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Sketching Main St Railroad Crossing

Sketching On My Mind

Yesterday was another lovely January day in Talent, so a sketching trip to the nearby local railroad depot was in order.

Talent OR: Sketching Railroad Crossing Main St

Look At Light Pattern

When considering a place to sit and draw, I look at how light is falling on my would be subject.  It was about an hour before sun down so I needed to hustle and find a view facing west.  The railroad depot was on my mind since its close by and has a west-facing side.

Unfortunately for drawing purposes, the west facing side is blocked by a fence.  No matter, I decided to draw the crossing gate in front of the depot, with city buildings in the distant horizon.

Crossing Guard Shapes

Drawing the crossing guard was fun; I’d never paid attention to all that hardware!  In order to make sense out of all this “stuff”, I focused on the interesting shapes.

Sketching With Pencil

You may notice that today I’m drawing only with pencil.  I have a new book that I’m working through titled “The Urban Sketcher” by Marc Taro Holmes, Citizen Sketcher.  I’m working through the first chapter.  The first exercises are with graphite.

I think sketching with graphite (pencil) is a great way to learn something new.  Its also a great way to get to know a new subject or revisit an old one.  Its a simple, portable and readily available tool.  I like this simple, powerful instrument, come to think of it!  Pencil drawings are part of my daily workout.

Talent Train Depot

Drawing Talent Series: Different Views

I have drawn our depot before from a different points of view back in 2014 as part of my “Drawing Talent” series of sketches.  On the post I did in September of 2014,  I included a bit of history about the railroad depot building.  Just a teaser, there really was a person with a last name of “Talent”.  And the depot was sent to us by rail!

The small ball point pen study is from the west side of the depot.  The watercolor and ink sketch below is of the south side of the building.

So, I’ve drawn the place at least three times.  Could be I need to visit this subject multiple times!  I went by today and in the morning light, noticed lots of great places to draw and paint.  In time, I think I might like to do some full size paintings of this subject.

More Talent Changes

Much like yesterday’s post about the “Funky Fashion” building, things have changed at the Talent depot and railroad crossing.  For one thing, the tracks are active again!  Two years ago, there were no trains running through Talent.  In 2015, the trains started up again.  So, when sketching near the tracks, I need to be alert.  Fortunately, the train had just past by before I left for the drawing session.

Another change is that we are getting a new cafe on the south end of the depot building.  I’ve been watching them prepare the facility.  It will be called “Cantina Vida”; I look forward to its opening.  On another day, I’ll do a sketch with the cantina.

Thank you.

I hope you enjoy my sketches and Talent’s railroad depot.

Daily Habit: Drawing Talent Series


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The Building Formerly Known As “Funky Fashions”

Sketching Local Building

Yesterday I took advantage of some afternoon sun and went out to sketch a local building.  Because it was afternoon, I wanted to draw something that was facing the west.  What better place to work on than the place formerly known as “Funky Fashions”?

Building Formerly Known as Funky Fashions, Talent OR

“Drawing Talent”

I’d like to give a little backstory to our subject building.  I live in Talent, OR.  Back in 2014, I thought I’d start a series of watercolor and ink studies I called “Drawing Talent”.  One of the first places I drew was “Funky Fashions”.

Cheerful Consignment Shop

“Funky Fashions” was owned by my neighbor Lisa; it was special.  It was a sweet consignment shop right down town.  It was also on my morning running route.  Most days I’d pass by and note the cheerful window displays.  Lisa had plants and a bench out front.

First Drawing – Spring Cheer

The first time I sketched the building was in May of 2014.  It was a brilliant, sunny spring day.  While I was sketching, Lisa came out and sat on the bench, enjoying the afternoon light.  Naturally, I went over and chatted with her after I was done.

Building Closed

Almost two years later, the shop sits closed.  It is no longer “Funky Fashions”, except in spirit.  Lisa has retired and moved on.

I’d say the shop area looks vacant, but it may not be.  The windows are curtained up.  About a week ago it looked like someone was doing something to the interior.  Its not the cheerful place it was.

Winter Sketch

In the soft light of winter, the building almost looks dormant or asleep.  It is waiting for a new occupant to breath life into it.  Like many of the business buildings in Talent OR, tenants come and go.  This is only one of several buildings that have changed since I started my drawing Talent series.

