Tad Spurgeon oil paintings
All process, all the time.


about me
the work
the book

sound practice
black & white
putty medium
just oil
putty tutorial
the story


A Sunday look at process and work in progress.

october 23

      Third week of the moon, very warm and sunny in the middle of the week, more seasonal now after some rain. But, heavy sigh, yet another week when painting did not want to happen. A little confusing at first but I just went with it. Years ago I used to try to fight this type of vacation but it never worked, only made things worse, in fact. There's always something I'm supposed to find, or work on. In this case it seems to be rising above the usual traffic jam of ideas and asking what really wants to happen next. Or letting what wants to happen next come through. There's always plenty of other stuff to catch up on. It's not that easy to be patient and just do what wants to be done, but bit by bit there's more space within the day and its routine. We tend to think of time as proceeding in a linear way, but I have a feeling that time has another dimension: "nothing" may appear to be happening on the surface, but "a great deal" can be going on beneath it. Finally had a sense of what to do next yesterday, and made a panel. Got the linen on it but still have to gesso it today. This will be for a floral, one of the slightly larger than life ones that began a few years ago. These have been on paper so far, and made with oil paint. But I want to try this one with a tempera grassa approach, there are some small studies done this way that have a quality I like: broken surface, less saturation, a little more pigment oriented. Then, there are some photos of really old floral studies from life that are a little more essential, which I like. So, I can sort of see what wants to happen here, a combination of a three things that already have. But that may or may not have any bearing on what does!



october 16

      Second week of the moon, full moon last night, incredible weather, sunny and low 70s. Another somewhat complicated week, had to go in town twice, once for an eye appointment, and once for jury duty. The eye is doing better, could read four more lines on the chart, can actually read with it open now, although the fine blurring is noticeable in that capacity. Jury duty was pretty wacky, giant courthouse downtown near City Hall, hundreds of sullen people in a room with auditorium seats, relentlessly cheery city employees trying to help things along. Fifty of us per selection panel, my group went up to an interim courtroom but just stayed there, the room we were supposed to go to never opened up, still occupied with current trial, so, after a lunch break, they let us go around two in the afternoon. Sort of grueling somehow, saw lots of flashy lawyers and crewcut beefy policemen, a lot of old anti-authoritarian buttons got pushed, over and over again, in fact. This has been a feature of the last few months, going through the attic of unresolved issues, things it's still hard to feel peace about. Some things remain hard to accept, but it does seem like the answer is to work on these issues from the inside out. Fixed some stuff on the website, this at least is easy to change, have more to go, lots of new images to upload. Didn't do a lot of work this week, am caffeine-free, it looks like it might be permanent this time, have been through many rounds of this but the price is just too high anymore, I get too reactive inside. So, let it be what it wanted to be, fallow, this is hard but at least I have the option. The process still goes on in the background, something is definitely shifting, a rest always means a change and this is turning into a larger rest. Hard to explain, there are still lots of unfinished paintings floating around but something feels complete. Wouldn't be surprised if a new approach surfaces with the next moon, maybe a way of working that gets in and out more simply again. But who knows. Went over a lot of older images this week doing the website, it's interesting to see how many different ways of working have come and gone over the years, felt kind of affectionate about some images, always better than being acutely embarrassed!


      A few layers on this small beach from the recent trip to Stone Harbor. This uses a medium with egg yolk in it, so the paint is on the bright side. Am having issues with the sky but otherwise like the overall feeling. Thought I'd try one with a brighter palette, but now want to do one with less chroma. About 9x14 inches, gessoed paper on panel.


      Something I started long ago with a lot of rococo paint. This was sort of overconfident, and am still fighting aspects of this, but you can't see that here. Used the other medium for this, fused damar and beeswax, have a mix for this I like now but it does involve three different tubes: it will be interesting to try to reproduce this once they're used up. The previous layer had been on the blue side so this one was on the warm side. Am working on a different approach psychologically: more gentle, or spacious, less judgemental, or attack-oriented. This seemed to be in harmony with the image itself and gave things more time to develop: I was still confused about what to do after about an hour, in the past this would have definitely been frustrating but it wasn't, which felt like progress. As usual now, had no idea what it looked like after I'd finished working on it, but have ended up liking it, in life the paint has an interesting depth. Which it should given the number of layers on it, but of course it's about how to make it so the layers interact. A little warm overall, but unified, I'd like to try the next layer with a little more cool emphasis and see what happens. This is the type of look I envisioned in 2002, when I started to ask questions about the materials. It was easy, I remember thinking "Why didn't this occur to me before?" Anyway, there's no hurry at this point. About 11x14 inches, gessoed linen over panel.

october 10

      Image upload is fixed again, so here are a few highlights from the last few weeks, things that are really pretty close to finished. No really, I mean it!

      Also, the site is going to get a very long overdue update in the next few weeks. There may be a few glitches now and then, so please bear with me.


      Something from 2013 I really liked after the first layer, but it was done with pretty thin paint in layers using starch as the thixotropic agent, and the layers dried down over time. So, if you use starch, which is really a fun and reliable material on panels, you need to add something like damar or egg yolk or wax to keep it bright over time. Had done a few more layers on it without a second conclusion, was in the mood for a visit to Italy and knew the paint would dry brightly this time. Worked on this with the idea of just letting it change, not doing much in the way of "efforting." At the end, I really couldn't see it anymore, had no idea what it looked like. Now it seems like there are a few small things in this that could be developed but it has a nice overall feeling. One of those images I kept returning to, there are about ten of these now, this is either the best or second best, I'm not sure, so I'll leave this one for now and work on some of the others. About 8x13 inches, oil on gessoed paper over panel.


      A strongly graphic image that looked good from the first layer, but I wanted it to get beyond being just punchy and pop. Getting there, the next few passes on this will be fun. 12x16 inches, oil on gessoed linen over panel.


      This one had gone around in some pretty tight low chroma circles, gave it a layer with a somewhat richer and smoother working medium and that seemed to help. Sort of the opposite of the watermelon, it has always seemed to be posing a question, the key here has been to make it a more hopeful question. Not quite done but pretty close. 11x14 inches, oil on gessoed linen over panel.

october 9

      Fall is slowly beginning here, a few red leaves, that wacky smell of the boxwood hedges that somehow makes me feel eight years old again. Another pretty dark week, cool and clammy, the last few days with rain off and on from the outer edges of the hurricane. The cat made it out the second time we tried, but didn't stay out long, rare. I knew to come get her, and she zipped right in. There's a cold going around, I've been making licorice, elderberry and fresh ginger tea, this tastes decent and has worked so far. My left eye continues to get slowly better, it is interesting to watch the improvement day by day, the vision still has some fine mottling or reticulation, kind of like the squiggles on the side of a rainbow trout, but can now distinguish moderate size print. Did some work this week which actually turned out well, this was exciting, but you'll have to take my word for it because image uploading remains broken for now. A lot of time, a lot of reflecting in the past few weeks on being so close, yet so far. Began to realize that my issues with finishing things over the last decade have been mainly internal: that is, that the basic judgement was personal first, manifesting in the work second. This originally had to do with wanting to become "better," which is understandable, but, in the process, losing track of the larger frame reference. So the work became endlessly locked into "improvement," rather than following a specific spiral from beginning, to middle, to end. My concept of finished is pretty Asian: understanding a situation well enough to reduce it to its essentials, but there are of course lots of Western painters who have worked this way as well: Morandi, Gwen John, etc. But I can see now that I ended up framing the process as a way to avoid the product. Process was more noble, product inevitably involved social and material elements, these could be fun or not, but were inevitably complex and distracting. After twenty-odd years of selling paintings, it seemed logical to pause and assess the situation more dispassionately. And in some ways, this certainly worked: the person who began to explore the materials in 2001 wanted to, but could not begin to make, the paintings I make now. At the same time, because this person had fewer choices, beginning, middle, and end were simpler to navigate. But that's sort of a sidetrack, whether there's too much or too little in the way of options. In the all-important larger terms, the assessment itself was not that balanced. It was full of hidden judgements about all kinds of things: the art world, the wealthy, success itself, who I was brought up to be, all the adult compromises I witnessed as a kid: the usual suspects of adolescent rebellion. I knew enough to walk away from what didn't work, and this worked to an extent. But it was all so personal. I never forgave, so the process also featured a kind of toxic feedback loop. And I always would have said that this was my problem, not anyone else's, that the revolution in consciousness I wanted was up to me to implement first. But I never forgave. Recently it's become clear that those judgements are what's holding up the show, and have an internal origin, I can feel it, practically touch it. No surprise, it goes way, way back. And it seems this is why "working hard," my parent's endless solution, stopped working for me. The larger solution has to do with the fusion of doing and being, with less attack or effort, more poise or awareness. So, it's actually about trying less, allowing or including more. This means that the activity has more spaciousness, or opportunity to evolve, exactly what my old attitude precluded so well. It feels like the allowing part is where the forgiveness comes in, literally in the case of allowing the errors of a given layer to be changed, but also in terms of accepting that whatever happens needs to happen, whether I can comprehend its greater purpose or not. And I have to admit that there's a great deal in the "not" category! I've always been on a short karmic tether, so it makes sense to have been brought to greater awareness of the problem and its solution through "inflamed vision," a level of anger and frustration that built until it manifested in a way that was both painful and frightening. I guess its obvious that finished begins at home, with making the fragments into a whole, but I could never see that before. In one way, I was ranking things: some of the fragments were "good," some were "bad," rather than all being seen as necessary. With the work itself, I had become focused on the outside, instead of the inside: a distortion of vision. At some point in the week to come, the eye will be healed, the sun will come out, and I'll start in again. It will be the same on the outside, but different on the inside. I would always have said that the outside needs to come from the inside, duh! But now that is beginning to mean something different: the difference between theory and practice.

