Saturday, December 28, 2013

Year-end Reflections

As the year passes
We speak with snowflakes, not words.
There are no words left.

"At First Glance #7", 5" x 7" ink and watercolor


Remembering Now,
Imagining seasons -
Images whisper.

 "Rituals" 8" x 6" watercolor


At each gathering,
A misty rain of color
That sometimes we see.
"The Gathering" 4" x 6" ink and watercolor


Now and then we park
And see passages beyond
The concrete and wire.

Parking Garage, 6" x 6" ink and watercolor

Thursday, December 12, 2013

2,760 Miles

"The Friendly Wolf" 10" x 10" acrylic on canvas [Click on the image to enlarge.]
Okay, I hate to brag, but the average wolf does not migrate.  He might trek as far as 70 miles, following migratory prey, before he settles down again to join a pack, or establish his own new territory.

But this wolf has traveled 2,760 miles from Miami to a city north of Los Angeles.  He arrives today at his new home, hopefully in one piece.  He certainly should.  The bubble wrap is so thick that I could have used the wrapped canvas as a pillow and still not damaged it. 

Ah, the anxiety of shipment.

This was a commission, and a joy to do.  There is a lot of layering in this piece, and many colors.  In fact, the wolf had so many colors that at one point I had to put the canvas aside to decide what to do.  It was too much.  Eventually I knew what I needed, a transparent brown.  And lo and behold Winsor & Newton came out with a new color called, appropriately, Transparent Brown.  Voila!  It worked as advertised, to great effect.  And, like a few of my other paintings, I made liberal use of the rubber spatula tool towards the end.  So far, for me, it is much better than a palette knife.

One personal joy in painting this wolf was the knowledge that it is going to hang in the room of an autistic young man.  I hope that it brings him great pleasure.  I'm partial to the unique plight of autistic individuals because, as you may remember, my son is autistic.

And for the record, my son didn't show any interest at all in the wolf.  In fact he has never paid any attention to any of my art.  That is, until recently.   When he did, it was quite a surprise.  He walked to the dinner table carrying an illustration I'd done, saying, "Look! Look!" with a big smile on his face.  This is what he was carrying: 

10" x 13" Ink and watercolor

Sunday, November 24, 2013

From Darkness to Light

Here's a small painting of a lamp, that started out sedate and ordinary, and ended up like this.  Like a writer's character, sometimes the objects in a painting take over.

6" x 6" acrylic on board
As you know, there is so much to see everywhere and in everything.  Lately I've been snapping pictures with my phone at any place that these wonderful scenes emerge.  When I was a boy, I used a camera to snap pictures of trees and the sky and stuff.  Once, I remember, I put a drinking glass over the lens and snapped a shot.  I was told then by the adults around me that I should use the camera to take pictures of posed people instead.  That's when I laid the camera down.

I realize that I haven't changed much despite their best efforts.  Here is my contribution for Shadow Shot Sunday.

Taken during a morning jog
I've been restless with watercolors lately.  But some interesting things have come of it.  Like this:

8" x 10" watercolor on Daler Rowney NOT paper
I've also been discovering some interesting art blogs and podcasts on artists and the art scene.  Often they add fuel to the fire that consumes me.   Maybe you'll enjoy them too and like me, be educated, entertained, bemused, and confounded.  So check them out (but not before leaving a comment here, of course.)

I've been listening to the Modern Art Notes podcast for more than a year I think.  It is excellent.

A wonderful blog that has links to ever-changing art articles and criticism is Painter's Table at

From Painter's Table, I found about the podcast "ahtcast" which is far less polished than Modern Art Notes, but has artist interviews and is fun and interesting.  It is at

A wonderful blog called "In the Make" features studio visits with west coast artists at

And from "ahtcast" I learned about a blog with videos of artists in their studios called "Gorky's Granddaughter" at

From there I learned that artists are a quirky bunch.  But you knew that already, didn't you?

Saturday, November 9, 2013

My First "Real" Painting

Acrylic on 18" x 18" canvas; Tentative title: "Even if it Looks Blue" Click to enlarge.

1.  The other night I dreamed that I was a muscular super hero fighting powerful villains and everything was going okay until they released the mosquitoes.

*  *  *

I thought about easing back into these posts with some innocuous piece of art so as not to shock you with my latest work.  But I can't.  I cannot because, regardless of its merit or lack thereof, the painting above feels like my first real work.

It is a self-portrait, above, tentatively entitled "Even if it Looks Blue".  [Yes, I have grown a goatee; and yes, it grew in white.  And yes, I kinda like it.]

The painting is not meant to be all encompassing.  I am still cheerful, life-affirming, personable.  I am prone to humor and a smile.  I find wonder in the bark of a tree or the crack of a sidewalk.  I am still the same person you know.

Aren't tree roots beautiful?

But there is more.  This painting captures an unsettling time, and something of what is happening here, both inside and out.  It captures my essence, but not all of who I am, and only at a given moment, which may already have passed. 

