Tad Spurgeon oil paintings
Make America sane again.


about me
the work
the book

sound practice
black & white
putty medium
just oil
putty tutorial
the story


A Sunday look at process and work in progress.

august 21

      Almost third week of the moon. Still hot, but just beginning to calm down a little, today is supposed to be the final day near ninety for a while. Between one thing and another, absolutely nothing happened this week at the easel. On the one hand, urgh, this is not ideal for me. But, this is August, a month I used to feel grateful just to survive. Now I'm a little more wise to August, and don't "try hard" to make it be like any other month. It seems to be the end of some kind of cycle, a time to pause, reflect a little more. In theory you would think this would be fine, I like the examined life. But I like the examined life in action, which is sort of paradoxical but means that doing, usually painting, not being, is my first joy. So, historically, ever since being a kid, August has been bad news. Some of this has been a self-fulfilling prophecy: I got what I expected. But there is a four month boom and bust cycle in the year for me: September, January, and May are the best months for the work, the following two months are good, but April, August, and December, are months to be more cautious about overwork, there's just not as much in the well. So I'm working to redefine my sense of what these months are about, not "bad" but more about being than doing. I guess all of this has to do with feeling behind, like I was brought up to be someone I wasn't, and lost a tremendous amount of time figuring out who to be. But I don't think the universe cares so much about the quality of the work as the quality of the life, and has been at pains (mine, not its) for years now to explain that quality work is based on a quality life. And that a quality life does not mean painting all the time. Its true that when the psychic-emotional well is full, the work is easy. So easy, in fact, that it is also easy to want more to happen: yesterday was good, today will be even better, hooray! But alas, puny mortal, more is not necessarily in the well. So, while at this point I can get through a painting on experience, in terms of authenticity, or actual quality, it's really a fine line between inspiration, effort, and futility. What wants to happen today? Am I telling myself the truth about this, or am I calling a hope or opinion the truth? I used to try to bulldoze my way through obstacles by being tough. Growing up in the 60s, all the adults taught me to be tough, of course this was in their best interest. And I like the Emersonian version of self-reliance, you don't get through winter in Vermont otherwise. But it is a fine line between self-reliance and turning to stone. Stone seems tough but actually, this is inefficient, leads to serial disharmony because the psychic-emotional landscape is not being taken into account. So, at this point, honouring this has come to be sort of paramount. This amounts to self-respect, not sacrificing the long term goal for a short-term gain. I guess I'd define the long term goal in a pretty Buddhist way the artisan becomes one with themselves, therefore the universe, through their craft, time takes on more and more dimension as it is experienced through a discipline that in fact creates freedom. Of course this takes time, but the time it takes is also the time it transforms. This week I realized that this can occur in the evening on the front porch as well. Sad to say, I had never understood the value of this before, thought it was for people with nothing to do.

      Otherwise, Thumbelina, now named Sage because of the colour of her eyes, is situated next door without issue, and received a clean bill of health from the vet. And I had a very nice visit from two painters and teachers from Colorado who have been exploring the materials in depth, David Heskin and Aloria Weaver. David and Aloria have been working in the misch technique tradition established by Ernst Fuchs in Vienna based on Doerner's idea of alternating thin layers of egg tempera and oil paint, but are beginning to branch out into other forms of painting as well. We had a very nice visit, sharing materials information and stories of the painting life, and it was just cool enough to walk to lunch and show them around the neighborhood a little bit. It is always fun to hear what painters see. Otherwise, I've been doing battle royale with a clogged kitchen sink, this has gone beyond annoyance into the realm of calm, calculated existential exercise. Growing up, my father fixed everything that broke, including the washing machine, which used to drive my mother crazy. But, surprise, he liked to figure things out. So, I know from my experience as his ever-reluctant assistant that I probably need a snake for this, which probably means giving up and calling the landlord. Who is incredibly nice and will fix it right away. But its Sunday and there's one more thing I want to try.


      I did a lot with various egg emulsions on panel about ten years ago, but this was also during a phase when I was making hard resin varnish. The combination was interesting, but after a while I'd exhausted the possibilities at the time. That is, it now seems like there might have been many more possibilities, but I didn't know enough about the process to find them. Or maybe, that way of making work just came to a natural conclusion. I didn't set out to leave no stone unturned, this is a by-product of considering the formulas in the book. Anyway, for a while I've been wondering about doing something with egg again, it is incredibly reliable, and got at least as far as making a medium this week. I used damar fused into the oil as the resin component, but no wax. My experience with wax and egg yolk has been that it slides a great deal, and I think this is going to slide enough, and be bright enough, without adding wax. This is pretty lean and may also be functional as a water-phase emulsion by just mixing pigments with it, then thinning with water. But I'll mix it with oil paint first and see what happens. I put a few drops of spike lavender in it, it should keep for quite a while in the fridge. Yes, my fridge has some interesting things in it, how did you know?


      Lunchtime, did this small study of the sparsely populated Garfagnana above Lucca with the egg medium this morning. As always, it was different than I thought it would be, pretty facile and mobile for it's denser consistency. But I hoped it would be additive and it was. Fun overall, just let it tell me what to do, will clean this up a little in the afternoon but not much. Wet, some reflections but not that bad. It will be interesting to see how it dries, a pretty balanced mix of saturating and de-saturating ingredients in the medium. Looks pretty translucent now, that will probably diminish.. About 8x13 inches, on gessoed paper, will mount this on a panel soon due to the egg yolk content.

august 14

      Second week of the moon, the hottest week yet, zowie. Worked each day, but not that much, didn't have much concentration or attention span. Later in the week it got even hotter, it was like walking through a soggy mattress, not possible to do more than daily basics. But psychologically it's not that bad. Somehow, this went from oppressive, an insult, to comical, part of life's rich pageant. Maybe that was the point all along. One thing I noticed over the winter in Vermont was getting used to the cold, 30 F was mild after a week below zero. At this point I'm actually getting used to the heat. I'd rather I had a whole brain but half a brain is better than none.


      We found a home this week for plucky Thumbelina. I put up some flyers locally but it turned out a very nice neighbor has been looking for a cat. They're coming back from vacation later today, hopefully it will be a fit for both parties.


      An image I've worked with for a long time now, a foggy morning in May in Vermont, a great way to learn about green! There are several of these around, this is the most recent version. It's sort of gone back and forth between a cooler and a warmer approach, but this layer has a nice balance. Hadn't worked on it in a few months, and it looked kind of primitive, a good sign. Began to get at a few things here that have always puzzled me, mostly the omnipresence of the sense of fog even though it is mostly in the distance, the way the sky is not flat but infinite. I'm never really sure what finished means, it seems to move around a lot, or redefine itself with each image. But this is in an interesting place now, getting closer. About 10x21 inches, gessoed paper on canvas. I'll mount this on a panel next before working on it again.


      Worked on several images this week that are in this earlier stage, sort of safe under the circumstances. They all came forward, but not that much, I just got in and got out. View from the Mugello, amazing hilltop near where we stayed, there are several references and possible recession scenarios. I like how it's coming along, but will still proceed slowly: the long beginning seems to lead to a shorter ending. About 20x14 inches, gessoed paper, the great Leonardo from Twinrocker.

august 7

      Week of the new moon, another hot and humid one, August isn't really as bad as July, but I'm beginning to feel more worn down. Didn't start anything new but had a decent week with the work, plodded along, didn't try to do too much in the heat. Had a new arrival on the porch, a petite lost dark tabby-calico cat, sort of pert and spunky, but very nice, great spotted belly. We took her to the local clinic and she had a chip, but the owner didn't keep the appointment I made with her on the phone. Sigh. This sort of led to a mini-meltdown about the ethical frailty of humanity, it's funny how the little things, by being comprehensible, are more likely to do this, although August of course pitched in. We're full up here catwise, and one of them has made that clear, although I think the other one is more curious than territorial. So we're beginning to try to find a new home for her, shouldn't be too hard, she's pretty cute. Although, like all cats, she is capable of unusual gravitas as well.


