Wednesday, April 27, 2011

An Inconvenient Tornado

I'm beginning to feel a little pressure. Today's the 27th of April. I leave on the 22nd of May. Time is a-tickin' and I need to get crackin'. There is still a fair amount of canvas to cover and some ideas I want to incorporate before this monster of mine gets rolled up and packed for Israel.

I came home pooped from work, but after some phone time and a little dinner accompanied by a glass of wine, I was refreshed. Just as I was squeezing my first blob of paint onto the palette, the tornado sirens went off. These last couple of weeks have been something else. Tornados everywhere, yet Indianapolis has been safe thus far. I flipped on the TV and there was a tornado-producing storm in Brownsburg headed toward Whitestown, Fayette and Zionsville. Ordinarily I wouldn't know such places, but hours and hours spent on a bicycle have allowed me to see all sorts of unforgettable and very forgettable places in Indiana. These places in the warning zone were dangerously close. Then, just as I watched a sailboat glide by on the glassy surface of the reservoir, they added Eagle Creek to the tornado warning list. It was a bit surreal. I hope those guys on the sailboat were having a grand time humming to the sounds of the sirens.

So with one eye cocked toward the window and the other on my canvas, I tried to relax into the moment. After just a few brushstrokes, there was a report of a funnel cloud in Fayette and a likely touchdown in Plainfield. Terrific. The warning was good for another 30 minutes. That's a long time to seek shelter in our guest bathroom, especially when one wants to paint in the middle of a living room framed by windows. Bathroom on the one hand, living room and painting on the other. I'm getting brave in my old age, so I returned to my paints, this time with an eye and a half cocked toward the window and both ears tuned to the TV. The music I like to paint to would have to wait.

Within 30 minutes the storm dissipated. There was not even a puff of air to disturb anything and it was time to get serious. I played my music, turned on my overhead lamp, poured another glass of wine, plopped color onto the palette with serious intent, and got down to business. My miserable work day melted away. Members wanting to cancel? Go ahead, cancel! Meetings being scheduled around times that are already overbooked? Sure, go ahead! I'll be there! It all retreated into the far background for more than a solid hour. It was just me and the canvas. I wish I could say it was total bliss, but I missed the smell of oil of paint.

Had I spent this very same evening with oil instead of acrylic paints, then it would have been heaven. And I would have enjoyed hearing Zeke prattling around upstairs and having the beast at my feet. I have had those things and am that much richer for them. Zeke will be home in just a couple of days and, well, Chipper is in my heart. That's as a good place, if not better, than at my feet.

While this is not our best photo, it was taken two years ago when Zeke and I visited Bill and Becky in Manitou Springs, Colorado. He is there right now as I write this. I am home in Indiana dealing with tornadoes.

Here is today's work (some of it is from a brief session yesterday). Now that this street scene is completely laid in, I am going to cover it with snow. At least tonight that's what I think I will do. Oh, I just had an idea. I'd like to add some little trees in front of the shops. Then I'll add the snow. Oh, so much to do.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Trapped in Evanston

Today was one of those days when I could have left well enough alone and been no better or worse off than where I left off. It's Passover, again. We get the bookends of the holiday off and I was only too happy to have another day off of work. I used the rainy morning to change my wardrobe over from fall/winter to spring/summer. It was a monumental task since this provided a good opportunity to do some spring cleaning and to clear out apparel for Goodwill. "I'll paint later," I kept telling myself, as I tore through yet another drawer.

Later came and went. I willed myself to put on some going-out clothes - yet another monumental task on a day off with no one around - and ventured out to Georgetown Market for some vitamins and then to Marsh for a few last minute groceries. "I'll paint later," I told myself again.

With the closet completely changed over, the car loaded with bags of unwanted clothing, "later" became now. I looked at the canvas and could not make sense of it. That ridiculous tree was levitating and I could find no way to ground it. And how could just one tree represent such an important part of the story? Evanston is where Chipper learned to heel and to walk on a leash - the Evanston cops made sure of that. It's where she first delighted in heavy snowfalls. It's where I left the car parked almost every weekend and walked, frequently with the beast, or rode my bike everywhere. One tree could not capture such a wonderful, formative time in our lives.

And then the rain stopped and the sun came out. Nowhere in the forecast for the next 5 days was there even a mention of a ray of sunshine. I quickly changed into running gear and headed out for a short run. I wasn't at my best, but the sun felt good and I had a chance to look at trees as I ran my 4-mile route. They are just sort of stuck there, as it turns out, usually with a bed of mulch and some errant greenery around them. I can do that.

