Tad Spurgeon oil paintings

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A Sunday look at process and work in progress.




june 24
      

      Waxing moon, full moon this Thursday. Solstice this week, it felt quite different, like being on a happier planet all day long. Mix of sun and rain, slowly getting hotter and more humid here, a background sense of turbulence. Last year I made a cold-brewed tea overnight with rose hips and hibiscus flowers, simplified Red Zinger, very cooling, started making that again this week, added some lemon grass to one batch but really like it better without. The work made a shift back into direct shape and colour, this was kind of a surprise but provided an interesting break, there seems to be a lot to explore this time. It feels like the Queen Anne's Lace beginning from last week went far enough towards literalism, I reached the boundary. This week generated some more personal colour, but also some alternative ways of approaching the surface. So, again it seems to be about learning more about the process, but that this isn't necessarily incremental, or logical on the surface. But if there's turbulence, maybe it needs to be part of the process as well.



      

      Oil refining continues! Since the chlorophyll refined oil dried faster than the original salt and sand refined oil, decided to try another version of it. This one was just shaken by hand, no immersion blender, and may have worked out better. This exhibited some interesting changes, including the bubble effect in the mucilage.



      

      Had to finally get more sand this week, went through the last of what was coarse enough to work for refining. It has to be silica, this is where most people encounter issues, thinking sand is sand. Mua-ha-ha, the planet where nothing is what it appears to be. The reaction is electrical, silica is hydrophobic and puts out a charged to repel the water. This charge is what attracts the mucilage, the sand is always embedded with grease. Anyway, did a lot of research on silica sand this week, but the winner in terms of price per pound is still this one, which is actually coarsely cracked flint, and dust free. The reason I mention this is that pool filter media is undergoing a metamorphosis, undoubtedly due to the shipping cost of the sand. So, this stuff may or may not be available for too much longer. This is a lot of sand, but sand can be used for lots of different things, and the price per pound goes up a lot after this.



      

      Tried a combination of the various resin and beeswax putty mediums I've been working with this week that had a great balance of glide and grab, and worked relatively finely as well, which was surprising.



      

      Re-do of an image several people have expressed interest in, but which I'd overworked to death. Well, not to death really, on a panel, it can always be ground back but it just seemed cleaner to start over. Since the image had always featured warmth, decided to start as cool as possible. Got one thin layer of colour on this, the warm-cool balance was nice, crisp but not austere. But then something else wanted to happen. 9x12 inches, oil on gessoed linen on canvas.



      

      Did work like this in 2006 and 2007, 2007 was my commercial success apogee in fact, bizarre given that you couldn't give abstract work away in Vermont a decade before. Anyway, the life of this approach ended but I'd always wondered what else might happen with it. I'd tried a few times before to pick it up again, but without a sense that it was ready. This time, I wanted to let something new happen, so these are a little crude, and all over the place, compared to the gallery here of paintings from 2006 and 2007, which shows a style progressing pretty logically. Mostly, I wanted to get away from relying on the knife. Not ditch it entirely, but incorporate brushes more. This one was on a relatively absorbent ground, so it's the most broken looking. I'd always had issues with straight red, yellow, and blue, so thought it might be good to start there. About 9x10 inches, oil on gessoed paper.



      

      Next day, tried more familiar colours, a couch that glided more and fewer pieces in the puzzle. This one seems a little retro now, kind of dorky, the least resolved of this week's group. Not enough tension between opposites, not enough variety to the shapes, colour too sweet, on and on. So, might go back into it at some point, this was always difficult before, but might be possible possible now. About 9x10 inches, oil on gessoed paper.



      

       So, next day, decided to stop trying to make everything tropical lovely and began something ugly on purpose. This was very interesting, I knew clearly just what I was avoiding, or considered socially unacceptable. This could be more resolved as well, but am not quite sure how at this point. But it opened up new territory, which is in some ways better at this point in this process. About 9x10 inches, oil on gessoed paper.



      

       Next day, Friday, decided to go back to red, yellow, and blue with what I'd learned. This is the most resolved to me, the one I like best, but the style is still clearly on it's way somewhere. With this one I like the way the tension between broad and detailed is resolved , the tension between where the edges are, even what an edge is, the apparent simplicity of the colour giving way to a lot to explore, and the way the various art historical references remain sort of oblique. I'm not sure what the week to come will bring with this, it would be logical for it to continue at least through the full moon. It's hard not to think in terms of process becoming product, but these have been a good vacation from the demands of realism, and have already suggested new ways to approach that work by allowing more tactile or haptic energy into the paint. About 9x10 inches, oil on gessoed paper.







june 17
      

      Week of the new moon, less rain and some warm sunny days this week with low humidity, rare here but lovely. Felt like things were back to normal this week for the first time in a while, like I knew what to do again. That was nice after so many months on semi-hold, but feel kind of wary as well, like this coach may turn back into a pumpkin at any moment. I can see now that, over the years, I'd become pretty goal oriented for the work, wanted to reach a finish line, have a conclusion for the materials project that began about fifteen years ago. So, this sense of a goal brought me consistently out of balance, off center, leaning or reaching out of the present into the future. The last six months taught me to stop doing that. I can do the work, but not that way. The irony is that, with the new way, I seem to be doing less, but more is actually happening. So, it's interesting to examine this in terms of the way a personal frame of reference develops and becomes all but invisible over time. This is sort of like the frog that gets boiled alive by raising the temperature slowly but surely. An uncomfortable image, and what enlightened being thought up that experiment? But the point here is that, eventually there was a kind of intervention, somebody decided I had tried the slow boiling method long enough. At the same time, experience is how most people learn: seeing the cosmic logic of the Golden Rule in grade school is very different than living it as an adult. Before I might have agreed that trying too hard was counterproductive, but now I can see not only how and why this doesn't work, but how it can develop without being aware if it. I think this has to do with our old friend the ego. The ego really likes to be in charge, of course. To be President, thug and strongman, bringer of chaos, whining and blame. Getting it to let go, to, in fact, go away, is notoriously difficult, the subject of endless self-help books by people who arguably still have quite an ego. At first, when I began to see the need to go this route more consciously, I wasn't even sure what else there might be, the sense of struggle to survive had become so endemic over the years. Now, six months in, I can see that life with the ego gone is worth the ongoing effort, but that an ongoing effort it will definitely be. This, of course, has to do with training the mind to a different way of perceiving the world, one which emphasizes simplicity, the heart, the beneficent connectedness of everything, rather than complexity, the mind, survival at all costs under hostile conditions. This choice of how to see the world is of course being played out on the larger stage as well.



      

      What's more fun than watching paint dry? Watching oil samples dry! A selection of the emulsion tests of the last few months. Used some old SRO linseed oil for a control, the only one that dried along with it was number 8, which was the chlorophyll emulsion. Next was a brief KOH soap emulsion, and a prepared starch emulsion, the rest finished a distant third in a pack. Kept the emulsion times on these tests brief, a few hours, I think with longer emulsion times, therefore longer intimacy between the oil and the oxygen in the water, they would have all dried a little quicker, but the KOH soap and chlorophyll emulsions are the ones to look into further here.



      

      The work in the last few months with emulsions has led to considering the original procedures for refining the oil from more of that perspective. Before I felt that the more water, the better, but now it seems like using less water, and therefore creating an emulsion phase that's more stable, might be more effective. We'll see, some very interesting things are happening in this relatively geeky place right now. This might lead to a simpler, though perhaps less traditional, refining procedure.



      

      Got another layer on the pink peonies, gave up on the bluer or greener background for more cohesion or unity, like the feeling of this one better. Am approaching this by going a little further into detail each time, but with a relatively large brush, so it's not finicky or "Ha-ha, I see it all," which always seems to miss the point. It feels like the general colour scheme is right now, so I can concentrate more on developing the flowers each time. About 13x16 inches, oil on gessoed linen over panel.



      

      Something older, cleaned it up a little , the best it's been but the process of fixing it can go on indefinitely; this sort of image needs a pretty rococo layer to finish it. 12x13.75 inches, oil on gessoed linen over panel.



