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A Sunday look at process and work in progress.

october 21

      Waxing moon, full moon this Wednesday. A little unsettled, not exactly a sunny week, but not rainy either, mild during the day and a few nights near freezing. Another week where nothing wanted to happen with painting, or even the book this week, had to rest a lot, which, lo and behold, finally, was fine. All part of the plan! Not my plan, have no idea where this is going, but that's okay. I mean, I'd like to get going with painting and the book again, but can also see how this type of time changes my conception of both who I am and what those projects are actually about. Things have always made sense in larger terms, and it seems sort of silly to bring the projects so far only to have them cease, so, I'm just letting them be fallow and have to admit that the changes this is generating are unexpected.

      This has also meant allowing time to expand into other areas. I had always been sort of resistant to the idea of repeating something endlessly, and, it seemed, mindlessly: an affirmation, a mantra. This may have something to do with the dancing and chanting Hare Krishna people I saw as a kid feeling strange: I was more comfortable with friends meeting. Recently, whenever I had tried it, it seemed like kind of a break from a thought process that went around in more predictable circles than I was willing to acknowledge. Learned this week that that type of repetition is a way to get out of the alpha state and quickly reprogram the subconscious mind, and thought it might be a good idea to try again. Had a great time with "I am infinitely compassionate and forgiving" while doing errands in the car, started laughing as somebody ran a fourway stop sign and it just kept going all the way home. It's a pretty quiet neighborhood, but a lot can happen in a hurry on the road, I try to do anything in a car between ten and two, and it was nearly three. Anyway, want to keep going with that, it works really well while taking a walk.

       I had an attack of completism related to the French academic technique of the later 19th century a few weeks before. I got some French texts online that were useful and ordered a few earlier 20th painting textbooks that were written in England, these came but didn't have anything to offer. While researching these, encountered a book -- well, three books, a trilogy -- called Lark Rise to Candleford, by Flora Thompson, which I knew I had to get. Most English fiction of the 19th century is written from a middle or upper middle class point of view, you could say Dickens is an exception but it's London, and not what he experienced. These books were actually written by someone who grew up in a tiny hamlet of farm labourer's cottages, they didn't have a store, a church, anything but each other, their gardens and the pig. The first book, Lark Rise, tells the story of the hamlet and its inhabitants from several different perspectives: the structure of it is both organic and cohesive. She grew up during a time when class distinctions were pretty rigid, and farm workers were paid barely enough to buy necessities. Her father was a stone mason, and they have a little more money, but not much. The picture she gives of the time and place is unflinching but also nuanced, she doesn't romanticize them, but explains what their life gave them as well as what they didn't have. Lark Rise came out in 1939 and was very popular in England during the war. This is when she wrote the second two books, about what happened to her after she left Lark Rise at the great age of fourteen -- many girls from the hamlet "went into service" at eleven -- and moved to the nearest tiny town to work for an old friend of her mother's who was the postmistress there. These books are also good, but are more predictable from the perspective of the fiction of the period in terms of the cast of characters and their various foibles, although her uncle Tom the shoemaker who loves her to read Mrs. Gaskell to him while he works is an exception there. The same sturdy prose and piquant observations, but it feels like her heart was more in the Lark Rise book. She got to explain a life she knew by heart, that no one had ever explained before, which really needed explaining. And, for all its challenges and precariousness, that life was home, she came back to it through the book.


      Lily and I had a little domestic adventure this week. It was the first night that was going to go below forty, and I wanted to take the air conditioner out of the bedroom window to make it warmer without having to turn on the radiator. So, I was getting it out, having issues closing one of the sliding side panels, when Lily arrived excitedly at the open window. She loves all open windows, and there was the little porch roof, invitingly only a few feet below. I thought, well, it's pitch black and freezing, she's not going to jump out there. So, of course, as soon as I had the second side panel closed, that's what she did. Ba-dump, like two big raindrops on the old tin roof. She looked up at me proudly with her eyes all huge in the dark. Great! I put the air conditioner away in the closet then went and got a big cardboard box that she sometimes hops into. But, looking out, I couldn't see her anymore. I put my head out and there she was, walking on the edge of the roof, it gave me total vertigo. Then I leaned out of the window and put the box on the roof, steadying it with my hand. She came back to the middle of the roof, and I was hoping she would jump in, but she just looked at me like "What's that box doing out here?" And yes, it was a silly idea. Was I worried about her, or did I want to close the window because cold air was pouring into the bedroom, or a little of both? I took the box back to its home, thinking, "Just go away, she'll hop back in when she feels like it." And she did, I heard her arrive on the windowsill again from the kitchen, funny how you know when your cat is no longer out on the roof in the dark. This photo is from the next day, you can tell what's on her mind. I don't exactly love her being on this roof, but there's also a more level porch roof with less pitch and less initial drop in front of the studio windows, I'll see if she's interested in that some sunny afternoon next week.


      Took a walk this afternoon to a place in the park where I spent a lot of time as a kid. Later, in high school, I used to take black and white photos there with my grandfather's old Speed Graphic 4x5. I guess there's always a good reason to leave the place where you grew up, but, being back again, there are also aspects of the experience to reconsider.

october 14

      One of those weeks where last Sunday seems several lifetimes ago. Not in a bad way, but boy a lot happened. Some chaos, some progress, but it sort of felt like it was all one thing, like I was riding the same roller coaster up or down, that down would lead to up, up would lead to down. Finally much cooler after some of the truly grossest weather ever here, an abrupt and welcome change there. Waxing moon, this moon started out quietly but is now getting more emphatic. Was able to work to a greater extent, this week was actually an improvement, explored the lamp oil and fused damar approach a few different ways. But also had to stop a great deal. So this process of being rebuilt from the inside out has been going on now for the better part of a year, with no sense of an end in sight. And yes, this bugs me. But perhaps this isn't a bug, but a feature. I'm far less driven, reactive, or crabby, and the work itself has gotten better from more perspective, less nose to grindstone, but it's still odd to spend hours each day simply being stopped without knowing how or why. I used to think I was trying to understand things, but I'm not sure this wasn't actually a code word for trying to control them. Now each day seems to make itself up, and I just go along for the ride. Which is much simpler. I still miss being the old me in some ways, I'd still like to accomplish more, have more of a sense of continuity again with the work. But I have a feeling my precious carrot and stick version of accomplishment has run its course. Which leaves me here, and now, going up and down in an infinite universe. This is of course what I've always done, but now it seems different.


      The teas from Darjeeling have a range of emphasis from bass to treble. The ones with the most bass are third flush, from the Fall. The teas with the most treble are first flush, from the Spring, and the second flush Summer teas tend to be more balanced. So, sometimes a tea has a very nice profile in one area, but is lacking in another. Well, often, if the truth be told, which is why a really well-balanced single estate tea becomes expensive: they did it. And also why blends get made. I guess I was always suspicious of commercial blends since they seem to be made with more medium quality teas. But there are a few first flush teas in the cupboard now that have just too much treble on their own, no matter what I've tried, so this week I started mixing them with some of the darker or woodier ones. It worked out better than I thought it would, there was an unexpected synergy in some of them.


      It's nice to make cooked food again now that it's cooler. An old favorite here of leeks and winter squash with basmati rice, a little sage, flat parsley, and grated Manchego.


      A lot of noise this week as they finished up the work in the street itself after laying the new gas lines. This was followed by a cement mixer, then two days of macadam, a coarse layer and a finer one on top. But now they're done.


      All the noises get amplified by the stone fronts of the houses. It wasn't nearly at the level of the jackhammer earlier in the summer, but it was also more arbitrary. I went out for Lily early in the morning before they got going and she observed the proceedings inside from a safe distance. When they were done in front of the house there was a lull in the noise, and I got her to go outside. It took some coaxing, she was very cautious. Then, as soon as she got out on the porch the cement mixer started churning up the street, a brand new huge noise, and she bolted back into the house. It was one of those sudden instances of realizing how crazy our world must be to them, what they put up with to be here with us.


      Made a fused damar medium this week with some autoxidized poppy oil, and thinned it with lamp oil. I realized this had too much damar, but I thinned it a little more with both oil and lamp oil. Also, I wrote paraffin on the label, because paraffin oil is one of the older names for lamp oil, but really, at least in America at this point, the material, purified kerosene, is known as lamp oil. And this is the plain, clear version, not the coloured or perfumed version. Have been doing some research for the book into the later academic method in 19th century Paris. This seems to be about a little bit of: copal varnish, poppy oil, petroleum solvent, and the period drier of lead and manganese, the infamous Sicatif Courtrai. It appears that some painters such as Bouguereau used a little bit of gum elemi as well as a plasticizer. There was also a specific commercial mix of a little bit of copal, poppy oil, a drier, and petroleum solvent put out by Duroziez that was popular, called oliesse. I'm stressing little bit here over and over because, even avoiding the drier, this approach needs to be relatively lean and very carefully balanced. Then there's the Vibert approach to the varnish, which turns out to involve separating the alpha resin from damar and just using the beta resin, dissolved in a petroleum solvent, with poppy oil and Sicatif Courtrai in the painter's varnish version. This did not get the best press from period painters such as Moreau-Vauthier, but a version of it with modern ingredients is still made. Thin painting is not my favorite approach at this point, but I like exploring this, it's also illustrating the efficacy of starting with even less paint in an indirect system.


