Tad Spurgeon oil paintings


about me
the work
the book

sound practice
black & white
putty medium
just oil
putty tutorial



A Sunday look at process and work in progress.

june 16

      Waxing moon, almost full, full moon very early Monday morning. I've been reading the Steve Forrest book about the moon, he's one of the few astrologers who is relatively deep without getting pedantic, has a very nice style that says a lot in a simple approachable way. Although he's getting older and there are a few times when he's sort of over-confident about this as a rhetorical fail-safe: understandable given how successful this approach has been at selling books, but also -- note to self -- a good example of how it's a fine line between style with a winning personality and one that meanders into self-indulgence. Another mix of both sun and rain this week, still cooler overall, some very nice days for working. Had planned to soldier on with layers on realism, but the process had other ideas starting on Monday morning. An absolute reaction, it may be polite with me for a while, but is not even remotely interested in being gently steered towards my logical sense of completion or a destination. A lot of new happened again in the days following, one day where I knew what to do, or at least had the patience to see it through; the rest of the week featured several varieties of holding on. All in all, an interesting but pretty jumpy period. Lots of questions now about what comes next, a little overwhelming right now, today might be a good day to leave them alone. I keep looking for a specific direction or destination with this. I can't help it, but it also seems increasingly silly: I learn most by just letting the process be itself. The realistic work is certainly personal, but sometimes things need to get more personal, even, totally personal. It also seems like doing alla prima work in different colours, often with lots of paint, is a good way to offer the realistic work a rest on the one hand, and some new possibilities on the other. A commentary in a dream from last night: an old friend was looking at a series of large florals in very impressive frames that I'd made. They were similar to, but more ornate or Old Master, than paintings I have actually made, kind of like that Mancini at the Gardner, a specific approach that passes as unquestionable excellence in certain quarters. This old friend is a painter with a relatively traditional background and approach, kind of Boston school at heart, and they were absolutely gushing about the work, totally impressed. But they seemed to like the ones best that I liked least, and, overall, all this elaborate praise left me feeling very uneasy.


      Made several different mediums this week, variations on the fused damar putty with egg yolk and starch theme, running the gamut from glossy to matte depending on the type of oil involved. It was fun and I'm getting more of an understanding of what wants to happen with this bright but saturated type of paint.


      Ended up making five small colourscapes over the week, this was the best one by a reasonable margin, though all except the first one had their moments. By which I guess I mean something was learned, something that could be salvaged and retooled for another one. Both in terms of the colour and the space, things are going on in this that I haven't been able to do before. So, growth: unpredictable, but interesting when it happens: something exists that wasn't there before. At the same time, if this is going to go further, I need to get more of a system for it, it's too complex to handle both composition and colour reliably in one day even at this scale. In the past, there have been several systems for this type of work, there are older paintings like this in one of the galleries here, and I still like a lot of them, but it doesn't feel right to go backwards. I love the idea of the organic composition, which makes itself incrementally as the work develops, but this is more complicated with this type of colour than the older way of brighter colour with more value. I like what happened on this one but it's so different it might be best to regroup in order to move forward based on it. Ironically, this may mean a thin underpainting to anchor the composition before moving on to the colour. We'll see what wants to happen. About 13.5x7.5 inches, oil on gessoed paper.


      A good week for Lily, she got to spend lots of time outside, including a few all-nighters on the old wicker couch on the porch. She also loves to explore the kitchen closet, it has a folding door and it's usually closed, so she often makes for it when I open it. It's a big closet, full of nooks and crannies to hide in, and sometimes I close it without realizing that she might have gotten in there. That happened today, but she just butted the door open again with her head to get out. Which is interesting because the mechanics of doors sometimes seems to elude her: she routinely waits for me to open one way too close for me to open it. As the door folds open, of course, it gives the impression of moving on its own, and as she came out she tried to get it to play with her by whacking at it with her paw. Just making sure.

june 9

      Sunnier week in general, some heat and humidity but not that bad. New moon on Monday, it didn't kick in for me until Tuesday, but that was the most intense day for the work in quite a while; errors for for several hours in the morning, a sense of nothing being new enough all day long. Generally like that all week, a strong sense of urgency, and lots of new things did happen: switched to landscape, made a different medium, and tried several new ways of underpainting. Also tried making a sturdier and more plane paper sandwich for half sheets using two pieces of printmaking paper glued together with PVA, burnished, and weighted flat for a few hours. The PVA set very quickly at first, the process was calmer once I thinned the PVA with just a little water. Sturdier and nicer to work on. Overall, more chaos than usual this week but something new sure happened and a sense of progress with it.


      What is real? Network news? The New York Times? Facebook? Last year I officially gave up on these things as actors in a play with a limited script in terms of human potential. So, where is something real? Something actual, not manipulative, something I can trust, and learn from in both daily and larger terms? I've ended up looking more into the universe itself, how it is unfolding and changing. I am definitely an animist, someone who sees all aspects of life as alive, with purpose and meaning. Of course, for humanity, a serious effort has to be made to turn this into endless reruns of Gilligan's Island. We could investigate who has made this effort, and why, but let's accentuate the positive, and leave the negative to its chosen fate. Photo here is of the Schumann resonance this week for Wednesday night, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday up to noon. Pretty active week, I'm still a little confused as to whether this energy is coming from the fact that the solar system is moving further into the Photon Belt, or from the Sun itself. The days with lots of white in them tend to be ones where I feel either kind of spacey or quite energized. Either way, it's like living two different types of time, or having two different types of personality, at once. These days were weird at first, which is why I ended up looking for an explanation, but now, it's just what happens: like there's a dream going on at the same time as something "real." There's that word again! Things get intense in June astrologically next week, starting on the 14th when Mars is opposite Saturn, tension peaking on the morning of the 19th here with Mars and Mercury opposite Saturn, Pluto, and the Moon. But Mars is also exactly trine Neptune, which will probably soften things. At least a high energy day, possibly in the context of some sabre-rattling internationally, or a specific symbolic old way-new way event triggered by the transiting Moon. Then the solstice on the 21st, and summer officially begins!


      One thing I'm chronically short on is autoxidized walnut oil, it doesn't dry as fast as the autoxidized linseed oil I refine, but it's more reliably non-yellowing in this climate when it's thicker, although it looks like some of the emulsion-refined oils from last summer are going to be less prone to this. So this summer I'm making lots of thicker walnut oil in small canning jars that are half full, with cheesecloth in the band instead of a lid so air can get in.


      So, this new moon has had lots of hype and I could definitely feel it coming. But on Monday, the day of the new moon, I had a relatively normal day of working on things in progress. Then on Tuesday morning, I tried to start something new, but using an approach and technique that were known, and began to make mistakes. I kept at it, but felt distracted, not really focused. The mistakes kept coming, it was sort of comical, and after a while I thought, Well, this just doesn't want to happen, and made a new medium and began a new study with it. The idea was just to let go and experiment, since being methodical was clearly not working. But that is was also a disaster, the medium did not work at all with the ground. So, had to abandon that one as well. Then, third try, adjusted both the medium and the ground and made this small monochrome study of an image I've always liked, but which has always proved difficult. But again, made a mistake: forgot to erase the grid lines in the sky. But at that point just thought, the heck with it, just do something. I liked the way the paint behaved and how it allowed things to be both separate or more unified, detail below. In larger terms, this ended up meaning something to me; moving beyond a place and time into a feeling. 8.5x14.75 inches, oil on gessoed paper.


      So, the next day, decided to make a larger version of this image, but in colour. Put a layer of watercolour over the drawing, then a very thing layer of oil paint, before a layer with more paint and the medium the next day. I liked dropping the chroma of the colour back, and the look of the surface but overall, became a little too hypnotized by mapping the "reality." As a result, the interpretation is far less unified than the first one. With more dimensions to juggle, it didn't gel or move into meaning. So, lots of things that need to change, but looking forward to either working on this one again, or starting over, based on the new new things that happened in the underpainting stages of the ones below. This is in Vermont, Addison county, a place near where I lived for many years, early summer morning. 10.25x19 inches, oil on gessoed paper.


      After that intense Tuesday, it seemed like a good idea to retrench a little bit, and returned to watercolour first with a thin layer of paint over it for the start of this smaller scale one, but did use a touch of the medium in the paint. Somewhat gritty light gray ground, this made the beginning a little less precise, and also more atmospheric. No issues with the composition, looking forward to the next layer with this one. 9.25x12.75 inches, oil on gessoed paper. This is in Vermont, Addison county, a road through farmland where I used to go in the afternoon or evening, late summer.


      Image from outside Truro in Cape Cod. Tried another type of underpainting with this one, no watercolour, just a very thin layer of paint but with a small amount of medium in it so it had more adhesion and saturation. The dunes are on the dark and warm side, the sky is on the light and cool side, this will be shifted in the next layer. Again, something new, learning how to execute it, but I liked how it worked in terms of maximizing the development available with a very thin layer of paint. 9.5x18.25 inches, oil on gessoed paper.


      Started a new version of the field image above later this morning, that is, Sunday. Set it all up, made some careful adjustments to the composition and the medium with the idea of doing something thin and detailed. Except, holy new moon revisted, the ground turned out to have a decent amount of silica in it, which meant that the paint stuck like glue without the ground being absorbent. When I realized this, I debated whether to use solvent to overcome it, or at least mitigate it, in the interest of more precision, but decided to do the funkier thing, the thing that wanted to happen, and just see where that led. It required a surprising amount of muscle just to get this covered, so I didn't try for anything too tricky in terms of the colour. The cloud mass is on the crude side but I like the overall feeling better than the earlier one in colour. As is often the case when the plan gets derailed, the enforced simplicity of the ground was, in fact, a gift. The monochrome one still has the nicest rhythm, but I'll work on that in in the next layer. About 11x18.25 inches, oil on gessoed paper.



june 2

      Last week of the moon, warmer overall, including three days of afternoon and evening thunderstorms, the first days of serious heat and humidity this summer, weather like an ugly bruise. Typically not the best lunar phase for the work, and this one definitely wasn't, energy diminishing progressively as the week went on. Tried exploring something on both Friday and Saturday, a new study and a layer on something older, but it led to a sense that a different approach would be better in both cases. Which is fine, an interesting use of this time. New moon tomorrow, I did more research on this one since the lunar cycle seems to be the most fundamental kind of cosmic clock, and it seems like that might be for a reason. This new moon is in Gemini and may well feature the advent of a lot of information, but the issue will be which information is factual. So, the new moon is about what the truth is, who has it, and who doesn't, both in out lives as individuals, and in the lumbering cultural narrative. The full moon two weeks later will be in Sagittarius, the opposite sign to Gemini, which is most basically about the arrow of the truth finding its mark, and the combination of wound and service that this provides: the truth hurts, the truth sets us free. As this moon progresses it may also up the ante in terms of the new challenging the old more openly, an approach coming more into being in the world, if not America just yet, that is more feminine, holistic, and inclusive rather than masculine, materialist, and elitist. I've been doing a lot of work with the asteroids in my own chart, there are many of them, the universe proving once again to be inconveniently detailed, but if one of them is conjunct a planet it definitely seems to influence things. The new moon is conjunct the asteroid Magdalena, named for an especially misrepresented woman associated with early Christianity, whose story was of course altered by my favorite outmoded power structure, the Vatican. (And yes, I stand by the New Year prediction that the Vatican will fall this year, kaboom, it now looks like August.) So, June may be a month when the misrepresentation of key female figures by his story will become more focal, or known information about these women that has been marginalized will begin to become more mainstream. There's been a kind of extended, almost ceremonial pause over the last few years, the calm before the storm, but in the second half of 2019, it feels like information will come to light that alters basic cultural narratives a lot over time. This process has to be slow, look at the insane flap in America when an institution as minor as Twinkies threatened to disappear, but it also has to happen. The few have imprisoned the many in the dead-end narrative of paternalist materialism far too long already. We were designed for infinitely more.


      Recent panel of oil and medium tests from May. Some fun stuff on this one, including the slash pine sap from Georgia, clear as a mountain stream at the moment. On this one I finally got around to testing a large number of jars of thicker autoxidized hand-refined linseed oils that I'd modified in various ways with autoxidized poppy or walnut oil to make them less yellowing over time. It seemed that some of these oils would be better than others, but this was the only way to figure it out. A humid month without air conditioning, so things are getting underway bit by bit. In general, the thinner the oil, the lighter the film will be. The tests I've numbered one and two are on the thick side, and have a little thicker walnut or poppy oil added. Number three is not as thick, but is pure linseed oil, and this the darkest one on the panel so far. The differences between the oils are slight now but will be more pronounced by the end of the year. There's often a pair of surprises in an array like this: something that's lighter than expected, and something that's darker than expected. Have to admit I'm rooting for the slash pine sap.


      I've been mixing a thick and thin version of the fused damar medium one to one recently, and this week made a new batch of it designed to behave the same way as the mix. But I also felt that, in the interest of brighter colour over time, it should be leaner, so I ended up with something closer in behavior to the thin version. A test with this approach proved too mobile, so, tried adding more chalk as a way to arrest it more while keeping it on the lean side.


      Even though the ingredients are mixed well, and pretty intimate, the thinner oil of the medium doesn't emulsify the starch to quite the same degree as an approach with more thick oil. Just an emulsion observation, this medium was great fun to work with on an absorbent ground, see zinnia image below.


      Most recent version of this image, one that started with watercolour, then tempera, then very lean oil paint. This approach creates more detail, but, for me anyway, that detail needs to be given a larger purpose. Snow images have a tendency to go violet for me, so I've been trying to keep this one more neutral. It was a very specific type of day, first snow in early December, about four in the afternoon, not dark, but not that light either, just cold enough to snow, a very still, hushed, and gentle feeling. Getting closer overall, still working on the feeling. 9.5x16.75 inches, oil over gessoed linen on panel.


      An older beginning that had drifted away in the course of several layers, ground it down and started over. Was able to correct most of the major issues, now down to a host of minor issues. This is downtown in one of the tiny hamlets in the lovely Garfagnana region above Lucca. 10.5x16inches, oil over gessoed linen on panel.


      Not really the best time to begin something new, but I couldn't resist this little one. A very absorbent gesso panel, put the first layer on it watercolour over the drawing, then a very thin layer of straight paint cut with lamp oil, then a layer using the medium outlined above. This stuck quickly and firmly. Though this approach seemed logical or appropriate for a more broken set of colours as in the Mugello landscape of 5-19 below, I wanted to see what would happen with this type of image as well. It was very in control in a kind of lumpy way, which was fun. More to go, I'll put lighter paint over the background, but it will have a more solid feel for the darker colour underneath. 8x13 inches, oil over gessoed linen on panel.


