project: cotton sari

before we start, i just want to jot down what i’ve accomplished between completing my dolphin commission and starting my sari project.  i’ve had a whole bunch of stuff on hold ever since i started working on dolphins, right after getting back from a long residency, so really, on hold since last september.  so i’ve got a lot of bits and  pieces still in the pipeline, and a whole bunch of new things that have just fallen in my lap – and a couple of neckties too!

i finally finished a set of quilted pillow covers for my friend marlene.  this is stuff that’s been sitting on the sewing machine for months.  i didn’t bother documenting it, mostly because the camera was in the studio and i did it over such a long period.  it was strip-pieced out of two fat quarters i picked up in holland – of cats, marlene’s favorite subject.  i got another fat quarter of a completely different color scheme in decatur, and then harmonized it with a length of fabric i found in my stash.  then invented a modified box pillow structure (because i didn’t follow directions for either flat or box pillow but added the strip around the side as an afterthought).

i spent several hours cataloging and photographing my 38 new saris, several of which are wearable.  now i can go to my biggest customer (my sister) and she can pick out which of these lovely lengths of silk she wants me to make her a strip-pieced kimono out of.  and i can go to friends with offers of silk rags.

i’ve got a tunic and pants that i made and hand-dyed several years ago soaking in a brown overdye bath, waiting to go into the washing machine.  and, next morning, they’re being washed now.

so, to the project.  i’ve been getting into saris lately.  i’m tired of wearing sweatpants and a t-shirt.  i hate most clothes because they weren’t made for me, and i have an oddly shaped body that doesn’t look good in conventional clothes, and so i either slink around in shapeless black or i say fuck it and dress the way i want to.  which is basically to wrap a rag around myself.  a towel.   a robe.  it can be a colorful rag.  i’m actually quite happy wrapping myself in some of my fabrics.  i’ve been known to confiscate a nice piece of portrait linen to use as a skirt.

anyway, first i tore up a bedsheet that had seen its last use, and dyed it a nice green/blue/purple, tore it into 2-yard lengths, and started learning how to wrap sarongs, or kangas.  skirts and tops, endlessly.  then i went to the indian part of town and got myself a 4-yard dhoti, dyed that basically the same way, and started learning how to wrap pants on myself the indian way.

i bought a couple of saris from someone who goes to india and brings them back to sell.  they were my xmas present to me.  and i practiced with my book and my mirror every day.  i don’t usually stand in front of mirrors; sweatpants don’t take that much fuss.  but if you’re trying to put on a sari from minimal directions then a mirror is essential.

as it got warmer, i started changing out of my sari right after the dog walk.  i wasn’t draping it too well in the beginning, and it would trip me up, or fall right apart while i was out in the neighborhood.  and it was a big deal not catching my foot in my pants hem and tripping myself going up stairs.  but i’ve been wearing lengths of cloth around my body for almost four months now, and don’t often wear anything else.  mostly, since it’s hot, i wear my kanga/sarong length cloths, one as a shirt, one as a skirt, and i’m folding the skirt in half so it’s short.  in the evenings and morning i change into a sari, using the book, and move uncomfortably while adjusting it constantly.

but i’m getting the hang of it.  i can put on a 4-yard dhoti as a pair of pants in no time flat, and can do it several ways.  and if i put on pants using a 6-yard sari, then i can usually figure out what to do with the two yards at the end.

i’m still flummoxed by most styles of wearing the sari, however.  it looks great on the model and in the drawing, but on me it looks like a badly wrapped package.  but as i’m getting used to it, each different style of wrapping 6 yards of cloth is beginning to make more sense.

which is good, because i’ve just invested in 10 kg of used silk saris, and some of them are actually wearable.

after all, if you look at it, you can knot any corner against any other, so that’s 8 ways to tie it, plus all sorts of ways to knot the middle parts together.  it all makes sense, but it takes time to figure out just how.  i’ll just keep putting on lengths of cloth in front of mirrors, and i’ll eventually stop looking like a dork.

jim drew me one of his wonderful dragons, 6 yards long.  he used charcoal.  i had ordered six yards of muslin, prewashed it, and soaked the whole length in a soda ash solution (1 cup per gallon).  then when that dried, i stretched it using spring clips.  it was way wrinkled, so i spritzed it with water and let it dry under the fans.  the stretcher is 48″x 45″, so it only takes a little more than a yard at a time.  that was a big consideration.  it meant a lot of thinking about how i was going to do this.

i’ve done silk pieces of a size before.  i did a 3 yard veil for my friend asha.  but i haven’t worked on cotton in any size except a test strip.  so all that follows is first of all guesswork and only secondarily experience and knowledge of my materials.

i frankly don’t know what i’m doing with this method of dyeing.  i’m familiar with silk dyeing, have been doing it for ten years, and still make loads of mistakes, still have colors completely wash out on me.  but on cotton, and doing direct application on cotton, and using the soda soak method – permeating the fabric with soda ash instead of putting the soda ash into the dye liquid, which shortens the life of the dyes, and i don’t paint quickly so that’s not going to work for me.  if i put the ash into the fabric, then i can let it sit for however long i need to until i’m finished with my project.  which was several weeks.  if i’d set silk there for several weeks with soda ash all over it, the silk would fall apart when i picked it up.  cotton reacts differently, but nobody could tell me how long i could keep cotton and caustic soda together before it ate thru the fabric.  so this is partially an experiment to see how well the cotton lasts.  it was maybe three weeks sitting on a shelf after having been soaked in soda ash and not rinsed.  so we’ll see.

my big issue with 28 feet of fabric is dyeing the background.  since it has to be dyed in pieces, i’m going to be having edges at the edge of every day’s progress.  and the color of the dyes changes from day to day, as well as the thickness and the impurities, and maybe even the water itself ages who knows.

the way i understand this direct method of painting is that you’re supposed to paint it and then keep it damp until the chemical reaction sets the dye.  this is like from an hour to a day of keeping the fabric damp.  but with painting over a square yard at a time, in an open room, in the middle of summer, with the overhead fan on, is that the damned thing dries as you’re painting it.  so my plan was to paint it, let it dry, and then at the end of every day’s work, get it damp, roll it up in plastic, and let it cure until the next morning.

why i didn’t realize i could wait until the end and then do the batching, i don’t know.  possibly because it would take 6 yards of plastic bags to do it that way, and the way i did it only took 4 bags.  it was a real pain in the ass batching one section of a continuous length of fabric at a time, tho.  the edges bled right out into the following day’s workspace, the yellow travelling fastest.

according to this method of dyeing, soda soaking followed by direct application, according to the way soda ash and procion dyes supposedly react, the moment the dye touches the ash, it becomes bonded to the fabric, and when there’s no more soda ash to bond, then the dye ceases to stick to the fabric and will wash off as excess dye.

but i wasn’t seeing it when i spritzed my work at the end of the day, right before rolling it into the plastic bags.  it ran like anything when the water got on it.  but maybe it didn’t.  maybe it was just excess dye running off, not going to stick to anything because the bonding had already happened.  maybe i needn’t have batched anything, because maybe the very laying down of dye over the fabric and soda ash was enough to bond it.  if that was the case, then i wouldn’t be able to do the kind of blending and bleeding i was looking forward to.  oh, it would run all right, but it would wash right out of the finished product.  maybe.  so here was another experiment.  how well does the dye go on and how well can it be moved, when does it set, and how much difference does it make when i set it.

