Friday, December 31, 2010

Goodbye, 2010, Hello, 2011

What a year it's been. Twelve months ago, I was working in Baghdad, writing Statements of Work for six new projects. I had my last R&R in January and got to shovel a lot of snow at home. Back in Baghdad, I got some of my projects launched, while the others were cancelled. Those projects that were launched are still ongoing and will make a big difference to Iraq over the next several years. Makes me feel like my time there was worthwhile.

At the end of April, my time in Iraq was up. I came home and readjusted to the Real World. Janis and I gave ourselves a vacation to Florida. The highlight (for me) was the 165-mph ride around the Daytona Speedway in a modified stock car. What a hoot! My adrenaline still gets going when I remember that. Then it was time to go back home and get into a normal routine, which meant going back to work in the studio. Oddly, I have found it harder to go from being a project manager to being an artist than it was to go from artist to project manager. Maybe my years as a Naval officer made the project-management side into second nature, but getting the creative mindset working has been difficult. It seems to be working again, now, but it took about six months to get the thought process going again. In July and August, I made a Star Wars-themed mural for a young boy's bedroom in Annapolis. My next project was to make five new series of hand-colored drypoint prints. They were on exhibit at the Bella Vista Gallery in Asheville during November and December.

Also in November was the River Arts District Studio Stroll. After talking with a lot of artists, it appears that the number of visitors to the Stroll was way up, but the sales (both volume and amounts) were way down. Artists are the economic "canary in a coal mine", and these canaries are still on life support. Our economy has a long way to go before this recession is over. Later in November, Janis and I went to Baltimore to visit my aunt and cousin for Thanksgiving. It was great to see them again.

Janis has started a pet-sitting business (Mars Hill Pet Sitting). She had some clients who live in a log house on top of a ridge - a beautiful house in a beautiful location, with two sweet older dogs. What could go wrong? Well, the Great Christmas Blizzard of 2010, that's what! The driveway to the house is about a quarter-mile long, very steep, and made of dirt and gravel. No way could our car get close to the house in 10" of snow. Actually, with all the snow and ice on the roads, our car couldn't even get out of the driveway. So I wound up staying at the client's house for three nights to make sure the dogs were taken care of. (And this is Janis's business?)
Looking ahead to 2011, I see several things coming down the pike:
- One or both of us will get a job. We've been drawing down on our savings from my stint in Iraq and that can't go on forever. I'm looking for something part-time so I can continue to work in the studio. J's working to get the pet-sitting business to take off.
- I'm going to exhibit some of my paintings around the region. Several opportunities are in the works, but to keep from jinxing them, I won't say any more at this point.
- This year, I'm going to work hard on getting the quality of my paintings to a new level. That learning process is always ongoing, but right now I'm putting a lot of emphasis on it.
- This year, I'll revamp/reinvigorate/refocus my marketing efforts. Paintings like mine have a very special audience. Simply putting them in galleries doesn't put them in front of the right people.

Sounds like a fairly simple list of things to do this year, no? No. Sometimes it feels overwhelming, that there's too much to do and not enough time to do it in. Creating decent paintings takes a lot of time. Creating murals takes a lot of time. Creating a marketing plan takes a lot of time. Researching potential commissions takes a lot of time. Networking and advertising takes a lot of time. You get the idea. With all the things that need to be done, it's like I'm trying to fill up the Grand Canyon by chucking pebbles over the edge.

So now it's time to get back to work. Goodbye, 2010. Let's hope 2011 is a better year!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Janis's Horse

My wife, Janis, loves horses. She used to ride a lot when she lived in Chula Vista, and she has wanted to have a painting of a horse for some time. Recently, when we were at an opening at 16 Patton (a gallery here in Asheville), she spotted a beautiful painting of a horse. It really was (is) stunning, and she's talked about it ever since. Then, a few weeks ago, she decided "dammit, my husband is an artist, and he can damn well paint a horse for me!" And since I have no desire to sleep on the couch, I agreed.

We did a Google search for photos of horses and started sorting through the roughly 8.2 trillion images to get an idea of what she wanted. The ones she liked the most were the ones where the horse was tossing its head with its mane flying. I printed out several images along that theme, worked up a sketch of a running horse (mane waving in the wind), and got her okay. Then it was time to start putting paint on canvas.

This is a good-sized canvas, 36"x48". I roughed in the horse and then laid on the paint with a painting knife. This isn't my usual style, but since a horse isn't my usual subject, it seemed like a good opportunity to try something new, and works done with a painting knife have a certain intrinsic energy. After a couple of days, though, this was clearly not going well. In fact, it sucked. So I scraped everything off. The next day, I came in with a brush (my normal painting tool) and started the horse over. From the beginning, the pose was much more dynamic and accurate. I could feel the weight and heft of the horse's body, the movement of its legs, the flow of the mane, the way the dust was being kicked up. The painting was rocking. Then I stood back and really looked at it.

The painting was awful. Terrible! It looked like something you'd see in a Tijuana tourist shop. It was as trite as you could get: "here's the white horse, running through the dust (or water, or whatever)" .... gag! I was embarrassed to have my name associated with it. Clearly, nothing could (or should) save this turkey.

So I went back to the source of all these troubles: the paintings of horses that Janis saw at 16 Patton. The artist is a woman named Mase Lucas. Her works are simply beautiful. The horses are real, with their own personalities. The paintings have a life of their own, a vibrancy, that my turkey lacked. Mase knows horse anatomy, and her creatures are accurately painted without being slaves to photographic likeness. They're portraits of specific horses, while at the same time capturing a universal horse spirit.

Once I saw Mase's works, I understood my situation better. I did a painting several years ago titled "Welcome to Sarajevo". It was of a house near the Sarajevo airport that had been severely damaged during the Bosnian civil war. My painting was done from photos I'd taken while with the peacekeeping forces there. I'd stripped out all the extraneous junk surrounding it and just focused on the house. An artist friend later described the painting as a "portrait". Good portraits capture, not just a likeness, but the essence of the subject - you immediately understand what he/she/it has been through and what its character is like. That's why my "portrait" of the house in Sarajevo worked so well. And that's also why my painting of the running horse failed so badly. It wasn't about a real horse, it was about some hackneyed idea of a horse.

So I'm starting over again. After this morning, here's how the painting looks right now:

The crappy running horse is gone. Now I have a great, mottled, richly textured surface to paint on. The next step is to research horses, understand how their bodies are built, find some good source material, and create a good composition. Something tells me it'll take a while. Meanwhile, Mase Lucas' paintings are my guide. I'm not going to copy any of them - they're her horses, not mine. But if I can get half of the character of her horses into mine, then I'll consider it successful.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Jerome Witkin

Pensione Ichino
Jerome Witkin, 1997

From the Painting Perceptions blog, I found an excellent interview in the Huffington Post with my favorite painter, Jerome Witkin. The author, John Seed, has some excellent insights into Witkin and narrative painting in general here and well worth a read.

