Thursday, December 27, 2012

Surviving the Holidays

These are times full with family and friends, and getting in to work becomes harder. Since the middle of December, I have been in only half as often as usual, producing less as well.

However inspired I am, I must also be in the mood to paint - or maybe they are the same thing (?). Hmmm. I think this is a bit of a mystery. Lately I have been inspired by the concept of having the 'quality of the act of painting' be the determining factor in a good painting. Wow that's cumbersome. Okay. Reworking: Lately my inspiration has been found in the way I paint, not so much in what I am painting. But by itself, that's not been enough to sustain my work over these days of holiday obligations. I'll go in, set up, pull out photos and canvases, putter around, waste paint, then close up shop and head out with nothing good to show. Day after day. Now and then, I am able to concentrate enough to finish something I like. When I can't, I spread the unused paint on a blank canvas and leave, to try again the next day.

Anyway, Christmas gift "Naomi and Clifford":

Cannot take credit for the composition. Naomi's Mom gets that.


Saturday, December 8, 2012

You go, Green Hill!

An unexpected trip to North Carolina coming up. I have to replace the three paintings I had left there as they have all been sold! I have wanted, all my professional artist life, to hear those words: "we've sold out" and now I have. In addition, those three paintings are representative of my new style, which is great validation of the direction my painting is taking lately.

And, they have posed a question that I am having fun asking myself:
Am I an abstract painter?

I have never considered myself to be an abstract painter, although others, looking at my work, have deemed it to be abstract. In fact, what I think about my work is that I paint mostly scenery in an abstract style.

There's always some "there there" (paraphrasing Gertrude Stein) in my paintings, and I still want to maintain that property. But I don't want to give it all away to the viewer. I want the person looking at my work to see more than I've put there, I want to draw them in with their own vision.

Anyway, validation and incentive both. Thanks Green Hill Center for NC Art.

The Three Sisters

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Ahhh, back to work...

Open Studios is over. Next one will be in May of 2013.

I spent all day Monday putting the studio back into working order (storing older paintings in the loft and bringing down my canvases and works in progress so that I could get back to work.

Tuesday spent taking works to The Art League at The Torpedo Factory for jurying and then a couple of hours at work in the studio continuing the process of getting ready for work. Later, picked up paintings (Argh where to put them?) from The Frame Factory in Alexandria and then, the remainder of the day and into the evening helping to hang the show at The Torpedo Factory.

Wednesday - finally - got a good parking spot and was able to spend some time painting. Yay!

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Holidays and Open Studios...

This time of year requires so much effort that keeping up this blog is falling by the wayside (a bit).

I haven't even been able to get any painting done for the past week, other than the edges of finished work, putting on the wires and backing boards. It's always such a relief when the event is over.

That is not to say that I don't enjoy it. I do. It's such fun to talk to people and see the young kids coming through. I like to think that being exposed to working artists in this setting will open their eyes to possibilities that might not have seemed available without this exposure.

Anyway - the studio is as tidied up as it ever gets. On Monday, I'll take it all back apart and get to work.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Open Studios coming up next Sunday

With space in the studio at a premium, I have decided to discount many of my paintings in an attempt to make room for the newer work. Many of them are favorites. But with new canvases needing to be stored, I would rather they find homes with appreciative buyers than just linger in the storage racks.

If you are in town and want to cover the walls of your home with original paintings, come by The Jackson Art Center (link below) in Georgetown and up to the second floor in the turret room.

Sunday, December 2nd
12 noon to 5 p.m.

The Jackson Art Center

Studio 18B

These paintings are NOT being discounted!

Stone Wall

The Nature of Flight

Twilit Field

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Painting and the ravages of time

Just read an article about acrylic paints and their conservation. Since they are relatively new to the art world, their needs are just beginning to be understood.

But as a painter, I expect my paintings to change over time, and actually welcome it. They are a part of the changing world, and should reflect this. 

I think I wrote about time participating in a work of art previously. 

