Tad Spurgeon oil paintings


about me
the work
the book

sound practice
black & white
putty medium
just oil
putty tutorial



A Sunday look at process and work in progress.

oops edition sale!

      I spent most of 2016 rewriting Living Craft and putting it into a smaller format, 6x9 inches instead of 7x10. But when the book was printed, there were some font-reading errors in the table of contents and the bibliography. This was my fault, the PDF needed more formatting within the program itself. But, who knew, the system had worked for eight editions. Luckily, there's only one error in the 526 page body of the book, so, like most of us, these are quite functional if not exactly perfect. I'm having the book reprinted, but that will take about six weeks. For now, these are 30.00 each, plus postage, instead of the regular price. Fifteen years of research, ninety formulas, totally rewritten, and totally reformatted, the best version of the book so far, but with a few glitches at the beginning and end: PDF with further details here. If you have any questions, or don't want to work directly with PayPal, just e-mail me.

march 26

      Last week of the moon, new moon on Tuesday. The colder side of Spring this week, except for yesterday, which was overcast, but humid and warm. March can have its own type of discomfort as the quiet of winter begins to be challenged by something as yet unknown. Still on vacation from the work, but am getting used to it. Life can only be what it is, there's always a reason even if I can't see it yet, haven't actually stopped in a very long time, the laundry is actually done, the kitchen is actually clean. Have been thinking about how a given set of conclusions is conditioned by its frame of reference. And how frames of reference tend to expand quickly, in a way that is potentially quite uncomfortable: what we had so diligently assembled as "true" is suddenly proven to be merely part of the truth, or even, most embarrassing of all, not true at all. Of course, the operative assumption here is that the truth matters, that is, is helpful to a reliable decision-making process. This is a standard frame of reference of original philosophy, for example: the Platonic concept of the examined life is only functional if the examining is done with integrity, or honor. This is also the frame of reference of all religions at their root, before they get involved with advertising and promotion, money and power. This is because all religions were originally based on the idea of creating a sacred community, and if the community knows that it is going to tell itself the truth, it feels both stronger and safer. Even in the secular humanist context of contemporary education, small children are taught the value of the truth, university scholars pursue the truth in various disciplines, science is based on proving something to be true, rather than positing how much more interesting it would be if the apple fell up: this is science fiction. Culturally, we enjoy fiction, but principally because it finds a creative way to conform to the combined simplicity and complexity of the truth. We tend to be fascinated by our ability to generate knowledge, especially, at this point, technical knowledge. This makes us feel different, improved, automatically justifies the various sacrifices that have been made for a quite specific definition of progress. But I have a feeling that, going forward, this is going to be increasingly perceived as a distraction. What if there are certain lessons that it is not possible to evolve beyond, or run away from? What if these lessons are about things like integrity, balance, patience, compassion, not who has the most money, or who can murder or subjugate the most people and get away with it? If this is the case, technological advancement is irrelevant compared to the advancement of social and economic justice: the often painful truth of how we are treating one another. This pain is ours, and is shared by everyone: no matter how expensive the wardrobe is, no matter how high the wall is, no matter how bullet-proof the glass is, the pain gets in. And, for centuries, the answer to the internal panic of privilege has been to build the wall higher, buy a new and better whatever. But at this point, we are rapidly approaching a situation in which, unless things begin to work better for everyone, they're not going to work that well for anyone.


      Worked this week on a cover for a paperback edition of Living Craft. I've tried to make a great cover many times over the years in various ways, they're fun to tinker around with, but each idea always seems to lead to another one. Decided on something with more oomph this time, several maybe this, maybe that options still in terms of the colours, but I know I can get a little too wound up about this, and I like the general design. Ultimately, you never really know until it's printed. Will get a proof of this in the next few weeks, this will both make sure I've fixed the font rendering issue in the text, and show what the cover looks like in person. Not as permanent as a hardback, but less expensive.

march 18

      Third week of the moon, another quiet one for the work. A snowstorm that was long, not that major, but did turn into ice overnight. I took care of things around here before it did, always nice to guess right. Otherwise, still on hold. Not easy to stop and rest, there's so much that is so close to complete. But there doesn't seem to be much choice right now, sort of like the distributor cap has been removed from the engine. I tend to see what's not there yet, time off makes it possible to appreciate what has actually happened. Ideas are a dime a dozen, I've learned to leave those alone and just wait until a direction arrives. It may be something new, or it may be a new version of what's gone before, but it has impetus, oomph, and that's all that matters.
       A lot of the oops edition went out this week, some nice comments on the book from various parts of the world: it has been difficult to learn to say it all in a clear and simple way without it turning into a kind of code, but at this point the rewriting seems to be paying off in terms of the book being easier to understand. I like the resilience of a hardback but have wondered whether a paperback version would be a good idea, simply from the perspective of lower end cost in a world where poor people vastly outnumber rich people. Am considering that more closely, it wouldn't be hard to do.
      Well, I continue to be fascinated by the ongoing debacle of the Trump presidency. On the one hand, it is embarrassing to see Trump mugging smugly next to a genuine head of state like Angela Merkel, like this is just another talk show, the blood in the Ukraine is all ketchup: difficult to imagine the extent of the patience she exercised with him. Then there's the various attempts to demonize Obama, genuinely non-presidential, genuinely sad. Then the lurking Russian connection, not over by a long shot. On the other hand, it's fascinating to see the ways that this administration's basic dedication to mendacity, bullying, obfuscation, distraction, trickery, wagging the dog, favoring the rich over the poor, looking for a fight: in short, the whole bag of tricks associated with a genuinely bad government, is resulting in the neo-fascist blimp not really being able to get off the ground. Too much dedication to catabolic drama for its own sake. And too many people at all levels of American society are on to them, and really disagree with where they want to lead the country. Yet, in larger terms, it also seems that it is important for all this poison to come to the surface, and for the people who voted for Trump without understanding who he really is to see that they were conned. So, a lot of sound and fury, a lot of Il Duce pouting, but what will happen when this administration is actually confronted with the need to make a complex decision? Exactly.


      A test I set up at the end of February. Someone wrote with a question about using magnesium carbonate as an alternative to chalk, and as I thought about it, I realized I hadn't given magnesium carbonate much of a chance. Years ago, it had yellowed in an unpigmented test with hand-refined linseed oil, but I realized that could have been due to several other factors. This seemed worth looking into because magnesium carbonate has a relatively gelatinous, mobile quality in oil, a good balance for the grab or adhesiveness of chalk without getting involved in cristobalite or fumed silica. So, the stones dusts, three rows, from top to bottom: magnesium carbonate, then chalk, then a combination of the two. And, the oils, five columns, from left to right: BPO#5, the thick Kremer stand oil, slightly thickened SRO linseed oil from 2011, walnut oil I refined in 2012, and a slightly thickened version of the Kremer poppy oil. A little early, but in life the SRO linseed oil column has already begun to darken, albeit slightly, compared to everything else, no surprise there. But, this may tell a somewhat more complex story in a few months.


      For the last year or so I've been having a lot of fun exploring the world of the kalimba. As my brother says, everybody needs a happy place. This was something I fell in love with as a kid, but, the one I got long ago was tuned to a Western scale, which confused me, it turned out I wanted an African scale. There are lots of these scales, but are they often hexatonic, and often drop out the half step, so the key of C, for example, would usually eliminate B. So, last year I played around with a lot of different scales, it was fun to learn more about the relativity of sound. But the kalimbas I was working with were all commercial, made with tines of spring steel, and I sort of yearned for something that was not only tuned in an African way, but sounded more African. I had gotten a big gourd to play in, this both amplified the sound and made it more organic, but the basic tone of the notes was too focused or pure. So, I scouted around, and finally found a place in South Africa that was both interesting and affordable. The kalimba, or karimba, because of the two rows, or nyunga nyunga mbira, came last Monday, just before the snow storm. It's been really interesting to explore it, it is quite heavy and has a great thunk to the sound, sounds wonderful in the gourd. The logic of the way the notes are selected and placed is also really interesting: the commercial kalimbas tend to emphasize melodic variety, but this one emphasizes overall harmonic cohesion. The keys were cut and ground out of iron, they have a great breadth of sound and don't ring as long as spring steel, which is good. The flex of the bottom ones is fine, but the top ones are a little stiff, this will change as they're played but I may need to figure out a way to file or grind them down a little in both dimensions. We'll see, metal is not exactly my medium, and I'm not sure yet what's really important there. My significant other is strongly discouraging me from taking it apart, but of course, this is how boys learn. This is in G, it has all the notes, although the distribution leans towards pentatonic. Everything can be retuned, but I'm going to leave the tuning alone for now, learn what it can do. It's about as big, and heavy, as my hands can handle, but they also make smaller ones. These are higher in pitch, so it's a trade off between several factors, and I love the quality of the lower range. Here are various videos of these kalimbas on You Tube.


