Thursday, December 27, 2012

A Day in the City

"A Day in the City", 10" x 8" watercolor on 140' Daler-Rowney cold-pressed paper
A dangerous thing happened recently.  I got out of the house.

I have been in contact with artists all over the United States and the world by reason of this blog and my life has been enriched beyond measure, as I have said many times before.  And as I reflect at the end of this year and the start of the next, I am forever grateful.

But I decided that it was time to meet local artists as well.

An art museum just 5 minutes from my house provided the opportunity.  The Museum of Contemporary Art (MoCA) in North Miami, began an artists' round-table recently.  Artists meet, talk about their work, share their thoughts, and provide critique.  There have been two in the last two months, and I have attended both.  An excellent moderator, Lark Keeler, provides provocative questions to encourage lively conversation.

After the second session, I left with more questions than answers.

It is apparent that most of the artists are deeply influenced by Art Basel and its satellite art fairs that have been held in Miami for the past several years.  Most are also art-school educated.  I am not.

I have attended Art Basel each and every year as well, though this is the first year I have attended any of the satellite fairs.  At Art Basel, there is, to me, a stark dichotomy between the works that I have been excited to see each year and the cutting-edge contemporary works that encompass much of the fair.  While I am motivated and recharged each year and love seeing what is being done by artists today, I am often totally blown away by the original work of "classic" artists I have seen such as Modigliani, Neel, Freud, Mitchell, Calder, Diebenkorn, Thiebaud, and Hopper.

Although I am sure they feel a part of a continuum of art history, the majority of the artists in the discussion group appear to be wholly fascinated by the contemporary artists - the more cutting edge the better.

I, on the other hand - I can't help it - am suspicious of gimmicks and wary of trends.

Some of the talk surrounded how an artist communicates with his or her audience, whether a back-story of the artist or the artist's intended message enhances or hinders the perception of the art.  Without such a back-story is the audience lost?

I know two people who do not know one another, that attended Art Basel separately that were so unable to comprehend the messages of contemporary artists, that have found the artwork to be at best incomprehensible and at worst ludicrous, that they have said they will not return.

Maybe they are not the intended audience anyway, as they do not have millions to spend.  (I'm being cynical again).  But should art be accessible to only an elite that have an art education?

I find value in and am inspired by enough of the contemporary art that I keep returning.  I am self-taught in art and art history - there are huge gaps, I am the first to admit - I admire skilled works, can often discern what the artist is trying to do, and am broad-minded enough to understand the exploration of and attraction to new mediums.  But I am left mystified and bemused by others.

I brought this up at the talk and after the responses have decided that I am going to make a concerted effort to raise my level of understanding of contemporary art.  Maybe you can call this a new year's resolution, I don't know.  I think it is just part of the process of exploration.  I have the will to learn.  A wary part of me wonders - am I trying to be part of the elite?

When my turn came, I showed them the picture "Around the Corner" in my post found here and I frankly had trouble understanding the reaction. I believe that overall they thought it was well-done in every part, but lacked significance, a clear message, a unique visual statement. The moderator kept showing how the picture would look cropped in various ways, the message being, perhaps, that there was too much to see and that I needed more focus. Maybe that was the idea - I'm not sure I understood completely.

Do not misunderstand me, I believe that all that was said was in the spirit of helping me to grow and explore, and the feeling in the room was excitement from the sharing and observations.  I share that feeling.

I just can't help but feel that if I were in Portland, for example, what would be valued would be completely different.  There is a vibrant art community there, and does the fact that Art Basel, showing the top galleries of the world, sees it differently, diminish that art?  I tend to doubt it.

In any event, I liked the idea to focus on each element of my picture.  I also liked the encouragement to be more creative in my representation.  I have felt this urge myself.  If I wanted to be a photographer, I'd be carrying a camera instead of paints.

So I returned to the same location in South Miami and sketched the distant building that first attracted me to the scene - but I tried to grab only the key parts, and then the mere suggestion of selected other parts.  I decided to do a more abstract piece, using the scene only as a starting point.  And "A Day in the City" is the result.

I would be very interested in your ideas on anything that I have said.  I think it will be some time until my thoughts are unmuddled.  But this is part of growth, I think.  (I hope.)

Oh, and one other thing.  I am thinking that maybe this small piece will be better as a diptych than as a single work.  There is a different feel about each side.  What do you think?  Here it is, "virtually" divided in two, with an inch off the bottom, so that it will be two 5" x 7" works (approximately, as I had left a small margin around the edges of the full picture - don't know if it would screw up the framing process to do this).  So, what do you think?

Thanks!  And a Very Happy New Year to you and yours..

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Excuses for not posting (and Moleskine sketches)

Excuse #1:  I have a new home studio!  Yes, finally, and in time for the new year.  Figuring out how to arrange it has been difficult.  

First the drafting table was facing west with the easel facing northeast.  

Then the drafting table was facing east, with the easel facing, well, northeast.  No one in the family liked that one.  

Then the drafting table was facing southeast with the easel facing northeast.  My wife hated that one!  It was visceral.  

Finally, as of last night, the drafting table is facing south towards the easel that is facing northeast!  Voila!!  Feng Shui!  Nirvana!  

There.  That’s done.  Where are the brushes?

Excuse #2:  For my new space I ordered a new computer.  (My wife has suddenly become awfully possessive about the one we shared.)  So the computer arrived and I plugged it in but it fell asleep and never woke up. 

Several calls to 24-hour customer support and there was nothing left to do but to return the lazy box back to the online dealer.  Fingers tapping.

Excuse #3:  The dealer told me (well, chatted to me) that I had to replace the laggard with the exact same computer.  They’re kidding, right?   No.  

Didn’t you read the fine print in the ad? they asked.

Squint – “ah, yes, there it is,” I acknowledged.  

Painters should always squint, I am told, that way you can determine the actual value of a thing.  

So true. 

Then when it finally arrived, I plugged in the new computer, turned it on, and the monitor stayed completely dark!

So I called them with my paw pointed forward, my painter’s eyes squinted, my teeth bared and my tail upright, ready for attack.  When I found out that it was all because I plugged both the blue cord and the white cord into the monitor and - shouldn’t I have known that I had to choose one or the other? - I slunk/slinked/slank away with my tail between my legs.  

