Tad Spurgeon oil paintings


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A Sunday look at process and work in progress.

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.

april 17

      Yikes, what a week. Just into the second week of the moon, brisk and sunny week, some truly halcyon days that reminded me of the old summer in Vermont, warm in the day with a breeze, then cool at night. Anyway, was sick for all of it with a cold that came on last Sunday, and just won't go away. The cat watched over me a lot, propped up on my feet, this was pretty nice. Her markings have this great irregularity, the stripes waver, sometimes turn into lenticular spots. Similarly, there are places where the pattern features orange, not black-brown. The cold was sort of sneaky-virulent, or maybe I was over-confident about minimizing it and let it return. Once it was underway the best thing turned out to be strong fresh ginger tea with licorice root, this can actually taste good if it isn't too ginger-hot or licorice-sweet: a matter of proportion, as always. Then, a few days into the week, my significant other had a mishap and did something to her foot which, after some confusion and a visit to a local hospital that has come a long way since I was a kid, turned out to be a spiral fracture of the fifth metatarsal. This is now in a cast, needs surgery soon to heal correctly, and is supposed to entail a recovery period of a few months. We're working on a plan for just how to work with this this is interesting on several levels, a matter of proportion, as always but, between one thing and another, it may take a while to get back to painting again. I find it all fascinating, a branch of natural philosophy as Constable wrote in one of his letters, but have had to put it down before and know the signs. Life takes on a pattern, and the pattern begins to seem that seems immutable until it changes. The former frame of reference, conventions, protocols, are suddenly gone. Whether we mourn, rejoice, or anywhere in between, the only thing to do is work with the new situation and establish a new pattern. And then that pattern remains stable until it expires. As a way of working with or comprehending change, I've always been fond of the I Ching. As with any ancient cultural icon, there are lots of different ways to approach this, but I like the way the I Ching is based on the interaction of opposites, their interdependence, and the way that, in spite of what's going on, it's still up to us. Growing up in America, I was of course exposed to a lot of knee-jerk action-worship, the unexamined life as state religion, but this was balanced by going to a Friends school, where the ethic of a given action in relation to the whole of the community was always emphasized. The I Ching establishes a lot of elegant gray areas not now, possibly later; maybe now, not later as well as often counseling the memorable "action brings regret." At the same time, it has always been the uniquely human privilege to be profane in an otherwise sacred context. The context is in no hurry, it just waits.


      On Monday I could do some work and fiddled around first with this one, made it a little longer and altered the treeline. Still not close to done but it's better, am intrigued at highlighting the aspects of this that are important and letting go of the extraneous detail. At the same time, looking at this, I know it was made by someone who needs a rest. About 9x14 inches, oil on gessoed paper on canvas.


      Something that had stalled after a few layers because I just could not see what to do next. Finally found the missing colour that gave the key to the next step, this was the pinkish gray that often gives the atmosphere more density but is of course hard to see when it is everywhere. But life is about all the colours, and their interactions. Well: might be, can be. Not done but what happened gave it the type of presence I'd been looking for. This is sort of finishing from the inside out, which seems to work better for me. 12x16 inches, oil on gessoed linen over panel.


      This had become on the cool side in the last layer, so warmed it up a little too much, with the idea of coming back with more cool on top. These layers don't take that long, have to do with keeping the colour alive as it develops. Still more crude than I'd like in a way that has been solved in the painting above, but at the point where it is beginning to be fun, each layer now will make it more interesting. This might be helped by a fine sanding: a little oil on it, then 400 or 600 grit, wipe really well and clean with a little solvent. This regularizes the topography a little and opens up the surface, but is a lot simpler on panels. 12x16 inches, oil on gessoed linen over panel.

april 10

      Colder week featuring a few inches of Kurosawa snow yesterday. Week of the new moon, the usual somewhat chaotic first day followed by more understanding incrementally of the latest delivery. Some good things happened in terms of the paint, this led an alla prima excursion and developments both good and equivocal in terms of the work itself. With another hundred years I might figure it all out, am still hoping to simplify the process as a result. But, a lot like walking my grandfather's dog as a kid, it's going where it wants to go, I just have to hold on. Sometimes this is easier than others. Having been taught by Quakers as a kid, I would sometimes like to explain, in great detail, why, yet again, none of this is going to ever work. But it also seems best to stay with the basic responsibility for my own happiness, let everyone else explore things their own way. Was sent a link to the world of classical music played on period instruments this week, this version of Beethoven Symphony no.6 was a favorite. The woodwinds and brass are especially different, a lot like older colours: not as bright, or as loud, as the modern versions, but with more character. I don't worship the culture of the past, it seems we all have to figure out how to be here now effectively. But there's a way in which the past offers a tremendous resource simply by being so different.


      Every four years we elect a new wizard. Perhaps the most expensive and inefficient process in the universe, with endless hoopla and wagging of the dog. And every four years I get a little exercised about this process too. Then I remember that it wasn't the wizard who got Dorothy home.


