Tad Spurgeon oil paintings


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A Sunday look at process and work in progress.

july 16

      Third week of the moon, uniformly hot, one unusually gross day that was like walking into a wet mattress, but otherwise manageable. The cold herb tea situation has been evolving, I'm now putting a tablespoon or two each of hibiscus flowers and rose hips into a pint of water overnight. This is full of anti-oxidants and quite cooling, also gets a nice body on the second day if there's any left: I still notice the heat, but don't feel as burdened by it. Lots of energy in the heat, the key is to focus it. Had a decent few days putting layers on recent starts, then tried a few new things as well but, as usual during the waning moon, new turned out less definitively than on the waxing moon. So, I'll be more realistic about what can and can't happen in the week to come: last week of the moon, it's often not that much. I'm hoping to continue to corral the process somewhat, trick it into producing product more reliably, and this means a little more discipline. I would say a lot more discipline, but that doesn't work either. Photos this week in really bright light, pretty good colour overall, but some soft overall glare as well.


      Finally got another version of the text of Living Craft off to the printer. I'm hoping this is the end of the line, the first officially finished version, complete with the blessed index. The index is generated by the program, but, like so many things high tech, there turned out to be some glitches, and certain types of things had to be searched and entered by hand. In a situation where there is, by definition, always more, it's been hard for me to call the book complete. All things being equal, I'd be happy to add to it indefinitely, it's just sort of interesting. But, the culture really doesn't work that way, and everything that has gone into this version also began to change my mind. The index has been especially problematic, not so much to make as to accept. People have started to ask for it, but I really don't want the book used as a reference manual, this is how I used Wehlte for years, and it made it easy to miss many things that were quite important. Lots of trees, but no forest. Oh well, people would only be insulted if the author told them to read the book.


      Some of this came into my life this week via a painter I've written with for many years now. In theory it came from Eco House in Canada a few years ago, but they haven't responded to my email so I'm still not sure. This oil is really interesting, probably the best commercial pre-polymerized oil I've ever seen, which, given the recent dramatic uptick in quality from the Kremer stand oil, is saying something. But, it's not glutinous like stand oil, it's more like burnt plate oil, but also quite dense and sticky. Anyway, this may be a snipe hunt but if anyone knows anything about this stuff, I'd be very happy to hear from you.


      Tried a new approach to the soft resin and beeswax putty this week, instead of melting the ingredients into the oil, added them with minimal solvent. This produced a slightly different quality, I kept it loose because the tube of medium I've been working with recently is pretty tight. This version, of course, turned out to be too loose, but the two of them work nicely together.


      The second layer is often kind of equivocal, but this one cleaned up nicely. I'd like to do a little more, want to push the sky back somewhat, bring up the foreground light a little. One more layer? Maybe two. About 8.5x14.5 inches, oil on gessoed paper over panel.


      This one was a little more resistant, a relatively specific time of day and year, but not bad for this stage. About 8.5x14.5 inches, oil on gessoed paper.


      Second layer on this start from last week, it was fun to clean it up over what seemed like the right kind of first layer, lots of indications but no detail. There was nothing more challenging for me than May in Vermont, so this one is fun. About 8.5x14.5 inches, oil on gessoed paper on panel.


      A new start that got a little intense in the heat, I knew it was weird I just didn't know how it got that way. But it worked out as a beginning, complete in it's own way. A favorite location on the Lemon Fair, near Shoreham in Vermont. Will mount this on a panel, brighten it up in the second layer. About 9x14 inches, oil on gessoed paper.


      New beginning that worked out in an interesting way, I used to work like this outside on an absorbent ground, so it was like visiting an old friend. Not done but returning to an absorbent ground might be an interesting way to start some work for more density and atmosphere. About 8x11 inches, oil on gessoed panel.


