Failure is nothing more than a chance to revise your strategy...Read More
More on the Ideas That Inspired My Paintings
New Science: Observer’s Paradox, A Dip in the Fabric of Time, Greater than the Sum of its Parts, String Theory
These paintings are largely based on three books about scientific ideas written for the general public. The Dancing Wu Li Masters: An Overview of the New Physics (1979) by Gary Zukav is a classic. It examines the discoveries of 20th century physics in clear language with all of the wonder of the ideas but without the math. The Web of Life: A New Scientific Understanding of Living Systems (1996) by Fritjof Capra is a mind-blowing exploration of the ideas and implications of Systems Theory. Although Capra is a physicist, his writing is relatively accessible to the non-scientist. And my all-time favorite, A Short History of Nearly Everything (2004) by the very talented Bill Bryson. In this book Bryson is seeking answers to all the big questions: who are we, where did we come from, where are we going…in short… “what’s it all about, Alfie?” Based on solid research, this profound and witty book explains some of the most difficult ideas in New Science in the most engaging way.
Birthing Modern English: Caedmon’s Hymn, Vengeance Rising, Debate in Spring, After the Kiss or the True Source of Marital Bliss
As a volunteer for the Pikes Peak Library District, I tutor people who speak English as a second (or third or fourth) language. Often the questions I get about our rather confusing language really make me stop and wonder, why do we say this and not that? How did we come to order sentences the way we do or spell some words in such puzzling ways? So, I took a Teaching Company course, The History of the English Language, 2nd edition, with Professor Seth Lerer. This course has given me a lot of insight into these questions and their answers. I have always loved reading about English; how it got the way it is and what it is becoming. These paintings are based on the first four compositions written in English as described by Dr. Lerer.
The Journey: The Call, The Quest, The Dark Night, The Return
Joseph Campbell, the highly influential cross-cultural mythologist, was interviewed by Bill Moyers in the PBS series, The Power of Myth (1988). Watching this series literally changed my life. I was spellbound! It opened me to possibilities that eventually became realities for me that I had never imagined before I saw the series and then read everything by Campbell that I could find. In fact, his work became the inspiration for my doctoral degree in Interdisciplinary Studies. He was the first to describe the great monomyth of the Hero’s Journey. Across the world, in all times, some version of the Hero’s Journey appears. In spite of culturally-specific elements, the Hero’s Journey has a characteristic form. I have taken four of the major elements of this great myth as the subject for these paintings. In one way or another, I have painted this story many times. I have also used this idea in my work as a psychiatric-mental health nurse and nurse educator, characterizing patients not as the victims of their illness, but as the heroes of their life stories. The Hero’s Journey has given meaning to my own life story as I am sure it must for anyone who takes the time to study it.
"Learning to trust the process is a process." Dennis Merritt JonesRead More
I am always on the hunt for the best pastel pencils and sharpeners. My go-to pencils are Carbothello pastel pencils because they are soft and with their own sharpener are easy to sharpen. But they don't have every color I want, so I supplement with Conte pencils that I am not crazy about because of the large barrel and the fact that they are hard to sharpen and they are not very smooth. So, recently, I ordered a pastel pencil sampler from Dakotapastels.com. This sampler includes one pencil of all 8 brands available. Somehow the Bruynzeel pencil was not in my box, but I got all the others. (Dakota refunded the money for the individual pencil which was very nice of them).
Also, last week Mr. Meininger of Meininger Art Supply (a fabulous and very old art store) gave me a new sharpener to try. It's called Color Combi by KUM Art.NO. 1050472 and has two holes. The large hole is for removing the wood casing and the smaller hole is for sharpening the point. Actually, I have better luck using the smaller one for the wood casing and the larger one for the point. But, that may be just me. I also have a terrific two hole brass sharpener that I mentioned in a previous blog (June 28, 2016) and my old faithful Carbothello sharpener (all pictured). Here is a review of the pencils and the sharpeners I used with them.
