Painting that has abandoned the dogmas, subjectivism and human centered regimes of modern art is free to explore everything. Objective reality has returned and the whole world is open to explore anew. The modernist aesthetic is merely the corporate aesthetic. Gone now is the repressive cloak of irreality which curtained art for the last 80 or 90 years. Art was veiled behind the thick and meaningless narcissistic cloak of ultra avant garde art, which achieved so little. We can now free ourselves to use skill again, love the splendor of real things and beings, and be intelligent. Gone is the obsession with the materials and tools of art alone. The need to refine the use of oils and pencils never ends, but now we can use pencils and paint with skill to explore reality again and not deny it. There is the knowledge of centuries in paint and pencils and it ties me to Van Eyck, Rembrandt, Turner, Van Gogh and others. It also ties me to real minerals and the earth. Art, for me is not longer about modern materials, most of which are derived from plastic (black oil), but about the whole world beyond the paint. The whole world and every thing everywhere, opens up beyond the fascism of the paint for paint’s sake, beyond art for art’s sake.
Yes, I am alone now, but not alone, as far as possible from New York Galleries and their tricks and con-men only. One can be honest and free, and even if few understand what one is doing, ordinary people get it, and the art marketers, curators, jurors and critics do not get it. But they were a big part of the problem weren’t they? But it scarcely matters because now one is alone before the whole world, before nature, and art is not dead, but very much alive, and all that one paints is a beginning of an inquiry into existing on earth. One is no longer alone but shares all the world with birds and trees, cells and oceans, all beings and things everywhere. The communicty of those who see the world n real terms is everywhere and goes back many hundreds even thousands of years. Who cares if a few greedy free marketers reject us? We knew they hated real art and the humanities long ago. Their promoting of conspicuous emptiness is behind me now, and I am finally free of them.
Painting has become a humbling thing, and the subject, meaning the outward and objective content of the work, becomes what matters and even the vocal gestures of crows talking back and forth, or the look of old Boxcar metal wheels have great meaning. Reality is not merely the subjective ‘impressions’ of sunlight, or even less the bizarre recording the extreme emotions or mental states as in surrealism, but the actual facts around one, no matter what they are. I am at last free of ideologue art critics and paint what I wish, and I am free of the “isms” and phony art history that leads to emptiness and the corporate wasteland. The art history of the ideologues is behind us and now I see and discover my own Art History. I no longer need to follow the ‘shock of the new’, not that I ever really did, or to obey the art dogmas in the current issue of art magazines, not that I ever did that either. As Vincent said, those where “dealers in men”, and we do not need them. The whole art market with its curators and art gallery impressarrios are behind me. I am a painter at last, actually I have been for along time.
Studying Green at Moonrise, (self-portrait)
Beginning with the Beaver painting at CVNP, above, I spend most of the summer studying variations on the color green. One of the goals of the summer was to understand green better. It is a much neglected and abused color by many artists— for instance, I once heard or read that the artist Robert Bateman said he does not like the color green, indeed, he said it made him sick. It seemed silly for an artist not to like any color, much less one as common as green. I have always thought all colors are wonderful. But then most of Bateman’s paintings contain copious amounts of dull grey, for reasons unknown. I asked him once and he replied that that grey is “him”, whatever that means. I have never identified myself with a individual color. I love them all, in different contexts. It is the contexts that matte, not me. Colors pass through me rather as they do through water, and it is hard to understand a painter who does not see all colors as equal and luminous under varied circumstances and lights. I follow my kids who sometimes have said, when asked what their favorite color is, answer, “my favorite color is rainbow”.
No doubt there are places in the world where there is little green, places such as deserts, the Arctic, or the middle of the ocean. But wherever there is abundance of life on most of the earth, there is a saturation of green. When I say green I really mean the whole panoply of greenish colors, not just the mysterious Chinese green of jade, olive green, Peacock green , Malachite green or the greens of Ireland, Terre Verte green, or yellowish Spring greens, or even Yellow Warbler Green. These all exist, as does Daffodil stem green, lettuce green, spring willow green, pine tree green and countless others. Green itself is rainbow.
The more I look at it the more I see in green. Indeed, all life comes from the chloroplast green of the diversity of trees. I remember the first time I thought about green in isolation was when I saw a painting by George Inness, perhaps 35 years ago. The name of the work is “Gray, Lowery Day”, 1877. It is a marvelous array of the most varied green vegetation I can think of, and some ducks in a creek. It also hangs in my mother’s college, where she spent four of the happiest years of her life, so very likely she saw this work. There are other works by Inness and Monet that really liberate green from the dreary green used up until Inness and Monet. And then there were some Pre-Raphaelite works whose use of green is new and marvelous for their time. The marvelous greens in John Everett Millet’s Ophelia or H.H. Hunt’s The Hireling Shepard, where the green shadow of the trees illuminates the sheep, for instance.
The background of such greens if of course in the Celtic green of the Ancient past, “England’s green and pleasant land”, as Blake called it, a green not yet put under the plow, the green of life in the British isles before Christianity started squeezing life under the veil of repression and priests. Green was the color of life then, the color of what matters, the color of Spring and Summer and the Maypole festivals, life celebrations, the Midsummer Nights Dream. John Fowles summarized this greenness of being as symbolized by the “Green Man”, a pagan figure still pictured in some British churches and a sort of hypertrophy. I am not inclined to symbols anymore. But having lived in England I know what green Fowles talks about in his writings. The May Greens of England are full of flowers and island life. The greens of Ohio are not too much less spectacular than those of England, indeed, they are even denser and more plentiful and less relieved by island clouds and cultivated fields everywhere. The greens of Ohio are wilder and taller in tree and shadow. Wildflowers blossom in the forest and soon the cicadas are singing. Someone who loves near me put up a mask of the Green man on a wild white pine. I am cheered by it every time I see it.
But yet I was not trying to evoke these magical English greens in my paintings. I was trying to evoke the magic of real greenery that lives in actual trees that I was looking at, in fact. I did not need to go back before the ancients festivals to the origins of evolution itself, say, in The Carboniferous period, about 325 milllion years ago, long before culture starts to deform reality. This green, ordinary green, present in forests all over the world, has often been scary to more sedentary painters, and hard to record in writing. Part of the reason for doing this book, indeed, was to record nature in paintings that is just not possible in writing, writing being colorless and mental, rather than visual. colorful and concrete. But since I can use both mediums, writing and painting, I think the result is truer to actual life and less abstract.
Leonardo was afraid of green and specifically cautions us against trying to paint sunlight falling through leaves, because it was too difficult to do. He only wants us to paint the sun side of leaves. We are not to stand behind the tree and paint it from the shadow side, he says. Yet I did this exactly in the painting below. Leonardo was was right it is difficult to do this, but, it is precisely the transparency and very absorbent nature of leaves that makes leaves so stunning and interesting to me,set against the sunlight. Leaves are the veritable face of life, without them there is no life at all. Leonardo, for all his brillance, did not know this yet.
Sunshine through leaves:
the whole earth breathes because of these.
So what I was driving at in my study of green in these works was an inquiry into the evolution of green. I was asking, what is the evolutionary function of leaves? We know that leaves “breathe” and were adapted to accomplish the task or process of photosynthesis for trees. For years I have been looking at leaves as light gatherers, which they are of course, but only lately have I come to understand another function. They are darker than I used to think. The green is vibrant but if you look at plants in relation to the sky they are markedly darker than the sky. The intensity of the green color does not increase the dark tone of the color. Indeed, seen against the sky trees are invariably dark, often nearly black, as in my second Goldenrod painting at the top of this essay. The dark green of the leaves is absorbing precisely because it is dark. The green of trees is really the color that maximizes light gathering from the sun, namely the purple and red light that is important to the chloroplasts ability to turn water and sunlight into glucose. The green light is reflected and is evidently the ideal tone and color to do that. The ability to absorb more light from the sun helps the trees do photosynthesis more effectively and thus synthesize or obtain more food. Since humans would hardly exist if it were not for plants and green, it seems quite fitting to contemplate why green is so ubiquitous. Far from being sick of greens, I want to celebrate it and enjoy its infinite oxygen making variations, from black jade to milky celadon, and mustardy -olive to emerald and opaline green.
There was Vervain at this site, which is hinted at in the lower right and Queen Anne’s Lace. I love the latter, a plant in the carrot family. Obviously, my wife took a photo of me so I could put myself into the painting. I could not very well paint myself in this position from life. I love Plein Air work. I wanted to show what it is like to stand for hours in these environs. The title Studying Green at Moonrise, (self-portrait) is a little cumbersome, but it makes the point I wanted it to. It was wonderful to study the green of our world. The moonlit greens of twilight take on a certain Alpenglow from the luminous air. The blue green of the cats tails, the living pale green hinted at the the Queen Anne’s Lace. I also wanted to show how the greens change with the amount of water the plants are getting.
But all this beauty has its problems too. Unfortunately there is some Mulitflora Rose at this site, another invasive plant and my son, who is only three, cut his eyeball on a thorn here. We rushed him to the ER and had it looked at. It was fine and he healed quickly. But the experience taught us again how dysfunctional or health care system is and how the whole system is corrupted by Insurance companies, who are parasites of the system. They are not needed at all, and should be eliminated. We need a National Health care system, like every other sane country has. It is unethical to profit from people’s sickness as they do. They exploit and gouge and do all the can to take your money and give as little care as possible. So from the moonlit greens of wonderful summer days to the horror of the American health care system, such is our lives, and one must face the truths of each day as they arise..
In any case, this painting is one of three that I did at this site ……here are all three, done at different times of year:
Portrait of the Sun Over Chippewa Creek
I wanted to have the sun and moon in these works. I spend so much time in my life watching them both. I got to see the Sunspots at the Natural History museum recently when their astronomer let the sun come through their 10 inch telescope onto a white board. I did a portrait of the sun a year or two ago and studied it through Nasa’s Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO)).
So for this painting, I spent time in August looking for a place where I could do a sun portrait. What I liked about this particular place is how the creek lines up on an east-west axis more or less, so the sun goes down at one end of it and comes up again at the other. Hence the trees are light on one side of the creek and dark on the other side. late in the afternoon, when the sun lines up just right. I liked the symmetry of this as it made the creek itself a sort of solar observatory and reflector. The single tree pointing up to the sun is full of light, and the sun falls on the trees on the right side of the painting, but is largely absent from the trees on the left and in front of the sun. For some people these might be trivial facts, but actually there are the terms in which we live our lives on the earth and I find this wonderful.
The kids played around me in the water and out of it, while I was working. There are tiny portraits of my family from life on the right side of the painting, except me of course, I had to do myself from a photo. But in this case I was able to actually have my family pose for me for 10 or 15 minutes off and on. My son was in a quiet enough mood to talk with my wife while she held him in her arms. My daughter was making the most lovely of wildflower bouquet’s. The figures are less than an inch high so there is not that much detail. Though in this one I was able to suggest the eyes and nose without using a magnifying glass. I suppose as my eyes get worse now that I am in my fifties, proving I still can see the small things is important to me.
