Tad Spurgeon oil paintings


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A Sunday look at process and work in progress.


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.

july 8

      Third week of the moon, very hot for the most part. The heat decreased as the week went on, but as the forecast temperature went down, the humidity went up, under these conditions it stays hot at night. There was one day where the air quality index was over 200, officially "very unhealthy" yikes, Lily wouldn't go outside. It broke on Friday evening, lovely night that went down to 60, yesterday was great. Mostly worked on a larger colourscape painting this week, got it to the point where I realized a lot needed to change and paused. Then did a day of thin layers on in progress realism yesterday, this work benefited from having a rest. Last week of the moon coming, but it feels like there's a lot to do. Personally, summer seems to up the ante a little bit, I'm working on staying away from the usual knee-jerk negativity and judgements of so-called pragmatism, the mindset worshiped by my parents and their generation, yet absolutely guaranteed to abolish magic from the moment, by placing head above heart, the empiricism du jour above intuition. The same challenges come up in revised versions until I learn how to handle them clearly and cleanly. All about learning to let go of the old way: gently refuse the various, endless invitations to fight, and stay in a place with more acceptance and spaciousness. That place is always there.


      Got some tea from Teabox, I do this about twice a year, always fun. This one is the Mim Oolong from Darjeeling. On the surface, it's similar to the Guranse from last year I wrote about last week in terms of being a lightly oxidized tea with a pronounced floral opening and a nice tight cut hay finish, but more civilized, prim but amused, and the green ending is definitely has that Darjeeling terroir. A great tea, but, no surprise, I liked the somewhat nutty, free-wheeling cosmic enthusiasm-beyond-perfection of the Guranse tea more. Sort of like the difference between respect and love, a formal rose and a peony. But the other thing I've noticed is that these teas tend to grow on me, the first cup is the one I'm most critical of.


      Tried chlorophyll refining with dried barleygrass powder this week, photo is after first wash with sand and salt. At first I thought the barleygrass didn't do much, maybe should have been fresh, but now I'm not sure. This system is really sensitive, distilled water is very helpful for allowing things to come through clearly. Want to put together a succinct section on chlorophyll for the book, but there are lots of options to explore.


      Okay, I want to try to be patient with this, breathe deeply. But something is happening, or rather, continuing to happen, that is really not okay, and I want to tell you about it. This is the marketing of spike lavender as a safe or safer solvent. This advertisement is really misleading: just because a material was used in the Renaissance doesn't mean it was safe. What about white lead, realgar, orpiment? They killed people. Given that it's people's health at issue, this is criminal misrepresentation. First of all, there is no such thing as a safe solvent. Second of all, spike lavender is an essential oil with a very high VOC (volatile organic compounds) content, and, as such, needs to be used with maximum ventilation always unless you have a spare central nervous system in the closet. Do you know an older painter with Parkinson's? Yes, so do I, several. Kremer Pigments, one of the more genuinely responsible purveyors on the planet, only sells spike to professional users. The MSDS for spike on the Kremer website is, wait for it, ten pages long. Take a look, they even give you a breakdown of all the hazardous chemicals within it: Camphene 9%, Terpineol 27%, Pine Oil 20%, Limonene 15%. Any of these sound familiar? I'm not saying not to use spike lavender, I'm saying to use it with awareness of what it really is.


      Mostly worked on this one this week, a reversed version of one of the smaller colour studies, but larger. Made one of these a while ago, but with a putty knife, used a brush for this one. It was natural, but something I didn't know well. So, followed the model but feel like there needs to be more unity in this one than at the smaller scale, maybe more celestial, less earthy. Wanted to keep the blue, but it probably needs to go. Something softer, more nurturing overall. Have a feeling this will change a great deal, a prototype. These seem to need to rest at a certain point. I can change the colour, but a pause often helps to see what to do in terms of developing the composition. 36x40 inches, oil on gessoed canvas over panel.


      Put a thin couch on this before starting, this is often a double edged sword, a little loose this time, but not bad, helps with fine tuning. It was still wet when I photographed it, somewhat off in terms of the colour but in life it's getting closer to what I want. About 13x16 inches, oil on gessoed linen over panel.