*  *  *

2.  I'm in a different place, but I don't know where I am.

*  *  *

You may recall that a few posts ago I was wrestling with some frustration with my art.  I was concerned that by painting a person or an object, I could not capture its essence.  In many ways I was happy, such as with the painting below, when I tried a subject I knew that Diebenkorn painted a few times, a pair of scissors.  In that painting and others, I was able to work on technique and composition.  All of that was wonderful and still is.

But I wondered whether there was a way to show what I could perceive that exists beyond the object.  I wanted to find a reality beyond the simple portrayal of the object itself. That is still a goal of mine.  The self-portrait is my first attempt to do so.

Acrylic on 6" x 6" board

The self-portrait obviously contains some symbolic or abstract elements.  For weeks it was sitting on my easel without the shapes at the bottom of the canvas.  Some artist colleagues told me that the painting looked done to them.  But it seemed incomplete to me.  Weeks later those elements became essential additions.  And now, after an additional week of examining the work, I am satisfied.  I think.

The symbols have surface meanings and deeper meanings, some very personal.  They help to tell the full story.   Some of what I tried to incorporate were a mountain or volcano, and an eclipse or unsteady circle, as harbinger of change.  Those are the most evident elements.  More subtly, there is the curve which bears a resemblance to the ying and yang, though on its side.  They were intended as male and as female/creative elements. There is more that I intended. Of course, you may provide your own interpretation (psychoanalysis), but don't send me the bill.

*  *  *

3.  I sit on the cold bare floor.  I need only walk a few short steps to stand on the well-worn, ugly, blues-speckled rug, as before. 

I see only one other rug, frightfully far, but it reflects the light.  Sometimes it flashes all of the colors of the rainbow. 

I cannot tolerate the floor much longer.  It is much too cold.  And there are only two rugs.

*  *  *

Why would I paint a slice of myself?  It is much more effective in showing where I am, that any full image would have been.

A few weeks after I painted this, Hallie Farber posted an I-pad portrait at her blog with a wavy red line approaching the subject's head.  I commented to let her know that I had done the same thing in a self-portrait a few weeks before and that we were on the "same curvy red wavelength".  I wrote so that she would know that I had come up with the same idea independently.  She responded:

"Uh oh, Dan, not a good wavelength...  I'm seeing your painting in my head--electro shock treatment? One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest is a favorite movie."  

No Hallie, and no, dear reader, I am still sane.  So don't worry.  Dan hasn't lost it.  (Although I am now talking about myself in the third person).  It's nothing like that.  And I am within the normal realm of human behavior (or at least one of my personalities tells me so.)  But I am grateful that I can express in art what's so difficult to say in words.

Despite the lack of posts, I have been doing a bit of art and illustration, none of which is so psychological, or so dark.  There are still sketches in public, cartoony drawings, ink and watercolor,  representational art, and experiments.  And I want to share it all with you.  I need to post far more often, don't I?

I also expect to pursue this other path if the muse allows, but not always to dark places.  There is so much beauty beyond everything, that I hope to uncover that as well.  The only question is how.  That is my challenge and my joy.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

The Tale of Budge

"The View Outside" 6" x 6" acrylic on Gessoed Hardboard, SOLD

Mewing.  There was mewing in the vicinity of our back door, a pleading chorus.

Where was it all coming from?  We didn't know.  It was a curiosity, nothing more.

But then we found them - a litter of newborn kittens in the shallow space beneath a cabinet in our garage.  We left the garage door open so that the mother could come and go freely. And eventually, one at a time, the mother removed the kittens from the garage.  The mewing lessened until only one voice remained.

The mewing of the remaining kitten was loud, desperate - needful.  But the mother did not return.

What to do?  My wife was very upset.  She lined a shoebox with papertowels, and then with hand towels.  We didn't know anything about cats.  She tried to feed him.  Nothing.

He was a beautiful black.  She named him Licorice.  He could fit on the palm of her hand.

She called her sister, who rushed over.  She and her niece brought Licorice to the Humane Society, where they were summarily informed that because there were too many strays, if they left him there he would be put down.

So my wife's sister brought Licorice home.  That name wouldn't do.  His name became Budge.  She and her husband brought him to the vet, who told them what they had to do.  He told them there was perhaps a 40% chance that Budge would survive.

But they were determined.  They bought cat supplies galore.

Her husband, my brother-in-law, stepped to the fore.  Around the clock, including all night, for days (weeks?), he had to feed Budge through a dropper every two hours.  But not only that.  He had to rub Budge's belly constantly.  It is not just for affection that a cat licks her kittens.  It teaches them to feed.

It was touch and go for a while.  There were times when Budge wouldn't eat.  There were other times he had to be rushed to the vet.

But against the odds, he survived.  And he lived the pampered life of a favored cat in their household for years.

One day I saw him sitting on the windowsill, and snapped the shot that the above painting is based upon.  I liked his silhouette against the lively background, and the shape of the large palm frond that seemed to shelter him.

And that is the story of Budge.

