Tad Spurgeon oil paintings


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      A Sunday look at process and product.

october 20

      More seasonal week with some cooler temperatures at night, mostly sunny, but one truly gloomy day and some intense wind. Third week of the moon, historically not the best week for the work, but one where it's usually worth it to see what wants to happen. A recurring pattern this week of many loud external noises and interruptions from the doorbell, this happens because I'm the doorman for my upstairs neighbor, who is ninety, had a knee operation last winter that went bad, and has difficulty getting around at this point. This is a very long story which I'll spare you, except to say that this is someone with a very strong will who doesn't have to be living alone up there, but wants to, and is grateful that I am willing to be part of the mostly family crew that enable this. This usually amounts to bringing up take-out, bringing the cash back down, and taking the change back up, which is simple, not an issue. But some weeks there are flaps with lots of unscheduled visitors, and I can get a little less sanguine about these. I mean, I try to look at it like everything else, as an educational experience, and usually can succeed in not taking it personally. Here is life with the same old simple challenge: how much, puny mortal, have you learned to balance? But of course, since this is all infinite, there's always more. So occasionally there's a day where so much happens in the way of distractions that it gets hard for me to focus on the work. Then what I want to do is fight. But there's no one and nothing to fight. As a kid, the bad guys were always so straightforward, but they're not anymore. Their influence is everywhere, in the subtly poisoned food, the subtly poisoned air, the not so subtly poisoned airwaves, the local pressure cooker of arbitrary noise from ambulance and police sirens, oversize leaf blowers, lawn mowers, weed wackers, and this week, jackhammers again, but you can't find anyone who's responsible. Again, usually I can let all of this go, but this week I got tangled up in it now and then, felt that fight or flight kind of pressure about just being here come on out of nowhere. What can you say to a society that doesn't understand that a rake is a much better tool for autumn leaves than a leaf blower that sounds like a giant angry hornet? Before you dismiss this as silly think about what happens in your body when you hear that sound. Look at those Masuro Emoto photographs of water reacting to various sounds. What is the major component of the human body? Water... I haven't been direct with anyone since those poor kids who came to canvas for public TV last Spring at the end of a pretty nutty day and just did not take the hint that I'd had enough. Since then I've always been at least polite but couldn't even manage that on Thursday by the time the cheery young pastor rang my bell again. It's always sort of funny in retrospect, looking back at the chain of events that ended up turning Dr. Jekyll into Mr. Hyde. I play the events over at night, looking for how I could have done better. There's typically a moment when I could have backed out of a given set of events, but had become to harrowed down to see the opportunity. Most of my life I felt badly about making errors, but Lily cured me of this pretty quickly when she arrived. If I shared anything in the way of a sad or guilty feeling with her, she would either walk away or attack me. Not a serious attack, more of a wack meaning "Hey, not this way!" But she got the message across: accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative. Anyway, when I looked at the lunar return for this month last week, it had an exact grand cross right on the ascendant. A grand cross is when four planets are about 90 degrees apart, and is the most stressful aspect pattern possible, since nothing involved agrees energetically and there's nowhere for the energy to go, it's locked. In a natal chart, it's typically a sign of endless difficulties (challenges), but also a great deal of accomplishment and evolution in a given lifetime. So, this is not for life, it's just for a month, more emotional than literal in terms of the events involved, and there are a few other aspects to the grand cross that are more harmonious. But right now three more weeks of this is sounding pretty long. Still, it's what I signed up for or it wouldn't be happening. And, at least in larger terms, I'm glad to have gotten involved in this more personal version of lunar time: the global lunar cycle taught me one level, but the cycle based on my birthday is now teaching me a more personal one. In an infinite universe, we are each necessarily infinitely detailed. And if I can survive October, there's a much more hopeful pattern (well, from the battered ego's perspective, anyway) in November. So, as is probably obvious, the work didn't have a great week. But, demonstrating the infinite dignity of labor, it didn't have a bad one either. Belatedly, I'm realizing that, even if a given painting is not officially a success in my often benighted terms, it still adds to the overall experience of what has happened, and what can happen. The vocabulary of the process expands, if not the number of virtual trophies on the wall. It's literally the darker time of the year, with two more months of things getting steadily darker to come. I can't figure out if it would be better to give the work a more official seasonal break, or be on the lookout for the occasional opportunity. What can I do in this situation that will be most positive in the long run? Get my own leaf blower?


      I started drinking yerba mate a few months ago, and it's been a positive change from tea. I'm not sure I like the taste better exactly, but it has its own rough charm and has certainly grown on me a lot. But I definitely like the effect better, even better than green tea. This stuff is more or less a cult in South America, and I get why. I would guess it's the theobromine, the same stuff in chocolate that creates a sense of positivity and well-being. A few years back I tried another holly species that is used as a beverage in South America, guayusa, but didn't like the taste. Now it turns out there is a third species, yaupon, that grows in the most southern parts of North America, and was used by the Native Americans as a ceremonial drink. A wild yaupon pictured here, it is also used extensively in its range as a decorative shrub. The only native caffienated plant in North America, with the same basic profile of healthy ingredients as mate. So I ordered some from a company called ASi in Georgia to see what it's like compared to mate, which is pretty variable depending on which country it's from, how it's processed, etc. The yaupon I got is a lot like the mate I like, which is from Argentina. The flavor is a little simpler, maybe it's a little stronger, or bolder. It may need to be brewed a little differently, with the water a little less hot, etc. Haven't had a chance to explore that yet. But it's really close, not like the difference between Darjeeling and Assam, more like the difference between Darjeelings from two different gardens. So, here it is, brand spanking new to me, the reluctant 21st century white man. But there's been a plant like this growing here all along. Which kind of makes me wonder: What else is out there, hidden in plain sight?


      I've always wondered about the "small amount of pine resin" often found in analyses of older paintings in the National Gallery Technical Bulletins, especially in terms of its darkening over time. When I got the slash pine sap from Georgia earlier this year, it was so gorgeous I put out a sample just to see what would happen. It dried clear and hard in a few days, but in a few months it was darker than anything on its test panel: not exactly a good omen! Then recently Roland sent me a paper about the use of a purified resin lacquer in medieval German decorative painting. The popularity of technical art history has meant it has been invaded by several other types of science, and this paper was one of those. They cited older sources but did not give their names, or anything in the way of older procedures. This would of course be standard in original technical art history, and sort of bugged me. But, well, water: the most readily available way to change anything. So then a test occurred to me, a little oblique but possibly helpful. I have a jar of very old mastic resin, donated years ago by an older painter who had given up on it. This stuff is dark amber yellow, I'm guessing from the 1970s or 80s, and very brittle. As a contrast, the first photo shows fresh Chios mastic resin, the type marketed from Greece as a chewing gum. The second photo shows the old mastic melting in boiling water. The third photo shows the somewhat lighter mastic after an hour in boiling water, and the fourth photo shows the water itself, which tasted very much of the resin. So, from this I concluded that the components of the resin that yellowed were water-soluble, (or at the least that removing these components would make a resin that yellowed significantly less over time) and that it was worth proceeding with the slash pine sap. Later in the week, Roland sent a paper that listed all the components in an oleo-resin besides resin, a large list with several categories that are water-soluble, including our old buddy free fatty acids! It looks like about a total of 25-35% might be water-soluble -- ie capable of yellowing -- depending on the resin.


      At first I did the slash pine sap in plain distilled water, but then Roland sent a paper in which they used salt water to extract a specific component from mastic, so went to that. Photo here of slash pine sap heated in salt-water in a waterbath for three hours, then frozen. The silicone bowl makes it much easier to handle, but it still needs to be frozen to get it out. This is still somewhat plastic at room temperature, meaning more could be extracted, but is much further along than 4.5 hours without salt, has little stickiness, and it quite dense: the sample didn't spread, had to be pressed down to thin it out. So, will continue with this approach and make a test medium with it at some point. It would be interesting if, after all the squabbling about which resin is least yellowing in the 20th century, the answer is anything as long as it has been cleaned.


      This is what the slash pine sap looks like when fresh. Decided to let some of it dry on a tile and then go from there. Could the solid resin be ground and then given a salt-water bath? Might be simpler and quicker.


      First one this week. The shape was suggested by a panel, I'd still like to try these on panel. Like the colours, and the inventiveness with the shapes, but would like the central curving element and the surrounding elements to be more integrated. Have done some work in this longer proportion before, but at a larger scale. That might help. I like this proportion, but felt a little played out with it, like it needed to rest, and decided to return to the squarish one. About 6x12.75 inches, oil on gessoed paper


      For the second one, also decided to try planning again. This has tended not to work in the past, but maybe a different plan would work. Started with a composition from the summer that I liked, but whose execution had become too detailed and literal. First did some small pen drawings to get an idea of what could be left out, what could be moved, etc. Then did some marker drawings, these are still sort of goofy but getting better in terms of supplying useful information. Felt like this could go on forever, and in the end I had no clear preference except that I wanted it overall to be simpler and less literal: where the process started. But it seemed like I'd learned a little more about the inner dynamics of the image, the way its meaning is changed by the endless shifts in emphasis caused by the relationship of the lines.


      Started this on a day that featured lots of interruptions from the front doorbell. It had some interesting moments, but I was very conscious of something different wanting to happen with the colour and in the process of being true to that, of following where it wanted to go and adjusting everything to its liking, something never quite clicked in terms of the concept. It's sort of like casting a bell, and wanting it to ring with a certain tone, but having it just not be as clear as it was envisioned. Or like a soccer team doing all this cool stuff getting the ball downfield, but in the end, for whichever of a zillion reasons, they don't score. A classic waning moon situation: doing everything "right," being as resourceful as possible, but, in the end, somehow it's not quite there, the Muses aren't doing the boogaloo. I fiddled with it a third morning, but at this point it was very tarry: fun to remove paint wholesale but otherwise not much could happen. But is there an end? Now I'm wondering about what if the green element on the lower left became either darker or blue, and the lower blue element on the right side becomes yellow. Mua-ha-ha, on and on! On the plus side, began to introduce a slightly more modified set of colours, and got through a lot of variations in terms of altering the image as it developed: didn't get stopped by not knowing what to do next except by being tired, needing to begin again the next morning. You could, at this point, take this composition as the point of departure and just start again. Well, someone could, but experience suggests that probably wouldn't work for me. Right now I tend to see what didn't happen, but experience also suggests that in a few weeks I'll like it better. And, whether it gets another iteration or not, it's the foundation for a more evolved version of this whirling rainbow approach. A little bigger, about 10.5x12 inches, oil on gessoed paper.

october 12

      Second week of the moon, still on the humid side but slowly getting more seasonal, full moon at around 5 pm here on Sunday, this one is in Aries, trine Jupiter but square Pluto, exactly in both cases, this will produce expansive emotional intensity, possibly as something new tries to distinguish or separate itself from the old, but who knows how it will manifest. A relatively strange week, early Monday morning it turned out that Lily had worms. I'll spare you the gory details but cats can get them from ingesting a flea, and I'd combed a few off her in the last few weeks as the temperature has gone down. I'd rather figure out what to do and fix this type of thing myself, and had gotten as far as mixing some food-grade DT earth into her food; she actually ate it which seemed like a miracle. But the situation seemed on the advanced side, so decided to take her to the vet. All went well there, which was interesting because things can go wrong many ways on a trip to the vet, and their computer was down to boot (oops, sorry) so they had no idea of their schedule. She slept a lot that day but was back in action the next day. Whew. Now that I know, will be proactive with the DT earth next September. Her fur had become coarser too, I had noticed that but hadn't connected it; now it's really smooth again, although, come to think of it, that might just be the DT earth. In any event. all is well now and I continue to be fascinated by the mystery of this supposed cat.