      Continued to work with the various fused damar and beeswax mediums this week. There are about twelve of these now in tubes, with names and formulas. Good grief, how did this happen? I thought I was being incremental in developing it, but it looks like the increments were too big. I also tried to explore using stand oil again in this, inspired by the nice product from Kremer, trying to get a simple medium that would transform tube paint reliably, but the leveling power of stand oil is just too much for what I want. So, it's always best to explore the medium in one direction at once, otherwise it can be hard to figure out what's happening. Anyway, these mediums are getting blended now to balance their properties, a cuvee but the terrior is still quite local. From right to left: DWS#4, 8 parts, DWS#7, 4 parts, and a recent damar-wax-fumed silica gel (FDG#2) at 1 part: this is really dense looking, but the fumed silica adds a lot of glide. This combination worked out pretty nicely, would not be that hard to replicate in a new tube. Of course, with this process it will be halfway to the wall forever: no matter what I do there will be something I like better in a week, a month, or a year. The more I've learned, the more I've realized that learning itself is endless. A given system or frame of reference comes together, looks stable, but then begins to deteriorate with the next level of information. There's a tendency to want to remain with what worked, but after a while it's much easier to let it go: that was then, this is now. There's an interesting book that's focused on this process, Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind, by Suzuki Roshi, the guy who started Zen Buddhism in America at Tassajara. It's a Japanese Zen take on something that a lot of people are talking about now: being in the present, this is where the magic is, the universal creative place, etc. All this is helpful, although maybe there's too much spiritual cheerleading in some quarters. I mean, it's still going to be life on earth: if you manage to become sane, that doesn't mean anyone else is. Anyway, the nice thing about Suzuki Roshi is that he pares it all down, he's after the essence of the process, its cosmic nuts and bolts in consciousness. The process isn't about building a safe home for the ego, but exploring what's outside it.


      Something I'd done before and started over with a lot of dense, lean paint using chalk. It was supposed to be an alla prima painting but, haha, wasn't. Ground it back again and was able to get further. A few years ago I realized that it might be possible to integrate positive and more neutral colour in the way older painting integrated colour with simple grays. This has been tricky to get right but really interesting to learn. Many of the world's wisdom traditions make use of the triad as a way to conceptualize reality. The typical triad of colour is red, yellow, blue, but the triad of positive, negative, and neutral is also an important part of the equation. This has been done in many different ways, I guess this is just about how it feels to me. 11x14 inches, linen on panel.


      More recent floral start, put a warmer layer on it after several that were on the cool side. Will take this further, but this is pretty close in life, the type of balance I look for. About 11x15 inches, linen over panel.


      Many thin layers on this one from Vermont, a semi-abandoned farm I really liked to visit. There's a large hill just behind this view, so a major rainfall would rearrange a lot of rocks in the creek. Another level with the colour began in the landscape work as well this week, I guess this is a matter of strictly changing the colour every time, but also the way experience generates more options. It's always interesting to discover more: was it there all along? Would love to get the blue right in these photos, but I think it may involve a new camera. Not done, need to do more on the rocks and creek, but the best it's been. About 10.5x15 inches, gessoed paper on panel.


      Farr Cross in Vermont in the evening, blue sky and late light, not the easiest situation to navigate for me. Concentrated on the mood rather than the detail, more to go but an improvement. About 10x17 inches, gessoed paper on canvas.


      Foggy late summer morning in Vermont, same place as above, a fascinating situation to work with. This had gone through several layers puzzling the colour out, took it a little further this week. It's always fun to put something on the easel after it's had a rest, and know better what to do. It had gotten too foggy, now it's got a little too much colour. So, more to go, but at a new level, a function of both work mixing colour more precisely, and a medium that allows the paint to be placed or blended. About 11x24 inches, gessoed canvas over panel.

july 31

      Last week of the moon, new moon this Tuesday. Rilly hot an yoomit week. Some thunderstorms and one real rain, the neighborhood is looking kind of overgrown, the greens are darker but still full of moisture. I like it that the forest never gives up. As a kid, I used to fight the heat, but the heat always won. So, did what I could this week, but it wasn't much. I still sort of dread the sense of hopeless lassitude that comes with the humid heat. Sort of frustrating to be stalled this way, deja vu all over again, but wherever I find resistance, there always seems to be to a lesson. And there is tremendous resistance! I escaped the heat here for three decades in Vermont, but summer waited patiently. I'd love to define evolving in terms of the work alone, that's easy, there's always something to do, but it's also pretty one dimensional: what about someone to be? So, working on accepting half a brain for now, this doesn't need to mean half a life. There are always fun or interesting small things going on, some flower I've never seen, a light breeze in the evening, the cat doing something comical or wacky. Outside the daily arena, the world being its inscrutable self.


      A long time ago I became really interested in the kalimba, or mbira, or many other names this type of instrument has. It was something that seemed really familiar somehow. The only one available was tuned to a Western scale, and, though it could play "tunes," I found this confusing, since it didn't make the music I liked. I didn't know that much about music at that point, but am learning more bit by bit, being based on wavelength, sound has certain things in common with colour.. Last winter I got a newer version of this instrument, called a karimba this time, with an upper and lower row of tines. I thought that, having only fifteen notes, it would be simple, but figuring this out was pretty challenging because of the logic of the notes being so different than a keyboard. It was still tuned to a Western scale, but this time, armed with a portable tuner, I started changing it. And, learned that it is possible to break a karimba! But that they are easy to fix again. There's sort of a standard "African" tuning that gets promoted for this, but, like "Italian" cooking, this is actually something with lots of different versions. These tunings tend to be five or six notes, some are more minor or bluesey than others, but they all kind of float melodically, don't resolve with the finality of a seven note scale. This leads to a sense of a continuum, more than a beginning, middle, and end. Like everything, there's a lot of information about these instruments on the internet. A few nights ago I found a series of mbira videos on YouTube with a scale that I really liked. For me it became GABDEF#. The instrument he has is bigger, with a lower scale, and of course the tines are handmade, and, like handmade anything, this gives them more personality. Still, the commercial tines are made from spring steel, which has more ring and a clearer sound. Anyway, this is fun, I can even do it in the heat, and the cat loves it, I get serious headbumps doing this. There's a lot of development with this instrument, people making various versions. The traditional amplifier is half a giant gourd, they're making them out of wood now, or fiberglass, I've had good luck with a giant stainless mixing bowl. These things come with internal pick-ups, but I had a chance to play it through a decent microphone at one point, and this was much nicer. There's a good place here to learn more about what's available, with a lot of different Western style kalimbas and lots of information about various scales.


      Was able to put two thin layers on this one, a road through fields on a ridge in Ferrisburg in Vermont that I visited for many years, sun coming through fog early in the morning. About half again as big as the first one, see last week's post. Sometimes the first one goes on and on, trying to find what unifies it. So it's always fun to do the larger one and realize how much I learned from the smaller one. It has become increasingly important to just get in, do what I can naturally, and then stop, rather than perseverating when I don't really know the next step. At this point, this is clearly how things stall. It's strange, I have a real affection for the smaller scale, vastness miniaturized, but just this much larger is so much more natural to work with. A lot more to go, but I like the feeling of this so far. This features the relatively cool Nicosia Green Earth from Natural Pigments, a great colour and a very nice paint made with no additives. About 12x20 inches, on gessoed paper for now.

july 24

      Uniformly sunny and hot week, every day in the 90s, a few humid days that were gross but also some breezy heat that wasn't too bad. Waning moon, decent energy but not that focused. Couldn't do that much each day, just tried to keep it all balanced, not get crabby, went swimming a few times, that was really helpful. Some progress in terms of the medium this week, also mixing colour a little more "down" to begin a layer, emphasizing unity, then more "up" to complete it, emphasizing detail, or identity. There are always more colours, it just goes on and on. Otherwise not that easy to be patient, working with half a brain, so much more could happen if it were cooler. But, the truth is, it's really hot.


