After the electronic shower of your New Year’s resolutions, (and my own resolution to grow my hair this year) I was passing my easel and pausing to note its magnificence. Like many artists who wrote to mention that they don’t believe in resolutions, looking at the upright, decent instrument that my easel is, I realized that with its help things pretty well take care of themselves.
Then through the veil of the remaining Christmas nog I was remembering that time in Vejer de la Frontera when Jack and I were set up in a narrow cobbled street. Some playful Spanish kids had crept up behind us. At what they thought was an appropriate time they fired off a couple of strings of firecrackers. Jack and I only glanced at the ruckus and at the hysterical, running kids. We were like a couple of cud-chewing cows, our minds dulled to any potential doom by the simple demands of our easels. The sky could have fallen and we wouldn’t have missed a stroke.
Stroke: It’s simply a matter of putting the right colours in the right places, and doing it well. Touch: Touch can be tender, casual, tentative, bold, curved, straight, thick, thin, sensual, energetic, dramatic or violent. Words: Design, pride, joy, grand, flourish, style, quality, work, play, confectionery. Thoughts: Waiting for the right mood or inspiration is counterproductive. Inspiration comes from doing. Action is more valuable than thought. Preparations: To take moments to scrape along the golden riffles of memory. To cruise present as well as old reference. To decide size and format. To make sure that the tools are ready to go and that supports and materials are readily at hand. To decide to pre-mix colours — or merely to squeeze. To raise or lower a daring blank canvas to its beginning height. To realize that all other artists, living and dead, are sitting right here beside me. To turn up the Mozart, to count blessings and to commit. Regrets: There is never, never enough time at this place.
PS: “I’m as happy as a cow in her stall. That’s the only place where everything is all right.” (Louise Nevelson)
Esoterica: “Easel living” is not necessarily easy living. It’s a low-tech station where toil makes miracles happen. Like a lot of the important places, little things mean a lot. Light, music, handedness, ready ideas and subject matter all play a part. Whether your easel is in the bush or the basement — it holds a promise of well-being and self-sufficiency. With all of the frustrations to be had at an easel, there’s also a cozy smugness. Your easel is the nuclear sun of an uncommon universe.
“What painting is”
by Jane Champagne, Southampton, ON, Canada
A propos your paragraph about “strokes”: reading What Painting Is, by James Elkins, has been a revelation to me. It’s the first book I’ve come across about the actual act of painting, written by a painter-teacher-writer; I recommend it highly.
by Frank Bales, Staunton, VA, USA
With regard to the counterproductive system of waiting for the right mood or inspiration, there’s a great quote from Ernest Newman: “The great composer does not set to work because he is inspired, but becomes inspired because he is working. Beethoven, Wagner, Bach, and Mozart settled down day after day to the job in hand. They didn’t waste time waiting for inspiration.”
(RG note) Thank you to everybody who sends in quotes. These are passed along to our volunteers in the Resource of Art Quotations. If you go there, don’t print it all out. It will use up all your ink. In response to an enquiring subscriber, we do not supply free ink.
by Peter Lum, Hong Kong, China
The easel as center of the universe concept is useful. The device has been around for some time and you could say that it has been a vital part of mankind’s furniture of creative evolvement. The first recorded image of an easel, incidentally, is on an Egyptian relief of the Old Kingdom (2600-2100BC). Easels were used in the first examples of true panel paintings in Fayun — death portraits of Romans in Egypt. Modern picture easels are a derivation of studio easels that have been in use in Western societies since the Renaissance. It’s a grand lineage.
by Jerry Waese, Toronto, ON, Canada
I know what you mean about the cud chewing, but mostly I am the scared kid with the firecrackers. I seldom seem to have a clue what is going to happen and I miss many a stroke in favor of sequences of spasmodic pleasure-shock in the process of adding color.
New studio in garden
by Jennifer Hendrickson, New Zealand
For me the place there is never, never enough time in is the garden. In the midst of my garden, amongst the apple and olive and citrus trees and grape vines and roses, and between the potato patch and the greenhouse bursting with tomatoes and basil, there now stands a brand new, large, wonderfully lit and well-appointed studio. I clearly am the luckiest person alive to have both my passions so amply provided for in my own back yard. All that remains is to find, or create, time to exercise them both. How fortunate that I’m not fanatical about anything else (such as antique cars).
(RG note) And NZ is such a wonderful place to look for and find old iron. Sorry, I had to put that in.
by Jamie Lavin, Gardner, KS, USA
My friends and family, with the noted exception of my wife, who knows me better than I know myself, looks odd at me when I describe “easel time”. Easel time is unlike any other time I have. I relish the night, when the phone has stopped ringing, the ballgame is on the radio (summer) or Mary Chapin Carpenter (fall) or a good Agatha Christie talking book is on (any old time) and the family is all in bed. Tonight, just as it is every night, I try to have all the prep work done to begin a piece on the easel. Since so much prep goes into getting ready, easel time is the most relaxing. On New Year’s Eve, my daughter Erin stayed awake until midnight for her first time (except for those slumber parties) with me, just watching without comment as another reef came out of the Ultramarine tube. I spoke to the painting as I often do, but more so with an audience, trying to tempt her into distracting me, but I soon settled into my routine and she watched without a word. Finally, I stopped to kiss her goodnight, and she said I looked like I really enjoyed painting. I told her, this was where I was meant to sit. It’s where things happen and where I chose to listen to myself and to the voice of creation, and where I let the brush drive itself, or where I try to implore its virtues. Some song came out a few years ago that talked about “Stand in the place where you live…” and at the easel, I Do!
