Just a Little Watercolor

Mt. Blanca from Rio Grande Wildlife Area, Watercolor on Paper

I think the image on this blog is LARGER than the picture in real life! Anyway, my first real painting in 3 years. I’d forgotten how painting something you love involves the lover’s perspective, whether you will or not. This has red willows, patches of snow, golden fall grass, cottonwood trees, a snowy mountain and a very well-loved trail. 🙂

For the Birds

When I’m not working on a novel, I have had a project, a piece of “creative nonfiction” though when I started it in 1978 or so I don’t think the term existed. It’s autobiographical fiction or fictionalized autobiography or autobiography about learning to writer fiction. Maybe it — like one of the protagonists — defies labels. 

It’s a strange piece. The speaker (it’s a first person story) is at that moment in life where she doesn’t know what to do, who she is. She has a lot of abilities but no direction. She’s poised for flight but doesn’t know if she has wings.

So I ended up titling it “Fledging.” It’s had several titles in its long evolution, but from this promontory, looking at it from the distance of forty years and knowing how the stories turned out, I can see what she was doing. And writing this book was part of her attempt to take wing. Who and what was she? Painter? Writer? World-traveler? Wife? No clue…

I don’t think it’ll ever be for sale. Maybe it’s just a thing I had to finish for myself. It’s got lots of bad writing — which makes sense because it’s about a person learning to write and only starting to discover her voice and understand the importance of refining skills.

I wrote it with a typewriter, retyped it innumerable times on my original Smith/Corona and then on my Smith/Corona correcting typewriter (replete with a small memory card), retyped it on my Amiga and then again on my Mac Classic and again on my MacBook Pro. This one? The one before? The one before that? I don’t know. 

Anyway, I love it and I’m proud of it — and her. That girl survived, endured and kept writing thanks to her plasticity and resilience. If she hadn’t, I wouldn’t be here in Heaven on this gorgeous blue and powdered-sugar snow day. 

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2018/11/25/rdp-sunday-plastic/

Cool Rocks

I never got the idea of “jewels.” What made the diamond on my mother’s finger more beautiful or valuable than any other rock? Even when it was explained to me, it made no sense. To me it always seemed a variation on ravens picking up shiny things for their nests — a cool thing that ravens do, but people? 

I just don’t get it. 

In the passage of time, I inherited my mom’s diamonds. They are in a box with a couple of other treasures and I think it’s interesting what those treasures are. There is my dad’s Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, the Bible my grandma gave me when I was six and able to read, and my mom’s diamonds, metaphors for all three.

But I have some jewels… 


Dendrite rock from Mission Trails Regional Park I found hiking with Truffle and Molly
Moccasin last I found in Montana out rock hunting with my mom. It’s the right size for a child’s moccasin and it was looking up at me just like this from the plowed field by the Little Bighorn. 🙂 ❤
Raw Lapis Lazuli, the stone from which Ultramarine Blue was originally made. It’s my Martin of Gfenn rock.
Rocks (clay) from the Paint Mines in Calhan, Colorado. Very nice pigment stones! 

I can’t wear any of these, but I have one rock treasure that I can wear. It was given to me by a Chinese student years and years ago, soon after I returned to the US from China. I complimented her on her jade pendant, and she took it off her neck and gave it to me. It was embarrassing. I had nothing of equal value to give her, and it’s a very precious thing. I love it. The old-style Chinese writing on the back says, “Bamboo whispers peace.”

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2018/11/19/rdp-monday-jewel/

You Can’t Handle the Past

I write historical fiction so the words “the past” is not just my own past (which seems fictional a lot of the time) but a lot of peoples’ pasts. Mostly I don’t think we know that much about it. Even our own.

The other night I was talking on the phone with an old friend and he shared a memory with me of a time that I don’t remember and don’t think happened. I could see the conversation going into that place where a lot of conversations go, so I just said. “Interesting. I don’t remember that.” He started justifying his memory of events, and I just let him.

Who knows?

What stands out in the memory of person A might not in the memory of person B — for a lot of reasons. In this case, if this event he remembered so vividly DID happen, it would have been crowded out of my memory by things that happened afterward — my mom being hospitalized, having to fly to Montana, fearing I’d gotten scabies from a dog we tried to rescue, etc. etc. a whole litany of chaos that included both the dishwasher and washing machine breaking, my purse stolen and my car breaking down. Yep. All in one evening. Those things didn’t happen to my friend or involve him directly. Why WOULD he remember them? He doesn’t.

