plein air at zoo atlanta

i was out walking the dogs with jim at the end of may, and ran into dawn kinney martin, an artist i knew from way back in the days of cafe tu tu tango.  she told me she would be up at the zoo the first week of june, doing a plein air paint out as a fund raiser for the zoo.  i got all excited, and got the name of the person to call at the zoo – the fabulous julia knox (we’re related by name, sort of).  so i ran home, and you know how it is when you’re trying to get hold of someone with an office – they’re never there, they never answer their phone, and they never get back to you.  but i had a weekend to make it happen, so i hounded her, and finally she gave me this nice polite email about how they were full up for this year, but i could apply for next year’s event starting in december.  i took it well.  i wrote back that there was sure to be at least one no-show, and i live in the neighborhood and could be down there in ten minutes.  well, an hour and a half to run off and get supplies.

so she called me on tuesday, and i scampered down there.  i knew before i even arrived that i wanted to paint the flamingos.  they’re so colorful.  they’re the first things you see when you get inside the zoo, and tho you never stop to look at them on the way out (because fatigue), it’s so nice to stop and contemplate the colors.  plus, they don’t move, so i could make my first painting a still life.

so to speak.

after putting all my stuff in the ‘green room’ (it’s kind of brownish gray), in the round education building up on the hill, the one with the living roof, i was driven down to the front gate by an intern – they’re so bright and chipper, and all of them are from way north fulton county, so this is a really special internship – they all complain of the traffic (welcome to adulthood in atlanta).

i sat in front of the flamingos for about two hours.  it was around 1 when i got there, i picked the deepest shade right next to the railing separating us from them, sat and watched them for awhile to find a grouping of them that didn’t seem likely to move for awhile, and then got out my canvas and my graphite stick and started sketching.  once i had the sketch in, i took a reference photo of what i was going to paint, because even tho they’re remarkably unlifelike creatures, they do move around because there’s a lot of them, and they are sociable.  they squabble some.  they preen, they flap their wings (not often), they poke at the water listlessly (as if there might be food there – the water smells like chlorine and bird poop).  mostly they sleep.

so in two hours i had my reintroduction to speed painting, which is what i did at tango.  and what’s more, speed painting in acrylic, which dries as soon as it comes out of the tube.  i mixed paint a lot.  can i please say how difficult it is to get that brownish green of the water in a beam of sunlight?

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i took a new canvas out with me next morning.  i got there around 9, and wandered around the zoo all morning, looking at the animals, the landscape, the visitors, the light.  then i really wasn’t in the mood to paint after that, wanting lunch and a nap, but i forced myself to stay and start a painting.  i stopped back by the green room for a stash of water and snacks so i would have something to keep me going (i forgot to bring lunch), and then got another intern to take me up to the orangutan towers.

the orangutans were mainly sleeping in the afternoon shade, but the habitat was very nice and green, with the platform and cement tree, the woods behind, and the tourists in front.  i sat on the benches behind the viewing area, about 30 feet from the railing, and painting the habitat for a couple of hours, sitting in the shade, ignoring the hundreds of people who came by to see the orangutans.  i was struck by how many times the same conversations were repeated by different families or couples stopping by.  it was like in venice, when every single tourist would stop on a particular spot on a particular bridge, and swing their cameras up to take the same exact photo of the same place from the same angle and the same spot.  something compelling in the composition of that scene.  i too had stopped and take my picture, and so i did the same thing at the zoo, and painted as if i was a bump on a log, witnessing sort of half-abstractedly the buzzing of the constant stream of tourists in and out of the space.  like a time lapse photo.

please note that what you’re seeing here is the finished painting, in all cases.  when i took them home after the two hour session of painting on the scene, they were simple, roughed in, needing a lot of work, and lacking all sorts of details – like the orangutans, and the tourists.  all that got put in during the week that we had to finish our work before the auction.