      Only new start of the week. Made a putty for this with an oil mix containing damar and beeswax. No commercial oil, so it held really well, none of the melting I've been trying to resolve using stand oil in warmer weather. I would have said stand oil had limitations before, but I liked the higher quality version that Kremer is making. Still, it has limitations, the leveling is too much especially in the heat. The new medium was 1 to 1 in terms of the volume of chalk and oil, and sort of a surprise in terms of its behavior. It was mobile but layered and blended as well. Maybe a little goopy for this scale but otherwise pretty ideal, want to explore this approach more for the book. Image from the Mugello, view across the dirt road from the house where we stayed, small plantings of grapevines were typical sight in the area. Concentrated on the planes, pretty far along for one layer for me, more could happen but I'll probably leave this alone and make a bigger one at some point based on what I learned. Mostly this was interesting because of what the medium enabled in terms of paint handling, not that complex a formula but a return to the more prehensile behavior of hand refined oil. About 9x14 inches on gessoed paper.


      This got pretty close in the last layer, a little closer in this one. More saturation, more reflections in the broken surface. The tension between the paint and the rendition is getting interesting. About 11x12 inches, gessoed linen over panel.


      Farm near where I used to live in Vermont, lots of different afternoon skies here in the summer. This was on pretty coarse linen, and had developed all kinds of texture. Had thought that the texture would help, but it began to seem like it was determining too much, so, ground it back. The surface is a little vanilla now, and the sky is a little too busy, but it's more essential overall, and getting that sense of pre-thunderstorm light. About 10x12 inches, gessoed linen over panel.


      In my mind this had really turned a corner, but when I looked at it again this week it seemed less complete. Getting new eyes like this is always interesting, realizing that the perception of a given place and time is relative. Or maybe there are lots of different levels of the illusion called realism. Concentrated on the atmosphere, not done but like the feeling better. About 10x15 inches, gessoed paper on panel.


      Earlier version of the same place in Ferrisburg, sun through fog on a morning in early September, a favorite time for landscape there. Would like to make a larger version of this but have wanted to get the atmosphere accurately first. About 10x15 inches, gessoed paper on panel.


      There were a lot of different heirloom apples in Vermont, these can have pretty amazing flavors, Ashmead's Kernel is justifiably famous, there was also an old French apple called Reine de Reinette that was great. This is one I only found once, called Sweet William. Had put a few layers on this but between one thing and another decided to grind it back, this always levels the field, allows something new to begin. Ended up liking the feeling of this, as is often the case, the answer is to use a little black, but not too much. Not done, but learned something relatively large from this. The simplest things are always the hardest, but this is also where each new step towards completion is the most interesting. About 10x13 inches, gessoed line over panel.

july 17

      Waxing moon, full moon this Tuesday. Typically a positive period for the work, and some good things didhappen, but the whole week was well into the 90s, after a while it was just too hot, even with ac I became a human bowl of overcooked pasta. As a kid here this type of weather made me feel incredibly frustrated and grumpy, so it seems like something to work to accept this time around. Plenty of opportunity! Anyway, an unexpected positive aspect of this weather is to make me appreciate the work more. I tend to look for the next step, but the whole studio becomes miraculous if just picking up a paintbrush is far too complicated. So, something to learn about less leading to more. Over the 4th of July, we had visitors from the big city, and as part of the program took them to the goofy local pool we joined. It has a kids pool too, so we hung out there with the kids, who are six and eight, and had never been in a pool before. There had been a lot of logistics with food and lodging, and, with one thing and another, I was ready for a rest. What should present itself but a dilapidated old chaise lounge in the shade. There was even a little breeze. So I hung out there for about an hour, watching clouds and listening to various splashes and chortles of joy from the kiddie pool. It was nice to stop in a friendly and relaxed place, this combination is rare around here. We had a talk at one point about the relative stress of locations, our part of Philadelphia being between the extremes of NYC and Vermont. Although, in retrospect, I'd say that the outer relaxation of a rural place doesn't necessarily lead to inner relaxation over a longer period of time. Anyway, one of those rare moments where nothing appears to be happening, but the inner well is being rapidly filled.

      One of the concepts I began to stress when I was teaching was visual rhythm. Some people were working from photos and this approach can become arhythmic in a hurry. What about the underlying structure of the lines? Anyway, working with this led to exploring rhythm in sound to learn to apply it more to colour. I became especially fascinated by rhythms that are less predictable, or factor in hesitations, I guess maybe this is like thesis and antithesis, two rhythms interacting to produce a third.This link is to a traditional zimbabwe mbira piece, this one is to some videos of one of the African harps, the n'goni. The first video on the page is good, a little more modern, but the second one is amazing, really nice energy.


      Something interesting happened with the medium this week, I'm still sorting it out because there are a few factors involved. This year I've made a lot of versions of a damar, wax, and oil medium, with the damar fused into the oil. I experimented with some of these using a proportion of the Kremer stand oil, and this works well as long as the studio isn't too warm, in which case using oil that I've refined and thickened works better because it's tighter. This is the auto-oxidized vs. heat-polymerized issue, which nobody talks about but which is important if you want to understand what happened between 1432 and now in oil paint. All auto-oxidized oils are tighter, grab more, all heat polymerized oils are glide more, are more leveling. Auto-oxidized oil made from hand-refined linseed oil can grab very tightly, an entirely different feel and look than stand oil. The fused damar approach also has little tack compared to damar in solvent. But, I really want to avoid solvent, all solvent, any solvent, at this point, especially inside with all the windows closed. So I tried a version of the medium with larch balsam in it instead of damar. The amount of larch was very small, but still probably too much without solvent, and this medium had a large amount of the Kremer stand oil, so it slid around too much for me by far. Still, I wanted some of the larch stickiness or tack. So, ended up making a medium this week that was two parts damar, wax, and oil, one part larch, wax, and oil, and two parts thicker SRO oil to compensate for the slide of the stand oil, and to reduce the density of the medium. Like most of the materials changes, I just went into the studio in the morning and it happened. I'm also looking for the functional minimum of the wax and resin combination, cut the amount in the paint by forty percent this week without issue. That's good for a number of reasons, but mostly because I don't love seeing resin, especially a glassy resin, in the paint. Also, the thicker oil I used was some made from a hand-pressed linseed oil that Canadian painter Thomas Hirsz was making for a while. So, no heat involved in the pressing. The hand-refined linseed oils dry fast, the SRO linseed oils dry really fast, but this stuff (SRO version) dries REALLY fast. Thanks again, Tom!


      Second version of this cheese, photo from 2014, just before leaving Vermont. At the time it seemed done, but, looking at it recently, it seemed too serious, like someone was trying too hard. Which, in retrospect, someone probably was.


      So, this week it went back on the easel. Sanded the top off lightly with fine grit and oil, buffed it dry, then put what was hopefully going to be a happier layer on it. With the most recent medium, felt that the paint had a good chance of drying brightly, and it did. I'll work on it again, but this was interesting and not that hard to do. The point being that, in a given place and time, it is difficult to get beyond one's own psychological or emotional frame of reference. Life here and now provided a different set of eyes, allowing life then to be reconfigured. There's something intriguing about an image that exists in this kind of time. It presents itself as simply being a record of the objects in space, but contains many different versions of that record over time. About 12x16 inches, gessoed linen over panel.


      More recent version of the image, set this up earlier this year based on the experience of the one above. So, brighter colour to start with, more of a dialogue between the obhjects and the space. Put a finer, more saturated layer on it this week, not done but getting to the fun place. About 11x16 inches, gessoed linen over panel.


      Another image from the same series, recent start that was painted with less detail and more atmosphere for several layers. This works well up to a point, after which this approach begins to dry too pale, with less chroma. So, put finer and more saturated layer on it that held the colour a little more. A little more playful somehow than the image above, on its way somewhere new in terms of the colour. About 12x16 inches, gessoed linen over panel.