Critics.  There are always critics.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Concerning the Koi

6" x 6" acrylic on board "The Koi" Click HERE to purchase $100.00

Sitting at the edge
of the pond and

the koi,

I am captured by
their color,
ensnarled in their

I am calmed.

As I sit
in the massive
shopping mall
on the concrete
edge of the koi pond,

I feel frenetic
all about me:

bullying and
stirring the air

Sometimes for gain,
they perform
the unthinkable.

7" x 7" watercolor on 140 lb. NOT paper. Click HERE to purchase $100.00

When koi are released
into the wild,
they lose their
spectacular color within

a few generations

and don the dull cloak
of the carp.

They stir the soil,
making their watery home
muddy and
to everyone else.


Sometimes for gain,
they perform
the unthinkable.

the koi.


Here's a photo for Shadow Shot Sunday:

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Between a Rock and a Hard Place (And a Healthy Dose of Art Philosophy and a Shadow Shot too!)

6" x 6" acrylic on board.  "A Dog's World" Click here to purchase.  $100.00
In "Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee", Seinfeld's online series, which is just about the Best Thing Ever ( I like the episode with Michael Richards), Seinfeld asks Chris Rock who it is that he likes, and Rock responds, "I admire people that have breakdowns.  Because once you have a breakdown, you can clear the slate."

Try as I might, I am incapable of having a breakdown.  I can metaphorically break a leg (see the last post) and put my blog into virtual paralysis, but between down periods and angry spells and  confusion, my mood eventually buoys like a beach ball in water.  And that, I suppose, is a good thing.  Despite the fact that I will never have the admiration of Chris Rock.

But there has been this kind of inadvertant virtual summer sabbatical.  The precipitating event is not the worst thing that has ever happened to me, not by a long shot, but it was indeed traumatic and had elements that have called into question perspectives that I have held for nearly half a century.  I am not the same.  I will not write about it directly.  But my soul has been stirred - even my feelings about art.  And I consider this blog to be a reflection of my soul.

From my moleskine this month.
Also in my moleskine - true, isn't it?
Despite the pause in blogging, I have continued painting.  I touched up an older painting, yet to be posted, and have almost completed another series painting.  I have wrestled with another wolf painting - and the wolf appears to be winning.  But I will continue to try to tame the beast. 

And during this virtual absence I decided to emulate the daily painters.  I painted six small acrylic paintings in quick daily succession.  The first, of a dog, is above.  I will post them all as this blog continues.

But all of that is beside the point.

I was pleased with the results of each of these works.  But in a way, surprisingly, I was dissatisfied as well with each and every one of them.  My springboard for these, as with virtually all I have painted before, has been "every day matters" - my fascination with all I see around me.  But I have begun to seriously question the premise.  I think painting what you see may not be enough.  To show the reality of the everyday I am thinking a painting may need to include what lies behind - the unseen.  And how do you depict that?  That is the question.

I am wondering whether this is what modern painters are attempting to show, an internal sense that there is more to the world than what is being observed.

A Shadow shot for "Shadow Shot Sunday" - it's been a long time..

Periodically there have been times - uplifting, invigorating, happy times - that seemed to be of high velocity, but that have come to a sudden, shocking halt.  A human life can be like that when it is tragically cut short.  In a poem I wrote after my daughter's short life and dramatic death, I likened the experience to a "roof unmoored by hurricane winds."  There are also times that the apparent surface events conceals the reality.  And sometimes we are fooled, and shocked when the reality is revealed.  And how do you depict that? 

My drive to draw and paint is as strong as ever, but what and how I paint in the future may change.  I have outlined for myself elements to include in future works, devices for showing the unseen in the observed, the hidden, the profundity, and I have an idea for paintings in this regard.  Will they work? Again, I don't know.  It is a hard place to be in.  And I may not have the skills to do it.

These are my thoughts for what they are worth.  Again, I don't want to be a talker, I want to do.  I am too much of a talker.  In art, my drive is to do.  But I want to share my thoughts, even with the risk that none of it may ever materialize.

Prologue  - [Sigh, I can't stop] but for me, this is the most interesting part:

After I wrote the above, and then saving the post for a week as a draft - wondering if all of the above was premature to say - I was mulling over painting ideas and noted that one image was awfully like a Magritte.  It made me wonder about the philosophy behind his works (beyond that of his famous painting of the pipe).  Lo and behold, when contrasting his art with the pop artist's "mistake" of painting "the world as it is", he contrasted their attention to the passing moment with his concern for portraying "the feeling for the real, insofar as it is permanent."

This led me to the photographer Duane Michals, who was influenced by Magritte.  You can see much of his work here.  In 1987 he gave a lecture which is here.  (It is funny that in that year, because it was recorded by cassette tape, only half of the talk was recorded because they forgot to turn the tape over!).  Key phrases, for me, from this talk are:

When looking at a picture:  "I don't want to know what I know.  I want to know what I don't know!"

"People are not what they seem."  And he said, and it's true, that one can't even know one's own parents.  [Recent events, for me, have called into question the entire premise of my "At First Glance" series.  Fortunately the series is aptly titled, because the idea of capturing someone's soul is a fool's errand.]

