Tad Spurgeon oil paintings
Numenist, anachronist, maroon.


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A weekly look at process and work in progress.

february 7

      More overcast, too dark to work for a few days, a few inches of dense wet snow that was lovely in the trees for a morning. Sun this morning, makes all the difference that it's so generally sunny here. Last week of the moon, limped along and did okay. It looks like adding a little of the emulsified wax is the last piece of the technical puzzle for me, but there's more to learn about this system still as you'll see. So, middle of the winter, but a new cycle beginning with my birthday. Not the most energy yet, keeping expectations moderate, but the strongest sense yet that there's a finishing system coming together. I guess what I mean by this is that the paint now does what I want it to, so the work is not about effort, but about being me. New moon tomorrow, this can be a little chaotic for a while as I try to figure out what "new" means this time, but the riddle also comes with the energy to solve it.


      The cat I've inherited has a strong personality. When it's time to play she bangs on the cupboard doors. At first I resisted being, um, trained this way but it's actually more fun to give in and play with her, she's dauntless and acrobatic in pursuit of the virtual bird. I love the abandon, the chase for it's own sake, a miss is as good as a hit because it's all part of the hunt. She gives it her all, then has a nap. Simple, sane. The world of humanity remains pretty crazy and with one thing and another. I have a lot of long term hope but am also running short of mortal coil: it's easy to get too serious even though I really try not to. I mean, the slightest glance into history shows that it's always been this way, the battle of truth versus falsehood in the soul of a purposely flawed species. So it's nice when someone comes along and starts demonstrating how much about the helpfulness of play I've been missing. It isn't that play is goofy or casual, play is serious in its own way. But it's still play. So, another type of "last piece of the puzzle" to integrate.


      Decided to try to make a wax emulsion with a relatively pure -- i.e., non-commercial -- soap that didn't yellow. The unscented Dr. Bronner's mixed with wax doesn't appear to yellow, but I wanted to be as safe as possible with this. The linseed oil soap was wonderful, but yellowed, so this is the beginning of liquid soap made with walnut oil. The interest of this material is the way it makes stand oil into an elastic taffy, photo below, adding an element of stickiness or tack to the solvent-free system. There were some surprises with this material this week, however, as you'll see.


      Put a second layer on this image from Italy, wanted to warm it up slightly. It came out reasonably but then actually dried too far up, the amount of warmth in it didn't soften as the paint polymerized. So, this is a very interesting development, the only other way I know to do this is to use egg yolk, the system they found in Lotto. But I don't loved that look. So, I like this so far but a little more to go still. Will be adjusting the system based on this development in the weeks to come. 9x12 inches, oil on gessoed linen over panel.


      A high field in Vermont I visited often for several years when I lived nearby, sun through fog, worked on this one a lot in 2015, finally began to see what I was missing, how it might be completed about a month ago. New layer on it this week, I'd like to go further but this is the best it's been. Might be better with a little less sky, the Golden ratio, would like to do this larger now that it seems possible. About 10x15 inches, oil on gessoed paper over panel.


      A local landscape that fascinated me when I came back to Mt. Airy because it was so similar to the way it was when I left. This was a tiny used car lot when I was a kid, then kind of became an abandoned lot in a basically residential section, probably because it's on a pretty busy corner. Did a small version I liked in one layer, this one it a little larger but is getting closer. I guess I say that a lot. 12x16 inches, oil on gessoed linen over panel.


      The therapy image from the Mugello, there's one of these I like best, am using that one to try to develop the others. This one went a little awry, a few too many ideas in the sky, needs a little more warmth otherwise, again it has to do with the paint drying more up than I'm used to. This is of course a high class problem after many moons of dealing with layers that dry slowly but surely into one another. About 8x13 inches, oil on gessoed paper over panel.


      Another image from the Mugello, layer three, maybe three point five, this was close when it began but I wanted to go a little further. This seems finished, will put it on a panel and see how it feels in a few weeks. This is about 12x20 inches, oil on gessoed paper, much easier size to develop than the smaller ones for me.

january 31

      Third week of the moon, a little on the chaotic side around here still but the snow is melting and it's easier to get around by car. Week of my birthday, 61 now, good grief, the price of getting up every morning! A little sobering at this point when it feels like there's still so much more to do. Still feel a lot of tension between the old way of trying hard and the new way of letting it happen, even though the new way clearly works better. How to make that more intuitive as a decision? Not that much happened this week but what did contained some progress. Feel determined to keep working on a finishing system, but in the context of working naturally. I'm not much of a celebrator with birthdays, a good dinner out is enough. But presents are always nice. Photo to the left of a wonderful miniature cake by famous Mt. Airy pastry goddess Maureen Gregory. And an elegant older outdoor painting box, below, from my friend Allison B. Cooke.