      Ended here, layer four on this peony, more to go but it was good to come to grips with the next step with this one. This is where a little discipline goes a long way: don't just put paint on it, figure out what will make it better. I tend to make things too warm, so going to this cooler place was a good development. As much as is written about colour, on the palette it all comes down to a set of proportions of red, yellow, and blue. About 13x15 inches, oil on gessoed linen over panel.

july 9

      Waxing moon, full moon today, a uniformly warm week in which the cat gave up on the afternoons and slept inside, going out again in the evening. Minimal holiday mayhem, but a lot of "other" had to happen besides the work, and it all just zoomed by. Did some watercolours with some younger visitors yesterday, we made some paint first, this was fun and nostalgic in several ways. We somehow got into the splatter technique -- I'm not exactly the best person at curbing paint enthusiasm -- and it is truly amazing how far some of that paint traveled. Took a walk yesterday evening as the humidity cleared out, sunny day today. Would love to figure out a way to enjoy summer, rather than dreading the next onslaught of the humid heat. One of those accept what is, look for the full part, rather than the empty part situations that seem to crop up more and more, haha. Have been trying all kinds of things to stay cool, a lot of this seems to have to do with diet, staying away from things that heat, and accentuating things that cool, more of a traditional Asian than Western concept, but becoming more widely known. A very nice cooler is cold hibiscus tea, two tablespoons of the flowers overnight in a pint of water in the fridge, it can go a second day as well, gets a little more of that pomegranate dry aftertaste.


      I knew I had this somewhere, it finally surfaced again in the move between computers. Photo from the Champlain Valley Fair outside Burlington, Vermont, late 90s. More or less a rhetorical question at this point.


      Have been working on a cold wax medium for pigment for a wood sculptor in California, a little different project but I'm getting closer. This is the first version, which dried a little more solidly than I thought it would.


      In spite of a lot of hope and some artful dodges, had to take the book apart again and redo both the pagination in the table of contents and the index. The index is a little bit of a pain because the program's search doesn't really come up with everything, especially a word that has an accented vowel, and I keep realizing terms that should be in there and have to add them by hand as well. Still, it isn't painful if I do it in increments, and seems to make a better book as I always discover some little thing that's off somewhere and there's always further editing that can be done. Sometimes pages end up with an extra line or two of space, this allows something to be amplified, or fleshed out again if it had been truncated before. So, had wanted to be done by tomorrow but am going to give it another week in the hope of getting it totally finished at long last. The most important thing is to discover those sneaky hidden formatting leftovers that can cause the font rendering errors that make sections of the text print in Klingon. I think I finally understand what causes these, there is always some kind of trigger, and it is always in a section of the page that doesn't have any text. So, it's sort of like looking for an invisible needle in a haystack, but the places to look are becoming more obvious. Further impetus to be the tortoise, not the hare.


      Continued the series of smaller new landscapes, got one layer on this one, late May, a time of year that was always happy outside but always a challenge to paint. But I think this is in a good place for layer two. 8.5x14.5 inches, oil on gessoed paper.


      Second new one of the week, early summer in the same location, early morning and a more colourful approach. Not quite done but got closer to puzzling out the finish, also an image that might make a nicer large one. More to go, will mount all of these recent beginnings on panels before continuing. Did gesso some paper this week and fold it into a slightly larger size, changing these from about 14 to 17 inches across will be a nice shift in scale for the next set. 8.5x14.5 inches, oil on gessoed paper.

july 2

       First week of the moon, lots of new energy but not the most in control, always interesting to realize it's easiest to just let the new thing happen, try to figure it all out later. A uniformly hot week, a few days with lower humidity and a breeze that were pretty nice. Trying to stay moderate in the heat, back off when I begin to get crabby, there seems to be an unusual amount of anger available right now, an open invitation within the culture, each time I think we've reached some kind of peak it goes further. Continued to work on finishing the book, some odd things happened with the new version of the program on the new computer, produced a few grouchy moments, always fun to curse the program unto a thousand generations, but so much more productive to read the manual. The text is very close at this point, may be able to upload a new version for a proof in the week to come. Of the last three proofs, two have been error free, so there is hope. But have realized that the only way to survive this is to stop editing the text of each proof, adding new material, because this involves dialing in potential new miniscule formatting errors that will only show up in the next proof when a section of text suddenly renders in Klingon. So, discipline, finish it. Started three new painting this week, am getting another level of a landscape approach that I always liked, but am not sure I'll be able to do it in one layer anytime soon. They're a little small, but I realized I can make a 22x30 sheet of gessoed paper into three slightly bigger pieces, rather than folding it into quarters. I mean, I knew that, but never actually did the math precisely. So, I want to get the scale up just a little, but otherwise this group seems to be a step forward for this type of work. It's interesting that, after about a decade and a half of learning and exploring process in both the work and the book, the exigencies of product are becoming more inevitable once again. I'd really rather stay with the process, my best friend, but, while process teaches something that product doesn't, the reverse is also true. The pendulum swings the other way of its own accord, best to move with it, follow where it leads.