And, significantly:

"The most important things in life are invisible."

And how do you portray that?!

Saturday, June 22, 2013

At First Glance #6

5" x 7" ink and watercolor on Fabriano Artistico rough paper
(Click to view a larger image.)

It's got to be said.  You can be strolling along, the warmth of the sun on your face, a soft breeze blowing - everything right with the world.  Then you can step into a hole and break your ankle.

We lack control in this world.  We cannot control our environment.  We cannot control others.  Sometimes we cannot even control ourselves.

So what's a person to do?

Here's what I think: 

First you experience the pain.  Fully.  Good or bad, it is part of your story. 

Next, you wander, and you wonder.  Allow yourself to drift to the next place, and wonder at what you will see along the way. 

And don't look back.

*  *  *

This is the sixth in my At First Glance series of ink and watercolor drawings of folks I spot in Miami.  The others in the series are here, here, here, here, and  here.

And here's what they look like as a group:

(Click to enlarge.)

Friday, June 7, 2013

Crying Wolf, Laughing Man

10" x 10" Acrylic on canvas [Click to enlarge]

I painted this for my oldest son who has always liked wolves.  I hope he still does.

One honest fellow I showed this to expressed the opinion that he wouldn't want a wolf on his wall. And I guess those yellow eyes could be unnerving. I should've made them glow in the dark.

I've been told more than once that I should be a dog artist.  Folks have made statements like "Dogs are your talent."

But although I am taken each time by the depth of feeling the expression of a canine can show, and challenged each time by the nonhuman dimensions, I cannot limit myself.

One reason is my fascination with people, mostly the ordinary ones with everyday experiences. 

The other day I read a poem by Mark Strand, called "Not Dying" that began like this:

These wrinkles are nothing.
These gray hairs are nothing.
This stomach which sags
with old food, these bruised
and swollen ankles,
my darkening brain,
they are nothing.
I am the same boy
my mother used to kiss.

These lines blew me away!  As soon as I read them, I had to draw the old man:

8" x 10" Ink and watercolor on Daler-Rowney Langton Prestige NOT paper [Click to enlarge.]

I cannot begin to tell you how fun this was to do.   I was remembering the works of Wendy McNaughton, and thinking of Lisa Congdon and her Reconstructivist series that showcases amazing women.  With inspirations like these, and so many ways to draw and paint, how could I just paint dogs?

Sunday, May 26, 2013

A Long Time Comin'

16" x 20" Acrylic on board [Click to enlarge]

Well..I tried a practice portrait before this.  It went through the mannequin stage, the zombie stage and finally, the space alien stage, before I chucked it in the corner.

So much for that.

But the idea of a portrait nagged at me.  My sister-in-law had been bugging me about doing a portrait of her literally for decades.  And finally I felt capable of painting it.

Did it look like her?  It did to me.  I did the small child test. Casually, showing little interest and yawning slightly, I pointed to the picture and asked a small child, "Who's that?"

I am pleased to say I passed the test.

My sister-in-law's reaction?  "Now you paint me - when I'm not young anymore?!"

Aw well.  She took it home anyway.


A book in my library that I've spent hours perusing over the years is "A Painterly Approach" by Mary Beth McKenzie.  I just love the way she paints.  But all that time reading her advice and viewing her wonderful paintings showed me nothing at all compared to a demonstration by the artist I found online at the Youtube channel of the Art Students League of New York.  There is just something about watching an artist work.  At the same channel, I found a demonstration by Sharon Sprung that was just as informative and inspiring.  I hope you find them as rewarding:

Mary Beth McKenzie:

 Sharon Sprung:

Thank you Art Students League, for providing this resource to we country folks (because everywhere outside of NYC is the country, right?)

Sunday, May 12, 2013

A Special Mother's Day

Watercolor on 8" x 10" Daler-Rowney Langton Prestige NOT paper
Beneath the Bamboo with Dragonflies (Click to Enlarge)

Motherhood.  The word often brings to mind the comfort, joy and security of our own mothers.  And this is wonderful.  But it is more than that.

There are mothers that must face the loss of a child.  This is a loss that does not end.  There are mothers that must cope on a daily basis with extraordinary physical, mental, or behavioral needs of their child.

In both instances, there is a loss of expectations, of hopes and of dreams, but still these moms persevere and provide as they can.

This post is for them, and for my wife, among them, on Mother's Day.

So for you special mothers, for all of you, is a poem. And I hope you'll forgive me, but it was written by a man.  It is not peaceful, not even optimistic really, but defiant.  Because you must think of yourself too.

And whether or not you are a mother, or a parent, you must cope with life's challenges, and this poem can be for you too.

the laughing heart
by Charles Bukowski

your life is your life.
don't let it be clubbed into dank
be on the watch.
there are ways out.
there is light somewhere.
it may not be much light but
it beats the
be on the watch.
the gods will offer you
know them, take them.
you can't beat death but
you can beat death
in life,
and the more often you
learn to do it,
the more light there will
your life is your life.
know it while you have
you are marvelous
the gods wait to delight

[Note:  I painted this watercolor at Fairchild Tropical Gardens, as a gift for my wife on Mother's Day.  She loves bamboo and dragonflies, as well she should.   Happy Mother's Day!]