october 2

      A week of intermittent rain, pretty rare for here. New moon yesterday, started a small loose version of a Sisley I'd always liked as a medium test, it came out reasonably for the first pass, would like to do more today, work yesterday's denser paint on a second day with new paint, but it's too dark so far. The site was hacked again this week, I've learned that once someone gets in, they advertise, so the most recent vulnerability will be fixed as well. I guess the roads in are infinite, regardless of how much security gets put in place, just have to make it less worth anyone's while, though what this is about is beyond me. Image uploading broke when installing the first round of security, the little green padlock you can see in the address bar. It couldn't be a priority this week, so is still not working. Went to see a real ophthalmologist this week, had been going to the clinic at Penn. Saw the clinic folks first, they wanted me to see a uveitis specialist, but the specialist was three weeks out, so I called the ophthalmologist instead, got an amazingly nice person on the phone, and a cancelled appointment the next day, both of which felt like good omens. So, I visited someone with a great reputation for detail, someone who has been practicing for forty years, someone who can give me a new prescription eventually, and someone who had some great stories about my first eye doctor, who I saw for several years starting at nine. He was one of those amazingly civilized older people that were not common, but were a recurring feature, in my childhood, always patient, always amused. I don't think he was a Quaker, he dressed a little too well for that, but he was in that spiritual league. He lived in a big old stone house tucked away near Fairmount Park and encouraged me to use his swimming pool when it was hot, it turned out, he had been head of ophthalmology at Penn before he retired. There was something about the way this week's eye doctor worked -- methodical, gentle, persistent, still intrigued by the process -- that really reminded me of him, so I mentioned him, and this put the situation on a new plane. Anyway, the appointment took hours, and she didn't think there was anything too haywire with my left eye, that it was on the right track. We had a surprisingly open ended conversation about the causes of uveitis. I said it seemed that all inflammatory things for me had been related to periods of high stress, and she said that, when she started practicing, uveitis was considered more emotional than empirical, that she had definitely seen patients for whom that was true, and that searches for empirical causes were still iffy. Between all the elements of the visit, there was something about the whole experience that was more healing than expected. It's as though my relationship to the Philadelphia I grew up in is being recalled, so I can reconsider it. I've got a mix of natural anti-inflammatories going that I really like now to supplement the steroid eye drops, so am feeling more confident that this will be over in a few weeks. It will be really nice to get back to work. It's interesting that, ever since I came up with the Lotto-esque egg emulsion medium in August I thought might be the end of the search technically, all kinds of things have intervened with developing it further. The result being that working on it means more now, isn't something that is so taken for granted.

september 25

      Well, interesting things continue to happen. The site was hacked this week, and though it's now secure, there's now a new issue with uploading images. So, the news may be more than late this week! My eye continues to heal slowly, it feels like another two weeks before it will actually be clear again. I did a little work, first new beach, which was exciting and not too bad, but you'll have to take my word for it. Went to see the Wizard of Oz outside, a community event sponsored by the co-op, at the co-op's farm, which is also the city's agricultural high school, the screen was suspended from a raised tractor plow. This was interesting, lots of families and little kids running around, though a little complex for me to be in a Vermont-like environment again. It's been a long time since I've seen the Wizard of Oz, so it was really great, hard to believe now that America produced such a simply spiritual and purely anti-authoritarian fable. But it did.

september 18

      Week of the full moon, harvest moon Friday night. Cooler the last few days, hint of Fall in the air at last. Eye is still healing bit by bit, did some work, it turned out okay but didn't seem like a great idea, decided to go to the beach at Stone Harbor for a few days to develop that material a little more. A very different world: both hotter and more crowded than I thought it would be, but things worked out pretty well in terms of the next step for the images. I guess I'm fascinated by this because of going there as a small child, the depth of memory, it is literally the same beach. Also, returning to the same place, but having the results be different in unpredictable ways, is always interesting. In one way the beach is easy because there's endless material of several types and the light is amazing, in another it's hard because it's often so incredibly bright that it's hard to actually see it. So, a lot of guesswork, digital is great for that though I retain some old view camera reticence, there were even a few happy surprises once I looked at the images on a larger screen.


      Dawn is always nice at the beach if the sun is up, not hot yet, cool breeze, very clean and fresh feeling. I got used to being able to find this type of thing easily in Vermont, am more grateful for it now.


      Same dawn, same beach, but looking north not south, more surf from the recent brush with a hurricane, some of the images in this series have potential.


      The point at Stone Harbor, looking south towards the Wildwoods, a town with more Las Vegas to it, I visited but wasn't in the mood for giant tacky hotels. Lots of interesting birds on the point, birders with giant lensed cameras on tripods. There are usually lots of shells here too, very old memories of shelling here after a storm, but I think the hurricane that never quite landed washed them all away for now.


      Even if the material was generally right, the problem was often too much information, or, in this case, no way for the eye to travel through. This can of course be changed, the nearest people would have to go, or be brought to the far left, then a general re-positioning of the rest. Or maybe just remove the umbrellas on the right. Not sure I'll get into this at first, but it's interesting to think of this situation as more amorphous.


      More empty and spacious, with some nice details sprinkled around, a little of that Lee Friedlander humor. The type of thing I saw last time but more evolved, this might be a nice one with the bottom cropped to the golden rectangle.