      Evaporation test of Shellsol T and lamp oil, the Shellsol evaporated more quickly but neither one of them left any kind of stain on the paper. Clean evaporation is the basic test, I guess the other would be the smell, Shellsol is very mild, the smell of lamp oil is almost undetectable.


      Small test of the fused damar, poppy oil and lamp oil medium, just used a little with straight paint. This was over a really old and none too accurate underpainting, one colour and white in verdacchio. So, I was fighting the errors of enthusiasm in the underpainting, but this is a reasonable amount of colour development for one layer. Will keep going with this, adding a little more thick oil to the medium in each layer. About 9.25x12 inches, oil on gessoed linen over panel.


      Decided to start something from scratch using this approach. So, sable brushes, this had one very thin layer with just a little lamp oil added to the paint, one very thin layer with just a little of the medium, then one very thin layer with a little bit of a somewhat richer version of the medium, added a little of the hemp oil I refined that's been thickening over the summer. A very fine working technique compared to what I've been doing, more demanding in one way, more forgiving in another, a lot to learn about how to handle it. About 9x12 inches, oil on gessoed linen over panel.


      Something in progress in the thinner and finer paint department, used the usual medium with this after grinding it back somewhat, but added a little lamp oil to get it going. I'm not sure I'm ever going to like this if I keep painting it this way, I can see it clearly resolved as something goopier, but, we'll see. About 9x15 inches, oil on gessoed linen over panel.


      The same approach on this one after a light grinding back, the denser medium but with a little lamp oil to begin the layer. There are several of these now, this is the first, the smallest, and the most primitive. Which is fine with me if it works. I was able to add a few things I've learned from the other ones, which is also fine. This felt like progress in terms of incorporating what I've learned back into something older, bringing the past back into the present. It's fascinating that it is always my preconceptions about what the colour should be that hold an image back. The context determines the colours, so, even using the same palette, the colours change as the context -- the last version of the painting -- changes. This means there are always more colours. I know this, but would like to capitalize on it more. But this also means not trying to "finish" it, but operating on what needs to change. Ironically, this tends to finish it much better. But its still a mysterious place to get to with this type of colour. About 9x12 inches, oil on gessoed linen over panel.




       It's pretty much a given at this point that the universe is infinite: always expanding, goes on forever. Which means that it is beyond number, can't be counted. There's an interesting paradox in this: if something is beyond number, it is therefore unified; is, in fact, one. This seems logical enough, but it also means that all the diversity within the universe is somehow unified. Which means that everything in the universe is made up of the same thing, which is simply the universe exploring itself. So, this means the universe is sort of a multi-dimensional fractal: there are lots of different forms superficially, but they are the same in essence. There are even structures that literally repeat at different scales: the electrons go around the nucleus of an atom, just like the planets go around a sun. So, in terms if our lives as human beings, this means that we each contain the universe: infinity cannot function any other way. This is why the consistent message of an actual spiritual discipline -- as opposed to the various socio-economic power structures called religions -- is to look within. Because, guess what's in there? Everything. Everything everything everything. It cannot be any other way. This is our cosmic birthright as human beings. It's true that we have to look for it, and it's true that we live in a culture that has not made it easy to look. But that's because if you do look, what you find is much more interesting than endless reruns of Gilligan's Island. I mean, you can fight this situation, and say, this isn't culture, this isn't humanity, which I admit to having done for the last fifty years. But if you just leave it behind, your mere existence disproves it.

october 7

      Last week of the moon, new moon on Tuesday. Mix of rain and sun, not Summer anymore, but not exactly Fall either, very soft and humid. Had a good week all in all, didn't try to paint when it didn't want to happen, was able to begin to work on the book again after a long pause. This process is kind of like taking a tapestry and figuring out where to weave new things into it. It's fun, but requires a certain mindset, which the heat of the last few months erased. This week featured more information about French academic technique of the 19th century. This type of work makes me kind of nervous. I can understand that the technique is amazing but part of me keeps saying that there's something else that is important that, typically, just isn't there. I mean, I can go as far as Bastien-Lepage but Bouguereau just doesn't work for me. Anyway, this week I got involved with Moreau-Vauthier and Vibert, two pretty different representatives of the genre who also wrote interesting books. At this point I'd say Moreau-Vautheir's book is more reliable, Vibert is flambouyant, the genius-iconoclast, but overconfident. Overall, some good information in terms of the pattern of materials they were involved in. But also another Pandora's Box of branching if-then statements, see damar in kerosene below. Once you decide that things are not quite as they seem, there's a lot to learn, it goes on and on, but the question is whether the information is actually functional as a whole. You could argue that there's no such thing as too much information, but you could also argue that the only information necessary is being in touch with how you feel, and then making the decision that feels best. If I rely on the concept of assembling the facts, I can be misled by "facts" that are untrue. And promoting of this type of misinformation is, at this point, very big business. The half truth is especially useful for obfuscation: start with things that are true, but then leave out the rest, or morph gently into things that are false. In larger terms it's sort of a cosmic test. How discerning are we as a species? Is the sky really falling? Can we tell who is telling the truth, and who is not? Can we tell what is real, and what is not? Who can we trust? Under trying circumstances, can we stay centered in what feels best?


      The famous toad lily in the backyard blooms in the Fall, a long spray of these wonderfully goofy cascading toads.


      I always felt there was nothing better than plain potato leek soup. Just potatoes, leeks, water, salt, black pepper, and some milk. Simple and amazing. I made it this week, a treat to cook again, and it was wonderful. But then I still had some potatoes and leeks and milk, and decided to make it with carrots and cabbage. Then I went hog wild and added a little sage and celery seed. And it wasn't bad. I mean, it didn't make me wish I'd left it alone. But this may have something to do with having made the simple version first.


      Jungpana is one of the more well-known gardens in Darjeeling now. Their style is strong, sort of virile or puissant. I got kind of a sleeper from Teabox, a recent summer flush tea from Chinese bushes. This doesn't have the fabled muscatel flavour profile, nor its price, but it has a very interesting lyrical background hum behind a pretty strong opening. The brewed leaves smell exactly like fresh lychee nuts. I mean, exactly. And, unsurprisingly, there's something Chinese about this. The background taste is related to this but it isn't fruity or floral. This tea has a kind of gravitas, a balance of strength and sparkle. A lot of Darjeelings are effortlessly lyrical, like Mozart, but this one is more like Beethoven.


      Ended up finding several French 19th century texts this week online I'd never heard of. This was the result of looking for a painter named Charles Moreau-Vauthier, who knew Bouguereau, and wrote some notes about his technique. This article is online in various places, he used poppy oil with copal varnish and a little gum elemi as a plasticizer to counteract the brittleness of the commercial driers. Well, it turns out Moreau-Vauthier wrote a pretty nice book called, in English, The Technique of Painting. And in this book he talks about the varnish of Vibert. Which I had just read about in Vibert's book, called, in English, The Science of Painting. Now, the funny thing about Vibert's varnish is that he doesn't tell you what's in it. There were three of them, a retouch varnish, a painting varnish, and a final varnish -- yes, the French academics were into varnish! -- and like many materials of the period they were trade secrets. I became interested in this because Vibert's work is in such good shape. Really colourful work, and daringly so. The art part, well, they work best when he's being satirical, as in The Committee on Moral Books, but the colour is something else. Anyway, there's still more to go on what this varnish was, though it's either damar or copal as the resin, and it may have been both at different times. Something called Vibert varnish is still made by LeFranc, but it's not the same, modern ingredients. One possible original avenue involves dissolving damar in kerosene, which is strong enough in theory to do it, and would have much less yellowing potential than turpentine. So, I got some clear lamp oil, which is highly purified kerosene, almost totally without a smell, and put some damar into it, the usual, 1 gram of damar for 3 millimeters of solvent. It's a little early to tell, but I think only about half of it is going to dissolve. This wouldn't be the end of the world, since damar is routinely cut further with solvent before use. I'm not quite sure what's going on with this stuff yet. It could be put into a waterbath. It may need a stronger solvent as well, which would sort of negate it's possible relevance. More importantly, this approach takes a long time to dry. So, this may be a dead end. Unless damar in kerosene does other interesting things I haven't found out about yet. Sort of a classic: I got into this to try to understand something, so far I understand nothing. Then there's Manila copal in kerosene, have to try this as well.


      Another egg emulsion test with the window image from last week. Better than last week, but that's not saying too much. This week's paint was more cooperative, could add more, but things were still relatively vanilla in the way it handled. There's something here I'd like to get at, it seems like this image would work better with a more broken surface. About 9x12 inches, oil on gessoed paper.


      A broken surface sort of like this. Re-did this small older study of a rainy day in Barga, outside Lucca. There might be more but much better than it was. Like this version of the paint, but it needs to be used in this looser way. 7x9 inches, oil on gessoed linen over panel.


      There are several of these going now, this is the one from last year, but mounted on a panel now, and with a second layer of paint on it. Same medium as above, better than it was but too much identity, not enough transformation. I still get hypnotized by what's there when I know it really doesn't matter. About 10x13 inches, oil on gessoed paper on panel.