Saturday, March 16, 2013

At First Glance #5

5" x 7" ink and watercolor on Fabriano Artistico rough paper
(Click to view a larger image)

I love bus stops and cross walks because of the variety of people you find there.  But it's rare that I am lucky enough to have the traffic light stop my car just to the side of a person to paint.  So when I saw the woman above I just kinda casually stared straight ahead while waiting at the light, held my cell phone sideways, and -snap- I had the picture.  I never looked that way once and when the light turned green I drove on.  When I checked the photo later I was delighted!

This is my fifth "At First Glance" picture, a series where I try to capture the essence of folks I find in Miami. 

But I've been thinking, maybe what I'm portraying is something more.

The other day I met a friend for lunch that I hadn't seen in maybe ten years.  (This is a different friend, by the way, than the one recounted in the last post.)  I had no idea it had been so long.  I'd spoken to him every year in the interim - he's my accountant.  We'd have lively telephone conversations, catching up, and he'd sounded exactly the same.  But I'd mail him the papers for my return and wouldn't see him. 

So when we saw one another there was this surreal minute or two as we conversed when we were reconciling our memories of one another to the persons before us. Time had given us both more .. character.

So I realize that what I'm capturing in this series is not only the essence, but the moment.

The "At First Glance"figures are in a field of white.  I could ground the figures in the white field, say with a shadow.  But I do not.  This is appropriate, I think.  This is their essence suspended in the moment; then the moment is gone.


If you'd like descriptions of the series and to see prior "At First Glance" folks, you can go here, here, here and here.  [What will I do when there are 100?  Leave 99 links at the end of the post?!  I think not!]

Thursday, March 7, 2013

After All These Years

Watercolor on 14" x 11-3/4" Daler-Rowney Langton Prestige NOT paper
"Life As a River"  (Click to enlarge)

Here's a tale:  Burger Chef was a chain that pre-dated the biggies, Burger King and McDonalds.  At our local Burger Chef, on A-1-A in the city of Satellite Beach on the Space Coast of Florida, the manager Bill M. didn't really know how to control the place.  The assistant manager would be running to the grocery store once or twice a week to buy something he forgot to order, like hamburger buns or meat, for example.  And the place wasn't doing well.

When McDonald's finally came to our small town, it stood only a block away from Burger Chef.  That was when Bill M. decided that it would be a good idea to buy the Burger Chef and turn it into his own place.  Now if Burger Chef wasn't doing well then, let me tell you, Bill's Big Burger wasn't going to do any better.  It failed within months.

But while Burger Chef and then Bill's Big Burger existed, my best friend Jeff and I worked there in high school.  Great fun.  We were good kids, but had our moments.  Once we showed up together drunk and sang "Cheeseburger in Paradise" throughout our shift.  Everyone stayed out of our way.  Another time we were closing the place together and started randomly throwing cleaning fluids into the mop water.  When a white poison gas wafted out of the bucket we fled the place in stitches.  Then there was the time that Jeff and I challenged two ladies that worked there to a tennis match.  We were good, but not at tennis, and we bought them their steak dinner.

I have a terrible memory.  Big chunks of my childhood, and of my life through high school and beyond is absent from my mind. So if you measure the days that I remember from my life then I am really 19 years old.


But I remember this:  Jeff and I hung out together, listened to music together, did side jobs together, went to each other's houses constantly, yearned for the company of the Scorpionettes (the objects of desire of all healthy young male citizens of Satellite High School), worshipped the Muppet Movie, and spent hours talking about life and everything else.  And so much more.

We grew to respect one another, and I knew him as a soul with a heart of gold.

So what happened?  What often happens.  We grew apart.  He went his way, I went mine.  Life got in the way.  It's only natural.

So it was a surprise when Jeff contacted me and said that he had been following my blog.  He said that he liked the two abstract pieces that I had done, which you can see here and here.  The first, "Organic/Inorganic" was my response to the news that a close family member had cancer.  It dealt with invasion, injustice, and vulnerability.  The second, "Mortality" was my response to the death of my employer of eleven years.  It portrayed the passage of life.

I considered them a series of two.

Now there is a third.

Jeff asked me to continue the series with a piece that would portray the "fragility of friendship,"

This was different for me, and quite difficult.  Whereas the others had sprung unbidden (one was actually from a dream), I had never attempted to intentionally portray a concept abstractly before.

This is a semi-abstract piece, I suppose, as I've used the analogy of a river for the lifeline.  This is consistent with the nature references in the other pieces, and it has the flowing and directional qualities of the others as well.

Each tributary represents the encounter with a new person (they with their own lifelines as well), and each adds a pattern which the main lifeline carries with it.  So by the time this life reaches a ripe old age, the pattern is very complex.  The person carries the vestige of all of the experiences and encounters he or she has had to some degree or the other.  The person is far more sophisticated by reason of these encounters than at the beginning.  These encounters have impacted the person.