      We had some errands to do in New York and spent Friday night there, midtown. Had a lovely dinner at Mercato, simple Italian food, deep and gentle flavors, reminded me so much of Italy I just started crying. The chockablock intensity of Manhattan is always intriguing, Philadelphia is big but sprawls on and on from neighborhood to neighborhood, the actual downtown is miniscule in comparison. The hotel was interesting, at one point we were the only native English speaking people in a pretty full elevator. A guy from Europe thought it was too full to get on, but two floors later, two young women from Japan darted in. Went to Kremer on Saturday, this is always fun although I've learned to mostly browse while I'm there or I end up lugging stuff around the city all day. Want to again say that the 450p Kremer stand oil is a special material, made with very high quality oil.


      We went to the Met Saturday afternoon, under the best of circumstances it can be overwhelming, we didn't have that much time so it was interesting to decide what was most important. There was an exhibit about a small Van Eyck diptych, a lot of intriguing technical art history, including the fact that the frames and the panels were made from a single of wood. These paintings were really finely painted with incredibly finely ground pigment and were in amazing condition, although it looked like the sky was made with azurite which had greened over time, more than ultramarine in some robes which was pretty violet. I wanted to see the Impressionist paintings, I always learn things from these about various ways of being looser or more essential. Found two elegant early still life paintings by Belgian Fernand Khnopff, detail here of one of them. Continue to be really fascinated by the paint of Monet and Pissarro, this paint has held up really well in terms of the colour remaining clean compared the Bonnards or Matisse paintings in that collection. Also saw some of the famous mummy portraits, the Met says these are encaustic, Greek for "burned in," but the technique looks more like the water soluble wax emulsion I've been working with lately.


      Test panel of various approaches based on the water soluble wax emulsion. #6 in the top right is an early version of the emulsion I made with Dr. Bronner's liquid soap, the baby stuff that's unscented. This has remained pretty white compared to the version I made with linseed oil soap I made, #7. #1 shows #6 mixed with dense walnut oil, #2 shows #6 mixed with dense hand refined linseed oil. Keep in mind that these are huge amounts of wax, 33 percent. Even so, it's safe to say the linseed oil yellows more with the wax. #5 shows the linseed oil on it's own, it's three years old and yellows minimally. #3 shows the medium I'm using now, a putty with small amounts of damar, and beeswax melted into stand oil added. #4 shows this medium mixed with the water soluble wax, 5 parts medium to 1 part wax. The amount of the wax emulsion I use is much less, but this will show any yellowing in the system more quickly. So, what have I learned from this so far? The wax made with the linseed oil soap yellows more, and the Dr. B wax mixed with linseed oil yellows more. So, as always, the fatty acid structure of linseed oil makes it more prone to yellowing. But the key will be what happens with #3 and #4 over the next few months; this is still exaggerated but more like the way the wax is being used. It also may be a good idea to try making a soap with walnut oil instead of linseed oil, this would give a simple soap made with a drying oil and probably yellow less. The yellowing in the worst of these samples isn't that bad, at least at this point, but that's the point, the system wants to be made as non-yellowing as possible over time to keep the colour looking clean.


      Image of a place outside Lucca I where stayed many years ago for a few weeks, amazing area full of these early villas in the cooler hills surrounding the town. Small test of two things, adding a very little of the wax-linseed soap emulsion to the current system, and finishing it in one layer. Pretty sparkly broken surface, a lot of depth in the saturation without too much chroma. The paint performed nicely, the only glitch was that I put a thin medium couch on the panel to make sure the paint moved well and this wasn't necessary. The ability to add more paint would have helped more. Not quite done, but something I want to do more of, develop an alla prima system as a way of balancing the death by a thousand layers I often get into otherwise. 9x12 inches, oil on gessoed linen over panel.


      Added a layer of clouds to this small study of a favorite spot in Vermont, and brightened the foreground. Pretty close, time to put this on a panel and use some more rococo paint, but it may take a few more layers to complete still. About 10.5x14 inches, oil on Arches Huile.


       Same spot, this was the year of a lot of sudden flooding caused by Irene, this spot is flat but there are large hills right behind it, so a lot of water came down in a hurry in a few days, large rocks were all over the place in the field. Also getting closer, there's also a larger one of these on linen that is in a pretty good place. About 10x17 inches, oil on gessoed panel.

january 24

      Snow, a lot for here, we got about eighteen inches. A long but pretty well-behaved storm given the now usual apocalyptic press. Brilliant sun this morning, a few people are trying to get around, too much snow still on the roads, it's cold enough that it's really slick. Week of the full moon, decent week for the work given the time of year, mostly did layers aimed at finishing, these are coming along. Something new did happen, don't love it but the approach may have potential in terms of making images that don't go through such a long middle. The development of a more abbreviated process is my goal for 2016, but we'll see where the process itself wants to go.


      Took a walk around the neighborhood on Friday night, not that much snow yet but that gross wet cold, some of these photos were interesting.


      This one is getting close to completion, was difficult to re-balance from the photo, always a good sign. Would like to make a larger one of these, but have learned to get the smaller one under control first. About 9.5x14.5 inches, oil on Arches Huile, backed by canvas. Time to put this on a panel.


