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!

Saturday, October 02, 2010

This Week's Accomplishments

Drypoint print, 6"x12", edition of 8

This week, I finished pulling an edition of the new drypoint print Homestead. The burr on this one was very fragile and I only got eight prints before it went away and the prints became weak and unacceptable. But that's part of the charm for drypoints: you only get a very limited number. I need to do two more new prints for my November show at Bella Vista Gallery. Both will be along the lines of this one and the two I've shown in earlier posts.

Another project is preparing for an oil painting class that I'll teach in my studio this month. Building an appropriate class schedule takes some time - there's a lot of consideration that goes into what can be effectively taught in a limited period. And I had to get promotional emails out for it. The class will run for four consecutive Saturdays in my studio. I'm looking forward to the experience. Teaching, for me, is both fun and draining. I haven't taught in my studio in a long time, so getting the rust off my mental gears is taking a while.

I've also been following up on items from the public art conference last week. It takes a lot of snooping on the net. There isn't one central repository for public art - every municipality handles it differently, usually by posting notes only on their own websites, which means you have to find them first. However, I've started down that journey-of-a-thousand-miles, gotten myself onto a couple of email notification lists, found websites that need to be checked every month, and made one submission already. The process has started.

This next week I'll start my life drawing sessions again. These sessions run from 7-9 pm on Wednesday evening in my studio. For me, they're a necessity. I need to work from life on a regular basis. It's just like regular exercise for an athlete. My sessions are open to any artists who want to come, and cost is just $5 for two hours. If you're interested, let me know and I'll put you on the notification list.

Recently I found an outstanding book for painters. Called Portrait Painting Atelier: Old Master Techniques and Contemporary Applications, it is (to me) the definitive text for painting figurative works. It goes into very specific details about using classical approaches, particularly building a portrait through an underpainting and then layers of glazes, using contemporary materials. Most texts that discuss old master techniques only discuss old master materials and don't recognize modern technological advances. That's like riding around on a horse and refusing to recognize the fact that automobiles exist. But this book is really well done, so much so that I've got three pages of notes that I'm trying out, and I haven't even gotten to the part about putting paint on canvas! I found the book by wandering into Barnes and Noble, but you can find it at Amazon through the link above.

One last note. Janis has been out in San Diego this past week, visiting friends and family and getting her California fix. Here she is with our grandson Jackson at the Coronado beach. Life is pretty good!