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so that was wednesday.  on thursday morning i got here right after the place opened, because they let the staff in at 8, but the tourists didn’t get let in until 9:30, so that was a whole bunch of time in which to paint absolutely unimpeded.  nobody looking, nobody asking, nobody talking, nobody taking selfies with you.

so i staked out the carousel.  i could always see it when i was sitting in the car taking a break from painting.  the lights moved around and around, and i knew what it was.  so i had the little intern drop me off in the kids’ playplace, where they have a wetland full of turtles, and wallabys, and a petting zoo, and a climbing wall.  i liked the carousel.  it was recently done, in 1999, i think, and it’s becoming a little worn, but it’s got old fashioned charm, and features a lot of the zoo animals.  so i walked all around, selected the view of willie b’s rump, and stood against the railing to draw and start to paint.

it’s a really challenging painting, because of all the angles and straight lines, which take a certain level of concentration – meditation – to be able to get it right.  so i struggled with it for my two hours, but in the end got all the white space of the canvas covered, which i consider to be the end of the first act.  and then it was 9:30, and the kids arrived, and ACK the carousel started moving, so i stopped painting, grabbed my camera and took some photos, mostly blurry, but i got these kids in these poses on some other animal entirely, and slapped them in when i was done messing around with the background.

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then, after lunch, or instead of lunch, or something, i got a volunteer to drive me – they’re older, and sometimes they live around the neighborhood.  we went the back way, around the staff parking lots, and the backs of the buildings, including the restaurants and the reptile house.  we drove around the back of the new reptile house, which is truly spectacular from the outside – like a ufo landed in grant park, all steel and glass.  i felt so privileged to be behind the scenes in the zoo – like the time i got a private tour around the back bits of the aquarium.

i stopped at the alligator habitat.  i had been there the day before, scoping out things.  the inside of the new slimy scaly spectacular ( i think the intern insisted on calling it) is a masterwork of decoration.  the rock walls, the desert habitats, the cement tree limbs, everything was done with an artistry that made the exhibits look pale.  i even got to talk to one of the guys who worked on teh walls, imbedding cast fossils into the rock surface.  brilliant.

the reason i stopped at the alligator habitat was not the alligators.  it was the habitat.  a great swimming pool of an enclosure, a pair or three alligators wallowing on the shallow rock, and the tourists, each and every one of them, bending over double to look under the water level to see them lying there.  it was priceless.  i just had to paint a row of tourist butts.

but first i had to paint the habitat, so i sat on a cement bench with fossils in it, laid my paints and all around me, and painted for two hours, putting in the rocks and the water, leaving most of the other details later.  the sky didn’t get painted in until i saw a photograph jim took the following day, under different conditions.  it was only on reviewing the photos that i discovered that the sky was blue outside the building, so i painted it in much later.  the same thing for the people.

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the next day, friday, i was totally undecided what to paint.  i found out talking to other painters that this was pretty much the case with most of them.  they wandered around until inspiration hit them.

there were 40 some painters there, doing all sorts of work, and they were spread around the zoo in the most unlikely places, as well as the places you’d imagine – in front of the pandas, the lions, the elephants, the giraffes.  they were doing all kinds of work, some working on panels they’d pretreated with a texture or a color or some embellishment.  some worked from photos, even tho they were working outside (a kind of stretch of the definition of plein air), some took photos and went away to paint in the studio.  whatever.  julia, who ran the event, said up front that she wasn’t there to police us as artists, and if we could produce it, we could call it art.  so we were free to let the place and the animals inspire us, and it was a really creative week, and lots of fun, and everybody met a bunch of other artists, not all of them local.

it’s a small world.

anyway, i ended up in the early morning shade in front of the elephant enclosure, and spent the morning painting it.  the elephants soon moved off, and were in fact not seen again, which concerned quite a few tourists, who told their kids that the elephants were probably still asleep.  i’d heard someone who sounded like they knew state that this was elephant spa day and they were having their toenails done.  i ventured this to several particularly worried tourists, and it seemed to help.