      Something from the Mugello I did about a year ago that turned out well in the first layer. Over time I began to see more of what might happen, put a second layer on it this week. The second layer is seldom conclusive, typically more about correction, atonement. Want more from the sky, it's not as flat as it appears here but more needs to happen. About 12x20 inches, oil on gessoed paper.


      Third or fourth layer on this image of the Lemon Fair in Vermont. Getting there, just a matter of a few more layers. About 11.25x15.5 inches, oil on gessoed panel.


      Similar image from Cape May this fall that worked out well in the first layer, cleaned it up in the second layer. An amazingly clear and bright day, still have some issues with the sky. About 10.5 x 14 inches, oil on gessoed panel.


      Another layer on one of the smaller therapy images from the Mugello, am beginning to like this again. About 8x13 inches, oil on gessoed paper on panel.


      Small study based on one of the more degraded evening snow photos of the neighborhood. A learning experience, got into some interesting issues trying to make the forms fuzzy and essential. This was partly due to using using a little bit of the homemade wax emulsion in the medium for the first time, even a very small amount produced an unusual quality, very discreet yet blendable, the paint could be worked over and over again. Cleaned it up a little this morning, no more paint, just moved what was there around. Not sure yet about this approach, it's very painterly and layers in an interesting way, and I like the idea of something more essential or emotional, but want to try this wax with an image that's a little less inherently different or challenging. Photo below of some of the wax emulsion mixed with stand oil, about 1 part wax to 5 parts stand oil. This is pretty elastic, the wax effectively arrests the leveling and flow of the stand oil, regular wax would thicken it but not create elasticity. I tried using wax emulsified by ammonium carbonate a while back, but this yellowed quickly, and significantly. The wax emulsified by the linseed oil soap does not yellow in contact with oil so far. This may be useful as a solvent free alternative to damar varnish that in fact gets tacky. About 9x12 inches, oil on gessoed paper.

items of interest
My friend Wim Van Aalst has put up a fascinating essay on the larger potential of fine art in human society called Art Has Power. There's also a PDF of this text here.

My friend Allison B. Cooke has just launched an updated version of her already great website featuring larger portfolio images, yay!

My friend Douglas recently sent me a copy of his amazing book on Japanese boat building, the result of many apprenticeships with older builders in Japan. These boats are works of art, and this book is too! Find out more about both here.

Artisanal French walnut oil is available at Amazon. It looks great but it's not cheap!

A kalimba-like instrument with several octaves was used to make this really nice song, which went a surprising way towards restoring my faith in humanity earlier this week after I foolishly read about the presidential race.

january 17

      Snow! Just a little. A week when a lot of different things conspired to interfere with the work. This is inevitable sometimes, not that terrible in the middle of the winter anyway. I even got most of my taxes done, a miracle. More and more, the fine art of life seems like abandoning my agenda and doing what wants to happen. My birthday in a few weeks, this is always the real beginning of the year for me. A feeling of something just under the horizon, about to emerge. Several different ideas for new directions in the work, these are like seeds, which ones sprout and grow is more or less beyond me. Stopping always reminds me there is more to life than painting. I know, hard to believe. I'm wondering about how to develop a focus or method that is more relaxed, less do or die. Culturally, my inherited version of effort is about heroic striving against adversity, taking on all comers, but I'm getting more interested in being who I really am, which is pretty different. I mean, it would be one thing if all this striving had worked out really well, but it just leads to more striving. Maybe if I went back to caffeine it could start all over again! I guess this is always an ongoing process, discovering yet again ways in which an unseen frame of reference has limited the possibilities. One of my favorite paintings of the last few years was done with a medium that dried over the course of three days, I may try returning to that approach for finishing things and see what happens.


      Getting to know Lily better. I don't think she's had the easiest life with people. she'll never be a love muffin, but she's beginning to be nicer. She likes to play, bangs on the cupboard doors when it's time. Her favorite move is to jump up with an arched back and land going the other direction, which she seems to know is impressive. This is her "just because I weight eleven pounds doesn't mean I can't take you" look.


      I got some of the Kremer 450P stand oil. This is actually burnt plate oil, i.e., not just a vacuum kettle, but the sparking off of all the volatile compounds. My older oil in this position was some BPO #7 from Graphic Chemical, but some recent BPO #5 from them had a solvent smell, this is a deal breaker for me due to potential health issues. Anyway, some of this oil has dried on the inside of the top of the jar with no yellowing, always a good sign. I'll use it mixed with thickened hand-refined linseed oil to add more movement and film strength.


      The experiments with the handmade linseed oil soap continue, thanks again to my resourceful and generous friend Roland Greimers in Belgium. This idea has to do with using a very small amount of soap to refine linseed oil. The soap creates an emulsion with water that is very stable, allowing the water and the oil to interact at a scale that is incredibly fine for a very long time relative to any other method. The question is how long to let this sit, since even after day one it has had an exponentially greater interface with the water. In theory, the longer it sits, the more pre-polymerized the oil will be by oxygen, making for a faster drying oil. I'm on day three with this mixture, it is 0.5 percent soap by weight.