Young people think their faculties will last forever. But those of us who have lived long enough, know that everything passes away, and even eyesight is mortal and will die one day. I paint these visions against that day and to share my joys and heartaches with other generations, perhaps bringing these days of joy to my children, again one day when they are older and have forgotten their childhood and how much we loved them. My daughter likes to tell me that “Daddy I love you more than the universe”, before she goes to sleep, I tell her I love her more than the universe too. My son has started saying this too. Maybe what we should say is that I love you as much as the universe, as indeed, it is a wonder-filled place, at least while the children are young. Over the whole face of the earth, childhood is a special time for all species. Or maybe it is enough to say something more modest, as ” I love you as much as oil painting” or “I love you as much as dragons or the books in my bookshelf”.
details of paintings of my family
Maybe now I can sum up the involvement of my family in these paintings. I always wanted to have children. But back in 1998-2001 I spent over two years going to Heroes Wetland nearly everyday. The result of this daily contact with the animal world was profound on my wife and I. I watched the males and females of many species have sex, make families and raise their young. I watched Orioles go through their life cycle many times. I saw how thoroughly the female made the nest and how the males fed the babies once they came out of the nest. I saw the babies take their first perilous steps to climb up a tree from the ground. I watched males teach young orioles how to catch bugs. In late summer young birds form into flocks with parents and there is allot of learning and education that goes on. Robins and Grackles could be seen in the woods in such flocks. I watched how female Wood Ducks worry about ducklings, with good reason too. I watched similar activities with Canada geese over many years. I saw a Goose more or less lose her mind when her eggs did not hatch after 35 days of sitting. Indeed, I had a profound educational experience learning from other animals how to be a parent. It is hard to express this, but it is true.
I saw concretely that the lives of animals are no less precious to them than our lives are to us. I always wanted to be a parent but seeing animals parent convinced me of the utter joy and goodness of it, as well as he hardship and suffering involved. Life on earth offers no deeper and richer thing than having kids..
I learned both how to love children and how to care for them from watching animals and how they treated their young. But also I learned this from my mother who had Alzheimer’s. We cared for my mother for 10 years and she had an advanced dementia for 5 of those years. She lost the ability to speak and eventually walk and even use her eyes. I become her father and her primary caretaker. What I learned from animals helped me enormously in the car of my mother. It is accurate to say that birds, mammals and my mother taught me how to care for children. I am far from a perfect parent, but parenting is not about perfection, it is about teaching children about how to love what is loveable on earth and to deal with reality and how to survive and even prosper in a difficult and sometimes painful world. Education is not a top-down affair, as the preachers of “standards” imagine, but a bottom up affair, teaching them bits of reality at a time and letting them work their way into knowledge of as many things as possible.
My children are old enough that I can bring them into the natural world now and they can begin the life long learning that only nature can give us about how to live on earth. I doubt there is a better education than prolonged study of nature, up close and in the company of those who love nature. This is not to say that one should neglect Algebra or Physics, but that all of knowledge really has its origin in the natural world and our relationship to it. Darwin, Da Vinci, and Dewey understood this. Life is short and we began to share the natural world with our kids as often as we can. My children are old enough that I can bring them into the natural world now and they can begin the life long learning that only nature can give us about how to live on earth. I doubt there is a better education than prolonged study of nature, up close and in the company of those who love nature. This is not to say that one should neglect Algebra or Physics, but that all of knowledge really has its origin in the natural world and our relationship to it. Darwin, Da Vinci, and Dewey understood this. Life is short and we began to share the natural world with our kids as often as we can.
Sunlight on Sunflower Leaves
There are great paintings of sunflowers by Vincent Van Gogh and Georgia O’Keefe. But it is an irresistible subject. I grew these in my garden from seeds and they got to be about 9 to 12 feet tall. But unlike Van Gogh or O’Keefe, mine is really more about the leaves than the flowers. What was most of interest to me was the light on the leaves and the way light passed through them. On the front leaf there is sunlight both passing through and sunlight on the surface of the leaf, reflecting off the leaf. This is the situation that Da Vinci says is too confusing to paint, but it was not confusing on such a large leaf,— it was very interesting and I like the result. It gives a feeling of verisimilitude. I can feel the weight flower head and how it pulls on the strength of the of the stalk..
The stalk seems quite resilient, and able to withstand the stress of the constantly bowed and heavy head of the flower. The leaves were starting to die by early September and so I put yellow brown areas where cell death was occurring on the edges of a few of the leaves. Each leaf was a totally different presentation of light/dark, tone, color, form, and perspective..
I was especially intrigued by the space relationships. I liked the way the upper ten leaves revolved around the stem in a sort of spiral of fan like shapes, each leaf gathering as much light as possible without crowding the light of the other leaves too much. The sun seemed to be evenly distributed among all the leaves. All these variables made the work a challenge to finish and I think I worked on it 6 or 7 times instead of my usual 4 or 5.
There is a feeling of atmosphere around the plant too. I like this feeling of green and full growth of a North American plant, strong and hardy, growing strenuously into the late afternoon sun. There is a vigor in the plant and a great need to put forth that huge flower. We enjoyed having these this year very much and they fed many goldfinches, who loved the seeds we left for them on the great seed heads. Even a Pine Siskin or two showed up, who we rarely see here..
The woods behind the Sunflower are part of the National Park. Our experiences and lives are closely bound up with the Park. It would be ahrd to imagine living anywhere else, as so much of the world outside of the park is ruined of nature and diced and cut and ploughed up by humans. Maybe in the future, if we can stop the destructive and irresponsible use of lands. Many people like to live in cities, connected to the internet and cell phones, surrounded by concrete and steel, wires and barrages of advertisements. Unaware of other species besides cockroaches, pigeons, rats, and domestic cats and dogs, they shut out the natural world entirely from their lives. They are afraid of it, hate it even, and want to destroy it when they see it. We moved here to be close to the land and love the natural world we live in. It is a source of deep happiness to be close to wild land and nature. i make these works partly to be a witness to what people in the cities are missing.
Beaver Swimming Down the Cuyahoga in Late Light
Sad to say, we are coming to the end of our first year now. In October I walked down the railroad tracks a ways and set up next to the Cuyahoga River again, fascinated by how the light of late afternoon played in the water and through the trees. There was was snag in the middle of the river of the sort Mark Twain talks about in his books about the Mississippi. When one has seen enough American Rivers, from the Mississippi to the St Lawrence, Ohio, Tennessee and the Snake, one realizes all rivers are important and need our care. The ‘it’ that the river runs through is really the heart of what we are and what the land is.
I think the Yellow tree, on the right, was an old fruit free of some kind. Its yellow leaves slowly died and dropped as I was working, but again I kept my first impressions intact. I was standing in between the railroad tracks and the river, so that was a little uncomfortable when the train came by as it rumbled and creaked so loud. But the engineer always waved real nice, and we got used to seeing one another about 6 O’clock or so..
The sun was on my left and came pretty far over the trees to hit the opposite bank. one becomes very aware of the geometry of the movements of the sun through space, and I began to think like a tree. The closer bank had streaks of light on it that come through the trees and illuminated a section of the ‘beach’, as it were. That is one of my favorite parts of the painting actually, —where that streak of light passes up over some plants and into thee rufous colored or orange Japanese Knotweed. This is an invasive plant in this area too, which, like the Phragmites, crowds out native pants. If one looks at it without judgment, it is beautiful in the fall.
I like the left bank where you can see the strata left by generations of rocks or soils worn away by erosion and the river. The “winding river” really winds around many double-backs and heads out into a wonderfully wide area of willows and cottonwoods created over eons. If you blur your eyes and look at this painting from a few feet away you can see the hints of a far distant hillside at the end of where the river disappears. The far hillside is actually the other side of the Cuyahoga Valley..
The main subject in this painting is light on the river or the lessening of it on the trees. The the middle distance on the left bank is a tall Sycamore. Other trees are probably Cottonwoods, Aspens or Oaks..
The beaver swam by me everyday about the same time, headed to a bank lodge perhaps, which I was unable to see. She would swim down to the lower left of the painting and disappear into that area and not come out. the first time I saw her I thought maybe he swam down the river underwater. But that would not happen twice, probably, so I was pretty sure she went into a lodge of some kind.
This last one was done during the tropical storm Sandy, which came to Ohio from the east coast in early November. There was a stormy sky and the air currents were weird, with the normally west to east wind reversed and went from east to west instead. The is the view of the Beaver pond which I also painted in the Green Heron painting, above. Though here I was working form the other side of the pond, looking east instead of west.
As I have said throughout this essay, it was a year of weird and usual weather. The fact that corporate greed has begun to even harm the temperature balance of our planet is proof enough that corporations are false and destructive artifacts of the old toxic monarchies. Like the monarchies, corporate culture must be ended. It is not sustainable any more than aristocratic culture was sustainable. The vacuous devotion to meaningless and formal corporate art should stop too, as it suggests a kind of complicity. It probably won’t, just as corporations will continue to wield their unjust powers, but we have a responsibility to object and spread the word about them. Eventually the corporation will go the way of slavery and the refusal to let African Americans and women vote. CEO’s will go the way of Kings and will cease to rule our world unjustly. They are bloated and arbitrary dictators. It is time the workplace is made democratic and socialists, and not a dictatorship. That is when global warming and the abuse of nature will end.
The train here is number 800. A man who works in the maintenance yard told me it is their best engine. Trains save allot of energy. They use a tiny fraction f the energy spent on cars and trucks. I loved trains when I was a kid, not knowing then that my great granddad, Tom Yenser, was a train man. I rode on my first train in the Second Grade, and sang “I’ve been working on the Railroad” and rode behind a big engine up the San Joaquin Valley and back. Painting this train next to this lovely wetland reminded me of that. I also noticed that when the train went by none of the birds or animals I the pond seemed disturbed by it. It really takes up less space than cars and highways and does not pollute the atmosphere and cause global warming to anything like the destructive effects of cars. The car and oil industry and congress got rid of many of the trains and street cars we used to have. They should be brought back..
The original reason for doing this painting was to try to capture the far Valley ridge and how it turns this lovely copper/brown/orange color early in November. It is the Oak trees that stay this rusty color, when the leaves of the Sycamores, Willows and Maples are all down. So what you see here are trunks of Willows and Sycamores low down near the river and shorn of leaves and Oaks higher on the hillside still in brown/orange leaf. I also wanted to paint this pond with the sky in it, and the ducks swimming across, it as they are. But then I realized I wanted to train in it too..
Once I decided that, I was thrown back to lots of memories from childhood about train sets I had and played with. My brother and I even had my Dad’s train set at one point form the 1930’s and we played with that. My brother and I actually jumped a moving train once, like a couple of Hoboes, and did not ride very far, but it gave us an idea of how dangerous and thrilling that was. But the most vivid memory was a tiny train set I had, the only one that was really mine and my friend down the street had one of these too and we set up our sets together one day in his house. We got our son a little wooden train set recently and he has been playing with it all the time. I am not sure what the fascination with trains is, but it goes beyond cars and diggers. The sound of a train somehow echoes the Wolf howl or the Elk Bugle. It is nearly the sound or the wild at the same time as it is the sound of the open road, of the Hoboes and of traveling, looking for a better life. Maybe it is the sound of that freedom, the freedom of not being tied to a car, yet to keep going and get where you want to go. I cannot remember feeling less tied by civilization as when watching the Nevada sage desert cross by my window as I traveled to San Francisco by train. My mom once saw wild horses running in this same desert traveling a similar train 70 years ago. Trains are closer to the wild and this painting evokes that.