      

      Started this one, wanted to be quite certain so began with very thin paint and a little walnut oil. This is the third layer, this one with a small amount of a new medium. Wanted to make something that would work quite thin and fine, as always it seems overdid this a little bit but that's easy to adjust. In the warmer studio this was really on the line between melting and tightening: the first pass in the morning melted, the second pass in the afternoon tightened just a little. Haven't used this type of medium in a long time, it was pretty straightforward technically and I've learned more about colour in the last decade so this added an element that wasn't there before. I always loved Queen Anne's Lace, the way the flower was made up of smaller versions of itself, but haven't worked with it in a while so that makes it new again. Lots of different colours in the flowers themselves, this is fun to work out with this paint. Started warmer with the idea of being able to move cooler progressively. Like where this is so far but am not sure it wouldn't benefit from stronger value, a little more austerity in the colour, at least that's an option. Not so much a painting of flowers as a portrait of a specific being. 14x15.25 inches, oil on gessoed linen on panel.



      

      



june 10
      

      Last week of the moon, new moon this Wednesday. A mixed week of sun and rain, not too hot but beginning to get there slowly. Felt a little more normal, if anything can be called that anymore, or maybe like the relatively intense period of rewiring that began this winter is winding down. Got a decent amount done for this phase of the moon although nothing too ambitious. Started to work with a couch on some things that are closer to completion, this is always a good moment in the life of an image, a feeling of turning the corner towards completion. Mundanely, had to go downtown for jury duty on Wednesday, the last time this happened I have to admit to becoming somewhat terrorized by the awful majesty of the law. They try to make you feel good about doing your civic duty, but you are essentially their prisoner until they say you can go. Also, police officers do not exactly take to me, I tend to get searching looks from them. I suppose this is quite a complement in a way, but a large building full of searching looks from well-fed uniformed men with guns tends to dampen one's bien etre. So, all things considered, I knew what I had to do this time: become a human soap bubble and float gently through. Yes, it could be done. The night before, and on the 7:25 train in, I practiced anticipating joyous surprises. Now I admit that at first I took up this practice because the irony of it was so entertaining. But now I can feel it generating a kind of spontaneous organic happiness, as though my molecules themselves are responding. The train arrived, and I hurried up into the bustling city streets. Yes, the courthouse was still a massive sinkhole of heavy, dense energy. Yes, there were still police officers everywhere, looking in many cases as though they landed on the right side of the law by the slimmest of margins. So far, no joyous surprises. Once within the juror corral, the announcer was the same as last time, interminable energy if not enthusiasm. She told us how very busy they had been, and I wondered to what extent a criminal as chief executive played a role in this resurgence. I we all settled in for the interminable wait, thinking about how this is the single remaining manifestation of the matrix in my day to day life. I remembered to say to myself, "I anticipate joyous surprises," and was relieved that my particles still responded. They called two juries of fifty, then two of twenty-five, then there was a lull. There were still well over a hundred of us in the room, and I wondered if maybe my joyous surprise was to be not called at all. But then they did another jury of forty, and my name was near the end. I wrote down my juror number, recalling the famous Patrick Mcgoohan line from 1968, "I am not a number, I am a free man." But I also thought, well, at least it's better than sitting here watching Let's Make a Deal, because there are no deals. So we got organized, and they took us out to the courtroom. As we lined up there, our guide told us that the defendant had just chosen to be sentenced by the judge instead of being tried by twelve of us. Because we had been chosen for that trial, they were sending us home. I was not the only one for whom this news came as a joyous surprise. He shushed our more demonstrative members gently, joie de vivre apparently being frowned upon in the Halls of Justice, then began to hand out our meagre cheques from the City. It was only after I left the building -- wending my way through cadre after cadre of equipment-laden, heavily muscled police officers with low brows and bulging eyes -- that I realized the slow but profound extent of its effect on me. I felt like the frog who unknowingly becomes boiled a degree at a time, and wondered what enlightened soul had first thought that experiment up. There was almost an hour before the next train, it was a little before lunch but, having gotten up early, I was hungry, so I went across into Reading Terminal, always a zoo but a relatively moderate zoo at this point, and got a nice Pan Rustique at a bakery and some Manchego at a cheese place to put in it, they cut me a wedge, then a slice. This was pretty dense, but it was simple compared to the other lunch options, and, back at the train station, munching away, it calmed me down. So, I did better than the first time, and of course being released early definitely counts. But remaining a sovereign citizen of the Universe, an evanescent soap bubble of cosmic equanimity, within the high ceilings and grey stone walls of the Juanita Kidd Stout Center for Criminal Justice once again proved difficult to achieve. Still, like putting down a full pack rocks, it put anything in the way of challenge during the rest of the week in perspective. I'm intrigued by slowly becoming less reactive, and the amount of space it generates, both internally and externally. This afternoon, it is cool and gently raining, and, like Lily sitting on the front porch eying sparrows in the hedge, I'm anticipating my next joyous surprise.



      

      It had been a while since I'd gotten bristle brushes, I've been trying to do everything with synthetics, which are much better now than even a decade ago, but it just doesn't quite seem to work. There's been a lot of movement with bristle brushes, not always in the direction of quality. Going back a few decades, the Holbein Killington brushes had flags and strong bristles with flagged tips, really nice, but the flags have long since disappeared. There are now two basic types, one with larger and firmer bristles, and one with softer bristles. Decided to get the ones from Princeton, because I've had good luck with their synthetics. These are on the soft side, and came with a lot of size. This meant that they were a little brittle at first, and shed a lot of small pieces using more adhesive paint. This stopped after the first use, but was a little disconcerting, though I don't think this would be as much of an issue with straight paint. Decided to put linseed oil soap on the unused ones for an hour or so, this made them more supple again. So, these could have higher quality bristles, but I don't know anybody who is still doing this. I got the Tintoretto brushes from Italy via Zecchi a few years ago, the two types are are similar, the Princeton bristles are a little longer. Made in India, not China, all things considered they're a good deal unless you really need to power dense paint around.



      

      This is what the medium looks like now, I didn't set out for it to be made from four different components, it just sort of happened. Still, it's simple once it's mixed into the paint before starting. I always thought in terms of taking something like this and then make a new formula based on it, but now I'm not sure that will work. Maybe two of these could be combined, we'll see.



      

      Began to use a couch on the work again this week, this tends to help later layers have more saturation and unity. The positioning the paint part ends, the turning it into art part begins. The couch is based on a silica gel medium -- tube at bottom right, and in the measuring spoon, mixed with a pre-polymerized oil. Like the baby bear's porridge, the rheology of the couch has to be just right, it can't have too much grab or glide.



      

      My friends David Heskin and Aloria Weaver sent me a sample this week of an oil they have made from hemp oil, it was semi-thick, colourless and just a little bit sticky, very interesting. I began to refine some hemp oil years ago, but never completed it, it seemed extraneous: if it was halfway between linseed oil and walnut oil in its composition, the same effect could be done that way. Looking at the oil David and Aloria sent, it doesn't quite seem that simple. Another "duh" moment, which is often the case, but especially when reflecting on conclusions that are over a decade old. So I found some organic unrefined hemp oil that was a deal, and started to refine it. Began with ethanol, shaking every fifteen minutes or half an hour to emulsify it, and removed that after about four hours. Shook it with distilled water and silica sand then. There still still seemed to be a lot of it so removed the oil from that water, meaning there would be very little ethanol left, and shook it with just distilled water. The whole thing emulsified, and then began to break, totally, photo here of it in progress. So, I think this might be called semi-ethanol refining: the ethanol was in the oil long enough to effect it, but not long enough to convert all the mucilage. As such, this may be a little different than straight ethanol refined oil, we'll see. Anyway, when in doubt with a process, a good rule of thumb is always to wash it again with distilled water.



      

      This one has come forward consistently from layer to layer, rare but always fun. It feels almost done, also rare but always fun. 12x16 inches, oil on gessoed linen over panel.



      

      The opposite situation, this was had become a disaster. The couch in this case was a little too mobile, in some ways this helped, in other ways it interfered. I thought about adding more chalk to the paint as it progressed, but decided to just work with it as it was, see what would happen. So, not done, more to clean up, but back on track, as resolved as this one has been. About 12x15 inches, oil on gessoed panel.



      

      Wasn't sure how to continue with this one for a while, had put a couple thin layers on it in the last year without too much forward motion. But looked at it recently and saw what to do. Still more to go, a relatively early beginning with some issues that would be easy to solve now by just starting a new one. But it will be fun to finish this one on it's own terms as well. About 15x16 inches, oil on gessoed canvas over panel.



