Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Figure Drawing

I love art.

This week during my Painting II class, I was unexpectedly invited to join a figure drawing class that meets on Saturdays.  Figure drawing dates back to antiquity but became a core component of art education in the later part of the 1500’s.  It’s a discipline which emphasizes an understanding of human anatomy and accurate drawing of the human form.  I was wondering how I could improve my drawing abilities and since figure drawing was good enough for Michelangelo to do throughout his life, I thought that it might be good to give it a whirl.

It’s a great discipline.  You focus on the lines, shapes and proportions of the human form in a variety of poses.  It’s great for training the eye and the hand in representing a three-dimensional form in two-dimensional space. So you focus on the measurements, lines and shapes.

But hold on!  Did I mention that the model is not wearing any clothes?  You focus on the measurements, lines and shapes but every once in a while some primitive part of your brain formed 200,000 years ago screams out “Naked Lady!”   This is a distraction.

Next week we have a male model and, being a heterosexual male, my primitive brain will probably behave.  And maybe it will stay quiet the following week when the female model reappears.   But maybe not.

Naked Lady! 

I love art.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Happy Dan

Back in my quartet days when we competed, the presentation judge would always gig us because one of us wasn't smiling like the other three.  He couldn't have been talking about me.  I'm such a happy guy!

I thought I'd do a little experiment and capture my smile on our latest painting homework assignment -- a self portrait.  What did I see staring back at me in the mirror?  Marcia says it looks like an angry old man.  But, I know I'm smiling on the inside -- deep on the inside.

Here it is. Happy Dan.

Oh, and here's my third ever attempt at a landscape painting.  It was painted near here before all the leaves fell off the trees.

Oh, again.  Here's the latest version of my first painting of a made-up scene that I did after Art I in its present state. I've been redoing it as my skills have been increasing. By now it's at least five layers deep.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Painting II, Mid-Course

Here's the production from the first-half of this semester.

The two larger paintings were homework.  The rest were in-class, one-day (well two-and-a-half hour) paintings.  The one on the far left bottom was a one-hour painting.  He's too embarrassed to show his face.

The question is, what do you do with all this stuff?!

Sunday, October 13, 2013

My Pal Vince

Our latest oil painting class homework was to pick a painting done by a noted painter and do an abstract painting based on that.  After a little research I picked a van Gogh: Falling Autumn Leaves (F486), November 1, 1888.  Here's a link to the Wikipedia article about it:

I liked it because of its colors and its autumn theme.  It it autumn, after all.  Also, it was already kind of abstract so I just had to make it a little abstracter to fit the assignment.

Working on this assignment was a chance to commune with a dead master.  It made me appreciate, what Vincent did to compose this piece:

  • The lines creating perspective fading to the upper right corner 
  • The modulation of the blue trees in the foreground to lighter and less intense colors as they recede
  • The rhythm of the black repetition in the hats, woman's skirt and background trees
  • The importance of the hint of foliage at the top of the trees to keep your eyes on the the page  (when I didn't include this shape on my abstraction, the eye movement was up an out to space)
  • The focal point and shape of the red woman and the importance of the orange diamond formed by the angle of her left arm.
About half-way through, I realized that it was a double complementary color scheme -- orange/blue and green/red but constructed in a way that mostly groups analogous colors.  Pretty clever, Vincent.  Finally, I realized the importance of the marks indicating falling leaves to activate and harmonize the painting.

As a bonus, I ended up reading about my new friend Vince(nt).  Since biography and history are two of my favorite things to read, this was "two-fer."

Biography, history and creativity -- not a bad way to spend a little time with my new buddy, Vince.  Here's my version.


Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Oil Painting II

It’s taken some time, but some things are starting to click.  That’s some things, not everything. 

In class we’re doing one-day paintings of a still-life du jour.    We have about two-and-a-half to three hours to knock it out from start to finish.  Here’s the attempt from class 1:

And here’s the attempt from class 2:

As to homework, we picked the name of an object out of a hat, had to come up with two other objects and make a composition where the picked object was the focal point.  I got “glass.”

Ironically, I chose to include a wine glass in my Oil Painting I first homework painting last spring.  What goes with a wine glass? Well how about a bottle of wine and a pyramid of oranges?  What goes with a regular glass?  How about beer and a church-key opener?  (That’s probably a little more intuitive than wine and oranges!)  Looks like I’m destined to have a liquor and glass period (…sigh…).

This time, instead of painting an empty glass, I emptied the bottle and filled the glass with beer.  By the second weekend, I was able to watch a white, cottony mold grow in the bottom of the beer while I worked on the painting.  Interesting, but kind of gross. 

I still have some finishing touches on the 18” x 24”painting but here’s what it looks like now (I’m not painting the mold!):

Tuesday, September 17, 2013


I once read the three rules of forecasting: 
1.  Never forecast
2.  If you do forecast, forecast often
3.  When you’re right, never let them forget it!