      A long time ago I was a baker, I really enjoyed the work, got lots of cookbooks, made all kinds of slightly offbeat things. Recently I haven't done much with it, mostly as part of minimizing sugar and wheat. But there was someone at the co-op a few weeks ago talking about the difference between Pfeiffer wheat, which began with wild spelt found in Italy between 1928 and 1940, and what wheat has now become due to the way it is bred. This is a long story, but it seemed logical that wheat was originally not the problem for the digestive system that it can be now, so it seemed like it might be worth giving the Pfeiffer whole wheat flour a try. I made something simple, sort of a Tassajara take on the Carr's Whole Wheat biscuits. The recipe was 1 cup of the flour, 1/2 cup of rolled oats, ground in a spice mill, 1/4 cup of raw sugar, 5T unsalted butter, 1/2 t baking powder, and 5T milk. The dry ingredients get mixed together, then the butter gets cut in, then the milk gets added until the dough is cohesive. I made twelve, you could go to fifteen or sixteen on a greased cookie sheet. 350 oven, 30-35 minutes. Lots of simple variations possible on this, there's a strain of Venetian cookie based on cornmeal, might try that next.

march 12

Waxing moon, full moon last night.
Erratic weather, warm and warmer,
then a day of wet snow,
then cold and sunny.
Still wondering what to do,
still waiting for the work to return.


Took a walk through the neighborhood in the wet snow.


Ended up in the park near where I grew up.
First came here as a small child with my mother,
loved to run over the stepping stones in the creek,
trying not to get my sneakers wet.


Bright and still, nobody was there.


The only sound was the water tumbling over the stones in the creek.
Like spring peepers, or geese honking overhead, this was a paradox:
repetitive, varied, and infinite at the same time.


Thought about what it meant to return.
How life asks us to learn what we need to learn, and then waits patiently until we do.

march 5

      Waxing moon, back to winter weather here, cold but lots of sun. A hard week in which to stay balanced. It turned out that I was responsible for the book being misprinted, so I worked on fixing that, details below. Still no painting, a friend gave me some spy novels about World War II and they seem to be explaining the current mayhem, the same psychopathic bully in charge, and some of what's going on seems eerily similar. I can't believe this is happening, a very bad TV show come to life, but the more they push, the more resistance they create.

february 26

Waning moon, new moon on Tuesday. Some really warm days, had to open the windows, an element of unreality to the weather as well as the government. Could not work this week, a kind of enforced vacation, not unheard of at the end of the moon, often a rest like this is the prelude to a larger set of changes. Some wacky events, a book sent to Mexico last week with a USPS label somehow ended up in France, then even more book nuttiness, detailed below.


The next edition of Living Craft arrived, and I was excited to see the results of an entire re-write over 2016 and three different proofs.


But it turned out there were some really strange errors in the text, whole pages that looked like this! So, something went awry in the way the PDF was read at the bindery. At least, that is my conclusion, since I can't reproduce an error like this from the PDF, which I only sent out after making sure it was perfect for the zillionth time. Yet it was odd how easy it was to accept this as an occurance, maybe because the truth is so garbled in general right now. The bindery is still investigating what happened, something of this magnitude may well be unique for them, I hope not too much work went out with this issue. I also hope they accept the books back, and then reprint the edition.


Another part of the park, getting out here is always a good reminder that, whatever is going on in the temporal sense, there's something larger available.

february 21

      Oops. Edition Eight of Living Craft is now out of stock, the last book went to the location above in Navarre. I've learned a lot about geography in the last six years! It's always great to be reminded that the world is full of peaceful people and beautiful places, perhaps more meaningful right now. I'm pretty excited about the next edition, another total rewrite that took all year. It's already a week late, but the bindery does a great job and I needed to see one more proof this time, so that put the transition in jeopardy. More about Edition Nine when it arrives.

february 19

      Waning moon, a week with more sun and the beginning of some pretty warm days. Have sort of been running on empty, have been waking up in the middle of the night for about a month now, it may be taking a toll. Did layers on some of the larger florals, these were begun in tempera grassa, switched to oil this week. There's always more to learn than I think there is, but that present tense challenge is always good, they didn't come out badly. Also did a few layers on smaller studies, but returning to the somewhat larger scale again felt good. Last week of the moon upcoming, usually not the best for the work, although it's a doozy otherwise astrologically. I'm not that good at prognostication, but, at this point, it is definitely a hard world in which to keep secrets.


      Warm yesterday, visited another part of the park I'd never been to before in the afternoon, not the most photogenic season, but fun to expand this horizon.





First of the larger florals I started in the fall. There are eight tempera grassa layers on this one, I really liked the way this paint looked, but, this one anyway didn't want to get finished with it. Got involved with a modified cobalt green background that I liked, but decided to shift it towards blue this time. These tend to go in layers that are warmer or hotter, the colour being somewhat exaggerated, then cooler and more natural. This one has a relatively finished look but the colours don't quite feel right yet. They're a little hot here but it's more than that, see the one below for what I mean. It could be that they just need to get a little darker and more natural. Well, best not to think too much about it, a given series has a way of answering its own questions as each of the images is developed within the cycle. 24x21.5 inches, gessoed linen on panel.


      Second image in the series, had done several small studies over the years, the last one of which I ended up liking. Three of four tempera grassa layers, on the dark and warm side, a somewhat older look, bringing the chroma and value scale up now in oil. Some minor reflections in the background picking up light on the left, a lot of adjustments to that field of colour. Feel more comfortable with this one than the first one, it's less complete but feels more grounded.24x21.5 inches, gessoed linen on panel.


      The fourth one in the series, from Friday, the background colour remains kind of focal, there's something warmer and greener beneath it, it should dry down a little as the others have. Least work on it of the three, just two layers in tempera grassa, a third might be a good idea in general, there's always more to consider even if it has a charismatic look. At least, what I find is that I always like oomph at first, but then subordinate it to content as much as possible. This one also had sand in the ground, a perennial interest that enhances adhesion but also leads to a lot of very small bumps until the surface is filled. Still, there's something I like about this one, a further step into simplicity. 24x21.5 inches, gessoed linen on panel.

february 12

      Week of the full moon, a quiet one, things continue mostly overcast, a little bit of snow and sun as well. One really cold day, Lily was feeling cooped up, wanted to go out a couple times, finally made it out the front door as a huge gust of bitter wind roared up the street, came right back inside. There's an interesting documentary out about the cats of Istanbul, called Kedi, trailers and allied stuff on YouTube, a lovely story. The day after the snow was really a nice one to work, lots of light always makes it easier to see. Didn't have a lot of energy generally, fought off getting sick a few times, I'm trying but it seems like discretion is the better part of valor for now. This is a basic theme of the I Ching, comforting somehow because it is so old: there are times when darkness is in the ascendancy, you just have to be patient and wait for the light. When I started the larger florals this fall it was really helpful, but now they're on hold, not sure why, just have to wait. Developing flexible expectations has really been a help over the last few years, things don't always have to be in fifth gear. It's always nice, if ever illusory, to feel that you've definitively conquered time and space, but what work I can do is coming out pretty well. Moderation. There may not be any roses around but you can stop and smell them anyway. Working with still life is easier because the palette makes more sense to me as something I can play with effectively. With landscapes involving green and blue, I still get hung up with literalism. This has to do with mixing colour in ways that are still beyond me in terms of balancing midtone colour and the atmosphere-reflection structure. In a way, just knowing this begins the process of changing it, but it has taken a long time to understand augmented natural colour, the type of colour so apparent, for example, in the Walter Vaes still life work, and this has yet to really work it's way into the landscape work. This is fine: if the paint and its process are fascinating, the journey becomes the destination. Oh wait, did we just definitively conquer time and space?

february 12

      Second layer on the zinnias in tempera grassa , worked most on the pinker flower on the right. The red saturation is difficult for the camera to handle. I like this paint, but it has been best so far with more atmospheric landscape, not sure it will complete things at this scale. This has oomph but not resolution, maybe that's a function of the paint, but maybe it's not. Like the combination of saturation and matte finish, may try a version of the fused damar and beeswax medium with a more matte look. 12x14.5 inches, gessoed linen over panel.


      Did a layer on the most recent version of this cheese image, an issue with the tableline on the right but otherwise inching closer to finished. About 11x16 inches, gessoed linen on panel.


      Something really old, from the alla prima peony summer of 2001, some of these were better than others. This one began life well, but ended up darkening somewhat over time. This was confusing, an alla prima image in straight paint, very few of these darkened. Anyway, have been puzzling out the colour off and on, this seems about in the right place now, a little more tweaking might do it. About 10x13 inches, oil on gesoed panel.


      More recent peony beginning that was still in the underpainting stage, first layer with a little more saturated paint. More to go, but in a decent place for a few layers. 12x14 inches, gessoed linen on panel.


      Even more recent peony start, a little further along than the one above, also the first saturating layer on this one. Raking light minimizes reflections, but maximizes surface irregularities. Not quite done, but pretty close in feeling, I like the balance of brighter and softer colour here. Not Walter Vaes, but what I learned from his way of using colour. 12x16 inches, gessoed linen on panel.

february 5

      Waxing moon, another generally overcast week. Not that much happened in the work, doing the least thing was somehow monumental. Well, some times are harder, some times are easier, it's just important to keep working, the process is always growing even if it doesn't look like it is. Took some good walks, am thinking a lot about the park. Did get one new start in tempera grassa going that was fun.