      

      Worked with this road in Vermont from 1918 to 2014, these are getting more involved in memory as time goes on, what it felt like to be there. This one had gotten too vivid, and is still on the vivid side, but is getting closer. Maybe a little too much sky in this composition, but that's easy to change. I always thought of the smaller ones as prototypes for at least a somewhat larger one, not sure yet whether this one wants to be made larger. 8.75x14.5 inches, oil on gessoed paper over panel.



      

      The reverse situation, this one had gotten a little dull; the surface, on a panel, was also a little lumpy. So, oiled it out, ground it back gently with 300 grit, and buffed it clean with alcohol before rubbing on a very thin couch. Grinding back is really only practical on panels, it seems best to do it kind of in the middle, when the destination is clear but the finish hasn't occurred. On the bright side now, with less detail, the next layer will be softer, with more detail. I like the way the layers begin to really interact when the saturation increases in the later stages. 10.375x18.25 inches, oil on gessoed paper over panel.



june 3
      

      Into the third week of the moon, had a few good days with the work leading up to the full moon. Rainy or humid all week, clammy then some early heat, urgh, now cool and sunny. Ah well, on it goes, at least there's no lava in the backyard. One thing I've learned in the last few months is that deep breathing makes it impossible to focus on anything negative. It's interesting to find this type of simplicity hidden beneath all the surface mental juggling that tends to take over. As a kid, it was clear to me that I needed to dodge the matrix that my parents were caught up in, and that worked out pretty well. But I didn't realize that I was perfectly capable of creating a separate but equal matrix of my own. Surprise! Over the last few months I've been taking this on, and have been making progress, albeit slowly. Boy does the ego kick and scream. It's also not that easy to see the frame of reference when you built it. But progress can occur by how things feel as well. Does this action feel right, or not so right? This week became intrigued by the concept of infinity, realized, really bad, sorry, there was more to it. Pi, for example, is an infinite number, but its infinity occurs within an ever decreasing increment. It's larger than 3.14159, but it's never going to be 3.1416. So, all that infinity is occurring within a ten thousandth, then a hundred thousandth, then a millionth, etc. This led to the infinite universe, how it's always expanding. That made me feel that the infinity had to do with there always being a larger number of planets and stars. But it seems like infinity is about being beyond number, any number. This goes back to pi and the circle that generates it. If a triangle has three sides, and a square has four, you could say that circle is a polygon with an infinite number of sides. Or you could say that a circle is a polygon with only one side. Or is it both? Similarly, if the universe is infinite, it has to be unified. This is sort of mind boggling. If you and I are part of an infinite whole, how can we be different than the whole? Or even, gulp, one another? We can't be, there has to be identity. So, the universe is a fractal, where the whole is recapitulated by each of its apparent parts. This puts "looking within" in a different perspective. Of course, you first have to get good and tired of looking without.



      

      Something new for lunch is always fun. I used to eat a lot of wheat, especially pasta, it was whole wheat, I loved simple Italian food with good ingredients, but in the last five years or so I felt better cutting it out. Sometimes now I get a sourdough spelt bread at the co-op, that no yeast method, really nice. Made dark toast with the bread this week, then sauteed cut up broccoli rabe in olive oil, added a chopped up clove of garlic, chopped up a few Calamata olives and a little Manchego, tossed it all with the cubed toast and more olive oil, salt and pepper. Pretty good!



      

      Roland and I had some emails about whether it would be possible to use a small amount of sodium hydroxide effectively to hand refine the oil. Sodium hydroxide, of course, is lye, the very strong alkali of alkali-refined oil. I tried this using Roland's experience as a guide, but, even a relatively minute amount of lye resulted in a lot of loss. So, that was interesting but ended up being really fiddley, with lots of questions around what to do, and made me want something simple. I've been freezing a lot of oil with these emulsions to separate the water from the oil, and realized that it might be possible to make a water-only emulsion by starting with frozen oil and cold water. This worked well, made an amazing musical sound as I shook it. Put the emulsion in the freezer all day, then took it out and let it thaw overnight, photo here. Then froze this, poured the oil off, and made an emulsion again with cold distilled water. It's thawing now and is doing the same thing: while it looks like a lot of mucilage came out in the photo, in reality it wasn't that much. So, while I like the simplicity of this approach, water only, it doesn't even need to be rinsed, we'll see how many cycles it takes. The emulsion refining project goes on. Have now refined three gallons of oil in 1 or 2 cup increments in many different ways over the last few months. It could of course go on forever, but there are already half a dozen functional methods, and that may be enough for now.



      

      Last fall Roland sent me a PDF from the University of Saskatchewan research about refining the oil with ethanol using a blender, the process was very fast and I tried it. Being an ethanol refined oil, I knew it would polymerize slowly, but the question was, how slowly, so I put some in a jar lid and kept an eye on it. It thickened so slowly I forgot about it, but then found it again last week. After six months, about 5 or 6mm of oil had gotten pretty thick. And, as you can see if you've done work with autoxidized linseed oil, it's pretty light. The ethanol approach gives an oil with more mobility, even at this stage of polymerization it wasn't particularly gluey, but didn't melt either like stand oil. Anyway, a lot of technical jargon, but the larger point is that this has been very nice in small amounts to add depth to later layers, and, at this viscosity, dries quickly.



      

      Continued with this one of wild apple trees from my old life in Vermont, it came forward somewhat but I think I need to let it rest before it can go further. Not sure, am consciously trying to balance local and neutral colour but don't see a particular solution. It goes further, but I'm not sure it's towards completion. This usually means it's better to wait for a while. Would like to take it beyond detail but at this scale that has typically taken a while. Need to figure out a way to get more paint on it in the next layer without sacrificing the ability to indicate the blossoms. If I can formulate the question, this paves the way to the answer. Sooner or later. About 9.25x13 inches, oil on gessoed paper.



      

      Early ranunculus, had done some corrective layers and wanted to try a pass with more oomph or juice. Kept the medium the same, but put a thin couch of thicker oil on the painting first, rubbing it in with my fingers. With this approach, the oil can be relatively thick, but the application can be very thin. This let thing flow more, and this one came together decently. Still more to go, feels like it could be simpler, but it's getting there. About 9x12 inches, oil on gessoed linen over panel.



      

      Tried the same approach on one of many versions of this Vermont image, this one had a somewhat chunky beginning and I needed to soften that. This day had a very particular quality, first snow in early December, an incredible stillness and spaciousness in the air itself. May need to grind back some of the foreground but brought it closer. About 12x17 inches, oil on gessoed canvas over panel.



      

      Second version of this one, first was last year, on paper, below, although it's bluer in life, done alla prima with a tricky medium using gum arabic. I love the look of gum arabic, but its affinity for water means that the paint tends to dry down over time. With this painting, it wasn't that bad, I used very little and balanced it with wax and fused damar, but the approach just seemed too complicated. I also wanted to get the flowers themselves a little further along. At this point I'm not sure any of this matters, but that's also part of the process. Anyway, this one had become accurate but had little oomph, so put the officially more juicy layer on it using a couch to start. It seemed like I was really messing with it, so it was surprising to have it appear relatively tame the next day. Still, I like it better, just have to keep going. Earlier one is 8x13 inches, oil on gessoed paper, this one is 9x15 inches, oil on gessoed linen over panel.





may 27
      

      Waxing moon, full moon on Tuesday, a week with some lovely days that felt neither warm nor cool, now back to rain. First tropical storm of the season, Alberto, due in a few days in the Gulf, have a feeling the hurricane season this year will again be memorable. Have noticed that a lot of intense weather is under-reported, like fracking related earthquakes and the phenomenon of the earth cracking open all over the globe. There's also a certain country that is under-reported: at one point there was a civil war going on there, now it's as though that country doesn't exist. Should I wonder why, or just keep watching Gilligan's Island? Abuse of power gets exposed here and there, but only the tip of the iceberg. Mostly worked on strategies for remaining centered under trying circumstances this week, plenty of opportunity to test them out around here, haha, but also worked on the other side of the coin, various ways to attract more positive circumstances. Try saying "I anticipate joyous surprises" like you mean it, I like what happens when I finally get it out, but it isn't easy, what I mostly anticipate is more greed, denial, and obfuscation. Have had a few positive surprises lately, though, times where I witnessed people being really nice to each other, these are incredibly helpful. Now, I would always have said that my reality was a function of my thought process, but want to get more involved in being the director, instead of just watching the movie. Mostly because it has all become more of the same: like Gilligan's Island, I just know too well what's going to happen. Did get a little bit done with the work, it was really fun to get back to it after the better part of a week. As I've said way too often in the last few months, it remains hard to accept this slowdown, but there's no choice. Am getting a sense of how much I tried way too hard, for way too long, instead of letting the process develop at its own pace. It's fun but also sobering to realize how much there still is to learn. As a kid I found the complacency of adults absolutely mind-boggling, but quickly learned not to comment on this in any way. At this point, the development of a pattern that is designed to be therapeutic but turns into a rut is more understandable. If you go even a few millimeters below the mainstream surface, there's a lot of talk about the limitations or matrix being imposed on us from without, a kind of war between darkness and light for the soul of humanity, and this certainly may be true. But this can only happen if we are somehow psychologically disposed to being asleep, rather than to waking up. Another way in which blaming doesn't address the real issue. There are many things I'd love to see come to the light of day, but it seems like even hoping for this is the old way, practicing againstness. It makes more sense now to apply this process personally, becoming the change as much as possible. More mundanely, from the work ethic perspective I grew up with, the weird thing about what is happening now is that the process is growing so much more by doing so much less.