this sari-length (about three inches, goes the punchline) cotton fabric is just the first part of this project.  when i’m done with the six-yard dragon, i’m going to take the other six yards i bought of a slightly narrower muslin, cut it into a four-yard length and a two-yard length, and make two more dragons.  i’ll apply what i’ve learned doing the large dragon to the middle one (like not batching it until the end), and then apply what i learn from that to the small one, and that one will turn out just right.  and my sister will get the small one.  as a sarong.  she’d be intimidated by a sari, but she’ll love the sarong.

so.  back to the project.

i made up a batch of sodium alginate into a water-based resist, and put that into a squeeze bottle, and then put a mess of karo syrup into another squeeze bottle.  then i went over jim’s drawing with a bead of sodium alginate.  of the two, it’s the stronger resist.  i use the syrup because it dissolves fast.  it goes gummy and travels when it gets wet, and makes great runs of one dye into another.  i use the syrup to draw the scales and the crest.  and i used syrup on the border, where i made lines for three stripes of color.

this is all the stuff i worked with.  i’ll run off the list.  from left to right in the back, the spritz bottle of water, the karo syrup in a squeeze bottle, a baggie of urea, a corroded mason jar of soda ash, a bottle with sodium alginate powder in it, a cup measure with a teal lid holding the batch of sodium alginate i mixed up using this recipe, then another squeeze bottle with sodium alginate in it.

on the front row is a jar with urea water, for thinning the dyes, then the bottles of dye powder in back and the bottles of mixed-up dye in front, then spoons and brushes and measuring instruments.  i made up the dye using one 1/8 cup scoop of dye powder into a jar, pasted up with urea water (1/8c to 1 cup hot water), and filled to about the 6 oz mark (more or less; i’m a terrible chemist).  these are all the things i need to decorate my sari.

below is the end of my first day’s painting work.  as you can see by the drops on the floor, i’ve lined the table underneath the cloth with cut-open plastic garbage bags, and have already wetted the painting to make the dyes run.  i’ve taken it off the stretchers (you can see the edge of the stretcher at the top of the picture, and the bricks it was resting on to the left).  i’ve tried to make the transition from dyed area to white area soft by brushing out the dye as i applied it, so that there won’t be a hard edge after it’s batched.  i thoroughly wetted the painted areas, until the cloth was shiny and sopping, and dripping readily off the edges.

then i rolled it up very carefully, making sure there was plenty of overlap between bag edges.  if the wet fabric is allowed to touch another piece of wet fabric, the two will bleed all over each other.  by rolling the whole thing up in plastic, i’m isolating the painting from everything else, each layer surrounded by plastic.

because i’m a lazy documentarian, you’re missing any possible view of what the first part looked like the next morning.  it was nothing like as clear as it looked on the above picture.  all that white space in the curlicues was gone, and the bleeding of the blue into the surrounding areas was horrible to behold.  the scales were muddy, the background was splotchy.  i didn’t want to  continue.

but i did.  i rolled it all away from the plastic, set it out in the morning sun to dry, and then stretched the next part of the panel.  but because i’m such a slob, you’re not going to see the process photo on the second part of the panel, either.  i forgot to take pictures.  however, on the photo below, you can see the results of the same level of wetting the next morning as happened on the first part of the panel.  see that yellow bleed?  that’s how far the yellow part of the reddish brown color travels when it’s wet.  and at the edge of that yellow line,  there’s a crust of soda ash, redried from how far the wet crawled.

there was something strange happening every now and again.  the muddy scale thing.  i guess maybe i got that part a little too wet (more than sopping isn’t enough?) and maybe the colors pooled in the plastic…

this is how it looked when i was finished for the day, and ready to wet it down and roll it up.  you can see all the colors i’ve been playing with in the egg tray to the right.

then i sprayed it, a little less than i had the prior two panels, just to see what would happen, and forgot to take a picture before i rolled it up.  but here’s a picture of the roll.  i let it sit there all night, and then rolled it out and let it air dry, and started on the next part.  it took five days of this, and on the sixth day, i did the laundry.

here’s the start of the 4th day’s work.  the tail is crossing the body here, and you can see the long straight alginate resist lines outlining the body, and the shiny scales made out of karo syrup.  as the alginate resist dries, it goes clear, and you can only feel it with a finger.  the sugar syrup dries too, but stays sticky and shiny, and you can always see it.  that’s why it’s okay not to draw in the lines you’re going to resist with sugar syrup, but you’d better follow the charcoal lines with the alginate resist, or you’re not going to know what to color in which color once the resist has dried.  i found that out, and so there are a number of resist lines that i crossed at random, and if i were being good about this experiment i would have kept better notes…

this is the end of the painting in process on the second to last piece of the panel.  it looks all smooth from a distance, but notice the extreme left side of the stretched part, where the reddish brown has a real dark edge.  a couple of edges, actually.  this marks the overlap between this day’s work and the previous day’s work.  note on the previous day’s dragon body, where the back leg is, how obscured and cloudy it is there.  and also note where the purple border at the top has run into the reddish background.

in this next shot, i’ve laid the cotton down on cut up plastic garbage bags, and sprayed it with water.  you can see how it looks wet, theres a kind of glisten on the surface.  and the running has started, where the dyes get wet and start to move across the weave of the fabric.  it’s a great process, and fun to watch, tho it’s a little like watching water come to a boil.

hmm, no picture of the dried part after it had batched all night.  so let’s move on to the final part of the panel.  you can see where i left off the day before, and you can see where the background has bled, but it’s not as bad as before because i used less water to dampen the fabric before batching.  but there’s still significant bleeding, especially in the scales, where they’re quite washed out looking.  you can see the yellow bleed of the background on the left hand top of the scales in today’s work.  you can’t see it where i’ve put reddish background, well you can but it’s subtle.

here’s a closeup.  my standard scale treatment is a line of red at the outer edge near the the resist, with a line of yellow next to it, and a dot of blue at the small end.  it’s a shorthand i use to represent scales, and it’s supposed to run all together and make a rainbow in every scale.  on this cotton, at this large size of scale, i’m finding that there’s a lot of white space, and the colors aren’t running like i want them to do.  it seems the blue just bleeds all away, and does stranger things than the other colors.  because i like to strip my processes to the basics, i only use the four primary colors – yellow, magenta, cyan and black, and mix up any color i want using these four colors.  and so that’s my shortcut for the scales, just more of the same and let the water mix it.

here are three plastic garbage bags, split on both sides and unfolded across my worktable.  when i lay the fabric down over it, the plastic will hang down about 2″ lower than the fabric on both sides, so that i can properly seal the edges.  when i roll the fabric up into the plastic, each part of the fabric will be surrounded, both by the plastic it’s lying on, and the bottom of the plastic the next part of length is lying on, as it’s rolled together.  as long as there are no leaks, there’ll be no bleeding.  as long as i haven’t made it too wet, as long as i don’t roll a break in the plastic overlap into it, as long as…

here’s the fabric laid out on top of the plastic.  this is the next morning, after having batched all night in a little ball, wrapped in plastic.  you can see all the bleeding going on.  i’m pretty sure one of those large mud puddles on the scales is because there was too much water and it all bled together.  but anyway, this is a case of the blue getting out from the resist around te scales, and going nuts.  and there wasn’t that much blue.  the purple strip on the border seems to have run away with itself, too.  all in all, pretty damned ugly.  but so what.