      Took a few more walks in the park this week, exploring different places. Had one afternoon with some really interesting weather, snow squalls with the afternoon sun peaking out as well.


      A little later on, with no diffuse sun. There's a lot of park to wander around in, much more than I realized as a kid, inheriting my parent's relatively abridged version of everything. It would be interesting to figure out how to paint this place, that may be on the agenda over the next few months. I'm kind of seeing something different than the photographs, where there's always too much information, but, we'll see.


      Another version of the big red zinnia, a little bigger, done with the damar beeswax approach, made it stickier with a little added chalk, no couch this time. Odd interpretation of the reds by the camera, could only fix it to an extent. This has been in progress for a while, was able to get pretty far with the flower itself, the jar still needs some work. 12x16 inches, gessoed linen over panel.


      One new beginning this week, had to make a panel that was the right size so that delayed things somewhat. Used the tempera grassa medium for this, was able to get reasonably far in a couple hours, lots of layers, light over dark to some extent, not as much as egg tempera, then dry to the touch in about an hour, kept it a little bit on the darker side. Will do at least one more layer with the tempera grassa, but it might need something with more motion to finish it. Well, this paint could have motion too, we'll see if that wants to happen. 12x14.5 inches, gessoed linen over panel.

january 29

      Week of the new moon, more overcast, difficult to work most of the time. Up to a certain point, overcast sort of assures that the colour will be a little brighter in the end, which is fine with the way I work, but when it simply gets hard to see, that becomes too much. Also a difficult week in terms of what's going on in America, I'm not going to give you my unvarnished, personal opinion because having your monitor burst into flame would not be a pleasant experience. A lot of people I know are either really upset or really angry, which is understandable. But, in the tradition of the very patient Quakers who taught me here as a kid, here is a hard-won larger perspective. The incoming administration is very involved in a kind of catabolic action aimed at establishing its power by erasing all evidence of the outgoing administration's policies. The intensity and vitriol of this is designed to create it's own version of shock and awe. But, Newton's Third Law of Motion, this is only producing an equal and opposite reaction. Thus, one form of catabolic action is being met, and quickly, with another. This is clear from the various popularity polls, which are at unprecedentedly low levels for an incoming administration, and sunk noticeably this week. This process is going to intensify: neither the administration nor those who oppose it's policies are going to back down. Leaving aside the obvious bear in the woodpile, which may ultimately prove important, but also may not, the people who are going to have the key roles in this are the Republicans in congress, who have undoubtedly already realized that, while it was fine to have a bull in the Democrat's china shop, this bull is actually in everybody's china shop. So as the fury of paranoid bullying increases, as the popularity polls sink further, as the stock market begins to reflect instability and also go down, as avocadoes become six dollars each, there will come a time when self-preservation comes into play for the Republican congress. To sink the administration or be sunk by it. The intensity of the attack on values the vast majority of Americans share is far too great. This is where the bear may actually prove helpful, since it is much easier to remove a traitor from office than a mere lunatic. Anyway, there are many variables, but there will be a Captain Queeg moment, which creates a definitive shift in public perception. This phase of radical change has just begun, and works both ways: look for a new president much sooner than anyone is currently willing to predict.


      There's a pretty big park that runs through Philadelphia, set up by William Penn from the beginning. Some of it is a little more civilized, most of it is just woods with trails. It ran pretty near to my parent's house, I could escape there as a kid, we just called it the Wissahickon, after the creek that runs through it. This is an area a little further away, a place that's more open where I used to take photos with a 4x5 Speed Graphic later on, image below from 1972, about a hundred yards further down the trail. It's interesting that this photo is over four decades old, I remember that day pretty well. Anyway, I didn't think it would be possible to paint there, but now I'm not so sure. The work would be different than in Vermont, but it might be interesting to see what happens. Most fundamentally, it's what I've got, and, new moon, some ideas occurred -about how to handle it. Very little snow so far this winter, it's great in here with a little snow.


      Something small that had been kicking around unfinished for a while, had done a few larger versions of this years ago. Decided to try putting a couch on it with one of the more adhesive damar and beeswax mediums before going over it with a more mobile damar and beeswax that had a little starch in it. Red, yellow, blue, always harder to get the neutrals right with this approach but they get there with enough passes, which this system could do. The paint had more motion than the couch, but blended with it a great deal as it was worked. So, this was gaming with fortune on a couple of levels, but I scraped the couch on really thin, and thought the inherent stability of the materials would prevail. I like this more animated look for something small, but for something larger I'd tame it down a bit. A fun vacation, there may be more with this approach at some point: one lean layer to set it up, then this more rococo stuff on top. About 8x10 inches, gessoed linen over panel.


      A loose version of a peony I did from life in 2001. This one is just the damar and beeswax medium with starch. This approach is better in general for these: finer working, still some discretion from pass to pass from the starch, dries up. A little cool now, but there's something warmer beneath it, will see how much that influences things in the next few weeks. About 12x14 inches, gessoed linen over panel.

january 22

      Into the third week of the moon, odd weather, cold, damp, overcast. Not much energy to do more than the basics, then my back went out, not bad, and a quick recovery, but I don't think I'm going to be able to have even a small amount of caffeine anymore on a daily basis. I want to man up here and give Donald Trump the credit he so richly deserves for this. I tried for years to get caffeine out of my life and he did it before even taking office. Did get two layers on the current first snow image but that was it. End of my year, trying to be patient, stay balanced with a political scenario that is uncomfortably committed to tapestries of alternative facts. Birthday next week, this is kind of like a giant new moon, and always starts something different, I have no idea what at this point although there are several possibilities floating around for working more quickly again. Went on a group cultural excursion yesterday, these are rare but always fun.


      Went to see the Matisse - Diebenkorn show at the Baltimore Museum of Art yesterday with some friends. This show was well done, with many interesting paintings by both artists, although curatorially, perhaps a little overconfident about what Diebenkorn would have seen by Matisse and when. Some paintings by both artists with diminished colour, Diebenkorn wisely began to paint in somewhat thinner layers over time, Matisse wisely abandoned a gray ground for alla prima images in thin paint, but most were in very good shape. An unexpected highlight for me was the Large Reclining Nude of 1935, the one with the series of in progress photos. This painting is not that large, but has an unusual monumentality, made with paint but carved in stone. A lot to think about, I guess I came away with a new sense of how well Diebenkorn observed, and how well Matisse transformed. The MBA also has a really nice Matisse collection of their own, several very high quality examples from different periods. Drove back on an unusually foggy night, singing 60's songs, looking up Walter Vaes paintings on an iPhone. There are lot more Walter Vaes paintings on the internet now than a few years ago, worth a search if you might be interested in the most unsung painter of the 20th century.


      I was interested in fine overall impasto, but the painting was getting kind of speckled, I think this is the combination of the starch with the wax, as neither alone does this. It would have been logical to simply reduce the starch, but I didn't think of this at first, probably because I've always loved working with starch. So I added a little emulsified beeswax to the medium, since this was what had made the previous version of this image interesting to me. And this worked out fine, created somewhat smoother handling. But this formula is too complex, will try the next image in this medium with decreasing starch in the layers and see what happens. Did find a reference to emulsified beeswax, or to the distinct possibility of emulsified beeswax, in the article on George Stubbs in NGTB 9. This is of interest because Stubbs's dates coincide with the original interest in wax that began with the writing of the Comte de Caylus, and, more importantly, because Stubbs's work is always in very good condition.


      Got two thin layers on this one this week, the second on a day so dark I probably shouldn't have tried. Found a little more facility mixing a lot of muted lavender and violet colours, this helped with the middle distance, it's always fun to find the next level of anything. Not quite sure what bugs me about this, but it just doesn't seem finished yet. A few places look a little dorky or unresolved here, will have to check with the painting itself. In larger terms, finished seems to be more and more a personal judgement, not something that really can be understood. The earlier one is a little dimmer, and a little warmer, and has less detail. It seems more immutable, but also friendlier, more like the day itself. Again, this has to do with winter, the way snow both challenges and protects. I worked to put those qualities in this time, but it's still not where the first one is. But it's also a question of each image having it's own version of integrity. Still, would say it's better than it was last week. One more layer? Hey, why not? 11.25x17.75 inches, oil on gessoed canvas over panel.

january 15

      Week of the full moon, a quiet one, bizarre mostly overcast weather that has gone from the 30s to the 60s and now back to cold again. A lot of people have been sick, finally began to feel less than ideal this morning, took a broad spectrum of stuff but I really like the fresh ginger, elderberry, and licorice root tea. Feel better now but will keep going with this approach, overconfidence after feeling it subside has often been my downfall in the past. Started and completed a set of panels, wasn't able to do that much painting, but did get one development of the fused damar and beeswax approach underway that I've been wondering about for a while now, details below.

