My little brother’s name is James. I wanted to name him Pete, but Mother and Daddy didn’t like that. “Where did you hear that name?” Maybe he told me before he came to us from Heaven, but I didn’t tell them that. I just shrugged and wondered why he couldn’t be Pete. Mother says both our names come from the Bible and they both start with the letter “J” -James and Judith. Only they call me Judy so I guess I could call him Pete if I wanted to, but I won’t. Not out loud, anyway.
My little brother James is building a road for his little cars with the help of his dump truck. We are playing in the cool morning shade of the house. His dump truck is filled with sand scooped up with one of Mother’s metal spoons. The dump truck is still shiny blue except for the few rust spots where the paint has worn away. The dump truck has a little seat on the top, just the right size for his little 3-year-old hiney, but he’s too busy building roads to ride on the truck. There was a thick wire handle attached to the front for steering, but right now he’s using it as a hammer to smooth away at the clumps of clay where the sand got washed off by the rain.. “Rood’n, rood’n” he says. That’s what he thinks a dump truck sounds like. “Rood’n, rood’n, rood’n” the dump truck gets louder as it climbs the little hill where another load of sand was dumped.
I’m busy making mud pies, like Nannie taught me. I mix the sand and powdered clay with water in my little toy mixing bowl. I pack the mud into my little toy pan. The mixing bowl and pan are part of a little toy cooking set I got for my third birthday. It’s pretty fancy. Besides the bowl and cooking pan I have a little toy egg beater with a red handle and a little rolling pin Poor Nannie. She only has coffee cans and mason jars to make her mud pies. But she has lots of pretty flowers in her yard that we use to decorate the pies after they’ve baked. And I have my very own pretties that I can use for decorating! Yesterday when we went to get the cows, I filled my skirt with treasures! I have three smooth acorns with the tops still on them, and two locust shells that were stuck to the tree, but I got them off without breaking any of their legs! And I found four shiny rocks by the creek!
I set my pie in the sun to bake. By tomorrow, if it doesn’t rain, it will be hard and I can gently take it out of the pan so as not to break it, and then I can put frosting on it. Nannie gave me a piece of her old red brick that I can grind into a powder by rubbing it against a big rock, then mix it with water and spread it on top of the pie with Mother’s spoon. It surely makes a pretty frosting.
Mother only has four little spoons – one for each of us – and four big spoons that she uses to stir things, or to scoop mashed potatoes out of the big bowl. We have four plates and four cups and four saucers. My Aunt gave them to us because she didn’t need them any more and we did. Mother is a little embarrassed because the dishes don’t match. I like the bright yellow ones and James likes the blue ones. Daddy gets the green ones and Mother gets the orange ones. She says the dishes have a name and that’s “Fiesta” because Fiesta means “Happy!” And they’re all happy colors so it doesn’t matter that they don’t match. Anyway, we don’t have company for dinner very often. Our house is too little for company and anyway, where would they sit? We only have three chairs and James’ high chair.
In the front room is where we sleep. Mother and I sleep in the big bed on one side of the room and Daddy and James sleep in the other big bed. In the winter we have a stove in the middle of the room. Daddy gets up early in the morning and puts wood inside the stove and makes a fire and soon it’s warm enough that the rest of us can get out from under the heavy quilts and put our warm clothes on. I can stand close to the stove to make my clothes feel warmer, but not too close or I might burn myself.
I like to peek out the window when it’s cold because Jack Frost leaves pretty pictures on the glass while we’re sleeping. If you blow your breath on the pictures they will melt into water that runs down the glass and ruins the other pretty pictures. I tried it a couple of times but decided I like the pretty pictures to stay as long as they will. We can’t see him do it because of the quilts hanging in front of the windows. But we have to have them because it would get too cold for us to sleep at night after the fire goes out. But in the summer Mother takes the quilts down and we can see outside again. I have to stay inside a lot in the winter because I might get the croup. Sometimes I cough so hard I can’t sleep so Mother puts liniment on a rag (it’s really one of James’ old diapers) and pins it around my neck with a big safety pin and it burns my eyes but feels good on my chest and I can breathe better, but I still have to sleep propped up with a pillow because if I lay down I’ll start coughing again. Anyway if I run outside in the winter the cold air gives me the croup.
Our other room has a much bigger stove because it has to have room for Mother to cook our food. In the summer she has to go outside to get wood to build the fire in the cook stove, but in the winter we keep a pile inside so she doesn’t have to go out in the cold so early in the morning. One time in the winter, Daddy found a snake in the wood pile! He must have brought it inside while it was sleeping, but when the room warmed up the snake woke up! You can be sure he put that snake back outside where he belonged!
There’s a tall table by the back door where the water bucket goes. Mother draws water out of the well to fill the big bucket. Sometimes she lets me let the well bucket down the round pipe that goes down into the water. If you drop a little rock down the pipe you can hear it splash when it hits the water. You can also holler down into the well and Little Sir Echo will answer you! I have to be careful to hold tight on the rope because if it slips I’ll get splinters from the rope in my hands. When the bucket is full it’s very heavy so Mother has to help me pull it back up. Then we empty it into the house bucket and take it inside and put the dipper in it so we can get a cold drink of water whenever we’re thirsty.
This morning when Mother made biscuits and gravy for breakfast we had fresh butter that she churned yesterday and it was fun watching it melt into the hot biscuits. it took a while for it to melt because it was in the ice box and the big block of ice that the ice man brought kept it nice and cool and fresh.
James has been using the spoon for a long time and I think it’s about my turn “No!” he says. “It’s my turn!”
“No!” I say. “It’s my turn!” and I grab the spoon from his chubby little hand and right away start mixing my frosting.
I am sitting on the screened porch at my friend Mike’s house. Inside is dark and the porch, though damp and windy, at least offers a bit of daylight and renewal of our spirits.