      Latyer on Sunday, next layer on this one. Still wet, but a pretty matte surface so more accurate than usual. The surface was still absorbent, yikes. Fun, discrete but primitive, although only so much can happen in each layer before it starts to blend. That may be the solution for this one. Probably a better approach for landscape than still life, or, maybe not so much better as more efficient. Ha-ha, note how I qualify everything! Not knowing is so much better than knowing!

may 26

      Just about at the third quarter of this relatively intense moon, new moon in eight days. Some beautiful days this week, low to mid 70s with a breeze and warm sun, like the summer in Vermont when I first went there in the 80s. The neighborhood is in full bloom, roses and peonies everywhere in the little front gardens. A relatively old-fashioned normal week for the work, did a lot, with mixed results but overall progress, had one day of more than average clarity, always fun but definitely not to be relied on; a gift that gives most once it has been taken away. Some email comments by my friend Roland led to a greater awareness and understanding of the starch process. Roland also sent me some papers about starch from conservators who use it, these are more practical than molecular, and illustrated that, once again, a "simple" material is not so simple. This was also shown by a one inch diameter sample of a mixture of oil, wax, and starch I'd saved from four years ago. It's about a millimeter thick, but is soft and completely flexible, and it's well below the temperature at which the wax alone might be responsible for this. So, on it goes with the materials, they trundle along then another level begins. I felt a little overwhelmed by how much I don't know this week, but the only way to learn more is to realize that periods of uncertainty are inevitable. The more I learn, the less I know. But this doesn't seem to lead to giving up on learning so much as to accepting that the value of any knowledge is conditional: that is, a function of how it is applied. The aphorism that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing presupposes that a lot of knowledge will, by definition, be applied wisely. Which is obviously not the case. Yet, the converse, being wise but naive, doesn't solve the issue either. It feels like most important thing is just to show up and experience what wants to happen, as opposed to trying to avoid it or direct it. Everything goes along in a way that is predictable for a while, then suddenly the process and work I thought I knew have become something different. What did I "do"? Well, something, but it isn't about knowing what to do, it's more about following the energy of the process. Or, is it me who has changed, and now sees the "same" work and process differently? Or is it some combination of both: an ongoing series of incremental changes reaches a point where I can feel or see them, and they become officially part of something new? This place where inner and outer reality interact tends to produce questions without answers, but that doesn't mean nothing is happening, or being learned.


      In our emails Roland introduced the idea of the variable intimacy of emulsions again this week: how the ingredients can be stable at varying degrees of molecular proximity. I was getting very different types of emulsion, the acceptance or rejection of the starch was clearly a function of the other ingredients somehow; even stand oil and burnt plate oil produced different textures. Wanted to see what I could do from the perspective of the starch itself to make the emulsions more intimate when mixing at room temperature.


      The starch itself comes from a conservation source, Talas, in precooked granules that I add water to, about 1 part starch to 2 parts water. I was following the directions, just adding distilled water and mixing well to make the paste, although I did add it hot, after boiling it, and it worked for making a gel that kept longer without degrading. The gel was more stiff than rubbery, but this didn't impair the function of the medium. Roland suggested cooking the starch itself further for a few minutes to see what would happen to its rheology. It turns out the amount of time the starch sits and swells before this procedure is also a factor: letting it sit a couple hours makes a starch that, in turn, makes a smoother textured medium.


      After sitting for two hours, the starch is heated slowly to about 65-70C (150-160 F), the same procedure involved in making it from purified flour in the first place. This makes it more transparent, or nacreous. I did this for five minutes, and the starch became a semi-liquid, elastic paste. I tried adding small amounts of various things to stabilize it for a few weeks: combinations of a little thicker oil, and a little beeswax. But felt that this type of enriched starch would mess with the balance of the medium formula too much, so went back to an earlier way of stabilizing it, with a little hide glue size. I let the starch cool to about 55C (130F) before adding the liquid glue, so the glue wouldn't degrade. The material thickened instantly when I added the glue. I love any non-Newtonian reaction, but this one was pretty unexpected! So, a lot of conniptions but they wee fun and produced a better material in the end. Hide glue is very strong, it will be interesting to see how long this stuff lasts in the fridge.


      Emulsion made with the starch above and the fused damar medium mix I've been using, the texture isn't quite as fine as if a little egg yolk or emulsified beeswax were involved, but it's pretty fine.


      Started here this week, a rare one where I looked at it and seemed to know exactly what to do. Like the pumpkin turning into a coach, the enchantment sure is fun while it lasts. A little more to go, but not too much. 9.5x16 inches, oil on gessoed linen over panel.


      One that has always had issues, it improved in a layer with a great deal of paint but still doesn't feel complete. There were several variations on this theme this week, bringing problem children back from the brink but not exactly sending them into the stratosphere. 12x14.5 inches, oil on gessoed linen over panel.


      Recent start of the Mugello farm in a broader style, felt good about the extent to which this came forward. 11.5x18 inches, oil on gessoed linen over panel.


      Gave up on holding the bluer background with this one, maybe a little too low chroma now but definitely getting closer. 10x13 inches, oil on gessoed linen over panel.


      Waning moon, in theory not the best time to start something new but I really wanted to see what this was going to look like. Used a little medium but kept it relatively lean, the ground wasn't as absorbent as I thought it would be, this seems to be a more delayed reaction when working with an emulsion. But that worked out okay, was able to push and pull the maze of edges within the blossom around with a reasonable amount of control. This flower is lit from two windows at ninety degrees to one another, the sun is coming in from the left and slightly behind, and is also reflecting off a white house from a window on the right. I've done this image once before, in a more traditional composition, but the double shadow on the table was very peculiar, I could never get it so I liked it. It will be interesting to see what the next layer brings with this one. 9.75x16 inches, oil on gessoed linen over panel.

may 19

      More sunny and warmer, rhododendrons and peonies in bloom, a few roses, the gardens in the neighborhood are looking very nice after all the rain. Second week of the moon, full moon yesterday, a sense of intensity the last few days, along with a consistently active Schumann resonance, but felt stirred up more than jumpy or emotional. Have been exploring the concept that, as part of natural time, the sign of the new moon sets a challenge, or puzzle and the sign of the full moon offers a resolution. The new moon was in Taurus, which specializes in diligence, patience, holding on, no effort unspared; the full moon was in Scorpio, which is more about transformation, letting go, the old makes way for the new. And, in a way, that's what happened the last few days. I tried to hold on to a specific way of working earlier in the week by developing it, but it gave way to something different that, no surprise, I liked better. But I wouldn't say it was the triumph of Scorpio, Taurus doesn't give up that easily! More like a way in which the energy of both can co-exist at another level. Which has always made sense to me as a definition of creativity. I got Buddy in the mail this week after six years, always a sense of accomplishment there. The USPS had issues with its international computer system this week, couldn't mail books to other countries for at least three days. One of those situations for which there might be a very interesting explanation if you could ever get one. Kind of a lull today, I really liked what happened in the second painting this week but it changes everything, need to consider what comes next.


      Someone on Facebook was saying that turpentine made from pine sap is non-toxic, it is only turpentine that is a by-product of the pulp industry that is toxic. I felt that this had to be incorrect since I'd only ever used the best turpentine I could find, but then I thought, "Well, maybe that turpentine wasn't what you thought it was." I wonder why that occurred to me. Anyway, I got some of the Diamond G turpentine from Georgia, just to see what it was like. This is excellent quality turpentine, smells very clean, although I'd get it out of that clear bottle, and into amber glass, or paint the bottle black, and fill the bottle with clean sand or pebbles as it is used. But I don't think I could be around it much at this point without a lot of ventilation. And, it's still a high VOC solvent so, Facebook apologists notwithstanding, it's officially not that great for the central nervous system. Also could not resist some of the unrefined slash pine gum, pictured here. This stuff is very fun, milder smell, dries clear, not too brittle, I'd love to persuade myself there was a way to make it yellow minimally over time and have made several tests along those lines. Of course it will take a long time to tell how much it yellows. It might be fun to do a small study using it with just earth colours. Why do I cause these problems for myself?


      There were two mediums this week. This is the one that worked out. This was after I had an accident and remembered a formula incorrectly, see floral below for this story. But at that point I knew what I didn't want, which is useful. So, instead of returning to last week's approach, I went to more starch as a way to get a little more grab and impasto without the egg yolk. Egg yolk brightens things, but it also flattens things, I wanted to get at more of the low impasto of starch. It felt logical somehow, in terms of moving further away from what hadn't worked. Also, the starch used is prepared, so it's already been cooked and dried, you just need to add water to make the gel or paste, but it keeps longer in the fridge with hot distilled water that's been boiled first.


      With an increase in starch there's an increase in gluiness and in both transparency and brightness. The medium always gets used at 1 part medium to 4 parts paint, so it's about ten percent starch by initial volume. This might be too much for stretched canvas, I'm not sure, starch is actually surprisingly tough and makes a pretty flexible thin film. But of course this is at first.


      Worked on this one over the course of three days this week, but remembered the medium formula incorrectly in the middle, which made the medium too fat and too smooth or blending for what I wanted. Just in too much of a hurry, have not made an error like that recently, it really got my attention. Got the colour to a decent place but was fighting the natural fusion of the paint in the more complex flowers. Not sure where to go with this, a little too shiny for this stage, it may be best to grind it back lightly but thoroughly first. About 9x16 inches, oil on gessoed linen over panel.


      So, changed the medium formula to something leaner to begin with, details in the photos above, and made this one with it. The Mugello, my therapy image, used the paint I'd made with commercial cobalt and vermilion. Absorbent ground, didn't even get the whole thing covered the first day, but it was clearly a vast improvement over the floral in terms of the paint sticking and remaining discrete. Then there's a point when enough paint has been added that it can be blended a little bit, this was good too. Still kind of sketchy in some places, but I always like this lumpier, more vulnerable stage, where the process is still visible in places. Anyway, making this really felt like me, and seems like the next step in the medium approach that began last week: simplify it, give it more discretion and painterly edges. 9x15.25 inches, oil on gessoed linen over panel.


      Lily has been very patient with the cold and rainy weather. But on the first warm and sunny day in the 70s she was so happy to be outside! Then we had a little kerfluffle the other night, I was up and suddenly heard her gently scratching at the carpet, a sure sign she has peed outside of the box. Sure enough, right in the laundry! I had some work to do and realized as I did it that it was probably because her box was not clean enough. Which I felt badly about: she's not that fussy about this, but I guess enough was enough. She was sitting on the kitchen table when I was done cleaning up, and I sat down next to her and apologized. I mean, I know she doesn't want to go outside the box. She lay down on the table and reached out slowly and touched my hand with her paw. What a gracious gesture! I always wonder how much English she actually understands. Or is it the feeling she understands, clearly, and this is enough? Anyway, in the morning I scrubbed her box out really well.

may 12

      Week of the new moon, a few sunny days but mostly cool and overcast with rain. A couple interesting new things happened in the work, but there were also a few of those high Shumann resonance days that were more spacey, Friday was like a ride on a pink cloud. I could get used to this. Last year I really worked a lot on anger, and had become pretty good at heading it off or cooling it down. There were certain specific incidents that triggered it from the past, but I was getting perspective on those too. It was slow, but it was clear that letting go of it, making peace with it all, was going to produce the best quality of life. Then when the all phony spike lavender stuff came up, I got pretty angry, and it also got personal since both of the individuals involved sent people to attack me via email or Facebook. So, while it felt good to publicize the fraud, I couldn't do it without getting involved. I knew it was unwise, but it was also clearly coming up for a reason, what I had to learn. So I've been working on that, and this week that all went away, which was nice. I still hope the FTC gets into this, what is going on is not okay. But now I can accept that the ethical trajectory of the people involved is their own choice, and that, while I may not understand it or agree with it, it's happening for a reason. There are of course a lot of things like this going on now, but since everything is vibration, and this has, after all, been proven by our good buddy science, it seems best to focus on the positive, not be distracted by the negative. Worked mostly this week on completing something older for a friend, and the medium involved may have larger potential. For the first time in a while, I feel pretty good about where the work is headed in larger terms, there are several options and I like them all. Just have to be patient, and not press. I've gotten hopped up about new developments on several occasions before, and can definitely say it doesn't help them get across the finish line.


      Having grown up later in the 20th century, I couldn't help absorb the idea that painting was basically an intellectual activity. But it very quickly became clear that this didn't work for me, that I wanted something that was both emotional and physical as well. A painting that works may have had an idea involved at some point, but the reason it works is because it transcends that idea. And it does this via its emotional and physical elements. So, this brings me to the unlikely person I learned a lot from this week, Dutch football legend Johan Cruyff. This video shows the usual assortment of absurdly heroic and brilliantly intuitive moments, but it also contains a lot of close-up slow motion footage, which is very helpful because Cruyff's feet move so very fast, and he does such unusual things with them. So, first, this is about the integration of left and right: both conceptually as organization and inspiration, and literally in terms of using both, as an important aspect of any art form. But it's also about syncopation: not just musically, but applied generally to anything we do as a means of introducing a less predictable, therefore more compelling, temporal rhythm. So,for Cruyff the dance is with a ball on a field, for a painter the dance is with a brush on a canvas, but the principal of the dance that moves towards a goal is constant.


      This week's medium was dictated by working on a painting from the past for an old friend, but it was something I had been wanting to try out anyway. I'd done something similar with methyl cellulose, but starch is lighter, and, being simpler, I sort of like it better even though methyl cellulose has been very reliable. Anyway, this medium -- photo of what it looked like completed below -- turned out to be pretty interesting: could be used broadly with thick paint or in a detailed way with thin paint. The stroke could be placed or blended, and it would layer if the application was thin because the egg yolk and starch combination made it set enough. A medium with this degree of range is definitely an interesting development, so I'll probably keep working with it for a while and see what happens.




      This is Buddy, a memorial portrait I started a few years ago for an old friend in Vermont. Not exactly my forte, but I had known the dog, so that made it easier to work on in a way, although there was only one reference and it had a decent amount of spatial distortion. My friend and I had a miscommunication via an undelivered email, and I wasn't sure they were still interested in it. But they still are, so I dug it out and looked it over this week. It had a few small dings, and, over the week, I ended up putting a layer over the whole thing with the paint above; it had always been painted with a little egg yolk. When the paint was applied thinly, it set quickly, but could still be manipulated. So it could do details or be blended, back and forth, always helpful. It wasn't as difficult to figure out what to do as it had been in the past, always a nice sign that progress has been made. It's better, but, as with many older beginnings, I'm not sure how much further I can go with this conception. Maybe clean it up one more time. 14.5x16 inches, oil on gessoed linen over panel.