Lastly, I think what this painting was about finally was space,—- the space of the rather wild skies we were having that week. The space of those huge trees next to the railroad tracks that tower over the trains. The space of the pond. the space the train itself was cutting through, disturbing the nature around it very little. It is actually a fairly small painting, but it has a great deal of space in it. Where there is warm enough air, light,water and space there is life, and life is what I tried to show in all these works, real life and illuminated space.
This is really part of my second year of this project. It shows Shirley’s horses. She is a neighbor of ours. They are older horses, one of them is 29. I have admired them for some years and wanted to do a painting of them and the Barns and stalls they live in. We are still next tot he national park here. It was cold some of the days I worked on this and the horses rarely cooperated with the pose I had in mind. But I did the best I could from life.
It was certainly a good year, I don’t know if it could have been much better actually. There were some hardships in our personal lives, deaths of a dear animal, a Cat we called Paws, and an old friend of mine died, Lynn Szalay, and other losses, which I have not mentioned. I myself got sick and was hospitalized, but we weathered them as best we could. We were brought much comfort and enjoyment by nature in this marvelous and under-appreciated Park. To be near this Park is why we moved here and it has paid us back many fold. I have deliberately lived near public lands most of my life. Private lands are too often much abused spaces. It is hard to imagine life without nature. Nature is largely still free in our park systems. Everywhere else nature is under threat by the arbitrary dictatorships of private owners. Everywhere people kill animals, cut down trees, and poison the earth and sky with near impunity. Life is decreasing and human over population is the norm. But in the National Parks there is an effort to restore ecology and balance. That means life in more abundance for all the species that live there. Outside the parks capitalism rules with its oil spills and foreclosed houses, its wars and rich people who steal from the poor to feed themselves more than they can eat. Animals are hit by cars avoer and over again until they are so bloody you cannot tell the species,— no one cares,– they just keep hitting while talking on cell phones or even texting. There is grim reality in the parks too. But at least life is given more of a fair chance. It is that ‘fair chance’ I wanted to show in these paintings, the wondrous variety and diversity of nature left alone to flourish. That flourishing is the natural state of evolution, and that could be our lives too, if we learned to care for our world better than we do. Human embryos grow by the following of local rules and bottom up building, not top down dictatorships. People betray their won childhoods when they insist on CEO’s Presidents and other forms of top down management and system of unjust governments. One day, human rights will come if we learn to treat nature with the same rights. Watching my own children playing in the natural world, there is no deeper happiness…..
This one is again concerned with railroad tracks. It is not part of this cycle of paintings, but I think it belongs here. I started this in 2002 when my mother was very ill and she lost her house. I felt somewhat homeless myself when that happened. It is partly abut losing my mother, who was very helpful to me, and a very good person. These the tracks near her house and that is me walking them. I used to walk then a lot when I lived at her house, off and on, over the years. I studied birds in some wild areas along these tracks and watched them carry incredibly long trains of cars along it, going either east or west. I only painted one set of tracks when actually there were two.
Unusually this one is not done from life but out of my head, and done for emotional reasons. I have always felt deeply for the 1930’s and the live on Hoboes and loved reading the Autobiography of Woody Guthrie and other songs and art about the lonely rails and homeless men. Some of Hoppers paintings express this well, as does the one in Columbus by Clarence Holbrook Carter called Jane and Clara. “Blood on the Tracks” by Dylan moved me for many years as did Arlo Guthrie’s song on the “Train they call the city of New Orleans” My mother had helped us get a home, but when she lost hers it was a blow to us and we suffered for it for some years. This painting is about that sense of loss and wandering we went through. The feeling is common in America, as it is such a country of transiency and loss, fragile lives and foreclosed houses, all so rich men who have too much can get away without sharing with others. The lionization of immoral rich men is a constant in the U.s. as well as being one of its worst features.It is a bad country in many ways, founded on indentured servants, excessive “compensation” of executives, slavery, unjust treatment of unions and misuse of workers. It is the only painting in acrylic in this group of works.
This one was hard to do. It was a half mile into the woods, which was not bad, but it is a really wild rookery and very new. Hardly anyone has seen it, and I was up on the steep hill, almost a cliff, over looking the Cuyahoga River, —a very beautiful dramatic place for Northern Ohio. But the question was how to get the trees to appear high enough without making a very tall painting. I wanted the March and April ground and all those leaves and trunks to be in it too, so the viewer could see how much in the forest this really us. The small Beech tree keeps its dead leaves all winter here. I have always wanted to paint one. There are a lot of mosses at this spot and that explains the green on the ground, —with all the gnarly leaves and soil hit by the late sun coming down behind me where I had my back to the drop off, which must be 150-200 feet or more down to the river.
Most of the birds were painted form life, which is not easy to do. For instance, the bird flying into land on the nest in the upper right sky was done over several days and I had to wait to see many birds assume just that position to try to paint it. It would have been easier to work from photos but I wanted to do it as much as I could from life. The challenge of painting birds from life is so rare. Some of the smaller. more distant birds were done from photos but as much as I could the majority of them are done from life. The fact that I could not be all that accurate accounts for the less than perfect rendition of the birds. But there are times where I have to show my weaknesses rather than sacrifice the authenticity of the painting actually done from life.The trees in the foreground are oaks, and there was a dead old sycamore, I think. The small tree with dead leaves in the front is a Beech tree, one of many favorite trees. There were Hemlocks nearby too, the to the left and they are native and very pleasing. Anyway, I have never done anything quite like it. It is perhaps a little crude, but it had to be really. I could not go any bigger in size, it is about 10 X 17 “. It was a good adventure and one that had me in the thick of the birds lives for many weeks. A rookery is such ordered chaos and the birds croak and groan like I imagine pterodactyls sounding. I sometimes hear the Herons flying over our house, even late at night, that guttural croaking can be heard right down to the ground at our house in the dark.
Cherry Tree in Grave Yard
This is April, 2013. I had been quite sick and was in the hospital a few times. It got me thinking about dying again, and how much I love my kids. I want to stay alive for them. I had been thinking of painting this graveyard in previous springs because of this marvelous Cherry tree, so much like the one that was at my mother’s house, which I loved, and once found a Mourning Dove nesting in it.. But this one is of the graveyard down the street from us. It is very old, with graves back to 1800. I love these old stones, weathered by time and rain, snow and sun. The Forsythia grows on the edge of the woods. Maybe because I was sick recently I have a certain affection for graveyards and seeing the kids with such happiness there was marvelous, as I was again saved from death and so very glad to be with my kids,—- I hope for many years yet. We had a few picnics in the graveyard and when the kids had gone the black cat—oddly named Plato— from the veterinarian next door came and curled up at my feet. Nice to paint with a cat purring curled at your feet. It has been a beautiful spring. I love the spring trees, so much life in them, and fragrance. The birds and bees love them. It is a picture with contradictions in it, certainly, but this is reality and not fiction. Beauty in the midst of so much death and childhood heedless and exuberant, playing while their old man paints, chasing each other around the cherry tree.
The graveyard is not far from our house. We have brought the kids there several times and they are hardly strangers there. We have taught them to love graveyards and not fear them. We go see my mother’s grave once a year at least, and have a picnic on her grave and reminisce about her life. They are allowed to run and play as they wish. So to them, graveyards are a place of life and not of doleful death. While I was painting here we had a picnic too. They played hide and seek with my wife and it was a funny and light time.
While I painted this, the kindly black cat from next door, the opposite of Edgar Allen Poe’s malicious and fictional feline, came and curled around my legs as I painted for a few minutes. After expressing affection for me and my company, he settled down and slept leaning against my feet for the rest of my session. I saw him other days too as this painting took at least 5 visits. The gorgeous yellow Forsythia was in bloom and the Cherry tree, which was the main object of my painterly attention.
This graveyard has graves in it that go back to 1830, which is not old by Massachusetts standards, which go back to 1620 and are positively young by English standards, which has graves that go back to Roman times or before—- but here in Ohio that is very old indeed. One of the stones is actually a man who fought in the revolutionary war in the 1770’s and died in 1830. I love the character of he old stones and left some of the newer ones out of the painting, just so I cold paint more of the old ones. There is a curious contradiction in these “eternal” memorials, since are not eternal at all, though certainly they decay more slowly than human bodies.. The stone takes on a life of its own, made by what nature has done to it over the century or two. A few names on these stones are readable, names like “Breen”. The white marble one was leaning a bit and stained by who knows what lichens or weathers. Some stones had hands holding flowers and others were sandstone with obliterated names worn down by wind and rain. these stones hold stories, but few of them can be read anymore, so I tell the story of the stones themselves, and the life the stones are living right now. Dying is a moment that we fail to celebrate for ever, even if me manage to date it on old stones. But in most cases even the dates fade.
Maybe because I was in hospital recently I have a certain affection for graveyards, Hard to explain this and seeing the kids with such happiness there was marvelous, as I was again saved from death and so very glad to be with my kids,—- I hope for life for many years yet.Maybe because I was in hospital recently I have a certain affection for graveyards, Hard to explain this and seeing the kids with such happiness there was marvelous, as I was again saved from death and so very glad to be with my kids,—- I hope for life for many years yet.
Trillium in spring. Near Furnace Run creek. It is a lovely plant. When it is not predated too much it can grow into marvelous stands of hundreds of flowers. But a stand of hundreds of them is rare. I have only seen that a few times in my life. Deer consider it a delicacy. Though there may be other reasons it is rarer than it used to be. I have seen deer eat it. But there are places where it continues to grow despite the deer. It would be interesting to study this further. Furnace Run Creek which has plenty of deer, is also one of he cleanest of our creeks. The CRCPO says that
Furnace Run is one of healthiest, intact streams that flow into the Cuyahoga River. Previous work in Furnace Run (1991-1996) indicated that this watershed is in full attainment of biological and water quality standards- which means Furnace Run is meeting Ohio EPA standards. Some sites within Furnace Run exceeded Ohio EPA standards and were noted as “Exceptional Warm Water Habitat (EWH)”. http://cuyahogariverrap.org/ABOUTCRCPO.html
This may be one reason why wildflowers do so well there, the water is largely free of pollutants. It maybe that the loss of native Wildflowers is much more complex than the experts realize. I have long suspected that there is some measure of fraud in the rush to kill deer. The main reason, I have often thought, is human encroachment on land, and it seems that human pollution is a large factor too. It would be good to see a serious study done of Furnace Run and why species around it seem to do better than other creeks in our area. I also did the Virginia Bluebell painting there, in spring 2012, (see above).
