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A Peak Behind the Curtain, Part V

Stage Five:
And now the magic happens. Behold! Patches of sunlight filtering through the partially seen leafy canopy are actually composed of three layers of paint, as the first layer was too golden, the corrective second coat made it to too blinding white and a third coat, of just the barest amount of black (smudged on with my fingertips) was required to get the desired quality of hue and texture.  The light plays along the surface of the tree, accentuating its curves.  At first glance this comes close to achieving that impossible dream of the stunning illusion: the planar surface inexplicably transformed so that it possesses the THIRD DIMENSION.

The middle ground issue – which has proven so prickly to me in the past that I have deigned to omit it from compositions altogether - has been resolved in a way that makes sense, although it brightens the painting more than I would like.  But hey, if you are going to get a rainbow, you need strong, direct sun.

The fat black cat, now obviously revealed to be a portrait of our cat Mickey, is done with an effort to communicate his characteristic solemn sensitivity. I am satisfied this image captures at least part of his exquisitely complex nature. His brother Chester, is seen lagging behind (and distracted), as befits his timid yet youthful nature. How many times have I stared at his fur to discover the secret to that tabby coloring?

Note the subtle additions to the rainbow: in an attempt to make it seem translucent I gingerly painted OVER the rainbow to make it seem you are seeing through it to the objects BEHIND.  That effect came out rather better than expected, although I wish I had been able to achieve softer edges to the rainbow.  And damn it, the different pigments making up the spectrum certainly have different intensities that I was unable to equalize, as I was primarily concerned with all the colors being geometrically proper and parallel to each other along the arc.

There was a conceptual tug-of war that simmered throughout the entire process: should all the vibrant colors be reserved for the rainbow alone to make it more stunning, or should other colorful elements be added elsewhere to provide a balance? As painting went on I veered from the former to the latter. I mean,  no forest scene is complete without a fungal representative, and if I am going to put in toadstool, it is darn well going to be red.  And then the fern intended for the foreground become a flush of bluebells.  It IS spring after all. I will leave it to the viewer to decide if this decision was the right one.

So it’s done.  Or rather, I’m done with it. The working title is “The Feline Forest Adventure”. Not a bad effort overall. Reasonably successful, despite some flawed execution, here and there.  But why should I expect art to be different from any other activity or outcome in life?


A Peak Behind the Curtain, Part IV

Stage Four
The leafy canopy and assorted foliage has appeared.  This is done in the traditional impasto technique, which is just using thicker opaque layers of paint.  This blend of two styles - the use of multiple thin transparent layers coupled with single opaque thick layers of paint, is probably the most individualistic quality of my painting style. Anyway, this was simply done in but two colors: the leaves hit by the sun, on the “outside” of the tree are using the light green, and are necessarily obscured by leaves of a much darker green that darken up the entire work considerably and create a more enclosed, intimate space in the foreground.

Yes, there is a rainbow. Not sure if it turned out the way I wanted.  I was tempted to place something fantastical at the base of it – like the proverbial pot o’ gold, for instance.  But the kitschy side of me is pretty much kept under lock and key and under strict guard. In my mind, one of the best things about the rainbow is actually that it distracts from the as yet unconvincing water of the stream below it.   In my experience, the toughest things to paint by far, and by that I mean render accurately so that they look recognizable and even realistic, are items that possess no color of their own, but only reflect and/or refract the light that hits them, like metal, glass and water.  So I have heaped a lot of work on myself here – the turbulent waterfall appearing white to indicate its aerated state, the relatively placid open stretches of the stream, still enough to cast reflections, and the water droplets in the air that refract the sunlight to produce the rainbow. Why am I making things hard for myself, again?  I should have just thrown in a jumble of rocks, like the original photograph had…

There are more subtle additions at this stage as well, and these are just as important in the long run: more applications of black in the foreground have continued to darken the rocks, the thinnest layer of blue has been applied to the tree to cool it down (it is in the shade, after all!), the water has been “roughed in” on the right (only using  three layers of paint!), with blue in the background slowly transitioning to green in the foreground (as it would be reflecting the canopy directly overhead).  The rocks around the waterfall are yet woefully underdeveloped – that has to be the most troublesome region of the painting, and I shall have to tackle it next.

This is about 85% done.  But that last 15% - that can be a killer.


