Tad Spurgeon oil paintings


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      A Sunday look at process and product.

january 26

      Slowly back to warmer this week, then a truly gross day of cold rain yesterday. Last week of the moon, new moon later on Friday. A sixes and sevens type of week in many ways, a new year, a new moon, my birthday in the week to come, there's a lot that wants to happen, but it also feels held back, like this is the time to plan, get organized, develop a clear overview for the coming campaign. Continued with the tree gum experiments in the medium, and made one painting I liked, definitely a rarity for this phase of the moon. Not sure what wants to happen with the new moon yet, but all kinds of small new things are occurring, fascinating to observe this process. By next Sunday they will have coalesced into this moon's message.


      Big week for the Schumann Resonance. After a few days in a row of the intermittent stripes, it went constant on the 23rd and 24th. Why, it's almost as if it's trying to communicate with us! I stay away from mainstream media, but even from a distance can see it has embarked on an unprecedented multi-front distraction overload program. My advice would be to ignore all forms of media-induced fear. What is real in the story, and what is not? Who is watching the watchmen? To learn from this situation, look at the story that is being buried, not the one that is suddenly focal. In larger terms, what, in 2020, will we learn to see for the first time as a collective? What has been there all along, hidden in plain sight, that we haven't been willing to acknowledge, but will learn to in the year to come?


      Usually if I make a lead white, I make it on the loose side, because it's going to tighten in the tube relatively quickly. But with this tube I really wanted something tight that would have more covering power, an old style lead white. So made it with preheated walnut oil to get as much pigment in as possible and also have more time before it thickened than I'd get with linseed oil. Well, this was in the summer, so it still thickened pretty quickly, which was actually good for a while. But, visiting it again recently, it seemed like it was now or never in terms of retubing it. This isn't hard of course, you just have to be in the right mood.


      For me it's been good to have two type of putty in tubes, one that is saturating, for finishing, and one that is leaner, for underpainting. These two can of course be blended. It was time to make a new tube of the leaner putty. This has some fumed silica in it, so I wear a serious particle mask to do this. Not that much of a production, a big tube lasts several months.


      I can remember reading somewhere that the behavior of all the gums from Prunus species is the same, but wanted to make sure, since sometimes (okay, often; okay okay, always) this type of remark turns out to be too simplistic. So, got some almond gum and peach gum from Amazon. The almond gum is from India, and is used like gum tragacanth as a refrigerant for the summer heat. The peach gum is from China, and is used in a variety of ways, both for summer desserts and as part of a traditional anti-aging facial regimen. The behavior of these two gums is very different. The almond gum dissolved into a syrup with less tack or pull than the cherry gum, but with the same effect of tightening the set of the paint dramatically. The peach gum I haven't used yet, I keep adding water to it and it keeps swelling, but it also remains kind of integral, almost fibrous, won't mash cleanly. May need to boil it to get it to break down a little more. It feels like it will also contribute to a strong set. But, we'll see.


      First one, did this before the almond and peach gum arrived with a mixture of starch and gum tragacanth. This mix was 3 starch to 1 tragacanth, and holds the same position in the system: 12.5 percent of the medium, 2.5% of the paint film. Well, you could say this is obsessive, or you could say this is the way the universe works. Either way, it's the only way to understand what's going on. The starch-tragacanth mix had a nice balance of grab and glide, with some elastic density that gave it more life or even comedy. I'm fascinated by comedy in painting, it seems so necessary, yet in art history is mostly conspicuous by its absence. Had a good feeling about this one from the beginning. Possibly because it was always interesting, but never right as a composition until the very end. Was not filling in the blanks of a set of lines that worked, but always looking for what would work. This is of course more hairy, it might never work, but at this scale it seems to be more what wants to happen now. Different colours, more seasonal in a way, yellow did not want to be more than marginally part of this. It's interesting how references to things that are 'real' sometimes crop up, there's something I see here, but I like it so it's okay. So, ha-ha, maybe each one has to be absolutely new, this rivets the process in the present moment, where more can always happen. This would also save me a lot of bother trying to make plans that never work anyway. About 9.5 x 11 inches. oil on gessoed paper.


      Second one this week, did this using the almond gum in the medium. Like the cherry gum, this created a situation where the set was really strong and fast. At 2.5% of the paint film, this is a pretty interesting reaction. In some ways I'd like to be able to capitalize on the uniqueness of this, but in other ways it tends to make the geometry more static, less organic, simply because each layer moves so little once it's applied. A little frustrating, I'm reluctant to leave something unfinished, but thought that might be best in this case: very end of the moon, a new medium, I liked what happened but didn't have the oomph or awareness to keep changing it beyond a certain point. So, this will be an interesting experiment, to see if it's possible to get back into one of these after the first round of paint has dried. About 9.5 x 11 inches. oil on gessoed paper.


      Detail of the lower left corner. The set of the paint in successive layers was so strong that it carved back to the white of the ground. I'm interested in seeing if I can create some of this effect, but not all of it, by the choice and balance of the gum ingredients in the medium. This sort of happened in the first one this week, but in a way that was too mobile. I don't mean this critically, it's just interesting to explore what can happen in terms of balancing the behavior of opposites. In this case, too tight, and too loose. I love the way working with the paint redefines what the opposites are. Up until this week, I didn't know about this version of too loose and too tight.


      I'm always interested in things that are simpler, sometimes part of a painting can become a point of departure for something new.



january 19

      Third week of the moon, more unseasonal warmth at first but now into a brief colder spell with a little snow yesterday. Felt like something was going to happen in the work this week, and it did, a little rocky, a little lumpy, but happy to be working again. I can think about it, make drawings, but the only thing that really matters is what wants to come out in terms of the colours and forms. What wants to be said, where the language wants to go. Things are looking different than they did in 2019, a good reminder that the system evolves whether I obsess about it daily or not.


      The year 2020 seems to be about seeing more clearly, and this is about looking more closely at what's really there. The big letters are easier to see, they may even be the only letters we're supposed to notice. But there are other letters on the chart, and these tend to tell a more complete story about what's actually going on. Where is our attention being directed? What is this designed to distract us from? What, in an infinite universe, is being marginalized, framed as too far-fetched to be possible or true? Once we realize where we're not supposed to look, it always turns out it's because there's so much there to find.


      As the plucky planet moves deeper and deeper into the photon belt, experiencing unprecedented amounts of extremely high frequency energy on a daily basis.


      Well, you never know. This started out as a monochrome compositional study for a painting using a putty made with cherry gum, see below. But the putty did such different things, I just followed it around, and it kind of turned into a print. A little chaotic but fun to explore, additive and subtractive, no limitations. Much more could be done with this technique, but probably not by me. Detail, about 11x14 inches, oil on Arches Huile.


      The cherry gum is on the left. When this is added to the medium, there's a tremendously enhanced set. It's like using hide glue, only more. Then I got some gum tragacanth, that's on the right. Decided to get something real, as opposed to a powder, I've sort of come to suspect powders, too easy to twiddle the dials with what's actually in them. Tragacanth swells and absorbs water but is slippery, not tight or gluey like cherry gum. Okay, very different behavior, but how different would it be in the medium? It did in fact have the opposite effect of cherry gum, making the paint flow more. This is unique since the other water-soluble additions - starch, methyl cellulose, hide glue - all make the paint tighter in one way or another. There are lots of different subsets of these gums. With cherry gum, all the Prunus species can be used: peach, almond, plum, et al. They're not going to be exactly the same, maybe, but they're going to be similar. With tragacanth, they all come from a variety of Astragalus in theory, the word comes from one of the original types used, but there's another species that gets used as well. The terminology of this area is really vague, a lot of acacias get called gum arabic, a lot of astragalus species get called tragacanth, a lot of prunus species get called cherry gum. So, this is like trying to find out what tree damar or copal resin comes from. It isn't just one tree, it's a set of trees that produce similar resins.


      A simple chalk and oil putty with an addition of cherry gum, this was the putty used for the monochrome study above. It seized more than I thought it would, had to add more oil twice to get it mobile again. Even so, the paint had an incredible set.


      First one, from Thursday, always nice to make a painting again after a pause. Started this with a simpler set of lines, ended up liking both the colour and the composition of this in terms of beginning something new compared to last year. The putty with cherry gum set relatively quickly so that each area could be layered several times. This was sort of a double edged sword because of how quickly the paint set, but I enjoyed the way this one continued, and also altered, what led up to it. About 9.5 x 11 inches. oil on gessoed paper.


      Second one, day one. Sometimes I take reference photos of things in progress, the idea being to see what worked and what didn't in terms of the changes. I wanted to keep the odd dark red and green triangle, it wasn't integrated but it felt like integrating it would be better than eliminating it. Wanted to use more white but had to bring some areas back down in value.