We had concluded, with encouragement from our adult children, that two seniors who love to live alone would be wise to take shelter together during a storm! By the time I had my car prepared to travel north to where my daughters lived, the highways were already congested with evacuees from south Florida, and gasoline supply was running scarce. So Mike welcomed me into his home, laid out a pair of twin-size mattresses end-to-end, taking up all the floor space in the hall, the safest place in the house He even welcomed my cat Stitch, who was cozied up in the guest bathroom with his food, water and bed and plenty of treats. The door to the bathroom was right next to the head of my mattress.
The night before had been rough. By the time we were ready to sleep, we had already lost power, so it was very dark. The wind whistled and roared. Branches crashed on the roof and Stitch howled in the bathroom. The top of Mikes’ head was inches from the top of my head and I wondered how he slept, but he did. Once I woke him up saying “Mike, I’m scared!” He didn’t remember saying “Just lay back down. Everything’s going to be ok.” I crawled into the bathroom, spread a towel on the floor and lay down next to Stitch and we comforted each other until soft morning light crept through the bathroom widow.
Mike heated water on the gas stove to make coffee, so now we sit on the porch sipping coffee and we wait. The clouds are dark and heavy and it’s still raining sideways! The trees are bent from the howling wind. Broken branches and fallen trees litter the streets and yards and roofs of houses in the neighborhood. We sit and watch and wait for the power to come back on. We sit and watch and wait for Hurricane Irma to determine our fate. Without power, there is no news from the TV or the internet. The last report we heard had warned us that Irma was still heading our way.
Irma is angry! And we are angry with Irma! How dare she roar into our lives and disrupt our routines! We curse her and disparage her name. While we wait, I make doodles in my sketchpad.
Irmadoodle 1, 2 and 3
“Maybe we should be nicer to her? I say. “She’s just doing what hurricanes are supposed to do. It’s not her fault that we happen to be in her path.”
“Yeah, right” Mike said. “Why don’t you talk to her, then.”
So I did.
I look up at the sky and I talk to her like I would talk to a sister in distress.
“Irma. I know that you’re just doing what’s in your nature. Maybe you’re upset about how we’ve been disrespecting Nature, throwing our trash around and cutting down trees, digging treasures out of the earth and spilling horrible things into the waters. And I’m sure you must be upset with how we’ve been talking about you and saying mean things about you. But I’m asking you if you can’t just go way out in the ocean and calm down a little. Just take a deep breath and move away from the land where there are innocent people who could be hurt by your wrath. Please. We’ll try to do better. I promise.”
Now I’ll admit that I’m just making conversation while we wait and this little speech is my attempt to bring a little lightness into the situation. At the same time, however, I sort of believe – or want to believe – that she is listening.
Suddenly the rain slows down. The wind calms. And the two paddle fans on the porch slowly start turning! The power is back on! Mike and I look at each other with wide eyes and mouths hanging open.
“Did that just happen?” he says.
“What? You doubted?” I fire back and we laugh, if for no other reason than the amazing synchronicity of it.
The TV comes on and we rush inside to see what’s happening on the news. “Hurricane Irma has changed direction and appears to be heading out into the Gulf.”
Later that day I feel secure enough to pack up all my stuff, and Stitch and his stuff, and we’re ready to go home!. As I drive up the street from Mike’s house someone with a chain saw is cutting up a tree that fell across the street onto a power line, just in time to let me pass. On the way home I take detours where fallen trees block my usual route. Leaves, branches and debris are everywhere. Water stands in deep puddles, blocking lanes of traffic. When I get home I notice that the apartment across the street has a huge tree limb through the roof! I am relieved that my place is intact.
Stitch is so happy to be home! He demands his food, then demands to go to his favorite place – HIS back porch. I sit with him, looking out into my little back yard. The clouds are dark and dreary. It’s not raining, but the trees are still dripping. I am depressed. I am sad. I keep thinking about the things I said to Irma and I am worried about what we’re doing to Nature. And can I keep my promise? I promised that we’d do better!
Suddenly the dark clouds separate and a blinding flash of sunlight bursts through and lights up the entire back yard! The water droplets on the leaves flash sparkles of brilliant light and the light dances around the little yard! And just as suddenly I feel calm. No! I feel comforted and amused – even excited! I sense that the Ultimate Creator, through Creation – Nature – is reassuring me: “Don’t worry! We’ve got this!”
I came back inside and paint. This painting. As it nears completion, it names itself, by putting this word in my mind:: “Reclamation!”
We can cover the earth with asphalt, but the grass will eventually break through and Nature will reclaim Her own. Our species is the only one who vandalizes and disrespects nature for the benefit of our convenience, our greed, our fears and the glorification of our ego-minds. We may destroy our species, but Nature will reclaim its own.
Acrylic on 30″ x 40″ Canvas
Every Painting has a Story
A new show at the local Arts Organization was announced. The theme this time was “Black and White.” I only had a week to finish my entry and I had a new 30″ x 40″ canvas I was excited to explore with black and white acrylics.
Using a large brush, I began to cover the entire canvas with Titanium White and Carbon Black Acrylic paint, The canvas was sitting vertical on the easel, so I started at the top and brought the brush strokes down, all the way to the bottom, one at a time with careful intention NOT to make them straight, first white, then black. Each brush stroke started next to a previous one, first on one side, then the other, alternating black and white and following the curve of the previous stroke. Some of the strokes were wide and some were narrow, and I noticed that the wider strokes seemed to want to separate as I brought the brush down, and split the line into slightly different directions. I was pleased. I like variety!
At least half of the time I spend on a painting is siting in a chair, looking at it as it rests on the easel or on the wall. All of my walls display unfinished paintings. While I am looking at a painting, I am asking two questions. 1. What is the painting trying to tell me? and 2. Is there anything in this painting that distracts me from total enjoyment of the visual before me?
