Tad Spurgeon oil paintings


about me
the work
the book

sound practice
black & white
putty medium
just oil
putty tutorial



A Sunday look at process and work in progress.

april 22

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

april 15

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

april 8

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


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


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


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

april 1

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


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


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


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


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


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

march 25

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

march 18

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


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


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


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


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


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


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

march 11

      Third week of the moon, often overcast, another wet snow storm on Wednesday, about eight inches, less wind but another round of tree damage locally, did a little snow refining, see below, a goofy but lovely procedure. With the work, a better week than usual for the phase of the moon. Wasn't sure whether to increase the density of the current paint-medium combo for use with bristle brushes and a broken surface, or go further into smoother surface work by switching to soft brushes. It's been a while since I've used paint loose enough for soft brushes, so it seemed best to try that, the greater unknown. This is, stylistically, a big shift, and I was concerned that this might lead back to perfectionism for its own sake. But I seem to have made the process perfection-proof, and liked what happened, both in terms of starting and finishing with this approach. Will keep going in this direction, it's a little more flexible, lots of developments forseeable given how much the materials have evolved since I used it last.


      Some oil tests, I've started writing on the photo, otherwise I'll never keep track of it all. Refining the older oil has been interesting, it's more oxidized, needs a lighter touch than the new oil. I cleared that jar by freezing it, then letting it thaw.


      This is a great trick, courtesy of my friend Roland, illustrating the different densities of the liquids involved and how this can be used to organize them. After the shaking or blending, the mucilage falls to the bottom of the oil, and if you add plain water gently, it lies between the oil and the heavier salt water, pushing the mucilage down with it. Then you can syphon everything off but the oil and go on to the next step. It's very fun to watch the mucilage get pulled through the syphon, awakens the inner ten year old.


      Occasionally this project yields a moment of geeky triumph. I've been looking for an alternate washing method that uses an immersion blender, and decided to leave the silica out of the first washes, simple adding it at the end and stirring it into the high salt water. This reaction is electrical, and produced a pretty massive excursion of junk from the oil, far more than the usual embedding of the silica with mucilage in the hand-shaking method. Although this test was done with distilled water, and that may have a lot to do with it, no calcium ions to attach to things as they exit. The immersion blender and syphon approach also makes an acid pre-wash easier, so I incorporated that as well in this batch. A pretty limited cast of characters, but there are lots of permutations to explore. So far, I've learned that the immersion blender attachment, the little blade in the housing, is incredibly good at reducing the interface between the oil and the water, but that, especially in the rinse stage, this can result in long clearing times, and increased loss. As usual, technology proves to be a double-edged sword. So, the next test will be with specific mixing times with the immersion blender. I think the right attachment for an electric drill might be better, a paint stirrer would work but might break the glass jar. A wooden dowel with a small wooden paddle attached, or smaller dowels drilled through at different heights and angles.


      The high ionic and electrical activity of snow makes it also a good way to refine the oil. This is a snow-oil sandwich in a 2.5 gallon spring water container with a spigot. I buried it in the snow and mounded up a lot of snow around it, am hoping it makes it a week. But then, the snow melts, it brings the mucilage with it, and you remove them from the oil via the stopcock.


      Snow can also be used as a rinse, put this container full of snow in the freezer when it fell and will let it thaw today with some cleaned oil in it.


      Layer on this relatively small recent landscape with looser paint and fine brushes. Had sort of resisted this, perhaps through past associations of trying to make things perfect, but with the combination of small scale and wanting a pretty specific set of colours, this helped it come forward. More to go, but in the place where it's getting to be fun. 9x14.5 inches, oil on gessoed paper on panel.


      Most recent version of this image, it was on a ground that was a little too textured for the type of paint that had been put on it, making a lot of fine "holes" in the image, so did the same thing to it as the one above. Colour is still a little bright, or modern feeling, to me, but this is the best of these images so far. 9.25x 15 inches, oil on gessoed paper on panel.


      Ranunculus start from yesterday, one relatively developed layer on a textured ground, a way I used to work couple decades or so ago, but with a different medium and a different sense of the destination. So, nice to see it again in a new incarnation. Did a smaller version of this image last year, but, between the pinks and the shape of the flowers, it stalled, and is conveniently buried in some pile at this point. Starting over has helped to see how to bring it back. More work than usual for this time of year and moon, more of an alla prima than indirect layer, felt a little drained after this one. But it was also lots of fun, a sense of the cycle revisiting an old place in a new way. Conceptually, it feels finished, but I'd like more development overall, and especially in some of the flowers. So, it's probably best to let this sit a few weeks, and do a few more starts in the same way, get more comfortable with this approach until, as usual, this one seems more obviously incomplete. I don't see realism as an end in itself, more as a way to access a feeling: I always like it best when the personal and the universal are interacting seamlessly. For a while I've wanted to shift things to a softer, or more atmospheric style, but it seemed best to wait for it, let it make itself, rather than think up a plan and execute it. Often some resistance here: more patience? Gee, not enough yet? But, in the past, all my plans ended up seeming contrived, rather than natural. And, in larger terms, there's never enough patience. 9.5x15.75 inches, oil on gessoed linen over panel.