      New test panel, have been working with developing a medium based on commercial ingredients: the Kremer stand oil, damar, and wax. This has gone through several variations at this point, I'm working on making it looser while still being layerable and holding edges. It's interesting to chart the development of a process this way as well as on paper.


      Something I've been working on for a while that's almost done, it's getting that period instrument feeling. When things get to this point of being in the right emotional or psychological key it's a lot more fun to work on them. About 8x10 inches, oil on gessoed linen over panel.


      Something that started out with a lot of paint, before I learned that oomph first isn't necessarily such a good idea. At last sighting I liked the general feeling but not the texture, sometimes evidence of process is interesting, sometimes it's intrusive. Decided to brighten up the colour scheme with slightly looser paint, this worked pretty well, was able to put a lot on. Still more to go with this one, but establishing the more paint approach again at another level was good. About 9.25x12 inches, oil on gessoed linen over panel.


      I'm not a die-hard fan of work in layers, did a lot of work outside in Vermont, also a lot of alla prima florals. This approach is more hit or miss for me, but has a quality I like when they work. So, decided to try the looser approach with an alla prima landscape. This type of image the long view, sun with lots of atmospheric recession has always been attractive, but an issue to execute, the first version of this went through a great deal to no avail. But, very occasionally one gets thrown a bone in terms of seeing the next step, it was just really clear what to do here. Made the paint even looser, but it worked for this approach. About 8.25x13.25 inches, oil on gessoed paper.


      Adjusted the paint to be more mobile but also hold, then tried another alla prima landscape. This one didn't work out as well in spite of having paint that was really cooperating. So, this part was a plus, the medium moved forward. But, as is so often the case for me with alla prima, the coach became a pumpkin again before my eyes. I think the issue was the usual one of not paying enough attention to the rhythm of the larger compositional chunks in the beginning: the detail became overwhelming quickly. So, did a lot of rescuing, and while the paint made this interesting the image also became a little caricatured. Still, there's something there, and it's often simple to develop this type of thing further if I let it rest a while. Will keep going with the alla prima approach, exploring this paradoxical loose but additive paint. But will try, once again, to honor its most basic principle and make sure the feeling works as an abstract set of shapes first. About 8.75x14.25 inches, oil on gessoed paper.

april 3

      Waning moon, a sunny, cold and blustery week that then featured one very warm day and quite a thunderstorm last night around midnight. Between one thing and another, was not able to get that much done this week, but didn't have that much to offer either. Made a small shift in the medium that I liked, the same stuff now works a few different ways with some small changes, this is fun. I used to try to solve things by understanding them, which I guess was basically a mental procedure, philosophical detective work. This had its moments but was also a defense mechanism, a way of trying to keep life at a distance. Given how crazy life has always seemed, well, human life anyway, this doesn't seem unreasonable. Except that it just didn't really work that well for living, it was too simple, too much was excluded. Now it seems that life is about an experience that is more total, that the emotional and physical axes are just as important as the mental, that it all has to be linked together: surprising similar, in fact, to the way red, yellow and blue operate in a painting. If asked, I always would have said oh yes of course, it's all equal, but growing up with essentially mental parents, who approved utterly of the mental approach, had a pretty skewed frame of reference. By being three dimensional, the combined approach is more spacious, contains more options, and therefore makes it easier to live naturally, that is, by emotional intuition. But it's also harder to talk about, since its process contains, but is not dominated by, the mental. I've encountered this a lot in painting over the years, not knowing why something has to happen until after the fact, so it's getting easier to just go with where it wants to take me. Experiencing it, without having to try to understand it first, which has turned out to be impossible anyway.


      I was always interested in the goofiness of cheese, its inherent comedy. This type of image has had a tendency to get a little edgy, a little detailed, which seems to preclude it developing in larger ways. so, am making an effort here to keep the specific detail somewhat vague, while enhancing the chromatic detail as much as possible. This seems to work better so far. About 11x16 inches, oil on gessoed linen over panel.


      The paint I'm working with now is really sequestering, that is, it dries up, covers what's beneath it. This is a little different for me but I'm getting used to it. Cleaned up several older landscapes this week, this one came out best, the entrance to a large pasture outside of Middlebury in Vermont. About 9.5x12 inches, oil on gessoed linen over panel.


      A more recent start from Vermont, I always loved this particular view on Farr Cross, really belies the actually small scale of the area, but it hasn't been the easiest to work with. About layer four on this one, added a little more methyl cellulose paste to the medium for this, which made it more gluey, giving low overall impasto. Focused on more unity, less diversity, maximizing the feeling of the evening. More to go, but this went somewhere better. About 20x12 inches, oil on gessoed paper.


      There are about six of these small paintings of this group of roses now in various states. Simplicity is fascinating, it has to contain complexity as well to be successful, but complexity refined. This one has taken a few layers so far, will probably take a few more to get the light the way I want it. About 8.5x11 inches, oil on gessoed linen.