Barn in Spring and My Kids
I love spring trees, there so much life in them, and fragrance. The birds and bees love them too. This crab apple was full of bees and flies of many kinds. So much life. I had wanted to paint this barn for some time too and had done two other paintings in this area, one of the woods in November looking across the Valley and one of a pine tree in snow. In the one in the woods looking across the valley I stood to the left of this painting down the hill a bit, and in the snow paint of the pine I stood to the left of the barn maybe twenty feet. Deer come and go in this field a lot and that explains why there were so many ticks. I got one and my son got two, but we got them off us before they did any real damage. The one he got in his ear was particularly objectionable. He felt it there and took it out himself. They are not insects but rather are in the Arachnid family. Little land crabs. I took to wearing high boots, and we made the kids wear them too, which is why you see my daughter’s boots on the platform that leads up to the barn, where she sits in her socks, reading something. My little son is walking up the platform.
The sun on the opposite side of the Cuyahoga Valley shines on the spring trees over there, the new leaves looking yellow in the bright light. The sky is grey but no rain threatening over head. I had been sick for a month or so and was now feeling much better. I was glad to be out painting the spring light again. Life is short and celebrating beauty and variety in life is very much a part of this series. I loved painting all the grasses in this field, the light on the old barn and the glow of the sinking sun on the far hills.
It is hard to explain to my kids that the light on the leaves in the center of these paintings is what their father thinks life is all about. Something of the great value of life is in that light, in the color of it, in the leaves themselves, in the fact of existing. To be aware of things as they appear, to concentrate of facts, beings and things. To deny abstraction as false a concocted. Henry Thoreau called it the “light on a bank side in autumn”, and I know what he meant. It is nothing mystical or religious, it is rather the special quality of being on our earth, which the early or late sun suggests at dawn or twilight. Photosynthesis is a great a wondrous or mira phenomena as human consciousness or the awareness of animals. It is such a rich and varied world and we are part of it and this is a tremendous thing. Life on earth is all we have and so light on leaves, light on water, and and life itself are precious, even if often difficult and sometimes full of problems. It is true that life, like light, is not a measurable quantify. Matter has mass and occupies space and has weight. Energy or light does not seem to occupy space, nor to have weight, though it appears to be affected by gravity. But it is our world it illuminates, the world where science seeks to understand who, where and and what we are: what animals or insects are. The amazement of life is that it exists at all and since it does, it is up to us to inquire and appreciate it, or not. Many do not, they think only humans matter, and that is called speciesism.
I had been very sick for a month or so and was now feeling much better. I was glad to be out painting the spring light again. I felt fragile as a peach’s skin. Watching my lovely little boy and his sister play on the platform to the barn and squeal with interest and wonder, enjoying the world, this is was life should be mostly about. Living in a world where wildflowers grow and deer wander, and the clouds change every day, this is as good as life can be. This is not an ideal world, but it is the wrold as it is and this is far better than an idealized fiction.
I had been passing this house in the National Park for a long time and was always struck by its age and loneliness and wondered why it just sat there, abandoned. It is so strange when a home looks homeless. I’ve thought a lot about the housing market these last years with so many people being thrown out of their houses, foreclosed on by corrupt banks. In fact, the banks are responsible for the housing speculations that lead to the ‘crash’ of 2007. Congress under the Republicans deregulated the markets. They helped engineer overcharging and specious house loans, defrauding billions from house buyers. The government is partly guilty in this flim-flam, allowing the banks to speculate in this way, hurting many Americans in the process. Then the government allowed the banks for foreclose on people who had been charged outrageous and inflated prices for houses. Some had been sold bogus and inflated “subprime loans”, which should never have been allowed. Banks created ‘derivatives’ and other bogus ways to ‘leverage’ money into fictional wealth.
So the government hurt millions of ordinary people on both sides of a scam that that sent house price climbing and then plummeting, with banks and realtors skimming off huge profits and victimizing millions. Some of the investment banks, like Bear Sterns, went bankrupt, due to their own greed and corruption. More of the backs should have died. But the government bailed many others out, proving yet again that the government helps the abusive rich and neglects and abandons the victimized middle class and the poor. The banks should never have been bailed out. People who were foreclosed on should have been helped and they weren’t. “Too Big to Fail” was a lie. It was ordinary people the government should have helped and who should have been bailed out..
So I started looking at this abandoned house and its graceful columns and beautiful old Victorian tracery, as a lost house, and a dream deferred. I could see the beauty and love in the construction. I painted it to celebrate a time when it was not so hard to get a house and one could take great pride in it. I finished this painting wit foreclosure and lost homes in mind. I admired the sadness of the broken porch, sagging on the left some, and the winter storm window fell down and off the porch. After I was done with the painting and had started the outhouse on the same land, I met the sweet old woman that lives near the house and learned her story. Let’s call her Joe Davis, short for Josefina.
Turns out the house had been bought by force of eminent domain by the government in the 1980’s and they had promised to fix it up and make it part of the park as a place where a family could live. I can see the use of eminent Domain fo rthis as it helps animals and tress and insects. Many peole were hurt by this though and they had to be failry compensated. They have a program where families live in park houses and resell farm produce to locals. But this allows for animal killing, and for enrichment of a few familes, with a possible opening to tree cutters and oil companies. But the parks had been neglected and stinted on by Congress. The Republicans wish only to feed our money to the rich and starve the National Parks and education and all things that really matter. So this house fell into neglect and was vandalized. The old woman who used to live there was angry at how the government treated the house she grew up in, rightfully so. She is a wonderful old lady and reads books and studies history. Her favorite politician was Eleanor Roosevelt, who cared so much for ordinary Americans. That was my mom’s favorite too . Indeed, there are few politician who actually “represent the people” most of them represent corporations, who are neither people nor worthy of representation.
David Quammen writes in a recent article on Yellowstone, (National Geographic may, 2016) how private owners and building housing right in the path of migrating Elk and Bison. This is not right and should not be allowed. Houses are being destroyed all over the country because of bank corruption. So I painted this old house, itself a relic of the natural past of human beings in America, here abused by politics and the rich and wealthy classes who want every thing for themselves. How do we honor history and nature’s rights at the same time, and preserve what is real, and limit and downsize corporate corruption, undermining the ideology that corporations are persons, when they are not? The beauty of an old house, being grown over by nature, worthy to be preserved, not just in memory of Joe, but in memory of days that are gone, when people did not harm the land as much as they do now. We should not just preserve nature on in National ans state parks, but nature should be preserved everywhere, not just for humans but for all beings.
Light on the Outhouse
When I showed this to the former owner of this house, a woman who used this outhouse for fifty years, she looked very wistful and thanked me for seeing the beauty in it. The park ripped out the barn that used to be on this property and moved the outhouse from where it used to be. So it hovers on the edge of a little ravine, and there is a low hill opposite. One of the boards was broken off the nicely made door. The hinges are getting rusted and a vine creeps up the side and poison ivy and other plants grow beneath it. Light danced on the front of it as I worked. It took me quite a few visits to finish this. It was harder to do that it looks.
Light was bluish in the shadow inside the outhouse.
July, 2013 .
I really do not see that much difference between all the species and humans. Beavers build dams and so do children. Our interdependence with all living things becomes more and more obvious as one gets older and really looks at things. I still think I am a student, though I am in my fifth decade now. I had kids because of birds, as I have said. The two years I spent at Heroes Wetland really made me aware of birds and their babies. The wonderful observations and inquiry I made watching Canada Geese and Orioles in the wild between 1999 and 2001 or 2002 taught me so much about being a good father. It is literally true that birds and animals taught me to love parenting.
So in a way when I paint my kids in nature I am doing birds and animals. Indeed, the more I have studied evolution the more I see that we have all grown up on the earth together, and though here are great difference there is great unity too. This is the main point of thee Origin of the Species. Dinosaurs became birds, microraptors became a blue jay. Speciesism, the idea that one species is superior to all the others is a juvenile anti-Darwinian attitude. Humans do not “possess” nature as Noam Chomsky claims in a recent essay. That is an immature and patriarchal attitude to nature that has to do with conquest and machismo, the illegitimate and unjust powers of the world. Even the rocks and trees in my back yard are not mine. I am merely a caretaker. I try to disturb as little as possible, to nurture when I can, and only remove things like poison ivy that might harm my kids..
Having kids teaches one the value of nature. Young deer or chimps playing are not that different than young humans playing. I have watched Canada Geese parents watch their kids and it is not all that different than me watching my kids. One problem with those who study human or animal behavior is they don’t watch wild or ordinary populations enough. People like to parse their differences from animals to make themselves feel superior, but actually, a fox mother is no less admirable that a human mother. She will risk her life for her kits if she has to.
My kids are allot like little deer, chimps or foxes. They love to play. Over the week or two I did this painting we went to the creek maybe four times and another time by myself. No one was there but us, and occasionally a train went by over the trestle bridge. I had to stand it the stream to do it as my kids played. The kids were building a sort of dam so I called i the painting “Dam Building”. My son is only four so he would not pose for very long of course, but my daughter was very helpful. I had to do most of him from a photo, but managed to block her in from life.
Various painters have done people in water, Sorolla, Eakins, Bellows, Rembrandt, and these are all fine works. But actually I did not think of these works till after I did the painting. I love to review the history of art and think about it. But in this work I wasn’t really influenced by anyone. My kids are not always joyful by any means. But in this work, I was trying to picture the joy I have in my children and the joy they have in their own lives. This is a picture of ordinary kids playing in a healthy creek on a lovely day in summer. The painting it resembles the most is the Scarlet Tanager bathing, below. The birds was bathing on a spot not more that 300 feet down the creek from where my kids are shown playing. They learn so much from the natural world. Most humans are busy building huge cities where the natural world is abolished, and the kids there starve inwardly. the world humans have made is n impoverished one. If only we could return our children to nature, they would be happier and much less likely to turn into destructive adults. In the Lord of the Flies, the kids turn into monsters only because they are without guidance. We can make a better world where kids have both nature and guidance. Every animal or bird I have watched tries to do this with their kids, and so should we.
Blacksmith at Hale Farm
This was done over a month or so, with a few visits to the barn Where Marty works at Hale Farm. The figure I could not do from life but a lot of the rest of it was done form life. Hale Farm is a sort of living museum run by the Western Reserve Historical Society. I had to stand in the in the door of a barn where Marty has his shop, and it was a narrow space and lots of visitors coming and going asking Marty questions. It is too crowded to be a good place to paint. I don’t like to paint around people that mush, though I do it pretty often, but this was particularly hard to do. Also, I had to stop for a few weeks awhile because they did a civil war re-enactment there which we took the kids too and that was great. There was a reenactment of the first day of Gettysburg, when the South was winning and they drove back the union into the town
I could not resist painting this. I was often bringing my kids to educational class and experiences at Hale Farm. It is a good place to teach them history and expose them to various occupations common over a hundred years ago. I was attracted by the skill of Marty’s artistry. He has been in this shop for 34 years and is a real craftsman. I love this sort of knowledge and expertise. Indeed, I think of it as applied science, which it is, of course. He knows a lot about metal and how it magnetizes and un-magnetizes and its structure and weaknesses. Indeed, according to Clifford Conner, in his Peoples History of Science, he says pottery probably helped create metallurgy, and first that meant making bronze and copper, but later Iron was forged and blacksmiths began their experiments. So blacksmithing is probably part of the the origin of chemistry and thus is important in the history of science.