this is just another view from above on the ladder.  the whole of the sari is piled on the floor to the left.  and it’s finished.  time to wash it out, because the whole thing has batched and it’s ready to finish in the washer.

so i dragged it to the sink in the kitchen and am running cold water over it to wash out the excess dye.  this takes forever, and uses many many gallons of water.  very wasteful.  maybe someday i’ll just use enough dye to take to the fabric, and not leave any excess to wash out.

i apologize for the blur.  my camera doesn’t like focusing on such things.  this is the sink.  i’ve gone thru the entire length of the fabric, washing out one side of it and piling it up against the far side of the sink.  now i’m turning it on its side and continuing to rinse it.  i’ve got it all neatly piled together because the border leaks the darkest blues and greens, and the body of the fabric leaks bright red, and i don’t want them mixing, so i’m laying the border all together as much as i can.

then it got washed in hot water and synthropol, or actually, the house brand that’s way stinkier but also way cheaper.  industrial strength detergent.  it got a wash and a rinse, and then i stuck it on a regular load with regular detergent and did it again, because it was still bleeding.  this is the second rinse, and you can still see colors in the water.

then i didn’t bother heating the room up running the drier, but hung it outside off the porch railing until it was dry.

this is it lying on the bedroom floor at full length.  it was still a bit stiff, so i washed it again, and this time stuck it in the drier with the rest of the load.  it’s stopped bleeding, so it’s fine to do that.  but we’re not washing any whites with the load after that, just in case.  my brother’s staying with us and doesn’t need pink socks.

so this is the result of direct dyeing on cotton muslin.  as you can see, most of the mud washed right out.  after i’d batched the front panel, for example, you couldn’t see any of the breath, it was all dark and muddy.  but that didn’t take, and washed right out.  so there’s something to be said for the idea that the dye sets the moment it touches the soda ash.  there’s a little movement of the scale colors, possibly since they didn’t get saturated when i painted them in, but only when i spritzed them and then batched them covered.  but for the most part, the colors stayed where i put them, and there’s no large-scale bleeding from the crest, or over the border lines.  and those are made of sugar syrup, and are designed to move.

this means that i can’t really use the sugar syrup running technique, the way i use it on silk.  because of the soda ash, i’ve got to fiigure out another way to do it.  but i might be able to.

what’s next:  i’ve already got the next six-yard piece lying in a bucket of soda ash and water.  this evening i’m going to take it out and dry it off on the railings of the porch, and then tomorrow i’m going to cut it into two lengths, and lay the longer one over the sari.  i’ll trace the dragon onto it, shortening it appropriately, and then i’ll stretch it and mix up some more sodium alginate, and some more dye, and begin again.  but this time i’m going to paint the whole thing, and then batch it.  that way i don’t have to worry about the background bleeding on.  i’ll have to worry about encasing 4 yards in plastic, however.  how many plastic bags do i have to waste?

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sodium alginate as a water-based resist

in recent posts (the prior two i think) i experimented to find a cheap water-based resist for silk painting. you can get little tubes or bottles of proprietary resist from the dye houses, but they’re way expensive, and i’ll be damned if i’m going to be held hostage to somebody’s formula. grrr.

so i thought about it, and looked it up, and found recipes for rice starch paste and other things that i didn’t like the look of. and i cast my eye on my little unused bag of sodium alginate. i had it because all the books said to have it. to thicken the dye. but in silk painting you want watery dyes. thick dyes are for like painting dye directly on cotton fabrics. for silk you use a resist line.

of course, this is mere tradition. you can use what you like on what you like. that’s art. the question is rather of the integrity of your materials. how long will your work last is more important than what brand of paint you used.

so i’ve developed a secret recipe for sodium alginate water-based resist that you can have FOR FREE.

that’s right, knowledge should be free.  free for all to use as best they can.

using the recipe for print paste that i probably found on paula burch’s hand-dyeing website, or mostly using the recipe, because i am constitutionally barred from following  recipes exactly, here’s a go at remembering how i did it

i only made up half a batch at a time, too, not to waste any.

1 tsp sodium alginate

generous splash of rubbing alcohol (1 tsp)

put alginate into a container with smooth sides so that you can mix thoroughly in it.  moisten with alcohol.  set aside.

1/4c hot water

1/2 teaspoon urea

pinch calgon

dissolve urea and calgon in hot water, then add to alginate/alcohol mix and stir until well blended. might as well make it in a blender, except in these amounts it would be ridiculous.

basically, this secret recipe follows this print paste recipe except double or fourple the amount of alginate, then add alcohol and calgon for various reasons et voila.

it thins with water to go on with a brush – as noflow or antifusant.

it goes into a little squeeze bottle with a tip and comes out in thin lines that resist the spread of dye.

and i save big time by making my own.

one bottle of brand name water-based resist $8.75 for 3.5 oz

one bottle of antifusant $5.48 for 8 oz

one pound of sodium alginate $20. guess how many 3.5 oz bottles you can make up with a pound of alginate measured out a teaspoon at a time.

i’m keeping some in the fridge because i forgot about it, but one of these days real soon now i’ll take it out and see if it’s still good, or has it gone runny and gloppy. it’s got alcohol in it, so maybe it’ll last awhile.

even the $9 for 3.5 oz goes bad after awhile.

so i’m crowing.

now, i’m certain i’ve just reinvented the wheel. dyers have undoubtedly known about this for donkeys’ years.

but it’s news to me.

i just hate paying for the convenience of someone making it up for me. i hate paying the 10,000% profit that somebody is making just because i don’t know how to do it myself.

that’s another kind of slavery. so here’s a way to get around buying one more little thing you need to make art.

rant – it’s all part of a conspiracy to hobble the artist. artists traditionally made it all themselves, from powdering the rocks to building the stretchers. and more and more, art stores are marketing to artists as if art is just a hobby, as if convenience was the thing, as if we were too damned busy making a living so we could afford to go to an art supply store and plunk down a couple of hundred dollars for a bunch of things we have no idea how to make.

i prefer to make them. and the knowledge i’ve gained enables me to make art out of anything. cue evil laugh.

more experimenting

that strip of linen got dyed and washed out, and lost some of the red.

then i did up some sodium alginate and made up a paint mix of purple, and overpainted paisley over the ends of the linen strip. and batched that and washed it out.

then i stretched it and made up some super-thick (4 times the recommended amount for print paste), put it into a water-based resist squeeze bottle, and put patterns on the middle of the linen strip.

then i made up a paint mix without alginate, a thin paint, and put it all around the resist lines.

by god they held. washed and all. bled like hell when i rinsed it but i saw it was well resisted.

so then i did the ultimate resist test. i got out a silk scarf and stretched it, and used the alginate as a resist, and put in a nice setting earth scene. some fine detail lines. some smeared goo, some smeared goo moistened with a wet finger.

the alginate worked very well as a resist, if the line is thick enough, which it will work with a surprisingly thin line. as for the smeared stuff, it acted just like no-flow.

so i think i’m on to something here.

because all these products are proprietary, thus secret, thus costly. costlier than it is to make them.