      Same medium, same paint, used in a thicker way alla prima. After working on indirect work in layers for the last few months, it was fun to do something more spontaneous. Not sure how I feel about this image, but, more importantly, I like how the paint worked, and how it looks when it's dry. So, I've used this paint in a pretty careful way, and a pretty loose way, but there's also a way in the middle that just might be interesting to explore. About 8.5x14 inches, oil on gessoed paper.


      Action shot! At one point this was the kitchen table, now it's the lilypad.

may 5

      Last week of the moon, new moon yesterday early evening. This one I could definitely feel as it came in, more energy and positivity just arrived on a plate. Mixed weather but still on the overcast and cool side, a riot of big older azaleas in the neighborhood, peonies in bud. A few high Schumann resonance days this week, these are not unpleasant, sort of gentle and expansive, but it's hard to get much accomplished. So, the tension between doing and being continues in ever evolved or nuanced ways. I'm getting used to learning from this. I mean, I like the idea of being happy, but if being one with everything means smiling benignly and doing nothing, am not quite there yet. Still, I can appreciate the value of leaving well enough alone. That is, everyone has, and is responsible for, their own moral trajectory. It became clear in the recent spike lavender wars that crying foul isn't going to change how anyone operates. But this also does not mean that there aren't consequences. Finally received a response from Kremer to my original enquiry about what was in their "spike lavender." It's funny how I've learned to read between the lines in the last few weeks, and how all forms of dissembling have the same fetid smell! Of course, there were no actual, that is, legal, lies in the Kremer response. Still, what cannot be said has an inconvenient habit of being defined by what is said. What a short-sighted decision to sell frankenspike, when real spike lavender is at their doorstep in Europe, and price has never been an issue with their clientele. What is it about spike lavender that, for centuries now, has brought out everyone's larcenous streak? Ah well! To each their own moral trajectory! Not much happened in the work this week, but the next step definitely arrived yesterday, and it feels like the next few weeks of waxing moon are going to be on the fruitful side. There have been a few times, in the course of this wacky enterprise, when I've known exactly what to do. And these are great fun. But, because they involve pure or intuitive certainty, there's not a lot of tension, or growth, it's like picking ripe fruit as long as it lasts. The last few years have involved very little fruit, much more growth, but it feels like a more balanced period it coming. Slowly. Always slowly.


      Have made paint with preheated oil, this gets around the long or stringy quality of handmade paint, makes something dense but mobile. Have also made paint with old oil, this makes something elastic with a great deal of pigment in it. Have been considering making paint with oil that is both aged and preheated for a while now. This week, it wanted to happen.


      Bismuth vanadate, a cadmium yellow replacement that's not as toxic. This one was a little cool for me so I added some very warm Benzimidazolone yellow, this was just enough. This paint combined the qualities of the two types of oils involved: it was dense yet mobile, and absorbed a great deal of pigment.


      Finished tubes of primaries, I can use one red and blue but still seem to need different yellows. I made some white, black, and a green earth-viridian mix too. There's always something satisfying about tuning both the colour and the way it handles intuitively. It will be fun to try the Pyrol Red. This is PR254, but the one I have is darker and cooler than that amazing version put out by Blockx. So it got a little bit of the warm Benzimidazolone yellow too, landing midway between strawberry and fire engine red.


      Latest start with the finer style experiment, the panel wasn't quite even enough for this approach and I ground it back lightly before this layer. It's often a good idea, but it's also going to reveal white pointilles of the ground, so the question is when to do it. More to go, I don't know quite what but it's interesting to do this one more finely. 11.5x12.5 inches, oil on gessoed linen over panel.


      Something old that I've learned a lot from, many thin layers on this one. It had congealed in a certain way based on what I knew about colour about five years ago, so ground it back with very fine sandpaper and oil and went into it again with what I know now. The first layer with a new concept tends to be more blunt, so the finish of the old way is sacrificed for the possibilities of the new way. Which is fine when the new way is clear. More to go, but I get a kick out of giving something like this a new life. About 11x14 inches, oil on gessoed panel.


      Lily at the open window, she likes to hop out onto the porch roof from here. Doesn't she look noble? You'd scarcely believe that this is the same nefarious feline that loves to sneak in and nip at my ankle in the early a.m. when I'm on the john. Very gently, but it certainly gets my attention! Oh, you think that's funny too?

april 28

      Third week of the moon, new moon on the 4th of May. Mix of cooler rain and sun, azaleas in bloom in the neighborhood, the crescendo of Spring colour here. Took a break from the spike lavender wars on Facebook, this was a relief in terms of being able to focus on something positive. It's hard when people lie outright, then double-down on it once it's exposed, hoping the maze will just wear everybody out. But of course that technique is everywhere these days. In this particular fraud, all the phony advertising is still in place, all over the art supply network, because there's no choice but to milk it as long as it lasts. But the word is out at least to some extent, I'll leave the larger next step up to fate and the FTC. It was a good week for doing layers on older work. After a rocky few weeks, the next level of the medium -- thinner but not too thin, also a little fatter, more conducive to finishing -- seems to be coming together. There are some new images I'd like to start, but have learned to wait for the guidance of the new moon: the built-in cycles of organic time have been helpful for years now. Cautious optimism that the work is back after the enforced pause of much of last year: I like to learn more about painting but can see how there was some other learning that needed to occur. May is often the best month of the year for me, we'll see what this one brings.


      Continued to try to figure out a quick way to refine the oil with just distilled water, this led to freezing the oil later in the process to see if that would get the mucilage out. Well, yes and no, there's still a lot of oil in that lump. So, at this point, having learned a lot but mostly that this was not going to be a quick method, I returned to adding salt. The salt coagulates or precipitates the mucilage, so this was much more straightforward, but also hasn't led so far to anything quicker. I'm not dissatisfied with the salt and sand method in the book and the online PDF, just wanted to see if something simpler would work as quickly.


      This week's medium. The difference from last week's is another part of thick oil, the BPO tends to slide, so I added older hand-refined linseed oil, this is more resinous or grabby. The medium is added to the paint before starting, at 1 part medium to 4 parts paint, so all the paint ends up with the same level of gloss and surface tension. I ended up liking this a lot, but the increased amount of thicker oil means it's definitely more for finishing and more for smoother surfaces, in spite of the non-smooth ingredients.


      Starch is flour that has been cooked to a specific temperature, for a specific amount of time, then dried and ground. The classic use is for laundry, and that type of starch is still available. The starch here came from a conservation source, it's used to lower the strength of PVA glue. Starch makes an exponentially stronger and elastic film than flour, and is found in older painting in the work of Rembrandt. It hasn't been found globally to my knowledge, but seems to have been one of his experiments with using something water-soluble to tighten the paint. When I first started working with starch about ten years ago, I was really fascinated by the way it gave a putty medium the consistency of mashed potatoes. This made an elegant kind of overall impasto. Starch can also be used in a smooth surface technique to create a brighter value structure, softer saturation, and fused edges. Adding starch to thicker oil is not conducive to impasto, but is a way of tightening or arresting the movement of the oil, sort of like the way damar varnish tightens the oil as the solvent evaporates. This is one aspect of the medium pictured above. I've only used starch on panels over the last decade, but panels seem to be getting more popular because of their technical versatility. Hide glue and methyl cellulose gel do the same thing, in slightly different ways. Egg white works, but tends to darken more over time. Gum arabic creates a very interesting rheology, but its profound affinity for water will make the colour darken over time if there's any humidity around. Anyway, a simple way to create slightly to markedly tighter paint in a variety of ways.


      First one this week, used the older medium for this one, lowered the chroma of things a little. It's getting closer but still has more to go. 9x12 inches, oil on gessoed canvas over panel.


      I kept the development of this one as bright as possible as long as possible as an experiment, now it's beginning to get darker and more integrated. Still more to go, but I'm not sure which direction to take. I know how to finish this with less colour and more atmosphere, but it would probably be more interesting to hold off on that as long as possible, just to see what might happen. 10x13 inches, oil on gessoed canvas over panel.


      First one this week with the medium pictured above, with a little more thick oil in the mix this one was smoother, allowed more fusion and finer detail. I like the sense of movement in the background, it's challenging to get something going on without having it become too focal. 11x16 inches, oil on gessoed canvas over panel.


      This one started last November in tempera on a pretty textured and granular ground. Layer here with relatively smooth-working paint, still on the clunky side but I like the general feeling of the colour. 11x12.25 inches, oil on gessoed canvas over panel.


      This one featured a set of colours that have proved elusive to find, always sobering, but ground it back and was able to resurrect it somewhat. 12x16 inches, oil on gessoed linen over panel.


      One I felt confident about, but this can sometimes lead to a dead-end if pursued to far. So, an approach with a little more colour after a rest. The colour is a little broken, but the camera tends to exaggerate this. More to go, but I like the overall feeling. 12x18 inches, oil on gessoed linen over panel.


      Lily got the runs this week, yikes what a smell. She hasn't been eating much, logical, but it makes me feel like I'm doing something wrong in the food department, sort of a visceral "Oh no!" response that was a surprise. Because she goes outside, and because I know of at least one other "very nice" older person who feeds her now and then, I have no idea how it happened. This is a little frustrating, especially since the person who feeds her gives her dry food -- it changes her stool instantly -- and dry food is what gave her the UT issue last winter. She had one quiet rainy day where she wasn't far from the litter box, then bounced back in terms of her energy. Things are firming up slowly in the box, and I have to give her credit for always hitting the target under difficult conditions. It was strange how much this affected me: I don't want anything to be amiss for her, but it's yet another thing on this crazy planet that's just plain out of my control.

april 21

      Rainy week, warm and cool alternately, but sunny and mild today. A lot of plants in bloom, there's something with an incredibly elegant fragrance that grows as a shrub or hedge, with tiny white and pale pink flowers that cluster in half-spherical shapes. I thought this was a Korean lilac, but it's not. Week of the full moon, since this one on the morning of the 19th I've been having relatively vivid and detailed dreams, it's like someone threw a switch. These dreams are less random, they have often involved explaining or resolving things from the past. Hey, I'm all for that. Continued to publicize the spike lavender fraud on Facebook, details of this below, also filed a complaint against the companies involved with the FTC. I was able to explain what is being done clearly and dispassionately, which felt good. All of this stuff is pretty straightforward, but it takes time. And fighting, however mildly, does not seem to be conducive to creativity. So nothing happened in the work this week. As always, I have high hopes for the work next week, but life may well have other ideas. Painting may continue to be an occasional treat.


      A graph of the Schumann Resonance. On days when it's high, like the 18th, on the right, I tend to feel kind of spacey, or expanded. It's sort of like being reprogrammed towards being more natural, as opposed to the materialist, dog-eat-dog programming I grew up with. It's certainly not a bad feeling, but it makes it hard to get things done, which I'm still kind of addicted to. If I go out on one of these days, it feels like I'm on the stage of a giant play in progress; watching it, but not really in it. I'm learning to recognize these days, which is helpful.


      Ordered another batch of the sprouted grains in to experiment with. Got some sprouted chickpea flour this time, this is pretty light and quite tasty. A little too much olive oil in the pan, but once in a while that's fun too, this tasted like a milder version of felafel.


      I know I've been going on and on about fraudulent spike lavender, but here's how completely off the wall this situation is at this point, basically an alternate reality that preys on the uninformed. This is the image promoting the Chelsea Lavender Spike Oil Essence on the Jerry's Artarama website. There's lavender everywhere! Except in the bottle: the SDS of this product now lists all of its chemical ingredients, and they are all listed as hazardous. The initial lie is on the bottle, which says: "100% pure distilled lavender flowers." So, this is an outright fraud. On the Jerry's website, they even call this solvent "handcrafted." They also gush: "Lavender spike oil is so safe to use and has such a pleasant scent that it is often used for making soaps and in aromatherapy." Which is true, and yes, spike lavender was used in the Renaissance. But this product is not even 1% spike lavender, it's a bunch of hazardous chemicals mixed in a lab. How did this crazy product come to be? Well, first, most painters think they need a solvent, when they don't. Second, both turpentine and OMS are now known to create health issues, so what the art supply companies needed is a new "healthy" solvent, even though this is impossible: there is no such thing as a safe solvent, any solvent that works also has the potential to cause health issues. But, because it is recent, and invented in a lab, there is no official research on this solvent, so all kinds of deceptive things can be claimed about it. Enter the "lavender is so healthy" marketing concept, and painters will believe it because they want to. Who knows what real spike lavender is, or smells like? So, they have succeeded in marketing chemicals as Mother Nature: a commercial dream come true. How did all the art supply retailers in America become fully onboard with a fraudulent product that is marketed in a highly deceptive way? They are all making money hand over fist: 8 ounces of this solvent sells for 60.00.


      Here is a PDFwith an overview of the contnets of nine different spike lavender products. Surprise! None of the spike lavender sold to painters via mainstream art supply outlets contains any spike lavender. Not a complaint! Why should we expect something that's labelled "spike lavender" to contain any spike lavender?


      Last winter I uploaded a video about how to make the fused damar and beeswax medium onto YouTube, talked about it on Facebook, etc. Given how much development went into this medium, and how well it works to enable solvent-free painting, I have to admit I was a little disappointed by the reception. But of course it requires someone to stop, absorb the instructions, understand why it is helpful, gather the ingredients, and then actually make something. A nominal investment of time and effort in 1432, but a huge one in 2019! The biggest error, of course, was that I didn't put any lavender in it. I tend to think of things on Facebook as here today, gone tomorrow, but the medium resurfaced there this week when Laura Spector, a teacher at Rice in Houston, described making a batch of it with her class. Thanks Laura!