I showered and found my way back to the canvas. The circle of mulch I painted grounds the tree. Later I intend to add some greenery and perhaps a favorite flower and perhaps the best harbinger of spring. Maybe it will be red - the painting could use a bright color.

Evanston is known for being the home of Northwestern University, magnificent Arts-and-Crafts and turn-of-the-century homes, blue laws forbidding the sale of alcohol, a population that is a mixed bag of ethnic groups, intellects and artists, hippies and yuppies. It's also known for it's walkability and adorable storefronts. I did some homework online - Google images - and by rifling through a book about Grandma Moses that I purchased when Zeke and I were in Vermont last summer and visited her museum.

I put this all together and tried it out by sketching a row of storefronts in my sketchbook. After tweaking it a bit, I cautiously approached the canvas with very fluid paints to just map in colors and shapes. And that's where I left it. I am tired and the thought of even squeezing paint onto my palette exhausts me. I hope to get one, maybe two, more painting sessions in during the course of the week before Zeke comes home from his mountain adventure.

Sunday, April 24, 2011


It felt like Christmas in April! My box of paints arrived Friday. It was heavy and chockfull of squeeze bottles of paint, each one wrapped separately in cellophane. They were like individual presents. The box held enough paint to remove any concern of using too much. I could squeeze as much as I wanted onto my palette with this supply...when the time was right.

I waited until late yesterday - Saturday - to paint. I wanted it to be dark and very quiet. Around 8 pm I lit candles everywhere in the house and lined the staircase with battery operated candles - great effect with no threat of fire. But for the candlelight and the light above my easel, the house was dark. It was perfect.

I painted for more than 2 hours. I focused first on the orange tree because it is a critical feature. It will appear again on the other side of the canvas. While I waited for the paint to dry so I could add the oranges, I worked on the other tree. At first I thought this would be the pecan tree in front of my house in Israel, but it’s central location on the canvas meant that in terms of the timeline, Chipper had already left Israel and was an Evanstonian. So the tree now represents one of the many gorgeous trees that were in the park 2 blocks from my condo where the beast and I played with the kong every day. We left many a kong tangled up in trees in Evanston, much to Chipper’s dismay, which should be no surprise to anyone who has ever seen me throw a ball. I was almost tempted to paint a kong dangling from my tree, but thought better of it.

I added some oranges to the other tree, made a decision about extending the beach down past the sea, and finally called it a night. I had definitely made progress and felt good and tired. I wasn’t too thrilled with the Evanston tree - it sort of looked like a lollipop - but I had hopes of being able to pull it out the next day.

Normally I would carefully wash out all my brushes and tidy everything up in my studio. But I knew I'd be back soon, so I simply left everything. It was liberating to just leave all of my brushes soaking in water.

Today, Sunday, was rainy and gray. My canvas was sunny. After making a healthy breakfast, I decided to tackle the Evanston tree. I pushed and pulled color back and forth, cut into the tree with the background color to break up the clumps of leaves and, I think, I saved it from being a lollipop. I have not figured out what to do with it, however. The tree is just sort of stuck there, not relating to anything. I am toying with adding snow somewhere and maybe some quaint Evanston shops, but I am not committed yet. As I mull this one over, the tree will have to wait patiently in the middle of a yellow ground. We’re having a standoff.

After working for a couple of hours, I set everything aside until after dinner. This session focused on the John Hancock building. Since the moment I had begun to conceptualize this painting, I had envisioned the regal skyscraper bending over toward the section of the painting reserved for the return to Israel. It felt good to finally realize what I had been envisioning.

I worked on the building for awhile. I changed the background color from peach to dusty lavender, reworked both trees, and then added to the green vegetation to the left of the John Hancock. At first I wasn’t sure if I was going to keep this feature, but I decided it looked like our garden at the condo. Chipper used to make a nest in the midst of our garden, and this little crop on my canvas looks just like the sort of the place she’d twirl circles in to mat it all down before heaving her beast body onto the ground. I can still hear her flump and grunt as she hit the ground.

