Still Disoriented

I’m grateful

Thank you to: Liz, Chez, Kathryn, Brett, Jennifer and AmbivalenceGirl for your support, your comments and good wishes in response to my recent posts. They mean a lot to me. I also thank, Aquileana, Icsoup, ItsAMustardworld, ShootingVenice and Berlin, Mejfote, LaLocaBrujita, SoLetUsKnow, RevealIllusions, P0vestiare, MichaelEhrhard, Mundoinesperado and CrazyArtist for liking my posts during the past couple of difficult days. (Please pardon me if I left anyone out.)

I thank ALL of the rest of you for reading my posts!

For those of you who haven’t read the posts from yesterday and the day before, my wife and I are dealing with a situation in which we had to move suddenly from where we lived during the past 6 years.

Still disoriented, though

My painting below was done at the kitchen table. The light was not as good as the light in my former studio. My traveling case (which had been empty and idled for a couple of years) served as the source from which I chose my paints (unlike the familiar cubby holes I had at home, I mean the place where we formally lived).

Today’s experiment

Today’s study is a (more-or-less) abstract expressionist snapshot of the initiating incident. The abstractions seem to be obvious representations of objects, coupled with obvious symbols.

Watercolor - Abstract - Bile and Hurt

9″x12″ 140# Rough Watercolor Block

I didn’t get it entirely the way I wanted, but most of the pictorial elements are present. I would like to continue exploring in this vein for the next few days to see if I can gain some subtlety and perhaps a bit more mystery while still conveying an important message.


Bad Day and its Identity Shift

Yesterday’s blog was a graphic metaphor about the terrible day on Friday.

So here’s the story. My wife and I moved from our shared home of six years to a new place this past Saturday. Friday morning we had no idea we’d be moving, by Saturday we were loading suitcases in the car for new quarters, a 10 minute drive away. The circumstances were sudden and less than desirable, but irrelevant to this blog. What is relevant are the personal feelings that accompany an identity shift.

Identity shift and residence?

I’m sure that many of you would agree that where one lives is tied in with one’s identity. Some may not have as strong a link to where one lives as others, but I venture to say that everyone experiences some kind of personal connection to place.

When a person moves, his or her the point of view changes – literally. For example, I was used to getting up in the morning, getting my coffee, going on the back porch (Back Yard Revisited, Back Yard Take 2) with a good book and looking at the fig tree and the humming birds.

My identity also depends on what I do. After this sudden move, all my previous routines have been disrupted. Now, staying temporarily with other family, I have no routine. Nothing is routine yet, nor will it be for a while, most likely.

A final thought:

Although it is wonderful to be rid of the undesirable trappings of an unfortunate living situation, it will take a while for my comfort index to rise. And since the term of our new situation is indeterminate, the uncertainty index is high. We must face the prospect of moving again and, along with this, a drop in comfort level once again.

Here is a watercolor sketch of our present backyard view:

Watercolor Sketch - New Back Yard

New Back Yard
4″x6″ 140# Cold Pressed Watercolor Block

Bad Day

Today was a really bad day…  not something I want to get in to. Suffice it to say that the picture below reflects how crummy I feel.

Photograph - Twin Urinals

Really Bad Day
8″x10″ Photograph Silver Print

This was the grungiest photo I could find.  I remember that when I took it I was intrigued by the topological checkerboard pattern. Now all I can see are the soggy cigarette butts.

I hope to resume my usual pithy remarks and brilliant observations tomorrow.

My Oyster

“The world is one’s oyster” is a saying that means a person feels like he or she can do anything.

That being said, I thought I would try a still life of an oyster shell I found on the beach.

Photography - Oyster Half Shell

First I drew a pen and ink sketch:

Sketch - My Oyster - Pen and Ink

Since the subject has two basic tones, yellow orange and gray, my next step was to approximate them by dabbing in the yellows and dark grays.  I started with gamboge yellow, which is more orange than yellow (Daniel Smith), and the darker areas with ivory black. There were details that required gray to parallel the yellow veins of the shell, particularly at the lower part of the shell as well as the part on the upper right.

Watercolor Preliminary Sketch - My Oyster - Yellows and Blacks

I thought I could unify the details by glazing. The left part of the shell is brighter than the right side, so I thought a lemon yellow glaze would be appropriate. As for the right side, I first glazed with a bit of neutral tint. I wasn’t certain that this was a transparent pigment, but since any pigment sufficiently watered down, can be transparent, I used a watery dilution. After drying the neutral tint, I glazed the right side with Prussian blue, which I know is transparent.

I re-painted more of the details and glazed again, hoping for a luminous effect.

Overall, the oyster shell was too dark, so I used an elephant-ear sponge to lighten up some of the highlights.

Unfortunately, during this process, I smudged a bit onto the background (the not-oyster part of the sketch). To remedy this, I figured, I would just paint the entire background.  Big mistake. Although the paper is a 4″x6″ block, only two edges are attached. Normally all four sides of the paper are glued down, so soaking the paper will not cause it to buckle. Unfortunately, one of the glued-down sides of the paper became detached and it curled up. It became unworkable.

Here is the final result:

Watercolor Final Sketch - My Oyster

My Oyster
6″x4″ 140# Cold Pressed Watercolor Block

I would put this sketch in the they-can’t-all-be-winners category.  Live and learn…

Let me just say that the world in not my oyster today.

Ever Vigilant

Walk softly

…and carry a telephoto lens.

That was my motto when I used to take my camera for walks during my off time in New York City. A corollary to this motto is, “Be sure to look where nobody else is looking.”