      On Tuesday morning, I was all set to start working, when Lily hopped up on the painting stool once again, just like last week. And, after a brief "you must be kidding" moment, I had to admit, again, that she was saving me from myself. Yes, there was nervous energy, and, born with the sun in the sixth house: "this is my job, I'm going to do it." But there just wasn't much actual oomph in the veins. So, the coach that had turned into a pumpkin last week, turned into compost this week. It was really interesting, an instant Category 5 being not doing crisis. I'd love to put the work first, always, but it's been made crystal clear over the last few years that whoever is in charge of my evolution has other ideas. I don't know who is in charge of my evolution, they keep a low profile, but they are absolutely nefariously good at what they do in terms of confronting me with places I need more balance. It's easier to consider that events happen for you, not to you, when they are in the past, rather than the present. But I was just too tired to get particularly ornery, no wrestling with angels or calling God names this time. I'm kind of tired, but it's pleasant, like I'm being invited to have a higher perspective. And this is fine, but also sort of disconcerting, because, as a puny earthling, my entire life is based on having a lower perspective. "Me" wants to do stuff! But apparently there is more than who I have been, whether I like it or not, and it is intimately involved with "being," whatever the heck that is. If I had become a politician, would that mean I could explore the lower perspective forever and ever? As the week went on I tried a few small alternate ways to test the waters, but it was not happening. The answer for now is clearly No Painting For You! Accepting this is always humbling, but gets easier with experience. "Okay, have to stop now, but it will start again." It also puts what has happened in a completely different perspective. Bound and gagged at point zero, the recent work has a certain je ne sais quoi that escaped my notice before. And luckily, there is always all kinds of other stuff I can do. Don't want to go overboard, I mean, I already cleaned the refrigerator once this year, would a second time be too Martha Stewart? This week I completed the studio renovation that has been going on for the last few weeks. Well, there's more stuff to throw out bit by bit, but overall it feels both more organized and spacious; a lot of past has exited to make way for the present. In larger terms, it might be time to start working on the book again. After twelve rewrites I had really hoped to be done, but too much further information from conservation has fluttered into my inbox from Roland. (Short version: the 20th century version of oil paint is encountering significant difficulties as it ages due to the additive system that was used. If you know about stearate, well, there's a lot more.) I also learn a lot from corresponding with people who have bought the book. If I wrote something but people repeatedly don't seem to read it, it probably needs to be said more strongly. But I know from my experience with Eastlake that you can read a book over and over and still miss things that are important. Because maybe you have no idea what is and isn't important. So, it's been interesting to realize I can control what I write, but not what people think I wrote. Mua-ha-ha! Life in a nutshell. But, anyway, I've got pages of notes for additions and amendments, and want to go through it once more in time for a new edition this Spring. From May to September was the best run with painting I've ever had, but the joyous bounty of summer is officially over, so have to admit it makes sense that the work is taking a rest. I don't love it, but it wouldn't be a living process if it didn't have a natural cycle. Have been studying my lunar return chart for October, which begins next week. It has a lot of energy, but isn't exactly gentle, or pretty; more like driving a tractor trailer through the eye of a needle. Sounds about right, doesn't it?


      That hysterical laughter after dinner on Tuesday night? Yes, that was me. I was rearranging the studio and had just put a small bookcase up on a table when Lily, seeing a new game opportunity, came flying through her special route to the top of the table and positioned herself behind the bookcase. At first I thought "Why is she hiding?" then realized, "She wants to play!" This was very nice because she had just been sick the day before, and was clear evidence that she was feeling better. So I cautiously stuck my fingertips around the corner of the bookcase, and she began flailing away at them wildly with her front paw. Then she got up on her back legs with one paw against the back of the bookcase, and leaned her head around to have a go at me from higher up. We have played this game in many locations all over the house, it is kind of ritualized at this point, and all in fun. I mean, I still have to be careful not to be too casual, but she used to shred me before realizing that the game goes on a lot longer if she doesn't. Anyway, the comical part was to have it happen out of the blue, in a brand new location. It's fascinating to think how quickly her spacial sense computed that possibility and put it into action.

october 6

      First week of the moon, another rouser. Weatherwise there was one last hot day this week over ninety; then more seasonal finally. Sometimes this felt positive, cooler at last, at other times there was a little foreboding: more tender plants dying in the neighborhood front gardens, Halloween decorations appearing -- one of these even scared a dog that was walking by, the owner had to coax it to keep going -- as Persephone returns to the underworld, and the literally darker part of the year begins to take hold. Felt a kind of extended imbalance this week for the first time in a while, a lot of wobbling all of a sudden, interesting since the new moon was in Libra, which is all about finding ways to be balanced. This was probably exaggerated by having no residual interest or investment in remaining that way. And by taking on something I didn't have to, and therefore probably shouldn't have: repainting the front porch. But it was a hard call to make without getting into it, and so I did. The landlord here is a nice guy, and has done everything here he can for many years, but he's now 82 and is running into progressively serious health issues. As a result, he's also tending to do things in the speediest way possible, or the way that doesn't confront him with a knee that really needs to be replaced. So, the front of the porch was looking pretty bad because, the last time he painted it, he didn't prep it beyond washing it, and it wasn't enough for a high traffic, high humidity area with the current acrylic porch paint. So, when I can, I offer to help him, and while we were fixing the front door the other day, I sensed an opening and offered to fix and repaint the front area of the porch. He's gotten to the point where he realizes he has to let go, and said he'd buy the paint and pay me, which was nice. But as always, house stuff is more complicated than you think it's going to be, and, with one thing and another -- needing to scrape back the front area, prime it twice, and get at least two coats of paint everywhere else -- I finally finished it this morning. There are some deep divots I might try to fill with that modern type of caulk still and repaint. But hopefully the porch will look decent longer. Of course, it's still a nice old house with a ton of differed maintenance that is eventually going to cost way more than if it were kept up with. But I've ventured far enough into making that my problem for the time being. I did the work in stages, and this got me involved with trying to direct where Lily did and didn't go on the porch. It was acrylic paint, but I just wanted to keep her paws out of it. Anyway, she got into the first coat of primer when I just tried to explain it to her, so, with the second coat, I picked her up -- she protested but let me -- and walked her around to the other side of the porch where it wasn't wet, then let her down where she could scoot through the railing to the front steps. Which she did. But she then proceeded to go up onto the porch, to the wet paint area, and made a few exploratory steps into it before turning around. I realized it would have been better to have let her decide in the first place by exploring it her own way, and later on that day told her I'd learned that. She may not know English, I'm still not sure about that, but she often seems to know exactly what I'm saying. This attempt to give Lily advice may have set the stage for her to give me some advice as well, she is really into reciprocity as a lesson, see below. Otherwise, things were a little bit disjointed in the work this week, clearly not the strong growth energy of the summer any longer, felt sort of sad about that off and on. But there was progress via chaos and I like what ended up happening. If asked, I would say -- maybe even emphatically -- that quality matters more than quantity. So why do I still get hypnotized and want to make the next painting -- an even better one, of course! -- as quickly as possible? When it obviously works so much better to slow things down, so that the next painting is in fact also the next step? There are enough of these paintings now so that, given half a chance, they will generate their own next step from aspects of what has gone before that want to be explored further. And this is tremendous fun, sort of like moving the furniture to get a new room, but getting new furniture as well. But it can't be rushed, the process has to breathe, especially at this time as the summer fades and the available creative energy necessarily begins to wane.


      The toad lily is in bloom in the backyard, you don't often get elegant and playful in the same flower in this hemisphere.


      First one this week, boy it seems like more than a week ago that this happened! Am beginning to associate this type of painting with the new moon: it's more involved with thre sheer act of being new than anything else. Relatively energetic day, and some interesting things happened in every aspect of this, but it never coalesced. There are several musicians who are credited with saying, "If you aren't making mistakes, you aren't learning anything." It follows from this that, if you make a lot of mistakes, you are learning a lot. Well, sometimes; you might just be in love. But I learned a lot from this one. A little bit bigger, it was also interesting to see how much even a slight change in scale influenced what happened. About 11.25 x12.5 inches, oil on gessoed paper.


      Second one; selected a few aspects of the first one that I liked but returned to an initial linear composition that felt more ordered or solid. Still, there's something goofy about it that I like. About 9.5x11 inches, oil on gessoed paper.


      Had a break before doing this one, partly by choice, partly by Lily, explanation below. First, looked for a different way to develop the composition by starting with fewer lines. This meant it was less detailed in the beginning, and grew more in response to the first set of colours in the larger shapes. This made the process, therefore the composition itself, more spontaneous, by integrating the more linear and controlled single focus approach with something that went in several different directions, or planes, at once. Which seemed like progress, as in, what this moon was asking for. I wouldn't call this is fully resolved, but it is fully new. And I do like the more dynamic interaction of straight and curving, and big and little shapes in this one. This one also had tighter or denser paint overall, which helped in some areas, but got in the way a bit in others. Partly it had tighter paint because I changed the medium formula a little bit, but partly because the paint aged overnight on the palette. How did that happen? About 9.5x11 inches, oil on gessoed paper.