History is propaganda. I saw that most clearly when I was researching the way lepers were treated in the middle ages. There was a clear discrepancy between what the literature of the era said and what modern historians said. All this was being examined at the time by paleo-historians who were digging up graveyards in what were regarded (by modern historians) as “leper colonies.” What they found supported the literature of the time and went against the whole pariah myth that — it turns out — was a post plague thing and propagated by Sir Walter Scott hundreds of years later.  The marginalized leper was not a medieval thing and medieval doctors diagnosed leprosy accurately.

Then there is the noxious historical period known as the Renaissance. I don’t think there was any Renaissance at all. A sixteenth century Italian propagandist and second-rate painter, Giorgio Vasari, coined the term to describe his OWN period in history. Yeah, there was a lot of beautiful work done at this time, but it was because the church was 1) rich and 2) threatened by the Reformation. All that beautiful painting and stuff? Big character posters.

Then there’s the floating point of historical periods. Giotto — because people in some era future to his own liked his work — has been included in the Renaissance because his paintings are not “primitive and medieval.” This is (to Renaissance propagandists) clearly an indication that the art of painting was progressing, moving toward Michelangelo et. al. It doesn’t seem to matter to anyone that Giotto lived and worked in a century — the fourteenth century — that these same historians have included in the “Dark Ages.” Fuck them. It pisses me off every time I think of it. Giotto’s work was loved and sought in his own era. They have a right to it — as long as we’re going to arbitrarily assign eras to history.

And WHY did medieval painting cling to the Byzantine model so long? Was it REALLY because medieval artists couldn’t paint “better” than that? No. It was because they believed that the Holy Family should not be depicted as ordinary human beings.

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Berlinghiero Madonna and Child, 13th century

There’s a lot of medieval painting that isn’t of the Holy Family, and a lot to be learned by looking at it. Just a couple of very random examples, 12th and 13th century secular paintings:

 

Anyway, you can see the “past” is kind of a “hot button” topic for me. I could rant all day on how the Reformation ruined the color and beauty of the Middle Ages by stripping the churches, making a cult out of the color black and destroying paintings, but I won’t. Just remember when you think of the past — even your own past — you might be editorializing without even knowing it.

Featured image: The Massacre of the Innocents by Giotto di Bondone, fresco at Assisi

 

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2018/11/13/ragtag-tuesday-past/

Caran d’Ache

When I moved here four years ago I followed the instructions of every moving company and put my treasures in the car I drove myself. My treasures were Lily, Dusty, and Mindy (dogs), and my art supplies. I especially treasure two sets of Caran d’Ache materials — watercolor pencils and Conte crayons. I know that never in my life would I be able to replace the sets. I don’t use them. I work with a smaller set (40) and I replace each pencil as it wears down. These colors are made in Switzerland.

A long time ago I had a Swiss family. It’s a long story — pretty interesting one — but I’m not telling it here. For a few years, I spent most Christmases in Zürich with them. Often, I was given cash as a present, and one year I went to the Glatt (big shopping center in Wallisellen) and bought a giant sent of watercolor pencils. One year I wasn’t able to go to Zürich, and when my friend returned to California from time with his parents, he gave me my Christmas presents. One was the set of Conte crayons.

I have a set of Caran d’Ache gouache that I used once in a while and a set of oil pastels I’ve never used. So far they haven’t fit my technique.

For me these colors are wonderful in themselves and in the way they connect me to a time in my life that was these colors.

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https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2018/10/10/rdp-wednesday-color/

Color in the Lines, Dammit

I subscribe to Taos Magazine. It’s a tourist magazine, really, which is disappointing. It showcases artists, craftspeople, galleries and restaurants. This month there is an article on coloring “outside the lines.” This is a thing I’ve noticed for a while, that there is a perceived virtue in coloring “outside the lines.” It’s a metaphor for originality and non-conformity. But…

I remember coloring books. It was not easy to learn to color inside the lines. I remember a friend — Susan Cobb — who lived up the street and she had taken this to a higher level. Once she’d colored inside the lines, she outlined the shape in question with the same color, pressing harder on the crayon. It had a lovely effect. I imitated her, but I took it a little farther. If the shape were light green, I might outline it in dark green. She, in her turn, imitated me.

It takes discipline, a well-trained hand and eye to color inside the lines. It doesn’t take much to color outside the lines. A two-year-old who doesn’t know how to hold a crayon can do it. Yeah, I hear you, “How do YOU know the two-year-old doesn’t know how to hold the crayon? He’s holding it HIS way!” I’m sorry, but you need to teach that kid when he’s ready or he’s going to be VERY frustrated that he never makes progress and that his crayons keep breaking.

“See Picasso’s work?” said my dad one day. “He couldn’t have done this,” he pointed to an abstract woman’s face that I later learned was a linoleum cut, “without being able to do this.” He showed me a very realistic portrait of a woman. “An artist needs the discipline and ability before he can make the choice. Picasso was so good, he could choose.”

