Saturday, April 21, 2007

"Ruffled Raven"

When in Joshua Tree I got to study one of my favorite subjects, ravens. They are wickedly smart and wonderfully playful, and joyously acrobatic daredevils. At the top of Keys View there was one raven that was playing in the strong currents of wind, and watching visitors for possible snack leavings. I think he was mostly there to play though. I was able to get fairly close to him, but not as close as I would have liked. He posed for a long time on a small rock at the cliffs edge, the wind blowing through the ruff of feathers around his neck. This is a 6"x6" inch oil on canvas.

Friday, April 20, 2007

"Crocodile Rock"

I went to Joshua Tree National Park last weekend for a quick camping trip with my best buddy. We camped at Jumbo Rocks and did some bouldering and general hiking around the west end of the park. I did a small plein air study the first evening from the camp site, and it was a lot of fun, but it was mostly color notation. But I did take lots of photos, as the park has some magnificent geologic formations. I think it's really fascinating how the human brain is hardwired to see symbols and objects, like saints in tortillas, and animals in clouds, for example. I found I started seeing some neat things in the rocks when I really began to look. It's an interesting exercise to just pay attention, and then to see how the mind can make the boulders "become" symbols which are visible at certain angles, and as one moves around or away from them, disappear as the contours and light and shadow change one's perspective. I was charmed, and I thought it would be fun to use the effect to do a series of studies of the rock and boulder formations. All the paintings are of actual formations, and though the colors are tweaked just a bit for more visual interest, they are all there to some extent. If you go to Joshua Tree you may stumble upon these "creatures" yourself. I'm sure they aren't going anywhere for another few hundred thousand years or so at least.
This is the second study I did since I got back, the first needs a bit more work. This is a 6"x8" oil on canvas.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Never Polish The Good Furniture When Tired.

Well, I got some painting done Tuesday night. Emergency painting! I'd cleaned house for 12 hours with a few breaks, trying to get it all "knocked out" quickly but still thoroughly as my other half seemed to think was possible. But that's easy to think, since it's my job. I wanted to go to bed, but first decided to put a little (yes I know, but it's usually Howard's instead) spray wax on my 1927 solid oak table; a big, massive, gorgeous piece with a Craftsman style top, combination turned and blocky legs in a heavier older style, wirh burl inlaid chair backs. I reached under the sink for the yellow aerosol can, thought it looked a bit fatter, thought somewhere in the recesses of what was passing for my brain at 1a.m. that it must be new, shook it and sprayed it liberally in circles at one end of the table. It seemed a little thin for a light wax. That's because it was bleach. Lovely, convenient, Chlorox in a spray can, the bastards!
I started to spread it around, dimly realized it was going on funny and there was no obnoxious "lemon fresh" scent, and looked at the can. I wasn't too tired to read! Aghast, I ran to get a wet sponge and a towel. I slopped on water and wiped in a flurry of desperate action that belied my fatigue. Three trips with water, sponge, more towelling. Then stood back and watched the bleach at it's insistent, resolute work; watched the spots of gray turning lighter, closer to white. Prayed that there was still some varnish in most of those areas, as this table has some original varnish left and some areas that are now oil finish, and that it was just the varnish and not the wood underneath. Resigned, I just let it happen. Tried to be a good Buddhist and remember it was just an object, an object to which I have some serious attachment. Stayed calm and observed my attachment, observed my ego calling me an idiot, observed the frantic efforts of my ego based mind to twist at and tweak the laws of the Universe to warp just a small bit of the fabric of space and time so that I could rewind, step through, stop myself from pushing the spray button. Wonder how long it would take me to learn to accept and love the white blistered scars on my once lovely table. Remember that I had thought how nice it looked earlier in the day, hear my inner critic tell me that's what I got for having the sin of pride.
Then I got mad. I refused to accept it. Yes, I bleached my Stickley rocker that had been in a house fire, but that was different. I did the best restoration finish anyone could have done on it short of replacing whole parts. But this table had been lovely, dry but lovely. So I went downstairs to the dungeon where I paint, looking for stain. There it was in the tool box, one marvellous single distinctive yellow can and for a few moments hope soared. What was the color; was it cherry, summer oak, mission oak, any of my Stickley standards? No, ebony. Great. I would never have bought ebony, it wasn't mine, mine was in storage 50 miles away. I looked over at my paint box, flipped the lid and started uncapping the Vasari earths. Surely one of these gorgeous tubes or even two mixed could heal my table! What are stains but oxides etc. in an oil base? And what was my paint? Oxides and oil, of course! In a linseed base, perfect for oak. I took three tubes upstairs, grabbed a paper towel and smeared a small test sample over a big bubbly patch. Hmm, too red. Next color, a possible, but too thick. Went and got some Howard's orange oil for the cutting and penetrating power, squirted it out, and smeared that around. Ooo, it was working! But would it stick? I rubbed and smeared and squirted and rubbed, and imagined the wood fibers absorbing the glorious color and becoming radiant and vibrant with rich, luminous earths; healing and becoming saturated with the brilliance and light of lovingly polished wood. I oiled the whole table, then put a liberal dose of Feed N Wax over it as well, sort of like the equivalent of Neosporin for oak. Apologized profusely, said a prayer over it, went to bed. Rubbed it out the next afternoon, and holy guacamole, I was forgiven, and it has never looked better! But I would recommend skipping the bleach part if you ever try this at home.