Monday, December 31, 2012

going back in

Winter weather extended our trip to the coast from eight days to ten, since we drove the longer southern route to avoid Pacific storms in the north. That, combined with a bout of nasty stomach flu, took me away from the studio mentally as completely as I was removed physically. But I took my camera along on the trip, and on the days of better health I managed to record small, informal, subjectively compelling photos of water and reflections. The practice had the desired effect of moving my mind into its visual artistic mode, if only briefly, and provided a link to that aspect of my life in a way that neither sketchbook nor journal has done in the past.

Today was my first opportunity since getting home to go back into the studio, and to go back into that mental space where my painting happens. I took advantage of the first few moments to take a fresh look at the current work hanging on the pegboard, and I could feel myself being pulled back into the process. Before immersion happened, I made mental notes about the new ideas that presented themselves.  Then I put on my painting apron, and got to work.

One piece in particular, a 24" x 24" study in browns, is very close to finished and needs only a session or two of small, thoughtful mark-making and blending. Much of the painting can stand as it is, with some areas (such as the 4" x 4" excerpt above) delightfully crisp and complex. But other sections are dull or awkward, and call for going back into them to add interest. Rather than tackle this today, I eased back in more slowly, revamping an unsatisfactory 12" x 12" (still unsatisfactory but improved), messing up a pair of too-precious 8" x 10"s, and generally reacquainting myself with the materials and the rhythm of work. It is good to be home.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

change of venue

We are off on an eight-day trip to the San Francisco area to visit friends and family. I closed up the studio with some reluctance, since I have been enjoying the momentum of the daily sessions of the past ten weeks. As I looked around my space today at the paintings completed, the paintings nearly done, and the paintings just begun, I couldn't help but have a sense of accomplishment. And several of the incomplete pieces are calling out for more development, so that I think it will be easy to get back into the rhythm of work when we return.

My hours today were spent on a 12" x 9" piece that has been through so many "final" iterations that I ended up dissolving and scraping back two separate surfaces that had thickened the piece without bringing it to a conclusion. This is a simple matter of spraying mineral spirits onto the surface and scraping and brayering off layers of paint. Fun but also dangerous, this process reduces paint thickness and also reveals (often unexpected) treasures on the lower layers. The danger is that those surprises may not complement the vision of the upper layers, and I sometimes have to reassess what to do next. I have discarded more than one piece that became so mangled that I despaired: One of the pleasant developments of the past few months is that I seem to be able to manage things better now.

This morning, after an hour-plus of work, I had a very pleasing result, and thought, "Finished at last!" But then I wondered if a mist of mineral spirits might clarify some of the colors (applied correctly, mineral spirits can cause some pigments to separate from others and bring a pleasing brightness to a surface). This led to fiddling and nudging, more misting, and, ultimately, taking off too much paint in too many places. Nonetheless, I had the sense to stop before losing all of the work I had just done, and I left the painting hanging on the pegboard to dry. It is one of the pieces to which I am eager to return. It may in fact be finished; I was too close to it to tell by the end of my work today.

The image above is not of the 12" x 9", but rather a finished 16" x 12" from last month -- another that was sprayed and brayered twice before coming to conclusion. I have the honor of its being part of a new web site, Resources for Cold Wax Painting, created by Rebecca Crowell. The site provides a wealth of material about this flexible and expressive medium in which I work.

Friday, December 14, 2012

mixing business with pleasure

So far in my brief career as a painter, I have had the luxury of sending my work off to others and letting them tend to the business of sales. I began painting seriously about the same time that friends founded Gallery 24 here in Torrey, Utah, where I live, and they were kind enough to represent me. Over the years I have been with two other galleries in southern Utah. My production level has always been slow enough that I never had more pieces than the galleries could handle (not that everything sold!). In the last couple of years, however, as my style has become more consistent, my production has increased a bit, and I have begun to consider other ways to sell, either through a new gallery or through direct efforts.

I am still considering these options, and plan to investigate them actively after the holidays. In the meantime, though, the owners of Gallery 24 decided to retire and close the gallery. Chagrined by the idea of Torrey losing one of its two galleries, and by the thought of not having local representation, a small group of us artists who have been with the gallery decided to investigate the idea of keeping it open ourselves. The result is a six-partner agreement, about to be filed as a business with the state of Utah, and the organization of a new... well, organization. We are a friendly group, and so far are working well together. We each have different strengths and interests in terms of the business side of things, and so are sharing tasks as much as we are sharing ideas. It is both exciting and scary, to be in charge ourselves. If nothing else, it guarantees that 2013 will be an interesting year.

There is a lot to learn and experience, and while I know that it will be fun, at the same time it is not something I would have sought without the incentives of the specific situation. I am far more interested in creating than in selling (yes, I know, selling can be creative, but not in the same way!). On the other hand, if I intend to explore other options for marketing my work, the experience of being part owner (yikes!) of a gallery can only enhance my efforts. It is an opportunity for growth, in what I hope is a manageable way, and I hope that the experience will complement my efforts in the studio.

The latest of these efforts, above, is 16" x 16" x 2", as yet unnamed. I like it.

Friday, December 7, 2012

vision and revision

There are times when the work just flows, and times when it doesn't, as creative people generally know and experience. For seven weeks now, I've been painting for fifteen hours or more each week, showing up in the studio on a daily basis, and the practice has become an established habit, which was my original goal. (Yay! Check that one off the list!) As time goes by, I experience both days when the work flows and days when it doesn't. Because I know I'll be back tomorrow, I don't panic when things don't go well. Nor do I take it for granted when the process flows and the results are pleasing. I pretty much know that it probably won't happen two days in a row, but it happens often enough that I don't get discouraged.

I would like to figure how what it is that makes things go well when they do. Am I more relaxed? I don't think so. Do I have a different attitude, for example curiosity and playfulness rather than determination and focus? I don't think so, either. Do I have more of a plan for what I do, or less of one? Neither. Do I paint more quickly, more instinctively, more carefully, more casually, more daringly, more cautiously? I can’t say that any of these characteristics are consistently present when the process flows, nor when it doesn’t. Whatever happens, just sort of happens.

If I can’t identify what makes things flow – or not – the implication is that I will never be able to count on the process going well. Books and magazines are full of articles about how to get the process flowing, from carefully planning and executing to relaxing and letting things go, and numerous methods in between. My personal tendency is to try to note what techniques work, and when, to achieve some effect that I want, and to consciously know what I am doing. This is much of what my hours in the studio are spent doing: experimenting and then documenting the successes.