      Lily resting on her bookshelf on a very rainy afternoon after a round of playing. She has all kinds of faces, this is her elsewhere face, she's being patient and letting me take her picture because I said there would only be one. Lily is like a big cat in a small body; she's usually benign, but has an imperious side. She gets kind of ornery if she can't go outside a few days in a row, and starts bugging me for help by biting my wrist at the computer. I didn't get this at first; it upset or annoyed me to be bitten. Not hard, she makes a point of being gentle, but it gets my attention. I can buy a little time if I start talking to her and tell her I'll be right with her. But pretty soon it's time to stop and kind of cajole her bit by bit into playing enough to make her feel better. I can't rush it, or she'll wander off, then come back and bite my wrist again. But if I go slowly, going from one toy to another, she perks up bit by bit and then starts racing around, sometimes even carooming off the kitchen cabinets, which is quite comical. If she's feeling really crabby I get out the wabbit, the handle of an old toy that I wrapped with a scrap of linen. This she can really attack and bite as I hold the other end, prodding it into her paws back and forth like something she's captured that's flailing away. This takes a while, but a few rounds of the wabbit really calms her down. I've realized that if I feel crabby, she really goes out of her way to make me feel better -- there's one routine where she hops into a cardboard box under the kitchen table and then wacks away at my hand over the sides with her paw that always cracks me up -- so I'm learning how to do the same for her. I would always have said there was more to cats, but living with one has made this seem like an understatement. The more she feels like I'm paying attention, the more she hints -- not reveals -- about the next step. I guess this is like everything, the foundation for growth is a willingness to pay attention, the awareness that there's more to learn.

april 14

First week of the moon, more Spring in progress here, a little on the moody side still, but lots of trees in bloom. I felt compelled to wade deeper into the spike lavender fraud this week on Facebook, a synopsis of which is below. This feels like what I need to do, but, given that I don't watch or listen to any mainstream news, contact with this much calculated negativity is both challenging and exhausting. I'm also aware that, as a project, this could go on indefinitely because of the extent to which the fraud has infiltrated the art supply system. It's not like Chelsea, or anyone else involved, is actually going to start suddenly being more transparent just because the fraud has been made public. It's time to deny, deny, deny! So, since this is national, I'm thinking about getting a federal agency involved. I'm not sure whose purview this falls within, but I think I'll explain this to my congressman's office this week and see who they recommend. Ideally, the deceptive marketing of a synthetic substance as a natural substance would be officially defined as a crime, but that's not going to happen in the current version of America any time soon. I'd settle for the name of the solvent being changed, and all imagery of lavender removed permanently from its advertising. So, due to all this, not as much happened in the work as last week. It was kind of a relief when I could get to it, something sane and nurturing, and there was some progress towards understanding the second half of the new system.


This week in the Spike Lavender Wars, Chelsea put the ingredients in their solvent in the SDS at Dick Blick. So, that felt like a victory. A small one, though: the name is still the same, and all the earnest, misleading marketing prose on the website of every major art supply company online is still the same. But we'll see what the week to come brings. Perhaps Blick's legal department has decided how to handle this. It is hard to believe that the profits generated by Chelsea outweigh the magnitude of this fraud, given that it was perpetrated on them as well. I put up the image above on Facebook and was able to raise awareness of this issue a little bit there. The sheer calculated deviousness of it seems to get people's attention. But it is slow, it requires thinking about something, and Facebook is not the best venue for that. So, according to Chelsea, the solvent contains: LINALOOL (25-50%); Eucalyptol (10-25%); CAMPHOR GUM (10-25%); alpha-Pinene (1-5%); beta-Pinene (1-5%); d-Limonene (1-5%); TERPINEOL (1-5%); CARYOPHYLLENE (1-5%). Note the *very* wide and not exactly convincing margins for error in the major ingredients, especially linalool. The SDS also lists all the ingredients now as hazardous, which is in line with the Art and Creative Materials Institute rating of CL (Caution Listing) which has always been on the solvent. So, we have come a long way from the "breathe freely, paint better" ad copy. Compared to real spike lavender it smells very simple, like camphor and eucalyptus (1,8 cineole) with a small amount of linalool (one aspect of the lavender smell) in the background. I did a little research on the ingredients. Linalool is not considered toxic, but oxidized linalool is. 1,8 cineole (eucalyptol) is considered toxic to ingest, slightly toxic in larger amounts when inhaled. Terpineol, alpha and beta pinene are present in higher amounts than in genuine spike: these are also components of turpentine, considered the most toxic of the traditional solvents. So, it's 15% compounds that are in turpentine. Camphor is also considered toxic, to the extent that it is listed in the giant Poisindex database. Toxnet, the database of the National Library of Medicine, states on camphor that the "main target organs are the cns (central nervous system) and kidneys," and that "inhalation above 2ppm (parts per million) irritates nose and throat. Respiratory depression and apnea may occur. Very large exposures cause the same clinical features as ingestion." (Camphor is considered highly toxic when ingested.) So, more on camphor: it was originally distilled from the wood of Cinnamomem camphora, a large evergreen tree native to southeast asia, and this essential oil is available. It has a long history of use in traditional Chinese medicine, mostly topically as an analgesic, ie in something like Tiger Balm. Nearly all camphor, however, is now distilled from turpentine, or is synthetic. So, this brings up something that is very hard to find out about: the difference between the organic (made by the universe) and the synthetic (made in a lab) versions of a given substance. Here the fog of war descends. The adulteration of regular lavender essential oil is so widespread and sophisticated at this point that techniques have been developed to expose this fraud. These techniques involve looking at the molecules involved very closely, because a natural organic molecule is right-handed, whereas a synthetic molecule is left-handed. (The health issue of the natural (right-handed) fat in butter versus the various man-made hydrogenated fats, where the molecules are left-handed.) There is also the known issue of increased toxicity in these compounds, natural or synthetic, when they are oxidized, which occurs easily in a clear glass bottle, or 55 gallon drum, that is half full. So, looking into this is uncovering a lot of territory where there are still large questions. There's the related issue of the toxicity of synthetic fragrances, about which a lot is on the internet. Chelsea is not the only company involved in marketing frankenspike. All forms of "spike lavender" sold to painters at this point are synthetic solvents unless they come with a gc/ms readout. If the product is from Europe, the MSDS will, however, explain exactly what is in it. The most recent Kremer version of spike lavender is an example of this: a more sublte fraud than Chelsea's in terms of the compounds involved, but still a four ounce bottle in which there is no Lavandula latifolia. This is essentially the weaponization of science by commerce since so few people have any idea what is in spike lavender to begin with. Yes, that's Dr. Kremer you hear laughing, all the way from Germany, this is so wonderfully amusing. If the product is from America of course, listing the actual ingredients is not required, which is what enabled this whole fraudulent scheme in the first place.


But it's important to note that the Chelsea schemeis not original. The first version of selling a lab-produced solvent as spike lavender was conceived by Robert Maynord, the owner of the endearingly folksy Art Treehouse website. Maynord pioneered the whole thing: call it spike lavender, say it is non-toxic, linking it with the romance of older painting, and backing it up with a phony scholarly MSDS written by a PhD. Yes, everything in the MSDS is true, even the grand conclusion that spike lavender does not cause cancer. But this is like saying handguns don't cause cancer. The real issue here is damage to the kidneys and cns through prolonged exposure. Just because a PhD collates a lot of research on spike lavender does not mean Maynord is actually selling spike lavender. Again, as with Chelsea, there is no analysis of the product in the MSDS, and a smokescreen of romantic prose on the website. This situation is made more complex by the fact that Maynord presents himself as a healthy painting crusader, when he is in fact selling a synthetic solvent of unknown composition as a natural product that is non-toxic. I disagreed with Maynord years ago about the toxicity of spike lavender on the Huffington Post -- he simply insisted that it is non-toxic and that he has proven it -- although I had no idea at that point that he wasn't even selling spike lavender. Nothing is in fact known about the toxicity of the solvent Maynord sells as spike lavender, because its formula is a mystery. But if it is formulated along the lines of the Chelsea solvent, ALL the ingredients should be listed as hazardous. This is before we even get to the issue of the increased toxic potential of synthetics versus their natural counterparts, or the increase toxicity potential of the oxidation of the solvent's components.


Final phase with the oil that started as a frozen emulsion; waiting for the mucilage to settle out. So, this approach has worked out with all distilled water, but was not that fast. I think next I'll try the first phase with salt. Salt, of course, is used to break emulsions, but it will also make the mucilage more cohesive, less granular. Well, at least, I think it will. This is a new kind of oil for me, from Ottisson, so both the oil and the procedure are new.


More formal version of an study from a few years ago. The medium worked out pretty well for this layer, learned more about keeping this more vivid type of colour integrated. More to go, but this felt like a step forward for an older image into more of what I'm interested in now. About 9x15 inches, oil on gessoed linen over panel.


Semi-saturated layer on this recent lilac beginning, made a lot of small adjustments that have given this more poise, but mostly worked on the colour. This was not so much fun in the beginning, but I've never gotten anywhere quite like this before, and like it better now. I've been working on the whole thing each time, starting with the background, which is of course logical. It may be better now to work on a specific parts of it each day, or at least start with the subject itself, for a layer. About 12x15 inches, oil on gessoed linen over panel.


Most recent start, two very thin layers on this one this week. Just did a watercolour underpainting on the apples, this meant that the slightly absorbent ground took the paint unevenly elsewhere, which was interesting. Pretty clunky still, and some things still to figure out. Had the table line diagonal, straightened it, but now it seems like it has to go back to being a little bit diagonal. But I let it go where it wanted to go, so I'm interested in what might happen next. 9.5x18 inches, oil on gessoed linen over panel.

april 7

Week of the new moon, the day of the new moon felt quiet and expansive, sort of a surprise. A bracing mix this week of clarity and complexity. Blustery and cool leading into a few warmer days, the next two months will be really nice here. A good week for the work again at last, hooray, began to explore the next step -- a little more saturation and painterliness -- with the new approach to the medium. This is also leading to a different type of colour, which is fun.


I got the SDS sheet this week for the Chelsea Spike Essence and sent it to my friend Roland. He noticed that it talked about the product being "citrus-derived" and then, reading it closely, I noticed that it also mentioned "orange terpenes." So I concluded that the product was limonene with lavender fragrance added and went on Facebook with this image. This eventually produced the CEO of Chelsea, who also emailed me, explaining that the SDS contained a typo, and who insisted on Facebook that the product was 100% spike lavender, and that he was being slandered. I had a total of six emails with this guy, lasting until midnight. I asked him to produce an analysis of the product, this request was ignored. He tried to convince me instead that -- wait for it -- the definition for "spike lavender" for painting was different than that for EO spike, and wondered repeatedly why Chelsea had been "singled out" when he was not the only one doing this. I encouraged him to be more transparent about the contents of the solvent, and change the marketing strategy. But, literally at the end of the day, we had agreed on nothing. I corrected the error on Facebook, but also said I remained convinced that the product is made in a lab and has nothing to do with lavandula latifolia: the flowers are in the advertising, but not in the product. The next day I sent an email to Blick outlining everything about this situation that makes me believe the product is a fraud, except the email evidence. It seems like a good idea to have another card to play. I also ordered the product that day, and now have it. I could open it, and compare its smell to that of the genuine spike I have. But that would just be the opinion of my nose, and who cares about that? So I left it in the box, since I may need to have it analyzed, and it seems prudent to send a lab a product that obviously cannot have been tampered with. The important thing now is what Blick does. I explained to them where they could get genuine spike lavender, certainly quicker and cheaper than an analysis. I don't believe that they are "in on this," but that they don't know that much about the essential oil situation: specifically how much fraud occurs at the lower end with chemical fragrances. So, they took Chelsea at its word for this, and may not take kindly to having been lied to along with everyone else. In larger terms, it would be logical if the completeness of this deception were also its complete undoing. But we'll see; I did what I needed to do. Hopefully Blick will take some kind of action on this situation in the week to come.


I went back to trying to figure out the simplest way to refine linseed oil possible, and put 1000 ml of oil in the freezer, and 250 ml of distilled water in the refrigerator. Next morning I put the water in the freezer for about an hour, then added it to the oil and shook it well. It formed a very thick emulsion and made a very musical sound! I put it back in the freezer, and checked it off and on. By the end of the day it was frozen solid. Left it in the freezer for three days, then let it thaw. It separated slowly but then quickly as it warmed up. I put it in a waterbath for about half an hour at the end to speed up the oil leaving the mucilage. About 12.5 percent was lost, so it's not really finished. I'll keep washing this one, it should go quickly now that it's been frozen, but I'd love to figure out a way to have it be finished in one frozen emulsion step. First stop, increase the water.


One thing I did for the book was make sure everything worked with commercial paint. Now I'm using up the commercial paint and thinking about how I want to start making paint for myself again. One thing about handmade paint is that it can contain more pigment, making it both denser and leaner. This is a huge aspect of older practice that doesn't get talked about in relation to modern practice. But this week at one point I knew I needed a warm yellow with a lot of pigment in it, so I made it by mashing pigment to existing paint. Even with some medium added, this was highly pigmented!


This is the type of medium I got involved with this week, the three on the left are all variations of the fused damar and beeswax approach, the "thick and gluey one is pretty saturated, but the other two aren't. The starch adds adhesion or tack to this system, the same way damar varnish in a medium becomes tackier as the solvent evaporates. But without solvent. This medium worked best when it was a few days old, so that either means adding more starch and chalk to this set of proportions, or decreasing the thin component in the spoon. Or aspects of both.


Started here this week, this one was a few years old and had become sort of subfusc, so I ground it back and put a reasonable amount of paint on it that had a decent amount of saturation. It was a really nice experience to do this after using relatively thin and lean paint for the past several months. Not done, but no longer circling the drain. 11x14 inches, oil on gessoed linen over panel.


Small alla prima study from 2001 that didn't work out that well, I've been trying to figure it out off and on ever since. Put a similar layer on it as the one above, but less saturation. Not done but it's fun after this amount of time to feel I'm beginning to comprehend what is going on in this one. 10x13 inches, oil on gessoed panel.


Started this one a few months ago, put the thinnest and leanest series of layers on it possible, starting with watercolour. This is the sixth or seventh layer and still thin, but the first with a little saturation. The medium was a little too vanilla for me, but I like the overall feeling. Looking forward to the next layer on this one. 11.5x12.5 inches, oil on gessoed linen over panel.


Recent version of this image, begun with relatively lean layers, again the first layer with any saturation. Again the medium was a little mobile and vanilla, I like the colour generally but the forms still need more resolution. 9x12 inches, oil on gessoed linen over panel.