What’s funny is that after 6 hours of painting over the last 24 hours, I feel like I have enough paint to last a lifetime. There are definitely problem areas to resolve, but at this point two thirds of the composition are laid out as I keep plowing across canvas, right to left.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

A Good Session

Passover could not have come at a better time. Yesterday was a day off of work in observance of the holiday, which meant I would have a nice chunk of undisturbed time to paint. It was an incredibly stormy, moody day. So much the better. I loaded up the disk player with all sorts of quiet music including, I almost hate to admit this, George Winston’s “Autumn” album. I have not listened to this since my wistful college days and I enjoyed it every bit as much yesterday as I did yester-year.  You can listen here:

I spent a very happy, peaceful 3 hours in my studio, which I like to think of as “my own little corner,” just like Cinderella in her own little corner and her own little chair. I did not set out to paint a beach scene, but when I looked at all those yummy colors of paint and started thinking about how to capture the early years of Chipper’s and my life together, the beach in Israel across the street from my rented house came to mind. 

So I painted it as best I could remember it. Admittedly, the colors are flat and the area will need to be worked some more, but I captured it. We used to walk the beach - 10 miles south to Netanya where I’d shop in the shuk and then take a taxi home - dog, groceries and me piled into the back seat. We used to spend evenings on the beach at the little hut that served my favorite coffee - cafe afuk - or sometimes I’d have a beer as the sun set and Chipper dashed around the beach just happy to be a dog. Such good memories.

I spent a lot of time working in this area of the painting, which is hard for me to believe now because it doesn’t look like much. When I finally stepped back to assess my work, I was overcome. Somehow I had captured the spirit of the place. I miss my beast.

So I have thoughts about how to add to this vignette. I am thinking of the painting now as a series of vignettes. It will be a timeline of sorts (going right to left as one reads Hebrew). When I first started with those horrible orange wavy things (see my first two blog posts) I thought I was going in the direction of an abstract painting, especially since I am pleased with my mostly recently completed painting, “Mystic.” 

But, I seem to be going in the direction of something more literal. 

The next vignette is going to be a sunny background with a pecan tree. I had a large, statuesque pecan tree growing in front of my little house in Bet Herut, and that miserable dog of mine would try to snatch up the fallen pecans before I could. The way to open a fresh pecan is to place two nuts in one hand and squeeze them together. It was perfect - they’d both crack open and I’d eat one nut and give the other to Chipper. We both enjoyed our pecans, that we did. I still love pecans.

As I was contemplating how to make the transition from the beach scene to the yellow background, I looked across the road to Eagle Creek Reservoir. I could hear coyotes howling - pretty incredible in the middle of the day - and thought about all of the happy times Chipper, Zeke and I spent on the beach right outside my window. So this painting would not be complete without representing the reservoir somehow. The road is an important part of it, metaphorically and realistically, so I am going to paint it into the foreground to transition across several of the vignettes. All of the orange and yellow swirls above the road will be gone.

But, I am getting ahead of myself here. 

I ordered a ton of paint so I could return the paints I have to Joani, who so very generously loaned me her supply. Each day I open the front door expectantly (think of Chipper with her ears perked up) and when I find nothing on the porch, the disappointment is palpable (ears flopped down). I know my paints will be here in a day or two, and then I can really go to town. Or at least that is what I tell myself.
Zeke is off to his annual Colorado mountain climbing-hiking-cycling-male bonding venture with his dear friend, Bill. That leaves me a whole week to keep odd hours. I do that when he’s not home. Instead of piling into bed at our usual 9:30 pm and waking up before 5 am, I putter around - or paint - until late. I have a different sense of time when I am alone. I anticipate a week of visiting with girlfriends, but also of painting. I’d like to make a big dent in this project by the time he comes home next Saturday.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

A Fresh Start

I had a very pleasant painting session today - at last after a miserable week of false starts. I had taken a stab at the  canvas once or twice, but each time I was frustrated by not getting any mileage out of the acrylic paint. It simply did not spread. And the colors I was mixing were dreadful. I decided that before I wasted another minute or dime on paint, I wasn’t going to do anything more until the weekend when I would have time to go to my favorite art supply store - Bates - and seek the consul of the girls there.

But on Wednesday, Joani Rothenberg, a wonderful artist and friend, stopped by my office (Art by Joani). Just back from a trip to Kenya, Joani was bursting with stories. Her timing could not have been better. Her excitement was juxtaposed against my frustration. Joani had solutions and was only too eager to right my course. She invited me to come to her house/studio the next day, and as it turns out, this may have been the turning point I needed at this stage in the project.

Joani introduced me to her preferred brand of paints, Lukas from Germany. These delicious, creamy colors come in large squirt bottles (750 ml) and are as affordable as they are workable. She opened a closet chock full of goodies and together we sorted through dozens of colors. Take, take, take, she encouraged. I am uncomfortable with taking, but her enthusiasm and generosity and all those wonderful colors urged me to set aside some bottles of choice. I left with a large canvas bag filled with wonderful paint to experiment with. The large, affordable bottles of paint were exactly what I needed so that I could relax with the process and not fear wasting paint (and money).