Pensione Ichino (center panel)
Jerome Witkin, 1997

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Back in the Studio

The snow finally relented enough on Thursday for me to get back into the studio. Now I've got a new painting underway that will be Janis's Christmas present. She has wanted a painting of a horse for years, and had been looking at works by other artists and trying to make a trade. Then she realized, "I'm married to a painter!" So I've got a "commission" to get done within the next week.

With this painting, I'm trying a couple of things that are out of the ordinary. For one, this painting is being done on polyester, not cotton or linen. Polyester does not stretch out like cotton, and is not affected by temperature and humidity like cotton and linen, and it lasts much longer. When conservators re-line an old painting, they use polyester now. So far, I really like it. The canvas is as tight as a drum, with a lot of spring to it, and is as tight after two days of work as it was in the beginning.

The other thing that's different is that I'm painting with a painting knife instead of brushes. Painting knives are kinda like small, narrow trowels. I wanted a very energetic paint surface and you can certainly get that with a knife. This isn't a tool I'd normally use, and probably will not use very much after this, but it's different and fun, and it's good to get out of your normal routine every once in a while.

So now it's off to the studio. Got a lot of work to get done and not much time to do it in.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

More Snow!

I'm getting cabin fever. It's Tuesday, and we've been stuck at home since Saturday evening. Right now there's about 6 inches of snow on the ground. I've shoveled the driveway three times, both to keep the snow from turning into ice, and just to have something physical to do. We have a fairly long and pretty steep driveway, so keeping it free of ice is very important. We learned that lesson eleven years ago, during our first winter here. I've spent the past couple of days working on the business side of the studio. Important stuff that needs to be done, but I'm really itching to get back to slinging paint again.

Speaking of painting, I wanted to share something by one of my favorite artists. It's a little bit of Southern California expressionism:

My Hands
Jackson Kane
Water-based paint on paper, 11"x8 1/2"

My grandson, the budding artist. World's best refrigerator art!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

The Painting Process

The Red Dress
Oil on canvas, 30"x24"

I finally finished The Red Dress yesterday. It's been in progress for about six weeks, a typical period for me to work on a painting. This one started after looking at some portraits by John Singer Sargent, which made me want to work from an elegant, clothed model. So Whitney and I discussed which outfit she should wear and decided on this one. In the first session, I roughed in the figure and finished her face, and was so excited about the progress that I had her come back the next evening. In the second session, we more or less finished the figure. It was off to a good start.

Now my question was, what to do with it? It was a good painting of a pretty girl, but so what, those are a dime a dozen. So I decided to try an approach used by one of my favorite artists, Jerome Witkin, and make it about a model in the studio. I moved the edges of the backdrop from off the canvas to inside, then roughed in the bricks. Now it was apparent that there was a "hard" and "soft" theme going, with the hard bricks and soft model, so some additional things related to that theme needed to be added. My answer was the dog on the red pillow, which played to both the "soft" and the "red" concepts in the model. Now the painting needed something to the left of the figure. I thought that a glass of red wine would be perfect, but it had to sit on something. There are a couple of small tables in the studio, but they just weren't suitable. Then I spotted my studio partner's wooden crate - it was the right size and kinda funky, so in it went. Pretty perfect so far. Next, I added the lamp on the right, the easel/painting/hand on the left, and the open book on the floor. Now we've got an artist's studio. The last addition was the green rug, chosen because (a) the green is a complement to the red and (b) it was there. This was the final element to be added.

The next step was to go around the painting and bring everything up to an appropriate level of refinement. Almost everything needed tweaking: the shape of her legs and their shadows, highlights and shadows on the backdrop, color of the easel, lights and shadows of the dog and pillow, the bricks had to be darkened, and so on. My biggest headache was the artist's hand on the left - I had a helluva time getting it right, and spent several days on the damn thing. Yesterday, though, I went in and got it done in fifteen minutes. Bam, bam, there it was. Cool!

This is going to be the start of a new series of paintings. Should be more fun than some of the "Debbie Downer"-type paintings I've been doing for years, although those will still continue.

Next, though, I have to do a painting for Janis as her Christmas present. Already have the drawings done and canvas prepped. I'll probably start it on Tuesday or Wednesday, after the snow lifts.

I mentioned Jerome Witkin earlier. There's a wonderful interview with him on the Painting Perceptions blog that is well worth reading. (I just discovered this site; if you're an artist, you should know about it, too). One of Witkin's statements really hit me. He was talking about the time he met Giorgio Morandi, and segued into the role of teachers and mentors, and then said this:
"We are deepened by our teachers, our mentors, and I think the Morandi experience was so special, so special. And I think when you’re in your studio by yourself, you think, Who is my audience? If Morandi is standing behind me, or Isabel Bishop, or Bill de Kooning, or Phil Guston, or Orozco, or Rembrandt, those are your real audiences. They’re the climbers of Everest and they’re helping you to get to the top."

Wow. Too often, some artists (including me) think of our audiences as some unknown potential collector who might buy our work, and we tailor it to them in hopes of a sale. Witkin is pointing out this is too low a bar. Instead, we should paint each painting as if we're going to present it to Morandi, or de Kooning, or Rembrandt, or whoever our own personal art inspiration is. Raise the bar: do your best.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Cold Snap

Well, it's hardly news that we've been hit by a cold snap. So has everybody else in about 90% of the country. We got a good bit of snow over the past two days - about 4" total, and right now the temperature is about 17 degrees outside. Brrrrrr! I took the opportunity to stay home and work on some business aspects of the studio, mostly marketing. Some highlights:
- I created a FaceBook page for the studio. This should provide a way to reach more people, and to allow those who are on FB a lot to get updates more easily. So if you're on Facebook, check it out, and if you like it, then please "like" it.

- For the Christmas season, I decided to highlight my Forest Nymph photos. They've been well received over the years whenever they've been shown. I'm running a special on them right now, with both a reduced price and free shipping over the holidays. I added some PayPal "Buy It Now" buttons onto my web site to facilitate sales. Yes, it's crass commercialism creeping into my web presence. But I already know what the answer is if I don't do it (no sales), so this is an experiment in keeping the studio financially afloat.

- I also wrote up my sorta-regular studio newsletter. That took a bit of time, since as I wrote it, I kept getting ideas for other things (like modifications to the web site) that had to be investigated or implemented or whatnot. But the newsletter went out successfully last night. And, of course, I immediately thought of something else that should've been in it. Ah, well, next time ... maybe.

A while back, I made a snarky comment about how all these time-saving gizmos are taking up my time. All the above (plus a bit more) took up the better part of two days. How much painting did I get done in that time? Zip!

So this afternoon it was back to the studio. With outside temperatures in the mid-20's, and with all the (nonexistent) insulation in our century-old building, my heater was blazing away constantly. So tomorrow, I'll get some supplies from Lowe's and put plastic up over the windows to halt the draft. For today, though, I worked on the painting of the girl in the red dress. It's almost done now, I think. Another painting is in the works. This one is Janis' Christmas present, so it's going to be quite a bit different than my normal splatterings. And it's gonna be a fun painting. Can't wait to get it going!

