Last week of the moon, new moon tomorrow. As usual at this time, had less creative energy, no actual days off but just plugged away on some older work with the latest medium using a small amount of wax. This was okay, I like the look of this medium but it has a complex personality and I'm only just getting to know it. Liked how these turned out in general, but I tend to like the feeling of an image that's been worked on, thought over. There are any number of new things that might happen, ideas for this or that, but I've learned to leave them alone until they physically want to happen. In other words, there's no point in breaking out for its own sake, it has to have something that feels real behind it. Did start something new yesterday, in a new way, it didn't quite turn out but was interesting, might be on it's way somewhere new in the week to come. It still feels like I'm on track to have a reasonable amount of work finished by the end of the summer. Somehow this has become a goal, I don't know why, I'm far more interested in process than product, but I'm not sure the process can be called complete if it isn't officially generating product. This is a tangled web, I hope there's a way to learn from both aspects of this tension until it solves itself, rather than simply making one pragmatic decision or another.
Things here continue to bloom, azaleas now waning, rhododendrons beginning. Elegant standing form of wisteria here I've never seen before.
Went out for dinner on Friday night, very nice simple Japanese restaurant downtown, this was a standout, homemade seaweed salad with lime and fresh shiso.
My friend Roland has been up to it again, trying to make me jealous with his superior forms of goop. Roland's suggestions are always excellent but sometimes I have to ponder them for a while because I know they're going to introduce something new into the equation. This was the case working with starch originally, maybe I was prejudiced against it because of those awful starched shirts as a kid. Anyway, I ended up really liking a little starch gel in the medium, this is pictured here on the bottom row, can probably be wallpaper paste but I got the pre-cooked wheat starch from Talas. You just mash it into the putty, a very small amount changes everything. Anyway, I'm sure you know about the research into biodegradable plastics made from starch and oil. There's also research into films made from wax, starch and oil. Roland sent me some of that, along with pictures of a wax, starch, and oil experiment he made. This stuff was basically sculptable, and and I instantly suffered sharp pangs of rheological envy. So, I melted a little of the current wax-oil combination, and mixed it with some starch gel in the proportion that I use these ingredients in the current medium, stirring while it cooled with that cute little whisk discretely borrowed from my significant other. I was a little surprised that this worked out, felt it might need larger amounts and a blender or food-processor. But it's very smooth, bouncy and stretchy. So, this introduces another type of micro-dispersion for the wax, probably some different chemistry as well even though the amount of heat involved was small. It will be interesting to work with in terms of possibly refining the current medium a little bit. Micro-photograph below from Roland of beeswax spherulites dispersed in a mastic gel medium, something that was done in England in the 19th century. The structure of the wax helps explain why it acts to interrupt the oil flow.
Did a little more to this image of fog in May in Vermont. Not quite done but I'm sort of excited about this, was finally able to get some things to happen here that have been a puzzle for a long time in terms of the final finishing procedure. About 14.5x7 inches, oil on Arches Huile over panel.
Study from the Garfagnana region in Italy that had stalled, become sort of subfusc, saw it differently which is always good after a pause, made it as bright as I could but it still dried at about half that. I think this could be solved short term with more resin in the medium, but I'm not sure about the long term effects of this, so I'm still trying to keep resin at a minimum. The other great ingredient for brightness is egg yolk, but that's a different track entirely, the whole painting would need to be made that way from the beginning. About 9x12.75 inches, oil on Arches Huile over panel.
A really old one that's been through many permutations, decided to just clean it up rather than really try to overhaul it, this was good as it allowed it to change more. It's still sort of a puzzle how to get what I want from this but I like the idea of fragmenting it a little more, improving it somewhat each time and seeing where it goes. About 10.75x14.5 inches, oil on gessoed paper over panel.
Another older one, this has been close several times but became damaged in the move. Again decided to loosen it up a little, let it remain more fragmented so it could change more. The hardest aspect of working in layers for me has been learning to let things develop themselves rather than trying to finish them. Looks a little funky here but in life this is going somewhere new, which, at this point, is good. 8x16 inches, oil on gessoed panel.
The oldest one I have, an alla prima image from 2001 that just never felt quite there. Messed it up the last time I worked on it, this is more rare now but still happens. This of course leads to paying more attention, and it's at least moderately on track again. About 10x13 inches, oil on gessoed panel.
A recent start, this one is sort of inscrutable, have done several layers of almost the same thing, trying to puzzle it out, but it went somewhere more interesting this time. It ewill need a few more layers, but I like the feeling this older approach to colour applied to more modern objects. 12x16 inches, oil on gessoed canvas over panel.
Unseasonably warm this week, with more to come, the neighborhood is in another round of flower. I remember all this from having grown up here, but don't take it for granted the same way now. These sights are kind of soothing now, the specific terrior of the neighborhood. Third week of the moon, usually a week of doing layers on older work, and that's what happened. Kind of a nose to grindstone time, not so much inspired as focused, kept going with the most recent medium except for a departure one morning, tried to simplify things but it was sort of a disaster. Still, oops is also part of the process, it's just as important to know what doesn't work. Did work in several different styles, nothing too conclusive or new happened but a lot of things came closer to being done. There are a few times when I lot of paint flies around confidently, a few times when no paint does anything, and a lot of times in between. Some frustration with a few images that have stalled somewhat, but this always leads to the next step one way or another. Maybe the biggest thing that happened technically was trimming the number of colours on the palette down. It's always hard to do this, there are all kinds of excuses for using more colours. Just one, I really need it; well, okay, maybe just two, etc. But, like using the same medium means you start to use it better, using the same colours means you understand their orchestration better. So, I'm going to try to keep going with what I trimmed it down to this week, eight colours and white. It could go lower, but that would mean eliminating the earth colours, and I don't feel comfortable with that yet.
In larger terms, painting remains really good therapy, allows me to focus on telling the story, learn more about how to do it. This of course goes on and on, but what can be learned is always predicated on what has been learned. At this point I'm pretty certain that what can be learned has no end, is in fact always reinventing itself as new letters are discovered, that can make new words, that can make new sentences, etc. But this process makes no sense until it begins. This means opening a door, leaving the old, boring level you know for the new exciting level you want to know. There's complexity in this sometimes, as in the way a given ensemble of pigments plays together on the field of the painting, but there's also something really simple that has to do with looking at things in a different way, of realizing that the new level is defined by a new frame of reference. This means that the language of the old level, it's whole dictionary, in fact, may suddenly become irrelevant. The point becomes finding what's being taken for granted, what's effectively hiding by resisting examination. A simple way to explore this is to paint by asking what colour of the primary triad is lagging, or under-represented in a given passage. This is often exactly the right colour to move a passage forward. This is like the great Rumi quote: "You think because you understand one you must also understand two, because one and one make two. But you must also understand 'and'." In working with colour, any application of "and" changes the context, therefore everything. But until we are relatively far down the road of studying colour, there's too much distraction to realize this, because we're simple applying "and" so often, so globally, that we can't see that it is in fact changing the experiment much more than we think. Anyway, this too goes on and on, the quest not to become habituated, to see everything as though for the very first time. This is where religion meets science, perhaps uncomfortably for both parties, the place where "things are not quite as they seem" on a regular basis. This approach puts the avenue of enquiry beyond opinion, turning it into simply one discovery after another. It may be possible to link these discoveries into a theory, an organized, defensible opinion, but since the frame of reference is always expanding, why bother? It's just about the application of "and," i.e., more, and how this consistently changes everything. But until we actually experience this shift beyond opinion or the known, it doesn't exist. We may even defend out boundaries with great vigor. Perhaps it is wiser to let them do what they want to do: expand.