      Second layer on this one, tricky colour, or lack of it, it was helpful to give this a rest. 14x15.25 inches, oil on gessoed linen on panel.


      Something from a few years ago that had almost come together, but was a little cool and pasty. Put the couch on thinly and warmed it up. As is often the case, found some glitches, will continue with this but it's getting closer. About 9.25x12 inches, oil on gessoed linen over panel.

july 1

      Week of the full moon, a sunny, hot and hotter one but not too humid. Did a few more colourscape variations, they were fun but are sort of up to their old tricks in terms of changing constantly. I know how to do this, but I'm not sure it's what I want. Waning moon now, and really hot, a time when less is definitely more, we'll see what wants to happen in the week to come. Every now and then someone in a country with an iffy postal system wants to know how much a FedEx shipment of the book would cost, this time it turned out to be 225.00 for two books but they went for it, so I spent Wednesday figuring that out. Couldn't get the online account to work so had to go out to a FedEx facility, they were very nice and helped me a lot. I think next time I'll be able to make the label online and drop it off more locally. I'd like to get more exposure for the book but haven't known how to do this, every angle I've tried seems to come with a built-in negative. But I recently encountered a publisher who places the books with Amazon, avoiding me having to do it their way. They don't publish everything, but they might like the book, since it has a long and consistent track record at this point. Not sure, but began to put all the recent oil refining research into the book this week, along with several index cards worth of small stuff, amendments and adjustments based on things I've learned from readers or recent research. One thing that came up recently helped clarify something that has puzzled me. It is really clear that light is helpful to linseed oil in terms of keeping it brighter, Rubens even says this in a letter. But museums keep the light levels of older paintings pretty low. It turns out that this is because of the pigments: low light levels make less durable pigments far much longer. But, the right light level for the pigments is not enough to continue to bleach the oil and resin! And it seems like, though this is just my experience, my eyes not a light meter, museums can be pretty specific about this. Vermeer's work is made with higher chroma, but less durable pigments than Rembrandt's work, and the Vermeers at the Met have very low light levels compared to the Rembrandts, and also have a slight, though noticeable, darkening compared to them. Yikes, what a tangled web. In larger terms, with so such divide and conquer energy coming from apparently high, but actually desperate, places, I've been doing more with both embodying and spreading unity, which includes diversity, but not divisiveness. There are several of these mantras, sometimes I think, "Everything is God," or "Everything is perfect just as it is," both of which are calming, but also get entertaining in a hurry walking around or doing errands in Philadelphia. And so far I can definitely say that either approach is much more likely to get someone to say hello to me on the street, or start a conversation while waiting in line at the post office, than the usual sense of tense resistance that everyone, including me, tends to walk around with here. But, I've had it with this definition of reality. And, given that we are all cosmically equal, the way to change it is to start with me. This has been developing ever since the new year, but feels more and more clear, more and more firm. An effort is ongoing to maintain the illusion that we are divided and helpless, but we are actually all spokes in the same infinite wheel who are innately far more genuinely powerful than we have been taught. And don't we increasingly suspect this? Even know it?