      I've been thinking a lot lately about the uniquely human duality of integrity and mendacity, of honesty and lies. As kids, we are all taught to be honest, and we quickly learn that, both emotionally and pragmatically, honesty is valuable, but also a double-edged sword: the truth hurts, but the truth sets us free. At first we look for a static, or immutable version of truth, something that works all the time. But experience shows us that truth is relative: as we search for it, it tends to recede, redefining itself as our awareness of it increases. So, the truth is involved with that quirky here-oops-gone quality of particle physics: it exists in the present moment, but that particular version of truth is gone with that moment. This means that honesty in life is a kind of journey, existing relative to our co-ordinates in time and space. One of the things that all the world's wisdom traditions -- as Deepok likes to say -- emphasize, is the value of honesty. This is because honesty creates trust, and trust creates unity. And we are exponentially more when united than separate: more happy, more powerful, more safe, more able to act in our collective best interest. Without trust, the social contract cannot function. And trust only exists to the extent that everyone is equal. A good example of this is the way we deal with our sacred 21st century religion, commerce. Amazon doesn't want to know your politics, religion, race, weight, what school you went to, or whether your ancestors came over on the Mayflower. If you have the money, you can buy. Similarly, Amazon wants you to be happy with your purchase, and wants to hear about it if you have not been given "just measure." This works because the rules are clear, the same for everyone, and serve to improve the way the system functions over time. But in other areas of life we often experience situations in which some of us are more equal than others. There are many different kinds of ladders on which we are ranked, various hidden country clubs that admit some people, but not others. These experiments in exclusivity separate us, because they erode trust in our basic cosmic connection to one another. If particles behaved this way the universe would not be able to function. And we are made up of just those particles. Yet, there have always been people who are willing to lie, to call opinion fact, and people who are willing to believe the lies. We see ourselves as a superior species but we are the only species that lies to one another. This is the psychological equivalent of expecting the apple to fall up because you say so. But human lies do not change the physics of the universe, which uses diversity as a way to emphasize unity. But, as a species, we still need to learn that there is a qualitative, cause and effect difference between honesty and lies. Honesty may be uncomfortable in the short run, but in the long run it causes unity. Lies may be soothing in the short run, but in the long run they cause chaos. History demonstrates that a societal structure built on lies has a short, and often violent, existence. These societies are not diverse, but fractured, not unified, but coerced. We tend to think of this situation in political terms, but it comes down to whether a society is functioning in harmony, or dissonance, with the basic structure of the universe.


      I spent several years working with a little starch gel in the medium, I liked the various types of low impasto surface it made. But I got into various situations that were perhaps a little subtle for the medium chromatically, and have ended up with a medium using egg yolk on the one hand, or fused damar with a little beeswax on the other, to keep the colour brighter in thin layers. The fused damar and beeswax approach has a little more overall impasto potential than the egg yolk approach, but, because there's no solvent involved with the damar, doesn't have much tack. I was able to solve this with a little emulsified beeswax in the medium, but this material is a little arcane for most people, and, though ancient and non-yellowing with glue -- the Fayum mummy portraits, the wall painting technique of Pompeii -- is more or less untried in oil. I've found that, if anything, a little ewax makes the medium yellow less, not more, but these tests are not quite a year old at this point. Anyway, I wondered if starch gel might provide a more tried alternative. Starch is not flour! Starch and water form a very strong material that has been found at least occasionally in Rembrandt's work. This week I tried introducing starch -- the cooked wheat starch from Talas for bookbinding and conservation -- to the fused damar and beeswax medium. This worked out well because the starch did introduce a faster set to the paint than the other reliable alternative, methyl cellulose. And of course starch is a simpler, cheaper, and more traditional material, all of which are in its favor. The only caveat with starch is that it degrades relatively quickly when mixed with water, it couldn't for example, be mixed with the medium then tubed for months, the gel has a life of three or four days in the refrigerator.


      Tested the starch gel approach with one of my therapy images, there are a number of these nearing completion in different ways at this point. Earlier version using a little ewax above, most recent version below. Was able to work on it three times, may be able to complete it with a fourth layer, but I would think definitely a fifth layer. I'd planned to make this at the new florals scale, 24 inches across, but couldn't wait to make that and used a panel I had that was the right proportion. Even this small increase in scale is helpful, and it also seems better at this point to just use a panel from the beginning, rather than mounting gessoed paper or linen on panel later.


      With this image there are a number of variables that come into play. There has to be a reasonable amount of foreground detail to balance the sky, but what I get most interested in is the atmosphere, the sense of the day. There was a lot of magical weather in Vermont over the years, some of it dramatic, some of it more quiet. This was an unusually gentle and elegant afternoon in early December, spacious and still, the first snow of the winter. It's hard to describe the interaction of the light and air that produce this particular feeling, but if you know winter, and especially if you appreciate winter, you know this feeling. It's fascinating to hunt for it in paint, a matter of relatively specific proportions of red, yellow, blue, and white. No no no no no no, oh, okay, getting there. The sky is a little light at this point, but I'm happy with the way the middle distance has developed. On the literal side at this point overall, but I wanted to see what the medium would and wouldn't do. Detail below of the type of surface the starch-enhanced medium produces, the random pointilles are standard and can be left or removed. The ewax addition makes the kind of painterly surface I'm looking for more quickly, but it looks like this paint may be able to do something with more character. Or maybe that this paint may be able to mirror the basic creative tension between diversity and unity with more accuracy. This painting is 11.25x17.75 inches, oil on gessoed canvas over panel.

january 8

      Waxing moon, mostly overcast, then some actual winter in the form of snow, not much but I'm always a fan of snow. Decent energy for the work all things considered, or maybe, the work knows what to do even though I'm plodding along for now, not really a tortoise, just a semi-reformed hare. In larger terms, it's still easy to get distracted by what's happening in the world, at least, what's happening according to the media. It seems more positive to make the best work I can, instead of getting riled up internally. The menu contains many tempting dishes, but I've concluded, yet again, that peace is the most nourishing in the long run. So I started reading the third volume of Dance to the Music of Time again as a way to balance this out a little, this volume is about the narrator's experiences in the Second World War, and is always strangely soothing in spite of the many hair-raising things that happen in it. Did some work on the website galleries this week, they've been woefully out of date and still are, but it's a beginning. Also ran across the quote below, interesting as an early commentary on the reciprocity of the inner and outer worlds, coming directly from the early Roman Catholic Church.

      "Within itself the soul sees all things more truly than as they exist in different things outside itself. And the more it goes out unto other things in order to know them, the more it enters into itself in order to know itself."
-- Nicholas of Cusa, De Aequalitate 1459.


      This week's putty photo, a one to one mix of the methyl cellulose tempera with a simple chalk putty made with aged and preheated oil, so this is an oil-phase tempera grassa. This oil mix absorbed a great deal of chalk for it's volume, four parts. Used one part of this mixed with two parts paint for the second layer of the painting below.


      Have wanted for a while to start a series of larger, somewhat broader landscapes based on the tempera grassa approach of the recent larger florals. This type of thing often seems to have its own timetable, or gestation period, but wanted to happen this week. Began this with the methyl cellulose tempera base mixed into oil paint, this was water-phase and dried overnight. Then put on a layer using the putty above, this was a little easier to work with but still not capable of anything too elegant. For a while I've watched the landscape work begin to get less literal, but just how to develop this seemed to be better left up to the process itself. It could be thought into place, but this has never seemed to have the same authority as letting it happen naturally. So, not done, but the sort of development I wait for, and get excited about. 13.75x21.75 inches, tempera grassa on linen.


      Small version of this image of Snake Mountain in Addison County in Vermont, view from the bird sanctuary there, one of the more expansive views from the area that I'm increasingly fond of. The first layer on this was done a few years ago with a starch enhanced putty, I really liked how this softened the chroma and gave the painting an internal rhythm in low impasto. But the medium was not that fat, and, over time, the colours bleached out further, meaning it didn't work as well. So this is a somewhat more saturating layer with a fused damar and beeswax medium. I like this approach in general for keeping the colour more accurate over time, although the amount of damar and beeswax in the medium has to be kept on the small side. I haven't gotten around to trying this approach with a little starch gel, but that might be interesting as well. Starch is really stable, and quite strong, (starch is not flour!), but it doesn't turn out to lock up the colour as effectively as egg yolk, the various resins and beeswax do. About 8x13 inches, oil on gessoed paper over panel.


      End of the day light, a spot in Ferrisburg I worked with for over a decade, this one has proven tricky in a number of ways but hasn't really been through that much. It will probably be a few more layers before it seems complete but getting to a place that is more interesting to work on. About 9.5x14.5 inches, oil on gessoed paper over panel.