Traffic Has Changed

You might notice that the signage in front of the building has changed.  This is due to the re-routing of traffic in our historic downtown.  There used to be a stop sign in front of the “Funky Fashions” building; now there is different sign.  The stop sign is a block north.

Tree City

On a positive note, there is a newly planted tree in front of the building.  Talent is a “tree city”.  We like trees and they do a good job growing here.

It was fun re-visiting the “Funky Fashions” building.  I am including both watercolor and ink drawings – almost an after and before!  I hope you enjoy them!

Funky Fashion Building, May 2014



The post The Building Formerly Known As “Funky Fashions” appeared first on Margaret Stermer-Cox.

Alchemical sludge

John Sabraw, “Axioma VII” (2015), mixed media on wood panel, 12 x 12 inches (McCormick Gallery)

John Sabraw, “Axioma VII” (2015), mixed media on wood panel, 12 x 12 inches (McCormick Gallery)

John Sabraw applies his alchemy to sludge, turning it into art by extracting pigment from it and then creating images of nature, under siege, autumnal, and weirdly beautiful. Turning poison into paint becomes a modern version of creating gold from lead. It isn’t just symbolic but a way to make cleanup a potentially profit-generating industry. An example of his recent work is on view at Manifest’s Secret Garden exhibition right now. Last year, Hyperallergic did an appreciative story on his use of toxic runoff to create pigments and offered examples of the finished work, as impressive as everything he’s done in the past. From Hyperallergic:

You can see the process in detail in a short documentary by Jacob Koestler, but in essence, the team takes samples from the most polluted areas, neutralizes the pH, then separates the concentrated iron from the clean water. As Kalliopi Monoyios reported for Scientific American last month, one goal of the project is to see if there’s a way that remediation could pay for itself through a sustainable product. Iron oxide pigments include familiar names like ochre, sienna, and umber, whose use dates back tens of thousands of years. In theory, production of pigments from the toxic sludge on a large scale could be marketable and support the removal of the pollutants as its own industry.

Nix Perfection; Flawed Is Good

Thinking About Perfection and Seth Godin

Perfection…is it a good thing?

Perfection in the Flaws - Piggy

I was fixing my second (or was it third?) cup of espresso this morning.  Into my head popped the thought that I bet Seth Godin’s blog posts aren’t perfect everyday.  I wonder what his percentages are; how many times does he hit it out of the proverbial park?

Maybe because he posts most days, he gets pretty darn good results.

Hmmm… the espresso was nearly perfect.  It was good enough.  :)

Its About Me

So, how does this apply to me and what’s the point?

First I thought about this blog.  I get wrapped around SEO (search engine optimization) requirements.  I have Yoest SEO plug in and tells me things about SEO and how to improve my blog.  It’s like a high school multiple choice test – I try to get a near perfect answer.

But do you care?  And, why do I care?

Hmmm, maybe if I work on writing daily or most days.  It doesn’t have to be long or perfect; just thoughtful.  Maybe that would be a good idea.

Writing My Stories

I believe in our world, it’s a good idea for artists, including me, to be able to tell our stories.  And, tell them in an interesting and personal way.  It helps people have a way into seeing our work.  That’s why I care.  And, the best way to get good at writing is to write and do it often!  Oh, perfection is not the point.

Problem with Perfection In Artwork

What does this have to do with painting?  I think that when I try to achieve perfection, I risk losing the freshness and poetry of painting.  I risk a powerful way of communicating directly.

Somewhere along the way, I heard a story that Japanese master ceramic artists will purposely ensure their pieces are not perfect.  They allow the hand of the artist.  Beauty and individuality is found in the imperfections.

Flawed Is Good

So, there we are.  I’m not in the perfection business.  Maybe not even in the near perfection or almost perfect business either.   Perhaps art and beauty are in the flawed business.  Works for me!

With that, I’ll leave you with a flawed, but hopefully poetic painting of Piggy.  I painted him with watercolor and drew in ink.  He’s one of my daily paintings.


*Mr. Seth Godin is a blogger, author and public speaker.  He talks about marketing and entrepreneurship.  Mostly, I like his writings because they apply to lots of different situations.  I can relate.