      I've always been fascinated by tea and tea culture, possible example of a past life thing, where did this come from with parents drinking instant coffee? Tea availability has improved exponentially since I was a kid and used to go get bright boxes of lychee black tea in Chinatown. In the last few years I've mostly been getting tea from India, this is my last foodie indulgence, but a pretty cheap one compared to most indulgences. There are several of these companies that FedEx tea around the world, I've worked with Teabox, they're in Silliguri in West Bengal, and specialize in Darjeelings, they get it to me in three business days. But they also have tea from some wilder parts of India, like Arunchal Pradesh, or Sikkim, where everything is organic, home of the amazing Temi Estate, and sometimes from Nepal. I tend to like these teas better, they are Darjeeling-esque, but have more wildness, maybe even spirit. The Darjeelings have been a huge worldwide success of course, exploring a specific kind of perfection derived from their geographic terrior. And they are great at this, no question. But for me something where the cosmic dice are more involved is just more interesting. Something else has been going on in tea in India generally, the development of lighter and more floral oolongs (less fermented or oxidized) and white teas (not oxidized at all in theory), both of which have less caffiene and more anti-oxidants than black tea. These teas are made in small amounts, and are about twice the regular price, ouch, but, even in Darjeeling, get really creative. In the last year, I found an order based on them to be really interesting. I mean, if I'm going to have one cup of tea every morning, why not make it a great one? And how much does a truly great cup of tea actually cost? Well, definitely less than a dollar a cup, possibly as low as 40 cents a cup once you know the territory (Giddapahar Summer Muscatel Black, for example, an amazing deal year after year). In each order there is a tea that is better than expected somehow, and last year's standout was a first flush (Spring) white tea from Guranse, an organic garden in Nepal. The Nepal teas have become really popular in the last few decades, and are increasingly hard to find. Even if offically black, they always have some silvery green leaves left, and a kind of background wild grassiness. This white tea, pictured here, doesn't it even look great, behaved more like an oolong, with an incredibly complex floral profile, but still with that wild background grassy flavour. It took a few cups to figure out how to brew it right, but then it was amazing. And, in a year full of seemingly endless arbitrary incivility, tea that was like a cosmic bouquet was pretty nice to have around. So, I'm down to almost the end of my fifty grams of this tea, and Teabox does not have more from this year. This is the other thing about tea, something you love might be around forever, or it might just disappear. I still have a little of the Donyi Polo Oolong from Arunchal Pradesh, but this is simply wild, not floral. So, I looked for Guranse online, and a few American companies actually have something from them. But I wasn't satisfied that it would be this year's tea: that is one thing about Teabox, they give you all the information, right down to the picking date. So I went back to Teabox and did my usual wild surmise order, though they have reliable descriptions and reliable reviews, so it's not that arbitrary once you know what you like. So, I guess the point of all this is that, psychologically, it became important to replace this, to continue to have something like this tea around in my life. And I admit this is this probably way more than you want to know about tea, or my relationship with it, but it's only the tip of the iceberg with regard to what's going on in northern India alone.


      And now, way more than you want to know about rocks! I've gotten grumpy now and then in the last few years about the arbitrary nature of dreams. I mean, what's going on there? Life is arbitrary enough for Heaven's sake during the day, what about a little more clarity at night? In theory we all have guides who are looking out for us, at least to some extent, and I specifically asked my guides a few times if I could have dreams that were more cogent or relevant. But my guides seem to only get involved to say things like "Not a good idea," or "Okay, you solved it, finally." In general they think it's more fun to sit back and see what I do. And they definitely did not exactly jump to reorganize my dreamlife. So I decided to entertain them further and do it myself. And, to their credit, I have to say this is more empowering. So, after some poking around online, the first thing I did was put a quartz crystal under my pillow. This worked in terms of creating more energetic dreams, they had more oomph but were still disorganized. Then I tried an amethyst crystal, this both organized and softened things. Then I tried a ruby, this is said to protect from nightmares, and has reduced things that are jarring. These were things I had around, but then I got some blue apatite, which enlivened things right away, a little too much the first night, it was kind of like a spiritual Bugs Bunny cartoon. Then I remembered you're supposed to clear new stones when they arrive, so I soaked the apatite in salt water for a few hours. The next night things were still lively, but more cogent. Blue apatite is also supposed to enhance creativity, and if you are interested in vibrational things like this, you might find it fun to have around. The latest arrival, was prehnite with epidote, this has made the dreams more lucid, cinema-like in terms of progressing from scene to scene, and easy to recall. I'm still not getting teaching dreams specifically, but it makes sense that the process would be designed to have a certain pace, which no amount of creative impatience is going to alter. So, needing to evolve, but also needing to accept what is as complete: yet another paradox in which opposites interacting closely produces a kind of infinite growth within tight and specific limitations.


      I got started again on hemp oil about a month ago when my friends David Heskin and Aloria Weaver sent me a sample of a hemp oil they have refined and allowed to thicken slightly. Number 1 is what the oil looks like after it's been refined. But, number 2, after a few weeks in the air and light, the chlorophyll is gone. So, number 2 should be becoming clear over the course of the next month. I'm wondering if the chlorophyll in hemp oil might be used to generate a faster drying oil by placing the unrefined oil in the light, in a full jar, for a few months before refining it.