      Lily does not often give me advice, but when she does it's pretty obvious. And, given her hopelessly refined sense of politeness or fairplay, I may well have invited this by my version of advice earlier in the week about the wet paint. Anyway, the classic Lily form of advice is to interrupt something because she considers it not in my best interests: she'll lie down on the keyboard if I've been at the computer too long, or lie on my taxes, repeatedly, while I'm doing them in March. And earlier this week, she did lie down on some astrological paperwork I was doing, extracting a pattern from a chart. And those things have always been easy to accept. But then, bright and early the next morning, something different happened. I had decided that I could make a painting early, then begin to paint the porch later in the afternoon. I'd set up the medium and the paint, had mixed the medium with the paint on the palette, and was just about to start, when Lily showed up under the easel, put her front paws on the crossbar, and hopped up onto the stool I was about to sit on. I'd never seen her do this before! But it was very well done: she knew exactly where to land, and how much her arrival would move the stool. And it was also clear she was there for a reason. I was a little bit surprised: this was clearly another piece of advice! I didn't even try to puzzle it out, just decided not to continue. On the one hand, I felt I owed it to her as a way of balancing my earlier advice about the wet paint, and on the other, she hears things I don't here, sees things I don't see: why wouldn't she know things I don't know? I mean, look at that look. Thanks goodness she only weighs twelve and a half pounds. Any more sheer cosmic gravitas would be overwhelming: at least, at this scale, it is possible to ignore her, feel that she's "the cat." More design genius by the Universe, but the egocentric free will of humans to ignore the superior capacity of animals is maintained at quite a price. Anyway, it turned out she did know something I didn't. I put the palette in the freezer, shifted gears, and went out to begin work on the porch. And stepped, bit by bit, into an unusually challenging day: the first day in a while that seemed custom-designed to find, then push, buttons I didn't even know I had. Philadelphia, of course, can be very good at this: many of its citizens spend decades with their buttons firmly pushed, and, as such, example this attitude with both vigor and finesse. This particular challenge went on for another day before I got finally things to be less reactive again. So, just as with colour and form there's always more to learn, there's always more to learn about what is being suppressed instead of acknowledged. Progress naturally leads to confidence, but confidence inevitably leads to paying less attention, which leads to an event designed to refocus the attention at the next level. Have to admit I spent some time feeling resentful about this over the last few days, but it seems logical that infinite irritation is the simplest way -- and probably the only way -- to assure infinite growth. The key to the process is to accept the inevitability of its cycle, instead of becoming reactive about it. But, like pretty much everything we encounter within the grand illusion simply called life, there are going to be days when this is easier said than done.

september 29

      More of the elongated seasonal fadeout this week, the meteorological version of Hey Jude. Cool at night, but pretty summery and sometimes humid during the day. Philadelphia will find a way! Last week of the moon, and after a pretty consistent three weeks of development, my coach turned into a pumpkin again on Tuesday. This was not unexpected, I was a little surprised that the third week had yielded as much as it did. New moon yesterday, sometimes these arrive like Audrey Hepburn with a picnic, but more often are blustery and antsy, like Bertie's Aunt Dahlia when one of her one of her secret financial schemes hits a snag. Yesterday seemed to feature an unconscious search for something new without having any idea what it was. Easier to experience knowing what is behind it. Usually I figure out what the moon wants by the end of the first week, but sometimes it takes longer. Prepared a little bit for this new moon, with something new I'd like to try: putting this work on panels instead of paper. I like everything about the look of the work on paper, but just want to see if panels are an option as well. But, ha-ha, it may not be what this moon wants to do, and the moon rules, so I'm going to have to feel my way. The new moon is in Libra, which tends to want balance, partnership, getting along together. Each of these zodiac signs also has a colour palette, things went pretty Gemini last month, it will be interesting to see if things go Libra this month. September was really nice month for the work, but, like surfers need waves, this approach depends on the energy of the moment, and when it goes away, as it definitely did this week, there's kind of a background sense of foreboding. Sort of like the first cold and bleek day of Fall, though that may be in December at this rate. Consciously, I know it's about the process taking a logical rest as the lunar cycle draws to a close. But part of me still wants to keep trying, to try harder, in fact, even though I've proved over and over again over the years that this doesn't work. Another lesson to learn at another scale. So I shifted gears and worked out a system for making fabric-covered glue gesso panels with a relatively plane surface. Not creative exactly, but comfortingly obsessive.


      This week featured a series of small innovations. There are lots of time where I'd like both hands free. I've thought about several types of systems for doing this, but ended up just putting two sheetrock screws into the piece of plywood I have on the easel. The easel has a shelf with a lip so the screws suspend it. Simple, will work indefinitely as long as I keep my knees under the palette when mixing. I'll probably make something more sturdy, but not just yet.


      The medium has egg yolk in it and tends to skin over pretty quickly, so I started sealing it in a piece of plastic.


      Have wanted to see what these paintings would look like on panels, and began making some this week. After years of making these, had a major duh moment and figured out a simple way to cradle them. As is often the case, it has to do with changing not the events, but their order. The short side of the plywood is cut first, then the long side, then the long side pieces are cut with the same fence setting as the long side of the plywood. These are then glued, and nailed on top with small copper nails. Then the first small side is measured, and cut slightly oversize. It's trimmed to a press fit, then the other side is measured and cut. These are then glued, then the panel is flipped and the short sides nailed after making sure the edges are flush. This is so much better than the old way of trying to glue all the sides at once it made me wonder if, whatever the procedure, there might always be a better method waiting just around the bend. What is it that makes, or allows, these changes to occur? I guess it's somehow getting outside the frame of reference that dictated them in the first place: in this case, trying to glue the sides together, as a unit. Repetitive procedures are good for learning patience, but it's always fun to find an improved way to do something.


      These panels need a very finely textured glue gesso and that means a lot of coats to fill the fabric. I'm still trying to figure out the simplest way to do that. One interesting development this week was using a damp piece of fabric as part of the final smoothing procedure. Piece of an old flannel sheet here, but a scrap of portrait linen works better. This situation also featured something that's been happening a lot lately: things are coming together more quickly, or at another level. I picked up this piece of wood in the basement, and it was exactly 1/8th of a sheet of sandpaper. I get some water, and its exactly the amount I want, pour out some glue granules on the scale, and it's exactly the number of grams I want. I mean, not exactly turning water into wine, and of course the result of experience to some extent, but it still feels like something unusual is going on in terms of thoughts becoming more quickly aligned with physical reality


      First one of the week, composition accidentally a little on the complicated side, had to make a lot of changes before it felt complete. Ended up liking the colour best, the patterning next, and the composition least. But it still doesn't feel like it would work to plan these, they have to just happen, so there are going to be paintings like this, where some aspects work better than others. But it's clear from the early work in this series that, by and large, they've improved using this approach. And it's a lot better than what happened next! About 9.5x11 inches, oil on gessoed paper.


      Second and last one of the week, officially into the final week of the moon. Tried a great many different things, but could not get this to rise above a more literal approach to both colour and form. Creatively, just did not have many arrows in the quiver. Learned more about removing and adding at a relatively small scale with this, and like the general composition, but would have to start over to get anywhere new. Decided to work on panels for the rest of the week, these are a little different and have taken some time to figure out. Now that the nutty but high energy of summer is officially over, it might be best to at least experiment with taking the last week of each moon off from the creative side of this project. I could clean the refrigerator, for one thing. About 9.5x11 inches, oil on gessoed paper.


      I've been doing some rearranging in the studio to get more space. The other morning after breakfast Lily spied an open space on a table that she'd never been on, and took the most amazingly circuitous route to get there: her spatial sense of what she can get onto, into and out is fascinating. So Lily was on one table, cleaning herself as usual after breakfast, and I was at the other table, paying attention to the panel I was gessoing. And I was just thinking what a nice calm and peaceful morning it was when Lily arrived by air, landing right in the middle of the panel. Some skidmarks, a little gesso spilled, but otherwise no harm done. She is eleven at this point, and rarely does things that are impetuous, so I was puzzled at first. But, in thinking about it later in the day, I realized that the situation featured three things she really enjoys, the combination of which must have proved irresistible: 1) fearlessly leaping across yawning chasms, 2) going somewhere new (she had never been on top of the gessoing table either), and, probably the clincher, 3) doing various kinds of physical comedy that surprise me. Is it just me, or does this cat have a large personality? Hopefully I let her know it was okay to be herself by not having all kinds of rules. But maybe all cats have larger personalities if you're in a position to experience them. Another new place example below: having a nap on a storage unit left over from the front porch sale next-door.

september 22

      Summer slowly fading still, equinox early tomorrow morning, the official end of the yearly expansion that begins every Spring. The goldfinches are now into the sunflower heads in the neighborhood, a dozen dart out when I walk by in the afternoon. Background smell of old fashioned flowers and baking leaves, uniformly lovely weather that could go on for weeks to come, and is getting kind of hallucinatory already. This combines with a growing sense of being less locked into "here" to produce a generally spacious and peaceful feeling, although I have to be way more vigilant in the car. Third week of the moon, things in the work were more active than usual, a deeper sense of structure suddenly just arrived. I wondered why, wrote a little bit about this investigation below. This energy also manifested in being more proactive out in the world, took more chances in terms of being positive with the folks at the co-op and post office, and this worked out well. Negativity, like the Wizard of Oz, pretends to have a lot more power than it really does. But that doesn't mean people can't use a boost. Thought about how, given that we're all fractals of the same being, what is given to one person is given to everyone.


      Sometimes the best thing to do is just take all the paint off a given area. Sigh. But true. I used to think of this as a last resort, but it seems to work better to just do it when it wants to happen. There's kind of an art to this type of surgery, and the more I do it the easier it gets. Sometimes something is just plain bugging me: frustration is always a good clue it's time for more drastic change. It's so refreshing when it's just plain gone. This makes me think of all the things it would be great to just get rid of permanently with a palette knife!


      I've been fascinated for many years by the solar return chart: this is a chart of the time you were born, only in the current year. Recently did some further reading on these charts and started making precessed versions of them: a chart which takes into account the amount of drift that is in each year away from exactly 365 days. These charts turned out to be far more accurate, and once I started putting closely aspected asteroids into them, they really started to talk, each year I looked at had a definite personality, it was a surprising change after having puzzled over a system that wasn't quite accuratge enough for many years. So, this week something pretty different began to happen in the work, only it wasn't even close to the new moon. It was perplexing, there wasn't anything else in the sky that could account for it. Then I realized that it was my new moon: the time of the month when the moon returns to where it was when I was born. So I thought it might be interesting to make a lunar return chart for this month and see what it had to say about the emotional-creative realm of the moon. I'd explored these before, but not with the current technology. There are lots of these asteriods, lots, so I put somethem I've found to often be in aspect in the solar charts into this one, based on the type of changes that were going on. The chart itself ended up having a lot of points in it, and a lot of bodies in strong aspect to one another: a strong pattern, which is what it felt like. I do these charts at Astrodienst online and you can adjust the sensitivity of the aspects: this chart would have been easier to navigate if I'd put less in it, or made the orb of the aspects tighter. But even so, I could see there was an interesting pattern in it that was clearly related to the work.