      Next day on the second one. This one had gum tragacanth in the medium instead of cherry gum, and this paint did not set very much at all. This meant that some relatively fine changes could be made to the colours, but that there wasn't as much native oomph in the execution. I guess I like the concept of first one a little better, the simplicity, the way the shapes acknowledge but subvert the grid. At the same time it seems like everything that happens is part of the continuum of the process, it all goes into what happens next. During 2019 the water-soluble binder I used in the medium was methyl cellulose. There was nothing wrong with this paint. In fact, over the year it became the brightest and most personally functional paint ever. I guess my issue was that I couldn't make methyl cellulose, meaning I really didn't know that much about it. It's mostly cellulose, from plants, but modified, made by companies like Dow. And then of course that cherry tree right in front of where I park at the post office just happened to have a lot of fresh gum on it. No angels on either side pointing to it, but it still didn't seem like a coincidence. So, changed that one ingredient in the medium, about 2.5 % of the total paint film, and a whole new level of possibilities emerged for the paint. This is the type of thing about the process that I like. Had to wait a while the last few months, but lots to learn from what began to happen this week. About 9.5 x 11 inches. oil on gessoed paper.

january 12

      A nutty weather week, some truer cold, then warm rain, now today is supposed to be 65 and sunny. Good grief. Week of the full moon, an intense day but not a bad one. Each time I have to pass through a particular gate, and leave part of the old me behind. This has been going on for a few years now, so it's not a surprise, and each time I end up feeling a little lighter. When I came back to Philadelphia in 2014, a kind of Pandora's Box opened, there were a lot of challenging experiences, one after the other for years. Bit by bit it became obvious that it was about facing everything I was afraid of, which made it easier. By 2018 this had calmed down, the challenges were all about unresolved material from the past. In 2019, these began to get smaller, or less frequent. There was one issue I finally asked for help with, too much had happened over too long, could not get it to calm down. But that did finally take care of it. I mean, when it's finally gone, you know it. It reminds me of that part near the end of the wizard of Oz, when Glinda tells Dorothy that the ruby slippers would have taken her home all along by clicking her heels, but she had to learn some things before that could happen. All of this makes for a lighter feeling, maybe Lily's periodic happiness attacks are catching. In the sky, Saturn is in the process of conjuncting Pluto. By tomorrow night, it will be briefly conjunct the Sun, both slightly ahead of Pluto, and beginning a new thirty year cycle. Uranus just became prograde again, and over the next four months, there are no retrograde planets at all. What does this mean? Well, if you feel you've had enough adventures in Oz, it may get a lot easier to start back home. You won't hear about this opportunity on network news, of course, where Oz is reality, and home is a foolish illusion. But if you're done with the illusion factory of consensus culture, and you're ready to make your own reality, there's a lot of support available for that now as this plucky planet hurtles deeper and deeper into the photon belt. Funny, you never hear about that on the news either.


      I forget about Japanese sweet potatoes, then remember them again. They're all pretty big now, but they keep really well in the fridge once cut in half. This is half of one, cut into small cubes and steamed. I like that because it's pretty quick, but I still have time to set up everything else. I tossed them with a little good olive oil, a little chopped up shallot, some chopped walnuts, a few chopped fresh sage leaves, a little pepper, and some grated Romano cheese. The interaction of the savory and sweet elements was intense, but good. Maybe less shallot next time, or a little chopped scallion instead.


      Wanted to get complete with the water-soluble ingredients that were used to make oil phase emulsions in older paintings, there's one left that I don't know much about. Years ago I got some cherry gum from Kremer, but it was so old that it was difficult to reconstitute it. Recently I got some from the tree outside the post office that was fresher. Chopped up a little of it, pretty tough at first but it became soft overnight in distilled water. It was really full of bark, tried putting it through a piece of fine scrim, but a lot of little pieces still came through. To actually work with this, it would have to be made more liquid first, so it could just be poured into a strainer with fine scrim or cheesecloth in it, then let it thicken again. Made a test putty with preheated walnut oil and chalk, added about 8% cherry gum, maybe a little less, but that amount seized it to thoroughly to use, so maybe 4% would be okay. Wanted to see if the colour made any difference, it's slight. Now will see if it yellows, this will take a while, have not read anything about this either way, it may be that the small amounts used make it moot. Things like egg white, starch and hide glue seem easier to work with, but cherry gum -- the gum from any fruit tree works -- wouldn't be bad once it had been cleaned, dried, and powdered.


      Something older that I've always liked, I think this is from 2006, picture from yesterday. Most of that year's work sold, it was a unique year, a lot of this kind of work sold right out of the studio, all year long. But some of the more retiring ones stayed with me. Did a lot with this palette that year, three colours and white, using green instead of blue. Could go on and on, ha-ha, but won't, this one just has something I've always been interested in. Which is rare at this remove, usually something this old has been diminished somehow. Of course, it's in the eye of the beholder. So, anyway, back in December I made a very bright painting, but didn't really like the composition. It began to feel like working with harder edges and more conscious geometry had somehow reached a limit. Good things had happened over the summer, but that painting was not one of them. Many factors, certainly summer versus winter. I mean, you could add white sand to one pile, and black sand to the other pile, forever, considering everything, but these decisions always come down to how it feels. So I did a set of small drawings, to see what might be in the older approach at this point, since the painting pictured here had intrigued me for so long. 13.5x15 inches, oil on gessoed paper.


      Then decided to make a larger drawing. My goal is to move the size back up to half sheet again, above, from the smaller quarter sheet of last year, so it seemed best to explore what would happen at that scale again as well. This was done on a paper with a fine pebble texture, possibly an error. Worked on this a little bit each day over three days, had issues getting the black pastel to do anything I liked, and don't feel it's done, but I did learn something. I like the way the geometry began to get more organic and unpredictable, but there's lots more development to go there. At this point it feels like it's way too balanced, and that there's too much going on. Also, I think that with this system I just want to work in strong shapes and values, which is not how the paintings have worked, or what this particular paper wants to do. In other words, the system of this one seems headed somewhere different, which has its own interest, but feels sort of tangential in relation to a preparatory drawing. Right now it feels like the next step might be to do a monochrome study in oil at this scale. Did many of these in a semi-realistic way over the years, see image below from 2015. This approach might provide a way to explore value and composition that was closer to the final feeling I'd like to see. 13.5x15 inches, pastel on paper.


      Lily has been hanging out by this window in the studio recently, she likes to have her own official spot with a radiator right underneath. This has solved the "How can I miss you if you won't go away?" issue we sometimes run into in the winter. I cleaned it up for her, and its been expanding bit by bit, but it seems big enough now. It got colder for part of this week so I insulated the window more, it's fun to do this kind of thing for her. She likes it if I come visit her there, like it makes it more fair, instead of her always coming to me. She has a strong sense of politeness, she's always slowing things down, suggesting these little developments to how we interact. I try to be aware of this, although it's often inconvenient by design, there's always a reason, and I don't want her to feel I'm incapable of understanding, the sense I developed early on about the larger beings who were nominally in charge. When I visit I rub the spot between her eyes gently, this releases endorphins in her kitty brain. And then it's time to start grabbing my hand between her paws, no claws when she's sleepy. I pull my hand away, then let her grab it again. This is very fun, like talking, only with a hand and paws.

january 5

      Ah, a New Year. I'm happy to see 2019 go somehow, 2020 is already showing a more direct or feisty personality. Some people, of course, are trying to take advantage of this, but it's a two way street, meaning what goes around comes around, only more quickly. New moon and an eclipse, all I tend to feel from this type of event is that human life is way bigger than we're allowed to believe it is here in America. But I have a feeling this is about to change, see below. A lot of rain this week, and still on the warm side, Lily got to go out a significant amount and this translated into a more mellow kitty in the middle of the night. I'd love to know more about the cat personality and evolution process. I mean, a book like Journey of Souls by Micheal Newton gives a great overview of the human process, but what about cats? I want to know how Lily got to be so spunky. I know she was a mountain lion before, she sent me this image when she first arrived, and confirmed it through the animal communicator I worked with when she cut her tongue. And she certainly loves to jump across any chasm she can find. Does this experience have a bearing? Where do other cats come from, are there several tracks from wild cats to domestic cats? Is this how cats acquire their intense moral authority? Or is it because they are not materialists, do not lie, cheat, or steal? Questions proliferate. A peaceful week overall, seem to be done processing leftover experience from the past, at least for now. This has been such a feature of the last decade,can't believe it might be over. A lot of information is coming to me about water that is new science, kind of picking up where the Masuru Emoto stuff leaves off, using this information more actively. I can't seem to process it right now, but it could also be that it hasn't finished arriving. This year is going to be about water somehow, I feel that but don't know how it will manifest yet. Began to make drawings again, went back to the original simplified geometric armature of over a decade ago, wondering if the issue to address from this last round of work is too much specificity, too soon. I got involved in certainty later in the process in 2019, even in the drawings, but the pendulum wants to swing the other way again. How to build in more options for developing the image in stages. So, will explore a new way of making the drawings first.