march 4

      Week of the full moon, mostly overcast, some warmth, crocuses, witch hazel, hellebore in bloom, then a truly wacky storm that was supposed to be rain here but turned into about six inches of the wettest snow I've ever seen. Pretty high winds, this brought down a lot of trees in the forest that was turned into a city beginning in 1682, but never gave up being a forest, it takes a while to remove these from the street and some people in the area have been tree-bound. Two days later and most of it has melted, the famous sun is starting to come out again. Still in a period I'd describe as quiet, a gestation period that's getting pretty large, it feels like I'm letting go of someone I've been for a long time now. This is sad in a way, he was all I knew, but in another way it had all become too predictable. Well, endless struggle against insurmountable odds, who could resist? But now, I can see another alternative and would like to try being someone else. This is exciting, because, as usual, once I know what to ask for, the answers begin to happen. But, it's interesting, I don't tend to read about, or have a dream about, anything too startling. It's more that I find a book, or get a dream, that confirms an intuition. I'm really grateful for this, because, having been raised to be someone I wasn't, it's not always easy to be aware of how I feel beyond a certain level. In a way, I still try to maneuver around the crazy grown-ups so they'll leave me in peace. But that only worked so well, and that time feels over anyway. It's much more effective to work with the feelings directly, this is like the difference between pushing and allowing yourself to be pulled. This is related to Einstein's observation that a problem can't be solved at the level of the problem. I originally framed this issue in terms of fight or flight, but there's another option, the next level, where there's more space, new concepts to bring to bear. It's not that easy to consider the next level when you're thinking fight or flight, but it's always there. This option exists because the universe is infinite, is always expanding, this is the basic cosmic model. Culturally we are taught to accept limitations, shrink, play by a system that is fear-based, and tries to make everyone afraid of it. But, if we're interested, we can expand instead, to a place where the system, by definition, can't be: for the same reason the dark can't be in the light.


      Continued with the oil refining experiments using an immersion blender, got a gallon of new oil and started working with that. So, there are a lot of jars around, but no conclusions still. Made a batch of the medium this week designed to be a little less literal, and it was, but only just. I'm beginning to want something more demonstrative again. In the past I always adjusted things in increments that were too large, so the medium swung around between too fine and too goopy, too literal and too expressive. This went on for quite a while, come to think of it! Have been trying to be more patient or methodical in terms of adjusting the proportions but there may be a larger change on its way. On the other hand, the formula itself may be at a tipping point, where the next small increment in fact produces a larger shift. Is this all a metaphor? Sometimes I think it might be.


      Sometimes it's hard to grind something back, feels like going backwards, but it's been helpful so often that I'm getting more comfortable with it. I look for the right quality of colour first with something like this, I used to get kind of hypnotized putting in detail, but that didn't work. So, this layer was what I think of as a good choice, there are things to develop still, but the image feels on it's way. 11x16 inches, oil on gessoed linen over panel.


      The colour on this had become a bit too literal or modern, so I dropped it down in this layer. I tend to think of this as too easy because it works, what's that about, but maybe it only works because there's brighter colour beneath it. More to go but getting closer to completion. 11x14 inches, oil on gessoed linen over panel.


      Sort of a problem child, started this in a pretty literal tempera grassa medium, which was fun but only took it so far for me. Would like it to transcend the detail, but without bypassing it, so that means there's still some detail to come to terms with. In the past I'd get frustrated with something like this, and try to force it to go somewhere, but that typically didn't work. So, this got better, but am still looking for the key. I can see a couple different historically derived options, but it might be better to be patient and see what it wants to do on its own. Again, letting it be itself, rather than trying to drag it over the finish line. 9x15 inches, oil on gessoed linen over panel.