      This week's reclamation project, earlier version of my therapy image from the Mugello, ground it down, buffed it clean, and added another quick layer with a fused damar and beeswax medium. Not done but clarified. A better scale for me, not even that much bigger at 11x16.75 inches, oil on gessoed canvas over panel.

january 1

      Week of the new moon, sort of a quiet one, didn't feel jet propelled in any particular direction, in the winter especially this is a relief. Tried some new things in the medium, but felt kind of generally antsy, like nothing was quite new enough. This is in some ways a bug, in some ways a feature, just have to be patient with figuring out what the materials are trying to tell me, and how to use this effectively. This can take time, can be confusing because I just don't quite know what to do next, but it always resolves itself into a new order, a new path. I used to envision the craft as going halfway to the wall forever, but the last few years the wall has started moving away from me pretty often as well. This was also confusing at first but now seems like a privilege, the only way to keep learning without crossing the finish line. Have decided for the zillionth time to just be sane, balanced, and happy in spite of everything that comes along to try to alter this basic, natural approach. This includes my personal Achilles heel, making happiness dependent on progress in the work. What I've been realizing this past year is that making peace come first creates a place where time is still slow and space is still infinite. This type of time and space is the predicate for genuine, possibly even infinite, quality in life, far more valuable -- well, to me, duh -- than what it most often gets traded for, money and power. Someone sent this Jung quote this week: "Whenever there is a reaching down into innermost experience, into the nucleus of personality, most people are overcome by fear and many run away. . . The risk of inner experience, the adventure of the spirit, is in any case alien to most human beings. The possibility that such experience might have psychic reality is anathema to them." As a kid I saw that my reality existed on its own terms, that the adventure of the spirit was essentially a personal matter, and, if need be, could happen easily without bothering anyone else about it. In other words, the confining definitions of the grown-ups could be circumvented without the least visible rebellion, the world of the spirit existed in a place they weren't patrolling anyway because, in their context, it didn't exist. This isn't a unique experience by any means, the personal life has always existed on these terms in society, but there was no teacher, making it a central formative experience for me: I got to be myself by making sure no one else had any idea who that was. This orientation led to the freedom to consider life on its own terms, not those of a particular socioeconomic frame of reference. In practice this meant the actual frame of reference had no hard and fast boundaries, the apparent boundaries were always temporary. This made it possible to learn more than I ever dreamed could be learned, and I'm happy for the opportunity to share at least some of it here. Thanks very much to everyone who read the fruit of these endeavors, Living Craft, in the last year, and wrote with such interesting thoughts and questions. And happy 2017, I hope your year is full of moments of wonder and discovery.


      A medium I made a lot of variations of in 2016, thicker oil, crushed damar, and beeswax. The damar is fused into the oil on low heat, the beeswax is then added. Very versatile, creates more sequestered or bright paint either alla prima or in layers. Just keep track of the proportions of the ingredients, and the proportion of medium you're mixing into the paint. A medium that is fifteen percent damar, for example, sounds like a lot, but if it is used at one part medium to three parts paint, this becomes a little less than four percent damar in the paint film.


      Most recent damar, wax, and oil medium, this one used stand oil and is somewhat melting in spite of the density, that's what I wanted to see. I decided not to try for anything final in the tube, such as adding chalk or methyl cellulose to compensate for the melting of the stand oil. Keeping the medium simple, with just the basic ingredients, makes it more versatile.


      Something a little different, a version of the putty medium made with emulsified beeswax, this is has an interesting combination of body and movement, making it surprisingly expressive.


      Study begun with the ewax putty, this was interesting because the paint could be layered, blended, or carved into, removed. I got sort of involved exploring everything that could happen, went through a few different possible endings just because it was possible. Then removed a lot of tarry paint the next day. Kind of subfusc, a lot of development without much sense of finish, but the pieces are all in the right place, so the next layer might be pretty interesting. Another way of saying this is, I've seen enough first layers look good but lead to trouble to feel that one that looks bad might be a better idea. I keep saying I'm not going to do anymore of these small ones, but they seem to happen anyway, I couldn't see fiddling with something this different at twice the size. About 8x13.5 inches, gessoed paper.


      Larger study based on a smaller one that worked out, the infamous overlook towards Farr Cross on Route 17 outside Vergennes. Had gotten a little involved with detail in this one, simplified it in this layer, it looked good when I stopped but still managed to dry down a bit in terms of both value and colour. About 12x20 inches, gessoed paper. This is something very nice from Twinrocker, heavyweight Davinci, it needs to be mounted on a panel soon to get rid of the slight rippling in the surface.


      Small study that had become the victim of a thousand layers, ground it back and started over, this is fun when I'm in the mood, always illustrates how much I've learned. The smaller ones were always envisioned as tests for larger ones, but I'm not sure this one would work large. About 8.5x14 inches, gessoed paper on panel.


      Another smaller one, light in the process of coming through fog in late September. This one has a lot of thin layers on it but is getting where I want it. About 10x15 inches, paper on canvas on panel, something that makes the surface a little less mechanically flat.


      Larger version, first more saturated layer on it, I added more space around the tree but it might be too much, easy to fix. About 12.5x 20 inches, gessoed paper.


      Another small study of olive trees done with the ewax putty, therapy or meditation image for me, a little more colour and value in the recent ones. I might try the next one with a more dense version of the medium, this would make the behavior more blunt or sculptural. 8x13 inches, gessoed paper.

december 25

      Waning moon, a reasonably dark week again, plugged away when I could, had consistent but not effervescent energy, added layers to the series of small landscape studies that's been going on now for a while, a couple of the closer ones are below. Am more excited about the newer larger scale florals, want to start some landscape work in a similar size on panels soon, but this was fun, rewarding in that I typically knew much more than in the previous layer. Sometimes a detour is good for everything, I'll always love the odd challenge of small paintings. In larger terms, it is interesting to continue to realize that I haven't any idea what is really there. Or maybe that the idea itself, with its sense of personal identity -- my idea that I know -- is much more problematic than I ever realized. This is another one of those things with interior levels, like the nested Russian dolls, but the inner levels are larger than the outer ones. But it seems like I have to experience each level before realizing, okay, it's not this: the experience allows it to manifest, but also to be let go. Still, the former experience develops the next experience: the most recent larger floral beginning from last week is more evolved than the first one from a few months ago. This is always exciting to see, since 2001, when I started on the great fool's errand of learning to understand a lot of things that I didn't, there have been several times when things really stalled, I just couldn't figure out what to do, sometimes for years. Compared to this, the work grew a lot this year, and it feels like there's much more coming. Have to be patient with less a little while longer until the new moon and the new year, but then the next level of energy will begin. A pretty quiet holiday here, would like to feel positive but peace on earth seems a long way away right now. This past year I often wondered if it was darkest yet, only to have it get darker. When you're young, it's easy to get mad, but when you get older, it's hard not to get sad: you've seen it all before, and you know it's been going on for millennia. War, materialism, mendacity, injustice, racism and sexism are all things that do not work. We have proven this over and over. So why does someone always want to try again, just one more time? Somewhere between anger and sadness is a place that accepts, then finds a way to hope. I guess that's the challenge, to find inner balance, meditate on the battlefield. I think about Matisse making the cut-outs in occupied France, how, historically, the positive seems so fragile, yet not only survives, but thrives.


      My friend Roland sent me an article this week about research into the technique of the fabric-covered panels of the Vyss√≠ Brod Cycle, dated around 1345 to 1350. This provides evidence of a pure oil technique at a relatively early date. No egg, walnut oil used for the lighter colours, linseed oil for the darker colours. Also, an article in the New York Times this week about the ongoing restoration of the Ghent Altarpiece, completed in 1432.


      Made a new batch of the tempera medium I've been using for the larger florals this week. Some of it dried on the inside of the container, it looked like this when it was peeled off. Digital tends to enhance colour in lower chroma situations, this was basically gray on off white.


      Image from a foggy morning in May in Vermont, a long time ago at this point. There are several of these, it's been interesting the way they've informed one another as they've progressed. Some elements in this that have been tricky to pull together, but this seems to be through to another level. About 9.5x12.75 inches, gessoed paper on panel.


      The opposite end of the summer spectrum, late evening light in August. I originally painted this scene outside, so the evening is sort of etched in my memory. This one has tended to be too bright or too dull, but again may be through to the next level of balance, I like the sense of an immense space occupying a small one. There's a larger one of these started, but it's nowhere near where this one is yet. About 8x12 inches, gessoed paper on panel.