      

      I've got some newly refined linseed oil now and did a comparison of how it operates compared to older oil. Same amount of oil and chalk in these, the older oil version doesn't look that different but has a lot more density or drag. This difference becomes really noticeable when making paint: older oil accepts a lot more pigment, has a more plastic and elastic rheology.



      

      Ground the peony back, felt the surface was getting a little bumpy and wanted to establish the table line firmly. It's always sort an issue in terms of when to do this, but this seemed like a good time. Did this with a little oil, then 200 grit sandpaper on a block to get the highest spots, then the sandpaper alone. It could have been 300 grit. Wiped it with a rag, then with alcohol. You can see the most ground emerges where the paint is thinnest, in the darker values. This stage is only disconcerting if you're in a hurry. I could start with finer linen, but with this approach the paint is really attached.



      

      Next layer, made it much cooler, with these layers it's important to alternate warm and cool emphasis after the underpainting stage to keep the colour lively. It dried about where I wanted it, saw a few of the small things a little more clearly. Didn't try for too much in this layer, it's going to dry with evidence of the sanding anyway, so left it looser, but with more overall direction or clarity. I always thought the detail came last, but never realized how much could come before it in terms of developing the feeling further. I mean, on the one hand, it's a painting of peonies, but hopefully it can also be much more. I think this has always been the deeper attraction of still life, the way commonplace objects can be transformed when they're transferred to the stage. About 13x16 inches, oil on gessoed linen over panel.



      

      Lily says hi. Would you like to play?



may 20
      

      First week of the moon, still not sure what this one is about besides perspective, detachment. Very rainy week, system from the tropics that went on and on, these seem to knock me out for some reason. Mostly too dark to work, good opportunity to exercise patience. This is the hardest thing for me, though it leads to more awareness of the lesson that is always in the present once I actually let go of the need to move forward. It's easy to innocently label this a desire for progress when it's actually trying to escape. Interesting to realize, yet again, how much I can generate my own fake news. In larger terms, I feel good about balancing everything that's coming in, not perfect but not out of control either. But there's recurring difficulty letting painting recede: it's been a focus for so long. But that necessarily means a form of contraction, and if the overall need is to expand, the old focus has to let go.



      

      My chlorophyll refined oil didn't have much sunlight to interact with this week, and is still Hooker's green. My friend Roland extracted the chlorophyll from spinach and made an emulsion with that, photo here of this miniature cosmos. The large central drop is oil in water in oil: wheels within wheels, as it were.



      

      Did one layer on this one, it's getting better slowly, the issues are getting smaller, but it still may take a while to resolve. Smaller increments seem better for learning more, pausing often, there's more time within time, there's more colour within colour. As opposed to pushing things forward without knowing where to go, which seems to compress everything. About 13x16 inches, oil on gessoed linen over panel.



      

      Thunder.



      

      Petals.



may 13
      

      Last week of the moon, new moon this coming Tuesday morning. A lovely week that ended with rain and cooler overcast, did what wanted to happen with the work, but, as is often the case, the end of the moon tends to be quieter, and therefore involved with other things. I'm still fixing up the studio, after four years it really needed to be rearranged but this can only occur in discrete increments or it gets overwhelming. This week I worked on the area around the east facing window where I dry paintings, it had become kind of choked, cleaned it out and made a new shelf for it. The glare from that window is behind me and makes it hard to see if something is wet, so I went looking for some fabric that would diffuse the light without diminishing it too much. This involved going to a place called Gaffney's, an old fashioned fabric store in Germantown, one community in towards downtown Philadelphia, a crazy quilt area with a lot more commerce than Mt. Airy and a lot of older buildings tucked in as it was where the Mennonites settled long ago, where George Washington lived for a while, etc. Anyway, Gaffney's was really a breath of fresh air somehow, a goofy, Mom and Pop relic of the time before the zombie big box stores, with a great creative energy, and I got some nicely made gauze for the window that was 2.99 a yard. We'll see if this works, it certainly looks much nicer. The room, in general, has a calmer quality at this point, which is helpful. Recently, every now and then I've had a small revelation that ends up changing things. This winter I realized I couldn't be angry and evolve, it wasn't a lightening bolt it was more like 2+2=4. That began the process I've been working with ever since. This week I realized that I had been trying to develop the work by working harder, instead of letting the process develop me, and then documenting that in the work. If asked -- haha, but, you know, if -- I would have said of course the process documents the inner life, that's what it's all about, but that aspect of things had somehow stalled in the last few years ............................................................................................................................................................................................................................. .........................................(Lily says hi.) Anyway, what I realized was that the semi-hiatus of the last few months has not been about so much not painting, (the negative, what I saw all too clearly) as getting the process back on track internally (the positive, what I didn't see that well). So, it feels like idea all along has been to give me what I wanted, even though the procedure involved has seemed kind of backwards. But this is because I was addicted to a kind of robotic version of progress, which wasn't progress. And this was because I was defining myself in terms that were too small: life, with its larger frame of reference, just refused to cooperate. It feels like things are getting back on track in actual terms, but that the key is to remain spacious and slowed down. So, a little less inner confusion, sort of a dawning sense of being connected to how the process is functioning, fixing itself in spite of me getting tangled up in accomplishment. New moon on Tuesday, it's in Taurus which is slow and steady, the right kind of energy. May has often been a time of rebirth for the work, we'll see what happens this time.



      

      UFOs seem to be everywhere these days. This one was made by some linseed oil refined with a chlorophyll emulsion, so is not going to take me very far away. The chlorophyll is in glycerin, this is what makes the emulsion, the chlorophyll itself will interact with the lipids in sunlight to create photosensitized oxidation, making for a faster drying oil. One of many recent experiments with emulsion refining, the ones using an organic emulsifier tend to need to be frozen in order to clear them. The green has a lovely medieval quality to it at this point, but is fugitive: this will be yellow again in a few weeks.



      

      A long time ago now, I started working with walnut oil because it seemed to yellow less than linseed oil. Then, around 2006, I started refining cold-pressed organic linseed oil so it would yellow less. But I always used some walnut oil because there were situations where it's longer open time was helpful. At first I used the Kremer walnut oil, then I used Spectrum Naturals, a grocery store oil, which was readily available, but Spectrum Naturals needed to be preheated to really avoid yellowing. Then someone sent me artisanal culinary walnut oil from France, this had to be refined, but was definitely different, more like linseed oil as it polymerized. So, I slowly learned that, like linseed oil only more subtly, all walnut oils are not the same. Recently I came across a walnut oil at Jedwards in Boston that was from Italy and thought it might be worth trying. I put it in glass jars, some full, some half full, and it did seem different than Spectrum Naturals. I put a quarter inch layer in a glass tray in the oven, which is gas always has a pilot light on, and in about five weeks it was definitely nice and thick, about like most stand oil. This seemed a little faster than usual. The oil is quite pale on drying and definitely has a different working quality than thicker Spectrum Naturals, more ductile, less resistant, for the same density. Anyway, I don't know what makes this different but it's inexpensive, pre-refined, and might be worth a gallon or two if you're on the East Coast and looking for walnut oil.



      

      Worked on this one a few more times, and it became more detailed in terms of colour and form in a natural way I couldn't have done a few months ago, just wasn't patient enough to see it. Have mounted this on a panel and will see if it wants to be completed in the week to come, would like a little more colour and value in the land, a little less in the sky. Can see a larger one that's less detailed now, but this seems to come out of exploring an image more fully at first. About 9.25x13 inches, oil on gessoed paper.



