Saturday, August 31, 2013

spindles and spokes

These are two paintings I did in the spring of 2002, acrylic on canvas, 8"x12". Every time I see the paintings- they're at my brother's house, so I see them periodically, and I'm here this weekend- I remember what I was thinking about. The chairs and table were in my city apartment kitchen. The wheels and cart piled with ladders was upstate, by the road outside a building; I pulled over and photographed it. I didn't fully know why I was starting to like painting this kind of stuff, but I knew it had something to do with the wooden wheel spokes, the spindles of the chair backs, and the ladder rungs all echoing each other. Eleven years seems like a long time ago to me, but I still like these pieces a lot; I recall the awkwardness of finding my way to the final colors and the partial simplifying of forms and lines. It was a couple months before my graduation, too late to understand or explain why it mattered more to me than whatever I was doing for my illustration portfolio. Actually, I still can't understand or explain what I mean. That year, and the year after, were like that. Then I wasn't painting much at all for a while. And then somehow I found my way back.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

control option shift

I've got 4 or 5 unfinished paintings around here. Had to put them aside for a couple weeks, some new jobs came up this week, and then, of course, there were a few projects that I have actually had for a long time and kept not getting to. And there've been some wood-stackings.

A few more certainly redundant notes from the cabin in early Aug:

..The only way for me to learn how to use oil paint is to just use it my own way and figure out how I can work with it. Oil paint moves. There is nothing for it but to force myself to walk away, wait until layers dry, go in again. This is its magic and its misery. It stays wet, and it stays wet. I must put it aside, I think about it, I start something else, I try not to mind too terribly that it seems so far from what I thought I envisioned myself painting. How to make the art god laugh? Tell him your painting plan. And if I think I know from the start exactly how a painting is going to turn out, then maybe I'm not pushing myself, and I need at least some resistance so I have something to push against.

..It's not that I think I'll get to really 'know' something definitively if I paint it, but if I don't try I'll never know either way. I'll think I'm familiar with something, that drawing it won't teach me anything new, but then it does. If only to assure me how little I know.

..A week of using an outhouse with a composting toilet reminds me how much water we waste. Being just one person, it's easy to feel streamlined and superior, getting by in the kitchen with a few jugs of water. Thinking of faucets gushing water, toilets endlessly filling and refilling, showers flowing. I love showers, I do, and I like cooking & baking, which means I have lots of dishes to wash sometimes, and so on. But this week I bathed in the cold clear pool at the base of a waterfall and I felt so clean. I ate simply and efficiently and produced only a small bag of trash.

..On a similar note, however, I'm not sure I could so easily go for a week without electricity, and I remembered to appreciate it here. That and a gas stove to easily heat water or food.

..There are a million different kinds of plants and shapes of leaves out there, that pass before my sight a thousand leaves a second, and it takes me all day to draw a half-dozen. Each painstaking pencil line, each jagged or smooth contour drawn and redrawn, it's almost a joke that I should even attempt it. But ever since I began to draw, I've been drawing plants and flowers for the exercise of training my eye to see and then convey it to my pencil-wielding hand. Drawing the human form helps with that too. But plants are always around. Being here, they are really around. I thought, where better a place to just put other objects aside and draw the leaves if I want to.

..I like to see the tiny darting orange salamanders.

Monday, August 26, 2013


I spent last week with my family at a house on Keuka Lake, one of the Finger Lakes. I tried to take photos of the moon each night, though none came close to the actual beauty of it, whether it was rising pinkly and huge behind the trees as we watched from our canoe, or yellow and partially obscured by clouds, or high and full, piercingly bright. Every now and then I try to paint the moon, either from looking or remembering, in the same way that every now and then I paint leaves, though with the moon I'm usually trying to grasp a specific moon-memory. 
Another near-nightly activity was toasting marshmallows over the fire, and I overheard my nephew mention making haikus about s'mores. He wandered away, but after I had eaten well beyond my fill, I stared into the sky and ended up scribbling down some haiku while my brother and sisters talked. "It's 5-7-5 syllables, right?" I asked no one. I read later that they don't necessarily have to be, but it was a useful limit to have. Here are six, each meant as a separate little image, but they go together. 

The moon a faint pale
marshmallow soft blur of light
in a cloudy sky
Impale a soft white
marshmallow upon a stick
held above the flames
Aiming for golden
toasty brown soft sweet
a rogue flame leaps and scorches
The blistered pillow
slid warm between two crackers
chocolate wedged in
Hands and mouth sticky
my dark hair smells like woodsmoke
the bag is empty
The night moon's lake-twin
white smudge melts into black
dark water like smoke

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

leaf series

Some of the recent 14"x17" leaf drawings (pencil), in these poorly-lit photos. Here's a similar post from 2 years ago. I intend vague accuracy, not exactitude, in rendering the leaves and shapes. Something, I guess, between a textbook's botanical precision and Ellsworth Kelly's plant drawings.

Monday, August 19, 2013

filling in

Here are several more photos from my residency week. I hadn't been able to get online for a few days-- I'm away again this week, with my family on Keuka Lake, also upstate and west (Finger Lakes)-- but time-sensitivity is not really an issue here, though it was for other tasks (such as renewing my domain name for my website before it expires in 43 minutes). 

Plattekill Falls, just beyond the cabin.

Little red cabin, with the falls just past those trees. My easel by the bench.

Tree-lovers spotted on a hike.

This 8"x10" oil painting started with a surface color and then drawing the leaf outlines freehand with a thin brush.

