Not the Sistine Chapel, but…

Watercolor pencil — photo taken with my new phone. The colors are not this intense on the original so I’ll have to learn to use this thing… Still so much better than photos with my old phone. Mom pig (on the ground) two young pigs. Mom is black and white, young pigs are red and black. If it were an oil painting or acrylic, I could fix the cat’s head and front legs but the wonderful thing about making art is you will fuck up. It’s important to reach. 🙂 The only parts of this I really like are the front pig, the wood, the fence and the straw.

Little Covid Book Published

After enduring a lot of rigamarole on Amazon to get my cover to work I realized I was dealing with a browser issue and switched. Voila! The little book about being in the back of beyond for the past year as the pandemic hit hard here and there, is published. It’s not going to be a best seller, which is OK. It’s titled Finding Refuge and it’s available here: Amazon

There is nothing new inside, but I discovered that, as I put it together with some intention, it’s an interesting journey into determined optimism. It was impossible to avoid politics completely, but there is very little politics in the book. At first I thought of doing drawings, but as it evolved I saw the photos were OK in black and white, actually fit the content of the book. There is a whole very colorful world out here, but last year, some of life’s color really did drain away.

It was a good project and it turned out to be very compelling. I just hope I got all the entries in chronological order. 🙂

Rambling Post about Paintings

“Picasso – 50,000 works of art, including 1,885 paintings; 1,228 sculptures; 2,880 ceramics; 18,095 engravings; 6,112 lithographs; and approximately 12,000 drawings, as well as numerous linocuts, tapestries, and rugs, not to mention his letters, poetry and plays” If you count 60 years of productive art making that is 2.5 works per day.” Reliable source?

I got curious last night and wondered how many paintings there are in the world. This probably isn’t even an answerable question, but I was sure someone had attempted to calculate it. The answer I found was in the billions but I think that’s an underestimation. The wonderful/horrible days I wandered the pinacoteca of the Sforza Castle in Milan I saw thousands and that was only ONE of the immense collections of paintings in Milan.

The paintings hung in a dozen or more rooms and others were stored in sliding walls you could pull out and swing open similar to those you might find in a library. That was the year 2000, and the whole place was open to tourists. It was marvelous, unbelievable, beyond anything.

Even then… Even after wandering the galleries for days, I recall only two things, well, three things. I recall something left over from the medieval streets of a Lombardy town, a knife grinding machine and I remember an anonymous fresco of Vulcan. I also remember a painting of a pewter platter with John the Baptist’ head lying on it as if it were a ham.

Most paintings in “olden times” were not painted by super stars. I think of those days — days that lingered far into the 19th century — when in order to have a “memory” of a journey or a representation of anything someone had to paint it or draw it. That’s the kind of thing a person can “know” with that kind of sterile knowledge with which facts are stored and that’s how I knew it until I got a little book of ink drawings done by Goethe on some of his journeys. Then it penetrated my mind in a deeper way. If he wanted to have a visual souvenir of something he saw, he had to sit down and draw it. That’s where the whole idea of realistic images lived. “But it doesn’t look like that!”

The camera liberated artist from realism.

The other thing is that a person who WANTED to take home a representation of something or someone he’d seen on a journey would have to take the time to reproduce its image; would have to take the time to really SEE it.

So…billions of paintings and billions more every year. That’s my guess. And, since the past doubtless had paintings that have vanished and the future has paintings that have yet to exist, it seems pretty accurate to say there is an infinite number of paintings.

Here’s a little tour of the museum of the Sforza Castle. Last time I was there was 2004 and it was impossible to wander freely, but maybe that’s changed.

P.S. Leonardo was the court painter of for Ludovico Sforza and his work is everywhere but in an ordinary way, not “OH MY GOD! LEONARDO” which is kind of cool. Also, in Milan, of course is The Last Supper.

I am Agate

The first rock I knew — or learned to recognize — is the Montana moss agate. My Aunt Martha usually wore a ring with a Montana moss agate on her right hand. She never married, for which she took a lot of crap from the family, but that was just life in the goodle days.

At one point in their lives my mom bought my aunt a diamond ring. It was white gold and had a row of small diamonds. My aunt put the agate ring away and wore the diamonds.

My Chinese name (which is just a couple of ideograms that sound more-or-less like “Martha”) is a kind of agate that you might find in the sand of a stream, I was told, but also with the explanation, “It’s not a real thing. It’s just the sound.”

I always thought it was kind of funny that my Chinese teacher was so serious that I write my characters in an exact specific way, but once I got to China I saw things written in all kinds of ways.

