Working With Spiritual Concepts

I wrote a book a few years ago and have been encouraged to write more, but I remember how much work that book was, how it took me several years to write, etc. And the topics I have been encouraged to write on, although I know them well, aren’t all that interesting to me. I have put together outlines of these books, but I didn’t go any farther. They just feel like so much work. And it’s not like I’ve made buckets of money from my book for all the work I did on it. ‘Course, that was partly because I didn’t negotiate for a better deal.

Recently I went on a private tour of a local member-supported library that I joined because I thought it sounded like a cool place to hang out and it gives me access to the library at RI School of Design. Oddly enough, joining this library was prompted by the price of the book “Like Breath on Glass,” which is about Whistler, Innes, and other such painters and costs $135. But I can take that book out of the library now.

The library is an absolutely wonderful space in a historic building. It immediately struck my academic nerve and woke it up. It doesn’t just smell like books and have a real card catalog (as well as a more up-to-date online catalog); it has comfy chairs and little nooks with desks and a garden out back for breaks. I knew right then that I could write reams in that space, no problem.

I have been so inspired that I began a huge research project that I hope will evolve into several books. It’s on the topic of Jewish mysticism and magic prior to the emergence of Kabbalah. So these are some less traveled paths.

emerald vision wip 062319What’s that got to do with art? A lot. Reading along in various scholarly papers, I’ve been inspired by images here and there. One of them that I began a painting of is the viso smaragdina, which is actually a Sufi concept but that I was pointed to by an article about Eleazar of Worms‘ discussion of color, in particular, a special spiritual type of green which a practitioner would see when engaged in ascent. According to R. Eleazar, it is similar to the gleams of sun beneath green water. Here’s the work in progress.  Lots more to do!

I look forward to much more inspiration from my readings. I feel like they fit in well with my interest in magic, which has come out in my art in various ways.

More abstraction–and certainty

the curse fb iI’ve been doing more abstract works, although these are on the small side for abstracts–11 x 14″ and 16 x 20″. But I’ve been pleased with my progress, especially because I am really working on stronger colors and contrast. My favorite so far is “The Curse,” which I am quite pleased with.

I did run into a bit of an issue on my Facebook art page.  Normally I post my works-in-progress there and on Instagram. That gives me a way to keep track of what I’ve done for my own purposes and also allows me to show people how I work, which does interest some folks. I also enjoy what encouragement I get, and sometimes I get good recommendations too, which are really helpful. But a couple of people who I have known for years now decided to mock a recent work-in-progress, an abstract painting, on my art page.

I would not have cared much if these were so-called FB “friends” who I don’t really know. But that they were people I’ve known for years and yet they felt free to mock my work really angered me. Neither of these people are artists. They can’t draw nor do they know anything about art. They are the kind of people who really can only appreciate a nicey-nicey landscape or perhaps some dreck-on-a-canvas like a cozy cottage. For them, abstracts are something to make fun of. They are troglodytes.

I don’t have a problem being friends with trogs. As long as they don’t decide to critique my art.

And it’s not that I was being over-sensitive either. This was straight-up mockery, even including a laughing emoji.

I have never said anything negative about anything they’ve done or as far as I know, fought with either of them or hurt their feelings. So it doesn’t seem rational.

I did get the feeling that one of them, who has repeatedly made remarks about how my work reminds her of industrial products, wants to bring me down a peg, like I am getting too different from what I was when we first met and I was not painting then.

The other one I know has issues with me because I wrote a book. Yes, really. According to her, when people write a book (and this book of mine is not even about art), they become one of Them. Frauds. Liars. Schemers. And all sorts of other bad things.

Someone said to me a while ago (in fact when the first person began comparing my works to industrial products) that I should get used to criticism of my paintings. I don’t have a problem with criticism of my paintings. If people want to write a critique of my work, even if they were snarky, they could go right ahead and write an entire book and I would even read it. Or if they even just make fun of it, they are free to do so–on their OWN page, NOT on my page. On my page I will delete them. No discussion.

And in fact, I had already blocked them both from my personal page, not realizing that this would have no effect on their posting on my business page. Sheesh. Facebook makes life too complicated.

Today I finally figured out how to make their comments on my FB art page visible only to themselves. So that’s progress.

But something good did come out of this for me.