When I project the future, I mostly project prior experience forward in a straight line function.  I think most humans do that.

Reading projections made in the last century for this one in Your Flying Car Awaits, by Paul Milo, I can see that there’s a hitch in that logic.  If that were to work, by now we’d have, for example:

  •            Life spans of 140 plus years
  •            Jet-powered cars
  •            Flying cars
  •            A new ice age
  •            Martian settlements
  •            Nuclear fusion
  •            Man-made weather
  •            Picturephones (hey, we have that!)
  •            Two-day work weeks
  •            Safe cigarettes
  •            World peace
  •            One world government
  •                       …you get the idea
This book reminds me that the future is unknowable.  Milo says, “It’s human nature to worry about the future, which, if this book has shown anything else, is largely unknowable.”  He’s right.

Things don’t typically unfold in an orderly fashion.  Instead, history lurches from unforeseeable, discontinuous happenings toward infinite possible outcomes.

Will global warming end our species?  Will China be the world’s largest economy?  Will Iran develop a nuclear weapon? Will Syria comply with the agreement to destroy its chemical weapons?   Will gun violence become extinct?  Will Congress ever be functional again (assuming it ever was)? 

You could craft a cogent argument based on history and trends for any of these questions.  It would be plausible, believable and unlikely to happen. 

I have to remind myself of that from time to time.  It's good to have a plan, but better to be adaptable!

Sunday, July 7, 2013

History and Homework

I've just finished reading A History of the World in 100 Objects by Neil MacGregor.  I found it to be be fascinating.  Three highlights for me include:

  • Chapter 2 -- Olduvai Stone Chopping Tool, 1.8 --2.0 million years old.  I'd love to be able to hold this early human-made tool.
  • Chapter 30 -- Chinese Bronze Bell, 500-400 BC.  Through this object MacGregor explains Confucius and his continuing impact on the China we see today.
  •  Chapter 92 -- Early Victorian Tea Set, AD 1840-1845.  MacGregor shows how a quintessentially British object is really a representation of global civilization.
In my school years my exposure to history was limited to three years of Virginia history (grades, 4, 7 and 11)  and music history in college.  I've been trying to fill in chasms in my understanding of international and prehistoric history ever since.  This book plugs both of these voids.  

It's an easy read and I recommend it.  You'll have to read it yourself.  Meanwhile, let me leave you with theses reflections based on reading this text.

It’s astounding to contemplate, (1) how much we have in common with our ancestors over the last 200,000 years, (2) how little we know about them (since written records are less than 10,000 years old) (3) the emergence and evolution of human kind over the last 2,000,000 years and, most astounding of all, (4)  how young we are in the scheme of a 5,000,000,000 year old planet.  It brings to question our lack of perspective as we get knotted up over petty religious, economic and political disputes. 

Besides being recently arrived on the scene, we’re pretty much floating around town solo.  There’s not much happening in the neighborhood of our sub-compact global chariot.  You’d think that if we could somehow realize the points of our collective youth, isolation and vulnerability, we’d lift our horizon, mature and cooperate to better ends.

Alas, that’s not what history tells us.  Maybe there will be a day when humanity grows into its better nature, but I’m not counting on that being anytime soon.  But I hope I’m wrong about that.


On another topic, I'm between art classes. I thought I'd give myself a homework assignment to see if I could build my oil-painting skills from last term. It's based on a photograph Marcia took last year of her lilies.  Since the deer ate them this year, the photo and the painting will have to do.  Here's the finished product.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

New Morning Routine

Being 40 miles from downtown DC, while not exactly inside the beltway, is still to close for comfort.  I think it exposes us to more than a toxic dose of political "news." This isn't helped by my daily habit of logging on to   CNN first thing in the morning as I wake up.

Lately, I've been able to moderate the news habit.  Instead of spending a half-hour reading news, I spend it practicing drawing things.  I've never done much drawing -- certainly not of people and animals which I've been attempting to draw the last few weeks.

When I was in first grade, a long long time ago, the boy next to me, Steven S., I think, used to draw elaborate pictures of battle ships and the like on the back of his writing assignments.  In fact, he would start there and not even do the writing part.  If I drew a picture on the back it was the typical forgettable stick-figure primitive version.  No doubt Steven and people like him are the ones that turn out to be the artist of the world with first-grade portfolios in a gallery somewhere (but I wonder if they ever learn how to write with that telephone pole pencil -- a critical skill in today's world).

Anyway, here are the results of my 30" minute studies.

