Introvert’s Lament

It’s been a busy few days with lots of human contact working to solve problems.

Friday I spent the morning in the museum helping the new director edit a slide show so it would reach people more effectively. Yesterday I spent the morning with my friend Perla doing an interview for an article for the Colorado Central Magazine. I like people, and the people I spent time with over the past few days I like very much. I believe in the projects we were working on, too, so everything was wonderful. But afterward I was utterly exhausted.

As a “reporter” I have a goal which is to write an article people will want to read with the possible ancillary goal that Perla will have success at the upcoming fiber festival in the town where the magazine is published. To me that means I need to depict an interesting person who does beautiful work and sells it.

The last two years have shown me how much people like knowing the artist behind the picture they’re looking at. I’ve sold two paintings based on someone’s momentary attraction to a painting followed by a story — one told by a fellow artist to the customer who then met me, and the other because I lost myself and started telling the buyer about the pigments behind the paint. The stories and contact with me sold the paintings.

It hit me that the colossal fascination with Van Gogh — whose work is brilliant and beautiful — is partly based on stories about his life. People “know” Van Gogh and they feel sorry for him and, in a way, want to make up to him for the suffering and slights he endured in his life. Of course, to ME Theo is the victim there, but… Same with Frida Kahlo. The stories behind her life bring out something good in people. Great artist? IMO, no. But what a story. So…

So I’m off for what I hope is a quiet day with (godwilling) a walk at the Refuge. Thunder for the last two days made that impossible. Bear endured and Teddy didn’t care. I discovered with Bear that staying near her and being extra affectionate seems to keep her calmer. OK. Like that’s hard. ❤️🐾

Featured photo: a detail of one of Perla’s creations, a long scarf

Quotidian Update MXXIII and Some Boring Stuff about the Painting in Progress

The temperature here in Heavenish (it’s no longer quite as Heavenly as it once appeared) hit temperature highs yesterday I’ve never experienced here. Bear, Teddy and I were all shocked, and talking with a friend on the phone, I learned not only were Bear, Teddy and I shocked but she and her husband were, too. Her husband had even retreated to an activity he usually only does in winter — a jigsaw puzzle.

One thing that happens in the heat is that oil paints get more schmushy and easier to move around. This is good and bad.

That only makes sense, but who would think of it? All except the holy lapis ultramarine which, I think, is blended differently, a higher concentration of pigment to linseed oil, because it’s SO transparent. If it were made like other oil paints, it would just be a wash. The current painting isn’t relying on it much. I think I just put it on my brush from time to time because it feels like a friend. It’s a fact of life that not everything is blue.

As I was painting — with a very small brush — I heard my high school art teacher yelling, “Don’t use such small brushes! Get back from your canvas!!” No way to placate that man. I think he was a good art teacher, just not for me. Some really fine (and now famous) artists came out of Mr. Frost’s art room. I owe him a lot, too. From him I learned how I didn’t want to teach, even though, at the time I was in his “power” I had no thought of becoming a teacher.

I thought yesterday, “Mr. Frost, it’s not the brush or how close you are to the canvas. It’s what you’re doing with the brush and the canvas.” This morning I thought of a photo of Marc Chagall painting only a few inches from his canvas using a tiny brush. Godnose, Chagall’s paintings are not “tight.”

My new art materials book — which was written in the 11th century — gives a formula for mixing European flesh tones. Yesterday, looking at the woman, her hand, and her face, I went to my box of paints and got the components of my usual flesh recipe. Then I looked at the paint that was already on my palette. “Hmmm,” I thought. “Why not?” I mixed flesh according to the recipe offered by Theophilus and I loved it. Easier to use, easier to shade and?

Sadly, I was in too much of a hurry to see how things were going to look and painted the woman’s face while her jacket was still wet. OH well. That’s why God made rags, but the color? A reminder that I need to think about that face — draw it? — before I try again to paint it.

Paintings always tell me when to quit for the day and stuff like that happens when I don’t listen. There are still a lot of things wrong with this piece, but no one said it had to be a masterpiece. I have the cranes ahead of me and that is a physical problem because I’m not tall enough to reach some of them. I’ll probably lay my easel flat and paint them that way.