      The emulsion is broken with salt water, just like salting out in the soap making process to remove the glycerin. Here is Roland's photo of the layers after they separate, the soap itself is on top, and is easily skimmed off, then the oil, then the mucilage, then the water. The question is how long to let this sit, since even after day one it has had an exponentially greater interface with the water. In theory, the longer it sits, the more pre-polymerized the oil will be by oxygen, making for a faster drying oil. We'll see, I may let it go a week, more on this next Sunday. Roland's microscope photo below of the emulsion. Roland did French artisanal walnut oil, I did some hand-pressed linseed oil I got from Thomas Hirsz.


      Smaller version of an image I've always enjoyed, foggy morning in May near my old house in Ferrisburg Vermont. Put a layer on it this week with the latest system, it came out pretty well, cool over warm, I'll be watching this in the next few weeks to see how it settles. The smaller ones are more challenging, but interesting for that reason, I don't want to solve them with literal, so much as psychological, detail. At a certain point it's important to do a layer with more richness to finish, but I have tended to push that button too soon in the past. This might be ready for that type of layer, though. About 6.75x14.25 inches, oil on gessoed paper over panel.


      Different version of the therapy image from above Lucca, second layer in oil. A crunchier look due to the rougher tempera beginning, possibly too crunchy. Have wanted to establish that sense of late light at a higher elevation. Not bad for this stage, but more to go still. 8.5x11 inches, oil over tempera on gessoed panel.

january 10

       Last week of the moon, new moon last night. Warm overcast alternating with cooler and sunny. Not a house afire at this time of year, but plugged away, more of a week to reclaim older work than develop current work or make anything new. Did move the wax emulsion project forward, many thanks to my great friend Roland Greimers for all kinds of interesting thoughts and help with the chemistry. Not sure yet what this moon will bring, the last one was pretty demanding. It's more difficult to stay centered here than it was in Vermont, the energy of a city, even a quieter part of a city, is really different. When 2015 started, it was easy to see it was going to be about learning to juggle feathers and bowling balls. This year is a little trickier, or more subtle so far, it feels like the juggling is shifting focus to consciousness itself. To learn that the concept of identity is not fixed, but fluid or flexible.


      A Chinese witch hazel blooming at the arboretum. More quiet there now, but every time I go there's something new.


      Made some of the potassium hydroxide linseed soap that may be part of the early wax emulsion wall and panel medium associated with Pompeii, the Faynum portraits. This is like the various linseed oil brush soaps, but made with a high quality refined oil. You can remove the natural glycerin with a salt water wash, but I decided to leave it in.


      Then made the wax itself according to the formula published in one of the first Cuni papers about the material. This was 20gr wax, 20ml water, 5gr soap, I think the soap could be reduced to 4 gr or even 3. But anyway, very different than the wax tests I made with commercial potassium hydroxide soaps, more creamy and ductile. Then did some medium tests with this wax, mostly to see if it yellows in contact with oil. Not sure what is going to happen next with this, but it has an interesting quality.


      Did a layer on this local landscape, an odd tiny vacant lot that has been around since I was a kid. Am getting into some layers now that have a little chalkiness that I associate with titanium, although, in theory, I'm not using titanium. But am trying to get the value scale in general to be higher. Not done, but more interesting than it was. 12x16 inches, oil on gessoed linen over panel.


      Then shifted into more actual reclamation, some older studies. This is one of the therapy images from Italy, a hillside in a tiny town up above Lucca in the Garfagnana region. Second layer, not done but on it's way to an interesting palce. About 8x10 inches, oil on Arches Huile.


      Another older Italy study, wanted a litle more colour, feels like a little too much but that's okay, on it's way to a better place. About 9x13 inches, oil on Arches Huile.


      A place in Vermont I really liked but which has proven difficult to paint. This has become better layer my layer, though, might finish it soon. Still not sure about the empty sky, I've got some clouds from later on the same afternoon that might make an appearance. About 10.5x14 inches, oil on Arches Huile.


      Another old favorite image that proved complex to resolve, new start on it this year. An olive grove outside Volterra. More to go, but closer to what I want. About 8x14 inches, oil on Arches Huile.


      Something older begun from life that had gotten damaged in the move. This image has been close to done several times, but I always wanted something from it I couldn't explain. Put a relatively rich and dense layer on it, partly to cover some dings, partly to force it to be more simple. Going somewhere a little different now. About 8x16 inches, oil on gessoed panel.


      Something from this year that was almost completed in one layer, sometimes these need to rest a while to know what to do next. Cleaned it up a little bit, don't feel more is possible without risking too much of what's there: I guess that means it's finished. About 9x12 inches, oil on panel, this had a starch and oil ground, which had a fine pebbly texture and was very interesting to work on.


