Sunday, December 9, 2012

Here Are The Rest

Here are four of my pieces of the six in the display case. 
The first three use the same design but different color strategies -- monochromatic value, complementary colors and, last, a uniform tone to harmonize contrasting colors.

The next is a yellow, blue-violet, red-violet split complementary scheme.

Here they are among their friends (painted by my classmates) in the display case.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

One More Down

This week I finished another art class. That gets me to four down and (perhaps) six to go.  At least that's the plan.  This class was on color design.  It was fun and I learned a lot. 
One of the reasons it was fun was that instead of taking the class from 7:00 PM to 11:00 PM after a full-day of work -- like my prior drawing class, I was able to re-jigger my workweek and take this one on Thursdays from 9:00 to 1:00.  It was a nice break in the workweek.
About half-way through, I realized that this is what kindergarten must have been like.  I missed out on that, but I don't think I would have appreciated it as much then as I did now.   The class session that gave me this epiphany consisted of drawing squares on our illustration boards, mixing paints, and painting the squares to demonstrate the properties of various mixtures.  The best part of all was after we were done painting.  We got to go to the sink and play in water to clean everything up!  (And to think, I could have been working.)
The learning part is shown below.  At least part of it is.  About half of my work is hanging along with classmates' work in a display case until February.  I'm not claiming any of this as high art, but it is original design and illustrates some of the course concepts.

The first one is from early in the course and demonstrates the illusion of transparency. The yellow, red and blue rays going through the blocks pick up the underlying colors as they pass over them. It looked like a flag. My photograph of it accentuates that by making it look less than perfectly square.
Here's a later one that illustrates the harmony of analogous colors and the variety of contrasting colors.

The next one was not easy due the tetradic color scheme I chose -- blue-green, red-orange, violet and yellow.  I had blue-green and violet fighting for dominance (and making me nauseous) until I went back in and let blue-green win.


These below four paintings illustrate the power of the color palette to convey mood.  The upper left is an adult theme  image (wine bottles and glasses) painted in warm analogous colors.  The bottom right is a child theme image (sipper cup and milk) painted in primary colors.  The opposite corners show what happens when the adult theme color palette is applied to the child theme image and vise versa.

The final project was to illustrate four principles of color design. I illustrated harmony of a sequence of analogous colors (the flame and the blocks surrounding the flame), the illusion of transparency (the circle in the upper left), simultaneous contrast (the difference in appearance of the same hue of red in the center of the flame and at the edge of the flame) and the principle of dull colors to recede (the dull red background behind the flame).


Finally, I applied some of this new learning to fixing an acrylic painting I did after Art 101.  Still not great art, but, trust me, it's improved.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Unwelcome Memory

One day last summer Dennis, my brother, sent me a link to a Facebook page on growing up in Franconia.  To look at it, I had to re-activate my Facebook membership – something I didn’t want to do. 

I don’t know whether it was the fact that I re-activated the Facebook membership or the memories sparked by reading some of the conversation threads that disturbed me, but something kept me tossing and turning instead of sleeping that night. 

Although the Facebook activation and deactivation (they make it almost impossible to do the latter) was annoying, I think it was the conversational thread that was disquieting.  In particular, two of my former schoolmates were chatting about how they don’t shy away from “mixing it up” when provoked.  The one who said that was a former high school wrestling teammate and he was talking to a former elementary school tormentor (or a relative of one -- I can’t remember).

It reminded me of a time when I was victim of bullying by various constituencies of older boys throughout the first eleven years of life.  From the neighborhood bully to the classroom bullies – most held back one or more years in academic progression -- I seemed to be a ready target for threats, intimidation and physical harm (force feeding of asphalt, “Chinese" water torture, gang pursuit are just a few examples).

It also bothers me that I inflicted violence on others as my way of coping with anger.  My brother was the main victim but there was a memorable time when I knocked the permanent front top teeth out of the neighborhood bully’s brother by jumping on his back in response to a taunt.

By middle school, I was pretty much done with being bullied.  Somehow I learned not to be such a target (or maybe I just got bigger).  And, gradually (some will say that it was too gradually), I abandoned violence as a way of coping and dealing with frustrations.  
I’m not proud my past participation in violence and not happy to be reminded of it.  But I guess what’s more disturbing is reading about former colleagues who are proud of their past exploits and seem ready to inflict more violence at the drop of a hat. 
The world could use a lot less of that!

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Pondering (perhaps a little late) Life's Second Half

With about 10,000 of my generational cohorts reaching 65 everyday, I’m sure I’m not the only one contemplating the next phase of life.  I don’t know about the other 72 million people of my vintage, but I’ve been ruminating about this transition to post-employment life (some call it retirement) for the last six years.

