Tad Spurgeon oil paintings


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A Sunday look at process and work in progress.

Edition 10 is here!

      Edition 10 Living Craft, the result of over a year of research and revision, is now available here! Thanks to everyone for your patience, this one has taken a while but is quite a step forward.

may 21

      Third week of the moon, new moon this coming Thursday. Didn't start anything new, added to work in progress, had one extended good day of working on the most recent florals, the first day of a mini-heat wave here. Having grown up here, I took against the summer heat early and often, the idea of a cooler summer played a large part in the original decision to go to Vermont in 1982. There's actually something called thermophobia, but I don't have any of the symptoms of that except not liking hot, humid weather. But at this point I've learned to deal with it better, eating cooling things rather than heating things is a big help, as well as getting out in it rather than hiding from it: without the AC on, it's worse up here than out there. Another good one is standing in front of a fan after taking a cold shower. And lowering my expectations, shifting to an emphasis on being, rather than doing, perhaps hardest of all. This time it wasn't that bad until the humidity kicked in on Thursday, making the night itself much warmer. It's interesting how the weather can make things primal in a hurry. Now it's really nice again, whew, and this summer is supposed to be less hot overall than last summer. But, it's coming.

      We've all had things happen that were difficult, or situations where we felt wronged. Over time it becomes important to clear them out or up somehow, otherwise it's hard to function in the present. And pretty much everyone spiritual at this point is emphasizing the present as all there really is. Disentangling can involve analyzing what happened and why, but in the end it comes down to something more basic and feeling-oriented, forgiveness, which is always a two-way street. Heard a very nice definition of this concept this week, as simple as possible but no simpler: forgiveness is realizing it couldn't have been any other way.


      Action photo of Lily on a hot day this week. She really perked up when the temperature dropped, galloping around at three in the morning. It's sort of an endearing sound.


      Several people have told me recently that the book needs an index. Groan! I have resisted this for several reasons: the book didn't really feel finished, it isn't really a reference book, or at least I don't want it to be used that way, but mostly because I didn't know how to do it. So I began to work on it last week, and have to admit that I'm getting better at reading the directions. The program will create the index automatically from a file of search terms, but, as with all things automatic, there were some surprises. So, I did a lot of dry runs of the index. Even so, there were some things that had to be searched manually. Does cobalt mean cobalt blue, or cobalt something else? So, the index helped me consider the book in a different way, I guess more in terms of the specificity of the language, which is always good. But then, I wanted to add something, and realized I couldn't at this point without going through the process of making a new index: once terms begin to shift pages, the whole thing is now wrong! I found this a little upsetting, like the text had become the prisoner of the index. But really, it wouldn't be such a big a deal to make a new one for each new edition.


      This one had started a little loose, but turned out with a lot of unity, which several people had liked. I wanted to do more to it, but waited a few weeks to understand how to go about it. I remembered something similar from a while back, where I'd finished it in a few passes that were relatively thin and transparent, to preserve the general feeling of the first layer as much as possible. This approach turned out pretty well here, more to go but in a good place overall. About 9x12 inches, oil on gessoed linen over panel.


      Third layer on this one, it's still not really anywhere but getting better slowly. This is always an issue: can the current direction lead to resolution, or is something more radical in order? I'll probably work on it more without changing it too much. About 9x12 inches, oil on gessoed linen over panel.


      Second layer on this one, another one that had turned out pretty well in the first layer. Not done, but was able to augment it while preserving the original feeling. About 9x12 inches, oil on gessoed linen over panel.


      Also layer two on this peony, the photo was a little odd, the background is a little darker and bluer. More to go but not bad for this stage of development. About 9x12 inches, oil on gessoed linen over panel.


      Layer on something older that had stalled, more to go but working on this helped me to see what I've been learning about colour through this most recent set of brighter florals. It's odd how growing tends to expose a hidden illusion. I think for a long time I cherished the illusion that loving colour and understanding it were the same thing. About 7.5x14 inches, oil on gessoed linen over panel.

may 14

      Week of the full moon, another cold and rainy one, really Oz-like with all the very green trees, the many azaleas in the neighborhood slowly fading away. New books came this week at long last, always a relief when this project finally succeeds in moving forward. Funny how easy it is to envision that step compared to getting it to happen. Usually May is one of the better months for the work, and I have to admit there's been progress. But I'm not sure there are going to be any truly better months for a while, I can only ignore so much successfully, and the current national mix of instability and unreality always seems to be a step ahead of me. A form of genius, but a very destructive one. So, on the one hand, it seems a miracle to function at all amidst so much day-to-day doublespeak. But, on the other hand, it feels like I'm capable of more. And, of course, we are capable of more. Here, there's that old familiar sense of internal unrest, building slowly towards a change. It may be that I need to do something different in terms of the work, there are a lot of options, but thinking a change into place never works as well as letting it happen, so I may just have to plug away until the new moon to find out what wants to be new. I'm trying to be okay with a balance of doing and being that makes me sort of nervous. I'd rather just do, do, do, but know at this point that this doesn't work. It feels like I'm pretty close to where I always wanted to be, but, not for the first time, the current route may have hit an impasse; I may have to find a different way to get to the next step. Which is fine, all I'm interested in.


      The hardback version of edition ten got here this week, and looks good at long last. It took six versions to get here, who knew switching from 7x10 to 6x9 would be such an issue? But I'm glad I did it, the feel of the page is really nice now. The bindery also sent another proof for the paperback, whose oomph or pizazz is enjoyable. This one seems to be printing with more red, which is odd because usually they print with more blue. But, it's pretty good overall, so I made one last set of changes to the cover colours, and will have these for sale in a few weeks.


      Began this peony and got a second layer on it. Different, which was interesting, but far from done, a lot of issues with this one but they too are interesting. A little too unnerving or unsettling right now, it needs a little more everything's gonna be all right. And, I think the top leaf on the right needs to go. 9x12 inches, oil on gessoed linen over panel.


      Layer three on this one, a favorite of this series so far. Close in some ways, not close in others, I keep seeing these as having more paint, and so, bit by bit, they're getting more. There is a simpler way to make this work that emphasizes atmosphere, creating more unity, but I'd like to keep the brighter colour as well. Working with that type of tension between opposites seems to produce things that are different. 9 x12 inches, oil on gessoed linen over panel.

may 6

      Waxing moon, new moon in a few days. Cool and mostly overcast for the most part, with a couple of really lovely sunny days earlier in the week. I plugged away, getting more used to no caffeine, did some work I liked but without that much ability to focus. I think it's safe to say that, be process of elimination, we've proved, endlessly, that the only things that are going to work are peace, justice, and equality. At the same time, since we're so not there, it's best to accept that there's more to be learned. I need to develop more compassion for rich old white men in suits, whom I tend to think of as untermenchen. They are human beings too, just learning something different than I am. With regard to Lily, I tried to accept that there was nothing to do but wait for her to heal but was sort of distracted by her obvious issue with the collar. When you live with somebody you know how they feel, but it turned out okay, details below. Proof of the paperback of Living Craft comes this week, new version of the hardback as well. I'm sort of excited about this one, it looks pretty elegant at long last.


      Lily wasn't too happy with the collar this week, but I figured out how to help her eat, duct taping her food and water to ramekin pedestals so the collar wouldn't interfere. I tried to tell myself I had done the only thing I knew how to do, but it all just felt really weighty, and I was really happy to finally take it off her on Saturday morning. She danced around afterward like a lamb or a goat, sort of bouncing off the floor on all fours, then scampered really fast through the whole apartment. She's still got the stitches in her tongue, but she hasn't messed with them, the issue is her clawing them out so we have to start all over again. But they don't seem to bother her, and will dissolve bit by bit. A few days before, I decided to explain the whole situation to her through an animal communicator. My significant other had done this with her cat and the transcript was really interesting. Lily did call the collar "barbaric," and pointed out that it making us both sad. But she was surprisingly understanding about what I'd done, apologized for making me worry about her, and wanted to know when the collar would come off! I also wanted to find out how it had happened. The attitude at the vet has been, "Who knows, (you idiot, so often implied in conversations with anyone in Philadelphia) they can get into anything outside," but, having seen her navigate everything very well over the last two years, I felt the circumstance had to be pretty specific. She was apparently a little embarrassed about what happened, but said that she had been "playing" with a bee, and put it in her mouth, where it stung her, that she'd managed to claw the stinger out, but had done some damage in the process. "That was an angry bee." I had thanked her for teaching me with her sense of humor, and she said that there were some places that had gotten too tight, that she had helped the light to get in again. So, we're both a little tired right now, but things between us feel better, sort of deeper. Feelings are pretty hard to describe. I guess, as is so often the case, we got to another level of understanding through misunderstanding. And we learned about playing with bees.