      Another long term reclamation project, a field near where I used to live in Vermont that became flooded in the Spring. Ground this back hard before working on it again, this can really help simplify the concept, it was fun to put it back together again with a more recent type of putty designed to dry in a higher key. The colour is a little bright now, but that's okay for this stage. About 14x18 inches, oil on gessoed linen over panel. Detail below of the paint texture at this point.

january 3

      Very overcast and warm here over the holidaze. Now just beginning what looks like a sunnier and slightly more seasonal period. I overworked, always hard to know it until it's official, took a rest for about a week, no caffeine, pretty inert. We had a nice i.e. low key Christmas here, New Year's Eve was similar, whew. One of the things I noticed doing the research for Living Craft was that my own frame of reference about what was possible, or right, was often holding the process back. I inherited a pretty gruesome work ethic from my parents, it was something I never thought about, just the way things were. But have learned the hard way on several occasions that it's better to be more balanced. I think this is especially true if you want the process to stay creative, rather than repeat itself. So, that's my New Year's resolution for myself, to not let things get so tracked, break up the day more with movement and exercise. There's always more to do, more to learn, but the work is actually easier when it gets broken up more. My other resolution is to look for the good stuff about humanity, to keep on the sunny side. Well, to be honest, I make this one every year. The news makes it easy to think it's just hopeless, but this is of course a very selective version of any day's events. I'd love to know the percentage of how many people actually believe violence solves anything, it's pretty small. Still, it's there, and there are people who capitalize on it to create fear and separation. But it seems clear that until it works for everyone it's not going to work for anyone. We tend to think in larger terms, but there are all kinds of little things on a day to day basis that demonstrate this. When I was a little kid, sometimes I'd go on errands with my father over the weekend. He was always really nice to everyone, chatting and joking. Of course, this was in the 60s, when things were exponentially simpler. Anyway, I was always kind of antsy, and can remember wondering why he wasted so much time doing that. Now I know it was a way of building community at the most basic level, by making friends with everyone. So, I try to do that with the various harried or hassled people I encounter: the waitress, the people at the co-op, the people at the post office over the holidaze. Partly it's in homage to my father, who I didn't really understand until it was too late, and partly it's about coming to terms with Philadelphia. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't, but even if it doesn't work, it seems to set the stage for something better in the future. This is of course like painting, where a given layer may be appear to be a disaster, but turn out to be the key to the next step in the process.


      So, the cat stayed, I ended up calling her Lily, partly in homage to my friend Allison's wonderful studio cat, and partly because she is a gentle soul. Well, unless you're a feather toy, then you've had it. It looks like she is half Bengal, half ginger with stripes, she has mostly Bengal marking with some russeting. Her tummy has spots, the bottoms of her feet look like they were dipped in ink. Her pads are dark brown, they look like espresso beans. We're getting to know each other, she's rested now and likes to play, can stop, jump up and spin around in mid-air when chasing, not something I could ever do. She likes to watch me work, tends to suggest more ochre and raw sienna.


      One of the things I had issues with years ago was leaded oil; they all yellowed pretty badly. I was using walnut oil at the time, and it may be a little more prone to yellowing with lead than linseed oil, not sure about this. Anyway, this is a leaded oil that doesn't yellow. Refined with salt, sand and water, aged two years in the light, litharge added cold, aged another year in the light. Not much litharge, I was surprised by how quickly this thickened in a pie plate. Syrupy rheology, very nice to work with. Note of course that the process took three years. What if the Lost Secret is simply a different version of time?


      An ingredient I've liked working with off and on is a small amount of methyl cellulose paste. This is modified wood pulp, makes a very nice water medium alternative to gum arabic, also makes a very nice tempera emulsion. Here's some that got left out in a jar and dried, it's quite tough and more flexible than I thought it would be.


      I was recently contacted by Arizona painterJan McDonald about the Cuni cold wax medium. Jan's been doing a lot of work researching this stuff, there are many articles about it on her site. This is a material with an interesting history that is theoretically ancient as an alternative form of wall painting, also probably the medium of the Faynum mummy portraits. Anyway, I ordered the Cuni wax medium and did some tests with it, it behaved oddly mixed with pigments, was clearly not "just wax," but I liked the final look of it. My friend Roland sent me the patent, and it turns out to have some other ingredients besides the wax emulsion, most notably acrylic. So, I decided to make my own water-soluble wax to get at something more possibly traditional, this is easy with a little bit of plain and pure liquid soap like Dr. Bronner's baby formula, and did some tests with that as well. A much funkier, more intractable medium, but I liked it as well. There's a lot to think about with a material like this...


      One of the factors is the ratio of the soap to the wax when the two are heated together with water. The other is the actual type of soap, and whether it still has glycerin in it or not. The ingredient ratios are also important when making the soap itself. There's some evidence that a linseed oil soap was used originally, although I'm not sure how important the type of oil is since it gets saponified. Here's some linseed oil soap that my friend Roland made with potassium hydroxide. Very small amounts of this turn wax into a water-soluble emulsion. You can see that the two versions, one with the natural glycerin, and the other with the glycerin removed by our old friend salt water, are quite different. You can read about making this type of soap online, potassium hydroxide is similar to sodium hydroxide and needs to be handled with great care!


