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A Sunday look at process and work in progress.

january 20

      Waxing moon, more seasonal weather, a little wintry at times, but rain soon, not snow. Heading towards an eclipse around midnight Sunday night. The symbolism of eclipses seems to be about ending things that have outlived their usefulness, so we'll see what this one brings: plenty of choices out there, a strong sense of false stability in the year gone by. Always interesting to see what these events bring up personally: I try to remind myself to expect the unexpected. The sense of wading through dense oobleck continued this week, perhaps this is the collective getting ready to shed another layer of its skin. I'm slowly getting better at accepting the tenor of the day if it's not exactly what I had it mind, lots of practice there in 2018. Mostly worked this week on tweaking the book and its cover, always plenty to obsess about at the very end before saying enough already, more on the book below. Did get some work done that turned out decently, but after about a year of this on again off again hiatus stuff, it would be really great to wake up and have the focus on painting once again. Recently realized that this period began almost exactly when Saturn went into my fifth house early last Spring. The symbolism is logical, ongoing creative constraints, but if this is true, I've got another year of this to go, oh boy. Still, also have to admit I learned a lot about all the things I'd been avoiding learning about for a long time in 2018. So, it feels like it will be what it needs to be to maintain that connection with the larger perspective and balance that began in 2018.


      For a while I got concerned about Lily gaining weight with the new food that the vet prescribed for her UT issue, but then I began to wonder if it was just a form of operator error on the scale because it didn't keep going. She's chunky now, and sleeping a lot with the dark and dank weather, but she's pretty frisky when she's up and about, involved in all kinds of Lily humor, part Xena, part Lucille Ball. And everything about the litter box is fine. It occurred to me that the weight issue might be the new food itself, and I got involved one night in looking at the ratings of cat food. Holy Guacamole! Another massive universe of information. Helpful? Arbitrary? It turns out there is a lot of guessing in cat food, there are many ingredients that may or may not be good for them. The wet food I had been feeding her was average at best, the food the vet prescribed was far below average. Hmm. But, it did work to solve the UT issue. And I've noticed there's a lot of anti-vet sentiment online. But I decided to get her something that was highly rated, to see what that might be like in terms of her response, and also her weight. So, got her two choices that are similar to the current prescription food, turkey in gravy, but with far simpler ingredients. They had to be ordered online, and of course are not cheap, haha. But it felt like a good decision, there's only one Lily.


      Got everything wrapped up with the PDF for the book and uploaded the files to the printer. A lot of little changes to the text, these are tricky when there's an index, usually have to remove from a page in order to add. Yes, there's a craft to everything. Made the cover pretty light and bright because the value structure always seems to drop more than a bit in the process. I'm sort of excited that the book is done, seems like a milestone, but working on it sure has been great therapy over the last eight years. No matter what was going on in the world or my life, I could make the book better. In the beginning this often meant trying to see how many noteworthy words I could get into a single sentence, but in the end it became about just explaining things clearly. There is something beautiful about a sentence that knows where it is going, and just gets there. Although, in a world as convoluted as this one, clarity in force might well be considered throwing down the gauntlet. In the beginning there were some intermittent crabby observations in the book, usually about the excesses of modernism in the 20th century, or the relatively self-serving version of science used by the coatings industry to cover its tracks. But, bit by bit, I learned to accentuate the positive: this becomes a kind of figure-ground exercise in which the negative is defined, but without even being acknowledged. Ah, negativity, our constant shadow here on planet Earth, think how much we learn from it! A proof will arrive in the next week or so, I'll be surprised if anything goes awry but it's a new set of machines, so you never know. Once the proof is right, the books usually take a few weeks, so I'm thinking before the end of February. I haven't ever promoted the book to the extent that it's now possible -- that is, for free -- on the internet, but will probably start to do that in February. This is a little tricky. The book has a consistent perennialist subtext that explains reality, and therefore realism, as a cosmic metaphor involved in the interaction of various sets of opposites. This is related to the medieval concept of signatures, and to everyone from Zoroaster to Pythagoras. I've really enjoyed developing this as a frame of reference, since it takes the book into the realm of philosophy, and why wouldn't you want to end up there? This of course became taboo territory in the 20th century textbooks about painting written in America anyway. The scientists I've worked with have all been pretty spiritual people in their quiet way, and I look forward to the day when science and spirituality can coexist peacefully. But for now, it may be best to simply call the book an innovative system for painters interested in working more closely with their materials, and leave it at that.


      When I started reading technical art history, it was in its beginnings: there weren't many authors outside of the Tate and National Gallery, and the work was subtle, diligent, and sincere. What, you sputter? Not possible! But, it was, and of course, still is. As the decades went on, the field matured in some ways as techniques of analysis and investigation improved, a good example of this is the book Trade in Artists' Materials published by Archetype on 2005, in which a variety of quite diligent articles linked to the title occur. But "other" forms of technical art history also began to crop up with a sort of inherent cognitive dissonance. A good example of this was an article that recreated all the leaded oil formulas in the De Mayerne Manuscript, only to conclude -- drum roll please -- that lead makes the oil dry faster. Actual technical art history would definitely have tested these oils for yellowing, the most critical factor of a leaded oil in use. Perhaps scientists felt that they would get more funding or press via the technical art approach, or that this was somehow "fun." This then led to a version of science which is designed to be popular because it is about the work of a well-known painter, such as Van Gogh or Rembrandt. I often get sent examples of all this stuff by well-meaning correspondents, and recently, someone sent me a link to an article in which the scientists claim to have found "the secret" of Rembrandt's impasto white. They claim that it is the rare mineral plumbonacrite, a rare natural example of which is above. But they do not say, anywhere, that plumbonacrite is a lead mineral that occurs naturally during the formation of stack process lead. Or that the amount of plumbonacrite in the white lead can change further over time based on other factors in the paint film. Plumbonacrite has always been of interest as an older material because of its rheology in oil, a way of making pure plumbonacrite was even patented in the 1960s and Grumbacher put out a white lead paint made with it briefly. So, given that white lead was a craft within the craft, it certainly may be that some early forms of stack process lead carbonate were made in a way that generated a greater percentage of plumbonacrite. But to say that plumbonacrite is the secret, and that they have finally found it, is, to me, arrogant, misleading, and totally contrary to the original spirit of technical art history. Which was to finally look for the truth about how older paintings were made. What the "scientists" who write these more recent articles don't realize is that this jejune and commercialized version of science betrays the essence of the discipline, which ultimately erodes the essence of civilization: trust. I know this is minor, that "science" has been involved in much larger lies, especially in food science, remember when hydrogenated fats were good for you? But a lie is a lie, and because genuine technical art history was in fact so helpful to me over the years, I wanted to explain that there is now an imitation version of it out there, scattering bling. So, caveat emptor, more convolution on the convoluted planet.


Flowchart of white lead process from a recent paper courtesy of my friend Roland. You can see that plumbonacrite is one of the natural constituents, formed from a reaction between cerussite and litharge. Roland also pointed out that plumbonacrite is relatively unstable, meaning that it could be found only in the impasto after time because there was so much of it there to begin with, and also that plumbonacrite can be created after the pigment is manufactured, in the paint film itself, by interaction of white lead with lead soaps in the oil. So, as always with older white lead pigment, a tangled web even before humans begin to manipulate it.


      Got a third layer on the recent lilacs start, this one used paint with just a little bit of a saturating fused damar and beeswax medium. So, darker darks, and not quite as bright as the very lean first layers using lamp oil and chalk, but still far from my older level of saturation. Also very thin paint each time so far, this panel was relatively plane but it still has some linen texture left. Like where this is for this point, the question is whether to continue it in this relatively gentle, incremental way, or use a more rococo medium to finish it. I guess the best thing is to do what wants to happen, at this point I don't feel that this will stall if I keep going slowly. About 12x15 inches, oil on gessoed linen over panel.

january 13

      Waxing moon, colder and more sunny week. This moon seems to be dredging in my Marianas trench, every day. This is intense in its own murky way since I have no idea what is coming up next. Mundanely, got through an absurd number of crazy occurrences in finishing the PDF for the book, including Word spontaneously uninstalling itself, but everything just led to the next step: it turned out that reinstalling it was much better than having it fix itself in terms of increasing its stability. So, I finally have a 586 page PDF without errors. I girded my loins and went to the CreateSpace site to begin the next step, but, lo and behold, it had been replaced by an Amazon site, Kindle Publishing, I think it was called. Experiencing even one page of this site was so much like being taken aboard the Borg ship -- especially the resistance is futile part -- that I decided not to go further: resistance seemed imperative. A little frustrating at first, but I sort of had a feeling that it wasn't going to work out. In retrospect it seems like I wanted to generate a greater sense of financial security through this move. But, realistically, the book is not as good a tool for that as the paintings. So, hopefully the work will come back into focus in the weeks to come now that the book is all but over. Got a quote from a bindery in Minnesota that I like, and have another one coming from one in Michigan. Both of these binderies feature some decent options in terms of heavier paper and the one in Minnesota has lots of creative cover options as well. I love the idea of a simple cover made with good paper but it feels like this approach would be too fragile for a book designed to be used and used some more. Still, there are options, and I'm dealing with human beings. Freight from the Midwest will be higher than from New England, but their prices are lower than the old bindery, and with the old bindery, there was an awful lot of Murphy's Law over the years. So, we'll see. I got pretty wound up this past week but there's no huge hurry: the big build-up only produces the big letdown. Practically, the next step is another try at making a simple cover that feels right, then getting a proof. I know I get kind of worked up trying to turn the cover into an immortal work of art, but also know it doesn't matter that much. An uneasy balance there between the person who cares too much and the person who sees that none of it matters. But, since I've got a little extra time, it seems like it might be worth exploring one more time.


      Third layer on this one, oil with a little bit of a looser fused damar putty medium added. More to go, but I like where this is headed so far. 10x13 inches, oil on gessoed linen over panel.


       Snow showers early this morning.



january 6

      Last week of the moon, new moon and an eclipse last night. Mostly overcast and rainy week, then a dense and sluggish quality for the last few days of the moon, like wading through oobleck. Then last night I got energized when the new moon arrived and was still rearranging the studio at midnight, Lily was fascinated. She is feeling much better but likes her new food so much that, when we returned to the vet for a follow-up, it turned out she had gained almost half a pound. Urgh. This is sort of complicated, I play with her a lot but she's really insistent about eating. I've been able to reduce the dry food, but can't get the volume of the new wet food even close to where the vet suggested. What to do for this amazing, strong-willed, but increasingly Rubenesque kitty? I'm asking, hopefully will receive an answer soon. Absolutely not a creative time, nada, mostly worked on getting the PDF for the book right and on some new cover ideas. Turning the document into a PDF is fun in a way, because I know I'm almost done, and the small things become more obvious because they're all that's left. But the process is full of surprises. These always have to do with very small formatting inconsistencies causing the pages to jump around, but this time they were even smaller. So, figuring out what was causing the changes took a few days. Then there was a spate of crashes when making the PDF itself. Oy. I can't believe a program as mature as Word is still as finicky, buggy, and crash-prone. It does always recover the file, I have to give it that. But maybe it would be a good idea to be able to turn off all the techno-bling in the interest of stability. How crazy is it to just want the program to work? This week I made the crucial error of thinking that installing an update would increase stability, instead it created a situation where every page was one line shorter, meaning the file increased from 584 to 607 pages, negating in a moment the last two weeks of work on the index. So, that was a little challenging. But instead of trying to do anything in the file I reinstalled the whole program, and that fixed it. Whew. There are still a few persistent places where errors occur, but the PDF is very close to exactly the same as the document now. Yes, the process is a little maniacal, but this is both the human experience and hopefully the end of the line. I'm a little ahead of schedule, but it would be really nice to return to painting itself for a while with the waxing moon. We'll see, the energy sure changed in a hurry last night.