      Something whose colour scheme remains puzzling. Closer this time, and I like the concept, but the execution still has basic issues. It can be described technically, as in, the paint's too thin, but in larger terms it's about the balance of unity and diversity in the emotional realm. So, too much diversity still, I'm seeing the stuff, but not the feeling. Again, there's a temptation to complete this by simplification, but I'm more interested now in what happens if I keep working with what I used to remove. This is sort of like not judging complexity, and saying get out of here, but accepting it, and seeing what that has to offer. A dialogue between opposites can only happen if the opposites co-exist. Which, like many things, is more obvious in words than in paint. 12x16 inches, oil on gessoed linen over panel.

february 25

      Waxing moon, lots of overcast and light rain this week, like lovely April in Vermont. Decent energy for the work when there was any light, also continued to work on some new approaches for refining linseed oil using an immersion blender. This was interesting, really different than by hand, but as yet inconclusive. Sometimes I get mad enough at the endless cosmic detritus of dreams to ask for something a little more relevant. This always works, I just need to be annoyed enough to remember to ask. Had a dream last night where I was making a kalimba out of all these odd materials, it was sort of a personal kalimba, I was trying lots of different shapes of tines, different scales. The sound chamber was something large and organic, hard to say what it was, sort of like a cross between a giant seed pod and a cow skull, and the tines ended up having an organic feeling as well, broad and different shapes, with complex overtones. I've been considering the various things that I react to, or am judgemental about, working to neutralize those reactions, create more emotional space or distance, sort of like smoothing out the jagged places so that things feel more spherical. It's been helpful to see humanity as a zillion different facets on the same jewel, this seems to make it simpler to see the behavior or attitude I'm judging as a part of myself that I'm uncomfortable with for some reason. So, and this is the part that has always messed me up, if I'm interested in peace, this doesn't mean rejecting violence, but accepting it as an aspect of both me, and this experience. I'm still not sure how to do this, I simply want to be on a different planet than anyone who thinks a gun is ever going to solve anything. But it seems like the dream is about something more active, not just the sort of Lurian concept of repairing the sphere, but an instrument, something creative, and I like this suggestion.


      Some oil tests in progress. Began to get some finished oil from the soap emulsion method, this is on the left, then started an emulsion method without soap, just salt and silica, this is on the right, and still needs some work. I can get it to work with fine cristobalite, but this is not exactly the nicest material to have around, the Kremer SDS on this is extensive at this point, would love to get it to work with plain silica sand. Both of these emulsion approaches are slow, but not that much work, and are designed to create a really fast drying oil. No drying tests so far, so we'll see what happens there this week. There are several new variables here: doing the emulsion and the rinse step with an immersion blender instead of by hand, using distilled water, and using linseed oil for this that's been in glass in the light for five years. I ordered a new gallon of linseed oil, it will be interesting to see how it processes compared to the older oil. The lighter oil on the far left began with a hand-pressed oil, this has dried like greased lightening in the past, might be interesting.


      2-26: The next emulsion test, frozen as an emulsion, then thawed overnight. The next step is to rinse it in plain water, but I think I'll let it sit a day or two first, see how much the top layer clears. This is a test of whether salt and silica can form a stable emulsion with oil and water, since salt is typically used to break an emulsion. But if the silica is put into the oil at the same time as the salt -- or, possibly better, first -- this initiates an electrical reaction that seems to glue things together. This is interesting because my scientific friend Roland had stressed that, in emulsions, the order of ingredients can be important, and I hadn't worked with that concept before.


      For a while I've been mixing up relatively dense mediums with different characteristics, this week I started mixing these three together. This mix was good for some things, but was a little smooth, so it needs more of the tube on the left, less of the tube in the middle. Easy! I keep track of the proportions so I can adjust them, then go back and make a new tube at some point based on what I learned. So it's halfway to the wall over and over for a while, then there's a shift and the whole process moves somewhere different. I don't quite understand this: it's like the process and the wall are polar opposites, once they get close enough the process gets blasted to a new level, and there's a new wall.


      I keep fiddling with this, and it keeps getting a little bit better, but somehow doesn't feel quite done. A lot of little things now. About 12x16 inches, oil on gessoed linen over panel.


      Want to keep this one a little more diffuse, this approach seems to go through a long middle sometimes where the colour is in the ballpark, but still unresolved. More to go, but the best this one has been. About 12x16 inches, oil on gessoed linen over panel.


      Peony start from a few years ago that I've always worked on a little out of focus. Decided to just keep it that way and see what happens, this layer was pretty interesting. Not done, but getting fun. About 12x16 inches, oil on gessoed linen over panel.


      More recent version of this peony, not much paint in each of these layers but it comes forward somewhat each time. Would like to get a little more of what's going on in the colour above happening in this one. About 12x15 inches, oil on gessoed linen over panel.


      Small new version of a cheese I've done a few times but never been quite satisfied with, three very thin layers on this over watercolour. 9x14 inches, oil on linen on panel.