For one, I don’t think I reacted in a neurotic way. I was not hurt. I was angry–that people would present themselves as “friends” and then do something intended to hurt for no reason (whether it actually hurt or not). IOW, I was angry that supposed friends acted like bullies.

I also had the “who in the fuck do they think they are?” reaction. 🙂 Which I feel like is a positive one in such situations. As an artist, you are putting yourself out there in a way that most people would never dare do. That in itself must be respected, even if one’s work is trash. But people who do not even use their own real name online and/or create sock puppets to shitpost haven’t got any right to mock the work of someone who DOES use their real name and who puts their work out there.

Most of all, though, this incident convinced me that doing more with abstraction was the way for me to go. It is what I have wanted to do but have felt intimidated by. It’s much more difficult than it appears, for one. More and more of my landscapes have been tending toward the abstract, but I felt somehow I would lose a good chunk of my audience if I quit doing landscapes.

And I personally love the land, love our natural world. It is my strongest spiritual connection. And when I make a landscape painting, I feel like I am strengthening that connection for me and for others.

But I also have seen how my abstracts come out of that love, especially in terms of water. And from the beginning I have felt that abstraction had the advantage when it came to transmitting spirit.

I now feel free to discontinue doing landscapes and to focus on doing the abstracts that I want to do–abstracts that are loaded with the sensuality and beauty of the natural world and imbued with spirit, where I get to freely play not only with color but with texture.

And if I lose some of my audience, well, shit happens. I suspect among that number would be some of those who would mock my work for being abstract, so to hell with ’em.

More progress towards a style

blasted tree fb iI’ve been wanting to do more with brushwork and to that end I have been taking little baby steps into the shallow end of that topic. I first departed from totally flat painting in my last acrylic painting, “Ritual in the Woods,” and was so sorry to have to give up acrylics because I had finally gotten to the point where I was being a bit more painterly with it.

Once I began using oils, I went back to totally flat painting. This was partly because it was the devil I knew, partly because I like the smudgy look in oil painting, and partly because I wanted the paint to be thin and thus dry faster. So it wasn’t until I think The Lovers that I really began to play with brushwork–a year and a half after I started oil painting again. Since then, I’ve really been pushing myself to get out of my rut/comfort zone and use more paint and allow brushstrokes to show–as here, in “Blasted Tree.”

cemetery tree fb iThe one subject that has been helping with this a lot is landscapes, and especially trees. A friend knows trees and points out various species on our walks. Because of him, I’ve been noticing bark a lot more and have gotten many reference photos. I’ve always loved the texture of different types of bark but had a dickens of a time painting it. I decided that I would try using brushwork to highlight that texture in “Cemetery Tree.”

Okay, one aspect of Impressionism down–texture.

But at the same time, I’ve been pushing myself to get away from mere local color. When I focus on what color the thing seems to be, like tree bark is generally grey, then what I paint tends to be uninteresting and in a way, dishonest. I have no interest at all in painting photographically, and some of my best paintings, although they started out using a reference photo, ended up being completely different, even totally imaginary. I’ve been trying to do this with color–to simply choose colors that appeal to me and that represent something unseen about what I am painting. I’ve been especially interested in vibrating color ever since I was young and have tried to learn about how best to use that interaction, but often I have not succeeded and produced something only garish. Lately, however, I’ve been getting the hang of using vibrating color and have been pushing it more in my work.

So there’s a second aspect of Impressionism–rejecting local color, as in “Cedar.”

cedar bark fb iFinally, I love sun rabbits, dawn, dusk, and shadows, especially when they do indeed change local color a good deal. I started off using a lot of cobalt blue to bring a kind of glow to a color composition, but I am now trying reds also. The pale blue and pink combo is something I’ve loved ever since I first saw Monet’s haystack paintings at the Art Institute of Chicago. And I’ve been painting raking light more and more, because I think it looks really good in paint and again, it allows for a lot of modification of local color both in real life and on the canvas.

So there’s a third aspect of Impressionism–attention of light.

dawn trees fb iI’ve always liked Impressionism–or some of the Impressionists, especially Monet. But I never thought of it as a style for me, especially because it is of another century, not this one. That world is gone.

But the type of painting I am working towards can be an Impressionism of now. I know there are other painters out there who are developing their own take on Impressionism, but this one is mine. I feel really good about it and  hope I can travel much farther down its road.