It was fun to spend a few weeks trying to paint him from life. I learned a lot form him about his trade. I had to take photos for the actual pose as he moves too much. But you you can see how amazing his shop is. I painted as much of it as I could, but you can see how intricate and involved his space is. The detail in his shop is infinite, and I left a lot out. It was fun to spend a few weeks trying to paint him from life. I learned a lot form him about his trade.I had to take photos for the actual pose as he moves too much. But you you can see how amazing his shop is. I painted as much of it as I could, but you can see how intricate and involved his space is. The detail in his shop is infinite, and I left a lot out.
The anvil, grinding wheel, bellows, table, water barrel and vise and many of the implements were done from life. I had to use photos for other parts, like the drill press, calipers and the pliers. these tools are all part of a long tradition of inquiry and science that went into this craft, a rare craft nowadays, but historically one that was very important.
I spent more time of this painting than on some of the others, but I did enough from life that it is not a studio work. This is part of the series on the National Park, and it is an anomaly already in that collection, so I wish to retain some measure of plein air savoir faire, as it were. But as I did work part of the painting form photos I learned a good deal about the limitations of working form photos. I went back several times after working form photos and could see how limited and blind to certain things the photos were. A certain feeling or texture, a given lighting condition and even the special appearance of skin or a hand can be beyond the camera. Cameras only take the general idea of the form, and they are very good at that, but miss a lot of what the studious eye can see.
I mentioned to a friend that I was working on a blacksmith painting and she suggested I look at Joseph Wright of Derby. Though my aims are very different than his I admired his lovely modeling of form. Derby’s “Experiment on a Bird” is dramatic and rather disturbing, (below) but beautifully staged and painted. It suggests a rather anti-science interpretation, unlike some of his other works which seem to be about science. The man is torturing a bird, depriving it of air. His painting “A Philosopher giving a Lecture on the Orrery in which a lamp is put in place of the Sun” is definitely positive about teaching children science, on the other hand.
Derby’s made some interesting light studies and recalls Caravaggio in some ways. His Blacksmith paintings is more dramatic and romantic than my blacksmith, and he seemed to want to evoke something like his Vesuvius erupting works. He wants to picture intensity and fear, awe and human power.
Mine is done mostly plein air and is about the actual doing of blacksmithing, the science and skill of it, which I admire. Mine is calm, with none of the intensity that seemed to interest Derby . .
Derby seems to have admired it too, but there is an atmosphere of almost Frankensteinian tension is his paintings of forging and Blacksmithing. I am not sure why, or what he intended, and it would be interesting to do more research on him. I imagine he was quite a Romantic. His blacksmith seems almost an alchemical industrialist or magician sort of figure. He likes to huddle the women and children the corner, crowding them into anxious admiration for the men.
He seems to have been divided in his attitudes toward science, whereas I am not. Another painting by him showing a bird being killed by science is an Experiment on a bird in an Air Pump by Joseph Wright of Derby, 1768 – Joseph Wright of Derby – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
It is rather repulsive, though extremely well composed and done. His Painting of the “Philosopher Lecturing on the Orrery” is also very well done and in praise of science, and less objectionable.
Science and inquiry are the only way to go. Religion has utterly failed us. Romanticism has largely failed us too.
In any case, the best painting I came across on Blacksmithing was not Derby or Velasquez, as worthy as their works are. This one maybe better, actually. I prefer this painting called “Blacksmith”, by Jefferson David Chalfant. It is a good deal larger than mine and so has more detail. I did not use this painting as a reference at all. I hadn’t even seen it till after I did mine. But like mine it shows the common elements one sees is such a shop, , the tub of dark water to cool the metal, the hammers and leather aprons.
“Blacksmith”, by Jefferson David Chalfant, 1907
The windows on the barn are great and the flakes of burned off metal on the floor are very accurate. The chimney and the handles of the hammers are also finely done. the painting by Stanhope Forbes if very good too, the horse at the door, the apprentice standing behind him. Also the way he is leaning into his work, forming the horseshoe.
Stanhope Forbes. The Little Smithy
My painting of a blacksmith is not entirely an anomaly in my recent work however. I recently did another recent painting that is a picture of an occupation done in admiration of work and artistry. I did my daughter and her violin teacher.
With the Blacksmith painting I wanted to challenge myself and show the skill and and precision exercised in on one’s work, be it the work of a Blacksmith of a painter. Such skill is being lost, as machines do nearly everything now, including making other machines.
The fascination with the miniature might go back to my mother too, who had an Irish interest in leprechauns, gnomes and little people. She was a small woman too, as was her mother, so maybe that is why. see There is a miniature on ivory of my grandmother that is in the Metropolitan in New York, which I have written about in this blog, elsewhere.
Also when I did the picture of the train station in winter with the bridge last January, I mentioned my interest in Ernst Meissonnier and Jan Van Eyck, and their amazing ability to draw and paint in a very small or miniature manner. Van Eyck could paint tiny figures with the utmost care and precision, as for instance the figures on the bridge or the town in his Madonna of Chancellor Rolin.
These pictures are the only picture I can think of that appears to be a realistic, even a plein air, picture of what it actually looked liked during the 1400’s. You can see horses on the bridge and people on foot. The boats are lined up against the paved riverbank, This is an amazing piece of work, both as a historical document and a feat of painting.
You can see part of the town below. Look at the people walking up the steps between the churches. There is amazing detail in all of Van Eyck paintings. I admire this skill just as I admire the work that Marty does.
<palign=”left”>One of the first images I saw that was a tour de force of miniature painting was the Van Eyck in the MET in NYC. The subject does not interest me but the technical brilliance still astonishes even after 550 years since he did it. You can zoom in on the image here:
Crows Talking Near Rusting Boxcars
This painting began partly as a study of Wingstem and the Boxcars. I am not a botanist but I love painting plants, and mean this series partly as a portrait of some of the plant species in our Valley.
I am not sure why I have a love of trains. It must go back to my youth. But these are the kinds of Boxcars I sued to see as a kid. I would count them as we sat at a the warning lights, my mom driving and the train going by.
These trains are abandoned inside the national park. They call forth the days of the Hoboes for me, a time I admire, when the reign of big business came into question in America, perhaps more than any other. I see business as largely a toxic force in past and current history. The Train Tycoons, the Robber Barons, the greed that caused the great Depression and later recessions, the corrupt Real Estate Moguls, the banks and their greed, the Oilmen, and of course Big Corporations like US Steel or General Motors. I lived in England when the trains we still a socialized concern and they were great. I loved them. Here, as I discussed before, the trains were ruined by the oil and car industries.
Of course, these are rusting boxcars and trains are not used as much as trucks now, which waste huge amounts of gasoline. Trains are not a cliché to me, though many see them as such, as they see anything to do with the past as cliché. The cult of the business of today is the cult of the new and improved, the cult fo the empty and temporary.
But painting of the kind I do is about looking hard at something for days or weeks, and the more real it is the better. The wear of reality interests me on these old Boxcars, my own ageing skin, my mothers dying face, the look of old flowers and the way time changes wood or fabrics, or my children’s faces. Age and wear are constants. The ageless and deathless world of advertising is the world of people who do not want to admit anyone gets sick or dies and there is no sorry wrinkling of skin or sad passage of time. Advertizing lies, much as religion does. No one knows why time keeps passing. We have some inklings why bodies grow old. It seems to be about the genes needing to be replaced in new bodies, shuffled slightly so as to allow for slight changes to enhance survivability. Bodies only have a certain time to reproduce and pass on what they are, making something slightly different than what they were. Humans does this in almost exactly the same way as other animals.
Those who live enclosed in cities or in their cell phone world of cyberspace are often divorced from the actual and daily suffering of ordinary people. An old box car holds the dreams of an America that now fades and fails into the future, done in by CEO’s and corporations who put themselves before workers who actually make all the things the CEO’s illegitimately profit from. The crows sound the call of the renewal of nature, coming back to bring life again, as a new generation seeks to make the world better than mine has done.
If this painting started out as a picture of Wingstem’s yellow flowers and rusted old box cars, it soon became more that that. The Crows that hung out with me as I worked became part of it too, as well as their language. As with the neglected trains and ordinary species like Crows, I too feel out of the mainstream and live a life closer to nature and gladly farther from the self-regarding crowds of New York City. I was listening to the talk of crows, living with Wingstem and enjoying the colors and from of the old Boxcars.
The talk of Crows is part of the language that few understand and few listen to. Over many years I have often watched crows talking and they are amazing communicators, smart birds and much hated for it.I have seen flocks of thousands of birds, before Avian flu came along and killed many. This disease appears to have started because of poor conditions among kept birds in human run chicken farms in Asia. I have seen crows try to protect one of their own little ones taken by a red shouldered hawk. They clearly mourned the loss of one of their own.
No one knows exactly what Crows are saying but the more you listen the more you begin to see that their abilities are quite advanced. Chomsky would deny that crows can express meaning. But he is wrong. They have great skills at talking their own language, forming huge flocks and communication over long distances. very much such language skill as , but I know he is wrong about this and many other things. It started as a portrait of the Wingstem next to the trains, but then become something else. The crows kept me company.
Wingstem, Deer and Barns Reverting to Nature
My original motive for this was to paint the leaning old barn reverting to nature. The boxcar and Crow painting has a similar meaning. They are both about the breaking down of human objects and their relation to the natural world which reasserts itself. It is near where I painted Shirley’s Horses early in winter of this year (2013). I love this reversion to nature that buildings go through. Nature reasserts its primacy in the end, even if, as here, there once was a series of families that lived here and prospered on this fine piece of land, now part of the National Park. I have been seeing it for some years and have admired it, abandoned in an old field not far from where I live.
One purpose was to paint the Wingstem, whose flowers die off in mid September. I had done this in the previous painting too. I worked on this one four or five days, a few hours each day. The Wingstem was out still, when I started, but had gone to seed by the time I was done, the petals all fallen.
The rusty old water container for horses to drink, raised up on a pedestal is typical in old barns. This one has rusted right through and is leaning rather precariously. The history of Barns is a worthy subject and it would be interesting to identify different sorts of styles and structures built im the last few hundred years. I am guessing this bar is at least 100 years old perhaps more. The metal roof was a challenge to paint, to show how rusty it is. Numerous deer came through, not afraid of me at all. I painted them in.
I was out painting an old barn, down the street from our house. I was peacefully working and towards twilight a whole group of at least twenty Night Hawks (Chordeiles minor, Caprimulgiform) showed up and started darting all around me, up to within a few feet of my head, and they were doing this along with many chimney swifts and dragonflies. Quite amazing to see them all eating something. I found out later that they are now thought to be related to the Swifts, which is interesting. I tried to photograph and video this but my little camera could not handle the light well. I have only seen nighthawks in mass like this once before. Usually they are fleeting glimpses later at night. I could not see what they were all eating, but it must have been very small midges or gnats as they were invisible to me. I wish I had a better camera as it was really amazing to see these birds so close, I could even glimpse their mouths open sometimes.