When I get an answer to either question, I pick up my brush and respond. Sometimes the answers don’t come right away. So I leave it on the wall or on the easel so that I can see it as I go about my other business. Sometimes there are several unfinished paintings, waiting for me to ask the right questions, to see the answers. I turn them often – even landscapes, portraits or still life, – so that I can see them from a new perspective.
Sometimes a painting-in-progress will almost scream out to me: “Hey! See this line? Follow it!” or “Do you really want to leave that smudge of gray there? You know it doesn’t really belong.” I always ask the painting – NOT myself, because when I ask myself my whiny ego-mind will respond with the most unhelpful answers. “What’s WRONG with this?” “Why did you choose these colors? They won’t match anyone’s couch!” “No one will ever buy this!” “This will never be a good painting! What ever made you think you could paint? You need to start over!”
See what I mean?
So this painting-in-progress is gleefully shouting “I’m a zebra! Whee! The fuzzy edges on these black and white stripes are distracting from my glorious patterns!” So I gleefully clean up the fuzzy edges.
The painting draws my attention to an area where the black lines seem to converge, and tells me it’s important – it’s a focal point. Looking closely I see a tiny white dot in the black space. “Go with that!” the painting says. “Oh no!” Ego-mind says. “Not more dots! Everyone will think that’s all you know how to do! Haven’t you done enough paintings with dots?”
So, dots it is. Spiraling outward from the small dot in the center. White dots on the black stripes, black dots on the white stripes. I’m noticing that sometimes they get larger and sometimes they get smaller. Sometimes closer together. Sometimes farther apart. Yet still spiraling out from the first white dot.
I want to work all night. But I have to take my turn to work at the Cedar Keyhole Artists Co-op Gallery next day, which is Saturday. I must have the painting finished by Sunday and at the gallery no later than 4:00 p.m.
Saturday morning I pack up the canvas, my black and white acrylic paints and my brushes. Maybe I’ll have time to work on it in the co-op gallery if it’s not too busy.
It’s an hour’s drive to Cedar Key. I arrived an hour before opening time, got the cash drawer set up and did my opening duties. I brought the painting in but didn’t get a chance to work on it all day, but at least I could look at it.
The co-op closes at 5:00 but typically business slows around 4:00. I started making preparations to close so I could leave as soon after 5:00 as possible. On this day there was one person in the gallery, browsing the art work. She went upstairs to check out the upstairs gallery. Suddenly I felt really sick. I had cold sweats, my heart was pounding, my face was tingling and I felt like I was going to pass out. When the woman came downstairs I asked her if she would stay with me for a few minutes. She took one good look at me and called 9-1-1.
The local ambulance arrived within minutes and parked in front of the gallery with lights flashing. Blood pressure checked out ok, heart rate ok, but they wanted to take me to Gainesville to the hospital for further examination. “What about my car? I live in Gainesville! How will I get my car? and my painting!” I protested as they loaded me onto the gurney and the woman called one of the local members of the co-op to close the gallery for me. In the ambulance they hooked me up to monitors and I could see the gallery (where my unfinished painting leaned against the wall behind the desk) and my car, fading into the distance as we began the hour-long drive back to Gainesville.
Half way there, I burped and felt better. “Can you take me back to my car and my painting? I’m fine now!” The EMT shook his head and said “That’s not happening. You can refuse admission when you get to the ER, but we can’t take you back.”
For the next 8 hours I sat in the ER waiting room while more urgent cases were treated. I felt fine, but I couldn’t leave because I had no car. And if I did find a way home, my car and my painting were still in Cedar Key. So I stayed. And I waited. My phone got no reception inside, but I finally learned I could use the land line in the waiting room to call my daughters and one of the co-op members to let them know where I was. And I waited. With nothing to do except think about how I could be using this time to finish that painting. .
Around 6:00 a.m. they had a room for me in the ER where the doctor confirmed that all my vitals were normal, but he wanted me to have an MRI, an EKG and maybe some other tests I don’t remember, all of which I had to wait for, and all of which were normal. They could find nothing wrong with me and discharged me after setting up a follow-up with my primary care physician.
I called my friend Mike, who picked me up at the hospital, made me some breakfast (I hadn’t eaten since lunch on Saturday) and he drove me to Cedar Key to get my car and my painting!
On the drive back to Gainesville, with my unfinished painting in the back, I wondered how I could possibly complete it and get it to the gallery on time. . I kept thinking about those black and white stripes, like a zebra, and about 18 inches at the bottom of the painting that had no dots. That’s when the word “Zebraic” popped into my head. I wondered if it was a real word.
It was almost 1;00 p.m. when I pulled into my driveway, grabbed the canvas and my paints and brushes and rushed inside. I optimistically attached a hanging wire to the back of the canvas. But there was one more thing I had to do before I could complete the rest of the dots.
I googled the word “Zebraic.”
ze·bra·ic | \ zə̇ˈbrāik, zeˈ-, -āēk\
Having authenticated the title, (How could I have doubted? The paintings always tell me the best name for them) I could now finish the painting. At 3:30 I signed it and ran to my car with the painting and rushed to the gallery, arriving at 3:55 p.m! Some of the larger dots were still a little wet, so I asked them to handle it carefully as they hung it with the other entries.
The dots are thick paint, by the way, adding dimension and texture to the painting and I invite touching.
PS. It turns out that my trip to the ER was a result of side effects from taking Omeprazole prescribed for acid reflux. I found out by asking the pharmacist. Healthier eating habits have enabled me to stop the acid reflux and prevent further episodes like this one!
Acrylic, Collage, Micro-Beads on 40″ x 30″ Canvas. copyright 2016, Judi Cain
Accepting a Challenge
In 2016, our local arts organization gallery issued a “call to artists” for entries in a themed show for the following month. The theme was “Collage” so I set out to make a collage.