      Some people have asked about Lily. She's good.

march 27

      Strange week of the full moon, started with snow that was visible in the streetlights, but melted before it hit the ground. About to be lovely all over here, the flowering goes on and on in April. Historically, I haven't done that well with disasters, mass shootings, terrorist attacks, etc., but this time it seemed clear that I just had to honor life, since the goal was to make me sad or fearful. I don't understand the appeal of guns or violence, like the disingenuous rhetoric of Donald Trump, this makes me ashamed. So, worked quite a lot, it felt a little manic around the full moon, that sometimes happens in the Spring anyway. Made an adjustment to the medium that created some surprising changes, see below. Otherwise, began to see that, if we define finished as a balance between unity and diversity, I had been stressing diversity too much, and need to move back towards unity. (More on unity and diversity below as well.) Another way of saying this is that I got confused by the difference between growing, and "getting better." This is sort of a fine line, like the difference between discernment and judgement. The personal search is one thing, and probably inevitable for most people, but the idea that it might have a goal besides learning is another. But of course we live in a world where the sacred and the profane are inextricably mixed, so it's really easy to get confused. I've wanted to give the process as much room as possible, but even so, often end up coercing it through sheer impatience. But it has demonstrated over and over that it grows, but only at a certain rate: that the growth is most reliable if it is organic, not forced. So, mundanely, everything this week got better, but nothing this week became finished, because the definition once again evolved, laughed, then scampered over the horizon.


      Have been working with a medium of thick oil, some that I've refined, some of the great Kremer stand oil, with a little damar and beeswax melted into it. Then it gets a little methyl cellulose mashed into it. This started out as an experiment about how to use commercial materials without solvent, but has kind of morphed into a world of its own as these things all too often do. This week added a drop of manila copal dissolved in spike lavender. This material creates a rejection gel with oil, instant seizure, it even makes stand oil stand up, which geeky confessions is always fun to witness. So I was hoping for a little more elasticity and density without getting into too much resin or solvent. I tried two drops, but one drop pictured here is enough. This material was surprising. I thought it would be more for broken surface work in small pieces, but it did a variety of styles, from loose to tight, from goopy to relatively fine.


      Years ago I made amber varnish, a hairy process but a fascinating material, eventually made it the colour of burnt sienna, not burnt umber. But after working with it for a while I ended up feeling it's potential to darken was too great. Have one remaining painting on panel made with amber and egg yolk, the egg yolk seems to have kept the value scale higher, but of course interferes with deeper saturation as well. There are also amber spirit varnishes, not that strong but possibly less yellowing, it dissolves to an extent in ethanol, this process takes a while and is in De Mayerne. Recently my friend Wim in Belgium reported that his friend Johan the Lutemaker was dissolving amber successfully in spike lavender. My friend Roland the Chemist in Belgium said, well, this is only going to be about 20% dissolution at most, but he tried it, and the results seemed interesting to me, a thin but thixotropic varnish is produced in a few weeks. So, it took me a while to get good spike lavender, I decided this might be important, and had to wait for some from Kremer. This stuff is pretty amazing, smells just like the plant, not like a vicious medication. Of course, it's still a toxic solvent, but the quality was encouraging. So, I took some of my old ground up flint amber, tried to get the finest stuff, put it in a half ounce bottle, about one fourth full, then filled it with spike with an eye dropper, then added a few pebbles to keep it from massing. The amber swelled to twice it's size overnight, and is acting more like a lava lamp than granules. This is much faster than a version of the process I tried earlier, with oil of rosemary. It will take at least a few weeks to see any real change, in theory it dissolves completely over several months. Although this happens with Manila copal, it would go against everything scientific that has ever been written about amber. Of course, as Roland pointed out, no one may have actually let it sit long enough. So, not necessary, but interesting, and perhaps part of the complex but intriguing amber story. Functionally, it may have the same effect as the Manila copal, causing heat-polymerized oil to seize.


      The Golden Ratio is expressed algebraically as (1+√5) and there's tons of interesting information on the way this is used throughout nature on the internet. But let's look at the way the ratio itself is generated. A circle is drawn from the midpoint of one line of a square. The square is then extended to incorporate part of the circle's radius. So, conceptually, the rectangle is created by integrating the opposites of the square and the circle. The square is stable, but also static, a rational, material if not quite profane symbol. The circle is mobile, about wholeness, the bigger picture, and irrational by virtue of containing pi. We can draw a finite circle, but mathematically, the figure refines itself without end. So, an interesting background aspect of the Golden Ratio as the foundation of many types of organic form and growth is the way it allows unity to manifest as diversity with integral harmony. Each chamber in the nautilus is larger, but based on the same proportions as the one that preceded it. So, by integrating geometric opposites, the ratio itself is a paradox: an infinite constant. From which, of course, we are all free to draw our own conclusions.


      Started a set of larger florals in Vermont just before coming back to Mt. Airy. The idea was to make work that had a more contemporary feeling in at least some ways. Visited three of them this week. This one was first, I thought the green of the earlier background would show up when the changes dried, but it didn't. So, not the best colours yet, and my camera cannot deal with that type of red, but it was fun to return to this scale. About 22x24 inches, oil on Arches Huile.


      Second larger floral, had to adjust the left-hand peony, and it still needs a reasonable amount but was otherwise happy with the way the colour and space began to interact in this. About 22x24 inches, oil on Arches Huile.