Friday, December 03, 2010

Painting Progress

Yes, I'm still working on the painting of the young lady in a red dress. Here's the way it looks right now. Since the last progress report, I've put in the floor, rug, and red purse, and darkened the brick wall. Now I need to go around the painting and refine everything: lighting, edges, color saturation, perspective, you name it. I like the way it's coming along, but I wish it was coming along a bit faster!

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Technological Progress?

I got a new phone today. My old phone (on the left) was a Razr. I loved it. It's small, lightweight, well-made, tough, easy to use, and good-looking. When I got it four years ago, it was the latest and greatest from Verizon and Motorola. State of the art. Now it's so obsolete that it doesn't work with Verizon's network anymore. Seriously. Over the past couple of weeks, Verizon has been doing some kind of upgrades to their networks that pretty much knocked my old Razr off the air. I could have 5-bar reception one minute and zero the next, without leaving the room. I took it in to the store and they just shook their heads. ("Imagine ... that old fart is still using a Razr! What an antique!! It must be at least four years old ... I was still in junior high then!").

So I got a new phone. It's a Samsung and does more or less the same thing that my Razr did. I didn't want a smart phone with a data plan, I don't need to send or receive emails on my phone (I've got a computer for that), I don't text anybody, and don't want texts sent to me. Face it, I'm a codger now, and codgers don't like all this newfangled stuff. My new phone has a better camera, for what that's worth; but it's also thicker, heavier, and not nearly as good-looking as my old Razr.

So it's goodbye to my trusty old phone. There's not a thing wrong with it, it's just that technology has moved so fast that it's been left behind. At only four years of age.

Sometimes I feel like my phone ...

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Thanksgiving Road Trip

Thanksgiving is a time to spend with family if at all possible. I'm a firm believer in that. So this week, we went up to Baltimore to spend Thanksgiving with my aunt and cousin. In short, we had a wonderful time.

We left early on Tuesday morning. This was the first real road trip with the Volvo and it turned out to be an excellent highway cruiser. We went north on I-81 through the Shenandoah Valley, our favorite north/south route. Traffic was pretty light for a holiday season and moved well. We ran at about 75 the whole way and got over 32 mpg. That's a bit better than the 16.5 mpg that our Land Rover used to get on the same trip! Everything was great until we got two miles outside the Baltimore beltway, where we hit the rush-hour crawl. It took over an hour to make it the final 15 miles to my aunt's house in Cockeysville. I swear, every time I go up to the Baltimore and DC areas, I'm reminded of why it is that we don't live there anymore.

Still, it was wonderful to see Aunt B, Bridget, and Logan again. We caught up on what we all were doing, ate some fabulous food (Aunt B's crab cakes are WORLD CLASS, worth the drive all by themselves), watched some TV shows and movies, played with each other's dogs, and did all the things you normally do during family visits. Bridget and Janis, in particular, are two of a kind, and bond deeply over shopping at Nordstrom's. Which they did. Again.

I needed a good art fix, so Aunt B and I went to the Baltimore Museum of Art. Their special exhibit was on Andy Warhol's late work. We both thought it was quite a good show. Warhol (in my opinion) wasn't necessarily a good painter, but he was great at conceptualizing, and these works showed it. For most of them, the more you studied it, the more there was to the piece. That's what good art is all about. We then browsed through the collections of European and American art, which includes works from the Renaissance through the early 20th century. You expect to be blown away by a Monet or Van Gogh painting, and of course we were, but I particularly enjoy finding beautiful works by artists you rarely, if ever, hear of. There was a marvelous portrait by Thomas Sully, for example, and this beautiful tonalist painting by Thomas Dewing. Some museums (the Getty comes to mind) aren't too particular about the quality of the works as long as they're by "name" artists, while others (like the BMA) make sure they get top-quality pieces. It was great to just wander in a really great art museum again!

Aunt B and I spent a good bit of time going through old family pictures. I've been working on our family tree off and on for thirty years or so and take every opportunity to pick her memory. There's always something to learn. I discovered, for example, that my grandfather was left-handed - it was common knowledge to them, but since I never saw him write anything, it was news to me. I also came back with a trove of old pictures dating back over a century. One of the really cool things was a scrapbook that my grandmother kept between 1914-1916, when she was a teenager. My plan is to scan all the old photos so they can be preserved and shared. I just gave myself a lot of work to do.

We came back on Saturday, hoping to avoid the worst of the traffic crunch, and we pretty much succeeded. The weather was cold but clear, and while there were certainly a lot more cars and trucks on the road, it not as bad as it could've been (and probably is today). We ran at about 75 most of the way and stayed out of the crowds of pushy drivers. They'd come by at 80 or more, running on each other's bumpers, darting from lane to lane, trying to get out in front, and generally being in a hurry. Anytime I wound up in such a group, I'd just get in the right lane, drop my speed down, let 'em go, and then pick it back up again. Then I'd just watch 'em battle each other. We stopped about every hour and a half to stretch our legs, walk the dogs, and swap drivers. Breaks like this keep us fresh and prevent falling into the "pushy driver" category. What's the rush? We still made it home in less than nine hours.

So today has been a recovery day. Lots of clothes are going through the wash. I cleaned out the car and put up the Christmas tree. The dogs were ecstatic to be back home - they had to catch up on every smell left by every critter for the past five days.

I hope your Thanksgiving was as rewarding as ours!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Painting Developments

This painting seems to be developing quite nicely. Since my last posting about this painting on the 8th, I've added quite a bit: the crate, wine glass, easel, painting, hand, book, pillow, dog, and light. Next step is to add a purse under the crate and do something about the floor. Then it'll be time to bring everything up to a more refined level of execution. This painting is a lot of fun to do. I'm thinking of doing a larger one (this is 30"x24") with a similar theme of "model in the studio".

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Life Drawing in the Studio

My life drawing sessions continue to go pretty well. Last night we had a new model. My drawing was pretty crappy at first, but then it started coming together.

Cari #1

Cari #2

Today I'm working on the painting of the model in the red dress again. It's been over a week since I last painted and, as usual, getting back into the swing of things takes some time. But it's getting there.

Monday, November 15, 2010

After the Stroll

Well, my predictions for the Stroll pretty much came true. We had a lot of visitors. From my perspective, the numbers were up significantly from June. The weather was great, which helped bring people out in droves. As is normal (for me), I had no sales at all, but then, the Strolls are really an advertising venue, anyway. The surprise? The low levels of sales for those who normally make a lot of money. One potter said that this was his worst Stroll in eight years, with sales at about the level of a normal workday. The stained-glass artist had no sales at all, despite having beautiful work priced as low as $30. An abstract painter, who normally has a few thousand dollars in sales, had a grand total of $150. None of the few artists that I've spoken to had even an "okay" weekend. For most of them, sales were better in June than November, and that has never been the case, even during the worst of the Great Recession.

So what was up? (Shoulder shrug here). For whatever reason, people just are not yet willing to open their wallets for art. If artists are the economic "canary in a coal mine", the canaries are on life support.