This barn is slowly falling down and a real pleasure to watch nature take it over again. I never did figure out what the vine is that grows along the middle of the Barn, but the way it caught the light was quite amazing, as was the light passing through the slats on the roof, and I tried to replicate these as best I could.
This started out as a goldenrod painting, but then I saw the Milkweed bugs (Lygaeus kalmii) so it became about that too. I have admired them for years and they don’t seem to affect the milkweed population much, though I read they do make some seeds infertile. More than once I had to herd them around the milkweed pods with a paint brush to get them on my side of the plant. I don’t think I have ever herded bugs before . They seemed to be drinking white ooze that comes from the pods which are poisonous, so I imagine like the monarch butterfly they have somehow adapted to not be affected by the plants toxic liquids. Maybe that is why they have such strong designs too, telling birds that they are poisonous. I have never seen anything eat them. but something may do.
Insects are fascinating, and the more I learn of them they more they are interesting. When I was younger I was quite interested in them and even brought home a Black Widow Spider in a jar for my mother to see when I was in 3rd grade. She was frightened by it and drowned in in formaldehyde. It turned pink. That was sad. When I was young too, I was looking for snake with my brother and thought I saw a snake in a gopher hole and put my hand in and pulled out a Jerusalem Cricket. I was sure it was a Tarantula and started running around in circles in hysteria. My brother slapped me and I woke out of my delirium and crying.
For some years I think my mothers horror of bugs got me too. I struggled against it and slowly have come to admire them. Being able to study insects in drawers at the local natural history museum has helped allot. Talking with entomologists has too. I recall infestations of cattle flies form Chicago meat yards in the Northern Peninsula of Michigan and infestations of Stink bugs on the gourds we grew in our garden one year. Life is amazingly fecund sometimes and one has to learn to develop a certain strong stomach to see these things without prejudice. I love the sound of Cicada’s in later summer and ants are amazing. Leaf Cutter ants actually farm fungus, which they culture on the masticated leaf bits they gather from trees.
Insect populations are down all over the earth, in some places by 60%. One should strive to see all life as valuable and each species as having the right, and try not to see even the most repulsive species as repulsive. There are a few things that one kills because one must, such as mosquitoes. ticks or germs that might cause disease, hence the use of necessary vaccines. But it is best not to kill any animal or insect if one can help it. The importance of insects goes far beyond farmer prejudices against them. Their benefits are largely unknown. This is my first painting of them that I have kept. I did do some that failed for one reason or another. But I would like to do more.
Note: I put a Monarch butterfly in the field. This is because wherever milkweed is Monarchs are often nearby or on the plants. The new National Geographic magazine (Aug, 2015) has an article that states that there were one billion Monarch Butterfly a decade ago and now they think there are only 50 million. This is very alarming, as they have dropped 90% of their population, they claim. They try to blame this on killing off milkweed, which is the host plant for this butterfly. The abuse of herbicides is certainly part of it, but there is much much more to it, as genetically engineered crops and herbicides are a main culprit and this boils down to Monsanto and other corporations and their glyphosate, which has the brand name of Round Up. It is evil stuff.
We went to Oberlin College recently (2015) to see a few plays and driving back I studied some of the fields closely. I was wanting to see evidence of the use of glyphosate, the Monsanto chemical that is killing off all the monarchs. All the fields I saw have a brown ring of dead grass at the edge of the crop, which indicates use of an herbicide, going all the way to the road around the fields. Profits before plants, and profits before all the life that lives by plants. This is so in the corn and soybean fields. The other thing is that there was not one stray plant, weed, blade of grass in the crop itself, which suggests they are using the technique of herbicide resistant Monsanto seeds. Chillingly, I realized that nearly every farm is using this dangerous and destructive method and that the whole continent is getting doused in an ocean of life destroying toxic chemicals every year, just so the CEO’s of this company and their shareholders can make their millions. It is not just killing Milkweed, but frogs, salamanders and other species and even has horrible effects on embryos of humans according to some Europeans studies. Monsanto of course denies these claims, since money rather than science is their main interest.
I did not realize the extent of this till recently. This is an atrocity of huge proportions and one that should lead to shutting down or withdrawing the charter of Monsanto corporation and any other company that is killing milkweed and Monarchs, frogs and other beings. The CEO’s pocketbook is not superior to the lives of Milkweed, Monarch, Frogs and many other species. How did human greed of some rich men become more important than other species lives?
Human crops should not be harvested at such a cost to other beings. What they are doing is, in fact, criminal. The law needs to be expanded to include milkweed, or any plant on which the lives of other animals depend.
Eagle Nest and Wetland Birds
This painting is of the Eagle nest area, not far from our house, and is not as finished as some other recent works. This place is not that easy to get to when the kids are with us, as the tracks are long and hard for a young child to walk on.
This area is closed more than half the year when they are nesting. It is open down there now and it is a marvelous place, —full of birds– including rare ones for this area like the Hooded Mergansers and the great white Egret. These are the first eagles to nest in our county for 72 years. I have done them very small and subordinated them to the wetland biome, and made them only just a little bigger than the Bluebird that is perched in front. I was trying to show birds as I actually see them in their context and not do an illustration of species. I saw the eagles, the Red Headed Woodpecker, the Bluebirds and the Egret on the days I was there and painted them partly from life. The Mergansers I saw there some years ago and did them from a photo I took. It is a small painting, about 8 x 10″. I have enjoyed a certain pleasure in miniature works of late. This one is 9×12” or so. I had to stand in the mud to do it, wearing boots as the pond is very clotted with buttonbush and other plants..
Somewhat mysteriously, the sycamore trees which dominate the wetland all died in the last 4 or 5 years. It was a Heron rookery 5 years go with a hundred herons there,— but that rookery moved across the valley and you might recall my painting of that in March 2013. The Eagles where predating the Heron’s chicks. The official explanation for the loss of the sycamores was a Beaver backed up the pond, but I never saw the evidence of that and doubt it. We had record rain fall and that raised water levels for a few years then there was a drought year. I think that killed the trees. Many sycamores are springing up on the banks now. Because of all the dead snags there are a lot of red headed woodpeckers and I love them. I painted one on the closest tree. But they chatter and carry on everywhere. I saw what appears to be a Siskin and have seen many warblers in this area including the Prothonotary and Cerulean. Both are rare birds in this area.
It is one of the healthiest wetland around here, in short. The train track go right beside it and on the maps is called Pinery Narrows.
I did it during the absurd government shutdown, where republicans shut down the government to try to blackmail democrats to go along with their desire to railroad Obama’s health care program, which is neither radical or enough to solve the heath care horrors that occur with terrible regularity in America. In 2011, 700,000 people went bankrupt and 45 died– and those are just the ones counted, probably thousands died who were not counted, directly due to lack of medical insurance . One of my old friends died due to insurance company denial of care last year. She was not counted in any statistics of Insurance company caused fatalities. The insurance and hospital systems kill people while they make money from them. It gets worse every year .The republicans lost the health care debate and wish to subvert democracy by demagoguery and blackmail tactics, forcing their will without bothering to vote. The republican party should go the way of the British House of Lords and simply be dissolved as one of the most corrupt parties that every existed in American politics. It really is just a tool of American corporate interests . In any case we went into the park during this time and it was not a good place to be in many ways. The loss of any overarching authority in the parks made them somewhat lawless. Our national parks do not belong to congress, but to us, and congress is merely our nominative representatives. but they are so for bought off by corporate lobbies that one would never know they work for us. various people made same great signs to protest the closure of our National parks.
The anti-federal land and national park tendency of the republican party bore some nasty fruit in late 2015, when the Bundy bothers are their associates took over Malheur Wildlife refuge in eastern Oregon. It later came out that ALEC, a political front for retrogressive legislation designed to make the rich richer and to steal from the poor, and the Koch Brothers, two very corrupt oil billionaires, who hate anything not privatized for corporate profits, had some influence on this. They too wish to undermine the national park and wildlife system that does so much good. The world does not just exist for the rich, but for every species, and the reservation system of state and National Parks and Forests is impotant but not nearly enough for all species, as it is. Malheur and Tule Lake, among other places, are very important migration areas for millions of birds who migrate down the Pacific Flyway. All migratory corridors need to be protected, not just those in parks. The Koch Brothers are worth nearly 50 billion dollars a piece and in my view they should be taxed at least 90% of their income. Any rich people that advocate to destroy protected bird migration areas and seizing protected land for cattle is immoral and criminal. The small pond I painted here is also important for rare and migrating birds. This small work is about celebrating them.
In October, 2013, I did the painting of birds in the Wetland, (Birds Near the Eagle’s Nest below) at the beginning of the month and began the painting of my daughter in the studio. But we were very busy and there was that absurd government shutdown which included shutting down our park. It is impossible that I should miss painting the fall. So when the kids and I went for walks in the woods in various places I took pictures of them, knowing I would not have time to do one plein air. They love to romp and play in the leaves, run through them or step on the rocks and over the creeks. There is nothing like fall leaves when you are a kid.
Most of the paintings in this series are done from life. But I did this one entirely from photos I took in October. It can be very challenging to work form photos too, though it is a different sort of challenge. I made this as a composite of various photos in various places. I was not entirely happy with any of the photos but, but liked aspects of many.
This might be a good spot to discuss photography again. My objection to working from photos is not a purist or dogmatic one. I know people who think it is impure or immoral to work form photos. That seems too precious to me. I am not opposed to photography at all. But I don’t think one should directly copy or trace them. It is a kind of cheating to use projectors. It is said that this is what Vermeer did essentially, with the camera obscura or Ingres alleged use of the camera lucida, which is not proven to my knowledge. In any case, I like the meditative and exploratory nature of drawing from life. But I do not mind using photos as aides or references for free hand drawing. I don’t make grids or use any optical devices. Sometimes I will measure in the classical drawing method of holding a pencil, plumb line or stick up to measure . But I find photography an important aid to seeing and study.
I feel photography is an extension of my sketch book and my imagination. The are a part of what I know about a place or an event. But I have no illusions about the limitations of photography. Photos are so imperfect and distort reality. The immediacy of it is its main drawback as life is not really immediate. Things take time, and understanding takes even more time. Photographers might find this surprising, as they think they are so accurate. But actually light and form are highly variable according to weather and time of year, not to mention subtle gradations of saturation or intensity of color, hue or shadow. Dark and light alone is a huge subject, as Leonardo understood very well as he wrote about light shadow and optics at great length. I think I can get more subtle gradations of shadow, hue and saturation than any camera. But I do not think I can be as literally as accurate with shape and form when I draw of painting free hand as a camera can be. But there is a proviso for this— I add that a camera tends to be incapable of a certain deepening of the meaning of forms which the mind and brush can accomplish. By ‘meaning of forms’, I am implying that the study of a given form gathers depth with time and one must be exposed to it over a long period to begin to grasp some of its character and nature.
In the 1990’s and 2000’s I did various studies of leaves and forests in the autumn in the among them are these.