      Third larger floral, first one in the series, liked how the colour developed in this one as well, a little more lyrical without becoming brassy. All of these need more development, but a fun excursion. About 22x24 inches, oil on Arches Huile.


      Recent start with more space around the object, third layer on this one. The goal is to keep the paint open as long as possible, to find finished without things becoming to tight.


      Something I started with a great deal of paint that has ended up with a sort of distracting impasto pattern. I put a saturating layer of oil on it as a prelude to grinding it back slightly, but may use it as a model for a larger one instead. It's gnarly, too big in the frame for me at this point, but I like the overall feeling and sense of colour. 9x12 inches, oil on gessoed linen over panel.


      Something more recent that had paused because I didn't feel I could do what needed to be done next. It's sometimes hard to wait in these cases, but this was pretty straightforward to move forward with the most recent paint. 9x12 inches, oil on gessoed linen over panel.


      This one has been through some interesting changes: too much detail, too little, now at a balance that feels interesting. 9x12 inches, oil on gessoed linen over panel.


      A small cheese that became a test bed for a lot of different approaches to this finer kind of style. It has become too warm, this layer brightened it and made it more cool. Still some issues, especially with the larger cheese on the right, but it has an overall feeling at this point that I like. 9x12 inches, oil on gessoed linen over panel.


      Worked on this one two days in a row, the second day is always good for fine tuning things if the paint is open enough to allow it. Always liked this image, but it suffered from a beginning that fudged a few things, and it turned out I needed a bright warm yellow: not much, but some. Still a little more to go in some places, but like the overall feeling now as well: in some ways an "old" painting, in some ways a "new" one. 12x16 inches, oil on gessoed linen over panel.

march 20

      Sort of Spring here, some cherries and magnolia trees in bloom, but colder now, with a final snowstorm coming here or close today and tomorrow. Waxing moon, usually a good time for the work, focused on smaller landscapes, was able to move most of them forward. This often involved getting in, doing what I know or feel certain about, then getting out, rather than hanging on trying to finish it: the "trying" part tends to make stuff go sideways or backwards. Over time, the process keeps accruing more information about the relationship between colour, form, and atmosphere. Like red, yellow, and blue -- and so many other things in life and painting -- this is a triad, and three axes always establish a sphere in which to operate. This sphere, of course, is rolling through time, another axis, so the development of this process is pretty fascinating to follow. Years ago I thought I had to "do" things, but it turns out that making what wants to happen is enough, the changes are built into the process. One thing that's interesting about the Golden Section, and the other numbers of organic growth, is that they all contain an "irrational" element: that is, a number that isn't finite. This means that they are constantly refining themselves, and are, in essence, a paradox: a way of making a constant that is in fact alive. The creative process operates in a similar way: once activated, it just keeps going. So, while the work improves at a faster rate now than, say, five years ago, I remain unsure about what finished means, because this too has evolved. For a while I found this frustrating, but am no longer sure that this is a bug. In larger terms, it may well be a feature, because it prioritizes the creative life of the process. I mention this because modern life comes with a lot of distractions. As Burton wrote in The Anatomy of Melancholy, I hear new news every day, and probably a lot more than he did. But if this news is not generated by the creative process, what kind of life can it have? It attempts to be important, presents itself as "real," but blink and it has changed, or is gone. Where is the actual news? Within the sphere we generate through the creative process. This is ours for the taking, in the present moment, every day.


      After working with the most recent medium system for a few months, even bragging about this, decided to try something a little different. Am exploring some mediums made with commercial materials for the book, and wanted to get more depth and saturation from commercial paint. So, took the idea of the putty medium with a little damar and beeswax in it, dropped the stone dusts out, and used Kremer stand oil as the vehicle. This seemed like it might be a little leveling, a little vanilla, so added a little bit of methyl cellulose gel as well, the oil-water interaction made it more elastic. This stuff gets mixed into the paint before beginning, about one part medium to three parts paint. I liked this as an all-commercial approach, but have already made another version that balances the stand oil with some auto-oxidized hand-refined linseed oil, this is less leveling. More to learn about this approach, may increase the density with chalk a little for smaller, more detailed work but this medium increased the chroma and overall depth: what it was supposed to do.


      Started here with the newer medium, image of the Lemon Faire in Vermont, a spot next to a semi-defunct dairy farm I was fascinated by when I lived in Middlebury. This has been close for a while, recently decided to add some clouds from another location, later in the afternoon, sometimes an empty sky is just too empty. The chroma came up significantly in this layer as expected, although it's more attenuated than it is in this smaller JPEG: not brighter or duller, just more. I liked the way the medium performed but it was more prehensile than I thought it would be, without actually layering. Might try adding a little bone ash to release it a bit. I guess a little BPO might work too, but this is harder to control, I'll try the bone ash first. About 11x14.5 inches, oil on Arches Huile over panel.


      Another version of the same place, earlier in the summer, not as finished, a crunchier beginning, really liked working on this but it dried sort of oddly compared to the one above, this seems to happen up to a certain point with these. The gessoed panel is the most difficult surface for me, but I like the way they look in the end. About 11.5x15.5 inches, oil on gessoed panel.