They said something like this:  You choose the blue cord, the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You choose the white cord, you stay in Wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes.  

For the record, I chose the white cord.

Now the computer purrs like a kitten and follows every white rabbit down its hole.  Really.

Excuse #4:  So then was time to install all the stuff I need on the computer:  the browser, the bookmarks, the pictures to paint.  Not quite done with that yet.  I haven’t installed Photoshop (and the version I have may be too old for this computer).  My  scanner is hooked to the other computer, and my wife is standing there like a mamma bear at the mouth of her cave.  What do do?

Excuse #5:  I bought a new lamp for my drafting table but still need to buy the day bulb.  It’s dark in here.  Hey, do you notice that once you start buying cool studio stuff, it’s hard to stop?   My needs grow by the day.  Shoulda chosen the blue cord.

So there you are.  Five good reasons for not posting.  There are more, but I don’t want to disturb you more than necessary.

I am ready to leave the dark year of 2012 behind:  to carry the losses in my heart and mind, but move forward as well, beyond the barrier of the new year.  I am poised in my studio, ready for action.  Brush in one hand, pen in the other.  Both held upright as though ready for a meal.  And I’m famished. 

Thinking about it, there's something else customer service said to me: 

I'm trying to free your mind, Dzan. But I can only show you the door. You're the one that has to walk through it.

So true.

And how about you?  Are you ready for the new year?

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Around the Corner

8" x 10" watercolor on 140 lb.  Fabriano Artistico hot press paper
It was the geometry - the squares, the angles, and the repetitive elements that drew me in.  Although no single building is highlighted, just parts of each in this slice of the South Miami scene, I found this view (slightly modified from the real thing) strangely satisfying. It was drawn and painted (mostly) on site.

Today I will let this picture speak its thousand words (if it has that much to say) without my help.  Can you hear it?

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Gobble, Gobble

Ink and watercolor of Mexican Restaurant in large moleskine
(Double-click for clearer image)
Yes it's turkey for breakfast,
And, well, turkey for lunch. 
And it's turkey for dinner ..

See, I've got a hunch
That although turkey is good on Thanksgiving day,
And though the day after (the next), I can
Say the bird's best - 
That I'd rather have Mexican
On all of the rest.

And how about you -
Do you feel the same?
Do you now feel that turkey is
Your middle name? Do you now feel
That turkey is the food that we eat,
That your belly's expanding as you sit on your seat
And eat turkey each hour because that's how you feel -
That if you are what you eat, then you'll be next year's meal?

If you feel that way,
Then gobble with me,
And watch out for knives,
And for Black Friday deals.
And waddle away to a place that is safe,
And watch what you eat in upcoming meals,
Because maybe, just maybe, if it's
Junk you consume, like hot dogs and
Hamburgers, pizza, and fries,
You'll reach next Thanksgiving,
And next year survive.

Monday, November 19, 2012

The Bad Girl

5" x 7" ink and watercolor on Fabriano Artistico rough paper

Well, this was going to be part of the "At First Glance" series that contains these two drawings, here and here.

But things got out of control.
Things grew kind of wild.

She is a Bad Girl.

And I have nothing more to say about it.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Do Not Enter

"Do Not Enter", 8" x 8" watercolor on Fabriano Artistico extra white hot press paper
I was driving before work, looking for something to paint.  There were some beautiful buildings straight ahead that I had my eye on.  But then I glanced to the left and saw a parking garage.  It was much more interesting.  So I parked across the street, and began drawing in the hour before my workday was to begin. 

Every morning that I could, I parked across the street from that garage in the hour before work.  As I painted I watched the security guards in their shifts, walking out of their little room, locking the door, making their rounds and then returning again. I began to wonder whether they would ever notice me and my keen interest in their building.

It was probably the fifth morning that a young security guard finally made the trek across the street towards my car.

"Well it's about time!" I called to him.  "I wondered when you'd come."

So I showed him what I was doing.   He said with a smile that it was pretty good and returned to his station.

About ten minutes later, a white-haired security guard approached my car.  Man, I thought, first they don't see me at all and now in one day everyone notices me!

"I hear you've been painting my picture," he said.

I laughed.  "Well, I made you a bit younger," I said, showing him the picture.  "I made your hair brown."

"That's not me!" he said.  "He's just foolin' with me!"  Abruptly he returned to the garage.

Well you can't please everyone.

Here are some process pictures taken from my phone (unfortunately the first few are out of focus - sorry about that):

Friday, October 26, 2012

At First Glance #2

5" x 7" ink and watercolor on Fabriano Artistico rough paper
Your momma was right.  You are special.

In one nicely written web article that you can see here, a Mr. O. Hooge (how I love that name), of British Columbia, Canada, said that if you go back 10 generations, following the father's line only without even taking momma or all sorts of various deaths of potential ancestors into account, the chance that you exist at all is at most 1 in 6 x 10100.

He then shows you the zeros, which is a nice touch:

1 in 6000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000.


In a Huffington Post blog post which you can see here:
Dr. Ali Binazir says..
that Mel Robbins, a self-help author, states..
that scientists say..
that your chance of being born is about 1 in 400 trillion!!
Maybe those scientists are taking all those factors into account that Mr. Hooge set aside.  I don't know.

But according to the scientists, you, dearie, are 1 in 400 trillion!!

No room for the zeros here.  Sorry.

You can look at this another way. If you were a rabbit, you'd probably only be 1 in 1000.  If you were an ant, you'd probably only be 1 in 100.  If you were a grain of sand, you'd probably just be 1 in 2. Well, thinking about it, a grain of sand isn't born.  My numbers.  Sorry, Mr. Hooge.

So you are lucky to be here!

And that is the reason for my "At First Glance" series.  It's my attraction to the uniqueness of each and every individual out there (and that, of course, includes you).

When I was at one of the attractions here in South Florida, I pretended to snap a picture of a building, but I was really taking it of the crowd.  Sneaky.  And the girl at the top of this post was among them.  This is my second drawing for the "At First Glance" series.  Each are on a white field and drawn freehand in pen in a kind of  "sketchy" style, as though on site, then colored in watercolor.  The first in the series is here.