But if I can’t control the flow, I would still like to know how to encourage it, if such a thing is possible. At present, about all I can do is show up and have faith that it might happen. Maybe someday I’ll find a hook that helps it happen on a consistent basis.

Another salient issue related to this phenomenon is how to make progress when the materials aren't cooperating. I am gradually learning tendencies to avoid (my obsession this past week has been about piling up paint too thickly). Looking for danger signals as a painting progresses is a good method for avoiding major problems, but it is inevitable that the learning process be full of problem solving. I’ve done a lot of dissolving and scraping this past week, and it has been something of a breakthrough that I have successfully brought to conclusion two paintings that in earlier stages had been “ruined”. I do generally have a vision – if a vague one – of what I want to produce, and in many ways these days it is just a question of how much revision it will take to get there.

The image above is of a much revised 24” x 30” piece that I have declared to be finished. The bottom section is thicker than I like in some areas, but I have reworked it so many times that I finally declared, “DONE!” I think it will do. On the other hand, I can always scrape it down again….

Friday, November 30, 2012

taking inspiration

Back when being an artist was just a dream, I worked my way through Julia Cameron's The Artist's Way not once, but twice. One of the ideas in the book that has always stuck with me is the concept of the artist's date. This is the gift to oneself of an hour, an afternoon, a day, pursuing some activity that feeds the creative soul. A museum, a movie, an art supply store, a class, a lecture, a walk in the woods -- whatever form it takes, the idea is to have a time away from production, doing something nurturing and fun.

Living in Torrey, museums and art supply stores are in scant supply, but services such as Netflix are readily available. The website's search feature allows keywords, such as artist names, to be entered in pursuit of interesting films and short features. Such an exploration produced the 2011 film Gerhard Richter Painting, which I watched last night.

This film on the 80-year-old artist is a treasure for anyone interested in art to see, but it is especially relevant and resonant for cold wax painters because it shows Richter at work, applying paint to huge canvases, moving it around, scraping it off (with fascinating huge acrylic scrapers), painting over, editing, adding, revising, never really sure it is done -- in short, at least for me, many of the same processes and dynamics that I go through, if on a smaller scale. And many of his remarks ring true, for example in explaining the principal hue of a first layer of paint laid down: "The plan is for green. That is why there is so much red."

My choice on Netflix of Gerhard Richter Painting was happenstance; I had not heard of it and knew nothing about it (and not much about Richter). So it was a delightful surprise. I kept the film in my "active" queue of Netflix choices, and look forward to watching it again, when the absence of surprise will allow for a deeper reading. For me, it provided inspiration and moral support, to see such an accomplished artist at work, hear his thoughts about his creative world, and so strongly identify with both.

The image above is Richter's "Abstraktes Bild" ("Abstract Painting"), 45" x 28", 2005, Catalogue Raisonné 891-3, found on his most informative website.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

never satisfied

I have completed four pieces since my post of November 10th, and have been very happy about them. (The image at left, as yet unnamed, is one of them, 9" x 11".) In each case, I had built up layers somewhat at random, using hues that either contrasted or complemented lower layers, and always having in mind a concept. That is, I had followed the process that I have written about in earlier posts this fall. For the top layers, following my own advice, I sought to identify techniques that would produce a pleasing visual surface. And my main concern as I worked has been at that level: How to create subtlety, how to soften edges, when to soften edges, what value contrasts to establish, and so on. In other words, my concerns have been with techniques and visual effects. It has been a very focused time, as I have tried to establish a kind of toolbox of options that create the effects that I want. I have worked intuitively, allowing what is happening on the surface to guide me. All well and good. I have another five or six pieces ready to be completed, and I gain confidence with each one. My attitude is changing from, "oh no, will I ruin this?" to curiosity and anticipation about what will happen as I move paint around.

As the techniques become more natural to me, though, and as I begin to develop a sense of mastery over this stage of the painting process, doubts begin to arise. Are the pieces too much alike? Is it becoming too easy, so that they become trivial? Are they too abstract? Are they too representational? And so on. So far, when I stop to seriously consider one of these doubts, it is easily put to rest, either as untrue, or as something that I can easily change. For example, three of the four finished pieces have a similar final composition, with darker hues at bottom, lighter hues at top, and a patina of white blended across the whole surface, as in the image above. Are they too much alike? Or is this consistency? In either case, I just need to avoid making it a pattern that I always follow. It has been a means to achieving the end of developing a set of techniques, but it it is time to vary the pattern. So, I'll break out of it on the next piece.

Nonetheless, uneasiness remains. I realized this morning that my doubts are actually related to the fact that, for these four pieces, I did not have in mind a guiding concept as I worked on that top surface. As I become more confident in the how of the finished layer, I need to plug in the why. Happily, I talked about this in the post of November 10:
When I get to a final layer... I am not satisfied anymore with portraying things. I bury the fossils and the riverbeds; they are not something I want on top. Instead, I want to present something that is more amorphous -- that is, I suppose, more of a mood or an emotion. An impression. A mystery to be pondered. And yet, I want it to refer... to the constructs embodied underneath, and to my overlying theme of the geology of the land. 
This means that, rather than choosing colors at random based on their relationship to the hues underneath, I need to choose a mood or message, and also relate the color and value choices to that. Similarly with the composition: quiet or active, organic or mechanical, calming or exciting, depending on what I want to say. My next challenge, then, as I continue to focus on getting to finished, is to return to the meaning of what I am creating, and let it guide which tools I choose to use from my expanding collection.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

being in public

For reasons I still do not know, I was invited to submit a small painting to a small exhibit, “Honoring Utah Artists”, in a small gallery in Salt Lake City. The only requirement was that the size be smaller than 16” x 20”. Some fifty artists were to be represented, one painting each. There seemed to be no reason not to participate, and so I sent in a small painting that I completed last year, named “Hope” (16" x 8", left).

The exhibit opened last night, and Jerome and I combined the event with a trip to the city for shopping and a dinner out. The gallery/framing shop is small but nicely appointed, and the show is nicely hung. Most of the other artists are from the northern part of the state, although at least one is from Moab, a couple of hours east of Torrey. I recognize the names of three other painters whose pieces are included, but then I am not acquainted with many other artists, living as far from the urban center as I do. Perhaps a dozen of the participants were present at the opening. It was a pleasant event, and a few of my non-artist friends showed up. All in all, it is a small show but nicely done, and I am pleased to have been included.