      Farr Cross in Vermont, evening in May, lots of intense greens at this time of year. Not that many layers, just beginning to get the right feeling. About 9x14.5 inches, oil on Arches Huile on panel.


      Small study of the same spot, a little more advanced, working on the balance of light and air, the last layer was a little dim, this one is a little vivid. There's a larger one of these, the smaller ones always help with the progress of the larger ones. About 8x12 inches, oil on gessoed paper over panel.


      Small Italy study from my Gere Collection, the middle distance still needs work but the best this one has been. 9.5x13.5 inches, oil on Arches Huile over canvas. About time to put this on a panel.


      The last few summers I was in Vermont featured some really humid skies, have a small one of these that worked, this is one of several other variations. Had been nibbling at it, this is sort of a breakout layer, changed the sky a lot, in fact a little too broken up now. This type of layer seldom finishes the image but does get it going in a better direction. About 10x12 inches, oil on gessoed linen over panel.


      Something very old that surfaced in the most recent studio excavation, it was never finished, had gotten dinged a bit, decided to clean it up. This will take a few more layers, but is fun to revisit. 11x22 inches, oil on gessoed linen over panel.


      Began the week with one of the larger starts, on the most recent batch of linen. Was happy with the overall feeling of this, especially in the sky. I'm fascinated by the small painting -- the only person in the Western hemisphere? -- but a week is enough, in spite of everything I've tried with the paint, they're still a little finicky for me. Will go back to this scale and this image in the week to come. Aboiut 13x21 inches, oil on gessoed linen.

march 13

      New moon last Tuesday, a relatively gentle one in terms of demands, but with lots of energy. Had a good week doing layers with the most recent putty, it's interesting to use the same system again for weeks instead of days, I don't see this one needing to change much at this point but of course you never know. Some warmer days, Spring is getting ready here, a few earlier trees in bloom. Easy to work, lots of things that are getting closer to done, but also easy to overdo it a little bit. Started work on something Saturday morning and resurrected an older landscape start. But could feel I was pushing it and took the rest of the day off.


      For a while I've been resurrecting older work with the newer medium approach, basically a damar and beeswax putty. This is somewhat complex in terms of the time involved, since they've resisted completion for a reason, but I also find hanging on, again and again if necessary, to be interesting. Also, when I read that there were over fifty sittings recorded for the model of Manet's Le Bon Bock, it vindicated the bulldog approach somewhat. Recently this has been more fun because the changes tend to stay changed now, not dry down. But after grinding this peony down I kind of lost heart. On the one hand, it had been close several times, has pretty nice colour going, easy to see what to do. On the other, I'm just not as interested in the object pushing at the edges anymore. So, instead of doing it over, decided to start a new one and see what would happen.


      Two thin layers on the new one here. Much more to go but I like the overall feeling of this one better, mostly because the stage itself now has identity and dimension, giving the viewer more space. But it also gave me some ideas for changing the first one again. I like this type of thing, the process accruing more information about how to move forward. Both are 12x16 inches, oil on gessoed linen over panel.


      Another new beginning this week with two layers on it. Reversal of the peony in terms of using brighter colours, a tighter approach, and more paint. An image I've always been fascinated by, not bad so far but getting the air is critical and this typically takes time. Am learning that, in terms of landscaping these, it's better to leave stuff out and put it back in later if it's called for. Wondered if this might become too predictable on linen, did it on gessoed Arches 300 lb watercolour paper instead, this stuff is like boilerplate, might work for this scale mounted on panel. Farr Cross, about 10x20.5 inches.


      Worked on the watermelon again after a rest, with simpler images this is often the only way for me not to get hypnotized by what has gone before, and see what might happen next. Same medium in the paint, just used with a little more oil. I wanted this to be painted in a way that would transcend it's pop obviousness. Getting closer, the stage where it becomes really fun to do more to them. 12x16 inches, oil on gessoed linen over panel.


      I always liked inverting the sumptuous floral, then realized it might be possible to be sumptuous in a more moderate way. Version four of this one I think, this one has been close for a while, have learned a tremendous amount from working on this particular image. Pretty close, I think more might be possible without too much issue, would like it to be a little more finished in certain areas that are still a bit fudged. Maybe this doesn't matter, it'll tell me if it does or not next time. The part I'm really looking forward to is starting a somewhat larger version based on what I've learned here. About 11.5x12 inches, oil on gessoed panel.