This was Friday. This one was begun in 2018, a sharp watercolour underpainting but after that it had sort of congealed in a way I didn't like. So I ground it back, especially in the flowers, where the impasto can really build up over time. The medium by this point had tightened up somewhat, so this was very nice to work on, but still not that fat or saturated compared to my former way of working. Made a great many adjustments to the foreground and background, then got the flowers and can playing in the same colour key, but they're not as resolved. Still. there comes a time when it's good to just consider what has gone before to be sacrificial. So, another dress rehearsal for what I want next, not done but a little closer to integration with the softer and brighter colour. 12x14 inches, oil on gessoed linen over panel.

march 31

      Variable weather but softer in general, slowly getting more Spring-like here, hellebore, daffodils and a few cherry trees in bloom in the neighborhood; Lily is spending more time on the front porch, which is great for her mood. Heading into the last quarter of the moon, dealt with the materials this week, and with the workspace. This had become so chockablock with stuff that it was hard to move anything around at first, but bit by bit I got into it and made progress. This has to do not only with throwing things out, but with finding work that's been buried, so it ended up becoming an assessment of the time I've spent in Philadelphia, five years now, as well as what to do about a backlog of older work that is in many ways irrelevant at this point. As always, it feels like I've not yet begun to paint. This situation has been responsible for years of trying to catch-up, and, as such, moving too fast. But, last year was about slowing down, whether I wanted to or not, and a new system began to come together. I like the new system, building up the image more slowly in thin and lean layers before adding saturation. But I'm not that interested in the traditional detailed, academic look, so the last phase of this approach, which I haven't gotten to yet on any of them, will be more like the older alla prima approach. So, many options to explore once I get there. There's more excavation to do in the workspace, both rearranging and just plain throwing stuff out, and the final quarter of the moon is a good time to do it. New moon on April 5th, in Aries, the first sign, the beginning of a new cycle wherever it's found. The equinox on the 20th was certainly the start of something new. So, things in the work may get new in a hurry, but the studio should be ready by then.


      The adventures in primitive cuisine continue. This one was made with sprouted kamut, the heirloom wheat they found in King Tut's tomb, and sprouted lentils. I got them whole, ground them up in a spice grinder, mixed them with water, a little salt and ghee. Made the dough moist and let it sit about half an hour to soften the kamut, which stays kind of granular with this set up, then cooked it on low heat, about seven minutes a side. Better nutrition in theory from sprouting; definitely lighter than straight grain and legumes.


      Decided to finish the Ottisson linseed oil by heating it with some calcium carbonate. Used some marble chips, ground them up a little bit first in a mortar. Heated it to 150C for an hour. The oil gets lighter during this procedure, always nice but I don't think it means anything. The important thing is that a small amount of calcium linolate is generated in the oil. This is not water soluble, so, in a humid climate like this one, an oil like this resists yellowing more. I haven't done tests with this one compared to the chlorophyll refined oil from last year, but these seem to be the two approaches that make the least yellowing linseed oils before they've been allowed to age.


      Marble in the bottom of the pan after removing the oil.


      Froze the oil overnight after it had cooled, there are very small particles of calcium ions attached to various molecular odds and ends in it now that make it cloudy. These will fall away in the next few days, leaving the oil clear. This is a brown seed oil, which I haven't refined much of, and it has been a little different all the way through the process. Which, of course, was a little different as well. It will be interesting to see how it behaves.


      I was always really interested in thicker hand-refined oils, but I'd have to say that, in a climate this humid at least, I overdid it, these need to be used in moderation if you want bright colour in oil on the East Coast. There's little in common between the system of Monet and Bouguereau, but they both keep the paint as lean as possible for the results they want. Anyway, thick hand-refined oil is always getting thicker, at this point I periodically put it in a different jar and cool it down with some walnut oil. It doesn't need to be that thick, and it doesn't need to dry before the day is over. Walnut oil also makes it less prone to yellowing under low light and high humidity.


      Continued the spike lavender investigation, ordered some from Lotus Botanicals, a small company in Maine, that came with a very detailed GC/MS (gas chromatography/mass spectrometry) sheet. This one smells amazing, bright but not acrid, elegant, with far more actual lavender smell to it. Which, given that spike and regular lavender are about half the same in terms of their composition, makes sense. Mountain Rose in Oregon sent me a GC/MS sheet from their latest batch, this one is also actual spike lavender although it is either not as high quality as the Lotus Botanicals one, or it has been concocted somewhat from other essential oils: it does not smell as strong or deep as the one from Lotus Botanicals. The one from Kremer has no spike in it, is mostly a mixture of VOC solvents like turpentine and limonine. They are in the process of putting out a different version of spike lavender, with an MSDS sheet up on their European site that is far closer to the compounds in the real thing. But whether this is actual spike lavender, or a more sophisticated sophistication, is not possible to say. I read several scientific papers about the sophistication of the essential oil adulteration trade. The most popular smell for personal care products is, of course, lavender, so synthetic versions of its components are manufactured by the ton. 20 tons of "fine lavender" are distilled each year in France, but over 250 tons are exported. This is why people selling actual essential oils are going the GC/MS route. And really, this is possible to fake as well. So, there are also increasingly detailed tests available now to determine if a compound is natural or man-made: a natural component is always more complex. Anyway, I'm comfortable with the Lotus Botanicals spike, mostly because of the uplifting, cosmic-holistic quality of the smell. It smells like something the Universe made, not something a laboratory made. What a tangled web, even before the web.


      Grinding sandarac, like damar it is very brittle and becomes a powder quickly.


      The end of the line: sandarac in genuine spike lavender. I got my first spike lavender from Brooklyn in 2003: it was so cut with mineral spirits it wouldn't dissolve sandarac: my introduction to modern adulterations by boutique manufacturers. So, I've been wondering about this material for a long time. There's a lot of sandarac in each one because I want a concentrate, the most resin, the least solvent. It becomes a syrup that is added to the medium by the drop. Early opinions about spike say it is non-yellowing (Pacheco, in Spain, where it grows) and actually helps the paint film stay brighter. Later opinions are that it yellows. Given that spike was mentioned even by De Mayerne as always being cut with turpentine, which can of course yellow badly if it is oxidized, it will be interesting to work with this and see what happens. I've always wondered what motivated people like Durer and Leonardo to go to the trouble to distill it, hopefully in the coming year I'll learn more about why.

march 24

      Week of the equinox with the full moon later the same day, this was a pretty intense day, hard to put words to what happened but it definitely feels like I'm in a bigger orbital. Spring continues to move slowly forward, brisk and blustery for the most part this week, with drenching rain, hellebore and crocuses beginning to come out in the neighborhood, April in this part of the world is the nicest month for me. Began to refine the Ottosson oil, my original idea for a fast, distilled water-only method was pretty close, but hasn't really worked out yet. I mean, it does, but it isn't as quick, or as slick, as I'd hoped. So, got some oil done, but need to rethink the process. For some reason the thread I started on Facebook last July about spike lavender not being as benign as advertised came to life again, spent some time there and ended up doing more research into what is, and isn't, spike lavender. Didn't get much painting done with all of this, but one of the differences I'm noticing from the equinox is that I don't feel I have to plan or obsess about things anymore. With painting I've definitely done a lot of planning and obsessing over the years, but would have to say that, in the moment, something of the moment inevitably takes precedence, so it all comes to naught. There have been several iterations of this experience over time, all about letting go of the need to attempt to control various processes, instead of experiencing them, just letting life happen. So, that feels positive. Lily got a little frustrated with the weather, this manifests in needing to box with me more strenuously and often, which is pretty funny, though I've learned to keep those claws away from my fingertips! But it won't be long before she can spend most of the day surveying her domain outside from the front porch, her favorite thing.


      Began to refine some of the Ottosson organic cold-pressed raw linseed oil from Sweden, a brown seed oil from a company that makes both house and artist's paint. Tried this with several variations of emulsion refining based on distilled water alone, but couldn't really get it, and went to a wash with salt later in the series. The photo shows why I was so interested, this is what 500 ml of oil looks like after it's been shaken for a few minutes with 100 ml distilled water, then left to separate for half an hour. That's an incredible amount of interruption. But it was difficult to actually separate it cleanly from the oil with water alone, even with freezing. Admittedly, I was looking for something fast, because water alone is usually the slowest method.


      The various tests this week. The oven here is gas, with a pilot light that's always on, I thought it might clear the oil and it does, the one on the right is the last one, has only been in the oven a day. It will be a while before I know more about this oil compared to the other oils that are out there.


      Spike lavender became sort of focal again this week. This got a little geeky, and more than a little confusing at times, but there was light at the end of the tunnel. So first, some background. My friend Roland kindly sent me a table from a scientific paper showing the comparative composition of three different types of lavender, photo below. (The one called lavandin has huge flower stalks and is the least expensive. This means it is often used to adulterate the other two. But more on that shortly.) I put blue stars next to the three components that make up the majority of spike lavender: linalol, or linalool, 1,8-Cineole, which is also called Eucalyptol, and Camphor. Spike is of interest historically because we know early painters like Leonardo and Durer distilled it. Spike could dissolve sandarac resin for a spirit varnish, which turpentine cannot. So, this tells us about the importance of sandarac then, but that's another story. Because spike is so strong, it has a long and well-documented history of being cut with turpentine. This is mentioned by De Mayerne in the 17th century and by numerous authors through the 19th century. The first spike I bought was in fact cut so much with mineral spirits that it would not dissolve sandarac: my introduction to modern sophisticated practice. With the recent growth of the essential oil industry, other ways of adulterating spike have emerged and been documented. Steffen Arctander, author of Perfume and Flavor Materials of Natural Origin, writes: "Partly because of its comparatively high price (compared to lavandin), partly because of the availability of tempting substitutes, Spike Lavender Oil is very often adulterated or "cut" with e.g. Spanish sage oil (grown in the same areas of Spain), rosemary oil, Lavandin oil, eucalyptus oil, fractions of these oils, fractions from terpineol production or from Chinese camphor oils, saponified lavandin oil, etc., etc." So, it's possible to make something that is less expensive than, but smells very similar to, spike lavender in many different ways from either natural or synthetic components, or a combination of the two.


      Here's the earlier PDF for spike at Kremer that went up in 2015. I put exclamation points by the ingredients that are not in actual spike lavender. This version also contained 5% terpinyl acetate (not in actual spike), and 9% camphene (0.2-1.9% in actual spike), which were listed on the preceding page.Compared to the proportions of the ingredients that are officially in spike lavender, this list seems to be so skewed, with linalol itself missing altogether, that this version probably does not contain any actual spike lavender. I have some of this, and it smells much milder than the spike lavender I got from an essential oil source, Mountain Rose in Oregon. But the Mountain Rose product could have been made up from the tempting essential oil alternatives listed above by their source. It's got some small white crystals on the sides of the bottle cap now, possibly from the camphor that was added.


      This is the version of the PDF that is now up on the Kremer European website. This is definitely a more sophisticated sophistication, using less expensive essential oils or synthetic components to create an analogue for spike lavender. D-limonene, linalyl acetate, alpha pinene, and especially camphene are far out of range for genuine spike, and linalol itself is quite low, and there is no borneol. How much spike lavender is actually in this one? A third? Or none, since all the components listed can be sourced from other essential oils? The version of the PDF on the American website now is quite brief. They didn't answer my email about this situation, but they did change the PDF in a hurry. This PDF lists France, Spain, and Yugoslavia as countries of origin and does not list specific components, just 72.69% ethereal oils and 27.31% odorous substance. The Lefranc & Bourgeois MSDS for their version of spike lavender is much more modern and creative: Ah, French chemistry! Lefranc & Bourgeois made no attempt to mimic what is in the actual substance. Why would they? There are no rules.


      This brings us to the version of spike lavender marketed as organic and natural by Chelsea Classic Studios and by Art Treehouse. Both of these companies put out offical looking PDF files with written by scientists about their product. The one by Chelsea Classic is more cursory, or furtive, really stating only that spike is non-carcinogenic. The one by Art Treehouse features a far more confident expert who summarizes the available scientific literature quite impressively, and actually is responsible enough to note that the materials is designed to replace turpentine, and therefore, should be used in very small amounts, replacing the cap of the bottle after using it. This author, however, also states that adverse reactions to spike are "allergic," and reversible. The issue of cumulative central nervous system damage by prolonged exposure to VOCs, resulting, for example, in Parkinson's Disease (which was originally called Painter's Disease) is not addressed in either PDF. Perhaps most tellingly, there is also no product analysis in either PDF. These are required in Europe, but not in the US. So, we do not know what is in the substance that they are choosing to call spike lavender. Art Treehouse states that their product is "100% natural, pure, and fully researched," but this is not the same as saying that is is pure spike lavender. Chelsea calls their product Spike Lavender Essence. What's in a name? Obfuscation.

      So, where does this leave us? Because the Chelsea, Art Treehouse, and more recent Kremer products avoid the traditional solvents that were formerly typical in spike sold to painters, it is possible that this approach is safer to use, in spite of involving little or no actual spike lavender. But there is still a great deal we do not know about prolonged exposure to these substances, and to imply that they are Mother Nature's gracious solution is a really insidious form of marketing, because they are not natural, but concentrated thousands of times more than the flowers from which they are made. I continue to feel there is no such thing as a safe solvent for oil painting, period. I started a post on Facebook last July about spike that now has 172 comments. The most frequent one goes like this: "Oh yeah, I bought into it, but it made me feel sick so I stopped using it." There is one positive comment about using the Art Treehouse spike, but they also mentioned that their significant other couldn't be around it and asked them to stop working with it. The only actual reason to use spike is to dissolve sandarac, but this can also be done with oil of rosemary, which is much less expensive than real spike, making spike only of interest romantically, or historically.


      So, finally, is there any such thing as 100% pure spike lavender? I mean, just for the heck of it? I've had good luck in the past with Alchemy Works in Rhode Island for high quality essential oils, but they don't have spike, so I'm going to get some from Lotus Garden in Maine, they actually discuss the three major components, and will send you a genuine MSDS (i.e., with chemical analysis) of anything you purchase. Also, at 26.00 an ounce, the price is right. Do I need this? No. But I want to understand what sandarac in spike is, because specific combinations of historic materials have often exhibited unique behaviors. It will also serve as a positive closing chapter in an otherwise murky tale.

      So, to summarize. In one sense it doesn't matter if the material is "real" or not as long as it does what you need it to do, and this is a very standard justification. In another sense there's always damage to the social contract with this type of fraud: what others are hidden away in the MSDS files of various products? The whole point with Kremer was always that they were telling the truth. Of course, the truth is in the MSDS, but not in a way that most people can comprehend. And to be honest, I never looked, because I trusted them. Another example of the weaponization of science by commerce. And I really don't like this. But it's important to keep things in perspective. Though it strikes close to home for me, this is a minor example of adulteration or betrayal compared to what is going on in the food industry. A small lie within a society full of big ones. But at least we now know why Leonardo and Durer spent time distilling spike lavender themselves. They had to.


      Only got one layer done on a painting this week, a great deal of other seemed to always be happening. This one from the Mugello is from last Fall: a little larger than the more detailed florals I've been working on the last few weeks, and the ground had an irregular texture. Both of those may be a good idea to keep in mind moving forward. 12.5x18 inches, oil on gessoed linen over panel.