Tonight was my first time using the Lukas paints. I loved squishing big blobs of color onto my palette and not being afraid to apply the paint with some thickness. I now have areas of the canvas that are completely covered so that no canvas shows through.

I may even have the inspiration I was looking for. Last weekend when I was speaking with my mom, she ever so hesitantly dropped a golden egg in my lap. “I never want to influence what you do,” she started (or said something to that effect) after listening to me lament over a lack of inspiration for this piece, “but I think you should make this painting an homage to Chipper.” The bell went off. Though I could not bear to part with Chipper’s ashes, I could return my beloved beast to her homeland by way of the painting.

I have thought about an homage to Chipper and tried to visualize how I could capture the beast’s spirit and our time together and the adventures we went on together. Something is starting to come together in my mind. I don’t want to commit to it in writing, but I may have a way of honoring the memory of my beloved pet, my companion for almost 16 years. My work tonight has begun to map this out.

Once I got started with the paint this evening, I relaxed and enjoyed feeling the brush sweep over the canvas. I miss the smell of oil, but during this session I began to figure out how to work with the acrylic paints. Zeke gave me all the freedom I needed to focus completely on my painting. He is such a wonderful partner, such a wonderful man, such a gift in my life. While I focused on my canvas, he prepared a delicious dinner and gave me the silence and space I needed to create. How incredibly fortunate I am to have so many loving, generous, encouraging and talented people around me. Whether the painting turns out to be anything special or not, the experience has already been invaluable for helping me recognize all of the incredible spirits around me.

This isn't much to look at because I am in the process of covering over the orange (hated it!), but it's coming along.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Are We Getting Anywhere?

Day 3
I felt loose tonight. That means I enjoyed the process, never mind the outcome. If you'd like, I was in the zone, as they say. Mind you, no one ever said if the zone produced good or bad work. It just feels good being in that place. I also experienced the zone when I ran trails on my way home from work. I was in a good frame of mind after showering up and having dinner.

There is still the problem that I am not crazy about acrylics. When I open a tube the color sort of drips out. And, there is no distinctive smell. Not all my senses are in play.

Now, oil paints - they turn me on. The colors are vibrant, they're creamy and they squeeze out of the tube with thickness, depth and so much potential. I love that smell of fresh oil paint. The entire painting process with oils is sensuous. As for acrylics, well, it's all about getting the job done before the paint dries up on the palette. Nothing sensuous there.

Stuck with acrylics as I am with this project, I was relaxed with my medium tonight and sort of in a Zen moment. I was playing Live, a band I like and know nothing about, sipping on a scotch, and enjoying making a mild mess in our living room/studio. I decided all the sweeping, grassy, blowing motion from Day 1 was too literal. I knew it wasn't going to last when I laid it down. I wanted something edgier. Something darker. So I struck out with the high horizon line painted in black, ultramarine blue and hansa yellow light. I like hansa yellow light - I know it from oils and it feels like an old friend. I sort of like what is happening in this section. Here's a close-up.

The color is stormy. So this accounts for about the top 1/6th of the painting. There is still a whole lot of turf to cover and Zeke's parting words for me were, "I want to see a whole lot of paint on that canvas when I return." I love a challenge.
So I squeezed and oozed large globs of paint onto my palette and into dishes. And I remembered Lois saying she likes to use foam brushes on occasion, so I tried that. I used some of my trusty oil brushes - they feel good in the hand but I fear they are too small. Nonetheless, I painted. I reacted to color, I played with brushstrokes. I covered things up and added strokes next to strokes. Admittedly, I am not crazy about the outcome from tonight's little session, but I am finally getting some layers on the canvas. And that's when things begin to happen.

I betcha that by the time I work through this, those orange fringy things will be part of our distant past. But as they say in Israel, "le-at, le-at," slowly, slowly. Layer upon layer. Color, wiping, more color, scratching, stroking. Who knows where it will lead. And that's the fun of it all.

Day 2 - Let's Pretend It Didn't Happen

Day 2, yesterday (Tuesday) was one of those days when I thought I should paint, but really wasn't in the mood. My muse was off on holiday, my inspiration was snoozing, yet nonetheless, the little voice in the back of my head was saying "you should paint, you should paint, you should paint." It wasn't successful, nor was it satisfying. I couldn't wait for Zeke to finish packing for his business trip so I could escape from the "studio" and busy myself with preparing dinner together. One can't paint when one is cooking, right?