      It's really hard to believe that Lily only weighs fourteen pounds.

september 30

      Rain turning slowly into sun, waning moon, a little cooler, slowly becoming more seasonal. Relatively quiet week, had a few glimpses of how to move forward, more in life than in the work. Did start in on the book again after about a month off. It had begun to seem overwhelming but actually it was just the heat that was overwhelming. My goal is to have this one printed by CreateSpace, the company owned by Amazon, which puts the books on Amazon and prints them to order. This will possibly be by the end of the year. Have been working on adding a few small things, getting some recent PDFs into the bibliography along with references in the text. A book like this could go on forever, but after ten years, this is going to be the end for me. It's nice to get into it again after a break and like it again. The way the world is now has produced a reasonable amount of background anxiety for me. There's a recurring sense of someone wanting to force me to go backwards, to live their way, in a kind of perverse fun park where nothing is as it seems. In larger terms, of course, this is all part of what I signed up to experience, so there's no point in complaining or blaming. And I've had lots of experience with this feeling, it began as a child when I realized the grown-ups had created a world that made them unhappy. Of course, I quickly learned to keep this type of observation to myself. Anyway, had a dream this week that addressed this situation. In it, Lily can been kidnapped! I was trying to find her, and eventually came across the place where a great many cats had been taken by some agency in power. The cats were very docile, just hanging out, many of them in assorted tote bags, it was kind of funny. Lily was there too, but the agency clearly had all the power, it felt like a cold concrete wall, I couldn't do anything. So, sadly, I left and was thinking that at least they weren't mistreating her. Then I was going through the church I had gone to as a kid, and there she was, curled up on one of the pews. She smiled, and her eyes got really big, as though to say that no one was going to capture her for long. Okay, that was earlier in the week. Then last night, dreamed I was in a big old-fashioned trainyard. There was a train coming one way slowly down the track nearest me, and, when I looked around the bend, I saw another train coming the other way on the same track. Also slowly, but this one had an engine in front. It was too late to stop either one of them, and I was frightened that there would be an intense collision but the train with the engine in front simply started moving the first train back where it had come from. So, this could be about some sort of sudden change in direction that's personal, but it could also be about what happens in larger terms when a negative force encounters a positive force. With the exception of various earth changes, under-reported unless it's a hurricane in the US, we've kind of been treading water in the funhouse for a while now, a more substantive change may be on the horizon.


      One of the teas I got in pursuit of something to replace the legendary Guranse white tea from Nepal was the Himalayan white tea from Vahdam, which is available on Amazon. "Himalayan" tends to be older teabiz code for Nepal, and, be that as it may, this definitely smells like a Nepal tea, a lot of that ethereal dried pine grass quality, but it could also be from Arunchal-Pradesh. At first I was bugged that it wasn't as multi-dimensional as the Guranse tea, but I've come to like it a lot on its own terms. It's not floral, but has it's own fresh profile, and will make several cups. I'm still unsure of the exact distinction between green and white, but it's more on the green side, stronger and more body than most whites but gentle, not astringent in the manner of a Japanese green tea. Vahdam is a little more commercial than Teabox, and not as likely to give you an estate and a picking date, but these teas are of course cheaper. They have lots of teas on Amazon but also have their own site with more estate teas.


      Second layer on the start from September 2nd. Knew I didn't like the original colour, but not sure this type of softening is the solution either. Or maybe it's better to say that, on the whole, it still doesn't feel resolved. It's interesting to pause and reconsider how to develop this at each stage, it could go a great many different ways. Didn't put that much paint on it, but will let it sit until there's a clear sense of what to do next. About 10.75x12 inches, oil on gessoed linen over panel.


      Small medium test image. I'd like to get one more medium concept into the book, but things have remained pretty slow. Was concerned the medium would set too quickly for what I wanted with the image and adjusted it to move more. Overcompensated though, as usual, and this slid around far more than I like. Eventually worked on it with a knife and removed any excess paint. So, I like this idea but not how this one turned out. Will start another one, when it wants to happen, and use the medium as I made it. About 8x11 inches, oil on gessoed linen over panel.

september 23

      Waxing moon, full moon on Monday evening. The weather has begun to change finally, a cooler day and night yesterday. Got a little bit done on the work, mostly still treading water but it doesn't feel like it's going to last indefinitely any more. Venus approaching Jupiter in Scorpio, not the best time for male chauvinists with something to hide. But they always think they're going to get away with it forever. One grouchy day, triggered by PGW telling us to move our cars with about one hour notice so they could cut up the street, beginning the last phase of the gas line upgrade project. Haven't had an old fashioned grouchy day in a while, my own virulence, in private of course, was shocking. But, the closer I get to a life with no rudeness or arbitrary nonsense, the more it seems to bug me when it occurs. This is of course the greater cosmic purpose of a big city government, to test the patience of its citizens at the most basic day-to-day level. So, a good wake up call there that it's not over yet. Fun visit from my brother and nephew yesterday, we went to some places my brother remembered as interesting from growing up. Couldn't get into the Wharton Eshrick Museum, you now need a reservation, but we got to walk around the grounds and the tour seemed to be conducted by a pretty baleful type anyway. Moved on the the Mercer Museum in Doylestown, which is quite bustling now compared to when I grew up. Ended up going to Mercer's house, Fonthill Castle, instead, one of the earliest structures built from reinforced concrete. This was a very good decision, see below. The day ended with a pizza in a funky open air situation, I don't do this type of food often anymore often but it was very well done. Had a wood-fired white pizza with ricotta, arugula pesto, pine nuts, and a suspicion of garlic, pretty darn elegant for local pizza, but the big surprise was a tender crust made with an authentically Italian softer flour, someone has been doing their homework. If there's a next time I'll ask for fresh arugula on top, but great to see the popular standards moving forward around here.


      Photo from the net of the Fonthill interior. This place was a complete surprise to me, too nutty to be believed, a rabbit warren of arbitrary, semi-organic spaces with a lot of these arched vaults with columns. Life outside the box, literally. It is huge, but all the rooms are somewhat small, with a nurturing, deeply thought out earth colour palette accentuated by an endless assortment of brighter tiles, some from Mercer's own Moravian tile works, some that are centuries old. The palette reminded me of the Morandi Museum, and those obsessive Joel Meyerwitz photos of his studio and its objects. A part-joyous, part serious exercise in decorative obsession, architecture as play, interior as both collection catalogue and extended work of art. A lot of different types of people there, interesting to be in a museum environment with so much overt wonder and enthusiasm going on.


      In spite of liking how the recent egg yolk and ewax medium operated, it has dried down a little bit in the last few weeks. This is slight, a smidgeon, but it makes sense given the amount of thicker oil in the medium. Saturation has its price. So, to be appropriately obsessive in my own small way, it seemed good to try a second version. This one increases the egg yolk and ewax, and decreases the oil. It should be even brighter to begin with, and remain brighter over time. But it may set pretty quickly, especially as it gets colder, and this may create a zugzwang place in terms of the emulsion's behavior. The behavior of emulsions is pretty predictable when they're definitely either water or oil phase, but as you approach the midpoint of these phases odd things will sometimes happen.


      The liquid phase of the medium was still a thick emulsion, but more tender, less elastic or rubbery.


      Once the chalk went in, it had a familiar look but still moves more. This will work well, the issue will be if the set is too fast. Will hopefully start a test of this one in the week to come.


      Second layer on the landscape from the post of September 9th below. Shifted to the medium from last week, the only difference was the resin involved, so it should be fine. Still a little vanilla for me, would like more sense of internal movement. About 11x14 inches, oil on gessoed linen over panel.


      Did a new test of the first egg and ewax medium from the post of September 2nd below. This is the other end of the pendulum in terms of this style, less diversity of shapes and colour, more unity. For years now I've been reading about the predominance of the masculine giving way once again to the feminine in various channeled sources, this seems to be increasingly focal now, and may have influenced what wanted to happen here. Didn't start out with this in mind, but it definitely wanted to happen. The paint layers very well wet-in-wet, can be carved. Could have gone further, but couldn't figure out what to do next, so, stopped. Don't feel like this is done, the bottom is a little dark, a little separate. But that's just one way it could be developed from here. Will let it sit a few weeks and see what wants to happen next. About 11x12.25 inches, oil on gessoed linen over panel.


      Lily is a beauty, but she's also a beast, and this is an interesting combination. Sometimes she just has to throttle something. After a session like this she feels better.

september 16

      Mostly overcast week here with intermittent rain, and sun, it is slowly starting to cool off. Waxing moon, a lot of distraction from the hurricane, and a lot of rain still to fall in that situation. Discussions about this understandably about us, but, in larger terms, it's too bad that we are culturally prohibited from considering the earth as a being. I hope at some point we realize what indigenous people have always known: that everything in the Universe is the same: alive, with feelings, and an agenda for personal growth. This would take us much further than preparing for bigger hurricanes. Locally, had a positive week in general, although not much wanted to happen in the work until yesterday. It was like a switch was turned on after lunch, and I could do it again. So, hopefully I'll be able to get more paint on the beginning below in the week to come. If doing has to be balanced by being, doesn't being have to be balanced by doing as well? Possibly one more medium test to go to complete the book, after writing it for the last decade, would like to put a cherry on top. Can't see how this one won't work, but have thought that plenty of times before.


      Well, my search to replace the stellar Guranse white tea from Nepal hasn't been a literal success, but I did get some oolongs from Taiwan that are just as nice in their own way. These are pretty lightly oxidized, almost green, but are much softer and more floral than a Japanese green tea. Hadn't had any in a while so they seemed new again. There are different ways to brew it, the traditional way involves multiple short infusions and is just too fiddley for me. Yes, amazing, something is too fiddley! I like about a tablespoon of tea per cup of water at about 180F for three minutes. This gives you about three or four cups, the second one is usually the best, but they all have interesting qualities. When it's hot outside I also just do the later cups with cold water, let them sit half an hour or so. These teas tend to be higher grown, there's a mountain called Ali Shan that is justifiably famous for the quality of its tea, usually from small growers compared to India. They have the high altitude background spiciness in them that's analogous to a Darjeeling, but with its own quality. I got 25 gr of a few different ones, which are similar and all very good, but my favorite so far is either Teacher Gao or Mei Shan Zin Hsuan. These are from Stone Leaf Tea in Vermont, from farms they've visited. These teas are expensive, but in my experience with Taiwan tea are a good deal for what you get. Pictured, one tablespoon of leaves after a full day's work.