I browsed through my stack of 1950’s Life Magazines that I bought at a flea market years ago and hoarded for no other reason than they still existed after all these years, and someone should take care of them.
One of the magazines, dated 1954, featured a section honoring photographers for their black and white photography, and one of those photographs, spreading across two pages, drew me in to look deeper. The photographer aimed his camera looking down on a very large round table. Hands of small children rested palms down all around the table and in the center of the table was a single small box. Then I saw the title of the photograph: “The Class Hamster Died.”
I have tried to find the magazine so I could show the cover and the exact issue and give credit to the photographer. Pretty sure I didn’t throw it out, but its current location escapes me. I also searched on line for the photo and couldn’t find it, so you’ll just have to visualize it from my description.
Developing the composition
I cut the hands out of the photo and placed them in four corners of the 30″ x 40″ blank canvas. Some of them had to be copied and printed so that the hands would fit into the corners proportionately.
Since the photo was black and white, I covered the rest of the canvas with black and white acrylic paint, with no image in mind – just brushing the paint in random, flowing strokes, creating solid black areas, solid white areas and grays where they blended together. I used a small brush to paint around the small hands in the corners.
With the canvas resting on the easel, I sat in my chair and studied the lines, shapes and forms that brush strokes had formed in the paint and the small hands, now blended almost unnoticeable into the swirls of paint. “It’s supposed to be a collage, not a painting,” my critical mind demanded. So I looked for more hands.
In a Google search, I found hands in positions that sparked interest and printed them onto matte finish photo paper. I cut them out and arranged them on the canvas in a way that would create balance and direction and secured them to the canvas using Golden Matte Gel Medium. Another layer of gel medium was applied to the surface of all the paper hands, to protect them from fading and to give them a surface appearance that would blend with the acrylic paint.
More studying the painting, turning it in different directions, looking for areas that call out to me to be developed. I follow lines, acknowledge shapes, zoom in to find more subtle forms and add paint to add contrast and definition. Zooming out again I look for lines and shapes that will bring unity to the composition. At this point, I am only concerned with composition of an arrangement of shapes, forms and patterns, not trying to give any specific meaning or message in the composition. I give further definition to the developing white shapes, following the lines made by initial brush strokes, adding bright whites and darker blacks to create contrast.
Still, I can’t help thinking about the hidden story behind the events leading up to the capture of the photograph: “The Class Hamster Died.”
I discovered a small white dot in the center of the large black space. Fascinated as I am with spirals, I used thick white acrylic paint, applied from an applicator bottle to start from the white dot, following the spiral as moved around that dot.
As the painting felt like it was nearing completion I continued to study it, noticing that the hands seemed to be floating in space and not having a reason to be there – not connecting to each other giving meaning to the composition. I was still musing over the children’s hands, thinking that those children would probably be around 55 years old by now, and wondering how that experience and the photograph had impacted their lives. I thought about who I was in 1954 and how time had passed by so quickly. It was then that I thought about the “sands of time” and added silver micro beads flowing from the hands. This not only connected the hands, but also added dimension and texture to the composition.
Suddenly a phrase came into my mind: “Time Space Compression.”
The Painting Tells Me When It’s Complete, and Names Itself
I often say that the paintings paint themselves and they also name themselves. I just supply my hands and eyes, the tools and technique to help it materialize. This was not the first time I had to go to the internet and search for the meaning of the name that this painting/collage had selected. I found more than one reference for this term I had never heard of before, and was amazed that this name fit perfectly!
Here are some excepts from a Wikipedia article, and a link to the article, should you want to read more:
“Time–space compression (also known as space–time compression and time–space distantiation), articulated in 1989 by geographer David Harvey in The Condition of Postmodernity, it refers to anything that impacts time and space. Harvey’s idea was rooted in Karl Marx’s theory of the “annihilation of time and space”. A similar idea was proposed by Elmar Alvater in an article in PROKLA in 1987 translated into English as “Ecological and Economic Modalities of Time and Space” and published in Capitalism Nature Socialism, 1(3) in 1989.
Time–space compression often occurs as a result of technological innovations including technology of communication and economics.
According to theorists like Paul Virilio, time-space compression is an essential facet of contemporary life: “Today we are entering a space which is speed-space … This new other time is that of electronic transmission, of high-tech machines, and therefore, man is present in this sort of time, not via his physical presence, but via programming” (qtd. in Decron 71). In “Vitesse et Politique”, Virilio coins the term dromology to describe “speed-space.” Virilio describes velocity as the hidden side of wealth and power, which represents a determining factor concerning societies’ structures. Historical eras and political events, out of this perspective, are also speed-ratios. In his view, acceleration destroys space and compresses the time in ways of perceiving reality.
Doreen Massey maintains this idea about time-space compression in her discussion of globalization and its effect on our society. Similar to Virilio, she states that because our world is “speeding up” and “spreading out”, time-space compression is more prevalent than ever as internationalization takes place. Cultures and communities are merged during time-space compression due to rapid growth and change, as “layers upon layers” of histories fuse together to shift our ideas of what the identity of a “place” should be.
Theorists generally identify two historical periods in which time–space compression occurred; the period from the mid-19th century to the beginnings of the First World War, and the end of the 20th century. In both of these time periods, according to Jon May and Nigel Thrift, “there occurred a radical restructuring in the nature and experience of both time and space … both periods saw a significant acceleration in the pace of life concomitant with a dissolution or collapse of traditional spatial co-ordinates”.
Check out my Art Website: www.judicain.com
Nature – The Ultimate Creator – Pure Creative Energy – The Universe – God – Whatever Name you use to call upon the First and Last, The Alpha and The Omega of Creation – (Who speaks to us in whatever language we will listen) supplies us with a universe of examples for the process of creation – How Everything Works.