If the painting changes, if colors are altered by exposure to light and heat, if surfaces flatten or droop, that's what time will do to anything, living or not. And my purpose in painting has always been to catch a living moment. If that moment moves on in my painting, well, I am willing to consider that a total success. 

Go evolution!

Autumn Field, 30 x 30

Monday, November 19, 2012

All three cats checked out the living room...

Thank goodness the weather isn't too bad. I've been leaving the door open to the living room and putting their food bowls inside. The three cats, each separately, have come inside, eaten, and checked out part of the living room. Now that's progress! Too bad I accidentally erased the photos I'd taken, or I could show you. Oh well. Next time.

On the painting front, I am busy reinventing the wheel, once again. It sure feels as if I am learning something new about my own painting, and being able to apply that to my work. I do acknowledge that most of what I am learning has been learned by every painter in the history of painting - either on his/her own as I am doing, or through being taught rules and ways of doing things.

So, you ask, why don't I just take some classes and learn some of these rules?

Good question.

My work is very susceptible to influence by others, either by teaching and seeing. It is something I fight against constantly. Without attention, I would pick up other artists' styles and subjects and make them my own. Being influenced by others in the field is a hazard of creativity. It can be very helpful, but, in my opinion, it can also replace an individual's effort and singular vision. Balancing inspiration and autonomy is a constant effort.

Cotton Ball Clouds, 30 x 40

Roadside II, 18 x 36

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Back to work

Some quick comments about the election.

It's over!
This is a large nation, full of diversity. We see things differently.
Our strength lies now, and has always been found in, our willingness to live side by side with those who have different beliefs and ways of living.

Our media have another raison d'être.
For the most part, they are in this to make money.
Remember that, fellow citizens, when the reporting comes to anger with each other, secession talk, religious differences, and future direction of our country.

There are more things we believe in together than things that divide us. The most important: this great nation of ours whose greatest purpose is to protect us from those who would deny our individual ability to pursue our dreams. The way in which we go about preserving this quality of our nation differs, but the goal is the same for the most part.

'Come together'.

Back to art.

I've been having continuing success with my plan to pursue my painting.

The painting itself - in other words, the act of painting and the manner in which the tools are used - is the key to successful work. The subject matter can be irrelevant.

I've been painting landscapes such as fields and trees and sometimes streams, that are completely generic. And they are helping me to reach my goal of illuminating the glorious in the everyday.

Hope that is obscure enough.


Friday, November 2, 2012

Just touching base.

This has been the first week ever, I think, that I haven't been able to produce any new work.

With Sandy coming through Sunday and Monday, with the cold and a boiler in the studio building that had inspection delayed due to the storm, with a trip this upcoming weekend to prepare, I've been in the studio but working on maintenance and finishing touches rather than new work.

Even during my one week vacation on the Outer Banks (much love to you guys there, and hope the recovery is swift!) I painted new work.

So, this week and weekend and into next week I am working on a 30 day novel with the National Novel Writing Month group ( which means writing 1500 words per day (approx.). Also, trying to produce small works for The Art League at The Torpedo Factory - 6 x 8 is the size limit(!!).

Wish me luck!

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Scraping away the edges

layer on layer
nothing ever lost
a shift occurs
this or that
alive or not
fluid or static
breathe it in
sweat it out
I will grow oak trees in my time
and you will come to live

and marvel at the emptiness
at the end of all things

the air will weep upon us
and we will flow through all the edges
into infinity
between, around
and, probably,
we will meet at some edge or other
in some time

Evening Walk at the Shore

The Edge of the Woods

Evening Walk at the Water Line

Friday, October 26, 2012

Finding outlets for the stacks of paintings!

Well, as I am a prolific painter, you can imagine what my studio space looks like. Even when I determine that I must and will be more demanding of the paintings I allow to continue in their existence (and in the available storage space which is severely limited!) the floor space in which I can move around gets smaller and tighter.

Finding outlets for these paintings is a daunting exercise.