So here's what happens when one "should" paint when one doesn't feel like it.

I really don't care for this. The dark purple adds some depth to the orange, but I'm not even crazy about the orange. There is a big part of me that wants the small panel on the left to be lighter than the large panel on the right. For some reason I thought speckles of green on the left creeping into the right panel would be nice. I don't know. It will all likely get covered over as I add layers.
 When I first started with the wavy grass-thing I've got going there, I was influenced by the strong winds blowing across Eagle Creek Reservoir. They're still blowing, but they're not the driving force behind the painting like they were on Day 1. The nice thing about acrylics is that they're quick and easy to clean up, which I did as I heard Zeke coming down the stairs. Tuesday night is "date night," so good-bye painting. Catch you tomorrow.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

The Evil Canvas

The Challenge:

Paint the largest canvas I have ever painted in a medium I do not especially care for in one month. I love a challenge. I will be participating in an Artist in Residency program May 25-June 3 through the Partnership with Israel program, made available by the Jewish Federation of Greater Indianapolis. Kibbutz Gesher Haziv is hosting the second annual  "Fence Festival" the weekend we arrive. Every artist is given a portion of fence to display an interpretation of the theme "Point of Encounter." Mind you, we are not mandated to participate in the festival. But it seemed like a terrific opportunity to push myself out of my comfort zone and to get more out of my trip by actually participating in the festival instead of just visiting it.

I'm committed now.

Last week I fretted over what to paint on. A visit to my favorite art store, Bates, yielded a terrific find. It's called "sign" canvas, and is gessoed on both sides. There were two remnants left - one 2 x 4 feet, the other 6 x 4 feet. Perfect! It is sturdy, but still light enough to travel with. And, I like the idea of doing a diptych instead of a single canvas.

Zeke helped me purchase a large piece of plywood, to which I stapled the canvases. The whole set-up is a bit unwieldy, but it should work. Once I got the canvas stapled in place, I leaned the whole contraption up against the motorcycle in the garage and there it stood for over a week....just looking at me. Defying me, even.

I couldn't bear to look at this thing much longer. Other than lacing the two pieces together, I was uninspired. Paint a sunset in the desert? Boring. I'd love to do an abstract, but where do you start with something like this? You start by visiting with friends. So I called on two wonderful, well-established artists who have faced and conquered many a canvas in their careers.

Meet Lois Templeton and Phil O'Malley.

I spent Saturday afternoon with Lois and Phil in their studio just south of downtown Indianapolis. They are the only artists in a large warehouse with loading docks and neighbors like Half Price Books' distribution center and an elevator company. They love it and it suits them. Their space is enormous and some how they have managed to fill it in the short time they have been there. Both Lois and Phil work large - so large that almost immediately my 4 x 8 foot canvas seemed to be a postage stamp. Ahhh, their company was working already.

We talked about art. We talked about technique. We ate chocolate. We looked at art books. We ate more chocolate. I soaked up the stunning canvases all around me. Lois has been hard at it before she leaves town and Phil was busy mixing up a batch of paints in squirt bottles in preparation for his next go at it. How could one not be inspired?

Lois shared wisdom and treasures. I came home with several books and two of the most wonderful paintbrushes I have ever seen. If only they could talk!

Have you ever seen brushes like this? The brown-handled one is more than 15 inches long! And it's heavy!!! Thank you Lois and Phil for a wonderful afternoon. I am so fortunate to have friends like you.

I'm motivated now. Zeke, my wonderful, supportive and ever-loving partner, agreed to let me convert our living room into a studio. We pushed furniture aside and created a space for my beast of a canvas. I like to think of this place as "my own little corner."

It's nice, isn't it? Natural lighting, the kitchen is 10 steps away. And, I'm home. Among the many bits of wisdom he imparted, Phil said to write all over the canvas to get started. So I did. I took a Sharpie and went for it.

Now that felt good!

Deep breath. It's crazy windy today and the chimes have been ringing and clanging all afternoon. That inspired me. So I mixed a little paint - well, a lot of paint actually because the canvas just drank it up and this is a lot of turf to cover - and I struck out into unknown territory. I loved using my whole arm and my body to put color on the canvas. I leaned and bent over and swept my arm - it was a workout of sorts. I worked for 40 minutes and then the timid feeling crept in again. Never mind. I started the piece and for that reason alone we will call this a good day in the studio!

There is one thing I am sure of. This painting won't look anything like it does now when I finish. Come along for the ride.