      Study of olive trees from today, did a few of these earlier in the year, always a good reminder that less can be more. Wanted to try a different approach using a putty with ewax. Interesting, but maybe a little unresolved, asking more questions than it answers. Hard to say: once a certain amount change occurs, it's hard to see what has really happened, have to wait for more information. But, can already see that this leads to yet another different approach at some point. About 8x13 inches, gessoed paper.

december 18

      Week of the full moon, a pretty quiet one, colder here with a little snow yesterday, warmer today. Cold and flue weather, time for some licorice root, elderberry and fresh ginger tea! We went in town on Monday morning, did a little shopping, had lunch at a great Japanese restaurant, then wandered around Reading Terminal Market. It was really bustling, a functional melting pot, that always feels good. Took a book to the post office on Tuesday, very long line, their internet was down. I thought, "The Russians?" The clerks were handling it really well, though, joking with one another and the line while they waited, endlessly, for their terminals to respond. Then witnessed an altercation, a misunderstanding about postal rules for books, the customer was sending out an academic book she had written, presumably a thesis, since she knew nothing about the process, and was pretty self-righteous about that from the beginning, that she was "smart" when she was in fact both ignorant and suspicious. These kerfluffles are rare, but have always been white woman-black woman, and the clerk, who is literally the most positive employee there, was handling it well. But the customer wouldn't let her explain, so it escalated slowly. When the customer said she wasn't going to take this crap, the room got really still, and the clerk called for her supervisor, who was large, black, male, and very low key. The customer quickly complained to the supervisor that the clerk was taking out a bad day on her. I thought, "Did she learn that from Trump?" But the supervisor just solved the issue by letting the clerk explain. It turned out that the customer didn't understand media mail, the clerk was in fact trying to give her the best deal possible if her package qualified, which it did. It ended on a somewhat mollified note, but made me feel ashamed of white people. This is sort of rare for here, a neighborhood where a lot of different people live, and are happy, even proud, about it, but this seems to be a time when everything poisonous is coming to the surface.

      Speaking of which, we went to a local political meeting on Wednesday night! It was mostly older folks, nice to see so many people turn out, I did feel sort of proud a little about having grown up here, we learned from our state representative that he was elected by the bluest majority in that body. Having felt for a long time that until it works for everyone it's not going to work for anyone, I have mixed emotions about any other political attitude, regardless of how it presents itself. There were various speakers and topics, but the focus was an address, possibly harangue, by someone young and zealous, who had run Bernie's campaign here. He talked a lot about power, and how our power had always been taken from us, and was still being taken from us. He then proceeded to illustrate this with a form of guerrilla theater. First, groups of us were told to draw an ideal community. Then, while we were doing this he came around and ambushed the plan by drawing in charter schools, coal plants, etc. It was sort of crude, especially given the crowd. It turned out I wasn't alone in feeling that this was simplistic, or that it was in fact yet another an illustration of exercising power without permission, but that came out later in the evening, when there were general comments on how things had gone. Anyway, the experience started me thinking about how to put aside decades of devout Actonianism and define power in a positive way. This is still a work in progress, and I have a feeling this is going to turn out to be more of an inner, than outer, commodity. I guess this is my basic issue with politics, it tends to proceed from a definition of life that is too materialist, and us against them. An exception is Gandhi, and I really like the concept of becoming the change you want to see in the world. This is the original ideal of Buddhism, too: work on yourself first, the later ideal of saving everyone else too looks wonderful, but seems to risk taking away someone else's ability to come to their own decisions: an abuse of power. So I've ended up wondering if the foundation of actual power isn't simply the examined life, listening carefully for the teaching of the deeper orchestration that is always beneath the surface. But the foundation of this is that there might well be something more to learn: a more philosophical than political approach. So, things are really stirred up right now, a lot of ongoing tension on multiple levels. On the other hand, the cat is still her cosmic goofy self, it sometimes feels like she's rooting for me to get more balanced with it all. Anyway, given everything and the time of year, a decent week for the work: got one layer in on a larger floral and then revisited the idea of a little emulsified beeswax in the medium.


      Did some work earlier this year with a little emulsified beeswax in the medium. This is the wax made with soap that was part of older mural technique, not the ammonium carbonate wax that was used for manuscript illumination. This was really interesting, the final process showed minimal yellowing in any of the samples over six months, everything around the ewax samples yellowed more. At this point, yellowing in general is pretty minimal, but it's always good to keep an eye on it in tests to avoid surprises. So, decided to return to working with ewax this week, layers on some of the small studies that had originally used it. This was the medium, a mixture of several things. LWS stands for larch, wax, stand oil, and DWS stands for damar, wax, and stand oil, the damar is fused into the oil. I liked aspects of the LWS medium, but it was too limpid and melting, even with the DWS medium added. This was where the ewax came in, being water based, it adds more density. I added the small amount of thicker oil mix to make the medium slightly more fat than the underlayer. Balancing things with different behaviors in the medium has to do with their proportions, the parts involved are listed in the photo. I wanted to bring this up because, geeky as it might appear, it's basically about balance.


      This is what the ewax looks like blended with the thicker oil mix: a dense, sticky, elastic emulsion. If this were the medium, it would make relatively fine detail but probably need to be used with a palette knife.


      This shows the way the medium moves when everything is mixed together, still elastic but more mobile. Mixed with the paint, this had a nice balance of grab and glide, the brushstroke could be left alone, nudged, or blended.


      When I started making the ewax earlier this year, I tried making it with homemade linseed oil soap. This turned out to yellow more than walnut oil soap, but the linseed oil soap, an old Swedish housekeeping tradition, is great for cleaning natural hair brushes, leaves them soft and supple. I only had a little of it left, so decided to make a large batch with half a gallon of refined organic oil from Jedwards: a good project for a dark winter afternoon. Most of the soap recipes online use a Crockpot, I put a regular pot into a cast iron skillet and that worked well for low even heat with a gas stove. But the larger amount made the process very different, the mixture became a virtual solid and then took several hours to resolve into the more mobile, dark translucent mass above. This type of soap is made with potassium hydroxide, instead of the sodium hydroxide of bar soap, and is technically called liquid soap. The process is the basis of dishwashing soaps, Dr. Bronner's etc. though well diluted with water for these. There are also several undiluted versions sold now for cleaning brushes. More work than I thought, but fun to observe the process more closely, and about nine cups of very dense soap!


      Layer one in tempera grassa on the larger floral start from last week. Some small glitches but overall relatively far along at this stage compared to the other ones in the series. Like the overall feeling of the colour, sometimes a given image just has a place it wants to go. It's a little literal now, but it seems better to start here and then move towards something more atmospheric. About 24x21.5 inches, gessoed linen over panel.


      One of the studies done earlier this year with ewax in the medium, it was so different at the time I didn't know what to do next, so let it sit around for a few months, watching it.


       Saw what to do this week and worked on it again. Used the medium detailed above for this, same medium as before but with a little added thick oil. The painting seemed to have plenty of atmosphere, but was without resolution. I didn't want to go further into atmosphere, so this was a "clean" layer, about crisper values and detail more than atmosphere. It's more literal, but that's easy to submerge, I also want to see how much it dries up or down in the next week, it may well end up with more atmosphere based on what's underneath it although the composition of the medium is relatively good at minimizing this. Similarly, the earlier one is more red, it will be interesting to see if this emerges a bit. The medium was really cooperative, while this is relatively small it didn't begin to feel picky or tense. The earlier version also has a kind of internal quiver or wobble that I like, it will be interesting to see if I can get some of that back, but also maintain a little of the greater specificity of this layer. So, it's about juggling a lot of different things until they get into a kind of organic balance. As such, there's usually something a little bit off, or out of whack. But if there weren't, the painting would just be done, and what fun is that? About 9.5x14.25 inches, gessoed paper on canvas on panel. The canvas interlayer makes it look a little softer, less mechanically flat.

december 11

      More seasonal, more overcast, a quick sprinkling of snow, and, heavy sigh, another week of relatively low energy for the work. Mostly, it just did not want to happen. Odd for a waxing moon, but there is absolutely nothing there now except an empty well waiting to be filled. Partly this is the time of year, historically not the best energy, partly it's a kind of slow motion acceptance that the apothesis of materialist mendacity is about to become president. Though I didn't get involved in copious amounts of alcohol, I do think I've been in denial. I thought that something in the deus ex machina department would have to happen to derail this. There is just something deeply wrong with a system that is so involved in subterfuge and misrepresentation. At the same time, it's comforting to know that the coming kleptocracy will begin with a great many people already following the money. And one thing you always hope for is overconfidence. The more the better, so this might be a potential silver lining. Is hubris your favorite tragic flaw too? Perhaps this time we need to destroy our own country in order to save it. Anyway, like a lot of people, I'm both trying to figure out what to do, and get disentangled enough from it to function. It's easy to get sort of myopic about the work when focused on it day to day. So, while it's always frustrating to be stopped, it's also always helpful to use this type of time to step back and consider things from a larger perspective, appreciate what has happened, not anticipate what might happen. This is where more substantive changes seem to begin. Right now it seems like things have reached a fork in the road with the recent tempera grassa approach. Looking at the new bowl of flowers start from last week, I keep extrapolating that style onto various other images. This is sort of a good omen. It looks like this approach may solve a couple of recurring issues both optically and within the style so often, and so deceptively, referred to as realism. It seems like I need things to be as broken as I feel. So, more of that approach may be coming. But you never know, best not to try to figure it out too much, let it be fallow until something sprouts. Sometimes it's a radish, just like I thought, but it might be a watermelon too. What wants to happen is what I'll deal with. If the process is in charge, interesting things occur. But if I try to dictate terms, it's a disaster.