      The cover traditions with books about painting technique are either to throw a reproduction of an older painting on the cover, or a gritty, even messy, photo of the materials. I always wanted to find an idea for the cover of Living Craft that would get at the content in a simpler or more visual way, and made a lot of cover tests in 2018. Since the book is not like the other books about painting, maybe the cover should be different as well. This is one I liked, meaning I guess that it felt like me. Ot maybe a part of me I'd like to do more with, ahem. But I also ended up feeling it didn't seem enough like a book about painting, or a book with a lot of technical information in it.


      Moving in the other way, I thought I'd try a materials photo, but a more fine art one. This one had an austerity I liked, but felt too serious.


      This is one I made this week, featuring as much colour and information as possible. Maybe too much, I tried to add "fifteen years of research" and "for experienced painters", but maybe less is more. It's just strange to think of this book being on Amazon. I want to protect it from people who will not get it and therefore feel free to review it badly. Though I've noticed that dismissive type of review tends to create positive reviews in response. Anyway, parental anxiety. I do like the lighter colour scheme compared to the current cover, I had wanted it to say the tetrachromatikon, but it always ended up saying Caravaggio, which is just too much drama for me. Anyway, this week's version feels a little busy as a whole but it's a busy book, and the sections are okay on their own, although the rear seems to need smaller photos or smaller text within them. It feels like this tells a user-friendly, accurate, though not particularly deep, story, and could be tweaked further. But I might give the concept of a simpler, more heart-centered cover one more try. Except it also has to have precision. And I'm afraid it's intrinsically too pointy headed and literary. So, maybe this one succeeds more than I think it does. It's always a process. And this one will look different after a rest of a few days.

december 30

      Third week of the moon, still mostly milder. A surprising week of no large-scale challenges, perhaps 2018 has finally run out. Lily's UT issue is getting better, her clumps are nice and big now in the litter box, and she wants to wack away at me with the usual vigor in the evening. There's a series of games she like to play, it's very fun, I always end up laughing. Which is always good. I'm not unhappy to see the last of 2018, it was quietly but relentlessly challenging. The thing I like to do most disappeared for weeks, even months, at a time. And, in it's stead, I got to deal with the accumulated subconscious detritus of the last fifty years being triggered over and over again. I did learn a lot from this process about letting go, and staying in balance under duress, but it's also clear that there's way more to learn. With painting, I'm essentially about to start over, something that never would have happened if being so stopped hadn't generated more perspective about the process. I'd love to say that I'm grateful for it all, and on a given day I might be. But recently I've also just felt jumpy, like all I'm doing is waiting for the next challenging event to come barreling around the corner. On the one hand, I'm sure this is all for a reason -- evolve or die comes to mind -- but I'm also beginning to crack at the seams a little bit. Had a dream earlier this week that seemed to try to explain what's going on. In it, I was driving in a snowstorm, something I had to do relatively often in Vermont, so this part was familiar, and very real. But I had to go fast for some reason, there was some kind of hurry, which meant I had to pass other cars often. At first this was pretty scary, but I realized I had more traction than I thought, in fact I was glued to the road, so it just happened. Then I got to a place where there were no more cars, and the road started going up a big hill, straight up. Usually, a road with this kind of grade has switchbacks, but this one just went up and up, and so did I in the car: it was not at all a problem. The climb went on and on until suddenly it leveled out at the top. There was a little old service station and general store there, a nice touch, and I asked the guy there, complete with the dark green chino outfit, which way to turn. He told me, and I told him what a beautiful road it had been to go up, and he nodded, smiling, like he had often heard that before. So, pretty straightforward, and reassuring in a way. Though I'm not sure I buy the idea that this is suddenly going to get direct and simple.


      There's an herb called gotu-kola which has various uses in Ayurvedic medicine and been used as a meditation aid for a long time, in India it's called Brahmi. It's often paired with another herb with similar effect on the brain called Bacopa. Gotu-kola is widely available now, and Bacopa is becoming so. Over the years I've used both of them off and on as a way to concentrate more on painting, and they work well for that as a caffeine alternative. For me caffeine seems to create enthusiasm, but at the expense of patience. There was a time when this worked for alla prima work, but the work needs a kind of spacious alertness now, which these herbs are good at encouraging.


      Every year I work on Living Craft, adding new things that have come up. Then I print it out, read it, and correct it page by page. At a certain point it has to be read again from the beginning. Mostly this is for more clarity and simplicity, but there are also sometimes statements that need to be made stronger or more nuanced. Or, there's something new I thought was important and inserted in six different places over the year: where does it really belong? Then there are places that have become overgrown because they're important to me, these need to be weeded out, maybe even redone from scratch. I like re-writing things, have learned how to say something in different ways, that a given sentence will only hold so much, and that almost all adverbs are pestilential. A good sentence has a wonderful solidity, or ring of truth. I really can't get enough of this, golly I wonder why. With luck it can even have a little poetry, a cosmic echo, or a small but unexpected word. Why should technical writing be, by definition, boring and uncreative? Once you get one good sentence in the paragraph, this is the cornerstone, it shows how to organize the rest. It's surprising how often a better way to say it is revealed by cutting excess words. But, on the other hand, only so much can be cut or it begins to sound oracular, or open to interpretation in many different ways. There's a lot of if-then in a book like this, like the branches of a tree. This is the most complex aspect to organize. When I answer email questions they're often framed in terms of true or false, but, as in life, what is going to work in a painting has a lot to do with what has gone before, and what is going to come after. So, the craft is not a set of rules, or commandments, it's a multi-dimensional balancing act. Anyway, this year I put in a lot of new material, moved some things around, and took a few things out that began to seem more extraneous over time. This meant a lot of mathematical editing: changing the section numbers and formula numbers in the table of contents, changing those numbers in the cross-references, and of course changing the page numbers in the table of contents as well. Only so much of this can happen at a given time before things begin to go awry. But all of that is now done, and I feel that this version of the book is significantly better at explaining some crucial things. Mostly this is about emulsion refining, linseed oil, fat over lean, and the various conservation issues that are coming up with 20th century materials. This week I began to work on the index, which I was sort of dreading. In theory the program generates the index, and I got a break in that it actually read an older concordance file instead of having to input each entry. So I got a lot of index quickly, but, of course, it's not that simple. Ha-ha, no. I missed some things that needed to be added, but it turned out the program missed instances of things as well. A word with an accent, for example, has to be searched by hand. So I've been doing both adding and checking this week. Why were there so few instance of d-Limonene? Because I'd also spelled it d-Lymonene. Then there was sand, as in silica, versus sand, as in something you do with sandpaper, versus sandarac, the resin. Endless minutiae. But I've learned more about this process, and more about thinking about how the index might be useful: a step forward compared to my former position, which was that it is a waste of time and paper. My larger concern is that people will use the index as a way to avoid reading the book, which, given how different the book is from the various 20th century reference manuals, has always seemed like a recipe for trouble. But another thing I've learned -- why yes, the hard way, how did you know? -- is that, while I have control over what words are on the page, this is utterly delusional, because I have no control over what words the reader reads, or how they interpret them. I can do the index for about two hours a day before a not so still or small voice calls a halt. It feels like I've got about a week to go now. Then I get to make a new cover for the book, which I'm excited about, I made a lot of cover ideas this year and one of them actually turned out to work better. Then I'm going to look into having the book printed by CreateSpace, and, as such, become available on Amazon. I say look into it because, while this approach would sell many more books each year, there may well be things about it that turn out not to be okay with me. Also, having experienced the wilds of writing for the Huffington Post years ago, and Facebook now and then in the last few years, I have no illusions about the amount of patience the contemporary painter brings to bear on information outside their frame of reference. It is often woefully small. So, I may end up printing it again myself. Part of me would like the numbers of books sold to matter, and increase, but it's more important that the book go to the people who are in a position to understand and use it. Which, truth be told, is not that many. Maybe I'm overreacting, there are lots of considered book reviews, at least, on Amazon. We'll see. Anyway, I hope to have edition thirteen available later in February or early in March. A surprising number of people have asked about a hardback, investigating that comes next.


      Second lean underpainting layer on the lilacs of two weeks ago. A little more definition and clarity. Much more to go but I like the system so far. This approach to the panel is also helpful, fine linen and a more absorbent ground. Have started making more of these for use in 2019: the new year. About 12x15 inches, oil on gessoed linen over panel.

december 23

      A really long week, wow. Winter continues mild, a few days of rain, now brilliantly sunny and above freezing. Week of the full moon, the moon was yesterday around noon here. The most intense one since August, a real evolve or die feeling in the air. The energy peaked the day before, on the solstice, ran around a great deal getting Lily's new food and some Ivar shelving at Ikea. Ikea is complex, I love the puzzle of the functional design executed with flair, but bypassed the giant showroom maze this time in the name of efficiency, was actually out and back in an hour and a half. Anyway, this upgrade has been building for a while, had to think about what goes where, but made some good changes to the space overall. But the week's major focus was that Lily ended up with a urinary tract issue. This turned out not to be dire, but has been sort of nerve-wracking overall. She is on the mend -- this means peeing a lot a few times, rather than a little a lot of times -- and she actually likes the new food, which is very clean in terms of its ingredients, and features a gravy, which gives her more water to dissolve the crystals in her urine. In my issue from last week with the camera, I wrote a simple appeal to Amazon after they denied my first attempt to get a refund on technical grounds, reiterating that I had paid for, but was never sent, a camera. But I also kept being frustrated and angry intermittently, the sort of challenge part of me would like to answer with a light saber. But slowly realized that, in this place and time, the only option that would make me feel better was to forgive SuperSaver for stealing my money, and Amazon for not caring because they don't have to. This felt like the way I could create closure with a form of energy that felt contracting and ugly. It took a while to actually feel it, but when I got to this place it was surprisingly empowering, gave me a great sense of spaciousness. In larger terms, someone needs to experience how unwise it is to steal, someone else needs to experience how to forgive: simple. So, that was interesting, felt like I'd solved the puzzle. Then, the next day, Lily's issue began, and I realized how small the loss of some money really was while I read endlessly online about UT issues in cats, tried to get her to drink more water -- fruitlessly, of course, since it hurt her to pee -- and waited for Monday morning to call the vet. That evening, I got an email from Amazon issuing me a refund.
      So, in spite of the full moon week, not much work happened in the course of all this. This time of year is traditionally hopeless anyway. All of this has also overshadowed Christmas, which occurred to me hearing wacky old Christmas songs on the radio on the way to the vet. I exchange little things with my brother's family, and I have fond memories of Christmas as a child, which happened in a house about a mile away from here, and that's a good kind of present for me at this point. I'm reading a very nice book now on the Five Element theory in traditional Tibetan Bon that seems to link it much more with both Hinduism and Taoism than I had realized, the author is a perennialist, I love it. Did get a start on working with Instagram, a project that has been slowly gathering momentum for a while. I feel very much at sixes and sevens in terms of the relevance of what I have to offer to any form of social media, it often feels like I have more in common with the past and the future than the present, and the whole idea of something like this having its own frantic subculture just seems, well, insane. Maybe I need more caffeine and less Five Element Theory. But this is something several friends have encouraged me to do for a while now, and I started learning how it works, which seems incredibly quirky, and going over the photos I have for a game plan. At worst it becomes a simple way to explain the book to more painters. I lost some photos in the transfer to the current computer, but still have eleven year's worth of them to choose from. It's been really enlightening to go through them in terms of seeing what works, and what doesn't, am about halfway done, there aren't that many that are appropriate in each year but they add up. This overview has been really helpful to my sense of the process, I don't feel there's a great new formula to follow, just a pattern to learn from. I mean, I felt the nascent system of starting really lean and only using the more rococo medium at the end could be a big step forward, but it's good to see this reinforced by examples from the work itself. The whole thing of producing lots of work in a given style, the studio as an aesthetic assembly line, is very tricky to me. In the museum world there's a tendency to act like anything by a famous painter is sacrosanct, but, sorry, this is simply not true, there is always a range. The museum here missed the boat big time on Bonnard and has purchased some earlier small, middle range ones at what have to be large prices at this point; even the Met doesn't have great ones compared to the Phillips Collection. But the more you study someone who is really good, the more you see them learning from what didn't work out as well as what did, and Bonnard was certainly involved in the labyrinthine incremental evolution of his process.