      Layer two on the pink ranunculus start from last week, not done yet but progress, sense of the light, sense of connection between the flowers and the background. About 9x12 inches, oil on gessoed linen over panel.


      Did two layers on this one of carnations, working with this more prismatic brilliant colour is a little challenging, still need to find the colour connection between the flowers and the background. Not sure I'm ever going to love this one, but you never know. I'll keep going and see what happens. About 9.5x12 inches, oil on gessoed linen over panel.


      Back on more familiar ground with the first layer on some peonies. Just four colours, on the austere side, always fun to move the colour around. So far, so good, a little crude yet with the forms but the harmony is there, and I like the juxtaposition of an older type of painting with a more contemporary composition. Somehow see this with a lot more paint on it in the end. About 9x12 inches, oil on gessoed linen over panel.

april 30

      Week of the new moon, and a lot of new happened. Some very warm days, the cherry and redbud blossoms are waning but the dogwoods and azaleas are in full bloom, it's also fun to walk through the neighborhood and see all the different flowers in the tiny front yards along the sidewalk: there are some wacky tulips out there, an interesting witch hazel variety with flowers that look like white fireworks. If everything has a signature, this ends up being about more than botany: the perennial impetus for the study of nature, in paint or otherwise. Hot the last few days, then a huge thunderstorm here at dawn this morning, not right on top of the house, the last one was closer, but this one was quite violent. Hot but lovely day today, back to more seasonal tomorrow. Began a few more paintings of the pink ranunculus, pretty happy with how this concept is developing so far. I need to focus on the positive and this feels positive. The week also featured growing concern about something new that was going on with Lily...


      She got into something outside, there was dried blood on the side of her jaw. At first I couldn't figure out if it was hers or somebody else's, but she wasn't eating and the dark stuff came back in the evening after I cleaned it up in the morning so, even though there was less, her breath was pretty bad and I decided to take her to the vet. Which turned out to be a good idea. At first it looked like there was some kind of tumor on her tongue, but it turned out to be a blood clot, she had cut her tongue right through on something sharp. So, they sedated her, cut the clot away and stitched her up, I picked her up in the evening, wearing one of those awful collar things. At home she was a little disoriented with the collar at first, it took her a while to stop bumping into things. Then it took a while to figure out how to get her food and water, the dish needs to be on a pedestal. For me this was getting to be too much, it had been a long hot day and I could kind of feel myself beginning to disintegrate. I thought I'd solved the problem but the solution came with new problems, and I suddenly felt really bad about putting her through all this. Of course, she might well have died otherwise, but it's hard to keep that in perspective when she's so alive, and not exactly pleased. But we got it all together and she finally calmed down once she had eaten and had a lot of water. Whew. Last night she was a strange combination of happy to be home, purring incessantly, and also recurringly bugged by the collar. She's supposed to be in this thing at least ten days, otherwise she'll apparently try to claw the stitches in her tongue out. A feisty species. Today she figured out a way to play with her head on the floor, rolling around and swatting up at me leisurely. So, she's finding solutions.


      One more try for a paperback cover, technically this is about getting the spine exactly centered, but also decided to go for maximum impact, and reference the tetrachromatikon. The more I've thought about this concept, the more important it seems to become: colour that is as simple as possible, but no simpler. The first try for this cover didn't have enough space, the text was too big. The second one had too much space, the text was too small. This one seems about right. Should be getting a proof of this in a week or so, we'll see, the chroma and contrast will be less, but it may still have a nice combination of reserve and oomph.


      Third layer on the start from last week. Still don't love this one, and may never, but sometimes it's good to keep plugging on something that hasn't yet clicked, it's sort of a freeing experience, sets up trying new things. Especially if it's the first version of something, in this case the pink ranunculus. 9x12 inches, oil on gessoed linen over panel.


      First layer on a second ranunculus, made the paint just a little thinner, this one has a nice quality in life for this stage, relatively done conceptually but not quite done physically. 9x12 inches, oil on gessoed linen over panel.


      First layer on a third ranunculus, pretty hot today, even less paint on this one, but that's what wanted to happen. Again, worked more for the feeling than for completion. This will go a few more layers, but I like the strong sense of where it wants to go that gets built into the colours at this stage. Wouldn't it be a surprise if the key to finishing turned out to be relinquishing the concept of finishing? 9x12 inches, oil on gessoed linen over panel.

march 23

      One textbook Spring day, Lily got me up at six to let her out, but mostly a cool and rainy week, sunny again now but still cool, which is fine with me. Waning moon, new moon on Wednesday. Plugged away, mostly on the book, more on that below. Got one painting begun, more on that also below. Like the Spring here, there have been a lot of stops and starts lately, but it feels like things are going to begin to bloom again for real soon. We've been listening to the Oprah-Deepok series of meditations off and on for the last few years, and, after a certain initial resistance to canned enlightenment, I find them helpful. Deepok often gets a lot of spin on his few minutes of speaking, but the latest series has been at another level, really well done. He talked this week about the need to shift the focus from the problem to the solution, and at first I thought, well, yes, that's what I always do. But then I began to realize that there are several long-standing problems that I've always just accepted as part of my life. So it's interesting to consider solutions in those areas. Oprah is also getting more pithy, but one of the things I'm not as sure about as she is is the concept of being in the flow. This is the magical place where problems are solved effortlessly by Source because we are connected to it. But this seems like a tricky proposition. I tend to grow more from adversity than ease, adversity gets my attention very focused. Have I had enough adversity? I would say yes, but it's certainly not that much compared to many people. But it doesn't seem, in larger terms, like this is my call to make. Like, I came here with a certain personality, and that personality has a certain set of lessons, and those lessons attract a certain set of experiences that provide the solution to the initial equation. My life, for example, would in many ways be "easier" if I stopped painting, and stopped writing the endless book, my two major problems would be gone, things would be much more peaceful, much more cosmic. But, lo and behold, there would soon be another problem, namely terminal boredom because I was no longer being myself. Now you could say, as yogis often do, that the personality is the basic problem. But who gave me this problem? Is the personality an arbitrary costume that can be returned as an act of will? I think it's more complicated than that. If everything is as it should be, the world unfolding as a flower of both darkness and light, isn't this also true of anyone's perennial struggle to be themselves? I mean, it's great to be in the flow, but it seems to come and go according to a timetable of its own. Some days I know what to do, other days I might as well do the laundry, and there are many days in between. And it seems like this is the real issue, what to do with all those days in between? Do I say, Well, not quite in the flow today. Or do I gird the now literally old loins and make an effort? Even if that particular effort comes to naught, it inevitably comes to mean something within the continuum of the work. So, flow is great, and certainly good to recommend to people who may not have a lot of opportunity to get to it, but the reality seems more like ebb and flow, how we deal with change within a cycle that is based on duality for a reason; namely, because it's a great teaching tool.


      Got the next proof for the book this week, the text finally printed correctly, which was a tremendous relief. The page also looks a lot better in the new font, so it's been easier to go back over the text for the inevitable typos and oversights. There have been six versions of the 6x9 text so far, five proofs and the oops edition. More than I bargained for, a little Job-like at times to tell the truth, but, then again, so many things are at this point! I'm going to submit the text again this week for another hardback edition, and get another proof of a new paperback cover done as well. I'm more comfortable with subtle, but I think the paperback cover needs to be strong and simple. Lots of oomph.