And…I had a little Siamese cat I named Agate, for some reason. She was very strange and smart, but she didn’t understand the editing process. At the time I had her, I was writing my thesis — some of it by hand. I had a typewriter but word processors barely existed then and those that DID exist were objects of reverence that existed in offices and were treated with the kind of respect normal reserved for deities. I would write something, read it, hate it, wad it up, toss it toward the kitchen and Agate would retrieve it. “No, Martha, no! These are your WORDS!” When I moved out of that apartment, Agate went to live in Gary, Indiana. Long story…

In bean news, it rained much of the night. La Veta Pass, 75 miles east of me, is closed because of snow. The forecast says rain and snow mixed. I just don’t know…

Shameless Self Promotion

The illustrations for Sharon O’Toole’s book, An Alphabet of Place: the Little Snake River Valley are now available as reproductions on my new art gallery page. You can find them here. There were all kinds of options but some of them seemed surreal (like beach towels and shower curtains), so, I didn’t include them. I will probably add more but man, it’s tedious.

A Century of Paintings

The yard work — except the fence — is pretty much under control for now. Stuff came up and my house guests won’t be coming this week, so yesterday, I had some free time. I was physically pretty tired. I didn’t feel like wielding the pick-axe or dragging around mattresses or moving flagstones. I wanted to do SOMETHING, though, being that kind of person, so I finally got down to setting up my paintings on a different website — Fine Art America. Here is my page. You can see what they emphasize, and it’s OK with me.

It was pretty easy to navigate, and before long I had set up a profile and some paintings. When I looked at my page, I was dismayed. There wasn’t much on it. The website is nice — they make their money from reproductions they produce from an artist’s work which means it’s easy for people to get prints of my paintings if they want them. It’s also possible to get the paintings printed on tote bags and stuff like that. That’s OK with me, though some of their options are pretty funny with my paintings on them, a beach towel with a snowstorm, for example. It’s higher on the irony scale than the aesthetic scale…

My friend Lilliana, who is an artist, said I need a hundred paintings if I’m going to get into a gallery or find a dealer. Well, here’s the conversation.

Anyway, I am not sure that I can paint, what, 96 more paintings? Another friend chimed in about the storage problem and between she and Lilliana they sorted that out while I was sleeping…

96 paintings would be some kind of achievement, a plume in my cap.

Henry Miller and Book Shelves

“To win through by sheer force of genius is one thing; to survive and continue to create when every last door is slammed in one’s face is another. Nobody acquires genius — it is God-given. But one can acquire patience, fortitude, wisdom, understanding. Perhaps the greatest gift to love what one does whether it causes a stir or not.” Henry Miller…

My dad loved Henry Miller’s work, my mom, no. My parents always had two book shelves — my dad’s and the neutral public book case in the living room. Certain books of my dad’s NEVER sat near my mom’s books. Heaven forfend (I just wanted to write “forfend”). I don’t remember it being any other way.

In our house in Nebraska my dad and I built his office in a corner of our basement. It was a great experience for me to work with my dad every evening building the two walls. Once the studs were up, we pulled electricity through them and, naturally, as it was the 1960s, paneled them. My dad loved mahogany, so we used mahogany paneling. One wall was a wall; the other was a bookcase which we stained. My dad was a decent carpenter of the crude carpentry variety. I don’t know if he could do fancy finished carpentry, but I do know we didn’t have those tools.

My dad’s bookshelf mostly held his scientific books but also the books he’d loved when he was younger like Boccaccio’s Decameron. There was his collection of science fiction (he loved Isaac Asimov and Ray Bradbury) and two books by Henry Miller.

When we moved back to Colorado from Nebraska, my dad’s bookshelf was still in the basement. By then he could no longer walk up and down stairs, so if he wanted a book he sent me for it. At a certain point in my life, I guess when I was 16 and allowed to date, Henry Miller’s books appeared at eye level. How they got there? I have no idea. I guess my mom would have had to move them, but that seems unbelievable.

The two books my dad had — Tropic of Cancer and Tropic of Capricorn were banned in the United States because of the sexuality. While I noticed them when I was a teenager, I didn’t read them then. I read them much later. I was never that impressed by the copious sexuality in the books (it gets a little redundant and I was definitely from a different, more liberal, generation). I was impressed by the kind of thinking in the little quotation above. Most inspiring to me were his words about being a writer which I extrapolated to being an artist, for which life, with all its struggle, disappointment, joy, frustration, tedium, rapture was the artist’s workshop

Henry Miller lived a long and incredible life and knew amazing people. I really loved seeing the characterization of him in the recent Masterpiece series, The Durrells in Corfu and when the film Reds came out I was surprised and delighted to see him as part of the movie, a living voice, from the time.

If at eighty you’re not a cripple or an invalid, if you have your health, if you still enjoy a good walk, a good meal (with all the trimmings), if you can sleep without first taking a pill, if birds and flowers, mountains and sea still inspire you, you are a most fortunate individual and you should get down on your knees morning and night and thank the good Lord for his savin’ and keepin’ power Henry Miller, On Turning 80

P.S. Poet friends, on the top shelf above my dad’s head you might see a pink book with a black oval on its spine. That is a rhyming dictionary. My dad yearned to be a poet.