i’m going to continue to test this alginate resist in the following days and weeks.

i’m so happy. tapioca starch didn’t work at all. rice starch is a pain, flour starch i haven’t tried but i don’t want to steam it into my silk and then try to get it off. alginate might work marvelously. let’s see how it steams.

experimenting with dyes

i’m preparing for a residency in the west of ireland in october, see here. at the moment i’m chronicling airfares, but earlier on i have loads of considerations about what to take with me in order to make as much art as possible in 3 weeks. the lists are entertaining, to me. and i’ll pull them up when the time comes to pack and most of my work will have been done for me.

the reason i’m preparing so far ahead of time is that there are several new techniques and methods i want to explore while i’m there, and i need to learn the basics now so i won’t waste time once i’m on site.

the thing i’m doing new is to go completely back to basics, which is the same thing as saying doing it on the way cheap.

i have a weight requirement for my luggage, and i’m only bringing one bag, tho as big a one as they allow. so everything i need for three weeks of art has to fit inside it.

so i have to rethink tubed oil paints, tubed watercolors, tubed acrylics. what a lot of lead-lined tubes for the guys in security to tut-tut over.

i’m bringing pigments in little plastic containers. and i’m bringing most of my mediums and will mix them as needed. some of the media i want to bring they won’t let me. beeswax, turpentine, alcohol. i might be able to slip orange oil past them.

this is revolutionary, for me. i no longer need rely on buying something in order to paint. hell, i can paint something everlasting with a brick and some grease.

and that’s easily 20 pounds of luggage just in the tubes i’d have to bring.

why duplicate things when i can bring the raw ingredients and make my own?

thus said, i have a lot of raw ingredients where until now i had a lot of proprietary mixtures with no ingredient labels. so i’m laving to reinvent the wheel in a lot of ways.

for instance, how to make my own resist. i want a water based resist, but i don’t want one that costs $8 for 4.ounces. it sets me off; let’s not go there.

but the old traditional japanese resist is a big pain in the ass to make. so i’m looking for substitutes.

a few weeks ago i experimented with tapioca starch resist, and thankfully didn’t write any of it down for your delectation. i did, however, make a gooey mess and never did get all the tapioca out of my silk. didn’t resist worth a damn, either.

today my subject is sodium alginate. not exactly algae, but really slimy and thick. you use it to thicken your dye so that you can paint it on as if it was watercolor, and it won’t run and bleed as much as it would if it weren’t thickened. i’ve never actually used it before, because i mostly have used low-immersion scrunch dyeing. but i have a project in mind for a set of placemats that are paintings of the landscape around cill rialaig, which is the name of the place where i’ll be staying.

so i made up a batch of so-called paste, which was goopy but thinner than i can use for resist lines. i’ll have to make it twice as thick to put it in a tube and squirt out straight lines. so i mixed it with red, yellow and blue instead, and used all the chemicals – soda ash, urea, calgon, salt, alcohol, and dye powder, and used three different brushes to dip out of three different bowls, and made an abstract design on a piece of linen i’d cut off the 6-yard roll i’m taking with me to ireland.

having done that, and seeing that the fabric was sort of wet thru, i rolled it up in a plastic garbage bag and sat it out in the sun on top of the plastic trash can, where it will sizzle and steam.

it’s 80 in the house – atlanta at the end of may – so i uncovered four high-count cotton pillow cases i’d been saving, and planned to use up the rest of the dye.

i couldn’t throw away all that leftover dye, and because it had soda ash in it, i couldn’t save it, because the ash just eats away at the dye’s dyeing power. something.

so. i scrunched up all the pillow cases from one end to the other, and then folded them in half and stuck them in the corners of a plastic tub, all folded and facing the same way. i’m not very neat at this. there’s no point.

then i added more water to the yellow and poured it into the middle of the tub where all four points meet. it was very grainy at the bottom (i don’t mix very well, and i don’t use exact amounts of anything) so i made sure to put that in the very middle on the theory that it was concentrated dye that hadn’t broken up and dissolved. or else it was urea. or soda ash.

then i poured the red in around the yellow. i kind of forgot to put any extra water in to the red, but it went around twice. then i did put water into the blue, and put that around the outside.

at that point, it looked colorful, but i knew it was only mostly on the surface, and i needed to add plenty of clear water to make it spread and do wonderful color things.

so cup after cup of water from the sink (chlorine from the water plus iodine from the salt, what chemistry there is in dyeing) until the pillow cases started to float. then a grocery bag on top of the fabric, and bricks on top of that, squeeze all the air out maybe, and let it sit for 24 hours. at above 70. which it’s been for a month now.

you should see the weeding i have to do in the back yard.

on this first day of experimenting, i’m just making sure i’ve got the basics of plant dyeing. later i’ll have to figure out the formula to dye silk, another learning curve among many.

the next thing i have to do is work out whether and how i can use sodium alginate to resist dye.

this linen i’ve got? i bought it on impulse at binders years ago, when i had a day job. i thought it was on sale for $6/yard. i paid $6/square foot and gulped. but i had credit…

and it sat there. it’s always been too expensive to use for the kinds of paintings people were just going to hang on their walls and look at. something.

in the meantime i reused old canvases, and i used up a roll of raw canvas given to me by my brothers.

in the meantime, the cats slept on my roll of linen, sharpened their claws on it, got their fur deeply interwoven in the fabric.

but it’s 6 yards.

and the things i can do with six yards of canvas.

clothing.

dyed and then painted things

bases for encaustic paintings

oil paintings

pastel paintings

acrylic paintings

art quilts

placemats and napkins

just like using pigments and all the various media you can make paint with, i can use my linen as the material with which i make whatever art appeals to me at the moment.

this is artistic freedom.

Using pigments as dyes, treating canvas and paper like cloth

i was in utrecht and came across a booklet called painstiks on fabric, which is close to what i’m thinking i need to do with my paintings.

they use shiva (or markal) paintstik oil sticks on fabric, then heat set them.

the problem with this methdo of putting pigment on fabric is that there’s linseed oil – a drying oil – saturating the cloth, and over time the acids in the oil will rot the fabricand ruin the art.

i read something in one of those links above, saying that since this particular brand of paintstick is linseed oil and wax, and because the linseed oil is specially treated to be less acidic (by what process?), and because it dries on the fabric so quickly and is heatset – thus polymerized, dried, plasticized so quickly after being painted on, it has spent relatively little time being oily, and the remnant gets washed out after it’s set, and so it should be okay even tho the company hasn’t done aging tests on the effects. but it should be okay.

anyway, i haven’t tried it yet, and will, but i’m thinking oil isn’t the right binder for puting pigments on fabric. i’m thinking soda ash for cotton, and vinegar for silk. i’m thinking fiber reactive dyes.

i wish i knew the science.

see, i’ve had this idea for awhile now, and it’s been festering, teh way a painting might sit in teh back of our mind for a couple of years befoer you get around to making marks and finishing a painting.

altho i’m still thinking like a 2-dimensional painter on paper or canvas, i’m working like a fabric designer and sewing room monster.

you should see my new sheet set. wait here, i’ll go get a picture.