One of the things I do now and then is tend the thicker oils. They're important to the process but they're always polymerizing, and at a certain point they have to be thinned a little or risk suddenly becoming a solid. This is some pretty old walnut oil that had gotten quite thick, some crusts and lumps in it too, enough that it was a little hard to work with. Decided to add some thinner oil to it, heat the mix in a waterbath, then strain it into a new jar. This is still pretty thick, and will also thicken more quickly than its density would lead you to expect.
Kremer sent out an e-mail about a paint DeKooning made, a few people have asked for comments on this. I think the idea here was to end up with a paint that was loose, but did not run, so this is the reason behind the use of water, as a way to create an internal gluiness that would inhibit flow. The emulsifying agents of alcohol and aluminum stearate may be less than ideal, alcohol sort of dissolves oil, and aluminum stearate is something to stay away from if possible. On the other hand, this stuff is all a matter of proportion. The paint obviously worked, and did what he wanted it to do, but the tenuousness of the emulsion is indicated by the directions themselves: to put it in a blender for half an hour. Anyway, there are lots of other emulsifying agents that are more reliable, egg yolk of course being the best one possible if the work is on panels. Still, I'm not sure this type of paint could not be made with a little egg white and gum arabic or a thinner methyl cellulose instead of the stearate and alcohol. This is not in any way to knock De Kooning, who was pretty responsible technically for the period. I wouldn't make the Annigoni tempera medium with mastic either.
Pdf of a very nice book here, a compendium of articles on historical technique from the Getty. Lots of interesting stuff in this, link courtesy of my friend Roland.
Something I've fiddled with a lot off and on in the last few years, had a little bit of an issue integrating some titanium white into things, but that's easy to tone down. A few clunky places left, but overall a nice feeling at this point. One more layer? About 9x12 inches, oil on gessoed linen over panel.
An image that I've always been very interested in. Have done several versions of it without anything close to success, this one looks like it will work out. Had to clean up the rose on the right a lot, but got the central rose and the colour in general to a place I like, this was the painting this week where I felt like I'd learned, and was implementing, something at another level. Will clean up the table in the next layer, stretch the value scale a little more. This is a little small for everything I seem to want in it, have drawn one on a larger panel, may start that soon. About 11x12 inches, oil on gessoed panel.
This is a peony in the older style, something I did from life years ago and missed enough to make another version of. This one also got better, can see a little more but this is pretty close to done in life. Still, this is when they get really fun to fiddle with further. About 12x15 inches, oil on gessoed canvas over panel.
A more stark situation with this more recent peony, this one had a strong beginning which I've noticed can lead to a long middle. Made it better than it was but it's bugging me that it didn't evolve more, which is good, means it will probably change more next time. About 14.5x16 inches, oil on gessoed paper.
The same applies to this one, above the table is getting there but the table and its dual reflections from the water are a real issue here. Reaching that force is the midwife place where frustration will generate change. About 14.5x15.5 inches, oil on gessoed paper.
Shifted back into some older landscapes later in the week. Some of these are sort of pushing it in terms of reaching back to where I was and bringing it forward, but, we'll see. This was Schoodic Point in Maine in October, I felt like I'd walked into a Sierra Club calendar. The issue here was always the integrating reflections, but it came forward, a few more layers might do it. About 11x20 inches, oil on gessoed linen over panel.
Put a layer on this using officially richer paint, the level of saturation involved tends to create problems with the colour when the painting is photographed, and it did. Still not done, I want to get this smaller one further along in order to work on a larger one that's a little more finished, but it may not matter because they're pretty different. It's May, a time with pretty intense greens in Vermont. Still trying to get those greens right, not too bright, not too dulled down. Not done, but the paint itself it getting a nice presence. Will grind this back lightly with very fine sandpaper to remove the gloss before starting again. About 14.5x7 inches, oil on Arches Huile over panel.
Something a little larger I hadn't worked on since leaving Vermont, it was fun to put a layer on this, a primitive road through farmland that I studied through a lot of changes from 1998 to 2014. Will keep going, this has a nice feeling in life. About 12.5x16 inches, oil on gessoed linen on canvas.
Another older start that it was nice to dig out and put another layer on. Somewhat coarser linen, fun to work on. This will take a few more layers, but if I stay away from foreground detail, there shouldn't be any issues. This is in Addison County, the area of Vermont near Lake Champlain, a place with a lot of farms where I spent many years. So, there are many versions of Vermont in my memory, fun to visit different ones periodically. About 13x21 inches, oil on gessoed linen.
Still relatively cool but getting warmer bit by bit. Lots of large old flowering trees in the neighborhood. There's one in the backyard in bloom that smells like a combination of cedar and carnations, it just envelops the little back porch with casual cosmic redolence. Which I for one can always use more of. Waxing moon this week, typically a positive week for the work, and it was. Wasn't sure where the beeswax medium route would lead, but after two weeks it finally landed somewhere interesting. At this point, I'm used to being able to get what I want more quickly, so this has been a good exercise in puny mortal always more to learn. Did work a little too hard, had to stop on Friday with the usual s.i. joint issue, three decades of this, you think I'd learn. I used to feel sort of judged by these incidents, but now it seems like they're just relatively gentle reminders that there's more to life than painting. I know, I find that really hard to believe as well. Anyway, taking a rest today, the week tells its story below.
Detail from The Highland Family (1824) by Wilkie from the Met trip, on panel. The royal painter after Lawrence, Wilkie probably used a mastic gel medium, and that's what interested me here. The pellucid stuff on the wall is very nice, daylight mixed with reflected fire light from an open hearth, a pretty gentle example of utter bravura. Another example is the translucent piece of drapery to the right of the child. This features something that could only be done with a thin medium that became sticky and tight, some pretty elegant carving of the lightest value to reveal what was beneath, possibly with a brush handle turned into a fine calligraphic nib. This is really well done, I guess I mean pretty well concealed, but it is carved. This painting is also interesting because mastic typically yellows significantly and, while it's lower middle values are probably darker, and the high values feature the pearly translucence typical of mastic and lead white, it has not yellowed. It also hasn't cracked, but then, it's on a panel. So, a conundrum: either Wilkie did not use mastic or he used so little that it did not make the paint film yellow. Wilkie is someone who, like Greuze, had incredible hands and an unusual sense of colour, the sort of palette that makes yellow ochre look like cadmium yellow medium. But just as Grueze isn't Chardin, Wilkie isn't Constable or Turner, that larger than life dimension is missing. Still, there's great sincerity here, and a great deal to learn from the way the paint is handled in this, more interesting to me than the later, more flash academic styles of the 19th century.