I suppose it is the uniqueness of folks that attracts me when I am out and about, sketching, too.  My small moleskine is always in my back pocket; my pens, always in the front.

Here are a few of my sketches from life.. 

Here's a couple I sketched at a restaurant at breakfast.  There is something about the whole feel of this that I like - I wonder if it would make a good painting?  I did something different this time.  I painted everything in the same color underneath, quinadrone gold.  Each color - not yellow - that you see is a result of glazes on top.

ink and watercolor in a small moleskine
Below is a girl I saw a few booths over.  Each time I sketch is a challenge - I am always wondering if it will come out all right.  Sometimes it makes it hard to make the first mark, the concern of it.  But I must always make the first mark.

Sketches are always interesting, because I learn something each time.  This time I gave her a shnoz.  I would probably do it differently next time I draw someone at that angle.  And that is the key to progress.

ink and watercolor in a small moleskine
Here is the local pharmacist, drawn while standing in line to pick up a prescription.

I showed my family this one, and they all said it was a perfect likeness!  I like that!

ink and watercolor in a small moleskine

So look in a mirror today.  No matter whether you straighten your hair, polish your bald head, smile at what you see, or recoil in horror, remember your uniqueness.

Then do something with it!


PS - The experiment with the SKB SB-1000 pen bore fruit.  The pen marks faded by half in the sun.

Captain Elaine, whose blog is here, said in her comment to my post, that there are always two issues - not only do you have to worry about the sun (UV resistence), but the ink, if it's not archival, may fade on it's own in the dark! 

I once spoke to an aging artist who, with a sad wistfulness, said that all his old sketches were fading.  I enjoy the line, the feel, of the SKB pen.  I'm not sure I'm done with this pen, but that's probably enough.  When I use it, I'm beginning to feel like I do when I eat something that's bad for me.  I've gotten rid of two fugitive paints from my palette, so it seems reasonable to abandon this pen as well.

So I've picked up the Pigma Micron again.  And I'm getting used to it..

Monday, October 8, 2012

A Remembrance

"Three Gulls"  Pastel on paper  10" x 8"
It has been near constant rain here, which is appropriate, given that it’s been only a few weeks since the death of my father-in-law, perhaps the finest man that I have ever known.  Mario was not young when he passed - he was eighty-six – but it is a reflection of his character that it feels as though he was taken too soon.

For Mario, life was precious and his family was precious.  So we who are left, by his example, know what we must do:  We must value each day, and cherish our loved ones, until the very moment that our own stories end.


Mario loved the sea, perhaps more than anything.  So as a fitting tribute, my wife and I went to the beach at Key Biscayne a day or so after his funeral.  He used to bring his daughters there as children.  Although we live in Miami, we almost never go to the beach.

I brought my watercolors and tried to paint what I saw.  I tried to balance everything on my lap, brushes, paint, palette.  Occasionally I would drop a brush in the sand.  Sand was everywhere.  The watercolor was a disaster.

So off and on in the days thereafter, I laid in a pastel over the watercolor.  It was never quite right, so I worked and re-worked it.  I noted that the best pastelists don't appear to smear too much, but leave their marks confident and bold.  There is also a tremendous overlay of color in the best works.

I did not want to post until I had a work that would be a proper tribute for Mario.  So today I made changes again.  I don't believe I achieved my aim.  I will try again one day.   But in the meantime, here it is.

Monday, September 3, 2012

At First Glance #1

5" x 7" ink and watercolor on Fabriano Artistico rough paper

Well, I had the idea for a series of small drawings of people - perhaps grouped together in a larger square and single frame.

I am intrigued by how much is shown (or assumed) about an individual at first glance.   
The challenge to myself would be to draw freehand in pen without doing it in pencil first, just as I would a sketch in the field.  Then it might have the raw quality that I value in field sketching.  I would have no background, letting each figure show the character of the person.  At the same time, I would try to give the drawing a more formal quality than a sketch might offer.

My reference photo is from random shots I took at a public event a year to two ago.  I snapped pictures with my phone in various directions.  People were everywhere.  The magic of digital shots is that I can enlarge and crop the image I want, put it on the computer screen, and then sketch at my desk as though I were there.  I have more time, but I try not to use too much.  I don't worry at all about a likeness - it is the effect I am after.

This was my first attempt, and it was successful.  I have done two.  The second took two tries.  It was a bit harder, because I had to match the size and the style of the first.  The third became too lose, so I added a background and it became something else altogether - not suitable for the series, but interesting.

But my new series faces cancellation.

For these first two drawings I used the fabled SKB SB-1000 pen, my favorite sketching pen.  I have extolled its virtues before.  It has a fine line that I love and it is waterproof so does not smear with watercolor.  It is essentially a ball point pen.  But there is no information on the pen - anywhere.  Is the ink archival?  Is that question something I should concern myself with anyway if the watercolor would be under UV protected glass?  I don't know.  What do you think?

So I have taken a failed drawing on the same paper, and stuck it in the Florida sun.  Let's see what that does.

Well, I've done two drawings - doing maybe seven more for a grouping of nine would be great fun, a personal challenge, and I've already ripped the paper to size, so why not?  We will see.  And then maybe I can follow up with 6 foot acrylic paintings of the same subjects.  Alert the museums.

OK, that was my formal and snooty side.


("Ta," is what formal and snooty people say.)

And this is the comic I did for Pamo's zine:

Sunday, August 12, 2012

An Experiment

12" x 16" watercolor on Arches hot press paper
Step into ze lab.  Carefully now.  

You did vash yur hands?  Und you are completely sterilized?  Gut.

Today ve are going to perform an experiment.  As vith all experiments, ve must approach ze matter szientifically, yes?


Purpose:  To paint a cityscape in a loose manner [vithout detail, yes?].

Hypothesis:  That I can make a picture using a new way [to me], namely upright and wet-on-wet in parts and wet-on-dry in parts to form a scene.