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that afternoon, i had time to start one more painting, and unwisely, perhaps, picked the meerkat.  i thought they were so interesting, i wanted to have the experience of sitting in front of their habitat for a couple of hours, absorbing their activity.  that’s what was so interesting about doing all this live painting.  i got to sit and watch animals the way i don’t get to do in life.  i usually work from photos.  i don’t get a chance to experience the wandering and attentions of animals on their own.  the tourists came and went, and i sat and studied the various animals i painted (except for the alligators – i never saw them while i was sitting there).  it was very good to do that, and i’m looking forward to the privilege of time alone with wildlife, even tho of course i’m not alone and they’re not wild.  you know what i’m talking about.

so i painted the meerkats.  this one girl would climb up on a planter and look around, stock still except for her head, which turned here and there quickly, then froze up and stared until something else caught her attention.  i got her to look right at me for the reference photo, and then spent the rest of my time sketching in her surroundings, and drawing her basic body shape and attitude, because she stayed that way for five minutes at a time.

the only trouble with this was that i was sitting in full sun, in the early afternoon, without a hat, without any shade at all.  my paints dried the moment i squeezed them out, my metal butcher tray that i was using for a palette was too hot to touch (i had it resting on my knees anyway), i couldn’t see the colors properly because of the glare, and the meerkats had all gone into the other enclosure which was turned away from the sun.

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so i went home with everything.  and spent the next week fixing them, finishing them, in some cases redrawing them according to the reference photo.  and on saturday they had a big party at the zoo, and a silent auction, and all that.  we went, but that’s another story.  one i probably won’t get around to telling…

fun with pigments

jim and i have just been given a set of four new pigments to play with.  they’re the famous mayan blue family of pigments, brand new, patented even, and they’re completely nontoxic and lightfast.  they’re made from a special process that duplicates whatever the hell the mayans did to make it 500 years ago, using a mixture of indigo and a fine kaolin-type clay, and now they’re just beginning to make it for use in large-scale processes, like for coloring plastic.  nobody’s manufacturing the paints for artists as yet, the amount anybody would be likely to buy in order to make a line of paints is negligible – a couple of pounds at most, when they want to be selling it by the truckload.  but we are privileged to have samples of these new pigments to play with, and so play we must.

jim has already finished a painting using the mayan pigments, and it is now hanging in his new show, which opens tonight, even tho it’s snowing outside right now and nobody does snow in atlanta.  would have opened tonight, or will but nobody will be driving just out of fear.  including us.  i’m not going to be out on the road when we hit a slick patch and some complete southerner slides on it too – right into us.  i’ll be home making hot chocolate and putting whiskey into it.

yesterday i finished up my preparations for jim’s show (framing and documentation) and decided i wanted to play with the pigments too.  my specialties are oil, watercolor and encaustic, while jim does acrylic, tempera and encaustic.  together we cover the spectrum of media you can mix pigments with to make paint.  i decided to start with watercolor.

there’s a blob of gum arabic in the middle of each of these wells.  i’ve just spooned a knifetip of pigment out into the wells and then added two drops of gum arabic.  our gum arabic is a little old and too amber for my tastes, and alters the yellow slightly, but not enough to make any difference.

the yellow is a wonderful bright orange yellow.  the pigment is strong, meaning i didn’t need to use much.

the orange is the same.  a little went a long way.  a very vivid color that stayed bright after drying.

the red is weaker, a magenta almost, and somewhat like the quinacridones in that you need rather a lot of pigment to make a strong color, compared to the others.

but what the red lacked in strength, the blue more than made up for.  a very strong color, and so indigo.

the blue was the first color i put onto the paper.  i could tell the moment i saw it that this was a pigment that started out as indigo.  it could be nothing else.  i put down a strong line of each of the colors, blue, red, orange and yellow, and then ran a brush of clear water to the right of the lines to soften the edge and let the paint bleed into the clear water.

