Thursday, January 31, 2013

it has to be easier than i am making it, to search through 1000s of photos to find one of an artwork, but at least one did appear and here it is, a testament to my determination to slog through my maddeningly inept abilities. 
and then there is the artwork itself. i have no idea what or where it is or even if i have painted over it since it took the photo, but i sort of like it..whatever it is, and that is good enough for today.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Sweeping Up

Well, it's swept out. A little musty. I forget how much I like to be out there. Even when it's cold.

Right now my hand feels a little shaky and my mind a little muddled, but my heart is full of hope.

Sunday, January 27, 2013


I've been thinking about space and scaffolding and what remains and what falls through. I used to paint on wood panels with acrylic and layers of charcoal and chalk. Tonight I took a pencil to this scrap of linen book cloth I found in my studio. I extended the line onto cardboard. The cloth is like screen, it is unravelling and I can see through it, but not clearly. Sort of like an early morning.

My sweetie gave me a book he'd found in a used bookstore. The Chatauqua Yearbook is from 1897 and smells like old sweaters and basements and boxes opened after a long time. The pages are hand sewn and the paper edges unfinished and brown. I found it in a pile along with some old paintings of mine.

The book has words of advice for every day of the year.

Desperate. What a word. It's felt a little desperate the past few years. Death in the immediate family. Tumor surgery. Watching small children grieve. Forgetting to paint. "Every day is a little life..." the book says. So I'll take book making materials and draw on them and invoke contentment, even if for just a little minute in this big life.

Downstairs I hear my daughter playing piano and singing. My son is asking me to come read to him. The pencil on the linen is a signature of some kind. Or new etymology of a map to somewhere new.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Bird & Miles

Charlie Parker said to a young Miles Davis: "Don't be afraid, just play".

Thursday, January 24, 2013

what i know for sure

funny, there is not much that i know for sure, but right now, here and now, i am sure that making art, looking at art, talking about art is so much a part of who i am that to function without it would leave an indelible void in my life. and that for a long stretch now there has been a long slipping that i am trying to come out of and that reconnecting with OPST is like air to me.
I have been busy working since last Thursday at Low Brow Lounge. Feeling a shift of newness and a very real sense of relief and gratitude that you are all still out there.  i don't know how to put it more simply. it was so good to see you!
dave said something in his musings that really set me off and i don't know now what it was exactly but something about being 90% done with a painting and what happens then. i have been so hesitant for so long and took what for me was a huge step of just really looking at some pieces that i could say were done but that just were boring for lack of a better way of putting it and i kept looking at them and thinking, well, you know how to paint, what do you think these need and just go ahead and do it.
two slightly overworked, already, pieces, got another swipe, and at least now i can say that they are done, maybe not the best work i have ever done, maybe i don't even like them. i am not sure why that was a leap for me. we all have that moment of going back to a work and maybe just a small adjustment or sometimes a major change but not always the come on, you know what is wrong, just get over yourself and fix it. it doesn't always have to be inspired, sometimes we have to use the tools we have worked so hard to get, and have to use to keep.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Through the Fog

I am enjoying the visual shroud that lies across the city most mornings these days. Bits of images appear, the light breaks through and then closes up. The images come in and out. Driving over the bridges in the morning, sometimes I cannot see the other side of the river.

This is how it is feels in the studio right now, I am looking through the fog, hoping there is an image somewhere.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Sunday, January 6, 2013

just working

Yesterday was a little odd.  Prior to that I had not painted in three or four weeks, maybe longer, what with the holidays.  I don’t like spending that much time away from the activity of painting, but I’m also not one of these artists who claim they “would just die” if they didn’t paint every day.  I love to paint more than anything else, but I also spend as much time looking at and thinking about painting as I do doing it.  Or building stretchers and frames.  The actual painting time is just one fraction of my “art making” time allotment and I’m ok with that. 

But this break felt long, and I both missed it and felt a stranger to it.  Returning to the studio yesterday with time and inclination to paint felt like seeing a summer friend for the first time after a school year apart.  I felt awkward and unfamiliar, and unsure of where to start.  In my own studio I was a sailor back from sea, almost unable to walk steadily on solid ground.

I started by avoiding it altogether, the studio, as any good procrastinator would do.  I went upstairs (to the house) and did laundry.  I cleaned the toilets and vacuumed.  I put away the Christmas boxes.  I did anything that I could find to distract myself.  When I finally walked down to the studio, I spent the next hour cleaning it.  Half done or completely done paintings were stacked all around the painting side (my studio being made up mainly of two rooms, one dedicated to storage and one to painting).  Chop saw and sawdust and wood scraps, extension cord and note pads all covered the floor.  And of course the toilet needed cleaning (that being a third room of the studio).

(it's important to note that the above photo is probably five years old, and while it IS actually my studio, it does not represent my current studio layout as described herein nor my current output in regard to style or lack thereof.  it is merely included to show the general disarray that occurs as paintings begin to stack up and therefore provide a visual connection and a break from the writing...)

After the studio chores were done and my land legs were feeling stronger and more adapted, I began to contemplate what to paint.  Actually the contemplation began earlier, during the chores.  As I went about moving the leaning paintings to a more proper location, I surveyed several of the half-done ones and decided that they were really more like 90% done.  Four of five paintings, in fact, I liked quite a bit save for small areas which needed attention – weak marks mostly, or marks which weren’t consistent with the rest of the painting; marks my friend Emery might say about “I don’t believe that mark”.  I decided I would work on these paintings. 