Procedure:  To paint in watercolor on a 12" x 16" watercolor block [I bought ze block at a sidevalk sale for a song (It vas Edelweiss), und I had never used a vatercolor block before vhich vas fun] and to stand the block upright on my easel allowing the paint to drip with impunity. To paint some parts wet and leave other parts dry, and to build up color and value through layering.  [I'd been inshpired by un artist (now forgotten) zat I saw on a Youtube veedeo zat vould vet parts and leave other parts very dry, und combine zeese in a creative manner.]

Results:  Above.  [Vell, everything got kinda vet.  I found myself over-enthoosed und painting fast und recklessly und vith abandon - voo!hoo! - und utimately found zat leaving dry spots in ze middle of ze painting, like ze artist I had seen, didn't vork vith tall buildings.  Und I had to lay ze block flat to paint ze cars.] 

Conclusion:  Next time I try this, I need to plan a bit better and slow down some, but I am pleased with the free dripping effect.  The simplification lessons learned from Frank Eber, here, and Terry Miura, here, helped. [So ze buildings are a bit vonky, the cars vonky, everything vonky, but somehow it vorked.]

Gut, then, ve are done for the day.  Don't step on ze cat on ze vay out.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

At the North Pole

Ink and watercolor in large moleskine
I am standing at the North Pole of art-making, and my compass is spinning out of control in each and every direction.

But, just as they say each December, it is magical here.

Which way to turn?  I have been exploring traditional watercolors because I want to understand the medium and hone my skills, and that is good.

I have also drilled a hole into the ice, and placed one big toe into the world of acrylics.  And I like it, although my toe is blue.

Then there is the world of ink and watercolors.  I sketch almost everywhere I go (though not each time) and my obsession, as always, is people.  The above sketch was made on a glorious day at the opening ceremonies of my nephew's little league.  I had the luxury of time to sit and sketch - a wonderful stretch of time.

Then there is my small moleskine filled from cover to cover with many more modest sketches.

I lost interest in coloring my ink drawings with watercolor.  Competely and utterly.  My compass had turned the other way.  So all of it has been left uncolored.

dip pen and brush with ink
Until now.  The needle has turned.  So I finished coloring the above drawing last week and more will come.

I also have the idea for a series of ink and watercolor figures.  The first is done, and you will see it soon.

And my exploration of both watercolor and acrylic is continuing.

The needle points other ways too.  I did this drawing of a girl from a photograph as a kind of experiment, using a pen dipped in a bottle of ink, and, for the hair, brush and ink.  I love the line I get from the dip pen - and brush and ink is a wonderful.  The possibilities are endless, I think.

Now, pardon me, my helpers have arrived - all of the muses that help me make my toys, these pictures, are leading me away with their little hands...

Sunday, July 22, 2012

The Tree Post

7" x 5" ink and watercolor on Tyvek
On the radio the other day, I heard the following ad for a program on a great local radio show called "Topical Currents":

Trees are deaf, so the idea that music can help them grow is a myth.
But they can smell.
And they can sense when their neighbor is being eaten by a ravenous bug.

And they can speak.  I know this.

I found the above group of young trees in a park.  And they spoke to me.

I loved how they were spaced and their varying heights.  I decided to paint them on Tyvek, which I had been meaning to do for some time as its virtues had been extolled again and again by Myrna Wacknov at her blog, Creative Journey.

Tyvek is synthetic; it is made by DuPont.  (Interestingly, my son worked with Tyvek at the DuPont plant in Virginia as a part of his internship in chemical engineering - so Tyvek would have had a special place in my heart, even if I had never used it before.)

I don't even think that DuPont even calls it a paper - it is simply, Tyvek.  Its uses include providing protection against moisture intrusion in construction, as covers for cars, as medical and industrial packaging, and for envelopes.  There are many more uses, I gather.  I believe that Myrna got her Tyvek from a hardware store but I've looked more than once and have not found it at ours.  So I took a Tyvek envelope and cut it up.

This paper is thin, but cannot be ripped, and it has a varied pattern to it.  So I laid out the general structure of the trees in pen and then laid brush to paper.

And then..

I don't know what I expected , but I didn't expect it to bead up.  What an effect!  It was like watching the world through a windshield in a light rain.  And then, just as I finished painting the trees it began raining!  And looking through my windshield, I saw that the painting was true.

 watercolor on 4" x 5" Fabriano Artistica cold press paper

So let's see..trees can smell, they can sense bugs, they can speak, and, by the way, trees can dance!  How do I know this?  From Jennifer Edwards, that's who!  At her Drawn2Life blog,  In case you missed it, she wrote this poem (used here by permission):

I chanced to see
the trees dancing
in the breeze.

Said I to the trees
could we dance
together please?

And I curtsied
to the boughs
of the trees.

watercolor on 8" x 8"Fabriano Artistica cold press paper

Here in South Florida the trees, for the most part, stay green for the entire year.  But green, in fact, should be plural like fish or buffalo, because there are warm greens and cool greens and bright greens and dull.  There is an endless variety of green to enjoy and many, many shapes of the leaves and trees, of course.

Honestly, I'm embarrassed to say it, but I don't know one tree from the other.  I can see their differences and I can paint them, but I don't know what most trees are called.  But I know this, they share many gifts, including their gems, the birds.

 Years ago I spent a fair amount of time birding.  I never grew particularly good at it, but walking in the woods and listening and looking for birds remains the most freeing and relaxing thing that I have done.

Once at an Audubon walk, I spotted a bird in the distance.  I signaled to the grey-haired experienced birder who was leading the group.  He asked where it was.  Signalling towards the copse of trees in the distance, I enthusiastically said, "It's there - in the green tree!"  He looked at me.  I'm sure he was impressed.

ink field sketch of painted bunting in sketchbook

There are always surprises.  On October 1, 1996 (I cannot believe it is that long ago), I decided to go into the field and sketch what I see.  Usually I would just enjoy the birds with my binoculars, and write down their names.

At a park called A.D. Barnes, there is a wonderful nature trail.  But my surprise wasn't there.  It was in some bushes along some railroad tracks behind a ball field.  And that day I peered into those bushes, and there was a painted bunting.  A painter designed that bird - it has to be - it is hard to believe it is real, because it had a red breast, yellow and green wings, grey tail, and a violet-blue head.  And the true miracle was that the bird remained in place long enough for me to make this field sketch on the right, complete with lines to denote the colors.