      Between the book editing and the rain, just got one new painting started this week. There have been some interesting ranunculus at the co-op, thought these might be a good shift from the carnations. Wanted to begin the colour a little on the quiet side, but the was so much complexity in the flowers themselves this is as far as I got. Made the medium, therefore the paint, more mobile, but it could go a little further. Well, maybe. Hard to say, is the goal to finish the painting the first time? I'm still not sure, goals and the sacrifices made for them make me very nervous. Waning moon, not the best time to begin something. I got through it, but it was work, didn't skate along, the knowledgeable professional ever in the flow. Still, this is in pretty good shape for the next layer, just needs brighter colour and stronger execution. And, of course, more flow. 9x12 inches, oil on gessoed linen over panel.

april 16

      Full moon on Tuesday, Spring is trying to happen here but going slowly after the temperature roller coaster of March. Began to get the work going again after about a month of working to solve some font rendering issues in the PDF of the book. As with all things, it's simple when you know how. At least, ha-ha, I'm pretty sure I finally fixed it, will know later this week. It's hard when things happen that are really crazy and there's very little chance of doing anything substantive about it. I'm trying to get more philosophical about it: there are some things that enough people in my country need to learn the hard way that that's how it's going to be done. It's hard to believe at this point that this is the country that produced someone like Ralph Waldo Emerson. So I'm going to try to let it go and just do the work, there are a lot of people working really hard to get the truth out, and it will come out eventually.


      Got a new paperback cover together for the book, with luck I'll have one of these later this week. The green of the first cover printed a little on the muddy side, so I made this one bluer. Decided to go with a somewhat zippier font, but also drop the size of the fonts down a little, this one seems more balanced somehow than the first one, a lot of energy but some poise as well.


      The first painting of carnations, layer three. I'm beginning to like this one, but it's happening slowly. The important thing about this one so far is that it was the beginning of something new. About 9x12 inches, oil on gessoed linen over panel.


      Started another one of carnations this week, put three layers on it. Well, two and a half, the third layer I didn't do much, the paint was in a funny place and it seemed better to stop. Some things about the first one that bothered me got resolved, but the paint was a little denser and this actually made things tighter, which, after a certain point, doesn't necessarily to to the best place. The red is a little funny here, my camera has issues with dark red. Anyway, not quite done but moving along with the concept. About 9x12 inches, oil on gessoed linen over panel.


      Third carnation, got just one layer one it. Decided to loosen the paint up a little bit. Then, decided that the ground was probably absorbent and loosened up the beginning a little more. So, the classic issue of overdoing it trying to make sure it changes enough, because the ground wasn't that absorbent. So, this slid around a little at first, but in the afternoon I got a little bit more paint and detail into it. A good lesson in working a little looser, and a good example of a painting that feels conceptually but not actually finished. Also a fun change after the more austere palette of the previous painting. I'm always working for a balance of happy and sad in these. Well, I guess that's too simplistic, but that's how I think of it: okay, too happy, no, oops, too sad. Maybe expansion and contraction is a good pair here, this one needs a just little more contraction to ground it. Also about 9x12 inches, oil on gessoed linen over panel.

april 9

      Waxing moon, full moon on Tuesday, a colder and pretty rainy week, Spring on hold here but also slowly gathering momentum. Had to spend a lot of time on the car, taken for granted until it suddenly wouldn't start, this is only an issue getting international books to the post office that delivers them efficiently, rather than the local one I can walk to, which tends to deliver them back to me. It turned out the battery was defective, they actually gave me a new one since it was still under warranty, always nice. I mostly worked on reformatting the book, but did a little painting too. I've got kind of a new plan for painting coming together, it makes sense but we'll see if it in fact happens, have learned many times not to take these plans too seriously, just let the process do what it wants to do. But, after eight years, nine editions, and seemingly endless revisions, I really need to finish this book.


      I had the book printed in a 7x10 inch format for a long time, but ended up thinking that 6x9 would be better. And still do. But the type of page that works in each of these formats turns out to be pretty different: there's just not as much wiggle room at 6x9. Then recently there have been issues with the fonts printing correctly, both in the oops edition in hardback, and a different set of issues in the most recent proof. These issues seem to have to do with fonts being in the PDF that are no longer in the text. One of the options of last resort is to simplify the entire text, the CTRL-A option, where you select the whole thing and put it in one font. I had always resisted this, because the last time I did it -- admittedly years ago, with a much earlier version of Open Office -- the text had lost literally all formatting, including the interior italics. But this time, it just lost the formatting of the headings, and anything that was in the semi-bold font, so it worked out much better, it was interesting to once again be confronted with needing to do something that I was basically afraid to do. An unexpected plus was that I got to see a text where all the spacing was right, but with much less formatting in the font itself. So, a more simplified look, from which I learned, once again, that, however much complexity beckons, simpler tends to be better. At this point, I'm about halfway done getting this together again, should have it to the printer later this week for another proof. In some ways this work is really geeky, but it has its own quiet art as well, its always nice to read a text that has been formatted not so much artistically, but thoughtfully. I really like working with Bembo now for this: more crisp than Legacy, not as blocky as Sabon, and the italics, at first a letdown from Legacy, are growing on me. But I can't do too much in one day, have to beware of a certain twinge: working too much on this was how I ended up with uveitis in my eye last summer: painful, expensive, and not the most efficient approach to editing. Hopefully this one will be right at long last, it would be really nice to stop editing, and start marketing. I'm going to try to get a paperback printed this year, but that may have to be be later on, we'll see.


      When I'm working on the book, Lily likes to make sure I get up from the computer regularly and get some exercise.


      Ground back the floral from last week and put another layer on it. Switched to gum arabic as the "aqueous" element in the putty medium, wanted to see if it would be different than starch or methyl cellulose. Gum arabic has a really interesting chemistry and rheology, when I was working with it actively a few years ago, Roland sent me lots of contemporary research about it. It made some very interesting effects in the paint, and I really thought I had a final solution. But when I used it alone in a putty, these effects didn't really last, the paint didn't yellow, but much of the subtlety of it disappeared after about six months. Recently I've been using a putty with some damar and beeswax melted into it, and this tends to keep the whole value structure brighter over time. So I thought it might be interesting to return to gum arabic. And it was, hard to believe a few drops could make such a difference in the behavior of the paint. I like this layer better, but still don't love this one, probably because it's a transitional piece, the style is on it's way somewhere new but not there yet. So I'm going to leave it alone, do some more of these small ones, explore finished at all costs, the 20th century approach I've avoided for so long, and see what happens. 9x12 inches oil on gessoed linen over panel.

april 2

      Week of the new moon, cooler again, Spring happening slowly for now. But it's warm enough for Lily to go out every day now, which makes her happy. The typical combination of new moon surprises, and, as usual, nothing I try seems quite new enough yet. Started to paint again, but got involved later in the week in the book again as well. Read a really good novel by Alan Furst, Dark Star, the individual versus the totalitarian state, or states, an earlier one that is longer, more of a classical Russian epic in scope. He goes on to develop a more condensed contemporary way of telling the tale in future books, but there's something about this one that works very well too. With regard to the alternate reality of the executive branch, it doesn't surprise me that everything they touch becomes instantly corrupt, just how many people seem to get drawn readily into the vortex. They are increasingly bottled up in crisis management, and though there is obviously a larger plan, it comes from Moscow, not Washington. Can it be implemented under the circumstances? At this point tremendous scurrying around, and an odd stalemate that could go on for quite some time. One thing is certain: as weird as this is, it is only going to get weirder.


      Received a proof of the revised text from the bindery, had also decided to throw in a paperback cover to see what would happen. The cover actually turned out well, some adjustments to the colour and font sizes would be good, but nothing another set of tweaks to the file wouldn't fix. So, an unexpected plus there. With the text, all the issues that occurred in the oops edition were fixed. But then something new went awry. The italics in the body of the text printed several different ways, only one of which was correct. This is a little bizarre, and was a little upsetting, a PDF is not supposed to be creative in this way. But, by the next day, I was done cursing fate and willing to work to transform it again. In looking at the text systemically -- larger words always help one feel more detached -- I realized that the font I was using--Legacy, which has much to recommend it--was too large for the page at 11 point, and too small at 10.5 point. So I went on a hunt for a font that would be either smaller -- ie, work at 11 point, or larger-- ie work at 10.5 point. I decided to try Bembo, which I'd noticed a few years earlier in a book I'd bought as being really crisp yet direct, not blocky or artsy. So, it turns out Bembo is small, 11 point worked nicely, felt more organized than Legacy at 11 point, although only one line more per page. Did a comparison with the Monotype version of Sabon, which preceded Legacy as the text font, and was also a bit smaller at 11 point. Once again, I was very tempted by its undeniable legibility, but decided to go with Bembo as having a certain indefinable something. My version of Bembo is also an Adobe font, which I figured might work better with the accursed wondrous Adobe PDF format, venturing wholly into the realm of magical thinking. All of this involved minimal actual gnashing of teeth once I'd realized that the most basic issue was improving the match between the page size and the font size. I'm about a third done reformatting the bulk of the text into Bembo, the table of contents and bibliography may be a little more grim, but I like the overall look better for some reason, and that, ultimately, is that. And I'm hoping that, by using a different font entirely, the PDF prints without the most recent italics issue. This may or may not work, but at least I'll have a version of the text that I like better. The original set of errors in the text could definitely be traced to underformatting, since I was able to fix them. But the most recent type of error may not be something I can fix, it's not possible to format italics in any way other than directly, per instance. So it may be a function of the very high tech machinery that is reading the PDF, or the fact that I'm not using the most expensive and sophisticated software available. This would probably mean exploring another bindery. And, strange to say, there is a very good one that is both smaller and only a few hours away from here. Much more than you wanted to know, but the unfortunate upshot is that new books may still be months away.