Do you know how many good artists there are around the DC area?

Huge quantities!

Although I have galleries carrying my work, all of them are outside the DC area. I would love to find more local galleries that would work for me.

Thank you Frame Factory in Vienna and Alexandria, and The Art League at The Torpedo Factory!

The Path by the Stream 36 x 48

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Still rolling, just a bit more slowly

Again, it's been some time since I wrote here. Not that I haven't been painting - and successfully, too - but life intervenes and other activities/responsibilities take precedence sometimes.

So, still working on everyday scenes in exciting styles. Turns out it's a lot harder to introduce non-realistic colors in painting than a first, exuberant, unplanned success might suggest (that pesky beginner's luck coming back into play!).

Anyway, here they are:

Good Fences 36 x 48

Pine Spring Park in the Evening 30 x 40

Thursday, October 18, 2012

On a Roll!

OK. That new style is paying off.

Simplify, simplify, that seems to be the key. The landscape doesn't have to be a special scene or even interesting in itself. Considering that every day we see sights that can inspire and exalt us, and that on our daily rounds, finding the inspiration in those everyday scenes is what I am trying to do now.

What do you think?

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Some Results

OK. The new technique (or philosophy) is giving some good results so far.
I'm working on pedestrian landscapes, sometimes the same scene multiple paintings, using exciting not-necessarily-found-in-nature colors and any utensil I find at hand.
Pretty happy with the production to date.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Reinventing the Wheel

I've probably mentioned before that I am wary of having too much knowledge about art. Rules can stifle creativity (in my opinion only, I add).

So, in keeping with this idea, I am working of my own technique and trying to be true to my very own vision.

One of the difficulties of being prolific as an artist is that it gets hard to come up with new scenes to paint that have not already been done to death - by me no less!

So. Here's the problem:

How to paint every day (as I do) and produce fresh paintings that meet my own exacting standards of quality, without having to find new and exciting scenes daily or weekly that will inspire me to this level of creativity?

Now, one of the curious things I have noticed is that many of the photos I take and download every day turn out to have little if anything to recommend them to me once I see them on the screen. So why did I bother taking that shot? Something there interested me - something caught my attention.

So this observation leads to my newest pursuit.

I am going to try painting the most ordinary of scenes - such as my backyard or the walk to the park, or the drive to the studio - in interesting ways and colors. I will try to use the years in which I have been learning technique to communicate the beauty and interest in the most everyday landscapes.

All right. And we're off...

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Truths and passions...

Second half: truths.


During political season, that seems to get lost in the media coverage (which is horrendous, by the way, but a different subject altogether).

It is, however, true.

Today, those wild cats are almost as wary of me as they have been since the beginning of this saga. But they are right to be wary, aren't they? The little ones are prey for other cats, for crows, for owls, for hawks, for death from the sky, for death from raccoons and perhaps foxes and certainly coyotes.

But most of all, these creatures are all prey to humans.

In a huge, complex world of food chains and natural selection, where life is tightly linked to predation, these little size predators are far from being safe. I watch the mother cat (herself in danger from a slew of predators larger and more vicious than she) teach her kittens to hunt for themselves. She does this by play. But once they are more adept and get the taste of blood in their mouths, they will be on the way to being able to care for themselves, and my chance at them may be lost.

Truth is often unpalatable.

These cats, and my campaign to tame them, have cost me my beloved mornings on the patio, feeding and watching the squirrels and cardinals, the bluejays and crows, coming to drink, to pick up peanuts. Now, I have to ignore them, and hope the wild cats are not around.

This world is not a soft, fluffy  place, where our actions have no consequences, or those consequences have little negative impact on the world. We are all a part of a vast construct that interacts in every cell.

We humans are inexorably changing the world.

The truth is we are doing this for the most stupid of reasons: just because.

Even as children we knew the stupidity of that excuse. Now that we are grown (and we are grown because we are capable of being destructive on a global scale) what excuse do we use? Cheap energy. Freedom of the individual to do whatever he or she wishes. Refusal to count costs and consequences. Chosen ignorance.