      Have been trying to be more aware of what wants to happen and what doesn't. Less effort, more grace. So, it wasn't time to do anything on this painting until yesterday, put a drawing on it and a little watercolour. The colour on the last one got a little fruity for me, wanted to add a little black to this one in the beginning to remind me of that. Some places that need more resolution, but the overall feeling is the most important aspect of this stage. If this were too perfect, the next layer would be dictated too much by it. I've done that, and the results don't look lively enough. I used to take painting for granted because I did it all the time, now I'm excited about the possibility of starting again. Hmm.


      Well, got a layer on this one today. The ground was a little bit more absorbent than usual, I knew this, but thought the composition of the medium would seal it quickly. Which in a way was true, but this impeded the movement of the paint a lot, when more movement was the whole point. So, decided that, rather than do the old thing, which was to push as much as possible, it would be better to let it go after getting one layer on. Not really a painting yet, but a complete map. The next layer should be pretty straightforward, and feature more movement. Although, even before it went on the panel, this moved less than I thought it would. And I'm not sure about that olive tree in the right foreground, decided to try it, but it might have to go. Or would that feel too empty? Anyway, something needs to change there. Maybe it just needs to be less solid. About 11.5x18 inches, oil on gessoed linen over panel.


      Lily loves to scamper around on the porch railing.


      I guess everyone scampers about in their own way.

september 9

      Waning moon, new moon today around 1 pm today, yahoo. Have to admit I'm hoping for some resurgence from this one. A sunny and hot week, also hot at night, Lily started going out around 2 in the morning and coming in for most of the day. Now much cooler after a thunderstorm, warmer and a lot of rain in the week to come, although nothing like what's forecast for the Outer Banks, yikes. The last week of the moon is usually not that great for the work, there are some plans underway and I did what I could, but in general am accepting that this is still sort of a cocoon time. In a way it's fine because it feels right. The frame of reference has always expanded sort of incrementally, maintaining its identity, but now it's just plain turning into something else. Under the circumstances, it's sometimes hard to know what to do. Roland has sent me some very good technical PDFs to go over for the book recently, so I started in on that, but it's just making things more official, substantiating technical stuff I already know. One more version to go, it's very close but with Mercury retrograde in my twelfth house for the last few months, it's been hard to talk, let alone write. That's improving slowly.

      Cats are known for being aloof or mysterious, and there's certainly an element of both of those to Lily, there are definitely times when she has her own agenda. But there are times when she's quite affectionate, gives me head bumps, her purring becomes kind of an extended chirp, it's very pretty. She's also very funny, which has been totally unexpected. This usually occurs as a surprise mock-attack -- which she only does once I've forgotten about the last one. Lily has worked out various routines, which I follow dutifully because it's by far the simplest way. It's sort of like music, things happen with a certain rhythm, in a certain order. For example, when I get up to let her out at night, she always has a snack first, then a stretch on the scratching post, then we move on into the studio. I open the front door, and she follows me through to the landing. There we pause to assess the situation before going down the stairs. But, the other night, I waited for her out there a bit, and she didn't come out. I thought, half asleep, what's going on? and went back to the front door. I had put my hand on it and was beginning to open it more, when she jumped up from behind the door and whacked my hand with her paw. No claws, just a firm whack on my hand at the edge of the door. It sure woke me up, and was very funny. Cats don't smile with their mouth, but they do with their eyes, and she looked pretty pleased about that one.

      Like most people, I've been used to more doing, less being, with painting it gives me a sense of incremental accomplishment. Now, I'd admit that in larger terms this may be specious, that actual accomplishment is different than making better paintings. And that that's what all this semi-volitional time off this year has been about, not so much expanding the frame of reference, but re-drawing it. At the same time, this situation has led to some background anxiety about what's going on. I mean, I'm fine with the old frame of reference dissolving if that's what wants to happen, but let's get going more with the new one. Existing in this bardo-like region all year has been a little odd at times, reminds me of Vor Dem Gesetz, the feeling of which I've always remembered from reading it in German so long ago. There's always a gentle humour that gets lost in translation. But that's another story! Had a dream this week that addressed this, which was helpful. I've complained about whoever is up there watching out for me, but lately they've been clear in their succinct and minimalist way. Of course, sleeping with my head over a pound of semi-precious stones may help. In the dream, I had just arrived in a railroad station, and was trying to find my next train. Only it wasn't a regular railroad station, it was kind of a multi-dimensional maze. There were no signs, and people were headed all over the place, tracked together, almost in invisible tubes. I didn't feel that anxious in the dream, just in a hurry, but had no idea where I was going -- wasn't that sure anyone knew where they were going -- and was concerned about hanging onto the stuff I had with me. Finally, I ended up in a big long room that was far from the crowds, and off the beaten track. It was suddenly much calmer, there were only a few people in it. I started to collect myself, and noticed with relief that I still had my odds and ends of baggage with me. Then I began to wonder again where my train was, and how on earth I was going to set about finding it. In retrospect, the interesting thing is, it didn't occur to me to ask anyone, why would they know? It felt like it was my job, or responsibility, to find the right train. Anyway, at that point, the room itself began to move. Slowly and jerkily at first, then it began picking up speed.


      A drying test from earlier this year of various recent linseed oils on a tile. All these samples darkened pretty significantly in the summer humidity with the exception of number nine, which had been refined with an emulsion made with ewax. This is a few months later: I put the tile in a south facing window, and all the samples that were in the light brightened again. The dark sample on the bottom left wasn't in the light, it was covered by the windowframe. So, this is the perennial thing about linseed oil, it needs light and low humidity to remain bright. Great old world climates for linseed oil: Spain and southern Italy. Not so great old world climates for linseed oil: England and the Netherlands. The old Dutch method of using a warm transparent shadow structure with pure white as the light may well have been designed to make sure that any darkening of the oil would go unnoticed in context: the warmer the shadows get, the brighter the highlights appear. But they were pretty careful about their oil as well.


      I've always been kind of at sixes and sevens about the effects of egg yolk. My experience has been that it brightens the paint, and keeps it brighter over time, but also tends to diminish its personality. But I liked the look of last weeks egg yolk-ewax and sandarac-in-spike putty. Decided ewax is something most people probably wouldn't make, so decided to try the egg yolk enhanced medium using unmodified beeswax in a little OMS. The combination of egg yolk and beeswax tends to slide, a better approach in general for a larger painting than a small one. I thought that the seizing, or congealing, action of the sandarac in spike might counterbalance this. Here's the oil, 15ml (3t) of mixed pre-heated and autoxidized oil, and the sandarac in spike concentrate, 1.25 ml (1/4t) That's not much resin by volume, but it's a syrup, with very little solvent.


      The beginning of the seizing, or congealing, action of the sandarac in spike on the oil, which tends to create a more elastic and thixotropic paint. Mixed these together very well. Sandarac in spike is very old, has been found on a Carlo Crivelli as a varnish.


      Mixed the wax (melted in a little OMS, 2.5 ml or 1/2t) with one half of the oil-resin, and the egg yolk (5ml or 1t) with the other half. The wax made the oil-resin mix relax, the egg yolk made it tighten further.


      The look of the completed liquid phase of the medium. Bouncy but mobile. Cooks and painters were in the same guild in Renaissance Italy. Not to imply this is an older medium! Iy doesn't seem like anyone used wax at that period except as a protective finish.


      Then added 20 cc or 4t chalk. Could be marble dust or ground calcite too.


      The final medium. Used this at 1 part medium to 3 or 4 parts paint, I tried for 4 but it looked like it went a little over now and then.


      The painting the medium made. It's a little cooler in life but I found a new setting in the RAW program -- jeez, who knew it defaulted to beginning with something "happier" than absolutely neutral, how crazy -- and left it there. Hard to make a painting look worse in the photo, especially the only one of the week. About 80F in the studio, the paint was rubbery, went on thinly but alas, slid endlessly though tightly, didn't layer. A little frustrating at the time, this layer ended up sort of plain or reserved looking, but is also pretty resolved in some ways as a result, a lot of adjustments to one layer. It might layer more with added chalk, or in a cooler studio, and would definitely layer ad infinitum using ewax for the beeswax, even half ewax would probably do it. This dried more quickly than the ewax version, overnight, but also had about a third as much paint on it. It was more shiny, and more translucent. A nice look given the presence of egg yolk, many things to like in this combination. Maybe the way to use it is over a completed lean underpainting, not a white ground with a little watercolour on it. I'll let this sit another week or so, grind it back lightly, and use the same medium for the next layer.