I like the analogy of the river (and I toyed with many visual concepts), although it is not the most original, because it so easily illustrates this concept but also because I could visually represent by the land between, that the individual's environment (whether physical or through major life stages events) changes over time as well.

So thank you Jeff, for stretching your old friend just a little bit further after all these years.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

At First Glance #4

5" x 7" ink and watercolor on Fabriano Artistico rough paper
(Click to view a larger image)

This is the fourth At First Glance picture.  In this series I try to capture the essence of people that I see in Miami.  A more comprehensive description of the series is here.

It's funny about an image like this one.  I feel like I can tell you nine or ten things about this gentleman, without actually knowing a thing about him.

Part of the constraints I set for myself in the series is to draw in pen, with no advance pencil sketch.  The idea is to keep the "sketchiness", just as though I am out and about sketching from life.

Is that crazy, or what?   The first time I draw any of these folks, it is in variably too big.  Then I overcompensate and draw too small.  I am finding it takes four or five drawings to get it right.  And then comes the watercolor, which, thus far - knock on wood - I have had no problem with.

Conclusion:  This series is a form a self-torture that is just about better than anything.   When I am done with the series, I will just cut off my ear and be done with it.  


Note:  I have made a subtle revision to the original watercolor and have replaced the image in this post.  I apologize if any offense was caused by the earlier version.  Please know that I had not noticed the feature in the earlier version, and that it was unintentional.  If, like me, you didn't notice and have no clue what I am talking about then I am relieved.  Ah, the vagaries of watercolor..

Sunday, February 17, 2013

An Idyllic Scene

Ink and watercolor on 8" x 8" Daler-Rowney Langton Prestige NOT paper
I call this "An Idyllic Scene."  Is it?
What do you think?  (Feel free to enlarge the image by clicking on it.)

ARTIST'S THOUGHTS (Consider the picture.  Then and only then, read this):

I have an aversion to cliche' images, and  I was thinking about mortality and the swiftness of a life span when I drew and colored this.  So I included what I hoped would be unsettling elements:

1. There is a doll in the tree. If you look carefully, the doll's hair could also be read as a dark bird.

2. There is a discarded boy's toy as well, in the foreground. The wheel could be read as the tail of the squirrel. The squirrel is collecting a nut, an activity which is performed at the threshold of winter.

3. There is something watching the children from the tree on the right.

4. When I was done, I thought I spotted a ghost. Do you see it?  My most valuable critic thinks I am crazy on this one.  She is probably right.  So what else is new?

WHO IS RIGHT?  (Besides my wife)

So, what did you think when you studied the image?  Was there a scenario that came to mind?  Did that change when I told you what my ideas where?  Am I just nuts (like my wife says)?

I almost didn't tell you what my concept was - this was going to be a two line post.  But I think it is fun for you to know what I thought, and I'd love to know what you thought (if anything).  The picture is no longer mine when I publish it, it is yours.  So at this stage, your thoughts are more valid than mine.  Or are they?  Maybe in an idyllic world..

Monday, February 11, 2013


East Meets West, 10" x 8", 140 ' Daler-Rowney Langton Prestige NOT paper
Improv.  Hey Man, that's where it's at.


I've had many interests - music, art and writing among them.  But an aspect common to all that I have admired is improv.

Bluegrass and jazz, even classical, for example.  They have this in common.  They start with a theme, then the touch of the individual musicians are brought to bear.  The theme is squeezed and stretched and twisted and turned.

I painted this watercolor in just that way.  I perched in front of a building that, by the way, looks nothing like this, and outlined a few of its parts.  Then I began to improvise.  I drew lines that just felt right [yeah] in that they were visually pleasing to me geometrically.  And then I started to paint.  Aside from the awnings that really were pink (I think), everything else was improv.

So this painting is semi-abstract.

Take it away Allen, your stroll is different than mine, but oh so beautifully described..

[Note:  This is not read by Allen Ginsberg.  It is read by a gentleman named Tom O'Bedlam, who goes by the handle "spoken verse" on You Tube.  You can find other readings by this fellow, who probably comes from the North Midlands of England, here.]

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Sunset Place

watercolor on 8" x 10" Daler-Rowney Langton Prestige NOT paper

Years ago, four of us were playing Scrabble. My brother-in-law laid down a word. The word was "ta" (rhymes with "pa"). It was triple word, triple letter, triple this, triple that.

"That's not a word!" we objected.

"Yes it is."

"Okay, what does it mean?"

"Uppity, hoity-toity, high society - we say that's "ta".


"Are you going to challenge it?" he asked, staring us down.

We decided not to challenge. And it was not a real word. Although now we have used the term for more than twenty years. He got his points, and he deserved them.

If you want to see a good example of "ta", go to L.W. Roth's wonderful post about the Washington elite in the early 1800's here.