      Layer three on this one, standing in the light. The previous layer was done in a water-phase tempera grassa of egg yolk and oil paint. This paint had a nice look, but I felt it was a little rich, the surface felt soft after a week. So I ground it down lightly before beginning. The paint was sort of gummy, pilled instead of fragmented, anything with egg does take a long time to really cure, and it had a reasonable amount of egg in it. So, I think I'll drop egg from the list of things to use to underpaint, I love watercolour, glue, and methyl cellulose, that's enough to choose from. This layer used the lean lamp oil putty, which is very nice for this type of thing, and it feels like this one is ready for a layer with straight paint. I'm intrigued by the blue of the background, but in the past this type of colour has needed to be dropped down in saturation in the name of unity. I have a lower saturation version of this painting, the question is whether this version stays quite high or just a little bit higher. 10x13 inches, gessoed linen over panel.

december 16

      A little warmer, some sun but mostly overcast, then two days of rain. Waxing moon, lots of energy, but not a lot of focus, jumpy. When this moon began it felt distinctly adversarial somehow, like the concept of challenge, of expecting the unexpected, was about to be redefined. Which, in its own small way, has been the case.


      I've never had a great digital camera, they just seemed to get better and it seemed wisest to wait. But last year about this time I decided I need a new camera, and did a lot of research trying to figure out what to get. The problem is that cameras are not really designed to do what I want anymore, which is simply take the best possible picture of what is there, they are designed to do much more. So, in the end, I decided I wanted something with a larger sensor, and 24 megapixels, but that it could wait, the urge was more consumerist than real. I started taking photos of the work with the current camera in the RAW format, and this made things better. But a few weeks ago, as the holidaze arrived, I got bitten by the camera bug again, and did more research again into what was available. I ended up liking the Nikon D5300, because it had the larger sensor and the 24 mp but didn't have a lot of other stuff I wouldn't use. But this camera was no longer being made. Still, I thought there might be some around. But this camera is sort of popular for exactly the reason I like it, and B&H, the usual place I get this kind of thing, didn't have any. I decided to look on Amazon and there was a third party seller that had them. So, I bought one. When it came, though, it wasn't the camera, it was a battery charger. So, this week has sort of been involved with that. The return process takes some time, and the seller is not exactly acting like they did anything wrong. I still may get my money back on this, it is Amazon's decision. Anyway, I did my best not to get upset about it, but I did. There is something so filthy about being involved in something like this, it is hard to keep it in balance. Then I ended up working too hard to keep from being upset, and my back went out. I sort of thought this type of incident was over, but it went out just enough to keep me in bed for the last three days. So, I've been rereading one of my old favorite channeled books, a dialogue with the various beings who created the infrastructure of the universe: they start with the creator of the creator, and end up at the center of creation itself. This, as always, has been a big help. So, yet another spontaneous experience of imbalance. Am back to being reasonably balanced and not a major disaster regardless of what happens, but several aspects of this situation to ponder. It is interesting how the challenges keep on coming. Personal and unexpected. I knew this was a challenge when it happened, but the process still wore me down, wanted very much to fight in spite of myself, could not just accept that there was a process, and that, in larger terms, whatever wanted to happen would happen. It feels like I have spent a lot of time in past lives fighting, especially with blades. It's at the point where I don't want anything to do with that energy any longer, but the root of it still needs to be addressed somehow. On the surface this is pretty daunting, but it always seems like once the problem has been identified, it begins to be solved. I just know it can't be rejected, it has to be healed.


      I was sent some gum elemi a while ago by a friend who ended up with too much of it by accident. It's soft and very fragrant, sort of lemon meets fennel with just a little of something like frankincense in there. I wanted to get it into tubes because of the high volatile content, and was able to do that by putting the jar in a waterbath. In the varnish industry it is called a plasticizer. I haven't encountered it as part of older painting, which would make sense since it's from the Phillipines, but it was used in small amounts by the 19th century French academic painters to create fusion with tack, and also to counteract the brittleness of the strong drier they used, a combination of lead and manganese salts in solvent bogusly called Siccatif de Courtrai. I'd like to try elemi in something, although I think it will relax things, basically the opposite of what I like to see in a medium. But it arrived for a reason, so, we'll see where it wants to go.


      A tool: I get a huge boot out of this kind of thing, a cleaner way to transfer chalk from the bag to a jar.


      Wanted to try the tempera underpainting idea using egg instead of glue. It's always about completion, having a kind of inner table or chart of which combination does what. Decided to start out with a relatively lean and wet paint, added water to the pigments, then cut the egg with two parts water instead of one. Earth colours except for a warm and cold blue mix.


      As with the glue paint, all went well as long as there was no white involved, and the sense of quiet saturation to the pigment was quite lovely. Then the difference between the wet value and the dry value became overwhelming. This was using zinc white cut with two parts chalk, so it's not that powerful a white. But the system just dries very brightly if there's an opaque pigment involved. This paint is lovely, but working with it effectively would require a tremendous level of haptic organization.


      So, tried another layer the next day with the tempera grassa version: beginning with oil paint instead of pigment, and adding more egg yolk so it would remain water-soluble. I liked the feeling of this paint.


      Was able to clean it up using this paint but went a little too far into density with the quick-setting egg yolk, it just congealed too fast on the palette. To work this paint would have to be thinned further with water from the beginning and put in jar lids. So, not ideal but I learned a lot. This approach would work better if the first layer was just about taking the value down in several layers of translucent washes. Then, the tempera grassa layer would bring the values up again. The problem is often not with the technique itself, but with the method.


      After this, I tried started another version of the lilacs from 2011, see the 12-2 news below for the first painting. This is actually the third version, the second one suffered the death of a thousand layers. Kept the proportion the same, but enlarged it a little. The problem with this image is that the original painting departed significantly from the reference in the feeling of the flowers, and that worked better. So, kept that in mind in this beginning. Made a panel that was designed to have a pretty flat surface: fine linen, two coats of relatively thin and absorbent gesso over the size. Then, instead of the tempera beginning, returned to using a putty made with chalk, calcite, and lamp oil in the paint. This made for a relatively lean beginning that dried looking a lot more like a water-based paint than oil paint. It's not easy to get the balance of positive and negative colour in these with the current camera, but in life this has a nice quality. It was intriguing to realize that the ground and the underpaint could be fine tuned in another way, and that something new would happen as a result. I mean, this is always the idea, and is obvious in theory, but actually seeing it happen as a result of a specific set of decisions in response to the former set of decisions is always sort of amazing: a different feeling, how did it happen? Part of me would like to put a second layer of lean underpaint on it, but it might be wiser to just put denser paint on it next, with a long open time of a couple days, as the first one was done. About 12x15 inches, oil on gessoed linen over panel.

december 9

      More seasonal here, and back to the famous sun a little more. Last week of the moon, new moon was on the 7th. This one happened later at night here, and I really felt it, a very idealistic, freedom-seeking energy, it was lovely but also agitating, like it was rummaging through the closets, took a long time to get to sleep. So, for the first time in a while, I know exactly what to do. Well, not exactly exactly, ha-ha, but far more exactly than in a long time. The process wanted to explain some things to me this year on a couple different fronts, personal and technical. Personal has been about "Who am I really, what do I want from this?" and inevitably is involved in healing something, reclaiming something that somehow became damaged. Technical has been about doing more thin and lean layers first before committing to a denser medium. This makes sense now, but I needed to be slowed down enough to see it. It's sort of difficult to slow down and gauge what is being missed by going too fast if you feel you always need to catch up to where you think you should be. In spite of usually feeling that more could happen, I also always felt it had to be simple, that there was a simple way to do things that would still have enough elements in it to ensure growth. And, really slowly, not exactly with my full cooperation, this year in fact delivered me to a simpler place. It helped to feel there wasn't a choice anymore, that wherever this process wanted to go was the only destination available.


      Early on this year I realized that I wanted to be less reactive, and as that process slowly gathered steam I began to look at current events differently. I guess what I mean by current events is what officially becomes news, not what is actually happening. And I realized that something was happening that I really didn't understand, and the more I researched this and thought about it, the more complex it became. But, the internet is an interesting place. Because, lo and behold, you can find out a lot of things that, well, at least according to the main stream media, since they never report on them, you're not supposed to know about. Some of these items, of course, are open secrets, but there's so much of this stuff under the carpet, and everything also exists in its own compartment: I only learned about Project Paperclip this year, because it wasn't part of a compartment I intersected with until recently. Then there's the CIA's involvement promoting Abstract Expressionism in Europe during the Cold War, this also has been around for a while but I only found out about it last week. Anyway, the end of the year is the time for predictions, and I want to make two of them for 2019 based on patterns I came across repeatedly this year. Some surprising dots turned out to be connected. I won't going to go into the dots themselves, just where they end up. And Jupiter is in Sagittarius, so it's time for some big systemic corruption to end. Have you been waiting for this a long time too? Okay, the first prediction is that, at some point in the coming year, the Vatican will cease to exist. It may be quiet, it may not be, but, as a vastly manipulative socio-economic institution pretending to be a religion, it will be gone. The second is that, at some point in the coming year, Donald Trump is going to become everyone's hero. Mine, yours, everyone's. In this case, of course, it will not be quiet. And, being who he is, the general adulation may not last too long. But what happens will be seen as a pivotal event in American history.


      The co-op got some barley that's just been hulled, not pearled, this has more personality but needs to be cooked longer as well. Barley is the grain with the lowest glycemic index, so it's the one that gets metabolized most slowly. Made the French lentil stew with barley and some dried porcini mushrooms last night, a nice variation on this theme.


      Did another water-phase tempera experiment beginning with oil paint. Mixed 2 parts egg yolk into 1 part oil paint and added water to that. Pretty tough!


      Curl test to see how bound the paint is. I wasn't sure I'd like the way this worked but did a small test and liked how it painted and looked. Want to try it next, sort of like: first layer, way underbound egg tempera, next layer, more normal egg tempera, third layer, this type of paint, fourth layer, oil paint with a little egg in it, fifth layer, straight oil paint. But maybe the fifth layer would need to have a little extra oil in it.


      Ground this one back and tried the same type of medium I'd used on it before, but a little thinner, with soft brushes. This was fun to an extent, could definitely do more, but I ended up wishing I could start over with several layers of water-based paint. Which is good, since that's what I want to do. I don't care about putting lots of layers on to get what I want, but I want the colour and value structure to be more genuinely stable than I've been getting with a relatively fat system. About 9.25x12 inches, oil on gessoed linen over panel.


      Third layer on this small study, a lighter, more mobile medium with a little bit of chalk to give it more grab. Soft brushes, relatively thin paint, am still getting used to what this does but it feels natural. The next layer on this will be fun, a little more impasto, a little more richness to the medium, a little less colour. About 12.5x7.75 inches, made it a little longer.