Oh, there are some people who are and need to be in the perfection business.  Rocket scientists come to mind.  Not me though; I don’t need to be perfect!  Phew!  I sure try sometimes!  😉



The post Nix Perfection; Flawed Is Good appeared first on Margaret Stermer-Cox.

Darwin, science, religion, art, ice cream


Adam Gopnik

Last month, Adam Gopnik, a regular writer for The New Yorker, drew an unusual connection between art criticism and religion in this conversation with Krista Tippett who hosts the On Being podcast. Before he got to that, he offered interesting thoughts on how he can be a devoted Darwinist and still take his Jewish faith seriously, as well as a husband who appreciates his wife’s Christianity. He named his children Darwin and Auden (after the poet, who was a Christian.) I’ve been bringing religion into this blog fairly often lately, against my better judgement, since it’s such a politicized topic now. I think painting and religious faith are close siblings. Schools of art, or fixed theories about what art needs to be, are maybe a bit more like organized religions. I’ll leave it to you, and maybe Kierkegaard, to separate the good from the bad in those last two sentences. (Jim Mott and I talk about this quite a bit, which reminds me that I still have to write about my conversation with him.) I see a parallel between art and faith partly because of the way both try to point toward the whole of human experience. Art does it with a quiet, indoor voice–at least the art I love. In contrast to organized religion, which seems to make a lot of noise now, genuine faith more often than not withdraws into silence. Art and faith attempt to draw attention to the entirety of life, the whole of things. How art does this is something only Proust and Samuel Beckett, of all people, offer suggestions that make sense to me, in a tentative way, but that’s for another post. The point is to trigger in the practitioner an imaginative and felt apprehension of the totality of life. For me painting at its best offers a certain kind of attention, a level of awareness, that combines gratitude, joy, affirmation, and a sort of impartial honoring of things as they are. The spirit of painting for me is: “before it’s gone, take a look at how amazing this apple is!” Painting is akin to meditation or prayer: a way of strenuously attempting to see what’s there in front of you, and inside you, as clearly as possible, without distortion. (Would that describe phenomenology as well?) And in both there’s a constant element of self-doubt, a questioning of whether or not what you’re seeing, and doing, is true or real or right or even just worthwhile.

All of this represents, in a different sphere, the striving at the heart of most faiths, especially the element of self-doubt. In contrast to how many people think faith means certainty, including a lot of believers. But to get back to Gopnik (who didn’t talk about any of this) he makes a point that art criticism, not art itself, is a practice before it’s a dogma–he got there by talking first about Darwin and religion. I think that distinction between practice and dogma works much better for art itself than for art criticism. Art is a practice that tends to spin off fixed principles, and schools, and prejudices against this or that in favor of that or this (the way faith splits up into antagonistic sects) but primarily it’s a non-conceptual way to see into the nature of things. Learning how to paint is learning how to be aware. It isn’t an activity that springs from conceptual origins (at least not the kind of painting I practice.) Instead of illustrating ideas, painting tries to show life–and show it in terms that can’t be translated into words or concepts and maybe, to some individual degree, in ways that haven’t been seen before. Dogma and ideas are beside the point. Practice is everything. Doing, not thinking.

This distinction between practice and dogma links back to religion. It’s the pivotal distinction of Karen Armstrong’s recent writing about God. She talks about how religion and faith are learned behaviors, ways of being in the world, that can’t be reduced to dogma, and have very little to do with the various “beliefs” which can be asserted as propositions about the world. Art integrates human experience though learned skills. Art doesn’t assert propositions. Faith works in the same way. What’s incredible about a great painting is that, rising up out of long practice, long learning of skills, you might get work that resonates with a sense of the whole of life and conveys what is true and good–as the artist strives to adhere to those things in something as simple as the way she applies her paint. All of these things are equally true, in a slightly different and more important way, for the discipline of a Buddhist, Hindu, Jew, Muslim, or Christian. The goal is the same: to act in harmony with what’s real and true, through years of practice. The hope is to create an extremely humble, living relationship with the world beyond your head, as Matthew Crawford puts it, while being acutely aware of how difficult it is for your mind to remain aware of its own severe limitations and its default setting for despair, cynicism, and doubt.