      Third layer on a recent start, getting closer to the feeling of late light but a pretty tight circle of colour, this may take a few more layers. About 10x12 inches, gessoed canvas over panel.

july 10

      Waxing moon, very warm week, a little rain finally after many thunderstorm rumours. Lots of energy but not that much focus, tried to pace things with the work, it bounced around more than usual but I ended up getting a reasonable amount done. It feels like far more was possible when it was cooler, but have a feeling I'm supposed to learn to be patient with this. The summer heat here used to drive me crazy growing up, and I still kind of dread it, feel imprisoned by it. So, trying to work with that, normalize it somehow internally. Became a little sidetracked over the last few weeks working on a dense alla prima medium based on stand oil, wax, and fused damar. There are a lot of permutations of this approach, but the more stand oil that's involved, the iffier they become for me, especially in a warm studio. Sometimes it's just as important to understand what doesn't work, this defines a limit that then moves the process forward. The highway may get boring, but after trying the ditch, it suddenly makes more sense.


      Most recent peony, this type of image can get serious by accident so ground it back gently and made it a little lighter, with some brighter colour. Not done, but it feels on track, shifting the colour each time, emphasizing the envelope so the "whiteness" of the flower doesn't become excessive or redundant. About 12x14 inches, gessoed linen over panel.


      Image from 20011, the second version of this peony, many thin layers using slightly thicker SRO linseed oil and chalk. About 12x16 inches, gessoed linen over panel.


      I liked it enough to want to start another one when it was sold. Having done it twice, I thought I knew it pretty well, but this version has run into all kinds of issues. This week I ground it back for a second time and put another layer on it. Can't really cover everything that gets revealed by grinding back in the next layer, but that can be interesting too. I'm kind of fascinated by what occurs when an image has really been through the mill like this, a great deal of detail but not much traditional finish. I'd like to capitalize on that going forward, figure out how to make it less compartmentalized, more unified. About 12x16 inches, gessoed linen over panel.


      Decided to start another one based on what I felt could not be done with the image above, something lighter, a little more contemporary on the one hand more colour, less value drama and more in the floral tradition on the other. Got two thin layers on this, started with a little titanium in the white, this always looks a little chalky to me but can be helpful from time to time. About 12x14 inches, gessoed linen over panel.


      Another floral I've been working on in thin layers. I'm always trying to balance local colour, atmosphere, and that certain ineffable intangible untrammeled evanescent something or other. The more minimal they are, the more they seem to depend on a quality it can take time to develop. I did a great many of these alla prima a long time ago, but ended up wanting something more reliable. Still, the conclusion of a painting like this has to look effortless, a quality the best alla prima paintings always had. About 12x16 inches, gessoed linen over panel.


      This began life as a test of an alla prima medium using a lot of stand oil, the final test, in fact, I surrender. I wanted to see if I could get something dense and saturated using this readily available dense oil but keep it under control. I think this might be possible with a different style but with this low light, tight chroma situation the answer was, sort of. So, let it sit for a few days then ground it back very hard and put another layer on it. A little too much chroma at this point, but I like where the feeling is headed. Although I ground it back, I'll be looking at this closely for adhesion, since it began with something pretty "fat." At the same time, both the first and second paint contained wax, which stabilizes everything. Still, another reason to always start lean, whether the goal is alla prima or not. About 10x12 inches, gessoed canvas on panel.


      Tried a landscape foray with one of the more recent images of the farm in the Mugello. This seemed ready for a little more fusion, used a couch of thicker SRO linseed oil applied very thinly by rubbing it in. Usually this is pretty tight or adhesive but it was warm enough in the studio that is melted more than usual. Was able to improve this one but sometimes it isn't really time for landscape, actual closure still seems a layer or two away. About 12.5x20 inches, gessoed linen on panel.


      For a long time, when I lived in Vermont, I worked outside. I got kind of obsessed with it, if you've worked outside you probably know about this. In the summer of 2007 I worked a lot with one location, a bluff adjacent to Button Bay overlooking Lake Champlain towards the Adirondacks. I'd go there early in the morning, sometimes was able to get there at dawn. But this meant that, by noon, I'd been up for eight hours, which got strange in a hurry. Anyway, this was a great learning experience, I saw a great many beautiful things, and these paintings have a lot of interest for me still. The light and weather situation was in so much motion that it really precluded trying to do too much detail, it had to be about the feeling. This is a version of a painting that really interested me, original is below, a good example of how a great many rules can be broken outside. This was done with the first version of the damar, wax, and stand oil medium that I tubed. At first I thought that medium was too goopy, but, having gone much further into goopiness, I'm now beginning to wonder about going back to something like it as a way to encourage a little less specificity. About 9x12 inches, on gessoed paper, original is about 10.5x14 inches, on gessoed paper.

july 3

      Very warm and sunny week, a little cooler now, whew. Like most of the East Coast, we could really use some rain, but maybe not a foot in an hour. Waning moon, new moon tomorrow, didn't have much energy for finishing things this week, decided to work on some medium ideas that have been trying to land for a while now. I've really been trying to curtail experiments in the interest of getting a reliable system together and finishing things, but they still want to be made, maybe even need to be made. The results are always a little complex at first: what actually happens seems never to be quite what I thought would happen, all kinds of adjustments need to be made to the larger sense of the system. But then the system adjusts, and grows. You could say, Well, I don't want those confusing new elements in the system, and try to get the cozy old system back. But this doesn't ever work, the old system is over for a reason, trying to keep the system from evolving only proves why it needs to evolve.


      The Arizona painter Jan McDonald wrote me about her work investigating emulsified beeswax this winter, and it was an intriguing addition to the materials story. This material is becoming the basis of paint again, there's the Cuni paint, a complex mixture involving ewax, acrylic, and linseed oil, and Ceracolors from Natural Pigments, a more traditional approach that is oil free, based on the Mt. Athos approach of glue and ewax. There are two ways to make the wax water soluble, one involves ammonia or ammonium carbonate, the other involves a liquid soap made with potassium hydroxide. I had made the ammonium carbonate wax and used it for paint with methyl cellulose in the 90s. This time I made the wax with soap because it is the basis of many ancient wall murals and the Fayum mummy portraits on wood. This is a slightly different material. The most significant difference for me was that, while the ammonium carbonate wax made oil yellow in a few weeks, the soap wax did not. It became interesting to me as a way to make a solvent-free medium more dense and adhesive, especially in warmer weather, when regular wax can slide relentlessly.


      I made the wax a few different ways, including with handmade soap, walnut oil yellowed less than linseed, but wax made with the Dr. Bronner's hemp oil based soap has also remained white alone, and light with oil. Found that very little soap was needed to make it water soluble, which seemed good, the less strong free alkali the better. Still, did a lot of tests of mediums with and without ewax to see if it contributed to yellowing. These tests are now four months old, and, so far, there's no additional yellowing from ewax, even in relatively large amounts like 25%. But, of course, four months is not that long. I've been able to find relatively little in writing about the behavior of this wax in oil, the only painting professor to write about this approach is Doerner, who says that tempera emulsions containing soap wax work well, but will darken over time, and recommends the ammonium carbonate wax for tempera. But, for me, the ammonium carbonate wax darkened quickly in oil. Also, this is not really a tempera approach, it is more about using a small amount of something water-soluble to arrest a relatively rich oil based medium. The mediums involved also use ewax in conjunction with regular wax, which always contributes to water-resistance. The issue is whether the ewax will remain hygroscopic, absorbing moisture into the paint film and and darkening it over time. Cuni says that ewax becomes insoluble over time. Certainly after four months it is water resistant, doesn't redissolve readily like, say, a gum arabic solution. So, there are many variables, I may be both making and using ewax in a way Doerner never did. I decided the best thing to do was to just make a few studies with ewax alone and see what happened. This would also create something more tangible to observe for the effects of age.