My year and a half of art residencies

this is a post i’d like to add to, but there doesn’t ever seem to be time, and at least it’s half done. 4/27/8. being really pissed off with doctors at the moment, with a screwed up day because of fallaciously scheduled appointments, i feel the moment is here to add some more detail to this. 2/19/9. now it’s done, enjoy.

background

in 2001 i quit my day job (graphics droid for big behemoth, inc.) and went back to being an artist. i learned all about creating the life you want. life was good.

after 9/11 our former president turned into a gunslinger. i grew disgusted with the world and asked god to take me, and i heard god say okay. it was a reverberation, a shimmer in the air. a month or two later, i found a lump, which took me a long time to come to grips with. more about that in my cancer blog.

in 2002 i was diagnosed with breast cancer, and had a lumpectomy.

in 2003 i decided i was going to die. i had a half-price art sale, sold all my things, gave up my studio loft, and became officially rootless.

i traveled the world during this ‘farewell tour’, visited all the spots i loved, said hi and bye to all my friends. for a year and a half i went from place to place, moving with all my art supplies and essential stuff, staying in art residencies both formal and casual, wrote email missives to all my friends back home, painted a whole lot of paintings, and wrote a book.

by 2004 and after two more lumpectomies, i realized i probably was going to live at least long enough to straighten out a few things. i’d seen crisis after crisis in my teenage daughter’s life and realized that my place was with her, so i brought all my stuff back to atlanta, rented a little place that leaked, and moved her out of her dad’s house and back in with me.

and started my life over again. four years later, it’s a completely different life. with a completely different me. i had a mastectomy. i learned to treat death as my best friend, and life as a continuous source of joy and happiness. i have a dedication to painting, i have a new grandbaby, i live in an artist’s paradise, i want for nothing, i love my life.

please enjoy vicariously – the missives were written on the spot and contain much more description than i am able for in this blog entry.

my year and a half of art residencies:

january 2003 – dublin

missive the first 1/29/3, barcelona, spain.

loose ends. there i was in dublin. i had pressured my friend brendan to take me in for a week at the beginning of january and at the end of february, and he did, gracefully. but perhaps not entirely willingly. he stayed at his girlfriend’s house and i stayed in his spare room, also known as his workshop. i worked on a painting of the grafton street flower market, and the courtyard of the unicorn restaurant (i think), and because his block of flats was due to be demolished, i did a painting of brendan with his rolling kiosk in front of the flats, that i gave to him as i was leaving. i think i left it in his flat and stuck the key in the mailslot as i headed out for the airport.

because it was right before fucking bush sent us into war, i was subjected to the usual hazing americans get overseas. i was supposed to be able to explain just why bush wanted to go to war to people who were quite hostile to american foreign policy just then. with good reason. i couldn’t explain, of course, just like when i was in ireland before, in the early ’80s, i couldn’t explain why reagan bombed algeria, or why he invaded panama and kidnapped the legitimate head of state. and since i was fighting cancer, i was heavily invested in magical thinking, which says that if you desire an outcome with all your heart, it will happen. so i sat there in the pub with brendan and his friends and insisted we wouldn’t go to war. and it’s a good thing i didn’t take brendan’s fifty euro bet on that. but because of that, and a few other misjudgments, like telling one of his friends that he was fat because he was armoring himself against unwanted emotions, which seemed pretty obvious to me, a bodyworker from way back, but was deeply insulting to both the guy and brendan, who has since then gone out of his way to avoid me. i feel badly about that, because he’s someone i have loved deeply for years. but with cancer, i have tended to let troublesome relationships fade away as i have dealt with things closer to home. but i do miss him.

pictures i accomplished in dublin:
watercolor, flower market – 14×19
watercolor, unicorn restaurant courtyard – damaged, 14×19
oil, brendan’s flats – 14×19

thanks for everything, brendan.

february 2003 – barcelona

a courtyard in barcelona
a courtyard just opposite the piccaso museum. every time but one i passed a closed gate. this time i just walked right in. painting done in holiday, florida a few months later.

missive the second – 2/5/3, barcelona, spain.

after a week in ireland to acclimatize myself, i took an easyjet flight to barcelona, where my friend francis met me at the airport. i have been to spain before, with my daughter, the first time driving from the airport in madrid to barcelone and meeting francis halfway, i believe. this time i went straight to barcelona. francis installed me in his front room, and i set up to do large canvases. i started on another koi painting, and a painting of palms in a courtyard of some church, and several silk paintings, of a butterfly, and a picture of the bar across the street – bar muy buenas.

francis lived at the time in an old section of barcelona. the building was several hundred years old. like all expatriates, he numbered among his friends other english speakers. there was an english woman, a guy from new zealand, a pair of sisters from australia who ran a restaurant, an old irish curmudgeon. pleasant people, all very unique, all misfits in the very best of meanings – if they’d fit in where they were from, they’d still be there living dull, boring suburban lives. as it was, they were the bright spots of my stay in barcelona, because they each had a different culture, a different perspective, a different sense of humor, and a different tolerance for alcohol.

it was a very cold winter in barcelona. i used a butane heater in my room, and listened to francis’ tapes of the ‘life, the universe, and everything’ radio series that predated the books. i painted, i did silk painting, i wrote missives.

since spain operates on siesta time, i got up with the racket at around 10 am and worked until late in the evening, when it was time for dinner. but i got tired easily, and didn’t want to stay up until after midnigtht to eat, so i tended to want to cook something at francis’ house and retire early. this put me at odds with everyone’s schedules. they would still be in the bar getting lubricated for dinner and i would be ready to sit down and eat. so i started to disappear from the social scene.

francis had a roommate at the time, esteban, a man from argentina. he was an artist, a ‘real’ artist, whereas in their judgement i only painted pretty pictures and so wasn’t really an artist. he turned his nose up at my work when i did show him, so basically i didn’t. i never saw his work, but i’m assured it was ‘real’ art. esteban didn’t speak a word of english, i didn’t speak a word of spanish, but we both liked to cook. he showed me how to make black beans, and i thumbed thru the dictionary looking for ways to talk to him. it wasn’t very successful. but i still remember the black bean recipe.

black beans the argentinian, i mean right, way
black beans, water. bring to a boil and simmer until tender. it’s permissable to put half an onion studded with several cloves into the simmering put. only after they are tender can you add other ingredients. i don’t remember if there were allowed ingredients or not, but since i stuck in my whatever was to hand and made stew, i don’t think i care that much.

i musn’t have made a very good guest. i was certain i was going to die really soon, which puts a different light on things. i was in a hurry to paint whatever i had in me to paint, to work on my demotivational handbook – ‘lazy is good, quit your day job’ – and to see all my friends again. i guess i was too serious to see all my friends for more than a few minutes at a time, and i was impatient to accomplish things so i could hurry up and finish dying.

sitges on the spanish med., oil 24x36\" width=
sitges, a resort town down the coast from barcelona. the cathedral had a taize service we went to, and the town has excellent paella. also painted later in holiday, florida.

missive the third – 2/13/3, barcelona, spain.
missive the fourth – 2/27/3, barcelona, spain.

after three weeks in barcelona, walking everywhere, learning the subway system, seeing gaudi and miro and dali and picasso, looking at franco’s handiwork (bulletholes on the sides of buildings in public squares where all opposition was dealt with in a way bush would have found admirable), i went back to ireland for a week. i had several large canvases that i didn’t want to fold to fit into my luggage, and couldn’t roll and take on the plane with me. i asked francis if he wouldn’t mind shipping them back to me at my friends dave and elizabeth’s house, where all my mail was going. he agreed, but gave esteban the paintings to mail, and i never saw them again. i hope he painted ‘real’ art over them.