      Did some medium tests based on various permutations of the cold wax emulsion made with liquid soap, some with oil, some water based only. I'm intrigued by this material, but by itself it has body, but little adhesion, this is something Wehlte discusses. The most logical thing would be a kind of wax-gouache, but it may be possible to make a tempera as well. It's intriguing but it will take a while to get to know what is really going on with it. I'm a little on the fence about it, what I really need to do is continue to finish oil paintings.


      This is a test I did using the Cuni wax medium, the paint dried was reworkable after it had set, which was interesting.


      Three more thin layers on the underpainting of a few weeks ago, I'm looking for a softer focus, keeping the paint dense and matte. Not bad so far but not complete. About 11.25x16 inches, oil on gessoed linen over panel.


      An image that I began in 2006, the old way, smoother paint with the image large in the frame. I'm more interested in an approach with more space at this point, but want to complete this! As close as it's been, perhaps one more layer. About 12x16 inches, oil on gessoed linen over panel.


      Another image from 2006, old apple trees on a hillside in Vermont near where I lived. This has been through many layers but I think is on its way home thanks to a slightly more broken approach to the surface. About 10.5x15 inches, oil on gessoed paper over panel.


      The perennial therapy image from the Mugello. This one turned out well in the first layer, but didn't age well due to too much thinning of the pigments with the medium, it kind of lost focus after a few years. Same approach as the painting above, fine broken surface, still as little wet so lots of fine reflections as well. About 8x13 inches, oil on gessoed paper.

december 20

      Yikes, what a week. Spent much of it in bed with the perennial bad back. It's gotten better as I've worked on it over the years but you never know when you've done too much until you have. Ah well, it always restores the balance but wish it could be done in a gentler way. Maybe the key is to be gentler to begin with. Am in the process of decaffeinating for the umpteenth time and realizing how wound up I really was. An evolve or die new moon, nothing from the old way makes much sense right now. Which is fine, the end of the year, time to take some time off, enjoy this time for what it is instead of fighting it tooth and nail for the next step in the work. I'm scheduled to make a bread pudding for a gathering tonight, can just about manage it. Be of good cheer, faithful readers, the news will return in a blaze of glory on January 3, 2016. In the meantime, happy holidaze!

december 13

      Incredibly warm still, it looks like this winter is just not really going to happen. Tail end of the moon, decided not to try too hard, just do what I could, maintenance and holiday stuff. New moon this week on Friday, it was a pretty intense one, a lot became new in a hurry around here, I'm still sort of discombobulated. Did ship a lot of books this week, always a good feeling. And still have a few slightly hurt ones left. If you'd like one, just e-mail me, they're 30.00 each plus shipping.

       Last year, I tried to market the book via Google Adwords. It sort of worked, but also got quickly out of control in terms of how much the clicks were costing. A few enquiries to more knowledgeable parties suggested that no one on the planet knows what Google is actually doing. So, there are a lot of factors here and this approach may or may not be worth revisiting with more awareness at some point. But meanwhile, if you've enjoyed the site or read the book, there's a simple way you can help spread the word. I've put up a small PDF about the book, which is here. Just put up a link to it, anywhere on your site. Describe it if you like, explain it in your own words, but from the search engine's point of view, the more links to a given PDF, the better.


      This cat showed up under the porch on Friday, lost and hungry. So, we gave her some food and water, and started looking for her owner. She's got a chip put in by the SPCA, so the company left messages with the theoretical owner and so did the SPCA. But it's been a few days so it looks like she's our responsibility now! Sort of a warm puma-tabby with green eyes, and a very kind and gentle soul. This is always a surprise to me as I had a pretty psycho cat growing up. Not sure we can keep her with another cat already onboard, but it's fun to watch her calm down and show more personality.


      For the last few months have been doing a lot of work on a specific putty formula for finishing work in layers. This has worked out well, and led to an idea for a simple putty for beginning that had a somewhat softer focus. So, made this out of half natural chalk and half calcite (Kremer, 20 microns), along with a mix of half plain (raw) aged oil, and half slightly thicker aged oil that had been sitting on litharge for a year. Leaded oil was a direction I abandoned when I began to work with the salt-refined organic linseed oil, which dries quickly on its own. But leaded oils have a softness, a syrupy quality, and I wondered if that might help make a more essential or fused type of underpainting. So, a very simple recipe, but something it took a long time to learn enough to consider.


      Began this figure earlier in the year and liked it, but then ran into some issues with the paper itself when I tried to mount it on canvas, it is softer, didn't really adhere, had to pull it off. Not terminal, damage is small and can be fixed, but sometimes it's just better to start over before continuing, there are some things I like about this and some things I'm not sure about. Mostly I felt that the type of paint used might have created too much commitment to edges, wanted to see what would happen with a softer approach. About 13.5x15 inches, oil on gessoed paper.


      Layer one of the next iteration. Wanted the figure in this to be rounder, smoother, pushed and pulled the edges around in relatively thin paint. Also wanted to get the gesture of the head more exactly. The somewhat coarse but softer working putty was helpful for establishing everything accurately but not too tightly.