Cretacolor- soft, nice color, smooth and sharpened well with the Carbothello
Derwent-fairly soft, a bit gritty (which I rather liked) and sharpened well with the Alvin 9867 brass sharpener
Koh-I-Noor Giaconda-YUM! very soft, smooth, great color, sharpened well using the Color Combi and then the Alvin
Faber-Castell Pitt-very nice, smooth, soft and color is good though the Giaconda was more vibrant, sharpened pretty well with Color Combi and then the Alvin for more of a point
CaranD'Arche- YUMMY, very smooth excellent color, but a pain to sharpen. However, I had good luck with the Color Combi and then the brass for an excellent point
Doing this little experiment convinced me to add pencils from all the lines. For efficiency and economy, I'll get only the colors that are in my palette from each line. Dakota Art Pastels sells individual pencils for each brand. Yea! As far as I know no one else does. They also offer handmade color charts for each, but at $10.00 each, I am just going to take my chances using the color charts online.
PS I did not like the DAHLE 133 mechanical sharpener I bought from Dakota. Although they say it will sharpen all their pastel pencils, I did not have good luck with it and it's flimsy. Two hints regarding sharpeners...buy German and hand-sharpen slowly!
"If you have knowledge, let others light their candles with it." Margaret FullerRead More
"Creativity is the combination of making something happen and letting something happen..." Adrian DiazRead More
“Time talks with an accent.” Robert LevineRead More
"...the matter with most of the people in the world; that few are really wanting what they think they want, and that most people go through their lives without ever doing whole thing they really want to to do.” Robert HenriRead More
We are like islands in the sea, separate on the surface but connected in the deep.
Good teaching cannot be reduced to technique; good teaching comes from the identity and integrity of the teacher. Parker J. PalmerRead More
Having to put your body into tortuous shapes was not as pleasant as I thought. Making body lines interesting for the artists wasn't as easy as I anticipated. Isabelle Ghaneh
Missing the Point
I’ve been using pastel pencils for decades. They are wonderful for adding detail. But, only if they have a good point. And that’s the issue. Keeping a good point on a pastel pencil is like trying to keep a good point on soft-serve ice cream. Impossible!
Pastel pencils have a soft pastel center surrounded by wood and each brand varies in the relative softness or hardness of the pencil. Dakota Art Pastels 2016/2017 catalog has kindly organized their assortment of pastel pencils from softest to hardest (see page 26). (If you are a pastel artist and don’t know this “pastels only” company, get acquainted at www.dakotapastels.com.)
Currently, my favorite pastel pencils are:
Carbothello Pastel Pencil-softer rather than harder with a standard-sized barrel. This has been my “go-to” brand because unlike all the other brands, it sharpens fairly easily, has a good range of colors, and is carried by most suppliers. And lo and behold! Stabilo offers a pencil sharpener (Art. NR. 4514) that actually works with this pencil (though not with my others).
Caran D’Arche Pastel Pencil-softest with amazing colors that match their semi-hard pastel sticks (cubes). Their pencil 788-089 is my favorite deep red/brown for use in portraits. I don’t know of another pencil brand with this wonderful color. All of their portrait colors are really great. But, these pencils are a nightmare to sharpen. They are produced by a 100-year-old company in Switzerland. I believe it is family owned (or so I was told at the little French shop I mentioned in my last blog). They are not as readily available as some of the others. Supply issues, I’ve been told.
Conte Pastel Pencil-harder than the other two and yet, pretty fragile, come in fabulous colors. For an exercise in staying in a Zen moment of non-attachment to outcome, try sharpening these. They will severely test your resolve to stay cool.
The Whole Point
Yesterday, I was at my favorite local art supply store, Meininger’s (www.meininger.com) in Colorado Springs. The original Denver store is one of the oldest art supply stores in the west…more on that great story another time. I was grousing about the fact that they were out of the Stabilo sharpeners and also about how hard it is to sharpen pastel pencils in any case. Kiki, one of the several friendly, helpful and knowledgeable associates there, steered me to a pencil sharpener from Germany that she said she uses with great results.