they are beautifully grainy.  the blue and red especially have lovely sedimentation.  the orange and yellow stay bright and vivid no matter how thick or thin.

it’s funny, it’s been years – 30 at least – since i’ve done anything at all with indigo.  i used to paint with it all the time when i was in ireland – perfect clouds can be made with indigo and yellow ochre, and there’s nothing like indigo for painting blue jeans.

here’s why i don’t do more demonstrations.  with every intention in the world to photograph every step of the way, i take maybe one, maybe two shots of the process, and then i get so into what i’m doing that i just skip over the next four or five processes and rush on to the end.  which doesn’t really show anything because it’s showing too much.

i used a dryer on the first four colors, then turned the sheet sideways and put a heavy line full of paint across all four colors.  so the bottom row above is yellow.  i went back and forth one time with my brush, and saw this as a mistake.  the coming back stroke immediately bled the colors underneath, and you can see blue to the left of the blue column, and red, and orange to the right of those columns.

having learned just how easily the paint would bleed, i was more light handed with the orange paint, but still you can see it bled the blue.  so did the red.  after doing this, i took a little more dilute paint and put a thin line in between.

then i took clear water, and ran a column of clear water thru the original (vertical) stripes, then blotted the water away.  as you can see, none of these are staining pigments.  then i took really thick paint and drew a thin line right at the edge of the first vertical washes.  not really sure why i did that; testing opacity.

i can’t tell from opacity, i’m deficient in my color theory something something.  the yellow looks abolutely opaque to me, the way it shows so heavy when i put it on (extreme left column).  but it doesn’t make a dent in the colors beneath it, so it must be transparent.  jim concurs.  he says these pigments are very transparent.

transparent.  non-staining.  beautifully sedimentary.  lightfast.  nontoxic.  could you ask for more?

at this point, only daniel smith offers the mayan blue and red pigments made up into watercolor.  kremer pigments offers mayan blue pigment itself.  it’s my hope that some small paint manufacturers get hold of these pigments and make some paints out of them, because they’re very nice.

i did a sample painting using only the four mayan pigments – yellow, orange, red, blue.  the blue is a greenish blue, the red is a bluish red, the yellow is an orange yellow and the orange is a red orange.  according to michael wilcox, whom i’ve never met, you combine like-leaning colors for bright mixes, and combine opposite-leaning colors for rich grays.  meaning the greenish blue and the orange yellow blend into a nice rich grayed green.  the bluish red and the greenish blue blend into a dull purple.  the orange yellow and the bluish red blend up into a golden brown.

these are not primary colors.  nor are they high-chroma colors.  but because the trick to good painting is to go with the richness of neutralized colors.  look at those clouds at the top of the picture.  nice and richly purple brown.  better than my old standby cloud colors – indigo and yellow ochre.  the purple is more than adequate, the greens are very rich and varied, and the yellow and orange are as bright as any in my palette.

but the trouble with the painting i’d finished is that it was out of my head, and i don’t do that very well at all.

so i took out a 30-year old photo of valencia island in ireland, and got out all my watercolors, and set about paintings it.  the indigo mayan blue accounts for the deep ocean color, but i had to go in with cobalt blue and that caribbean blue you can see together in the lower right corner of the big palette.  then i had to wash all the water with prussian blue, the second-from-the-right well on the bottom row of wells.  also, the blue in the sky had to be the caribbean because mayan blue is not a light blue, it’s an indigo.  i used mayan yellow on the nearby landforms, a mixed mayan green for the fields and hills, a mixed mayan purple for the clouds, umber and ultramarine for the rocky coastline.

all in all a very useful set of colors in a full palette.  you can see the mayan colors, plus the mixed green and purple, in the little white palette in the middle of the larger palette.  that’s a really bright yellow there.