      Second thin layer with a little more colour. This is basically the same approach I've been using on the watermelon in the last few weeks: thin layers, make it better each time without trying to finish it. Again, the softer focus of the putty has helped establish a softer feeling. 15x16 inches, oil on gessoed linen over panel.


      A few years ago I finished the cheese below, but, looking at it recently, saw or felt a different way to approach the image. Started this one in burnt sienna again, the cheeses themselves a little smaller in a more oblong format. The first one is pretty austere, I'd like this one to be a little more friendly. Original image 12x16 inches, oil on gessoed linen over panel. New image, 11.25x16 inches, oil on gessoed linen over panel.



december 6

      Third week of the moon, very sunny and mild week here. Did some layers this week that worked out, testing the latest approach to the putty. Then shifted to something different. I was always fascinated by Asian art, a book called Creativity and Taoism was a huge influence on me as a kid. So, did a small excursion this week on the untrammeled path in search of the essential, which, as usual, was harrowing but fun. Also got to play a Hang this week, sort of a dream come true, but also good in that I realized it's yet another thing, most of which are musical, that would need another lifetime to adequately explore. Still, with a birthday in January, this is the time of year when things start to change, hints of the next year begin to manifest. So I'm on the lookout for the good new things that want to happen. This seems to have to do with what feels right, following a path of intuitive energy. As the child of two relatively "mental" people, I was raised to have no idea how I felt, this was not only the path to success as a white collar cog, but so much more convenient for everyone else. So it's taken me a long time to begin to discover the importance of paying attention to how I feel. This seems to be about acknowledging and transforming negative emotions, on the one hand, and searching for the next positive step in terms of action on the other. This is a pretty interesting process. But there's nothing to buy, no equipment other than time and consciousness, so it will probably never really catch on.

      Still a few slightly hurt copies of Living Craft available at bargain prices, see post below for details. If you're interested please contact me soon, the post office here is getting increasingly nutty as Christmas approaches.


      Used up a reasonable amount of gessoed paper doing studies this week. Rives BFK is nice for this, Tiepolo is a little more expensive and probably the best short of something handmade. Got a size layer on a dozen sheets, this is a little tricky in a small studio but also kind of fun. There's always room, just have to get more organized. Also worked on some panels, if I break up the various aspects of this I hurry less and they come out better. Back to Utrecht 144 for these, 66J is too fine for me, and 74D is too uneven in the weave on a panel. I've been putting a layer of acid-free paper over the wood, this helps make the surface more even because the linen sinks into it a little bit, but it also helps soften the somewhat mechanical flatness of the surface.


      Sometimes people write and say that their putty is really stringy. This is a function of new oil. Here's what putty looks like made with natural chalk and old oil, four years in the light. The oil is still thin, still technically raw, but the sunlight has changed how it behaves. This is a consistency that's interesting, it holds a gelatinous texture but is also quite mobile. People don't think of old oil as a "lost secret," possibly a function of the time it takes to do the research. But Eastlake clearly implies this in a note from his "eminent painter, recently deceased," presumably Wilkie, who tells him that the oil he used was twenty-eight years old.


      Every now and then I get new eyes out of nowhere, look at something and just have to change it. There are so many of these Mugello therapy images in various stages, this one had become sort of a laggard somehow. Put a layer on it with the most recent version of the putty, this was designed for a little more density and grab. This also created the fine overall impasto effect with saturation, so lots of glare on this photo. Tried to balance a too warm situation with a too cool layer, still a little cool but I'll be looking at this in the next few weeks to see how it settles in. Not quite done, but no longer the runt of the litter. About 8x13 inches, oil on gessoed panel.


      An older still life that I'd tried to finish a few years ago with many thin layers using just oil as the medium. This became a little too somber for me over time, so, using the above model, I ground it back with oil and fine sandpaper, wiped it very dry, and put a layer on it that was denser and on the bright side. This layer had a couch, this allowed the same paint to be a little smoother working, see detail below. The current putty has small amounts of damar and beeswax in it, these ingredients in combination seem to really help keep thin layers brighter. Egg yolk works too on panels, but egg yolk introduces a specific look and quality of handling and I like wax, at least in the winter, better. So, a little basic now in some ways, but resurrected, on its way somewhere new. About 12x16 inches, oil on gessoed linen over panel.


      The second part of this week started with this image, olive trees in the Mugello. A few years ago I did a bunch of these, looking for the essence of a composition in one colour, they were sort of inspired by notan and looking into the old Arthur Wesley Dow books, my favorite from that series is here. I'd always wanted to go back to them, this one became too literal, it was still too literal even after I ground it back and took out one tree on the left digitally.


      Started here with a new version, got hypnotized by manipulating the paint, again too literal but sometimes it's necessary to demonstrate these things, um, literally. About 9x14 inches, oil on gessoed paper.


      Third version of this image, liked this better but still feel there's more to learn about this one. About 8x13 inches, oil on gessoed paper. These are all square, but the edges of the frame tend to distort somewhat around when they're photographed, function of a relatively wide angle lens.