HA! I thought. I’ve tried them all with little to no success. But she pulled out a little round brass number (Alvin 9867) I had somehow overlooked. She demonstrated it to me and sure enough, it worked! A beautiful sharp point on a soft pencil. It has a large and small opening for pencils of various barrel sizes. About the size of a quarter it’s pretty expensive at nearly $9.00, but the blades are changeable and what’s a little dough compared to a sharp pastel pencil point. Nada!
I took my treasure to the studio and used it on all the pitiful points of my various pencils. Success! I went back and got another one and all the extra blades they had. Then in preparing to write this blog, I did a quick glance at the Dakota catalog. Sure enough, they listed this little sharpener as well as the Dahle 133 (p. 52) which they claim works with all the pastel pencils they offer. This will be my next purchase even though it costs $18.95. I'll let you know how it works.
The Final Point
Here is the “take away…”
- Pastel pencils can be sharpened successfully and easily.
- Make friends with the wonderful people at your local art supply store. They are an invaluable resource.
- Don’t overlook the obvious. I had a great catalog with a potential solution right under my nose…well not really…it was in the closet under a stack of books.
So, use your pencils with abandon knowing you CAN sharpen them to a perfect point with the right tools, but I don't think I'd try them on on ice cream.
It really is too much to take in all at once. To think that I am standing on the same oak floors in front of the very checkout counter where Mary Cassatt and Edgar Degas once stood buying art supplies…pastels most probably…just as I am doing! This sliver of a building across from the Seine has been owned by the same family since it opened in 1884 and has been frequented by artists, famous and otherwise, for generations. In spite of a computerized checkout and inventory system, it is plain that the building has not been modernized; the floors creak and an impossibly narrow wooden spiral staircase leads to the second floor, materials are organized, but crowded all together. Every tiny space is used and there is hardly enough room to walk. As I stand at the glass counter that lines one side of the shop considering whether or not to purchase outrageously expensive handmade pastels, I am jostled unexpectedly and turn to see who my shoulder has connected with. I catch my breath.
He is young, maybe late twenties, about 5’9”, with creamy, light caramel skin and black, slightly curly hair pulled tautly into a pony tail that does not hang loose but is instead caught up under its red wrap creating a loop of hair, an Asian Warrior look in spite of the escaping tendrils at his temples and the back of his neck that should look effeminate but don't. His features are finely drawn; a long, thin nose and a wide, expressive, perfectly-formed mouth that smiles easily. His eyes are, perhaps, green (it hard to tell in this light) and ringed with dark black lashes. He has small ears and in one there is a dangling earring of an unusual shape, silver with a red stone. He is quite slim, but not gaunt and holds himself straight, but not stiff, graceful in the way that a dancer or figure skater is graceful, fully aware of exactly how his body occupies the space. He is singularly beautiful. But even more engaging than his beauty is his sense of style, although the word seems much too superficial to describe the thoughtfulness and depth of self-knowledge that must have gone into his every choice of garment and accessory.
I am a woman of “a certain age” or more truthfully, of certain age, but the thrill that I felt at 18 of being so close to a beautiful young man is fresh to me in this very moment. Unlike my 18 year-old self, I take a quick inventory of my feelings. This feeling is not lust (I think I am still capable of lust, but this is not it) though I don’t rightly know what to call it. It seems to arise not from a sexual impulse, but from an aesthetic one.
I take in the crisp, long-sleeved, black shirt buttoned all the way to the mandarin collar, the fine, lightweight wool vest, also black, and then in spite of myself, my eyes move down to the thick black waistband with a red silk cord knotted in front and long, wide-legged trousers ending just above beautiful black leather boots. The trousers are made of a felted material and stand slightly away from his body like culottes, suggesting his legs beneath, but not revealing their outline. These are especially striking because so many of the young men I have seen here in Paris are wearing very tight pants, usually denim, that leave nothing whatsoever to the imagination. On the middle finger of his left hand there is a ring that covers almost the whole finger. It is silver set with onyx and hinged to allow movement of the finger. It is in the shape of a dragon. It is spectacular. At last, my eyes move back to his face. He is smiling at me. I say with profound appreciation, “Beautiful…perfect.” He says with great tenderness, “Thank you."