A Peak Behind the Curtain, Part III

Stage Three:
At last, this is starting to head in the right direction. Judiciously adding some more black to indicate shading and texture is like sculpting, giving form to the blankness, some articulation to the yawning void.  And so the artist imparts a fleeting sense of purpose, giving a semblance of order to existence.   There are discrete objects revealing themselves: rocks, waterfalls, reflections. Still looks like a water color, though.  Will persevere, despite possibility of failure…


A Peak Behind the Curtain, Part II

Stage Two:
Hm.  Well.  This is looking fairly awful - like the first attempt at a water color by a third-grader.  Rather a humble beginning here, which is why I invariably prohibit the viewing public from seeing my paintings until they are 100% complete.

Keep in mind that everything at this point has only a single coat of paint.  The lighter areas in the foreground will become darker and richer as more layers are applied.  More tricky are the areas that are already quite dark – much harder to lighten up an area than darken it! Still, there is supposed to be a lot of shade and shadow here, so perhaps it will work out.

In an attempt to transition from brown in the foreground to blue in the back ground  I have made some questionable color choices.  The brown is too brown (not enough gray), the gray is too gray (not enough blue), etc.  And just what is up with that weird aquamarine color?  Hopefully it will be mostly covered up or obscured by foliage, when all is said and done.  Hopefully.

I shall strengthen my resolve and press on.



A Peak Behind the Curtain, Part I

Over the next week, I am going to treat you all to a peak behind the curtain, as I show an oil painting in varying (and hopefully increasing) stages of completion, so you can garner a better understanding of the artistic process (for me, anyway).  I have been meaning to do this for several years now, but I haven’t because quite frankly I haven’t been able to devote much time for painting and when I do start a painting, by the time I think to take a photograph of it, it is already half finished and so a useful chronicle can no longer be made.  Well, this time I remembered, so hopefully this will be found interesting, if witnessing the handwringing I go through to create Art can be considered interesting. Many thanks to Carie Ketz, for supplying the photo which contained the raw material for my inspiration.

Stage One:
OK, the composition – intended to be a magical forest scene - is pretty much set, and the foundation laid by doing a fairly detailed sketch.  This type of painting demands such an approach, as I will be doing quite a bit of glazing, where I use multiple thin, transparent layers of paint.  It’s sort of a glorified “paint by numbers” approach – or like when you were a kid and used crayons in a coloring book.  I am using a primed Masonite board instead of a canvas (which has more texture than I would like for this style of painting).  The sketch is made: the proportions and positions of the various elements of the composition are assiduously set and refined, and then sprayed with a fixative spray so the sketch can be painted over without it smudging, smearing, or the graphite floating off the surface and migrating into the paint. A lot of the major creative decisions have already been made.  I now have a pretty good idea already what the painting should look like when complete, although obviously color selections could change.

As you can see, I have already put brush to board here: a thin application of black paint – which looks gray, because the white of the board is shining through it – has been applied to define the beech tree that dominates the composition (and indeed is its  raison d'être)   This violates the usual method of painting – especially landscape painting – where you work from back to front.  You do the background first, since you usually end up painting over some of it, and it has very little detail.  However, I am in a position now where I feel like I can bend the rules a bit.  Since the branches, and especially the roots, go all over the place, painting this first helps subdivide the work into smaller chunks that I can paint at leisure and tackle one at a time.  (Plus, it’s more enjoyable to tackle the most interesting stuff first!)



After-Dinner Scene (A Play in One Act)

Wife: “I thought you said you weren’t going to eat any more sausage.”

Me: “I didn’t eat any more sausage.”

Wife: “Yes you did.”

Me: “What are you talking about?  I am putting this half-sausage in the fridge right now.”

Wife: “But that’s my leftover sausage.”

Me: “Yes, and look at me not eating it!”

Wife: “Yeah, but before you still had your own half sitting on your plate.”

Me: “When I said I wasn’t going to eat any more sausage, I was referring to sausage in addition to what I already had.”

Wife: “That’s not what you said!”

Me: “Well, that’s what I meant!  Look, in all the time you’ve known me, have I ever, EVER not finished all the sausage on my plate?  Have I ever put any back because I couldn’t finish my portion?”

Wife: “…”

Me: “See, it’s like in The Godfather, Part II:  ‘Don’t you know that’s an impossibility – that that could never happen? Don’t you know that I would use all of my power to prevent something like that from happening?’”

And fade.

This Is What The Future Will Look Like

Over at The Spearhead, Bill Price recently posted an article with the Title "Are Our Cities Sustainable?"
As this is a topic I have been concerned with for some time, I thought I would take a stab at it myself:

“Are our Cities Sustainable?”

Well, the short answer is, yes. But really, that is the wrong question, I think America’s cities will always persist in some form. What is not sustainable is our lifestyle. The hollowing out of the middle class that has been going on – stealthily at first, and now obviously for over a decade – is symptomatic of my conclusion.