      Small study with a medium that was 1 part methyl cellulose paste, 1 part e-wax, and 1 part stand oil. So, basically a tempera medium but not thinned with water, used to make oil paint more dense. Image of Vermont near where I lived for many years, a thaw on a February afternoon. I really liked the way this paint handled, it allowed a great deal of compositional adjustment and didn't become muddy or dry down. Still, at 2 parts paint to one part medium, it works out to 15% ewax in the paint film. So, in the next medium, decided to see what would happen if the ewax component were minimized. Not quite done, but, for me, a decent feeling for a first layer with something this moody and atmospheric. About 8x13 inches, on gessoed paper.


      Adjusted the medium to be 5% ewax at 2 parts paint to 1 part medium, returned to stand oil with damar melted into it. This paint was somewhat fudgy and ended up being a a little dorky or goofy at this scale, but was also very co-operative in terms of being able to adjust things cleanly, and fun to work with. Not done, lots of adjustments to the land needed and it seems like removing at least the last cloud on the right would help. But, given the scale, it may be best to just start a larger one. A great deal of paint, and, surprisingly, this dried overnight. Image from the Mugello outside Florence, about 8.5x14 inches, on gessoed linen.


      Final study of the week, decided to try to emulate the above medium without ewax in light of the Doerner warning detailed above. Added extra wax to the medium, at 1 part medium to 2 parts paint it ended up being about 7.5% wax. Also added chalk for density, but it was warm in the studio and, in spite of this medium seeming too dense to work with, once in the paint, it slid a little too much for me. It would be different in a cooler studio, more broken or additive. Not quite dry overnight. So, a little frustrating, not as far along in some ways in layer one as the other two but layer one seldom matters in the long run. Detail below, about twice life size, I don't really love this swooshy look but did what the paint wanted to do. With just a little more adhesion this would be very different, it would also work better at a larger scale over a lean underpainting. There might be another way to arrest this further as well. I guess the point I wanted to make with this set of images is that, when the materials are being investigated, there are just a tremendous number of variables to consider before drawing any conclusions. The simplification of theory is very appealing to the mind: Well, it must be this because of this this and this. Mua ha ha, that makes perfect sense! But the mind tends to be linear, and physical experience tends to have more dimensions. Yes, editing these out makes everything make more sense. But, even with the best of intentions, the sense may turn out to be nonsense. Image from near Lake Champlain in Vermont, looking across the fields at the Adirondacks in New York. About 8.5x14 inches, on gessoed linen.



june 26

      Uniformly hot and sunny week. Waning moon, mostly did layers on older work, progress but nothing earth shaking there yet. Started one new painting with a new medium, this was fun. The biggest news is that we got a recommendation on a local outdoor pool and decided to join. The pool is part of this spacious older development squirreled away next to one of the giant old estates that were on the outskirts of the city a century ago. So, it's not that fancy, and, sort of accidentally, has a very nice retro feeling, surrounded by trees. This whole area was carved out of a forest and the forest has not given up. So if you just leave things alone for a few decades, it all grows back. Anyway, we had a nice vacation evening there on Wednesday. Went swimming, then got Indian take-out and took this to a local park where people with dogs can let them run. This park has some pretty big old trees, it looks a little like a Constable in the evenings, especially when there's a Great Dane, they browse like deer. It turned out there was having an outdoor concert that night, so the park was unusually full of people. The concert was not that great, someone recycling a lot of older chord structures verbatim into "his" songs. But we were at the other end of the park and watched endless children and dogs frolicking on the lawn as the sun went down. It just went on and on. There was one group of small children running around in an amorphous formation like a flock of birds with a very small but enthusiastic puppy. They would stop now and then to let the puppy rest, kneeling and clustering around it, arcadian puppy love, very nice to witness.


      For a while I've been working with versions of a medium designed to keep the paint bright in layers, this uses thicker oil such as sun oil or stand oil to saturate the paint, some damar and beeswax are melted into the oil to aid the layers to dry "up." These mediums have worked out well but I've also wanted to explore using other resins in place of damar, which doesn't add a lot of character in this situation. The two resins I'm most interested in are Manila copal and sandarac. These could be used in oil, but that's a route I explored about a decade ago, so I want to learn more about using them in solvent, both sandarac and Manila copal dissolve in oil of rosemary, eucalyptus, or spike lavender. Have done some work this year using Manila copal in solvent: small amounts of this produce a thixotropic seizing in even stand oil. So, decided to use sandarac in solvent for this, to learn more about what it does. Turns out it also produces a seizing effect, but more moderately. These varnishes are very concentrated to minimize the amount of solvent in the studio, so quite small amounts are used in the medium, about three percent in this one. But that was enough to generate something pretty different because the sandarac in solvent is tightening quickly, whereas the fused damar stays open a long time. The better known material this resembles most is genuine silver fir, olio d'Abezzo, which is very pale and dries in a few hours, although this isn't available at this point outside Italy to my knowledge. Sandarac in oil is very old, found on a Carlo Crivelli, this is in NGTB 23. Sandarac in solvent hasn't been found in early painting to my knowledge, but this is simplicity itself if you have the resin and spike. The first round of readings I did in the technical bulletins made it clear that there was a pretty sophisticated materials awareness in Europe at an early date, but this picture was expanded considerably by the Archetype book, Trade in Artist's Materials, which has some really fascinating research in it.


      First layer on a peony using the new medium, blocking it in, holding everything within the envelope at this point. I liked how it worked but there's always a learning curve with something different.


      After the third layer. This altered very cleanly throughout the process of changing the colour, but the paint turned out to be a little tight working, which was a surprise since the amount of resin is so small. But, of course, that's the point, being an arresting agent, a little concentrated resin controls a lot of oil. So, this feels a little formal now. I'll probably try to give the next layer more swoosh by adding a little more thicker oil to the medium before mixing it with the paint. About 12x14 inches, oil on gessoed linen over panel.

june 19

      Waxing moon, full moon tomorrow, solstice. Lots of heat this week, not that much humidity, some nice breezes, the best of summer. Lots of energy, but maybe not of the highest quality for the work. Have noticed this before during extended warmer periods. Did a lot of work in the first half of this week, then had to pause due to the usual intervention of myriad other things. But somehow had the feeling this was good. The last day I worked was only on older small things, a sure sign that I've lost the scent. Anyway, looked the week's work over this morning and it all felt a little off, sort of adrift. It's always interesting to look at something and realize it's different than I first thought, points out the relativity of perception itself. A tired person sees things differently. Everything improved, but maybe only superficially, which is not okay. I could ignore the polls, rattle the saber, say what the faithful want to hear, but at some point the truth, as difficult as it might be, seems to catch up with everyone. So, lots of ideas floating around, but they don't really mean anything right now, like seeds without soil. Time for a rest.

june 12

      Waxing moon, some truly lovely sunny and cool days this week leading back into heat now. Mostly worked on one painting, this sometimes happens and is fun up to a certain point. Then things usually need to pause, get examined more closely. There's a great letter by Chardin replying to some Count who was trying to bustle him, saying the painting can't be rushed, that it will be done when it's done. It's incredibly polite on the surface, but there's quite a steeliness in it too. I got to visit the Vanna Venturi house a few years ago, this was quite amazing on the inside, an interior whose proportions are a nurturing work of art. Anyway, the owner was very nice and showed us a book about the house, in which the architect said how great it was to be able to work on a project for five years. Culturally, we have gotten really involved in fast knowledge, it makes us think we are so smart. But it is also a way to attempt to escape the way we feel, making it addictive. If someone is going fast enough, they can get pretty upset if you make any effort to slow them down, because they can sense what's waiting for them, an awful lot of discomfort. So, we continue to go as fast as possible, in an effort to escape the quality of time we have created.