      This is the pattern of 30-degree intervals based on the ascendant at 16 Gemini. Everything in this pattern is at 14,15, or 16 degrees of a sign, except Neptune at the top at 17, and Saturn at 13, but this is conjunct the asteroid Musa at 15. So, this is a pretty close harmonic alignment of fourteen different points. Some of these relationships contain creative tension (30 or 90 degrees apart) while others (60 or 120 degrees apart) are more about creative partnership. So, this pattern is a cosmic perpetual motion machine of different energies reacting to one another and forming varieties of synthesis. Well, I guess you could say any chart is like that, but given that this pattern arrived last Tuesday, I felt it. Delineating this would go on and on, but let's take a look at one relationship, the most powerful one, which is on the horizon. The ascendant is in Gemini, emphasizing communication, one degree above the ascendent is the TNO Altjira. TNO is short for Trans-Neptunian Object, so these aren't asteriods but planetoids that are way out there in the Kuiper Belt, and, as such, all of these have relatively intense meanings. Altjira is named for the Aboriginal creator god, and, from what I've been able to gather, stands for an awareness of the alternate reality of the dreamtime in daily life. The union of these two points is about embodying or communicating the validity of a non-linear approach to reality. Which sounds just about right as far as what is going on now. It is opposite Jupiter in Sagittarius, which is conjunct the asteroid Heracles. Jupiter is very at home in Sagittarius because they are both about generating the expansive, positive freedom that works for everyone. Heracles I've had some experience with, it has to do with applying strength, but the strength is needed to do the labors that are somehow obligatory in the context. This particular aspect could be applied to things in general this month, but other points in the figure -- especially Saturn (as structure) and Neptune (as imagery in general) -- link it to the work. Doing this chart put a few things together I've been working on for a while with astrology, and gave access to a deeper and more personal version of the Moon's influence on creativity, which was really interesting to explore. If the Universe is infinite, it has to be a fractal, otherwise it is not infinite. This means my relationship as a human being to the physical structure of the Universe is necessarily exact. We live in a highly detailed place, both literally and psychologically. Which is both nurturing and amazing. Of course, the details are necessarily hidden in plain sight; awareness of the possibility of their existence is the precursor to discovering them. As this process of slowly but surely becoming untethered from consensus culture continues, it's nice to find a relatively personal way to feel more connected to the universe. I mean, who I really am. Who we really are.


      First one of the week. It felt a little quirky on the one hand, but I liked it on the other. When I was a kid, there was this guy who spun plates on long bamboo rods on the Ed Sullivan show. He'd get a whole forest of these things going, then stop and begin to chat confidently with the audience. But the audience could see that some of the plates had slowed down and were beginning to wobble, and began to shout at him about it. He masterfully pretended to be unaware of this until the last second, then began to frantically rush around fixing the plates again, to the audience's great relief. I'm really interested in those wobbling plates. About 9.5x11 inches, oil on gessoed paper.


      Second one of the week. First one using the new version of the putty, this ended up being too mobile, and that influenced the way things developed. Decided to stop a little earlier than usual since continuing was going to be difficult with the paint the way it was. The next day still felt it was best to move on, but now I can see more that could happen. It lacks the tension between flatness and space that is abundant in the first one, everything is pretty much in one plane. It's balanced, but it's too balanced, and way too happy. Of course, generally speaking that's an enviable problem, but this painting needs a lot more wobble. But there's something here or it wouldn't be bothering me. I especially like the central element, will do another version of it at some point. I've fiddled with a few early ones in this series recently that didn't feel finished, but to no avail. It's like the old energy needs to be transformed in some way, but is also still there getting in the way of something new happening. More and more it feels like what happens on a given day has it's own energy, and that accepting that, and leaving it alone once its dry, is best. About 9.5x11 inches, oil on gessoed paper. inches, oil on gessoed paper.


      Third one of the week, got the paint and overall feeling to work better with this one. About 9.5x11 inches, oil on gessoed paper. inches, oil on gessoed paper.


      Fourth one of the week. This panoptical chaos type of composition wants to happen now and then. It's a little nutty but I'd like to figure it out. This is the most successful one so far, but even going this far was at the outer limits of what I could handle in one day; cleaned it up somewhat the next morning, and then had an errand day. About 9.5x11 inches, oil on gessoed paper. inches, oil on gessoed paper.


      When Lily had her UT issue last winter I changed her food: got rid of the dehydrating dry food altogether and got her a simpler wet food that was very highly rated. She liked the new "pure" food and ate it, with the occasional can of no salt sardines in spring water for a treat, until last Sunday. When she decided it was time for something new. Tried opening a second can, to no avail, it was time for a change. Luckily, I had a can of sardines, and this got us through Sunday morning. By Sunday afternoon I had gotten a few cans of her old wet food -- which is not exactly cheap, yet the most popular one the co-op sells -- and a few cans of a new relatively simple food that I thought looked good. I gave her the old wet food. She usually eats half a can at a time in the afternoon, max, but she ate the whole thing, bam. So, over the next few days I fed her the old wet food, but I sort of miscalculated and we ran out, so I had to try her on a can of the new one. She ate it and seemed to like it fine, whole can gone in the morning, standard procedure. So that day I went and got a case of her old wet food from the co-op, and a few cans of the new more pure food just in case. When it was dinnertime, I presented her with both cans, and asked her which one she liked better. She bumped the old wet food can decidedly with her forehead. I thought that was how she felt, but wanted to make sure.

september 15

      Summer still slowly winding down, a lot of memories in this time of year from being a kid around here, going back to school. Some mornings and evenings with that magical temperature that's not hot or cold. Got my electric bill, was absurdly happy to see that my window-blocking with sheets of cardboard on the hottest days of last month made the bill a full third lower. I mean, there's so much going on that I can't understand, but I can understand a lower electric bill. Week of the full moon, it was late Friday night, kind of an itchy or antsy one for me. Not the usual full steam ahead week either, kind of weighty, as though some dark entity were lurking just offstage, about to make an entrance. Various tense inner planet transits to Neptune this week, often felt both spacious and confused, an odd combination. Last year it often seemed like the old me was dissolving to make way for a new me, that feeling returned this week. There is not a lot of old me left at this point, it is interesting to see the ways it tries to reassert itself. This then means pausing to ask what really wants to happen. Is this the "old me" or the "new me" talking? Who am "I" and what do "I" really want? This spacious but confused quality was reflected in the work, I liked what happened with the colour, a great deal actually, and with incorporating last week's changes into the style that developed over the summer, but the work also seemed to be searching for it's new self. It's interesting to slowly get into more and more levels of "whatever happens happens for a reason." It's like the Russian dolls, only the one inside is larger than the one outside.


      Great graphic from a recent paper very kindly extracted by my friend Roland; summary of a complicated process. Research is in the process of zeroing in on the role of metal soaps in causing paint film degradation over long periods of time. This particular paper is more abstract science than technical art history, and proposes a complex mathematical model for this process. This includes large equations full of swooshes and hieroglyphics, and may cause some panic among painters by implying that this process is both universal and inevitable. But this has not been proven. What about when the pigment does not saponify, what is the model for that? Most importantly, this paper does not refer to the soaps of specific pigments, but simply to metal soaps in general, which limits its practical value for painters. Their example pigment is of course lead white, the angel and devil of old painting conservation. We know that older lead white can become saponified over time, but also that this is not always the case. We know that modern lead white is a very different pigment: made by a different process, with a different composition that makes it, in fact, relatively difficult to saponify. This type of detail is important to painters, but not to the development of a mathematical model. I'm not being critical of this paper, of course! But painting does not work on theory, it works on practice. And, in practice, this subject is incredibly complex, since the behavior of each metallic soap is going to be different in the context of every combination of oil pH, level of atmospheric humidity, and canvas movement over time. So, what we need is more specific information about the metals involved. We have learned that zinc white is too reactive, although it took a century and a half. What about cadmium, or cobalt? What about, most importantly, iron? It seems probable that iron is less subject to saponification. Does it actually stabilize the paint film in some way? Are the bright modern pigments -- being organic, not metallic -- outside this equation entirely? It will all get investigated bit by bit.

      Another recent subject Roland has sent information on is the water-solubility of 20th century paint films. Since water is usually the first thing a conservator uses to clean a paint film, this became noticed in a hurry. It turns out that this is a function of large amounts of magnesium carbonate being in the paint film, and that this was a feature of the student grade paint formulation of Windsor and Newton in the 20th century. Over time, the magnesium carbonate is transformed into epsomite, and this is water-soluble. This body of research has also investigated kaolin, and found that it induces delamination when used in a ground: though this is implied in technical art history by the fact that Van Dyck's use of kaolin in the ground of The Great Peece quickly caused delamination. Anyway, there are lots of stone dusts, but calcium carbonate and silica seem to be the only safe ones over time.


      The current paintings have a medium that's a damar-beeswax variation. They also have a putty that gets used to an extent with darker colours. This putty has to be simple, on the lean side, and I want it to be kind of dense and bouncy. The formula has been getting better each time I make a new tube of it. This week I added a little bit of fumed silica and some older thick hand-refined linseed oil, both of which tend, for different physical reasons, to make the putty more thixotropic. It was really interesting to see how different "new" was from "old" in this case, an example of how a system develops itself over time in ways that are unforeseeable in the beginning. So, a pleasant surprise rheologically in terms of how the changes added up, will see how it operates in the week to come.


      First one this week. A few small technical changes, but the system is very sensitive to these. Wanted to work with what I'd learned last week but get back to a more spacious feeling. I liked the colour but was a little confused by how the pieces worked in space. Still on its way somewhere new. About 9.25x10.25 inches, oil on gessoed paper.


      Second one this week. This felt like an evolution in some ways, a retreat in others. Had difficulty completing it the first day, but did so the next morning. About 9.25x10.25 inches, oil on gessoed paper.


      A return to what intrigued me about the first one, with more variety or invention than usual. Again had to finish it the next day. It's not possible to plan what is going to go where, so some parts will end up working better than others. But overall it has an engaging solidity in life. Have not done one at this level of complexity, so there are some things I just didn't see. For example, it now seems that it might be "better" if the green middle element on the left side echoed the orange-blue layered element of the upper right corner. So, not so much a criticism as something to keep in mind in the future. The overall vocabulary or set of available options is getting larger, and that seems like the most important thing. This feels like a new level opening up in terms of the colours having different levels in space, but it may take a while to consolidate things here. Part of me would like to understand how this works, would this involve complex equations with impressive swooshes and hieroglyphics? But another part of me thinks that would make it much less fun. About 9.25x10.25 inches, oil on gessoed paper.