this is a list of paintings i accomplished in barcelona:
silk butterfly, 36×36
sillk painting of koi, 36×36
silk painting of bar mas buenas, 36×36
oil koi – missing, 36×48
oil palm trees in courtyard – missing, 24×48
several oil sketches on canvasette – palms, buildings, 14×19

thanks, francis.

dublin, end of february 2003

back in dublin, my welcome wore thin. i hardly saw brendan at all. i tried to make amends for insulting his friend, but nobody was listening, so i finished up what i had to do and left with my tail between my legs.

when i got back to atlanta, all i needed to do was to go into my storage, pack up my little dodge doohickey, and drive down to my next missive, a pig in a poke that i had arranged online. while i was in barcelona, writing missives, i managed to piss off the kind folks at yahoo, who misinterpreted my mass mailings of my missives to everyone i knew – as spam. they shut down my account without warning, and wouldn’t listen when i told them it wasn’t spam but a travelogue. they wouldn’t listen for several weeks, even when i asked them to simply read what i was sending around. no solicitations, no cheap viagra, no fraudulent appeals for check cashing services. eventually i got my email account back, but i ran into serious trouble. i had nowhere to go after i got back to the states.

it was only in the last missive i sent from barcelona that i asked everyone i knew if anyone knew of a place i could stay for the month of march, as i wanted to continue painting. and only one person answered back, and he to my alternative hotmail account. sure, he had a place to stay, a spare bedroom in his handbuilt cottage in holiday, florida, and i was welcome. so i was off.

march 2003 – holiday, florida

missive the fourth and a half – 3/1/3, vienna, virginia.

missive the fifth – 3/17/3, holiday, florida.

i’d met the guy when i was camping at the beach with my daughter the summer before. on the way from the showers, i noticed a little one-man tent and a bike, and was intrigued. so i stopped to talk. pete the cyclist. he was about 60, grizzled and grey haired, with a nice smile and kind eyes. he was biking from florida to dc. impressed, i took his phone number and email address so i could keep in touch, and added him to my missive list.

interior pete\'s house, florida, watercolor, 16x20\" width=
pete’s living room in holiday, florida. the river and a wilderness is just outside.

pete was a gracious host. he let me use his library card, he gave me the use of his garage to paint in, he drove me around to see the sponge fishermen and boated me up and down the river. he let me cook dinner for him instead of eating at a local cafeteria. he even introduced me to his mom, who adored him. we got along well enough, for strangers in close quarters. pete has been a mechanic and repair guy all his life. he had a second garage full of every kind of tool known to man, and had spares of all of those.

paintings done in holiday, florida:
silk osprey on river, 36×36
barcelona courtyard, oil, 24×48
sitges, oil, 30×40
kilmainham window, oil, 14×19
kilmainham hospital grounds, oil, 24×48
watercolor of pete’s living room, 14×19
sand hill cranes, oil, 24×48

sandhill cranes on the tennesse river, oil, 24x48\" width=
sand hill cranes, tennessee river, their winter feeding grounds on their incredible migration.

he might have wanted me to stay, or might have thought i was going to be his girlfriend, but i was only interested in making art and moving on. i dissapointed him, i’m sure, because we haven’t kept in touch. but thanks for the residency, pete.

april and may 2003 – atlanta

back in atlanta, i participated in the spring art shows. since 2001 when i quit my day job, i made most of my money and art sales at the great outdoor art festival circuit in atlanta. i had some hopes of extending this thruout the winter, and applied to a bunch of showes in florida, thinking i could set up camp in some state park and paint on the side, store my work in my car, and hit one show after another for the funds to keep travelling until i was too sick and weak. it didn’t work out that way, but i’ll talk about it later.

i was staying with julie, a fellow droid from big behemouth who was an artist herself. she had a mother-in-law suite in her house, and in exchange for doing wall treatments so that she could rent the apartment, i got to stay there for a month or two. so i set up and painted a bunch of little things to sell at the shows. i had my large paintings, except for the missing ones from barcelona, and needed a bunch of cheap little ones to round out my stock. so i did a bunch of 8×10 oils of houses and flowers and wine bottles.

i did okay at the shows, but nothing like in the first year. my sales steadily tapered off to pitiful. but all i needed was gas and food money for the near future, since i was officially homeless. i saw my kid a lot, i sat and painted in a bar that was showing my work, i saw my atlanta friends, i wrote my demotivational handbook.

missive the sixth – 5/13/3, atlanta, georgia.

3 grant park houses, oil 8x10 mounted on dresser drawer
8×10 triptych of queen anne houses in atlanta’s grant park, fastened to an old dresser drawer front.

paintings i did while in atlanta:
i don’t remember, didn’t write them down, and sold them all.

thanks for having me, julie.

june 2003 – rural east haddam, connecticut

art residency in ct., oil, 16x20, gift
the grounds of i-park, a residency in connecticut, with statues in foreground.

rural east haddam, connecticut is a place full of hills and farms and old houses. ralph, who has a building supply business, is a big supporter of the arts and a closet musician. just recently before i applied to the residency – my first official residency in an actual art colony – he started up a residency program on his property, called i-park, catering not only to visual artists but also to musicians. in the picture above you can see the house in the far background, the white barn with cupola in front of it, and three little tiny ex-chicken coops in front of that. the little bitty places are studios, and there are several studios and the administrative offices in the barn. each resident had their own room in the multi-hundred year-old stone farmhouse. the residency was no charge, and we were only responsible for the cost of our food. it was idyllic. a hundred or so acres of ex field and farmland, a huge pond, and the area was full of farms and ex-farms, old graveyards and abandoned paths thru the woods leading to abandoned houses, some with spooky tales attached. i found the skeleton of a dog on the property at one point, dug it out of the ground and brought it back to my studio in case someone wanted to do something artistic with it.

with me on residency was a woman who lived locally and was trying to finish a commissioned statue, a woman from arizona who specialized in making temporary art out of degradable materials (avocado rinds, etc), and photographing them on display in national and regional museums. they weren’t really on display as such, but she’d prop them in a corner or the stairwell and take pictures of them. i thought it was a very funny commentary on art and the art world. there was also a woman who did installment art at such a rarefied level that i couldn’t understand it at all. but her work was bought by big museums, so perhaps this was the kind of ‘real’ art that esteban was talking about. there was also a guy, a composer, there to finish some composition he was being commissioned for. at first the women all ganged up against him, but he was gentle and kind, and in the end i quite liked him. it’s hard being a man in the middle of a pod of women.

it was june, which in atlanta means the start of summer, but in rural east haddam was only the start of spring. i had the woodstove in my studio going all day, drank many cups of tea, watched the trees and flowers in bloom, and painted all day every day.

missive the seventh – 6/8/3, east haddam, connecticut

i-park quickie; buildings seen from my studio
one of many little 5×7 or 8×10 oil paintings of the grounds at i-park

i-park, a converted chicken coop
out the window is my basic experiements with silk dyeing. in the studio, on top of the stove, is a still unfinished watercolor of the thumb’s up diner in atlanta. on the wall behind it is a bottles painting, and below it is a commissioned house painting.