      I did one of those personality type tests long ago, and I'm pretty solidly the Researcher. Big surprise! One thing about the internet is that, with a little perspicuity, you can find out a lot about the various things that have been, um, swept under the cultural carpet. So, for some time now, I've been waiting for several things to come to light, to be collectively accepted instead of marginalized with a sigh of relief. This feeling of something being carefully hidden from view began a long time ago, so I've been experiencing it most of my life as a kind of background anxiety, a sense that something is fundamentally wrong. Like, I'm trying not to live a lie, but I'm living in a lie, and at what point does that amount to the same thing? In the last few years this feeling has both increased on the one hand, as there seems to be so much under the carpet that the carpet really can't conceal it very well anymore, and decreased on the other, because I've realized that this particular frame of reference doesn't matter that much, that I can distance myself effectively from the lie, and don't pay that much attention to its endless machinations anymore. In an infinite universe, we all have an umbilical cord home, and are each, at least potentially, our own frame of reference. So, I'm comfortable with that, the innerverse goes on and on, and teaches me more all the time. Regarding the outerverse, well, that carpet is getting pretty lumpy, isn't it? It feels like 2020 is going to be a year when what's under the carpet is going to emerge more, and even, belatedly, begin to take center stage. There will be the usual attempted distractions, the big one of course being the threat of an inevitable war, a war that must be fought to save democracy, the weapon of last resort for the old way. Of course, those who destroy the village in order to save it have a habit of attracting the same thing, and that too will be on display. Overall, a long-overdue process of disclosure will begin. Americans are going to be given an opportunity to see their culture more clearly through events that expose its hidden mechanisms, the same way Toto pulled back the curtain and exposed the Wizard as a lost vaudevillian. What begins to happen will actually be substantive change, the materialist blinders coming off, the introduction of a larger frame of reference for human life on earth. This is going to be polarizing. It will seem amazing and miraculous to some people, and like the sky is falling daily to other people. But it will simply be reality beginning to take the place of illusion. There has been so much illusion in place, and for so long, that this process has to go slowly, but the mechanism of the illusion -- being able to keep things in the dark, starting fires and calling it climate change, telling half the truth to promote a lie, trapping people on the surface of life with semi-poisoned food, air, water, and airwaves containing a smorgasbord of pseudo-cultural distractions -- is going to get harder and harder to implement effectively in the next few years. Onward and onward, deeper into the photon belt hurtled the plucky planet and its reluctant cargo of humans, destined to grow up whether they like it or not.


      Mostly I've been having Japanese green tea in the morning lately, but I came across a wild black tea from Yunnan and couldn't resist it. It's similar to a high quality Keemun, deep and soft, a little smokey from the drying process, somehow kind of ancient, Yoda-ish. Huge leaves, very gentle, with a definite lychee flavour in the background, the Yunnan version of the muscatel flavour in a Darjeeling. One of my favourites as a kid was the lychee black tea in Chinatown, insanely cheap even then, came in a brightly coloured box, so it's fun to know that the inspiration to add lychee came from the tea itself. This is called Dehong Purple, from Stoneleaf Teahouse.


      People are most often interested in new materials, as in, what can I add that will transform the paint into something magical? Proportion, in contrast, gets sort of marginalized. It doesn't have the basic sizzle of eye of newt. Eye of newt! Aren't YOU daring! Well, I did a lot with eye of newt long ago, many different versions of it, and it never solved really anything. This is not to say that YOU won't come across an eye of newt variety that I missed, and leap into stardom overnight, mua-ha-ha. But if, gentle reader, your technical awareness of the materials makes the fulminating alembic gently amusing, I would like to introduce you to my great friend, proportion, and how it operates in a system.
      Late last Spring, and into the Fall, I made a series of small bright paintings, the continuation,with a large rest, of a style from 2006 and 2007. This series was all made with a type of putty medium that was designed to be saturating, and dry with a gloss. But the system was on an absorbent ground, and also used a related, but much less saturated, couch put on very thinly at first. So, this moderated saturation and gloss to some extent. And, over time, I began to make the medium more lean in some pretty small increments. This process diminished gloss, but increased brightness. So, the proportions of the ingredients in the medium became focal to how the paint looked, but also to how the entire system most naturally operated. Let's look at three examples, from early, middle, and late in the process.


      This one was made in July,and was relatively saturated, drying with a gloss. For most of the fall I felt like it had darkened somewhat. I put it in the light, and that helped a little, but there was still a hint of dinge. The interesting thing is that it's been in a pretty low humidity climate now for three months, and, though some of the overpaint has definitely dried with less intensity, I don't really see the dinge anymore right now. But that doesn't mean it won't come back during the summer! At first I felt that this one was too simple, but now I like that quality, there's something playful and serene happening at once.


      This one is from late September, almost exactly two months later. So, this one escaped exposure to too much humidity over the summer, but it was also made with a somewhat leaner medium, and has not dried down. It was a little more vivid when the paint was wet, but not much. The paint is still saturated, but there's not that much overt gloss to it. I've always liked this one, but would like to do a version of it that is somehow simpler.


      This is the one from early December where I made the medium a little leaner still. I don't like what happened with the painting itself, to an extent these need to have an element of filling in the blanks, but this one had too much specificity, too soon, it became locked and never transformed. But the colour has dried in a way that is really bright for an oil painting. Maybe too bright, but that is also be a function of the colours themselves,they didn't get particularly refined. So I want to try something next that's in the middle between the look of this one, and the look of the one above. Just talking about the way the paint looks here, not the actual colours or the composition. Who knows what wants to happen there.

december 29

      Very mild week with lots of sun. Week of the new moon, a relatively quiet one so far. The week between Christmas and the new year is always kind of quiet, a pause before things begin again. Last week I started work on a book I've wanted to write for a while, a version of Living Craft that is less specialized, more of a mass market book that could go on Amazon. But this turned out to be kind of a cosmic trick. What I was really supposed to do was learn to edit the existing book more thoroughly. The more I care about a section, really want to explain something clearly, the more it seems to become ornate over time. Maybe this comes from teaching, where it worked to learn to say the same thing several different ways for different students. But the book needs to be a road that the reader wants to travel on because it's so smooth and effortless. So, while I've continued to add new information all year for another edition, probably in 2021 at this point, I'm back into the book on a more basic level now, working to say complex things as simply as possible. This is interesting up to a point, I can do it between two and four hours a day. Sometimes I get lucky and just see what the issue is for a given paragraph: cut this and this, move this here, change the verb tense, remove another pesky adverb, done. And this is fun, four or five strong and clear sentences in a row have a lot of oomph. But sometimes there's a snag, in spite of editing, it still feels unfocused. In that case I move on, but put the text in red so I'll know to come back. This approach works the same way that leaving a painting for a while refreshes how it looks. Still no painting for now, logical given the time of year but still a little bit trying. There's always room to develop more patience. Every now and then I get an inkling. Something is gestating, opposites are interacting, but it's very slow. I wonder if things might begin again in February, after my birthday at the end of January, a personal new beginning.


      I keep coming back to infinity defining unity. That an infinite universe has to be one being. Which means that it's all a fractal, right down to the particles themselves. And that humanity is one being. This means that humanity is also one thought, and that what we experience in the physical is a direct result of our thoughts. This means that the only difference between what is "real," and what is "imaginary," is that the real has manifested, but that the imaginary has not manifested yet. And you may have noticed that, personally, it's getting easier and easier to manifest things. Maybe not arbitrary things, or materialist things, but meaningful things, definitely. Collectively, as more people become focused on wanting the imaginary to manifest, the more likely it is to become real. The limits to this are simply what people consider reasonable to hope for. So, if you want to control a species with infinite creative potential, the first thing you do is limit what they are willing to imagine. You marginalize magic, and replace it with getting and spending. Conversely, if you want to free a species so that it can fulfill its creative potential, you demonstrate that there are no limits on hope, no limits to what the collective imagination can achieve in terms of creating a new reality.