Worst of all: fear of acknowledging responsibility.

Truth has value.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Passions and truths

Does the object of passion determine the quality of the passion?

Does a passionate appreciation of a moment in time:

The other morning I was sitting on my patio having coffee when, with the quality of a distant rainstorm sweeping in, a huge flock of grackles flooded into, around and through my yard. I heard them coming for long seconds before they arrived, like a tide coming in, first a few, then more, than the full on-rushing of the flock. Then, bit by bit, they moved on, and I heard the tide moving out, away, and finally gone.

have the same value as a passion for getting a painting right?

When the light floods across the canvas and the shadows are dark and dense, and the colors cry out to the eye, when the painting breaks on me like the feeling that swept into me with those grackles, that's when the painting is right.

Not all paintings can move me that way, but each painting I complete must have some of that feeling to it, or it will not survive the next few days or months. Sometimes, even paintings that have satisfied for years will finally succumb to change and be reworked into something new.

So, this is 'passions'. Next time: 'truths'.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Once again, a reminder...

Yesterday, talking to my artist friend Kate, I was downcast about (once again) being rejected from The Art League show at the Torpedo Factory.

Strangely enough - and this seems somehow the reverse of what it should be - I am never too upset about being rejected when the show is really good. And this one is. This October show, focusing on color, is very, very good. Only a very few pieces in it that I would not have chosen myself.

However! There were very few large paintings (meaning oil and acrylic). And of the works chosen, not a one demonstrated an extravagance of gesture, a certain wildness of expression. Even the abstracts were polished, refined. Very good, but very controlled and finished looking.

Well, if you've followed any of my work, you know not one of those adjectives could be applied to my paintings. My work is spontaneous, unplanned, wild and as crazy as I can make it (okay, I admit that's not so very crazy, but I do what I can!).

So, talking to Kate, whose work is well-planned and usually very precisely painted, we noted that our respective styles of painting reflected our respective personalities.

This doesn't mean that we don't appreciate other styles, just that they do not speak for us.

And that links back to my insistence that a painter or artist must like her work. That is the measure that must count the most!

Herewith, 'River' and 'Riverbank':

Monday, October 1, 2012

Working on a philosophy for painting

Start with what I like:

1) I like to have some level of representation in my paintings. Something recognizable.
2) It's always about the light for me - light and color.
3) I like to be surprised by the painting.
4) I want my paintings to be powerful. I am not much interested in pretty or soft, although many of my ocean view paintings are serene. Serene is not to be confused with soft, but may contain gentle.

What I don't like:

1) Rigidity of structure.
2) Life that is static.
3) Muted, dirty colors - unless they act as contrast to something else.
4) Paintings that fade into the background. My paintings have to stand alone. Let the background adjust to them!

Well, this is something to start with, I hope.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Adding Time to the Palette

When I went to see the "Color as Field" exhibit in the Museum of American Art, I was just blown away by the huge canvases and the color everywhere. All abstract, which is a hard sell for me. But this show was special. Unfortunately, I was only able to see it once. By the time I was able to go back, it had already been packed up and shipped to its next stop.

But it left a lasting impression.

One of the paintings (and this feels awfully familiar, as if I've already written about this, so just skip ahead if you remember it) was by Helen Frankenthaler, on unprimed canvas. This painting was done in oils. And the oil in the paint had spread out into the unprimed canvas. The color was localized, and the oil darkened the natural canvas color without taking any of the pigment with it.

Another thought: much impasto painting can crack, especially if painted in oil. So the painting gets a spiderweb of small cracks through the paint. Other things: the colors can fade depending on the light in which they are hung. Maybe even some pigments change slightly over time. Canvas gets old. It discolors a bit. Air in contact with paint and paper and canvas will cause changes.