studio at i-park

a painting of the stag’s head bar in dublin that i took reference photos of while i was in dublin, and behind that is a rather larger oil painting of the fields and barns of i-park

my riend norris\' racehorse urigo, oil 14x22\" width=
a commission of a friend’s racehorse coming in first

paintings at i-park:
racehorse, oil, 12×18
stag’s head bar, dublin, oil, 24×48
scott’s house, watercolor, 18×20
thumbs up diner, watercolor, 20×20
various silk work
bottle paintings, oil, various sizes
little simple landscapes, oil, various sizes

thanks, ralph.

july 2003 – charlottesville, virginia

then i packed up my stuff, left the residency, which had become a bit of a peyton place, added to which they all sat and watched the entire season of the sopranos in the room behind my bedroom wall, and drove south to charlottesville, where i had gone to school many years earlier, and which still had a large population of old friends. i stayed with my artist buddy jim, in his spare room, and together we painted all the time. he tried to teach me how to paint pastels, and i never much learned. he’d get so frustrated with my lack of understanding that he would take the pastel away from me and do it for me. i learned a lot that way.

koi, swarming, oil 36x48\" width=
a koi i did on commision

every few days we would go out to sugar hollow, right under the blue ridge mountains, and paint a river. we did lots of sugar hollow paintings.

jim is proud of his polish heritage, and makes polish jokes on himself which only went to show how inventive and resourceful he is. needing shade in the back yard, he figured how to rig a 40 foot construction tarp over the patio, and so we had an extra outdoor room to hang in on hot days, which there were getting to be a lot of. i painted a lot of series paintings while i was with jimmy. three or four hammocks, which was sitting just beyond the patio, several sunspot paintings in an area he’d dug out of the vines and weeds that nobody could see if they didn’t know where it was, so you could sunbathe naked if you wanted to, a painting of the garden, a painting of the house. and loads of paintings of the wonderful magical countryside around charlottesville, which i still love even after all this time.

paintings i did in charlottesville:
a commissioned koi painting, oil, 36×60
3 watercolors of the hammock, 8×10 an oil of the hammock, 8×10
half a dozen or more oil paintings of sugar hollow, about 12×14 or larger
half a dozen or more oil paintings of the virginia countryside
half a dozen pastels of area sights
half a dozen watercolors and oils of area sights
many oil studies of jim’s model sarah

thanks, jimmy.

jim\'s backyard in virginia, watercolor, 8x10
watercolor of jim’s hammock, one of several painted as the days progressed.

sugar hollow, virginia
sugar hollow, just the place to be on a hot summer day

august 2003 – rabun gap, georgia

i had another ‘official’ residency next, this time at the hambidge center, in the north georgia mountains. this is the only residency that i’ve ever been on that actually costs money. the rent is over $500 a month, and you have to show up for dinner as part of your residency agreement. there are some scholarships, but i was never offered one. there was also a lot of administrative infighting going on while i was there, and because at one point i was being considered for a job as the colony’s cook, i got exposed to a lot of unpleasant gossip. but this is just how things go. they didn’t hire me, either, else i’d be in the middle of it now. and during the process i never mentioned that i had cancer, because i already know how hard it it so get people to look past their fears that it might be catching.

my studio  in rabun gap, watercolor, 12x16\" width=
my rustic cabin at the hambidge center, far from anyone else down a side road

i was set up in a large cabin, by myself, off the main property and down a road and up half a mountain. way off in the distance i could hear the road, which was only two lanes at best. i set the living room up as a studio, and because the bedroom proper was full of mold, i set my bedroom up in the other living room. i had the windows open all the time, and never bothered to lock my door. it was heaven. the food was good, and vegetarian, the other residents were interesting, and i painted all day long, and then again after dinner. unfortunately, being so close to atlanta, a mere two hour drive, i found i was called back for varous important things thruout my residency. but i always came back that night, even if it was at two in the morning.

paintings i was working on in north geogia \'03
on the left on the wall is three palms at myrtle beach, on the right on the wall is a half finished irish cottage, almost invisible on the lower left is redwoods, and on the easel is another one of my koi fish.

i wrote one more missive, this one asking if anybody knew of a camper trailer for free that i could basically move my stuff into, so that i would never have to come down off my residencies, because i found that making art was my highest goal, and that as long as i was making art i was happy and productive. i like residencies. i like concentrating on painting all the time. i like not having a day job or money worries (this sounds counterintuitive, but if you have a day job, then you most likely have credit problems. the system is set up so that you have to work, and never have enough money, and have to work. the system won’t let you quit. you have to practice living within your means in order to be an artist, and that’s the only way not to be in debt, and not therefore constrained to sell your labor. and i’ve got better things to do with my energy than work toward someone else’s goals).

this is my missive, and my ex’s reply to my missive. he has never shared my belief in magic: Sent: Friday, August 22, 2003 11:30 AM Subject: the next missive

myrtle beach, s.c., oil on canvas, 24x36\" width= ol on canvas 12x24\" width=
here are closeups of the paintings on the wall above. myrtle beach palms, redwoods.

2 bottle paintings and the original, oil 8x10
here are just a couple of the bottle paintings i was doing at the time. you’ll notice the level in the bottle as well as the glass gets lower with each painting.

norman\'s first crab, hunting island, georgia, oil on board, 12x24\" width=
norman’s first crab, reference photo shot on hunting island, sc, and tho i ttied to find the family to give them a copy, i never could.

here are some of the paintings i did at the hambidge center:
silk painting of view from cottage, 36″x72″ or so
3 oil paintings of field below the cottage, 9×12
norman’s first crab, oil, 12×24
redwoods, oil, 12×24
palm trees 2 and 3, oil, 30×40
irish cottage, oil, 30×40
milford sound new zealand, oil, 24×48
upstate new york in the winter, oil, 24×48
kilmainham hospital grounds, oil, 24×48
spanish town, oil, 30×40
loads of bottle pictures, oil, 8×10 or thereabouts

i also worked on my demotivational handbook:
lazy is good – quit your day job

thanks, hambidge center.

september 2003 – atlanta

again i chanced into a great place to stay that had its own individual quirks and was what you’d expect if you’re not paying rent. again i was at the mercy of someone’s kindness, and again i was not up to being the perfect guest, but was put up with anyway.

a tie-dye artist named john befriended me a couple of years earlier, and we had kept in touch. john is a lovely gay man who works as a chef for his living, specializing in meals for the homeless. a kinder heart there never was. he invited me into his loft in way downtown atlanta. the loft was a whole floor in an old building, surrounded by parking lots and nightclubs. most of the loft space
was filled with long tables, the kind they used to fold away in the school cafeteria. these tables were used for his tie dyeing. he taught me a lot about tie dye, which i then went on to use when i picked up fabric work. john inhabited an alcove where he kept his stereo and tv, and it could be screened off so that his window air conditioner would have some effect. i don’t like air conditioning, and so i was totally happy in the sleeping loft above with a fan. he was gone most of the time, and was always happy to share whatever he had with me.