I feel it’s important to note that I don’t typically work this way – I don’t typically get a painting 90% done, and then some time later go in and nail the last 10%.  My typical way of painting is all-over, and all-at-once.  I mark up the whole canvas, and usually pretty quickly, and then, while the paint is still wet (I use acrylics which dry fast), I work over the bits that need refining until I’m either happy with it or unhappy but exhausted and spent, the painting to be returned to for an all-over makeover sometime later.  So it’s unfamiliar territory for me to work on a painting that I mostly like, and am mostly weary about destroying, in the hopes of “correcting” a small portion that is not working.

Today is different though.  I feel different and everything is different.  I’m even listening to podcasts of This American Life instead of music.  I never listen to anything but music in the studio.  So why not paint differently?  These paintings are good, but not great.  In their present state I will never exhibit them.  These are the things I have to tell myself to conquer the fear of ruining them in my attempt at improving those small areas of weakness.  I put two on my easel and begin to study them and consider what they need.  My easel consists of two eight-foot long 2x4’s leaned at a slight angle and flat to the wall, touching at the top and maybe ten inches out at the floor, placed about seven feet apart.  There are four pegs, ¾ inch in diameter, protruding about three inches from each of these “columns”, spaced about a foot apart from shin-high to sternum.  Spanning from one column to the other, acting as a shelf on which to set paintings, is another 2x4 laid flat, with a wooden lip at its back like a shallow trough with one side open; viewed from the end it is a sideways L.  Paintings rest on this shelf, which is anywhere from eight to four inches away from the wall depending on which peg it rests, and then lean back to the wall.  The whole easel is a wide H leaned up against the wall.  This set-up allows me to hold very large paintings by moving the “shelf” down to the lowest peg, and smaller paintings, sometimes two abreast, with the shelf on the higher pegs.  It is on one of the higher pegs now, holding two of these nearly-complete paintings.

I sit across the room, my back to the east-facing window, and look at the paintings and listen to the podcast.  I walk around them and up to them, sometimes using my hands to either gesture a swath of paint that might be applied to an area, or to cover an area and consider it empty and visualize what it might need.  Eventually I pull out my buckets of paint and place them on my table, and fill another container with water to prepare for storing brushes while in use, to keep them moist.

(another old photo, included for similar effect.  the light is coming from the east window and that's me, contemplating.  get it?  the wall my shadow is cast upon now holds the herein mentioned home-made easel.  here you see a painting pinned to that wall, which I also do occasionally, but once they are stretched, they set upon the easel I describe.) 

I changed my studio practice about a year and a half ago, after seeing photos of how De Kooning worked and looking for a way to preserve the moisture of my acrylic paints in between sessions.  I now fill one-gallon plastic buckets with acrylic paint, watered down to a consistency slightly thicker than house paint, and keep them lidded between sessions.  This has allowed not only less waste of leftover, dried out paint, but also keeps me in an always-ready state, able to begin a painting with only a few minutes of set up involved.  It also had a dramatic effect on the marks (more drippy) and texture (more soupy) of my paintings.  These were unanticipated, however obvious the result may be.  One other thing it brought to my work was a greater consistency in the palette, since my buckets consist of essentially two each of reds, greens, blues, and yellows, along with black and white.

So now I’m face to face with these two paintings, my table at my side set with open buckets of paint, several different sized brushes, and a bucket of clean water.  I’m standing in front of them making mime-like gestures with my hands over their surfaces.  The best of the lot, the painting on the right on the shelf, is really pleasing to me all over except for the lower left corner where I struggled at the end of my last painting session.  There is a spray-painted yellow line about fourteen inches long meandering across it, and completely out of place.  I decide it needs a fat mark and I decide that a medium blue would look good there.  I dip a two inch wide house-painting brush into a dark/medium blue, and then dip the wet brush into a lighter blue and, considering the painting one more time and imagining the motion my arm is about to make, I streak the paint onto the canvas.  It looks great, I think.  It’s a big soupy textured mark and it’s starting to drip, but I don’t want it to change so I take the painting off the easel and lay it flat on the floor.  I look at it for a minute to see how the soup reacts to its new horizontal environment.  It’s pretty stable and I like it, and hope it doesn’t change shape much.

Done.  First mark is made and whew, I don’t think I ruined the painting.  In fact I may have actually finished it and with just one swift movement.  The next three paintings I work on do not enjoy the same success, but still, I am painting again and that feels good.

In retrospect I felt like my session was more as a graphic designer than a painter.  The paintings were less about nature and more about … well … more about just the marks – the colors, sizes, and shapes of them.  When that realization first struck me I was discouraged.  You see I pride myself in being all about spontaneity (which this process was the antithesis of) and all about nature.  So I felt like a bit of an imposter in my studio to have worked in that way.  After further consideration however, I realized that what occurred yesterday was actually a microscopic view of one part of the painting process that I do employ, and feel is equally important as the spontaneous, nature-based part.  It’s the “slow” part of the mantra that I try to follow which is to work in a “fast-slow-stop” sequence.  

I have said before that my paintings, while influenced by nature, should, at the end of the day, exist on their own as independent objects.  They should succeed as paintings first and foremost, and in this vein what I did yesterday was simply to take these nature-based paintings and (try to) make them succeed as paintings.  John Cage, in his list of rules to follow in the creation of art, suggested that the creation and analysis should occur at separate times.  Create, then analyze.  Then create and analyze again.  This is essentially what I did, and while the paintings (except for one) are not necessarily successful from the process, the experiment was itself successful.  Chris Ofili is right: the studio is a laboratory not a factory.