I finish my purchase of the expensive pastels (for now I simply have to have them), look around for my grown son, take his arm, and leave. But I can’t get the image of this young man out of my mind. As we are walking alongside the Seine, I tell my son about my experience emphasizing the aesthetics of the moment knowing he would appreciate it from that perspective because he, too, is an artist. I laughingly mention that if I had encountered this young man at 18, I would have been inexorably drawn to him and in so saying realize that in fact, I am, today… at this age …also inexorably drawn to him. The confidence, the eye for beauty, the poetry of carefully chosen ornament and graceful motion are, in fact, timeless.
Later, I am talking with my son about some art-related idea, and I bring up the image of the young man again. “Mom it’s been two days, and you are still talking about this guy. What’s the deal?” I am brought up short. Yes, indeed, what IS the deal?
At home, months later, I am still wondering. Is my abiding affair with the young’s man’s image about lost youth or is it saying something to me that I need to know as an artist? Something about style or, perhaps, beauty, or both?
I think of the over-used, slightly gushy term “Style Icon” and immediately the image of a well-known octogenarian New York style-setter comes to mind. I saw her in a recent magazine photo posed dramatically holding various feathered bird sculptures while wearing her signature huge black-rimmed glasses and pounds of exquisite turquoise jewelry hanging on her slight frame. She did not look like she had had “work done”, that thoroughly modern euphemism for the cosmetic surgery that is almost ubiquitous among the smart set of style icons. Her face was wrinkled and hugely expressive. She looked fantastic in every sense of the word.
Clearly, style has nothing to do with age or gender. But, what about resources? While it is true that both the young man and the octogenarian must have adequate resources to accomplish the images they have chosen, I think of my Aunt Kitty who was not rich or even well-off though when I was a child, I thought she was.
Aunt Kitty had Style. She hand-knitted her clothes (straight skirts and simple sweaters) in classy, neutral shades, wore her hair haphazardly twisted up on her head secured with tortoise shell chopsticks, and used no makeup. This was in the 1950's when shirtwaist dresses, stiff, salon-styled hair, and generously-applied, movie star make-up were the norm. She was very petite and had only three pieces of jewelry that I remember, a dramatic gold cuff bracelet on her right wrist, an enormous man’s watch with a broad brown leather strap on her left (other women were wearing dainty diamond or rhinestone-encrusted watches), and her wedding ring, and somehow, nothing else was needed. She wore the best leather shoes she could afford and had leather purses that emphatically did NOT match her shoes. She never looked over-dressed or under-dressed. She never looked uncomfortable. She always looked unique. I thought she was beautiful.
Because I am an artist and have always seen the world through aesthetic eyes, I have an interest in beauty; how it is defined and what it means. When I think about what these three people have in common, it is clear to me that each captured not only personal style but also beauty in a unique way. But that beauty, in truth, is less about the visual image than it is about the refusal to be aesthetically constrained by societal expectations and even more meaningfully, about the courage it takes to be exactly who one is without apology and with verve.
On reflection it seems to me that courage must be an essential ingredient of both style and beauty. At last I realize, it is the courage of the young man, expressed aesthetically in his dress and in his manner, that so engaged me and engages me still. This is the kind of courage I look for in my work as an artist. To paint, not what is expected, but what I truly see, to have the courage to be exactly who I am.
This space is to share thoughts, resources, ideas, strategies, challenges, and success in both the business of art and the creating of art. I hope that people visiting this site will find it useful and interesting. My intention is to post whenever I have something to say, but at least weekly.
Here are some guidelines for blogging in this space:
1. Please be polite, kind and respectful. The “Golden Rule” is a good guideline. Keep in mind that tone (especially humor) is easily misunderstood. If there is a chance you might be misunderstood, try an emoji.
2. Identify yourself by name. Just good manners, really.
3. Use this space to share your resources, ideas, challenges and successes, but don't write just to promote yourself.
4. Blogging can be such a lonely occupation and those replies really help connect us. So, reply any time you think it will expand the conversation or help someone.
Thanks for joining me.