      Late in the afternoon, into the sun, more atmospheric because of the humidity. This ended up being the look I liked best for people on the beach, more primitive, more Boudin, or a fantasy Delacroix Bedouin encampment. There are a number of these to sift through, half a miles worth, but there weren't that many different compositions. A few clear favorites so far, but these don't necessarily end up being the most interesting ones in the end. Still, you have to start somewhere. And hopefully, that will be soon.

september 11

      Waxing moon, the heat returned with a lot of humidity this week but this round is supposed to be the last one. Had two appointments in town for the eye, Penn's teaching hospital, I like it there. The eye is getting better, it's slow, the vision in it is still sort of fuzzy, it feels like another week or so before it will be fully healed, but I did a little work yesterday and it didn't bother me. So, a little disoriented: the crisis is over and nothing all that bad happened, waiting for things to get back to normal, appreciating normal a lot more.

september 4

      Noticeably cooler here the last few days, no fans or AC for the first time since early June. The cat's bouncing around again, she often has a relatively serious look, sort of like being on Earth has been much more than she bargained for, so I always like it when she acts playful or goofy. Well, almost always, no attacking my bare feet! Week of the new moon, a pretty do or die one for me as it turned out. I wanted to get back to the first egg emulsion medium, but on Monday had something else to try first, a variant of one of the better damar, wax, and thicker oil mediums. This is fine, but at this point only makes the first egg emulsion seem better. Then on Tuesday, my left eye began to get red and sore. I thought this was due to the usual eye strain, computer overuse, and used something homeopathic on it that always clears it up. But it began to hurt more the next day, a pinching, and became very sensitive to light. By Thursday it was pretty bad, and, after not the best night, I decided it better be looked at on Friday evening. This involved going to one of the eye hospitals downtown at about 9 pm, it was a pretty amazing experience, a world of its own, long pauses between a long series of events, eventually saw an ophthalmologist, we got home at 4:30 am. It was diagnosed as uveitis, inflammation of the uveal tract in the eye, which includes the iris. I thought this might be what it was because I had gotten it once before, over thirty years ago: although the symptoms weren't quite identical, the type of pain was. They gave me some pretty heavy-duty eye drops and today it feels much better, probably a few more days before it's ready for polite company but a great relief. I feel like so much overcooked linguine today, but that's understandable. They decided to do blood work to try to find out why it happened, I guess to rule out exotic diseases, and I refrained from giving a very nice young doctor my explanation beyond saying that high levels of stress have always resulted in odd physical maladies. Empiricism is fine, but for me anyway, health issues always have a personal aspect as well: it happened for a reason. I used to see this as a kind of cosmic retribution, but now it just seems like part of being brought back into balance in a world that is always generating imbalance. What a great system! Of course it's too easy to get used to stress � what stress? just a flesh wound, etc. � to see it as inherent to the endless struggle, but it seems like I'm being asked to go beyond this position. This request tends to get a little more intense each time, but having the eye involved, instead of the usual back, is sort of a quantum leap. When you work with a personal version of life, the connection between the microcosm and the macrocosm, it seems obvious that everything is purposeful, connected, but this may not be apparent or appealing to anyone else. But, since the decision-making process is entirely personal, how anyone's decisions get made can remain private. Still, all the scientists I've worked with have had a healthy skepticism about empiricism. But that may be part of why we got together in the first place. So, anyway, here's to the end of August, it got in a pretty decent parting shot! Still, I have in fact made it once again to September. Won't be able to work for a while, but the important things can still happen.

august 28

      Last week of the moon, a little less heat and humidity. Last week's stopped up sink issue sort of took over, the second plumber fixed it but unbeknownst to anyone all the gunk ended up in the basement pipes and the laundry sink overflowed, the third plumber cleared that. Liked the egg emulsion with fused damar from last week, but tried a version with larch balsam as well. Adjusted things for the leveling of a balsam, but even so this ended up not working nearly as well. So, a somewhat lost week, but not atypical of August, and I didn't get nearly as bent out of shape as I would have five years ago, let alone growing up. The small personal triumph comes to mean more as time goes on. I'd like to make peace with the eighth month, but it's always a relief to see September. Three more days to go.


      With all the domestic mayhem it was natural to segue into gessoing some linen. I do this on a hollow core door covered with plastic, covered another piece of wood with plastic and got a lot made. Started out in the basement but it was pretty humid so took everything into the backyard. It's important to burnish the linen well when the glue size has set, this really helps the surface to be more uniform. Also, even though it's been dry a day, it may curl a little when it's cut off, it can always be weighted but I'm going to wait a few days with round two before cutting it up. Put two layers of slightly absorbent gesso on this, have tried a single layer but if the linen has any tooth it takes over, makes the opening of the painting more dorky than necessary. I usually use at least half chalk but this time used marble dust with a little silica and some 20 micron calcite so it has a nice dryness and internal tooth. A little stiff but they get mounted on panels anyway. The other thing I've learned about gesso is to keep the heat low, the glue begins to degrade at 150F, which is not that hot.


      This years test glue gesso panels, the bottom one is from January and February, the top one is the one I'm working with now. There's definitely a little more darkening in the oldest panel overall, and a few outliers: a one to one mix of auto-oxidized poppy oil and auto-oxidized SRO linseed oil didn't darken at all, a putty made with egg white (lower right, two samples one above the other) darkened more than I thought it would. None of the samples using emulsified wax have darkened more than the same medium without the emulsified wax, but it's early. The emulsifed wax is an ancient mural material but there's little information on it in oil. It has some interesting characteristics so this is something I'm watching closely. It could be like balsam and soft resin varnish samples and take years to determine anything.


      Put a second layer on last Sunday's study from the Garfagnana the next day, the paint was set but not really dry, this is a very nice situation for adjusting the atmosphere. I liked this approach, will do more with it. About 8x13 inches, on gessoed paper.


      But had to try a second version of the egg emulsion using larch balsam instead of the fused damar, more for completeness than thinking to improve it. Didn't like this as well, too sticky and too literal, but soldiered on with it for three layers on this image of an overlook in Vermont that always fascinated me. Did a small alla prima study of this a few months ago that I liked, below, but I didn't feel comfortable winging it at the larger scale, so the current one has some familiar issues at this point. About 10.5x20 inches, on gessoed paper. Earlier version about 8x13 inches, gessoed paper on panel.

august 21

      Almost third week of the moon. Still hot, but just beginning to calm down a little, today is supposed to be the final day near ninety for a while. Between one thing and another, absolutely nothing happened this week at the easel. On the one hand, urgh, this is not ideal for me. But, this is August, a month I used to feel grateful just to survive. Now I'm a little more wise to August, and don't "try hard" to make it be like any other month. It seems to be the end of some kind of cycle, a time to pause, reflect a little more. In theory you would think this would be fine, I like the examined life. But I like the examined life in action, which is sort of paradoxical but means that doing, usually painting, not being, is my first joy. So, historically, ever since being a kid, August has been bad news. Some of this has been a self-fulfilling prophecy: I got what I expected. But there is a four month boom and bust cycle in the year for me: September, January, and May are the best months for the work, the following two months are good, but April, August, and December, are months to be more cautious about overwork, there's just not as much in the well. So I'm working to redefine my sense of what these months are about, not "bad" but more about being than doing. I guess all of this has to do with feeling behind, like I was brought up to be someone I wasn't, and lost a tremendous amount of time figuring out who to be. But I don't think the universe cares so much about the quality of the work as the quality of the life, and has been at pains (mine, not its) for years now to explain that quality work is based on a quality life. And that a quality life does not mean painting all the time. Its true that when the psychic-emotional well is full, the work is easy. So easy, in fact, that it is also easy to want more to happen: yesterday was good, today will be even better, hooray! But alas, puny mortal, more is not necessarily in the well. So, while at this point I can get through a painting on experience, in terms of authenticity, or actual quality, it's really a fine line between inspiration, effort, and futility. What wants to happen today? Am I telling myself the truth about this, or am I calling a hope or opinion the truth? I used to try to bulldoze my way through obstacles by being tough. Growing up in the 60s, all the adults taught me to be tough, of course this was in their best interest. And I like the Emersonian version of self-reliance, you don't get through winter in Vermont otherwise. But it is a fine line between self-reliance and turning to stone. Stone seems tough but actually, this is inefficient, leads to serial disharmony because the psychic-emotional landscape is not being taken into account. So, at this point, honouring this has come to be sort of paramount. This amounts to self-respect, not sacrificing the long term goal for a short-term gain. I guess I'd define the long term goal in a pretty Buddhist way � the artisan becomes one with themselves, therefore the universe, through their craft, time takes on more and more dimension as it is experienced through a discipline that in fact creates freedom. Of course this takes time, but the time it takes is also the time it transforms. This week I realized that this can occur in the evening on the front porch as well. Sad to say, I had never understood the value of this before, thought it was for people with nothing to do.