Another English one from the Met, the Lawrence portrait of Elizabeth Farren from 1790. This is large, has a really nice location in terms of light – i.e., the Met likes it, although the photo of it on the website is ghastly – and is pretty stunning in life: she's just there. Lawrence was of course known for this ability, and there are some of them whose winning charm is a little over the top. But this one is really nicely balanced. Aside from being excruciatingly well painted, everything done with its own quality, leading to the great savior-faire of her face. Farren was a comic actress who was very well known when this was done, the look is a cross between amusement and a kind of stage-fright. Perhaps this is a feeling that Lawrence knew well, professional confidence mixed with the nerves of yet another high-wire act before a demanding audience. There's also a nice sense of motion in her being "about to go out," the invented landscape is gently integrated with the strong studio sidelight. The motion is from right to left, deductive towards intuitive. Probably not conscious, but these things happen. A guilty pleasure? I don't know, maybe this is part of almost all portraiture. This doesn't fawn, he is just in genuine sympathy with her. Given that creating this was her profession, it's pretty reserved. Still, In Search of an Honest Portrait would be a fun book. Is this what made Bacon so obsessed with the Velasquez portrait of Innocent X? Speaking of innocence, or the lack thereof, it would be interesting to see this side by side with Madame X, another large, consciously theatrical portrait.
Continued to develop the medium containing wax, it now contains very little wax and I like this the best so far. How little? Well, things could be a little more accurate here but less than five percent for sure. There's sort of a tension in this medium, the different ingredients pulling the rheology of the paint in various ways. This is really useful, but it means that the medium changes with really small shifts in proportion. For example, I need a 1/16th teaspoon measure, estimating half of 1/8th is not good enough. This is a larger version (12x16 inches) of something from the winter that I liked at 9x12. The smaller one was a study, pulled together by simplifying everything. This one was larger, and called for a different solution. Worked on this for two days, then decided to stop and let it really dry. As is often the case when redoing something, some aspects get better, while other aspects don't. The roses themselves need to coalesce more, this is tricky since they're bigger, can be more detailed. The folds in the tablecloth also need to be altered, there's some zooming to the right of the bottom of the jar that I didn't intend. Still, pretty far along for layer one, and the behavior of the paint made me enthusiastic. Detail below, about three times life size.
So I took the new medium and redid some older work in progress with it. This is an image that I've always liked, sold a few years ago and there are several in progress. The hard part for me in this is integrating the stronger graphic and value element with a presence in space, I tend to get hypnotized by the oomph and forget the envelope. This was very interesting to work on, not done but closer than it's been. 12x16 inches, oil on gessoed linen over panel.
Another peony in progress, this one has always had a certain something, and it did get closer. There's more that could happen, but this is the most evolved floral at this point. There are some that are more finished, even done, but this one has the most potential. About 12x16 inches, oil on gessoed linen over panel.
Another development layer on an older floral, somewhat flatter or older look, a little more like an early tempera painting. Originally had issues getting the flowers to read the way I wanted but this medium has a nice balance of glide and grab, which solved the larger issues. A foot in the door, about two or three layers away at this point. About 12x14 inches, oil on gessoed linen over panel.
On Thursday did some still life work. This is something older that stalled because it was too minimal for what I knew technically. Years ago I lived in a very small house in Vermont, the upstairs has a very small bathroom with a very small tub. When I got there, this bar of soap was in the tub, and became kind of a symbol of the living situation for me. I never used the soap, it was an icon, still there when I left. Anyway, was able to clean this up and bring it forward. Something like this could go on and on in terms of the layers involved, but I'm going to just try to put it away the next time, focus on the presence rather than getting involved with the ineluctable surface. 12x16 inches, oil on gessoed linen over panel.
There were some complications on Thursday night – i.e. life – and I didn't get to sleep until late. On Friday started to redo this landscape from the Mugello. I could feel that I was tired, things weren't quite flowing as they had earlier in the week. For the first time, for example, I made some errors in terms of procedure, mixing colour, cleaning the brush, etc. The difference between knowing what to do, and having the energy to do it simply. But things had been going so well, so I kept going, corrected the errors and pushed it through to another level. Not done, but with a foot in the door once again, it will be straightforward to develop this to completion. But by the middle of this my back hurt, and I realized that, once again, I'd worked too hard. Not by a lot, but had to stop today and take it easy. It's always hard to stop when you feel there's someplace you've got to get to in a hurry. So, not for the first time, and probably not for the last time this year, there's a sense of frustration at being so close to fruition with this phase of the project, which has been going on now since 2002, and yet is still in progress. It's been surprising, too, that the technique keeps demanding more. Still, I think the new excursion into wax, though also frustrating at first, has been a good idea. I still need to work now on balancing the work with the quality of life, remember to embrace tortoise, abjure hare. It feels like I've found the thread, making it a little exciting to think the work might actually emerge from the labyrinth someday soon. Still, what can this possibly mean to anyone beside me? Ha, probably not that much! Something to bear in mind: one's arrival is personal, not necessarily to a ticker tape parade. Most of my favorite work was made in a relative vacuum. Diderot gets into this with his distinction between la naïf et la théâtral, a big topic that is most often avoided. Circus maximus versus the still small voice: who ya got?
Cool week, sun and rain off and on, lots of flowers in bloom around here, the city needs flowers, very fun to walk around doing errands. Waxing moon, another hard moon to figure out for me. Began to get a better feeling for what to do later in the week, had a few stronger days completing older work. But the process still wants to change, and in some pretty fundamental ways, see last image below. This is not new, but still kind of rocky, I'd like to have more stately progression and less storming of the barricades, but it is what it is, just have to try to stay in touch with it and let it go where it wants to go. So, once again, this is going to mean some kind of new beginning. I've felt this coming for a long time, but it finally sprouted this week. Susuki Roshi is a big fan of being a beginner, recently I discovered that Meister Eckhart is too. There is so much emphasis on being an expert in painting, it is hard sometimes to have faith in a direction whose definition of expertise is so perverse. On the other hand, this way has taught me a great deal over the years, for someone like me that's probably the better trade.
Well, the day at the Met last week was really interesting, but huge, I'm having a hard time encapsulating it. There were all kinds of individual lessons from specific paintings, things I liked better, or not as well, this time, things I mysteriously noticed for the first time, etc. It's the same gigantic museum, but different each time. Anyway, this is something I first saw many years ago and fell in love with, a little guy playing a harp in alabaster from the Cyclades. This meant the most to me of all the things I saw, or maybe taught me the most in the largest terms. Not sure how this will get factored into the work, simplicity is easier said than done, not the result of rejecting complexity but of comprehending it enough to get beyond it, the fusion of the inner and outer eye.