Here is a sample of Gopnik’s comments. I’m puzzled by the genealogy he rattles off–I think I would reorder the isms a bit. Surrealism begat abstract expressionism didn’t it? But he makes his point:

Krista Tippett: How does your reverence for Darwin . . . influence your sense of religion?

Gopnick: I always see Darwin as the model of the active explanation, the ethics of explanation. It affects my own feelings about the universe because it’s demonstrative about the possibility that you can be completely committed to a rational, material explanation of how we got here without being committed to a reductive account of our own experience. You can believe that there’s a completely rational account of how we got here but you can never fully rationalize what we feel here: it’s central to Darwin’s distinction between two different kinds of time. It’s the hardest reconciliation to attempt. That is that anybody who, like Darwin, is committed to science is acutely aware of the limits of scientific explanation. The greatest philosopher of science in the 20th century, Karl Popper, always said the realm of science was small. There is a huge realm of human experience that would never be susceptible to scientific explanation. That didn’t mean it could be subsumed into the supernatural. But there were realms of what for lack of a better word you call spiritual or numinous experience, or simply the experience of sensibility, everything summed up in . . . songs and poems and novels and spirituals all the other ways we have of organizing our experience . . . he believed he had discovered the secrets of life, but nothing could explain the mysteries of living.

Krista: Which is also the confusion that brings us to the religious part of life–community, texts, teaching.

Gopnick: And practices. I’m trying to write a book of memoirs on coming to New York in the 1980s. I was in the art world in those years. I was getting a degree in art history, God help me. I realized then that understanding modern art really was like a religion in that it was a practice before it was a dogma. You could never really get it by understanding the way one picture had changed another, how cubism had created expressionism which created surrealism and so on. It was a practice of interpretation. That is something that is insufficiently well understood. What religion brings us is a practice, not a dogma. The idea of having a spiritual practice is one that’s completely compatible with having a skepticism about dogma. Science demands that we be skeptical of our own theories.

Gopnik doesn’t quite get to the heart of it: religion and art aren’t simply about “feeling” or “sensibility.” But that’s more a limitation of the language, rather than a fault in his view–these are the words you end up resorting to, for lack of better terms. BTW, on the subject of art criticism, the Entitled Opinions episode on Diderot touches on how he approached each painting he wrote about without applying any formal system to his critique or response. You’ll also learn he was crazy about ice cream.

Bill and Jean Stephens

HEARTSCOMBINED1-72Bill writes about an upcoming show:

Been busy here in the studio, entered a couple of shows and continue to draw everyday. Jean and I collaborated on two works that will be shown @Makers Gallery and Studio opening on Valentines Day. The show will feature artist couples who were asked to produce 2 works combining each other skills and concepts. I attached one of the works for you to see.

Jim’s epic journey

Jim Mott recently returned from what had to be his longest itinerant painting project, spending months on the road, and driving across the country, nearly coast-to-coast, and back again. He had lined up homes where he could stay, in exchange for paintings, all along the way, in his usual mode. This time he stayed with some interesting people, and picked spots in a canny way: Ferguson, Missouri, for obvious reasons, and Ojai, California, where Krishnamurti lectured and where the Krishnamurti Foundation is now located. Jim and I spent several hours talking about his trip and going through a stack of paintings he did on the road: I’ll do a post on it when I have the time. He stayed with people like Theo Gray, in Urbana, a fellow who created a fresh and imaginative book on the elements, and he had arranged to stay with Mick Fleetwood’s daughter, in California, but instead had a meal with her. More to come. Here are Jim’s comments on the paintings. The first one of Urbana brings back strong memories of graduate school there when I used to walk from my apartment along these streets to get to my office at the University of Illinois:
The first one is from Stop #2, Urbana, IL, where I was hosted by Theo Gray. He was one of the last hosts on my 1st tour in 2000 (my only longer tour – 11 weeks), and I was happy to reconnect. He said that one thing he really liked about Urbana was the tree-lined residential streets and the canopy of leaves. I did two paintings of tree-lined streets, and he got the better one. He has not yet sent me the scan he promised, so this is not the better one (later note: all the other images are scans. attached is a photo I found of the other Urbana street scene). But on my first tour he spent most of one day photographing all the paintings I’d done on the tour – about 100. He said it would be terrible if something happened to me on the drive back to NY and they weren’t documented.
The rest are from St. Louis. The first two depict scenes around Ferguson.  The third is an unfinished study; a painting I haven’t finished. The car belonged to a female friend of Michael Brown and had messages of outrage, grief, defiance, and despair written all over it with multi colored paint sticks (I think). The cross sketched in white paint that divides the panel in quarters was a composing device but I just noticed it resembles cross-hairs. Hmmm. The 4 year old boy in the car was the only person in Ferguson who said hi to me, but not the only one I talked with. Ironically I was staying on the other side of town when I did the Ferguson paintings. My St Louis hosts had one of Theo Gray’s periodic table posters proudly displayed on their wall but had no idea who he was.
And this was the start of a trip blog that I never followed through on: The project seems perfect for blogging, except that I find the degree of immersion and attention required for getting to know new people and paint new places does not leave much room for standing back and reporting on the experience.