      Otherwise, Thumbelina, now named Sage because of the colour of her eyes, is situated next door without issue, and received a clean bill of health from the vet. And I had a very nice visit from two painters and teachers from Colorado who have been exploring the materials in depth, David Heskin and Aloria Weaver. David and Aloria have been working in the misch technique tradition established by Ernst Fuchs in Vienna based on Doerner's idea of alternating thin layers of egg tempera and oil paint, but are beginning to branch out into other forms of painting as well. We had a very nice visit, sharing materials information and stories of the painting life, and it was just cool enough to walk to lunch and show them around the neighborhood a little bit. It is always fun to hear what painters see. Otherwise, I've been doing battle royale with a clogged kitchen sink, this has gone beyond annoyance into the realm of calm, calculated existential exercise. Growing up, my father fixed everything that broke, including the washing machine, which used to drive my mother crazy. But, surprise, he liked to figure things out. So, I know from my experience as his ever-reluctant assistant that I probably need a snake for this, which probably means giving up and calling the landlord. Who is incredibly nice and will fix it right away. But its Sunday and there's one more thing I want to try.


      I did a lot with various egg emulsions on panel about ten years ago, but this was also during a phase when I was making hard resin varnish. The combination was interesting, but after a while I'd exhausted the possibilities at the time. That is, it now seems like there might have been many more possibilities, but I didn't know enough about the process to find them. Or maybe, that way of making work just came to a natural conclusion. I didn't set out to leave no stone unturned, this is a by-product of considering the formulas in the book. Anyway, for a while I've been wondering about doing something with egg again, it is incredibly reliable, and got at least as far as making a medium this week. I used damar fused into the oil as the resin component, but no wax. My experience with wax and egg yolk has been that it slides a great deal, and I think this is going to slide enough, and be bright enough, without adding wax. This is pretty lean and may also be functional as a water-phase emulsion by just mixing pigments with it, then thinning with water. But I'll mix it with oil paint first and see what happens. I put a few drops of spike lavender in it, it should keep for quite a while in the fridge. Yes, my fridge has some interesting things in it, how did you know?


      Lunchtime, did this small study of the sparsely populated Garfagnana above Lucca with the egg medium this morning. As always, it was different than I thought it would be, pretty facile and mobile for it's denser consistency. But I hoped it would be additive and it was. Fun overall, just let it tell me what to do, will clean this up a little in the afternoon but not much. Wet, some reflections but not that bad. It will be interesting to see how it dries, a pretty balanced mix of saturating and de-saturating ingredients in the medium. Looks pretty translucent now, that will probably diminish.. About 8x13 inches, on gessoed paper, will mount this on a panel soon due to the egg yolk content.

august 14

      Second week of the moon, the hottest week yet, zowie. Worked each day, but not that much, didn't have much concentration or attention span. Later in the week it got even hotter, it was like walking through a soggy mattress, not possible to do more than daily basics. But psychologically it's not that bad. Somehow, this went from oppressive, an insult, to comical, part of life's rich pageant. Maybe that was the point all along. One thing I noticed over the winter in Vermont was getting used to the cold, 30 F was mild after a week below zero. At this point I'm actually getting used to the heat. I'd rather I had a whole brain but half a brain is better than none.


      We found a home this week for plucky Thumbelina. I put up some flyers locally but it turned out a very nice neighbor has been looking for a cat. They're coming back from vacation later today, hopefully it will be a fit for both parties.


      An image I've worked with for a long time now, a foggy morning in May in Vermont, a great way to learn about green! There are several of these around, this is the most recent version. It's sort of gone back and forth between a cooler and a warmer approach, but this layer has a nice balance. Hadn't worked on it in a few months, and it looked kind of primitive, a good sign. Began to get at a few things here that have always puzzled me, mostly the omnipresence of the sense of fog even though it is mostly in the distance, the way the sky is not flat but infinite. I'm never really sure what finished means, it seems to move around a lot, or redefine itself with each image. But this is in an interesting place now, getting closer. About 10x21 inches, gessoed paper on canvas. I'll mount this on a panel next before working on it again.


      Worked on several images this week that are in this earlier stage, sort of safe under the circumstances. They all came forward, but not that much, I just got in and got out. View from the Mugello, amazing hilltop near where we stayed, there are several references and possible recession scenarios. I like how it's coming along, but will still proceed slowly: the long beginning seems to lead to a shorter ending. About 20x14 inches, gessoed paper, the great Leonardo from Twinrocker.

august 7

      Week of the new moon, another hot and humid one, August isn't really as bad as July, but I'm beginning to feel more worn down. Didn't start anything new but had a decent week with the work, plodded along, didn't try to do too much in the heat. Had a new arrival on the porch, a petite lost dark tabby-calico cat, sort of pert and spunky, but very nice, great spotted belly. We took her to the local clinic and she had a chip, but the owner didn't keep the appointment I made with her on the phone. Sigh. This sort of led to a mini-meltdown about the ethical frailty of humanity, it's funny how the little things, by being comprehensible, are more likely to do this, although August of course pitched in. We're full up here catwise, and one of them has made that clear, although I think the other one is more curious than territorial. So we're beginning to try to find a new home for her, shouldn't be too hard, she's pretty cute. Although, like all cats, she is capable of unusual gravitas as well.


      Continued to work with the various fused damar and beeswax mediums this week. There are about twelve of these now in tubes, with names and formulas. Good grief, how did this happen? I thought I was being incremental in developing it, but it looks like the increments were too big. I also tried to explore using stand oil again in this, inspired by the nice product from Kremer, trying to get a simple medium that would transform tube paint reliably, but the leveling power of stand oil is just too much for what I want. So, it's always best to explore the medium in one direction at once, otherwise it can be hard to figure out what's happening. Anyway, these mediums are getting blended now to balance their properties, a cuvee but the terrior is still quite local. From right to left: DWS#4, 8 parts, DWS#7, 4 parts, and a recent damar-wax-fumed silica gel (FDG#2) at 1 part: this is really dense looking, but the fumed silica adds a lot of glide. This combination worked out pretty nicely, would not be that hard to replicate in a new tube. Of course, with this process it will be halfway to the wall forever: no matter what I do there will be something I like better in a week, a month, or a year. The more I've learned, the more I've realized that learning itself is endless. A given system or frame of reference comes together, looks stable, but then begins to deteriorate with the next level of information. There's a tendency to want to remain with what worked, but after a while it's much easier to let it go: that was then, this is now. There's an interesting book that's focused on this process, Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind, by Suzuki Roshi, the guy who started Zen Buddhism in America at Tassajara. It's a Japanese Zen take on something that a lot of people are talking about now: being in the present, this is where the magic is, the universal creative place, etc. All this is helpful, although maybe there's too much spiritual cheerleading in some quarters. I mean, it's still going to be life on earth: if you manage to become sane, that doesn't mean anyone else is. Anyway, the nice thing about Suzuki Roshi is that he pares it all down, he's after the essence of the process, its cosmic nuts and bolts in consciousness. The process isn't about building a safe home for the ego, but exploring what's outside it.


      Something I'd done before and started over with a lot of dense, lean paint using chalk. It was supposed to be an alla prima painting but, haha, wasn't. Ground it back again and was able to get further. A few years ago I realized that it might be possible to integrate positive and more neutral colour in the way older painting integrated colour with simple grays. This has been tricky to get right but really interesting to learn. Many of the world's wisdom traditions make use of the triad as a way to conceptualize reality. The typical triad of colour is red, yellow, blue, but the triad of positive, negative, and neutral is also an important part of the equation. This has been done in many different ways, I guess this is just about how it feels to me. 11x14 inches, linen on panel.


      More recent floral start, put a warmer layer on it after several that were on the cool side. Will take this further, but this is pretty close in life, the type of balance I look for. About 11x15 inches, linen over panel.