      My friend Roland sent me an email about the little known second book by Maroger, published after his death, which, amazing researcher that he is, he found in a local flea market! Anyway, this contains some interesting information which Roland synopsized for me, part of which is a sort of deathbed confession about his various historical and technical errors. More importantly, there is also a discussion of what can go wrong, which begins with the need for a cold-pressed, water washed linseed oil, goes on to the use of too much mastic, too much black oil, issues of proportion with the medium. If you've read about this, you know that there's no historical justification for the mastic gel in De Mayerne, this was something Maroger lied about. The mastic gel comes to painting via Venice, mastic coming from Greece, Bombelli was one of the first painters to use it. A lot of mayhem occurred in English 19th century painting because of the mastic gel, these recipes are documented in depth in Carly's The Artist's Assistant. At the same time, some people have used this medium without issue, the premiere painter from a technical point of view being Wilkie. Having looked at Wilkie's Highland Family (on panel) recently at the Met, it does seem to be made with mastic. The key is low, and he de-emphasizes yellow totally, perhaps to offset any that may occur later. But the painting has not yellowed, the darks have not gone down in value. This could be because little medium was used, because the paint was made with pre-polymerized oil, because the varnish was kept from light and air that would oxidize the solvent, or because there is also wax in the medium. A lot of variables, most of which don't come into consideration when someone buys a tube of "Maroger Medium." Anyway, Roland makes the point that Maroger continued to try to figure things out all his life. One of the things I would like to explain for Maroger, who is out there somewhere, is that, if you do begin with a cold-pressed oil, and wash it, then let it thicken a great deal, you have a material that, when thinned with solvent, behaves very much like a soft resin varnish. We are used to the relatively lugubrious behavior of stand oil, but the oil pictured below is very different.


      Beach scene from last summer in New Jersey, literally the beach where I spent time as a kid. Unusual hazy evening light, lots of relatively bright recession that had been a little confusing. Saw how to take this further, as usual a matter of less physical detail and more chromatic or psychological detail. Conceptually it feels solved but could still use more paint, more of the same approach. About 11.25x20.5 inches, oil on gessoed paper, the great da Vinci by Twinrocker. Time to mount this on a panel before the next layer.


      Another one of Kathy's grandmother's peonies from my last weeks in Vermont. Put four thin layers on this peony this week. This is on a panel with some sand in the gesso, not the easiest surface, the first three layers were about covering that, the fourth one was smoother, but maybe a little too smooth. Yes, it's always something. Did a lot of work on the petals, this remains interesting to figure out. Not sure how I feel about this, it's pretty clean or accurate for this stage but I see that as the beginning, not the end. Not bad for a week old but in need of more soul. Wanted to try brighter colour, but even without blue maybe it's too much. On the other hand, one thing I've noticed is that change happens, doesn't need to be pursued, so maybe the best thing to do is not think about it, just work on it again. Long ago I read an article by a woman in some art magazine rare, so I remember it about her encounter with the late Chardin still life with the little onion and the pottery coffee pot, one of the more humble paintings ever made. She says that she just burst into tears when she saw it, it was uncontrollable, she didn't understand it, it just happened. So, in working on these, I often find myself wondering, "Would she cry?" About 14x16 inches, oil on gessoed panel.

june 5

      Another pretty hot week, end of the moon, new moon yesterday at 11 pm here, sometimes there's something specific, this one felt hopeful, always nice. The last week of the moon is often iffier in the work, sometimes nothing wants to happen, but it's summer, and I got a reasonable amount done this time. A few moments of feeling ungrounded in the heat, sort of cut adrift, and one genuinely crabby afternoon, somehow hard to turn the AC on this early but not really possible otherwise to work in the afternoon. It's at the point where I don't want to be angry or sad about the usual things in the news, but it still happens. It's not that I don't want to care, but about realizing that everyone has to make their own decisions, learn what they came here to learn, even if it involves a mindset about life that seems insane to me. Things like peace, equality, and justice can't be taught, they have to be sought, which makes this more of a spiritual than political process. There's only one flawed species on this planet, and I wonder about the larger purpose behind this: it seems so dangerous to put this amazing world in such uncertain hands. Maybe the cosmic gamble is what makes it interesting. Will they grow up, or blow up? So, continuing to apply the concept of accepting where I am, and who everybody else is, a little more challenging now since this was exactly the weather -- the relentless physical fact -- that had me wishing for years growing up to be someplace else. But something about staying in the present with the work seems to allow different things to happen, like the present has more dimensions within it, options available, than even the best laid plans. I would always have said this, but seem to be experiencing it more, it's not an idea so much as an attitude. This translates into putting more paint on, more often: more risk, more development, because more options present themselves. We tend to think of colour as a three dimensional field, but only three colours define three axes, and the integration of negative colour -- black, white, gray -- creates the possibility of three distinct spheres: positive, negative, and neutral. A really good example of this type of colour is the oddly compelling Joan of Arc by Bastien-Lepage at the Met. Learning how to use this type of colour personally has taken a while, but it's interesting to watch the images move into territory that wasn't so much charted as felt; a sense now that this is beginning to gather momentum.


      The seventh edition of Living Craft is here and now being shipped. What's new besides another complete rewrite from beginning to end? As usual, more than I bargained for! You can look at a PDF of the table of contents and formula index here, and text selections here.


      Years ago I started keeping paint from the palette as an informal record, this is the most recent accretion featuring the mediums containing small amounts of fused damar and wax. This stack had begun to lean a little, but then began to bend outright this week in the heat. It will be interesting to see if this is elastic enough to keep hanging on.


      This year I went back to a medium using a little damar and beeswax melted into thicker oil as a way to keep work in layers bright. There are now seven different versions of this, later this week I tried mixing my favorite, number 4, with the first one, which had a nice look but moved too much for me. At first, in the warmer studio, I thought this still moved too much, but managed to pull it together more or less, see last image of this post below. I mixed them at one to one, maybe two parts of #4 and one part of #1 would be better for the summer. I used to think about finding a medium that was optimal, or "perfect," but each day is different, and the process is always accruing more information about what it wants. So, it's more of a continuum, a journey that becomes its own destination.


      Haven't worked on this dune in twilight in a while, it got better due to all the work with snow a few weeks ago but this midrange neutral stuff was more difficult to fathom. This is the type of image that makes me want a better camera, simply not possible to get a reasonable image of it without a great deal of tweaking. But I'm learning more about Ctrl L. About 11x20 inches, oil on gessoed paper, the really nice DaVinci sheets from Twinrocker.


      An image from Farr Cross in Vermont. I remember thinking the last time I worked on this that it was really on it's way, but it didn't seem so when I put it back on the easel. An improvement, but still more to go. About 13x21 inches, oil on gessoed paper.


      Another favorite Vermont spot, one of the last times I visited when I was moving. Some complexity to resolve via simplicity still, but the best it has been. About 9x15.5 inches, oil on Arches Huile.


      An image I did alla prima years ago and foolishly sold. Have been trying to recreate it ever since, so there are several of these, I simply work on the least evolved one next. Put a thin couch on it of thick oil, I though it was SRO linseed but it turned out to be walnut oil, which behaved more liked stand oil, not as resinous or snappy. So, I was fighting that melting quality but maybe a little of that is okay. Not quite done but much further along than it was. About 10x11 inches, oil on gessoed linen over panel.