      I tried a couple different kinds of sprouted oats, both whole oats and oatmeal. They were interesting but it felt like the oats had been processed. Which they had! What do I mean? I keep looking for simpler food, it feels like this is closest to what my body was designed to expect. Anyway, pursuing the oat angle, got some whole oat groats at the co-op, soaked them, drained them, was going to sprout them but it takes three days. I liked how they smelled the morning after the first night in the fridge, really fragrant, so chopped them up, easy when they're soft, and made oatmeal with them. It's really good. And it doesn't feel processed, possibly because the oats were integral up until about five minutes of being cooked. Next I made some skillet crackers with them, grinding them up more this time in a spice grinder, and adding a little unrefined coconut oil, a little water, and a little salt. Cooked them both sides on the skillet on pretty low heat for a long time, the outside got nice and crunchy, very lightly browned, the unrefined coconut oil really has a nice coconut flavour. Was going to take a picture of them but started eating them and they disappeared...





december 22

      More seasonal, a little snow that turned to rain, then some bright and brisk days. Not as many people out walking in the afternoon now, turned a corner today and saw a Cooper's hawk sitting on top of a boxwood hedge checking out the Christmas lights with it's giant talons. Waning moon, a quiet week, one where taking care of the basics felt like enough. The basics are more interesting than I think they are. Solstice yesterday just around midnight, all this materialist holiday mayhem of course started as a way to co-opt the 'pagan' observation of cosmic geometry. That geometry is still there, the actual clock that turns from right to left, not from left to right. The sacredness of the universe can't be changed, it can only be obscured. That situation is becoming more transparent for people who are interested, not fast enough as usual, but a culture addicted to unreality can only be unbenighted so quickly. A reminder to be patient, patient, patient. The least robotic holiday run-up ever so far, sort of proud of that, but there's still plenty of holiday stress around once I get in the car and do errands. Still, things at the post office have been really polite compared to a few years ago. Had a grandfather in Sweden order the book for his granddaughter, this seemed like a really likely candidate for no good deed going unpunished, but it got there in one piece. Are things actually lightening up? Was given a new project this week. Too early to talk about it, but it arrived a few days ago, out of the blue. Not a new idea, an idea I've tried to execute a few times, but to no avail. Until, apparently, now. Another instance of it's easy when the time is right. Made another request to have more coherent and interesting dreams, enough of this jumbled mainstream juvenalia, and this one was actually responded to, a very different tone right away that has been consistent so far for several nights in a row. I'm learning to ask. But it wasn't built-in, I was taught to be tough and independent, ironically by someone who was actually neither. So I tend to just put up with stuff. There's a sense that, if it's happening, it needs to happen for a reason that I probably don't know about. Maybe this means I work with it more now, instead of just resisting it. But it could be that I just need to ask to get it to change. To be aware that enough is enough, and say so. But who defines enough? The soul, to whom the comfort of the ego means nothing at all. What can be changed through awareness and what can't is tricky, but I'll take more awareness anyway. Still free, plenty of it lying around that other people are getting rid of. Painting was still on vacation this week, no surprise with the waning moon, but I did end up feeling somehow like I could make things that were much better. When that work happened over the summer and fall it was so much fun, and seemed so impossibly amazing. But I could suddenly see the limitations of what I'd done, or maybe of who I was when I did it, which is I guess the precursor to what happens next. It seems to be about a pendulum moving back and forth, between one set of opposites or another, and slowly coming to the center. If it started out in the center, and stayed in the center, this wouldn't create the same awareness. Its final presence in the center is informed by the extent of its journey.


      I got some tiger nuts, I'd had these years ago and wanted to try them again. They're small tubers, native to North Africa, brought to Spain by the Arabs, one of humanity's older foods apparently. Sort of sweet in the manner of chestnuts or toasted coconut. Resistant starch, and all kinds of other nutritional benefits, I was mostly interested in a snack that would be filling, full of fiber, and not a grain. These turned out to be firmer than the ones I'd had before. It looks like the tiger nut industry has moved away from trying to offer fresher soft and chewy ones, at least for the time being, which is too bad because these are pretty spectacular. So, these can still be eaten whole, but this is not exactly for the delicately nurtured. I learned to crunch them open one at a time, on their sides is easier than from top to bottom. I really like the taste, and when people review them on Amazon they often talk about how quietly addictive they are. They'd be great to take on a long car trip, they take a little time and work to eat and they're quite filling without that wheat-weight feeling. Tried softening them in hot water, as per some instructions on the internet, but this activated the starch and made them like intense water chestnuts. So then I tried chopping them up and grinding them. This worked a lot better, the contents of that bowl appeared at lunchtime and did not last long. These firm ones are almost gone, I think next I'll do a more thorough search for softer ones.


      Made some small test batches of paint to see how much pigment some different oils absorbed. Small muller made from the inverted ground glass top of an old glass reagent bottle, ground the top down on a piece of coarse sandpaper.


      I knew that aged and preheated oil absorbed more pigment than oil that was new or raw, but I wanted to know more about how much. Four samples, 1 and 2 were fairly new, 3 was from 2011, and 4 was from 2012, and preheated an hour to 100C. For 1 volume of oil, samples 1 and 2 absorbed 3.25 times the volume of pigment. Sample 3 absorbed 3.75 times the volume of pigment. And sample 4 absorbed 4.5 times the volume of pigment. They would all absorb a little more if you let them sit overnight, then ground them again the next day. So, aged and preheated oil absorbed about 25% more pigment than the new or raw oils. This means that for the same volume of oil, it is leaner, therefore less likely to yellow. Being aged and pre-heated also makes it more stable, and faster drying. So, when the National Gallery book on Rembrandt says he made the later paintings with chalk, pigment, and oil, I think it may well have been an aged oil. This is what it looked like, anyway, in the later paintings at the Met. Only relevant if you're interested in doing a lot with a simple system, or in uncovering the many subtle things that are excluded from the possibilities by the formulation of commercial paint.


      A larger amount of paint made from aged oil -- just aged, not preheated as well -- this is orange ochre. Without preheating, there's no increase in density, so you get a very plastic and elastic paint that is quite expressive. At first it looks like this could absorb more oil, but look more closely at how articulate the shapes are that the paint is holding. This paint naturally makes very controlled, sculptural detail. But, it will never be in the Dick Blick catalogue, alas, and so, will never catch on.


      Every winter Lily and I fight the battle of the bulge. This is sort of arbitrary, and I have more of a sense of humor about it now. If only she went to the vet for her yearly check-up in September, the vet would see a skinny kitty. But she goes in December, and by that time she's bulked up for the winter. I figure it's cold out there, it's her body and she always seems to stop at a certain point, and always looses it again in the warmer weather. But the vet minds, and in fact all the opinionated ectomorphs around here seem to feel free to comment on it. Another shining example of judgment as the most primitive form of autobiogrpahy. Still, have to admit I've dreamed about instant karma for people who body-shame this amazing creature. If I ran the circus, there would be no atheists. Protestors, yes, atheists, no. For a while I succeeded at holding her at the outside edge of how much food the vet said she could have, but this week she started working a new angle. I always feed her after she comes inside, so, when it's cold, she goes out for about fifteen minutes, comes in, gets fed, then does it all over again in a few hours. Oh yes, fiendish cunning! So I started giving her an eighth of a can, instead of a quarter. Oh man, what bulging orphan eyes I got for that! This tense battle of wills will go on and on, with me steadily losing ground, and Lily steadily gaining weight, until about the middle of March, when it will be warm enough for her to go out for longer periods every day. Photo on the upstairs staircase, this is usually reserved for late evening playtime, but happens more in the day when it's cold out.


      Action shots are the hardest. For an overweight cat she certainly still moves quickly! Then she sort of fishes her paw around wildly to make sure that finger isn't hiding anywhere nearby. That's my favorite part, the hunterly thoroughness.

december 15

      Back to some odd weather, sunny and cool, then rainy and now and then pretty warm. A roller coaster for Lily, she does not like cold and rainy, this means sleeping all day, which then means we end up playing around 2 or 3 in the morning. Originally, I had to get over feeling a little outraged by this, but when she stages one of those mock-attacks, I get wide awake in a hurry and feel like I might as well get up. Then we end up having a lot of fun. Her new favorite is to hide in the dark studio -- plenty of places since I cleaned it up -- while I go fishing for her with the toy. When she leaps up out of nowhere to grab it it's very funny. Week of the full moon, could definitely feel it pulling later on the night of the eleventh. Still, in spite of secretly hoping for a kind of cosmic presto-chango in the night, woke up to a surprisingly familiar set of challenges the next day. But with one small but interesting exception. For the last few years, especially if I'm walking or otherwise active physically, there's been a pattern of suddenly remembering, and being disconcerted, or even triggered, by something unpleasant or uncomfortable that happened long ago. Even, long, long ago. On the surface this seemed arbitrary, but over time I began to wonder if these were things that had, for one reason or another, become stuck, and the purpose of bringing them forward was to clear them out. Anyway, that seems to have finally stopped, there's more of a sense of just being me in the present, not having this rag-tag set of difficult memories following me around. Thought a lot about the work in light of what happened last week. In life that is without question the painting with the brightest colour ever, so, technically, that's still an interesting future point to work with. But otherwise, realized that I'd overplanned it, and that this removed the ability of the present to act on it. But of course the reason I overplanned it was because I didn't feel that confident about what was in the well to work with in the first place. So, I tried to compensate for the seasonal lack of oomph by judicious planning, but, like bringing your date a blueprint instead of a bouquet, this didn't go over that well. Finding the right balance between planning and spontaneity seems like the final issue of creative synthesis for this style. In terms of the scale of the components, it feels like I can plan the biggest pieces, but if I get into planning the little pieces, it's trouble, this is where things have an opportunity to become playful. Had a few inklings of a new direction that was more organic, less geometric, but energetically, the painting portal remains closed for now. There's a new moon on the 25th, after the solstice on the 21st, have a feeling this is when things will begin, and that, like last year, it will ramp up noticeably again after the equinox in March. At this point, as much as part of me would like to be purely focused on painting permanently, this does seem a little narrow as a definition of creativity. It has slowly become more clear that, operating from the present moment, everything has the potential to be equally creative in any number of directions. And, with less reluctance every month, if not every day, I can acknowledge that. But would still like to feel more of a sense of completion with painting as a project. Except, here's the interesting thing. While the 2019 work seemed closer to the goal than anything so far, the goal also receded as the work advanced. Sort of an oops in terms of completion. Not a surprise that an infinite universe would be infinitely creative, but fun to watch this in operation in the microcosmos of this process.
      Death: Come on, it's time.
      Tad: Just one more.
      Death: You said that last week, and the week before.
      Tad: So, just one more.
      Death: You're getting me in trouble!