      Next up, when it wants to happen. Simpler composition I never saw before, pretty close to the golden ratio. Want to try a version of the medium made with larch balsam instead of the sandarac in spike, so will start this one next. This approach will definitely move more, so I'll add a little more chalk to it, maybe a little more egg yolk as well. But more motion might well be an improvement if I can also get more paint on.

september 2

      September, whew. Waning moon, often around 90 taking a walk at 7 pm, now it's rainy and a little cooler. The weather shows thunderstorms for another week; they're just guessing. Was still not able to do much painting, but did something, which was fun, details below. Fun is my co-pilot. No, really! Am slowly becoming more comfortable accepting what wants to happen. Last year I would have said nothing wants to happen right now, it's a time to rest. But this year suggested that there's no such thing as nothing; that the label is a refusal to accept something. It feels like, moment to moment, something is always on offer. Even if it's hard to find, or leads to an unexpected place, there's something, not nothing, there. But for the present to be infinite, it has to exclude everything finite, like a personality, so for the personality, the present feels like it must be nothing, because it can't be there. This year for me in a nutshell.


      Have been making salads with Romaine lately, this one has a little shallot, some chopped up Calamata olives, a few chopped walnuts, and a few chopped up sun-dried tomatoes. Olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and a little French sheep feta. I'm not the biggest sun-dried fan but they were on sale and the local tomatoes were a little firm still.


      When I went in search of something to replace the great white tea from Guranse, the highest tea estate in Nepal at about 7,000 feet, I had some issues. Nepal is pretty poor, and they'd like to get their tea out from under India and into the world. But this doesn't mean that all tea from small Nepal based entrepreneurs is great, or even okay. So, a lesson learned there. But Upton had some new teas from Nepal, and I gave one a try. This is from Gorka, an organic estate in Ilam, which is right on the border, about fifteen miles from Darjeeling. It's smooth and straightforward, a lot like a mid-level second flush Darjeeling with that typical organic softness in the finish. There's a little of the Nepal cut pine-hay flavour, but not much. So, a more than nice everyday tea, but I'd hoped for a little more Nepal. Jeez, I need to start looking at the map before ordering.


      The oils refined with chlorophyll are aging in the light. The one in the middle was done using chlorophyllin, this is man-made, termed semi-synthetic, and replaces the central magnesium ion with a copper ion. Chlorophyllin in water and glycerin is sold as an "internal deodorizer," although the Europeans are a little more skeptical of this approach than the Americans. Anyway, the chlorophyllin refined oil was deep emerald green for several months, but is now slowly losing all its colour. Not much actual oxygen to react with in the jar, so it's only a little bit thicker. I think this is going to dry very quickly. It also looks from the dried oil on the sides of the jar like it may be relatively non-yellowing, which would make sense if the aging process has effectively been accelerated. So, I'll wait for all the colour to go away, then do some tests.


      My friend Roland sent me this great photo microscope of beeswax spherulites in linseed oil, enhanced by phase interference so the background is darker.


      Have wanted for a while to test putting egg yolk back into the system, so made a small test batch of that medium. It would keep for a few weeks at room temperature, because little oxygen can get at the egg yolk, but I'm storing it in the refrigerator.


      Well, egg yolk changes everything. I sort of love it, I sort of don't, but I wanted to see what would happen. And this paint ended up looking about like I thought it would. But I didn't know how it would work in time, and the surprise there was that it tightened progressively and significantly as I worked. So, it didn't start out layering wet-in-wet cleanly, but it ended up doing that. At that point it made quite fine detail, and could be carved, photo below is about an inch high in life. As always with egg yolk, there is an increase in the sequestering properties of the medium, meaning it dries up, and that the paint below has less of an influence on the paint above. It will also probably hold its colour very well over time. Unresolved as an image, however. I'm not thrilled with the colour itself, a little too much or not enough, but I like where the space is headed, not too formal, even a little goofy, and the way the paint handled the informality of the geometry. It's fun to consider what moving or changing elements does to this, I really like the chrysoprase green, but it's a little jumpy for the rest. Or, some of the pink could become a little warmer. Or, a neutral could be introduced, the red and green make a nice one. Oil paint tends to emphasize unity, or mush, a fine line there. Egg tempera tends to emphasize diversity, or disparity, a fine line there too. A tempera grassa paint can offer the opportunity to balance these qualities, but in this one there's not enough unity yet. If I envision the composition in black and white, it seems fine except maybe for too much darkness in the upper left corner. So, looking forward to developing this approach more. Um, when it wants to happen. About 10.75x12 inches, oil on gessoed linen over panel.




      Oh, nothing.

august 29

A recent technical e-mail that came out well, written in what I've come to think of as European English:

Sorry to be late, the insane heat here continues!

Also, sorry about the alkyd lecture :) I have learned that not everyone actually reads the book, even if they buy it. So thank you for that!

It is necessarily sort of complicated, I realize this, but I did not know any other way to explain it fully. Anyway, thanks for putting it to good use.

Wehlte is in some ways responding to the period oil, which was not great, apparently even in Germany. It is true that resin makes the paint film leaner, but this is not an issue if you have quality oil, and especially if the oil is older, aged. Fat over lean is a 20th century obsession, because of the generally lower quality of the commercial oil. I'm not saying to ignore the principle, but using quality oil and chalk makes the situation far more forgiving.

All the resins are going to darken over time, so it an issue of how much is used. If resin is used to create brightness, that is, the paint not lowering in tone as much as with straight oil, then it is fine. But if resin is used to create gloss, this can be in excess and lead to darkening over time. There is also the issue of solvent hygiene, this is from Wehlte so I'm sure you know about it, but it is crucial if an organic solvent like turpentine or spike is involved: keep the solvent protected from light and air.

Yes, that is an interesting question about congealing, jelly, and thixotropy. I think congealing and thixotropy are the same, but a jelly may or may not increase thixotropy depending on what is in it. Your copal varnish will do this to an extent, especially with egg involved, but this is all that is needed. I mentioned the older resin preparations of sandarac or young (Manila) copal dissolved in spike. Used as a concentrate, a few drops of resin syrup, these are quite thixotropic, a very small amount is plenty.

I also wanted to mention that the hand-refined linseed oil system is inherently thixotropic. Not with an ethanol-refined oil, but any oil refined with water. As the oil ages, the paint made with it becomes quite plastic and elastic. Also useful is a small amount of quite thick autoxidized oil, this makes handmade paint congeal quite firmly. Commercial paint, less so, but it is still noticeable.

I'm not sure about the differences between heating an autoxidized oil to release it, make it flow again, and mixing autoxidized and heat-polymerized oils.

If the autoxidized oil is heated, it is only to about 100C, where it releases all the byproducts of polymerization, mainly water. This oil then becomes relatively flowing again. However, it also keeps polymerizing, and this gets interesting in terms of the balance of grab and glide within the oil.

Mixing an autoxidized oil with a heat-polymerized oil allows more of the heat-polymerized character. But too much of this makes things look enbalmed, my humble opinion of course, so it is nice to balance it with autoxidized oil. But there are many different ways this can happen! I have liked walnut oil heated to 180C for 2 hours, with a stirbar it darkens minimally, mixed with autoxidized linseed oil, this has a nice balance and is less likely to darken in higher humidity than linseed oil alone.

Again apologies for being late, but I did get a chance to think about it more!

august 26

      Week of the full moon, full moon this morning, hard to go to sleep last night. A less hot week for a while, which was very nice, now heading hotter for a few days again. All the trees are still green, although a few leaves are beginning to fall, Lily like to watch this in the window, her attention moving from leaf to leaf like they were birds. I like to hope, it is after all a positive quality, but also have no illusions about September: my electric bill last year was the same as August. Mercury is prograde again and my conscious brain is slowly returning to normal, I can actually put sentences together this week. But in general things are still resting, to the point where I'm not bugged by it, just letting it happen. Which I guess is in fact resting. I'm getting ideas, inklings, about what to do next, but it's not time to act on anything yet. The thing I've come up with is that I want it to be fun. I got intrigued, even entranced, by the possibility of learning more, but over time this became like climbing up peak after peak, and this was a lot of work. I was proud of being willing to work hard, and it did teach me a lot, but have to admit that, on several levels at this point, enough is enough. So I want to see what happens if things get more playful again. As the mushroom said to the bartender, I'm a fungi.


      Made a chart this week of the moment the sun left my twelfth house and crossed the ascendant. This only happens once a year, and is always kind of a celebration, although this year's twelfth house sun was pretty mild. This could be thought of as an alternate birthday, possibly more related to the subconcious on the one hand, and to how one is perceived on the other. I'd be surprised if this chart was too involved with the mundane, or physical. The birthday chart -- the solar return, when the sun is where it was when you were born -- has been helpful in terms of what will be emphasized in a given year, and this sometimes has mundane or physical correspondences. I looked for some information about this type of chart, but didn't find any, possibly because its functionality depends on a relatively accurate birth time. The ascendant is the most personal part of a chart: on a given day, there are x people with the same degree of the sun, x/13 or so with the same degree of the moon, and x/360 with the same ascendant. And this chart feels pretty personal in terms of the evolve or die focus on the Moon and Pluto in the ninth house of the higher mind. I kind of thought I had done that already, like for most of this year, but apparently there is more. Mars conjunct the Midheaven is a little bit of a surprise, a more public focus than recently, though there are many levels or octaves of this. I doubt my YouTube videos will suddenly accrue millions of views, but Mars is in Capricorn, which relates its energy more to the collective. I put in the major asteroids, with the exception of Chiron these are all feminine and have come on since I first began studying astrology. At first I felt they were too much to cope with but they are relatively specific and over time I've found them helpful. Vesta is especially interesting in that it is about one's innate sense of sacred focus. Here it is in the eighth house of transformation along with Saturn, the baleful malefic of old astrology, but which simply generates structures that both organize and limit. So, this was new and interesting to explore, but I don't really know that much about what it's telling me. At this point I'm making guesses, but in the past I've found my guesses to be consistently skewed towards the cosmic vacation in Sikkim that I'd like to see. It would be interesting to do one of these charts for last year, to see what it has to say about a time period I've just survived, um, experienced.