at this time i had returned to atlanta for the fall show season, but also with a new lump, which i had removed while i was staying with john. so into the bargain was about a week of drugged stupor while i recovered. i’d been on the road for 9 months at this point, it was starting to get old, but i wasn’t getting any better, couldn’t get a job even if i’d wanted to because i couldn’t hack the stress and hours, not to mention doing soulless corporate work, and didn’t know what i was going to do for the rest of my short life. it hadn’t yet occurred to me that my life might not be as short as i was expecting.

the fall show season was disappointing. i sold a few of the large paintings, but as i look at the picture below, i realize that i still have most of them in my collection. i sold all the small stuff, of course, and that’s what i spent most of my time doing at john’s place. that and painting a picture of his block which i never finished, doped up as i was. can you imagine me sitting on the curb with paints
and a board, stabbing at the picture half out of my gourd, in pain and wobbling? it’s hard to imagine now. i remember it was very hot sitting in the sun like that. i never did finish the painting, and i don’t know what happened to it. it’s probably in my portfolio.

pictures done at john’s:
i don’t remember. little stuff, all sold.

thanks, john.

my pitch fall \'03, selling the bounty
my show tent that fall. never a really good professional seller, my tent looked way too casual, and i was under the impression that people would see the work, not the tent.

milford sound, nz, oil 24x48\" width=
milford sound, new zealand, from a photo my cousin andy sent me. an example of how i fix paintings with a lot of problems. make it sloppy, make it abstract. loads of colors and exuberant brushwork.

october 2003 thru february 2004 – oakton, virginia

for the winter, which is a bad time to do residencies, i had intended to go camp out in some state park, preferably in a donated camper, and do the florida winter show circuit. and i got into a bunch of them. but as the summer progressed, i realized that i didn’t have the energy to do anything like that, so i turned my energy to finding a place to work for the winter. i ended up in my brother buddy’s newly-renovated house in northern virginia. two of my brothers and my mom still live in that part of the world, and i kept to myself most of the time. i was busy working on my demotivational handbook, doing a commissioned watercolor, painting a picture with my brother mikie, and concentrating on healing myself. i had several very interesting internal experiences, one involving strange shapes and lights.

i ran out of money in northern virginia. the half-price sale of january 2003 had netted me a bunch of money, but it was all gone now, and i was down to beans and rice and trader joe’s wine, and pennies for gas. after buying a tank of heating oil for $250, and paying an exorbitant cellphone bill, i had nothing left.

nonetheless, i spent most of my days at the library doing research for my demotivational handbook, and once a week i would make the short 2-hour drive down to charlottesville where i would spend the night at jimmy’s and paint his model the next day. he bought the gas. what a sweetie. in this way i spent the winter.

unfortunately, things were becoming difficult with my daughter and her father. she was 15 and living with him, and he couldn’t do a thing with her. they got into huge fights all the time, and then each of them would call me up to moderate their disputes, or lend a sympathetic ear. that’s why i had a $600 phone bill that sucked up all my money. i also found myself driving thru the night several times, to get to the house to rescue my daughter, who i was simply going to keep with me on the road, only to find out that he’d bribed her with some goodie and she was no longer willing to leave. this happened at least twice, maybe three times. i’d stand around on the street in the southern winter warmth, listening to them both swearing up and down that everything was fine, and then get back into the car and drive back up to virginia. but the fights were horrible, with them attacking each other physically, and threatening to throw each other out of the house, and to call the cops on each other, all the shit you can imagine between a teenager and her father. this is when i learned to let things cool off before acting.

in the south, during the winter, it gets up to 60 regularly. you can work in your garden all winter long, the ground never freezes. in northern virginia, and i had forgotten even tho i grew up there, the ground freezes solid, ices over, the streams grow ice beards, things crunch when you walk on them. my brother’s house backed onto a golf course, and so i took walks all the time, especially in the snow. we don’t get much snow in atlanta. they don’t get much in northern virginia, but they get more than they do in new york city, and it stays longer. brrrr.

paintings thru the winter:
shenandoah river, oil, 40×60, with my brother mikie
watercolor of the flying biscuit block of shops in decatur, 12×50
work on the commissioned koi painting

thanks, buddy.

march 2004 – pell city, alabama

my friend dallas had a place out in the middle of nowhere, alabama, half an hour out of birmingham on the atlanta road, and he let me stay there. he was growing shiitake mushrooms for a plan to supply local restaurants, and it was my job to shake the containers to distribute the baby mushroom mycelleum. it was fun. i was living in a trailer under the pines, it was serene. he would stop by to visit once in a while, and i would go to atlanta about three days a week to tend to business. i didn’t do much painting, as i was concentrating on my writing at this time. i got several hundred pages of research notes and a few dozen chapters competed, and haven’t done a thing with it since. i couldn’t interest anyone in publishing a demotivational handbook at the time. the country didn’t want to be told to quit their day job and stay out of debt. things were too high-flying. perhaps there’d be a market for it now, who knows.

it was becoming really obvious that i was going to have to do something about my kid. she was doing worse and worse with my ex. he’d taken her out of her private school on a whim, in the middle of term, losing her a semester’s worth of grades, and then he took her out of the public school he’d put her into, on a whim, losing another semester’s grades, so she was now a whole year behind in her schoolwork. they were fighting all the time, he accused her of being a pathological liar, and she accused him of handcuffing her to a door. so part of the reason i was going back and forth to atlanta was to find a place to live. it had to be cheap, and i had to talk the landlord out of a credit check, since i had no job and nothing to pay for it but the child support i was finally willing to charge my ex for fucking up my kid’s life.

thanks for everything, dallas.

april 2004 – jonesboro, georgia

the house was in an old neighborhood, and was in dire need of repair. every time it rained that rainy spring, the water flowed down the inside walls. within weeks the entire wooden structure was green with mold. i had to put my kid into the local school system, where she had to date the leader of the local gang in order not to be attacked. the landlord, mike, was a casual kind of guy, the ‘fix it tomorrow’ type. nevertheless, i planted a garden and worked on my paintings and my book. i got ready for the spring art show season, and worked for an acquaintance doing all her housework and grocery shopping for $7 an hour when the going rate was $12. that came to $35 a day three times a week, and with that i bought groceries and gas. i had another lump, and it was becoming apparent i’d have to have a mastectomy. my kid became my only source of comfort, and that was a bad place for her to be, because she felt she was helping me to live my last months. she suffered a lot, i’m afraid. but she emerged with more experience and understanding than any kid her age, and she’s turning into a great adult as i type.

it may not look like a great year and a half to the casual reader. but my priorities have never been to make money and live an easy life. my brother has always castigated me for choosing the difficult path when i could so easily have chosen the easy path. i tried to explain to him about the road less traveled, but he couldn’t see the value of it, and called my decision to make art a vow of poverty. but then his idea of a worthwhile way to make money was writing mortgages, and look where that’s gotten the world. i still think i was right.

starting in august, i ended my time as a rootless wandering artist – thanks, mike – and came back to earth in atlanta. i met an artist who took me under his wing, i moved into town, where we share a studio. i went ahead and had the mastectomy, and reaffirmed my decision that making art is more important than a number of things that people have been telling me were more important all of my life. and that’s where i’ll leave you. i hope it’s clear, if you don’t focus on my lack of money, that i’ve had a wild ride, and a fruitful adventure, and that taking a year and a half to make a farewell tour and get a whole shitload of paintings painted was worth it. at least to me.

for my latest residency, taken in september of 2010, see my travel journal.