Throughout the history of artistic expression, humanity has observed those “guidelines” in Nature, studied them and organized them so that we may be more conscious of them as we create. I believe that this has come about because most of us, as we experience life, have lost the confidence we had as children in our ability to express our unique individual creativity. We want someone to teach us – to tell us what the rules are – so that we don’t “get it wrong” or “make mistakes.” So those who were called upon to be teachers put the “rules” into words. I learned them in a Design class as: The Elements and Principles of Design. If you research this term, you will find some variations where the basic ones that I learned have been broken down into their sub-parts, but still they are all the same and exist in all aspects of nature from the atomic particles to the cosmos.
When I learned the “Elements and Principles of Design” I memorized them as facts to remember for a test so that I could pass the course. It was not until I taught them myself that I began to understand them, and not until I began my daily practice of creating was I able to remember them as an inherent part of my makeup as a Creation of the Ultimate Creator. In other words, we were all born with this knowledge and it will return to our conscious memory with practice.
As a Teacher, here I present to you the ELEMENTS AND PRINCIPLES OF DESIGN in their clinical definitions, as I learned them. As a teacher, I ask you to read them, then look for them in all of nature, in works of art, and in everything around you that has ever been created until you understand that you already know them on an instinctive level. Then return to your daily art practice and watch for them to appear on their own in your creative endeavors. They will be there without any effort other than awareness on your part and then you will remember where they came from – the Creation of your own individual, unique personality. There never has been and never will be another exactly like you. It is your Purpose in Life to express that uniqueness through your own creativity in whatever medium you are led to and most important in creating your own life. Following it will reveal to you the depth of your own Being. You cannot remember these things by copying another artist, or having someone teach you. A teacher can only help you remember, or train you to imitate what they do. You must re-discover it through your own creative expression.
THE ELEMENTS OF DESIGN: The components of a design – any design that exists in Nature or is man-made is made up of the Elements of Design: Line, Shape, Form, Color, Texture. Some teachers have added Space and Value – which I consider to be parts of other elements. The elements are components or parts which can be isolated and defined in any visual design or work of art.
Lines are joined to create shapes. Shapes can be made to represent forms through the tools of shading and perspective. Forms are given additional dimension with the addition of color, value, space and texture.
“The elements of design can be thought of as the things that make up a painting, drawing, design etc. Good or bad – all paintings will contain most of if not all, the seven elements of design.” ~John Lovett
- Here are some dictionary definitions: (1) “A long narrow mark on a surface;” (2) “A long thin mark made by a pen, pencil, etc. (3) In geometry a line: • is straight (no curves), • has no thickness, and. • extends in both directions without end (infinitely);” “a mark connecting two points”
- My Definition: Line is a device used to separate one space from another. It shows where one object or space that we see begins and another one ends. A painter or graphic artist uses line to define a shape – to create an illusion of shape and form on a surface. We also use it to show movement or direction. When we study nature, and attempt to express what we see on a canvas or paper we will see lines that separate the trunk of the tree from the space around it. There is no thickness to the line – it is only a visual separation. Lines can be straight or curved or any of the variations shown here:
- Dictionary definition: (1 )
- My Definition: A shape is formed when lines come together to enclose a space. There are three basic shapes that make up everything we see. These basic shapes can be stretched or distorted or combined to create other shapes.
The basic shapes are circle, triangle, and square (rectangle). All other shapes are variations or combinations of these 3 basic shapes.
Circle. The circle is the dominant shape that exists in nature. With practice you will begin to see circles everywhere. Circles can be elongated to make ovals or stretched or distorted and when seen from an angle forms an ellipses but when a space is enclosed by a curved line it’s basic shape is the circle.
- Dictionary Definition: a plane figure with three straight sides and three angles.
- My Definition: When 3 straight lines are joined together to enclose a space, whether they are equal in length or of different lengths, a triangle is formed. Triangles exist in nature, but always in variations. A true triangle will not be found in nature, but it helps to be able to find them as a basic shape when drawing, especially in man-made structures or combined with other shapes.
- Dictionary definition: a plane figure with four equal straight sides and four right angles.
- My Definition: An absolute square does not exist in nature. A variation of the square is the rectangle which has 2 sets of equal straight sides and four right angles. Variations of the square exist in nature but actual squares are constructs of humans. Being able to identify squares and rectangles with their variations is helpful when composing a drawing.
We have briefly discussed the elements of Line and Shape. But the best way to understand something is to experiment with it.
Use a sketch pad that is easy to manage (8″ x 10″ is a good size – it’s small enough to carry around easily and large enough so you don’t feel so confined) Start with a pencil – a regular 2b will be fine.
Gift (yes, Gift) yourself a minimum of ten minutes EVERY DAY solely for the practice of making art. While you’re having your morning coffee or before you fall asleep at night, or any time you feel you can commit to. Soon it will become part of your daily life – making art every day. Here are some challenges to get you started.
1st Challenge: The Element of Line
Spend the first 10 minutes (or more if you can) to experiment with lines. Draw straight lines, curvy lines, vertical lines, horizontal, diagonal, – as many kinds of lines as will flow from your pencil. Experiment with pressure on the pencil to vary the darkness and lightness of the lines. Look for patterns, places to repeat lines and look for directions. Try not to think about it too much, but let your intuition guide you. The challenge is to keep it all lines – remember that when you connect lines to form shapes, you are changing the concept of this challenge.
2nd Challenge: The Element of Shape
Pick a shape – circle, square or rectangle, or triangle. Cut variations of the shape you choose from a sheet of colored paper. It can be construction paper, wrapping paper, anything that contrasts with your sketch pad page. Spend some time just laying the shapes on the page, arranging them in a way that pleases you, When you have a design that you like you can glue them down or photograph it and then make another arrangement.