      Layer five on this one, left out the egg and just used oil paint cut with a putty made from chalk, calcite, and a little lamp oil. Did use black, this creates access to a different type of gray structure, which seems logical for this. Am not sure about a few things in the foreground and the trees themselves need some major grace but like how this is progressing and of course really like how something matte and high key photographs, geez. Will keep adding a little more saturation and movement in each layer. About 9.5x15.75 inches.

december 2

      Quiet and sort of functional week, entering the holidaze, the final throes of 2018. There's usually kind of a lull between Thanksgiving and New Year's Day, but it feels like something is also building. Hard to say, this year taught me just to do what wants to be done, and I had to leave the work behind for weeks at a time, heaven only knows why. But I feel more complete as a result, and this may have been the idea. With painting there has always been more, and it's been easy to get distracted, even hypnotized by that. But life too has the same potential, and I was asked to address this more fully in 2018. I mean, it's not like somebody with wings appeared at the foot of the bed one night and gave detailed directions, but I've learned to pay attention to the various hints more closely. It is always a still, small voice. This year I realized that it was possible to do more than experience and helplessly react; that, while I had to experience, more neutrality was possible. Now, I'm not exactly the Dalai Lama but it's not that hard to train your mind at least somewhat to stay positive. Oh, here it is, the same old negative thought pattern. Do we want this? No! This has led to more interest in staying positive since when something gets to me it feels infinitely more raw and disharmonious. But it also seems like everything and anything that can possibly get to me is coming out of the woodwork to say hello it's me, I've thought about us for a long, long time. This actually started when I came back to Philadelphia, and peaked in 2016-17, when an incredible number of challenging things occurred one after the other. Now, the things that are happening are more subtle, and I have a prayer of being aware of them while they're happening, but they still seem big because I want them gone for good so much. So, while this year has been frustrating with the work, it also brought a glimmer of daylight as far as a next step: no longer struggling with negativity, but just letting it go. In other words, making an ongoing, conscious effort, which, really, I never made before to any lasting extent. The latest type of challenge has been people writing to me about the materials without the least interest in a functional dialogue. Now, this isn't most people by any means! Over the years, it's generally been fun to explain things that someone finds puzzling, there have been a few definite success stories this year, and that always feels good. But recently a couple different people have written who, for different reasons, simply could not hear what I had to say. In both cases, again in different ways, the issue was "science." Not the version of science that is based on analyzing experience, but the version of science that gets used to promote the ego. The real scientists I've known are smart but humble and relatively cosmic people: they are embarrassed by the ego's jingoist science. But I bring this up because it seems like culturally, science gets appropriated and used in negative ways a lot. Anyway, I'm learning to recognize the signs of this, and, in the future, instead of making my points with ever increasing logic and clarity, which, surprise, never seems to help, just bow out gracefully and wish them the best. I do this anyway in the end, but have realized there could be less friction in the middle by just accepting that different languages were being spoken from the beginning.


      My friend Douglas the Japanese boatbuilder who lives in Vermont is back in Japan, touring Kyshu looking at cormorant fishing boats for a new project. He sent this photo of the van of an itinerant painter he met who specializes in erupting volcanoes. Douglas has lots of photos of beautiful, and apparently increasingly empty, rural Japan on his blog, along with his laconic, and often very funny, Yankee commentary.


      Someone sent me some PEG8 modified beeswax, this is used in cosmetics to make emulsions. It accepts water easily but is inelastic compared to the ancient emulsified wax I've been making with a little bit of liquid soap. It also accepts oil well, as in this photo, but, as my friend Roland predicted, is not in any hurry to dry. It might have a place in a water-based system, but maybe with something relatively elastic like methyl cellulose. It would behave like gouache, but have more inherent body.


      Revisited commercial burnt plate oil this week after a long vacation, I liked working with this years ago in a chalk putty, it melts more than stand oil but also darkens less over time. It dries slowly so the melting can be minimized by working the same paint a second day. Comparing the various viscosities, the lack of yellowing was especially the case with #7 from Graphic Chemical in Chicago, seen here after over a decade about half full. This is pretty close to non-yellowing, very surprising. It had solidified on top, but the oil underneath had slowly autoxidized and was very similar to triple boiled oil, dense but elastic. So, decided this was worth saving and managed to get it into a few tubes. The oils I ordered from Graphic seemed to get darker over time, this is only logical since they probably use the same kettle for all of them and quite possibly clean it never, since the colour is immaterial for printmaking, its designated use. But I may get another can, just to see. This is of course the issue with something like this, the process is out of my control unless I want to invest in a vacuum kettle. At the same time, when I heated an oil to 200C for 2 hours using a magnetic hotplate, it gave similar results without the melting issue. It would be good to do that again, have used most of it up, and also try 4 hours instead of two. But, though that process is slightly below the smoke point of a refined oil, it definitely requires ventilation, so will have to wait till it's warm enough to open a window or do it in the backyard.


      Image from 2011 made with a slow-drying BPO putty that allowed it to be worked for at least two, possibly three days.


      Also couldn't resist mixing the BPO#7 with some triple boiled oil: as time goes on, it's increasingly important to stay in touch with one's inner ten year old. And yes, it was interesting getting this into a tube. This type of oil adds thixotropy or boing to a medium even in very small amounts. So, saturating like stand oil, but otherwise opposite in its rheology.


      A few years ago I got a gallon of refined walnut oil from Jedwards that was sort of different. At first I wasn't sure if it was different good, or different bad. But it was from Italy, and over time has turned out to be different good. It polymerizes more quickly than any refined walnut oil I've used from America, has more body, or boing, when polymerized, and yellows less. So, it's better, it must be expensive! Surprise! It's not.


      Continued with the idea of making leaner underlayers this week using a putty with egg yolk and a little bit of walnut oil to keep it from setting too fast.


      Layer four on this study, made using the egg putty mixed with oil paint. I decided it would be a good idea to explore developing the underpainting more, since I rarely get what I want in the usual saturated layer I put over the underpainting, and I've decided that this is the culprit in the drying down I get in value and chroma. It's slight, wouldn't matter with earth colours and chiaroscuro, but want to see if it can be minimized it by working more with the underpaint. In larger terms, this illustrates that one must be aware -- wary, even, hard as that is -- of one's own enthusiasms, as these just might lead one somewhat astray. I felt that it would be okay to paint more richly overall if the oil were high quality, the paint itself were more stable, and I waited a long time between layers. And it's true that nothing has ever cracked. But I've wanted to learn how to make things remain brighter. It's not that the brightest colour is the issue, I want the atmosphere to remain the way I made it. I'm in good company here. The last time I was at the Met, it was clear that the most worked part of Aristotle was the underside of the hat: the most impastoed paint is there to get the colour and value to dry right. At least, that's my interpretation. So, returning to this snowy afternoon outside Vergennes in December 2000: beginning, and continuing, leaner, holding saturation in reserve. These have tended to get sort of purple, but the image was from the middle of the afternoon, so I wanted to try for a more neutral feeling in this one. This remains too literal for me, sort of agonizing from that perspective, but has a level of internal detail that is pretty complete. About 9.5x15.75 inches, a fun process so far.

november 25

      More seasonal weather, some hard freezes at night, but lots of rain last night and a little warmer today. With sun, this type of November isn't bad. Week of the full moon, lots of energy for this time of year, the work didn't do badly but I'm still retrenching, have to be patient with the next system coming together. This is typically the beginning of the Holidaze for me, a lay low period for the work that usually lasts until the week after the New Year. But it feels like this year is going to be different during this period as well, something new is coming on slowly. Mercury retrograde this week, this often manifests in forms of miscommunication, packages being delayed or misdelivered is typical. This week featured some subtle and wacky manifestations of this. I finally got it together to get some much needed food the day after Thanksgiving. After checking me out, the cashier at the co-op blithely announced that my total was 92 dollars. What!?! I know what I buy and I know how much I usually spend within a few dollars, and this was way high. A more experienced cashier would have caught this as well, but they go through a lot of cashiers at the co-op, they're kind of cannon fodder. And this one seemed to think it was my problem. Ah, to be young and callow again! There was a long line, so I asked for a receipt and moved on. The scanner had misread an item, and charged me 28.00 for organic coffee I hadn't gotten, easy to spot. So, there was another cashier between check outs, and they gave me a refund. Meanwhile the cashier who did check me out asked how to reset their machine, because it was misreading items. Then, the post office! Yesterday, I was taking books there, and the clerk said they couldn't accept one of them because the label didn't show I had paid for it. What?!? I felt that the implication was that I had somehow counterfeited the label, and pointed out that it came from the post office website. And to be honest, this is also someone who has been a stickler for details in the past that have been meaningless, the only one in four years I've had mild transactional issues with. Anyway, I stood my ground, but so did they. Tense, but polite. The upper corner of the label did look a little blank, but I didn't understand how that could have happened. They said they were open until two, and to come back with the label fixed. So I left. I still didn't understand it, and was at this point really fighting a rising complaint about the whole effing postal system. Which is not really that bad, but which is more stressful, occasionally bizarre, at this particular post office, the nearest one to me, than at any of the others around here. Anyway, strangely upsetting to do everything the right way and have it somehow come out wrong. When I got back home, the PDF for the label was fine, it had the complex barcode in the upper corner. But when I tried to print it again, the program wasn't reading that part of the label, the preview showed up with the same blank. Very strange! So I used another PDF program, one of several that printing the book has graciously brought into my life, and this one printed the label without issue. Then I went back to the post office, and told the clerk they were right, which went over well. Coming back home again, I thought about how the possibility that a PDF could be printed *selectively* was not in my frame of reference. So I guess the larger point is that these experiences, by throwing a monkey wrench into the works, quickly expand the frame of reference. Ready or not, expect the unexpected, get flexible. This is something Lily often illustrates, hiding somewhere and staging a mock attack when I come around the corner. But those are fun. It's interesting too that, with the first experience, though it worked out fine, I felt I should have stood up more. But, with the second experience, possibly as a result of the first one, I stood up a little too much. Ah, the post office!


      Lily has been spending more time inside as it gets colder. She's nine at this point, and last summer she wasn't that into the hotter days either, I used to let her out around 2 in the morning and get her around 8 or 9. She likes to play with me when she's around, wacking at one of the flock of virtual birds, or what I call fisticuffs, which means wacking at my hands. In terms of mano a mano, she's getting much better at not shredding me. Of course, this way the game goes on longer, but in general, she's become much gentler, wakes me up with a nose bump instead of a bite on the wrist. That I did not do well with. It's fun to see what interests her, the house has its own set of noises, but sometimes there's a new one and she goes on instant alert, totally still, her eyes and ears get really big. She can of course see way more in the dark than I can, and sometimes she zooms from window to window at night, tracking something out there. Sometimes at night I wake up and she's watching over me from the night table with her eyes huge in the dark, like a little ET. She threw up this morning, this is rare but tends to occur after I open a new can of food, she likes it best before it's been in the fridge and sometimes eats too quickly. I was about to walk right into it, but she scampered in and headed me off so I'd look down and see it. That was impressive, honorable. And she had managed to throw up on the floor as well, not on the rug. I mean, a centimeter from the rug, but not on the rug. But she always feels really embarrassed about throwing up, possibly a memory from her former domicile. Someone used to go after her with a broom as well: it's funny, she's fine with a broom inside, but outside, no. Anyway, I tried to make her feel better, but she just wanted to be alone for a little while. For me, yet another reminder of not being able to fix someone else. She always bounces back pretty quickly though. We played the swat you through the curtain game a little later. Life with a mighty huntress.