Daily Habit – Watercolor & Ink Drawings

Habit for 2016

Greetings!  I would like share with you my ideas about a daily habit I’m adopting this 2016.  My intention in this post is to outline the why, what and how I’m going to establish this daily habit.

Daily Habit Watercolor & Ink Study


I follow artist Myrna Wacknov’s blog titled her “Creativity Journey”.  At the beginning of the year, she wrote that she intends on doing daily iPAD drawings.  The purpose is to improve her ability to use digital media.  I watched Ms. Wacknov do daily drawings before and was impressed by her results.

What I’m Doing

After reading Myrna’s post, I had the idea to form my own daily habit.  I thought I might do daily watercolor and ink studies.  That’s most days for a year, or longer.  That’s the point of a habit, isn’t it?  You make a good habit part of your daily (my) routine.

Why A Daily Habit?

The easy answer is that I’ve seen the positive results that happen when I stick to a daily habit.  To explain, years ago I wanted to start a personal exercise program, one I could stick to and would be good for my health.  I decided to develop the habit of running every day.  With trial and error, I settled on a morning running habit.  It helped that my life and work encouraged a morning running routine.  What I discovered was that establishing a daily habit helped me move past procrastination and distraction.  Plus, I improved my running ability.

Daily Habit; Painting While Camping

Why Watercolor and Ink?

I have good reasons to select watercolor and ink studies as my habit.  My big reasons follow.

  • I like doing watercolor and ink studies when my husband and I travel and camp.   I want to have a strong habit of doing these studies before we go anywhere.  In that way, I’ll make sure I do them!  The study from Kershaw-Ryan State Park is an example of a study done on a camping trip.
  • I agreed to do a demonstration of watercolor and ink  drawing for a local art society.  I better be prepared!
  • I like doing the studies!
  • I want to resume my “Drawing Talent” project, that is getting in the habit of doing regular watercolor and ink studies of my home town- Talent OR.  (See the railroad depot  below).

Daily Habit: Drawing Talent Series

My Plan

Be simple and direct.  I figure that’s the best way for me to adopt a good habit.  My plan is to do, as a minimum, one study per day in one of the empty watercolor journals I have laying around my studio.  That way, I fill the journals.  And, I feel free to experiment.  Oh, and yes, one needs to have a way to hold oneself accountable.  So, here’s the plan.

  • Pick a subject for the week.  I’ve been using simple still life set ups.
  • Start out working in gray.  Move to color studies.
  • Toward the end of the week, do a painting on good watercolor paper.
  • Keep a spread sheet tracking daily drawings.
  • Have fun.

January to Date

So far, my plan’s been working for January.  I think I have missed a day.  When I miss one, then I can always catch up.  Or, start again the next day.  Skies won’t fall if I miss a day.

I think this is an important point to remember when creating new habits.  If a day is missed, I need to make sure I don’t feel like I’ve failed.  I just resume the habit the next day or as soon as practical.  I define success as most days.

Daily Habit 4 Jan 16

Tracking Results

This past weekend, I was feeling frustrated about my work production.  I was feeling like I haven’t been doing anything.  Not true!  I have lots of drawings and paintings to support my work.