Now, a city like Seattle may not be a typical, representative case. I am used to cities like Columbus, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Indianapolis, Toledo, Buffalo, Pittsburgh and so on, where a core that has been rotten since the 60′s and ringed with an innerbelt/outerbelt is somewhat sustained by an array of suburbs around the perimeter of the metropolitan area. Cheap energy, cheap land and government subsidized highways enabled most of these suburbs to be built in the first place. But suburbia has reached its high water mark. Even with cheap gas, only so many people are willing to commute 45 minutes one-way to their job – which may not even be downtown, but “across town” (i.e., a suburb on the other side). Wait until gas becomes $8-10/gallon (without a commensurate rise in wages) AND interest rates go up at the same time, making home owning more difficult. And put the student loan debt of the Millenials on top of that and what do you get?

This is what you get: a nation of renters. Renters forced to live in the city because proximity to whatever shitty jobs they have will be a more important financial consideration than it has been the past 50 years. We will probably go back to one-car families like in the 1930′s and 40′s as well, I shouldn’t wonder.

Now go a step further – with lower wages and less property and income taxes coming in, do you think cities and states are going to be able to maintain their infrastructure in the way we have taken for granted our entire lives? I highly doubt it. It will be like a supernova collapsing back in on itself. There will be a managed decline, something like Detroit: difficult choices will be made by technocrats at a high level (with “community dialogues”, of course) and certain roads and bridges will be demolished or left to deteriorate into ruin, much like old disused railways were left to Mother Nature. And I can guarantee that the ones selected for the chopping block will be the ones that enabled commuters in a far-flung community (that didn’t contribute their income taxes to the parent city anyway) to get to their jobs.

Fleeing to the suburbs worked fine for a while, and that’s why the 60′s, 70′s and 80′s saw such explosive growth in that type of community. But the primary reason for this growth – white flight – has been rendered pretty much obsolete now. With the old housing projects being systematically demolished and Section 8 vouchers dispensed like candy by HUD these days, the very undesirables you seek to isolate your children from are now being transplanted right into the middle of your overpriced neighborhood! I have seen this happen – and it still is happening – on Cleveland’s east side. Slowly but surely, first suburbs like Bedford and Maple Heights, then South Euclid and Orange, next Solon and Twinsburg, and so on become more and more black. Inevitably, crime goes up, school performance goes down, school levies fail, school performance goes down some more, home values go down along with property taxes. Meanwhile, the towns put on a happy face, accept their awards for improving diversity and double their police force – if they can afford to. Doubtless there are a few safe enclaves here and there, but it is like finding a public building that still has a plaque of the Ten Commandments hanging in it: sooner or later some douche will barge in, make a big ruckus over how offended they are, and CHANGES WILL BE MADE.

I don’t know what the answer is. For the affluent, they either move even further out, and telecommute or maybe they always traveled a lot for their job anyway. Then they put their kids in a private school. Or they live in a swank townhouse or luxury condo close to everything important downtown. And put their kids in private school. In the former case they may be more physically isolated or in a gated community that offers greater protection. In the latter case, additional security guards are hired to supplement the regular constabulary – and you get a place like Bratenahl, a tiny suburb on the east side of Cleveland (population 1,184, median family income: $104,987) surrounded by a sea of ghetto neighborhoods. Bascially, American cities will become much more like the ones in South America, with an elite that protects and enrich themselves along with a vast, manipulated, ignorant lower class that lives day-to-day and hand-to-mouth.

In the coming decades, most of the rest of us will either move back into the city or make do in a degraded, “inner-ring” suburb to save on transportation costs where we will rub elbows with an increasing flow of Third-World immigrants (Columbus is getting quite the sizable Somali community, which the city leaders are quite proud of – hurray!), imported to offset the declining native birthrate in a misguided effort to prop up the Ponzi schemes of Social Security and other such government “benefit” programs.  More parents with intact families will decide to homeschool their children.  Social mobility will continue to decrease.  City services will be poor. There will be frequent power outages and water main breaks. The roads will not be good. You will take the bus a lot more than you expected. You will live paycheck to paycheck. You will wait months to see your primary care physician and try to save money so you can get prescription meds. You will carry a firearm on you as you go about your daily business. You kids will not attend university, they will get any post-high school education at the local community college or take courses online.  You will refrain from racking up big credit card bills and you and your family will make do with less of – everything. Christmas will have fewer gifts. Vacations will be quite modest in scope – no overseas trips for you! Expensive afterschool activities for the kids will be cut – no more dance and violin lessons for princess! - and they will play soccer or basketball at a local city park instead (if it is reasonably safe). You will go back to having one television. Your closets will have fewer clothes. Your trash will have less discarded food in it when it goes to the curb. You will keep your place colder than you want in the winter, and warmer than you want in the summer. And so on. And you will never retire. You will work until you drop – unless you can be declared disabled.