The women on the left are really just three attempts to draw the same image. It doesn't look like the same person, but they do look related.  Kind of a grandmother, mother and daughter thing, I think.  I hope to take a portrait drawing class this summer so maybe I'll get better at that.  But I know I've got a long way to go to catch up with Steve S. -- wherever he is.  I'm getting a late start.  Meanwhile, I feel slightly more sane not following the daily political machinations.  But just slightly, though.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Miller Time

My last Painting I class was Wednesday.  But for me, the course hadn't ended.  I was bugged by the state of my first (and only) landscape homework.  So, after working on it this morning, I'm now ready to declare victory.  It's not art, but it's at least almost up to the low standard of my other paintings this term.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Oil Painting One

One class to go this term but the painting is over.  The last class is the portfolio review (and party).   

I learned a lot this term and, I think, progressed.  One thing I learned is that a painting takes a long time.  Well, at least mine did.  Here's the term's entire  production.

Classwork: First still life 

Homework still life (you've seen this before) 

Classwork:  Direct painting still life (abandoned to move outside for landscape painting)

 Homework direct painting still life

Classwork:  Landscape (credit Professor Collier for the foreground)

Homework landscape 

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Time for Orange Juice

Whether it's finished or not , it's done.  After about 50 hours on my first oil painting, we move on to painting number two in class next week.
You'll notice the background went from white to red.  I intended it to be red all along so I replaced the white towel I was using for a backdrop with a red t-shirt.  I think the warm background color harmonizes the painting.

The oranges are a tad soft now, but are perfect for Orange Juice tomorrow.  After staring at the bottle of wine for eight weeks, I may have to taste some of that too -- but that will wait until after breakfast.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Am I Done?

Another six hours invested on my homework.  Am I done?  I sure hope so.  I don't know ho much longer those oranges will last.  Guess I'll find out if I'm done or not in class next week.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Painting I Homework -- Continued

We're finally at the point in the Painting I class were we're mixing paint and getting to paint with colors other than Burnt Umber. We started in class two weeks ago. After a demo we had a about an hour to mix colors and use medium (or a tube substitute for it) to make transparent colors for the first time and begin to paint our classwork still life.

An hour's not enough time to do all that, at least for me, and I felt that, to use a phrase Jack Eden used to use on his radio gardening show, I had "disastered" my classwork.  So it was with much trepidation that I contemplated disastering my homework as well.

It turns out that one of the problems in class was the tube medium substitute wasn't a medium after all.  It was a hard! (Solid instead of a liquid, that is.)  Once I mixed the medium at home, the transparent colors worked like a charm. So I made a (five hour) attempt at mixing paint and painting a first draft over the burnt umber value study (February 10th post).  The plan was to get feedback before trying to fix things.

Alas, the snowstorm last Wednesday put a a kink in my plans.  Class was canceled.  So, here it is after another 3.5 hours tweaking.  I hope I didn't disaster it. Guess I'll find out Wednesday.

Here's the set up.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Up In Smoke

Last night on the way home I got a call from my daughter who was also driving home from work.  She couldn’t get home because the police had closed the road a mile on either side of the one-lane road that leads to our house.

From conversation with the police officer who was blocking the road, she was able to determine that the cause was a house fire and get the address of the house.  One blessing is that it wasn’t our house.   But the address sounded familiar.

After a short wait, the road opened and we began to make our way home.   That’s when we found out why the address sounded familiar.  The house on fire was our neighbor’s house at the top of the lane. 
As we tried to get to our house, the lane was blocked by fire trucks trying to leave.  Sarah got the closest to our house before she had to pull off the side of the road – a fire truck was parked on our driveway blocking access.  The trucks were wide and the lane is narrow.  So there was a lot of backing up cars and maneuvering to get cars out of the way so the equipment could leave.

Getting home for the three of us was an adventure last night.  But the inconvenience pales in comparison to the loss suffered by our neighbors.  The good news was that fire equipment arrived with-in eleven minutes of the call.  The bad news was that it didn’t make much difference.  The house which has been standing since the 1860s was devastated.  Parts of it still stand, I understand, but I don’t hold out hope for a repair.  The sad thing is my neighbor’s parents bought the house in 1950 and she was raised in it.  I can’t imagine her sense of loss.  Although she and her husband were not at home when the fire started, she lost a pet cat in the fire, which only adds to the sense of loss of memories and material possessions.

All this gives tangible meaning to the expression “up in smoke”.  Circumstances change the course of our lives in the blink of an eye.  It makes me appreciate and have gratitude for the gifts of material comfort and the normal routines in life.  But appreciation and gratitude don't help our neighbors.

I hope we find a way to help them through this as I know they would have helped us.  Here’s hoping for their resilience and for a rapid resolution.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Painting 1 -- First Homework

I was a little nervous about taking an oil painting class.  First it was the usual dread of rounding up all the required supplies (north of $250 worth!).  But more nerve-racking was the worry about having to, first,  draw objects and then to master the seemingly esoteric art of oil painting within the allotted time for in-class and homework assignments.