      So, I thought I was using chlorophyll to modify these linseed oils, because that's what it says on the bottle, but it turns out it is chlorophyllin. The difference is that chlorophyll is a natural molecule, with a magnesium ion in the center, but chlorophyllin is man-made, the magnesium ion being replaced with a copper ion. The supplement I used is something you drink to clean out your intestines. In America, it is officially okay to ingest chlorophyllin, but in Europe there is doubt as to whether this molecule is okay. Anyway, chlorophyllin less likely to degrade. In number 1, I used an immersion blender to put the chlorophyllin into the oil, and, over a month later, it's still there, oil is bright green. Although this colour disappears as the oil dries. But it may help further oxidize the oil. And, in the emulsion tests I did, this one, along with the KOH soap emulsion, dried as fast as the salt and sand refined oil. In number 2, a chlorophyllin prewash was followed by an apple cider vinegar prewash, this removed most of the green colour but I'm not sure that's necessary or a good idea with this approach. This oil was difficult to clear so I put some chalk into it and froze it. Then it cleared on thawing. Number 3 is three days of 500 ml oil sitting with 15 ml chlorophyllin in it, then refined. It still needs to be cleared. I want to try straight chlorophyll, but I'm not sure anybody is going to want to go to the trouble of creating it directly from a plant. I got some barley grass powder to try, but it was whole powder, not juice extract, so it contains both pro- and antioxidant elements. On and on, but there might be a way. On the other hand, from the perspective of creating a faster drying oil, the chlorophyllin approach works well. Thanks to my friend Roland as always for tremendous clarification about the chemistry of all this.


      A few years ago I started adding about ten percent of slightly pre-polymerized poppy oil to the salt and sand refined linseed oil as a way to slow it down as it thickened. It turned out that this also shifted the fatty acid ratio enough to curtail any residual yellowing. I think if the oil were old enough, this would occur on its own, but if you're using hand-refined linseed oil with brighter colour, adding a little thicker poppy or walnut oil might be helpful. And of course it helps if the work dries with plenty of light!


      This one was interesting, aerial fields meets the crazy quilt, but went on more than one day, and could still go on. That wasn't really the idea somehow. I'd like it to be simpler, fewer pieces and more variety of scale. About 9x10 inches, oil on gessoed paper.


      Began this one with lots of small dots with a brush, but that didn't want to resolve so returned to the knife. I had always liked this more playful or arbitrary kind of geometry, things bouncing and cascading around rather than fitting in a rectangle, and the sense of a different painting underneath it is fun. But I don't feel like there's really a purchase with this non-representational approach. Everything was interesting, but it simply led somewhere new. That could go on, but it feels like the work has learned what it wanted to, that it's time to take a little more spontaneity back to what is so deceptively known as realism. About 9x10 inches, oil on gessoed paper.

june 24

      Waxing moon, full moon this Thursday. Solstice this week, it felt quite different, like being on a happier planet all day long. Mix of sun and rain, slowly getting hotter and more humid here, no major storms or giant hail here but a background sense of turbulence. Last year I made a cold-brewed tea overnight with rose hips and hibiscus flowers, simplified Red Zinger, very cooling, this was really helpful for the heat, historically a kind of kryptonite. Started making that again this week, added some lemon grass to one batch but really like it better without. The work made a shift back into direct shape and colour this week, kind of a surprise but provided an interesting break, there seems to be a lot to explore this time. It feels like the Queen Anne's Lace beginning from last week went far enough towards literalism, I reached a kind of boundary, at least for now. This week generated some more personal colour, but also some alternative ways of approaching the surface. So, again it seems to be about learning more about the process, but that this isn't necessarily incremental, or logical on the surface. But if there's turbulence, maybe it needs to be part of the process as well.


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

june 17

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


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


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


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


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


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



june 10

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

june 3

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

may 27

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


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


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


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


      Lily says hi. Would you like to play?

may 20

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


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


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








      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.


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


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

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