In newer works I have been much more concerned with precision of drawing and modeling form as well as with accuracy of portraits and landscape. The influence of impressionism has diminished. My daughter is getting mature mentally and I had to please her with the portraits and that took some days, as she found fault with aspect of the portraits. rightly so. In “October Walk” it was afternoon light, rather than late light I was painting in the past. I was trying to catch a certain relation of the brown and decaying leaves on the ground, compared to the yellowing and old gold of the leaves still one the trees here and there enlivened by the green still left from summer.
I have also been interested in miniature paintings for a year or two. The Cleveland Museum of Art has a wonderful show, up just now, (Jan. 2014) of their miniature paintings from several centuries put together by Cory Korkow. This is an amazing show that features many fine portraits. She defines the miniature rather more narrowly than I do, and certainly she is right to be responsible to history and good scholarship. There were distinct conventions in this type of painting. But my concern is as a practical artist. For me the miniature is a challenge and test of skill, and could be done in watercolor, oil or any medium precise enough. What is it done on scarcely matters. I use board. 19th century “miniatures” in the narrow sense, were done in watercolor on animal remains of vellum or Ivory. I have ethical concerns using either material.
I am not making miniatures in the narrow curatorial strict sense of the terms. Those objects predated the photograph and were like photos or cell phone images are now, and thus they are really a thing of the past. They were intimate objects often carried on ones person and often meant to keep the loved one close. But my interest is in the intimacy of such miniaturization, not the conventions of the genre. In the 16th to 19th centuries the narrowly defined miniature arose as ah need in the wealthy classes and was developed as a trade— an economic category of practice and sale. Artists and dealers had an interest in keeping this genre exclusive. But the best miniature art works, small paintings, such as those done by Sultan Muhammad in Persia, Hindu miniatures, the Book of Hours by the Limbourg Brothers or Van Eyck and Meissonnier, are also small paintings, often in books, that are incredibly accurate, accomplished acts of intelligence and skill, human sized and easily taken in by the viewer at close range.
Katherine Coombs, in her book Portrait Miniatures in England, records that the miniature actually has its roots in similar book illumination, and was called “Limning” ( see Limning, 1534) and only later was called “Miniatura”. A limner was an illuminator of manuscripts and one who works with color and gold and silver. Nicholas Hilliard tried to define limning as a genre only for gentleman, and only done in watercolor. But this is the rhetoric of a class system and not the reality of painting that are small and intimate, which crosses classes and countries.
I am interested in the latter, and this book is an example of small works in oil used to illuminate ecological and environmental concerns, both as an example of teaching and as a record of places and times close to me.
<palign=”left”> It is not that far from the amazing miniaturization of the Book of Kells to Van Eyck to Hilliard. One could stretch the conventional definitions of miniatures and even say that some of Vermeer’s works, tend toward the miniature, and indeed, that Vermeer continues the tendency began by the oils and illuminations of Van Eyck. Coombs notes that the Dutch or Flemish art of painting small paintings had an influence on early miniatures, so I am not entirely wrong to connect miniature painting back to certain Van Eyck’s and some of the other Dutch painters of small works. Van Eyck is thought to have done various illuminations.
Coombs traces limning back to Lucas Horenbout, who is thought to have brought small and precise painting from Ghent to England. Van Eyck was doing extraordinary small works a generation or two earlier, not far form Ghent, in Bruges. Indeed, Van Eyck’s works are so startling that he changed the course of history. Van Eyck’s presumed self portrait in the National Gallery in London is only 19x 26 centimeters and he shows every wrinkle around the eyes and beard stubble on the chin. This and other small works by Van Eyck might be the models that most influenced Horenbout, who was the teacher of Hans Holbein, who was Hilliard’s teacher. Indeed the entire Northern Renaissance is in some ways the artistic child of Jan Van Eyck. Coombs traces one line of limning to the great Elizabethan painter Nicholas Hilliard , and another to Henry Peacham’s influence on the history of watercolor in general. Coombs implies a much more broad understanding of the art of the miniature. The narrow concern with the personal miniature was evidently an art that grew up with royalty and the upper classes and really disappears with them. But the larger context is the rise of precise, one might say, scientific painting and begins with Van Eyck. There is no particular reason to obey the careful restrictions on the genre anymore, but the technical expertise can be adapted other uses, as Ernst Meissonnier already realized in the 19th century . I am looking to continue this in a much more open ended way that allows me to paint anything that might be useful in advancing what I am trying to say.
It is stretching it a bit to say that Leonardo’s late drawings in anatomy or mechanics could be put in this category, though many of these are watercolors on top of drawings, as are the 19th century miniatures, narrowly defined. But many scholars have pointed out that Leonardo was influenced by the northern revolution in art and that means, directly or indirectly, Van Eyck. What Leonardo shares with Van Eyck and with Holbein is a devotion to the intimate and precise perception of reality. What I admire in these is intelligence and skill as well as beauty, and when this is done in a small format , it gives the image great intimacy and human closeness, often illustrating ideas, myths, facts, people or histories. With the miniature now a dead art, its employment need not be so strict and I feel quite free to apply the miniature techniques more broadly in oil and even into Plein Air. Small works by Winslow Homer or Eastman Johnson have this same intimacy and life likeness, which is often lost in larger works. In the Toledo museum I recently saw Johnson’s picture of a man husking corn with his boy beside him, who is making a little house out of the corn husks. Johnson’s work have great warmth and sympathy and I admire him. This work is a small masterpiece of the kind I am speaking of.
So in a work like “October Walk” I was trying to do a little of what these great forbears did. This is not to say that I have Leonardo’s or Van Eyck’s skill, but like them I am trying to understand reality. Yes, I am making a portrait of my children, but also a portrait of a place. At this particular place we found some Dutchman’s Breeches, an amazing little Wildflower, as well as a Screech Owl hiding in the hole of a Sycamore tree. The size of the portraits in my painting is close to those of 19th century miniatures and I used some of their techniques, such as painting with very small brushes I made myself and I used a small magnifying lens which I attached to my glasses. There is an old Hickory tree on the left and a few large Cherry trees further back. Most of the trees are Maple and they create the yellow canopy, making the space around my children luminous with light.
Drawing Fox Squirrel Specimen
We go to the Natural History museum often and they let us use some of their taxidermied exhibits. While my daughter was drawing the squirrel I painted her. I did it over several days. She loves to draw. I was intrigued by her concentration and the reflections of fall on the plexiglass container where the stuffed Fox Squirrel sits. It was raining outside and the new rake rests against the garage. The new rake broke a few days later, badly designed.
My kids are homeschooled and I do a lot of the teaching. Science is a big subject with us. This week, for instance, we studied speciation and photosynthesis. We discovered that one species does not become another knowingly, but separates slowly and it cannot see its own phylogenetic tree as it develops. Each generation is more or less blind to the changes it is undergoing. We had a class at Mentor Marsh and studied algae, birds, insects and other matters. We went on a bird walk and saw many species including a bird very rare around here and much more common in Canada. So drawing a specimen like this one is not at all unusual for us.
This is a an inch and a half less than life sized.
March 2014. The title of this is “Making Frames”
This is something I have thought about all winter. I like how our old and weathered garage looks at night when the moon is out. I did this painting on the recent full moon and on days after our last snow storm. It was such a cold winter this year, with temperatures well below zero many times. ( note: unlike 2016, which was an excessively warm winter.) This painting shows moonlight or reflected light from the sun contrasting with human made light in the garage. I also wanted to contrast the activity of a human,with that of some animals, showing that human behavior is not really different than animal behavior, only most humans re not aware of them. This is not the first time I have done a combination of natural and human light. The last moonlight picture I did was the train station at twilight. Whatever its source, light is one of the great mysteries for anyone who paints reality.
So, I set up my paint box and started in Acrylics as an under painting, done very loose and fast and then began the painting over it in oil. This is not my usual practice, but I wanted to get an idea of the scale of things before I headed into details in oil. Acrylics allows quick changes that dry almost immediately. I tried out various compositions and then headed into oils.
One thing I love about painting a scene like this is I could never take a photo of this and be happy with it. I did take some photos, but the backyard is way too dark to get a decent picture, even with moonlight on it. The camera cannot handle the contrast between the light in the garage, the half-light on the snow and the bright light of the moon. But my eyes can. There are few good photos of moonlight, but quite a few good paintings of it. ( Look up: moonlight painting: Turner,Millet, Homer,Bonvin,Remington, F.M. Brown, Hanson, Stoll)
The eye is better than the camera in so many ways. I am not sure I can explain why I have always enjoyed painting the moon and its light so much. I suppose it began as some romantic impulse but now it is more about the light itself and what it does to our lovely planet, how it generalizes objects and casts its pearly glow of half-tones over everything, everywhere. It has a comfort in it, as it takes away the dark. It is so lovely on snow and on spring trees. It pulls on the earth and the oceans and I love it on the sea.
So, I set up my paint box and started in Acrylics as an under painting, done very loose and fast and then began the painting over it in oil. This is not my usual practice, but I wanted to get an idea of the scale of things before I headed into details in oil. Acrylics allows quick changes that dry almost immediately. I tried out various compositions and then headed into oils. One thing I love about painting a scene like this is I could never take a photo of this and be happy with it. I did take some photos, but the backyard is way too dark to get a decent picture, even with moonlight on it. The camera cannot handle the contrast between the light in the garage, the half-light on the snow and the bright light of the moon. There are few good photos of moonlight, but quite a few good paintings of it. The eye is better than the camera in so many ways.
I am not sure I can explain why I have always enjoyed painting the moon and its light so much. I suppose it began as some romantic impulse but now it is more about the light itself and what it does to our lovely planet, how it generalizes objects and casts its pearly glow of half-tones over everything, everywhere. It has a comfort in it, as it takes away the dark. I have loved moonlight since I used to take my White Shepherd dog out in the snow in my teens and watched the symphony of bluish whites as he fetched a stick I threw. In the last ten years I read Thoreau’s so far unreconstructed essay on Moonlight and was amazed by his evocation of it. No one writes as well as he does on this subject.
Female deer are such homebodies and love their daily habits. That is why hunters killing them in mating season is such a joke: there is no challenge to anyone who knows nature well. I knew they would be wandering by with their children of last year.As I stood next to my paintbox on a tripod a group of them walked by. There were at least 6 but I only put three in the picture. I had my spouse take a photo of me so I could show myself making frames, but all the rest was done from life.
I had to make a frame in the garage when it was very cold a month ago. I found the work strangely pleasing, as such work makes one forget the cold. I measured and cut, applied glue to the boards and nailed the corners on the framing vice. You can see dim outlines of the framing vice on the edge of the table. I show myself as a man in his own world, in the garage, and who is not aware, just now, that the deer are walking by. They too are in their own wild world and living their winter life, looking for food. I like the silence of the world outside my garage and the awareness of life going on everywhere, even if I do not see it. You see the barn of a neighbor distant , maybe you can hear the coyotes… a whole family lives back there, herons fly over during the day, sometimes, even late at night, one can hear their croaking, and barred owls at night might be hooting…
It is such a pleasure being outside for many hours painting something like this, not just for me but for my wife and kids too. This one of me and our kids is set in one of my favorite local places, I call this one Emerald Valley because of the green profusion of mosses and lichens that grow on the large rocks here. The large rocks are Berea sandstone. There is a creek with a waterfall which also appears in another work above. That is to the right as you look up this little valley. Emerald Valley is known to others as Deer Lick Cave as there is a cave here too.