I usually have some very interesting discussions with my visitors, and this weekend was no exception.
- One of them is a retired Marine officer who was in Nasariyah, Iraq, during the worst of the insurgency. He spoke of having one of his armored vehicles hit by an IED, killing six of his Marines, and the pain in his eyes and voice was still brutal.
- There was an elderly couple who must've both been retired university professors. Their conversation was deeply insightful, laced with references to classics, politics, philosophy, art history, and both had sharp questions and listened keenly to what I had to say. A most enjoyable discussion.
- I talked with several people who were planning to move to Asheville. After living here for ten years, I say, yes, this is a wonderful area, lots to see and do, a great artist community, beautiful scenery, great food, and friendly people. Please bring your own job, though, as there aren't enough to go around.
- After doing these Strolls for seven years, I now have some regulars who always stop by to see whose buttons I'm pushing. It's good to see familiar faces showing up every time.

- One of my paintings on display was Pleasantville. This one always seems to get a good response, and I had it positioned so that it was the first thing a visitor saw when entering the studio. One guy, though, made it clear that he thought this family was on the right track, and that every family ought to have their own arsenal. (Sorry, guy, I've been to Baghdad and seen what happens when every family has its own arsenal.)

After the June stroll, I wrote in this blog that I didn't want to show Warrior and Lament and other old paintings during the Stroll again. They've been in too many now and it was time for something new. I set myself a goal of having all new pieces, hopefully as good as Warrior (which I consider my best work). Well, that didn't quite happen. Yes, there were some new ones, most notably the series of portraits from Iraq, but not much that was worth showing. And in my discussions with visitors, most of whom were seeing my work for the first time, I wound up saying things that sometimes caught me by surprise, that made me think about the direction of my art from different perspectives. So I'm torn between ideas. On one side, I wanted to move away from paintings about war. They're inherently downers, and I want to do something a bit cheerier. This is the impetus behind the "model in the studio" series that I've been thinking about. On the other hand, there are still some things that can/should be said in paintings about war. Warrior, Lament, and You Don't Understand are three very powerful paintings about the effect of war on people, but there are more in that vein that can be done. When Lament was nearing completion, and I knew it was going to be a good work, I felt "This was the kind of painting I was meant to paint". That's not a feeling that you walk away from.

So. Where to go from here? Is it one or the other? Both, in moderation? I dunno. I think I just need to sling some more paint and let it work itself out.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Prepping for the Studio Stroll

This weekend is the fall Studio Stroll. My studio is in Asheville's River Arts District, the old industrial area around the river and the railroad yard. Starting about 25+ years ago, artists began moving into the old buildings and using their large spaces as studios. Then, about 20 years ago, they started opening their studios once a year to the public. Now we have about 150 artists in the District and we do the Stroll twice a year, in June and November.

This time, it looks like we'll probably have a very large turnout. The weather is looking really good all weekend. Gallery owners that I've talked to are saying that they're seeing an uptick in the number of visitors and buyers. It's as if those who have money have been sitting on it for a long time, waiting to see what happened with the economy. Now they think the worst has passed, they still have money, Christmas is coming, and they feel pretty good, so they're starting to spending some of it. About time, I say.

Not that I expect much of it to come my way during the Stroll. Some artists will sell a whole lot this weekend. For the most part, the pieces that sell are about beauty, color, and warm feelings. The potters and glass artists will do well, as will my new neighbor who does stained glass mosaics, and also the fabric artists. Among the painters, the abstract artists and landscape painters (those who do Appalachian vistas) will do best. As for me, I do edgy works, often confrontational, about such cheery subjects as the effects of war, political satire, and aging. While I'd say that some of my paintings are beautifully done, they're not about beauty and warm feelings, so most are still, umm, in my "private collection".

Still, I participate in the strolls as a way to show a lot of people what I can do. I like talking with the people who come through. Opportunities pop up, sometimes years later, from chance meetings in the studio. So while it's frustrating to end the weekend on Sunday evening with everything I started with on Saturday morning (which has happened on more Strolls than not), it's still a great advertising opportunity.

This time, I'm showing Warrior (hopefully for the last time, at least at the Strolls), Pleasantville and Ann's Slander, along with the series of small portraits from Iraq, a few other related works, and my Forest Nymph series of photographs. And I've got a few other surprises out, too.

So I've been working hard, along with Christine, my studio partner, at cleaning the place up and making it presentable. What a slog that's been! Old industrial buildings are dirty; artists' studios are dirty; combine the two and you have the potential for a monumental pigpen. We weren't that bad, but it took a lot of work. For the past few months, we've had a massive infestation of stinkbugs - evidently it's a regional or nationwide problem - and the little buggers were everywhere. In boxes, on shelves, in paint drawers, behind supplies, even hiding inside paintings. I was prepping one painting today and found six stinkbugs hiding in the back, between the canvas and the stretcher bars. Unbelievable. So if you come to the Stroll this weekend and take home one of my artworks, and then find a stinkbug in it, rest assured I won't charge you extra for it.

'Nuff said for now. I've still got a lot of preps to do tonight and it's getting late. If you're in Asheville this weekend, come by and visit, I'd love to see you!

Monday, November 08, 2010

Pushing Forward on Too Many Fronts

This post's title pretty much describes my life these days. There are just too many irons in the fire right now, and I didn't choose some of them. But then, that's life, so deal with it.

Last week we took our two dogs in for their annual physical. They were NOT happy about it, but they're good dogs and put up with the poking, prodding, shots, and things stuck up their butts, all without a whimper. Soozee has had a skin condition for quite a while: a growing number of scabs all over her back and sides. We thought it was an allergy, but it appears to be a bacterial infection, so she's on antibiotics for the next three weeks. This in addition to her meds for Addison's, and Indy's meds for Addison's and bladder control. I swear, the dogs are on more meds than Janis and I are. On the good side, their blood tests came back just fine, so the Addison's medications are doing their job.

Winter has moved in with a vengeance. We had snow this past weekend - just a dusting around my house, but my studio partner, Christine, who lives about ten miles west of us at a higher elevation, had over four inches. It's a bit warmer today, though, which is good. I'm not ready for winter yet. We barely had fall, fer crissakes, and I don't like the sudden shift from highs in the 80's to lows in the 20's!

I'm continuing to work on the painting that I showed you last week. We had the model come back the next night and I was able to pretty much complete her figure. Here's how it looks right now:
I decided to make it a "model in the studio" painting, clearly showing the things that normally get left out. I'm going to add the floodlight on a stand on the right and a table on the left with a wineglass. Once the brickwork was added, I realized that a big part of the painting was going to be about hard versus soft - in this case, the hard bricks contrasted with the softness of the figure. So to emphasize the softness, I'll try putting in some soft things: pillows, maybe a sheepskin rug, maybe one of my dogs, that sort of thing. Haven't got it all figured out yet, but I don't think that getting it "figured out" is the right thing to do for this one. The painting seems to have quite a life of its own, and it's telling me a good bit about what it wants, so my job will be to listen to it and help it along. So far, I'm really happy with how it's going. This very well could be the first in a whole new series ... quite a change from the usual "downer" paintings that I've been doing, about war and politics and so on.

