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Friends Always

When I was a kid, there was a phrase that meant “great!” It was, “Out of sight!”. “Man, this cheeseburger is out of sight!” usually, “out-a-sight!”  I was going to to call this painting “Friends are out of sight!” because friends are great, and each of these 3 friends are there for each other even when they are invisible. Ghosts dissappear, black cats can’t be seen in the dark, and the moon seems to disappear once a month. With these three particular friends, they are still right there even when they can’t be seen, but real friends are there for you even when they’re not actually there. You know they will stand up for you, and encourage you, and protect you even when you are apart. Now, that’s “Out of sight!”

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Kali Sky

What feelings does this painting stir in you?

My latest sumi landscape is a combination of my recent sumi paintings with the “Kali Night” series. This was done on a handmade Indian watercolor paper. It has a softer look than previous paintings from either series; a kind of “after the storm” feel. I try to evoke human emotions with these paintings, but I leave it to you to infer what emotion you connect with. People would see Rothko’s brightly colored paintings and interpret them as being happy, and he hated that. He would refuse to sell a painting to someone who misunderstood his painting. I think of it as more of a conversation. I’m not dictating to a stenographer, I’m communicating with you.

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Kali Night V

I’ve been working on this for a few days and I think it’s getting close. Either that or I’m going to start over lol. I wanted to do a big kali Night painting on watercolor paper with watercolors. I’ve been doing them small in ink on a really absorbant paper from the Himalayas, which is culturally poetic, but I wanted to see what I could do with a medium I have more experience with after learning on a less forgiving media. Turns out I face many of the same difficulties.

Having said that, it is nice to really wade into watercolors again. There’s a much more alchemical feel to them, because the colors interact with each other differently. With inks they’re all just basically dyes. At least the ones I was using, anyway.

Let me know what you think.

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Everything Spins

I’ve been getting into a lot of musical biographies lately. It’s really inspiring to hear the creative journey of people like George Harrison and John Coltrane; their musical genius is wrapped up in spiritual expression. I identify with that quite a bit.

From the microscopic atom, with its orbiting electrons, to our planet rotating on its axis, which orbits the star we call the Sun, which also spins and orbits the galaxy, which itself rotates around its center, everything is spinning and swirling in a circular motion. It’s fascinating to me that electricity is generated this way as well. Is this why dervishes whirl? I think it is Probable, even though the method was developed in the thirteenth century by Rumi himself. (if Rumi had taken up Asian style calligraphy, he would have been Rumi the sumi sufi.)

This piece is part of a series and was done with acrylic, ink, and digital media. Buy the shirt here.

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Chinese Ash Sumi Painting

 

I have been wanting to paint a large scale sumi painting. For me this means about 20×30 inches. I know there are much larger paintings, but I have been doing 5×7 ones. The handmade paper I get comes in 20×30 & I’ve been cutting down to make folios for my sketchbook. You use a whole different set of muscles when you work larger scale. This is my first one. It’s a tree on the property of my apartment complex and I think it lends itself nicely to the project. I did a sketch first because the materials can be costly working large, if you have to throw away a bunch of mistakes. I don’t normally make preliminary sketches, primarily because I’m so lazy, but in this instance I wanted to get a feel for for how things might play out. It was helpful for composition and knowing which brushes would be useful and other procedural processes.

Legitimate problems with too much preliminary work is that it can reduce the improvisational surprises that can keep your work lively. Also, if your sketch comes out better than your actual work, it can be a drag, because usually it’s done with cheap paper and materials. But, many people do sketches of different angles, compositions, color comps, and really like to lock down all the details before rendering the final piece. I tend to work out a lot of that with my reference photos. I generally take all my own references, and since the advent of digital photography, there’s no reason not to experiment at this level. It’s important to get lighting, angles and composition just right in reference photos so your final piece has as much worked out in advance as possible. This way, my drawing can be loose on the final and keep as much energy as possible. There’s a saying that if you’re not enjoying it, you audience won’t enjoy it. If you’re not surprised, and interested by your work, your audience won’t be either.

The sumi style requires painting without an under drawing on your paper, so that’s why doing a separate preliminary painting can be helpful.

I may work on the final more. I had to stop because my children woke up from their naps. One of the challenges was getting a light touch on the delicate foliage using ink on absorbant paper, so there is a light look that may be too light. Also, working large requires photographing the piece rather than scanning it.