 

gertrudesteinpicasso

Gertrude Stein by Picasso — among other things, look at that HAND.

 

People argue endlessly about what makes good art. I honestly believe that I know good art but really what I know for sure is what I like. But as a writer and a painter, I know that discipline is a big piece of the puzzle in coming up with something really good. My dad was completely right. Only a master can choose.

Blog Redux

Yesterday in the chaos of discovering that by shutting down the Daily Prompt, WordPress was making it harder for me to pay them for my websites, I thought of blowing the whole thing up. But, at this point in my life, I’m a reasonable person. I did some research only to learn that most of the free or low-cost webhosting sites send you to — yeah — WordPress.

It’s an empire.

I thought, “Do I want to deal with this?” If I am allotted only 3 score and 10 I have only four left. Clearly a hissy fit over WordPress and starting over from scratch with websites for my books is a poor use of a rapidly depleting resource.

In the process I looked at my blogs on Blogger, thinking, perhaps, of reviving one. I found a poem. I wondered who wrote it, and then I remembered I had written it. Wow. My poor brain… Well, a lot has happened since 2013 — five years and my whole entire life has changed. The poem is on my painting blog, A Lifetime Apprenticeship. 

There was This Day,
There was This Shadow,
There was This Woman,
There was This Blue.
There was No Fame.
There was No Reason.
There was No Winner.
There was No Immortality.

Only

This Shaft of Light
This Sharp Blast,
This Foundering Ship
This Lost Child,
This Man Walking,
This Stream Flowing,
This Arc of Passion,

And

These Hands
These Eyes
This Ochre Clay
This Gold Foil
This Deadly Yellow, but USE IT ANYWAY
This MAGIC Poison White
This Blue from Gold-Flecked Stone
This Green from a Copper Pot
This Short Life
This Single Vision.

I wrote the poem as an ode to the ordinary painter throughout time. The one whose name we don’t know who might have influenced the famous one. The one who painted as a way to feed his family. The one who loved the colors, the process, the images, the beauty. The one who might have discovered a new color or properties of the magical ground on which he painted.

I love pigment. In writing Martin of Gfenn I had to learn how colors were made in medieval times. It was absolutely fascinating. Ultramarine blue — for example — was originally made of ground up lapis lazuli. Its light-reflecting properties in a fresco are amazing. A couple of months ago, as I moved closer to my surgery date, I found some online and bought it. I also bought a real wooden panel and old fashioned gesso (gesso means gypsym) to size the panel and make it ready to absorb oil paint. It should be wonderful.

I’m living in a place where art is big. There’s not a lot else here other than potatoes, barley, hops, horses, cattle. Taos and Santa Fe are well known art centers in this country, but it’s one kind of art, mainly Southwest Art. I want another thing completely when I paint. I don’t know exactly what I’m painting FOR other than myself. I’ve sold more paintings than I have sold words, but the other artists around me don’t think my work is all that good. That’s fine. I would never paint what they paint, either, though I have the good grace not to think their work is bad. It’s just not mine. Rivalry between artists is nasty but real.

In my case, I don’t want to paint the same thing or the same way twice. I view painting as a journey of discovery. I’m never going to be a master. With each painting I’ve learned something new about painting, about paint, about myself, about the world I’m looking at. The painting above is a narrow trail up a California mountainlet in a wet spring. Dusty and I had a wonderful time that day and I took photos. I like painting from photos and I really like the way paintings come out when I paint from the image on my iPad with the light coming up through it rather than shining on it. It’s different. Like this one. This is Descanso Falls in December. Some of this painting works well for me, some of it doesn’t, but it took months to complete and someone was happy to give me $300 so I didn’t have to store it some place. 🙂

 

Descanso Falls, unframed FASO size

Descanso Falls

 

For my blogging cat friends, Tabby, Parker and Lucy… This is Catmandu. Please note her crossed eyes. Once in a while, they caused her to walk into a wall, after which she’d look around to see if anyone had noticed. ❤

mandu

 

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My Friend

My friend has a developmentally disabled son, now in his 30s if you look at his birth year, but all over the place if you look at his development. I spent the past weekend at their house and the first quality time I’ve had with him in a while.

He can be maddening. Sometimes you want to say, “Could you just stop being so weird and annoying for five minutes?” but he can’t. Soon after you think that, you shrug and relax into “M time” and “M reality.” It’s seriously non-negotiable. If you can cross the bridge, you stand to experience some moments of extraordinary sweetness.