      This is one that I started from life in 2001, fiddled with every few years or so, then finally put a layer on that I liked in 2014. I know, but sometimes that's just what happens. This was during the period when I refused to use any resin, and as time went on I felt that the painting had darkened a little over time. But, inspired by the recent Williamsburg oil yellowing test, where none of the oils yellowed appreciably in twelve hours of full spectrum light, I put it in a sunny window for a week and it definitely became lighter. I compared it with the original photo, but that was taken before I began with RAW files, so it's got way too much colour in it than I ever put on. Anyway, just an image I've always been interested in, am working on more developed colour in a new version, see last week, below, but this one has a certain something. 10x13 inches, oil on gessoed panel.

march 17

      Waxing moon, some of that gentle Piscean confusion off and on this week, a lack of focus now and then. More sun, always good, Spring is coming here slowly but surely now. One balmy day on Friday in which Lily returned to her old perch on the porch all day, it was great to see her calmly surveying her outdoor domain once again. More energy for the work, the first week like this in a while. Less creaky than last week, still, more to go with developing the system that was born out of last year's hiatus: it's logical but I haven't actually done it. But some of the more recent starts are over the halfway mark, beginning to feel more confidence, like I might know what to do again. Also began to refine a new linseed oil in a new way, truly coals to Newcastle at this point but couldn't resist.


      The Schumann Resonance is a measurement of very low frequencies in the Earth's electromagnetic field. For a long time is was pretty consistently around 7.83 hertz, but recently there have been lots of spikes now and then where it jumps up. The chart above covers three days; the white area on the right is an extended period of 12 hours on Saturday the 16th where the spikes went right off this chart, which ends at 40 hertz. Looked at another site and it apparently went as high as 130 hertz. There are different explanations for this, which tend to be about the Earth moving into the photon belt and a different type of cosmic background energy: literally a higher vibration for the planet and its plucky inhabitants. I began to keep track of this last year, when there were periods when I felt kind of odd, tired in a way, but also expanded, like I was being pulled out of the mundane game in order to see the bigger picture. Yesterday morning (Saturday the 16th) I felt that type of day coming on: spacey but pleasant, a day to do less, be more. It feels like I'm being re-tooled, given an opportunity for a bigger outlook. I always used to hope I could be less reactive to things like the mainstream news, now it's clear that it is a mass mind-control exercise, I don't even bother trying to figure out what's being obscured anymore by the latest round of sound and fury. If you are at all open to it, try turning it off, more peace and quiet makes it much easier to hear what's really going on. The mayhem is on the outside, the magic is on the inside.


      An oil is in the process of becoming available through Viking Sales that I wanted to try, the Ottosson cold-pressed organic oil from Sweden, a brown seed oil from a paint company designed for making paint. Haven't worked with a brown seed oil in a long time, first impressions are good, a very clean smell but older, nothing floral. I wanted to do a test of the simplest possible way of refining the oil using the emulsion approach. In theory this could be done with just water but I got waylaid by adding a little glycerin. It's always something. I wanted to add just enough to hold the emulsion but not enough so it wouldn't break with more water. Actually, I didn't add enough, it broke more quickly than I thought it would. But that's okay, a lot came out for one round of emulsifying and clearing. Photo above is the first wash in the process of clearing, lots of oil still in the bottom layer. I did three rounds of this: this one, then one with twice the water and glycerin, then one with three times the water and glycerin, removing the water and mucilage each time with a bulb baster.


      Then added 1000 ml of distilled water, and shook it to emulsify it again. It looked like a lot came out, thought maybe I'd overdone it. Also, the mucilage looked very soft, not easy to get the oil off of that.


      So I froze it overnight. The mucilage sort of sunk into the ice, the oil poured off cleanly. This was pretty simple, but I'm not sure it's done, will wash it one more time. Will do a test without glycerin next, I like the concept of progressively opening up the oil with several emulsions, then one wash with a large amount of water, but adding more water may be moot after a certain point. This approach has promise but needs more tests to get to know it better.


      The starch gel is an old friend from reading about things that have been found in Rembrandt's paint, did a lot of work with this a decade or so ago. It's also called cooked wheat paste, they have it at Talas, it's also the old-fashioned laundry starch, and what used to be used for wallpaper paste. It's not flour! Never worked with starch and the fused damar-beeswax approach before, but used it this week. Probably a little too much starch, okay on panel but definitely too much for using on stretched canvas. The mixture was mobile and more adhesive than elastic, see below. The starch supplied a lot of pull or drag on the relatively lean or dry underpaintings I was working on. Sometimes too much, but it wasn't bad, better to have things a little lean at this stage.




      First one of the week, the paint pulled a lot on this one and I got pretty involved with the background color. I'd love to keep it in the blue range but it may need to be greener or more neutral. An improvement but there's more to do here. 10x13 inches, oil on gessoed linen over panel.


      Wanted to integrate the foreground and background more in this one, ended up making a lot of adjustments, a little mushy, more to go but on its way somewhere new. About 12x15 inches, oil on gessoed linen over panel.


      The paint wasn't the best match for this one on the ground, which was still pretty absorbent, but I liked how it came out. Was focused on getting the light and the blossom and jar integrated, forgot to put another layer on the label. This will inevitably get more precise, so I want it a little more blunt at this point. The viewer's expectation is that this type of painting will be perfect in a certain way, that makes me want to figure out a different type of solution. 11x12.5 inches, oil on gessoed linen on panel.


      A thin and somewhat darker underpainting from last fall that was designed with a little too much colour, put a thin and less saturated layer on this one to clean it up. A little warmer in life. There are several of these, this one has the nicest feeling so far. 11x12.25 inches, oil on gessoed canvas over panel.


      Second layer on this one, a little small again for what the paint wanted to do, but fun to work on after concentrating on still life. A little too much overall chroma still. About 12.5x7.75 inches.



march 10

      First week of the moon, winter held on for most of the week but now looks to be departing relatively quickly. It wasn't that cold ever and no major snow events but the roller coaster effect made it seem longer than it was. With the new moon, a definite sense of gentle expansion on the one hand, but also confusion off and on, almost as though time itself is going in and out of focus. Well, something's sure going on with time. I feel good at this point with adapting to what wants to happen, can kind of feel better how to prioritize instead of pushing too hard. The challenge is when nothing happens, or I'm not at all sure what is happening. Being remains an issue compared to doing. Still, the book arrived, was fine, and started selling pretty well, see below, and I got an underpainting on one of the new panels. Am still figuring this out. On the one hand, I'd like this stage of the work to look more resolved, but on the other hand, it really can't be without defeating the purpose of the underpainting to explore the image incrementally in very thin and lean paint. Hopefully the slow beginning will lead to a brighter and more definitive finish.


      The books arrived on Monday afternoon, in eighteen boxes, a total of 630 lbs. Arrival in the snow, as usual. The UPS guy was, as always, not pleased. But when it became clear I would bring them all in myself he got a little wind in his sails, and we had a decent time of it. Opening the first box was a little intense, as I'd never seen a full-fledged proof or the new cover, but it was centered well, and even a little brighter than I thought it would be. It took a while to figure out where to put the boxes, but they were out of the way in a few days, some good new terrain for Lily in a few spots. Double wall boxes with only fourteen books per box, very little damage compared to the past, always nice.


      It's not quite this bright, but decently bright. I still like the slightly softer or moodier idea but it may well have taken another month of proofs to get it. The most important things this time were to have it feel more contemporary and happy, and to be easy to find when it gets buried in studio detritus. Sold a great many of these compared to a regular book week, thanks everyone and please let me know if you have any questions!


      Was able to get one of the new panels started this week. The watercolour layer on this one was on the day that the books arrived, between checking up on that and Lily bugging me for something still haven't figured out, probably just to stop since I was so basically distracted, that layer was definitely sub-par, but it doesn't really matter since the idea is to refine it slowly but surely anyway. Bottom two layers are with oil, the one on the right is with the putty made with chalk and lamp oil, the one on the left is with less of that putty, with a small amount of starch gel added. Larger photo of that one below. Very thin paint so far. I think a little starch may be a good idea for this style, but not this soon. A little creaky so far, but I like where the colours are, and that I had the sense to remove the extra paint from the blossom. We'll see where it goes from here. Time for lots more paint, or another defining layer with just a little saturation? 11x12.5 inches, oil on gessoed linen on panel.



march 3

      A colder week with some sun, then the snow and rain mix that is rapidly becoming a local specialty. Kind of the meteorological equivalent of scrapple coming out of the sky. Waning moon, had a few days of functional enthusiasm and got some new panels together, but then on Friday afternoon kind of hit a wall, plug pulled. This was one of the new features of 2018 and I began to look into possible causes over the year: astrological, Schumann Resonance, solar flares, magnetic storms, etc. And while this gave me a sense that something was definitely up in general, which the closure of that observatory in New Mexico did nothing to lessen, there was really no definitive pattern. So, took a nap, have learned to just rest these things out. And after I woke up from the nap, I felt different. Not a lot different, but different enough to notice. Sort of like, instead of the old personality continuing to dissolve, a new personality was beginning to take shape. So, this was pretty exciting after about a year of watching my former self circle the drain. Of course, I'd begun to, well, not complain, but request a little more clarity. Over the years I've learned I have more say in this process than I was brought up to think: that if I ask, there's necessarily a response. It may be oblique, it may be direct, it may be a dream indicating why what I'm asking for is not really in my best interests, but the request is not ignored. I was taught to be very independent, and this works well to an extent in life, but in larger terms it's possible to be too tough, there's no dialogue, just the small "I" without the larger "Thou." I was mad enough for various reasons to try this for a long time, long enough that it has been a great relief to stop. And now I can see that I needed to learn the limits -- the profound limits -- of the independent "I" concept itself. New edition of the book arrives in the week to come, a little early, UPS is telling me the fourth and fifth. This manages to dodge the serial installments of snow and rain, but the fifth is the day that Mercury goes retrograde so hopefully that swiftly mischievous planet will be busy causing trouble somewhere other than with UPS in East Mt. Airy. With my old bindery, so much went wrong, for so long, in every conceivable way, that, at this point, a large delivery like this is a little fraught. It's interesting to try to be positive about something when so much experience has been the opposite, sort of life's great challenge in a nutshell. New moon on the sixth, with sun and moon conjunct Neptune and Uranus entering Taurus from Aries, this one looks like the beginning of something really new, appropriate for the month when the solar year actually begins, and long overdue in my humble opinion. The Neptune influence has the potential for inaugurating either greater awareness or confusion in the collective unconscious -- I mean, it will manifest as both, depending on the orientation of the individual -- and Uranus in Taurus will result in some long term revolutionary changes regarding the concepts of possessions and property. These may be on the abrupt side compared to the influence of Neptune, Uranus tends to take no prisoners when it kicks out Saturn's old order; even America may implement a more ethical or win-win approach to the distribution of wealth over the next few years. This is of course a pretty brief overview, if you'd be interested in hearing an exceptionally good astrologer talk about what this new moon is about, go here.


      I'm trying to minimize processed food, especially stuff that has sat on a shelf for months, this is an experiment to see how this affects what you might call low-grade systemic inflammation. For a while I've been working on this idea of a simple cracker without wheat. I tried it with barley flour, and liked that, but I can't get organic barley flour locally or grind whole barley right now: well I can, but its a pain. So I shifted to oats, I can grind steel-cut oatmeal. So, these are a half cup of steel-cut oats, ground finely, but not too finely, 1 tablespoon of oil, such as ev olive oil, or ghee, 2 tablespoons plus 1/2 teaspoon of water, and a pinch or two of sea salt. The oil gets rubbed into the oat flour, then the water and salt are added. The dough starts out a little soft and sticky but firms up as the oat flour absorbs the water. Then you make them into five or six small cakes, and either bake them in the oven on about 300 (just a guess, maybe 325) or (what I've been doing) on top of the stove in a covered skillet on low heat, careful here because they burn easily, about 12-15 minutes on each side. They're plain but very nice as is, crumbly and relatively sweet. You could also add a tablespoon of coarsely chopped up raisins to the dough. You can of course double, triple, quadruple the recipe but this is a nice scale at which to learn how this translates to your equipment. There are lots of different ways to make this type of thing, generally called Oat Cakes, most of the recipes online are from the UK, I just liked the relative primitivism of this approach.


      Lily discourages me from doing anything that doesn't make me happy. She gets right on it, busting up the situation relentlessly if need be. So it was not exactly straightforward getting my taxes done this week!


      Made some panels this week for the new approach that came together over the last year. Made them with a portrait linen, I've always avoided the strict regularity of this fabric but there's nothing chunkier at this point with an even enough weave to be put on a panel without then putting on lots of coats of gesso, and even then it's a little iffy if threads are going to end up being proud in a thinner technique. If there are heavier threads in the warp or weft, this isn't going to be an issue if the linen is stretched on canvas, but it can be a pretty big issue on panel, where they can stick out significantly. So, to compensate for the regularity of the weave, made an absorbent gesso with some tooth, this stuff feels like very fine sandpaper. I can't believe how long I've been making glue gesso and how much I'm still learning about its potential. So, have some images lined up to explore, am hoping the new moon provides an opportunity.


      I've become a big fan of the test panel, it provides a lot of information over time. Here's a recent one featuring some oils that have proven to be relatively non-yellowing, along with a few that I know are going to yellow more for contrast. There's also a test of the lead white made with leaded oil a few weeks ago, to see if it'll be 20% plumbonacrite in 400 years. A little technical art history humor there! I started this in late November, very low humidity in the winter, so a few of the samples are just beginning to darken slightly. These are all oils I know pretty well, so there shouldn't be too many surprises here, but it's always good to see things in this naked and comparative way. I do this type of test on glue or PVA gesso, if it's done on acrylic gesso there will be significant yellowing. This is a phenomenon that conservators know about, called Support Induced Discoloration, but which doesn't get that much publicity. Like many of the things that conservators know about.