      One of the things that I had to realize in writing the book was that not that many people were going to get involved with making their own paint, the culture makes it seem too hard. Which is too bad, I mean, there's a learning curve, but, hard? No. Anyway, this meant that I had to make sure that the formulas worked for commercial paint as well, so I've been using commercial paint to make the work for a while now. As with a lot of these situations, there are pluses and minuses to each approach, a small book of its own could be written about handmade versus commercial paint. But, when I realized that, because the book was at least close to done, I might as well start making paint again, there seemed to be a lot of energy waiting there. Nickel titanium yellow pictured here, a quality version on the left, an economy version on the right. The economy version is not a total loss, it can be used with a really bright yellow like permanent yellow medium to make a colour like Turner's yellow. Even the quality version is not as nice a colour as the Blockx version of this pigment, but it's pretty close.


      Used the quality version straight for this paint. Nickel titanium is one of the few pigments that gets lighter in oil, not darker. I made this with a mixture of aged and slightly pre-polymerized oils, so there is no new, raw oil, or anything else besides pigment and oil, in this paint. It's on the soft side, but quite articulate, and took a tremendous amount of pigment to even get this far. Made a few other colours as well, including an old favorite, the zirconium silicate yellow. This is only available as pigment I think, possibly because it dries quickly in the tube, a warmer, darker lemon yellow, moderate tinting strength, very nice colour for natural chroma landscape.


      First new one this week, this was made with relatively dense paint that really stayed put but required some fiddling to blend it. I was a little bugged by this, possibly a better paint for a later layer, but with the heat it turned out to be the better paint of the week, temperature sensitivity is the single issue with using wax. A favorite place in Vermont, a favorite time, early September, a stylistic midpoint between the 19th century outdoor studies and Impressionism that has always intrigued me. I had wanted to complete this, but when there's a difference in the way the paint behaves, that sometimes isn't possible. But, pretty far along for the first layer, psychologically, if not physically, complete, and I ended up liking the look this chunkier, more articulate paint best of the three starts. I'll mount this on a panel before continuing. 8.5x14 inches, oil on gessoed paper.


      Another version of the same spot, later in the evening, later in the year, last light, always interesting. Made the paint more mobile for this one, in some ways that worked better, in others it didn't. Had to accept not finishing this early on, but was able to get further than I thought at first in suggesting the next layer. I like the balance of moodiness and hope in the feeling. 8.5x14 inches, oil on gessoed paper.


      Third new one this week, I was getting a little weary with the uniform heat but wanted to try another beginning with the more mobile paint. Late summer rain shower clearing off, the least complete, didn't get as far with either the colour or the form. But, did get further than ever before with this type of image in terms of finding the native colour field, so am looking forward to what might happen with the next layer on this one. I'm encouraging the process to get more involved with product, but, well, the process is a lot like the cat: she knows more than I do, is not saying too much about it, could care less about my paltry agenda, but will lead me to learning more about what's really going on if I let her know I'm in fact willing to pay attention. 8.5x14 inches, oil on gessoed paper.

june 25

      The official beginning of summer. Some intense rain, heat, and humidity from the tail end of a tropical storm that came north in the last few days, but over now, whew. Last week of the moon, got a lot done all things considered, new moon a few days ago, a pretty gentile one so far. Spent a lot of time trying to puzzle out some technical issues with the text for the book. When the text misprints, it seems to be triggered by a leftover piece of formatting, not in the text itself, but on a blank line or an indent. I had also always made the final PDF from three PDFs, in order to have blank pages first, then pages with roman numerals, then pages with arabic numerals. But this meant multiple instance of the fonts in the final PDF, which I thought might be a good idea to remove. So, this week I got into making it into one file. I had to read the instructions, always humiliating, and of course it didn't really work out any of the ways they said it would, but it does have its own logic, and, after a week of trying different variations, I've almost got it, now just have to figure out how to get rid of a zero on a page that needs to be blank, don't ask me how that happened when pages always start at one. Got involved a little with demon caffeine in the heat, but even after a week this is clearly just not going to work, makes me too impatient and crabby at this point even in small amounts. I've also noticed that I see more without caffeine, because I'm not in that organically hurried frame of reference. The hurry creates a sense of accomplishment, but I'm not sure that, in my case, it isn't just more activity for its own sake. Without caffeine, it's much easier to be patient with complex natural patterns like those in a flower. So, a natural solution there if I can only stick with it.


