The average for high performance, competition yo yos seems to be around a hundred dollars. We spent a lot of time on the YoYoNation store site. We talked about yo yo models in the car coming and going to Daughter's camp, and she heard us go on and on. We wear her out, sometimes, the two of us.

On my day off yesterday I dropped Daughter off at her camp, and then drove to Chapel Hill. After three days, the yo yos would not get out of my mind. I finally realized I was being nudged to do something about it. It wasn't going to leave me.

With a shake of my head and a grin, I gave in and stopped at several stores, looking for the new breed of yo yos. I finally found them at Learning Express. They stocked several models of Yomega, in the Raider line-up. They had been fairly well reviewed. I bought a transaxle model for Youngest (more responsive - i.e. will return up the string more easily) and a bearing model for me (they can "sleep" at the end of the string longer, and then still return). They're $13-$15 yo yos. I can understand a price like that. Shame the yo yo that bit me on-line is over $40 and no longer seems to come in the colors I fell in love with (YoYoJam's Mini Motu - red and gold - above) - but these Yomega models will be fine.

So I went on to Davis Library, at UNC Chapel Hill, where I spent so many idle and productive hours in college, wandering the stacks. I automatically gravitated to the N section of the Library of Congress system - the sixth floor of Davis' eight. I discovered that my throw was still intact (like riding a bike, you never forget) and that the yo yo was sweet. I set up my camera and did about two dozen shots on timed delay before I finally got one with me, the yo yo, and the string, all in the shot. Then I spent an hour and a half reading a gorgeous volume of Vincent Van Gogh's letters to Emile Bernard, including beautiful reproductions of the paintings and drawings referenced in the letters. I got confirmation from Vincent, of several things I've been experiencing as a painter; I'll be able to let them be, now that I'm more certain where they lead. One of the things confirmed was that you must not ignore or deny the seemingly silly stuff. Play.

Later that evening, Youngest and I drove to pick up Daughter from camp. When we got to the parking lot, a little early, he was walking ahead of me between the cars. I pulled the yo yo quietly from my pocket and threw it - the lovely high sleeping hum made him turn around. He dropped his jaw. He had talked to me about yo yos several times in the last few days, also bitten, apparently. I said, "I found it in Chapel Hill. Yours is in the car." For the next ten minutes we played them on the grass waiting for Daughter to come out. She lost it when she saw us - laughed long and loud (her laugh, and Dearest's, are the music I love the most). Youngest has been working with his quite a bit since, trying to get the throw strong enough and straight enough to get a solid return. Right now he either throws straight OR fast enough. He's probably only completed a few returns, but he keeps at it. I love that he is breaking into something he can't do and yet he's still happily working at it. That's new since he turned 10 - and important.

But it's not just about him and sharing something with him (though that's a big part of the joy in this)...

My yo yo is in my pocket and it feels right there.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009


I walked from Georgetown to Virginia Avenue, and back towards the ever present Washington Monument. Then, to my right, I saw the Lincoln Memorial. I knew it was in the totally wrong direction for my walk back to the hotel, and that it was farther away than it looked, but I had to go pay my respects.

In the last block before the green circle that contains America’s finest nod to Greek architecture, I passed between many baseball diamonds. There, within a homerun hit of the Memorial, were teams of every race, ethnicity, and socio-economic background, playing America’s game. Up the hill from those softball teams is that famous statue of our saddest and possibly our most revered President, flanked by two of his most famous orations, both concentrated on the subject that burned in his heart every hour of his Presidency: the preservation of the union and the end of the conflict that made combatants and bitter enemies of the ancestors of some of the players outside on those baseball diamonds.

I read both of those speeches, and chuckled at the part of the Gettysburg Address where he says these words will not be remembered. And what if we were given an oration today like his Second Inaugural Address? Would we resonate with the ringing English? Would we be swayed by his quiet disbelief that some men feel entitled to get their bread by “the sweat of another man’s face”? Would we be moved by the humble submission to the will of God, and the determination to see the terrible thing through to the end as justice and the Almighty might require? I wonder.