      Wanted to make some bar soap using the crockpot and see what would happen. This is made with sodium hydroxide instead of potassium hydroxide: strong alkalis, you have to be careful with either of these. There's a lot of soapmaking information on the web, this is sort of because commercial soap is so expensive for what it is, and also because making soap is fun chemistry. Was able to learn which oils do what, what other ingredients increase lather, all kinds of fun stuff about this particular rabbit hole. Ended up making it with cheap extra-virgin olive oil and coconut oil with a little flax oil added, a refining experiment that went awry, that was very fun to repurpose. Also put in a little food grade bentonite near the end to increase the lather. These refined clays are also famous for removing toxins but I'm not sure how much happens in the small amount of time involved. The process was pretty straightforward, didn't take that long, could cut the soap the next day. It's dense and stable, but still pretty soft, people say to wait a week or two to let it harden before using it, and that it gets better as it ages. Made a small bar from the shards in the pot, it has a nice balance of cleaning and conditioning, my hands felt clean but not dry after washing them with it. The surprise was how much the clay improved the lather, it's sort of silky. Put some essential oils in it, a little cedar, rosemary, and some older frankincense that needed to get used up. Wanted that inscrutable balance, and this came out smelling more like something else than a combination of those three, which was fun. Not too much, so you can also smell the soap itself.

december 8

      Getting more seasonal, one briefly snowy morning, but still a mostly sunny week. Waxing moon, full moon on the twelfth. In fact, on the twelfth day of the twelfth month, at twelve-twelve in the morning on the east coast. Belshazzar's Feast? Well, a good day for an ending anyway. Plenty of things I'd like to see end, or just come to the light, which would amount to the same thing. This time has an unusual weight, more is steadily being asked of me, but with more of a sense of internal direction as well. In an infinite universe, the big picture necessarily exists within each of us, though the entire temporal culture is of course designed to distract us permanently from that realization. But, we get to make the choice. The astronomical symbol for the earth is a cross in a circle. This is usually explained astrologically -- the origin of all these symbols -- as the cross of matter in the circle of spirit. But the cross is also a crossroads, where we choose our direction. As is usual with the new moon, various new things began this week. Something new started in the work as well, always fun after a fallow period. Not something definitive yet, sort of a sprout, can't tell where it's headed yet. Exciting, but it's still winter, have to remind myself to still go slowly.


      More adventures in neolithic baking this week. I've always liked working with chestnut flour, and couldn't resist ordering some when I read it was from the Garfagnana, a place I actually went to later in September years ago when the tiny roads in the higher elevations were literally covered with chestnuts from huge old, old, trees. So, fond memories, seemed like it might be a fun Italian vacation. They said it was this year's harvest, a good sign, and it turned out to be, well, incredible: fresh, quite sweet, dried in a wood fired oven very slowly so it's a little smokey as well. First I tried a simple kind of castagnaccio with just the flour, water, a little olive oil, and some chopped up fresh rosemary. Had never actually done this, and was just amazing, reminded me of gingerbread of all things. Then the next morning made a breakfast version with water, salt, olive oil, and one third chestnut flour, one third sprouted barley flour, and one third sprouted kamut flour. Also very nice.


      At one point there was a nice linseed oil soap called Ugly Dog, but the product rights were purchased by a larger company and now isn't made with just linseed oil, contains "natural cleansers" as well, whatever those are. I got enthused about making linseed oil soap a few years ago after making a small test batch that worked out well for cleaning brushes. Then made a big batch but couldn't get it to the final stage. I kept it, a few of the jars turned dark and clear on top, but only for about an inch or so. It turns out my brand of KOH is only 90%, not 100%, so this threw the calculations off. So, this week added a little more KOH solution and, lo and behold, it turned into soap. Hundreds of dollars worth of soap, in fact. Then got enthused again and made a batch of olive oil soap, which saponified more quickly than linseed. Made some liquid soap with a mix of the olive oil and linseed soaps, this is pretty good but I want to try a coconut-olive oil one next for a more sudsy version. There's a lot of information about making soap online, with a crockpot and an immersion blender it's really easy, just be very careful with the lye that you use, it is a serious alkali and can cause burns.


      Was doing some conservation reading and came across an article about the original PVA paint, started in the 1950s, made by an old fashioned art supply company on Lisbon, the paint was called Saba, and the conclusion was that, after sixty years, the binder is basically unchanged. Did some tests of a few different ways of making this, I was most interested in adding some water-soluble beeswax to it, that's the film in the lower right corner, but actually never got around to it.


      Started out with a small compositional sketch in one colour and white. Then did this over two days based on that composition. Let it go where it wanted to, wanted to see what the paint would do. It dried quickly and was very literal, liked the colour more than the edges. Decided it could go on and on without being finished and stopped here to think about what might create a conclusion. On the decorative or textile side, but I learned something. About 9.5x11 inches, oil on gessoed paper.


      Then, on Friday, made a new version using the same general composition and colour scheme, but in oil. Did make a few very small adjustments to the medium. These produced a surprisingly large change in the behavior, which can happen with an emulsion as you shift from oil phase to water phase, or visa versa. Sometimes, boom, the behavior changes. The result was a first layer that set very quickly. It wasn't dry, could be carved back to white, but could also be painted over cleanly. This was interesting but it took a while to puzzle out what it wanted to do. Stopped here for the first day, no white yet, just colour and the medium, in relatively thin paint.


      This was Saturday. The paint could still be carved but was totally set. It did some things really well, but other things not so well. I got kind of hypnotized by what it would do, but the strong set also meant that the edges became tighter, with less fusibility, and less flow in the forms themselves. That was the major issue, the lack of motion in the paint once it was put down. Worked on this a few different times, left it for an hour or so each time, that seems to be enough to see it again in a fresh way. But in the end, wasn't really sure how to finish this, too much new was going on. Some nice details here and there in person, some new colour combinations that worked, but the composition became too complex for the scale, the pieces aren't organically cohesive enough because their edges weren't as mobile, and, though I like the colour, there's too much of that as well. This feels like more of a study, working things out. With the medium, could just return to the old version for more movement, or could adjust this paint so it had more movement. Adjusting the current medium would keep the finer scale of application, and make it leaner, so will probably try that. It's not easy to let go of an image: the last set of changes is the most interesting, there might still be a way to make it better. But, the next one will be inherently beyond this one, so, best to let this one go. Overall, it's December, I've been looking for something new, and something new occurred. Let this change consolidate a bit and move on to the next image. About 9.5x11 inches, oil on gessoed paper.


      It's Lily's fourth anniversary! She arrived under the porch the first week of December in 2015. I always liked cats, but, actually "owning" one -- an absurd, but oh so human concept -- never happened. This is the first picture I took of her. Me: Um, well, here we are. Lily: Ha-ha! You're mine now!


      I found out quickly that Lily loves to play.


      A couple of summers ago. She was watching the rain out the window, turned around when there was a thunder crash in the other direction.