In addition, using mixed media throws some uncertainty into the pot. I like to use oil sticks - haven't found anything that works like that for acrylics. But water will not stick to oil, so with time, those two elements should react in such a way as to cause changes.

So, rather than fighting against the changes wrought by time, I say let's celebrate them. Welcome time into the palette and use it. Incorporate paper that will discolor. Use materials that will disintegrate or even tear. Put water over oil!

I like the concept.

Below, mixed media from today:

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Endless Repetition!

I am sure I repeat myself - both in ideas and words - in this blog.

But that's because I repeat thoughts and ideas daily. Perhaps it's a necessary element of memory.

If anyone saw the moment "Memento" (I think that's the title!) about a man who could not retain new memories, maybe the endless repetition of thinking and debating with oneself and others has a purpose: to reinforce the idea or thought as long as it remains valid.

Hopefully, the repetition also serves to keep the thought or idea up to date, incorporating everything new that comes along.

So, once again, I find myself struggling to complete anything I like. I suppose the up side of this type of painter's block is that I don't have to figure out how to store all the paintings I would be producing if I weren't suffering! How ludicrous to always search for a bright side.

I think I will, soon, have to sit down and try to put some plan into words. I would like to have a philosophy of painting - something I am trying to accomplish with my painting, that I could return to when the inspiration fails to spark.

Anyway, one over the past week.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

The end of innocence...

That stray cat I've been mentioning?

She's been coming around earlier and earlier in the morning, lately as early as 7:30 am.
This morning the same.
So I've been filling her food bowl and putting it out early, despite the fact that I also (gee, any connection?) have been throwing peanuts out for the birds and squirrels at 7:00 am for years (and I do mean years!).

This morning, there she was, 7:30.
I put her food out and sat outside talking to her.
She was shy this morning, crouching beneath a bush in the rock garden despite my best efforts to entice her to eat.

Finally, I started reading the paper, forgetting to keep an eye on her.
Unfortunately, so did the birds and squirrels.

She's fast when she wants to be. One of my squirrel pals is now cat meat thanks to me.

So here's the new, revised plan.

NO peanuts in the morning.
Cat food put out when she arrives, and I will sit outside with her, actively discouraging any venturesome squirrels and birds.
Once she has, hopefully, eaten and taken off for the day, then I may put peanuts out, but perhaps not.
She's fooled me once.
I don't want to be a fool again.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Why do I paint? (What, again?)

Wow, do I envy people who know what they are trying to accomplish and can put it into words. Putting something into words allows planning, organizing, projecting into the future.

I am most definitely not in that position!
Never have been.

When I went to college, I had no idea what I wanted to study, and I began school at the worst possible time for someone like me - at the time when colleges were experimenting with eliminating requirements and allowing students the freedom to organize their own studies.

I, and probably quite a few other not-yet-mature young people, used that freedom to pursue varied interests, including social lives (not-so-challenging courses leaving plenty of time for extra-curricular activities).

But also, having wide-ranging interests meant following a lot of avenues that turned out to be dead ends for me. So that old saying of 'knowing a little about a lot of things' could certainly be applied to my college career.

Maturity brings at least a small amount of wisdom. So, art! And specifically, painting.

But here I am, after years of painting and learning how to paint and how to achieve the results I want with my materials. And I find myself back at the beginning asking myself "All right, so what actually do I want to paint, now that I know how to?"

The way I know a painting is finished and successful is that it works for me. It feels done. That feeling may last or may not. So my definition of a finished painting is "I like it."

That doesn't really give me much to begin a painting with.

So I am no closer to having an answer to that question than I was when I began painting so many years ago.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Some thoughts about painting

A conversation with Jackie E the other day when we were visiting the National Gallery East Wing.

Downstairs they have a permanent collection modern art show with lots of oversized canvases - some Rothko, a Frankenthaler, a Pollock, some other greats including Alice Neel's chair and Matisse's paper cutouts. Also on the concourse level, they have the fabulous Motherwell "Reconciliation Elegy". Wow!