So it's about time that I paint the bird - don't you think?

Nora MacPhail, a wonderfully free and loose watercolorist, spent the last week at her blog here making a variety of Artist Trading Cards (ATC's or ACEO's).  I offered a trade, and she graciously said yes.  So here is the card I will be sending her, painted today, the Painted Bunting that I saw so many years ago.

ink and watercolor on 2-1/2" x 3-1/2" Fabriano Artistica cold press paper
So trees smell and sense and speak and dance.  And they share.  It is just as Alice Walker's character said in The Color Purple, "Us sing and dance, make faces and give flower bouquets, trying to be loved.  You ever notice that trees do everything to git attention we do, except walk?"

It's so true.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

The Cat and the Barometer

10" x 8" watercolor on 140 lb. on Fabriano Artistico Hot press paper

I am endlessly fascinated by this apartment building.  It's cheap living.  It appears that college kids and single professionals live here, judging from the folks wandering in and out as I painted.  There's a dumpster right out there in the front.  Nothing exceptional about it.

But to me there is the strong geometry, the shape of the building against the sky, the outside stairs, the column of windows lined with brick and vertical design, the open hallways, the grand field of white, and the undersized door.  The dumpster also contributes to the strong diagonal, I think.

And at a certain time in the morning, oh, 7:30 a.m or so - the shadows.

I did take a few liberties.

I added a cat.

What is that cat so interested in?  The building?  Is she a feline achitect?!

Nah.  Do you know?

[Some of you may be thinking, How do you know the cat is a she?  The answer:  Why I invented her, of course!  She is what I say she is!]

And the leaves.  I saw some leaves on a sidewalk elsewhere, and thought that was just what the scene needed.

I changed the trees - didn't like the trees that were there.  Ain't art wonderful?

I tackled this building once before - in an ink and watercolor sketch.  It was in mid-2009, and you can see it here (there's a popular little story in that post, by the way).  That post was a few months after the drawing and I said that I thought I could draw it better even then.  Wil, of Carving Paper, commented at the time, "You should have drawn a new image of the same scene to see how you might have interpreted now versus then."

Well, Wil, I never forgot, and now I've done it.

Maybe this building should be my barometer - maybe I should paint it every 2 years or so until the day when, leaning unsteadily with my cane in one hand and paint brush in the other, my nurse is holding me steady in front of an easel.

I should paint until I am 100 I think.


Sunday, July 8, 2012

Fertile Ground

"Fertile Ground", acrylic on  16" x 8" canvas

A couple was lying in the grass.  Their world was one another.

The happenings of a festival surrounded them - people walked back and forth, a band played on the stage.

The activity meant nothing to them, or everything.  It framed their moment, and this moment was all there was.

"So I'll be king and you'll be queen
Our kingdom's gonna be this little patch of green.."

James Taylor understands moments like this: 

This is only the second "serious" painting I have done in acrylics since I first picked them up after dabbling with them many years ago.

Here is what I love about acrylics:  the opportunity to use impasto, to leave brush strokes in the painting; to feel like I am molding form, and to control the vividness and vitality of my color without effort.

To paint the figures, I purposely followed the procedure of laying in the darks first, then the lights, and finally the middle tones.  At first this system felt mechanical - awkward - but once I got to the middle tones, and then began editing back and forth, I felt free and creative.

I am working on my next acrylic painting, which would be done except for an error I need to correct (which could take as long as the rest of the painting took - who knows?)  I painted this next one in a completely different way.  I am also painting in watercolors, and drawing in ink, and doing ink and watercolors.  I am always sketching people around me.

The ground feels fertile, and the grass is indeed green.  Each moment painting is a magical moment.

And I am grateful for these moments.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Breaking the Rules

5" x 7" watercolor on 140 lb. Fabriano Artistica hot press paper
I parked near a Metromover station in downtown Miami and sketched what I saw.  Carefully.  Meticulously.  I expected I would be back soon to paint on site, but that never happened.

So yesterday I found myself wanting to color the picture.  I decided to use the colors I felt like using.  To throw caution to the wind.

Careful?  Meticulous?  What were those?!  Hah!  I was free!! 

I began applying reds and golds thickly, in a quite un-watercolor-like manner.  I was not in polite company, after all.  I was alone.

I felt raw and not at all polite.

I liked it.

I used more gentile washes in other parts, but then ran wild again in the street.

And this is the result.  And I am pleased.  There are more vivid hues on this watercolor than any I recall doing; there are broader value contrasts.  All because I broke the rules.

It reminds me of a quote I read the other day, by Francis Ford Coppola:  "An essential element of any art is risk. If you don’t take a risk then how are you going to make something really beautiful, that hasn’t been seen before? I always like to say that cinema without risk is like having no sex and expecting to have a baby. You have to take a risk."

So is that what it's all about - learning the rules and then breaking them?  Is that what needs to be done?

We shall see..

Thursday, June 28, 2012

The Bare (sic) Facts

5" x 7" watercolor on 140 lb Fabriano Artistico hot press paper

For several mornings at approximately the same time, I parked my car at the same place at the edge of a park. There was a large tree that intrigued me and I wanted to try to capture it on paper. I also liked the way it framed everything beyond.

So I painted the tree and when I was about halfway through, with the tree complete, I showed it to a friend. I had tried to portray all of the many shades and textures I saw on the tree, including a large knot.

She looked at it, and then squinted and leaned closer.  "What's that?" she said, "Is that a bear?"

I looked at the picture again. And then I saw it.

There it was where the knot should have been - a bear.  I'd had no idea the bear was there.

If you didn't see a bear the first time you looked at the picture, then look again, and there it will be. And once you see the bear, you cannot unsee it.

Now with a few dabs of water or paint and some subtle changes I could have banished the bear from my tree, and I considered doing so.  But I kind of liked the old fella - he had a friendly smile - so there he stays.

So now it's my bear tree.

I had fun with the scene beyond.  There was a house off to my right just beyond the far side of the park and I decided that for my composition it would look good on the left, so I put it there.  And now the bear guards that house, I suppose.

And those are the bear facts, as I see them.

At the end of each of my sessions, I'd snap a shot of the picture, to evaluate my progress and consider what to do next.