      Many thin layers on this one from Vermont, a semi-abandoned farm I really liked to visit. There's a large hill just behind this view, so a major rainfall would rearrange a lot of rocks in the creek. Another level with the colour began in the landscape work as well this week, I guess this is a matter of strictly changing the colour every time, but also the way experience generates more options. It's always interesting to discover more: was it there all along? Would love to get the blue right in these photos, but I think it may involve a new camera. Not done, need to do more on the rocks and creek, but the best it's been. About 10.5x15 inches, gessoed paper on panel.


      Farr Cross in Vermont in the evening, blue sky and late light, not the easiest situation to navigate for me. Concentrated on the mood rather than the detail, more to go but an improvement. About 10x17 inches, gessoed paper on canvas.


      Foggy late summer morning in Vermont, same place as above, a fascinating situation to work with. This had gone through several layers puzzling the colour out, took it a little further this week. It's always fun to put something on the easel after it's had a rest, and know better what to do. It had gotten too foggy, now it's got a little too much colour. So, more to go, but at a new level, a function of both work mixing colour more precisely, and a medium that allows the paint to be placed or blended. About 11x24 inches, gessoed canvas over panel.

july 31

      Last week of the moon, new moon this Tuesday. Rilly hot an yoomit week. Some thunderstorms and one real rain, the neighborhood is looking kind of overgrown, the greens are darker but still full of moisture. I like it that the forest never gives up. As a kid, I used to fight the heat, but the heat always won. So, did what I could this week, but it wasn't much. I still sort of dread the sense of hopeless lassitude that comes with the humid heat. Sort of frustrating to be stalled this way, deja vu all over again, but wherever I find resistance, there always seems to be to a lesson. And there is tremendous resistance! I escaped the heat here for three decades in Vermont, but summer waited patiently. I'd love to define evolving in terms of the work alone, that's easy, there's always something to do, but it's also pretty one dimensional: what about someone to be? So, working on accepting half a brain for now, this doesn't need to mean half a life. There are always fun or interesting small things going on, some flower I've never seen, a light breeze in the evening, the cat doing something comical or wacky. Outside the daily arena, the world being its inscrutable self.


      A long time ago I became really interested in the kalimba, or mbira, or many other names this type of instrument has. It was something that seemed really familiar somehow. The only one available was tuned to a Western scale, and, though it could play "tunes," I found this confusing, since it didn't make the music I liked. I didn't know that much about music at that point, but am learning more bit by bit, being based on wavelength, sound has certain things in common with colour.. Last winter I got a newer version of this instrument, called a karimba this time, with an upper and lower row of tines. I thought that, having only fifteen notes, it would be simple, but figuring this out was pretty challenging because of the logic of the notes being so different than a keyboard. It was still tuned to a Western scale, but this time, armed with a portable tuner, I started changing it. And, learned that it is possible to break a karimba! But that they are easy to fix again. There's sort of a standard "African" tuning that gets promoted for this, but, like "Italian" cooking, this is actually something with lots of different versions. These tunings tend to be five or six notes, some are more minor or bluesey than others, but they all kind of float melodically, don't resolve with the finality of a seven note scale. This leads to a sense of a continuum, more than a beginning, middle, and end. Like everything, there's a lot of information about these instruments on the internet. A few nights ago I found a series of mbira videos on YouTube with a scale that I really liked. For me it became GABDEF#. The instrument he has is bigger, with a lower scale, and of course the tines are handmade, and, like handmade anything, this gives them more personality. Still, the commercial tines are made from spring steel, which has more ring and a clearer sound. Anyway, this is fun, I can even do it in the heat, and the cat loves it, I get serious headbumps doing this. There's a lot of development with this instrument, people making various versions. The traditional amplifier is half a giant gourd, they're making them out of wood now, or fiberglass, I've had good luck with a giant stainless mixing bowl. These things come with internal pick-ups, but I had a chance to play it through a decent microphone at one point, and this was much nicer. There's a good place here to learn more about what's available, with a lot of different Western style kalimbas and lots of information about various scales.


      Was able to put two thin layers on this one, a road through fields on a ridge in Ferrisburg in Vermont that I visited for many years, sun coming through fog early in the morning. About half again as big as the first one, see last week's post. Sometimes the first one goes on and on, trying to find what unifies it. So it's always fun to do the larger one and realize how much I learned from the smaller one. It has become increasingly important to just get in, do what I can naturally, and then stop, rather than perseverating when I don't really know the next step. At this point, this is clearly how things stall. It's strange, I have a real affection for the smaller scale, vastness miniaturized, but just this much larger is so much more natural to work with. A lot more to go, but I like the feeling of this so far. This features the relatively cool Nicosia Green Earth from Natural Pigments, a great colour and a very nice paint made with no additives. About 12x20 inches, on gessoed paper for now.

july 24

      Uniformly sunny and hot week, every day in the 90s, a few humid days that were gross but also some breezy heat that wasn't too bad. Waning moon, decent energy but not that focused. Couldn't do that much each day, just tried to keep it all balanced, not get crabby, went swimming a few times, that was really helpful. Some progress in terms of the medium this week, also mixing colour a little more "down" to begin a layer, emphasizing unity, then more "up" to complete it, emphasizing detail, or identity. There are always more colours, it just goes on and on. Otherwise not that easy to be patient, working with half a brain, so much more could happen if it were cooler. But, the truth is, it's really hot.


      Only new start of the week. Made a putty for this with an oil mix containing damar and beeswax. No commercial oil, so it held really well, none of the melting I've been trying to resolve using stand oil in warmer weather. I would have said stand oil had limitations before, but I liked the higher quality version that Kremer is making. Still, it has limitations, the leveling is too much especially in the heat. The new medium was 1 to 1 in terms of the volume of chalk and oil, and sort of a surprise in terms of its behavior. It was mobile but layered and blended as well. Maybe a little goopy for this scale but otherwise pretty ideal, want to explore this approach more for the book. Image from the Mugello, view across the dirt road from the house where we stayed, small plantings of grapevines were typical sight in the area. Concentrated on the planes, pretty far along for one layer for me, more could happen but I'll probably leave this alone and make a bigger one at some point based on what I learned. Mostly this was interesting because of what the medium enabled in terms of paint handling, not that complex a formula but a return to the more prehensile behavior of hand refined oil. About 9x14 inches on gessoed paper.


      This got pretty close in the last layer, a little closer in this one. More saturation, more reflections in the broken surface. The tension between the paint and the rendition is getting interesting. About 11x12 inches, gessoed linen over panel.


      Farm near where I used to live in Vermont, lots of different afternoon skies here in the summer. This was on pretty coarse linen, and had developed all kinds of texture. Had thought that the texture would help, but it began to seem like it was determining too much, so, ground it back. The surface is a little vanilla now, and the sky is a little too busy, but it's more essential overall, and getting that sense of pre-thunderstorm light. About 10x12 inches, gessoed linen over panel.


      In my mind this had really turned a corner, but when I looked at it again this week it seemed less complete. Getting new eyes like this is always interesting, realizing that the perception of a given place and time is relative. Or maybe there are lots of different levels of the illusion called realism. Concentrated on the atmosphere, not done but like the feeling better. About 10x15 inches, gessoed paper on panel.


      Earlier version of the same place in Ferrisburg, sun through fog on a morning in early September, a favorite time for landscape there. Would like to make a larger version of this but have wanted to get the atmosphere accurately first. About 10x15 inches, gessoed paper on panel.