      Well, but ended up getting a lot of tea, at least better than getting a lot of wine, but I still haven't found something to replace the now-fabled Guranse White tea from Nepal. Which was elegant and floral but with both body and that distinct Nepal pine-green bite. (I admit this is getting like the old story of how many Vermonters it takes to change a lightbulb. Three: one to do it, two to talk about how good the old one was). But I did get a very nice oolong from Temi in Sikkim. Temi is organic -- well, all of Sikkim is organic -- and is pretty well-known for quality, I mean, even Wikipedia says so! The teas are very similar to Darjeelings, with perhaps more of the spicy dried pine-hay note in the middle. It's a darker oolong, so it can be more or less floral depending on the water temperature. Not in the same league as the Arya Diamond Darjeeling in terms of intensity and complexity, but easy to drink, very much itself, and half the price. I always keep an eye out for Temi, their teas have a special quality.


      Less hot this week, Lily was more active, when it's time to play she hops up on the top branch of the shelf and looks at me eagerly. I found a leftover bird in the back of the cupboard. Though Lily likes the variety of homemade toys, it is no surprise she is more responsive to feathers.


      I haven't looked into crop circles in a while and they sure have evolved. But don't worry, nobody is trying to tell us anything!

august 19

Waxing moon, uniformly hot and humid week with a small thunderstorm, Lily stayed inside a couple days, always a good indication of air quality. More August, let the work go, didn't even think about it, the closest thing to a vacation from it in a while. Not ideal on the one hand, but had no struggle left. Astrologically this makes sense. The sun is in my twelfth house in August, always at least a more reflective or internal time, if not a form of prison. One more week to go there, wish me luck. In addition, Mercury usually transits through a given house in three weeks, but it's been in my twelfth house now for seven weeks. So, my whole communication structure is under extended review. Which makes it sort of complicated to explain anything. Usually I'm interested in how communicating can clarify things, but not right now, this paragraph has taken days! Mercury turns prograde today, three more twelfth house weeks to go. Mars has also been retrograde for a while, moving from my sixth house back into the fifth. The fifth is about creativity, but also about play, and for me is often about letting go of the sixth house focus of work, which I like, and goofing around. But it feels like goofing around has a purpose too in terms of expanding the possibilities, removing the blinders that working tends to create. It's challenging, but also interesting, to feel so unfinished at this point. I always thought that choosing not to be like my parents was a kind of guarantee of growth, it didn't occur to me that my own frame of reference might also become restrictive over time. I like it that more still wants to happen but don't like it that I have no idea what. But there doesn't seem to be any choice but to let it happen. This year has featured several strong waves of creative discomfort. It's natural to shrink from feelings like these, to resist the visceral cosmic pain as one's carefully constructed identity crumbles. But it seems to work better to open up to it and just feel it, which lets it all move forward. The energy wants to create someone new, the challenge is to just let go and see what happens. I always felt that I trusted intuition, but this is about a way that's new. As an example, in the hotter weather, Lily has been going outside around three in the morning. It's weird because I'm usually up anyway, and, if not, I've learned that the simplest thing is to just let her out. So, last night I let her out as usual, then went back to sleep. Then, quickly, I had a simple dream where a cat was meowing, the cat's face turned into a tiger face. I woke up, and knew that Lily wanted to come inside. Then I began to debate this logically: she'd just gone out, it was nice and cool, she never does this, etc. Then I sort of shoved that aside, made some space, and thought "Come get me now, I mean it." It wasn't clairaudience, I've had a few instances of that and it's unmistakable, literally hearing words. This was more like clearing out the mental matrix and just letting an intuition come in. Which feels like it was the point of the exercise. And this form of communication has happened before with Lily: the vocabulary is simple, but the meaning is always clear. So I got up and went down and opened the front door. She was sitting on the front of the porch. There was no threat in progress, but she turned around, came right in, and we had the usual festive reunion in the tiny vestibule before the staircase. So, I broke the established pattern, which she usually does not like, and she came right in after having been out an hour or so, which is unprecedented. Now, granted, this is a small thing, kind of a test run, but it feels like I'm being asked to learn to trust the unexpected present tense intuition more thoroughly. Which would make sense if all the life rules I've so carefully crafted over the last five decades are about to be inapplicable.

august 12

      Last week of the moon, uniformly hot and humid, new moon and a thunderstorm yesterday. Got a little work done but mostly it was time to stop, which was mostly okay. This winter there was a lot of internal change, sort of like being detached from the consensus version of reality, attached to a larger frame of reference with more possibilities. Then for a while it calmed down, but now it's happening again. It's like the the person I had to learn to be to deal with my parents, school, jobs, etc. is in the process of disappearing. I thought this was me, because it was all I knew, but it wasn't. Um, isn't. With Mercury retrograde, there's not a lot more to say at this point.




      Wanted to try another high-end Darjeeling, got the Goomtee Muscatel from Teabox this week, photo of Goomtee above. The first tea from Arya was sort of a knight errant, questing, this one is more self-contained, feminine, balanced and elegant. The first time I made it I got lucky: it was amazing. The second time it accidentally steeped too long, not bad but not the same cohesion, and the third time I got most, but not all of it. So, kind of fascinating, and strangely familiar: something wonderful happens, but how it happened is mysterious, and more complex than it appears on the surface.


      My friend Roland melted a little bit of wax into linseed oil at a very low temperature, and it looked like this under his microscope. These sponge-like shapes are semi-crystalline, and grow from the center out. They're called spherulites. The ones with plain wax are bushier than the ones with ewax, the ewax ones are more like stars looking, see last week's post below.


      Three part composite photo from Roland of spherulite formation. At the bottom left is a wax particle that appears as the oil cools from 40C to 25C. Above it is the beginning of the spherulite structure. On the right is the completed spherulite, about 40 microns across. Natural chalk comes in at about 2-4 microns, so these things are pretty big!


      Worked on a finishing system again this week. Ground this one down slightly before rubbing a silica gel couch on it, this was the nicest version of this approach so far. About 9.74x12 inches, oil on gessoed linen on canvas.

august 5

      August, oh boy! Truly a month for anticipating joyous surprises. Third quarter of the moon, retrograde Mercury and Mars, endless cycle of not that hot but quite humid days. Dense, murky feeling to the air, much more like what I remember from growing up: the acrid smell of the pavement is kind of nostalgic. It gets down around 80 sometimes by about 7 pm, nice time to take a walk now, often a little breeze. Lots of echinacea in full seed around the neighborhood, goofily positive flower, beloved of darting goldfinches. A lot of other had to happen this week, the work I did turned out okay, but not great: felt like doing it but afterwards it looked like the work of someone who has been ground down slowly but surely by the summer. There's no substitute for the energy being right. But, at this point, all part of this time of moon, and year. Finally uploaded some new images to the galleries here, long overdue. Made these from RAW files and this turned out better; made this week's painting images here from RAW files as well. Have branched out into some different projects, I tend to focus relentlessly, but it's not going to work now, moving around more feels like a better use of this time. In larger terms, can't say I feel particularly enlightened, but after a lot of work this Winter and Spring on becoming less reactionary, things seem to have stabilized as far as staying positive, outside the meaningless fray. A more challenging situation here than in Vermont, and exciting after a good five years that seemed designed to push any remaining button as hard as possible. Of course, August tends to have a somewhat different definition of the joyous surprise than I do, and the month is young! In terms of the caricature that is so diligently presented to us as reality, though perhaps with an occasional smirk at this point, please consider ignoring it for your own truth: this is just as important as anybody else's. The real news is being broadcast all the time. If we make some quiet time to tune into it, it's just there.


      Much mayhem this week as the city redid the gas lines on our street. Part one was a few months ago, laying new pipe in the street, this time they connected the new pipe to each house individually. They do three houses a day, jack-hammering a man-sized hole in the street in front of each house, crazily loud echoing off the houses. Lily usually goes outside at night now, and was a little freaked out in the morning, had to pick her up in the backyard and carry her inside. But then she settled down for a nice long nap after breakfast. Reconnecting the gas later in the day to our house went smoothly, though not all of them did, they finished up next door well after dark.


      Hot weather cuisine highlight this week, cooking without heat is a challenge but necessary for now. Black beans and mashed avocado on rice cakes, with scallions and a little gochugaru on top.


      This is very good for the heat. 2T (30cc) of rose hips, 1T (15cc) of hibiscus flowers, in 16 oz (500 ml) water, in the fridge overnight. The sweetness of the rose hips balances the tartness and slight bitterness of the hibiscus.


      Have wanted for a while to make a video about oil refining, am assembling it now. This is an interesting process, there's a lot of information, how to convey it with the most clarity? This one incorporates the emulsion prewash I've been working on recently, and is almost finished. I keep remembering things I've forgotten, but it should be up on YouTube later this week.


      More amazing photos through the microscope from Roland. This is of the ewax refined oil, with micron sized particles of ewax suspended in it. This has several effects on the oil and may be why it was more resistant to yellowing through high humidity than the other emulsion-refined oils.