I photographed where North Carolina’s stone is set on the top. We’re on the side, just around from the front. When I looked at the front of the Memorial, as I was leaving to walk back along the Mall and up 19 Street, back to Dupont Circle, I noticed that the stones are laid in the order of statehood, and for the 13 Colonies this meant the order of their ratification of the Constitution. I laughed, realizing that NC initially refused to ratify the document, causing them to be one of the last of the 13 to join, and losing them a spot on the front of the Memorial. But I grinned when I remembered why they refused. They would not agree until it included the Bill of Rights. I’m proud of my adopted home state, where I’ve lived nearly two thirds of my life - and I find it amusing that North Carolina shares that stone with the only other state where I’ve lived, the state of my birth, New York.

In New York I lived from age six to seventeen in the town of Gallatin, named for a French financier who helped get the new United States off to a good financial start. I was delighted, on my earlier walk in DC, to see this statue of Gallatin in a place of honor in front of the Treasury Department. The town in New York is too small to make most maps - it had one major intersection (a “T” with one stop sign) and an interchange on the Taconic State Parkway, where the sign mentions the road (Jackson Corners Rd) but not the town.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Painting Today

Maybe I should take my blood pressure after painting...

Here I am with Louise (the paint brush) dreaming on the newly stretched Arches hot press. It's actually quite cool on my cheek, and so soothing with all the possibilities. I used to dread a blank page, but now I love it. I like to run my hand over it a few times, savoring it like taking a deep breath over a bowl of some comforting, delicious soup before you put your spoon in it for the first time.

Here are Louise and Abner. Louise painted my Dad yesterday. Today it's Abner's turn. Abner is older than Louise - perhaps you can tell. I brought Louise into the scene about six months ago, when Abner was having a little trouble with finer lines and corners. But he's a perfect pal for the kind of painting I'm planning today.

I went back through my photos of trees and woods, looking for one that would strike me. This one did, and I let it run through me and out the pencil. Fast. No thinking. Trees, light, the slope, rocks, moss, leaves, sun pricking through, branches in the way... No words, though, just the feelings of the things, and leaving out the things that I wish I could look past or around.

And then I painted it the same way. Fast, without fussing over it. The last hour was slow, looking at it and adding or subtracting. It's close to finished, I think. But I may tinker with it a little more once I get away from it and come back again.

Saturday, July 25, 2009


This might be how I'll look in twenty years. Well, actually I doubt Dearest would let me shave off my beard, and I don't have the earlobe that comes down from my Dad's mother, but in other ways...

I made a number of discoveries recently, which led to this portrait.

First, I knew my blood pressure had been climbing a bit, and I do have a cuff to check it. So I went ahead and measured it last night and this morning early, after a good night's sleep and sitting quietly for five minutes before pumping and listening. 142 over 105. Those are not good numbers, I found out on the Mayo Clinic site. Those would be stage 2 hypertension. I'll be watching those number closely and making an appointment.

I realized that I've been working too hard and too constantly. It has contributed to the item above, I suspect. I like the work; I'm passionate about it; it matters a lot more than anything else I've done in my career. But balance...

I found an interesting piece of advice. It said, "Do what you're good at." Seems simple. Then it expanded on this, explaining that in the workplace most people spend a lot of time focused on the things they don't do well, trying to fix that part of their performance. Managers don't help, pointing out the weaknesses and bringing them up on performance reviews. (Actually my last three bosses all have let me do things my own way - I've been lucky, and they've been smart enough to know I work better and harder that way). No, the advice went on to say that if you have things you do exceptionally well, you should concentrate on THOSE and spend as little time as possible on the stuff you do poorly. I found this incredibly freeing. Due to some rearranging at our company, I'm covering four positions worth of responsibility at the moment (I'm hiring to help this). I juggle things as well as almost anyone I know, but I mourn and fret over the things I'm not getting to. Actually, though, some of the things I'm not getting to are things I don't do well, anyway - that's one reason they're at the bottom of the list. I feel a lot lighter now that I've set them down and walked away from them. I'm never going to get to them, and now I won't feel bad about that. At least until I pick them back up again from habit...