      Last image of the week, one of the last starts from when I lived in Vermont. It had some ranging layers on it, but was a little subfusc, decided to go for more in the way of colour and light and see where it would land. I was a little tired, could feel a few times that I was doing the right thing but it wasn't quite registering. So, this will take a few more layers still but it was nice to see how much I've learned in the last few years about developing the structure of something like this. The happy ones have always been the hardest to figure out, a lot of competition to unify. A little too happy now, a little too modern, but that's easy to fix. Farr Cross, early corn in June, about 11x20.5 inches, oil on gessoed paper over panel.

march 6

      Waning moon, some brief snow and seasonal cold, although it looks like Spring is going to come pretty quickly this month, always good for the larger sense of hope. Plugged away, some days were easier than others, I try to look on the bright side, but some weeks are easier than others. I wish we could learn from small mistakes, instead of needing larger ones. In the work it's challenging to feel close with the general quality of the paint and remain patient with its longer term development. Without patience, time goes kerflooey, and life looses its basic flavor, its raison d'etre, in a hurry. On the other hand, with patience, there's always a situation around the corner that's going to require more than I ever thought possible. I guess this presupposes an interest in the examined life -- never to be taken for granted! -- but it only seems logical at this point to keep following this as far as it goes, there's always more around the corner in terms of possibilities too. Am learning about how this particular type of paint operates, this information is necessarily kind of slow to accrue, the paint works best when there's a lot of it, but not too much of it, a fine line. Overall, it's the closest system yet in terms of painterly paint that dries brightly without looking like egg yolk paint: egg yolk is the simplest approach to brighter layers on panels but the look bothers me, I have no idea why. Am beginning to want some different options, surprise, this is probably just making the existing medium a little richer with a thick oil for more facility and fusion, logical within the development of a system in layers. Very overcast this morning, work that took a decent photo is below.


      An older image, ground it back and redid this with a lot of the current paint, fun and it actually took a decent photo which is odd. With the layered approach, developing an image over long periods of time, I like the way the next layer always builds on what has gone before, but also necessarily reverses it in some way. Not quite done but I like the garlic. About 8x11 inches oil on gessoed canvas over panel.


      Something that had become too careful, this is easy on straight gesso over panel. Getting a little better but needs that emphatic, transformative type of layer still. About 12x15 inches, oil on gessoed panel.


      An earlier larger peony. This took an odd photo but in life is getting closer to done. About 13.5x15 inches, oil on gessoed linen over panel.


      Recent beginning, layer four on this one, keeping this on the looser side, like the dialogue of the space and the object in this one. About 12x18 inches, oil on gessoed linen over panel.


      The beginning before the one above, also layer four, a more considered start. Working on this pretty incrementally, even development in each layer in terms of the colour and form. Want to reverse the low chroma approach a little bit in this, add more colour in various ways. The missing link in the colour is often some kind of gray or lavender, this element of neutrality of course makes the positive colour appear more vivid. There are lots of different ways to introduce this, tried a few of them here, one with black and one with opposite colours. The space around the object still feels a little large, want to see if I can figure out a way to make it articulate enough to work. About 13.5x18 inches, oil on gessoed linen over panel.

february 28

      More complex weather, a thunderstorm and mini-monsoon one night this week, that was different. Back to sun and seasonal cold now. Waning moon, decent energy but not that much inspiration in stock this week, had to work for the next level of organization. But that's okay. Each small breakthrough in these is fun, but it also seems to set up learning the next level of patience. That's where the level broadens, but it takes time, doesn't seem like anything is going on, but it is. So, there's sort of a systole-diastole process, can't take the next breath without letting go of the last one. I like the way these are looking in general, the medium and paint combination will do relatively smooth to relatively goopy paint, lots of options. It's pretty forgiving, can be placed or blended, and is semi-layerable, meaning with a full brush and a soft touch, rather than through actual cement-like adhesion. This is translating to more intuitive oomph bit by bit. I've had this type of paint before, and this is the place I wanted to get to again, but most importantly, this version dries pretty brightly in layers, which is the final thing I've been looking for. Did a decent amount of different things this week, some of these are saturated and that means the photos get iffier. A selection that photographed well is below.


      Layer three on this start from last week, thin paint, like the colour so far but still have an issue with the way the jar meets the reflection. Will keep going on this with relatively thin paint. The medium gives it lots of body, making for a slightly different approach. 13.5x18 inches, oil on gessoed linen over panel.


      Continue to redo older work, continue to wonder about diminishing returns with these, this one has really been through a lot but that's part of it's fascination for me. Decided to see what would happen if I didn't go quite so far, stopped this with the newer paint still pretty loose. I was interested in this more confrontational type of composition for a while, but now want to see more space again. About 12x16 inches, oil on gessoed linen over panel.


      The image above got me thinking about ways I'd worked with more space in the past. Went looking and found the first version of this image, from 1999. Decided to make another version of it, at the slightly larger scale. This was 10x15 inches, oil on gessoed linen over panel.


      Start of new version, very thin first layer followed by paint with an open texture. This type of approach is a good balance to one that is relatively accurate. It will be interesting to see how the old ones and this new one inform one another. 13.5x18 inches, oil on gessoed linen over panel.