Even more interesting to me, though, was my reaction to the whole situation, from receipt of the initial invitation through the opening last night. Or perhaps it is my lack of reaction that I find interesting, because I really sort of took it all in stride. I was not particularly excited, but neither was I nervous. Only a few years ago I would have experienced both of these emotions. I would have been really jazzed to receive any invitation to be in a show, and one in Salt Lake would have sent me into a tizzy. I would have agonized over what painting was good enough to submit. And I would have been nervous that my piece would not be up to snuff, that it would look awful next to all the others, even that the gallery would send it back and say, sorry, it won't do.

Instead, I was relaxed about the whole thing. The excitement of the invitation was mitigated by the small size of both the gallery and the show itself. I only had three completed paintings that fit the size restriction, so there was no point in agonizing over what to submit. I chose one that had always been a favorite. And I knew that I would be the only cold wax painting, so that there could be no nasty comparisons with other similar styles.

But I think it is more than just that. I think that I am painting so deeply and so passionately these days that I don't have room, as it were, for nerves. Viewers might not like my paintings -- there are all kinds of tastes in the world -- but I do, and I find beauty in them, and I am not afraid to show them and even explain what they are about. This is new, though it dates from the very first cold wax paintings that I began to produce two-and-a-half years ago. The fact that I have sold several paintings recently also helps!

Saturday, November 10, 2012

getting onto the surface

Several weeks of attention to building up the lower layers of paintings, concentrating on themes, colors, and textures, have produced five or six pieces that beg for completion. I've written about the topic of "getting to finished" before, since it is a problem for me. I can easily ruin a painting by trying to force it to finality. At the other end of the spectrum, Rebecca advocates letting the final surface emerge on its own. I am uncomfortable with the amorphous quality of my results when I try this, although I understand the idea. It is essentially the opposite of forcing.

As I consider the paintings on my studio wall that are crying "finish me", I am wondering if there is a middle ground here, a set of techniques that lend themselves to the final layers and a set of concepts that similarly are more suited to the final surface than others. Certainly the creative focus is different from that of earlier layers. Although I always bring even the lowest layer to a point that is compositionally pleasing, it is seldom a layer that has a public face -- that is, that I would present to the public as a finished piece. Instead, I experiment, frequently trying out ideas that might work on a final layer, but without the burden. I focus on thinking about a theme, and on establishing colors and marks that work well with the layer(s) below. I have found that the themes that I most frequently address on these lower layers are objective (in the sense of being things): rivers, plants, fossils, rocks.

When I get to a final layer, I realized today, I am not satisfied anymore with portraying things. I bury the fossils and the riverbeds; they are not something I want on top. Instead, I want to present something that is more amorphous -- that is, I suppose, more of a mood or an emotion. An impression. A mystery to be pondered. And yet, I want it to refer, at least in my mind, to the constructs embodied underneath, and to my overlying theme (no pun intended) of the geology of the land. That geology contains structure, and I want some visual structure on which to hang the mood.

These final layers, then, request a different approach from the lower history. I want them to be subtle, to be finely tuned, to cause curiosity and response. I have worked a lot on the top layers of two or three pieces in the past few days, and I find that there is probably a subset of techniques that lend themselves to this phase of the painting where others don't. If the lower layers create texture and depth, sometimes with great color contrasts, the upper layers pull out that texture from below but are themselves smoother, and similarly may reveal, or refer down to, the color below but are themselves more harmonious. If the division of space on the hidden layers is accidental, or experimental, or nonexistent, the compositional division of the visual layers must be, to my mind, deliberate.

The image above is of a 24"x 24" painting in its final stages; the process by which I added the last few layers gave rise to the musings here.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

the joy of loss

I spent a happy hour this morning scraping down about a dozen paintings. Each has several layers of paint built up, but otherwise they comprise a diverse group. I was perfectly happy with some of them; others seemed perhaps overwrought, perhaps nondescript. But today I was nondiscriminatory, and with the aid of a 6-inch-wide metal scraper, I ran roughshod over all surfaces.

The results were refreshing. If there was a lot of texture, the scraper sliced it down, revealing lower layers -- yet these still remain hidden in the valleys between the former ridges. Kind of like taking off mountain-tops. If the texture was modest, but still rose above the top layer of paint, whispers of color would show through from underneath. And even if the top layer was almost completely flat with seemingly no texture, the scraper wore it down a bit, producing a lovely look of weathering and age, hinting at history. There was not a single painting that did not benefit.

The "loss" was of course partly literal: paint came off in strips and crumbs and, from the driest pieces, as dust. But in many cases the paintings also lost either a preciousness or a gridlock that had prevented progress. Some I had become afraid to touch, because I feared covering up an effect that I liked. Gentle scraping left the effect present, but lent it a depth and interest by hinting at what lies underneath. In a few instances, such as the piece shown above, the latest layer was thick and opaque and had not produced a felicitous effect. Scraping it down brought out marks and hues from underneath, livened up the surface, and got rid of a lot of too-thick paint. In every case, I looked at the piece afterward with new eyes, seeing new possibilities and visual freshness and interest.

Part of why I am so pleased is that I have long been drawn to both the concept of weathering in relation to my muse of the geological landscape and the look of weathering in other people's work as well as my own. I have scraped back before, and the process has helped produce some of my favorite paintings. In terms of other artists, Marcia Myers' "frescos" painted on linen are among my favorite works, and weathering is certainly part of her look. And Diebenkorn's Ocean Park series, one of my all-time sources of inspiration, present the same characteristic.

Perhaps a final reason that I am pleased with this work today is that I have always meant to explore scraping back in a systematic and consistent fashion. Because I had several pieces with which to work, I could experiment with the effects of variables such as the type of scraper and the relative dryness of the paint. As a result, I now feel both more comfortable with the process and more aware of its potential. And I like the effect: In addition to the weathered appearance, the treatment adds an air of refinement (for lack of a better word) to the surfaces.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

informed progress

I am reading a book about the formation of the Colorado Plateau from the earliest times when the earth's crust was still forming. Ancient Landscapes of the Colorado Plateau is written and illustrated by geologists, but is eminently accessible, and fascinating. In addition to clear textual descriptions of geological history, computer-generated maps show the succession of landscapes that probably existed as continents collided, oceans inundated, landforms lifted, and mountains eroded. The witnesses to this history are the very layers of rock that I see on a daily basis. My understanding of this land in which I live deepens with every chapter that I read. What a pleasure.