      Something really old I fiddled with again on a really dark afternoon, it felt like sort of a freebie on a couple levels, not done but the colour is finally solved. About 10x13 inches, oil on gessoed panel.

february 18

      Week of the new moon, still a lot of overcast, some nutty weather shifts, from the low sixties to wet snow yesterday. Did some work, that was new at this point. Kept it simple, didn't try anything too challenging, things came out well in general though some of them had too much glare to post. It's always interesting to look at things and see them more clearly, or at another level, hard to describe but somehow that was part of this week. Worked on Roland's emulsion system for refining the oil, this was really interesting but this approach is really new and I still have more questions than answers. Applied this emulsion refining approach to the ingredients I know better, salt and silica, and this worked out well, which was fun after a week of not quite knowing what was happening. But all of this is still in progress, will only really know more after working with these oils. One thing I do know so far is that one of those little immersion blenders is really good at mixing things up quite finely. In larger terms I'm still experiencing unexpected jagged edges, these are not that big but sort of exaggerated: it feels like anything jagged internally is attracting an external mirror really fast these days. There are some things I've been really comfortable judging in this lifetime that I'm realizing need to be smoothed out. Like, for example that lying, cheating, stealing, being greedy or irresponsible, are undeniably bad things. I can feel now that the judgement involved is a kind of glue that binds me to exactly what, and who, I have the issue with. So, the sense of righteous irritation grows and grows, begging to be resolved. It seems clear now that the answer is to just keep it personal, say that those types of behavior are not for me. This makes sense if we have unity manifesting as diversity: everyone is equal, but also individualized, and responsible in larger terms for their choices. And, major bonus, it feels a lot more round or spacious. I was able to see this a decade ago, now and then, even practice it on a good day, but now it feels like it's more of a polite, practical process, like, before making dinner, do the dishes. It never seemed like that big a sink, so where did all those dishes come from?


      Continued with the emulsion refining experiments based on Roland's test using liquid soap and distilled water. The first one had two percent soap in it, and this is probably too much, although it looks good now after several rinses. The next two had one percent and half a percent, respectively, in the third one I added some fine cristobalite, this actually seems to have done something good, but it wasn't apparent at first. These first three have all been rinsed to some extent. In the fourth one, I switched to the Dr. Bronner's soap based on hemp oil, used the same amount as number three, but the soap itself is more liquid than the linseed oil soap I made, meaning less actual soap in the mix. Number four shows what happens after you add salt after four days of emulsion: the emulsion breaks cleanly. But, once you start washing it, there's still lots of mucilage to remove. The mucilage does fall out slowly from the oil, I think maybe I've been in too much of a hurry to wash it and get it done, this could be done with the other refining methods.


      Two more tests! In number five, went back to the linseed oil soap, but reduced the amount further. This emulsion begins to break up more overnight. But, I'm not sure that's a bad thing. This one will get re-emulsified and have salt added on Tuesday. Then, number six, I made the emulsion without soap, just used maximum salt, the fine 8 micron cristobalite, and a very small amount of bone ash in distilled water. This emulsion needed to be re-made often throughout the day, and overnight it broke completely: the silica attracts the mucilage electrically, both fall out of the oil into the salt water. About one third loss in terms of the amount of oil, I'll try rinsing this now with distilled water and see what happens, may try another version of this in the week to come with more bone ash and cristobalite. Lots of parameters to consider in developing these things, it can go on and on. I'd love to get the soap emulsion approach to rinse more cleanly, but it may be a matter of waiting for everything settle out of the oil into the water. Also, I haven't been rinsing it with distilled water, this might be a factor. But, in theory this oil is going to dry exceptionally quickly due to the amount of oxygen it has absorbed from the water, this is what happened with Roland's original experiment.


      Another layer on this peony, the previous layer had been a little goopy, so I'd ground that back slightly. It seems like something simple has to have a kind of hidden complexity, otherwise it becomes "too simple." It's interesting to learn more about this in terms of mixing colour, this is getting closer to what I'd like to see. A lot depends on what it looks like about a week or two after it has dried, things tend to settle in a little more. About 12x14 inches, oil on gessoed linen on panel.