this isn’t the best painting i’ve ever done, but it’s also 4×7 inches, and i did it in about an hour.  don’t know what i’ll do with it.  i’d send it to my friend francis for his birthday, but he thinks my work is twee, so he probably wouldn’t like it, even tho he was with me when i shot the reference photos.

mayan pigments – if you can find them, you’ll like using them.

encaustic – trout stream in north georgia

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it really is pretty up there, folks.  the extreme southern splash of the appalachians, all mountains and valleys and swift flowing rivers, with ancient cherokee fishing weirs all over the place.  there’s this place near helen.  it’s a gift shop of renown, and they’ve got a deck out back and a basement down below that look onto a great trout stream, where there are hundreds of what look like 20-pounders to me.   so i’ve been there twice, tho i get lost every time, and had my camera with me.  what we’re seeing in the picture above is the underpainting in pastel.  i don’t actually do an underpainting, just a few lines telling me where everything is.  i usually do the painting just the one time, rather than a painting underneath that just gets covered up.  i mean, what’s the point?  jim always does an underpainting in a contrasting medium, and often he does studies as well.  i just prefer to go with what i see and feel and work out the relationships on the canvas.

what you’re seeing is the trout stream, about 20 feet below me.  there are rocks on the lower left which are out of the water, part of the bank on which the old mill stands.  you can see the bottom for about 10 feet, and you can see all kinds of huge trout in a frenzy over what is being tossed to them by tourists (a little candy dispenser with fish pellets in it, a handful for a quarter).  beyond, you begin to see reflections, so there are alternating stripes of blue sky and orange fall foliage, and still there are fish under the surface but you can’t tell much with the glare.

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i’ve begun putting on the wax.  this is the lower left corner of the painting, and i’m putting wax on it first because it’s out of the water, and therefore needs to have some heavy texture.  what is painting in wax about if not impasto, at least until you melt it…

i’m using white wax first, because it gives me the most trouble.  by this i mean it melts at the highest temperature, and so i put it on first and burn it in so that it’ll be done and i don’t have to mess with it again.  because once i put other colors on and try to burn them in, if i put white on afterwards, then the darker colors all run by the time i get the wax even slushy.

i’m learning from last time, so i think.  the last thing i did was a house portrait, way finicky for wax, and i had to resort to masking in order to keep the whole picture from churning.  i learned that you work from light to dark or else.  i was taught light-to-dark in watercolor, but i’ve always ignored that rule because i like to have contrast present early.  sometimes i put the darks in first.  but i can’t do that with wax.

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or can i?  here i go putting in blue for the darkest shadows.  i’m not really worried about it because the white’s already hardened, and the blue will melt way before the white softens, and my only issue is will the orange melt appreciably faster?  well, it does, but the areas are small enough that i can scoot over parts that are melting for parts that aren’t, and then come back for a moment at a time until the wax is just at the edge where it starts to run.

you’re getting one step at a time here.  usually i don’t put this many photos in, because i basically can’t tell the difference until quite a few changes have been made.  if i took notes, but then i couldn’t stand to take notes.  but if i did take notes, i’d know a hell of a lot more about fabric dyeing, for one thing, and silk painting.  and cooking.  oh well.

what i’ve done above is to put in some buff white in for some of the rocks, orange where the orange rocks and floating leaves go, and then some blue on the edges of the rocks that are quite dark in the reference photo.  i also have begun texturizing the large rocks to the left and bottom, putting little bits of brown and blue on them.

actually, the blue i used was way old.  i have this habit of keeping all the wax i don’t use, putting an inverted cup over the colored lumps to keep them soft, and then using them again the next painting i do.  so i have bunches of white left from the holbox painting, for example.  and buff white.  and some green.  and the black i used in the windows.  all that shows up here.  the blue, however, is from several paintings back, and air had gotten in under the glass, and it was really tough, even after i thinned it greatly with citrus oil.  and it really didn’t want to melt, either.  usually when i put on a freshly thinned batch of wax, it’s still wet when i burn it in, smelling pleasantly of oranges (no physical symptoms, either, no eyes stinging, no lung pain, no nausea), and it tends to melt at a lower temperature than wax that has already been burned in.  it starts to soften immediately, since it’s still wet, and once i’ve burned it, it buffs up really well, and that’s how i know it’s set and there’s no more solvent in the wax.