Creating…

The Scarlet Emperor Beans are creating my summer garden, and they are doing it with passion. These hot days (88 F/31 C) are just what the beans love most. And I? Well, I don’t love the heat but (as every summer) the initial shock is over and I begin to adapt, I know I’ll be shocked when fall arrives and the first cold nights. Then I’ll just be happy.

Meanwhile…

I’ve read a few articles about what makes a person creative. They seem to take one tack or the other. The first is that “everyone is an artist.” No. I’m not sure I know what an artist is, but I know not everyone is an artist. To be an artist, a person has to make art which, right there eliminates a lot of people. As for what is “art”? Another wormhole I don’t want to crawl into, and who cares? The second tack I’ve encountered in my reading is that creativity is the ability to solve a problem with the resources at hand. Yes.

I’m tangled up in a painting right now, and I don’t know what I’m doing, but I’m doing it. Why? I started it. That’s one reason. The studio is the coolest (in all senses) room in my house (north side). I’m fascinated by the struggle. I started it in a way I only started one other painting, and that painting was a lot smaller and the argument for the underpainting was more legitimate than with this painting. The light in the painting is the strange, unfiltered, angled light of late winter which gives the feeling that one is walking on shadows. There’s also the sense that the earth — the dirt under everything — is thawing, about to wake up for Nature’s Great Beanfield. When I began the painting, I had a strong sense of that. So I took out my trusty Natural Pigments and painted dirt with dirt. It’s set me up for a different kind of painting than I’ve ever done, but I think I like it fine, so far. Besides, who really cares? THAT is, I think, the bottom line for anyone doing creative work. If the artist cares too much it won’t happen; it’s paralyzing.

That’s been my experience in attempting to teach people to draw. I’ve had so many friends who want to draw, but who are afraid they will get it wrong. It’s a conundrum because in a lot of other subjects we learn the emphasis is on “trying hard” to “get it right.” I think creative work is a little different. Technique matters, but I think it’s secondary in the learning process. Primary, I think, is joy, the way kids have fun drawing and painting. There is a potential internal reward to any creative work, and that’s the pleasure of doing it, even if it doesn’t turn out the way you (think) you want it to. And this one? Well, I still can’t say…

After today’s work (6/11/2022)

Tempus Fugit

Marc Chagall… Only love interests me, and I am only in contact with things I love.

In the evenings, while the great refrigerator meltdown was raging, I retreated to one of my favorite films. Longitude. I love it so much I bought it to stream whenever I want, something I have hardly ever done. I don’t even remember when I did it, but there it was. It’s the story of John Harrison who spent most of his life developing a clock that could go on a ship to make accurate east/west navigation possible. Until the late 18th century it was impossible. Mariners went by their best guess using maps, the sky, experience, currents. Many, many people died when a land mass was mis-identified or they were farther from land than they thought, leaving sailors to die of starvation, dehydration, scurvy.

Until I saw the film some years back I didn’t know that, and that might have been the loveliest thing about the film. It awakened me (again) to the fact that we humans are constantly — wondrously — working things out. But what I love most about the film is that (at least as he’s depicted by Michael Gambon) John Harrison’s motivation was love. There was a very large reward for anyone who could solve the problem of longitude, and he wanted it for his son, but there was also (and, to me, more important) love for the work itself and the reality that it would save lives. The solution would be a particularly accurate clock with a movement that would be unaffected by the movements of the (18th century!) ship.

If you live in England, you can go see the clocks at Flamsteed House at the Royal Observatory in Greenwich. The featured photo is Harrison’s first sea clock.

It made me think about my life now. I don’t, myself, want to live from any other motive or be encumbered by irrelevancies. I know that’s not totally in my control, but I can try.

Wind and Cranes Oil Painting

This has been about to be painted for several months, but I got intimidated, so… I pulled it out today and started with what I knew. Time will tell but I guess I like it fine, so far.