Just finished this painting, “Dawn Trees,” this morning.

Getting bolder

I’ve been working with brighter, more intense colors, in particular, reds, as I mentioned in my last blog post. This morning I saw an old work-in-progress of mine lying around in the studio and thought to rework it with one of those reds. The painting I reworked was very similar to this one, but I had set it aside so that I could paint tree lace of the sky sections. quiet sunsetThen I decided I didn’t want to paint tree lace anymore, and it then just became a castoff.

Here’s what it looks like now:sunset embers fb i.jpgI think it is a much better painting. One thing that has stumped me in painting clouds was how to get this kind of underglow from a sunset/sunrise and make it look bright. Whenever I tried it, it just looked dull. Part of the problem was that I wasn’t using enough paint–not thick enough. And not enough titanium. And apparently, not enough darkness. I’ve often read the dictum that if you want to make something look bright in a painting, make everything else look dark. This was a fairly somber painting when I started to rework it.  But the clouds were especially much darker than I usually paint them.

The combination of thick paint, titanium, and very dark clouds seems to be what worked here. I will remember it and try it on further paintings.

Something else about this painting, though, is that it is on board. I used to always paint on board or panel and didn’t like canvas due to its bounce and the roughness of the weave, which to me was distracting. Then when I changed to oils from acrylics, I came to appreciate how the weave of canvas could drag the paint off the brush. It was handy. Recently I bought some small panels and couldn’t get anywhere with them because I’d gotten so used to painting on canvas. Everything just would get smeared.

Why was this panel different? I think because my paint was pretty thick. The titanium did have oil in it, but if you’ve used it, you know that naturally it is a stiff paint. I usually have to add a lot of oil to it. I didn’t add much this morning. And it stuck to the panel just fine and didn’t smear except where I wanted it to, in very wispy layers. So I might try panels again the next time I buy some supports. Right now I’ve got a ton of canvas in all sorts of sizes. Need to work through those first.

November Memory

This morning I took one of the small canvases I prepared about a week ago and decided I would paint some autumn trees on it based on a reference photo I took of some maples near my building last November. I thought this would be a good excuse to start playing with red. A couple weeks ago I bought 6 new reds, bringing the total I have to 12. I want to experiment and learn how to use this color. I even made a chart of all the reds I have, including how they look combined with titanium or lithopone.

So this morning I thought what the heck, I’ll use one of those reds. I chose Scarlet Lake by Michael Harding, a brand I’ve never used before, but it was one that had PR170, naphthol red. In real life, this pigment is way less coral than it is on Blick and way brighter than it is on Michael Harding’s site.

I also chose Graham’s indian yellow (PY110), which is my favorite yellow, Williamsburg’s Italian black Roman earth and French terre verte.  And I started to paint.

First, I tried to paint way too much detail. I swear, for me, detail is like a bear trap that wants to kill my art. That wasn’t working, so I wiped it off and tried again.

Still no. Wiped it off again.

Nope. Wiped it off again.

Then finally I asked myself WHY am I trying to put all this detail? It just is not me. Forget the leaves and just focus on the COLOR!

So I did that, and I think it worked. I’m calling it “November Memory.” It’s available on my site for $70.

More important, I didn’t use a brush. I really like my new bristle brushes, but I like using my fingertips even more. Usually I reserve fingertips for sky gradients and making clouds. But I think that approach really worked in this little painting, so I will do more abstract landscapes this way.  I can get shapes and edges I can’t get with brushes and I like the way I can easily make some parts smooth and/blended and other parts discreet, with texture and edges. I do use a cream by Winsor Newton as a skin barrier, but I don’t use many highly toxic pigments.

I look forward to painting more abstract landscapes on the 20 5 x 7″ canvases I bought to mess around with.

Going my own way

Trying to shift my landscape focus up, towards the sky more, since I really like painting skies and especially clouds. Often, for me, hills and trees are more like a frame for the sky than something in their own right. So I’ve shifted the horizon line in the last few paintings so that it is quite low.

Here’s one work in progress as a result of this shift:

This still needs a lot of work, and I am not sure at all what’s going to go in the area below the horizon. Also, I’m not sure if I like that cloud.