Did a second layer on this image of the Sieve outside Lucca, using the same medium with a little bit of beeswax in it that I started it with. As is often the case, this medium is good at some things, not so good at others. It was hard to puzzle out this direction with beeswax, but it's now in the ballpark. I'd like it to be a little more discrete, but it does hold light over dark veils pretty well. So, more to go in terms of development but this is a decent composition, a few more layers should complete it. About 9x14 inches, oil on gessoed paper.
An image that's always fascinated me, for reasons unknown. This morning was sort of strange and yet very Vermont, very green, Spring just holding on by a thread. Better than it's been, but more to go. About 8x14 inches, oil on Arches Huile.
This one had a good first layer, and each time I've worked on it had brought it forward somewhat. A place I really liked, grazed into complexity by cows that were seldom around, but one that has proven sort of complex to fathom. Not done, but at the place where it's going to be fun from here on in. About 10.75x14.5 inches, oil on Arches Huile.
Another image of the same spot, grappling with the high summer colour problem. Hadn't worked on this in a while, and was able to solve a set of things that had stumped me before. This is always a good feeling. Not as far along as the one above, but beyond the place of large adjustments, the clouds are at least right even if the sky is still too bright, etc. There are a number of landscapes at this slightly larger scale that are ripe for another layer like this. About 13x21 inches, oil on gessoed paper over canvas.
Small study from an evening that was really interesting, I was painting this outside at the time so its reality is kind of etched in my memory. This was an interesting moment in the evening, just when the sun is about to come out. The sky is better in life, one thing I may end up getting a camera with a full size sensor for someday is the blue problem, even when I tone them down as much as I can without altering other things they're too bright. About 8.5x13 inches, oil on Arches Huile mounted on canvas.
Later in the same evening, this one is a little further along but again the sky is nicer, a little more resolved, in life. Did a bigger one of these years ago but like this one better, something about the combination of drama and small scale is intriguing. About 8x12 inches, oil on gessoed paper over canvas.
There are several of these paintings of the farm in the Mugello, sort of a therapy image for me, the things I can't help but miss about modern life. Better but not quite done, am trying to see if I can get the colour to match the frame, it's a little brighter in life so not that off. Of course, the frame can always be toned down too. About 8x13 inches, oil on gessoed paper over canvas on panel. A little much as a procedure, but it makes the surface less rigidly plane. Who cares? Well, I do.
Had a few larger days this week putting layers on older work, this has its moments but also gets kind of repetitive, sometimes there's a breakthrough but it's more often halfway to the wall yet again. Didn't have that much oomph yesterday but wanted to explore something different. Did a lot of work with brighter colour years ago, but haven't done anything like that in a while. Ever since seeing the Matisse cut-outs, though, have been thinking about what it might look like now. That show changed a lot of things for me. So, the renewed colour interest then gets factored into various forms of realism with brighter colour that I like, don't like, what does playful mean, how is that contrasted with silly, etc. Had some conversations this week about the inner clown, not the inner goofball but the element of creative spontaneity that tends to get edited out of things. We humans must take ourselves seriously! So maybe this is my inner clown trying to get out of that tiny car. Did this with a medium I've been thinking about too, something really simple, just some thicker hand-refined oil in the paint. This oil was so thick that it even made the commercial paint colours seize. To continue with the different theme, used titanium white, a pigment I sort of dread, but it seemed to work pretty well with these colours. This has lots of influences, the approach may be on its way to several places, but as an image it ended up being neither fish nor fowl. I think the colour itself is the best part, but the degree or level of realism is inconsistent, couldn't figure out how to simplify the large ranunculus enough in the time frame. Am learning when to let things go, though. Will consider this type of image more and then maybe make another one, I'm afraid it has to do with a simple line drawing that defines all the spaces, my least favorite thing. The palette was solid, but though the medium was fun, it could be adjusted as well. About 7.5x10.25 inches, oil on Arches Huile.
I'll be in New York tomorrow, visiting the Met. Will hopefully put up something about that later in the week. Last week of the moon, often less than ideal for work, this one was challenging on two levels. I'll explain about the work part below, but in larger terms, which are always easy to ignore until they're not, I'm being asked to get a move on. I thought last week was uncomfortable but this week turned the evolve-or-die screws a little tighter. This really stinks, I love my rut! I guess it's always about giving up a pattern that may have worked in the past but is now not working as well. The pattern is comforting at some level, but keeping things up at another. At a certain point, holding onto the pattern becomes more difficult than letting it go. This moon ends in a few hours, I'll really be paying attention to the new one for clues, may end up hiding under the bed, I'm sure you can paint from under the bed. Spring, new beginnings, this is a lovely time here, now and for the next month or so.
Haven't done a food related post in a while. Ran across a recipe for iced tea that was really interesting, from the Upton website. If you like good tea, you know it can get a little nutty in terms of quality and price. At the same time, great tea is cheap compared to, say, great wine. Although I'd have to say you're more likely to find a nice surprise in wine than in tea. The teas from Nepal were a deal for a while, but no longer. Anyway, tea has a brewed flavour, but it also has a certain smell. And better teas often smell amazing. This is reflected in the brewed taste, but more dimly. You can lower the brewing temperature a little, this often helps with a Darjeeling, for example. But you're always cooking the tea. There's nothing wrong with this, especially for something hearty or malty, the sturdy Sergeant Major's brew. But if you've wondered about some of the more ethereal flavors that seem to be hidden in the leaves, enter a different idea: not cooking the tea. With this approach, you put the tea in the refrigerator in cold water for four days. Four days! But, if you've ever washed linseed oil for six weeks, letting tea brew for four days isn't that long to wait. Anyway, I did this with a nice Thurbo oolong that had a great aroma, but was kind of flat the first time I made it hot, so it seemed the ideal candidate. 1t of tea to 4oz of filtered water, in glass. This may be a little too much tea, I pulled it after three days, not four. Anyway, lo and behold, it was sublime, multidimensional, flavour complexity like a ten year old Barolo. So, this is going to be fun to explore over the summer.
Long ago I did a lot of work with a medium of damar, stand oil and beeswax. Haven't done that much with wax in the last decade, but keep thinking about it as one of the ingredients that helps the paint film to remain brighter over time. Decided to wade back into the realm of mediums involving beeswax this week, and got into a whole passel of trouble. Saying I emerged victorious would be um, somewhat premature. But I learned a lot. I wanted to make a medium with minimal resin, or no resin, and one that would not have that specific "cold encaustic" look. There's nothing wrong with this look! But, given the context of the art of concealing the art, wanted to see if the wax could in fact be hidden. Technical art history hasn't found much beeswax in older painting to my knowledge. I read an interesting article about the paint of Lotto, a tempera grassa with a little resin where wax might be involved, but they really weren't sure if it was in the paint, or a later varnish. This is also the case with a panel by Memling. So, on the one hand, wax is a little counter-intuitive, because it makes the paint less transparent, and more matte, but a little bit doesn't interfere optically, and thick oil can overcome the matting quality. So, getting closer, but once again, a matter of finely tuned proportions.