      Life with Lily.

september 8

      Summer beginning to wind down, only used a little ac this week, some really nice cool mornings and nights. First week of the moon, it kind of snuck up on me, but turned out to really want something new; began to feel like I'd been shot from one of those cannons in the circus. Which is fine, there's always a reason, and a net at the end. So, after a pretty stable summer of developing a specific approach bit by bit, a sudden detonation: the puzzle that was close to finished is now in thousands of pieces again all over the cardtable. Making it an excellent week to learn more about not judging the process! An ongoing sense of confusion, even malaise from time to time, during the week: the inner planets are in Virgo going opposite Neptune in Pisces one by one. The last one to do this will be Mars, the full moon on the 13th has the Moon conjunct Neptune opposite Sun conjunct Mars: I will not be hiding under the bed, but this day that may feature some bellicose, high profile strangeness in terms of deception being revealed and concealed.


      Stumbled on some information in early August about how yerba mate has more anti-oxidants in it than green tea, and that the overall nutritional profile contributes to the caffeine it contains having much less of a downside. This sounded good enough to investigate more, and many people had positive things to say about it online as a tea or coffee alternative. There is of course a huge culture of mate in some parts of South America, and I had tried a roasted version eons ago when it first showed up in America. Looked around for which one to try, ended up getting an organic green (unroasted) one sourced from Argentina by Eccoteas, unsmoked (the traditional way to dry the leaves) and without stems (sin palo). It turns out without stems means a more intense flavor, which was good. Made lots of cold-brewed tea overnight with it in August and really enjoyed it: it was nice and bitter up front, then very smooth and refreshing. It has a particular smell which I encounter every now and then in a more verdant area of the neighborhood. Although they all seem to come from the same tree, a species of holly, there are lots of different variations of mate, with different flavor profiles, as well as different ways to brew it. I recently tried another one, Guayaki, the ubiquitous health store brand that they carry at the co-op. Guayaki is milder, con palo, and feels a little insipid compared to the one from Eccoteas, though I think most people would like it better. The most interesting thing relative to tea is that mate is definitely about more than caffeine, it creates oomph more gently, with a sense of positivity or benificence as well. Like gotu kola, the Hindu meditation herb, it is nootropic, affecting the way the brain functions. Well, everyone's experience with these plants is going to be different, but, given that the tea I ended up liking most was black, really expensive, and clearly not that great for my mood in more than very small amounts, this has been an interesting development.


      First one of the week, also first one at the larger scale this time around, a lot of energy flying around still from the new moon. It was fun to do this, and I like feeling of the the color, but the more blunt aspects of the execution I'm not sure about. It's like, what happened naturally before didn't happen in this one, a classic new moon situation. But I didn't know that at the time, this particular well that had been full all summer, I expected it to keep on being full. About 13.5x15 inches, oil on gessoed paper.


      Next, dropped back to the smaller scale. Kept the same palette, but, in a different way, this one seemed to also miss. Liked the color, and thought of several ways to modify it the next day. But when the time came just let it go, seemed like it was more important to move on. It still hadn't occurred to me that the old way of making these wasn't going to work anymore. About 9.25x10.25 inches, oil on Arches Huile.


      The second one seemed too chaotic. Or too complicated. Or something. I didn't exactly judge it, but didn't at that point accept that it was simply a door to another room beginning to open up. So I thought I'd organize things more by making a drawing, did this in graphite at the larger scale. This made me feel better -- being more organized usually does, but all those planets in Virgo didn't hurt -- and got as far as transferring it to a piece of gessoed paper before it seemed all wrong. Which was interesting. So, then tried to organize things a different way by making a set of marker studies, variations on one that I liked. These were more fun, the markers feel kind of goofy but I'm learning what they do bit by bit. But it probably would have been better to just do something altogether new, rather than basing the process on something extant.


      The third one, larger scale. I started out following the model, got sort of hypnotized, then broke away from that approach when it began to seem ridiculous. Always a good idea! At that point some interesting things happened, but the painting was already committed to a lot of things I didn't like too much. Decided to just let it rest overnight, thought I'd work on it the next morning, but at that point felt that it was too much of a push me-pull you situation. Still, if the bright red-yellow element is removed, and the Klimty spray at the top is calmed down, this is an interesting set of colors to develop. So, this week helped me realize -- over and over, in fact -- is that, no matter, what happens, it contributes to the process. Before I would have said that the simplest thing is to just let what wants to happen happen, but this week there really wasn't a choice. Now, for someone who, in spite of theoretically knowing better, has always judged the process, thinking that would make it better, even though it never did, this is a pretty big step. About 13.5x15 inches, oil on gessoed paper.


      Next, it occurred to me that the problem might be trying to organize it at all: why not let it organize itself? So made the fourth one without a specific compositional idea first; just blocked it some large shapes in simple color and added smaller shapes over that. This was sort of refreshing, but I quickly realized that the "non-composition" of the first shapes needed to be done with more awareness of what could, and could not, go on top of them. Stopped at a place that felt underdone in a way, but it also seemed that the answer was more awareness in the beginning. At least I was finally not trying to do the old thing, but was letting something new happen. About 9.25x10.25 inches, oil on Arches Huile.


      So, for this one, began with six colors in blocks underneath. Can see now that the original lines would have been better with more curves: the organized -- or locked -- quality of the blocks began to dictate too many terms about what happened next. The pattern of the original colors needs to take the value of the color itself more into account. Well, there are ways that this can be modified before the second layer of smaller pieces starts, but the first layer is again where the most adjustment needs to occur for this approach to work out. This crazy quilt thing happens now and then, but always seems too busy and planar. So not sure this is an overall approach to develop, so much as one that contains a new tool to use for something that hasn't happened yet. An attractive glow, a few nice moments in color that is not quite as simple as it presents itself to be. Still not exactly resolved as a next step, but this week didn't exactly care about that! So, a week of holding on during a new moon with an unusually strong agenda. Still in transit, but should know more by the full moon at the end of next week. About 9.25x10.25 inches, oil on Arches Huile.


      Did laundry yesterday and Lily was in the bedroom when I came in with a finished load. Had already decided to convert one of the older towels into a lilypad, folded this on the middle shelf of her bookcase while it was still warm and she hopped right up on it and took a nap. Always a nice feeling. Not everything I try works, though: had a spare pillow and put that under the covers at the end of the bed for her, but she ignored it. Her sleeping area doesn't have to be padded, though. She disappeared the other night and I found her sleeping on a big flat cardboard box under a table in the studio, one that a quire of Tiepolo had arrived in. She'll get into a pattern for a while, which becomes a tradition, even a hallowed tradition. And some of these don't change, like having to beat me to the top of the stairs. But with sleeping places, the pattern gets shifted by something and she develops a new pattern. The same with when she goes in and out, when she eats, how much. This has been changing all week because of the weather getting cooler, and I've gotten kind of confused a few times about what she wants. She just looks at me like, I know, but see, it's this way now.

september 1

      More like summer again but not as hot or humid, some signs of fall beginning: the smell of baked leaves, goldfinches diving in and out after the echinacea seeds in the front gardens. Last quarter of the moon, this is typically the most iffy week for the work, but still felt somewhat wound up, excited by what had already happened, and decided to see what would happen if I just showed up anyway. With mixed results. Hard not to want to improve relentlessly, but there's less ability to bob and weave and invent after the full moon, and by the last quarter it's pretty scarce. I really like being surprised by what happens, and this athleticism, so to speak, in terms of synthesizing opposites is crucial to generating something new. The new thing then ripples out and expands the whole vocabulary. But the process is not about massive effort, heroic gnashing of teeth, lashed to the rudder in the storm. I have to show up, but otherwise it just happens through the quality of energy that's available at the time. Conversely, this week, even the better ones feel a little less than earlier in the month. But there's always something to be said for learning, at a mercifully small scale, what to avoid. In larger terms, it's all valuable, but nose to grindstone on a daily basis, it's easy to drift past discernment and get judgemental. Didn't do too badly with this, though: was given plenty of opportunities but left most of them alone. Having let go of the endless revolving door of consensus "reality" over the last few years with only positive consequences, am feeling more and more interested in an even keel here, slow and steady: let it happen, but then let go of it. Yes, there is a infinite creative adventure to explore, but each step can only be examined clearly later, everything I "think" just after making it is useless. This approach works much better than obsessing about it, but that hasn't been an easy one for me to learn. It makes sense that the most important lessons occur where we have the least perspective, where things "just happen" and we don't know why. How to get more light of awareness into the unconscious darkness? The new moon arrived early Friday morning with a great deal of oomph, haven't felt so shaken up on a new moon day in a long time, made something relatively zany but it was fun to be more direct. Something new definitely wants to happen. This week I'll find out more about what it is. So, probably won't work quite as far into the waning moon again anytime soon; lesson learned there. But overall, certainly the most functional August ever for the work.


      Schumann Resonance graph of the last few days. Onward, deeper and deeper into the Photon Belt, hurtled the plucky planet and with its massive cargo of somnambulant humans, wishing this very high frequency energy would go away so they could watch Gilligan's Island in peace.


      Made an experiment with an egg emulsion paint: one part each methyl cellulose size, egg yolk, walnut oil, and beeswax emulsified with a small amount of sodium sesquicarbonate. I liked the feel of the paint but didn't like how it layered, felt it would be better to work with plain egg tempera, or at least without the oil. Sometimes an experiment suggests a new direction, sometimes it confirms the direction you're already going.


      This one started with a compositional drawing based on several small drawings, and looked good at that point. But it felt a little stiff, or static, when I finished it, I think because the original idea didn't get modified the usual amount during the process. Waning moon, I didn't have the same sense of resourcefulness in terms of what could be changed. Still, I like the sense of space that is flat on the one hand, and zooming off in different planes on the other. Primary colour, but kind of edgy somehow, that's also interesting. But, the scale is a little small for the details, want to get these bigger as soon as it feels right. About 9.5x11 inches, oil on gessoed paper.


      Decided to try a more sedate composition but went too far, or maybe got kind of hypnotized following an idea to a logical but dumb conclusion. Fiddled with the elements in interesting ways but the elements themselves -- most especially the space itself -- need to be more dynamic, less predictable. The left side is better than the right side, the upper left quadrant is static but otherwise kind of nice. Maybe do another one at some point based on what I learned from this one. This one annoys me so much its kind of exciting. About 8.5x9.5 inches, oil on gessoed paper.


      This one went through a lot and had a few interesting moments. I'll revisit this colour scheme, learned something useful there, but overall it feels unresolved, even awkward, and also suffers from waning moon syndrome in terms of doing what I feel should work but without the internal oomph that makes it work. Still, one that doesn't work offers a lesson in something specific to avoid. In this case too many things to mention! About 8.5x9.5 inches, oil on gessoed paper.