Some of these great painters would lay their canvas out on the ground and walk over it or around it to produce their work. Some of them worked on raw canvas, unprimed. Some of the canvas is discolored, some of the paint is cracked.

Leading to a thought: is time one of the tools a painter can - or should - use as part of her palette?

With everything subject to change wrought by time, should a painter encourage those changes, and welcome them when they affect the work?

My first thought: Why not? The attempt to fix anything forever, without the possibility of change, is a recipe for lack of life, isn't it? (Not death, since all death results in decay and glorious change!)

What can a painter do to work with the inevitable changes brought by time?

This painting is a fun and successful experiment. I made a purposeful attempt to reproduce a previous painting, but on a different shaped canvas. Original below. I do think it says something about technical expertise when the artist can reproduce something previously produced, at will. (That's a self-generated pat on the back.)

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The Ongoing Seduction of the Stray Mama Cat

So, after the loss of her little tortoiseshell kitten, the Mama Cat has moved her other surviving baby(ies) somewhere pretty far away. We haven't seen them since.

The Mama, however, is coming regularly, once a day, to be fed in the back yard. And I'm using the Saint Exupéry method of taming her. Each day I put the food a bit closer to me. Also, I'm tempting her with nice, high-dollar wet food and have just discovered a flavor she really loves. She ate the first offering, then backed away while I put some more out, and did the same a third time. Stayed and ate the entire can full!

Reports will continue on this long-term project. We are hoping to be able to get her, and her babies, inside before winter comes.

Here is Jane's Bucky in a Field of Daisies:

Monday, September 17, 2012

About subject matter

The original idea was to write about painting and everything that goes into it. Well, it turns out that I don't actually think there is any difference between the work and the worker. Everything that goes into my life, ends up influencing or inspiring my painting. This is a case of "what you do is what you are".

So I'm thinking today about hindsight.

Two nights ago, I heard a small creature being killed outside. I don't live in the great wild. I live in suburbia, rapidly turning into urbia.

The next morning we found a small, perhaps eight week old kitten, dead in the back yard. This sweetie was one of the family of feral cats we've begun to seduce into living with us. A mother and at least two kittens - still not sure. But now one less.

The noises I heard sounded like a bird being killed in the night. It is hard, in the dark with a casement window partially opened, to pinpoint location. It was very late and the sound woke me. I did not get up. It didn't last very long, perhaps 30 seconds.

Now, I am struggling with regret. If I had known... If I had risen...

But that's hindsight.
As foolish as trying to say that the Administration should have known there would be an attack on the Benghazi Consulate from the evidence of an attempted assault somewhere in the middle east in July.

I am mature enough to realize this.
Too bad our mainstream media haven't made that evolutionary step.

What might have been.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

"...A question of individuality..."

"... so far as I am concerned, poetry and every other art was and is and forever will be strictly and distinctly a question of individuality ... poetry is being, not doing."*

Back to the questions that I and other artists are always asking - How can you know if a painting is done? and, How do you know if a painting is good?

The quote above by e. e. cummings speaks nicely to this point. You, the artist, must know and judge the completion and the quality of your work. If you are fortunate, you will find an audience for that work that will appreciate it. Just as, when discussing any particular subject, you will find those with whom you agree and those who disagree with you, in art, your vision will speak to those who can hear/see it.

But most of all, you must be honest with yourself when you are working. Because what you do is who you are.

*From six nonlectures by E. E. Cummings (from a selection of poems, A Harvest Book, copyright 1926 by Horace Liveright)

Uneasy Truce

White Fences

Wednesday, September 5, 2012


"Blessed are the weird people -- poets, misfits, writers, mystics, painters and troubadours -- for they teach us to see the world through different eyes." Jacob Nordby (from a Facebook post).

What a wonderful way to define what a painter is trying to do. Communication on an entirely different level. Persuasion through vision. I'm reminded that trying to put some things in words runs the risk of descending into triteness and cliché.

How's that for a thought, Phil?