      There were a lot of different heirloom apples in Vermont, these can have pretty amazing flavors, Ashmead's Kernel is justifiably famous, there was also an old French apple called Reine de Reinette that was great. This is one I only found once, called Sweet William. Had put a few layers on this but between one thing and another decided to grind it back, this always levels the field, allows something new to begin. Ended up liking the feeling of this, as is often the case, the answer is to use a little black, but not too much. Not done, but learned something relatively large from this. The simplest things are always the hardest, but this is also where each new step towards completion is the most interesting. About 10x13 inches, gessoed line over panel.

july 17

      Waxing moon, full moon this Tuesday. Typically a positive period for the work, and some good things didhappen, but the whole week was well into the 90s, after a while it was just too hot, even with ac I became a human bowl of overcooked pasta. As a kid here this type of weather made me feel incredibly frustrated and grumpy, so it seems like something to work to accept this time around. Plenty of opportunity! Anyway, an unexpected positive aspect of this weather is to make me appreciate the work more. I tend to look for the next step, but the whole studio becomes miraculous if just picking up a paintbrush is far too complicated. So, something to learn about less leading to more. Over the 4th of July, we had visitors from the big city, and as part of the program took them to the goofy local pool we joined. It has a kids pool too, so we hung out there with the kids, who are six and eight, and had never been in a pool before. There had been a lot of logistics with food and lodging, and, with one thing and another, I was ready for a rest. What should present itself but a dilapidated old chaise lounge in the shade. There was even a little breeze. So I hung out there for about an hour, watching clouds and listening to various splashes and chortles of joy from the kiddie pool. It was nice to stop in a friendly and relaxed place, this combination is rare around here. We had a talk at one point about the relative stress of locations, our part of Philadelphia being between the extremes of NYC and Vermont. Although, in retrospect, I'd say that the outer relaxation of a rural place doesn't necessarily lead to inner relaxation over a longer period of time. Anyway, one of those rare moments where nothing appears to be happening, but the inner well is being rapidly filled.

      One of the concepts I began to stress when I was teaching was visual rhythm. Some people were working from photos and this approach can become arhythmic in a hurry. What about the underlying structure of the lines? Anyway, working with this led to exploring rhythm in sound to learn to apply it more to colour. I became especially fascinated by rhythms that are less predictable, or factor in hesitations, I guess maybe this is like thesis and antithesis, two rhythms interacting to produce a third.This link is to a traditional zimbabwe mbira piece, this one is to some videos of one of the African harps, the n'goni. The first video on the page is good, a little more modern, but the second one is amazing, really nice energy.


      Something interesting happened with the medium this week, I'm still sorting it out because there are a few factors involved. This year I've made a lot of versions of a damar, wax, and oil medium, with the damar fused into the oil. I experimented with some of these using a proportion of the Kremer stand oil, and this works well as long as the studio isn't too warm, in which case using oil that I've refined and thickened works better because it's tighter. This is the auto-oxidized vs. heat-polymerized issue, which nobody talks about but which is important if you want to understand what happened between 1432 and now in oil paint. All auto-oxidized oils are tighter, grab more, all heat polymerized oils are glide more, are more leveling. Auto-oxidized oil made from hand-refined linseed oil can grab very tightly, an entirely different feel and look than stand oil. The fused damar approach also has little tack compared to damar in solvent. But, I really want to avoid solvent, all solvent, any solvent, at this point, especially inside with all the windows closed. So I tried a version of the medium with larch balsam in it instead of damar. The amount of larch was very small, but still probably too much without solvent, and this medium had a large amount of the Kremer stand oil, so it slid around too much for me by far. Still, I wanted some of the larch stickiness or tack. So, ended up making a medium this week that was two parts damar, wax, and oil, one part larch, wax, and oil, and two parts thicker SRO oil to compensate for the slide of the stand oil, and to reduce the density of the medium. Like most of the materials changes, I just went into the studio in the morning and it happened. I'm also looking for the functional minimum of the wax and resin combination, cut the amount in the paint by forty percent this week without issue. That's good for a number of reasons, but mostly because I don't love seeing resin, especially a glassy resin, in the paint. Also, the thicker oil I used was some made from a hand-pressed linseed oil that Canadian painter Thomas Hirsz was making for a while. So, no heat involved in the pressing. The hand-refined linseed oils dry fast, the SRO linseed oils dry really fast, but this stuff (SRO version) dries REALLY fast. Thanks again, Tom!


      Second version of this cheese, photo from 2014, just before leaving Vermont. At the time it seemed done, but, looking at it recently, it seemed too serious, like someone was trying too hard. Which, in retrospect, someone probably was.


      So, this week it went back on the easel. Sanded the top off lightly with fine grit and oil, buffed it dry, then put what was hopefully going to be a happier layer on it. With the most recent medium, felt that the paint had a good chance of drying brightly, and it did. I'll work on it again, but this was interesting and not that hard to do. The point being that, in a given place and time, it is difficult to get beyond one's own psychological or emotional frame of reference. Life here and now provided a different set of eyes, allowing life then to be reconfigured. There's something intriguing about an image that exists in this kind of time. It presents itself as simply being a record of the objects in space, but contains many different versions of that record over time. About 12x16 inches, gessoed linen over panel.


      More recent version of the image, set this up earlier this year based on the experience of the one above. So, brighter colour to start with, more of a dialogue between the obhjects and the space. Put a finer, more saturated layer on it this week, not done but getting to the fun place. About 11x16 inches, gessoed linen over panel.


      Another image from the same series, recent start that was painted with less detail and more atmosphere for several layers. This works well up to a point, after which this approach begins to dry too pale, with less chroma. So, put finer and more saturated layer on it that held the colour a little more. A little more playful somehow than the image above, on its way somewhere new in terms of the colour. About 12x16 inches, gessoed linen over panel.


      Third layer on a recent start, getting closer to the feeling of late light but a pretty tight circle of colour, this may take a few more layers. About 10x12 inches, gessoed canvas over panel.

july 10

      Waxing moon, very warm week, a little rain finally after many thunderstorm rumours. Lots of energy but not that much focus, tried to pace things with the work, it bounced around more than usual but I ended up getting a reasonable amount done. It feels like far more was possible when it was cooler, but have a feeling I'm supposed to learn to be patient with this. The summer heat here used to drive me crazy growing up, and I still kind of dread it, feel imprisoned by it. So, trying to work with that, normalize it somehow internally. Became a little sidetracked over the last few weeks working on a dense alla prima medium based on stand oil, wax, and fused damar. There are a lot of permutations of this approach, but the more stand oil that's involved, the iffier they become for me, especially in a warm studio. Sometimes it's just as important to understand what doesn't work, this defines a limit that then moves the process forward. The highway may get boring, but after trying the ditch, it suddenly makes more sense.


      Most recent peony, this type of image can get serious by accident so ground it back gently and made it a little lighter, with some brighter colour. Not done, but it feels on track, shifting the colour each time, emphasizing the envelope so the "whiteness" of the flower doesn't become excessive or redundant. About 12x14 inches, gessoed linen over panel.


      Image from 20011, the second version of this peony, many thin layers using slightly thicker SRO linseed oil and chalk. About 12x16 inches, gessoed linen over panel.


      I liked it enough to want to start another one when it was sold. Having done it twice, I thought I knew it pretty well, but this version has run into all kinds of issues. This week I ground it back for a second time and put another layer on it. Can't really cover everything that gets revealed by grinding back in the next layer, but that can be interesting too. I'm kind of fascinated by what occurs when an image has really been through the mill like this, a great deal of detail but not much traditional finish. I'd like to capitalize on that going forward, figure out how to make it less compartmentalized, more unified. About 12x16 inches, gessoed linen over panel.


      Decided to start another one based on what I felt could not be done with the image above, something lighter, a little more contemporary on the one hand � more colour, less value drama � and more in the floral tradition on the other. Got two thin layers on this, started with a little titanium in the white, this always looks a little chalky to me but can be helpful from time to time. About 12x14 inches, gessoed linen over panel.


      Another floral I've been working on in thin layers. I'm always trying to balance local colour, atmosphere, and that certain ineffable intangible untrammeled evanescent something or other. The more minimal they are, the more they seem to depend on a quality it can take time to develop. I did a great many of these alla prima a long time ago, but ended up wanting something more reliable. Still, the conclusion of a painting like this has to look effortless, a quality the best alla prima paintings always had. About 12x16 inches, gessoed linen over panel.