Now, the smart and resourceful always have an advantage when it comes to making major life decisions. But the average Joe that furnishes the bedrock on which societies must stand – he is the one in trouble, and to some extent the rest of us must go along for the ride…

Life Expectancy

Yesterday I learned through the Facebook grapevine that one of my class-mates from my hometown, who had married her high school sweetheart (who lived down the street from me when we were kids) and still resided in the area, finally succumbed to breast cancer.  There was no love lost between us, we had nothing in common and I can’t recall her ever being friendly to me.  She was just one of the many average, mediocre girls who probably thought I was a weirdo and wouldn’t give me the time of day.  Nonetheless, I should note the significance of her passing, and mark this as the turning point, where my generation from here on begins the natural process of dying off.

I remember the first class-mate of mine to perish. I found out about it at my 10 year high school reunion; just prior to it he had committed suicide in a hotel room in Las Vegas. It was hard to reconcile the undeniable tragedy of that outcome with the image I had of him in junior high English class, cheerfully clowning around at the back of the room.  But that was obviously a death of “unnatural causes” – though remarkable, you should expect that in a high school class of over 200 people at least one person would die before their time by accident, overdose or violence, whether self-inflicted or not.

Anyway, hate to state it so glumly, but it’s all downhill from here. I was glad that I just happened to be with an old friend/fellow high school comrade visiting from out of town when we found out. He was able to shrug it off much more easily, but then he is a vet who was in Iraq and a firefighter to boot, so he has seen his share of death.  As an engineer, I guess I have lead a more sheltered, if not charmed, life.

A Last Bit of Holiday Magic

I was visiting a trusty comrade over the weekend who resides in the delightfully charming village of Chagrin Falls, and we decided to take a stroll in a recently created park down by the Chagrin River.  Despite the muddy conditions, it was easy to appreciate the great views packed into only 10 acres.  While we were stumbling through a flood plain down by the river in the late, low afternoon sun, we came upon a bend in the faint path we were relying on and suddenly spotted a lone young pine located in the midst of some deciduous brush that not only was a fine speciman, but had been thoughtfully and festively decorated by some whimsical soul.  I found this especially appealing, as the "lone decorated tree in the woods" concept has not only been featured in greeting cards I elected to mail out before, but also in a painting I did a few years back.  It was a little welcome slice of wonder all too often missing from everyday life. For a brief moment, I felt that same thrill as I did when The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe was finally made into a feature film, and when you see the children venture into the forest beyond the garments hanging in the wardrobe, and they come upon the iconic cast iron lamppost improbably standing amongst the trees, resembling the skewed lucidity of some Magritte painting.  It was a perfectly packaged episode that fleshed out the holiday season nicely; something that I ardently wish would occur more frequently.  And I suppose, if I lived in Chagrin Falls, it probably would...


The Doubter

At work we just had a holiday luncheon at the office, where I was forced to socialize more than I personally consider normal or comfortable (the sacrifices I make for free food!).  Several of the guys I was sitting with were talking about their kids and their belief in Santa Claus, or when they stopped believing.  One had a son who still believed despite the fact that he currently is in the second grade, which I found remarkable.  Another colleague mentioned that he was the same way, and was a believer himself of St. Nick and his respective abilities until he got to third grade.  I thought this astounding, as I’m pretty sure that I got suspicious of the entire notion of Santa Claus while I was in kindergarten.  In fact, though I strain to my utmost to recall, I can’t think of a time when I ever took all those stories as the Gospel truth.   I will even go a step further: I can remember being in kindergarten and feeling obligated to humor my parents and grandparents in “playing along”.  Somehow I sensed that declaring my skepticism would cause them to feel disappointed, and being a child who in general was eager to please his superiors, I wanted to avoid that.  But the effort of maintaining the entire pretense became somewhat of a burden, I’m sorry to say.  Maybe it’s not conducive to one’s development to be compelled to humor one’s parents at such an early age.

Is it normal at all for a kindergartener to feel this way?  Clearly this was the first manifestation of my incredulous, doubting tendencies, which paved the way for the existential angst that inevitably would fully blossom in adulthood later…



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March 2014


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