The museum trip in DC rekindled my desire to paint. It's just been sleeping a bit, never all that far from the surface. Today, after checking my blood pressure, it blew back over me like a balm. I knew I needed to paint as part of healthier living. The walks and trips to the farmer's market to buy lots more fresh fruit and vegetables, and eating less will also help - but painting is going to lower my pulse and help as much or more than changing my blood chemistry.

So today I stretched another piece of Arches hot press, and I will paint over two pieces that are stuck and which I don't want to paint, anyway. I have been bitten bad by that Vuillard painting I saw in DC, and it won't leave me alone. I feel like those cartoon characters that you see from the front, then they turn sideways and there is a small bulldog latched on to their butt like a bear trap. My bulldog has a collar and dog tag written in French. But it was fed on Hundertwasser and Redon, and Klimt, and Schielle, and it's fur is brightly colored, and it's eyes shine like flashlights. It's grinning with glee. So am I.

Today youngest is out playing with his friends, and the others in the house left at 1:00 to rehearse and work on scenery. I donned headphones, pulled out an Arches pad, opened up one of the photos I've been considering for a portrait, and spent three hours looking very carefully at my Dad.

Dad is a quiet man, with a peaceful face that shows his Magyar and English ancestors. To me, his face always seems ready to smile. He smiles often, though even his smiles are quiet, not usually showing his teeth. I think this is a better likeness of him than the photo from which I worked. That pleased me greatly - and encourages me to move on to other portraits.

Of course others might be harder - after all, this is as close as I can come to doing another self portrait...


After the first day of conference, all talked out from networking and steering lunch and break conversations to topics of interest to me and to the company that sent me, I took a long solitary walk from Dupont Circle to Georgetown, down P Street, and then up 31 and 32 Streets to Dumbarton Oaks. It was closed by then, though I would have loved to have seen the poplars in that garden, but I walked along the outside of the walls, to Wisconsin. Wisconsin is the retail heart of Georgetown.

On Wisconsin I selected my dinner, stopping in the Cafe Bonaparte for this delicious cheese sampler and pate plate. I added a glass of Reisling, and I spent an hour juxtaposing and combining the five cheeses, strawberries, sweet toasted walnuts, and the pate, and tasting or inhaling the aroma of the wine. It’s the intersection and the transitions between all the flavors that is the magic of French food. The slow kaleidoscope of subtle changes in the mouth and nose, and the arrival of the next morsel while the after affects of the previous are still apparent around the edges and back of the tongue. The wait staff smiled at me a lot (I was doing a lot of smiling with my eyes closed), and left me to enjoy myself.

For dessert I went back out on the street and ate the golden light on the long downhill run of storefronts and shops. I was greeted by Reginald Johnson, who did not ask me for money, but instead asked if I would buy him a sandwich. His good humor and straight open gaze into my eyes, made it easy to immediately agree. He's a professional. We walked together to the mall, a block away, and down the escalator to the food court, where the sub shop staff greeted him warmly and said, “Steak Sandwich?” He was a regular, often with a patron along to buy his dinner. He told me he had been on the street for fifteen years. He seemed happy, clean, healthy, and at peace with everyone. Quite different from so many of the other panhandlers I saw frequently throughout the city. I put a number of ones into a number of paper cups.

At the bottom of Wisconsin is a waterfront. This area was a frightening mess, as I recall from trips to DC in the 70s and 80s, but now it is in revival, and very expensive condos and restaurants are being built. The place in this photo was alive with music and the sounds of hundreds of conversations, all soothed and bubbled by the fountains in the middle, and bathed in the last hour of the late summer sun.

Just down the waterfront was yesteryear’s popular waterfront happening spot, now run down, in disrepair, looking dated and ugly, and put up just the day before for auction, with a starting price as low as one million dollars, because it’s estimated that one hundred million will be needed to renovate. Watergate. Half the shops were empty, the others were pretty sad looking and low budget enterprises. Most of the apartments and rooms looked vacant, as well. It had a lost and forgotten feeling, but I could see that forty or fifty years ago this was a big deal; this was a desirable address. So how will that glitzy location in the previous paragraph look in fifty years?