      The last time I had the book printed it came shrink-wrapped in sets of twelve in a box, they got through the UPS jungle of Philadelphia in great shape. But this last time, they shipped them two dozen per box, without much protection. I know, why. But do you really want life with my bindery stories? Anyway, this has meant that there are some books that are a little dented. They're of course perfect on the inside. And I don't think this even qualifies as shopworn, the cover just has a crease or a small bonk in one corner. So, if you know you're going to beat the book up in your studio anyway, a course of action I heartily endorse, here is an opportunity to get a book that has been tailor-made for this approach at a significant discount! These books are 20.00 plus postage, making media mail in the US 25.00, priority east US 30.00, priority west US 35.00, and overseas 50.00. If you'd like one you can e-mail me for instructions. Or, you can use the email address you get by clicking that link to go to PayPal and send me the funds there. If you do the PayPal route, remember to tell me where to send it! What's the book about? There's a page about it here, and you can download the Table of Contents and text selections here


      I'd always been intrigued by the Japanese tea called Gyokuro, or Jewel Dew. This tea is grown in the shade during the last few weeks before it's plucked. This gives it more theanine, the feel good component in tea, and gives it a distinct flavour the Japanese call umami. This word is usually translated as savoury. But to me savoury means something different than how this tea tastes, and, as with many things Japanese, there's also more to it. Umami is brothy and oceany, but without the closure of salt, with just a little bit of sweetness and bitterness. The key is that the flavour floats, is unresolved, an infinite horizon, a cosmic question mark. Anyway, this flavour is pretty intense in gyokuro, and when I made it the way you're supposed to, about a tablespoon of tea per cup, it was a little too much. But then I backed off to less tea, and it was more balanced. Exquisite, yes, but all the better Japanese green teas are exquisite, so I'm not sure this is a must have for me. I mean, is anything a must have? At this point it's more like an exploration. One plant, one planet, a world of variations.


      I started cooking in restaurants in the 70s. There was no internet, cookbooks were only just beginning to get into authentic regional ingredients, and a lot of these were unavailable. We used to try to make French lentil salad, not realizing that it was made with a French lentil because we'd never seen one, no one knew about it. So the lentils always fell apart. Kind of funny in retrospect. The same thing with Indian food, all kinds of spices were in the realer cookbooks that were unavailable. Recently I finally got some ajwain, wild celery seed, which is used in both Ayurvedic medicine and cuisine. This is a ligusticum, and is sort of a cross between a regular celery seed, thyme, and osha, the pungent Native American immune enhancer. A little bit in a dish ends up being surprisingly deep and sweet. So, here's a French lentil stew: onion, carrots, cabbage, potato, ajwain, and sage along with salt and pepper, a little xv olive oil on top at the end. There's a little mild red pepper too, this can be the Korean one, gochugaru, or the similar Aleppo pepper, or an unsmoked Spanish paprika. Sometimes I make this with rice, but the potatoes were better. It's also nice with torn whole wheat cappelletti, and with something green like Lacinato kale or flat leaf parsley. But, on the day after Thanksgiving, there was none of either at the co-op.


      Something my friend Roland sent, continuing excavations at Pompeii: Leda and the Swan. This is being called a fresco because it is on a wall, classic misdirection by informal nomenclature, it is definitely something else, looks a lot like tempera grassa, and does it have an overall gloss? There are paintings from Pompeii made with glue and emulsified beeswax, this is relatively detailed compared to those but may be that technique with a saturating layer of some kind on top. Hard to say, but an interesting puzzle.


      Continued to work with the relatively challenging glue paint this week. Had better luck with the glue diluted with 2 parts water, this was still fine for a panel, but got into trouble again trying to introduce white pigment in terms of the wet colour being too different from the dry colour. Two glue layers here, not exactly artistic but a pretty accurate map.


      Then made an emulsion paint for the next layer with a small amount of a glue and chalk mashed into oil paint. This was slightly more painterly to work with, but still dried matte. If the next layer is simply straight oil paint, this will be fatter still. So, this is exploring what can be done with a leaner beginning because I think this will make the final results more truly stable in terms of value and colour. I love the rich and painterly medium, but, especially in layers, they have tended to dry down somewhat over time. It's not bad, but I notice, and have concluded that this type of medium is probably best used at the end, over a lean but accurate beginning. This is what I learned from the 19th century French books by Vibert and Moreau-Gauthier. In another sense the option of a leaner beginning was always there. They're not exactly that artistic yet, a learning curve there, but, more importantly, I needed to be ready to hear it. This is about 9.5x15.75 inches. The next layer should be fun.


      I liked the glue emulsion tempera, and made another version of it to use as a first layer. This involved making a chalk putty with dilute glue, then using about four parts of this to one part Venetian red oil paint, mashing the oil paint in well with the side of a knife. This paint was still pretty lean, and was diluted further with the dilute glue water. Hard as nails, for glue gesso panels only.


      Made this small underpainting with soft brushes on glue gesso with the above paint. It was sort of like working with watercolour, a few seconds to move a wash around, more saturated and forgiving than glue alone. Still not exactly painterly but that might develop with this approach.


      For the next layer made a putty with chalk, calcite, and lamp oil, the ultra-refined kerosene solvent that dries very slowly.


      Mixed this into the paint at 1 part to 2-3 parts paint, added a little more lamp oil to start. This paint was really mobile, and pretty literal, but it also held well on the glue gesso as the solvent slowly evaporated. I was sort of annoyed by the literalness at first, as an approach it felt like going backwards, but it dried dead matte overnight and it feels a map this accurate might be useful for a more painterly next layer. This is on gessoed paper, I'll mount it on a panel first. Same place in Vermont as the snow image above, in early July instead of December. About 12x7.75 inches, it might want to be a little longer.

november 18

      Another week when last Sunday seems eons ago. More seasonal, a little snow but it melted, more of those drier lint, Indanthrone blue clouds of November. Waxing moon, seemed to suddenly know what to do again, so I did it. It was something new, and things got a little rocky in places, details below, but it was great to paint again.


      This is something I keep making so it must be good. It's one half cup of barley flour, 1 tablespoon of xv olive oil, 3 tablespoons of water, and a good pinch of salt. Mix into pliable dough and shape however. Sometimes I make four small rounds, this time I made the cosmic doughnut shape. Then it gets cooked in a cast iron skillet on low, with a cover. It's about ten minutes a side. Very plain and simple, kind of ancient tasting, the olive oil and the barley is a nice combination.


      Another simple one. This uses rapini, or broccoli rabe, which is more wild, bitter and turnipy than broccoli. First put the water on for the pasta. Then chop up a lot of broccoli rabe, it shrinka a lot when it's cooked. Then put some xv olive oil in the bowl you're going to eat from. Then chop up a two big cloves of garlic and mash them well into the olive oil with salt with a fork. Add some coarsely ground black pepper and some mild red pepper, like gochugaru or Aleppo, or a hot Spanish paprika, but not smoked, this takes over. When the pasta is half cooked, saute the broccoli rabe in a skillet on reasonable heat with a little xv olive oil. If it browns a little bit in places that's good. Add the pasta to the olive oil-garlic mix when it's done and mix, then add the greens and mix. You can then add other stuff, of course, like grated Romano for something Italian, or soy sauce and some chopped up dry roasted peanuts for something Asian, a little Vietnamese fish sauce is also very nice. Last night I tried a little nutritional yeast. But it's worth trying it plain too.


      So, this all started when someone sent me a link to The Adoration of the Shepherds by Mantegna on the Met website. Huge file, all kinds of wacky things going on in this mid-15th century tempera painting. Then I ended up with the Mantegna book from the Getty, a free PDF. This features their Mantegna, Adoration of the Magi, which is later, about 1500. This painting is worth looking at because it is one of the few distemper on canvas paintings that have survived. A mind-boggling technique. The Japanese also have a glue tradition, called nihonga, which my friend Allison Cooke has explored. Anyway, I've always loved glue as a size and for gesso, and I've lawys loved the look of water based paints: the first paint I ever tubed was a gouache-like methyl cellulose-emulsifed beeswax paint. But I've never done anything using glue as the medium, and thought it might be fun to explore what would happen. Of course, this gets into definitions. Like, what is "fun" really? How much "adventure" can be effectively added to fun, before it morphs into "chaos?" This process had a sort of bi-polar fun curve. It started out quite high, then plummeted, then rose once again. But I'm still here, so it must have been a success.


      The ratio of glue to water is important, I wanted to keep it somewhat high so that the paint would be bound. (Quite possibly an error, but anyway.) You can tell when the paint is bound because it peels in fine curls, rather than shattering. I diluted the glue size 1:1 with water, this was bound before mixing the paint with more water.


      This is a nice way to reheat cold glue. You want to keep the glue temperature low. If it gets up above 158F it begins to degrade, so even a waterbath can be too hot. I always get into trouble by putting it on low heat, then doing something else. Inevitably, I come back and it's at least close to too hot. This time I cubed the glue when it came out of the fridge, and it cooled itself it melted. It melts much faster. Another instance of there's a craft to everything.


      Okay, this is where I got innovative and also ran into trouble. The 1:1 glue paint set a little too fast because it was on a ceramic tile and the studio wasn't that warm. So, I thought maybe a little ewax in the glue would help: two ancient fine art materials. And it did, ewax really lowers the threshold of the set, and, after a few days, it seems to make the glue not set at all. So, I thought this was a good sign, but ewax also made the paint even brighter. So bright that it was not really possible to control it, the wet-dry value shift doubled and even chalk was too much as a white. It was sort of bizarre, but, a classic example of making too many changes to a system that I didn't really understand in the first place. Glue alone with Nicosia green earth on top, this is about half again as bright as in oil, then two different dilutions with ewax on the bottom.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++ Lily says hi.


      I made the ground with a little random texture using coarse marble dust. This is the first paint over the drawing, a warm raw sienna. Between the texture of the ground and the fast set of the paint, this was pretty unforgiving, but I felt that it would be possible to develop everything incrementally. This was an error. Next time I'll spend more time on this stage, refining things with one dark pigment, and one light one.


      I made three different palettes of paint, and this is how it looked after the first day. I really liked the look of the colour where it was layered, but the forms didn't have much development.


      The next day I used glue with a little ewax as the medium for the pigment, and went to a wooden palette for the paint. This was easier to work with because the paint didn't set nearly as fast. But I couldn't control the value at all, the paint dried way more brightly than it went on compared to plain glue as the medium. I knew a three year old once who, when something he did went wrong, used to love to say it was a "Zizaster!" And this was definitely a zizaster. Of course, the behavior of the materials is logical, and with experience, it could be comprehended. But it might be time to let the ewax addition aside, this is complicated enough without it.