      A couch of thicker oil, egg white, and a few drops of Manila copal in spike. This was mobile, sticky and thixotropic, I thought it would definitely be a step forward but, as is often the case, it was more of a step sideways. This might be better as a medium in small amounts. Need to pause and rethink using egg white for this. For now, will go back to what I know: the dense but mobile type of couch based on a silica gel.


      Used the couch above on this one of the Mugello farm, rubbed on very thinly. The previous layer had a lot of unity, a nice lower chroma feeling, but lacked oomph. This layer needed to have higher chroma and contrast but, as is often the case, went too far in the new direction. The couch also melted or fused the paint applied over it a bit, not ideal for something of this scale. Both the egg white and the copal in the couch increase saturation, the combined look is a little too glassy somehow. At least I know what I don't want. Not a disaster, will grind this back very lightly and drop the chroma somewhat in the next layer. 12.5x20 inches, oil on gessoed linen over panel.


      This one has been at sixes and sevens a bit for the last few layers. It was a little warm, made it a little cooler. Also started to differentiate the peonies more into one in the light, one in the dark. Introduced a little titanium white, I still have tremendous issues with this pigment. The overall feeling improved, still much more to go. Still interesting to shift the colour around in a relatively tight circle. Want to try working on everything but the peonies, then work on the peonies the next day. About 13x16 inches, oil on gessoed linen over panel.


      This one felt like I'd overdone the brightness with titanium-enhanced white, but then dried about right. More chroma, more contrast. More to go as well. A good beginning gone awry, but the last few layers have brought it back somewhat. Still, I can sense something new trying to happen with this more literal approach. Something less literal. 12x14 inches, oil on gessoed linen over panel.

july 29

      Week of the full moon, uniformly warm and humid here with cyclical small thunderstorms. Also the beginning of the galactic year this week on the 26th, heading into the alignment of the Earth with the galactic center on August 8, called the Lion's Gate, and usually a relatively intense time. A different kind of week for me. Flew out last Sunday to visit my brother in the Midwest for his birthday, it was a surprise, very fun. Haven't flown in a while, felt a little resistance to the post 9-11 process but it all went well. Very nice visit, a peaceful location, a break from here, the closest family I have, my brother and his wife have a great relationship, my niece and nephew are in their early twenties and it's fascinating to watch their vision of themselves come together. These kids were raised to be themselves, do not bow and scrape to the materialist idol, wahoo. Very fun small birthday party on Wednesday night, had a little wine for the first time in quite a while, a little fear there but it was fine. Flew back on the day Mercury went retrograde, lots of small delays but nothing major. Didn't do much thinking about anything, just rested, but the work seemed to know what it wanted when I got back. I still get involved now and then in efforting, but can curtail it more easily now. Have more confidence in just letting it go, shifting to the present with what wants to happen. Started to do some work again yesterday, it was pretty different, something old but new to this phase of the process stepped in. A little late with the new this moon, but it happened.


      Spring black from Lakyrsiew, a small garden in Megalaya, the state below Assam. It's located a little above 1000 meters by a lake, a micro-micro climate. They're relatively new, are really interested in producing quality, have their own website, and have been quite successful. This year's Spring black has a lot of floral or fruity notes in it compared to last week's tea from Mouling, and is more of a northern tea in it's background of green cut hay, which is odd because it's located to the south. Flavour-wise, this is a really interesting tea, but it doesn't quite come together, whereas the Mouling tea does. It's sort of like an orchestra that needs a conductor, or a landscape that needs more atmosphere for it to coalesce. All things considered, this is a high-class problem, and may be a function of it being a First Flush (Spring) tea with inherently less body. Teabox has the summer version of this tea now and it's really pricey, which means they nailed it. It'll be fun to get a sample later this summer and compare them. Photo of Lakyrsiew below.


      The idea of a water-only emulsion with the oil is something I'm intrigued by, as simple as possible, just a matter of the proportion of water to oil. This one needs to be shaken every three or four hours, and separated a little, but not totally, overnight. Doing this eliminates at least one wash from the salt and sand method, I'm letting this emulsion go for a full day, which might eliminate two washes. This could be used as a pre-wash before any method to begin to oxygenate the oil and separate the mucilage. Also, classic math error, the water is about 17% percent of the total.


      My friend Roland has very kindly been investigating the method of refining the oil using emulsified beeswax. He pointed out something about the method that I'd missed: because it's wax, and because it melts at a low temperature, you have to be careful about heating it in a waterbath, or about the room temperature itself. The first time I did this, I put it in a waterbath to clear it, but this also melted some of the wax back into the oil. This came out in the rinses in large, balloon-like bubbles, but I didn't understand why the wax was still in the oil. So, this method needs a little work still, but is of interest because, after a month, it was the least yellowing sample by far in a drying test that occurred in pretty high humidity conditions, see last week's post, below.


      Egg white of course was the medieval manuscript medium, and may well have made its way into earlier oil painting as well. It's a great way to make a thixotropic putty with chalk and oil, and also makes an emulsion with oil alone. Hadn't worked with it in a while, and began to re-investigate it this week as a way to arrest the oil in a couch. First, you break it up a little bit with a fork. It keeps in the fridge a relatively long time, more with a few drops of ethanol or spike added. Shake well after this addition.


      About 15% egg white mixed into some moderately autoxidized oil. My memory was of this approach being pretty tight once it got onto the panel.


      But this time it was a little too mobile. Sometimes I just work with this but decided to tighten it by dipping the brush in chalk. This isn't ideal, gets chalk all over the place as it falls off the brush, but it works.


      Tried this on something older that's always remained a puzzle, sort of sacrificial at this point, but things like this are useful for developing a process. Originally done from life, this had some crudeness I wanted to develop further, and that part worked out: even when I tightened the paint, it was still long and moved well, making adjustments easy. This also got into a more dramatic value scale, I used to work this way but in earth colours, so this is sort of new. Wet photo, a little better in life. Still not done, but in a more evolved place than it's been. 10.5x13 inches, oil on gessoed panel.


      Another small study that had kind of gotten into a zugswang situation, made a somewhat tighter and denser version of the egg white couch for this and it worked out better. A little better handling, also wet, but making the value and colour more accurate also made the foreground and background more jumpy. Lots of small issues with this one still, but an improvement, on its way somewhere new. It had been sitting a while so it was was a nice surprise to figure out how to improve it. The fine art of not giving up About 12x12 inches, oil on gessoed panel.

july 22

      Lots of sun and heat but less humidity this week, cool nights. Waxing moon, usually good for the work but nothing wanted to happen and I went with it. Over the winter, there was a gentle but insistent suggestion that there might be more to life than painting. In spite of not really agreeing with this, I was willing to work with it. I think the "doing" of painting had become a a kind of psychological defense mechanism, my version of "good" to balance what I perceived as "bad." But, it's more complex than that, and, over the winter, I became more familiar with the relative terra incognito of being. But it also seems to me that, if I'm going to be here, I might as well do here as well. When in Rome. I'm still at sixes and sevens about the doing-being balance, although, looking at the way it cycles, it seems to take care of itself. So it was nice to get back to the work more fully over the last month or so. But maybe I overdid it, again, or maybe the summer is just a time to accept less, or maybe I'm just supposed to back off from doing more in general. It's been sort of hard to figure this out, and that's probably not the point anyway. When life wants something to change it can happen in an instant, so it doesn't feel like I'm doing the wrong thing, so much as that I still get too wound up. Still attached to outcome, using painting to get better, to fix things, to save things, to prove things. A form of imbalance. And imbalance of any kind seems, at this point, to create a pretty quick response. So, an unexpected pause this week, but this time I'm struggling less. The thing is to just let go, surrender, let the balance recur even if my version of imbalance -- the endless fight against all odds -- is superficially more fun.


      And this story too will change. I'm not telling you anything you don't already know. I just want to suggest that we ignore the ongoing attempts to cause confusion, whatever the source, for the simple reason that it has nothing to do with reality. Sayin' has never made it so. Like a three dollar bill, it has no buying power. Some people are choosing to have unreal lives, even compound unreal lives, quite publicly, but this does not impact or threaten our ability to have real ones. Unreal is in the opposite direction of real, a different wavelength on the dial. Ignoring the unreal denies it the power it knows it can only generate through reaction.


      A more normal tea this week, something simpler for every day. This one is from Mouling in Arunchal Pradesh, the relatively undeveloped, relatively mysterious area that's above Assam and below Tibet. I can find Mouling National Park on Google Maps, lots of images of that, but nothing more specific about the garden. If you do an image search on Arunchal Pradesh, it's pretty wild, the people somewhat Tibetan. Anyway, this tea came from Teabox. Big twisted dark leaves, smells like an Assam tea and starts out that way, but then segues into brighter, greener, spicier cut hay flavours that are often part of more northern teas. So, this one is interesting, and quite drinkable, but not a multi-dimensional extravaganza like last week's Darjeeling. But, at a third the price, that's okay. There's also a white tea out from Mouling at Upton, one review online called it a floral battering-ram. More expensive, floral always is, but definitely on my list.


      A few months ago I started working with what is called structured water. It was kind of an accident, I wanted to upgrade to a stainless water filter, then thought about how to put some personality back into the water. This set-up uses a quartz crystal, some elite shungite, and some maifan. The shungite and maifan have a long history of being used to modify water, quartz seems to be more recent but is also sort of standard. I had a piece of calcite in it, but it made it taste sharp. Without it, the taste is soft and round, kind of like the Volvic spring water but with more body. This has been fun to explore, and of course more can be done, but this set-up seems like enough for now.