      Before I left Vermont I took a lot of photos of my friend Kathy's grandmother's peonies. These were in my almost empty old house, in some interesting light situations. There are about five or six of them in progress now, working in layers to make them look effortless. I had done a quick one of this image before which had some good qualities and decided, instead of launching something more studied, to do another quick one, see if I could develop the alla prima approach a little more. For me, not using solvent or an absorbent ground at this point, this means looking for new ways to balance the movement and the density or grab of the paint. So I mixed two of the damar, wax, and thick oil mediums together, one balanced toward mobility, the other balanced towards density. This worked out pretty well for the first try, was able to adjust this a great deal without it getting muddy. There are ways I'd like more, but it's probably best to let this go, try another one alla prima at some point, maybe on a panel this time. This medium might also be good for later layers of indirect work, semi-additive, with a nice balance of discretion and fusion. About 11.25 x13.5 inches, oil on Arches Huile.

may 29

      Waning moon, a hot and sunny week. When this weather arrives, I always kind of brace for it, as a kid here the humidity used to drive me crazy. But somehow it's not as bad as it used to be, one of many things experience has shown it's better to accept that actively struggle against. I used to think of acceptance as giving in, but now it seems more like the path to consistent quality time. Am working to implement this in the work as well. For a long time I felt behind somehow, I think because I could see so much more than I could actualize. This is changing, and as that sense of urgency recedes I'm realizing how little it actually helped the process. If I'm in the future, with the better work, I'm not in the present, the only place the work can get better. But this involves a kind of spaciousness that is hard to achieve if you're in a hurry. So it's odd, even though in literal terms I'm running out of time, it feels like the time I experience is expanding. There's something really interesting about the way the process modifies consciousness, but it can only do this at its own pace. Things are always happening, but it's been easy to miss them, and their message, if I'm in a hurry.


      In the 80s and 90s I worked with a damar, stand oil, and beeswax medium, but later moved away from it because of the solvent in the damar. Recently I came back to it in a different way, with the damar heated into the oil, had done this early on but didn't understand what it had to offer at that point. Started this approach around the beginning of the year, have made seven versions of this medium now, also one that substituted larch balsam for the damar. The larch approach is on hold for now, interesting but on the sticky side, and the brushes definitely need to be cleaned in solvent. So, it's helpful to write things down, not only the formula but the paintings that use it, and to go back over recent changes, sometimes an approach drifts off track for one reason or another, and it's easiest to fix by going backwards, not forwards. The same territory at a different time in the process is effectively an entirely different place.


      Over time, one of these mediums turned out to work better than the others, the one I called DWS #4. I'd been using the very nice Kremer stand oil in these mediums but the interesting thing I discovered recently about DWS #4, because the formula was written down, is that it was made with thicker hand-refined linseed oil only. Well, actually, I'm not sure that matters that much, because there were several changes in #4. So I want to explore this formula again with stand oil, not everybody wants to refine their own oil. One part of this gets mixed into two parts of the paint.


      A test panel is always a good idea. Here's the series of these mediums over the last few months. DWS #4 is in the red box, thick on top, thin below. You can see that the light yellow of the medium is fugitive, leaving as the oil polymerizes. Test is from 2-15 of this year, not conclusive yet, it will be interesting to see what it looks like in another year. Although both wax and emulsifed wax are ancient in the fine arts, it doesn't look like beeswax was used in older oil paintings at this point. We know it was used by Reynolds in his later experiments, and highly recommended by him to students. Similarly, I'm not the biggest fan of the George Stubbs type style, but the work is in great shape and it's often made with a little resin and wax (NGTB 9). My feeling at this point is that even a little bit of wax changes how the paint film ages in several positive ways. But, we'll see, pet theories need to be tested hardest of all.


      An image of a favorite place outside of where I used to live in Middlebury. I've done a few versions of this day, this is as far as it's gotten so far, just at the point where the paint is beginning to take over from the depiction. More to go, but getting into the more fun portion of the process. About 12x15 inches, oil on gessoed panel.


      Same spot, later in the summer, quieter feeling, again working to balance the paint, local colour, and atmosphere. I always knew it had to be about value on the one hand, red-yellow-blue on the other, but colours of course change according to their context, and the layers introduce their own dimension. It's possible to go halfway to the wall indefinitely with colour, but at a certain point the paint itself takes over and declares the image done. About 10x17 inches, oil on gessoed panel.


      In my last house there was a room with windows on three sides, it had some interesting light. Slightly goofy image of a peony I always liked, one more layer, might be done. About 9x12 inches, oil on gessoed linen over panel.


      An image whose colour had been a great puzzle. Ground it firmly down and started over, not done but solved what had always bothered me, the colour existing more brightly, but still in a tangible box of space. About 10x11 inches, oil on gessoed linen over panel.


      There are several of these, the best one is actually the biggest. This one is the middle size, wanted to visit it before working on the larger one again. Further into colour, but with more atmosphere. This had become a little serious, put a bright, affirmative layer on it, some marigold deep yellows and oranges, at a certain point it works best to just change it, a lot. Not done and really hard to get a decent image of, but on its way somewhere new. About 13.5x15 inches, oil over gessoed linen on panel.


      Reversing direction, an older image with lower chroma that emphasizes atmosphere more. Not done, but pretty close. About 12x16 inches, oil on gessoed linen over panel.


      A long time ago I fell in love with the 19th century oil study. I did them outside in Vermont for a little over a decade, it was a lot of fun. There are several books out about these now, started by Galassi's book on Corot, and the Gere Collection. This small study is from an olive grove outside Volterra, earth colours with cobalt and a little viridian, working to harmonize the stronger graphic quality with the atmosphere. There have been several of these, but I think this one might get finished. 8x13.5 inches, oil on gessoed paper, time to put this one on a panel.

may 22

      Generally cooler and overcast this week, with a few really nice sunny days sprinkled in, full moon last night, the cat ran around like crazy off and on for hours. Mostly concentrated on the one image, worked on several versions, this is helping me to learn more about taking a given small set of colours further. Then started to apply that snow awareness to some other subjects, mixed results so far but I see the next step as less focus, more atmosphere, resulting in more mystery. I guess I always would have said that, but now I can see how to do it in the established context. It's easy for me to get hypnotized by what's there, but the most important thing to put in is what's not there, that is, the feeling that motivated the whole enterprise to begin with. But of course it's a fine line between simplification that works and simplification that doesn't. As with so many things, the process can be powerful without being meaningful.


      Made a larger panel, quarter inch plywood cradled with three quarter inch on the back, was able to get three thin layers on it. Had no idea what was going on, but that is of course more interesting, just on the cusp now of shifting from depiction towards art, diversity towards unity. Big enough to have to step away from, the part below the horizon is easier at this scale, the part above the horizon is harder. Will let this be incremental as long as it takes to get it feeling more organic, have learned a lot from the smaller version below. This is 37.5x24 inches, oil on gessoed linen over panel.


      I've been working on this smaller one as well, three layers now. This has more of the quality I'm looking for, a more evolved balance between detail and atmosphere than I've been able to get before. About 21 inches across, oil on gessoed linen, will mount this on a panel soon, then give it a rest before working on it again. This will help discover the difference between what really needs to happen and the usual perseverating.


      There are several of these in various states, this layer improved it but didn't complete it. Sometimes images get stuck between a more colourful and less colourful version, this can take a while to resolve. Someone who used more colour in a way that fascinates me is Walter Vaes, the still life work is just amazing to me. This was also done with a somewhat softer, therefore more potentially literal version of the medium, so the more I worked on it, the tighter it got. It's often necessary to establish what doesn't work, yet again. Still, it may be better to use something denser and more painterly for the next layer. I've gotten a few emails recently saying I'm too hard on these. So, to clarify, I don't see this as bad, just not finished yet. Finished is strange: not so much a formula as a feeling. About 12x13 inches, oil on gessoed panel.


      A recent start that began in a more condensed, less literal way, so, compared to the one above, this is approaching finished from the other direction. These tend to be easier without blue unless the blue is really dominant. About 12x18 inches, oil on gessoed linen over panel.

may 15

      Waxing moon this week, but once again lots of rain and little sun. And once again not lot got done in the work due to a concatenation of circumstances worthy of Wodehouse himself. This is getting a little old, avoided sackcloth and ashes but have to admit to a few Job-like moments this week. But when it gets really relentless, it gets kind of comical too. Nothing to do but regroup, repair the jangled ganglia, and be alert for silver linings. Even gold linings.