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what you’re seeing now is the same painting as that one above, but after burning in the blue and orange.  you can see a shininess in the blue line at the top of the photo.  as i suspected, you can’t really tell the difference at this distance between freshly painted wax and burned in wax, altho close up it’s appreciable, even striking.

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at this point i wiped away most of the pastel, which i hadn’t bothered to fix, so that i could see better.  and then i put the rest of the buff white over the bottom of the painting to the right, where i had already decided i wouldn’t put any paint until i had the rocks finished.  good intentions, why do i bother?

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and this is what the whole thing looks like.  you can see that the part i’m working on is very small (24×30 masonite panel, gessoed a light gray).  the buff white goes out to 3/4 of the way to the right edge, and up to the level of the big dark underwater rock to the left.  you might be able to see a little blending of the wax with the pastel.  unfixed pastel blends with wax because it’s basically loose pigment on the board, and the wax just absorbs it and mixes it in.

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this looks so abstract.  i’ve put in some blackish very thin wax around the edges of the rocks that are out of the water.  this is a reinforcement of the marks i’d made with the blue.  i’ve got some burnt sienna, and the white dots are actually not quite white, but lighter than the buff of the river bottom.  i’ve also continued developing the texture in the 2 big rocks to the bottom and left, and the large underwater rock above.  this is a shot taken after burning it in.  you can see in the large underwater rock that the white has moved and bloomed (check out the previous 2 pictures).

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now i’m really restating the black.  i’ve mixed up new black, which actually more consists of dioxazine purple and raw umber.  it’s extremely thin, so thin i put it on with a brush, an old wax stiffened brush i had laying about.  perhaps i could have cleaned it before using it, as it left a sort of trench with parallel sides when i put paint on with it, but i figured what the hell, since i’m just going to melt it anyway.  and lines this thick, i want to see them melt right down.  at this point the painting looks kind of cartoonish.  i’m wondering about it, but keeping on, because every middle stage painting is ugly.  and the middle stage can start with the establishment of the composition.

it melted down some.  you can see this best in that triangular lump about 1/8th in from the bottom right, offshore of the big rock at the bottom.  altho the black was very wet, and flowed out immediately, i still had to watch the other colors, especially the sienna, since it turned shiny and liquid faster than the other colors.

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now i’ve stuck some blue in as light spots on the rocks. the wet rocks in between the two big rocks are very shiny.  mainly they look black and the highlights look blue.  the only change here is very difficult to spot.  i put a layer of clear beeswax over the rocks that are partially obscured by water.  the blue space between the large rock on the bottom and the smaller white rock next to it, as well as the space between those rocks and the large white rock to the left, has got maybe an inch of water on it, but it’s enough to ripple and obscure the details.  so i’ve stuck clear wax on it and have burned it in, and you really can’t see it.

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so now i’ve added just a smear of very thin white over this, with my finger, and burned it back in.  you can see especially on the blue space between the two white rocks on the bottom, where it’s now milky.  the other spots still don’t show much.

well, it’s hard to believe i left it that way last night.  what probably happened is that there are pictures in the camera.  i’ll get to it soon.  it’s time to walk the dogs, and jim gets impatient.  he’ll start off by himself if i don’t hurry.

my first encaustic painting

oopsie, i forgot to take this out of draft and publish it. it’s the first part of the first encaustic i’ve done. i started with a drawing of a dragon jim idid for another project, and traced it onto about 8×10 canvas glued onto a masonite board. very heavy.