Here’s an interesting tidbit:

NEW YORK (CNNMoney) -- A quarter of middle-class Americans are now so pessimistic about their savings that they are planning to delay retirement until they are at least 80 years old -- two years longer than the average person is even expected to live.  (November 16, 2011)
I used to think I’d never want to retire.  I don’t feel that way anymore.  I used to admire as role models people who worked in their profession until they died.  Not anymore.  From time to time, I’ve contemplated some type of post-career employment, but as I see some of my colleagues check out (well, die) in their 60s and 70s, I can't get excited about working in my current field or a new one until I drop. 

As I’ve ruminated and vacillated on the timing, it’s now too late for me to retire early.  But on the other hand, it’s not too late for me to put an end to this dithering.  Last time I looked at Vanguard’s actuarial tables, they showed that I have a 50% chance of making it to 83 and a 10% chance of making it to 93. So, there’s no use putting off the next phase of life.  I’ve decided that I can retire early after all – as long as you define early as 66.

The first time I even contemplated a post-employed life was six years ago. At that time, I anticipated at least ten more years of work and in two or three more jobs.  Ironically, since that time I’ve worked six different jobs with three different employers.   (No wonder I’m so mentally fatigued!)
About five years ago, in a bad job situation, I started wondering how I could last another three years and hang up my spurs at 60.  After deciding to “downshift” to a lower level job with a rational employer, I pushed the target date out again to age 65.  Sometimes I’ve even considered remaining employed until 70, if I were to have that opportunity.

But the actuary is compelling.  Life is not a rehearsal, and I want to spend some of it free.
Sounds like a precipitous decision?  It is.  It only took me and six years and a lot of reading to make it.  Besides on-line retirement articles and guides here’s a sample of the books on my bookshelf:
After 50, Embracing Your Own Wisdom Years; Robert J. Wicks
Beyond Work: How Accomplished People Retire Successfully; Bill Roiter
Encore, Finding Work That Matters in the Second Half of Life; Marc Freedman
My Next Phase (web application)
Playing Life's Second Half; David J. Powell, Ph.D.
Portfolio Life, The New Path to Work, Purpose and Passion After 50; David Corbett with Richard Higgins
The Second Half of Life, Opening the Eight Gates of Wisdom; Angeles Arrien 
Too Young to Retire, 101 Ways to Start the Rest of Your Life; Marika and Howard Stone
The Wall Street Journal Complete Retirement Guidebook, How to Live It and Enjoy It; Glenn Ruffenach & Kelly Greene
What Color Is Your Parachute? For Retirement, Planning Now for the Life You Want; Richard Bolles and John E. Nelson
Winners in the Second Half: A Guide for Executives at the Top of their Game; Julie Perigo.
It’s amazing to me how often these titles describe this period as the second half of life. At 62, I’m really mid-near-elderly rather than middle aged.  The challenge of being so far along in life in (as compared to early life transitions) is that there’s a lot to look back on and reference who you’ve been. That gets in the way considering who you’ll become.
What am I supposed to become?  Angels Arrien says this transition is among other things: 

·         From ambition to meaning
·         From acquisition to divestment
·         From doing to being
·         From our unnatural frenetic pace to the medium to slow speed of nature
·         From attachment to release, surrender, and letting go
As to ambition, I’m reminded of a phrase from a short story by Kurt Vonnegut. He describes the two main characters "unencumbered by ambition."  I’m not totally unencumbered by ambition – from time to time, I’ve been a little conflicted about my decision be downwardly mobile at this point in my career.  And I can get hooked into aspiring, ever so briefly, to a big leadership job that I’ve heard about.  Lately, all I have to do about that is lie down until the feeling goes away.

Overall, I’m making progress in being unencumbered by ambition and recognizing, as Julie Perigo, describes it that I’m “off the (career) ladder.”  It’s a good metaphor.  Mary Astor said, "There are five stages in the life of an actor: Who's Mary Astor? Get me Mary Astor. Get me a Mary Astor type. Get me a young Mary Astor. Who's Mary Astor?"  I don’t know that I’ve ever experienced stages two, three and four, but I aspire to stage five and to be fully unencumbered by ambition.