      Mounted this small beach study on a panel, ground it back, and put another layer on it. This really dried up, this is what the system is designed to do at this point but I don't always quite get what I'd hoped for. Not done, maybe a little too bright at this point, but this was interesting to work on, the paint would do some things it couldn't do the last time I worked on this. There are several of these beach images in progress, memories of being a kid at the shore, this is my favorite with people, would like to make this larger on linen. Had to remove a lot from the reference, the far umbrella on the right is now bugging me a little , I thought three would work but maybe two is better, or that one needs to be smaller, less distinct. About 8.5x14 inches, oil on gessoed paper over panel.

february 21

      Second week of the moon, more snow, then a spring-like day yesterday. This hasn't exactly been a hard winter, but people are tired of the roller-coaster, heard several remarks to that effect. A near neighbor passed away, an incredibly decent and elegant guy I'd gotten to know at least somewhat. It was expected, he was in his late eighties, stoic, but had begun to suffer. For whatever reason I've always seen death as a change in channel, not an ending, still, there's a visceral effect, both personally and in the vicinity, kind of an underground tsunami. Got involved this week in cleaning the studio, it's a small room and it's been two years, things had gotten a little inefficient: no free horizontal space, moving one pile endlessly to another. So, it was just time, therefore simple, found a few things that had gone missing, that's always fun. But it also gave me a really clear sense of the work, and of what to do next, which was unexpected: would not have called cleaning up a potentially creative activity. I used to make plans, but they were in my mind, and always came to naught. I thought of this as a curse, but it's turned out to be a great blessing. Now I just watch the bird of the process. This is a lot easier because it's more physical, more in the moment. I may or may not catch it this time, but maybe learning to keep an eye on it is more important.


      Ended up needing to make one panel this week, I'd always wondered about using gesso cold, just rubbing it in. This worked out well, is pretty forgiving except that there's a time when it has set, but isn't dry, and you can't go over it at this point or it will crumble right off. Those areas are easy to fix once it's actually dry.


      Hadn't worked on this one in a while, Farr Cross, my favorite tree, one of the first larger landscape starts from a few years ago after really working small for a while. Still have some issues with the colour of the sky, but brought it forward, not done but closer, a few more layers adjusting the colour and atmosphere might do it. The perils of knowing a location well, needing it to be there. About 14.5x18 inches, oil on gessoed linen over panel.


      A more essential peony, based on an older painting from life, put a somewhat brighter layer of colour in this, made some adjustments to the flower itself, getting closer. This surface is a little pebbley, the linen was too coarse, tried cotton canvas as a couch underneath it but that produced a moire texture of it's own. So, may grind this back lightly before continuing. This tends to seem like going backwards, but is usually helpful in moderation. About 12x15 inches, oil on gessoed linen over panel.


      Okay, the story of how an image develops in time, over time, something I'm really interested in. First, a trip down memory lane. In the summer of 2000, I was working in a big room in Vermont, could place still life fifteen to twenty feet away. Did a stack of florals that summer from life, straight paint on an absorbent panel ground, really learned a lot from them. Here's a bad scan, so bad I could not fix it, of one of those paintings. It was a little bit of a shock to find this image, I guess I had always idealized it in my mind. But, even if the colour were correct, it seems on the primitive side at this point. Not all of them from this summer were this way, but, as you'll see, this is an image I have problems with! About 10.5x13 inches, oil on gessoed panel.


      Next version of this image, a few years later, this time from a photograph, using a Canada balsam and sun oil medium. This medium is pretty popular now, you just need to use a lot less balsam than a lot of people say to use, solvent is not necessary, and substituting larch is probably going to be less yellowing over time. About 11x14 inches, oil on gessoed linen over panel.


      Third version of this image, started in 2008, something I found during the clean-up that had really stalled. Decided to work on it again this week, but got sort of frustrated with how messed up it was, became tempted to pitch it. Then decided that the issue was nibbling, so tried to fix it with a lot of paint, since this was how the earlier work had been done. Pretty grungy, but it was fun to work this way with the current medium, it performed pretty well at this density, always good to know, although it did dry down somewhat in the end. Not finished, but back among the living. About 12x16 inches, oil on gessoed linen over panel.


      Still, that was a frustrating experience, realized that the third version was never really going to have some elements that I now like to put into these. So I started another one. I'm not sure why this type of thing happens, in some ways it's just about learning more, in other ways it's like the dog going back to the porcupine for revenge. Decided that the best thing to do was to get the initial elements pretty clearly. This meant using watercolour to lock the red chalk drawing in more. I always like this, it doesn't need to be finicky or finished to help, began to see a lot of the smaller things that add up to the image working. Beginning to add the compound gray background in oil in the photo.


      The completed first layer, just used paint with a little oil and chalk for this. Still issues with the lead flower and the shadow of the jar, but this is more different than I thought it would be, which is always interesting. Want to keep going on this, what could go wrong? Ha ha, Mr. Trump, what indeed. About 13.5x18 inches, oil on gessoed linen over panel.

february 14

      Waxing moon, did a lot of thinking about pragmatism versus idealism this week, decided for the millionth time that the most pragmatic thing is to be as idealistic as possible. The "as possible" part is, of course, important: one person's reasonable hope is another person's ludicrous folly. Yet, because this situation is personally defined, it is also personally implemented. I guess, too, things are always changing, what might work is always going to be in flux. The study of change is really interesting, although necessarily confusing, since our expectations are often rooted in a frame of reference that is skewed, but unseen. But the confusion expands the frame of reference, and we learn to incorporate more into the decision making process. This is similar to the way the personal meets the universal in a realistic painting style, we inevitably learn more about both. But the predicate for the process is a willingness to be confused, because this is the portal to the next level of awareness. If we are determined to be certain, it is logical to resist any information or changes that challenge that certainty. So, we end up doing the same thing over and over again, even if it doesn't work: Einstein's definition of insanity.