Rumination on Dogs, gardening, and painting

I’m having house guests next week which is requiring a kind of cleaning and rearranging I haven’t had to deal with in more than a year. It’s probably a good thing (guests and cleaning). Yesterday I hauled all the finished paintings (well packaged) out to the garage and pondered whether I’m likely ever to get on my bicycle again. I don’t know, so the bike stays. Other stuff out there? There’s a lot of brand new stuff I doubt I’m going to use — a tree saw with clippers, you know, the 8 foot tall kind? A bike rack for a car I don’t have any more?

It’s probably time for a yard sale or time to put all that stuff up on Facebook to sell.

I also found a box of books — nice books, books I actually like except the books of erroneous history (grrrr…) my books of Chinese fiction from the 20th century, the 1920s, 30s, 40s, 50s and one from the period of the Cultural Revolution. Also a couple of Pearl Buck books that I decided to bring in with me so they can nestle in my Chinese cabinets for the nonce.

The dogs got into the garden yesterday, and the frost took three beans last night so… It’s OK. It was an experiment anyway. I have six beans left (hopefully) and more seeds. I have also ordered a more substantial fence that will really keep the dogs out, again, hopefully. I was pretty angry at the dogs, but, they’re just dogs, and a little research showed me what had motivated their trespass. There was a desperate need to bury an old rawhide, something that could be done a lot more efficiently in soft dirt.

I “met” another artist yesterday on Facebook. She’s a younger woman and has a huge portfolio of work. Western artist in Montana. I thought about all that last night and in a way I wish I’d started sooner (and I have kind of always painted) because my “body of work” isn’t very large (thank goodness; this way it fits in the garage). I think I have three good paintings, but that isn’t strictly true. Some of the work that has been sold and is gone living in distant houses and (I hope) appreciated is good. I looked at some of the old work (photos) and thought about what I learned and loved painting some of them. Here’s a little gallery of small paintings I loved painting.

The Berkeley Pit mine is a painting no one will ever buy. Who wants a painting of a toxic pit mine? But that day in Butte, Montana was important to me. I was with my niece, from whom I’m now estranged (not my fault or desire), and we were on our way to Billings. I was sitting in our rental car in Butte when my Uncle Hank called to tell me my Aunt Martha had died. It was kind of an intense moment, and I liked the city and found the mine site fascinating.

The dandelions were in my back yard here in Monte Vista. The cornflowers were in my front yard in Descanso.

The green oil is a trail was on a small mountain in California where I hiked once with Dusty in spring. I wish I had that painting, but I gave it away when I moved to Colorado. Another painting I did that I loved painting is a water color of wild plums, but I sold it years ago. It hangs in a house in Colorado Springs. And, of course, I love all the cows I’ve painted.

So I had to ask myself, do I paint to have a portfolio or why? Well other than it giving me the opportunity to send $75 to obscure small towns in Texas.

An Alphabet of Place

Our book is finally finished and published and for sale!! Lots of people decry social media, but without it Sharon ( and I wouldn’t have known about each other, and this project wouldn’t have happened. For me it was a chance to do something that was a little artistically risky and to learn something new about myself and abilities. I enjoyed it so much, and it was a wonderful thing to work on over the past few months.

The book is a collection of brief essays and anecdotes about life and history in this little-known part of Wyoming/Colorado. The stories are funny, beautiful and heartfelt.

A couple years ago my editor suggested I go into business as a book designer. I said, “Huh?”

She said, “Yeah. You’re good at it.”

“I am?” I asked.

“Yes,” she said. I wasn’t so sure. When I began judging for the contest I saw some books that had been enormously expensive productions, including their designs. Some indie authors spend more money than (IMO) they are likely to earn on designing their book. I’ve read/evaluated some gorgeous productions that are, in and of themselves, unreadable. Some of the best books (content) are the simplest productions. The truism is actually true: you can’t judge a book by its cover but, at the same time, the winners are almost always well designed AND worth reading.

Once in a while a book is blindingly beautiful. There was more than one this go-around.

My editor — Beth Bruno — is an amazing woman. I don’t know how she manages to get along with all the authors who go to her with their work and then don’t want to hear what she had to say or who question every correction/suggestion she makes. She told me it’s common that she’ll (and she’s tactful and gentle) suggest an edit or correction and be challenged by the author. Authors can be defensive and when it comes to grammar? It’s amazing how territorial writers can be. I said to her, “Well, you make suggestions and corrections all the time. I figure I can take them or leave them. It’s not like you’re my boss.”

“Exactly,” she said.

“It’s not like you’re grading my work or something.”

I privately thought, “English teachers do a lot of damage,” but having BEEN one I thought I should keep that to myself. Grammar and punctuation are NOT writing.

So, part way into the illustration part of the job I had the realization (duh) that my work was going into a book and suddenly I wanted to be part of how the book came out. I didn’t know how much experience the writer had with book design and it turned out not much and godnose my price was right, so I undertook the task of designing the book. It was at least as much fun as doing the illustrations. I’d definitely take on a project like this again if the person I was working with were as awesome a partner as Sharon and their project something I believed in as much as I believed in this one.