The featured photo is of the two brushes I’m using right now — both belonged to a dear friend who is dead. It means a lot to have them, to paint with them, and to care for them.

Do it Anyway

I have only “been” an artist for 14 years. Yeah, I did art from time to time since I was a kid, and sometimes for money, but it was back in 2008, when I inherited money from my Aunt Martha, the Evil X had hit the highway, and I built my art shed that I had a dedicated place to work. Never before in my life had I had such a space. In my Denver apartment in the late 70s and early 80s, I quit sleeping in my bedroom and slept on the day bed in the living room so I had a place to work, but even that felt like a compromise.

The art shed was tiny. 8′ x 8′. BUT it was wonderful. It was another world, just a few feet from my house, but it felt far far away.


In there, one rainy day, I did my first oil painting (since high school — 40 years!). Here it is. It was the first time I primed a canvas with black gesso and worked toward light. In so many ways it was a huge breakthrough, act of defiance, a definition of self and an affirmation of the truth of who I am. I don’t think I’ll ever give away or sell this painting. It’s 12′ x 9′

I got a new brush and the canvas from my step-son and his wife for Christmas, one of the best Christmases of my life, for the gift, somewhat but mostly for the whole thing. She is from Germany and her Christmas custom (open presents on Christmas Eve) is the same as my family’s. So we had great German food, opened our presents, drank hot chocolate and watched a Star Trek movie. Really, what could be better? Before that I took them up to the Lagunas where there was snow on the ground. THAT made Sandi’s Christmas. ❤️

The next Christmas I participated in my first town craft show and I sold one — to my next door neighbor’s wife as a present for her husband. It was a tiny painting — 5 x 7 — of, you got it, a cow. There was a herd of cattle across the street and they liked looking at my yard. Cows are social animals and anything they get used to belongs to them. My dogs and I, only some 8 or 10 feet away from them, were theirs. I loved that. I got to watch them all the time. Here’s that little painting. I figured little paintings didn’t take much paint and didn’t take much time and I didn’t know what I was doing and I was learning. This wasn’t on black primed canvas.

The cow below was my favorite cow because of her pretty markings and because she hung out in front of my house the most. She had a calf. The canvas is 8 x 10.

In the next few years, I joined an artists guild, showed my work twice a year in their guild shows. When I sold this one for $300 I was stunned. I titled this, How I Spent my Summer Vacation. I didn’t have a good easel or really enough room in my little shed, but I did it. It’s a scene about 1/4 mile from my house in Descanso, CA.

Descanso Falls. 24 x 36

Over the next few years I had paintings accepted in a couple of juried shows. It was amazing to me. And why? I was fighting inner enemies.

My high school art teacher had told me I had no talent and ridiculed my final project — an oil painting of White Sands National Park in New Mexico — in front of everyone. “You shouldn’t hang out in the art room,” he said. “This place is for people with talent.” He just echoed what my mom alway said, “Art’s a dirty word and I don’t want my kids to be artists.” I wasn’t going to touch oil paints after that. In the mid-70s I was the staff artist for the Denver YWCA and did watercolors and drawings. My one woman show in 1981 was gouache on paper. I used pastels and acrylic. In 2006, I went to school to learn fresco. But I wasn’t touching oil paint.

In reality, there’s nothing more difficult about oil paint than any other medium. I think it’s easier than a lot of things — for me a lot easier than pastel. The more I got into it, the more interested I became in the way paint is made. I discovered the paints made by Robert Gamblin’s company in Oregon for a couple of reasons; they have a beautiful consistency AND he is a professional restorer. I’m fascinated by the restoration of old paintings. I learned a lot from “him” — particularly about studio safety and alternatives to some of the dangerous shit that can come along with painting. His company offers a huge range of non-toxic colors and solvents that are almost odorless. A couple years ago I discovered other paints — from Natural Pigments, and they fascinated me because they were made out of dirt and linseed oil the old-fashioned way. I wrote about that a LOT on this blog. Still, I wasn’t trying large paintings. I did one but I learned how much paint that takes and how expensive it is. I figured I was still learning and yeah…

Today I went out to get my mail and there was the beautiful literary and art magazine that comes out of Creede, Colorado, published by the Creede Arts Council. Creede is a sleepy little old former mining town until summer when the summer residents swell the population. Its setting is stunning. It has a small theater that presents good plays most of the “open” season (meaning clear roads). Good restaurants, etc. It’s arty which is great. Every year there is a studio tour that centers on Creede.