      Worked on this small study again, like it overall, I guess it's the balance between what is known and what is felt, what is certain and what is tentative, the realism becoming essential or symbolic. Could perseverate further with it of course, there's almost always something, but decided it's time to make some of these a little bigger again. This change has been coming over the horizon for a while, so, started a panel for a larger version of this yesterday, it felt good. It's about three feet across, will put linen on it today, gesso it tomorrow. I'm comfortable with, that is, have finished, work at this scale, but it always seemed I could learn more faster from a smaller scale. It was hard even to explain to myself what this was, but I think now it has had to do with the balance between the detail and the atmosphere, between diversity and unity. I guess what I realized was that this too has to be personal, that is, authentic, and that, past a certain point, I didn't really want to lead with technique in an academic way. Anyway, just saw how this might look bigger, having the image present itself in a new way is typically a good sign to follow. About 9.25x14.5 inches, oil on gessoed paper on panel.

may 8

      Another week of solid overcast and intermittent rain, last week of the moon, we saw doctors twice this week about the spirally fractured metatarsal, are getting more information together about this slowly but surely. These enforced vacations from the work are always hard at first, hard to just let go and accept that it can't happen for now. But I always end up getting in touch with a place that sort of gets submerged by the work, the focus on getting "more" of some kind to occur. I don't really love this, would much rather keep working, surrounded by the fog of war. But of course that's the point, to create more balance between doing and being whether I like it or not. There's always a day during one of these times when I begin to see what's there in the work, rather than what's not. Which points out how hard it is to know what's really there, what is seen or not is all a function of the frame of reference. And the more we look, the more we are apt to see. Which can make it complicated: what we thought was true turns out to be only partially true, there's more, something we overlooked. This process seems to go on and on, whether we're looking at particles or universes.


      All I got done this week, a small medium study yesterday, the day after the new moon. Made a version of the medium I've been working with using larch balsam instead of damar. The damar is just melted into the oil, so the larch introduces a couple different things. This was pretty fun for the first try with something new, could be layered, blended, or erased. I'm not sure how much I love this switch, but the damar medium is on #7 and this is just #1 with the larch. At the same time, I really like what damar #7 does, so this may be a little arbitrary, just realized it was an approach I hadn't tried. Again, the ongoing question of what this is about, learning more or finishing work with what I know. The image itself is too literal, a little bleak, needs some of that Impressionist happy snow stuff, the tree mass is a little heavy, top and side edges could be expanded, etc. All things that tend to happen with a new image anyway, finding the art. Shows how much I'd come to know the image below, same road in Vermont, in fact from the same day. About 8x12.5 inches, oil on gessoed paper.

may 1

      Cold and rainy week, waning moon. After a temporary sense of resolution, the broken metatarsal situation continues. We've seen three MDs now who all have different opinions. A few decades I would have reveled in, railed at, the obvious incompetence of technical medicine that this illustrated, but now it just seems like some trained and sincere people trying to do their best under conditions that are less than ideal, i.e. they're so busy they just don't have enough time to really go into it. Although it appears the compression boot enabled more pressure than was helpful, back to no weight on the broken foot. Did various layers on work in progress, mounted some work on paper that's close to done, made one new start that was equivocal, worked mostly from knowledge, not feeling, not the best but all that was available. Too much going on, too much to balance, ended up with a nascent back issue yesterday but decided to give up the work for now and, along with the usual neglected stretches, was able to resolve it. Can't afford this with meals to be made, medical appointments to be kept, will probably reduce emphasis on the work for the week to come as well. Last week of the moon, typically not the best time for the work anyway. Not ideal but life is often not ideal, although it does seem that we are well past the level of functional stress, moving into dysfunction, the place where force spontaneously becomes the midwife, and I often wonder what purpose this serves. Still, as an individual, it is easier to accept a given fate rather than resist it. The key is to accept with gratitude, which is less easy, but clearly the point.

april 24

      Sunny week, some overcast with humidity later that has now cleared out, lots of blooming in the neighborhood, I love the big old azaleas in simple deep colours, sidewalks covered with cherry blossom petals, a lovely time here. The big news locally is that my significant other does not have to have an operation on her fifth metatarsal, whew. We ended up needing to go to a different doctor, a fracture specialist this time, he was pretty Zen and far less alarmist; took the cast off, put her in a foam boot. So, the first diagnosis was reversed, yet another example of very different versions of reality operating side by side at this point. It was also interesting to see how the process shaped itself based on who took her insurance, who could see her, etc.

       Week of the full moon, some nice things happened in the work although there wasn't a great deal of time for it: the full moon finds a way. Concentrated on one image, put these up along with the history of the image over the years.


      When I made the emulsified beeswax with potassium hydroxide soap it really intrigued me, an ancient material, used both in wall murals and the famous impastoed late mummy portraits. But I needed to do lots of tests first to see if it would yellow in conjunction with oil. Wax emulsified with ammonium carbonate does yellow, but was emulsified with soap doesn't as long as the soap is pure and isn't a linseed oil soap. In oil, this material is not like regular wax, less slide, more stickiness. Did a test this week of the damar beeswax stand oil medium with some of the emulsified beeswax added. Probably too much, the medium was like old rubber cement, but it actually still moved pretty well, dried with a gloss. We'll see, determining proportions is what tests are for. Wax of any kind of course is not established as a material in older painting, but comes on in the 18th century, recommended by Reynolds and used by the equestrian painter George Stubbs, whose work is in very good condition. Wax then becomes the stabilizer of 19th century paint, and is now morphing into a different type of medium, the cold wax approach to oil painting, as well as oil-less encaustic painting itself. Then there's the Cuni wax paint, a complex mixture that includes both oil and acrylic, and other wax-based temperas such as the Ceracolors by Natural Pigments. So, many options now for working with wax. The nicest thing about wax in oil in small amounts is that it helps the paint to dry brightly and remain bright in layers.

the history of an image

      Found an old photo of the first version of an image of Farr Cross Road in Vermont I've worked with now since 2000, when this was painted. The quality of this is sort of embarrassing, but it also illustrates the progress of the last fifteen years. About 20x24 inches, oil on gessoed linen over panel.


      Second version of this image, started a decade or so ago. Still not quite done, a little inchoate at this point, the well known death of a thousand layers phase, but has been close several times, has a good structure. About 10x20 inches, oil on gessoed linen over panel.


      Third version of this image, began it in 2008 or 2009 I think, larger, but also not quite done. Worked on this one this week after doing the images below. About 16x32 inches, oil on gessoed canvas over panel.


      Fourth version of this image, a few years old, smaller again, also not done, but with some interesting shifts. About 8x16 inches, oil on gessoed linen over panel.


      Did this version this week using the medium with emulsified beeswax. Two layers, was a little discouraged after the first one, the usual issue of the difference in the medium distracting from the development of the image. But the second layer clarified it, there's something about this that I like. Not done but some better developments, more balanced tension between the space and what's in it. About 9.5x14 inches, oil on gessoed paper over canvas.


      So, went back to the longer composition and started this one on some linen I gessoed recently. Not done, the land sits better in the version above, but pretty far along for one layer for me. An unusual amount of concentration on one image this week, but it wanted to happen and was interesting on several levels. Simple palette for all of these this week: black, white, yellow ochre, trans Mars yellow, mix of Pyrol crimson and quinacradone rose, and cobalt blue. A simpler palette helps the colour to go deeper. A simpler life helps consciousness to go deeper. I still forget this, in some ways it was easier in Vermont, a quieter and simpler place by far, but it wasn't possible to appreciate it for that very reason. So, compared to the original image, this is more evolved technically, let's hope so! But it is also not so much a document as a search for a state of being. This process isn't about Vermont specifically, but about learning more about how consciousness interacts with individuality. About 11.25x20.5 inches, oil on gessoed linen.

For further information on technique or a specific painting please contact tadspurgeon@gmail.com
copyright © 2002-2016 by Tad Spurgeon. All rights reserved.
web site design by Axis Web Design.