      An older test panel, this one started in late 2016, and contained a lot of things I thought would darken, I just wanted to see how much. Right in the center there's some of the thick Kremer stand oil, I wanted to see if even this would be darkened by an addition of gum arabic, and it was. It was hard to give up on gum arabic, it has such a great rheology in oil, but its affinity for water makes darkening very difficult to avoid. In contrast, the column of samples on the right was made with a methyl cellulose tempera, and these are the lightest on the panel. A few surprises here, I've found that some of the leaded oils I gave up on years ago as too yellowing have aged to the point where they yellow much less: lower left corner. Also, there are some resin additions here that yellowed more than anticipated, and some that also yellowed less. So it's interesting to revisit these. It takes a moment to decipher it; remember what a given set of tests was about, but then it's fun to explore the logic of it. One thing I want to return to in the weeks to come is the addition of a small amount of starch gel to the current fused damar medium. Starch creates a look and rheology I really like and definitely contributes to the work remaining brighter over time. But the timing of all of this has been such that starch and fused damar have never intersected. So, that might be interesting as a way to give the later layers of the new approach a little more textural oomph.



february 24

      Week of the full moon, some snow but more rain, we were on the outer edge of a very large storm that came across the southern states this week. Got a little bit of work done, and finished the final version of the book, finally. An interesting example of the last few feet to the summit being the hardest just for the heck of it. Oh, he's getting close again? Plague of locusts. Otherwise, it still feels like I'm supposed to be patient and let everything continue to slowly dissolve. On the one hand, this process is reasonably merciful: if you're slated to dissolve, it might be best to do it bit by bit, so it doesn't get too intense at any stage. Okay, I'm still here, I'm just not who I recently was. And I do appreciate the way things have become more spacious, less reactive, bit by bit. Time itself has definitely changed. But, after almost a year of this, I would really like it to come to some kind of conclusion. Yet there's no point in struggling with this, saying, that's enough of this evolving stuff, it's time to paint again. It began last March, so maybe it will conclude this March. The dream I recorded on December 30 just seemed to say I'd be going straight up all winter long, and this has been true. Getting sick felt like it was more about jettisoning old stuff than anything else: no more caffeine now for two weeks. I'd have to also say that being stopped so long ended up generating a different painting system that I like, which only needs to be explored further by being plugged in more often. So, it's like a new landscape has been set in place to explore. On the other hand, it's clear that the personal aspect of this process, slowly changing from a cube back into a sphere, could go on indefinitely. It seems to come down to trusting that the process has a purpose. I got used to this with painting, but who knew it was going to get so personal!


      The co-op got some Japanese sweet potatoes, these are great now and then. I do the slices in a large iron skillet on low with just a little oil or ghee. Very nice with half an avocado.


      On Wednesday afternoon I got back from my walk and Lily was up in the porch roof next door. She doesn't usually meow, but she was meowing away like the classic stranded cat. She had climbed the giant hydrangea, and hopped off onto the roof, but didn't want to take the hydrangea back down. It wasn't that big a deal in terms of things I've seen her do physically, but she ignored my suggestion that she just go down the way she came up. The neighbors could have let her in on the roof by a window, but they were out. I got a ladder, and was able to get up onto the porch to where she was and say hello, which was appreciated. But I didn't know what to do then, it was a little precarious to start wrestling with her and she didn't want to come to the edge of the roof where I was. She had limits, and sharply defined limits at that. So I was on my way to get the cat carrier, with the idea of getting her in there first, when another neighbor showed up, someone who has had cats all their life, and knows Lily. She said you have to grab them by the scruff of the neck, and they go limp, it's how they get carried around when they're kittens. She offered to demonstrate, and I said sure. So she went up on the ladder, I followed, and she handed a limp Lily down to me. Simple. Lily then scampered off, running full speed down the sidewalk as a way of re-establishing her magnificent dignity. Photo of the hydrangea and the roof, there was no snow that afternoon but you can see how the hydrangea provided access.


      Got another proof of the cover, it was better but still looked noticeably dull. So, amped up the colours once more, a little more this time, and fiddled with font size and placement. It looks a little zippy to me but that's probably the right way for it to look at this stage. The green especially has tended to drop down, blend more. This process could easily go on for another month but I decided to just go ahead and print it. New books arrive on March 8.


      The most recent start, an image I've done several versions of, but wanted to begin with more precision and detail. This is layer four, the first one with oil paint, no tempera involved. I used some of the lead white made with leaded oil, see January 27, this has thickened but was still very nice to work with. This image was around 4 pm on December 7 in Vermont, a very still, hushed quality overall, it was just beginning to get darker. These have tended to go towards a blue-purple atmosphere, wanted to hold this one in a more neutral place as long as possible to see what would happen. I was wondering how this tempera-first technique would develop, and it feels like, after a certain point, there's been enough carefulness, and it's time to complete it. So, the next layer will probably move it more towards the airier feeling of the version below, from a few years ago, but have a greater sense of detail beneath it. This one is about 9.5x15.75 inches, oil over tempera, on gessoed canvas over panel.



february 17

Well, I'm not sick anymore but I'm not really better yet either. But I'll take it! Nothing like illness to get things back to basics in a hurry. I haven't been sick in a while, but this is the classic time for me. There's a sense of a new beginning at my birthday, but really, energetically, the year is still ending: the new year begins on March 21, not January 1. So, a no-heroics week of putting things back together slowly, some in-progress photos below from last week. I didn't have enough patience or chromatic resourcefulness to work this way before, but they're getting more interesting to me as they proceed. Less forcing, more allowing.


Got the next proof of the cover back, it wasn't bad but needed some definite tweaking. Still in progress here, but easier with a model now of how their printer alters the colour: the green is too bright, but it won't be. Need to recheck the centering and fiddle with the horizontal spacing on the front more. One more proof of this and hopefully it can be printed.


Just slightly saturated layer on this one, layer four I think, it got a little wet and I added chalk to the background, higher chalk concentration areas dried a little lighter.


Warmer than in life, I guess this is how I want to continue with it. Just a little more detail and contrast this time, sort of feeling how this one wants to be different than the first one.


Lily took really good care of me this week, when I was sick she stayed right on the bed the whole time. She was very happy when I started playing with her again, this meant things were returning to normal.

february 3

      An arctic outbreak this week all over the east, not that cold really here, but sudden. A little snow, then some bright sun. When I first lived in Vermont in the 80s and 90s, the winter weather was really consistent, and there was always an arctic outbreak in February. Minus 20 at night, barely above zero during the day, absolutely still, and brilliantly sunny, the snow sparkling like diamonds. A very beautiful time, especially when I lived more in the country. Last week of the moon, new moon here tomorrow. Continued on finishing up the book, lots of small changes to the text, and lots of different variations on a simple cover idea. Birthday this week, for me this is mostly about feeling what comes in, and it felt sort of cautiously optimistic. Between the new year, a birthday, a new moon, and finishing up the book, it would be logical to have painting recur in the week to come. But, we'll see what wants to happen, the plug was pulled for a reason. My sense of what the process is about has certainly changed through having it disappear.


      Well, made a lot of covers for the book this week. Most of them were various shades of celadon green, but then I went back to blue. The blue is on the light side because the blue in the first proof darkened the most of all the colours. The lighter text colour was more orange at first but this seemed too obvious. I don't do that much in flat plane colour so this was a learning experience. Reviewed them at the end of the week and ended up liking the overall feeling of the one pictured here. Still need to tweak some positioning, especially on the back, but in general it feels good. Thought about various different graphic elements, but wanted to avoid anything too specifically cosmic-geometric or triadic or even cute. It is interesting to obsess about getting something truly right but come to the conclusion that, beyond a certain point, it just doesn't matter that much. You can go halfway to the wall forever, but to what end if the process ceases to be natural? It's sort of like saying kangaroo over and over, both the word and the process become meaningless. Perhaps this is simply the mortal definition of completion: Daedelus, not Icarus. So, I'll tweak this then send it out for another physical proof, I think it's at the place where adjustments based on that proof will be enough. I just need a digital proof of the text. Yet, this is much easier to obsess over endlessly, of course! But in spite of getting another PDF together this week after numerous incremental changes, there are a few places where I tried to be too scholarly and omniscient, an awkward combination, and these really need to be reined in. The information from conservation and technical art history is always interesting, but it's also a landscape that's constantly changing, and, in some ways, relatively abstract. What I actually learned is most important to the book, and this came from what I made, not what I read.


      Roland sent me some interesting information about white lead, a reconstruction of ways white lead was made in medieval Persia, the recent use of photoluminescence to identify many factors in historic white lead that have before been impossible to determine, it just goes on and on. Pictured here, the molecular synopsis of what happened to the white lead in a Rembrandt that was exposed to sulphur dioxide from atmospheric pollution, causing a layer of lead sulphate to form on the surface. An interesting note is that the modern process of making lead carbonate begins with lead acetate, not the metal itself, and makes a much simpler end product chemically than the older stack process. This is not alkaline -- "basic" lead carbonate -- but neutral, and may in fact be more stable over time. I thought a lot about ways to transform modern pigment this week but, again, its stability may limit what can happen here chemically. Making the paint with a leaded oil may be the most effective way, see photo of this from last week.


      The thing about Lily is that she has to be in the mood to play, but then play is imperative. I got this goofy simple toy from the co-op a while ago, just some kraft paper twine attached to a springy length of wire. The idea was to attach it somewhere so your cat could entertain themselves with it. But even though she liked that it sprung back and bounced around, it was too much, her interest in it was intermittent and short. Then I learned how to make it behave more like a large, erratic bug. This is comical, less predictable, and has been a bigger hit. She is also back to being more of her old acrobatic self since the change in diet after the UT issue: no more dry food, just a grain-free wet food that she likes, and is also lowering her weight, albeit slowly for now. She couldn't go outside this week during the cold, and was a little antsy sometimes. At one point she nipped my wrist to get my attention from the computer and I had to explain that the usual paw was enough! It's not always easy to stop and play with her on schedule, but if I do, this takes care of it and is fun for me too. I made her a big box with an hole to hide in, and at some point she zips in there, then swats wildly at my fingertips as they come into view around the entrance. She's got the dark wild mighty huntress eyes going inside the box, and her paw makes these resounding thuds on the cardboard box. It's very funny, and she's very careful not to shred me. Not quite in character, but it makes the game go on longer.

january 27

      Third week of the moon, I felt kind of wiped out after the eclipse on Sunday, or maybe wiped clean is more accurate. The tail end of the personal year, birthday in the week to come, am looking forward to what has seemed just beyond the horizon for some time now to arrive. Have no idea what it is, but it's there. Had a few quiet days before the proof of the book arrived, one sort of holistic thing that has occurred to me lately is that, just as there are all kinds of particles doing all kinds of jobs quite well in my body that I'm not aware of, and that these particles may well have all kinds of personalities and stories of their own, I'm also a particle doing my own particular job within a much larger being. Thoughts like these are a helpful antidote to the way consensus culture tries to lock human consciousness into its sad little materialist cell. Then the proof of the book arrived, and I started working on the next phase of that project, details below. There was also a lot of correspondence with my patient friend Roland this week about the recent Rembrandt and plumbonacrite situation, or flap, technical art history as journalistic bling, that I've also detailed below.


      As a kid I always loved rocks, and I got more involved with their metaphysical properties in earnest last year as I began to feel that it might be wise in a large city to make more of an effort to neutralize environmental negativity. There was absolute reams of information on this online, and acting on it it seemed to work out well. Always hard to tell without more sophisticated apparatus, but I felt better, which I consider enough. Then, because I've always been bugged by nonsense placeholder dreams, I began to get rocks designed to influence dreams in positive ways. Since, from the contemporary metaphysical perspective, it is a tossup which phase of human life is actually "real," and which is an "illusion," I thought a more conscious relationship with that half of the coin might be helpful. Now, before you roll those great big Calvin eyes, try living without sleep. After the space beneath my pillow began to look like a rock shop, I decided to call a halt to this, and began adjusting the rock recipe itself. I ended up liking calmer rocks, even though the dreams generated by jazzy, energetic rocks had been fun for a while. Anyway, there was one rock that kept calling my name, blue calcite, and since it was relatively inexpensive, and my rocks are mostly green, I decided to get some of it. There are all kinds of things attributed to it online, but, mundanely, it is proving to be an interesting combination of calming and stabilizing. I mention this process because of the complexity of doing things by intuition. Is this a "real" intuition, or an "illusory" intuition? Will this help, or does my inner ten year old just want more rocks? It seems like waiting a while helps differentiate between the two.


      Got the first proof of the book this week, it was delivered to the wrong house but I knew where to look. It is a little weird stealing your own package off of someone else's porch, but it was pouring rain and I got away with it. Something I learned long ago at Andover: don't get caught. The text was pretty good, no misprints, always a great relief. Some of the headings needed to be adjusted, and there was one instance where I'd changed the style of a heading, the smallest one, several times, but the program hadn't adjusted this globally. Ah, Word! The program, like the culture that generated it, is too complex to bother with getting the simple things right. But don't worry, there will be no consequences! Oh, wait, there are consequences? You mean, we're living them? Right now?!? Then there were a few small things I'd missed, where a heading reverted to the base style in the PDF. Interesting how much easier it is to see this stuff on the physical page. So, the text is not in bad shape. Especially compared to the cover, which I had to declare a disaster zone. Too much colour that changed in too many different ways in chroma and value to have a prayer of figuring it out expeditiously. The bindery does have a neat solution for this, it involves dropping the code of their colour printer into Photoshop. But I don't need the real Photoshop, especially since it involves a subscription program that is hard to get out of. Another software giant that is locally beloved. But don't worry you guys, greed has no consequences! So, I went back to the simpler and more personal cover approach, which I like better. Suddenly there were a lot of new ideas, but hopefully this will sort itself out naturally over the next few days.


      Okay, gird your loins! If you have been following technical art history for a while, you may remember when they first found starch in Rembrandt's paint, and peoolle started putting flour in their contemporary paint, thinking that this would give them Rembrandt's paint. Okay, latest version of this sympathetic craziness; there are some articles out on the web now saying that the secret of Rembrandt's impasto has been discovered and that it is plumbonacrite. So, go out and get some plumbonacrite and become Rembrandt in a day! These of course are not scientific articles, they are oversimplifications just looking to get readership, and Rembrandt is now star material. Keeping up with the Van Rijns, tonight at 9, 8 central. And of course, plumbonacrite, as such, is a rare mineral, not that easy to get. But it is also a constituent of lead white pigment, and here the actual story begins. The actual research itself was headed by Victor Gonzalez, and found plumbonacrite in excess of 20 percent in Rembrandt's impasto white, whereas there was no plumbonacrite in the white used for smooth passages. Plumbonacrite is one of the minor lead species in the material we call basic lead carbonate. It is generated early on in the reaction, see chart below, but is then largely transformed back into hydrocerrusite. There has always been interest in plumbonacrite, because one of its forms has a plate-like crystal and a nacreous visual quality that is very appealing. A US patent was taken out on making it in the 1940s, and Grumbacher even marketed a lead white made with it in the 60s. But plumbonacrite made by the patented process was not different enough to make a difference, apparently. But the other form of plumbonacrite has been found in recent paint that does exhibit a nacreous quality. Gonzalez states that the large amount of plumbonacrite in the Rembrandt impasto white is the result of the medium having an alkaline quality: at about pH 10, the hydrocerrusite begins to reconvert into plumbonacrite. Water seems to also help this reaction: plumbonacrite can be generated from hydrocerrusite, litharge, or both, in the laboratory in alkaline water. And it was centuries before the paintings in question existed in a truly controlled environment. So, pursuing this route, the most likely candidate for alkalinity in the oil is litharge, i.e., a leaded oil. In this case the oil is not used specifically to make the paint dry faster, but because of the rheology it generates for the paint. See second photo below for what this paint looks like, made with an aged leaded oil and, of course, with modern lead carbonate.