      Made a painting, this was nice after such a long vacation. Not sure about this one, worked on it twice in a somewhat more mobile version of the fused damar approach, like the paint but nothing else seems quite right or resolved about this. There are several ways it could be developed from here, not sure which one will happen yet, this seems to be a matter of instinct rather than thought. Perhaps the most basic issue is that the flowers and the ground are not integrated, the ground needing more chroma, or the flowers less. In larger terms, the greater movement of the paint itself seems like a positive development.

march 26

      Last week of the moon, new moon on Tuesday. The colder side of Spring this week, except for yesterday, which was overcast, but humid and warm. March can have its own type of discomfort as the quiet of winter begins to be challenged by something as yet unknown. Still on vacation from the work, but am getting used to it. Life can only be what it is, there's always a reason even if I can't see it yet, haven't actually stopped in a very long time, the laundry is actually done, the kitchen is actually clean. Have been thinking about how a given set of conclusions is conditioned by its frame of reference. And how frames of reference tend to expand quickly, in a way that is potentially quite uncomfortable: what we had so diligently assembled as "true" is suddenly proven to be merely part of the truth, or even, most embarrassing of all, not true at all. Of course, the operative assumption here is that the truth matters, that is, is helpful to a reliable decision-making process. This is a standard frame of reference of original philosophy, for example: the Platonic concept of the examined life is only functional if the examining is done with integrity, or honor. This is also the frame of reference of all religions at their root, before they get involved with advertising and promotion, money and power. This is because all religions were originally based on the idea of creating a sacred community, and if the community knows that it is going to tell itself the truth, it feels both stronger and safer. Even in the secular humanist context of contemporary education, small children are taught the value of the truth, university scholars pursue the truth in various disciplines, science is based on proving something to be true, rather than positing how much more interesting it would be if the apple fell up: this is science fiction. Culturally, we enjoy fiction, but principally because it finds a creative way to conform to the combined simplicity and complexity of the truth. We tend to be fascinated by our ability to generate knowledge, especially, at this point, technical knowledge. This makes us feel different, improved, automatically justifies the various sacrifices that have been made for a quite specific definition of progress. But I have a feeling that, going forward, this is going to be increasingly perceived as a distraction. What if there are certain lessons that it is not possible to evolve beyond, or run away from? What if these lessons are about things like integrity, balance, patience, compassion, not who has the most money, or who can murder or subjugate the most people and get away with it? If this is the case, technological advancement is irrelevant compared to the advancement of social and economic justice: the often painful truth of how we are treating one another. This pain is ours, and is shared by everyone: no matter how expensive the wardrobe is, no matter how high the wall is, no matter how bullet-proof the glass is, the pain gets in. And, for centuries, the answer to the internal panic of privilege has been to build the wall higher, buy a new and better whatever. But at this point, we are rapidly approaching a situation in which, unless things begin to work better for everyone, they're not going to work that well for anyone.


      Worked this week on a cover for a paperback edition of Living Craft. I've tried to make a great cover many times over the years in various ways, they're fun to tinker around with, but each idea always seems to lead to another one. Decided on something with more oomph this time, several maybe this, maybe that options still in terms of the colours, but I know I can get a little too wound up about this, and I like the general design. Ultimately, you never really know until it's printed. Will get a proof of this in the next few weeks, this will both make sure I've fixed the font rendering issue in the text, and show what the cover looks like in person. Not as permanent as a hardback, but less expensive.

march 18

      Third week of the moon, another quiet one for the work. A snowstorm that was long, not that major, but did turn into ice overnight. I took care of things around here before it did, always nice to guess right. Otherwise, still on hold. Not easy to stop and rest, there's so much that is so close to complete. But there doesn't seem to be much choice right now, sort of like the distributor cap has been removed from the engine. I tend to see what's not there yet, time off makes it possible to appreciate what has actually happened. Ideas are a dime a dozen, I've learned to leave those alone and just wait until a direction arrives. It may be something new, or it may be a new version of what's gone before, but it has impetus, oomph, and that's all that matters.
       A lot of the oops edition went out this week, some nice comments on the book from various parts of the world: it has been difficult to learn to say it all in a clear and simple way without it turning into a kind of code, but at this point the rewriting seems to be paying off in terms of the book being easier to understand. I like the resilience of a hardback but have wondered whether a paperback version would be a good idea, simply from the perspective of lower end cost in a world where poor people vastly outnumber rich people. Am considering that more closely, it wouldn't be hard to do.
      Well, I continue to be fascinated by the ongoing debacle of the Trump presidency. On the one hand, it is embarrassing to see Trump mugging smugly next to a genuine head of state like Angela Merkel, like this is just another talk show, the blood in the Ukraine is all ketchup: difficult to imagine the extent of the patience she exercised with him. Then there's the various attempts to demonize Obama, genuinely non-presidential, genuinely sad. Then the lurking Russian connection, not over by a long shot. On the other hand, it's fascinating to see the ways that this administration's basic dedication to mendacity, bullying, obfuscation, distraction, trickery, wagging the dog, favoring the rich over the poor, looking for a fight: in short, the whole bag of tricks associated with a genuinely bad government, is resulting in the neo-fascist blimp not really being able to get off the ground. Too much dedication to catabolic drama for its own sake. And too many people at all levels of American society are on to them, and really disagree with where they want to lead the country. Yet, in larger terms, it also seems that it is important for all this poison to come to the surface, and for the people who voted for Trump without understanding who he really is to see that they were conned. So, a lot of sound and fury, a lot of Il Duce pouting, but what will happen when this administration is actually confronted with the need to make a complex decision? Exactly.


      A test I set up at the end of February. Someone wrote with a question about using magnesium carbonate as an alternative to chalk, and as I thought about it, I realized I hadn't given magnesium carbonate much of a chance. Years ago, it had yellowed in an unpigmented test with hand-refined linseed oil, but I realized that could have been due to several other factors. This seemed worth looking into because magnesium carbonate has a relatively gelatinous, mobile quality in oil, a good balance for the grab or adhesiveness of chalk without getting involved in cristobalite or fumed silica. So, the stones dusts, three rows, from top to bottom: magnesium carbonate, then chalk, then a combination of the two. And, the oils, five columns, from left to right: BPO#5, the thick Kremer stand oil, slightly thickened SRO linseed oil from 2011, walnut oil I refined in 2012, and a slightly thickened version of the Kremer poppy oil. A little early, but in life the SRO linseed oil column has already begun to darken, albeit slightly, compared to everything else, no surprise there. But, this may tell a somewhat more complex story in a few months.