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Sumi Dragon sketch

Here is my 1st attempt at a traditional sumi Dragon. I’ve done sumi Dragons before, but those were done in a kind of one stroke method that I thought best utilized the energy channeling zen technique of Hitsuzendō. When I first started translating Hitsuzendō from calligraphy to painting, I hadn’t realized the breadth of the sumi style. I was trying to do calligraphy in picture form. I still really like the way that kind of image comes out, but I’m trying to to be more true to the sumi heritage while also learning to apply it to my more traditionally Western style of painting. That is a total contradiction I know, but luckily Taoism and tàijítú allow for, and indeed rely on contradictions.

This image is really tiny; and I realized I’d like to do this kind of thing on a large scale, so I have to figure out how to make that happen. The problem with that is, this kind of technique doesn’t lend itself to corrections, and materials can be expensive on a large scale, so I’m going to need some practice.

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Secret Jumblies project

Since it’s national poetry month, I thought I would share my secret project with you. I’m working on illustrations for my favorite poem; “The Jumblies,” by Edward Lear.  My 1st sketch shows the seive with the pea green veil. In this sketch, we have a frog and a hedgehog in the seive. My confusion is, are the characters in the seive the jumblies? Are they the ones whose heads are green and hands are blue? Or are the ones in the seive traveling to the land of the jumblies whose heads and hands are so colorful? For this sketch, I have decided the latter. In the preponderance of illustrations I’ve seen so far of this poem (that are in color) the characters in the seive have the colorful anatomy. So my illustration is contrary. That seems like reason enough, but my main thinking is those with green heads and blue hands are unusual, and would live in lands that are far and few. I will show you more sketches as they come. It’s a long, detailed poem, full of fanciful imagery, so it should be a lot of fun.

THE JUMBLIES.

I.
THEY went to sea in a Sieve, they did,

In a Sieve they went to sea:

In spite of all their friends could say,

On a winter’s morn, on a stormy day,

In a Sieve they went to sea!

And when the Sieve turned round and round,

And every one cried, “You’ll all be drowned!”

They cried aloud, “Our Sieve ain’t big,

But we don’t care a button, we don’t care a fig!

In a Sieve we’ll go to sea!”

Far and few, far and few,

Are the lands where the Jumblies live;

Their heads are green, and their hands are blue,

And they went to sea in a Sieve.

II.
They sailed away in a Sieve, they did,

In a Sieve they sailed so fast,

With only a beautiful pea-green veil

Tied with a riband, by way of a sail,

To a small tobacco-pipe mast;

And every one said, who saw them go,

“O won’t they be soon upset, you know!

For the sky is dark, and the voyage is long,

And happen what may, it’s extremely wrong

In a Sieve to sail so fast!”

Far and few, far and few,

Are the lands where the Jumblies live;

Their heads are green, and their hands are blue,

And they went to sea in a Sieve.

III.
The water it soon came in, it did,

The water it soon came in;

So to keep them dry, they wrapped their feet

In a pinky paper all folded neat,

And they fastened it down with a pin.

And they passed the night in a crockery-jar,

And each of them said, “How wise we are!

Though the sky be dark, and the voyage be long,

Yet we never can think we were rash or wrong,

While round in our Sieve we spin!”

Far and few, far and few,

Are the lands where the Jumblies live;

Their heads are green, and their hands are blue,

And they went to sea in a Sieve.

IV.
And all night long they sailed away;

And when the sun went down,

They whistled and warbled a moony song

To the echoing sound of a coppery gong,

In the shade of the mountains brown.

“O Timballo! How happy we are,

When we live in a Sieve and a crockery-jar,

And all night long in the moonlight pale,

We sail away with a pea-green sail,

In the shade of the mountains brown!”

Far and few, far and few,

Are the lands where the Jumblies live;

Their heads are green, and their hands are blue,

And they went to sea in a Sieve.
V.
They sailed to the Western sea, they did,

To a land all covered with trees,

And they bought an Owl, and a useful Cart,

And a pound of Rice, and a Cranberry Tart,

And a hive of silvery Bees.

And they bought a Pig, and some green Jack-daws,

And a lovely Monkey with lollipop paws,

And forty bottles of Ring-Bo-Ree,

And no end of Stilton Cheese.