Creede, Colorado

Every year I submit something to their beautiful magazine. Last year they didn’t take my submission, but in other years they have. This year they did. When I opened the envelope this morning and saw my drawing filling the back cover, I was blown away and very, very, very happy.

My mentor, Lilliana Bava Briaco, says doubt is “part of the territory,” and I imagine she’s right. For me it’s been a very hard fight against the voices in my head and the voices in my memory. At times it’s been so powerful that I quit (for a while) then had to start again. I’ve always known who and what I am, but it means so much when something I’ve done that took courage is seen by others as I have seen it — like this drawing. That’s huge to me, But, doing the work is the best part, no matter what. I’m really grateful to have survived this far, that I have found allies who see my work. And maybe, most of all, for the absolute miracles of line, light, time, vision, and paint, those great teachers. ❤️

The featured photo is me at age 10 trying to paint a tree with the oil paints I’d gotten for Christmas that year.

Love

Here it is. I’ve only painted one or two other things I’ve been really sad to finish, but if you don’t stop when you should, you end up very sorry. As I cleaned the lapis ultramarine from the brush, I might have shed a tear.

In other good news I spent an hour at the Rio Grande County Museum with the new director whom I already knew and liked. The grand re-opening is a month from now. I took a bunch of notecards and learned that they don’t want to do consignment any more, but they want to sell my cards. Yay!

A couple of tourists came in (the museum is also the town/county’s visitor’s center) asking for directions. Somehow the word came out that I’m a painter. The woman asked if any of my paintings were hanging in there. I said no, but I had made notecards of some of my paintings. She wanted to see. I pulled some out. Two of them that I told her about she ended up buying. $20. BUT once again I learned that when someone can talk to the artist and find out something about the story behind the painting, it’s MORE to that person that if it were just something to look at. I told her one of them involved time travel. And showed her, explaining that as she drove out of town she’d see this mountain and these bison, but she’d also see our hospital. Time travel was NOT painting the hospital. This painting is 24 x 36 and is in Maine.

I told her the story behind the big crane painting, too, and how I’d seen him in March 2021 when everyone was still staying home. I explained I’d been out there alone and seen the crane in the willows and thought of him as “my” crane. She was moved by the story and said, “He IS your crane.” Because I gave her something personal, she wanted the images. That’s actually very awesome.

I’ll be helping out a little with the Grand Re-opening, maybe reading a few poems from Shit, Fear and Beauty. I’m very happy the museum is up and running again, and that the new director is a person who actually LOVES the museum. It’s a little place, but its ours and I love it.

Quotidian Update 87.2b.ix

Good news from the back-of-beyond. The Rio Grande County Museum in Del Norte is open again, and the person running it is someone I know AND a person who’s bought one of my paintings. I’m going in later this morning with notecards. Apparently they’ve been doing repairs and cleaning for the past six months (???) and hiring a replacement for my friend Louise. They’re having a grand opening next month to honor the summer solstice. The new director is younger — a woman in her early 40s (I think) — and I think that’s a good thing. Anyway, I’m happy about these developments.

Other good news involves the Scarlet Emperor Beans. They are all in the garden — fifteen of them! I went to visit them before I made my coffee (that shows you my dedication) and they all looked very happy. The weather forecast for the nonce looks good meaning like I won’t have to rush out and cover them.

They do not all have names. I don’t know if they mind or even know “who” they are — well they do know. As for their names? This is the fifth generation and who knows which ancestor pollinated which ancestor. I think they are all each other at this point which is very cool. They are 100% in harmony with their nature as Scarlet Emperor Beans. They are amazing. The packet says plant 1 inch deep. The Internet said 3 inches deep. I did both and the beans didn’t care. They have a strong and joyful inner push to get UP there and GROW. Along with the beans are giant sunflowers. Last year I learned how well they do together and what good friends they are both in attracting beneficial insects and holding each other up.