I took my own advice during one of my walks. I was on 34th Street near Fifth Avenue. I had always admired the B. Altman building on the north side of the street. To me, it was majestic, even though it had been edging toward decrepitude, since Altman went out of business in 1989. I loved the arching glass and metal awning and its massive granite blocks.

In New York, most people look out of windows. Most people on the street are interested in where they are going. Even back then when cell phones were very rare and smart phones were still in the future, most New Yorkers rarely looked up.

I am glad that I am one of those who looks everywhere. My mother always told me that I never wanted to miss anything. That is still true.

I couldn’t believe my luck when I happened on the scene below. It was in one of the windows on the second floor.

Photograph - B. Altman Window - 34th Street and Madison

B. Altman Window, New York City
8″x10″ Photograph Silver Print, Fiber Paper

It was my good fortune that B. Altman had not disposed of all their manikins by the time I took this picture.

The Altman Building was renovated by the City of New York in 1996 and became the Science, Industry and Business Library building.


There are identity shifts and there are shifts in ways of thinking… not all for the better.

As an example of this, let me walk you through a bit of what I’ve been thinking over the past day or so.  Those of you who have followed me for a while know that I am very much interested in the brain and how it works. I am sure that this has its origins in the fact that my older brother is autistic. He is also low functioning and nonverbal. It has been a dream of mine to actually be able to connect with him. This has not come to pass over my lifetime and I am now resigned to accept that.

I became familiar with different parts of the brain: Broca’s and Wernicke’s areas responsible for speech; the pre- and post- central gyri and their adorable motor and sensory homunculi; the hippocampus; the limbic structures.  I even began visualizing these different parts in action when I spoke, moved my arms or legs, or hurt my thumb. I am still amazed at what this sturdy 3 pound organ located in the skull, can accomplish.

Everyone knows what a human brain looks like. We see pictures everywhere.

It really shook me up when my colleague sent me the following description of the brain:

“[The brain] is a viscoelastic substance not so stiff as a gel or as plastic as a paster. One authority described the brain as comprised of about 100 billion closely packed elastic cells held together chiefly by colloidal forces, the brain has a density slightly greater than water and a viscosity comparable to glycerin. The surging blood flow through the brain imparts to it a firmness that helps it to resist deformation.”  Andrew Lautin, M.D.

My brain is like a bowl of oatmeal?  Really?  I suppose this must be the case, since the ancient Egyptians had a custom of removing the brains of the deceased through the nose. That would be difficult if my conception of the brain was true, but easier if it were the consistency of…. oatmeal.

It turns out that all the solid brains one sees in jars, have been hardened by formaldehyde or other fixatives.

You can imagine the shift in visualization of my own brain. How can I reconcile myself with the fact that this colloidal mass (read jello) in my head is responsible for moving my arms and legs and sending pain down to my damn thumb?

Today’s watercolor experiment:

I was feeling a little down today (understandably), while I was considering what to paint. I reverted to “taking a pencil point for a walk“, to express what I was feeling.  The result is below. I had some brain structures in mind as my pencil was wandering: the hypothalamus and the infundibulum, for example. Of course, we can’t forget the proverbial pot of oatmeal that makes everything ok.

Watercolor Sketch - Abstract: Pot of Oatmeal

Pot of Oatmeal
12″x9″ 140# Cold Pressed Watercolor Block



My watercolor experiment today is a combination of yesterday’s more-or-less free form style and the the hypo-realistic bookstore painting from a few days ago.

The opportunity presented itself as I was looking though some of the photographs I took years ago when I lived in Brooklyn, NY.  I used to go on wandering photo walks.  There is usually a reason that compels me to snap a picture. In the photo below, I am pretty sure it was the empty circular sign. Together with the shuttered gate in the foreground, absence of people and bare trees, the entire scene gives the impression that the whole area was vacated – a ghost town.

Photograph - 14th Avenue, Brooklyn. The Pine Sash and Door Lumber Co

Pine Sash and Door Lumber Yard, Brooklyn, NY
10″x8″ Silver Print Photograph, Fiber Paper

This scene could be Anywhere, USA, but in the photograph I noticed a street sign that said ’14’. Using the name of the lumber yard (Pine Sash and Door) in an Internet search, I came up with its location at 14th Avenue in Brooklyn! I must have walked quite a distance during that foray, since 14th Avenue was not near where I lived.  I had a lot of fun exploring in those days.

Today’s experiment:

I taped my paper to a plywood board with the intention of drawing a two-point perspective drawing of this scene using my T square and other drafting implements. The block like arrangement of the building shapes appealed to me. I particularly liked the space between the foreground building and the lumber yard building across the way.

The empty circular sign was not the focal point for my watercolor study.  I was intrigued by the shapes in the foreground plane. the cement was cracked and stained, presented a pattern in contrast to the linear and angular relationships between the buildings.

I used neutral tint at first, applying it to the pre-wetted foreground. After that dried, I drew lines with ivory black and applied quinacridone gold in some places. I used Prussian blue to wash the foreground area, unifying the separate patterns.

Watercolor Study - 14th Avenue, Brooklyn. The Pine Sash and Door Lumber Co.

14th Avenue, Brooklyn. The Pine Sash and Door Lumber Yard
12″x9″ 140# Cold Pressed Watercolor Block

This seems to work. The warm colors of the foreground contrast with the cold sky and the abandoned look of the locale. Even though the foreground of the photograph is patterned, it does not have the same impact as the watercolor.

I suppose I could have mirrored the patterning in the lower part of the picture with patterning in the sky. This would have been more unifying but would have changed the entire look of the study. It might be worth trying.


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