However, I didn’t have any tools that I could look at immediately to see how much work I’ve been doing.  Solution?  I set up a spreadsheet that I will use to track my daily effort.  And, I can see how the dailies fit into my larger plan for 2016.

Next – Draw & Paint!

So, there’s the idea and plan.  I’ve included a few of my watercolor and ink drawings to show that I’ve started working.  If the habit becomes ingrained, I figure you might see a year end review blog post!


Thank you!


The post Daily Habit – Watercolor & Ink Drawings appeared first on Margaret Stermer-Cox.

Walter Mitty, c’est moi

George Steiner, by Alecos Papadatos

George Steiner, by Alecos Papadatos

I’m feeling a little Vichy lately, as I surrender to the forces that occupy my time and space. I’m openly collaborating with things that constrain me. My painting for now has become something I remember fondly. (I’m working a bit, but not nearly enough.) Mostly painting has become one of Walter Mitty’s heroic daydreams, something I can only crave to do, while my actual daily life has been overtaken by helping others. (Those who teach art must feel this way constantly.) And I’ve literally pushed myself into a corner. I’ve voluntarily moved my studio from the largest room on our first floor to an upper room, in a southern corner of the house, half the size of my studio for the past decade, but with much better light. I need that direct sun on a few days it appears; I can’t tolerate another gray Rochester winter with nothing but a northern exposure. I’ve fled to that room the way Van Gogh lit out for the Midi.

But all along, I feel as if I’m shoving myself aside, making room for everyone else to live in the space where I ought to be working. (My former studio, our new living room, has become our formal “parlor,” our living room. Which is what the space was designed to be. One of my wife’s friends asked her, “How did you get him to do that?” She said, “He did it all by himself.” She refrained from adding with a smile, “Lucky me.”) As with everything in life, while I do what I know is the most meaningful of all my efforts–caring for my parents and brother (who broke his arm over the holiday and can’t drive), spending time with my children and grand-daughter for a week, reuniting with my little band of brothers from college earlier last year–I feel I’m neglecting my real work. Helping others is easier, because my social life actually requires so much less effort than making a picture. It feels as if I’m on a vacation, being irresponsible. It’s frustrating only because it’s time consuming. While the actual meaning in my life is hidden there in those tedious hours of helping out, whenever I sacrifice work time for the people who matter to me, I’m discouraged because I can’t make meaning by creating a picture. Why worry about making meaning? It’s already there in everything I’m doing–but mostly what I feel in those activities is how imperfect life is, how incapable I am of having a real impact on the people I’m assisting. I can’t heal my father’s sores or clear a stent in his leg, or reverse his aging. I’m little more than an Uber driver, delivering him to people who can attempt those things, but that doesn’t mean I’m adding much more to the process. I’m pretty sure nearly anyone else could pick him up and drop him off. What matters most, helping my family, feels like defeat, even though it’s just the opposite. That’s the Buddhist dilemma isn’t it? Life is dukkha, even when it can’t get any better. When my daughter broke the growth plate in her hip as a child, being an inadvertent asshole, I told her, a little girl in grade school, “Life is suffering.” Wrong thing to say, of course, but also the wrong word. Life feels unsatisfying and defeating. What means the most in life often seems to mean nothing at the time; that’s what hurts, that’s the paradox, the disease of being human, not being able to see the worth of what you’re doing while you do it. Poverty, obscurity, neglect, alienation, scorn, all the major food groups a painter is supposed to rely on for his daily bread aren’t really what hurts: the real suffering is the same as the one in just being human. It’s the inability to make one’s actual life and imagined life come together. I could always live in my art, but not in my life, says Andre Gregory. He was living a ridiculously interesting life, but somehow he felt it wasn’t real enough. It’s like the rich: they never have enough money.

I’m continuing to read Knausgaard and the second book in My Struggle feels much different than the first. It’s in a higher gear. Brighter, funnier, more contemporary, and direct. So far, anyway. It’s a genuine consolation right now to read him. This second volume also includes a passage that is probably the axis of the entire seven books, and it perfectly describes where I live right now (except that I do care about the others who seem to have taken over my life). I wouldn’t sacrifice my own time if I didn’t love them, yet the way Karl Ove feels when he’s alone and working is perfectly put; emotionally, it’s only you and the work, and no one else exists, nothing else exists but the work, the attempt to make something meaningful. That state of mind feels like a distant place where I once lived and worked, but in reality it’s only a few feet away from where I sit right now typing. Yesterday a couple sofas and a coffee table invaded and now control that region. I myself led those forces to their new staging area. I hope I’ll do some good work in my new space upstairs, but the only way to find out is to actually do something up there.