      

      Put a somewhat warmer layer on the most recent peony, am closing in slowly on the colour, and the level of detail on the flowers themselves. Again, it feels like I was in too much of a hurry before, trying to accomplish something instead of allowing something, and therefore often feeling late. There's a different kind of time available now that generates a different kind of space in which to maneuver, both technically and otherwise: I just wasn't going slowly enough before to have access to it. There are lots of these levels, with each one bigger, or more spacious, than the one preceding it. But the idea or potential of infinite progress is sort of distracting, it feels like the important thing is the experience of exploring what the process is teaching in the moment. About 13x16 inches, oil on gessoed linen over panel.



      

      What?



may 6
      

      Third week of the moon, a brief blast of summer with three days just over 90, yikes. I'm playing it by ear with what wants to happen day to day, this is a challenge in terms of the old balance of doing first, being second, which is just gone, but it does seem to work to let go of what amounts to my own programming and trust the process, follow the feeling. It's one thing to say this, another to do it. I think I had kind of hoped to trade in the old me for a new me like at a car dealership, but it doesn't work this way. Like pretty much everything for me, change happens consistently, but mostly incrementally. Didn't do much with the work but what happened was positive, had some fun with the emulsion refining, made and painted a shelf unit in the basement: can always use more shelves. I'm not much of a woodworker, so it's always fun when it comes out decently. I was also working with a limited amount of wood, and had to make a lot of decisions about the height in relation to the width, somehow this was important. And, when it was done, I was surprised by how good it felt. Turned out it was 20x32, which divides down to 5x8, a golden rectangle. This seemed like an illustration of the process: we have to figure it out, it's a combination of logic and intuition, but if we do the work, we end up with harmonious proportions.



      

      Continued with the emulsion refining project this week, from left to right: Glycerin worked, food grade diatomaceous earth worked, but straight ground silica is simpler, I had some old finely ground amber and that worked, mostly did this to see if the intuition about it would pan out, had tried refining with ground wheatgrass, this worked but has been time-consuming to clear, far right. So tried chlorophyll, this also contains glycerin, but less in the way of organic matter, and made a pretty stable emulsion that broke very cleanly, see below. Chlorophyll may be interesting because, in combination with sunlight, it induces lipid oxidation, i.e., it makes the oil dry faster. The bright green colour is fugitive, the wheatgrass was bright green but is slowly changing back to yellow. I have a good feeling about chlorophyll but we'll see. Emulsion refining could go on and on, there are lots of these hydrocolloidal substances, and I still haven't done some obvious ones like egg white. There's also adding a little of something that creates a stable emulsion to something that cleans the oil but is less stable. This is what Roland did this week by adding a little potassium hydroxide soap to native starch, wild photo of this also below. Not sure yet where these procedures will lead, have a feeling that even the 3-4 hour emulsion creates a cleaner oil than the hand-shaking approaches, but this will be determined by drying tests yet to come. I'm not interested in being "right" at this point, but in understanding more about the process. This means that, when there is a conclusion, it will have more experience behind it. This is a kind of figure-ground exercise: it is arguably just as important to know what doesn't work, and why, as to know what does. So far, the organic emulsifying ingredients have often led to more complex procedures because they tend to become more involved chemically with the oil. Yet, this is not always true, as both gum arabic and starch, for example, appear to be issue-free. But my experience has also been that the oil tends to reject anything that is not native to it over time. So, can everything be removed from an oil processed with something like wheatgrass? I don't know, but I think it is possible, and if so it may produce a different type of oil than one that is processed with an inorganic emulsifier. At the same time, chlorophyll itself may be a way to bypass the complexity introduced by wheatgrass. It may be "dangerous" to introduce live organic matter, but I have no way of knowing that without testing it. Over the last fifteen years, I've learned that what appears to be a mistake from the current frame of reference may not actually be one once the situation is examined further. It may be an an opportunity to explore a more expansive frame of reference for the process.





      

      Another amazing microscope emulsion photo from Roland: the large circles are oil, the small circles are water, the oil circles are also surrounded by water with some starch granules in it. So, a water in oil in water emulsion. This oil is going to be pretty clean!



      

      Went further the next day with the monochrome study from last week, don't want something like this to be too detailed, but, given the subject matter, it seemed to benefit from a little more.



      

      Felt at sixes and sevens about the monochrome version as a final destination, so decided to put colour on it. The first layer had a little ewax in it, so I did that in this layer too. Ewax is beeswax that's been emulsified, there are two ways to do this, with ammonium carbonate (Mt. Athos manuscript, medieval tempera) or with a liquid (potassium hydroxide soap, many very early paintings on wall or panel, including the Pompeii murals and the Fayum mummy portraits). The second method yellowed far less in tests, so I've been working with it. Ewax keeps to keep the value structure of the painting brighter, and more matte, similar to adding a little egg yolk, but with more density, set, and drag. This paint-medium combination ended up in a nice place, worked relatively thinly, could be applied with fine brushes, or manipulated more firmly with bristle brushes.



      

      Second layer, somewhat brighter colour, adjusting the major forms for greater clarity. This version of the medium blended more, will return to the stronger value scale of the first layer in the next one. There's a little more diagonal lift in the first one going from lower left to upper right, will restate that as well. I get a little hypnotized by the blossom detail, at this scale there needs to be a solution besides lots o' dots. About 9.25x13 inches, oil on gessoed paper.



april 29
      

      Active combination of rain and sun this week, lovely yesterday and this morning, the neighborhood is in full, somewhat ragged bloom. Week of the full moon, full moon just past midnight tonight. Am making progress with shutting off the distracting inner chatter and just being present. It is slow, but the present seems to contain more space now, is less forbiddingly blank. So, perseverance furthers. This process started a few months ago, when I realized that I was trying to be angry and evolve at the same time, and that these two positions cancelled one another out. Continuing down this road seems sort of crucial at this point, has eclipsed painting as the mission. And that's okay, I can see how painting from a more evolved perspective might work out better if I can in fact get there. It is interesting to consider the dialogue of outer and inner in terms of what is real and what is an illusion, a cosmic figure-ground exercise with significant built-in complexity. It seems clear that what I'm looking for is in there somewhere, is in everyone somewhere: if the Universe is actually infinite this also means that it is unified, that all its components are fractals, each of us containing the whole thing. I wonder if this is why religion had to get so wiggy, and everyday life had to get so convoluted, why people had to move away from nature into cities: in order to obscure the logic of it effectively in plain sight. It makes sense to me that cultural conditioning would point us all in exactly the wrong direction. The focal issue is still patience, listening, examining things more closely for what is really in there. So, though being is still in its infancy, it had a decent week. On the doing front, did some Spring cleaning and went to another level in deconstructing and rearranging the studio, this is always interesting in terms of giving a broader perspective on what's there; tried a little work but there was really nothing in the well. Had a dream a few weeks ago that suggested the work would return in May, I was expecting to meet an old friend for dinner who finally hurried into view looking unusually natty, a contemporary Bertie Wooster wearing a bright ultramarine blue tie, and said, "See you in a month," before rushing off. So, we'll see; am learning to let things unfold more in their own way. I used to pretend to do this while secretly trying to speed them up, but that doesn't seem to have fooled anybody.



      

      Got another gallon of cold-pressed organic linseed oil and did another round of emulsion oil refining tests this week. Both positive and not so positive surprises, it seems to be about guessing the native emulsifying power of the chosen ingredient, which is fun when it happens, but can always be adjusted with another test. I'm trying a spectrum of ingredients, some easy to find, some art material based, some from the "hydrocolloidal" field in food science, some unexpected. I felt native (raw) cornstarch would fall out of emulsion quickly, so first tried a small amount cooked along with the raw, far left. This proved to be too strong, the oil is slowly seeping from the break layer but it is slow. Next tried native cornstarch alone, this worked better. Tried a second round with fenugreek, this was using 1/4 teaspoon ground fenugreek in 1 cup of water. Not much, but it was still too much. The ground fenugreek has actually stratified into three different layers, the largest particles on the bottom. This might work with hand-chopping the fenugreek to a specific size, but that may be too finicky. Gum Arabic, on the other hand, is very simple. So is grapefruit seed extract, this was this week's Hail Mary, logic gives way to intuition, couldn't resist. But I'm not sure whether it had anything to do with the GSE since it's put up in glycerin. I'll gently add a little plain distilled water the these to float the oil on top of the heavier salt water, and rinse them in distilled water. I'd like to try hide glue again, this is like fenugreek, very strong in its ability to hols the emulsion, would be going down to 1/8 t in a cup of water this time. There's also some kind of reaction between the oil and the glue, so this would be for a shorter emulsion time. Still, it's something most people involved in the craft have on hand. Another modern ingredient that has occurred to me is polyvinyl alcohol, this is used as a size for paper commercially, but not yet, to my knowledge, on the art supply end of things. But methyl cellulose worked out so well, quick and easy, that's a pretty good example of that type of material. Of course I'd like to find an obvious magic potion, but there may not be any clarity on this until the oils have been tested further. I need to keep this somewhat focused or I'll just end up getting more gallons of oil all summer. This seems unnecessary since there are already five or six ways to do this that work fine.