I am what I am, Just Dan, a grown man
No ego, pretensions, prestige
With nothing to prove and no worlds to move
I'm loose, light, free and at ease

I’m also working on the other four Angels Arrien transitions.  Of course working on something is more doing than being and more control than release.  But I can aspire, by degrees, to live the life David Powell describes: "…more about surrendering than concluding."
So, I’m not there yet but on my way.  Besides reading and thinking, I’m sometimes inspired to write aspirational poems, like the one above, to remind me where I’m trying to go.  Here’s another:

I live life always striving
To be where I am not
Never quite arriving
To this ever distant spot

The spot where life is perfect
Where worries don't exist
Where peace and joy and happiness
Merge in perfect bliss

With sixty years of travel
The site is now in view
With miles of life behind me
I realized what I knew 

I knew the spot is not out there
But buried well within
We do our best and when we rest
That's when our life begins.

So I’m on two glide paths.  One is landing my employed life and the other is ramping up my post-employed life over the next four years.  My quest is to engineer a smooth transition to this next phase of life.  With a little luck, I’ll get there. 

Laugh and live life above the fray,
Savor the gift of each moment and day.
The past is prologue but not a script,
The future's unwritten, adventure encrypt.
So, be curious, grateful, stay fluid and wonder
Throw fear, care and worry aside and asunder
Laugh and live life above the fray,
Savor the gift of each moment and day.


Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Closing A Chapter

Friday night was my final quartet competition.  In some ways it’s a relief to stop banging our collective heads up against the wall.  It seems that no matter what we did as a quartet, no matter how much better we got (and we did improve over the six years we were together) we always finished at about 15th in Mid-Atlantic competition.

Finishing as one of the top 15 quartets in the district that includes New York, Virginia, New Jersey, DC and the eastern part of Pennsylvania is not such a bad thing -- the competition is stiff -- and, with a possible exception or two, the quartets that beat us were better than we were.  The frustrating thing is that our scores never really reflected our improvement.  That, I can’t figure out.

While it will feel good not to have to the Sisyphean task of trying to move the needle on our contest scores and feel good not to be jet-lagged a couple of times a year from singing at after-glows until 2:00 or 3:00 AM., I close the door on this chapter of my life with mixed emotions.

Quartet years are like dog years.  Six years together is equivalent to several quartet lifetimes.  I’ve shared a lot of laughs with the other three guys.  I’ll be making a big hole in my social circle to leave this behind.  Hell, the quartet was my social circle!

Still, there’s a time to move on.  And moving on from quartet singing is really a small part of the larger life transition I’m going through moving toward post-employment life (more on that later). 

The quartet has two more gigs before I hang up the pitch pipe.  Like the book I used to read to my daughters when they were young, “Happy and Sad,” I’m happy to un-complicate my life a little.  And I’m sad too. 

I’m sad that the good times with my quartet buddies will be no more.  I’m mourning that.

Peace Ed, John and Frank!  Thanks for the ride.


Monday, October 8, 2012

Does the world need another piece of pottery?

This summer I took an eight-week wheel-throwing course.  Because we had scheduled vacation during the last week of the course, I crammed my production into seven weeks – going through 75 pounds of clay and producing 25 pieces, 24 of which survived through the bisque and glazing firings.  Unlike glass blowing, once you get the centering down, most pieces survive.
Perhaps because of my glass blowing and wood-turning experience, I got the centering part down pretty quickly.  I think I could get better at the whole thing with more practice.  But I don’t think there will more practice for several reasons.
First, there’s equipment – not so much the wheel but the bisque and glazing furnaces.  I don’t to wish to possess and maintain any piece of equipment that I don’t have to and depending on others to fire your stuff when they’re ready to do a batch is kind of a drag. There are long gaps between a piece being thrown then trimmed and the bisque firing and then again between the glazing and the glazing firing. I finished my last batch of 13 pieces on August 23rd and picked up the last five today, October 8th.   Finally,  pottery firing is an art in itself that I don’t aspire to learn.
Second, although learning to throw pieces may come fairly quickly since you get immediate feedback, glazing is a totally different matter.  The glazes react to each other and the conditions of the firing and can come out different each time.  They certainly don’t resemble the sample glazed pieces.   I stuck to a couple of glazes and things turned out OK, but I don’t want to invest time in the trial and error process of learning what works and what doesn’t.
Finally, there are enough accomplished potters and accomplished ceramic artist in the world.  Does the world need another piece of pottery?  Perhaps, but not from me.  I declare my pottery itch, scratched.
Here’s my lifework wheel-thrown pottery production.

Early pieces -- Matt Brown over Buttercream

We were making cylinders -- I didn't know they were going to be cups.

More Matt Brown over Buttercream.  The Matt Brown turned to pea green.  You can see one has already found use as sugar bowl.

Scarlett Fever over Buttercream.  The Scarlet Fever turned brown.

Pitchers.  The one on the right has an (unintentional) sieve bottom.