My nervousness wasn't helped by the fact that my current professor has a completely different philosophy about drawing than the one who taught my one-semester Drawing I class.  Instead of compressed charcoal, we used willow charcoal, which must be pulled -- never pushed to make the lines.  The lines are spider-web light.  He calls it "drawing with air."   The bane of my drawing is that my hand is heavy.  I draw with muscle.  My lines look more like industrial grade electric cords than spider webs.

With the supplies purchased and the first homework assignment done, though, I'm feeling a little better.  Our first paintings (one in class and one for homework) are indirect painting -- painting a value study in shades of burnt umber and, later, adding the hues.  I don't know how the next part will go, but here's the homework value study after about nine hours effort.

With any luck I can calm down and just enjoy the rest of the class.  I think I'll learn a lot one way or the other, which for me, is always fun.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Mortality Meditation

I read a lot of biographies – books and brief on-line bios for actors in old movies I watch.  They all end the same way with the main character dying.  You’d think I’d catch on by now – it’s not exactly a surprise ending.

So why is it surprise when someone close to us dies?  It happens every day. Earlier this week I was surprised when I visited the New Dimensions Media site to learn that its founder, Michael Toms, had died.  I've been listening to his interviews off and on for about 20 years and am a great admirer of his civility to and his presence with guests.  Michael never seemed to be in a hurry and never interrupted his guest.  He just asked a question and fully listened to the answer.  He called it deep listening.  It’s a role model for all of us that are in such a in a hurry to be somewhere else that we can’t appreciate where we are and who we’re with in the moment.

Today, Marcia was surprised by the unexpected death of the husband (Bill) of one of her gardening board friends.  He was recently retired and scheduled for back surgery on Tuesday.  Instead he died yesterday of a massive heart attack.

When someone near us dies, it dispels the illusion that we ourselves are immortal.  It makes us mediate on our own demise, not necessarily in a morbid way, but in a way that, for a brief moment, shakes us from our routine gripes, irritations and complaints and gives us a glimpse of the miracle and gift of life.  It also makes me ponder about what any one person can contribute to the betterment of humanity in his brief moment of existence.    I was surprised how little I could find out about Michael Toms on the Internet given how many lives he has touched world-wide with his life-work.  What hope is there for us who have done far less to advance humanity and the cause of civility on an intermittent, sporadic and provincial basis?

Intellectually I know time is limited.  Even though they don’t know me, Vanguard Mutual Funds tells me my prospect of living forever is not a good bet.

So what is the lesson in all of this for me? Contemplating the end of the story puts the middle (well actually the last 25% assuming a 50% chance of another 20 years) in perspective. And, ironically, its message is to slow down and savor each day -- not to rush to the finish line.  Enjoy family, friends and people around you now.  Be grateful for what you have.  And try to make things a little better for others right where you are.  That’s really all any of us can do.  And if we do that, we can look back at the end of our personal biography to a life well-lived.  If there’s any purpose in the gift of life maybe that’s it – to help others and live well.

Peace Michael, Bill and to the rest of us who will all join you one day – we know not when.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Done -- For Now

In  a few weeks I'm starting another art-course -- oil painting.  To get a baseline, I decided to tackle a painting in advance of the course.  I used some acrylic paint Marcia bought me in a kit about a year ago and, when I ran out of colors in that, switched to left-over tempera paints from my last class.

The painting is a based on a photo of Marcia and Sarah taken about 27 years ago.  Here it is in it's current state.  Maybe I'll go back and work on it some more after I've actually learned how to paint.  Maybe I won't.  But it's done for now.

Let It Play Out

Let it play out.  That was my thought as President Obama signed gun-control executive orders and proposed gun-control legislation. 

The path to getting things done in 21st century America follows a long and twisting road paved with words of proponents, opponents, pundits and lawyers.   Maybe that’s the way it’s always been.  And while a lot of this pavement is pretty hot and ugly while it’s being laid down, you can see a glimmer of hope that the trend is to greater good for society and future generations – at least that’s my hope.

In the mist of it, it’s hard to hope for the best.  The debate certainly doesn’t seem to advance civilization.  People don’t use their best thought-out logical arguments to discuss and resolve issues but instead stay stuck in positions and heap primitive-brain emotional fuel on the fires of disagreement.  Perhaps it’s always been that way and always will be.  But I can hope for better.  I can long for civil discourse.

Eleven thousand years of civilization is still a blip in the two million year history of human existence.  And 236 years of US history is a nano-blip.  Whether it’s gun control, immigration control, fiscal responsibility or social responsibility, let’s hope that the trend is toward a better day and not toward civilization’s demise.   Meanwhile, the most a spectator can do is let the game play out and hope for the best.