      Felt a little frustrated, decided that image was too complicated to be intuitive for the time being, chose a version of the same place with just two trees, also more sidelit. Did this in the most basic way possible, liked the interplay of positive and negative space better. More importantly, this has the feeling I was looking for. Of course, you never know quite what that is until you find it. About 8x13 inches, oil on gessoed paper.


      Version two, more dimension in the surface, a little more chunky, plodding or gunky. About 8x13 inches, oil on gessoed paper.


      Version three, this one began to get fussy and only came together when I erased most of it. This technique is interesting, but, like anything based on Asian principles, not as simple as it appears. Things get very stirred up working this way, but, like another cup of one's favorite caffeinated beverage, that level of energy can take over and devolve into confusion. So, the energy needs to not only be generated, but harnessed: not controlled, harnessed, a pretty crucial difference. There's also the question of learning what's really there, this information is not typically available until a week or two after the images are made. What I realized from this is that they're going to change, I don't have to consider the parameters of the next one too much, just do it. At the same time, it's possible to rely a little too heavily on this, the series which becomes mindless conceptual mimesis is not unknown. So, I'll wait until this well feels like it's full again, but would like to continue with this approach somehow. Again, about 8x13 inches, oil on gessoed paper.

december 1

      Oops, an impromptu holiday sale! Just found a few slightly hurt books in the latest box. Given that the last edition was shipped during a major snowstorm, it's a wonder more didn't go wrong, that was one unhappy UPS driver. Anyway, I've got about a dozen of these, they're fine, exactly the same as the current edition, except for the one dinged corner. This book should live in the studio anyway, and get covered with paint! If you'd like one, just e-mail me, they're 30.00 each plus shipping. Overseas deal, one third off shipping, 50.00 total.

To begin to explore Living Craft, click here.

november 29

      Week of the full moon, sunny and warm week, also the week of Thanksgiving, made the traditional meal for some friends, this was fun but meant not much happened in the work. Food is so much more sophisticated now than when it was my daily job, there are all kinds of ingredients available I could only read about. I like this, but at the same time, don't really have time for it. I try to start with unprocessed ingredients, but am not really able to do anything too fancy as a rule. So, planning and executing a relatively complex meal again was fun. What did happen in the work was also fun, a few unoccupied stretches of time that could be spent with my old friend paint.


      More and more I find children remind me of things that are much more important than I thought.


      Made a new putty this week, always exciting to see what happens, version three of the general idea. I became intrigued with emulsions first using a little egg white, and this is still a stand-by. Then worked a lot with starch, also reliable, although more for panels, and not really tubeable, has to be added each day. Gum arabic is a little tricky, especially if you want translucency as I did, but it does create painterly paint instantly, not possible to copy things pixel by pixel. Have been working with a little methyl cellulose recently, this, like egg white, is tubeable. A nice balance of several factors in this one well, in theory, haven't had a chance to use it yet. Its predecessor was fine, would just like things to be a little more additive or layerable without looking controlled .


      Visiting Williamsburg got me thinking about readily available materials, and I tried a few putty mediums with that type of formula, nothing handmade. Got further than I thought possible with this approach, but wanted more grab or pull. Without a soft resin in solvent, this has to come from the pre-polymerized oil. I've got a really nice older can of BPO #7 from Graphic Chemical, very dense but still pretty light. Added one part of this to three parts hand-refined linseed oil that I'd set out to thicken, it was about like stand oil in density. Thought the grab of the hand-refined oil might mitigate the relentless glide of the BPO at this proportion, and it looks like that worked. This actually skinned over in a week, very unusual for anything containing BPO to want to dry. The only possible issue now is the almost bizarre saturation possible with BPO, but it's actually only 7% of the liquid volume, and the medium has some wax in it too, so this should calm it down. Anyway, another example of the idea of crossing an auto-oxidized oil with a thermally polymerized oil. Which is simpler to do than to say.


      Got another layer in on the sprouted onion re-do. Like a dog returning to get the porcupine, I get most interested in these simple ones that originally proved impossible. The issue seems mostly to have been being in too much of a hurry, unable to slow down enough to find where the reality was. It is of course not possible to outrun one's own sense of panic, regardless of what causes it. Am working actively on being calmer now, many facets to this, all internal and beyond the paragraph format. (And, why look below the surface when the surface, is, by contemporary definition, all there is?) But, am now taking these journeys more slowly, but they are accruing more reliable information as a result. As always it's a matter of balancing opposites in several dimensions at once. This isn't that hard once you know that's what has to happen, but until I figured that out, my sense of the colour was always too simplistic. I'm not against simplified colour as such, but what I wanted was to understand how realistic colour worked in paint. There are several different models for this historically, this one uses the older one of black and white conceived as negative colours, with various earth colours as the positive colours. About 7.5x14 inches, oil on gessoed linen over panel.


      Another re-do that I started slowly, getting to a more interesting place layer by layer. The goal with these used to be to finish them, but it seems more efficient now to explore what wants to happen. This appears to be more about changing them, but the changes add up to something that is more interesting to me, which is actually easier to finish when it says it's done changing. About 12x16 inches, oil on gessoed linen over panel.

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