Outside the box
by Yaroslaw Rozputnyak, Moscow, Russia
Some technical improvements to your easel:
A turning device for 2 canvasses at a time — to work on in turn sitting at the same easel.
A “Lazy Susan” type of turning palette for the paints.
A vertical wooden board with many perforated holes — to quick put and hold each next brush horizontally ready and charged with paint — such magazine for many brushes as gun magazine, and a person to charge them.
A multiple brush battery (binding several small brushes instead one large with an elastic band and some inserts between to regulate distance) — similar to biplane, tri-plane, to work with adjacent colours simultaneously.
A bottle for solvent hanging above the easel — to reach with long plastic pipe with thin capillary tip to any place on the canvass.
A preparation of three bottles of diluted paint of three printer colours — to get all other at canvass from them and use these at canvass as three fountain automatic painter pens.
A preparation of three syringes of 3 main colours with diluted paint and brush tip, also is possible to combine 2 syringes — 1 solvent plus one paint to have necessary dilution degree for paint or 3 syringes with 3 main colours connected to one long transparent elastic pipe with painting tip (pipe must be transparent to see current colour) regulated by syringes input, for next use.
An equipment whereby Mozart might be from PC, PC might be connected to phone. Headphones might be from mobile phone handset with Mozart through phone intercom-PC when an easel is outdoors.
An installation of wheels on easel, and in winter, skis, and to attach an air balloon to move more easily.
by Barbara Mulligan, Florida, USA
On my easel I have created a look that I call Bay Windows, named for the county where I live in Florida. Each piece (22 x 33 inches) begins with a woodblock print done with watercolor. A ‘stained glass’ window is designed and also painted with watercolor. I leave a ‘clear pane of glass’ for a painted scene from my area. It’s all framed in an old window sash that I have recreated into a vanishing view which many local folks enjoy. So far I have created 24 windows and still planning some more. Drop your bucket where you are!
by Cherie Hanson, Kelowna, BC, Canada
The paradoxical difficulty with selection/curation/”cultural consensus of elites” (Noam Chomsky) is that the eye of the beholder is within a system of evaluation. The artist’s perceptions are based on a spiritual experience of interpretation. The artist is in essence, a witness. The interpretation of the artist’s interpretation is curation. Cultural milieu, genre fetishes, and individual subcultural experiences are all a filter and lead to further interpretations of the interpretation of the curator’s interpretation of the artist’s interpretation. So no matter how the experience is delivered, it is viewed through various lenses. Knowing there are in fact lenses when the viewer goes to a gallery is helpful. Acknowledging that you yourself are operating within a belief system while you are creating art is helpful. Ultimately we all face, or create the mythic structure within which we work. To leave that structure in order to “gain” recognition is to lose our own sense of what is real and to come to live in a world which is unrecognizable to ourselves.
by Karen Noll Purucker, Hobbs, NM, USA
I was trained as both a designer and a sculptor. I am also a weaver of rugs and tapestries. I was also the director of an art center for 7 years. I raise my own sheep, dye the fleece or the handspun yarn (or use the beautiful natural grays, browns and whites and creams of the fleece). I have also done monotypes. I would love to see the letter expand its coverage to art forms beyond paintings.
by Janet Warrick, Chicago, IL, USA
I found myself chuckling while reading your last letter when I got to the part about studio comfort — checking light bulbs, making sure it’s not uncomfortably warm, etc. For the past two years my husband and I have been immersed in the depths of a full-scale rehab project. While it will be well worth the effort when finished, it is very difficult living in the midst of the on-going construction with the end too far in the distance to be seen. My current “studio” is a three-foot space behind the door of a small room off the kitchen, which, out of necessity, has been turned into a temporary pantry. My rickety old easel has two wooden slats in front that hold my palette. That’s it. When I’m painting and I have to stop to do something, I place my paint-laden brushes on a two-inch wide extended area of cardboard beside my palette. Inevitably, when I have to squeeze by to get to the microwave or change my dog’s water, etc. I always seem to catch a brush handle or two and end up sending loaded brushes scattering across the floor. Now that winter is here, I have the added discomfort of forced-air heat. When done, we will have radiant-floor heat throughout, but for now, whenever the heat kicks on in my little space, I’m hit full in the face with a suffocating blast of dry, hot air. While these conditions are not exactly conducive to creative flow, I find myself in the most seductively creative period of my life. If I could, I would gladly spend my entire day in that tiny space behind the pantry door, creating, experimenting, learning. As it is, due to other obligations, more time is spent thinking about painting right now than actually painting. This is more of a hardship to me than anything else. However, next year, I will hopefully not only have a whole room all to myself to paint in, but also more time in which to do it. These are not complaints, merely inconveniences to be surmounted. I have so very much to be grateful for, and so much to look forward to. I am constantly amazed at our adaptability as human beings, our capacity to make-do. I truly believe that life is what you make it. Think I’ll make a feast.
oil painting by Krasso, Sofia, Bulgaria
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