The benefits extend to the studio. My current concept of building a painting the way that the Plateau was built becomes vastly more meaningful as my knowledge of current geologic theory expands. In practical terms, it increases my visual vocabulary as I contemplate what to do with a given layer on a given painting. The image here is of a new layer on yesterday's cliffscape (see the previous post). In my mind was the early phase of continental formation and convergence in the primordial ocean. Its portrayal required finding a new way of putting down and blending the paint, because I had a specific effect in mind. I wanted to suggest isolated splotches of earth roaming in a vast ocean. I worked intuitively and experimentally, and I am pleased with the results. This is not the final layer, but it holds a meaning that is deeper and richer than the rather artificial geometric portrayal of a cliff face that I created yesterday. On the other hand, yesterday's layer provided a structure upon which to hang this more amorphous composition. Each layer informs the next. This is the way I had hoped to work when I first conceived of literally using the land around me to inform my painting. I am encouraged!

Saturday, October 27, 2012

enjoying the routine

Inspired by my friend Phyllis Lasché, who shared with me her methods of time management and goal setting, I seem to have found a way to keep myself showing up in the studio on a daily basis and also making forward progress on myriad tasks and projects associated with my art. For the past two weeks, I have put in two to three hours a day at the easel and also have worked on various other projects: a new database for cataloging my work, learning to use new materials, keeping in touch with other cold wax artists. It is a comfortable schedule, one I can see extending easily into the months to come.

It is the regular time in the studio that is at the core of this, of course. I set myself a minimum of an hour a day ("just an hour"), which is always do-able and not onerous. I've used this method before, for cello practice ("just fifteen minutes"), and I know it is purely a psychological trick, but it works for me. More importantly, I give that hour priority over other activities in the day. It has become routine to head out after breakfast and get to work. Just as the fifteen minutes at the cello usually expands to an hour, so the hour in the studio tends to expand until lunchtime.

One big advantage of consistently showing up -- in addition to the simple fact that I paint -- is that painting stays in my consciousness pretty much all the time, even when I am away from the studio. The big questions (what is abstraction? what do I want to say?) meet the practical ones (how do I reference a cliff without painting one? how do I express joy through color?) on a constant basis, and I can almost sense the wheels turning in my head even while watching a baseball game on television (not a frequent event, but the SF Giants are in the World Series!).

I also find that since I am painting frequently and regularly, I am more willing to experiment and to take risks. If I have an idea, I feel freer to follow it, perhaps because I have a sense of more time available to do so. One example is shown above. This was a completely abstract painting with five or six layers of varying color and theme. I didn't have any plans for it, and I was curious whether I could produce in cold wax a painting like one of my old favorites, "Hidden Chambers", from 2008 (an image of it is included with the first post of this blog). So I pulled out my colors and my spreaders, and had a go. I wasn't satisfied when I finished the layer this morning, though the image above looks all right. Perhaps, despite my love of the 2008 version, my vision has changed away from that moment. I don't know what is next, perhaps a layer partially obscuring this one. But because I know I will be out in the studio, working, tomorrow, and the next day, and the next, the tension is diffused and I feel free to explore additional possibilities. There is time.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

design decisions

I have several pieces close to being finished. I want to push through and complete them, but in a thoughtful and deliberate way. The piece at left, 20" x  24", is one candidate. Although it looks chaotic at the moment, it has several diverse layers of paint already built up. My instinct is to cover up the detail with a few large color fields, to calm down the surface. But I don't really see what to do next.

What do I want my top layers to look like? I have settled on a process for getting to the finishing stage, through the building up of layer after layer of color and theme. But I realized this morning that I don't really know what it is that I want on that top layer, the layer that everyone sees when they first look at the painting.

When I review my previous work, even going back to 2005 when I began to explore abstraction, the vast majority of pieces that I like are landscape-oriented with a strong horizon line -- or, in my "cliff" series, a strong horizontal ledge-line -- from side to side. I think that this reflects one set of qualities that I want to express in my work: that of stability, or calmness, or quiet. Another characteristic that dominates is that of color: Very few pastel or muted palettes are present, and the few paintings that are somewhat neutral in hue frequently have notes of saturated color. I have tried at times to paint monochromatic and/or pale pieces, but they have seldom been satisfactory to me.

In my latest artist's statement (see previous post), I don't address what I want a finished painting to look like, or what I want the viewer to experience. So that isn't much help. But I do make it pretty clear that my paintings are about the land. It would be reasonable to have the final surface clearly reference that. Another resource is my list of "concepts" (see post for August 21st). Surely any finished piece should show evidence of some of them.

If I imagine walking into a room exhibiting my work, I want each piece to catch the eye in some way. I go back to the two qualities that jumped out when I looked at my past work: a strong horizontal line, and color. I have been feeling as though I should avoid horizontal, edge-to-edge lines, since they immediately announce "landscape", and I have interpreted "going abstract" as avoiding that. But, fact is, the land is my subject, and one way to indicate that in a painting is to reference "landscape". So perhaps horizon lines are okay, at least for now. And I think color is here to stay as a salient characteristic. More to come.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

a new artist's statement

It took three tries and even more drafts, but I have settled on a new artist's statement.  It may never see the light of day, but I have posted it in my studio, and if nothing else it serves to keep me on track. If I were asked to make a statement about my current work, this is what I would say:

I am fascinated by the relationship between time and the earth. Time builds up and then erodes the land; the land resists and then acquiesces. These transformations reflect creative forces beyond the scope of human endeavor. My passion is to try to convey the spirit and beauty of this dynamic, and to share the feelings of timelessness and wonder that it inspires in me. I view my paintings as doorways through time, interpretations of the past as revealed by the land.

My painting practice echoes these natural processes. I use oil paint and cold wax medium to establish successive layers of abstract composition, each of which interprets a theme suggested by time and the land. A given layer might be about fossils, or rivers, or wind. I choose colors, textures, and shapes that complement the theme: the blues of the sky, the roughness of stone, the intricacy of a shrimp skeleton. The layers build up the way the land builds up, and they also are eroded, the way land is eroded, through dissolving or abrading. In the end, the parts come together as a whole, but always with the subtleties and mysteries of the hidden layers supporting and deepening the finished surface.