Far and few, far and few,

Are the lands where the Jumblies live;

Their heads are green, and their hands are blue,

And they went to sea in a Sieve.
VI.
And in twenty years they all came back,

In twenty years or more,

And every one said, “How tall they’ve grown!

For they’ve been to the Lakes, and the Torrible Zone,

And the hills of the Chankly Bore;”

And they drank their health, and gave them a feast

Of dumplings made of beautiful yeast;

And every one said, “If we only live,

We too will go to sea in a Sieve—

To the hills of the Chankly Bore!”

Far and few, far and few,

Are the lands where the Jumblies live;

Their heads are green, and their hands are blue,

And they went to sea in a Sieve.

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Sumi Moon painting Color

I made this piece for my son, Gabriel, who is obsessed with the moon. Originally, I had planned on making it more detailed, but I really like the energy of this direct and simple execution. I am experimenting with this zen style of painting. The idea of the style is to empty your mind and let the energy of your spirit flow into the painting. When executing a Kanji calligraphy, the calligrapher would concentrate on the word or phrase and Chanel the energy of that into the calligraphy. When I do Sanskrit Calligraphy that’s what I do. It’s kind of a learning curve. I get a small brush and practice the word over and over until I’m comfortable with it. Even if it’s a word I know really well. Then I prepare several sheets of paper and execute the word full size several times. Sometimes I do several full size practices 1st, but if I have enough good paper, I just go for it, because sometimes the best one is what you thought was a practice one, and if you did it on practice paper, you’re screwed. At the end of the session, I’m exhausted and maybe have one or two good pieces. Maybe none came out good enough. It’s hard to tell because the aesthetic is different from traditional calligraphy. It has to have a vibe to it. It should also be relatively centered on the page and not have any glaring mistakes or drips.

A scene involving multiple subjects and composition and thought about meaning, mood, color, brushes, inks, requires too much mental activity to do it all in advance and then just execute a plan, like a well rehearsed dance. Spontaneity is a big part of of these pieces. It’s not Bach, it’s the blues. Pieces like the sumi moons on blue paper, are fairly spontaneous; I’ve painted similar scenes enough to not have to plan it out too much to get the right feel. Still the process of emptying my mind is the new element that has to fit into the puzzle. It’s difficult to do it for a prolonged period of time.

For this piece, I thought I would start with this simple moon/sky. First I did it in black; a series of enso circles to define the moon and the surrounding sky, then broader with water, to create a wash. Then back in with gold for the moon and a halo, and then blue violet for the sky, using the same technique. For each stroke, I empty my mind, breath out, breath in and then execute the stroke on the exhale, driving the energy through my body and down my arm and into the painting with each stroke. Then I had planned to go back and add detail to the moon, perhaps a ground beneath, maybe the ocean. Maybe add clouds, or stars. However, I was struck by the energy in the underpainting, and I thought further detail would weaken what seemed to me to be a strong piece. It’s for my son anyway, and not really for sale, so it doesn’t matter if it’s polished or not. He’s two years old. Almost three. But it was a real learning experience. To reset after each stroke, concentrate on what I am doing and not what I did or what I am going to do. This is the goal of this kind of technique. It’s a meditation practice for monks. Hopefully, I can keep this lesson learned.

A print of this piece can be purchased here.

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Adelia

 

My daughter Adelia is just 7 months old. I did this when she was pretty new. Probably at 3 mo. I love being a father. I am also father to 2 yr. old Gabriel. Adelia, btw had just this moment, fallen asleep in my arms. She was fussy when I started this post, so I’m holding her in one arm & typing with the other.

Anyway, what I wanted to tell you is that she is developing such a great personality! She laughs and is tough and determined to work hard to sit up & crawl, and become chief justice of the Supreme Court. I swear she is already talking.

I love doing portraits of my children even if they are quick sketches. Lately, I have been working on a children’s book, and raising these two wonderful monsters, but I think I get the most personal enjoyment painting my children. Of course they love to participate and Gabriel has made many improvements to my drawings.

Update/3-29-18

At 9 months old, Adelia is almost standing on her own. (she uses lots of things to pull herself up and support her.) she’s crawling faster than Gabriel ever did. We’ve put up barriers until the place looks like Minas Tirith, but to no avail: she overcomes every obstacle. She follows me everywhere and climbs up into my heart.

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