      The SRO process makes an oil that dries quickly, even more when it is auto-oxidized, and doesn't yellow appreciably, especially when aged in the light. This means that, even using commercial paint, solvent becomes optional in the studio on a day to day basis. If you've done work with linseed oil you know that it tends to darken in the dark after it has dried, but will then brighten again in the light: the substance of the often-sited Rubens letter about opening the painting that has been shipped so it can brighten again. So I was surprised to open this jar of hand-refined linseed oil and see that the dried oil hidden beneath the jar lid for about three years was relatively light: this location is often pretty dark even with walnut oil. So, if this is the worst, this oil is a little different. What makes it different? It was heated with the Kremer calcite for three hours to 100C. You could go longer, an hour or two, and to a higher temperature, say 150C, without it getting much thicker. This is not the first time linseed oil heated with calcite has been unusually non-yellowing, just a good visual illustration. Heating tends to minimize the byproducts of oxidation that cause yellowing, heating with calcite adds calcium linoleate to the oil, which is not water soluble, so between these two, the legendary potential of linseed oil to yellow can be made pretty minimal.

      Very nice post here by accomplished painter Daniel Mirante, who also teaches at the Vienna Academy of Visionary Art, about making SRO linseed oil, and it's various advantages.


      In spite of feeling like the larger florals in tempera grassa are the future, there might be something to be said for some of the more recent smaller ones. Hard to say, right now I'm sort of impatient with both this scale and the various paints that developed for it. This one had become too subtle, a good way to alter this is to shock it.


      It ended up being somewhat different, not that much in larger terms, but a lot in terms of where it was. One more layer? That seems to be the issue right now, wanting more of the quality of change that has been part of the recent bigger florals. So, for now, I learned that this isn't quite the place to look for what wants to happen. About 12x14 inches, gessoed linen over panel.


      Actually started something this afternoon, this is as far as I got, a drawing and a few loose washes of watercolour. Started the one before this with sponges instead of a big brush but that felt too controlled for today. The big brush sort of forces things to be more essential, the detail can always go over the feeling. Have done this one once before, image of the first one is here , but I'd like to figure out a way for this one to be different. May do a few layers in a more lean tempera grassa next, the approach from the bowl of dried flowers from last week. About 24x21.5 inches, gessoed linen over panel.

december 4

      Second week of the moon, still not that cold, some really overcast days. Tried to keep working but it was a hard week. This is partly due to the time of year, December is definitely one of the less productive months in my cycle. The best months are typically January, May, and September, then it falls off slowly, February, June, and October are good, March, July, and November okay, but April, August, and December are pretty iffy. This doesn't mean interesting things can't happen, its more about the amount of energy actually available. Working with this has helped by letting things be fallow when they want to be. But, even so, managed to push things too hard this week, there is a certain painful reality I think I'm trying to escape. Almost got sick but managed to stave it off, hurled an arsenal of natural immune enhancers and anti-inflammatories at it, it's always fun when it works, have learned the hard way not to get overconfident when the first round stalls it. So, had hoped that the larger scale florals would carry me through this winter in an endless wave, but the work is only one aspect of things, and they're only one aspect of the work. Was sort of haunted this week by the phrase, "Do Less, Be More." Could this possibly be true? Is this totally annoying advice for me?


      Something from the Mugello I've been working on now and then for a while, okay, years, I guess that's "the usual" around here. Put a really saturating layer on it with a medium designed to dry on the high side, and finally liked how everything dried. So, there's probably another version of this that could be an improvement, but this is as good as this one is going to get without major surgery. Which makes it finished. About 10x12 inches, gessoed linen over panel.


      Second layer on last week's small study from the Garfagnana above Lucca, the idea here has been to explore a specific type of tempera grassa, keeping the paint on the dense side without too much oil. An improvement, but inconclusive still, I'm not sure this paint is going to go where I hoped it would without some changes. Which is fine. I wanted to see if this image could be made larger in the manner of the recent florals, but I'm not sure this is going to give me that information. About 8x10 inches, oil on paper over linen on panel.


      Layer three on the most recent larger floral, a little goofy but I'm happy with the overall progress at this stage, want to keep the feeling and complete it without too much detail. Relative to the first ones, this is much more itself, much less about the visual facts, which is what I want. About 24x21.5 inches, gessoed linen over panel.


      New start on an image that's always fascinated me. Earlier version below, about 8x10 inches, have made many small adjustments to this in the last few years in the interest of something I'm going to call timeless poise. But this approach tends to make things more detailed, and at a certain point the image has to really change, or be declared complete. Wasn't sure which route to take but saw a newer version might happen by adjusting the tempera grassa approach based on the experience with the Garfagnana study above. So this one is leaner, drier, crisper working, on a slightly absorbent ground. This produced a very different look that I liked. Relatively unforgiving, the paint sticks, and sets quickly, can be overpainted, is in the middle between wet-in-wet and actual layering, it kind of smears. I used to paint this way about a decade ago with a variety of egg-amber mediums on panels, so it's fun to return to a more additive approach but with a different look. Am looking forward to the next layer on this, a possible step forward for this tempera grassa system in terms of using, but not being used by, realism. Making a new one also has a tendency to free up the original one. About 12x16 inches, gessoed linen over panel.

november 27

      Waning moon, temperatures getting more seasonal, less of the famous sunshine. Week of Thanksgiving, the rehearsal for the mayhem of Christmas, am in the process of making some food to bring to a gathering tonight. Waiting for chestnuts to cool, these always remind me of visiting Tuscany in later September, 2001, wandering around in the tiny towns and chestnut groves up in the Apennines, you had to be careful on the winding roads because they were often literally covered with chestnuts, with a little old couple out in the middle collecting them. Damn the polydactyls, there is nothing cuter than the little old Tuscan couple. Also went out to dinner last night, impromptu visit to some very nice and interesting people, all was going smoothly until the plum grappa showed up, then things got kind of Drones Club -- I can recall making exceptionally witty remarks on several occasions, but not quite what they were -- and, lo and behold, it was one in the morning. Oy. But one of the things the I Ching is pretty clear about is that iron discipline alone does not work. I found this out over and over again about a decade ago, one winter in particular I just kept working harder and wondering why things were only getting worse. So, while I've been on the disciplined side since the uveitis incident, this is the time of year when things like plum grappa are just going to happen, and that kind of time has its use. One of the unexpected side effects to the profound uncertainty of the upcoming administration has been that people who have always been proponents of unity and equality in theory are beginning to just be nicer to one another on a daily basis, not always that easy in the odd pressure cooker of the city. So, I wonder if more stuff like this is on the horizon. My own long-held position is that, until it works for everyone, it's not going to work for anyone, and I'm not exactly holding my breath about that happening. But, for now, run for cover or the nearest big box store, because the Holiday season, in all its materialist gory, has begun. I used to feel that if anything decent happened between Thanksgiving and New Year's it was a miracle, but am now trying to be a little wiser with energy allocation, will probably do non-crucial stuff like make panels until the new moon on the 29th, then see what wants to happen. I might get a decent lick in on these larger florals up till the full moon before the more intense dysfunction of Christmas sets in. I don't mean to be grinch-like, the best part of Christmas, the spirit itself, when it descends for a few unforeseen moments, is always wonderful, it's just that the website got hacked a few months ago, it cost a shocking amount to fix it, (though I'm of course relieved it wasn't just blown to smithereens), and the expense involved has altered the timetable somewhat for when I have to not only have a finished body of work, but a good place to show it. In other words, after this long hiatus figuring the materials out for the book, which was really fun, but became far more involved than could have been anticipated, I will have to go back on stage sooner than I thought, probably before the summer begins. Which is okay, selling work was never off the table, I just wanted or needed a break from it, in fact, more of a break than I even knew. So, more has to happen, and relatively soon. Nose to grindstone doesn't work, but acting like the work is going to mystically finish itself when the time is mystically right doesn't work either. The usual Scylla, the usual Charibdis, and I'll probably lose a few tail feathers in the process, but there's no choice.


      New image, well, new old image, did the first one of these from life in 2001, the summer of alla prima florals. First layer in tempera over a warm watercolour underpainting, put more thin washes on this one in just burnt sienna for more control. Kept the tempera relatively lean for the first layer, I thought this might be too hard to work with but it really wasn't, just required accepting a pretty patchy look. I'm sort of conflicted about the patchy look as a destination, in a way it's an avenue to a more poetic approach, but in another way it seems too modern or self-conscious. Don't know, I may have to make one specifically in patches all the way through and see what happens. Layer three below, the ground had some fine aquarium sand in it, I love this stuff but it was pretty hard to cover, probably won't do that again. So, now that this is set up, more even, even a little too literal, I'll return to some of the colour shifts in the first pass, especially a sense of little more light in the right background. This one feels freer, like I'm getting used to what wants to happen with this paint at this scale. About 24x21.5 inches, gessoed linen over panel.


