Tad Spurgeon oil paintings

Images
home
galleries
process
color

Words
news
about me
the work
the book
links
contact

Techniques
overview
sound practice
formulas
color
black & white
painters
putty medium
just oil
putty tutorial

news
      

      A Sunday look at process and product.



december 15
      

      In progress...



      

      Wanted to make some bar soap using the crockpot. This is made with sodium hydroxide instead of potassium hydroxide. There's a lot of soapmaking information on the web, was able to learn which oils do what, what other ingredients increase lather, all kinds of fun stuff. Ended up making it with cheap extra-virgin olive oil and coconut oil with a little flax oil added, a refining experiment that went awry, that was fun to repurpose. Also put in a little food grade bentonite near the end to increase the lather. The process was pretty straightforward, didn't take that long, could cut the soap the next day. It's dense and stable, but still pretty soft, people say to wait a week or two to let it harden before using it, and that it gets better as it ages. Made a small bar from the shards in the pot, it has a nice balance of cleaning and conditioning, doesn't make my hands feel dry after washing them with it. The surprise was how much the clay improved the lather, it's sort of silky. Put some essential oils in it, a little cedar, rosemary, and some older frankincense that needed to get used up. Tried for that inscrutable balance, this came out smelling more like something else than a combination of those three, which was fun. Not too much, so you can also smell the soap itself.





december 8
      

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



      

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



      

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



      

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



      

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



      

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



      

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



      

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



      

      I found out quickly that Lily loves to play.



      

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



      

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



december 1
      

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





november 24
      

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









november 17
      

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



      

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



      

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



      

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



      

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



      

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



      

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



      

      



november 10
      

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



      

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



      

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



      

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



      

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



      

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



      

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



      

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



      

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



      

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



      

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



november 3
      

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



      

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



      

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



      

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



      

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



      

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



october 27
      

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



      

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



      

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



      

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



      

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



      

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



october 20
      

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



      

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



      

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



      

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



      

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



      

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



      

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



      

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





october 12
      

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



      

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



      

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





october 6
      

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



      

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



      

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



      

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



      

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



      

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



september 29
      

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



      

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



      

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



      

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



      

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



      

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



      

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



      

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





september 22
      

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



      

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



      

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



      

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



      

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



      

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



      

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



      

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



      

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



september 15
      

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



      

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

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



      

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



      

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



      

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



      

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



      

      Life with Lily.



september 8
      

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



      

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





      

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



      

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



      

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



      

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



      

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



      

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



      

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



september 1
      

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



      

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



      

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





      

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



      

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



      

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



      

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



      

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



august 25
      

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



      

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



      

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



      

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



      

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



august 18
      

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



      

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



      

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



      

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





The Navajo-Hopi Prophecy of the Whirling Rainbow
      

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

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








For further information on technique or a specific painting please contact tadspurgeon@gmail.com
copyright © 2002-2019 by Tad Spurgeon. All rights reserved.
web site design by Axis Web Design.