      Pretty early version of the Mugello farm image, this one came forward significantly, that's always fun in terms of feeling like I've learned something. Not done, a few glitchy places still to address, but I like the overall feeling.

february 11

      Going into the last quarter of the moon, colder this week, mostly overcast. Still stopped in the work, it's frustrating but, after several weeks I'm getting used to it. I love to do the work, especially when so much feels false, it's helpful to work towards something that feels true. But I also wonder about the quality of judgement implicit in this: if something is better, something else must have been worse. Is there a difference between discernment and judgement, or is this just semantics? Still, it's hard to see the bigger picture with your nose to the grindstone, the process has to go fallow sometimes in order to expand. I never think I've developed tunnel vision, because I've become used to that perspective, but I'm beginning to see various ways that things could expand. This isn't all that pleasant, breaking through the armor that after all was generated for a reason, but it feels necessary, as though a certain approach has come to a dead end. Usually, this dead-end feeling has to do with a style, or a medium, or a set of colours, but this dead-end is more personal. I've been fighting the good fight, at least on my own terms, but it feels like time for the fight itself to end. I was in a linear system, struggling towards a specific goal, building up strength through resistance, but also becoming somewhat muscle-bound. What seems to be replacing this is a sphere, like the colour sphere, but the three axes would be the physical, emotional, and mental aspects of experience. These tend to create reactions, to push and pull us around quite a lot. So the new goal is simply to be in the middle, which would be to experience without judgement. This is of course something I've thought and read about for a long time, but the only time I really experienced it was on top of Mauna Kea in Hawaii, about twenty years ago now, some very interesting things go on at 14,000 feet. But now it seems to be sitting on the table, and it's the only thing on the table.


      A few years ago my friend Roland sent me an interesting oil refining experiment he had done using a very small amount of liquid soap to create a stable emulsion for several days, then breaking this emulsion with salt to release the clean oil. This week Roland reported that this oil had thickened significantly in its jar, and sent me some photos. So this means that the theory involved, that the extended emulsion will allow the oil to interact with more water, therefore absorbing more oxygen from the water, is looking very good. Roland did it with walnut oil, so this week I began to try doing it with linseed oil. The liquid soap parameters he gave were 0.5 to 3 percent, so I tried 2 percent. This was 8 grams of homemade linseed oil soap (like Ugly Dog, etc.) to 400 grams of oil. But I think 2 percent, at least of this soap, is too much, the emulsion never even hinted at breaking in four days, and has been hard to break at all with salt and several washes of water. This is the photo on the left, you can see the pure oil on the top, but that's not very much for siting for a day, I'll syphon the water off and emulsify it again today. So, I'll get something from this jar, but the percentage of the soap was too much. Sol, for the next step, I went back to the lowest percentage of soap, 0.5, and this began to break overnight as you can see from the photo on the right: a little oil on top, a little water on the bottom. So, I'll emulsify this again today with the immersion blender, and this is looking good as a place to start. The linseed oil soap is a little esoteric, so I want to get a commercial liquid soap to try with this next. It just needs to be pure, no additives, there's a Dr. Bronner's made with hemp oil that's unscented that I used in the past to make emulsified beeswax, I'll get another bottle of that. This method may be useful to make an oil that dries quickly, (possibly really quickly, making a thicker autoxidized oil easily), because there's relatively little labor involved.

february 4

      Back to colder, some sun but mostly overcast, week of the full moon, also my birthday. Had a good week overall, that personal sense of a new beginning enhanced by the work returning to an extent, this is always a relief after a period, several weeks in this case, when it's unavailable. I don't understand this cycle, the phases of the moon map it to an extent, but not fully. But it does serve to get my attention. Doing the work felt more spacious this week, I wasn't in a hurry to get somewhere, just observed what wanted to happen. So, it feels like I'm always being taught something, wherever the cycle is. It feels like that was always true, the opportunity was always there, but now I'm not so reactive, or rebellious, am paying attention more. As intense as things are now, it seems like they're only going to get more so for the foreseeable future. The writing has always been on the wall, but once again we need to prove that, a culture without a stable moral and ethical basis cannot stand. This can be challenging to one's basic sense of sanity, as when someone talks about starting a war to help win an election, but it seems like this extended positive-negative acceleration also contains a great opportunity for growth: the call to infinite falsehood has to be balanced by its opposite. I can feel a lot changing on the inside, tectonic plates in unusual motion, and it makes sense that completion for the work has to be preceded by a sense of personal completion. Interesting, at this relatively late stage in life, to still be reeling in missing pieces of myself. Then again, I was taught to be someone I wasn't as a kid, and did my best to comply.


      In 2000 I spent the summer painting flowers from life, this is another version of one of my favorite peonies. Tried something with this layer that didn't quite work, a couch of thicker oil that was rubbed on very thinly, the subsequent paint was a little too goopy. But did the best I could with it, then ground it back lightly after it had been dry for a few days. So, not done, but in a pretty good place for the next layer. About 12x14 inches, oil on gessoed linen on panel.


      More recent version of the same image, not as many layers or much paint, but I like the composition a little more. About 12x15 inches, oil on gessoed linen on panel.