      This began life as a test of an alla prima medium using a lot of stand oil, the final test, in fact, I surrender. I wanted to see if I could get something dense and saturated using this readily available dense oil but keep it under control. I think this might be possible with a different style but with this low light, tight chroma situation the answer was, sort of. So, let it sit for a few days then ground it back very hard and put another layer on it. A little too much chroma at this point, but I like where the feeling is headed. Although I ground it back, I'll be looking at this closely for adhesion, since it began with something pretty "fat." At the same time, both the first and second paint contained wax, which stabilizes everything. Still, another reason to always start lean, whether the goal is alla prima or not. About 10x12 inches, gessoed canvas on panel.


      Tried a landscape foray with one of the more recent images of the farm in the Mugello. This seemed ready for a little more fusion, used a couch of thicker SRO linseed oil applied very thinly by rubbing it in. Usually this is pretty tight or adhesive but it was warm enough in the studio that is melted more than usual. Was able to improve this one but sometimes it isn't really time for landscape, actual closure still seems a layer or two away. About 12.5x20 inches, gessoed linen on panel.


      For a long time, when I lived in Vermont, I worked outside. I got kind of obsessed with it, if you've worked outside you probably know about this. In the summer of 2007 I worked a lot with one location, a bluff adjacent to Button Bay overlooking Lake Champlain towards the Adirondacks. I'd go there early in the morning, sometimes was able to get there at dawn. But this meant that, by noon, I'd been up for eight hours, which got strange in a hurry. Anyway, this was a great learning experience, I saw a great many beautiful things, and these paintings have a lot of interest for me still. The light and weather situation was in so much motion that it really precluded trying to do too much detail, it had to be about the feeling. This is a version of a painting that really interested me, original is below, a good example of how a great many rules can be broken outside. This was done with the first version of the damar, wax, and stand oil medium that I tubed. At first I thought that medium was too goopy, but, having gone much further into goopiness, I'm now beginning to wonder about going back to something like it as a way to encourage a little less specificity. About 9x12 inches, on gessoed paper, original is about 10.5x14 inches, on gessoed paper.

july 3

      Very warm and sunny week, a little cooler now, whew. Like most of the East Coast, we could really use some rain, but maybe not a foot in an hour. Waning moon, new moon tomorrow, didn't have much energy for finishing things this week, decided to work on some medium ideas that have been trying to land for a while now. I've really been trying to curtail experiments in the interest of getting a reliable system together and finishing things, but they still want to be made, maybe even need to be made. The results are always a little complex at first: what actually happens seems never to be quite what I thought would happen, all kinds of adjustments need to be made to the larger sense of the system. But then the system adjusts, and grows. You could say, Well, I don't want those confusing new elements in the system, and try to get the cozy old system back. But this doesn't ever work, the old system is over for a reason, trying to keep the system from evolving only proves why it needs to evolve.


      The Arizona painter Jan McDonald wrote me about her work investigating emulsified beeswax this winter, and it was an intriguing addition to the materials story. This material is becoming the basis of paint again, there's the Cuni paint, a complex mixture involving ewax, acrylic, and linseed oil, and Ceracolors from Natural Pigments, a more traditional approach that is oil free, based on the Mt. Athos approach of glue and ewax. There are two ways to make the wax water soluble, one involves ammonia or ammonium carbonate, the other involves a liquid soap made with potassium hydroxide. I had made the ammonium carbonate wax and used it for paint with methyl cellulose in the 90s. This time I made the wax with soap because it is the basis of many ancient wall murals and the Fayum mummy portraits on wood. This is a slightly different material. The most significant difference for me was that, while the ammonium carbonate wax made oil yellow in a few weeks, the soap wax did not. It became interesting to me as a way to make a solvent-free medium more dense and adhesive, especially in warmer weather, when regular wax can slide relentlessly.


      I made the wax a few different ways, including with handmade soap, walnut oil yellowed less than linseed, but wax made with the Dr. Bronner's hemp oil based soap has also remained white alone, and light with oil. Found that very little soap was needed to make it water soluble, which seemed good, the less strong free alkali the better. Still, did a lot of tests of mediums with and without ewax to see if it contributed to yellowing. These tests are now four months old, and, so far, there's no additional yellowing from ewax, even in relatively large amounts like 25%. But, of course, four months is not that long. I've been able to find relatively little in writing about the behavior of this wax in oil, the only painting professor to write about this approach is Doerner, who says that tempera emulsions containing soap wax work well, but will darken over time, and recommends the ammonium carbonate wax for tempera. But, for me, the ammonium carbonate wax darkened quickly in oil. Also, this is not really a tempera approach, it is more about using a small amount of something water-soluble to arrest a relatively rich oil based medium. The mediums involved also use ewax in conjunction with regular wax, which always contributes to water-resistance. The issue is whether the ewax will remain hygroscopic, absorbing moisture into the paint film and and darkening it over time. Cuni says that ewax becomes insoluble over time. Certainly after four months it is water resistant, doesn't redissolve readily like, say, a gum arabic solution. So, there are many variables, I may be both making and using ewax in a way Doerner never did. I decided the best thing to do was to just make a few studies with ewax alone and see what happened. This would also create something more tangible to observe for the effects of age.


      Small study with a medium that was 1 part methyl cellulose paste, 1 part e-wax, and 1 part stand oil. So, basically a tempera medium but not thinned with water, used to make oil paint more dense. Image of Vermont near where I lived for many years, a thaw on a February afternoon. I really liked the way this paint handled, it allowed a great deal of compositional adjustment and didn't become muddy or dry down. Still, at 2 parts paint to one part medium, it works out to 15% ewax in the paint film. So, in the next medium, decided to see what would happen if the ewax component were minimized. Not quite done, but, for me, a decent feeling for a first layer with something this moody and atmospheric. About 8x13 inches, on gessoed paper.


      Adjusted the medium to be 5% ewax at 2 parts paint to 1 part medium, returned to stand oil with damar melted into it. This paint was somewhat fudgy and ended up being a a little dorky or goofy at this scale, but was also very co-operative in terms of being able to adjust things cleanly, and fun to work with. Not done, lots of adjustments to the land needed and it seems like removing at least the last cloud on the right would help. But, given the scale, it may be best to just start a larger one. A great deal of paint, and, surprisingly, this dried overnight. Image from the Mugello outside Florence, about 8.5x14 inches, on gessoed linen.


      Final study of the week, decided to try to emulate the above medium without ewax in light of the Doerner warning detailed above. Added extra wax to the medium, at 1 part medium to 2 parts paint it ended up being about 7.5% wax. Also added chalk for density, but it was warm in the studio and, in spite of this medium seeming too dense to work with, once in the paint, it slid a little too much for me. It would be different in a cooler studio, more broken or additive. Not quite dry overnight. So, a little frustrating, not as far along in some ways in layer one as the other two but layer one seldom matters in the long run. Detail below, about twice life size, I don't really love this swooshy look but did what the paint wanted to do. With just a little more adhesion this would be very different, it would also work better at a larger scale over a lean underpainting. There might be another way to arrest this further as well. I guess the point I wanted to make with this set of images is that, when the materials are being investigated, there are just a tremendous number of variables to consider before drawing any conclusions. The simplification of theory is very appealing to the mind: Well, it must be this because of this this and this. Mua ha ha, that makes perfect sense! But the mind tends to be linear, and physical experience tends to have more dimensions. Yes, editing these out makes everything make more sense. But, even with the best of intentions, the sense may turn out to be nonsense. Image from near Lake Champlain in Vermont, looking across the fields at the Adirondacks in New York. About 8.5x14 inches, on gessoed linen.



june 26

      Uniformly hot and sunny week. Waning moon, mostly did layers on older work, progress but nothing earth shaking there yet. Started one new painting with a new medium, this was fun. The biggest news is that we got a recommendation on a local outdoor pool and decided to join. The pool is part of this spacious older development squirreled away next to one of the giant old estates that were on the outskirts of the city a century ago. So, it's not that fancy, and, sort of accidentally, has a very nice retro feeling, surrounded by trees. This whole area was carved out of a forest and the forest has not given up. So if you just leave things alone for a few decades, it all grows back. Anyway, we had a nice vacation evening there on Wednesday. Went swimming, then got Indian take-out and took this to a local park where people with dogs can let them run. This park has some pretty big old trees, it looks a little like a Constable in the evenings, especially when there's a Great Dane, they browse like deer. It turned out there was having an outdoor concert that night, so the park was unusually full of people. The concert was not that great, someone recycling a lot of older chord structures verbatim into "his" songs. But we were at the other end of the park and watched endless children and dogs frolicking on the lawn as the sun went down. It just went on and on. There was one group of small children running around in an amorphous formation like a flock of birds with a very small but enthusiastic puppy. They would stop now and then to let the puppy rest, kneeling and clustering around it, arcadian puppy love, very nice to witness.