My last post was a "ta" post, I suppose. And I've been fairly long-winded at the artist museum chats down here as well.  So I felt personally chastised when in his Twice-Weekly Letter, Robert Genn said about artists: "[T]here's always a long-winded, self-ordained pontificator. As Lao Tzu (4th Century BCE) pointed out, "Those who know do not speak; those who speak do not know."

Is that me? I hope not.

So this will not be a "ta" post, and about the watercolor, I will only say this: This was my second attempt to paint a building called Sunset Place in South Miami. I didn't consider the first attempt to be publishable. At first I laid the most beautiful washes. Simplicity was my byword. But to me it was boring. So I began making changes, adding colors, spots and streaks, and only then did I consider that it was done. So yes, I can lay a simple wash. It's just that you will never, ever see it.

There. I'm done.

If there was too much pontificating then you now know what to say: "Ta!" (while rolling your eyes)

Monday, February 4, 2013

At First Glance #3

5" x 7" ink and watercolor on Fabriano Artistico rough paper
(Click to view a larger image)
Everywhere I go, there are people.  Who are they?  What do they do with their lives?  Where are they going?  Where have they been?

Most importantly, what is their essence?  Who is underneath what we see?

I can never have these questions answered.  I can only see people enter and leave my path of vision like props on a set.

But I can try.

This is the third in my "At First Glance" series.  I have self-imposed constraints in the series.  I use pen and watercolor on a white background - focusing entirely on the image.  Most, if not all of the images will be a frontal or near frontal view.  The figures must be derived from people I have seen in Miami.  I am using a sketchy style, reminiscent of my actual sketches in the field, but slightly more formal.  All of the drawings are very small, on a 5" x 7" sheet.  I work from photos.  I do not care as much that I obtain an exact likeness - in fact, I attempt to avoid exact likenesses, in respect for their privacy (and for legal concerns).

I attempt to capture their essence, an impossible task I know, but what the heck.  It is a "soul" painting, not a "body" painting, although the body is the device for this.  It is as much of their soul as I can capture in a glance.  I leave the rest for them.

How accurate is this?  I don't know.  But in her TED talk, "Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are", here, Amy Cuddy says that a researcher at Tufts University showed that when people watched 30 second soundless clips of physician-patient interactions, their judgment of that physician's "niceness"  predicted whether or not that physician would be sued for malpractice.  She says that another study at Princeton showed that judgments from glances of only one second of politician's faces predicted 70% of the outcome of senate and gubernatorial races in the United States.

The first two in the series are here and here.

There has been quite a time gap between #2 and #3.  Part of the reason was my search for an indelible, waterproof, lightfast pen that would work for this size, this style, and the paper.  Thank you to  Sue Pownall of Art of a Nomad.  Thanks to her recommendation, I now use the Staedtler pigment liner .05 for these pictures.  It is a wonderful pen.

I also questioned every aspect of the series, the size and lack of a background, for example.  But the size is right.  When I have fifteen or twenty of them done, there will be a crowd, at this size.  To see an individual, you would have to walk right up to one of them.  It is very much like real life.  A background would distract from the person, and I want all attention on who that person is.

I had more trouble with this figure than either of the previous two - with the face, surprisingly, consider that is what I draw all of the time.  I am hoping the next few will be more straightforward, but maybe they shouldn't be.

There.  How much more can a guy say about a small figure not even seven inches tall?  Don't get me started.


Hey everyone, art philosophy guru Katharine Cartwright's blog is back!  It is here.  Besides being a great professional artist, she always raises interesting questions in her posts.  When her blog was active before we used to have wonderful discussions in the comments section.  So if you want an exhilarating, thought-provoking experience, start checking out her posts and participate!

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Dark Ladder

"Dark Ladder" acrylic on 8" x 10" canvas

In the fading light I examine my walls, scraped bare,
Some, but not all, of their guts exposed -
A stew of colors, a few palatable, others putrid;
Glues from coverings best forgotten;
Telltale signs of holes and gaps and vulnerabilities.

Yet the scattering, the dissonance, is attractive to me.
It is perfection that is disturbing.
I think of this as I scale the ladder in the dark
And apply my first coat of
Smooth, aromatic white

* * *

PAINTER'S NOTES:  Mari of Colour Blob who, by the way, is doing beautiful work of cold - very cold - winter days, commented and asked how I got the texture in the painting, whether it was dry brush, so I thought I'd add my response here because the result was a surprise to me, and the process of painting was a bit of an adventure:

The painting began with an exact, almost photo-realist painting of the ladder. I am impressed with but not a big fan of photo-realism. It was properly done, but uninteresting, and I did not like the colors or the composition. So I stuck it in a drawer where it stayed for months. 

The other day I pulled it out, felt wild and wooly, and decided to start painting over it in a very free manner. Some was wet and some was dry. I was all over the place. I believe I was mostly wet first, and then went dry on top. Not sure. I thought I was going to ruin it frankly, and I didn't care because I didn't like the first "draft" and could always use the canvas again. Maybe that is when you do the best, I don't know. 