      For the last year or so I've been having a lot of fun exploring the world of the kalimba. As my brother says, everybody needs a happy place. This was something I fell in love with as a kid, but, the one I got long ago was tuned to a Western scale, which confused me, it turned out I wanted an African scale. There are lots of these scales, but are they often hexatonic, and often drop out the half step, so the key of C, for example, would usually eliminate B. So, last year I played around with a lot of different scales, it was fun to learn more about the relativity of sound. But the kalimbas I was working with were all commercial, made with tines of spring steel, and I sort of yearned for something that was not only tuned in an African way, but sounded more African. I had gotten a big gourd to play in, this both amplified the sound and made it more organic, but the basic tone of the notes was too focused or pure. So, I scouted around, and finally found a place in South Africa that was both interesting and affordable. The kalimba, or karimba, because of the two rows, or nyunga nyunga mbira, came last Monday, just before the snow storm. It's been really interesting to explore it, it is quite heavy and has a great thunk to the sound, sounds wonderful in the gourd. The logic of the way the notes are selected and placed is also really interesting: the commercial kalimbas tend to emphasize melodic variety, but this one emphasizes overall harmonic cohesion. The keys were cut and ground out of iron, they have a great breadth of sound and don't ring as long as spring steel, which is good. The flex of the bottom ones is fine, but the top ones are a little stiff, this will change as they're played but I may need to figure out a way to file or grind them down a little in both dimensions. We'll see, metal is not exactly my medium, and I'm not sure yet what's really important there. My significant other is strongly discouraging me from taking it apart, but of course, this is how boys learn. This is in G, it has all the notes, although the distribution leans towards pentatonic. Everything can be retuned, but I'm going to leave the tuning alone for now, learn what it can do. It's about as big, and heavy, as my hands can handle, but they also make smaller ones. These are higher in pitch, so it's a trade off between several factors, and I love the quality of the lower range. Here are various videos of these kalimbas on You Tube.


      A long time ago I was a baker, I really enjoyed the work, got lots of cookbooks, made all kinds of slightly offbeat things. Recently I haven't done much with it, mostly as part of minimizing sugar and wheat. But there was someone at the co-op a few weeks ago talking about the difference between Pfeiffer wheat, which began with wild spelt found in Italy between 1928 and 1940, and what wheat has now become due to the way it is bred. This is a long story, but it seemed logical that wheat was originally not the problem for the digestive system that it can be now, so it seemed like it might be worth giving the Pfeiffer whole wheat flour a try. I made something simple, sort of a Tassajara take on the Carr's Whole Wheat biscuits. The recipe was 1 cup of the flour, 1/2 cup of rolled oats, ground in a spice mill, 1/4 cup of raw sugar, 5T unsalted butter, 1/2 t baking powder, and 5T milk. The dry ingredients get mixed together, then the butter gets cut in, then the milk gets added until the dough is cohesive. I made twelve, you could go to fifteen or sixteen on a greased cookie sheet. 350 oven, 30-35 minutes. Lots of simple variations possible on this, there's a strain of Venetian cookie based on cornmeal, might try that next.

march 12

Waxing moon, full moon last night.
Erratic weather, warm and warmer,
then a day of wet snow,
then cold and sunny.
Still wondering what to do,
still waiting for the work to return.


Took a walk through the neighborhood in the wet snow.


Ended up in the park near where I grew up.
First came here as a small child with my mother,
loved to run over the stepping stones in the creek,
trying not to get my sneakers wet.


Bright and still, nobody was there.


The only sound was the water tumbling over the stones in the creek.
Like spring peepers, or geese honking overhead, this was a paradox:
repetitive, varied, and infinite at the same time.


Thought about what it meant to return.
How life asks us to learn what we need to learn, and then waits patiently until we do.

march 5

      Waxing moon, back to winter weather here, cold but lots of sun. A hard week in which to stay balanced. It turned out that I was responsible for the book being misprinted, so I worked on fixing that, details below. Still no painting, a friend gave me some spy novels about World War II and they seem to be explaining the current mayhem, the same psychopathic bully in charge, and some of what's going on seems eerily similar. I can't believe this is happening, a very bad TV show come to life, but the more they push, the more resistance they create.

february 26

Waning moon, new moon on Tuesday. Some really warm days, had to open the windows, an element of unreality to the weather as well as the government. Could not work this week, a kind of enforced vacation, not unheard of at the end of the moon, often a rest like this is the prelude to a larger set of changes. Some wacky events, a book sent to Mexico last week with a USPS label somehow ended up in France, then even more book nuttiness, detailed below.


The next edition of Living Craft arrived, and I was excited to see the results of an entire re-write over 2016 and three different proofs.


But it turned out there were some really strange errors in the text, whole pages that looked like this! So, something went awry in the way the PDF was read at the bindery. At least, that is my conclusion, since I can't reproduce an error like this from the PDF, which I only sent out after making sure it was perfect for the zillionth time. Yet it was odd how easy it was to accept this as an occurance, maybe because the truth is so garbled in general right now. The bindery is still investigating what happened, something of this magnitude may well be unique for them, I hope not too much work went out with this issue. I also hope they accept the books back, and then reprint the edition.


Another part of the park, getting out here is always a good reminder that, whatever is going on in the temporal sense, there's something larger available.

february 21

      Oops. Edition Eight of Living Craft is now out of stock, the last book went to the location above in Navarre. I've learned a lot about geography in the last six years! It's always great to be reminded that the world is full of peaceful people and beautiful places, perhaps more meaningful right now. I'm pretty excited about the next edition, another total rewrite that took all year. It's already a week late, but the bindery does a great job and I needed to see one more proof this time, so that put the transition in jeopardy. More about Edition Nine when it arrives.

february 19

      Waning moon, a week with more sun and the beginning of some pretty warm days. Have sort of been running on empty, have been waking up in the middle of the night for about a month now, it may be taking a toll. Did layers on some of the larger florals, these were begun in tempera grassa, switched to oil this week. There's always more to learn than I think there is, but that present tense challenge is always good, they didn't come out badly. Also did a few layers on smaller studies, but returning to the somewhat larger scale again felt good. Last week of the moon upcoming, usually not the best for the work, although it's a doozy otherwise astrologically. I'm not that good at prognostication, but, at this point, it is definitely a hard world in which to keep secrets.


      Warm yesterday, visited another part of the park I'd never been to before in the afternoon, not the most photogenic season, but fun to expand this horizon.





First of the larger florals I started in the fall. There are eight tempera grassa layers on this one, I really liked the way this paint looked, but, this one anyway didn't want to get finished with it. Got involved with a modified cobalt green background that I liked, but decided to shift it towards blue this time. These tend to go in layers that are warmer or hotter, the colour being somewhat exaggerated, then cooler and more natural. This one has a relatively finished look but the colours don't quite feel right yet. They're a little hot here but it's more than that, see the one below for what I mean. It could be that they just need to get a little darker and more natural. Well, best not to think too much about it, a given series has a way of answering its own questions as each of the images is developed within the cycle. 24x21.5 inches, gessoed linen on panel.


      Second image in the series, had done several small studies over the years, the last one of which I ended up liking. Three of four tempera grassa layers, on the dark and warm side, a somewhat older look, bringing the chroma and value scale up now in oil. Some minor reflections in the background picking up light on the left, a lot of adjustments to that field of colour. Feel more comfortable with this one than the first one, it's less complete but feels more grounded.24x21.5 inches, gessoed linen on panel.


      The fourth one in the series, from Friday, the background colour remains kind of focal, there's something warmer and greener beneath it, it should dry down a little as the others have. Least work on it of the three, just two layers in tempera grassa, a third might be a good idea in general, there's always more to consider even if it has a charismatic look. At least, what I find is that I always like oomph at first, but then subordinate it to content as much as possible. This one also had sand in the ground, a perennial interest that enhances adhesion but also leads to a lot of very small bumps until the surface is filled. Still, there's something I like about this one, a further step into simplicity. 24x21.5 inches, gessoed linen on panel.

february 12

      Week of the full moon, a quiet one, things continue mostly overcast, a little bit of snow and sun as well. One really cold day, Lily was feeling cooped up, wanted to go out a couple times, finally made it out the front door as a huge gust of bitter wind roared up the street, came right back inside. There's an interesting documentary out about the cats of Istanbul, called Kedi, trailers and allied stuff on YouTube, a lovely story. The day after the snow was really a nice one to work, lots of light always makes it easier to see. Didn't have a lot of energy generally, fought off getting sick a few times, I'm trying but it seems like discretion is the better part of valor for now. This is a basic theme of the I Ching, comforting somehow because it is so old: there are times when darkness is in the ascendancy, you just have to be patient and wait for the light. When I started the larger florals this fall it was really helpful, but now they're on hold, not sure why, just have to wait. Developing flexible expectations has really been a help over the last few years, things don't always have to be in fifth gear. It's always nice, if ever illusory, to feel that you've definitively conquered time and space, but what work I can do is coming out pretty well. Moderation. There may not be any roses around but you can stop and smell them anyway. Working with still life is easier because the palette makes more sense to me as something I can play with effectively. With landscapes involving green and blue, I still get hung up with literalism. This has to do with mixing colour in ways that are still beyond me in terms of balancing midtone colour and the atmosphere-reflection structure. In a way, just knowing this begins the process of changing it, but it has taken a long time to understand augmented natural colour, the type of colour so apparent, for example, in the Walter Vaes still life work, and this has yet to really work it's way into the landscape work. This is fine: if the paint and its process are fascinating, the journey becomes the destination. Oh wait, did we just definitively conquer time and space?

february 12

      Second layer on the zinnias in tempera grassa , worked most on the pinker flower on the right. The red saturation is difficult for the camera to handle. I like this paint, but it has been best so far with more atmospheric landscape, not sure it will complete things at this scale. This has oomph but not resolution, maybe that's a function of the paint, but maybe it's not. Like the combination of saturation and matte finish, may try a version of the fused damar and beeswax medium with a more matte look. 12x14.5 inches, gessoed linen over panel.