      A zinnia start from a few years ago, it had become a little strident, needed more unity, ground it back lightly and put another layer on it. Closer, more integrated, still having issues with the rightmost blossom, maybe the value structure of the background needs to come down more. About 12x14.5 inches, oil on gessoed linen on panel.


      Image from the Mugello outside Florence, close-up of my therapy farm. At first I liked this, then the colour seemed too brassy, toned it down a bit in this layer, which feels better. About 11x15 inches, oil on gessoed paper.


      Dunes on the point in Stone Harbor, New Jersey. Did a small scale version of this a while back, decided after a few layers it was just too small. I guess what that means is that I don't want to do these with soft hair brushes, want to keep using bristle brushes and make the detail with the paint. So, this determines the appropriate scale. Started this a few weeks ago, a few thin layers, then first layer with a little more paint and definition here. Still pretty small, but these seem to depend on some pretty subtle things, it still feels best to puzzle them out without too much square footage involved. More to go, but a good feeling overall for this stage, will mount it on a panel before going further. About 9.5x15.5 inches, oil on gessoed paper.

january 28

      Waxing moon, back to moderate weather and lots of sun, now rainy again this morning. Kind of a nutty week, a lot of other had to happen amidst the city putting in new gas lines on our usually quiet little street. Had to visit the DMV to get a new license photo, almost got sick the next day but was able to knock it out with a tea of echinacea and goldenseal root. I usually have used the tinctures in little bottles, but always noticed that I ran out just when I really needed it, so this year got some actual herbs, these were really strong in a tea along with licorice root, elderberries, and cardamon. Was sort of weak for a few days, but no flu. I love it when I listen to these intuitions, and then they turn out to have some purpose. I also love it when natural medicine kicks butt. Got a little done in the work, but things are still more or less fallow there, my anxiety about yet another forced vacation is slowly fading as it goes on. Worked on a video for YouTube about the fused damar, beeswax, and stand oil approach to the medium, have wanted to get to this for a long time, and embedded that below. It's one of those things that's easier to do than to talk about, but I felt there needed to be some explanation of why this might be interesting, and how it works.


      It's always hard to be stopped, plunked in a box, but, the longer it goes on, the more I sort of let go and let the frame of reference expand. And I guess that's the larger point. I'd like nothing better than to return to the work with renewed vigor on a daily basis, but life has always has a more complex agenda. Darn it! But it is also clear: right now, I look at the work and feel sort of overwhelmed. What I need to do in general to make things more complete is becoming more apparent, but I've always resisted formulas, one specific way. And I do love what happens when an image emerges from the crucible of a lot of layers. Still, having tried lots of different ways, it might be time to admit that there's one general approach that works better than the rest of them. I'll get the proof of the next edition of the book next week, the culmination of a project that went on much longer than I thought it would, so this is a logical time for a kind of cosmic vacation. I'm into the next lunar return, its a little more expansive but also focused on change or transformation. These charts are more about how you feel and why than actual stuff happening; the recent pause has been odd enough, or maybe insistent enough, that it's helpful to have some kind of larger guidance. It's interesting to look at the various patterns and shifts over the course of a year, a pretty graphic illustration of "this too shall pass." I'll be 63 next Tuesday, a nine year in terms of the meaning of the numbers -- we learn some things about Pythagoras in high school, but not others -- a gateway or threshold year, things in the process of fruition but maybe not fully out in the world yet. This feels about right for both the work and the book. The work needs more development, but the book may well take longer to surface.


january 21

      Week of the new moon, some snow and ice for a few days, now yet another balmy period. Did everything that had to get done, but nothing happened again in the work. In theory this should change with the next lunar return cycle, which starts this coming Wednesday. It would be nice. Instead, spent almost the whole week trying to fix the PDF for the book. This was a lot like cutting through the bramble forest in Sleeping Beauty, but I stopped regularly, took a long walk every day, didn't get mad or curse the Fates, ate plenty of kale, played with the cat, and finally, on Friday, the bindery reported that it wasn't breaking up, wahoo! This issue has been hard to fathom since it has never broken up for me, that is, the font being replaced by another one now and then, it only happens on their machinery. It took a while, but I finally traced this issue to Word trying to compensate for the main font choices from years ago that were still in the deep style structure, even though they weren't in use in any current styles. Yikes. You have to go way into the bowels of the program to even find out that might be happening. But, the bindery very kindly gave me a clue from one of their tech people, they used to be above this sort of thing, so I'm wondering if I'm not the only one for whom the technology has become progressively overwhelming. But, like all things computer, it's easy to fix once you know how, and, as Calvin's Dad loved to say, it builds character. So, hopefully this is truly over and I'll have edition twelve in a few months. More could always happen with a text like thi.s but it finally feels complete in terms of not only documenting the project technically, but in larger terms, like, why did it matter, why did I care, why might someone else care. Remember those kinds of terms?