      This is one that worked out well enough years ago that I stopped working on it for a while. Put a layer on it last week, but that made me realize there was more work to do still than I had thought. Which always means that I've learned more, so that feels good. Ground this back with oil and very fine sandpaper before starting again. I'd always done the most work on the flowers, and they were the closest, but they could also be a little more subtle, so I ground them back too. The background is a little cool, but it had been warm and one thing I've learned is to alternate temperatures in this type of situation with each layer. The jar was an issue, but that's getting better. The table is still not okay, both the colour, and the way the line falls off to the right. I literally do not see this in the painting itself! So, may just do a layer that focuses on those things next, to unify it.


      This watermelon suffered the combined temptation of a strong composition and a good first few layers, but it seemed a little too pop at that point. This is always intangible, but I felt there was more, so, somewhere there had to be. I think I really wanted it to feel like summer, and the watermelon to really feel wet. Anyway, just a little more to go, but close to what I want. 12x16 inches, oil on gessoed linen over panel.


      A place in Vermont I always enjoyed, fog in May, this was always interesting to work with. There are several versions of this, this was the worst, but a while back I felt like resurrecting it and now it's not that bad anymore, more to go but on the playing field again. About 11x14 inches, oil on gessoed linen over panel.


      The same place, a little further down the road, a few years later, fog lifting on a morning in early September, one of the best times there for me. Have long ago lost track of how many time I've worked on this, but I'd made a version of it that worked at one level, and wanted to fins the next level. I guess this is about the interplay between the local colour and the atmosphere, but it's also about things that are painted broadly, versus things that are more specific. Ground it back lightly this time, after a certain point it's the only option, then saw a few new things. The best it's been, but I'd like to take it a little further. At a certain point, these seem to need a juicier paint in order to be finished. If the juicy paint comes in too soon, it produces a sort of false finish, that swoosh uber alles thing that we have all perhaps seen a little too much of. That's because it works, but it needs to be used in moderation, otherwise the swoosh takes over like some brilliantined ham in a toupee and corset. About 10x14 inches, oil on gessoed paper over panel.


      Started this one this week, smaller version of something I did in the two foot scale that has turned out well except for the colour, which has gone around in circles. So, in this one, I wanted to get the colour first, then use that to finish the larger one. About 13x15 inches, oil on gessoed linen over panel.


      Small start in watercolour, did this at the end of the old moon and it has a definite lack of oomph, some of these have had a much nicer quality. But it's all there, a more rigorous pattern to work with on this ground than I can get with just red chalk, and that's what matters at this stage. Will hopefully get the kind of energy to put an extended alla prima layer on it in the next day or so, without the assistance of my old frenemy, caffeine. 12x14 inches, watercolour, so far, on gessoed linen over panel.

june 18

      Third week of the moon, a few nice days but now back to the famous humidity. A lot of rain predicted this week that was delayed, but as I took a walk yesterday afternoon in some really dense air, it finally started to really rain, got soaked but it was fun. My life inside can get pretty complicated sometimes, between the book and the work a lot of different things to figure out and juggle. Am feeling a lot more appreciation for basic outside, physical experience like that. Got the new computer together, it's getting more familiar but not as much was transferred from the old one as I thought. Still, no disasters, and it works a lot better overall which is the main thing. Am working on paintings for a few people, this is always fun as long as there isn't a hard deadline. Had a setback with the book, but also made a decision about a new direction, see below. Am working to find the positive aspect of all changes, something from Marcus Aurelius that shows up a lot in contemporary spirituality as well. It's all good? Often not the easiest thing to fathom. Have been considering the ways my interest in understanding things is also a bug, not just a feature. There's some sense of an answer, but it only leads to another question. So, while each problem needs a solution, the fact of solution doesn't matter that much because it always leads to a new problem. This suggests the larger purpose is not some kind of comprehension, but accumulated experience with solving issues that are progressively insoluble. The only way to function in these circumstances is in the present, where the current problem, and its solution, always reside. What this means is that patience with existing circumstances needs to be balanced by a willingness to take action to create new ones. I've learned to do this with regard to the craft, but want to begin putting it into action in other areas of life as well.


      Haven't been able to get to the arboretum that much lately, it's only a few miles away, but I guess distance is relative to how much is going on where you are. The highlight this time was this magnolia tree, these blossoms are about a foot across and have the most amazing way of softly reflecting the light.