Painting for me is a way of renewing and exploring my connection to and feeling for the land. I am naturally drawn to abstraction, and I have a love for experimentation, both of which are supported by the materials and the methods that I use. The subject that I address is vast, and is a challenge in itself. Finding a way to express my responses to it in tangible form presents opportunities for curiosity and exploration that are equally unending.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

getting home

We have been home from Spain for ten days, seven of which passed by as I dealt with worse-than-usual jetlag. My activities were mostly limited to settling into domestic rhythms and patterns, and any effort to focus on either painting or cello were fruitless; my mind just would not engage. Finally, last Friday, I began to feel fully normal, mentally and physically.

Although I didn't break out the paints during that week, I did address other studio-related issues, mostly thanks to my now weekly (or so) telephone conversation with Phyllis. We are both still working on artist's statements, and are reporting in and getting feedback from each other. Discussing why we paint and what we want to accomplish naturally leads to talking about more specific matters, such as what is happening in the studio and on the canvas. After years of isolation in daily work, with outside contact only at occasional workshops, the opportunity to talk with another artist and friend on a regular basis is a godsend to me. It helps immensely to verbalize my thoughts to another person, and Phyllis is skilled at giving useful feedback. Doing the same for her also helps me, opening up new areas of thought and new topics for consideration.

As a result, even though I have only been back at the easel for three days, the time before that produced a series of decisions about goals and their achievement, some organization of time and activities, and actual progress in some of my off-easel projects, such as getting my cataloging process under way again, revising my website, and continuing to read and research areas of interest relevant to my artwork.

Administrative work is part of being an artist, yet I have frequently ignored it because I felt that I should be spending the time in the studio, painting. This new clarity about priorities and a sensible approach to them is allowing me to address the issues and tasks more rationally. Three days ago, I broke out the paints and got to work again, without my usual sense of time wasted. Perhaps as a reward, a client purchased three paintings of mine from Gallery 24 on Saturday -- the last day of the 2012 season! The image above is of Paredes Viejas, 16"x 16", one of the pieces that found a home this weekend.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Spanish thoughts

We are in the small fishing village of Cudillero, on the northern Atlantic coast of Spain, a week into our trip. This region of Galicia is among the rainiest in the country, and its coolish, damp, seaside character contrasts dramatically with the rest of the Iberian peninsula, which is either drier and rockier, or warmer and more Mediterranean. This land is green and gray, with steep ocean cliffs and soft hills covered with grasses, shrubs, and trees reminiscent of the northern California coast. Eucalyptus trees, for example, are everywhere, with their tall straight trunks dripping strips of bark and their pungent, peppery scent. Streams run down to the ocean, and river deltas open out into lovely clean beaches. There is very little population pressure here, and the Atlantic stretches westward into the unknown.

It is hard to imagine a landscape that would provide more contrast to the sandstone cliffs and mesas of the American Southwest. The pinks, oranges, and sages of the latter are completely absent, and there is scarcely a straight line to be seen other than the western horizon, which at home is generally not straight. The smaller patterns and palettes that present themselves are more complex, and somehow more mysterious, than at home: gone is the cleanliness and honesty of the arid desert. Swirls of moss and shadows of pitted granite; nuances of green deepening to black; glossy slate shingles in deep blues, rusts, grays. On a less tangible level, this land has been inhabited since pre-Neolithic times and has a traceable history that reaches much farther back than in the New World. That, plus the strongly Celtic cultural heritage (another contrast to the Latin character of the other side of the country) lend a completely different aura to being here.

Had I time and materials, I would settle in for a week or two of painting, to see what it would be like to transform my reactions to this place onto canvas. I'd like to see what would happen, and what the process would be like; and whether and how it would differ from my work at home. Just the palette and the marks would be so different. I am going to try to retain these nonverbal memories in some mental place where I can access them at home, and see if I can resist the local environment there long enough to record some of these impressions.  Maybe the Colorado Plateau isn't my only muse; perhaps I can use my senses and my skills to record other places and times.

The first photo above was take from the train, and shows a bit of reflection from the window, but it also gives a sense of the coast south of here. The second photo is of some of the ancient rock that is at the base of all the vegetation.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012


Part of my activity in the weeks since the Telluride workshop has been to clear out space in my studio. Most of this was the usual semiannual clean-up of accumulated stuff of no real value, and the organization of what remained. (The space is almost too clean at the moment, but I know that is only temporary!) I went a little farther, though, than in the past. I wanted to create a space whose openness reflects and enhances the receptivity that I seek in myself as I paint. I also wanted it to reflect the present clarity of purpose and mind, and the new connection with values and priorities, that are pulling me forward in my life. I got rid of more "stuff" than in the past -- a whole box of interesting, now very dusty bottles that I had accumulated over the years, for example. I also put a new shelf along the south side of the room above the windows, to hold the smaller paintings-in-process that need space to dry but also need to be accessible. This freed up counter space and made the whole room seem larger, oddly enough. The photo above shows the new addition.

By getting rid of a lot of detritus, the purpose of the room seems clearer. For whatever reason, it is a more welcoming space now, a space that encourages immersion into the painting process. My tools and materials are more easily at hand, and my notes to myself are  pinned to the bulletin board for easy consideration. Also, I threw away a lot of old work, keeping only a very few pieces that still seem to speak in a relevant way. A large step was getting rid of drawings and exercises that for years have constituted a kind of back-up justification for seeing myself as an artist: see, I can draw the human figure, I do know linear perspective. That past work had perhaps become a crutch that that I thought I needed to support my creativity, but that also had come to feel almost like an albatross about my neck. Getting rid of it was very freeing.

All this was also a prelude to being gone for a few weeks: Jerome and I are about to leave for an exploration of northwestern Spain that I know will bring new perceptions and thoughts. This house cleaning was in part to create room for that new input after we get home.

Friday, September 7, 2012

activating the surface

One of the early exercises in Expressive Drawing is named "Working with Flux Nonobjectively." Similar to the "scribbling" exercise that we did with Rebecca in Telluride, this exercise consists of short, timed bursts of drawing interspersed with bursts of "veiling" or partially covering over what has just been drawn. The idea is to stay loose, to not try to draw an object, nor even to think much about gestures made and marks created.