You can really hear Proust in this passage from Book 2 of My Struggle:

There was nothing left of my feelings for those I had just spent several hours with . . . When I was with other people I was bound to them, the nearness I felt was immense, the empathy great. Indeed, so great that their well-being was always more important than my own. I subordinated myself, almost to the verge of self-effacement; some uncontrollable internal mechanism caused me to put their thoughts and opinions before mine. But the moment I was alone, others meant nothing to me. It wasn’t that I disliked them, or nurtured feelings of loathing for them, on the contrary, I liked most of them, and the ones I didn’t actually like I could always see some worth in, some attribute I could identify with, or at least find interesting, something that could occupy my mind for the moment. But liking them was not the same as caring about them. It was the social situation that bound me, the people within it did not. Between these two perspectives there was no halfway point. There was just the small, self-effacing one and the large, distance-creating one. And in between them was where my daily life lay. Perhaps that was why I had such a hard time living it. Everyday life, with its duties and routines, was something I endured, not a thing I enjoyed, nor something that was meaningful or that made me happy. This had nothing to do with a lack of desire to wash floors or change diapers but rather with something more fundamental: the life around me was not meaningful. I always longed to be away from it. So the life I led was not my own. I tried to make it mine, this was my struggle, because of course I wanted it, but I failed, the longing for something else undermined all my efforts.

I think this apparent lack of meaning, the inability to see the inexhaustible meaning and mystery of ordinary life, is dukkha. There’s something of original sin in it, too. The inability to recognize the value of what you’re doing as you do it: the veil that keeps you from seeing what’s there. It’s at the heart of Knausgaard’s struggle. It’s what art tries to heal, and sometimes it does, but in the attempt to cure it, art brings it all to a halt. Does that mean, figuratively, that your life has to wither so your imagination can live? And yet what does Knausgaard cling to as his subject? The life he is so eager to escape, until he finally has time to read and write. He writes mostly about the tedium he finds so confining and meaningless. The irony of art is that you have to pull away from life in order to pay enough attention to it. Perpetually late to the party, you’re teasing out the meaning you ought to have felt in the experience you’re now trying to represent in words or pictures.

I also started reading George Steiner yesterday–my time away from painting has beaucoup longueurs: hours and hours of waiting for something to happen, while often the only thing I look forward to on some recent days is crawling into bed at night. So I’m getting a lot of reading done on my LG tablet. I’d always found Steiner rewarding in The New Yorker, but never bought one of his books. I’m making my way through Real Presences. You have to squint, the page gives off so much light. (His thinking, I mean, not the tablet’s screen.) What he says about art will make its way here pretty soon at least as a quote or two.

Circular Conversations – Acrylic Painting

Introducing Circular Conversations

Hi!  I’d like to introduce one of my recent paintings titled “Circular Conversations”.  It was one of the last pieces I completed in 2015.

Circular Conversations

21.5 x 14 Acrylic over Watercolor on d’Arches 140lb Cold Press Paper

Fun with Acrylic Paint

This is unusual in that it is a paintings of figures done in acrylic.  I have done most of my figures in watercolor.  I enjoyed experimenting with acrylic on paper.  I might have to do more!

My Models

The subject was based on a drawing I did while waiting for an outdoor concert to begin.  The two women were engaged in a conversation.  I was at least 30 feet away and they didn’t notice me.

I thought I’d include the appropriate page from my sketch book.

Source drawings for Circular Conversations"

Ink & Graphite
Pentalic 3×5 sketchbook
People waiting for the start of the Ben Harper & Innocent Criminals Concert, Les Schwab Amphitheter, Bend OR. 6 Sep 2015

I imagine they were having a pleasant conversation, the type one has among friends.

About the Title

The title “Circular Conversations” refers to a type of conversation where you find yourself back where you started from.  Its funny how that goes sometimes.

I hope you enjoy the painting!  Thanks!


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