Variations on this challenge:
Try using more than one color, but stay with the same basic shape.
Try using more than one basic shape, first in one color, then with more.
Come up with your own variations, experimenting with arranging basic shapes.
Next time we’ll talk about the Element of Form.
The answer is all of the above!
Regardless of how you label the color of your skin – white, black, caucasian, mongoloid, negroid, Irish, Indian, etc. – There is no living being that does not contain all colors in their pigmentation! Can you imagine if I painted a portrait of a “white” person using only white paint? Or a black person using only black paint? The colors used to paint anything and everything are the 3 primary colors – red, yellow, and blue, and variations of the primaries that you get by mixing them in various proportions. Artists buy premixed versions of red, yellow and blue because their time is better spent painting than mixing paint. Even so, rarely do we use a color straight out of the tube, but change the value and tone of the color by blending them with each other. (A funny note – you cannot buy a pre-mixed “flesh” color that matches any person’s skin tone!)
Notice that there is no black or white in the color selection. That’s because, technically, white and black are NOT colors! White paint reflects all light and black paint reflects no light. Of course I use both black and white paint, but sparingly. White is used to lighten a color. Mixing white with red, for example, causes more light reflection and we see a lighter version of red which we call pink. I only use pure white when something is so shiny that it reflects a lot of light, as in jewelry with rhinestones or diamonds. Other than jewelry or very reflective items, there is only one place in painting a portrait that I use pure black and pure white, and that is in the eyes. The pupil of the eye is an opening into the depths of the human head where no light is reflected. So I use black paint for the pupil. The pupil and the cornea are covered by a transparent moist layer that reflects the light source. If I make one tiny spot on the eye which is pure white, it gives us a point of entry through the pupil into the depth of the person I’m painting. In my portraits, the eyes are the most important part of the likeness, because I believe that the subject reveals so much of their personality through their eyes. I believe it is symbolic that pure white and pure black are used in a representation of the eyes – the “window to the soul.”
All of the tubes of paint you see in the above picture are used in all of the paintings – portraits, landscapes, still life, florals and energy paintings – that I have completed in the past 3 years. Some of the portraits in this selection were painted with watercolors, but the palette is the same. My favorites for portraits are cadmium red light, alizarin crimson, light red ochre, yellow ochre, naples yellow, cerulean blue, ultramarine blue, cadmium orange, pthalo green, sap green, burnt sienna, and paine’s grey. (Ivory black and Titanioum white.)
At the art festivals and in the co-op galleries, when people ask about my paintings, I speak as if I know what I’m talking about, with enthusiastic descriptions of the flow of “Creative Energy” as it relates to me and my art work. Today when I decided to write about Creative Energy I discovered that, in my mind, I wanted to validate my beliefs. After all, when we publish something on the internet, it’s there forever for anyone to agree or disagree, to praise or ridicule, support or challenge – right? Writing about it is different than talking about it.
So I googled “Creative Energy.” I found sites that encourage us to be creative when producing energy (to power our machines) and which linked to pages attempting to define energy from a scientific perspective and then back down stating all the ways in which energy can be defined, but is elusive and not really definable. (What?!!)
From Wikipedia there is this definition: “In physics, energy is a property of objects which can be transferred to other objects or converted into different forms. The “ability of a system to perform work” is a common description, but it is misleading because energy is not necessarily available to do work.” So much for validation. My Google search was abandoned – too confusing! But I did find this interesting discussion about energy that might provide some backup to my theories from a Scientific perspective., written in a language that even I can almost understand. I encourage you to take a look at it if you’re still interested after reading the rest of my blog http://www.ftexploring.com/me/everything.html.
After all my research I have decided that my explanation of Creative Energy is quite reasonable and needs no validation other than the paintings (and adventures) it has produced, and more important – the experience of knowing what it feels like to have Creative Energy flow through me. Today I’m going to merge my Creative Mind and My Critical Mind, allowing Creative Energy to flow freely and fearlessly through me, to create a blog. All of the information which I’m about to share with you I learned from my paintings, filtered through my own life experiences.
And speaking of Life Experiences, here’s a little background. The year is 1969. I am 25 years old. I am at my friends’ apartment. We are six friends, seated on pillows around a low square table. The room is softly lit by candles and the scent of nag champa incense and cigarette smoke fills the air. The room is cozy and we all feel safe with each other. A reel-to-reel tape recorder fills the room with the music of Ravi Shankar, The Incredible String Band, Bob Dylan, Donovan, Procol Harem and others whose names I will never know. We have been waiting all week and preparing ourselves for this evening. We sit and lie on our pillows and the music fills us while we wait for the Lysergic Acid Diethylamide (LSD or “acid”) to take effect.
I am transported to the next scene as smoothly as in an expertly edited movie. I am standing in front of the refrigerator and I can see as clearly as if I were looking into a powerful microscope, the atomic structure of the refrigerator. I am aware that it is not solid, or static, but that when I breathe in, the atoms that were an instant earlier part of the refrigerator are now part of me. And as I exhale, my breath is becoming part of the atomic/molecular structure of everything else in the room. I see that there is much space between the atoms and within them and nothing is solid. I learn that I am part of everything in the Universe and that everything in the Universe is part of me – or We Are All One. I am swimming in the cosmic soup of Life.
And that, my friends, is how we hippies of the 1960’s became tree huggers. Forever after, I knew what the Native Americans knew – that we must respect the earth – for when we walk on it, it gives us energy in exchange for energy and so it is with everything in it and on it. I learned that we are wonderfully and beautifully made from the “dust” (or atoms) of the earth, to return to the “dust” of the earth at the end of our physical days – we are made in the “Image” or Likeness of the Ultimate Creator, who is Pure Creative Energy. That means that we are also Pure Creative Energy and that It flows through us without prejudice, and we get to choose how we want to direct it and what we want to create with it. The Creative Energy is what connects the atoms and molecules that make up everything. The Energy can neither be created nor destroyed, but is continually in motion – flowing – through us and through all that is.