      Day of the new moon. Got up early, spent most of the morning kind of paralyzed by how new everything was, or had to be. Not unpleasant, or a surprise, but there hasn't been a new moon with this much oomph in a while, had to remind myself that sometimes it's best to just wait for a while, not force anything. Made this later in the morning, it was fun if relatively out of control but brought it somewhat together towards the end. More paint and evidence than usual, will see how it dries. Some aspects of the colour I like, wonder what other qualities of this one will continue into the process. About 8.5x9.5 inches, oil on gessoed paper.


      Had a round pedestal table in the basement that I'd rescued from the trash, they had tried to refinish the top and given up. It's solid mahogany, early 20th century commercial, I cleaned it up a little and put linseed oil on it, it looked very nice. Was a little stumped about what to do with it, then realized it would be a great lilypad, so set it up in the bedroom with some cushioning and an old tablecloth on top. She gets to it via one of the middle shelves on her bookcase. At first she ignored it, but then after a day she started sleeping on it, which was very fun. Always a disproportionate sense of accomplishment when something works for the cat, she even used the pillow! Lily had a quiet few days at the end of the moon, spending more time inside, but is now going back out early in the morning again. Low light photo, her relaxed post-nap face, softer and more round.

august 25

      One more round of intenser heat and humidity this week, it was deceptive, the highs weren't that high, but it was pretty impressive to be out in: Lily slept during the day and went out at night, I ended up shutting out the sun with sheets of paper and cardboard, not exactly my favorite thing to do! Lots of limitations, some frustrations, but a reasonable week for the work all things considered, often felt like I was hanging on for dear life via the process, but a straight and narrow gate was clearly what I had to go through. Cooled off Friday, a great relief to have a breezy morning yesterday in the 60s. Waning moon, headed into the last quarter now, would have to say this has been the best August ever for the work, but have been too hot for too long, time to take a few days off and regroup. New moon next Friday morning, a lot of oomph is in its way with this one, will be interesting to see what it brings.


      First one this week, did a lot of wholesale removal, ended up thinking it was a little nutty but interesting: liked the way the space was flat on the one hand, but went into different planes too. About 8.5x9.5 inches, oil on gessoed paper.


      Another one that had ideas of its own, quite possibly too many, but it seemed best just to make it and see how it felt. Several musicians are credited with saying "If you don't make mistakes you aren't learning anything," but the larger point is that it's true. About 8.5x9.5 inches, oil on gessoed paper.


      Felt like it was time to get a little more space to maneuver in. In some ways this one integrated what had happened in the first two, in other ways it continued to expand or explode into something new. Was very conscious while doing this of my hands knowing what wanted to happen even though my mind didn't. I kept thinking, "Why do you want that to happen?" sort of checking up on it, but finally just let it all come through. Was surprised by what I saw the next morning, had no idea at the end what it looked like. About 9.5x11 inches, oil on gessoed paper.


      Lily is a very patient and relatively oblique teacher. She'll do the same thing over and over again until I begin to understand what she's getting at. You would think I'd realize what's going on, but sometimes I'm inherently in too much of a hurry. For the last few months, she's been developing this ritual at the front door when I come to get her in the morning. I used to just let her in, say hi and pet her for a while, then we'd go upstairs: she'd always start after me, but beat me to the top. But over the summer, she's been slowing everything down, going up a few steps, stretching, then pausing, over and over: extending the time on the stairs in all kinds of different ways, even going back outside briefly a few times, until she only races me a few steps to the top. Now, I like spending time with Lily, but the stairs, being sort of a semi-public space and not exactly the smartest locale, wasn't my idea of where to do it. So I found myself a little impatient with this and wondered now and then what the heck she was up to. Then, this week, out of the blue, I finally realized that she wants me to be more aware of my unconscious inner categories: to stop judging any place or time as less than, and instead see each moment as an equal opportunity. To just be there, without an agenda to be somewhere else instead. Not to hurry up the steps, but to treat each step as an equal part of the process. Outside, steps, inside: all aspects of one continuum. So, the last few days, I've been slowing down on the steps, talking to her more, making it more of a ballet, and of course she has noticed this because the stairs are now more fun. Sometimes her eyes sort of light up and she gives me this knowing look, like, "Well, I knew if I gave you about a hundred chances you'd get it." I haven't gotten that look yet on the stairs, but it might be coming soon.

august 18

      A few lower humidity days to start off the week with cool nights, but now back to the usual, a lot of thunderstorms that never came here again, relatively brutal the last few days, Lily has been spending the days inside, going out at night. Another brief round of lower humidity days next week, seems like it gets officially cooler in the second half of September. Week of the full moon, the Schumann resonance was all over the place this week, had three days when I could do very little. Growing up, this used to be part of the righteous frustration of August, but, since coming back, year by year I've slowly learned to be more patient, back off, be more comfortable with being when doing is off limits. I mean, I like it that we all exist eternally in the flow, movement, and limitless possibilities of the Creator, but personally, it usually takes a little while to slow down enough to give them an opportunity. So, in spite of everything, I kept asking questions, meaning there were a few interesting developments, but it wasn't like last week, where the process felt jet-propelled. I liked what did happen, but feel like it was more about going further with what's possible than making official finished work. Partly this is the cumulative experience of the heat this summer, I just don't have that much oomph left to work with compared to June. But more is also happening in the work, and I'm getting more comfortable just letting it go where it wants to, instead of trying to give it rosy cheeks and a coy look for the Salon. So, because there is so much distrust of this inherent desire to make product, that feels good, but also makes me realize how much, in the past, this process has been involved in judgement on the one hand, and the quest for the permanently-viable product on the other. Which seems kind of silly at this remove, but pretty much all lessons learned feel that way in retrospect. I knew the wings were wax, why did I try to fly so high?


      A few people have asked about linseed oil soap recently. There used to be a nice one called Ugly Dog, this was sold to Richeson, they now put out a version of it that has "natural cleansers" in it as well, whatever those are. It might be fine, I don't know, at this point for me the art supply industry is guilty until proven innocent. There is a version of it on the Viking Sales website as well, made by a boutique soap firm in California, but, again, it is enhanced with natural cleansers. Viking sales has the Swedish linseed oil soap by Ottosson and Allback, but this is for wood, and is diluted, it is like Murphy's Oil Soap, only made with linseed oil. A few years ago, having had good luck making small amounts of linseed oil soap using potassium hydroxide, I decided to make a large batch. This went on and on, and never quite turned into soap, it got too late, I decided to give up. Which was silly, I should have just turned it off, and started again the next day with a little more hydroxide solution. Anyway, I've got 4 pints of it, about 150 dollars worth if I can actually turn it into soap! One of them has actually become soap on the top, pictured here, but about an inch beneath this it's still proto-soap. So, when the weather finally cools off, it might be fun to see if I can finish this soap, it probably won't take too long. This stuff is incredibly concentrated and great for cleaning brushes.


      In theory beeswax will bleach in the light if its in water. Got this wax from an apiary in VT years ago, it has only been in situ for about a month now.


      Was cruising around looking at materials and found this beeswax by R&F Encaustics, they say it is bleached mechanically rather than chemically. The Kremer bleached beeswax I've been using has a somewhat industrial "cooked" smell I'm not that thrilled about, which actually started off this round of more interest in wax. Anyway, this R&F wax smells like a jar of honey, I mean, exactly, which I like better. Next we'll see how it performs.


      Last year I did a lot of experiments refining linseed oil with various emulsions, as originally suggested by my friend Roland. This was fun, mostly because there were so many different things that worked to create the emulsion, and also because the emulsion system cleans the oil really well. Here's an example of one of the emulsion-refined oils, allowed to autoxidize a little beyond the thickness of stand oil. I'm holding the jar parallel to the floor, the oil is being held in by the dried film. You can see there's an access hole in the dried film just above the oil on the right. The area above and around the hole is the dried film itself. And if you're thinking that is very light for an autoxidized film of this thickness, I agree!


      Made some small panels this week, a few days when this was all I could hope to do. Sort of jumping the gun in terms of where I am with the colourscape work, but it's nice to have them around.


      Have tried several different ways of making sketches and drawings for these paintings, but nothing has been immediate enough. This is the approach I like best so far, small marker studies on odds and ends of printmaking paper. Of all the counter-intuitive things, at first I thought it was going to be too goofy, but as soon as I got some of them going it helped: they carve up the space with colour quickly, allowing a lot of variations to be explored without getting fussy or being " like a painting." Of course, now I need more markers. I typically resist urges like this but I've been a prisoner of the heat too long so something fun needed to happen. I didn't know that these things come in hundreds of groovy colours now. Who could resist "Aubergine?" Well, I did, but it was a near run thing. Still, it would be interesting if colour names got a little edgier. I might have gone for a purple called "Livid Bruise," for example. Of course, I wish they made the process primaries in a dozen values, but that would be too simple, encourage too much in the way of creative colour interaction.


      Started this one last Sunday, fiddled around with it on Monday morning. Noe colours, a new type of composition, I like the proportion but the vertical emphasis is probably too much, an indication of someone who is tired. Changed the medium to get more additive density, it worked but maybe too well. Still, too much grab is better than too much glide at this scale. About 5x13.5 inches, oil on gessoed paper.


      Started this the day of the full moon, very warm in the studio, it slid too much in spite of everything I did. Did more on it the next morning, it ended up feeling pretty full in terms of the colour. Tried an underpainting using markers, isolated it with a translucent chalk gesso, this worked but the look of the marks that peak through is too different, and I actually didn't like following a pattern. Some interesting new elements in this one, but not fully resolved: a little too angular or static overall. It will be fun to revisit this concept in a while, though. About 8x9 inches, oil on Arches Huile.


      The various odds and ends of hide glue in the fridge had deteriorated, so switched back to a small amount of starch in the medium for this one instead of a small amount of hide glue as a way to make the paint seize. Used twice the amount of starch as hide glue, in theory this should produce the same level of hold, but it was just too hot in the studio, this one slid a reasonable amount all day long. This situation could probably be solved by breaking out the sandarac varnish, but I don't have much of it and I'm not sure I want to make any more hard-resin varnish at this point. In theory it could be done in the backyard, the smoky final part is pretty focused and not that long, so *probably* would not result in one of the neighbors calling the fire department. Anyway, this will become less focal as it cools off again and the paint sets more. Did this one from a pencil drawing, nothing underneath. Didn't want to introduce more colour, orange was logical but I kept taking it out, this led to a little more cohesion but the colour isn't really resolved, another one that's more about asking questions than answering them. Some aspects of it that I like, see detail below, nice balance of angles and curves in this. There's a lot of lyrical internal landscape to explore, will go further with this approach. Waning moon and a lot of heat next week, time to back off, mMaybe some drawings and marker studies, develop the structural vocabulary. Stay spacious, remain cool, calm, and collected: Daedalus, not Icarus. Not too much more of the heat to go, but it's not over yet. About 8.25x13.5 inches, oil on gessoed paper.