       Plunked away this week, nice energy for the work in spite of February. Mostly did layers on the next larger size of landscapes, these tend to evolve slowly but surely, did make one alla prima still life as well with more do-or-die paint. Some happy snow this week, a brief winter wonderland, then much colder. I've been getting emails from my friends in Vermont bragging about how cold it is. Well, there are some fun things to brag about here too. For example, when I send books overseas, they are sometimes delivered to me instead of the addressee. This never happened in Vermont! This is a function of the woeful design of the international shipping label, the redesign of which I've explained to the post office in a series of polite, but increasingly direct emails. When a book I'd been trying to send to Canada came back to me a second time this week, meaning literally a month lost in transit, this situation somehow lost all entertainment value and I looked into filing some kind of formal complaint. Of course, they make this not the easiest thing to do, and it was while I was trying to figure out which avenue to take next that the miracle occurred. I got an international book order, and when I printed out the label, lo and behold, the format was different. They had done exactly what I told them to do! Yea, verily. The label is now visually intuitive, with "To" far larger than "From." The achievement of a lifetime.


      I got a little inspired by the meal a few weeks ago at Mercato in New York, simple Italian food very well done, have been trying to cook more. It's easy to think there's not enough time, but, really, there is. Maybe this just means that I feel better when I do it, rather than cutting various food corners. Anyway, I always liked cooking in these clay pots, the Spanish for them is cazuela, so I got them out and started again. They make everything taste gentler or more round than metal. The classic thing for this is a tomato sauce, but it changes the basic feeling of everything.


      The emulsified wax, this was made by adding a little homemade walnut oil soap to beeswax and water. It's sort of creamy, but holds an edge, you can see this behavior in some of the Fayum portraits where the paint is really troweled on, very early Van Gogh-like impasto with a knife. I want to work with this in a water medium, but for now a small amount is going into the medium for oil as part of a strategy for making the paint remain bright over time. There are lots of different ways to do this, but I like this one because the wax has such a long history of stability and there's no solvent involved in the process. The other interesting but slightly tricky thing about this wax is that it dries opaquely compared to regular wax.


      One of the less finished larger landscapes, started here this week. Have learned to do these with a series of incremental changes each time, rather than pushing for completion in the early stages. Once the right feeling is established, they then seem to start making themselves, which is always fun to watch. Farr Cross, August, a place in Vermont I worked with from 1998 to 2014, about 13x20 inches, oil on gessoed paper.


      This one is a about a layer or two ahead of the one above. One of the things about letting a layer sit for a few months is that it's always intuitively obvious what to do next. So, this was fun because it was so clear what needed to happen. Not done, but perhaps over the hump. Same place in Vermont, September, about 13x20 inches, oil on gessoed paper.


      This one had a good beginning, but this can sometimes lead to issues in the next few layers. Some larger issues still, especially in the sky, not as far along as the one above. West of Farr Cross, in the bird sanctuary there, looking east towards Snake Mountain. About 12x20 inches, oil on linen.


      Another place in Vermont I worked with a lot, a semi-used cow pasture on the Lemon Fair just between Middlebury and Shoreham. This was a few days after Hurricane Irene came through, a lot of rocks in the fields from the flooding. This is getting closer to being done, don't have major issues, just need to keep going. About 12x20 inches, oil on gessoed paper on canvas. This will go on a panel, a safer procedure if the paper is on canvas first.


      First version of this image, from about this time last year. This took a decent photo today, but in life it has become a little soft in terms of it's value scale and saturation. It's okay, I like it enough not to mess with it, but in the long run it would be nice to get alla prima wet-in-wet layers to dry the way I want them to. This is an issue of wanting the paint to be so modified, I'm wondering about making my own paint again: using older oil, I could get so much more pigment into it. About 12x9.25 inches, oil on gessoed linen over panel.


      Second version of the image, from yesterday. Some issues with the photo, too much glare. It doesn't look that different here but in life it really is: I need to break down and get a good camera at some point. Anyway, it was refreshing to do something again from scratch with a lot of paint after doing indirect layers for a while. After it seemed like the composition was going to work, the focus turned to how much detail and how much essence was going to be part of the roses. So, they ended up with a lot of paint. I'm pretty sure this paint is not going to dry down much, ever, but I'd like more in the way of closure from the way the roses are painted, they just don't feel organic enough, see detail. So, the issue of how much to plan an image, how much to just do it, continues. Which is okay, this is one of those paintings that broke more new ground than I thought it would, a high class problem. The paint is more discreet, has more tendency to make and hold impasto, but I got a little hypnotized by the detail in the roses for one layer, they're brighter but too clunky. One more layer? Probably two. Also about 12x9.25 inches, oil on gessoed linen over panel.

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