Without getting too technical, I can say from my experience that we connect to The Ultimate Creator and the flow of Creative Energy through the Mind. Now it seems that our mind has two parts: One I call the Creative Mind and the other Ego-Mind or Critical Mind. Each part of the mind is equally necessary but it seems, at least for me, that the Critical Mind has picked up some habits through the years that impede the flow of Creative Energy while Creative Mind is submissive and gives in too easily to the overly-cautious Critical Mind. Through practice we can learn to balance the two parts of the mind, and balance allows Creative Energy to flow freely.
Critical Mind wants us to do what is comfortable. It wants us to be careful and safe. It wants to know what the Rules are and wants to follow them precisely. In its most imbalanced state, Critical mind is paralyzed with Fear and will do anything to avoid risk. Creative mind loves to explore and play. It wants to ignore the rules and go to places it’s never been before. It cares not for safety and loves surprises. In its most imbalanced state, Creative Mind quickly loses focus and has no interest in seeing a project to completion or satisfaction.
When a balance is found between the Creative and the Critical Mind, the result transcends what the Conscious Mind is capable of pre-conceiving.
When a balance is reached between the Creative and the Critical Mind, Creative Energy flows freely and merges the two into a state of meditation. In the Meditative State, there is a merging of the mental, the physical and the spiritual. The resulting expression, or product, or work of art vibrates with the Creative Energy through which it was conceived. The vibration calls to others to mingle their energy with it, to continue and consummate the exchange – the Flow of Creative Energy. This is true when the product is music or poetry or painting or sculpture, or a garden or a cake or an automobile or anything that results from this merging of the Creative and Critical Mind through the Flow of Creative Energy.
Each of us is a unique individual. There has never been and will never be another exactly like me. I bring to my work my own unique perspective from my own unique experiences. When I allow my Creative Mind and my Critical Mind to merge, the result is a unique expression of who I am, whether it is a painting, a poem, a sculpture, a garden, a cake, an automobile or anything that comes forth through the flow of Creative Energy.
Let it flow. . . .
Sometimes when I’m working my shift at the co-op gallery or at an art festival, people ask me where I get my ideas – or where do I get my inspiration. This is a question I used to entertain when I saw other artists’ work. I wondered where they copied it from, and if it wasn’t copied, how in the world did they figure out how to do that! It was a great mystery!
For the first 28 years of my life I never met an artist who painted other than as a hobby. Even my art teachers were Teachers first and I don’t recall ever seeing a completed painting by any of them – not even my college art teachers. My very first oil painting was “Paint by Number” when I was around 12 years old. I didn’t even know that oil paint was available any other way.
I started copying my classmates’ photos when I was around 8 years old, erasing holes in the paper, trying over and over again until I got it right. Eventually I got to be very good at copying photos. Whether it was photos of people or landscapes or just about anything, I could copy it. Friends and relatives would say “Wow! You are such a good artist!” I would politely thank them but I felt that something was missing. I wanted to be a “real” artist – whatever that was. Even our high school art teacher told us to “find a nice picture and copy it.” I copied photos onto typing paper, using pencil, charcoal, watercolor or pastels. Everyone, including the teacher said “Wow! You are such a good artist!” But no one ever asked me where I got my inspiration.
I believe that I learned from copying photos to train my eyes to really look closely and draw what I could see with my eyes. I learned to measure one shape against the other with my eyes and to make the same relationships in my copy. I learned to distinguish the slightest differences in tonal value and color. I learned to look for basic shapes – squares, circles, triangles and combinations and variations of these shapes in every form of nature that I saw – in trees, animals, buildings. objects and human faces. And I believed that none of this required “talent.” I believed that anyone who wanted to practice the way I did, could eventually learn to do it the same way I had.
There was a break from photo copying in one of my college drawing classes. The teacher set up a still life and we drew it in charcoal on real charcoal paper – NOT typing paper! Still, I felt that something was missing because I was still copying a scene that the art teacher had set up. It was not much different from copying a photo. There were those basic shapes – squares, circles, triangles, subtle variations in tone and value and color. Mine looked pretty much like all the others’ in the class but still I felt like a cheater, a fraud. Even when I copied my own photos, I felt like there had to be more to this whole idea of being an artist than just copying. All my other college art classes encouraged photo copying too. Years later I exhibited my portraits in shows and still felt like Someone – an Expert, an Authority, a REAL Artist – would call me out and reveal to the world that I was only a copier. I wanted to make something up that no one had ever seen before. I wanted to see a vision in my head and bring it into reality.
During one of my college oil painting classes, I “made up” a landscape. The main color I used was alizarin crimson. I loved the depth of the color and the consistency and texture of it. I mixed it with ultramarine blue and titanium white and the results resembled a red lake surrounded by strange red/purple/bue mountains – much like Crater Lake (which I did not actually see until a few years later) but in bizarre colors. I secretly loved the painting but I was embarrassed to show it to the teacher because I didn’t understand what I was doing at the time and I feared his rejection. Looking back all these years later, I realized that what I loved was the experience. Feeling the paint flow, watched the colors blend, watching shapes materialize into a pattern I could follow around the canvas as if I were on the Magical Mystery Tour that the Beatles sang about. And while I loved it, I also hated it. It was unpredictable and out of control. It was not like anyone else’s in the class. I felt protective – I didn’t want the painting or my own fragile experience shattered by criticism. But I had to show it or take a failing grade in senior year and I couldn’t do that! The teacher said “You have a lot of potential.” I didn’t know what he meant by that, and he didn’t bother to explain, but I interpreted it to mean that I had almost done something good – but not quite. I got a “B” in the course and hoarded that painting as a souvenir of a place I almost visited. It was a secret love affair with Alizarin Crimson that I was not secure enough at that time to reveal. But in my deepest private world I felt proud of it. Like I had finally created a “Real” piece of art. But I did not try it again for a very long time.