And here is a slide show of those shots:

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Mortality and Rebellion

"Mortality"  10" x 8" ink and watercolor on 140 lb Fabriano Artistico rough paper
My employer of almost 11 years passed away this week after a long battle with breast cancer.  She was relatively young, 48, and left behind two children and a husband.  It was very sad.  A night or two later I dreamed of the above painting.  I think abstract art may be a way to wrap your head around such concepts as mortality when these facts are hammered home.  As it is related in style and subject matter to the painting in my last post, "Organic/Inorganic", I'd say that it is the second in a series if there can be a series of two.

The idea is that the center section is life with all of its many activities and experience.  It is bordered by the period before birth on the left, and by death on the right.

I have some representational works to show you as well, including an acrylic painting I am especially excited about.  I still remain primarily a representational painter so while this blog has taken a bit of a detour, it has not careened of the road.  Really.

My most valuable critic thinks this work is horrid.  Does it have value as art?  I don't know.  But it has meaning to me.

I have not been posting often enough for my taste.  I considered a sabbatical, but I have too much to share.  So I may have a bit of a Summer Souffle', with short and airy posts, more frequently submitted.  Maybe.

A few of you saw the brief flash of another watercolor I had done that swiftly vanished from the web.
It's the first time I recall pulling a post, and vestiges remained on the web.  My MVC didn't like this watercolor either.  I think it lacks something compositionally, and yes, yes, it is the most boring watercolor I've ever done.  But it was a good exercise.  I also couldn't get the colors to show quite right with the scanner, despite repeated tries.  But for those of you who asked, here it is.

Coral Gables Women's Club 6"x 6-1/4" w/c on Arches 140 lb cold press

About two months ago, Jennifer Edwards of Drawn2Life was gracious enough to award this blog not one, but two, awards.  Thank you Jennifer for thinking of me, and for your kind comments about my blog.  Jennifer's blog is fabulous, and for anyone that has not read her marvelous lessons, you should visit here.


I created a whimsical post with an imaginary awards ceremony.  That is the post I pulled.  My MVC thought it was too, I don't know, contrived, derivative, maybe even offensive.  It was probably all of the above.  I mean, how do you make answering questions like, "What is your favorite color?" interesting otherwise?  I was having some fun.

Maybe I ought not show any posts these days to my MVC in advance - you think?  [A note here:  The reason my MVC is my MVC is because my MVC is virtually always right - so at least I get all of the crap out of the way in one post!]

So in a grand gesture of rebellion, if you'd like to read it, you may tumble down the rabbit hole here...

Awards in hand, I contacted the paparazzi to tell them about a special gathering that I would hold in order to announce the answers to the questions that I, as a recipient, was duty-bound to answer.   I tried to book a room in the state-of-the-art showplace arts and culture auditorium, the Arsht Center, or at the Gusman Concert Hall in downtown Miami to no avail.  But Frank's Old Folk's Home in Hallandale took me, so I gathered my helpers and went there a few hours ago.

When I arrived the place was packed!  I was thrilled. The secret servicemen wouldn't let me through though.

When the President finally left, the vast space was left mostly empty except for five elderly men, scattered throughout, three of them in wheelchairs.  They stared straight ahead in rapt attention.

So I got on the stage with my troupe.

I brought  a young woman with me to ask the questions, petite, about 4'6" tall, but I knew she had a deep thundering voice that belies her size.


The trumpeters I brought then played the fanfare.  This is a video taken at the event:

"Blue," I announced with great flourish.

One man coughed.  Another clapped very slowly.


"23!" I said.  Yes I am vain enough to have the day of my birth be my favorite number.  "Oh and I like 11 too!" I added.

11:11 is my favorite time of day.  One friend told me that when I catch 11:11 on the clock (which happens all of the time) it means my muse is with me.  I like that. 

The other day I went to a small workshop at the Museum of Contemporary Art Institute.  My goals were to (a) get out of the house, and (b) stretch my boundaries.  Our instructor told us about the artist Joanne Greenbaum who uses numbers in her work, some of which you can see here.  She builds in layers and uses shapes and numbers.

Then we were to use her approach as a guide and make our own, non-imitative work.  What fun!   Another of the wonderful things about the workshop was that they had all kinds of mediums available that I had never used before - oil pencils, watercolor crayons, inks - I used everything.  I also used watercolors and acrylics.  The result was a bit of a mess, but oddly engaging.  Probably not post-able.  My meaningful numbers were scattered throughout the piece so it is not to be discarded, not matter what it looks like.

When you check out Joanne Greenbaum's work, you might react by saying, "A child could do that!" and then  you try it and, like me, will probably proceed to find out just how wrong you are.  Of course, you are not a child, so maybe you'd have made a point.


"I have  ..," I had to pull my mike back because of feedback.  I started again.  "I have given up my favorite drink, Diet Coke, which is, I have read, apparently responsible for all of the world's health scourges, including heart attacks.  The idea of a heart attack was the last straw for me.  So now I drink tea."

An orderly wheeled one of my audience away.  Now there were four.


"The dolphin, er, not the kind you eat"



"Well I have Facebook, a personal account - I'm hardly ever on it though."



At this point one of the elderly men in the audience stood up from his wheelchair and exclaimed, "I can walk!!  I can walk!!  It's a miracle!!"  And left.


"Thanksgiving Day," I said.

At that time I felt it important to engage my audience - "How many of you three like Thanksgiving?"  I raised my hand as an example.

No one raised his hand.  One red-haired gentleman tried to touch his nose with his tongue.



She gave me a steely stare.

"Okay," I said sheepishly, "the dancing lady Orchid."  Sigh.



"Why art, of course, what else?"

And that says it all.

When I packed to go and sent my troupe on its way I realized that I am supposed to give these awards away to some other folks.  And I may, only not today.  I am too busy playing canasta with my audience.  Fortunate that we all fit at the table.

Saturday, May 19, 2012


"Organic/Inorganic"  10" x 8" ink and watercolor on 140 lb Fabriano Artistico rough paper
On a day when I was feeling particularly laden with the sad news that a close - very close - family member has cancer (which makes three significant people in my life battling the disease), I wanted to paint, but was too exhausted to think too hard.  I decided I would let my subconscious control, and the above painting resulted.