      Lily on the porch roof on one of the cool afternoons early this week. She was checking out the downspout thoroughly to see if anybody might be in there, but looked up when I leaned out the window with the camera. I got a pound of rose quartz a while back and put it in the bedroom on either side of the pillow. She's discovered this and often takes a nap right next to it.

august 11

      Uniformly hot and sticky week until yesterday, a few low humidity days in progress now, the first since June, whew. Actually got a little bothered by the heat one day, took me a while to realize it since it hasn't happened this year so far, sort of a surprise since in theory it's been much hotter. But maybe it's all cumulative, even Lily has stopped going out so much in the heat of the day, it's been nice to have her hanging out in various cooler spots while I work. One bang-up thunderstorm that went on and on, those long slow sizzling hisses in the sky before a boom, went out for a walk late as it was ending, I love that kind of light. Waxing moon, a week with a lot of background tension somehow, nothing specific, possibly just the sense of being imprisoned in the heat with no end in sight that I associate with August. The eighth day of the eighth month is called the Lion's Gate in astrology, traditionally a time of increased communication between above and below. The Schumann Resonance has been going nuts off and on for about a week now, so I wonder if this tense feeling -- as though something is growing in spite of everything that is trying to stop it from growing -- might be due to that too. A few negative things happened via e-males from Vermont, notable in their way but historically pretty minor for August. People evolve in different ways over time, perhaps stay in touch too long. It helps to have realized that all forms of verbal abuse are autobiographical, and that turning emotional lead into gold is the foundation of soul growth. Also, that there is now closure, completion. Did my best to keep focused on the positive, this and the ever-therapeutic nature of the work seemed to help balance things again more quickly. Of course, once you transmute one event, they begin to get the next one ready. Have been doing lots of work the last month or so with the asteroids in astrology, these are relatively new and there are of course lots of them, but if they're limited to very close aspects to natal planets or angles they really begin to tell a much more detailed story. It's both fascinating and a kind of shocking in terms of the symbolic sense of completion that's there. But it makes sense if the universe is one infinite being exploring itself in an infinite variety of fractals. So, I'm involved in proving to myself at yet another level that the definition of reality I was brought up with is hopelessly shallow. The most fun imaginable, to be honest: infinity is the best revenge. The work had a good week in general, maybe more in terms of the growth of the colourscape process than in actually completing images. But putting too much stress on completion and not enough on growth is what stunted the process back in 2007, when I made and sold many of these. I'd love to make these at their former home scale, which was some variation of half a 22x30 sheet, but exploring lots of options at a small scale first really seems to be helping their specific gravity, some of them have more weight or clout this week in a way I really like. Still, the bigger size is more physically natural, so at some point -- like, when August is over -- it will just naturally start to happen again. I used to sort of fret over this kind of stuff: strategizing about what to do, making the best plans. But the present moment makes much better plans than I do: things work out much better when they get to assemble themselves their own way. Are the process and its materials sentient? Unfortunately for the Newtonian empiricist that lurks in most of us, it cannot really be any other way in an infinite universe. This approach is also much more interesting to experience, because it is always creating a surprise: the next step beyond what I thought was possible. Is the process then the teacher? What do you think?


      It's been too hot to make a cup of tea in the morning so I've gone to cold-brewed tea with the assorted lower caffeine oolong teas, mostly from Darjeeling, leftover from last year. This method reveals a lot of flavours that you can smell, but which are often muted, or even eliminated, by even lower temperature hot water brewing. So, the result is brighter tasting, more floral and dimensional, and sometimes surprisingly nice. The problem is that it takes three days to get it right. Well, only a problem because it means being organized when it's so hot there's not that much brain to be organized with.


      One thing I do periodically is deal with jars of hand-refined linseed oil that are getting too thick. I used to thick there was no such thing as too think, but I've realized that, especially with brighter colour in a humid climate, too much saturation can lower the tone of tone work a little over time. I've usually made this oil a little thinner and less likely to darken under stress with autoxidized poppy oil, or autoxidized walnut oil. The oil mix doesn't get too much thinner, but it stops thickening at such a strong rate because of the poppy or walnut oil. But right now autoxidized walnut and poppy oil are at something of a premium, so I tried cutting some thicker autoxidized linseed oil today with a heat polymerized oil, the thinner one from Kremer, which is the most non-yellowing oil named stand oil I have. The Graphic Chemical burnt plate oils #5 and #7 are also pretty non-yellowing, but made by a slightly different process. Anyway, mixed about 2 parts thick autoxidized hand-refined linseed oil with 1 part Kremer stand oil, the stand oil was about half as thick as the autoxidized oil. As I began to stir it, I got a surprise: it got thicker. Not a lot thicker, but some. I stirred it several times over a period of a few minutes because of the thickness of the oils, and the different way they were thickened: one with high heat in a vacuum, the other with light and air. Each time I started to stir it, it seized slightly, and, in the end, the little air bubbles in it were virtually motionless. The bubbles disappeared by the end of the afternoon, but the oil is still turbid, so something is going on in there. It will be interesting to monitor this oil over the next few months to see if it slowly becomes more gelatinous from the interaction of the two different types of thicker oil involved.


      Started with this one, more dynamic composition with curves and diagonals, a lot of punch or pizazz in the colour application. It's hard to believe I've had the same tube of phthalo green for fifteen years, but a little does go a long way. About 9.5x10.75 inches, oil on gessoed paper.


      Next went to something with quieter colour and the Golden Rectangle proportion. I like both the colour and the vastness of this and the layers are settling nicely in life, but it doesn't seem totally resolved. About 8.25x13.5 inches, oil on gessoed paper.


      Next made a blue and purple one. It feels like both the colour scheme and the composition have potential but the different types of geometry need to be more integrated, and I'd like the colour to have some higher values. So, something new to explore again in another one. About 9.5x10.75 inches, oil on gessoed paper.


      This one was fascinating to work on, the small scale of the marks made the scale seem vast, which was very peaceful to work on. But I ended up feeling it isn't quite resolved. Right now I like the right half better than the left half, or maybe the left third. Unlike the one above, I want to do more to this one first, rather than using it as a point of departure for a new one. But it feels like there's something here worth pursuing, especially as a model for one at a larger scale. About 9.5x10.75 inches, oil on gessoed paper.


      This was Friday, was a little at sixes and sevens about doing it or taking the day off. It was a little like a bucking bronco, a lot of energy but not a lot of control for quite some time. It featured a lot of goofy stripes and patterns but I got rid of most of them, a lot if wholesale removal in this one, not ideal because the colour isn't layered to the same extent, this makes it a little raw for me, but I ended up liking the overall look, and the idea of blending the more dramatic and pastoral elements of earlier in the week. About 9.5x10.75 inches, oil on gessoed paper.


      Lily waiting out a giant thunderstorm inside on Thursday afternoon. She spent more daylight time inside this week, was typically out from 3am to 11 am. We were both relieved when it cooled off on Saturday.

august 4

      Uniformly hot week: not that hot, and not that humid, but warm at night, meaning warmer in the house in the morning, AC on all the time, increased caffeine intake to remain functional. Have managed, but not succeeded in being grateful for, the humid heat, therefore it must build character. Week of the new moon, a lot of new wanted to happen in a quiet way, sort of a surprise with the moon in Leo, expected more of a roar. August is not traditionally the best month for me, I associate it with an almost terminal sense of lassitude and frustration from growing up here, the possibility of a more functional summer was a big attraction of Vermont. But, as the sovereign architect of my multiverse experience, I'm changing that. Now. Yes. So, this August is not being done to me, it's being done for me. Is this creative narcissism? Ha-ha, bring it! I'd love to define progress in terms of moving relentlessly forward, but unfortunately, experience has shown that, if it's going to be creative, it's also about pausing and reassessing things. August is really good for this. I need to work on appreciating this more; can accept being the tortoise, but will always long to be the hare. So, this week: steered clear of a few distractions on offer, and generated a little balanced growth in the process: about all I can ask for right now.


      I'd always wondered about methyl cellulose as a size, Gottsegen is actually positive about it, and especially since, from the smell, it seemed to be what Arches used to make their oil-proof paper, Huile. But it's funny, it was hard to get off the mark on this one, possibly because glue gesso has been such a friend for me, possibly because it would take so long to really learn about it. There are lots of different kinds of methyl cellulose, used by conservators as a glue. In the past I've used it to make tempera, a paint I love, and in very small amounts of seize a medium. Did a test this week, 5cc generic methyl cellulose from Talas in 100 ml water, it was a liquid gel. Put this on a scrap of Tiepolo, let it dry, put some oil on it, no seepage after 24 hours. Then made some gesso using methyl cellulose instead of glue, kept everything else the same. It's denser than glue, more apt to make impasto, needs to be brushed out well, but had a nice character that way once I got used to it. A little buckled once dry, but this disappeared after being weighted overnight. On the whole, a softer feeling, a lot less surface tension than glue, the pieces of Tiepolo have no tendency to curl. So, hard to say, may or may not do more with this, a lot of testing would be needed on canvas, for example, with an oil primer, but so far it seems to work well enough to keep going with it as an experiment on paper or panels.


      So, it turns out that, to get natron, you don't need to go to Egypt, you just need an ancient dry lake bed. Well, chemically, that may be a slight exaggeration, but there's lots of sodium sesquicarbonate, the major ingredient, in America. The mineral is generally called trona, after the small mining town near Death Valley in California where it was originally found. Photo is of the Trona Pinnacles. I was thinking I might be able to get a chunk of trona, when a search on Amazon actually turned up sodium sesquicarbonate, so I got some of that instead. Because it is salt-free, it may be less yellowing over time in oil than the mineral, which contains small amounts of salt. It's actually being marketed in England as Borax Substitute, since the EU has decided borax is toxic.


      This month's test panel is getting kind of lively. Various wax tests, then I realized -- duh, as usual -- that a medium formula could be tested additively, ingredient by ingredient, so did a few of those.


      Test of the sodium sesquicarbonate wax, it's not as dense and creamy as the soap-emulsified wax, but is more coherent, less fluffy, than wax emulsified with sodium carbonate alone.


      Started here this week, tiny test using a little of last week's fake natron wax in the medium. Slightly different palette, just wanted to play around, sometimes little can be big. About 4x5 inches, oil on Arches Huile.


      Second one this week, slightly softer version of the same palette, the medium made somewhat denser impasto. Felt it was a little staid, but decided to move on rather than get into major surgery. About 8x9 inches, oil on Arches Huile.


      Third one, same palette, more acceleration or tension in the composition. This one has a lot of zip in life, a nice balance of certainty and alteration, a peak in the type of progress produced naturally -- that is, slowly -- by the process. About 8x9 inches, oil on Arches Huile.