      For a while I've been working with versions of a medium designed to keep the paint bright in layers, this uses thicker oil such as sun oil or stand oil to saturate the paint, some damar and beeswax are melted into the oil to aid the layers to dry "up." These mediums have worked out well but I've also wanted to explore using other resins in place of damar, which doesn't add a lot of character in this situation. The two resins I'm most interested in are Manila copal and sandarac. These could be used in oil, but that's a route I explored about a decade ago, so I want to learn more about using them in solvent, both sandarac and Manila copal dissolve in oil of rosemary, eucalyptus, or spike lavender. Have done some work this year using Manila copal in solvent: small amounts of this produce a thixotropic seizing in even stand oil. So, decided to use sandarac in solvent for this, to learn more about what it does. Turns out it also produces a seizing effect, but more moderately. These varnishes are very concentrated to minimize the amount of solvent in the studio, so quite small amounts are used in the medium, about three percent in this one. But that was enough to generate something pretty different because the sandarac in solvent is tightening quickly, whereas the fused damar stays open a long time. The better known material this resembles most is genuine silver fir, olio d'Abezzo, which is very pale and dries in a few hours, although this isn't available at this point outside Italy to my knowledge. Sandarac in oil is very old, found on a Carlo Crivelli, this is in NGTB 23. Sandarac in solvent hasn't been found in early painting to my knowledge, but this is simplicity itself if you have the resin and spike. The first round of readings I did in the technical bulletins made it clear that there was a pretty sophisticated materials awareness in Europe at an early date, but this picture was expanded considerably by the Archetype book, Trade in Artist's Materials, which has some really fascinating research in it.


      First layer on a peony using the new medium, blocking it in, holding everything within the envelope at this point. I liked how it worked but there's always a learning curve with something different.


      After the third layer. This altered very cleanly throughout the process of changing the colour, but the paint turned out to be a little tight working, which was a surprise since the amount of resin is so small. But, of course, that's the point, being an arresting agent, a little concentrated resin controls a lot of oil. So, this feels a little formal now. I'll probably try to give the next layer more swoosh by adding a little more thicker oil to the medium before mixing it with the paint. About 12x14 inches, oil on gessoed linen over panel.

june 19

      Waxing moon, full moon tomorrow, solstice. Lots of heat this week, not that much humidity, some nice breezes, the best of summer. Lots of energy, but maybe not of the highest quality for the work. Have noticed this before during extended warmer periods. Did a lot of work in the first half of this week, then had to pause due to the usual intervention of myriad other things. But somehow had the feeling this was good. The last day I worked was only on older small things, a sure sign that I've lost the scent. Anyway, looked the week's work over this morning and it all felt a little off, sort of adrift. It's always interesting to look at something and realize it's different than I first thought, points out the relativity of perception itself. A tired person sees things differently. Everything improved, but maybe only superficially, which is not okay. I could ignore the polls, rattle the saber, say what the faithful want to hear, but at some point the truth, as difficult as it might be, seems to catch up with everyone. So, lots of ideas floating around, but they don't really mean anything right now, like seeds without soil. Time for a rest.

june 12

      Waxing moon, some truly lovely sunny and cool days this week leading back into heat now. Mostly worked on one painting, this sometimes happens and is fun up to a certain point. Then things usually need to pause, get examined more closely. There's a great letter by Chardin replying to some Count who was trying to bustle him, saying the painting can't be rushed, that it will be done when it's done. It's incredibly polite on the surface, but there's quite a steeliness in it too. I got to visit the Vanna Venturi house a few years ago, this was quite amazing on the inside, an interior whose proportions are a nurturing work of art. Anyway, the owner was very nice and showed us a book about the house, in which the architect said how great it was to be able to work on a project for five years. Culturally, we have gotten really involved in fast knowledge, it makes us think we are so smart. But it is also a way to attempt to escape the way we feel, making it addictive. If someone is going fast enough, they can get pretty upset if you make any effort to slow them down, because they can sense what's waiting for them, an awful lot of discomfort. So, we continue to go as fast as possible, in an effort to escape the quality of time we have created.


      My friend Roland sent me an email about the little known second book by Maroger, published after his death, which, amazing researcher that he is, he found in a local flea market! Anyway, this contains some interesting information which Roland synopsized for me, part of which is a sort of deathbed confession about his various historical and technical errors. More importantly, there is also a discussion of what can go wrong, which begins with the need for a cold-pressed, water washed linseed oil, goes on to the use of too much mastic, too much black oil, issues of proportion with the medium. If you've read about this, you know that there's no historical justification for the mastic gel in De Mayerne, this was something Maroger lied about. The mastic gel comes to painting via Venice, mastic coming from Greece, Bombelli was one of the first painters to use it. A lot of mayhem occurred in English 19th century painting because of the mastic gel, these recipes are documented in depth in Carly's The Artist's Assistant. At the same time, some people have used this medium without issue, the premiere painter from a technical point of view being Wilkie. Having looked at Wilkie's Highland Family (on panel) recently at the Met, it does seem to be made with mastic. The key is low, and he de-emphasizes yellow totally, perhaps to offset any that may occur later. But the painting has not yellowed, the darks have not gone down in value. This could be because little medium was used, because the paint was made with pre-polymerized oil, because the varnish was kept from light and air that would oxidize the solvent, or because there is also wax in the medium. A lot of variables, most of which don't come into consideration when someone buys a tube of "Maroger Medium." Anyway, Roland makes the point that Maroger continued to try to figure things out all his life. One of the things I would like to explain for Maroger, who is out there somewhere, is that, if you do begin with a cold-pressed oil, and wash it, then let it thicken a great deal, you have a material that, when thinned with solvent, behaves very much like a soft resin varnish. We are used to the relatively lugubrious behavior of stand oil, but the oil pictured below is very different.


      Beach scene from last summer in New Jersey, literally the beach where I spent time as a kid. Unusual hazy evening light, lots of relatively bright recession that had been a little confusing. Saw how to take this further, as usual a matter of less physical detail and more chromatic or psychological detail. Conceptually it feels solved but could still use more paint, more of the same approach. About 11.25x20.5 inches, oil on gessoed paper, the great da Vinci by Twinrocker. Time to mount this on a panel before the next layer.


      Another one of Kathy's grandmother's peonies from my last weeks in Vermont. Put four thin layers on this peony this week. This is on a panel with some sand in the gesso, not the easiest surface, the first three layers were about covering that, the fourth one was smoother, but maybe a little too smooth. Yes, it's always something. Did a lot of work on the petals, this remains interesting to figure out. Not sure how I feel about this, it's pretty clean or accurate for this stage but I see that as the beginning, not the end. Not bad for a week old but in need of more soul. Wanted to try brighter colour, but even without blue maybe it's too much. On the other hand, one thing I've noticed is that change happens, doesn't need to be pursued, so maybe the best thing to do is not think about it, just work on it again. Long ago I read an article by a woman in some art magazine � rare, so I remember it � about her encounter with the late Chardin still life with the little onion and the pottery coffee pot, one of the more humble paintings ever made. She says that she just burst into tears when she saw it, it was uncontrollable, she didn't understand it, it just happened. So, in working on these, I often find myself wondering, "Would she cry?" About 14x16 inches, oil on gessoed panel.

For further information on technique or a specific painting please contact tadspurgeon@gmail.com
copyright © 2002-2016 by Tad Spurgeon. All rights reserved.
web site design by Axis Web Design.