       Two winters ago. One of those rare ones with a glimpse of the inner Lily. Boy would I like to know what she knows!

december 1

      More seasonal, sunny and brisk is always nice, a lot of afternoon skies featuring those drier lint blue clouds with creamsicle highlights. Week of the new moon, still several planets below the horizon for me, with continued fourth house emphasis, lots of small domestic improvements happened. Perhaps the newest thing this week was accepting the ascendancy of being over doing for however long it takes. This situation is getting less challenging as I can see or feel the results more clearly. Over the last few decades, I've tended to answer the question, "Who am I?" in paint, but it seems like, just as "God" is antecedent to "religion," realer or deeper answers to this question precede paint. Interesting to consider that there's always more in this regard as well: more quiet, more space, more gentle reverberation of these qualities through more time.

november 24

      More seasonal mix, but still a few sunny days on the warm side. Last week of the moon, new moon around noon here on the 26th. Was still asked to do as little as possible this week, more seriously in a way, it really felt like the plug had been pulled. Would rally now and then and keep trying, but everything I started would grind to a halt within a few minutes, my brain would just go out of focus. Oy. I can understand things slowing down because of the season, but this is officially beyond that now. In a way I keep waiting to be put back in the game where I left off, but that timeline has long gone by. Very odd, just have to be patient and see what the week to come brings in the way of something new.

november 17

      Week of the full moon, mix of some mild days with some pretty cold ones. As always there's lots to talk about, but with Mercury retrograde it doesn't seem to want to happen, have erased this paragraph several times now. So, what's most important? The pregnant pause with the work continues, but did have a small aha moment with this situation. I see things in terms of opposites interacting to generate the next creative step. But also have always valued the "doing" part more than the "non-doing" part. I valued dissatisfaction -- let's do something, to get somewhere new -- over satisfaction -- let's do nothing, things are fine just the way they are. If you said the seasonal cycle of birth-growth-fruition-death is part of the creative process, I would have agreed. But that's not how I really was. I was impatient with the fallow periods, did not have the same regard for them as the active periods. And proud of it: hurry up and let me paint again, this is where things are creative! But, this misses the larger point of the process, which is that all aspects of it are equal. And, if you think about the implications of this, they are large, because this is the root of judgment. So, I'm being offered an extended opportunity to learn that creativity has an active and a passive phase of absolute, incontrovertibly equal importance. Part of me still rebels against this: how can "doing nothing" be creative?!? But part of me can also see that "doing nothing" is actually incredibly, mind-bogglingly creative, because it lets things in that are outside of my conscious or personal or egoic frame of reference. And these things are necessarily really, really new. And if you do a search on egoic like I just did, since spellcheck didn't like it but I felt almost certain it was a word, on the first page you read, "The egoic mind of man opposes the natural character and innate divinity we all possess." And I would say this is true. I fought really hard to become me, against some very large odds, and want to hold onto the person I made: my nearest and dearest creation. It's all well and good to talk about natural character and innate divinity, but try finding them, let alone living them! Unfortunately for my egoic self -- ever-proud, ever-battered, and as yet unbowed -- that's just what's being requested. So, I need to accept this just a little bit more, then I might be able to make it fun.


      It's been getting time for Lily to have wheatgrass again. The co-op has been a little iffy about wheatgrass in the past, so decided to start some myself. Then found out the co-op has a new system, and got some there on Friday. Lily ate a lot of it, always fun, but felt like I was a little late replacing the grass outside. But, no need to grow wheatgrass. So, ground the sprouted wheat, added a little water and salt, and put it in a frying pan on very low with a little olive oil. Inherently sweet from sprouting, the outside got nice and crunchy, and the inside got nice and creamy, kind of like falafel, great flavor boost from the caramelized exterior. One of those happy simple food surprises. I still get daunted by sprouting but it's pretty easy: start the wheat in water in the morning, drain it in the afternoon, it sprouts overnight, cook it the next morning. Want to try this next with some of the heirloom wheats, the co-op has spelt berries, and I think they have kamut, which is a whopping 20% protein.


      The most recent test panel. Started this one in the summer, so it's been through a lot of humidity. With a little forethought about how they're set up, these can provide an incredible amount of information about the aging of the medium.


      I had always used ethanol to do alcohol refining, the traditional way. Since that oil doesn't dry that quickly, or autoxidize with much snap, it wasn't a route I explored that much. Recently people have been asking about isopropyl alcohol, the alcohol made from our buddy petroleum, which is of course cheaper than ethanol, and whose penetrating smell always reminds me of early visits to the pediatrician. Roland told me that a little less would be safer, so tried it at 35% instead of 40%. Did two versions, straight isopropyl refining on the left, and the isopropyl refining after a five day water emulsion. The five day water emulsion oxygenates the oil for a faster drying speed, but the question is whether this remains, or is eliminated, by the alcohol.


      Had a lot of success last year with chlorophyll producing a faster drying, less yellowing oil. so decided to work on variations of that. First tried spirulina, but its twisted spaghetti shape has proven really good at holding the emulsion, might have to add salt to this one. Not the end of the world, but saltless would be more streamlined. Next tried chlorella, which is round, not shaped like twisted spaghetti, and whose emulsion appears to be a little less persistent. Second chlorella emulsion in progress on the right, might break this one with salt since the salt-free version is taking its time clearing.


      Made some more small ink drawings this week. Started with the idea of layers, some things clearly in front, some clearly behind, but the internal design of the circles took over. Both fun and a little maniacal at this scale, kind of like the wheels within wheels part, but would have to be bigger, even as a drawing. It also seems like there would have to be other geometric shapes as well, and that the geometry couldn't be too cut and dried. Might be fun, but also might feel clever and decorative, urgh. Too mental and complex for now at any rate. 7.5x8 inches, ink on paper.


      Made a set of reactions to the pure circle idea, more curving elements and animating the elements more articulately. Liked this one the best, not ideally complete as a drawing, but not sure I want to get involved in whiting things out and "correcting" these, like the way the ink forces decisions. Just have to be patient for now. 5.5x6 inches, ink on paper.



november 10

      More seasonal week with some bright sunny days and freezing nights. One really cold day, Lily went out in the afternoon, when I let her in about an hour later she ignored the entry ritual, a first. Instead she made a big chirp that sounded a lot like "Brrrr!" and flew inside and galloped right up the stairs. Time to find that box with the hats and gloves, how does stuff disappear in a closet? Second week of the moon, full moon early in the morning on the 12th. This time of year is kind of tricky to navigate. I like the cooler days, but the overall energy level is still going down. This week there was no doubt about that. The sun is almost at the bottom of my chart now, will bottom out in a week. Mars and Venus are also well below the horizon. Mercury is retrograde, also at the bottom of my chart, it wasn't the easiest week to communicate, but a good week to go back over various things in the book. Some interesting developments happened with refining the oil, this is also about going back over things again with more clarity after a rest. Something new did begin in the work and I made some drawings, but when I think about making a painting now it seems way too complicated, kind of dizzying. When there's a third and fourth house emphasis with the inner planets, things are more quiet. Right now this is kind of being strictly enforced. Before I used to think a lull like this meant something was wrong, something had to be fixed. But now I think it's just November. Well, November and some wacky cosmic energy which seems to make things more spacious now and then whether I like it or not. There's always a groove, but it moves around and might not be where I expect it. Overall, if I stay with what wants to happen, everything is fine. But if I get involved in any kind of old-style ego-based agenda, things get unsettled in a hurry. I'm not interested in unsettled anymore, so this means being pretty vigilant. There are plenty of things around that are designed to trigger negative emotions, from bad drivers to car alarms to deafening leaf blowers to the labyrinth of lies in the media, to that perennial favorite, corruption in high places. And once you've learned to repel the direct assault, the approach can get much more sneaky. This week I noticed how often something small was used as the thin end of the wedge: the imprisoned German Shepherd next door who starts barking at any new human-related sound outside is the most focal wedge right now. I'm learning to recognize an invasion when it begins, and nip it in the bud. Stay focused, remain in control of my own thought process, not allow it to be hijacked. Accentuate the positive, let the latest conniption go, be a citizen of the universe first. It takes time, because it's not so much a matter of will as of balance, and balance is more organic, or emotional. The question is always, what is buried that is really triggering this? How do I bring whatever it is to the surface, where it can be healed? This process is linked to what wants to happen with the work. So, it's always interesting when something new happens. Whether it's big or small it reflects the process going further.


      Cherry gum, occasional emulsion ingredient in older painting. There's a skin on the outside, but the inside is still somewhat soft. It smells like wet leaves. There was a whole bunch of it on a tree by the post office, couldn't resist. A city can be carved out of a forest, but the forest never really gives up.


      Needed distilled water, made a trip to the regular grocery store. This is rare, but it's a store I went to as a kid so it's kind of nostalgic. I always check out their oil selection when I'm there, something interesting from Europe is more liable to crop there than at the co-op. This time they had two different new grapeseed oils, one from Italy and one from Spain. I got the one from Spain, refined for high heat, twice as much for a dollar more than the one from Italy. Eight dollars a quart, hard to beat. I put it in jars and put them in the oven, which is gas and has a perpetual pilot light so is pretty warm. It takes a while, like, years, but thicker grapeseed oil is really nice to add to autoxidized hand-refined linseed oil. Just a little, like 10%, when it gets noticeably thick. Like poppy oil it is a slow drier and does make a relatively soft film, but it's also very non-yellowing compared to linseed oil. A while back Roland told me that the shift in the fatty acid ratios when a little poppy or grapeseed was mixed with linseed would help keep it more reliably bright, for example, in high humidity conditions. After a few years of working with this concept it seems to be true.


      Well, the first spirulina experiment from last week was an emulsion. Then I tried doing an alcohol wash on top of that using isopropyl. This didn't work out so well, principally because the spirulina, being microscopically shaped like spaghetti designed by Gaudi, makes a pretty persistent emulsion on its own. So that one was a goner. This sometimes happens in the heady world of experimental emulsion refining: even a very small amount of the emulsifier is too strong. DT earth: no. Fenugreek: no, no, a thousand times no. So then I tried an emulsion for a day with a little water and spirulina alone, breaking it with some salt, then washing it with plain water. That's what's going on here.