      Have been waiting for a proof of the paperback for about a month now. I thought I had figured out what was causing the font rendering issues and fixed the problem, and I had for two proofs, but I also keep editing the text and this one featured another set of creative printing errors in spite of all the clean up I've done to the formatting. Though this proof was long overdue, I told myself, not for the first time in the last six years, I'd give the bindery one more chance. With this paperback edition they'd gotten the colour on the cover really well, but, between all the delays and the return of the formatting issues, this is it, hasta la vista, it's become a matter of self respect to say no more. There is probably some sort of basic miscommunication between their highly sophisticated equipment and my less than highly sophisticated equipment. But, in the final analysis, a PDF is a PDF, it shouldn't be this hard. So, I need to work with a smaller company that is not in such a hurry, a situation in which customer service still exists, where professionalism is not defined as a wall of silence. When things have gone wrong, the bindery has nothing, I mean, nothing, to say to me about why, not even here's a website that explains this stuff. And maybe it's all so arcane that there isn't any explanation. But, there aren't a lot of binderies, they were the devil I knew, and so I stuck with it. Anyway, the paperback will be delayed yet again while I find a more humane organization to work with. Funny how this issue has come up again and again in various ways: just move on! It's always refreshing to realize that carrying that sack full of rocks around is actually optional.


      I keep cleaning up, forget how therapeutic it can be in the rush to get the next thing done. That's an awful lot of empty white space for a painting studio!


      The beach at Stone Harbor last September, still hot and humid, more people around than I thought there would be, a Bedouin encampment look that was fascinating. References to lots of my outdoor favorites, did this last week but couldn't get a decent photo of it. Looking into the afternoon sun, a lot of haze, I was happy to get this far in one layer. Did a lot of landscaping, moved the most foreground figure on the right from the left, left out a lot of figure jumble on the left. The medium allowed a lot of adjustment, but things also ended up a little murky as a result. Will mount this on a panel and grind it back slightly for the next layer. The second layer tends to go nowhere, sigh, but maybe putting a thin couch on it before beginning would help. 10x15 inches, oil on Arches Huile.


      Something older where the peonies turned out unusually well, I've been avoiding finishing it for a while, but I looked at it this week and saw how to move it forward, it didn't seem like a big deal anymore. Waiting until you know, the ultimate luxury. Detail here, added a little more chroma and saturation overall but it took such a bad photo I can't bear to show it. The remaining issues of noteare all in the rest of the painting, this photo showed me the way the vase and the table line are really out of alignment. A few more layers might do this. At one point I sort of dreaded this, more work, but I've learned that, if it begins to feel like work, I'm doing something wrong. Whole painting is about 15x16 inches, oil on gessoed canvas over panel.


      More recent start, this had become a little bright and cool in the blue department, more to go, but closer to what I'd like now. About 11x14 inches, oil on gessoed linen over canvas.


      Have been having fun fiddling around with this watermelon, recent start but the panel had too much linen texture for the subject, so it had to get more paint. Made it warmer and more summery feeling this time, getting closer to done. 12x16 inches, oil on gessoed linen over panel.


      One new beginning this week, a smaller version of something I did this winter in the two foot scale. Started this on a really hot day, did a watercolour underpainting but then just spontaneously put some pretty bold and blocky colour on it. Second layer here, mostly involved in mapping the flower accurately, more curves, less angles. Still a little nutty but in a decent place all things considered. That weird energy of summer, look out. About 13x15 inches, oil on gessoed linen over panel.

june 11

      Week of the full moon, one of those weeks of juggling feathers and bowling balls, funny how only the bowling balls seem to be an issue. Continued to clean up, this is getting to be more fun as things fall into place in a new way. Was in the middle of getting a lot done in the work in spite of the overcast when my hard drive began to make another level of occasional noise and I decided that, after eight years, it would be better to be safe than sorry. Got the new computer fine, but had an issue with the monitor needing an adapter that I couldn't get locally, should have done a little more research or talked to someone, the technology has changed a lot, duh. Spent Friday on this, decided to stop around dusk, it just wasn't going to happen. So, everything's backed up, will have the adapter on Tuesday. Fun with technology! Still don't have the final proof for the paperback, hard to be patient as they said I'd have it two weeks ago. But patience is the only option right now, several levels of that, focusing on staying balanced as a lot of imbalance comes to the surface and works itself out. A couple of gorgeous sunny and breezy days to end the week, but some reasonable heat coming next week, will be putting the AC in tomorrow morning.