I paint rocks — as everyone knows. I’ve painted a few for M. He loves snakes, so I painted a rock of one of his snakes — a corn snake — as a Christmas present. I’m not sure he recognizes HIS snake in the rock, but he likes the rock and that’s what matters. Suddenly, this past Sunday, M wanted to paint snakes on rocks. I said, “OK, let’s do that,” and sent him out to find some good rocks to paint. He came in with rocks that were too pretty to paint and too small.

“You need to find some bigger rocks, M. Flatter, too. And these are too pretty.” M has a well-developed, if slightly bizarre, aesthetic sense, and I’m fairly sure he chose those rocks BECAUSE they were pretty. He went back out. His mom and I agreed it was a good strategy to send him out to a yard full of rocks so we could have a little piece and quiet.

When he came back he had two plausible snake-painting rocks. He got his paint, a new brush he’d bought at the art supply store the day before when we all went together, and he was ready. He even got a little plastic model of a coiled rattler, ready to spring, to model his painting on. The problem is that the plastic model was three dimensional and the snake on the rock would be two.

“Good idea,” I said. “But we can’t paint exactly that on the rock because it’s flat. Does that make sense? We can paint him, though.” I drew the coiled snake on the rock explaining to M what I was doing. Then he painted the coiled snake white. As the paint dried, he painted another snake on the other rock, this time green. It came out like a green blob because M’s unique physical coordination doesn’t give him excellent small motor skills. The white paint was dry, so I sketched the snake on the white paint and Mark painted it. “We need tan paint,” I said. All we had was an assortment of primary and secondary colors, no earth tones.

“How?” he said.

“Like this. Give me some green.” He slowly and deliberately opened the green paint. He didn’t want to spill it. “Great. Now I need some red.” He did the same with the little tub of red paint. “Awesome. I need some yellow.” Two shades of tan emerged, perfect for the rattler.

Then I sat back and watched. This is where the M magic comes in. No painter EVER felt more love or interest for his/her painting than M did for what he was doing. It was a very beautiful moment and I got to witness it.

You never know. More and more I think the purpose of life is the appreciation of small beautiful moments.

That evening, he, his mom and I played some card games together, Uno and Skip-bo. M is very skillful at both. Then it was time for him to go to bed, but he didn’t want to go. He employed every manipulative trick in his repertoire to delay that moment. At one point he looked at a photo on my phone. I put my hand over my phone, looked up at him, and grinned. He picked up that I was onto him and he started to giggle. I giggled, too. It was truly very funny, our inside joke.  And I thought, “Who’d think I’d be giggling at this point in my life?” I silently thanked M for that.

Kind of Arcane Post about Painting

I got cabin fever in Heaven and a sudden urge to go to a city. I had no inkling WHAT city, but my friend Lois invited me to Colorado Springs. It’s not the kind of city I had in mind, but it’s comparatively close and the dogs are welcome, and I love my friends, so yesterday Dusty, Mindy, Bear and I drove up to the “city.”

I did a city thing. I went to an art supply store and bought “classic” gesso and a painting panel. The gesso is the sizing, or background, a painting is painted on. The gesso makes a surface that paint adheres to and, I’d even say, likes. Classic gesso is made with rabbit skin glue, gypsum and marble dust. It’s what the guys painted on back in the day, like several hundred years ago. It is different from most of what oil paintings are painted on now in that it absorbs the oil paint and makes a reflective surface. I don’t know, but I think the transition from fresco to oil painting may have led artists to want oil paintings to do what buon fresco can do. Buon fresco is painted on wet plaster rather than dry, so the paint becomes part of the plaster. Since gypsum and marble dust are crystaline, the paint reflects light.

Back in the day, painters painted on panels not canvas or linen. Sometimes canvas or linen was glued onto a panel, but most of the time they painted on gessoed wood.

The gesso requires work to prepare, and I don’t know how it will come out. I’ve been painting on pre-gessoed panels and discovered that I don’t have to glob on the paint ala the impressionists. There’s nothing wrong with the technique, but I like frescoes. However, fresco is an enormous project that requires more space, skill and muscle than I have. Anyway, I like the intensity of oil paint. I’ve gotten a bit of the best of both worlds with oil paint on the pre-gessoed panels, but this gesso — if I make it right and apply it correctly to the panel — might be even more fun.

This painting has both oil paint IN the gesso and ON the gesso. It was very interesting to do. It was the first oil painting I’ve done that wasn’t just paint slapped on a surface, and it was an accident. It was meant to be a different painting completely, but I realized about halfway into it (or what I thought was halfway into it) that the painting I was doing should be a watercolor, so I trashed this and got a piece of paper. 🙂 Then, later, I got this panel and tried to paint the sofa as practice. It came out so cool and surprising that I just went with it. 🙂

 

MKennedyTheWorldisOutThere

Oil paint on pre-gessoed panel

 

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