      

       Small monochrome sketch using a putty with emulsified beeswax. The technique is often subject to the ground; the putty was loose but the ground tightened things a lot, so this needed some adjustment from what I'd planned, and became about adding and subtracting, which was fine. With landscape, I've always gotten too hypnotized by what is there, this approach gives it more of a chance to get into feeling. Might do more of these, get in and get out in a value study, just start over. About 9x12.5 inches, oil on gessoed paper.







april 22
      

      Still pretty blustery, several days that reminded me of the famous reluctant Spring in Vermont, finally more Spring-like today. Week of the new moon, this one has been sort of quietly desperate, nothing new so far has seemed deep enough. Got a little work done, and was able to learn more about emulsion refining, but less doing and more being are still in order. Waiting without knowing what for is not that easy, but time seems to have run out on the old way. There's nothing to go back to, but the new way doesn't seem to be in any hurry to arrive. In theory I'm going to meet or become someone who's been there all along, but whose presence has been obscured by the persistent mental frenzy of the old way. It makes sense, including the need to wait, asking if I'm sure. After a lot of complaining to whoever's out there about endless nocturnal nonsense, had a dream about this. I was flying, and ended up landing suddenly on top of a concrete tower that was holding up an overpass. So, all kinds of traffic way, way down below. At first it was nice to stop and rest, but it quickly became very scary up there. I realized that I had to keep going. I was wearing a kind of beanie cap copter to fly, very nice touch, and checked to make sure it was still working. It was, so I turned it on high, took a deep breath, and pushed off.



      

      Continued with the emulsion refining experiments this week, the process is getting more familiar. It's a little hard sometimes to guess how much of the emulsifying ingredient to put in, and have had some disasters: too much bentonite, too much fenugreek. I tried hide glue a second time with less, but it was still strange, I think the glue itself reacts in some way with the oil. I can clear it, and it's very clean, but not the simplest procedure. Methyl cellulose #2, on the other hand, was a dream. This is a cheap generic methyl cellulose from Talas, and, as the scientific PDF stated, it doesn't make as stable an emulsion as the hydroxypropyl MC, but it cleans the oil just as well, perhaps better. Another success this week was grinding silica sand up in the oil with the immersion blender, then adding water. This cleared very nicely once it was salted out. The idea of using the electrical charge of freshly ground silica was suggested by Roland. You could do something similar by mixing fine cristobalite or fumed silica with sand, but this way there's no very fine silica to get airborne. There are tons of things that could be done, making emulsions from organic and inorganic things. Some emulsions are more stable than others, but this doesn't seem to matter that much. Some ingredients work better with shorter emulsion times, others, like Roland's original liquid soap emulsion, are fine for days. So, a few things now that clearly work, a few things that are perhaps more trouble than they're worth, and some simple things still to try, like gum arabic and egg white.



      

      Tried starch two different ways this week, dissolved in the water first, then blended into the oil first. The emulsions were unstable but everything came out anyway in a couple hours. It was clear salt wasn't needed, just rinsing. This is the cooked stuff from Talas, my friend Roland experimented with an emulsion based on finely ground native (uncooked) rice starch and sent me this great photo of what happened, tiny particles of starch ringing the separate globules of oil in water. Particulate emulsions are called Pickering emulsions after the chemist who first wrote about them. Roland's results were similar, the emulsion was unstable but cleaned the oil in a few hours. So, exploring native starch is on this week's refining agenda, this is the easiest thing for people to get.



      

      The emulsion tests, a new frame of reference for refining the oil courtesy of my friend Roland. Who knew?



      

      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.



      

      Third layer on this ranunculus, am getting a feeling for how much to do, for when to stop. Not done but it has a good feeling, don't want too much literal detail, just the type of detail that comes from more paint. About 15.75x9.375 inches, oil on gessoed linen over panel.



      

      Put another layer on the new pink peony, made it a little lighter and a little cooler, Not done but, again, am learning how much to do, when to stop. Detail below. About 13x16 inches, oil on gessoed linen over panel.





      

      Sometimes I take a rest in the afternoon, and Lily often comes in and plunks herself down between my feet, with her head on one of my ankles. It's surprisingly therapeutic, she seems to weigh a lot more than fourteen pounds. When she was hurt, and I contacted the animal communicator about her, she talked about "taking care of" humans at one point. This is what it often feels like, if she starts bugging me about something, usually getting off the computer, it's for a reason. She just showed up under the porch one day, and started taking care of me, like we had an appointment.



april 15
      

      Last week of the moon, a relatively quiet one for the work, mostly blustery here, then some wacky sun and warmth the last couple days, Lily is very happy for extended outside time again. I'm not pushing anything at this point, still in the large process of saying good-bye to the old me, this will be a while still but am getting more used to it, easier now to feel the various old patterns forming and disperse them before they lock in. It's like taking the contraction and expanding it again. A little disconcerting to put being first over doing, accepting how things are over fixing the most recent pressing problems I just invented, but at least I can see now why letting go of it all might work out better. It's slow. The outside news is trying to make me feel fear, nothing new, but there seems to be sort of a buffer zone now between me and all that, more distance, like I'm not on the stage anymore, but in the audience. It's a pretty predictable show, when you're corned pull out the shock and awe. I wish more people would wake up and smell the manipulation, but it is what it is for a reason. So, personally, I just have to keep working at this. The inner news is real, we can all tune into it if we want to. Mercury is about to turn prograde again, this retrograde cycle has been more noticeable than most for me, kind of like time froze. New moon tonight, Sunday night, so Monday might be on the zippy or disorganized side. Not sure what is happening with the work, it feels fine to proceed when the energy is there but there's this quivering somehow, kind of like something new is coming. Well, Spring, and this has often been big in the past, but it's felt for a while like I'm being asked to reinvent the work as well in larger terms. Or maybe -- receptivity rather than effort -- wait for the work to let me know where it wants to go next. Another piece of this puzzle may arrive with the new moon, in Aries, so it will be especially new, and may be kind of abrupt at first.



      

      Three different oil refining tests in progress. The first one is Roland's liquid soap emulsion, this works very well but you have to be careful and get all the gunk out before rinsing it or it re-emulsifies somewhat. I also tried rinsing it with filtered tap water, note large pale band beneath the oil, but think distilled water would be better. So, a method that works, and produces an oil that dries quite quickly, but which takes some time. The next two are tests of other ingredients to make the emulsion. In Number 2 I tried a little borax, but the emulsion wouldn't hold and more borax made it worse so I salted it out, this is where it is in the photo. Number 3 is an emulsion made with a little methyl cellulose, there are lots of different kinds of this stuff, Roland sent me some PDFs and the one called hydroxypropyl methyl cellulose (HPMC) is better. I just happened to have some of this, so tried it out. It held the emulsion, but I wanted to see what the next step might be so, rather than waiting four days as with the original soap emulsion, broke this one with salt as well.



      

      Decided to go with the old familiar high salt and sand for methyl cellulose step two, rather than another round of the methyl cellulose. This is about half an hour after shaking by hand with sea salt and silica sand, mass of mucilage forming at the bottom of the oil.



      

      Methyl cellulose step three, the yellow submarine effect, this occurs with some refining methods and always cracks me up. Added some distilled water gently to the top. This pushes the salt water filled mass of mucilage down away from the oil, making it easier to remove the oil alone. I'll let this sit a day and see if the hockey puck itself becomes lighter, meaning more oil is seeping out of it. This approach is looking pretty good so far, but will not have the extra-fast drying potential of the soap refined oil unless I let the original emulsion go for four days first.