       And this brings us to what I feel may be the central issue here. There are a few different compartments of science that work on the technology of older paintings. One is technical art history, another is conservation science, and the third is hard science. Now, hard science is the last one to this party, and may well have arrived because articles about well-known older painters generate funding and press. The Gonzalez research I would classify as hard science, it is published in a journal about corrosion, this is all about atoms and molecules. Now, there is absolutely nothing wrong with this, but one thing about hard science is that it is quite compartmentalized. It does not tend to recognize the existence of any other forms of science, this makes hard science uncomfortable. Now, if the situation is just about atoms and molecules, that is fine. But the problem with the hard science approach to how this occurred -- the white lead is modified in situ over the centuries by the alkaline medium -- is that there are several factors related to older practice established by technical art history that are not taken into consideration.

       The first is that the "ideal" lab reaction and the reaction in stack process lead white made with 1) vinegar not acetic acid, 2) decaying horse manure not carbon dioxide, and 3) an impure version of the metal that was cast, not rolled, and has also been shown (great article in Trade in Artist's Materials on older lead) to be composed of different lead isotopes than modern lead, may produce products with very different proportions of lead compound sub-species. The second factor not taken into account is that lead carbonate from the stack process always needs to be washed to become whiter. There is a paper by Stols-Witlox, Megens, and Carlyle called To Prepare White Excellent that documents almost three dozen different older methods of washing the pigment. The third factor is that the pigment was often dampened before mulling it to keep the toxic dust level down. This way, you lived longer. The fourth factor is that the Rembrandt Project has established that Rembrandt, at least at one point, made his own lead white. So, with the significant variables of the first factor we have the possibility that older lead carbonate made by the stack process could be a relatively different pigment from the beginning than the ideal modern lead carbonate of the laboratory. Factors two and three introduce water, which is key to the reformation of plumbonacrite, to the situation. How was the pigment washed? With something alkaline, like wood ash? Was it damp only a day or two, a month or two, or a year or two, before being made into paint? The oil situation in older painting shows that time itself is often the actual lost secret. Finally, making stack process white lead is a craft of its own, and who knows how Rembrandt chose to execute the process? Was the manure from horses fed on hay, or grass? You think I'm kidding, but this is one of the first things that an early correspondent mentioned to me: get manure from horses on pasture. Rembrandt modified everything else in the process to be uniquely his, why not the way the white pigment was made? It is the star of the later system.

       Anyway, I am not saying that the observation that the pigment's medium must have been alkaline is wrong, especially in light of what the white lead paint I made with an aged leaded oil looked like, but it is an atoms and molecules only solution. Information from the different scientific compartment of technical art history suggests that it may be incomplete as an explanation for the large amount of plumbonacrite that has been found in the paint. It is always a good idea to consider that what seems so much like it must be the solution now, will probably turn out to be only part of the solution later. And hopefully, this explanation will help people realize that adding plumbonactite -- which may, ahem, suddenly appear now at high prices in the predictable locations -- to their lead white is not going to generate Rembrandt's magical impasto white. (Thanks very much to my friend Roland, a omnivorous scientist who visits all departments of science, and who helped me understand the chemistry of this much better this week.)


      Micro-photograph by Roland of the early stage of the lead white process showing litharge being turned into plumbonacrite.


      Schematic diagram of the laboratory process.


      Paint made with a seven year old leaded oil and modern lead carbonate pigment. A very small amount of oil accepted a very large amount of pigment, making a relatively lean paint. This paint is quite dense, but also quite elastic and mobile. Comparatively, the paint made with aged linseed oil alone showed much more resistance, did not take as much pigment, and would not, probably, make the same level of detail with the same natural facility. Given the amount of pigment in contemporary lead white paint, I'd say, double the price to get this pigment level, but of course without the leaded oil the rheology would be much more dense or pastose, like the Old Holland "Cremnitz" white that Lucien Freud used. Will this paint age to a higher plumbonacrite level in three or four centuries? I have no idea, but I like the way it looks and have started some tests with it. There's also the idea of adding a little litharge directly to the paint, less than one percent, but this is proving noticeably warm in a test so far. There are also various ways to make plumbonacrite from either litharge or hydrocrrusite in relatively alkaline water, but so far it seems like doing that in useable amounts in this particular location is not the best idea.


      "Do I take photos of you in the bathtub?" Lily is pretty arboreal, when I put in this new pine shelf unit I knew the top of it would become a lilypad. Did more research into what new food Lily would really like this week, there are several brand choices in the simple protein department, but so far there are a couple clear winners, which are always good to have in numbers. The new diet is already making a difference in her weight and level of enthusiasm, she's attacking her virtual prey with renewed vigor. It's true I could often do with a little less enthusiasm at the crack of dawn, and I don't have to tell you hiding under the covers does not work, but there's only one Lily.

january 20

      Waxing moon, more seasonal weather, a little wintry at times, but rain today, not snow. Heading towards an eclipse around midnight Sunday night here, kind of a calm before the storm feeling right now. In older astrology eclipses were seen as just plain bad, but now the symbolism seems to be about uncovering things that are hidden, or ending things that have outlived their usefulness, so we'll see what this one brings. It feels like the demand for real culture is there, but as yet doesn't have an official place to stand. Hard to see how this changes gently or incrementally, since it has been held back for so long. Yet it needs to for the same reason. So it will be interesting to see what tack this eclipse takes in terms of the collective narrative, what emerges that has been hidden: plenty of choices out there. Last year I got a recurring sense of a false or hollow stability: society as the performer continuing to pretend that the tattered mask is impenetrable. At what point do we officially see beneath the surface? When does enough of the audience realize it has been tricked for that information to come to general awareness? Always interesting to see what these events bring up personally as well: I remind myself to expect the unexpected, but of course this is designed to come out of the blue. The sense of wading through oobleck continued this week, perhaps this is the collective getting ready to shed another layer of the illusory skin. I'm slowly getting used to going along with the tenor of the day when it's not exactly what I had it mind. Mostly worked this week on tweaking the book and its cover, always plenty to obsess about at the very end before saying enough already, more on the book below. Did get some work done that turned out decently, but after about a year of this on again off again hiatus stuff, it would be really great to wake up and have the focus on painting once again. Recently realized that this period began almost exactly when Saturn went into my fifth house early last Spring. The symbolism is logical, ongoing creative constraints, but if this is true, I've got almost another year of this to go. It doesn't quite feel that way, it feels more like there's about to be a part two to this that is different. Still, have to admit I learned a lot about all the things I'd been avoiding learning about in 2018, which led to a greater sense of balance. This didn't seem to be enough about doing to me until I realized that when something is balanced, it can spin on its axis much faster. So, it feels like my lesson will remain focused on maintaining the larger perspective that began in 2018. I keep thinking that I need to learn more about painting, an old habit, but the consistent suggestion is that I need to learn more about patience. I have a feeling this is because patience slows things down. Whether on the outside or the inside, this enables us to see more of what is really there.


      For a while I got concerned about Lily gaining weight with the new food that the vet prescribed for her UT issue, but then I began to wonder if it was just a form of operator error on the scale, because it didn't keep going. She is a little chunky now, and sleeping a lot with the dark and dank weather, but she's pretty frisky when she's up and about, involved in all kinds of Lily humor, part Xena, part Lucille Ball. And everything about the litter box is now fine. Then it occurred to me that the weight issue might be the new food itself, solving one issue but causing another. So I got involved one night in looking at the ratings of cat food. Holy Guacamole! Another massive universe of information. Helpful? Arbitrary? It turns out there is a lot of guessing in cat food, there are many ingredients that may or may not be good for them. The wet food I had been feeding her was average at best, the food the vet prescribed was far below average. Hmm. But, it did work to solve the UT issue. And I've noticed there's a lot of anti-vet sentiment online. But I decided to get her something that was highly rated, to see what that might be like in terms of her response, and also her weight. So, got her two choices that are similar to the current prescription food, turkey in gravy, but with far simpler ingredients. They had to be ordered online, and of course are not cheap, haha. But it felt like a good decision: there's only one Lily. When the student was ready, the teacher in fact arrived.


      Got everything wrapped up with the PDF for the book and uploaded the files to the printer. Made a lot of little changes to the text, there was one thing I wanted to emphasize in several places. These are tricky when there's an index because nothing can move from page to page, usually have to remove from a page in order to add. Oh yes, there's a craft to everything. Made the cover pretty light and bright because the value structure always seems to drop more than a bit in the process. I'm sort of excited that the book is done, it began in 2008, really seems like a milestone. But working on it sure has been great therapy over the last decade. No matter what was going on in the world or my life, I could make the book better. In the beginning this often meant trying to see how many noteworthy words I could get into a single sentence, but in the end it became about just explaining things clearly. There is something beautiful about a sentence that knows where it is going, and just goes there. In the beginning there were some intermittent crabby observations in the book, usually about the excesses of modernism in the 20th century, or the relatively self-serving version of science used by the coatings industry to cover its tracks. But, bit by bit, I learned to accentuate the positive: this becomes a kind of figure-ground exercise in which the negative is defined, but without even being acknowledged. Ah, negativity, our constant nimble shadow here on planet Earth, caveats at every turn, think how much we learn from it! A proof will arrive in the next week or so, I'll be surprised if anything goes awry but it's a new set of machines, so you never know. Once the proof is right, the books usually take a few weeks, so I'm thinking before the end of February. I haven't ever promoted the book to the extent that it's now possible -- that is, for free -- on the internet, but will probably start to do that in February. This is a little tricky. The book has a consistent perennialist subtext that explains reality, and therefore realism, as a cosmic metaphor involved in the interaction of various polarities or sets of opposites. This is related to the medieval concept of signatures, the physical world as metaphysical manifestation, and to everyone from Zoroaster to Pythagoras. I've really enjoyed developing this as a frame of reference, since it takes the book into the realm of philosophy, and why wouldn't you want to end up there? This of course became taboo territory in the 20th century textbooks about painting. Well, those written in America anyway. The scientists I've worked with are all pretty spiritual people in an understated way, have known that "the truth" isn't static, but always changes as the frame of reference always expands. I look forward to the day when science and spirituality can coexist peacefully in the collective consciousness. But for now, it may be best to simply call the book an innovative system for painters interested in working more closely with their materials.


      Got a third layer on the recent lilacs start, this one used paint with just a little bit of a saturating fused damar and beeswax medium. So, darker darks, and not quite as bright as the very lean first layers using lamp oil and chalk, but still far from my older level of saturation. Also very thin paint each time so far, this panel was relatively plane but it still has some linen texture left. Like where this is for this point, the question is whether to continue it in this relatively gentle, incremental way, or use a more rococo medium to finish it. I guess the best thing is to do what wants to happen, at this point I don't feel that this will stall if I keep going slowly. About 12x15 inches, oil on gessoed linen over panel.

january 13

      Waxing moon, colder and more sunny week. This moon seems to be dredging in my Marianas trench, every day. This is intense in its own murky way since I have no idea what is coming up next. Mundanely, got through an absurd number of crazy occurrences in finishing the PDF for the book, including Word spontaneously uninstalling itself, but everything just led to the next step: it turned out that reinstalling it was much better than having it fix itself in terms of increasing its stability. So, I finally have a 586 page PDF without errors. I girded my loins and went to the CreateSpace site to begin the next step, but, lo and behold, it had been replaced by an Amazon site, Kindle Publishing, I think it was called. Experiencing even one page of this site was so much like being taken aboard the Borg ship -- especially the resistance is futile part -- that I decided not to go further: resistance seemed imperative. A little frustrating at first, but I sort of had a feeling that it wasn't going to work out. In retrospect it seems like I wanted to generate a greater sense of financial security through this move. But, realistically, the book is not as good a tool for that as the paintings. So, hopefully the work will come back into focus in the weeks to come now that the book is all but over. Got a quote from a bindery in Minnesota that I like, and have another one coming from one in Michigan. Both of these binderies feature some decent options in terms of heavier paper and the one in Minnesota has lots of creative cover options as well. I love the idea of a simple cover made with good paper but it feels like this approach would be too fragile for a book designed to be used and used some more. Still, there are options, and I'm dealing with human beings. Freight from the Midwest will be higher than from New England, but their prices are lower than the old bindery, and with the old bindery, there was an awful lot of Murphy's Law over the years. So, we'll see. I got pretty wound up this past week but there's no huge hurry: the big build-up only produces the big letdown. Practically, the next step is another try at making a simple cover that feels right, then getting a proof. I know I get kind of worked up trying to turn the cover into an immortal work of art, but also know it doesn't matter that much. An uneasy balance there between the person who cares too much and the person who sees that none of it matters. But, since I've got a little extra time, it seems like it might be worth exploring one more time.


      Third layer on this one, oil with a little bit of a looser fused damar putty medium added. More to go, but I like where this is headed so far. 10x13 inches, oil on gessoed linen over panel.


       Snow showers early this morning.




      I guess everyone scampers about in their own way.


      Oh, nothing.


      The room where I work has really nice light for what I'm doing. Not the biggest, but it's okay if I keep things organized.


       Cats are interesting about politeness, Lily will always defer to me about going through a doorway, or up the stairs, unless I tell her to go first. She doesn't really like having a camera pointed at her, I think she feels it's impolite. I often get a very blank look if I take a picture of her full on. This is frustrating because of the way her personality generally just radiates from her eyes. So, this week I tried a few photos where the camera wasn't at eye level. These are a little trickier, this is at night, the camera on the desk, I was looking at the computer, not her. Does she look like a benevolent, multi-dimensional cosmic being here, observing her ever-deluded, somewhat goofy human pupil, or is that just me?

For further information on technique or a specific painting please contact tadspurgeon@gmail.com
copyright © 2002-2019 by Tad Spurgeon. All rights reserved.
web site design by Axis Web Design.