      Got an order this week from Woodfinishing Enterprises, they're out in the Midwest, and have a variety of interesting products at nice prices. Pictured is the resin from the Silver Fir, Abeis Alba, which I couldn't resist even though I don't need it. But, well, you never know. The largest pine tree in Europe, this stuff is pretty logical as a candidate for the "small amount of pine resin" often found in the analyses of older paintings. This is the exudate, what the tree gives off naturally, not the balsam that gets tapped and is sometimes sold as Strasbourg Turpentine. Soft, very fragrant, pretty dirty, it's clear on the inside, oxidized on the outside, just like amber only way younger. It may be more of a violin varnish material than a painting material, the relevant questions here are probably how it affects paint handling, and how much it makes the medium darken over time. Might make a test fused damar and beeswax medium formula with a little bit of this added, see how it affects the paint film in a small study, put an unpigmented swatch on a test panel. Things that harden tend to get brittle, things that don't harden tend to make the paint film soft, beeswax is the only permanently flexible painting material. So, it's always a matter of proportion, factoring in some softness can be a good idea on stretched canvas.


      This is Manila copal that's been processed somehow to make it dissolve completely in alcohol. Very small pieces, uniform light colour, but otherwise doesn't look like it's been processed too much, there's still some bark on some of the pieces. Manila copal in alcohol makes a nice alternative to shellac. Like sandarac, Manila copal also dissolves in spike lavender, oil or rosemary, or eucalyptus oil. A little of the concentrate goes a long way as a damar in solvent alternative.


      Another brief round of winter this week, I always like this kind of day, although this one was really on the stormy side for a few hours. Fun old train station across the street designed by Frank Furness.

january 14

      Waning moon, new moon this coming Wednesday. More wacky weather, including a sixty-degree day of pouring rain, now back to sunny and freezing. Some progress: over the last four months I've been rewriting Living Craft a final time. I printed the whole thing out and read it page by page, this was a good idea as there were some leftovers from other editions here and there, so now the whole is more streamlined. There were a reasonable number of additions, lots more tables, but the biggest change was switching to Word from Open Office. This was sort of like switching languages, and took a while to get used to. But I have to admit that Word did some things for the text that I could never figure out in Open Office. Then there was trying to figure out how to make the PDF, I won't go into this as it will only make you feel like you too are living in a hall of mirrors with a heaving floor. But the Enchiridion suggested that we puny mortals accept our fate with dignity, so I tried, and, after what seemed like weeks adrift in cyberspace, sent a new text and cover to the bindery. So, if all goes well I'll have a new edition in April, and hardbacks again in May or June. Oy.

      For a while I've wanted to re-read Journey of Souls by Micheal Newton, I had found this book really helpful, but couldn't find it. Finally realized I had sent it to my brother, so opted for the second book, Destiny of Souls, instead. It's the same material, hypnotic regressions into past lives and the educational system of the afterlife, but with more of the structure that Newton discovered over thousands of these regressions. I had originally found these books helpful because they explained the purpose of life in spiritual-ethical terms, life as a multi-dimensional learning experience, but outside of a specific religious context. As a kid I had read lots of different religious texts, but the Newton books finally went behind the curtain into what actually happens. They depict human life on Earth as an unusual opportunity for a soul because it is so challenging, a lot more can go wrong here than in most other places. There are excerpts from a lot of different cases, some of which are pretty dramatic in terms of the outcome, for better or worse. But the consistent message is that there's plenty of time, nothing is ever for nought, and that, slowly or quickly, all souls progress through their often challenging physical experiences to great levels of balance, wisdom, compassion, and self-worth. One of the most interesting things that gets detailed is the way a life gets played back to the soul after the fact, showing various alternates and choices that, typically, were not seen or taken advantage of. It's typically a matter of a specific kind of patience, enduring a situation that is really scary without panicking, in order to keep seeing clearly. This is like that Zen saying that you should be able to mediate on a battlefield: although, personally, I would leave first. Anyway, getting reminded of further or more possibilities is always helpful: as in a painting, what is it that's right there, but I'm not seeing?


      Okay, not the first version of the Constable Hay Wain sketch, but the one before the most recent two. I remember doing this when I was getting better after being sick, it was in Vermont so it's probably 2012 or 13, and thinking it was better than the versions that had come before, but that I just couldn't put it away because I ran out of energy.