The table inside where I worked at night, or when the wind blew and the rain fell.

The finished piece (not the best photo), each leaf neatly painted. Background is more of a citron pale green. This was a different method from another one I began with a looser messier approach. My process photos rarely seem to convey what it actually feels like to me to paint, but I snap a pic every now and then when I remember.

Thursday, August 15, 2013


I am so grateful to the Catskill Center for Conservation and Development for granting me this residency I did last week, at their cabin in Platte Clove. Only a little over an hour north of Beacon, but I felt so much farther away, in the wilderness on top of a mountain, the steady rush of Plattekill Falls beyond.
From my writing last Tuesday: I find that I am doing a lot of standing around and looking. I stand in the doorway and stare out at the trees, at the edge of the little lawn where it drops off into the surrounding woods, at the sunlight filtering through branches. I stand in the grass, staring at a thousand shades of green and shapes of leaves, and listen to the waterfall down below and the sound of the occasional car going past on the road. Inside the cabin, I stare at the 7 pencil drawings I did, simple line studies of plants, each one isolated from the tangle of foliage around it. I have simultaneous feelings of having plenty of time, and not having nearly enough. Even with what feels like extra hours in the day that aren't being consumed by internet, phone, or talking to people.
Yesterday afternoon I went for what turned out to be another inadvertently long hike, at least for me. Where I live, I'm surrounded by hiking trails, but I rarely go and I don't know why. Maybe that will change when I return home. This isn't exactly meant to be a hiking residency, but I feel like I need it. My disintegrating hiking shoes are barely up to the task, and I forgot to apply bug spray, and a short squiggle of a trail on the map took me three hours, but I felt so triumphant upon my return. Mosquitoes droned incessantly around my ears and face as I swatted and sweated and climbed uphill towards Huckleberry Point, motivated by the promise of a spectacular view. At the top I picked a handful of tiny blueberries- no huckleberries, but they might be out of season, or I forget what they look like. The panorama staggered me, I felt like I'd never been so high up in the mountains in New York State before.
Surveying the mountaintops, the Hudson far beyond, I felt exhilarated, small and humbled. I used my camera's self-timer again to take some photos of my tired and beaming self. On the way back down I cautiously ran part of the way, and I'm no runner. I can feel it today, maybe the unevenness of the rocks under my feet, but I'm satisfied. I've been reading about this area- the history and terrain of Platte Clove and the Catskills in general- and it doesn't seem so urgent to stay put, even to paint (and I'm sure that's part of the idea), while in the vicinity of such beauty.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

cabin on the green

No photos, ah, I haven't uploaded them yet. I've already been back from my one-week Catskills residency for a few days and I'd thought I'd post the moment I returned, but then, I suppose I felt no need to hurry. I'd gotten to Beacon on Sat just in time to go out and roam Main Street- there were a lot of art openings, many of my friends were showing work or wandering around, so I went from being solitary to sociable rather quickly, which was fun. The wet oil paintings I brought home are dry now, so I want to mess with them again as soon as I can. All the tasks and jobs I set aside for a week are all, well, still here and I got right into it again. No, actually I took another day of leisure, going to see more art at the Wassaic Project, swimming in a lake (eating leftovers still in the cooler in the back of the car, pulling rumpled clothes from the suitcase), dinner out. But now, really, I'm back to the lists and the moving things around, that's what I do. In the next few days I want to post some of the notes I wrote at the Platte Clove cabin, and photos- heavy on the green- and will photograph the work I started there, some paintings and drawings.

Last Sunday: "By the time I'd arrived at the cabin it was mid-afternoon, sunny and cool. I'd missed my exit on the thruway due to daydreaming and had to double back. I enjoyed how my new leaf-green car motored up the winding mountain road like the three of us were made for each other.
I brought everything inside, grabbed a trail map, and set out on what became a three-hour hike. I hadn't fully planned on such a hike, but it felt so good to be completely alone walking beneath the dense tree cover-- I think I needed it to help me settle into my surroundings up here. The trail had a gradual and meandering ascent, so it was easy to keep going and going, across the Plattekill Creek and up along the rocky footpath, until I realized that I would eventually have to turn around and head back. I persisted a bit longer till I finally emerged to a commanding view at Codfish Point, by an old bluestone quarry. Now I'm back inside, it's dark out and I'm feeling just a little bit isolated, listening to the rushing sound of the waterfalls and maybe the wind in the trees. I don't think I can start anything new tonight but I have impressions of layered green leaves and damp earth, I have a stack of books to read, and I know I'll awaken early."
I did awaken fairly early each day, but then I kept staying up late reading. I had so many dreams, like fifty a night, maybe it's always that many, I usually don't remember. It seemed like there's a lot of action in my subconscious, a lot of story lines, even if the specifics still escape me.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

art totems

I rode my bike down to the river at sunset last night to get a peek at the art totems. I know I already posted a few photos of the panels Jon and I made, but they all looked so nice installed in the park. Ours is the one with fishies on one side, faces (and patterns) on the 2nd, and foliage (leaves) on the 3rd. I'm glad I went to see them because I didn't even make it to the festival today, I had one wood-stacking job and then was trying to prepare for the week ahead, in the cabin. For some reason, planning a week's worth of food and art supplies ahead of time kind of overwhelmed me. But that's why I need the practice.
Also, I got a new car yesterday. That is a blog topic in itself, but suffice it to say that I am very happy with my new wheels, and may have to make a painting of it, even though it's not an oldie.