In other good news, I finished the painting, and I like it a LOT. All it’s missing is my signature. It was a wonderful painting experience because it was a big challenge. I still have a ways to go to be the painter I would like to be, but it was a leap in the right direction. I wish it were bigger, but if I’m going to paint bigger paintings on a surface like this I’m going to have to turn carpenter and stretch my own canvas. The surface — oil primed linen — was wonderful. This is the second painting I’ve done on that material. The other painting was also a wonderful experience to paint and a big challenge. I don’t know if the surface is helping me or what, but wow.

I know there is a lot of random stuff in this hackly post, but after my being so desperately profound yesterday, we all need a break… 😉

I don’t think…

I’ve ever had this much fun with a painting… Still a ways to go…

Nice day over all — I even got to walk alone with my Bear and see a magnificent, changing sky and a Northern Harrier hunting. They are beautiful white-tweed hawks with black tipped wings. Rain and snow in the forecast.

Light in Motion

When I started the painting of the cranes, woman, dogs and wind I realized that — in a way — I was about to paint the same thing I’d already painted, just a different version. That was tremendous pressure because the FIRST painting was very successful and my sketch for the new painting said everything I wanted to say. Should I keep going? Would this be a good painting, or would it just crumble into an expensive wasted effort because of unfair expectations? The painting would be far more complex, and I’m not the same painter I was when I painted the earlier version (me, Bear, nature). I painted the underpainting and put it away. “You have to do something else first,” I said to Martha the Painter, “then maybe come back and paint this. You’ve got some stuff cluttering your head about painting right now. Just close the door for a while.”

I wanted to paint, but felt a wall between me and painting.

When I pulled out the “failed painting” of the storm cloud and saw it wasn’t a failed painting I thought, “OK, there’s somewhere new to go right now.” I knew what it was, and I knew it would be a huge challenge, not just in getting the paint on the canvas but in escaping the little itchy fingers in my mind and the voices telling me how things should be.

Maybe it’s not true of everyone (I believe it is), but it seems that humans don’t like to fail. It’s why trying something new is so very difficult. Even after more than half my life encouraging young people not to fear failure (unless it’s a life or death thing), I have to challenge myself not to fear. It’s not like there are no consequences to failing a painting but they are minimal. The worst thing that happens is you throw it in the trash or paint over it. A far worse danger — solely in my opinion regarding myself — is becoming derivative and painting one thing over and over forever because I’m good at it, have figured out how to “get it right,” and the whole thing has become a method that yields the same success.

I wanted to let go.

One great boon of never having had to make my living doing this is that I’m free. I know that my stuff will end up in a thrift store, so? Not long ago, in the nostalgia store in Del Norte, the owner said, pointing to a bad painting of Chimney Rock, “Buy that painting and paint over it.” I might have if I’d liked the frame. People will do that, and, with the painting I’m struggling toward now, they’re going to get a really expensive, beautiful surface. ❤ Yep. I decided to experiment on the most beautiful painting surface I’ve ever owned. I thought two things as I pulled it out of my materials. First, it’s slippery compared to the panels on which I usually paint; it’s linen canvas primed with oil based primer. Second, an experiment, a new direction, deserves to be honored; and what I’m painting? A new element (for me) anchored by only ONE small piece of the familiar world. This element is slick and constantly moving. It fit the surface I’d chosen on which to paint it.

It’s fun to paint toward a new destination. The three times I’ve approached this canvas I have had a blast. In my book, that’s success.

In Bean news, the outside beans — Tu Fu, Wu Song, Li Bai, Li Ho, Lao She and Pearl Buck are all doing well. I’ve covered them for the past two nights, easy since they are only a couple inches high. The inside beans — as yet unnamed — are four inches tall and very happy, too. I’m starting to think they all have a clock that says, “No matter HOW she plants you, come up at the end of the second week in May.”