      When the water separated, I froze it, left, oil gone, ice still in place, then transferred it to a new jar, right, with clean water.


      After shaking it off and on for a day, the new jar looked like this. Not that much loss visually, but there's a question of how much water is still being held in the oil itself. This approach may work, but that doesn't necessarily mean it's a keeper.


      That operation became more complex than it was supposed to, a turn of events which seems to happen pretty often. So next I tried something simple. Something designed to be complexity-proof. Is this possible for a human being on planet earth in 2019? I wanted to know. Only one way to find out. Keep trying. An emulsion made with a small amount of water is actually a pretty powerful tool for refining the oil, so why not just do that? Used the immersion blender to make the emulsion, this makes the scale of the globules much finer at the molecular level, which cleans the oil more, and also makes the emulsion more stable. See why chemists are into emulsions? The water is about 15% of the oil volume. The emulsion holds for about a day, then begins to break, but just a little. It gets re-emulsified by shaking it, I think using the immersion blender might well be too much. So, this photo is in the morning, after three days. The emulsion is really stable for just water but the mucilage is beginning to fall to the bottom of the jar. So, that's a good sign, maybe even a very good sign. Will let this keep going, a test of patience is always good. But I'm also not sure what to do next yet.


      Made a new version of the Refining Linseed Oil PDF this week, this includes reconstructions of six different procedures historic procedures and, for the first time outside the book, an explanation of the emulsion pre-washing concept with some examples. It's available here.


      Sometimes when I've been working on the book for a while I get in the mood to illustrate it. I mean, not exactly Treasure Island, but something. There are some obvious places. Started out by hand in various ways, but then went to the computer. When I made this, I liked it, but it didn't seem like a book illustration. Which is what always happens when I try to illustrate the book; have been through several rounds of this now. But I thought it was interesting and wondered what it might be trying to tell me.


      Ended up making several pages of these small ink drawings working with circles; I'm left handed so they go from right to left. This is the last one, on the bottom two something is beginning to happen, I like the imbalance of the lower left one best. Ink is good for these because I can't fart around, my favorite thing, just have to keep going. Okay, that line was definitive, maybe not exactly what I had in mind, but get over it. Now what? Not sure where this is headed, circles are fun and their version of landscape gets more cosmic in a hurry. But my experience in the past has been that they tend to, well, go around in circles. Tried a marker drawing based on these and it wasn't bad but was kind of dizzying, clearly not what wanted to happen. Also an example of the way the limitations operative now have become much larger than this summer. It would be logical to try integrating the circle approach with the former geometric language next as a way to ground or anchor it more. But, just right now, that sounds complicated. So maybe it's not time yet, or maybe something else wants to happen. The work I did this summer and into the fall remained fascinating through October, but now I'm beginning to feel that there's another dimension to work on. Which is good, don't want to be wowed by work for more than a few months. But this may mean the process wants to go somewhere new altogether. Have to be patient for now. Have learned it really doesn't matter how much I puzzle and ponder. When the next step shows up, it just happens.


Where's Lily?
Hmm! I don't know, she was just here a second ago.
Oh my gosh, did you see that?
In the sky, oh, there it is again. Is that a bird, or a plane?
It's Wondercat!
Oh, Wondercat! Yea!
It's so exciting to see a real superhero.
Yeah, it makes me feel better just knowing Wondercat is around.
You know, we see Wondercat pretty often, actually.
Huh? What do you mean? You don't think Wondercat lives around here, do you? Wow!
I don't know, I guess even a cat with claws of steel has to have a home.
Ha-ha, maybe Wondercat lives right on our block!
Ha-ha! Wouldn't that be great?
Well, we'll find out what Wondercat's been up to tonight on the news.
Probably saving the world from some dastardly villain again.
Yes, probably. Whew! It's so great to know there's an incorruptible force for good in the world!
You said it! Oh, there's Lily! She must have gone out through the cat door.
Hi Lily! Hey, she looks pretty pleased about something!
Lily, did you catch a mouse?
Hmm, I don't think so, she's headed right for her bowl. That's funny, I just fed her but now she's hungry again. How does that cat burn up all that energy?

november 3

      Week of the new moon, some odd warm rainy days followed by a nice seasonal chill. Still no frost, but probably this week. I took a walk early on Halloween, saw a guy about my age walking his small older dog wearing a bright green and yellow Robin Hood outfit, complete with a bow and arrows in the quiver. The costume was well-made, but kind of cartoony, no details, so he kind of looked like he'd stepped out of Looney Tunes. The overall effect was very comical; he was absolutely enjoying himself. It was near the old railroad bridge that is being endlessly rebuilt near where I grew up, some giant equipment cordoned off on a tiny street, the whole scene was out of a movie. On my way home, saw the beginning of the little kids Halloween in the neighborhood, being escorted around by their parents or grandparents. Then, the day after Halloween, saw a father walking with a small child dressed up as what looked like a Tyrannosaurus Rex skeleton, except it had wings that he'd flap now and then. Probably some hip new dinosaur I know nothing about. I walked behind them for a while, maybe the kid just wanted to wear this great costume out in the neighborhood one more time. Except for having to take Lily to the vet again with a reasonably harrowing issue, see below, this week was really quiet. The new moon came in like the end of a big wave rising onto the beach, very quiet, but with a lot of force behind it. Worked on the book off and on but kept all the usual agendas at bay. Did some work with the materials for the book but with painting it was clear that the best thing was to let it alone so it can change. I seem to know what to do, or not do, with more certainty right now, there's less background anxiety about making the "best" or "right" decision; things just happen where there's no resistance, I move on when there is. This is nice, and has been a long time coming. It feels like I'm supposed to rest here for a while, enjoy a few days at the beach, so to speak, and wait for further instructions. There's a door up ahead, but it isn't open yet. The door is clunky, handmade with a rounded top, like in a fairy tale. There's a single pane of glass in it, through which I can see a very bright blue light.


      There's a Japanese company called Yunomi that sells green tea online. The Japanese system is different than the one in India. In India, the specific garden is emphasized. A blended Darjeeling might taste very good, but the single estate teas cost more. In Japan, the plantings are smaller, and the individual farmers typically sell to the larger tea factory, which cleans up the leaves even further and blends them all into the perfect version of the tea in question. What Yunomi has done is buy green teas from individual farmers. They give out a lot of information, have reviews, sell relatively large samples, and the prices are reasonable. So I went a little overboard. But I learned a lot. The basic method here is to brew the tea three times, the first one has the lowest water temperature and the shortest brewing time. With this method, three minutes at 180 would be a long time at a high temperature. You're trying to navigate between the Scylla of insipid tea and the Charybdis of bitter tea, balancing the soft umami and bitter shibumi flavor profile in the leaves, so it's a matter of time and water temperature. It's also a matter of the cultivar, and how much shade the leaves are given at the end: the more shade, the more amino acids, theanine, and umami flavor. I got one gyokuro, the version with the most shade before picking, and the first cup was very much like a light miso broth. There are definitely some quality variations in these teas, I can begin to see why the process might gravitate towards an ideal blend that would connect all the dots. The growers in India and Nepal are slowly getting further into green tea, there's one from the Kangra region that has historically been exported to Russia that is really good. But the Japanese have, as usual, turned the process into an art form. There are some Taiwanese growers in the higher altitude Nilgiri region in southern India now producing great oolong teas, I wonder what would happen if some of the Japanese green tea techniques went to the Himalayas. Anyway, an infinite universe in a single plant.


      The craft is full of all kinds of cracks and crevices that haven't been explored. One of them I've wondered about off and on is refining the oil with isopropyl alcohol instead of ethanol. This way is simple, though the oil doesn't dry that quickly and there's the added expense of the ethanol. Somebody wrote this week and said the much cheaper isopropyl (derived from petroleum) worked, Roland then suggested to try a somewhat smaller percentage of alcohol than when using ethanol. I did this, but did not go small enough, and after I broke the emulsion with water there was some trapped oil in the break. So I put the jar in a hot waterbath for an hour or so, this brought all the oil out. Red tape is at the oil level before the waterbath. Now to see how it dries.


      Couldn't resist. Actually, it's easy being green. And no, it's not green tea! A new idea, more on this one next week.