First study with a wax putty medium, this had a small amount of resin in it, a concentrate of Manila copal in spike. There's nothing wrong with damar for something like this, I just didn't have any. The medium was pretty loose, but decided to go with it that way. This study had some moments, see last progress image below, but I got kind of distracted trying to understand what the paint could do. This medium has a nice look and could be fixed pretty easily with just a little more density, but wanted to explore something with no solvent in it. About 11x14 inches, oil on gessoed paper.
The second study this week was a disaster, overcompensated for the looseness above and ended up with something pretty intractable. some of this has to do with ambient temperature as well, it's getting warmer, thick oil is thinner, wax is sliding more. This is the third study, mostly handmade paint, this ends up being thicker, tried to make a medium in the middle between the first two, but with no resin. The problem is that the wax, like the additives in modern paint such as aluminum stearate, cancels out some of the things that create my good friends discretion and thixotropy. So, the ingredient choices here are more limited. As with the first two, this was a little strange, but it seemed that it was going to work, just in a somewhat lumpy way. So, this was fun to develop, a little goopy but semi-blendable, semi-layerable, the wax element did what it was supposed to do in terms of keeping the wet-in-wet layering more discrete. Dry this morning, that was a little bit of a surprise, and could be less shiny, haha, that's both interesting and good. Anyway, you could argue that this is done or that it needs more, depending on the century from which your definition of finished originates. The direction of the last few years has been about controlling the discretion of the paint, but this approach is easier to adjust, allows more blending and atmosphere. I'll keep going with refining this paint, it feels like the worst is over. This is outside Lucca, the Sieve is in the foreground. About 9x14 inches, oil on gessoed paper.
Sunny now, forsythia is out and some cherry trees are trying to bloom even though it was cold and rainy most of the week. A pretty strange week, yikes, maybe the full moon eclipse? Things have continued on that demanding, evolve or die path, I seem to have died a lot this week but that's part of the process. I don't usually feel a kind of physical, existential hopelessness in my particles, a bad patch, as Delacroix wrote, but had to try to work through some of that this week. Most of the reading I've done in art history is in contemporary scholars, more down to earth than theoretical, the Susie Nash book on the Northern Renaissance, for example, is amazing, a work of art. But this last week read Art and Illusion by Gombrich, and Meaning in the Visual Arts by Panovsky, these are both old fashioned big-gun scholars I kept encountering references to, so it's interesting to get a feeling for how they are relating to art. Gombrich is especially relevant to me because he makes the point, in many ways, that the last thing successful realism is is a copy of Nature, noting that no matter how hard a painter tries to be "faithful to Nature", he gives Constable as an example, there is inevitably a personal element. This is course what Delacroix said in his Journal about a century before, and arguably the main reason Diderot preferred Chardin to his contemporaries. I also read a very well-written and elegantly formulated essay by Leo Steinberg, The Eye is a Part of the Mind. Written in 1953, during the intellectual heyday of abstraction, he argues that content, not style, defines art in painting. Whew. Anyway, it's interesting to look at the last four months as a whole, there are a few images that stand out as successful to me, and I know exactly how they were made because I wrote it down. But more of what worked is not necessarily what wants to happen. It's more like the process wants to find out what it doesn't know, than capitalize on what it does. I seem to return to the same place, but via a cycle, or spiral, so it's always with another level of information. When I was cooking someone once said that I never made the same thing twice. They meant it as a compliment, but I remember thinking, "It's that bad?" The succeeding decades have proven that, yes, it is. Last week of the moon coming up, this can be interesting as long as I don't try to do anything too heroic. Down but not out, alert for silver linings, in the old Wooster way.
Modern textbooks are often full of graphic razzle-dazzle. There's a recent book on drawing that is very good, Drawing From Observation by Brian Curtis, (and I guess by this I mean a book with a more cosmic subtext, i.e. a book whose world view is similar to mine), but when I first looked at it the production was difficult because it was really busy. But I guess this is what works, a book that looks like the internet, or the publishers wouldn't do it. Anyway, I will always be a less is more kind of person. Of course, it's not that less is literally more, a guarantee, less can certainly be less! But less allows the possibility for more depth to evolve from what is there. The difference between Cotan and Claesz, essence versus mimesis. Anyway, I'm beginning to explore making more graphics for the book, and want them, surprise, to be simple. This is a schematic diagram of how the tetrachromatikon works, I'm fascinated by the way the simplicity of this actually helps in comprehending the behavior of colour in paint better. You can substitute blue for black, but the original conception in earth colours – good earth colours, that is – is neat because most colours cannot be copied, need to be approximated to life, but accurate within the value and temperature structure.
Worked on several florals in progress this week at various stages. This is the most recent start, thin paint, three layers so far, not that far along but I've learned that a slower beginning leads to a quicker ending. There's nothing about the colour or how this sits in the space that bugs me, so it may be time now for some denser paint. About 14x15 inches, oil on gessoed linen over panel.
This is something older that I'm sentimentally attached to, don't know why, but which may have outlived its usefulness. Sometimes they get to a certain point and the answer is to start over with the next idea. I think mostly I'm done with the object pressing the boundaries of the space, want it to have more spaciousness, more room to breath, around it. Hard to say, it's not possible to know when the way to complete something might arrive. I'll put it somewhere where it won't bug me for a while. About 12x16 inches, oil on gessoed canvas over panel.
An older start that has been close to completion a few times. The last layer was sort of an error, the paint was too specific, brought it back to at least where it was again. About 12x14 inches, oil on gessoed paper over panel.
Something older that I've been fixing for a few layers, the lead peony had become too large, it's at the point where it could come forward again. Clunky still but I don't want to lose all of that, like what's happening in this one in terms of the broken, ontbijtje style colour.
Sort of an intermediate start, a few years old, again feel the object is too big for the space but want to figure this one out. Something I did from life years ago, have a photo of that crude but effective painting, which helps. Still a little quiet, but a corner of some kind has been turned. Not sure, the level of the colour may always be a little out of synch with the original, more frontal conception of the image. About 14x15 inches, oil on gessoed linen over panel.
A landscape I've been working on for a while off and on. It was almost done at one level, but then began to feel another one and decided to try to do it. Sometimes this just has to happen, it's harder in the short run but better in the long run. At least I don't get depressed about having to do the same old thing again. Used the same paint on this as the study of olives outside Volterra from last week, this is the right paint for these. Pretty close, but a subtle situation, light just beginning to emerge from fog. One more layer, just one, I promise About 9.75x14.75 inches, oil on Arches Huile, mounted on canvas and a panel. The Huile is nice but mounted straight on a panel it looks a little too flat for me, the canvas layer makes it softer.
Spring is beginning to begin here, crocuses and their relations are out, some cold days, one oddly warm rainy day, full moon and an eclipse yesterday, a pretty weird day overall, lots of energy but lots of tension too. Had a good week in the work, made some new things for the first time in a while, new always seems to solve one aspect of the equation but introduce new questions of its own. Am working on learning how to do the YouTube video, didn't have the most current information for the first one, the persistence of dated information is always an issue with the internet. So, worked on that this week, it's coming along, is past the critical "let's just smash the computer" phase. My significant other busted me this week for being negative about wealthiness, the artworld and success in the news last week. Hey, I didn't even know she read the news! Was is that negative? I thought it was just realistic about how it works. Anyway, this week I'm only going to say nice things about everybody and everything.