 Bigger stuff -- Matt Brown over Buttercream
 Going wild -- Copper Red and Matt Brown over Buttercream

Ron's Teal


Sunday, September 23, 2012

A Milestone Birthday

Another milestone birthday, but somehow this one feels different.  At 62 and eligible to collect old age social security benefits, it’s hard to deny the onset of elderhood.  And, in case I was trying to deny it, the recent issue of Discover took away any hope of success.

Work took me on a whirl-wind visit to Tallahassee this week for college recruiting.  After the career fair, I had four hours at the six-gate airport on my hands before my 8:00 PM flight.  I bought two magazines and devoured their complete contents.  The feature article of one magazine, Discover, was “The End of Youth.”  Subtle, huh?

Over the last few years, I’ve noticed a certain decline of capabilities and faculties.  I don’t run anymore due to absence of knee cartilage, and my vision and hearing aren’t what they used to be.  On top of this, between recent gout attacks and diagnosis of early stage Age-Related Macular Degeneration, I can’t deny that life is giving me some hints that I’m no longer a spring chicken.

The Discover issue was really about demographics and the aging of world populations.  Projections for the world of 2100 were fascinating.  And there was a lot to be optimistic about trends for a time I won’t see.  But one article, “The Aging Brain,” was a tad depressing. 

The “brutal truths” are that the world will become “slower, fuzzier, more forgetful and just a bit hard of hearing” with increasing population age.  But the mind scans of 27 year-old and 87 year-old brain subarachnoid space, ventricles and white-matter tracts (whatever they are) took the article from general and abstract to individual and personal. None of us will escape the inevitability of biology.

If there’s a silver lining, the fortunate among us have a long, slow off-ramp.  Faculties decline gradually and at an imperceptible rate.  And we’re good at adapting, coping and, especially, at rationalization.  Let me demonstrate.

Faced with the inevitability of decline and demise, I can choose to be depressed.  Or, instead, I can choose to focus on the miracle, mystery and adventure of life and to be grateful and joyful.  I aspire to the latter and, on my best days, using my capacity for denial and rationalization, I can get there. 
Works for me, anyway.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

During the Derecho

Here's what I did in my eight-day vacation from the Internet.  It's kind of like what I did during my summer vacation, except that being without electricity, phone and cable for five to eight days during a Baltimore heatwave is not exactly a vacation!

Sunday, July 1, 2012

It’s been a momentous week for the Nation and for Windsor Mill.  First the Nation.

The big news is the Supreme Court upheld the individual mandate and most parts of the Affordable Health Care Act better know, pejoratively, as Obama-care. 

While the country is divided in support of this program, I come down on the side that it was the right thing to do from both moral and financial perspectives.  Thirty million out of the fifty million uninsured will now have access to care.  Currently uninsured people will no longer be forced to get care too late and from emergency rooms.  People can’t lose coverage at just the time they need it – when they are ill.  The US has finally joined the ranks of civilized countries.

From a financial perspective, the greater number of healthy people paying premiums means a greater spreading of the risk and makes it insurable.  

The plan isn’t perfect – we’ve got a long way to go – but it’s a great beginning after 60 years trying to start.  I think, ultimately, the name, Obama-care, intended to be derisive, will be seen as beacon of positivity in American history and a source of pride. 

Closer to home, actually, too close to home, we had a massive storm with a name I’ve never heard (derecho) hit us.  The lighting was high but so incessant it looked like we were being bombed.  We think it stuck a tree right outside our living room.

Between the lightning and the high winds, it rained trees.  We lost the top 20 to 30 feet out of six tall tulip popular trees.  Luckily, none landed on the house, car, shop or garden shed.  So except for a dead tree across the driveway dealt with in a couple of hours with my trusty bow saw and axe (man, I’ve got to get a new chain saw!), we came out unscathed. 

Well, unscathed except that we don’t have electricity, Internet, or telephone and probably won’t for a week.  Being in a remote area of the metropolis, we learned from our experience last year that we are literally the last people to have the lights turned on.  Guess it was a good idea to have that generator installed when we built the house after all.  At least we can run the refrigerator and the well pump, so we have food and water.  The rest are just luxuries, anyway.

So, I guess we’ll get to experience summer in the old pre-air conditioned way.   We’ve gotten soft, so maybe a little toughening up is not a bad thing.  Rationalization is my friend!


I also finished another drawing while the electricity was out.  It's of Sarah's high school picture.  The original is 8.5" x 11".  The drawing is 18" x 18".  Here's my drawing.