At first I thought it was going to be an abstract piece, but representational elements intruded.  It became a pictorial metaphor:

And vulnerability.

A flow of rocks severing a vein-like stem.

I was surprised at how letting go resulted in the near-perfect representation of my feelings.

Funny how the mind works, isn't it?

Thursday, April 12, 2012

The Dream, The Doubts, The Key

10" x 8" watercolor on Fabriano Artistico 140 lb hot press paper

I. The Dream:

I had a dream a few nights ago.

I was standing beside an easel. My online artist friend Linda (L.W.) Roth of the "Out on a Limb" blog, was about to show me how she paints on canvas. She put brush to canvas, and as she brought the brush down I heard a musical sound.

I heard a sort of sing-song, "PNT-ING!"

The sound was coming either from the brush or the paint itself as she executed the stroke.

"What was that!?"

"What, yours doesn't do that?" she asked.

She put more paint on her brush. Then, watching me out of the corner of her eye, she brought down the brush again.

"PNT!", it rang.

Without lifting the brush from the canvas, she pulled the brush back up to finish the stroke.


I was speechless.

Just then, I heard another sound.


I jumped. Looking towards the sound, I saw another online artist friend, Hallie, of the "Arting Around in SOVA" blog, standing next to an easel with one of her paintings on it.


The sounds were coming from the painting itself! Hallie was doing nothing at all.

I asked her about it and she yawned and said, "yeah, they do that every now and then. Don't yours?"

And that is when I woke up.

II. The Doubts.

The painting at the top of the page took many mornings, in the hour before work, to do. I parked across the street from these two storefronts in South Miami, and painted in my car, en plein air conditioning. I'm not one for quick watercolors. I layer and layer.

In truth I was disappointed at how it turned out (although my brutally honest family seemed to like it).

After painting the reddish-brown jewelry store, I read Frank Eber's stark reminder that I should not "try to do too much" with the watercolors. I felt it was already overworked but I had invested time in it, so I continued with the picture and finished it.

Then I sailed far afield in the world wide web and felt that everything I saw was better than what I had done. I had a crisis of confidence. That's when I had the dream.

So I searched further and discovered the SGVA blog which has short posts containing art quotes, definitions, and tips. I found a Wolf Kahn quote there:

"The practice of art should have an effect not only the public, but even more importantly, on the artist himself, by enlarging his sphere of freedom... Each picture is valuable only insofar as it contributes to this development, because it enables the artist to go on in a freer, larger way to his next picture."

And I had learned a lot from this picture. I had struggled with perspective. I wrestled with values, with changing light and shadow, and coordination of color. I successfully inserted a figure in the scene that I had sketched from life in my Moleskine. And I worked a bit larger than my usual.

I found this quote at the SGVA Blog too, by Ira Glass:

“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit.

Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work... It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions.

And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.”

I was cured.

III. The Key.

We are a family of artists. We endure the same struggles and enjoy the same intrinsic rewards. We have the joy of seeing - really seeing - the world, and then attempting to portray it our own way. Knowing this helps me through the rough spots.

I am constantly reminded of this connection because of two consistent resources that I've been dying to share. You may know about these already. But maybe you don't. And if you don't, you are in for a treat. So here they are:

A. "Artists Helping Artists". This is the only internet radio show that I know of that is by artists, for artists, and addresses artist's concerns, hopes, and desires. There is an emphasis on marketing, but also many featured artists. It is inspiring and enlightening to listen to this show and Leslie Saeta is a creative, knowledgeable and personable host. The easiest place to listen is here, where you can find all past episodes too. I usually listen in my car! The blog to accompany the show is here.

B. Subscribe to "Robert Genn's Twice-Weekly Letter". It's free and arrives in your e-mail. It is always a good read, with useful tips for artists, and the personal experiences and anecdotes of Canadian artist Robert Genn. You can subscribe here.

Art talk comes to me! What can be better?

You needn't thank me. What else is family for?

{pssst..I was given some blog awards but I need to gather the paparazzi anyway, so next time..)

Thursday, March 22, 2012

My Love Letter to Art on the Occasion of Our Anniversary

14" x 14" acrylic on canvas
My Love Letter to Art on the Occasion of Our Anniversary:

My Beloved,

It's our anniversary.  It's hard to believe that it's been 3 whole years.

You and I flirted on and off, of course, before we finally became serious on March 15, 2009.

As a child I drew all of the time. Doodles were in all of my margins at school, and cartoons of aliens were everywhere. I knew my true love then. I forgot later, I know. But you forgave me.

At age 7 I won my newspaper's weekly children's art contest! Then in 1973, the Watergate trials were on tv. We had only a rudimentary idea what was going on but loved to draw all of those nefarious faces, didn't we?

One year in junior high school, they had a "patch and motto" contest. My design for the patch won first place in the school. But they sent the second place winner on to the county contest. That student's idea was better than mine, they said, although my art was the best. I was crushed.

I drew in pastel. I played with calligraphy. I loved pen and ink. I did a mighty impressive pastel of my brother, and some pretty good drawings on scratchboard. I was 14 or 15. 

A pastel of  my younger brother done when I was 15?

If only we'd stayed together. But I was young - I was confused, and looked away from you. In college at times I forgot you altogether.  I thought I was too old for you.

After I graduated we had a tentative liaison and I dabbled in oils, and then acrylics. But I didn't do much and knew even less, and had a marriage and then a family to tend to.   I didn't take you seriously.

But you were always whispering in my ear even if sometimes I forgot to listen.

Finally, in 2009 we caressed. But would it last? It had never lasted before.

Friends we have never met saved our relationship; I am sure of this. Our first acquaintance was Janey of Janey's Journey, a very special artist to me. You can read in this blog's very first post about what she did for me, if you'd like - about her innocent question. That was the beginning. By my second post, I'd met Raena. [Check out my joint blog with Raena, 2'nFro].  And soon thereafter, the Everyday Matters Group and artists all over the web.

A mildewed scratchboard drawing I did at about age 15
I discovered that there are no folks in the world that are more generous than artists. They share their knowledge, their techniques, their struggles. I have learned so much from them - am learning so much every day - that I am now almost as good as I was at fifteen.