      So decided to do a layer in oil to consolidate it. Used a little ewax in a lean putty medium to keep it consistent and undersaturated, but the look was still much deeper than the glue. This is still a little crunchy but I'm looking forward to the next layer, which is saying something. Maybe it would have been wiser to have made some medium experiments with dilution first, but having to put the paint through the specifics needed to make a painting is a better test. So, I learned a lot, yes, I did. I want to try another one, starting with a more dilute glue for the paint, this would allow greater control and detail. If it's still too difficult to finish, all kinds of things could then happen over that type of underpaint. Even a little egg yolk in the glue, for example, would give easier handling and a little more saturation. About 11x12 inches, oil over distemper on linen over panel.

november 11

      Waxing moon, mostly sunny but one really rainy day, sunny again now and seasonal. Had a good week but it was mostly about this year's ongoing process of rewiring. It seems like for a long time I was given an opportunity to learn about paint and the painting process, and that this morphed slowly into a metaphor for life. Now that process seems to have gone live, the work is on an internal, not an external easel. Which is fine, a logical development, but one that's not really possible to talk about. I mean, I've tried, but where do you begin? It's challenging some days, it's really fun on others, and in between it's kind of exhausting. But somehow it feels like progress. Some photos from around the neighborhood this week.



november 4

      One of those weeks where last Sunday seems like months ago. Some lovely warmer days, then a very strange one Friday that ended up being very rainy and windy late at night, with a tornado warning in the area. Yikes. Waning moon, new moon on Wednesday, would love it if this one brings the work back but have to admit it's been growing a lot by leaving it alone. I just see a lot more now, both of what's there and not there. This has been a strange development to consider. I mean, I would have said it grows by leaving it alone, but I've never had to deal with this level of hiatus before. I've come up with several ideas for where to re-enter, but until the impetus arrives again that's all they are, ideas. Kind of a roller coaster week internally, a few days where I felt part of an infinitely loving universe, a few days when I didn't. On the one hand, it's not easy when the basic sense of belonging departs, and on the other, it's complex to accept the demise of struggle when this is all you have ever known. This can turn into a double-whammy, they're always a joy. But I know it's all up to me at this point. In theory I accept everything as what needs to happen. It's of course easier to see the larger purpose of events later, but sometimes recently I've been able to shorten later into now. This week a big dog waited on a raised porch until I was right below it, then started barking a few feet from my head. This sort of sneak attack might well have provoked me pretty seriously a few years ago, but I was just momentarily frightened and let it go. A nice feeling of progress. At the same time, every now and then I end up complaining, it just sort of comes out. This happened yesterday afternoon, while I was doing the dishes. I basically asked, "What's going on here? This is going on and on, where does it lead?" and actually had the odd sense that it registered somewhere. Lo and behold, last night I had a very clear dream. In the dream, I was watching a large matrix of rectangular pieces being assembled into various patterns. They were sort of organic and Egyptian looking, made out of glowing sandstone, but also sort of like the note blocks in a music program sequencer. It was a form of music, and they had handmade drawings on them, indicating their sounds: a sine wave, a triangle wave, a square wave, etc. But there was one piece that was blank, it didn't have a notation. The dream zoomed into this piece and as I watched it began to generate a second layer beneath it that was a different colour. I realized that this piece had not been programmed with a specific sound, but was sort of a wildcard that was in the process of generating its own sound. So, this frame of reference makes what's going on a little easier to accept: something is happening, even if I am not that aware of it yet.


      My walk in the afternoon goes through the park now, this is near the house I grew up in and a place I used to go as a kid, so its sort of nurturing to return there, connecting to something I left behind for a long time.


      Walking through the neighborhood season by season, there's a lot of variation in what goes on with, and on, the sidewalk.


      The sort of photo I would have taken a long time ago, kind of fun to revisit this as well.

october 28

      Waning moon, a mostly sunny and more seasonal week. Got a few longer walks in featuring more nature, a large relatively wild park wends its way through the neighborhood, and there are lots of ways to get in and get out. Interesting contrast to leave the woods and have the traffic start again. Had an positive time this week repeating the affirmation, "I am infinitely present in an infinite present," this seemed to expand things consistently. Very quiet week in general, things just seem to want to settle further, accepted it. Read another Flora Thompson book, the last one she published, Still Glides the Stream. In this one she works with a more traditional format, a reminiscence that begins when a recently retired schoolteacher returns to the small village where she grew up just after the second world war. This picks up the theme of Lark Rise about the last generation of country before the 20th century, focused on two families that live near one another, and are related: the children's mothers are sisters. Though this one is about a village, not a hamlet, which makes a significant difference both economically, and in terms of the issues that can occur. The world she creates is lovely, though of course fragile, and often challenged, like anything lovely. It feels like it was also written for her country, which had been utterly worn out by the second world war. As a novel it is old-fashioned even for its period, but not sentimental. There is the given ethical tone of Jane Austen with just a sprinkling of Thompson's childhood buddy Mrs. Gaskell, more in arch, understated comedy than in circuitous flow of prose, Thompson is more about carving this world as deeply as possible in stone. It also reminded me of Millet, she's more interested in the truth of the rural situation than in curtsying to the gentry. Nature, as the fields, flowers, and weather, gets the most consistent poetry. Rhetorically, it promotes the combination of wisdom and innocence, the country code that unites the two families, a combination that runs through a lot of English fiction, though it is more blunt and rigid in rural life. By contrast Thompson the writer is gentler and more forgiving in this book. I wanted to see where the process had taken her after the three books that were more officially about her childhood, and am glad I did, but, well, this type of fiction is certainly not for everyone.


      As promised, Lily visited the front porch roof a few times this week, and had fun exploring it.


      Yes, it's come to this.


      But, it's come to this as well.

october 21

      Waxing moon, full moon this Wednesday. A little unsettled, not exactly a sunny week, but not rainy either, mild during the day and a few nights near freezing. Another week where nothing wanted to happen with painting, or even the book this week, had to rest a lot, which, lo and behold, finally, was fine. All part of the plan! Not my plan, have no idea where this is going, but that's okay. I mean, I'd like to get going with painting and the book again, but can also see how this type of time changes my conception of both who I am and what those projects are actually about. Things have always made sense in larger terms, and it seems sort of silly to bring the projects so far only to have them cease, so, I'm just letting them be fallow and have to admit that the changes this is generating are unexpected.

      This has also meant allowing time to expand into other areas. I had always been sort of resistant to the idea of repeating something endlessly, and, it seemed, mindlessly: an affirmation, a mantra. This may have something to do with the dancing and chanting Hare Krishna people I saw as a kid feeling strange: I was more comfortable with friends meeting. Recently, whenever I had tried it, it seemed like kind of a break from a thought process that went around in more predictable circles than I was willing to acknowledge. Learned this week that that type of repetition is a way to get out of the alpha state and quickly reprogram the subconscious mind, and thought it might be a good idea to try again. Had a great time with "I am infinitely compassionate and forgiving" while doing errands in the car, started laughing as somebody ran a fourway stop sign and it just kept going all the way home. It's a pretty quiet neighborhood, but a lot can happen in a hurry on the road, I try to do anything in a car between ten and two, and it was nearly three. Anyway, want to keep going with that, it works really well while taking a walk.

       I had an attack of completism related to the French academic technique of the later 19th century a few weeks before. I got some French texts online that were useful and ordered a few earlier 20th painting textbooks that were written in England, these came but didn't have anything to offer. While researching these, encountered a book -- well, three books, a trilogy -- called Lark Rise to Candleford, by Flora Thompson, which I knew I had to get. Most English fiction of the 19th century is written from a middle or upper middle class point of view, you could say Dickens is an exception but it's London, and not what he experienced. These books were actually written by someone who grew up in a tiny hamlet of farm labourer's cottages, they didn't have a store, a church, anything but each other, their gardens and the pig. The first book, Lark Rise, tells the story of the hamlet and its inhabitants from several different perspectives: the structure of it is both organic and cohesive. She grew up during a time when class distinctions were pretty rigid, and farm workers were paid barely enough to buy necessities. Her father was a stone mason, and they have a little more money, but not much. The picture she gives of the time and place is unflinching but also nuanced, she doesn't romanticize them, but explains what their life gave them as well as what they didn't have. Lark Rise came out in 1939 and was very popular in England during the war. This is when she wrote the second two books, about what happened to her after she left Lark Rise at the great age of fourteen -- many girls from the hamlet "went into service" at eleven -- and moved to the nearest tiny town to work for an old friend of her mother's who was the postmistress there. These books are also good, but are more predictable from the perspective of the fiction of the period in terms of the cast of characters and their various foibles, although her uncle Tom the shoemaker who loves her to read Mrs. Gaskell to him while he works is an exception there. The same sturdy prose and piquant observations, but it feels like her heart was more in the Lark Rise book. She got to explain a life she knew by heart, that no one had ever explained before, which really needed explaining. And, for all its challenges and precariousness, that life was home, she came back to it through the book.


      Lily and I had a little domestic adventure this week. It was the first night that was going to go below forty, and I wanted to take the air conditioner out of the bedroom window to make it warmer without having to turn on the radiator. So, I was getting it out, having issues closing one of the sliding side panels, when Lily arrived excitedly at the open window. She loves all open windows, and there was the little porch roof, invitingly only a few feet below. I thought, well, it's pitch black and freezing, she's not going to jump out there. So, of course, as soon as I had the second side panel closed, that's what she did. Ba-dump, like two big raindrops on the old tin roof. She looked up at me proudly with her eyes all huge in the dark. Great! I put the air conditioner away in the closet then went and got a big cardboard box that she sometimes hops into. But, looking out, I couldn't see her anymore. I put my head out and there she was, walking on the edge of the roof, it gave me total vertigo. Then I leaned out of the window and put the box on the roof, steadying it with my hand. She came back to the middle of the roof, and I was hoping she would jump in, but she just looked at me like "What's that box doing out here?" And yes, it was a silly idea. Was I worried about her, or did I want to close the window because cold air was pouring into the bedroom, or a little of both? I took the box back to its home, thinking, "Just go away, she'll hop back in when she feels like it." And she did, I heard her arrive on the windowsill again from the kitchen, funny how you know when your cat is no longer out on the roof in the dark. This photo is from the next day, you can tell what's on her mind. I don't exactly love her being on this roof, but there's also a more level porch roof with less pitch and less initial drop in front of the studio windows, I'll see if she's interested in that some sunny afternoon next week.


      Took a walk this afternoon to a place in the park where I spent a lot of time as a kid. Later, in high school, I used to take black and white photos there with my grandfather's old Speed Graphic 4x5. I guess there's always a good reason to leave the place where you grew up, but, being back again, there are also aspects of the experience to reconsider.

october 14

      One of those weeks where last Sunday seems several lifetimes ago. Not in a bad way, but boy a lot happened. Some chaos, some progress, but it sort of felt like it was all one thing, like I was riding the same roller coaster up or down, that down would lead to up, up would lead to down. Finally much cooler after some of the truly grossest weather ever here, an abrupt and welcome change there. Waxing moon, this moon started out quietly but is now getting more emphatic. Was able to work to a greater extent, this week was actually an improvement, explored the lamp oil and fused damar approach a few different ways. But also had to stop a great deal. So this process of being rebuilt from the inside out has been going on now for the better part of a year, with no sense of an end in sight. And yes, this bugs me. But perhaps this isn't a bug, but a feature. I'm far less driven, reactive, or crabby, and the work itself has gotten better from more perspective, less nose to grindstone, but it's still odd to spend hours each day simply being stopped without knowing how or why. I used to think I was trying to understand things, but I'm not sure this wasn't actually a code word for trying to control them. Now each day seems to make itself up, and I just go along for the ride. Which is much simpler. I still miss being the old me in some ways, I'd still like to accomplish more, have more of a sense of continuity again with the work. But I have a feeling my precious carrot and stick version of accomplishment has run its course. Which leaves me here, and now, going up and down in an infinite universe. This is of course what I've always done, but now it seems different.


      The teas from Darjeeling have a range of emphasis from bass to treble. The ones with the most bass are third flush, from the Fall. The teas with the most treble are first flush, from the Spring, and the second flush Summer teas tend to be more balanced. So, sometimes a tea has a very nice profile in one area, but is lacking in another. Well, often, if the truth be told, which is why a really well-balanced single estate tea becomes expensive: they did it. And also why blends get made. I guess I was always suspicious of commercial blends since they seem to be made with more medium quality teas. But there are a few first flush teas in the cupboard now that have just too much treble on their own, no matter what I've tried, so this week I started mixing them with some of the darker or woodier ones. It worked out better than I thought it would, there was an unexpected synergy in some of them.


      It's nice to make cooked food again now that it's cooler. An old favorite here of leeks and winter squash with basmati rice, a little sage, flat parsley, and grated Manchego.


      A lot of noise this week as they finished up the work in the street itself after laying the new gas lines. This was followed by a cement mixer, then two days of macadam, a coarse layer and a finer one on top. But now they're done.