      Continued with the resin washing experiments. Given that the washing process takes six hours starting with a raw oleoresin, got some of the slash pine rosin from Diamond G in Georgia, this is what's left over after they get the turpentine out. This rosin isn't very dark, that might be because their distillation process is simple or more careful, but it might just be because it's newer, hasn't had a chance to oxidize that much yet. This is only half an hour at about 100C, the more refined rosin has floated in the silicone bowl. The oxidation potential of the turpentine is gone, so that left me wondering what would come out in the water. It wasn't that dark, but did become cloudy, and very bitter. So, something's coming out. Will give this another hour or so in the waterbath next. This process is sort of finicky because the bowl is so small, might get something larger to continue. This idea began with a paper Roland sent me about an older German technique of washing an oleoresin to minimize its yellowing potential. This is the only paper I've seen on this, the context is decorative paint, not easel paintings and it doesn't exactly go into much detail about it's historic sources. So, that's not a dot I want to try to connect to anything at this point. Still, it seems reasonable so far to say that washing a fresh oleoresin removes the volatile and water-soluble components, which will in all probability create a noticeably less yellowing material over time. But whether this shift is enough to be helpful, I'm not sure yet. And what is the relevance, unless you can make something less yellowing than damar? (I have washed some damar, it looks like shaved parmesan, not sure what to do with it next.) I guess this comes back to the question of what the "small amount of pine resin" is in the NGTB articles. Botanically, it can be from a pine, a spruce, or a fir; in theory at least, they should not be calling larch a pine resin. This means the most likely known material is Olio d'Abezzo, Strasbourg or silver fir turpentine, unless there are other "naval stores" type resins that can be washed to be as relatively non-yellowing as this can be. A lot of conditionals. Many years ago now, Kremer had a silver fir that was from Italy or Austria, not sure. But it was very pale, and dried very quickly. It also turned out to be a very tricky material to use, because so much of it was volatile and could be trapped within polymerized oil when working in layers. Now the only silver fir I know of is darker, from Russia. I was reading online about tapping these trees, and apparently there are several factors that affect the final quality of the oleoresin. One site in Germany was selling a "green" varnish made from larch and linseed oil, they talked about the first resin from the tap, the "maiden" resin, being the highest quality, and reserved for fine art use. Well, in an ideal world, yes. Most obviously, there are no rules, so the material labelled "silver fir" may or may not be sourced from Abies alba. But, more importantly, the nomenclature of these materials in general is in no way accurate enough. I've been reading about the resin trade this week, and it's astonishing how little might be certain about the connection between a given named resin and a given named tree. You would think there was a specific Malaysian pine tree that damar came from, but there are several. The resin is not graded by the tree, but by it's physical appearance. A lot to learn here, we'll see where all this goes.


      Last Sunday night Lily woke up in the middle of the night and moved to the closet. That was a little odd. Then, the next morning I noticed she had some lumps in her fur, sort of like twigs, and that she didn't like me to touch them, they clearly hurt. I knew something had happened, but wasn't sure what. A little later she started looking at me intently from sitting on the windowsill across the room. She never does this unless she wants something. If its food she usually positions herself as close to me as she can get. This was different, a long stare from across the room, but I knew she wanted something. So I called the vet and explained it as best I could, and they said to come in. There, she let the vet examine her more closely and I saw that what I had thought were twigs was just fur that had coagulated until it was sort of stiff. She had a total of three of these places, they turned out to be puncture wounds, sure looked like a cat claw to me, but not raking, grabbing. I wondered if I had been too alarmist in bringing her in but the vet said, firmly, no, and I've since learned that the danger of wounds like that is infection. So the vet shaved those places and disinfected them, then gave her an antibiotic: one of the wounds was infected already. I had my choice of liquid or pills for the follow-up, I chose liquid feeling it might be more forgiving. There was a day's grace from the shot they gave her, she slept a lot but also ate decently. We were both pretty upset the first time I gave it to her the next morning, had to chase her around, corner her, etc. but since then I've gotten better at going slowly, I talk to her gently, which she likes, she starts purring, I keep up the patter, we work our way up to it bit by bit so it's become less traumatic. She started going outside again almost right away, was just kind of more careful with herself moving around. Recently she's wanted to wack away at me after dinner and scamper around a little, so that feels good. Barring that one incident a few summers ago where she was stung by a bee she was "playing with" in her mouth and clawed the stinger out of her own tongue (story as told by Lily to the animal communicator I contacted because I was so curious to know to know what had happened) she has been immune to damage for the last five years. Okay, she got marooned on the porch roof next door after climbing to the top of the giant hydrangea next to it, but who wouldn't do that eventually? It was kind of hard to believe somebody had gotten to her, but when I looked at the bed closely, there were three small bloodstains on the top sheet. Not that bad considering what they can do, maybe one quick but intense contact. Have a feeling I know who she fought with, the only cat in the area that's big enough, close enough, and chuckleheaded enough to want to tangle with her that way. Sometimes I see this cat on my walk, a regal chestnut long hair with startled blue eyes, but didn't see her this week. She's not out as often now as in the summer, though I have to admit I had a persistent vision of her bandaged from head to toe, sunk deep in a bed bristling with IVs. More realistically, to get that close to Lily, Lily had to be that close to her, so hopefully she'll think twice before getting provocative again. Well, what do I really know about that, including who's really out there. For me the important thing was to act: I didn't want there to be anything wrong, but there was, and I had to do something about it pretty fast even though I wasn't sure it was the right thing. But the much larger point is that Lily is fine. I woke up last night and she was curled up in her old spot behind my knees. Yea!

october 27

      A week of relatively gentle weather, Fall is going on, but very slowly. Had a few of those moments this week where external "reality" slowed down to the point where it seemed like more of a construct, sort of like if you slowed a movie down enough to see each frame. This is similar to the moment in the Wizard of Oz where he's yelling at them after they kill the Wicked Witch and Toto senses, then discovers him: resulting in the famous "Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain!" But suddenly they see the Wizard for who he really is. Life has a lot of different versions of this moment, where the frame of reference, in large increments or small, changes, and there's no going back to the old way. Not exactly sure what the new way is, but at the same time, like a figure-ground image, it's defined pretty clearly by not being the old way. Final week of the moon, after last week decided to shift over to the book for a few days, and began to input a new set of PDFs to the bibliography, then connect the reference dots in the text. This needs to be very methodical and there's really not that much from each PDF, but it adds up in terms of making a particular case. Then made a new version of the medium with the refined slash pine sap, and made a few test studies with that medium. Leaving the work alone seems to refresh it better right now than prodding it to go further with drawings or sketches, and the new version of the medium worked out well. New moon later tonight here, things are already on their way somewhere new, which does sometimes happen. But the new moon is in Scorpio, and opposite Uranus, a somewhat tense combination that may request a larger, rather than just further, transformation from the work. A good time to be patient, and just see where things want to go. Maybe that's the new way in a nutshell.


      Completed the slash pine oleoresin refining this week, it wasn't quite as dry as damar but, after six hours, felt that enough was enough. In theory this resin, having had the vast majority of its volatile and water-soluble components removed in a waterbath, should now be relatively non-yellowing. But of course time will tell. Decided the best way to test it was to substitute it for the fused damar in the current putty medium.


      It dissolved in the hot oil easily, then I added a little beeswax and a lot more marble dust. I made the oil mix in this batch leaner. The previous batch had been all burnt plate oil, and even though there were other ingredients in the medium that made it seize, the BPO tendency to flow persisted. So, this version was 1/3 less BPO, using medium thick autoxidized walnut oil instead. Although it doesn't look it here when the medium is warm -- necessary to get it into a tube -- this medium ended up being quite tight and also had a much nicer set, making it easier to work with. It ends up being 3.5% resin in the paint film. I feel pretty sure that the refined slash pine sap resin will yellow much less than the unrefined sap, but will probably take a year or maybe more to see if this version darkens more or less than the one with damar.


      Had gotten my mind completely off painting by working a few days on the book. Even so, this one was a little bit of a surprise. When something begins to get more representational, there's sort of a tension between whether to follow it or fight it. Did a little bit of both here. Slightly leaner paint from the change in the medium, dried a little brighter, saturated but not glossy, a nice look for this relatively active surface. Though the more important change in this one for me is its simplicity. 9x10.5 inches, oil on gessoed paper.


      Second one this week. Wanted to move away from everything about the first one, but still ended up with something that had representational overtones. So, decided to blow this up as much as possible while still maintaining a sense of cohesion. As a result, not as crystalline as the first one but with more options going forward. I find myself looking at this a lot, trying to puzzle it out, which is good. It seems like something less controlled or finished needs to happen now and then with these to open up the texture again. Like the palette of this, and the interaction of colours made with, and without, white pigment. It will be interesting to see how this type of composition evolves.


      Lily has a lot of different faces, and has also developed a "point that thing somewhere else" face for the camera. But if I'm far enough away, or she's sleepy, or, as here, both, you can sometimes see a little further into who she really is. If the universe is infinite, everything in it is a fractal, and therefore also infinite, containing everything. This means that everything we need to know has been hidden in plain sight. Which supports free-will by making awareness itself optional. But if, in larger cultural terms, we use a material-empirical frame of reference to explain away the mystery of the universe itself, and proudly call that process science, what is there to learn from exploring the internal? Nothing, because we have defined life exclusively as external. And, because we are exercising free will, we get to explore this particular form of hubris, on the largest stage imaginable, and seemingly ad infinitum. But we also have the option to lower the volume of the distraction by realizing how arbitrary it is, and explore the larger possibilities we all contain.

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.

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.


      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.

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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