      Did a layer on the most recent version of this cheese image, an issue with the tableline on the right but otherwise inching closer to finished. About 11x16 inches, gessoed linen on panel.


      Something really old, from the alla prima peony summer of 2001, some of these were better than others. This one began life well, but ended up darkening somewhat over time. This was confusing, an alla prima image in straight paint, very few of these darkened. Anyway, have been puzzling out the colour off and on, this seems about in the right place now, a little more tweaking might do it. About 10x13 inches, oil on gesoed panel.


      More recent peony beginning that was still in the underpainting stage, first layer with a little more saturated paint. More to go, but in a decent place for a few layers. 12x14 inches, gessoed linen on panel.


      Even more recent peony start, a little further along than the one above, also the first saturating layer on this one. Raking light minimizes reflections, but maximizes surface irregularities. Not quite done, but pretty close in feeling, I like the balance of brighter and softer colour here. Not Walter Vaes, but what I learned from his way of using colour. 12x16 inches, gessoed linen on panel.

february 5

      Waxing moon, another generally overcast week. Not that much happened in the work, doing the least thing was somehow monumental. Well, some times are harder, some times are easier, it's just important to keep working, the process is always growing even if it doesn't look like it is. Took some good walks, am thinking a lot about the park. Did get one new start in tempera grassa going that was fun.


      Took a few more walks in the park this week, exploring different places. Had one afternoon with some really interesting weather, snow squalls with the afternoon sun peaking out as well.


      A little later on, with no diffuse sun. There's a lot of park to wander around in, much more than I realized as a kid, inheriting my parent's relatively abridged version of everything. It would be interesting to figure out how to paint this place, that may be on the agenda over the next few months. I'm kind of seeing something different than the photographs, where there's always too much information, but, we'll see.


      Another version of the big red zinnia, a little bigger, done with the damar beeswax approach, made it stickier with a little added chalk, no couch this time. Odd interpretation of the reds by the camera, could only fix it to an extent. This has been in progress for a while, was able to get pretty far with the flower itself, the jar still needs some work. 12x16 inches, gessoed linen over panel.


      One new beginning this week, had to make a panel that was the right size so that delayed things somewhat. Used the tempera grassa medium for this, was able to get reasonably far in a couple hours, lots of layers, light over dark to some extent, not as much as egg tempera, then dry to the touch in about an hour, kept it a little bit on the darker side. Will do at least one more layer with the tempera grassa, but it might need something with more motion to finish it. Well, this paint could have motion too, we'll see if that wants to happen. 12x14.5 inches, gessoed linen over panel.

january 29

      Week of the new moon, more overcast, difficult to work most of the time. Up to a certain point, overcast sort of assures that the colour will be a little brighter in the end, which is fine with the way I work, but when it simply gets hard to see, that becomes too much. Also a difficult week in terms of what's going on in America, I'm not going to give you my unvarnished, personal opinion because having your monitor burst into flame would not be a pleasant experience. A lot of people I know are either really upset or really angry, which is understandable. But, in the tradition of the very patient Quakers who taught me here as a kid, here is a hard-won larger perspective. The incoming administration is very involved in a kind of catabolic action aimed at establishing its power by erasing all evidence of the outgoing administration's policies. The intensity and vitriol of this is designed to create it's own version of shock and awe. But, Newton's Third Law of Motion, this is only producing an equal and opposite reaction. Thus, one form of catabolic action is being met, and quickly, with another. This is clear from the various popularity polls, which are at unprecedentedly low levels for an incoming administration, and sunk noticeably this week. This process is going to intensify: neither the administration nor those who oppose it's policies are going to back down. Leaving aside the obvious bear in the woodpile, which may ultimately prove important, but also may not, the people who are going to have the key roles in this are the Republicans in congress, who have undoubtedly already realized that, while it was fine to have a bull in the Democrat's china shop, this bull is actually in everybody's china shop. So as the fury of paranoid bullying increases, as the popularity polls sink further, as the stock market begins to reflect instability and also go down, as avocadoes become six dollars each, there will come a time when self-preservation comes into play for the Republican congress. To sink the administration or be sunk by it. The intensity of the attack on values the vast majority of Americans share is far too great. This is where the bear may actually prove helpful, since it is much easier to remove a traitor from office than a mere lunatic. Anyway, there are many variables, but there will be a Captain Queeg moment, which creates a definitive shift in public perception. This phase of radical change has just begun, and works both ways: look for a new president much sooner than anyone is currently willing to predict.


      There's a pretty big park that runs through Philadelphia, set up by William Penn from the beginning. Some of it is a little more civilized, most of it is just woods with trails. It ran pretty near to my parent's house, I could escape there as a kid, we just called it the Wissahickon, after the creek that runs through it. This is an area a little further away, a place that's more open where I used to take photos with a 4x5 Speed Graphic later on, image below from 1972, about a hundred yards further down the trail. It's interesting that this photo is over four decades old, I remember that day pretty well. Anyway, I didn't think it would be possible to paint there, but now I'm not so sure. The work would be different than in Vermont, but it might be interesting to see what happens. Most fundamentally, it's what I've got, and, new moon, some ideas occurred -about how to handle it. Very little snow so far this winter, it's great in here with a little snow.


      Something small that had been kicking around unfinished for a while, had done a few larger versions of this years ago. Decided to try putting a couch on it with one of the more adhesive damar and beeswax mediums before going over it with a more mobile damar and beeswax that had a little starch in it. Red, yellow, blue, always harder to get the neutrals right with this approach but they get there with enough passes, which this system could do. The paint had more motion than the couch, but blended with it a great deal as it was worked. So, this was gaming with fortune on a couple of levels, but I scraped the couch on really thin, and thought the inherent stability of the materials would prevail. I like this more animated look for something small, but for something larger I'd tame it down a bit. A fun vacation, there may be more with this approach at some point: one lean layer to set it up, then this more rococo stuff on top. About 8x10 inches, gessoed linen over panel.


      A loose version of a peony I did from life in 2001. This one is just the damar and beeswax medium with starch. This approach is better in general for these: finer working, still some discretion from pass to pass from the starch, dries up. A little cool now, but there's something warmer beneath it, will see how much that influences things in the next few weeks. About 12x14 inches, gessoed linen over panel.

january 22

      Into the third week of the moon, odd weather, cold, damp, overcast. Not much energy to do more than the basics, then my back went out, not bad, and a quick recovery, but I don't think I'm going to be able to have even a small amount of caffeine anymore on a daily basis. I want to man up here and give Donald Trump the credit he so richly deserves for this. I tried for years to get caffeine out of my life and he did it before even taking office. Did get two layers on the current first snow image but that was it. End of my year, trying to be patient, stay balanced with a political scenario that is uncomfortably committed to tapestries of alternative facts. Birthday next week, this is kind of like a giant new moon, and always starts something different, I have no idea what at this point although there are several possibilities floating around for working more quickly again. Went on a group cultural excursion yesterday, these are rare but always fun.


      Went to see the Matisse - Diebenkorn show at the Baltimore Museum of Art yesterday with some friends. This show was well done, with many interesting paintings by both artists, although curatorially, perhaps a little overconfident about what Diebenkorn would have seen by Matisse and when. Some paintings by both artists with diminished colour, Diebenkorn wisely began to paint in somewhat thinner layers over time, Matisse wisely abandoned a gray ground for alla prima images in thin paint, but most were in very good shape. An unexpected highlight for me was the Large Reclining Nude of 1935, the one with the series of in progress photos. This painting is not that large, but has an unusual monumentality, made with paint but carved in stone. A lot to think about, I guess I came away with a new sense of how well Diebenkorn observed, and how well Matisse transformed. The MBA also has a really nice Matisse collection of their own, several very high quality examples from different periods. Drove back on an unusually foggy night, singing 60's songs, looking up Walter Vaes paintings on an iPhone. There are lot more Walter Vaes paintings on the internet now than a few years ago, worth a search if you might be interested in the most unsung painter of the 20th century.