Then I pulled out the tool that I have truly begun to relish in my acrylics (which worked very well for me in another painting - not quite finished - that I haven't posted yet) - a rubber sculpting tool that looks to all of the world like a spatula. It could be viewed, I guess, as a soft painting knife. I love what it does. That may be some of what you see. 

Thanks Mari!

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Seeing Red

watercolor on 10" x 8" Daler-Rowney Langton Prestige NOT paper

I changed radio stations and heard what could only be described as Calypso-Mexican music.  Something came over me.  I decided that I had to paint green clouds in a red sky, and that nothing in the picture would be its true color.

As I got deeper into the painting, it seemed to me that the surroundings may have been reflecting an inner turmoil inside the house.  It felt slightly frightening.

Or maybe it wasn't that at all.

Per my favorite critic, I could have been envisioning a colony on Mars.  If so, you saw it here first.  It's something to talk about, if only anyone would listen.

Sketch from life in small moleskine

It is probably better, though, that you read a good book.  (Do you think her child will go to Mars?)

Sketch from life in small moleskine

Sunday, January 6, 2013

It's all Good, and other Illusions

It's January 6th and I'm beginning to experience the joy and possibilities of the New Year.

Ink and watercolor in small moleskine
2012 was a trying year in many ways.  Artistically, it was all good - the year that is. 

Still there were moments.   As a result of my last post in which I described a kind of art identity crisis, you all came to my rescue - my internet artist friends rallied to my aid.  It was a gathering.  It was therapy.  It was an intervention! 

If you haven't done so already, read the post for the context, so that you can read all of the wonderful comments - they are the longest, most comprehensive, well-considered comment-essays I have ever received in response to a post since the inception of this blog.

To those that commented, thank you.  I owe you more than I can say.  Now, as a result of your help, I am only slightly unbalanced.

I do not blame the Miami artists.  I think they unintentionally laid bare my own underlying dissatisfaction with the state (or stage?) of my own work.  It takes time to develop, I know.  I am under no illusions.  Or at least my illusions are few.  Or less than many.  Well, let's put it this way, I have less illusions than a kid at an American Idol try out.  And that will have to do.  So you can expect more experimentation in 2013.  And more desperate efforts to develop my skills.  (Did I say desperate?)

4" x 6" ink and watercolor on Fabriano Artistico rough paper
There were some marvelous silver linings in the dark cloud of 2012 - examples of dreams fulfilled that help define the possibilities of 2013.

At the Miami Book Fair International, the shining moment for me was seeing Anne Lamott speak.  I sketched her (above) as she shared her wit, wisdom and humor to a full auditorium.  (Anne:  I just colored the drawing yesterday.  This is the reason why your blouse is rose, rather than blue or green or whatever.)  (Dear reader:  Of course she is going to read this!)  [Editors note:  See the above paragraph about illusions.]

Anne Lamott is an author whose road was harder than many.  She is a recovered alcoholic-turned-successful author and she is an inspiration - a fun inspiration. Bird by Bird is the book by her that I have read, (why on earth have I read only one? Another new year's resolution..) and it is by far my favorite book on how to write, and I have read many.  [Editor's note:  For the definition of "many", see the above paragraph about illusions].   In that book, for example, she gives the following advice which can easily be applied to art or to any creative endeavor:

"Your day's work might turn out to have been a mess.  So what?  Vonnegut said, 'When I write, I feel like an armless legless man with a crayon in his mouth.'  So go ahead and make big scrawls and mistakes.  Use up lots of paper.  Perfectionism is a mean, frozen form of idealism, while messes are the artist's true friend.  What people somehow (inadvertently, I'm sure) forgot to mention when we were children was that we need to make messes in order to find out who we are and why we are here -- and, by extension, what we're supposed to be writing."

I am inspired.  I have a laundry list of resolutions for 2013.  When I shared the concept of a resolution with my autistic son Matthew, he thought I said "revolutions".  That's a much better name for it, don't you think?  So I now have revolutions.  If I fail, it's a circle, and I can try to succeed the next time - during the entire new year.

Ink and watercolor in small moleskine
Two more South Florida dreams fulfilled:

George Sukeji Morikami, the only remaining settler in a Japanese colony from the turn of the 20th century, dreamed of gardens that bridge the distance between his two homelands.  A successful farmer and fruit and vegetable wholesaler, he ultimately donated his land.  So now the the Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens exist in Boca Raton, Florida.   When I visited the gardens I sketched and painted the waterfalls above with a water brush on site ( I haven't done that in a long time).

And at what has got to be one of the most beautiful man-created spaces on earth, the expansive Fairchild Tropical Gardens in Miami is also the fulfillment of a dream. David Fairchild and Robert Montgomery shared a passion for plant collecting that has become an 83-acre botanical garden containing plants and trees from all over the world.  It is a joy to experience.  On December 31st, when I last visited the gardens, I sketched and painted in the rain forest section.

There you are.  Three examples of visions fulfilled.  It can happen.  It really can.  So follow your dreams in 2013..

Happy New Year!