      Fourth one, decided to go to a Golden Rectangle. The colour layering evolved in this, but things got a little confused about the composition. Didn't look at the previous one, just thought about it, was surprised at how similar this one became. Also got a little confused about the scale here. Want to change something about the right hand third: for example, if the right hand pink area becomes light green that solves it. But, best to just let it sit for a while. Wanted to work with Arches Huile as a way of making things lighter, as in less serious, but, well-done as it is, it does not grip the paint for layering as thoroughly the glue gesso ground with some silica and that 200 grit marble dust. So may go back to that on Tiepolo. Like keeping the colour lyrical and organic. Am aware of other kinds of colour, but it seems like the colour decisions have to be more emotional than anything else. Am slowly getting a sense of what is important and what is extraneous within the composition, this has always been the weakest link, fun to see it responding bit by bit. About 8.25x13.5 inches, oil on Arches Huile.


      Lily has a group of friends in the neighborhood, people who walk by our house on their way home from the train, and enjoy her. I had a chat with one of them this week. He wanted to know if I thought Lily was part Bengal, and I said, Well, at first I thought so, and then I looked at lots of other tabby cat photos and began to think not. He thought that the marking on her forehead was a sure indication, but for me the surest one at this point is that she's got a big personality and a goofy sense of humor. This week she actually spent part of a couple nights inside. On the first of these, I woke up suddenly in the middle of night, thinking I had just had a dream that Lily was trying to wake me up. I was lying there, in that huh? what? daze, trying to sort out what had just happened, when she popped up by the side of the bed and whacked my hand again. I always get a big kick out of this, its somehow related to that bit in the old Captain Kangaroo show when Bunny Rabbit tricks the Captain out of a bunch of carrots once again and sweeps them victoriously off. Anyway, I had this sudden surge of elation: Lily's here! And, in this absurdly good mood, got up to feed her and let her out. Has she trained me well, or what? The neighborhood is very quiet, and sort of dream-like, at 3 am on a summer night.

july 28

      In progress...High summer, the giant hibiscus are out in the neighborhood, such a gloriously nutty flower. Another uniformly hot week, some cooler nights earlier, lower humidity in general, was able to turn off the AC for a few days, always a nice break. A lot of energy from the heat, but less focus in the third week of the moon, tried to just keep going with interesting but also familiar results. I like where the colourscapes are going overall but have to go slowly, let the process build bit by bit over time. August is around the corner, traditionally the month that requires the most patience, typically in an unexpected way. New moon late on the 31st, the last one packed quite a wallop. Lots of tension in the sky still between the new Feminine and the old Masculine, we'll see what assortment of spats and revelations this moon brings.


      Each week a lot seems to happen on this marble tile. I always mix the medium into the paint at 1 part medium to 4 parts paint. This ends up balancing relatively small proportions of certain ingredients. It starts with 1/2 teaspoon of a thicker fused damar and beeswax medium, then there's 1/8 teaspoon of egg yolk, these are standard, but the other ingredients move around a bit. There's a measuring spoon called a "pinch" that I'm using a lot now, this is 1/16 of a teaspoon, which works out to about 2 percent of the total paint film. Stronger ingredients like BPO#7 or hard resin varnish definitely need to be used at this proportion. This element of proportion is crucial in being able to fine tune a medium, but also in terms of using various ingredients successfully. Painters often want to be able to categorize ingredients as good or bad -- I run into this a lot reading threads on Facebook -- but for this to be relevant, there need to be qualifiers, and quantifiers, involved. The universe is designed so that, the more we pay attention to a given process, the more predictable and elegant our results can be. We tend to accept this only to an extent, and formulate rules about what works and what doesn't. We don't want to walk, this takes too long. We want to drive, this creates the illusion of greater progress, so we need a "road" to drive on. This compresses time, (whereas walking expands it), thus making us think there is less time. This creates more of a sense of urgency, making it that much harder to pay attention. The endless loop of devolution called "America." In larger terms, since the process is infinite, any set of rules can only work to an extent. Beyond that, the rules bind the process, meaning the process either dies, or rebels until we pay attention to it at another level. We have free will, and can attempt to define life in an empirically predictable and simplistic way, but what life actually does is change and grow infinitely. This process of growth, of becoming more, is literally built into every particle of the universe. It cannot be stopped by any human agency. There are of course people who remain involved in using money and power to try to thwart growth. Yet, this involves working against the agenda of their own molecules.


      Tried the paper sandwich again this week with a glue based on methyl cellulose, with about 7% PVA added by volume. This was a little easier to work with than the starch base and seems to have worked out the best so far in terms of laying flat. There's sort of a Zen thing to getting *just* the right amount of glue on. Sometimes I get it, but then I think I've got it and lose it. But it's easy to add a little more, usually to the bottom edge. Also, it's crucial to burnish both sides of the paper!


      My friend Roland sent me an interesting abstract of a book that's about to be published. It's an analysis of the Donna Nuda at the Hermitage. There's a series of these nudes, in theory based on a lost Leonardo drawing. The weird thing about this is that, even the Hermitage says this painting is "school of Leonardo." Whatever that means: museum code for scholars made such a stink we had to change the attribution even though we didn't want to. To me it doesn't even look like it was made in the same century or country. But the authors of the book are very clear that they are the first scholars to have actually analyzed a Leonardo. Zowie! I guess after Salvator Mundi, everything is now a Leonardo. Quick, how can we capitalize?


      Roland also sent me an interesting doctoral dissertation this week that deals with the use of saponified wax in various Roman wall paintings. The version I've used in the past is emulsified with a very small amount of handmade soap, I thought it was *the* old Roman wall painting version, as opposed to the ammonium carbonate Greek medieval version, but this paper focuses on a third method. The soap method has worked very well in small amounts to tighten the paint and make it more thixotropic. On its own, or with a water-based binder, this material is very non-yellowing, and medium tests with this type of ewax added have also all yellowed less than tests without. The new versions were made with sodium carbonate, and a mixture of sodium carbonate, sodium bicarbonate, and salt that approximates the composition of natron. Natron is a complex salt from Egypt that was used both for enbalming and to saponify beeswax. The fake natron version is a little finer, and neither of these are dense, creamy, and fudgey like the soap version ewax. On the surface, the soap ewax is a more congenial material, the newer ewax variations aren't as seizing or thixotropic but I made a very nice mobile emulsion using one of them with a little BPO, hide glue, and chalk. I made some simple yellowing tests with the new versions, but will have to work them into a medium and a painting test at some point to begin to understand what they do. So, maybe this approach is not better or worse, but different. The key will be whether small amounts produce a film that is as resistant to yellowing as the soap version.


      The Wadi El Natron outside the Nile Delta in Egypt. Yikes.


      Medium test using the fake natron ewax. This was 4 parts BPO #5, 8 parts chalk or marble dust, 1 part beeswax paste (wax in minimal oms), 1 part natron wax, and 1 drop of Manila copal in oil of rosemary for 2.5 ml of medium (1/2 teaspoon). The natron wax arrests the slide of the beeswax, but the thixotropy comes from the very small amount of Manila copal. Used at 1 part medium to 4 parts paint, this is about 4% wax. (For the math, I cut the parts of chalk or marble dust in half because they contain so much air.) If the natron wax is as non-yellowing as the original soap emulsified wax, this might be very nice as a way to alter the strong glide and leveling behavior of the readily available heat polymerized oils like stand oil and BPO.


      Wanted to make something a little larger, this proved to be a much easier scale to navigate. Had fun with this one, people tend to think of red, yellow, and blue as "basic" but it all depends on how you approach it A different type of chromatic detail than the last few weeks, but am not sure it's done. Something might need to change on the right. About 13.5x15 inches, oil on Arches Huile.


      It's been a long time since I was waylaid by a premixed colour. This is Persian Rose, by Williamsburg. It has a warm and cool red, a yellow, and titanium white. I thought, Oh no, titanium white. Then I thought, Stop being so serious, it's just one colour: what could go wrong?


      Well, a lot. Got a later start with this one on Thursday, and didn't feel the composition that strongly. Not the best sign, but I just decided to move on through it, not be stopped. Had a great deal of fun with the colour that day, but in the end the composition was still up in the air. Did more on it Friday, a lot of surgery, full removal, then new colour. This was also fun, never say die, a new level of rescue operation, but everything began to get opaque and sort of chalky, the dreaded look I associate with more than a small amount of titanium white. The last thing I did was begin to open it up again, carving into edges and removing many small divots of paint in patterns. This actually came pretty close to getting it going in a good direction again. If you cover up the upper right hand corner, the rest of it makes kind of wacky sense. So, a good example of what happens when I try something new during a waning moon, and also of what happens when an opaque boutique colour takes over: will experiment with a transparent version of Persian Rose and see how that works out. Not that much paint on this, all things considered, but I'll wait a month or so before doing more to it. In larger terms the most important thing right now is to keep pushing the boundaries, accrue more grammar and vocabulary. 9.5x10.75 inches, oil on gessoed paper.


      Lily comes in later in the afternoon and has a snack. Sometimes in the heat I also give her some plain non-fat yogurt, she lets me know if she wants this by taking up a specific position in the kitchen. She only eats it from my fingers, it's how the process started and she likes traditions. I have to admit that the raspy feeling of her tongue on my fingertips is always very fun, another way in which, without words, communication occurs. She likes to spend time in the studio if it gets really hot out and I'm in there, she's surprisingly good about leaving paint related things alone but I wanted to make a place that was sequestered and easily cleanable. The window is a favorite spot so I made her a new official place there with a clean towel and some quartz crystals. It was really nice there earlier in the week with the window open and a breeze. There are ways in which she goes out of here way to take care of me, so it makes sense to do what I can for her in return. I used to wonder why people "spoiled" their pets, but not anymore!

The Navajo-Hopi Prophecy of the Whirling Rainbow

      "There will come a day when people of all races, colors, and creeds will put aside their differences. They will come together in love, joining hands in unification, to heal the Earth and all Her children. They will move over the Earth like a great Whirling Rainbow, bringing peace, understanding and healing everywhere they go. Many creatures thought to be extinct or mythical will resurface at this time; the great trees that perished will return almost overnight. All living things will flourish, drawing sustenance from the breast of our Mother, the Earth.

      The great spiritual Teachers who walked the Earth and taught the basics of the truths of the Whirling Rainbow Prophecy will return and walk amongst us once more, sharing their power and understanding with all. We will learn how to see and hear in a sacred manner. Men and women will be equals in the way Creator intended them to be; all children will be safe anywhere they want to go. Elders will be respected and valued for their contributions to life. Their wisdom will be sought out. The whole Human race will be called The People and there will be no more war, sickness or hunger forever."

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