I'm reading a great book, by a great author. It's called Art and Beauty in the Middle Ages by Umberto Eco. He wrote it in his twenties, it was published in English in 1986, lots of used copies around for a song. Very nice overview of the thought of the period, with lots of pithy period quotes really well-translated. Translators don't get enough credit, this was done by Hugh Bredin and he really makes it move well. The Middle Ages, of course, saw the physical world as an analogy for the divine world, as above, so below, This has always made great sense to me, so getting more about period authors and the nuances involved is interesting. Eco is of course a literary omnivore, and the text is also an overview of contemporary Middle Ages scholarship. It looks like Johan Huizinga might well be worth investigating too. Most importantly for me, Eco makes some nice distinctions now and then, he is really good at giving you a broad group of quotes and then distilling these to an essence. Anyway, the one that sticks in my mind in relation to what I'm doing is a distinction between the quantitative and qualitative aspects of their aesthetics. Everything was handmade, and they were very involved in the science of proportion – number, weight, and measure – in the creation of anything, the relation of the parts to their sum. Again, because this is how the world was made originally. But they are also fans of the effects of light and beauty, the more lyrical of emotional aspect of the equation. Anyway, this makes great sense to me since it has always seemed like the great creative paradox is that inspiration needs to be well organized in order to be fully realized. The combination of depth and sincerity in the quotations is really soothing.
This is how I'm making the medium these days, it gets mixed from left to right. All stuff I've made, some of it old, some of it necessarily new. The ingredients across the top are the base, the two lower level ingredients are probably not necessary, but I run them in and out. The thing I've found interesting in this is the importance of the proportions here to the behavior of the final paint. Reading from left to right, line one then line two, the proportions are 8-8-4-8-2-1. Below it what it looks like when it's mixed, it's mobile but not too fine and sort of elastic.
This one keeps going around in these really small circles. It got a little strong, a little blue, a little bright last time, so I softened it a bit. I think this is done. Well, almost done. Close.
First new image of the week, an olive grove outside Volterra. It seems like life grants you a finite number of meaningful images, this was one of them for me. I'd done several versions of it without being satisfied, too much value, not enough atmosphere. So, started this small study with that in mind. Not quite done, but pretty close, it's exciting enough to me to have finally avoided most of the typical pitfalls of this. This is the same paint and system as the little roses study from last week, just taken further while the paint was on the tarry side. Palette below, mostly earth colours I made, these are denser, not as finely ground, I tend to protect the paint I make, because I like it, which makes no sense, so I'm starting to use it more, because I like it. Early 19th century type colouring, although they would have used Prussian blue, possibly vermilion, I wanted to balance it a little differently than Valenciennes, or the Corot method of cobalt, viridian, and vermilion. Got into a little trouble with the viridian in this anyway, brought it in later, the brightest colour by far, it's not as bad in life as here but I'll be watching out for that in the next layer. About 8x13 inches, oil on gessoed paper, I'll mount it on a panel before cleaning it up further. Slideshow of process below.
Revisited the roses for the next new image. Larger flowers in this, more presence possible there, but also pretty backlit. I'm interested in learning this lighting effect, something light and bright in shadow, but the first day was totally inconclusive, couldn't find anything for certain. It was the first warmer day, and the paint slid more as a result, this totally threw me off. A good example of something that happens consistently, but at large enough intervals to be consistently forgotten. Still, the unexpected trapdoor is always interesting, brought it this far the second day. About halfway there, I found the colour scheme and the overall feeling but the flowers themselves still need work. A little bigger than the first versions of these roses at 10x14 inches, wanted these to get at least a little larger. Oil on gessoed linen over panel.
Okay, a massive technical and existential triumph for me, a YouTube video. This is about the Pre-Dimensional Palette, which is simpler to set up than it is to describe. If you're having issues with manipulating natural colour, give this a try, it explains something about colour that is very difficult to get at from the modern system. There are plenty of colour theories and they are all quite elegant. But this is not colour theory. No, no, a thousand times no! This is colour practice.
Waxing moon, chilly and blustery week with very little painting, lots of paperwork. Urgh. What did happen was interesting, story below with the painting. Had fun with my niece and sister-in-law on Friday night, they were here visiting graduate schools. Went to an interesting show at Gross-McCleaf before that, a group show of some younger painters paired with some very commercial realism. So, the gallery both showed work they considered interesting and paid the bills, skillful means. There's one painter whose work I'm really interested in, it's sort of a cross between Avery and the realistic Diebenkorn, very graphic, simplified realism, still sort of inchoate, hit or miss, but someone I would start buying if I were a collector. The paintings that did sell were in the other room, very calculated, the classic commercial art magazine style of the last few decades: endless swooshy paint and happy colour for people with more money than culture, a segment of the population that seems to still be growing exponentially. I would have expected something like this in, say, Manchester or Woodstock, Vermont, self-conscious art capitols of bluff old money, but not here. That is, I wouldn't have expected it to work so well here. But of course, there's plenty of bluff old money here, it hijacked the Barnes. Well, I guess it's all a matter of taste, not morality. The timing on dinner meant that we decided to see a movie at the last minute in town. I tend to resist last minute changes, but once I let go, it's always much better. Anyway, this was really fortuitous. The movie we saw was a documentary, Seymour, An Introduction, about pianist Seymour Bernstein. You can find the trailer for it on YouTube. A great deal of it is Seymour talking, teaching, or playing. Now, from my perspective, there's something really special about Seymour. I won't give it away, and neither does the trailer, but he made decisions and said things about life and art that made tremendous sense to me. The movie made me happy, as a human being Seymour made me both proud and hopeful for the future of the arts. Which, at this point,is saying a lot.
I'm still working on something for YouTube, it's getting closer, just have to do the narration now. This image began when I started thinking about the tetrachromatikon a few years ago, and how it is intrinsically different as a way of organizing colour than the system of Impressionism, or the modern system of two primary triads, one warm and one cool. I'm not saying there's anything wrong with those systems, but I do think that, out of the box, they are more about lyrical colour or colour theory colour than natural colour. Now, if you know about positive, negative, and neutral as concepts, any palette can be adapted as long as it can make a neutral, preferably a transparent one. I'm also not saying that natural colour is better, only that it is the product of an order of cosmic intelligence from whose system I've wanted to learn.