In other studio news, our semi-annual Studio Stroll is coming up this weekend. This is where the artists of the River Arts District open up their studios to the public. We're up to 150 artists now. Back when I became President of the group, we had about 45 artists; three years later, when I turned it over to somebody else, we were up to 90. Amazing how it's continuing to grow. (The current President keeps trying to talk me into taking the job again. No, thanks!)

Our group is helping to give artists more influence with Asheville city government. Not that we're taking over or anything, but events like our Stroll, and several similar events (Leicester studio tour, East of Asheville studio tour, Weaverville Art Safari, a West Asheville studio tour, along with older events like the Southern Highland Craft Guild's shows) are proving to the city fathers that arts and crafts are a big part of the economy here because they're big tourist draws. The state government had an economics study done not long ago, and it turned out that arts and crafts contributed three times as much to the state economy as tobacco did.

So this week, I need to get this studio ready for the Stroll. That means cleaning (again) and shifting artworks around. I think I'll have my Forest Nymph photos on display this time ... they've been put away for a while, so maybe it's time to get 'em out again. We'll see. I better get to work - can't make any of those decisions if I'm sitting here, banging out a new blog post.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Army of Dude

The Army of Dude is a blog written by a soldier who spent 15 months in Iraq during the worst of the violence. The guy can really write: he captured the essence of combat, of loss, and of bonding, and the difficulty of reintegration with civilian society. Now that he's no longer in the Army, he posts only infrequently, but this entry from a couple of weeks ago is typically thoughtful and hard-hitting.

Studio Developments

My prints and drawings are now up at Bella Vista Art Gallery in Biltmore Village in Asheville. The show will run through the end of December. So far, all the comments I've been hearing are really good, so I'm pretty stoked. It feels really good to have a quality show up on a gallery wall. I'll get some pictures and post them here soon.

I hung another show a couple of days ago. The artists of the Cotton Mill have a group show at the Clingman Cafe, right here in the River Arts District. I think it looks pretty good as a whole. My contribution was two older paintings (Portrait of Our Shoes and Strange Fruit) plus a giclee print (Generation).

All 150 artists in the River Arts District are getting ready for the Studio Stroll, which comes up in a week. We're hoping the weather will be good and bring out thousands of visitors. The Stroll is a great time to see lots of different artists in their studios, many of whom don't open their studios otherwise. I haven't yet decided what I'll have up on the walls this time - maybe my newest work-in-progress?

Which is a sitting, full-figure portrait of a lovely young lady. I started it in our life drawing session last night. This is one of those paintings where everything seemed to click right from the very beginning. The drawing was pretty accurate, the colors worked, and the whole thing was fun. Two hours isn't enough to get a canvas like this done, so she's coming back for another session tonight. Any artist who wants to come draw or paint from life is welcome to show up. Here's how the painting looks right now:

The mural on the side of the Cotton Mill is now done. Here's how it looks:

It's getting a lot of attention. We have cars pulling in to the parking lot every day just to take pictures of it, and it was featured in the Asheville paper. I think it's pretty cool. Those windows on the top floor above the mural, by the way, are to my studio.

So now it's time to get going. The dogs finally woke up and I have to get them walked and to the groomers.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Happy Halloween

The concept development of my next narrative painting continues ... slowly. Maybe I'm putting too much thought into it. But even so, I still have to build the canvas for it. That's my project for tomorrow. Then it has to be gessoed and toned, so it'll be another week to ten days before it'll be ready for paint. So there's still time to muck around with the concept, add and subtract things until I'm thoroughly confused, and generally screw it all up. And you thought being an artist was a cakewalk.

Tomorrow afternoon, I'll hang a show of works by Cotton Mill artists in our local coffee/sandwich shop, the Clingman Cafe. We'll have five painters: John Mac Kah, Ruthanne Kah, Genie Maples, Christine Dougherty, and myself, plus a fiber artist (Barbara Zaretsky) and Eileen and Marty Black, potters. This show will be up for a month. The Clingman Cafe is a great little place for lunch, coffee, snacks, even beer, so stop in and give it a try. My favorite is the Thunderbird sandwich (smoked turkey, bacon, swiss, chipotle mayo, pepporoncini relish and Dijon mustard on grilled sourdough - yum!).

I bade farewell to an old friend today. My Krups espresso machine finally bit the dust after 14 years of daily service. Yes, it was a sad day. I thought its lifespan was actually pretty remarkable in this day and age of cheapo Chinese crap, but it was very well made. So now I have a new Krups espresso machine sitting on the kitchen counter. It begins its own 14-year stint tomorrow morning.

The fall leaf season is pretty much over. The tulip poplars and birches have lost all their leaves, the beeches and maples have lost almost all of theirs, and the oaks are just turning brown. My grass is still green where it's not covered with leaves. In another two or three weeks, I'll mow it for the last time and turn all those leaves into mulch. Then it'll be a long, almost 6-month stretch before the trees start turning green again in mid April. It's the Brown Season.

It's also baseball, football, and basketball season. I'm sitting here watching the World Series game ... not that I'm a big baseball fan ... and there's a football game on another channel, and the frickin' basketball season has already kicked off. This is just plain wrong. It should be illegal for more than two major-league pro ball seasons to be underway at the same time. Basketball should not even think of starting until the Series is over. I'm rooting for San Francisco. I've got a good friend who lives in the San Francisco area (plus one for the Giants) while the Rangers used to be owned by George Bush (minus one for the Rangers). Janis is rooting for the Rangers ... she says she likes cowboys, but I've been telling her these guys are just ballplayers ... to no avail.

And I am SICK TO DEATH of political ads!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Studio Stuff

Last night was our weekly life drawing session. We normally start with a series of 30-second poses. These are gesture drawings, very quick, and they help both the model and the artist loosen up. Here's one page from my drawing pad, with four poses on it.

Then we went into 20-minute poses. Here are two of mine. I was using conte crayons, both white and black, on gray Mi-Teintes paper. The gray paper gives an overall medium tone, the black crayon provides the basic drawing, and the few white highlights give it extra depth and life. I've found that it's best to be a bit stingy with the white.

The past couple of days have been occupied with non-studio work. I had to put together the monthly newsletter and get it out. It didn't help when the system ate my draft three times and kept trying to send the previous month's newsletter. Then, once it went out, I had to publish it on FaceBook and LinkedIn. All of which took time. All these contemporary, time-saving methods of generating publicity take a good bit of time to do right. It just kills me to see these ads on TV showing people "effortlessly" doing a zillion things at once on their smart phone while they sip cappuccino on a beach. Yeah, buddy: anyone who has ever fought with an "effortless" interface that is anything but effortless will just laugh at those commercials!