      For a while I underpainted in tempera, then I tried watercolour and got interested in this as a way to draw things in a little more accurately on a gessoed linen panel. Then it became interesting to put a little colour in the underpainting, then a little more. Then I realized that I had all kinds of pigments that might be really interesting in watercolour, which brings us to this week. This is pretty simple, a solution of one part gum arabic in two parts water, a little glycerin to keep the pan a little moist, and the pigment. There's a nice zirconium blue out now, a little cooler than cerulean, but it dried very quickly in the tube in oil, so I'm trying it here. Also a very nice cobalt blue light, in the process of being made. I made about seven or eight pans, not hard to do, wore a mask for the toxic colours like cobalt.


      A while back I received a very nice tube of old vermilion, one of those rare gifts that is actually a rare gift. The nice thing about vermilion is how strong it is, a little goes a long way, and this one is quite bright, an old pigment that was found lying around in a warehouse in Brooklyn about forty years ago. So, I've been using this tube of paint for years, but it was getting a little dense, so I decided to cut it open, add a little poppy oil to slow it down, then retube it.


      Layer two on this image of olive trees on a hillside in the Mugello region of Tuscany, somewhat richer paint this time, the next time will be richer paint still, move away from realism a little more. About 14.75x24 inches, oil on gessoed linen over panel.


      A watercolour underpainting on absorbent gesso. In the past I've put it all in, including the background areas, but I wondered what it would be like to use the watercolour more as a drawing material, get at the essence of the forms but with the motion that's possible with paint. Built up in several washes, this is not exactly a forgiving technique, but that's the idea, to get more specificity from the beginning.


      As far as I got this week, two days of work on it. I'd planned on something more rococo, but there was only one panel that was the right dimension and it turned out the gesso was not very absorbent. So, the first layer on this was a learning experience, a lot of addition at first, then a lot of subtraction. But this set up the second day pretty nicely, I like the sense of the object being present in space. Several ways this could go the next time, want to clean it up on the one hand, but leave some of that sense of motion within the paint. About 12x14 inches, oil on gessoed linen over panel.

june 4

      The recent period of clouds and rain finally gave way this week to a series of pretty perfect days. Warm sun, a little breeze, cool nights. Late Spring is usually pretty high energy, but, between the weather and, to put it mildly, a sense of profound instability in the government, May was sort of off this year. On the other hand, some things happened that I really liked, so it could be that my perception of it all is changing. Considering more means acting less, but it also means that the action is, well, more considered, less prone to errors of enthusiasm. This may be due to a growing organic sense that my time with paint is, in fact, limited, that finishing things becomes less optional every day. Waxing moon, the work had a pretty good week, it's going somewhere slightly new but where it's going makes sense in terms of the fusion of paint and rendition I've always wanted. I tried to balance getting things done with a pretty major overhaul of the studio but in the end the studio clean-up won, with more in it over time, it just needed to be organized in a better way. It's always good to know where everything is, especially those things that I put in special places and then promptly forgot. I'm less and less interested in keeping track of the recent past, which seemed, for a long time, to be the key to the examined life. I can still retrieve it, but it's just not readily available the way it used to be, and, perhaps more importantly, it doesn't seem important anymore. It's fine to be doing what wants to happen in the present, which is the result of what came before it anyway. Had a small adventure this week that illustrated an aspect of this. Recently took the car in to have brakes and tires done, small local garage with a lot of personality, and it was really nice to have new tires on the cobblestones and old trolley tracks of Germantown Avenue. Went out to do errands on Friday, and soon realized that something was wrong with one of the rear tires, really wrong. I thought, they're brand new, from Japan no less, what could have happened? Went to the nearest gas station to get air, it turned out that both the rear tires were almost flat. What? So, I filled them, then did my errands, taking a book to the post office and getting food for the cat, neither of which could be postponed. When I got home I called the garage, and they said to come right in. They put it up on the lift, and it turned out that there was a sheet rock screw in each of the rear tires. So, after some jokes about whether I'd been through a construction site or someone was mad at me, they plugged the leaks, very cool procedure, pumped the tires up fully, and I went home. So, random vandalism in the middle of the night, varieties of which sometimes happen in this neighborhood. And some part of me seemed to think I should be mad, but, as I looked at it, the experience was more fun than anything else, a relatively urgent problem to solve out of nowhere, always energizing. We all had fun at the garage, and they only charged me for plugging one tire. I thought, Why not just let it go? And that was easy to do, going downstream, the path of least resistance. So, I want to keep this in mind the next time I think something is going wrong. Just take action to fix it the best I can, and move on. And if I can't take action, maybe it's not that wrong, or it's not really my problem.