I had a couple of panels in the studio, one red and one blue, that needed to be woken up and made part of the little population of paintings-in-progress that are occupying the space. They were monochromatic, simple, barely begun, and almost dusty with neglect.

This exercise was the perfect method for getting back into these two paintings. I laid out both chalk pastels and oil sticks, choosing to stay within the color frame already established, poured some mineral spirits into a cups, and set out a soft 1" brush. Standing back a bit from my table, I scribbled some, then brushed over with mineral spirits, then scribbled some more, then brushed some more. I stopped sooner on the red painting (above) than on the blue painting, because I like the dynamics, and I know that later layers will interact with what is there. But in both cases, the drawing exercise provided the mechanism for a loose, new approach that resurrected a couple of moribund paintings.  Plus, it was fun!

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

concepts and layers

Further development of my list of conceptual words has provided me with a wealth of ideas to work with. Perhaps it is my librarian background, but I found myself wanting some organization of them (and alphabetization would not do). There were almost too many to consider at any one time. So I created a loose grouping of the words into some eight or ten broader categories, none of which I defined or labelled. They are intuitive rather than logical, though I'm sure that I used some kind of logic in the groupings.

I like this. As I approach creating a new layer on a painting, my first impulse is to decide what I want to do in terms of color -- whether to contrast or complement what is already on the canvas, for example. My next step is to determine the conceptual content of the new layer. Now I can choose, not a single word but rather a group of words that has meaning for me and for the painting. I find using a group more freeing and stimulating than a single word. I have posted a piece of paper that shows the various groupings on the wall of the studio, and I occasionally add a word to one or more of them. It is a little corner of verbal creativity in my otherwise non-verbal work area.

The image above is of a piece I started in Telluride, and to which I applied my then-new approach of a concept-per-layer. It is not finished, indeed it only has four or five layers on it, but I can still see some conceptual work: strata, complexity, stability, scratchiness, fluidity. I hadn't developed my groupings yet, but still, each concept does come from a different group, as it turns out.

Friday, August 31, 2012

being present

A week in San Francisco has offered many art opportunities, and even though I haven’t touched brush to canvas, I feel quite connected to my work. There are many reasons for this. Meg and I visited three museums (SFMoMA, the Legion of Honor, and the DeYoung) and in each one I saw works that resonated with me. Two different art supply stores, FLAX and Arch, offered a richness of materials that opened up creative possibilities. I met Phyllis to talk art and stroll around a small art district in Berkeley.  I sketched with Meg every evening, and I worked on my artist statement (see post of August 20th).  All in all, I don’t feel that I have been that far away from my studio, and that is unusual for me when I travel. There has been active engagement with the artistic world every day, and I have actively “worked” on my own art in some way or another.

I’d like to make this a permanent change. I would love to carry my artist-self at the front of my awareness in my daily life.  For whatever reason, I haven’t done this so far.  In the past, being in my artist mind has distracted me, and I can’t live my life in a distracted state. But maybe there is an alternative. Maybe I can have my artistic consciousness, as it were, traveling alongside me, passive (not distracting) but alert. My art muse riding on my shoulder, looking out for opportunities even while my main awareness is cooking, cleaning, visiting, playing cello, studying Spanish.

As I think about this, I see additional advantages. I want to delve deeper into the details of the geography that I want to portray, and being more constantly aware through artistic eyes of my surroundings would certainly help. I want to find new methods and materials to express myself, and staying alert to such possibilities as I move through my days would undoubtedly feed the process. I want to find ways to express inner reactions and sensations in my work, and the only way this will happen is to become aware of them in the first place, and consider how to express them as they happen.

The image above, a Rauschenberg, fills an entire wall at SFMoMA with its structure and energy.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

marks again

I presented an updated version of the mark-making presentation from Wisconsin (see post of August 27, 2011) on the last day of the Telluride workshop. Two days before, Rebecca led us though a drawing-scribbling exercise that set a path in the direction of marks. Six of us at a time stood around a table, drawing implements at its center, with a stack of 4"x6" paper in front of each of us. In response to a rapid sequence of instructions ("Pick any implement and make a single mark." "Pick up any implement and draw what you do."), we each filled about twenty sheets. The pace was so rapid that at some point the left brain just gave up. In addition to loosening us up, in the end we each had a significant record of our individual mark-style.

The exercise provided me with some spontaneous marks that I really liked. Or, more accurately, I liked the fact that they came out of me unimpeded and were visually pleasing. (The image above is of one of my favorites.) As we returned to our painting stations, as it were, and to our now-dry panels from the day before, the emphasis was on drawing, and I practiced further and on a larger scale the types of gestures that I had made on the small pieces.

Rebecca had also brought to the workshop a copy of Expressive Drawing by Steven Aimone. The author approaches drawing as essentially line and mark, without worrying about representation. Short chapters present various aspects of drawing, but what I found most valuable were the exercises, which emphasize loose, gestural, and spontaneous drawing -- exactly my focus right now. I've ordered myself a copy of the book just for the inspiration it will provide for practice.

I'm in San Francisco visiting my sister-in-law, Meg, and today we revisited the alphabet work we did last year (see post of May 6, 2011). This time Meg's suggestion was to write  some text (a letter or a poem, for example) but to turn the letters into a series of gestural expressions that cover the surface without looking like letters. It was a stimulating, freeing, and amazingly difficult exercise, one that I plan to repeat.

So I feel well supplied with a variety of means to further develop the marks that I make, without resorting to representation, and bypassing as much as possible my controlling, analytical left brain.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

digging more deeply

One of the pleasures of working with Rebecca is the feedback that she very generously gives about one's work. Talking with her in Telluride was one of the highlights of the workshop for me.  In addition to remembering my Wisconsin insights about the Colorado Plateau from last year, she had creative ideas about how to move forward with them.  This included using a list of concepts such as I described in my last post, but using them more deeply than had occurred to me, by building a relevant concept into each layer of a painting. This makes so much sense: It enhances the idea of building a painting "the way the landscape was built" -- in terms of my work, building the layers of cold wax and paint in an echo of the way the Plateau was built. This was the breakthrough insight that I had last year in Wisconsin, but by adding conceptual meaning to each layer I put down, I also echo (though perhaps not literally) the individual history and nature of the various layers of the Plateau: Moenkopi with its chocolaty, crumbly consistency, Navajo with its creamy, smooth curves. The very method of painting pulls me more deeply into contact with my muse. I also had the idea to "age" each layer, stressing it by buffing and scraping, the way the strata of the Plateau have been weathered, and to "erode" some layers to reflect the way the sandstone has been eroded by water and wind.