Then this morning I tried and tried to continue what I thought was going to be a painting of a few trees on a peninsula in a lake in winter. I had the background painted and it was dry enough to work on this morning. But no matter what I did, I didn’t like it. For one thing, the colors just weren’t right at all. I kept having to wipe everything off.

Finally I decided to just let myself go and use the creases, folds, and twists that I like. I began shaping the clouds that way.

I think this is way more me except for the colors. They need a lot more work–the whole thing does. But I feel like it might be worth pursuing.

It’s pretty scary to try to paint something just for yourself, to try to prevent yourself from anticipating reaction to what you are doing. It’s hard for me, at any rate.  I often question whether I have got anything t show anyone or if I should try to do more stuff that is what I anticipate people would like.

But then I think about how I might not have much more sighted time left, and nope, I need to do my art my way.

Still scary, though.


Last month I got diagnosed with an eye condition that results in severe vision loss 50% of the time. All my life I’ve had vision in one eye, and this thing is in that eye. So you can imagine that this really upset me, to put it mildly.

I researched the diagnosis into the ground and then went on to find what sort of remedies there are for people with low or no vision. I have to say that the web readers suck. And I mean SUCK. I do not know how people who have been blind since birth would ever deal with them. You would need a sighted person to set them up, and even then, OMG they are such cranky, quirky, buggy things. Shit.

So that would kind of make my own business extremely difficult. Although in terms of my art, I might not be able to paint but I would be able to shape things and I would take up sculpture of some kind, maybe ceramic, maybe other sorts. Nothing will stop me from making art.

I even looked into applying for disability after it being recommended to me by Social Security. Got the forms and fuck no. Just really overwhelming and intimidating–and for an extra $24/mo on my Social Security payment.

So at a certain point, I had to reorient myself to the whole thing. I was so depressed and panicky that I could barely stand it. So I imagined a “fuck it” switch that I could turn on, and I turned it on so that at least for now I can enjoy my life and get all I can out of my art.

Things started to happen then. First, after considering various ways that I might make enough to get by together with my Social Security, I felt a bit like this is going to be a LOT of work, especially for a blind person. But at least it was doable: writing books. However, if I am honest, I really don’t want to write another book. I would rather make art.

Well, okay. What else could I do?

I hit upon the idea of growing and selling mandrakes, both fresh and potted. I used to grow and sell them and made a decent side income from it, but when I moved, everything to do with plants was thrown into chaos, since I have no yard, only a couple of raised beds with lots of dogs owned by people who are happy to encourage their dogs to crap in other people’s gardens and rip up their plants. This is why I will never live in a place that allows dogs again. I love dogs but many dog owners suck.

But then I remembered that my studio is very large for me. I use about half the space. That leaves plenty for a couple of grow lights and shelves for growing mandrakes. So that’s what I’m going to do. I won’t need a lot of sight for that. I already started a bunch of seeds.

But another thing then happened. I realized that I might be facing a limited amount of time for painting in the future, and since I wasn’t making a big chunk of money from selling my art, I was going to quit trying to make art for other people and just paint whatever I wanted to.

This has been so freeing, although I have to keep reminding myself to not think about how other people will receive my work. It’s weird, because this is such a consideration for me in writing, which I think is normal and good. But with painting, it has often kept me from doing various things or from experimenting much.

One thing I really DON’T want to do is paint a lot of detail. So I’m not going to. Instead, I’m going to focus on color and texture. I sort of started this with “The Devil’s Hothouse,” which I knew might bother some people. And in fact I lost some followers on Instagram. But then I gained others to make up for them.

Then today I went into the studio and started as I normally do, sifting through my reference photos for something to inspire me. I chose a photo I’ve used twice already but feel like I have still not gotten to the bottom of.

I started painting the sky. Started blocking out the snowy hills. And then I asked myself–is this really what you want to paint?

summer rain wip 031519No. It wasn’t. Instead, I painted stripes of color and blended them with my fingers. Then I began laying in a treeline and stuff that represents weeds and shrubs in the foreground. Next came some shaping of clouds and then, most wonderful for me, highlighting brushwork in the clouds.

I still have a bit more to do, but not much. Another session will do it. And I am very pleased with it. It combines the abstract and landscape in a much more unified way that I have generally managed in the past. I think it is beautiful.

It would be great if people liked it. But if not, that’s okay.