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first and a half stage

i’m using wax paste and pigment, put on with a brush. the dragon’s head is napthol red and indian red, the claws and scales are raw sienna and a little white. i’ve started turning the tendrils blue. the background is green oxide in the diluted wax paste.

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second stage and three quarters

i’ve started putting white in. i repainted the background using green oxide and hansa yellow. at this point i’m beginning to feel the old frustration. i hate white. white makes everything look pasty.

i used a pallette knife to put white on the teeth, and to adjust where the teeth went. i was still accidently putting my wrist into the teeth several hours later.it was still wet.

i’m wondering what kind of painting i’m doing. it doesn’t look real, even tho it looks dimensional already. maybe when i’m doing self portraits or still lives it’ll start looking real. i don’t do well with fantasy when i’m just learning a new medium. i do better being faithful to what it looks like.

i’m painting with wax right now. evidently you’re supposed to use heat when you do encaustic, but jim remembers being taught how to do encaustic cold, with solvents, and knows artists who went their entire careers doing encaustic paintings with cold wax.

so he mixed me up a jar of beeswax shavings and turpentine, and now i have a heavy gel that i’ve been mixing with my pigments and painting on with a brush.

something else that’s never done, not only am i not working with gloves and a respirator (they recommend fume hoods and glove boxes), but i’m working with little piles of pigment sitting out there on the pallette waiting to be mixed into the wax paste. i’m doing all the health standard no-nos, everything except smoking, eating, and drinking in the studio. and actually i’m doing one or more of those as well. but i haven’t dipped my paintbrush into my coffee yet. so there.

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third and a half stage

i’ve started getting bold. i decided that just having a head hanging there in space wasn’t good enough when i could clearly see the ghostof a neck curving out into the picture, so i gathered up some of the ochre and umber, and some of the hansa yellow, and some of the naphtol red, and started putting it down thickly with the wax paste. this stuff really gets impasto.

i’m loving this. it’s like using crayons really heavily. i’m not seeing any translucency yet, but the colors blend well, and they get nice and deep.

i’m hoping to be able to make the tendrils a real deep blue that shines out, and have a lot of work to do getting the neck looking right.

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fourth stage

tomorrow i need to dampen down the background some, need to reshape the claws, need to shape the mane of tendrils and the body behind it. the jaw needs resculpturing and the lip line needs to be brought down a bit on top.

the more i paint on here, the thicker it gets. the thicker the strokes i put on compared to how i started. like i get more sure and bold, or too enthusiastic and ruin things, depending on your viewpoint.

or is it a function of the paint layers and my impatience? when i worked at cafe tu-tu tango and had 4 hours to finish a 14×20 oil painting, i would have real trouble near the end getting the paint to show up against all the layers underneath. it got really goopy and the paint went on reluctantly unless it was way thicker than what i was putting it down into. it got kind of like that tonight, except that the layers, most of them, were dry to the touch when i went back into it.

being mixed with turpentine, which evaporates in a hurry, the wax can be brushed on in many different thicknesses, which will harden up as the turpentine evaporates out of it. so by tomorrow i expect even the thick stuff to feel like wax insted of mayonnaise.

jim is fixing to order some microcrystalline wax, because he thinks he’ll like the qualities it gives to beeswax. we’re going for a pound, and looking for the best price on 10 lbs of beeswax. we’re both getting into encaustic in a big way.

http://layersofmeaning.org/wp/?p=345

http://www.international-encaustic-artists.org/index.html

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.

things to do list

april ’08. projects in the air at the moment

lisa’s scenic irish quilt. status – 4/27/8 ripping seams and washing out mildew

asha’s bellydancing veil – helix nebula. status – 4/27/8 practice scarves, half dozen

baby quilt using baby clothes

dyed sheets – crinkle dyed. status – 4/27/8 dyed, waiting to be sewn.

silk of ‘over ireland’ painting

production of dragon and crane scarves

something important that i’m missing now