      All the noises get amplified by the stone fronts of the houses. It wasn't nearly at the level of the jackhammer earlier in the summer, but it was also more arbitrary. I went out for Lily early in the morning before they got going and she observed the proceedings inside from a safe distance. When they were done in front of the house there was a lull in the noise, and I got her to go outside. It took some coaxing, she was very cautious. Then, as soon as she got out on the porch the cement mixer started churning up the street, a brand new huge noise, and she bolted back into the house. It was one of those sudden instances of realizing how crazy our world must be to them, what they put up with to be here with us.


      Made a fused damar medium this week with some autoxidized poppy oil, and thinned it with lamp oil. I realized this had too much damar, but I thinned it a little more with both oil and lamp oil. Also, I wrote paraffin on the label, because paraffin oil is one of the older names for lamp oil, but really, at least in America at this point, the material, purified kerosene, is known as lamp oil. And this is the plain, clear version, not the coloured or perfumed version. Have been doing some research for the book into the later academic method in 19th century Paris. This seems to be about a little bit of: copal varnish, poppy oil, petroleum solvent, and the period drier of lead and manganese, the infamous Sicatif Courtrai. It appears that some painters such as Bouguereau used a little bit of gum elemi as well as a plasticizer. There was also a specific commercial mix of a little bit of copal, poppy oil, a drier, and petroleum solvent put out by Duroziez that was popular, called oliesse. I'm stressing little bit here over and over because, even avoiding the drier, this approach needs to be relatively lean and very carefully balanced. Then there's the Vibert approach to the varnish, which turns out to involve separating the alpha resin from damar and just using the beta resin, dissolved in a petroleum solvent, with poppy oil and Sicatif Courtrai in the painter's varnish version. This did not get the best press from period painters such as Moreau-Vauthier, but a version of it with modern ingredients is still made. Thin painting is not my favorite approach at this point, but I like exploring this, it's also illustrating the efficacy of starting with even less paint in an indirect system.


      Evaporation test of Shellsol T and lamp oil, the Shellsol evaporated more quickly but neither one of them left any kind of stain on the paper. Clean evaporation is the basic test, I guess the other would be the smell, Shellsol is very mild, the smell of lamp oil is almost undetectable.


      Small test of the fused damar, poppy oil and lamp oil medium, just used a little with straight paint. This was over a really old and none too accurate underpainting, one colour and white in verdacchio. So, I was fighting the errors of enthusiasm in the underpainting, but this is a reasonable amount of colour development for one layer. Will keep going with this, adding a little more thick oil to the medium in each layer. About 9.25x12 inches, oil on gessoed linen over panel.


      Decided to start something from scratch using this approach. So, sable brushes, this had one very thin layer with just a little lamp oil added to the paint, one very thin layer with just a little of the medium, then one very thin layer with a little bit of a somewhat richer version of the medium, added a little of the hemp oil I refined that's been thickening over the summer. A very fine working technique compared to what I've been doing, more demanding in one way, more forgiving in another, a lot to learn about how to handle it. About 9x12 inches, oil on gessoed linen over panel.


      Something in progress in the thinner and finer paint department, used the usual medium with this after grinding it back somewhat, but added a little lamp oil to get it going. I'm not sure I'm ever going to like this if I keep painting it this way, I can see it clearly resolved as something goopier, but, we'll see. About 9x15 inches, oil on gessoed linen over panel.


      The same approach on this one after a light grinding back, the denser medium but with a little lamp oil to begin the layer. There are several of these now, this is the first, the smallest, and the most primitive. Which is fine with me if it works. I was able to add a few things I've learned from the other ones, which is also fine. This felt like progress in terms of incorporating what I've learned back into something older, bringing the past back into the present. It's fascinating that it is always my preconceptions about what the colour should be that hold an image back. The context determines the colours, so, even using the same palette, the colours change as the context -- the last version of the painting -- changes. This means there are always more colours. I know this, but would like to capitalize on it more. But this also means not trying to "finish" it, but operating on what needs to change. Ironically, this tends to finish it much better. But its still a mysterious place to get to with this type of colour. About 9x12 inches, oil on gessoed linen over panel.




       It's pretty much a given at this point that the universe is infinite: always expanding, goes on forever. Which means that it is beyond number, can't be counted. There's an interesting paradox in this: if something is beyond number, it is therefore unified; is, in fact, one. This seems logical enough, but it also means that all the diversity within the universe is somehow unified. Which means that everything in the universe is made up of the same thing, which is simply the universe exploring itself. So, this means the universe is sort of a multi-dimensional fractal: there are lots of different forms superficially, but they are the same in essence. There are even structures that literally repeat at different scales: the electrons go around the nucleus of an atom, just like the planets go around a sun. So, in terms if our lives as human beings, this means that we each contain the universe: infinity cannot function any other way. This is why the consistent message of an actual spiritual discipline -- as opposed to the various socio-economic power structures called religions -- is to look within. Because, guess what's in there? Everything. Everything everything everything. It cannot be any other way. This is our cosmic birthright as human beings. It's true that we have to look for it, and it's true that we live in a culture that has not made it easy to look. But that's because if you do look, what you find is much more interesting than endless reruns of Gilligan's Island. I mean, you can fight this situation, and say, this isn't culture, this isn't humanity, which I admit to having done for the last fifty years. But if you just leave it behind, your mere existence disproves it.

october 7

      Last week of the moon, new moon on Tuesday. Mix of rain and sun, not Summer anymore, but not exactly Fall either, very soft and humid. Had a good week all in all, didn't try to paint when it didn't want to happen, was able to begin to work on the book again after a long pause. This process is kind of like taking a tapestry and figuring out where to weave new things into it. It's fun, but requires a certain mindset, which the heat of the last few months erased. This week featured more information about French academic technique of the 19th century. This type of work makes me kind of nervous. I can understand that the technique is amazing but part of me keeps saying that there's something else that is important that, typically, just isn't there. I mean, I can go as far as Bastien-Lepage but Bouguereau just doesn't work for me. Anyway, this week I got involved with Moreau-Vauthier and Vibert, two pretty different representatives of the genre who also wrote interesting books. At this point I'd say Moreau-Vautheir's book is more reliable, Vibert is flambouyant, the genius-iconoclast, but overconfident. Overall, some good information in terms of the pattern of materials they were involved in. But also another Pandora's Box of branching if-then statements, see damar in kerosene below. Once you decide that things are not quite as they seem, there's a lot to learn, it goes on and on, but the question is whether the information is actually functional as a whole. You could argue that there's no such thing as too much information, but you could also argue that the only information necessary is being in touch with how you feel, and then making the decision that feels best. If I rely on the concept of assembling the facts, I can be misled by "facts" that are untrue. And promoting of this type of misinformation is, at this point, very big business. The half truth is especially useful for obfuscation: start with things that are true, but then leave out the rest, or morph gently into things that are false. In larger terms it's sort of a cosmic test. How discerning are we as a species? Is the sky really falling? Can we tell who is telling the truth, and who is not? Can we tell what is real, and what is not? Who can we trust? Under trying circumstances, can we stay centered in what feels best?


      The famous toad lily in the backyard blooms in the Fall, a long spray of these wonderfully goofy cascading toads.


      I always felt there was nothing better than plain potato leek soup. Just potatoes, leeks, water, salt, black pepper, and some milk. Simple and amazing. I made it this week, a treat to cook again, and it was wonderful. But then I still had some potatoes and leeks and milk, and decided to make it with carrots and cabbage. Then I went hog wild and added a little sage and celery seed. And it wasn't bad. I mean, it didn't make me wish I'd left it alone. But this may have something to do with having made the simple version first.


      Jungpana is one of the more well-known gardens in Darjeeling now. Their style is strong, sort of virile or puissant. I got kind of a sleeper from Teabox, a recent summer flush tea from Chinese bushes. This doesn't have the fabled muscatel flavour profile, nor its price, but it has a very interesting lyrical background hum behind a pretty strong opening. The brewed leaves smell exactly like fresh lychee nuts. I mean, exactly. And, unsurprisingly, there's something Chinese about this. The background taste is related to this but it isn't fruity or floral. This tea has a kind of gravitas, a balance of strength and sparkle. A lot of Darjeelings are effortlessly lyrical, like Mozart, but this one is more like Beethoven.


      Ended up finding several French 19th century texts this week online I'd never heard of. This was the result of looking for a painter named Charles Moreau-Vauthier, who knew Bouguereau, and wrote some notes about his technique. This article is online in various places, he used poppy oil with copal varnish and a little gum elemi as a plasticizer to counteract the brittleness of the commercial driers. Well, it turns out Moreau-Vauthier wrote a pretty nice book called, in English, The Technique of Painting. And in this book he talks about the varnish of Vibert. Which I had just read about in Vibert's book, called, in English, The Science of Painting. Now, the funny thing about Vibert's varnish is that he doesn't tell you what's in it. There were three of them, a retouch varnish, a painting varnish, and a final varnish -- yes, the French academics were into varnish! -- and like many materials of the period they were trade secrets. I became interested in this because Vibert's work is in such good shape. Really colourful work, and daringly so. The art part, well, they work best when he's being satirical, as in The Committee on Moral Books, but the colour is something else. Anyway, there's still more to go on what this varnish was, though it's either damar or copal as the resin, and it may have been both at different times. Something called Vibert varnish is still made by LeFranc, but it's not the same, modern ingredients. One possible original avenue involves dissolving damar in kerosene, which is strong enough in theory to do it, and would have much less yellowing potential than turpentine. So, I got some clear lamp oil, which is highly purified kerosene, almost totally without a smell, and put some damar into it, the usual, 1 gram of damar for 3 millimeters of solvent. It's a little early to tell, but I think only about half of it is going to dissolve. This wouldn't be the end of the world, since damar is routinely cut further with solvent before use. I'm not quite sure what's going on with this stuff yet. It could be put into a waterbath. It may need a stronger solvent as well, which would sort of negate it's possible relevance. More importantly, this approach takes a long time to dry. So, this may be a dead end. Unless damar in kerosene does other interesting things I haven't found out about yet. Sort of a classic: I got into this to try to understand something, so far I understand nothing. Then there's Manila copal in kerosene, have to try this as well.


      Another egg emulsion test with the window image from last week. Better than last week, but that's not saying too much. This week's paint was more cooperative, could add more, but things were still relatively vanilla in the way it handled. There's something here I'd like to get at, it seems like this image would work better with a more broken surface. About 9x12 inches, oil on gessoed paper.


      A broken surface sort of like this. Re-did this small older study of a rainy day in Barga, outside Lucca. There might be more but much better than it was. Like this version of the paint, but it needs to be used in this looser way. 7x9 inches, oil on gessoed linen over panel.


      There are several of these going now, this is the one from last year, but mounted on a panel now, and with a second layer of paint on it. Same medium as above, better than it was but too much identity, not enough transformation. I still get hypnotized by what's there when I know it really doesn't matter. About 10x13 inches, oil on gessoed paper on panel.