      Only got out to the park once this week, but it was on a lovely afternoon, warm sun and cool shade, an increasing sense of the vaulting tree canopy as a sanctuary as the season progresses.


      Started this peony last week, got two more layers on it this week. It's pretty well mapped out now, but still in pieces, not that cohesive or organic looking. Will use a juicier medium for that, similar to the rainbow carnations study of last week. This is sort of the hard part, I can keep going with exploring a form like this ad infinitum, but at a certain point it has to change from rendition into art. 8x13 inches, oil on gessoed linen over panel.


      Began one new painting this week, had made the panel for this some time ago, after doing a smaller version that I liked last year. It's interesting to approach an image for the second time, see what I learned from the first one. More to go, but I like where this is so far. About 14.75x24 inches, oil on gessoed linen over panel.


      Earlier version of this image on paper from last year. Some small things that worked out better in this one to keep in mind, especially the increased blank space at the left hand edge of the treeline, but overall I like the new one better. About 12x18 inches, oil on gessoed paper.

may 28

      A week with a lot of cooler, overcast weather and rain, now sunny and a little warmer again. Felt pretty tired the day before the new moon, nothing in the well, this used to be upsetting but I'm getting used to it. But a day or two like that also makes the new moon energy more of a relief than a shock. It definitely wanted something new, but I still haven't quite figured out how to integrate it, which is okay, the usual, having answers appear like magic would somehow not work for me. Still waiting on the paperback version of Living Craft, the bindery does a lot of work for universities in New England, fits me in when there's less going on, so sometimes it takes a while.


      First alla prima image in a while, felt like something more rococo like this would be interesting again. Most of the brighter colour work I did was abstract, I did it for years off and on, although it seems to be over at this point. I got involved in quieter colour for a long time, and learned a lot from it. But a change is as good as a rest, and recently I've been interested in working with brighter colour again, what that might mean at this point. I guess that my version of brighter colour still isn't that bright. These are carnations from the co-op, they're called rainbow carnations, which I like, and they cost 4.95 a bunch, which I also like. They also last a long time, and have that great dianthus smell. Used a goopier version of the fused damar and beeswax medium for this, and also put a thin couch on the gessoed paper. So, a couple new things, the couch especially tends to introduce an element of the unexpected if I haven't been working with it for a while. But, this was more or less territory I've visited before, so the paint's behavior was, to some extent, predictable. Some things happened that I liked: it was layerable, and held the colour and value structure pretty well given the number of layers. With a couch there's also the added plus of being able to remove paint back to the white of the ground. I tend to get kind of fussy about asking for more, but I think the best thing to do is let this one be finished, and ask for more in the next one. I tried to improve on the method the next day by reversing some of the medium proportions, but this approach turned out to be better. About 8x13 inches, oil on gessoed paper.


      Most recent version of one of my therapy images, it had gotten too blue. A little more balanced now, but somehow not quite done. It's interesting to wait for something like this to tell me what to do next. About 11x18 inches, oil on gessoed linen over panel.


      Put a layer on the watermelon this week, it's getting close to finished in spite of everything I can think up to delay it. About 12x16 inches, oil on gessoed linen over panel.


      Had to go through the archives this week to find a study that someone wanted, also found this little figure study from a few years ago that I'd always liked. Oh yeah, that one. I used to go to a drawing group every Sunday in Middlebury with a lot of friends, there would be a long pose and it was often more fun for me to make a small painting then. About 7x8 inches, oil on gessoed paper.

may 21

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

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

may 14

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


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


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


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

may 6

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


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


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


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


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

april 30

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


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


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


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


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


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

march 23

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


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


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

april 16

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


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


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


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


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

april 9

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


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


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


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

april 2

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


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


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

march 26

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


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

march 18

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


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


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


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

march 12

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


Took a walk through the neighborhood in the wet snow.


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


Bright and still, nobody was there.


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


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

march 5

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

february 26

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


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


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


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

february 21

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

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