      

      Step two with the borax method, just shook this up with distilled water. Very loose thready break, some oil trapped in there, will let this sit a few days before syphoning and rinsing it again. Using the immersion blender, there might be a pattern of the alkaline emulsifiers just needing further rinsing with water, while the physical emulsifiers can use the sand and salt step. We'll see. Putting another step together.



      

      Did a lot of this type of work about a decade ago, they were fun for a few years but then stalled. I was a little distraught but one thing I've had to learn in this lifetime is to move on. Still, every now and then I wonder what's in that well, but it usually seems empty enough to just leave it alone. This week was a little different somehow, and I decided to try one out. There's a method to this, but the method only takes them so far, then they kind of have to get themselves home. I like the colour in this, but in larger terms it feels unresolved. Which makes sense for the first one after a long time. It was fun up to a point, but then I began to feel impatient with fiddling with it, so, after one round of finishing that led to backing out and rescuing, I stopped. If you play around with the composition there are a couple of interesting other options that are more nearly square. I also like extending some of the darker green on the right behind the hotter pink on the left, where the lighter yellow green is. The original idea with these was to get in and get out, and that still seems like the best approach. Not sure where this will go, if anywhere, might just be evidence of the extent to which I'm looking for the next step. About 8.5x13 inches, oil on gessoed paper (Arches cold pressed 300 lb).



      

      Returning to realism was kind of a relief the next day after opening the Pandora's Box of intense midtone colour again. Worked on this one next for a few days in a row, keeping it a little dark and warm for now while everything gets worked out. Made a slightly more mobile version of the medium for this, which I like better, but it's still pretty good at holding light over dark as it dries. About 13x16 inches, oil on gessoed linen over panel.



      

      Where I left off on the older one, there are things about this I like, mostly the integration of the colour and space, but there are also issues that seem more easily resolved by starting over. 12x16 inches, oil on gessoed linen over panel.



april 8
      

      Third week of the moon, very blustery week, some sun but mostly overcast, getting warmer bit by bit, early flowers in bloom around the neighborhood, but lots of biting wind here. On the other hand, snow was forecast for yesterday morning and didn't happen. Am still focused on getting more distance from the monkey mind, the endless roller coaster of stories about the past, prognostications about the future, that has attempted to define me for a long time now. There are lots of ways to do this, the one that seems to work for me is to just notice it: "There, see, here's that sticky oobleck again." This begins to unstick it, bring things back into the present. There's a feeling associated with a thought, expansion or contraction. Does this thought feel good, or not so good? If not so good, why are we entertaining it? Is the story it is telling true, or only part of the story? Why am I trying to trick myself with an untrue story? Etc. Cross-examine the story. Another approach is to take the large view and affirm that everything that happened, everything that is happening and will happen, was, is, will be in my own best interest. Ha-ha, really hard! This is possible to see in terms of who I am now compared to who I was forty years ago, but not always the easiest place to get to emotionally. And this part has to be felt. There's a synergy of opposites in the process: some aspects need to be examined as clearly and cleanly as possible, but others require a leap of faith. In a way I'm watching myself dissolve, but that person is seeming more like a character in a play at this point, one that has gone on long enough. In another way I'm watching someone else emerge. This person was always in there, but it seems like the process is designed to make this person the sole occupant. This part is exciting, it feels like a major part of the issue I've had with the work the last few years is that it was being done by someone whose relevance I had outlived. So, as usual, much more to go, but a sense of a different kind of progress on offer.



      

      Final test of my friend Roland's emulsion refining method. This involves making a relatively stable emulsion with an immersion blender using a mild alkaline addition, in this case a very small amount of linseed oil soap (potassium hydroxide based). This sits for four days, then is broken by adding a little bit of salt.



      

      After about an hour it looks like this, the water, soap, and mucilage separate cleanly below the oil. It then gets three rinses in plain water and is done. Pretty simple, an ingenious method. It dries just a little faster than the SRO method now with a fraction of the effort, and Roland's tests dry very fast as they get older.



      

      Just got a little work done on the larger ranunculus start, detail here, the blossoms were big enough to generate a different sort of detail naturally. This was fun, but I could tell that there wasn't much left, and that was in fact it for this week. Still not that natural to be patient, but it seems like each millimeter forward at this point is followed by a pause.



april 1
      

      Week of the full moon, full moon yesterday morning, kind of an odd one for me, felt sort of antsy all day. No snow and some sun this week, decent overall for the work: not that much happened but I liked what did. Am making slow progress with the taming, or redirecting, of the endless chaotic inner narrative, it's at least clear now that the goal is to experience things directly, rather than as a story in my head. It's an effort to deconstruct my own inner fake news channel, the constant companion of many decades now, but there doesn't seem to be much choice once it's clear the news is fake. Am getting better at catching the programming when it begins, it is actually kind of fun to say, "Fake news, folks, more fake news."



      

      Drying test of the most recent batch of oils, number 4 dried fastest, this was a test of Roland's soap emulsion with older oil. This is significant because number 1 was a hand-pressed brown seed oil that had been salt-refined four years ago, the native fastest drying oil I've made so far. So, I'll keep working with the soap emulsion approach to see how the method develops. And I'll keep this tile and see how much these tests darken relative to one another over time. It won't be much, but the pattern will be clear in about six months.



      

      The recent tests have been using an immersion blender to create a finer interface between the oil and the water. Here's a great microscope photo that Roland sent illustrating the difference between hand-shaking and using the immersion blender. The only caveat I've found is that it is easily possible to overuse the immersion blender, so if you're an early adopter, this is something to be aware of: 30 seconds on medium is enough for a wash, a few seconds on low for a rinse. Otherwise, really long separation times can occur, especially in the rinse cycle. This is fine if you happen to have a large centrifuge to separate them, and the oil and water do eventually separate on their own, but I've had it take a few weeks, which is not ideal.



      

      Layer two on the peony beginning from last week. Looking for more definition overall, but especially in the flowers. I like this one so far, a step forward from its predecessor. About 16x13 inches, oil on gessoed linen over panel.



      

      Got a second layer on this ranunculus, exploring how the colour wants to feel. Still some issues with a few of the flowers but I like the overall sense of this for this stage. About 15.75x9.375 inches, oil on gessoed linen over panel.



      

      Last year I started several of these florals at a somewhat larger scale, about 2x2 feet. It seemed like this one might be interesting at that scale as well, so made that panel and got a first layer on it yesterday. Very thin paint, felt that it needed to be strong and simple but that the forms needed to be delineated clearly first. Felt very dissatisfied with this one while making it but that tends to be a good sign in the long run, meaning something new is going on and I don't know what it is yet. A question so far, will look for the answer in the week to come. About 14.5x24 inches, oil on gessoed linen over panel.



march 25
      

      Third snow storm of the month this week, this one was gentle but insistent, is now melting away slowly. Still chilly but more sun this week, first week of the moon, easy to work, notably positive energy of the equinox. Things also jumped around a bit looking for something new, but this was more fun than chaotic. Something new did happen, but turned out to be something old as well, always fun when the cycle completes itself at another level. So, Spring, and a sense of progress again after a relatively fallow winter. Did I learn that doing and being are merely different sides of the same cosmic coin? Well, I pretended to, after all, it sounds good, and there wasn't much choice, but truthfully, I still like doing more.



      

      Sometimes the co-op has these nutty watermelon radishes, they taste good but more importantly they are, like penguins and the blue-footed booby, incontrovertible evidence that the universe has a profound sense of humor. Radishes always remind me of a favorite story in one of the classic Martin Buber books about the Hasidim. In this one, the rabbi is having a meal with his circle, and there's a visitor who comes and is of course welcomed, as is the custom. But the visitor brings a radish, which he proceeds to carve up and eat with great gusto. This is considered unseemly by the group, and the chill of holy disapproval is settling over the room when the rabbi comes out of his trance and says, "You know, what I'd really like right now is a nice fresh radish!" The visitor gets up and eagerly offers him a few slices, and the room returns to normal. A lot of these stories are more mystical or dramatic, but the inclusive everyday aspect of this one always stayed with me.