      It's really hard to believe that Lily only weighs fourteen pounds.

september 30

      Rain turning slowly into sun, waning moon, a little cooler, slowly becoming more seasonal. Relatively quiet week, had a few glimpses of how to move forward, more in life than in the work. Did start in on the book again after about a month off. It had begun to seem overwhelming but actually it was just the heat that was overwhelming. My goal is to have this one printed by CreateSpace, the company owned by Amazon, which puts the books on Amazon and prints them to order. This will possibly be by the end of the year. Have been working on adding a few small things, getting some recent PDFs into the bibliography along with references in the text. A book like this could go on forever, but after ten years, this is going to be the end for me. It's nice to get into it again after a break and like it again. The way the world is now has produced a reasonable amount of background anxiety for me. There's a recurring sense of someone wanting to force me to go backwards, to live their way, in a kind of perverse fun park where nothing is as it seems. In larger terms, of course, this is all part of what I signed up to experience, so there's no point in complaining or blaming. And I've had lots of experience with this feeling, it began as a child when I realized the grown-ups had created a world that made them unhappy. Of course, I quickly learned to keep this type of observation to myself. Anyway, had a dream this week that addressed this situation. In it, Lily can been kidnapped! I was trying to find her, and eventually came across the place where a great many cats had been taken by some agency in power. The cats were very docile, just hanging out, many of them in assorted tote bags, it was kind of funny. Lily was there too, but the agency clearly had all the power, it felt like a cold concrete wall, I couldn't do anything. So, sadly, I left and was thinking that at least they weren't mistreating her. Then I was going through the church I had gone to as a kid, and there she was, curled up on one of the pews. She smiled, and her eyes got really big, as though to say that no one was going to capture her for long. Okay, that was earlier in the week. Then last night, dreamed I was in a big old-fashioned trainyard. There was a train coming one way slowly down the track nearest me, and, when I looked around the bend, I saw another train coming the other way on the same track. Also slowly, but this one had an engine in front. It was too late to stop either one of them, and I was frightened that there would be an intense collision but the train with the engine in front simply started moving the first train back where it had come from. So, this could be about some sort of sudden change in direction that's personal, but it could also be about what happens in larger terms when a negative force encounters a positive force. With the exception of various earth changes, under-reported unless it's a hurricane in the US, we've kind of been treading water in the funhouse for a while now, a more substantive change may be on the horizon.


      One of the teas I got in pursuit of something to replace the legendary Guranse white tea from Nepal was the Himalayan white tea from Vahdam, which is available on Amazon. "Himalayan" tends to be older teabiz code for Nepal, and, be that as it may, this definitely smells like a Nepal tea, a lot of that ethereal dried pine grass quality, but it could also be from Arunchal-Pradesh. At first I was bugged that it wasn't as multi-dimensional as the Guranse tea, but I've come to like it a lot on its own terms. It's not floral, but has it's own fresh profile, and will make several cups. I'm still unsure of the exact distinction between green and white, but it's more on the green side, stronger and more body than most whites but gentle, not astringent in the manner of a Japanese green tea. Vahdam is a little more commercial than Teabox, and not as likely to give you an estate and a picking date, but these teas are of course cheaper. They have lots of teas on Amazon but also have their own site with more estate teas.


      Second layer on the start from September 2nd. Knew I didn't like the original colour, but not sure this type of softening is the solution either. Or maybe it's better to say that, on the whole, it still doesn't feel resolved. It's interesting to pause and reconsider how to develop this at each stage, it could go a great many different ways. Didn't put that much paint on it, but will let it sit until there's a clear sense of what to do next. About 10.75x12 inches, oil on gessoed linen over panel.


      Small medium test image. I'd like to get one more medium concept into the book, but things have remained pretty slow. Was concerned the medium would set too quickly for what I wanted with the image and adjusted it to move more. Overcompensated though, as usual, and this slid around far more than I like. Eventually worked on it with a knife and removed any excess paint. So, I like this idea but not how this one turned out. Will start another one, when it wants to happen, and use the medium as I made it. About 8x11 inches, oil on gessoed linen over panel.

september 23

      Waxing moon, full moon on Monday evening. The weather has begun to change finally, a cooler day and night yesterday. Got a little bit done on the work, mostly still treading water but it doesn't feel like it's going to last indefinitely any more. Venus approaching Jupiter in Scorpio, not the best time for male chauvinists with something to hide. But they always think they're going to get away with it forever. One grouchy day, triggered by PGW telling us to move our cars with about one hour notice so they could cut up the street, beginning the last phase of the gas line upgrade project. Haven't had an old fashioned grouchy day in a while, my own virulence, in private of course, was shocking. But, the closer I get to a life with no rudeness or arbitrary nonsense, the more it seems to bug me when it occurs. This is of course the greater cosmic purpose of a big city government, to test the patience of its citizens at the most basic day-to-day level. So, a good wake up call there that it's not over yet. Fun visit from my brother and nephew yesterday, we went to some places my brother remembered as interesting from growing up. Couldn't get into the Wharton Eshrick Museum, you now need a reservation, but we got to walk around the grounds and the tour seemed to be conducted by a pretty baleful type anyway. Moved on the the Mercer Museum in Doylestown, which is quite bustling now compared to when I grew up. Ended up going to Mercer's house, Fonthill Castle, instead, one of the earliest structures built from reinforced concrete. This was a very good decision, see below. The day ended with a pizza in a funky open air situation, I don't do this type of food often anymore often but it was very well done. Had a wood-fired white pizza with ricotta, arugula pesto, pine nuts, and a suspicion of garlic, pretty darn elegant for local pizza, but the big surprise was a tender crust made with an authentically Italian softer flour, someone has been doing their homework. If there's a next time I'll ask for fresh arugula on top, but great to see the popular standards moving forward around here.


      Photo from the net of the Fonthill interior. This place was a complete surprise to me, too nutty to be believed, a rabbit warren of arbitrary, semi-organic spaces with a lot of these arched vaults with columns. Life outside the box, literally. It is huge, but all the rooms are somewhat small, with a nurturing, deeply thought out earth colour palette accentuated by an endless assortment of brighter tiles, some from Mercer's own Moravian tile works, some that are centuries old. The palette reminded me of the Morandi Museum, and those obsessive Joel Meyerwitz photos of his studio and its objects. A part-joyous, part serious exercise in decorative obsession, architecture as play, interior as both collection catalogue and extended work of art. A lot of different types of people there, interesting to be in a museum environment with so much overt wonder and enthusiasm going on.


      In spite of liking how the recent egg yolk and ewax medium operated, it has dried down a little bit in the last few weeks. This is slight, a smidgeon, but it makes sense given the amount of thicker oil in the medium. Saturation has its price. So, to be appropriately obsessive in my own small way, it seemed good to try a second version. This one increases the egg yolk and ewax, and decreases the oil. It should be even brighter to begin with, and remain brighter over time. But it may set pretty quickly, especially as it gets colder, and this may create a zugzwang place in terms of the emulsion's behavior. The behavior of emulsions is pretty predictable when they're definitely either water or oil phase, but as you approach the midpoint of these phases odd things will sometimes happen.


      The liquid phase of the medium was still a thick emulsion, but more tender, less elastic or rubbery.


      Once the chalk went in, it had a familiar look but still moves more. This will work well, the issue will be if the set is too fast. Will hopefully start a test of this one in the week to come.


      Second layer on the landscape from the post of September 9th below. Shifted to the medium from last week, the only difference was the resin involved, so it should be fine. Still a little vanilla for me, would like more sense of internal movement. About 11x14 inches, oil on gessoed linen over panel.


      Did a new test of the first egg and ewax medium from the post of September 2nd below. This is the other end of the pendulum in terms of this style, less diversity of shapes and colour, more unity. For years now I've been reading about the predominance of the masculine giving way once again to the feminine in various channeled sources, this seems to be increasingly focal now, and may have influenced what wanted to happen here. Didn't start out with this in mind, but it definitely wanted to happen. The paint layers very well wet-in-wet, can be carved. Could have gone further, but couldn't figure out what to do next, so, stopped. Don't feel like this is done, the bottom is a little dark, a little separate. But that's just one way it could be developed from here. Will let it sit a few weeks and see what wants to happen next. About 11x12.25 inches, oil on gessoed linen over panel.


      Lily is a beauty, but she's also a beast, and this is an interesting combination. Sometimes she just has to throttle something. After a session like this she feels better.

september 16

      Mostly overcast week here with intermittent rain, and sun, it is slowly starting to cool off. Waxing moon, a lot of distraction from the hurricane, and a lot of rain still to fall in that situation. Discussions about this understandably about us, but, in larger terms, it's too bad that we are culturally prohibited from considering the earth as a being. I hope at some point we realize what indigenous people have always known: that everything in the Universe is the same: alive, with feelings, and an agenda for personal growth. This would take us much further than preparing for bigger hurricanes. Locally, had a positive week in general, although not much wanted to happen in the work until yesterday. It was like a switch was turned on after lunch, and I could do it again. So, hopefully I'll be able to get more paint on the beginning below in the week to come. If doing has to be balanced by being, doesn't being have to be balanced by doing as well? Possibly one more medium test to go to complete the book, after writing it for the last decade, would like to put a cherry on top. Can't see how this one won't work, but have thought that plenty of times before.


      Well, my search to replace the stellar Guranse white tea from Nepal hasn't been a literal success, but I did get some oolongs from Taiwan that are just as nice in their own way. These are pretty lightly oxidized, almost green, but are much softer and more floral than a Japanese green tea. Hadn't had any in a while so they seemed new again. There are different ways to brew it, the traditional way involves multiple short infusions and is just too fiddley for me. Yes, amazing, something is too fiddley! I like about a tablespoon of tea per cup of water at about 180F for three minutes. This gives you about three or four cups, the second one is usually the best, but they all have interesting qualities. When it's hot outside I also just do the later cups with cold water, let them sit half an hour or so. These teas tend to be higher grown, there's a mountain called Ali Shan that is justifiably famous for the quality of its tea, usually from small growers compared to India. They have the high altitude background spiciness in them that's analogous to a Darjeeling, but with its own quality. I got 25 gr of a few different ones, which are similar and all very good, but my favorite so far is either Teacher Gao or Mei Shan Zin Hsuan. These are from Stone Leaf Tea in Vermont, from farms they've visited. These teas are expensive, but in my experience with Taiwan tea are a good deal for what you get. Pictured, one tablespoon of leaves after a full day's work.


      Have been trying to be more aware of what wants to happen and what doesn't. Less effort, more grace. So, it wasn't time to do anything on this painting until yesterday, put a drawing on it and a little watercolour. The colour on the last one got a little fruity for me, wanted to add a little black to this one in the beginning to remind me of that. Some places that need more resolution, but the overall feeling is the most important aspect of this stage. If this were too perfect, the next layer would be dictated too much by it. I've done that, and the results don't look lively enough. I used to take painting for granted because I did it all the time, now I'm excited about the possibility of starting again. Hmm.


      Well, got a layer on this one today. The ground was a little bit more absorbent than usual, I knew this, but thought the composition of the medium would seal it quickly. Which in a way was true, but this impeded the movement of the paint a lot, when more movement was the whole point. So, decided that, rather than do the old thing, which was to push as much as possible, it would be better to let it go after getting one layer on. Not really a painting yet, but a complete map. The next layer should be pretty straightforward, and feature more movement. Although, even before it went on the panel, this moved less than I thought it would. And I'm not sure about that olive tree in the right foreground, decided to try it, but it might have to go. Or would that feel too empty? Anyway, something needs to change there. Maybe it just needs to be less solid. About 11.5x18 inches, oil on gessoed linen over panel.


      Lily loves to scamper around on the porch railing.


      I guess everyone scampers about in their own way.


      Oh, nothing.




      The room where I work has really nice light for what I'm doing. Not the biggest, but it's okay if I keep things organized.


       Cats are interesting about politeness, Lily will always defer to me about going through a doorway, or up the stairs, unless I tell her to go first. She doesn't really like having a camera pointed at her, I think she feels it's impolite. I often get a very blank look if I take a picture of her full on. This is frustrating because of the way her personality generally just radiates from her eyes. So, this week I tried a few photos where the camera wasn't at eye level. These are a little trickier, this is at night, the camera on the desk, I was looking at the computer, not her. Does she look like a benevolent, multi-dimensional cosmic being here, observing her ever-deluded, somewhat goofy human pupil, or is that just me?

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