I feel better about this one than I do of my attempt to copy the picture of Marcia.  I can look back at the drawing of Marcia and see exactly where I went wrong.  But that doesn't mean I'll fix it.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Drawing Marcia

One of my favorite photos of Marcia comes from a long time ago.  It's only a two-inch square photo taken in 1971 or 1972 in Columbia where we were picnicking with her parents. 

I was still in college and been hired to play the second tuba part to Symphonie Fantastique with the National Symphony for a concert at the Merriweather Post Pavilion that night.  I got free tickets so  Marcia and her parents came up for a picnic between the rehearsal and the concert.

Anyway, back to the photo.  I decided that I needed to keep my drawing skills progressing so I decided to use the small, blurry, two-inch square object as a subject for an 18 x 24 inch drawing.

It's amazing how hard it is to get a face right.  I think I must have spent two or three hours just drawing and re-drawing the mouth.  I don't think I ever got it right.  I was going to post the photo that I was working from, but I can't get it in a format that works with this blog.  Maybe it's better that way so you can't judge how well I did.

The photo is prescient. Little did I know at the time that we'd end up living in Columbia for more than thirty years. Little did I know or anticipate about the life ahead.   I don't think I captured the image, but I hope I captured the spirit of the image -- a spirit of youth, vitality, and energy poised for the future.  That's why this is one of my favorite photos.  I hope it did it justice.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Drawing Final

After two hours getting down the contours (shown in the last post) of my final drawing, I spent another four hours on it in class.  Along about 10:30 PM, I thought I was done.  As a matter of fact, I said to the instructor, "I think if I do anything else to it, I'll make it worse."

He had other ideas.  He picked up my charcoal and began drawing other stuff on my drawing -- lines and scribbles -- where I could change things.  Oh well.   I took it home and spent another couple of hours fixing it.  It felt like I was doing restoration on vandalized art.  His suggestions made it better, but not two hours better. 

The last half hour was spent just picking at things in the foreground.  The picture below is before the picking stage, but pretty much the final version. (At 27" x 36" it's  much bigger than it looks here!)

Now all I have to to is turn it in.  Yea!

p.s. The tree and log on the right side foreground don't really exist. I moved the tree there and just made up the log.  Kind of neat that you can do that, huh?

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Drawing 101

Here's another sporadic entry to my blog.  It's been a while.

As a follow-on to Art 101 in the fall term, I signed up for Drawing 101 for the winter term.  The class meets on Tuesday nights from 7:00 PM to 11:00 PM.  That time slot coupled with a late night weekly quartet rehearsal and a day-job has made this a tough slog.

During the 15-week, three credit course, we completed over forty 18" x 24" graphite (at first) and charcoal drawings.  Here are some samples.

This is from my first homework.  It's a graphite contour drawing of at least seven objects.

After about five weeks, we were tasked with doing studies for our mid-term submission.  Everything from this point is charcoal.  These three studies took me eleven hours -- mostly spent getting my brain around size and placement of objects translated from three dimensions to two.  (My classmates were able to knock these out much faster - the next longest time was only a couple of hours.  Why?  Who knows?  But I guess it's not a race.)

This is the mid-term based on the studies above.  It's still a contour drawing, but he let us do a little shading just to add balance.

Next we added some cross-contouring to our drawings.  Here are two I did in class.  (My objects tend to lean to the left -- must be my liberal bias).

We then started adding shadows:

The next step was to zoom in on objects, use cross-contours and pick up shadows:  

Lathe chuck

Finally we moved on to bigger things. 

Here are two views out of the same window of the art building.  The first one is at night.  Beyond the bench, the view is primarily a reflection of the hallway behind me (I'm invisible - neat trick, huh).  The second one is looking out a panel of the same window (from a closer vantage point) in daylight.

Finally, I'm at the end.  The professor selected one of my drawings (it's hanging in the gallery and not shown here) as one of the two class submission for the end of term Student Art Exhibit.  I'm not sure whether the drawing was that good or if its selection was merely an artifice of my survival -- the class size has diminished pretty significantly from the start of the term.  (I guess I'm not the only one to find 7:00 PM to 11:00 PM a brutal time slot after a full day of work!)

I think I've learned a lot but found myself asking out loud why I'm putting myself through this.  Why am I taking a credit course and doing all this work at this stage of my life?  It's not to prepare for a new career.  It's not to work on my resume.  Marcia says, "it will look good on your obituary."  (Very funny, Marcia.)

It's nice to be at the end of the road, though.  The final exam is a large drawing -- 36" x 27".  It's to show two-point perspective and summarize all we've learned.  Here's my start at it -- copying a 8.5" x 11" photo of my subject.  I hope to finish this next Tuesday in class and be a free man once again!