      

      Gave the oil refining a break this week. This is a photo of a slightly thickened linseed oil I've been using to make the medium-paint combination move a little more. This oil is just thickened on its own, no sun involved. It's six years old, has been aged in the light for that amount of time, and you can see how much it is yellowing from the residue on the sides of the jar: not very much. When it's new, this oil can yellow a little more. This oil thickens pretty fast and keeps getting thicker, I tried covering it but that seems to make it yellow more as it looks for oxygen that is no longer available. So, at a certain point I add a little more thin oil to get it back to the right consistency.



      

      Early ranunculus from last fall, still in progress but this one was fun to work on because it had reached an impasse a few months ago. Had to use a little titanium white in this one, I truly have issues with this pigment, do not want to see it, as I do here, but this can be addressed in the final layer. 9x12 inches, oil on gessoed linen over panel.



      

      Layer three on the second version of this carnation painting, the first is alla prima and happy-messy, this one is a little vanilla for me now but I wanted to establish the flowers themselves more succinctly. I was happy with the lighter ones, the logic of this type of colour has always been totally baffling. Okay, now it can get happy-messy. About 9x15 inches, oil on gessoed linen on panel.



      

      I get fascinated by simplicity, but nothing is harder to actually "figure out," it just has to happen it's own way. This is based on an older painting that was done from life, and I often use a photo of it as a reference, but worked on it this time based on what I felt it needed. In something layered, this is always the last step, when there's no more to see, it has to be felt. Working with this inner impetus is always a relief, but still, I sort of distrust working with it alone. Not quite done but getting close. 12x15 inches, oil on gessoed linen over panel.



      

      Recent landscape start of a favorite spot in Vermont, put a layer on this that emphasized the recession. This always makes me feel like I'm there, which was fun. More to go, but also getting closer to complete. About 10.5x18.5 inches, oil on gessoed paper on panel.



      

      Have been closing in on a version of this one for a while now, never mind how long. Did a little work on it this week and realized that it needed some surgery. I don't mind surgery but it requires a certain energy, more waning moon than waxing moon. So, decided to start a new one for the time being, get a more evolved beginning going that would relieve the pressure on the original version. So much can be set-up in the beginning, it is such a fascinating aspect of the process. Some beginnings in watercolour earlier this year led to a little more precision, then this became working in thinner oil to start. This one was done by pushing and pulling a very thin layer of paint around, actually the first way I worked in oil, but without white then since I had no idea how to control it. These paintings were actually a commercial hit thirty years ago, sigh, oh to be young and foolish again, but I had to figure out white which meant moving on. And, in a way, I'm still trying to figure out white, but that's okay, it seems wiser now to not know the answer, since this allows something to happen outside of what is known. Anyway, the first pass on this was without white, the second pass was with white, the third pass blended and removed paint. Did a second cycle of this, and decided to let it go for the day. So, not bad for a quadruped, feeling far advanced over form at this point but that seems better than the other way around. I like the way this one used the ideas that had been roaming around this week, but factored them into a new beginning based on a method that is natural for me. About 16x13 inches, oil on gessoed linen over panel.



march 18
      

      A blustery overcast week of slowly melting snow, but some sun and early Spring flowers beginning again. End of the moon, then new moon yesterday, sort of a quiet one but nonetheless insistent. It's sort of easier when they come in like lions than lambs, simpler to be shaken than stirred. Came to two related conclusions this week. The first was that I had become involved repeatedly, for years, in trying to force the work, instead of allowing it. So, as much as I've tried to back off and let the process tell me what comes next, there's still more to learn there. I used to beat myself up about losing time by hurrying, the dumbest thing in the world, but now, somehow, this is fine, in fact, it seems like the crux of what I'm here to learn. I mean, I can't beat myself up because it only leads to more hurrying. The layers of the onion are less difficult to access as I become more aware of forcing as a life pattern to disassemble. This has taken such a long time, but I can see it a little more clearly now. Given that the onion has infinite layers, the process will go on. The other conclusion is that I can't be angry and evolve, that I need to make a clear choice there. There's a lot of beckoning to anger these days in my culture, it's become kind of an epidemic. I caught on to this about a year ago, and began to make an effort to disengage. Getting outside of duality in a world based on duality is not the easiest thing to do, but I've come to the conclusion that it's incredibly important to be where the anger isn't. This is like changing the channel, the frequency, from crazy to sane. Again, not that easy when crazy is so prevalent, but the more, inevitably, I've explored the structure of the anger that is in fact mine this last year, the more it seems possible to create the space to maneuver when it is triggered. To see anger as a package that I can pick up and open, or leave alone, and walk away from. This has happened slowly, but has become more of a possibility as I've worked with it. And I've noticed that anger doesn't really have a response to this. What it needs to do is get my energy on its level, so it can amplify itself. If it can't do that, it can't engage. Anyway, I see these things as related to painting because I want it to evolve, and this type of work seems to be helping it.



      

      Continued to work on a refining method using the immersion blender. It works at this point, but the blender is too much for the rinsing stage, the oil and water become emulsified for a long time and there's a lot of loss as they separate. I'd like to do tests using the water-only method and the blender, this would define what it does more clearly as opposed to shaking by hand. My friend Roland also has developed an ingenious method of refining the oil using a very small amount of soap to create an emulsion, this works and could also be explored further. I'll clean this round up, there are jars of oil everywhere now, then get another gallon.



      

      First layer on a new cheese, added a little auto-oxidized oil to the paint in the beginning, as usual a little too much, this was a little goopy. It came together more as a result, a relatively "finished" look for a beginning, but too soon: I ended up thinking this type of paint would be better for the second layer. 9.75x16 inches, oil on gessoed linen over panel.



      

      Cheese that began a few months ago, drier beginning on a coarse ground, first relatively smooth layer here. More of the details to go, but a nice overall balance. 9x14 inches, oil on gessoed linen over panel.



      

      Did another layer on this earlier ranunculus based on what I learned about ranunculus last week, a lot of adjustments, still learning the natural juxtaposition of muted and more vivid colour that Walter Vaes did so well, but it looks better. 9.25x12 inches, oil on gessoed linen over panel.



      

      A peony that had been close several times, but needed to be ground back. A lot of small issues had accumulated so I did a layer that was more about correction than completion, you can see it still feels abraded. Tricky balance here between what I call happy and sad: it'll probably never be happy in the way the ranunculus above is happy, but I don't want just plain sad either. So, a little backtracking, more to go, but an image through which I've learned a lot. 11x14 inches, oil on gessoed linen over panel.



      

      Wanted to try another version of the same image with more space around the subject, so it's nesting, more than pressing. Also wanted to work on the feeling of the flower itself: there's a kind of contraposto with the leading petals going down, but the inner tier of petals going up, rising. This balance is crucial to the feeling, and I still did not get it with this one, but am beginning to understand what it's about. I guess if everything is a fractal of the whole, it makes sense that a flower would turn out to be a universe. Did this in charcoal first, then thin watercolour, then very thin paint with some chalk and oil. Emphasized the table line in charcoal since this always seems to go awry later without me seeing it. Yesterday, the 17th, the morning of the new moon, everything needed to be new, but nothing was new enough. But I think the second layer on this might be pretty interesting as a result. 11x14 inches, oil on gessoed linen over panel.



      

      I've always had a weakness for Constables first Sketch for The Hay Wain of 1820, a tiny painting at 5x7 inches, but one that rendered a whole world, and, as the beginning of The Hay Wain itself -- a painting which was very popular with French painters when it was shown at the Salon of 1824 -- an important part of the transition of landscape in the 19th century to more frankness and fidelity to nature. All the elements of that painting are in the sketch, although it looks like he reversed the direction of the cart. I'd done a few copies of this over the years, but always felt there was more to learn from it. So, this week I worked on it again as a medium test. The first one is okay but the second one came out a little better; made the medium tighter. Not as unified as I'd like, the medium was actually too tight, would benefit from starting a little looser, a little thin oil for the first pass. But, defining these points is what this exercise is for. So, might revisit this at some point, but this is the best one so far, there are now two others to revisit first. This was done on a medium toned raw sienna ground, watercolour over glue gesso, but, so far the medium doesn't seem to be reflecting that. This is especially apparent in the sky, which looks a little flat as a result. Some other things have dried down a bit already, it will be interesting to see how much this has warmed up and come down in a month or so. Wanted to get at paint that was somewhat sculptural, detail below, about 1.5x2.25 inches. This part was fun, but worked to the point of interfering with unity as well. So, though I didn't have a clue about this particular paint at the beginning of the year, the process put it together, that's always fun too. About 7.5x10.5 inches, oil on gessoed paper.





      

       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?








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