The scene itself is entirely done from life though I had to use photos for the kids and my wife and I. It took quite a few visits both when we had snow and when we did not. When we had no snow I worked on rocks and water. I worked on the snow when it arrived again. The faces were very difficult as they are so small, and I tried to create my own brushes, but none of them were precise enough. The Victorian and Albert museum says that miniature painters used squirrel hair in preference to other hairs . They painted on Vellum, or animal skin at first but then the forbidden ivory. I have no wish to do either, but I might try making some squirrel hair brushes from a road kill, though I am not without mixed feelings doing that.
I like the simple bridge here, and the creek itself, winding though the rocks it has worn down over the millennia. Falls ;eaves show up from under the snow as it melts to the ground for the first time in awhile. My daughter peeks from behind a rock, like the nature sprite she tends to be. My son looks at us more directly, small but formidable in his red coat.
Note 2015: I have decided to change the name of this page. It was calledd 2 years of painting in Cuyahoga National Park. But that is too restrictive. I love the National Park, but these paintings are going beyond its borders now. I am thinking to call it Life in the Valleyy. I have been doing this nearly two and a half years now. I want to branch out into everything that concerns me and widen the scope of the work.
Further note(2106): in 2015 I changed the title of this work into Painting Life as that is what I have been doing, and these painting of the Cuyahoga Vaeey are jsut part of that larger project.
Wildflowers, Hepatica and Bloodroot
April, 2014. Here are two new paintings I did in the last week. I was afraid to do this last year, not sure I was up to it. But I plucked up the courage and I tried painting close-up of wild plants from life. I have done trees and landscape and incidental plants like grasses or golden rod flower, but never a whole painting of close-up plants. I was not sure I could handle that much detail working from life. I brought a little fold up stool and set out to work while my kids played with toy boats int eh a little creek nearby. The Black Squirrel painting I did as a commission recently helped. I set up in a marvelous park I love very much that has large number of wild flowers, and while the kids played in the creek I worked,. When we were all done we had a picnic.
It took me two days for each, a few hours each day to do these when often it take some 4 or 5 visits or more for a larger work. It was such a series of fine days for paintiing and great picnics too. I think the result is promising and I might do more like this. The first is Hepatica and the second on the right is Bloodroot. Though I went out yesterday and today and tried to do a Trout Lily but found myself dissatisfied and ruined both attempts in frustration. I think because the Trout Lily has little contrast and its nodding yellow head made it hard to paint the flower itself in a way I found interesting. I love this flower and its leaves and would like to try again but we shall see. It takes a great deal of concentration to do this and I wish my hand was a little more facile.
Hepatica is very hard to find in this area, and we looked for some years before we found them in this park. The ones I painted where white with a slight lavender tint in them but I found a few others which are really a lovely lavender. The Bloodroot on the right does not alst long, and it moves alot while I sat there painting it. By 6 PM it was ready to close and closed quickly, though one never notices any definite movement as it happens, but if one looks away for a while and then looks back it is more closed..
The is an apple tree and Robin where we get our apples near Peninsula, Ohio, a town surrounded by the National Park. Ive alwasy liked that town, as it has many artists and potters in it, as well as a glass blower and a banjo maker. We almost moved there 8 or 9 years ago. It is an apple farm next to Cuyahoga Valley National Park and we have been going there for years now. It is private land so I had to ask if I could paint there. Their little girl, who is 8 kept coming out to watch me.
I started when the tree was still bare, to work on the structure of the branches, which were quite intricate. The tree had been eaten by deer, because the farmer does not fence this area, as it is pretty close to a road. So it did not get that many blossoms, so I used other, nearby trees, as a reference. There are hundreds of trees in this orchard, but I only did two, and the second is more suggested than done with every branch and leaf. As the leaves developed I kept them to a minimum, as I wanted it to appear as it did when the leaves and flowers first come out, and the background could still be seen. I went 5 or 6 visits, and by the end the flowers had all died, so I worked on the ground, which was lovely and rich with loam and mosses. There were pines in the background, and a Green Heron there one day, which surprised me. Robins were there nearly every day, and one day a pair of males were fighting over territory or a female. Orchards are a good place to see birds. I saw a red fox near here one day too.
The two paintings above are cloud studies, done between 2014 and 2016. i tried painting other cloud studies, but it is very hard to do from life. Clouds here change very quickly here under the influence of the Jet stream which travels fast over the Great Lakes. I cannot paint that fast yet. these are two I did from photos since I failed to do them form live to my own satisfaction. The second of them was a great old Oak tree I did in the last year (2015-2016) and it has some freshness in it. I was really interested in defining the space between the giant oak and the front most cloud. The forest behind the old oak was intermittently shadowed by the large cumulus clouds overhead. The one above it is a study based on a photo I took in the late 1990s. These are both more studies than finished works. I hope to do more clouds in the future. They are the result of the breathing of the earth, as it were, the fluctuations of temperatures and condensation, and they float like great ships or dragons over the land.
This Redbird, or Cardinal as some call it, was an odyssey. I did three versions of it, one over the other, as follows
Early May, 2014-. I did this for fun today (painting on the left) because my daughter has been studying birds and I have been helping her. We have been going around looking at them. In the last few days she saw a Yellow Rumped Warbler, , Flicker, Swans, Great White Egret, Bald Eagle, Ruddy Ducks, Scaup and many others. We borrowed a taxidermized Cardinal form the natural History museum, and she and I both did a portrait of it. The exhibit is rather desiccated, I had to rely somewhat on memory to make it look alive. Then I did something I do not usually do. I invented a background. A friend in Toronto, Barry Kent MacKay does this all the time for his marvelous paintings of birds, so I decided to imagine a background like like he does. I did a vague creek below and a bankside and found myself remembering back to about 1999, when I was out for a walk with my mother and we saw a red bird above a creek like this. It was spring, as it is now and the light had that marvelous. crystalline quality it sometimes gets when the air is clear and a little cold. I am not sure that I captured that exactly. The bird needs some more work, but it is hard to make it natural looking as these old stuffed birds are rather desiccated. I need another approach.
July. I was not happy with he original version of this one the left, which I did in May. I took a picture of Columbia Run creek in the right light, and decided to use that as a background. I studied the redbird near our house, who I have been feeding for years now. His name is Baldy, as his head is some years free of feathers do to a mite he gets. I tried to paint what I saw from memory. I took a photo of a place I know that I thought would work as a background and adapted that to the image, which is mostly about light on the bird.
August September, 2014. I was still not happy with this painting after the second version, though I liked the background. My friend in Toronto, Barry Kent MacKay, a bird artist, offered to help and gave me a sort of tutorial on the anatomy of birds wings. I like anatomy and know a bit about human anatomy, but had not studied bird anatomy, though I had wanted to. Barry made it much easier to learn. I did not understand the feathers and bones how the primaries, secondaries, alula and coverts all worked together to help the bird fly. i studied this for weeks and did some drawings at the natural history museum, trying to learn the structure of birds wings that Barry had taught me. It is not enough to simply learn the anatomy by diagrams and words. One has to see it on real birds. I studied birds at the zoo in Akron too. I finally applied what I learned to this small painting. It is still not quite right in all respects. I am sure the tail is wrong in various ways and the feet are certainly not quite right. I did those from desiccated feet and real birds foot is more supple and precise. But I love to pursue such inquires and I am sure there will be more studies in this area yet.
This is my son at age two in our backyard which is next to the National park. I have lied next to or near State and National Parks since 1986. I don’t think everyone should do this, as I loathe the idea of the rich becoming the only ones who live near such areas. Obviously to prevent that all areas need protection of their plants and animals waters and air. I often let my lawn go wild, most years. But as we often grow things in our garden I do not want Forest everywhere.
The figure is from a photograph I took three years ago and have wanted to paint ever since. I knew it was a good photo and had wanted to use it in a painting someday. It often takes me a while to get around to things. So I did a drawing of the photo and then painted all the grasses and flowers from life around the drawing. Doing the wildflowers in April, 2014, Bloodroot and Hepatica, renewed my courage to try this again. The first time I did a field like this was way back in 1983 or 1984, —-30 years ago. I can think back through the history of fields I have loved in my own life. There was the public park that had a wild field next to Lake Erie, destroyed by public official who sold it to a developer to build a McMansion on. This is the usual public/private confusion that destroys so many places and things, There was the goldfinch field I loved now made into a development in Westlake where they made a fake village or corporate stores, really an outside Mall. Developers never have to pay the real cost to animals and plants that they destroy. The ideology of “mitigation” where developers offset their destruction of a wetland by building a pond somewhere else, is a joke. They never build anything like what they destroy. Nature pays the huge tax while the developers profit at expense of life. In any case, wild fields are priceless and should be protected and those who abuse them heavily soaked of their income.The field in Arcata where the White Kite liked to fly, looking for voles, was another favorite place. Fields in Point Reyes or Stockton, New Jersey or the bobolink field I saw in Upper Michigan. There have been so many great fields in my life.
My son is standing in our backyard. I slowly worked from life, painting the grasses and flowers over several weeks. I only wanted to paint a samll section fo the field. I like the Bugleweed (Ajuga reptans), which is purple or blue and which is mostly toward the front or lower part of the painting. There are also Buttercups, and Violets. The red spikey flowers are a variety of Red Sorrel. There is also some wild strawberry, and grasses. I love the dandelions which so enchant my young children, both for making bouquets to give to me or their Mom— or to blows off seeds and watch them float away. The flowers had largely gone to seed, though a few were left. It is a portrait of my young son a few years ago, but is also a picture of me when I was a boy and now too, as I love to see wild lawns and flowers. Seeing my son enjoying nature so much is a great joy to me and I well understand his youthful wonder. So to some degree this is a self-portrait as well as a picture of him. It is about the wonder of small things.
We have a lot of trees, some of them very old, and they lose branches. So, we burn twigs and small branches, once or twice a year . We make a time of it, roasting marshmallows and eating them. We add the often charred or browned marshmallow with a square of dark or milk chocolate put between crackers. Tasty, and the kids have so much fun. I even let my son throw a stick on the fire, sometimes.
It was a complex work to do and took quite a while. I had to use photos for the figures. But the rest is from life.
I was thinking of this one for several years. Not sure what to call it, so for now it is just “Firelight”. That is our house in the background. I started with that by drawing it from life. There are some mistakes in the structure, but it is more or less right. The structure on the right is the family room/studio and bed room we built based on our own design. We built a lot of it ourselves, though for the main structure I hired two very good carpenters. I could not have gotten the main beam or framing up by myself. I also needed help on the drywall, electric and insulation.. But I did a lot the cutting and the design of it and it was quite interesting and a real challenge. But the painting itself is mostly an effort to celebrate our family again. This is my favorite thing to do. There is nothing more in life than this that matters as much, unless it be animal and bird families as well as ecologies.
It is important for families to stay close to ecology, once they became unmoored from exolgies cities happens and the world became rife with problems.