Only had time to do one painting this week, and only a few hours in the afternoon at that. Decided to just do a study over a quick drawing, go back to some old territory in terms of the image but bring it forward in terms of the paint. I made a couple shifts in the medium, one designed to make the paint more thixotropic, and the other designed to allow it to flow more. These are always the parameters, the interesting thing is that they don't necessarily cancel each other out. This was the case here, this paint was peculiar at first, unlike anything else so far, and I had a hard time figuring out what it wanted to do. But in the end I liked it, it allowed a tremendous number of changes to occur without anything being lost or compromised. This also meant that it was fast, and that it was relatively easy, the paint was working the way I do. So, this system needs some development still, but I like the personal quality of the paint and the painting. In larger terms, this is the shift I've been looking for, something that is genuinely more spontaneous, allowing the work to be both more about feeling, and finished. This is where I left in 2001 to learn more about colour and the materials, so the circle feels complete. Except it's really a spiral, so who knows what is actually next? About 9.5x12 inches, oil on gessoed paper.
Oops, forgot about this one. This happened during the first few months after I moved, my therapy image from the Mugello. The first layer on it turned out well, below, had a nice sense of evanescent light. But it was done with pretty transparent paint, after it really dried the chroma dropped somewhat. I didn't know I'd get this far in one layer, and drying down is always an issue working in thin paint with just oil. This is where things like egg, resin, or wax in small amounts can be helpful depending on what the style wants in the way of saturation. Anyway, thought I painted it up enough but didn't. I could see what to do next, so put another layer on it. I don't think this is bad, especially for a second layer, these are often problematic. Might try for more in a bit but using the first layer as a reference. Also, forgot to use black in the second layer, can you see how black is helping the first layer? About 13x20 inches, oil on gessoed paper.
Another goofy, romantic snowfall this week, now in the process of melting. The book arrived, the UPS guy was not thrilled to deliver 400 lbs of boxes to me, but I helped him and that made it better. I like the look of the new book, and it's more of a step forward than I thought. New moon and eclipse of the sun, the most evolve or die new moon I can recall. This centered around getting in touch with stuff buried by rigorous early politeness training. It's clear that everything denied or removed has to be found, and woven back together, but this week seemed to add "right now" to the equation. Have to admit I'm frightened of the power of this stuff but in larger terms that's the whole point, to reclaim it and begin to function on all eight cylinders. So, some accidental cathartic stuff a few days ago, this led to being able to work again. Sometimes I feel too old for this, or like I can't believe there's still more work to do, but there's no choice.
One of the things that happens more in Philadelphia is cultural events. Went to a very interesting one last night, billed as a Puppetry Slam. This was various individuals and groups doing short form puppetry. It was all over the map, a lot of comedy, a lot of intensity. There was one older person there who was more of a professional, he had marionettes that were quite articulated, and really knew how to make them move. The last piece of the evening was called, "The Quest." It was just him, dressed in black, and one marionette. The marionette had a very earnest, questioning sort of expression. It began to try to climb up his leg, to the tune of very dramatic classical music. It kept falling back, then trying again, the puppeteer was incredibly good at this, the grabbing, the clinging, the close calls. Anyway, the marionette eventually made it up his shirt, and then to his shoulder. It lay down on his raised arm, moving his hand a little over his pumping marionette heart. His assistant appeared from the back and gave the marionette a small world flag, which the marionette then planted proudly on the puppeteer's head.
In the 20th century, a tremendous amount of work was done with damar, trying to see if it could in fact be made non-yellowing, period. A lot of this was done at the National Gallery in D.C., this research ended up morphing into various synthetics, because damar just wasn't perfect. I did like MS2a, this was from the National Gallery in London, but it was expensive, and appears to be out of production now. Of course, many conservators still use damar, for a variety of reasons. One of the interesting things that came out of the research I did for Living Craft was some work with alternative spirit varnishes, not for the final coat on a painting, but instead of damar in the medium. I had always had issues with the look of damar and stand oil, although to be honest I had issues with Ralph Mayer's version of reality, period. Still, there are situations where a little resin is helpful. Most people get around this now with the cold wax approach, this supplies sequestering in layers and keeps the paint on the bright side without being too saturated. I did a lot of work with wax long ago, and revisiting wax again is on my list. But, anyway, because a spirit resin varnish can be used, even needs to be used, in very small amounts, I don't think the relative yellowing of the resin itself is an issue. Of course, conservators will tell you that the yellowing of older spirit varnishes also has to do with the turpentine itself. This is not inevitable, but has to do with bad turpentine, or keeping turpentine (and any solvent) out of the light, with minimal exposure to air. In other words, the half full clear bottle of damar varnish that has been sitting around for three or four years is exactly where longer term yellowing issues can be built in. One of my students in fact brought me a half full can of turpentine that had absorbed so much oxygen that it was a yellow syrup. So, in general I moved away from solvents and spirit varnishes, but sometimes I'm intrigued by the damar alternatives. For example, both sandarac and manila copal dissolve in spike lavender or the less expensive oil of rosemary, and I've done some work with a concentrate of these, using it by the drop in the medium before adding the medium to the paint. And I mean by the drop, a little goes a long way! What I like about these is the different rheology and look compared to damar. Sandarac is expensive, but Manila copal is pretty reasonable, and they both supply a little more bounce than damar. Anyway, someone from Australia wrote recently that they had heard that damar dissolved in eucalyptus oil. I tried it with Manila copal, and it went into solution quickly, so eucalyptus will definitely dissolve damar. The nice thing about eucalyptus is that it is much less expensive than both spike and oil of rosemary. Of course, you want to get it in amber glass, observe the solvent hygiene stuff, and use any spirit varnish in the smallest amount, and with plenty of ventilation.
This is the first rose painting from this year. I felt like this was done the first day, but still cleaned it up a little the next day. It was a little high key, but at this point I try to I do this when finishing something, and after a few months I like it better. This is because of the darker paint beneath asserting itself more. It wasn't that dark beneath, so there isn't much further it can go. Working dark to light this way is sort of tricky in one layer, but I like it better than the various colour copying systems, where the "right" colour is put on once. About 9.25x12 inches, oil on gessoed linen over panel.
This is the second rose painting from this year. I put another layer on it yesterday. The medium was a little different, I've been working in some tight circles trying to improve the medium of the first roses, but haven't done it yet. I tend to work in warm light, wanted to make something in cool light. Not sure this is done but it's better than it was. About 9.25x12 inches, oil on gessoed linen over panel.
The third rose painting from this year. This one was made with a medium that was a little rococo, and ended up too warm and vivid as well. I thought in terms of softening it, backing it off, it will be interesting to see what this looks like in a week or two. Not done, but an improvement, going someplace I haven't been to before. About 9.25x12 inches, oil on gessoed linen over panel.
Palette detail from the painting above. Fun to be working again, time off always makes me appreciate it.
Went on a trip south over the last few days, it is almost Spring already in Virginia. This trip had a lot of different elements in it. Got to see Mema again, she is now 109, more cosmic in orientation but still an old fashioned Southern lady with a great dignity and a very large heart. Also took a second workshop in the Yuen Method with Sharon Fan, an acupuncturist who turned to this method to get faster results. You can look this stuff up if you're interested, Sharon has a nice YouTube page and is much more comprehensible than Dr. Yuen, the originator who has done some relatively miraculous things with it. This is basically a neo-Taoist method for giving active positive suggestions to the central nervous system, framing the human being as a spiritual bio-computer with infinite potential. I was very interested in traditional Chinese medicine a long time ago, did a lot of reading and work with the herbs. So, it's interesting that this is coming up again, there's nothing wrong with me but I'd like to keep it that way, have mostly used this approach as a meditation, for stress reduction, etc. Chinese medicine says it's always best to deal with the issues while they're small, this was underlined firmly by the medically complex deaths of my parents.