      This Spring I did a lot of immersion blender emulsion refining tests, based on my friend Roland's idea that the closer mechanical emulsion would clean the oil well and produce a fast drying oil by creating a very fine interface between the oil and the water. Roland's first experiment was with a little liquid soap, and this worked out well, and, at four days of emulsion, did make a fast drying oil. The photo here is of a drying test of some of the emulsion-refined oils I made. The longer the emulsion is held, the faster the oil dries, the longest I've done is four days, with Roland's original idea of a tiny amount of KOH soap, and that did dry very quickly. These were all experimental and held just two or three hours, the one that dried fastest of these tests was one made with chlorophyllin, the modified chlorophyll that's used in internal cleaning supplements. I thought that the oils would darken significantly on a tile in the relentless summer humidity and they did. They will lighten again in the fall to a great extent when the humidity departs. But one test did not yellow much at all, the one that was refined with an emulsified beeswax emulsion, #9. This is the old way of making beeswax water-soluble with a small amount of liquid soap, used as a medium for things as various as the Pompeii murals and the Fayum mummy portraits. And this is interesting because emulsified beeswax has also seemed to limit darkening, make a brighter paint film over time, when used in small amounts in a medium. So, I started some more specific yellowing tests, which will take a few months to show anything, and want to go back and work with this process further. It would be great to be able to make a fast-drying oil that is humidity-resistant from the start.


      Silica has turned out to be really reliable for refining the oil, because the electrical charge it puts out in water attracts the mucilage, although some types are safer than others in terms of fine particles in the air. Diatomaceous earth is natural, made from the fossilized exoskeletons of tiny plankton called diatoms, and comes in several forms. I used some of the food-grade version to make one of the emulsion tests. Roland used a different type, the one used in gardens as a natural insecticide, and got different results because of its wide range of particles. Photo here of 1/4 millimeter globes of oil each surrounded by very fine particles of diatomaceous earth.

july 15

      Uniformly sunny and hot week. End of the moon, new moon on Friday night, Sun and Moon opposition Pluto, it was a pretty jumpy one! Got a decent amount done this week, especially considering the waning moon, but scaled back in terms of what I was trying for. The heat seems to generate energy, but diminish its focus. The new moon has something new that wants to happen still, I can feel it but am not sure what it is yet. Began to work on the book again, there's a lot of research into emulsion refining methods to condense into a few pages, this means adding some formulas right in the middle, which means changing a lot of formula numbers but also a lot of cross references. One more time, one more time. There are also various small things that come up, I put these on index cards and it's fun to figure out where they belong. Painters often work with a generic colour for shadows, mixing ultramarine and burnt sienna is popular, and of course older painting often used a brown shadow structure to offset white highlights. But I've always been intrigued by naturalism, the light and shadow of a specific place and time, and this week had several experiences in which fine tuning the shadow colour created a far more convincing feeling. This seemed to be like music, where the root note determines the intervals of a given set of notes, therefore how they are heard. On the piano, C major, A minor, and G mixolydian are all made up of white notes, but have different roots and sound really different. This is one of those things that could get really technical, go on and on, and make people bug-eyed in the process, but, wisely, I declined the invitation. Found a place to indicate it with one sentence, and that seemed like enough. This is something about technical writing that surprised me: just as emphasis on detail and finish can be problematic in a painting, affording the viewer no avenue of entry, no way to get themselves into the work, too much information in a book becomes lecturing, doesn't let the reader think. There are times to explain carefully, but there are also plenty of times to indicate something and get a move on, they'll explore it on their own if they're interested. So, high summer, moving around, exploring several things in moderation, getting a good walk in every afternoon or early evening, remain positive and peaceful while traversing what has often been a somewhat rocky time of year. August used to make me just want to hide under the bed. But this year, in contrast, I am anticipating endless joyous surprises.


      Read the book about Darjeeling tea by Jeff Koehler. Very well researched and explains a lot about the history, the microclimate, and the contemporary situation. It's fascinating that tea began in India because the Chinese would only take silver from the British for their tea, and the British were drinking so much tea that this situation was bankrupting them. Koehler is a pragmatist, and a good story teller, but, beyond a description of the process -- it all seems to happen in a day or two, a lot depends on when the fermentation phase is stopped -- there's not much about tea itself, or a sense of the personalities of the teas of specific gardens. Also, with a spiritual history that goes back millennia, things in India tend to go beyond pragmatism, sometimes way beyond. Koehler has issues, for example, with biodynamic farming, which happens a lot in Darjeeling at this point. He even spoke to one of the area's more flamboyantly successful biodynamic exponents, Rajah Banerjee of Maikabari, but they didn't seem to get along, perhaps because Banerjee says things like, “The basic issue of all humanity is one of imbalance.” So, there's an aspect of India that Koehler, like the British Raj before him, is uncomfortable with, but which, like a figure-ground exercise, is defined in the book by its absence. The area is quite small, and the gardens pretty concentrated. The microclimate occurs because the steep foothills of the Himalayas -- gardens go up to 7000 meters -- are cooler, making for more flavour concentration in the leaves, and also stop an enormous amount of rain coming from the Bay of Bengal. But the tea that's made during the monsoon isn't that good because the bushes grow too fast, it gets used for blending. Anyway, lots of details like that about a specific lifestyle and type of farming, fun to learn more.


      The book talked a lot about gardens I'd never heard of, some of the smaller biodynamic gardens don't sell tea at auction, so it doesn't tend to get to America. I've really liked ordering tea from Teabox, they are accurate, and have a great sense of value in more far flung locations like Arunchal Pradesh, but did some research online for another level of tea, and ended up getting one from Arya, their Diamond Second Flush of this year. It was about twice my usual price for one of these teas, coming in at about a dollar a cup, arrived from India in three days, yikes. Large leaves with lots of colours, great smell, it took a few tries to get it right, it needed hotter water than usual, but then it was really right, gently multi-dimensional, lots of muted muscatel-type flavours, but quite cohesive, and tremendous body for a Darjeeling. The price-quality relationship in tea seems to be like that of wine: at a certain price, you can get something really nice if poke around or know what you're doing, but it's going to have lots of personality, or not the best manners, depending on how you look at it. As the price rises, the complexity increases, but so does the balance, the overall smoothness. This is sort of a double-edged sword, when things are too formally perfect it tends to bug me, like I'm being led back into my parent's world, where it was easy for form to trump content. I often opt for more honesty, less polish. This is the difference between quality, or respect, and what one just loves. But it's also good to know more about what's out there. I mean, I'm not exactly experiencing buyer's remorse about this tea. It would be more pragmatic not to experiment, but it wouldn't afford as much scope for joyous surprises.


      The local garden of oils, organic, if not biodynamic. As things get closer to finished, I often put a very thin couch of oil on them before starting. The couch needs to move, but not too much. This means using an oil with the right amount of grab and glide for the style. It's taken a while to figure this out, to become a couch rajah, so to speak. With panels I can rub something relatively thick on thinly. But not too thick, it needs to move more than the paint. But not too much, then it slides all over the place. So, it has to be balanced, not imbalanced.


      This is one that suffered from a strong beginning, but I wanted more than a pop watermelon, so it's been through about a dozen layers since. This layer was fun for me, because, for once, I got everything right. It's more of a challenge, becomes more of a tightrope, the closer they get. But, when it's balanced, the couch sort of generates its own form of unity. I don't think it's quite done, and the colour here is a little bright in the melon, but there's a sense of having finally arrived at the gates of the temple, being where I always wanted to be with it. 12x16 inches, oil on gessoed linen over panel.


      This one also came forward, a little more roughly painted, concentrated this time on the jar. With luck this could be finished soon, but that's beyond me, sort of tempting fate. I just show up and do what I can, sometimes, a few weeks later, I realize that it worked, which is always a joyous surprise. 12x16 inches, oil on gessoed linen over panel.


      So, those are two that are in the process of working out, here's one that I'm still having reasonable issues with. Have been developing this incrementally, politely, now it may be time now to put on lots more paint. A little frustrated with this one, but that can be good. There's a larger one of these, two feet across, getting in and out of all those ranunculi is easier at that scale. About 15.75x9.375 inches, oil on gessoed linen over panel.


      This one had a really nice watercolour underpainting, but somehow managed to go awry anyway. Ground it back lightly and began again. I used to try to recover all the lost territory with the next layer after grinding back, but playing catch up like that doesn't really work. This time I just kind of blocked it back in, spent the most time on the background colour, which, of course, determines the rest of it, one reason why so many older still life paintings have black backgrounds. This seemed kind of crude at the time but now it seems like a good place to go with something like this. 12x14 inches, oil on gessoed linen over panel.


      Redid several problematic landscapes this week but this is the one that took a decent photo. An old favorite, an early midsummer morning in a place I knew very well in Vermont, had gotten hypnotized by the detail in the foreground, rather than getting the feeling of the day first. Somehow it just felt way off. And it was, the sky needed to be warmer and the land needed to be cooler. So, now this has the right overall feeling. Had always wanted to do these bigger, and in a somewhat more open way, but after a few of those that were sort of chaotic it seemed best to figure the image out at a smaller scale first. Earlier I was able to make a certain type of landscape larger, say, 3 or 4 feet across, Cape Cod was straightforward for some reason. But this type of image was not. Anyway, have been considering making larger panels for some of these that have worked out, 2.5 feet across I think. About 10x17 inches, oil on gessoed linen over panel.




      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?

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