I got to spend a good bit of time working on the conception of a new narrative painting, though. In an earlier post, I wrote about how I didn't have that creative thinking process going yet. It's still not up to speed, but yesterday afternoon, it got a good workout. I had three ideas for paintings, worked through what they might mean to me and to others, settled on one idea that had the most promise, and then worked at developing the concept. There was a lot of drawing, cutting and taping (literally, not Photoshop cut-and-paste), sitting down with my journal and thinking, then going back and removing or adding things.

I mentioned a journal. This is an indispensable part of my creative thinking, a way to get my thoughts out on paper. I use a sort of guided stream-of-consciousness writing: I'll focus on the artwork (the conceptual drawings, actual painting, whatever it is I'm working on) and scribble down my gut thoughts and impressions. There's no thinking or editing, my pen is just recording whatever's bouncing around in my brain. Sometimes it can be quite surprising - I'll write something and then wonder where in the hell that thought came from. Well, it came from the subconscious. One of the things I grew to learn in the art program is that the subconscious is very active all the time. "Gut feelings" are really decisions that your subconscious has already reached but your conscious brain hasn't figured out yet. So I learned to work with it. When considering an idea for a new painting, I'll look at a lot of stuff related to it: lots of different images, writings, whatever I can find. Then I let it percolate for a while in my subconscious, sometimes prodding it a bit ("hey, brain, what's up with that idea? Got anything we can work with yet?"). Before I went to Iraq, this process was working fairly well. Sometimes it would come up with things I hadn't even asked yet - my painting Pleasantville is one example that just came to me overnight. But since I've been back, it is really rusty, and going through the creative process with this new painting-to-be is slow. But it'll come together. It's like any other skill: if you don't use it for a while, it atrophies. The good news is that once you start exercising it, it comes back. So that's what I'm working on today.

And now it's time to get back to work.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Politics and the Federal Budget

This is the nastiest political season that I can ever remember. The bitter partisanship that has taken over the political world since at least 1994 is giving us a rash of television ads that are viciously personal and contain little in the way of objective truth. One of the topics that has been bandied about is the federal budget. Ads say things like “I’ll get spending under control” and “I’ll cut taxes” and “I’ll cut the deficit”. The truth is, they might be able to do one or two, but doing all three is a fiscal impossibility. We, the voting public, need to have politicians who will speak the truth and work toward solutions. To do that, we need to be armed with the truth ourselves.

Here’s how the current 2010 federal budget breaks out. The estimated receipts (taxes, customs duties, and so forth) amount to $2.38T (trillion) dollars. Estimated expenditures amount to $3.55T. This means the estimated deficit is $1.17T. For comparison, this amount is equal to the total federal budget of 1989, or to the entire national gross domestic product (GDP) of 1972.

There are two components of expenditures. One is mandatory spending. These expenditures are required by law. The other component is discretionary. These expenditures are proposed by the President and modified and approved by Congress.

In the current budget, mandatory spending amounts to $2.18T. This includes Social Security ($678B), Medicare and Medicaid ($743B), the interest on national debt ($164B), and a myriad of other mandatory programs ($582B).

Discretionary spending amounts to $1.37T. The biggest portion, by far, goes to the Department of Defense ($664B). Next is Health and Human Services ($79B). All the other federal departments (Transportation, Veterans Affairs, State, Homeland Security, and so forth) receive lesser amounts.

Note that, if we subtract mandatory spending ($2.18T) from revenues ($2.38T), that leaves only $200B before we start running a deficit. But as soon as we include defense spending, we’re running a deficit of nearly a half trillion dollars before we spend a dime on anything else.

Now for a little history. The 2001 federal budget (submitted by President Clinton) amounted to $1.8T, which was 21.2% of GDP. The government had a budget surplus that year of $153B.

The 2009 budget (submitted by President Bush) amounted to $3.1T, which was 24.7% of GDP. The deficit for that year was $1.4T. Note that this deficit was almost as much as the entire federal budget of only eight years previous. When proposed by President Bush, the 2009 deficit was stated to be about $400B; however, this did not include the cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Combined with the onset of the recession (which decreased revenues from taxes by over $600B), this resulted in an actual deficit over three times the original projection.

As noted earlier, the 2010 budget (submitted by President Obama) is $3.8T, which is 25.1% of GDP, with a deficit of $1.17T. This percentage is higher than at any time in our history, with the exception of World War II.

This massive deficit is in stark contrast to recent history. In 2001, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) (a non-partisan staff element of Congress) estimated that the federal budget would have annual surpluses of about $850B in 2009 and 2010. Instead, we have large deficits, which are forecasted to reach unsustainable levels by the end of this decade. Peter Orszag, former Director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), attributed the majority of the causes to the tax cuts of 2001 and 2003, the Medicare prescription drug benefit, and fallout from the financial crisis (reductions in tax income, increase in social safety nets expenses, and comparatively minor expenditures from the stimulus and bailout)

Some believe that we can eventually cover the deficit by growing the economy. That was true once, but not now. The Government Accounting Office (GAO) estimated that the GDP would have to grow by double-digit levels for next 75 years to outgrow the debt. Double-digit growth is possible only for an undeveloped country, such as Afghanistan, and then only for a short time. During 90’s “boom” years, the American economy grew about 4-6% annually.

During an election season, there is usually a lot of talk about cutting fraud, waste, and abuse. Every politician of every political party for the past 200 years has vowed to do that. The problem, of course, is that waste and abuse mean different things to different people. Federal funds to, say, build the I-26 connector in Asheville might be hailed here as a vital element of the economy, but be viewed by Alaskans as a waste of their tax dollars. Regarding real fraud, waste, and abuse, the OMB estimates that the federal government may have made $98B in “improper payments” in 2009. This means that, even if we eliminated fraud, waste, and abuse entirely this year, our deficit would only drop from $1.17T to $1.07T.

We’ve already noted that Social Security, Medicare/Medicaid, other mandatory programs, and defense are the federal government’s biggest expenses. Social Security and Medicare/Medicaid are both fiscally unsustainable. Their expenses are growing rapidly, far faster than GDP, even in “good” years. Economists across the political spectrum, the Social Security Administration, the Department of Health and Human Services, the OMB, the Congressional Budget Office, and many more have warned that Social Security and Medicare/Medicaid must be overhauled to ensure their long-term sustainability. These overhauls must be done by laws passed by Congress. Unfortunately, Congress has not been willing to address them in any meaningful manner. The reason is that real overhauls can only be done by reducing benefits (such as delaying the retirement age for Social Security), raising taxes, or both. It is impossible to fix them in any other way. However, virtually no politician in the current environment is willing to push for those reforms. Every year those reforms are delayed will make the reforms more costly down the road.

Expenditures are only half of the budget equation. The other half are revenues from taxes, fees, and other sources. Contrary to popular belief, the amount of taxes collected by the US is quite low relative to other developed nations. About 25% of US GDP is collected in federal, state, and local taxes, while most developed countries are in the 30-40% range.