These ideas for specific techniques enrich my sense that my painting guide/muse at all times is truly the Plateau and all its subthemes and concepts. I do not need to look elsewhere, though from elsewhere do come ancillary themes that are a part of me, such as the music~poetry~dance at the end of my list of concepts. They all fit together, in my mind, because they are all part of me. But my "aha" here is the acknowledgement that the Colorado Plateau is not just one idea; it is a mini-universe of ideas, all of which feed my creative expression. My process thus becomes an interaction between the various painting concerns (methods and materials) and the parameters of the various concepts (meaning). I use a concept in each layer while at the same time interacting with the painterly dynamics that are taking place (color, texture, space division, etc.). It is a conversation. And the conceptual focus is on essences and iconography rather than on things and labels, and it digs more deeply into the Plateau than I had considered doing before.

"Madrugada" (8"x10", above), also named after it was finished, is another of my pieces from last spring. It will be interesting to compare these with the pieces I create now that my concept and method are more fully developed.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

toward an iconography

During the workshop in Telluride, Rebecca shared an exercise in conceptual thinking that centered on choosing a conceptual word and keeping it in mind as a guide while painting. The idea appeals to me as I grapple with getting away from my literal mind and into my conceptual/emotional side.  So I am developing a list of words that reflect either my perceptions about the Colorado Plateau or other concepts that resonate with me.

The exercise suggests that the words reference open-ended ideas, and concepts rather than emotions. (This appeals to me -- I freeze when someone suggest that I "paint joy".)  It also recommends using words that do not reference concrete objects but rather their essences. In short, adjectives and adverbs rather than nouns.

It was fun to take this on and develop a list of words for myself. I didn't think much about it, I just let an initial set of words flow onto a piece of paper.  Then I looked at them a bit analytically.  Not surprisingly, in yet another reflection of my current orientation toward materials and methods (so tangible and well-defined!), over half of my concepts were nouns, references to concrete objects rather than to the more elusive qualities of those objects.  

The initial list, offered below for the record, will no doubt evolve. The next challenge is to use these words to develop a personal iconography that pervades my work and that the viewer of my paintings has to interpret. This will bring a depth of meaning to what I do.  A step along the path!

The image above is of "Puerta Escondida", 8"x12", from last March, in which I found "doorways" after I had finished the piece (another recommendation from Rebecca: let the image emerge or be decided toward the end of the process!)

concept list

petrified wood

earth ~ air ~ water           
music ~ poetry ~ dance

Monday, August 20, 2012

making a statement

An artist's statement is essentially a sales tool, an essay written to provide viewers an insight or two into the artist's life and work. But it can also be a mechanism for artistic self-reflection, as encouraged by Ariane Goodwin in her guide Writing the Artist Statement: Revealing the Spirit of Your Work. Business coach Molly Gordon offers a link to an excerpt that includes a series of exercises designed to help the artist articulate his or her creative vision.

My friend Phyllis ( came home with me to Torrey from the Oil & Cold Wax workshop in Telluride, and among other things, we went through some exercises from Goodwin and elsewhere and compared notes. Doing so reinforced my conclusion from the workshop that my primary challenge these days is in the area of meaning rather than in the areas of materials or methods, because my answers tended to be literal and process-oriented (makes sense -- that is what I do well) rather than meaning-oriented.  It's not that I don't put meaning into my work, but rather that I can't/don't articulate it.  And it is not as important that I articulate it in an artist statement as it is that I articulate it to myself, so that I can start to work consciously from a deeper space within me.

This parallels the challenge that I have, to interpret a mood or emotion in paint. I process what I paint through my literal, verbal mind, and I have a hard time letting that go and making a direct link from feeling to canvas. I'm not sure the latter is necessary, but I sense that it is something that I should explore. I am curious about it, for one thing.

The image above is a very unfinished piece from the workshop, but it shows some initial attempts at unthinking spontaneity. The exposed surfaces were created without verbally processing what I was doing. I plan to do more of the same.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

old friends

The past six months have been a time of travel (Spain, Bluff, Arizona), gardening, meditation, Buddhist study, and cello.  It has not been a time of painting, though I have not particularly avoided the studio.  Rather, other things have come first, and it has felt fine.

But a four-day workshop in oil and cold wax with Rebecca Crowell here in Telluride, CO, has brought me back to active painting and to this blog. These have been full days, immersed in the painting process and soaking up the companionship of fellow artists. It is a workshop similar to that which I attended last year in Wisconsin (see posts from August 2011), with much the same objective content, but with the different dynamics of a different group of participants, and a different impact on me because I am in a different place. As the workshop winds down, I want to summarize a few of the thoughts it has brought to mind, if for no other reason than to reinforce and clarify them for use as I return home.

I have pages of notes that I can already see fall into roughly three categories: lists of supplies, websites, and other resources; techniques of paint application and removal; and conceptual/theoretical concerns.  Put more succinctly: materials, methods, and meaning.

Materials and methods were very valuable to learn about or review during the workshop, but I come away from the week with a pretty clear conclusion that it is the third category that is my current challenge.  I know in general what meaning I want my work to contain: My muse is always the Colorado Plateau. This has been clear since I began painting, and I had a breakthrough moment in Wisconsin last summer when I could finally articulate it and its relationship to abstraction and cold wax.  But I need to go further; I need to parse out from that broad concept the details to put into my work.  Talking with Rebecca and with my friend Phyllis, who also came to the workshop, I think I see a way to approach this task. As the weeks and months ahead unfold, I will use this space to record the adventure.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

composition and pattern

Two days in Bluff provided a wealth of visual input. The first day was cloudy and blustery, and while the rest of the group bundled up and went hiking, I drove up a broad canyon and spent a lovely time creating a pencil sketch of  a big butte from the warmth of my car. One of the joys of drawing is the directness with which one's visual perception is rendered onto paper. The butte was a feast for the eyes (see left), there was no sign of human civilization within sight, and the tranquility of the scene was occasionally enhanced by a soaring hawk or a group of deer heading for the creek in front of me. I was fully engaged with the task at hand, and at peace with myself and the world.  While the result is nothing to treasure, it was the process rather than the product that I sought.