      I was interested in fine overall impasto, but the painting was getting kind of speckled, I think this is the combination of the starch with the wax, as neither alone does this. It would have been logical to simply reduce the starch, but I didn't think of this at first, probably because I've always loved working with starch. So I added a little emulsified beeswax to the medium, since this was what had made the previous version of this image interesting to me. And this worked out fine, created somewhat smoother handling. But this formula is too complex, will try the next image in this medium with decreasing starch in the layers and see what happens. Did find a reference to emulsified beeswax, or to the distinct possibility of emulsified beeswax, in the article on George Stubbs in NGTB 9. This is of interest because Stubbs's dates coincide with the original interest in wax that began with the writing of the Comte de Caylus, and, more importantly, because Stubbs's work is always in very good condition.


      Got two thin layers on this one this week, the second on a day so dark I probably shouldn't have tried. Found a little more facility mixing a lot of muted lavender and violet colours, this helped with the middle distance, it's always fun to find the next level of anything. Not quite sure what bugs me about this, but it just doesn't seem finished yet. A few places look a little dorky or unresolved here, will have to check with the painting itself. In larger terms, finished seems to be more and more a personal judgement, not something that really can be understood. The earlier one is a little dimmer, and a little warmer, and has less detail. It seems more immutable, but also friendlier, more like the day itself. Again, this has to do with winter, the way snow both challenges and protects. I worked to put those qualities in this time, but it's still not where the first one is. But it's also a question of each image having it's own version of integrity. Still, would say it's better than it was last week. One more layer? Hey, why not? 11.25x17.75 inches, oil on gessoed canvas over panel.

january 15

      Week of the full moon, a quiet one, bizarre mostly overcast weather that has gone from the 30s to the 60s and now back to cold again. A lot of people have been sick, finally began to feel less than ideal this morning, took a broad spectrum of stuff but I really like the fresh ginger, elderberry, and licorice root tea. Feel better now but will keep going with this approach, overconfidence after feeling it subside has often been my downfall in the past. Started and completed a set of panels, wasn't able to do that much painting, but did get one development of the fused damar and beeswax approach underway that I've been wondering about for a while now, details below.

      I've been thinking a lot lately about the uniquely human duality of integrity and mendacity, of honesty and lies. As kids, we are all taught to be honest, and we quickly learn that, both emotionally and pragmatically, honesty is valuable, but also a double-edged sword: the truth hurts, but the truth sets us free. At first we look for a static, or immutable version of truth, something that works all the time. But experience shows us that truth is relative: as we search for it, it tends to recede, redefining itself as our awareness of it increases. So, the truth is involved with that quirky here-oops-gone quality of particle physics: it exists in the present moment, but that particular version of truth is gone with that moment. This means that honesty in life is a kind of journey, existing relative to our co-ordinates in time and space. One of the things that all the world's wisdom traditions -- as Deepok likes to say -- emphasize, is the value of honesty. This is because honesty creates trust, and trust creates unity. And we are exponentially more when united than separate: more happy, more powerful, more safe, more able to act in our collective best interest. Without trust, the social contract cannot function. And trust only exists to the extent that everyone is equal. A good example of this is the way we deal with our sacred 21st century religion, commerce. Amazon doesn't want to know your politics, religion, race, weight, what school you went to, or whether your ancestors came over on the Mayflower. If you have the money, you can buy. Similarly, Amazon wants you to be happy with your purchase, and wants to hear about it if you have not been given "just measure." This works because the rules are clear, the same for everyone, and serve to improve the way the system functions over time. But in other areas of life we often experience situations in which some of us are more equal than others. There are many different kinds of ladders on which we are ranked, various hidden country clubs that admit some people, but not others. These experiments in exclusivity separate us, because they erode trust in our basic cosmic connection to one another. If particles behaved this way the universe would not be able to function. And we are made up of just those particles. Yet, there have always been people who are willing to lie, to call opinion fact, and people who are willing to believe the lies. We see ourselves as a superior species but we are the only species that lies to one another. This is the psychological equivalent of expecting the apple to fall up because you say so. But human lies do not change the physics of the universe, which uses diversity as a way to emphasize unity. But, as a species, we still need to learn that there is a qualitative, cause and effect difference between honesty and lies. Honesty may be uncomfortable in the short run, but in the long run it causes unity. Lies may be soothing in the short run, but in the long run they cause chaos. History demonstrates that a societal structure built on lies has a short, and often violent, existence. These societies are not diverse, but fractured, not unified, but coerced. We tend to think of this situation in political terms, but it comes down to whether a society is functioning in harmony, or dissonance, with the basic structure of the universe.


      I spent several years working with a little starch gel in the medium, I liked the various types of low impasto surface it made. But I got into various situations that were perhaps a little subtle for the medium chromatically, and have ended up with a medium using egg yolk on the one hand, or fused damar with a little beeswax on the other, to keep the colour brighter in thin layers. The fused damar and beeswax approach has a little more overall impasto potential than the egg yolk approach, but, because there's no solvent involved with the damar, doesn't have much tack. I was able to solve this with a little emulsified beeswax in the medium, but this material is a little arcane for most people, and, though ancient and non-yellowing with glue -- the Fayum mummy portraits, the wall painting technique of Pompeii -- is more or less untried in oil. I've found that, if anything, a little ewax makes the medium yellow less, not more, but these tests are not quite a year old at this point. Anyway, I wondered if starch gel might provide a more tried alternative. Starch is not flour! Starch and water form a very strong material that has been found at least occasionally in Rembrandt's work. This week I tried introducing starch -- the cooked wheat starch from Talas for bookbinding and conservation -- to the fused damar and beeswax medium. This worked out well because the starch did introduce a faster set to the paint than the other reliable alternative, methyl cellulose. And of course starch is a simpler, cheaper, and more traditional material, all of which are in its favor. The only caveat with starch is that it degrades relatively quickly when mixed with water, it couldn't for example, be mixed with the medium then tubed for months, the gel has a life of three or four days in the refrigerator.


      Tested the starch gel approach with one of my therapy images, there are a number of these nearing completion in different ways at this point. Earlier version using a little ewax above, most recent version below. Was able to work on it three times, may be able to complete it with a fourth layer, but I would think definitely a fifth layer. I'd planned to make this at the new florals scale, 24 inches across, but couldn't wait to make that and used a panel I had that was the right proportion. Even this small increase in scale is helpful, and it also seems better at this point to just use a panel from the beginning, rather than mounting gessoed paper or linen on panel later.


      With this image there are a number of variables that come into play. There has to be a reasonable amount of foreground detail to balance the sky, but what I get most interested in is the atmosphere, the sense of the day. There was a lot of magical weather in Vermont over the years, some of it dramatic, some of it more quiet. This was an unusually gentle and elegant afternoon in early December, spacious and still, the first snow of the winter. It's hard to describe the interaction of the light and air that produce this particular feeling, but if you know winter, and especially if you appreciate winter, you know this feeling. It's fascinating to hunt for it in paint, a matter of relatively specific proportions of red, yellow, blue, and white. No no no no no no, oh, okay, getting there. The sky is a little light at this point, but I'm happy with the way the middle distance has developed. On the literal side at this point overall, but I wanted to see what the medium would and wouldn't do. Detail below of the type of surface the starch-enhanced medium produces, the random pointilles are standard and can be left or removed. The ewax addition makes the kind of painterly surface I'm looking for more quickly, but it looks like this paint may be able to do something with more character. Or maybe that this paint may be able to mirror the basic creative tension between diversity and unity with more accuracy. This painting is 11.25x17.75 inches, oil on gessoed canvas over panel.

january 8

      Waxing moon, mostly overcast, then some actual winter in the form of snow, not much but I'm always a fan of snow. Decent energy for the work all things considered, or maybe, the work knows what to do even though I'm plodding along for now, not really a tortoise, just a semi-reformed hare. In larger terms, it's still easy to get distracted by what's happening in the world, at least, what's happening according to the media. It seems more positive to make the best work I can, instead of getting riled up internally. The menu contains many tempting dishes, but I've concluded, yet again, that peace is the most nourishing in the long run. So I started reading the third volume of Dance to the Music of Time again as a way to balance this out a little, this volume is about the narrator's experiences in the Second World War, and is always strangely soothing in spite of the many hair-raising things that happen in it. Did some work on the website galleries this week, they've been woefully out of date and still are, but it's a beginning. Also ran across the quote below, interesting as an early commentary on the reciprocity of the inner and outer worlds, coming directly from the early Roman Catholic Church.