      Eighth layer on the first image in this series, the ground for this one was a little open or rough, so, while I'd like to complete them in less layers, this amount of paint for this image is going to be about right. I shifted the palette around a little, some of these change worked better than others. There are some things I like about this, but also some things about the previous two layers that I want to go back to, the background is now the right value, but not the right temperature, a little on the cool side. So, it's about the usual question of balancing the colour between positive and negative, happy and sad, or maybe, more specifically, between hopeful and realistic, blooming as a type of commitment, a form of decision, which, as with all commitments or decisions, entails a mixture of consequences. With this one, I'm interested in happy, but not blithely or stupidly happy. More like the happy when you realize it's really the best choice in spite of everything. 24x21.5 inches, gessoed linen over panel.

november 20

      Third week of the moon, super full moon last Monday night. It continued to be sunny and mild, various flowers in bloom, all kinds of deep colour in the many elegant varieties of Japanese maples in the neighborhood, some of these are pretty large, must have been planted early in the 20th century. But it's changing today, instantly more seasonal. Decent energy for the work, but had one of those recurring car dreams that suggest I'm trying to go uphill too fast on a slippery road, so decided to go a little slower. Did struggle this week with the prospect of a uniquely retrograde presidency, the conman in chief presiding over an endless media circus while lining his pockets in every way imaginable. Yes, surprise, the biggest real estate scam ever, it's all about money. But realized that I just have to make peace with it, focus on the positive. What goes around always comes around, but will once again be a rude surprise when it does. Philosophically or metaphysically, it is pretty simple to conclude that violence cannot generate peace, this is actual Christianity 101, how Gandhi freed India, and what Einstein was referring to in his elegant definition of insanity. But here, in America, we seem to have to go through this over and over, because we haven't understood that no matter where we try to point that accusing, oh-so Puritanical finger, it always ends up being pointed right back at us.


      Last fall, this tabby cat arrived under the porch, skinny and vulnerable and hungry. Since there was already a cat downstairs, with a mixture of uncertainty and wonder on both sides, she suddenly became my cat. Or, more accurately, I became her human. It was easy to see how she ended up on the lam, a large personality that brooked no backchat, if I didn't feed or play on command she started wacking the cupboard doors or hopped up on the keyboard to start wacking me. But, how to explain the endless perversity of affection? This cat, who is spunky, ornery, gentle, goofy, playful, funny, is slowly but surely responding to being appreciated by wacking me somewhat less frequently, and with far less conviction. Having her around fills me with an unaccountable joy, and I think she likes being appreciated. We've been developing a routine: she gets me up at first light, I grumble a bit then get dressed and let her out. She then comes in after a few hours, either I come get her or someone lets her in. We have a joyous reunion, she eats, sleeps, then I let her out again in the afternoon, and she stays out until a little after dark. At first I didn't want to let her outside, but it was where she came from, what she wanted, and seemed right. It's also made things much more interesting. There are two other female cats in the vicinity, calling it their territory, it's hard to say whether they fight or play, but this is a big part of her day. There's one calico that she perennially tangles with, they kind of stalk each other, end up yowling now and then, but no actual fighting. Then there's another one, long hair, deep warm stripes, big eyes and wild ear tufts like a coon cat, who she tussles with more, but again this seems like play, small claw wounds on her neck and back but nothing more, given my experience I'm sure the damage is mutual, and could be much worse if either one of them were so inclined. Still, I haven't exactly loved the prospect of these other cats beating up on Lily, even if realizing that is only my perception, she can't wait to go back out every morning.

      Okay, so that's the backstory, this is what happened this week. Around three on yet another unseasonally lovely afternoon, I was going out to go to the basement and make a panel. Lily wanted to come with me. So we went out, and started to go around the side of the house to the backyard and the basement entrance. But I noticed the calico cat on the left, coming in behind Lily, and the longhaired cat in front of her, about ten yards down the sidewalk. So, to me she was hemmed in, one in front, one behind, the boxwood hedges lining the sidewalk making it not that simple to get away. I wasn't thrilled about the situation, and decided to get her some space. I found a few things to toss at the other cats, nothing too murderous, a clod and a stick, then a pebble underhand at the longhaired cat who was more persistent. Then I went into the basement to make the panel and Lily had the run of the small backyard. There's a screened porch there, and she likes to hang out on the top of the concrete steps leading up to it, in the afternoon sun but protected from behind by the porch itself. Okay, so here's what was really interesting. After I made the panel, and was waiting for the glue to set, I came out of the basement to say hi to her. She is usually very interested in finding me and making sure I've been okay for the last fifteen minutes without her to watch out for me. But, instead, she acted out this elaborate pantomime of being afraid of me. She wouldn't come near me, and scurried away from me through the wrought iron fence to the protection of the next yard, did this a couple times. This was puzzling at first but I suddenly realized she was commenting on me scaring the other cats away. I realized that I was the one who felt hemmed in, by any number of things at this point, and that she has plenty of options in the rabbit warren of little backyards out there. So I told her, okay, sorry, I didn't understand, I shouldn't have interfered, it's your species, your rules with each other, and you can obviously take care of yourself. And she came right back and gave my hand a big head bump. Instant forgiveness, not exactly my strong suit that's for sure. I saw the calico cat this afternoon and apologized to her too, the shift was instant, she came up to me and let me pet her, relatively rare since she's semi-feral. Anyway, there's a lot of protocol with cats on the surface, dignity and formality, but beneath this there's an amazing honor or integrity. The Egyptians made a big deal out of cats as teachers, I always thought this was possible since, in a given place and time, people might not exactly be the best teachers, but have never had a chance to experience it like this before: effortlessly and graciously, she taught me an interesting lesson about my own fears and violence.


      Trying something new is always interesting: what will happen? I did a lot of work with emulsified beeswax earlier this year, this is wax emulsified with soap, not ammonium carbonate. It hasn't yellowed at all in oil, but this is so far. I think it will be fine, but this approach is on hold for now, having been superceded by the tempera grassa. But I always thought it might be interesting to try the emulsified wax in a water base paint, similar to the medieval manuscript medium of hide glue and wax emulsified with ammonium carbonate. So, this was gum arabic, the standard 2 parts water to 1 part ground gum arabic, with 33% ewax added. Made the gum arabic solution first, but the ewax didn't really dissolve into it, which makes sense, both these materials are hogging the water. But, I made a test with it anyway, and it worked fine. Wanted to make something on the sepia side, ended up with a lot of pigments involved, which was fun. I was concerned it would be too brown but it ended up being sort of blue black. Made a small study on watercolour paper with it, but didn't feel there was any advantage to the ewax addition, it sort of precludes movement, which is always helpful in watercolour. So, scratch that idea, but I liked making watercolour, we'll see where this leads next.


      Put another layer on the third tempera grassa painting, layer three in all. This was a pretty considered layer, not a lot of paint, but several passes in the course of the day, and I'm happy with how it turned out. This one has a different look because it was begun with watercolour, rather than a lean tempera, the watercolour seems to seal the ground more, giving the tempera grassa more depth and gloss. Well, so far, things tend to get more matte in layers over time unless a little more thick oil is involved in each one. I always used to concentrate on the flowers in these, then run into issues with everything else. So now I do everything else first, and this works better: the flowers can happen last. I also used to always rush these, especially if I liked what I saw, but it may be better to consider each layer before going further. In general, this feels like an evolution from the first one, the most important thing. 24x21.5 inches, gessoed linen over canvas.


      Doing the florals a little larger started in the winter of 2014, just before I came back to Philadelphia after three decades in Vermont. I started four or five of them in Vermont, on paper, before the move took over. This was the last start, possibly the most evolved, although who's to say, but it began the approach that led to the series now on panels. Made a panel for this one and mounted it this week, a pretty big image to glue down but, after a certain amount of chaos burnishing bubbles, it worked out. This one is a little further along, and uses the fused damar and beeswax approach to the medium, rather than the tempera grassa of the most recent ones. This medium has an interesting soft look due to the wax, right now I like the tempera grassa look more but will keep developing both approaches. About 23x21 inches, paper (Arches Huile) over panel.


      One of my therapy images from Italy, small town in the Garfagnana region outside Lucca. Started this on watercolour paper with the neutral tone I made, above. It was okay, but inconclusive, so put a layer of pva size with added calcite over it yesterday, this dried clear and had some tooth. Then worked on it in the tempera grassa paint today. There are several approaches to this medium, I used one with less oil than in the large florals, so it behaves like a dense egg tempera with a long open time. A lot of glare here, but this was fun to work on. Couldn't go further, the paint began to slide, but a decent first layer with a new approach. I'd like to get a paint that layered a little more, which would probably mean even less oil in the medium, but this may happen naturally on the usual glue gesso ground with more adhesion. Another possibility is a very small amount of resin-in-solvent concentrate in the medium, this would add more tack, but risks losing the softer look. It's always something! I'd like to develop an alla prima approach with the tempera grassa medium for small studies, they're a nice vacation from the work in layers. About 7.5x9.5 inches, on watercolour paper now but I'll put it on a panel.

For further information on technique or a specific painting please contact tadspurgeon@gmail.com
copyright © 2002-2017 by Tad Spurgeon. All rights reserved.
web site design by Axis Web Design.