The second day was warmer and much sunnier, and this time I accompanied the others on a morning hike to one of the many Anasazi ruins to be found in the area. Late in the afternoon, three of us took a walk along the San Juan river to view a panel of pictographs and petroglyphs left behind by long-vanished inhabitants. The quality of light was exquisite, and I satisfied my artistic impulses with many photographs of patterns and textures in the cliffs and on the ground. The images will provide visual inspiration, as well as remind me of the beauty of the day and the place, when I am back in the studio. The image at the right is one of my favorites.

Bluff has always been a special place to me,  There is something about its particular combination of river, buttes, and sky that speaks to my soul. I feel at home, and at the same time am filled with a longing to create, to render what I see and feel. I have painted there before, and will no doubt do so again.

Monday, February 20, 2012

thinking small

My (relatively) large surfaces have begun to reward my persistence with the development of character and visual interest.  This past week I have been able to deny the urge to move quickly and make large haphazard gestures, and instead to slow down and consider small things.  I have divided and subdivided, blurred lines and marks, blended and separated, scratched and impressed. It seems to be a process of alternately focusing in and pulling away, and it almost develops a rhythm of its own.  It is both challenging and satisfying, and although it requires patience, it is also absorbing.

Part of what is making this shift possible is an accompanying desire to draw.  This revival of an itch that I haven't felt in a couple of years was neither deliberately sought nor cultivated, and I have yet to pick up my sketchbook. But the impulse is real and is helping my focus to sharpen and my marks to become more deliberate.  Sketching, or drawing, requires an interaction with the object that is being drawn, while the abstract work that I have been doing requires an interaction with the surface that is developing, without an external referential object.  But every drawing that is created feeds the repertoire of marks and images that eventually becomes a language for abstract composition.  It also helps create a habit of focusing, something that I have been trying to develop amid all the abstraction.

The current desire to draw began in the days when I was not visiting the studio, and I did sketch a bit around the house.  Then it was reinforced by reading Chasing Matisse, a delightful book recounting the journeys of an older artist (a group in which I count myself) from Little Rock, AR, who took a year to live in Europe with his wife, retracing the movements of Matisse throughout his life, visiting the places where he worked and the homes in which he lived.  In addition to providing details about Matisse, the book considers artistic questions regarding both how to see and how to create, and also ponders the sanity of selling one's stateside home and moving to Europe. The book is quite well written, and its themes resonate with me.  The author draws constantly as he moves around (some sketches are scattered throughout the book), and that whetted my appetite for drawing as well as provided insight into how to integrate sketching into my daily life.  (No, I haven't done so yet, but I will be taking my sketchbook along with me when we head down to Bluff on a midwinter getaway the day after tomorrow.)

Friday, January 27, 2012

rediscovering the joy

Today provided one of those "in the groove" studio sessions that make all the days of slogging worthwhile.  On days like today, things work.  Instinct, tempered by experience, takes over.  Curiosity replaces habit, experimentation overcomes fear, the possibility of what may come mitigates judgment of what is.

It has been a pleasure, over the past week, to have the energy to be present in the studio even for short periods of time.  Rather than fret about being unproductive (a mindset that I need to get rid of anyway), I was just grateful to be there.  I am focusing on seven larger pieces that I am going to finish before I work on anything else. Today I got entranced by clouding over three of them with whitish mixtures, then using rags and scrapers to reveal lower layers.  Contrasts emerged: of dark and light, of vertical and horizontal, of straight and curved, of mechanical and organic.  On all three panels, these are intermediate layers, and creating them served the significant purpose of getting past being stuck, of getting past layers that had become too precious to "mess up" but too premature to consider as final iterations.

The image above is one of the three.  All are from the "aerial" series that I began last fall (see posts from last September), and have been hanging untouched since October.  The length of time elapsed somehow has allowed me to break from the representational versions into pure abstraction, to keep the compositional aspects that I like but push forward toward something else. I won't know what that is until I get there, but I like the way it is developing.

Thursday, January 19, 2012


A couple of months of ill health have pulled me away from the studio and indeed from even thinking much about artistic matters.  Feeling better, I am again approaching my cold-wax work, but I find myself distanced from it, not in the sense that my works-in-progress appear unfamiliar or disappointing, but rather that I find myself asking Big Questions, such as, what is it that I want to do here?  Why am I painting?

I have painted some this week, but it has been intuitive and without direction while I tested my stamina.  I do love the process and can spend hours with it, but what is my end product?  I started out -- and have stated it quite publicly -- wanting to convey to other people my responses to the land and geography in which I live.  But, at least at the moment, I am tired of trying.  I'm sick of painting cliffs, abstractly or otherwise.  (Yet sandstone formations still resonate with me.)

Perhaps this negative reaction to my stated artistic purpose is because much of last year I spent exploring a more internal world through music and meditation.  My attempts to explore it also in the studio have been feeble at best, and not satisfying.

Big questions.  If I don't think about art when I am sick, am I really an artist?  Wouldn't I always be thinking about it if I were?  Wouldn't I spend my spare time reading art books or sketching instead of doing crossword puzzles?  Is music more my milieu than painting?  What is it that I am pushing away here?  I don't mind painting for myself rather than for the public (as has been suggested to me), but that doesn't answer the question, it just changes it to, what do I want to say to myself?

There is so much to think through, and it is a sign of my improving health that the thoughts are beginning to accumulate faster than I can deal with them.  Hence this post, and probably the next few, to try to begin to sort through them.

I don't think that the answer is to go back to representational painting.  In some ways that is an easy out: Although representational painting unquestionably has its challenges, I find it to have a certain superficiality that doesn't speak to me and a process that is in a sense too easy, too mechanical.  (I'm sure I offend thousands of representational painters here, but I don't mean to; I am speaking purely subjectively.)  Besides, I love working in cold wax, which pulls toward the abstract by its very nature.

I've had the thought that I want to paint from small things, but on large surfaces.  I am inspired by the detail of a piece of sandstone, of a leaf, of a riverbed.  I've done this in cold wax on small panels, but I want to go bigger, and I'm not sure how.  This, at least, is a positive thought and one that provides forward motion.  What a relief to consider it!  But it does not address the BQ's, and although I may pursue it, the larger issues remain.  Also, what about the larger sense of the country, the space of the sky, the stability of the land, that I love so much?  Can I convey that through details?

Too many questions, too long a post.  To be continued....