      Put another layer on it this week, brought the value scale way up. This one has a few flaws compared to the original that will be hard to adjust compared to the more recent two, so I'll probably leave it here. On the bright side, this is what the current paint does, so it will be interesting to see how much it dries into the darker version beneath over time. About 7.5x10 inches, oil on gessoed panel.


      Am approaching this one a little differently, not trying to do so much in each layer, get it finished in deeper terms before I put too much detail on it. The detail seems to get in the =way of developing the colour if it comes first. Anyway, not done but I like where it's going, all there but a little more mysterious. 12x16 inches, oil on gessoed linen over panel.


      First new start in a while, set up the medium to be open another day. It was a little too gloopy the first day, but now that I know it can be corrected on the second day that's not as much of an issue. Outside of Middlebury, on my way to a favorite spot on the Lemon Fair, the type of composition I used to see constantly in Vermont, but one that I've always had issues with in terms of integrating the foreground and middle distance. Not done, but pretty good for this stage, a happy occurrence in the work after a lot of pause recently. A little bigger, that helped, about 8.25x15 inches, oil on gessoed paper.

january 7

      Week of the full moon, waning now. The fringe of that large storm, about four inches of windy and frigid snow, then even colder the last few days. I remember this kind of cold from Vermont, it becomes focal, makes its own rules. Lily went out a little while in the afternoon earlier in the week, but stopped when the single digits and strong wind began. She makes up for this by running around in the middle of the night, staging mock attacks on my extremities until I laugh so hard I get up and play with her. This gives her endless further comedy opportunities, revolving around how much better her night vision is than mine. I've been doing a little more work with the moon recently using lunar return charts, a chart for the time of the month where the moon is when you were born. So it gives a feel for the emotional tenor of a given month. This month, unsurprisingly, is on the quiet side, but the next few months seem to get more active. I tend to think of these as inner event charts, but will be looking to see how much they correlate with outer changes, and changes in the work as well.


      It's always funny how, when you move, something you know you have, were even careful about, disappears. So it was with these pestles in 2014. The mortars appeared when I unpacked, but where the heck were the pestles? Found them this week cleaning up the walk-in closet in the studio. As questions go, a small one, but now it's got an answer, which is more than I can say for the larger ones.


      My brother and nephew visited this week, which was very fun, and one of our downtown stops on a notably frigid day was Independence Hall. Growing up here, this is stuff I took for granted, it was for tourists. But it felt sort of different this time.


      Got the two small Hay Wain studies mounted this week, I like them better than last week, and of course it's always better to see them flat, but there's something I'd love to get at with this painting that isn't in either one of them, so there may be yet another one, or some fiddling with these later on.

december 31

      Waxing moon, cold here, a little snow yesterday, a second round of mini-winter. End of the year, still sort of becalmed, a few people wrote saying that this is an official cosmic lull before a large change in the beginning of 2018. Unfortunately, I'm old enough to have been hearing predictions about things getting dramatically more enlightened for several decades. I don't feel cynical, just that the process can only move as fast as the unconscious of humanity can agree to. And this is a pretty broad spectrum. Still, everyone seems to really be looking forward to 2018! Did do a few medium tests, example below, it feels like this year's system is now pretty complete, just needs more experience. For me the message of 2017 was to focus on what I can do, and trust that, just as my process has taken me where I need to go, there's a larger process for the country that's operating the same way. This was actually pretty hard, but it's slowly generated more of a sense of perspective. Thanks to everyone for visiting, and best wishes for a creative and unified 2018.


      A long time ago, Daniel Graves shared an idea with me that I didn't quite get at first. The idea was to take an autoxidized hand-refined oil, and heat it gently. The oil foams at around 100C, and once the foaming stops, it's done. The oil inevitably gets darker from this procedure, but -- as we all know, but have difficulty believing -- unless you actually burn the oil, the wet colour is fugitive, what matters is the colour after it dries. What you get moves better, but still has a certain resilience. It doesn't level like stand oil, but doesn't have the tightness or grab of the original autoxidized oil. So, this is a photo of some thick Oilo d'Graves, made from the SRO linseed oil. After I heated it, I let it sit with cheesecloth on the top of the jar for a few months, and it's begun to get thicker, adding a little more pull again. It has a really nice balance of grab and glide now, would be ideal for a thin finishing couch on a panel, rubbed on with fingertips. If this oil were tested by the most sophisticated equipment on the planet, it would read as linseed oil, nothing more. So, this is where even technical art history can be a little misleading: if they say the medium is linseed oil, there might be a little more to it than that.


      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?

For further information on technique or a specific painting please contact tadspurgeon@gmail.com
copyright © 2002-2018 by Tad Spurgeon. All rights reserved.
web site design by Axis Web Design.