      "Within itself the soul sees all things more truly than as they exist in different things outside itself. And the more it goes out unto other things in order to know them, the more it enters into itself in order to know itself."
-- Nicholas of Cusa, De Aequalitate 1459.


      This week's putty photo, a one to one mix of the methyl cellulose tempera with a simple chalk putty made with aged and preheated oil, so this is an oil-phase tempera grassa. This oil mix absorbed a great deal of chalk for it's volume, four parts. Used one part of this mixed with two parts paint for the second layer of the painting below.


      Have wanted for a while to start a series of larger, somewhat broader landscapes based on the tempera grassa approach of the recent larger florals. This type of thing often seems to have its own timetable, or gestation period, but wanted to happen this week. Began this with the methyl cellulose tempera base mixed into oil paint, this was water-phase and dried overnight. Then put on a layer using the putty above, this was a little easier to work with but still not capable of anything too elegant. For a while I've watched the landscape work begin to get less literal, but just how to develop this seemed to be better left up to the process itself. It could be thought into place, but this has never seemed to have the same authority as letting it happen naturally. So, not done, but the sort of development I wait for, and get excited about. 13.75x21.75 inches, tempera grassa on linen.


      Small version of this image of Snake Mountain in Addison County in Vermont, view from the bird sanctuary there, one of the more expansive views from the area that I'm increasingly fond of. The first layer on this was done a few years ago with a starch enhanced putty, I really liked how this softened the chroma and gave the painting an internal rhythm in low impasto. But the medium was not that fat, and, over time, the colours bleached out further, meaning it didn't work as well. So this is a somewhat more saturating layer with a fused damar and beeswax medium. I like this approach in general for keeping the colour more accurate over time, although the amount of damar and beeswax in the medium has to be kept on the small side. I haven't gotten around to trying this approach with a little starch gel, but that might be interesting as well. Starch is really stable, and quite strong, (starch is not flour!), but it doesn't turn out to lock up the colour as effectively as egg yolk, the various resins and beeswax do. About 8x13 inches, oil on gessoed paper over panel.


      End of the day light, a spot in Ferrisburg I worked with for over a decade, this one has proven tricky in a number of ways but hasn't really been through that much. It will probably be a few more layers before it seems complete but getting to a place that is more interesting to work on. About 9.5x14.5 inches, oil on gessoed paper over panel.


      This week's reclamation project, earlier version of my therapy image from the Mugello, ground it down, buffed it clean, and added another quick layer with a fused damar and beeswax medium. Not done but clarified. A better scale for me, not even that much bigger at 11x16.75 inches, oil on gessoed canvas over panel.

january 1

      Week of the new moon, sort of a quiet one, didn't feel jet propelled in any particular direction, in the winter especially this is a relief. Tried some new things in the medium, but felt kind of generally antsy, like nothing was quite new enough. This is in some ways a bug, in some ways a feature, just have to be patient with figuring out what the materials are trying to tell me, and how to use this effectively. This can take time, can be confusing because I just don't quite know what to do next, but it always resolves itself into a new order, a new path. I used to envision the craft as going halfway to the wall forever, but the last few years the wall has started moving away from me pretty often as well. This was also confusing at first but now seems like a privilege, the only way to keep learning without crossing the finish line. Have decided for the zillionth time to just be sane, balanced, and happy in spite of everything that comes along to try to alter this basic, natural approach. This includes my personal Achilles heel, making happiness dependent on progress in the work. What I've been realizing this past year is that making peace come first creates a place where time is still slow and space is still infinite. This type of time and space is the predicate for genuine, possibly even infinite, quality in life, far more valuable -- well, to me, duh -- than what it most often gets traded for, money and power. Someone sent this Jung quote this week: "Whenever there is a reaching down into innermost experience, into the nucleus of personality, most people are overcome by fear and many run away. . . The risk of inner experience, the adventure of the spirit, is in any case alien to most human beings. The possibility that such experience might have psychic reality is anathema to them." As a kid I saw that my reality existed on its own terms, that the adventure of the spirit was essentially a personal matter, and, if need be, could happen easily without bothering anyone else about it. In other words, the confining definitions of the grown-ups could be circumvented without the least visible rebellion, the world of the spirit existed in a place they weren't patrolling anyway because, in their context, it didn't exist. This isn't a unique experience by any means, the personal life has always existed on these terms in society, but there was no teacher, making it a central formative experience for me: I got to be myself by making sure no one else had any idea who that was. This orientation led to the freedom to consider life on its own terms, not those of a particular socioeconomic frame of reference. In practice this meant the actual frame of reference had no hard and fast boundaries, the apparent boundaries were always temporary. This made it possible to learn more than I ever dreamed could be learned, and I'm happy for the opportunity to share at least some of it here. Thanks very much to everyone who read the fruit of these endeavors, Living Craft, in the last year, and wrote with such interesting thoughts and questions. And happy 2017, I hope your year is full of moments of wonder and discovery.


      A medium I made a lot of variations of in 2016, thicker oil, crushed damar, and beeswax. The damar is fused into the oil on low heat, the beeswax is then added. Very versatile, creates more sequestered or bright paint either alla prima or in layers. Just keep track of the proportions of the ingredients, and the proportion of medium you're mixing into the paint. A medium that is fifteen percent damar, for example, sounds like a lot, but if it is used at one part medium to three parts paint, this becomes a little less than four percent damar in the paint film.


      Most recent damar, wax, and oil medium, this one used stand oil and is somewhat melting in spite of the density, that's what I wanted to see. I decided not to try for anything final in the tube, such as adding chalk or methyl cellulose to compensate for the melting of the stand oil. Keeping the medium simple, with just the basic ingredients, makes it more versatile.


      Something a little different, a version of the putty medium made with emulsified beeswax, this is has an interesting combination of body and movement, making it surprisingly expressive.


      Study begun with the ewax putty, this was interesting because the paint could be layered, blended, or carved into, removed. I got sort of involved exploring everything that could happen, went through a few different possible endings just because it was possible. Then removed a lot of tarry paint the next day. Kind of subfusc, a lot of development without much sense of finish, but the pieces are all in the right place, so the next layer might be pretty interesting. Another way of saying this is, I've seen enough first layers look good but lead to trouble to feel that one that looks bad might be a better idea. I keep saying I'm not going to do anymore of these small ones, but they seem to happen anyway, I couldn't see fiddling with something this different at twice the size. About 8x13.5 inches, gessoed paper.


      Larger study based on a smaller one that worked out, the infamous overlook towards Farr Cross on Route 17 outside Vergennes. Had gotten a little involved with detail in this one, simplified it in this layer, it looked good when I stopped but still managed to dry down a bit in terms of both value and colour. About 12x20 inches, gessoed paper. This is something very nice from Twinrocker, heavyweight Davinci, it needs to be mounted on a panel soon to get rid of the slight rippling in the surface.


      Small study that had become the victim of a thousand layers, ground it back and started over, this is fun when I'm in the mood, always illustrates how much I've learned. The smaller ones were always envisioned as tests for larger ones, but I'm not sure this one would work large. About 8.5x14 inches, gessoed paper on panel.


      Another smaller one, light in the process of coming through fog in late September. This one has a lot of thin layers on it but is getting where I want it. About 10x15 inches, paper on canvas on panel, something that makes the surface a little less mechanically flat.


      Larger version, first more saturated layer on it, I added more space around the tree but it might be too much, easy to fix. About 12.5x 20 inches, gessoed paper.


      Another small study of olive trees done with the ewax putty, therapy or meditation image for me, a little more colour and value in the recent ones. I might try the next one with a more dense version of the medium, this would make the behavior more blunt or sculptural. 8x13 inches, gessoed paper.

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