Living Craft has sold out in the fourth edition, I'm now waiting for them to print the fifth edition. The bindery mostly does work for university libraries, so I'm a very small fish. But they do good work when they have a chance to fit me in. Anyway, there are still a few slightly imperfect copies of edition four available, it's a small place on the edge of the front cover where the fabric didn't quite adhere to the binders board. These are 25.00 each plus postage, just e-mail me if you'd like one or have questions. In the past, the new editions have been a quantum leap. Edition five is a little more complete, but not much, it's not the same degree of shift, I'd say about 95% of the system is in edition four, I'm mostly just honing and clarifying things at this point. It's hard to shut yourself up. Anyway, I've put together some PDF files from the new edition you can look over. To view or download the Table of Contents, click here. To view or download text selections, click here.
I'm still going to give things in general a rest, but made this little watercolour study one afternoon last week, about 3.5x6 inches, on gessoed paper. I did some of these years ago and had always liked the technique. The paint is on, not in, the paper so it can be moved around more than with regular watercolour. Of course, the gesso can be lifted too if too much water is involved, so you can't just flood it, although that can be used as a kind of deus ex machina eraser in dire cases. Anyway, this was fun to revisit but at the end of it I could see I was still pretty tired. Just time to stop, plenty of other things need to be attended to.
Well, one thing I've noticed is that different months have different personalities, and March can introduce some pretty abrupt changes. So, alas, there won't be any news this week. It's a long story, a confluence of several streams of events, the most relevant being that I worked too hard this winter and need to let things be fallow for a while. It's easy to get myopic about the work on several levels in the pursuit of more, when I get stopped it's always to provide an opportunity to repair to the larger view. I'm getting there slowly, but am also pretty pooped. So, down but not out, will post again on the 22nd, hopefully with some work, but at least with some perspective.
Week of the full moon, sort of a vengeful one around here. I thought a few days off were in order last Sunday but after one I couldn't resist trying another alla prima floral and that re-pulled the plug, had to stop again, this time for the week. It's always hard to know what the exact limit is until it's been crossed, then it's too late: the Icarus dilemma. The hard part about this time in general is the sense that everything feels ready for take-off, but for now I'm still on the ground. Don't feel this can last too much longer, but it is developing more patience while it does. As always after having been stopped, it's possible to appreciate what has happened more, look at it from a larger perspective rather than myopically pushing for the next step daily. But there's a lot of leftover jangle in a situation like this, during one frustrated day I consulted the I Ching, it always has something pithy to say. Asked it what I was supposed to be learning, and got the first line of the first hexagram: hidden dragon, do not act. Haha, yes. Timing is of course a major aspect of the I Ching's concept of active and passive: to everything a season. I get pretty used to being too wound up, ones own insanity is an excellent distraction from everyone else's, but eventually calmed down, realized how uncomfortable I had made myself by trying too hard. This seems to come down to an effort that is imbalanced, of the mind more than emotions or the body. Had a nice snow day in the neighborhood, and got the studio cleaned, now know where everything is again, at least temporarily. A good-looking proof of the next edition of the book arrived, always a sense of accomplishment there after a year of editing, although the book may be out of stock for a while, see below for more on this.
After many false alarms, it finally actually snowed here this week. Fine snow, and getting colder as it fell, so it stuck to everything on the one hand, but turned into pretty slippery mashed potatoes on the roads. Took a long walk through the very quiet neighborhood that afternoon as the snow tapered off, there's a little hill by the train station near-by and little kids were out on it in force. Pictured is a house that always fascinated me growing up, kind of a mini-chateau built with local stone, very near to the part of Fairmount Park I used to go to as a kid, a short cut on my bike. It's not very big, but has a pretty big presence. The overall neighborhood is mostly varieties of the twin and row house, bigger and smaller, but there are several small enclaves of these more consciously continental, as opposed to English, stone houses sprinkled around from the early 20th century that have a timeless quality.
Downtown! Took the train in last night to visit Reading Terminal Market for a fun dinner and see the flower show. The train we were on had some mechanical issues and, after a lot of great comments by the conductor on the state of the equipment, we were eventually deposited at an outlying station just a few minutes ahead of the following train. The old market has changed but is also the same, bustling, colourful, lots of gourmet and local specialty shops, lots of places to get a variety of good prepared food in a pretty informal environment. The flower show is a great institution around here, a way for a large urban population to worship nature discreetly, a big deal even when I was a kid. As with America itself, success has grown it into something kind of bizarre compared to its original conception, but there were still some sincere moments sprinkled around. We ran to make the early train back, got a little turned around but found the station in time. Downtown is interesting, the downtown I grew up with, again the same but different, I'd like to explore it more when the weather breaks.
I'm working on something about colour that will probably go on YouTube, it's interesting to learn to put images together with the right words, this was never something I was good at, I can feel my brain going "Oh no, not something new." I wanted to talk about the different kinds of grays, because gray is one of those catch-all words that can mean a lot of different things. So, the top line here is a simple gray made with white and ivory black, the second line is a chromatic gray made with opposites, in this case burnt sienna and ultramarine. In life the bottom line has a little more chroma and a slight purple cast, but not that much of either. This system does offer the possibility of grays that are graduated in terms of temperature. Then there's the compound gray system that combines black with colour, this is the Bouguereau-Mancini type of system, and a fourth system that uses three transparent primaries that make a clean neutral. This last is the system I want to talk about because, with a little premixing, it provides such a simple way to learn to map colour to form by type, turning a triad of primaries and white into all the colour types, see below. The chromatic grays are of course the hardest type to find within the current "colour theory" palette of bright warm and cool primaries. But, there's still a lot of planning and figuring out to do to explain this simply.
The only painting that happened this week. I kind of knew I was pushing things when I started it, but also saw it pretty clearly, so it was hard to resist. Did something else I sometimes can't resist, and which never really works, which is to take a flyer with the medium, break out, just change it a lot for the heck of it. Ended up with something that looked good in theory, but was sort of difficult to work with in practice. Over time, though, it did essentialize things well, because it stuck but didn't layer. So it became an exercise in letting the paint show me what to do, which is always kind of fun. But anyway, went way into deficit trying to finish this, and just don't think it's done. I like the composition, and kind of like the blockiness of the flowers, their sturdiness, but got kind of hypnotized by the hotter colours, didn't balance them enough with cooler or more neutral colours: chromatic grays! It may be too that the central flower just overpowers everything else. So, this might be one where one more layer will actually do it, but which option to pursue is still up in the air. About 9.25x12 inches, oil on gessoed linen over panel.