Despite the relatively low tax burden and high deficit in this country, there is a strong push for more tax cuts. Democrats want to extend income tax cuts for the lower and middle classes at a cost of $2.3T over ten years, while Republicans want to extend the cuts for everybody (cost: $3.1T over ten years). The claim is that tax cuts will stimulate the economy. While that is true, it is also true that tax cuts do not generate enough revenue to pay for themselves even in “good” times. Studies by the Congressional Budget Office and the Treasury during President Bush’s tenure showed that increased economic activity only generated about a 20% return on the dollar. Making the tax cuts permanent, therefore, will also make a rapidly growing deficit permanent.

Most economists agree that deficit spending by the federal government is necessary during a financial crisis, such as the one we’re in, in order to keep it from becoming a full-blown depression. The current deficit levels, however, are unsustainable over the long run. We must do a number of very difficult things in the next few years. They include:
- Raise federal revenue levels. This means increasing taxes, customs duties, and fees.
- Reform Social Security by decreasing benefits, raising taxes, or both.
- Reform Medicare and Medicaid by decreasing benefits, reining in growing health care costs, raising taxes, or some combination of all.
- Reduce discretionary government spending. Defense spending is the obvious first choice, as it is almost the same size as Social Security and Medicare/Medicaid, but all federal departments should be evaluated.

For an example target, our goal might be to return the federal share of the GDP to the historical average of about 20%. Our current GDP is about $14.6T, resulting in a federal budget of $2.92T. To get there, we need to cut expenditures by $630B and raise revenues by $540B.

If we are to dig ourselves out of this fiscal hole, our politicians must work together. The Clinton Administration and Republican-led Congress did just that during the latter 1990’s and produced budget surpluses. Although surpluses that begin to pay down the national debt may be too much to realistically hope for at this stage, a sustainable deficit is not. As we get ready to go to the polls next week, we should ask ourselves whether our candidates will work toward fiscal discipline, or will they put partisan politics above the national good. This year, that question is critical. We don’t need any more grandstanding and nasty name-calling, we need leaders who will address the serious problems that we now face. That will require a bi-partisan effort.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan

Okay, I'm pissed off at the NY Times again. Today they posted an article on the use of contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan. The article gives the impression that contractors are a bunch of loose cannons, running around Iraq and Afghanistan unchecked, shooting up anything that moves, with little or no accountability. I found the article to be highly misleading. While many of the basic facts seem to be okay, they are not presented accurately nor in context.

First, they use the term "contractor" loosely. From the article, you'd believe that there were tens of thousands of men running around, heavily armed, and looking for a fight. The article explicitly states that there are more contractors in Afghanistan than there are soldiers. True. However, "contractors" include truck mechanics, computer technicians, supply clerks, US post office workers, construction supervisors, and a host of other non-combatant jobs which constitute the vast majority of civilian support. Even for those in the security field, most don't go outside the bases. They're "third-country nationals" (TCN's) from places like Uganda or Nepal, who stand guard at dining facilities, maintenance shops, unit compounds, or other places. Yes, they have AK-47's and other weapons, but this is a war zone, so they damn well better. These are the sort of routine jobs with very little threat exposure (besides the occasional incoming mortar round) that need to be done but don't require a highly-trained and very expensive US soldier or Western security specialist. The actual number of heavily-armed security forces roaming the Iraqi and Afghanistan countrysides are small.

The article cites several instances of contractor security forces shooting Iraqi non-combatants, mostly in the 2004-2007 period. All these reports came from those recently posted on Wikileaks. It's easy to critique these incidents from the safety of American soil and several years, but at the time, Iraq was a very hot war zone. As the article notes, 53 security contractors were killed in 2006 alone, an average of one a week. Attacks were happening by the hundreds, all over the country, every day. US soldiers as well as security contractors had to make life-and-death decisions on the spot with insufficient evidence. Quick: a car's coming at you and isn't slowing down. Is it an attack or is it innocent? That's all the information you have, and by the time you read to the end of that question, it's too late: somebody has just died, maybe the driver, maybe you. As Donald Rumsfeld, the architect of the Iraq war, stated, "stuff happens". Nasty stuff. So, yes, you can comb through the Wikileaks documents and find examples of security contractors killing innocent Iraqis. You can also find examples of security contractors doing their job and getting their charges safely out of a trouble spot.

The Times article states "it is clear from the documents that the contractors appeared notably ineffective at keeping themselves and the people they were paid to protect from being killed." Bullshit. In my work with the State Department and the Corps of Engineers in Iraq for 20 months, our Blackwater and Aegis security contractors took us all over the country, in and out of some very dangerous areas, every day, safely and securely. During that time, there were literally thousands of trips. Sometimes they were attacked, most of the time, not. A very few resulted in injuries to those being carried. Only one of those trips, the Fallujah incident of May 2009 cited in the Times article, resulted in a loss of life for the people being carried. (Two of the three men killed were friends of mine. The two Aegis security guards in the vehicle survived. I wrote a blog post about it.) So: thousands of trips for the Embassy and Corps of Engineers, some attacks, a few injuries, one attack with fatalities. That doesn't sound "notably ineffective" to me. No, I've ridden around the country with those guys. I've seen them in action. I'd go with them again.

Normally, I find the Times to have good reporting on Iraq. They're the only US-based news organization that has maintained a permanent presence in Baghdad during the entire conflict. Their reporting is usually pretty accurate and nuanced. Unfortunately, they missed the boat on this one and produced a very misleading report.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

New Work

Oil on panel, 16"x12"

Here's the newest in my series of portraits from Iraq. The Sons of Iraq were the paramilitary part of the Sunni Awakening, which was the group that turned against Al Qaeda and brought peace to the central part of the country. The Sons of Iraq established checkpoints pretty much everywhere. However, they often had to hide their faces to avoid being recognized and killed by Al Qaeda and Shi'ite militias.

Figure Study #3
Conte on paper, 24"x18"

Figure Study #4
Conte on paper, 24"x18"

The life drawing sessions in my studio continued last night. We had a good turnout - seven people - and a lovely model to work with. Although the conte crayon gave me fits at the beginning, I adjusted to it. My hand-eye coordination is getting better now that it's had a bit of practice.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Developments in the Studio

A few days ago, in a post titled "Exhibition Preps", I showed images of the five new drypoints made for my show at Bella Vista next month. I also said that I'd hand-color some of them. Well, "some" turned into "all". I did one test print and liked the results so much that I just kept going. Here's how they turned out:


Valley Farm


Back 40

South Market Warehouse

If you compare them to the previous versions, I think you'll see that the subdued color gives them a whole new character. What do you think? I'd like to hear your impressions.

My Intro to Painting class in my studio started this past Saturday. I have one (count 'em: 1) student. The first class went well. I didn't bore her to tears, she seemed to have fun, and she's coming back next week. Some teachers might've cancelled the class without more students, but I'm going ahead. This is the first time I've taught this particular class, so it's a work-in-progress as I try to figure out how much ground to cover in each class, how to cover it, what exercises to use, and so on. I already know that, when I'm giving a presentation, that I can be extremely boring to listen to, but that's something to deal with and try to overcome. A ball of fire I'm not; a careful and logical presenter, yes. Which means that I can carefully and logically put people right to sleep. Done it a thousand times. Fortunately, in a studio environment, you don't just listen, you have to do things, often with smelly liquids. So after this class is over (it goes for four weeks), I'll make whatever changes need to be made, and I'll offer it again in January, after the holiday season is over.