I must confess, that my wife knows of our affair of the heart. She says all I think about is art, art, art. And it's true, I am smitten. But we could never be, you and I, without the artists I feel so blessed to have met and am still meeting every day. They care about us, you know. This blog has just passed 200 followers!

To properly summon tears for the occasions, and since I am a guy and of course do not cry, I have painted onions. This is only the second time that a painting on actual canvas has appeared on this blog, but it won't be the last. I love impasto, and have missed it with watercolor. And I love the immediate rich colors.

I am newly reacquainted with acrylics. I believe that this painting was able to happen only because of what I have learned from my online friends. [I will now never believe that watching the Cooking Channel can't help you to learn to cook!] I was visiting my mother, and she and I painted together. We found two onions in the refrigerator - one had been there a very long time!  It was a delightful afternoon that you shared with us.

So here we are, beginning year four, and our relationship is renewed again. I am working on another painting in acrylics that is far more complex than this one - and so far so good (fingers crossed). I am truly excited about it, and hope I can get it to the end without ruining it. But even if I do [ruin it], I know you will be there for me, and this time I won't leave you.

I won't ever leave you.

Now pardon me, while I have a good cry.

Yours forever,

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Two for the Road

5" x 9-1/2" watercolor on 140 lb. paper
Deadlines, Deadlines. The other day, Terry Miura asked at his blog, "Are you waiting till the last minute so as to set yourself up for failure and cushion your fall with the excuse, 'I just ran out of time...'?"

No! I answered.  Absolutely not!  I knew that I finally needed to complete his Cityscape Challenge.

His challenge is posted here - to paint and simplify a scene using a random street in San Francisco as a reference - and from the moment I saw the photo I was intrigued by it.  One reason for this is because Frank Eber does this kind of scene all of the time in watercolor (see his New York streets here), and his goal and Terry Miura's goal is the same:  SIMPLIFY!  And both are very successful at it.  If you visit their blogs, you too will be the beneficiary of their generously-shared knowledge.  And witness to their great art.

Of course knowing is not the same as doing and the most successful parts of this picture were where I actually paid attention and tried to follow their learned advice.  In the least successful parts I would not only forget to simplify, but would also forget what medium I was using - I was practically scrubbing the paper in parts, with watercolor!  Don't know what came over me, really.

2-5/8" x 9" (lol)
It might be that I've been working in acrylic lately (I can't wait to show you.)  Might be that I shouldn't start painting after hours of yard work.

Excuses, I know.  But I can't help myself.

I set up my paper to draw a big swath of buildings on the side, and decided, for the composition, and to humanize the picture, to place a man crossing the street on the page.  With the buildings, though, I really lost it - simplicity out the window (er, out all of the windows.)  So I sat staring at the completed piece, not really satisfied, and suddenly I saw two much better pictures were I to simply to cut the page vertically, just so.  And that's what I did. On the right is the other picture, cut from the left.  So that the first picture that you saw on the left, was on the right, and the second picture that you see on the right was on the left, capisce?

So that's about it.  No poetry, no witticisms, nothing particularly clever to say  today.  Sorry about that.  This picture left me high and dry.  And I had to meet that deadline.  If 99% is simply showing up, at least I did that.  And I left having learned a thing or two. 

'Till next time..

Monday, February 27, 2012

It's Not Easy Being Green

5" x 7" watercolor on 140 lb Fabriano Artistico rough paper
South Florida.

A quiet walk outside is disturbed by a tumult of squawking.  A company of parrots traverses the sky.

Three lanes of traffic on US-1 come to a halt as a peacock casually crosses the road.

A car dealership on Bird Road (I kid you not), first thing in the morning before it is open is sprinkled with pepper - hundreds of nondescript black birds called grackles. They loudly perch in groups on every car, every surrounding wire, and along the rims of bordering buildings.  Every day I suppose the employees must rewash the cars if they are ever to hope to sell them.

In Miami, a white ibis, with its orange decurved bill, visits our home so often that my wife has named it.  When he appears we call for our son Matthew and stand together at the window, watching, as the ibis strides across our yard.  He is "Commander", his bearing so proud that it must be so.  Sometimes he brings his army - ten or twenty other birds.

After dropping my son off at a weekly Saturday activity, I'd drive to a spot  in downtown Davie, Florida, where the branch of a tree would extend along the shoreline of a canal.  There every week, without fail, a white ibis would stand.  I like to think it was the same bird week after week.  I sketched him and painted the surrounding trees and the leaves on the branch.

The next week, when I returned, the branch had been cut. The ibis was gone, the beauty of the spot diminished.

This also is South Florida.

This little page had a few incarnations.  A few months ago I sat in the backyard of my sister-in-law's house in central Florida, and sketched the stylized sun that was hanging on her fence.  I then attempted to paint the fence, in yellow ochre, and was not at all happy with the result.  I tucked the paper away.  Then, when I saw the ibis, I decided to put him on the same sheet.  I paint the trunks of the trees and then the leaves in the middle of the page and the leaves were so tedious that I quit.  I put off doing anything more with the page - again for weeks (if not months), not wanting to deal with the leaves.

But then I saw master watercolorist David Lobenberg, at his blog here, and his loose treatment of leaves, and I thought - voila! (because that is how artists express excitement - voila!) - and pulled out the page again.  I had done this before - why not here?  Not all of the leaves had to be so exacting.  I began covering the page with a wash and then the impression of the leaves and grasses from memory.  I was surprised at the richness of color and the depth.  It was enhanced by the yellow ochre underneath I think.

So there you are:  a Florida story. 

6" x 3" watercolor on 140 lb. Fabriano Artistico extra white hot press paper

A few days ago, from a distance, I spotted some more Florida wildlife.  Retirees.  In their native habitat.  A lucky find, I think.  Ah, South Florida, with so much to offer.

My Most Valuable Critic has complained that my last three pictures (the two in this post, and the one in the last) look too similar. 

"They are so green", she said.

"But they are outside", I replied.

"But they are so green," she said.

"Then you can consider this to be my Green Period!" I replied, brandishing my beret, then tilting it smartly on my head. 

And what, I ask you, could she say to that?