Fast forward through more than 50 years of practice as a copy artist. One day I was tired of painting portraits. I was tired of trying to please other people. I was tired of doing the same thing over and over. With a great deal of drama and release of frustration, I squirt paint out of the tube onto a large canvas, without regard for choice of color. I smear the paint around the canvas with no respect for economy or care of my brushes or anything except the pure joy of watching the paint swirl and flow and spread over the entire canvas. The thrill didn’t last very long. I grew up with Depression Era parents. I was constantly reminded to “be careful – don’t waste anything” In the midst of my joyous expression, I am suddenly overcome with guilt when I stop and look at what I have done. The canvas is indeed covered with paint. “It’s a mess! ” my critical mind exclaims. “You have wasted so much paint and an expensive canvas! No one will ever buy this!” And then suddently, there is a vivid flashback to the love affair with alizarin crimson, and my heart skips a beat or two at the thought of the “potential.”
So I lean it against the wall and go about my business of doing the “important” things of life – cleaning, paying bills, cooking. But as I walk by the paint-covered canvas I start seeing things that intrigue me. Little shapes that want to be defined. Lines that beg to be followed to another area of the painting. I hang the painting on the wall. Each time I walk by, I turn it another direction and more areas of interest seem to call out to me. “What if I mess it up?” I am afraid to paint. I am afraid not to paint. I am frozen in a mixture of fear and thrill – like the second before stepping onto a roller coaster. “Come closer.” It says. So I zoom in, like I’m looking into a microscope at the atomic structure of life itself, and follow the little lines created by the brush strokes, emphasizing them with highlights or shadows or lines, building contrasts, discovering shapes and forms and bringing them to life. sometimes recognizable forms appear – like dragons or human faces. Other times rhythmic patterns lead my hand and eye to yet another area of interest. I am playing with paint like I am 5 years old!
I hang it on the wall again – zooming out like I’m looking through a telescope at the Cosmos. I turn it again and again, each time another secret is revealed and I watch the painting come to life and realize I am only a tool – my hands, my eyes and the paint dance together before me and I am but the audience in the dance of creativity. As I answer the call from the painting, sometimes I hear music, I hear lines of poetry, I hear humorous phrases and chants. If I happen to be listening to music, I watch my hands move to the rhythm of the music – the music becomes part of the painting. The painting becomes alive with the energy of life, the energy of the music, the energy that flows through all of us – the same energy that holds atoms together to form molecules and cells and all of life itself. Through many paintings, it is revealed to me that this is “Creative Energy.” We, created in the “Image” of The Ultimate Creator, Who is “Pure Creative Energy” are also Pure Creative Energy. It flows through each of us equally and therefore we all have equal creative ability. We were also endowed with the Freedom of Choice, so we get to use it or direct it in any way we want – for good or “evil.” We can make paintings, or music, or stories, or cakes or automobiles or funny jokes. We can make bombs.
Fast forward again, through many paintings. This time I decided to photograph the evolution of this painting. It begins the same as the others, squirting paint out of the tube onto the canvas. Only this time I am working from the center, adding paint from the center toward the outer edges as it tells me while I watch it evolve. I am using Acrylic Paint. It begins with Cerulean Blue and Titanium White. No palette is used. The colors are blended on the canvas. Then it asks for red. It’s not particular – any red will do. I believe this is Napthol Red Light. Zoom in! Follow the little blue lines. Follow the little red lines. Watch how they work together.” (This is what the paint is telling me.)
I begin to see depth. I come in with a darker blue – Pthalo Blue to emphasize the deep places. More red, this time mixing with the blue. More white – an interesting break in the circular pattern. “Where did that come from? What should I do with that? I don’t want to mess this up!” (This is my critical ego-mind talking. It’s best not to listen to it. I find that if I ignore it, it will eventually get quiet so I can “listen” to the paint.)
Some darker red – I think it’s Quinachodone Magenta (I don’t even know how to pronounce it!) Some renegade blue and while again breaking the pattern of the concentric circles. “Just follow it.” the paint says.
Titanium White circles around the red and blue. Until now, white has not had so much to say. It has been quietly accentuating the blue and letting red have some attention. Suddenly, as clear as if a band was marching through the room I hear John Phillip Sousa’s “Stars and Stripes Forever” Specifically: “Hoorah for the Red, White and Blue…” And now it’s time to zoom in again.
And back out again as White claims the outer edges of the canvas. Blue wants to accentuate the sharpness of the red bursts by outlining it.
Zooming in again for more detail: Remember the first white break from the concentric colors? Still following original patterns made by initial brushstrokes, accenting what is already there.
This represents an area in the painting about 4″ x 4″ – still zooming in, finding detail.
This painting even told me where to put the signature.
As the details are working their way into the painting, The Stars and Strips Forever continues to play and I think about the summers while I was in college when I worked in a Fireworks Stand every 4th of July for 4 years. And that’s when the painting told me its name “Red Sharp Major.”
I love watching Energy Paintings evolve. Every one is different. I share this because I know that if you use a similar process, every painting that you do will also be unique. I think that sometimes we get too serious and we scare ourselves into thinking that we might do it “wrong.” I’m here to tell you from my own experience that you can’t do it “wrong.” The product doesn’t matter. The experience is what really is important. And if you happen to get a “product” – a finished work of art that you really like – well, that’s a bonus. My next challenge is to continually try new media, new techniques, new subject matter, new processes so that I don’t “paint myself into a box.” We should be mindful of how we define ourselves.