So with the prints done, it's time to get back to painting. I've put the press and the printmaking stuff away and cleared off the workbench. Tomorrow, I'll get back to working on my next oil painting. There's one portrait that's already lined up. Another painting, a narrative, has been in the development phase for a while. To say it keeps changing is an understatement, but it seems to be settling down now. Well, there's only one way to find out!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Life Drawing in the Studio

Whitney #1 (detail)
Charcoal on paper, 24"x18"

Whitney #2
Charcoal on paper, 18"x24"

We had our second life drawing session of the season in my studio last night. A good crowd turned out to work with our lovely model, Whitney. I'm a lot happier with my work this week. The coordination is coming back between my eyes and hands. Can't wait for next week!

In my post yesterday, I mentioned something about how the maples hadn't started changing yet. What a difference 24 hours makes! Coming in to the studio this morning, the trees all along the highway had suddenly started changing to yellows and oranges. I swear, yesterday they were green, today they're not. We haven't hit the peak by any means, but it is startling how fast the change occurred. Looks like we're going to have a beautiful leaf season. This will be my first in three years - I missed fall entirely in '08 and '09 while working in Iraq. I'm going to enjoy it now that I can!

Speaking of Iraq, this morning I saw the newsletter from the Gulf Region District, which is the Corps of Engineers command that I worked for in Iraq. There was an article on page 14 that stopped me dead: it was about four capacity development projects. I was the Capacity Development Program Manager and these were my projects until I left in April. One is to develop a training program for the Baghdad public works department. Another is to help the Anbar University revamp their engineering curriculum to meet US accreditation standards. Two more are to integrate Iraqi engineers into the reconstruction effort so they understand how to run projects to US standards. (Trust me: there are no Iraqi standards!) There were a couple more that I was trying to push through but evidently they've been cancelled for whatever reasons. Still, it was wonderful to see that these projects are alive and well, and to actually see Iraqis getting training in a program that I helped create. It makes me feel as if I really did contribute something to the effort.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Exhibition Preps

For the past couple of weeks, I've been working towards a deadline. The Bella Vista Art Gallery in Biltmore Village, Asheville, is going to have me as their Featured Artist during November. We're going to show my original intaglio prints - both those that they've carried for a while, plus five new drypoints. Here are the new ones:

7"x5', edition of 10

Valley Farm
5"x12", edition of 10

5"x12", edition of 8

Back 40
5"x12", edition of 7

South Market Warehouse
5"x7", edition of 10

I'm pretty happy with the way the prints turned out. As a group, they go together well. I'm going to hand-color some of them with watercolor and will re-photograph them then. Print puritans are probably gasping in horror at the thought of putting watercolor on these, but I usually like the results. I use a very light application of watercolor, just enough to bring some life to the print, but not enough to where the color takes over and dominates. These will get the same treatment.

Okay, there was one print in which I used a very strong layer of paint. Here 'tis:

The Ferrari Engine
5"x7", edition of 100

I did this etching a few years ago. It's an old Ferrari Testa Rossa that I spotted at the Monterey Historic Car Races. For a gearhead like me, Ferrari engines are works of art in themselves.

Now that these new prints are done, I'm getting back to painting. There are a number of ideas that have been churning around in my head, waiting for the press to be put away and the canvas to come back out. And I've got some basic research to do, too. I pulled out my books on some favorite artists (Jerome Witkin and Peter Howson, to start with). Reviewing how these artists do what they do will help get my brain waves back in synch with what I was doing before going off to Iraq. And if I'm going to do paintings as good as Warrior or Lament, then those brain waves have to be working.

Meanwhile, it's a fine fall day here in Asheville. My birch trees and tulip poplars are all turning golden and dropping their leaves. The maples haven't started turning colors yet. We're still pretty warm, but that'll change in the next couple of days and it'll be jacket weather. The neighborhood urchins have been pestering me: "Do you need your leaves raked?" I don't, actually. For one, most of the trees haven't dropped their leaves yet, so if you rake now, in two days you won't be able to tell the difference. For another, once you rake the leaves, then you have to do something with them: cart them off somewhere, or burn them, or whatever. Why make more work for yourself? I don't have time to do everything that needs to be done, anyway. And three, leaves are nature's own free mulch. I let the leaves drop and mulch them with the lawnmower. Works like a champ.

Now it's time to get ready for tonight's life drawing session. Let's hope that my eye and hand will work together on a drawing a little better than they did last week. Practice! Practice! Practice!

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Thursday Thoughts

Janis is home from two weeks in San Diego, visiting family and friends. She got to play Grandma to little Jax, including taking him to the beach. It's been a long time since she was out there - she couldn't go while I was in Iraq, so it's been over two years. Time to catch up. I played single Daddy to our two dogs while she was gone. But two weeks is long enough, and now she's home and we're back to normal. And apparently, I didn't fail my housekeeping practical exam ... didn't get an A, but didn't get an F, either, so I'm happy!

This week there's been a lot going on at the studio. I worked on the series of prints that I'm creating for the show next month at Bella Vista Gallery. Glenn and Christin came to the studio and we talked thru some of the things surrounding the show. I came up with another image and have been pulling prints for the past two days. This one is a stinker: it needs a lot of very careful work to pull each print, much more than the others have required, so it's slow going. I need to finish this edition, come up with one more image, and edition that one, too, within the next week.

Yesterday, I re-started my regular Wednesday night life drawing sessions. This is something that I need to do on a regular basis - it's like hitting the gym for an athlete, but I haven't been able to do it since coming home. Man, I'm rusty! But it sure felt good to be drawing a figure from life again. Once my drawings improve, I'll start posting some of them here.

The Cotton Mill is getting a mural on the outside of the building, right below my windows. Here's the artist, Ian Wilkinson, working on it yesterday. It looks like there's a big hole in the side of the building, doesn't it? There's no hole, that's just the way it's painted. We're all excited about it and can't wait to see how it'll turn out.

Next door to us is a big lot where the rest of the cotton mill industrial plant used to stand. It has been overgrown with trees and weeds for the past several years. Now, however, the owners are removing the scrub trees and weeks, cleaning things up, and will turn it into a sorta park. I say "sorta" since the lot will be developed in a few years, but this "park" will let people use it until construction starts. And, hopefully, help keep the vagrants and troublemakers out of the area. Anyway, today they built a meditation maze on the property. It's a low "maze", laid out with rocks and sand, designed for slow walking and meditation, not getting lost. Here's the view from my studio. I was impressed: it was built in only about three hours.

So things are rolling along pretty well. My wife is home, my artwork is coming along, I've got some irons in a few fires, and we finally have some decent weather. Life's pretty good!