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Another experiment

I found another small old painting in my studio and couldn’t help but start going over it. I learned quite a bit while making this.

  1. If i’m going over old paintings, i need to leave more of the old in tact
  2. i need to stop using prussian blue hue. i will probably repaint this sky because i find the blue unsettling.
  3. I have a lot more to learn
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Not so precious

In my second sitting with this painting I brought in the sky and sea, and I have to say that it was thoroughly enjoyable and I like the outcome. In particular, I love this section of the shoreline. I’m making a conscious effort to evoke the essence of the scene without getting too precious.

sea detail. this part is my favorite so far
2. sky and sea
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New Beginning

Started a new painting last night. I had intended to do the same scene again but after making that little waterfall painting the other night, I changed my mind. Gotta move on. I’ll be painting more loosely and following my intuition.

1. undersketch and some greens
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Wisconsin Waterfall

Wisconsin Waterfall. 5 x 6.25 inches. Acrylic, urethane, Ink, pencil, and paper on wood.

Last night I found a couple of old paintings from 2002, and I had the overwhelming urge to paint over one of them. I busted out some sandpaper and roughed up the surface, then looked for an inspirational subject to work from that would lend itself to this collaboration with my former self. I am very pleased with the result and really looking forward to doing another of these (with the other old painting) tonight.

In my hand, for scale reference.
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Flood Reflections at Rutherford-Sayre Park, Chicago

Flood Reflections at Rutherford-Sayre Park, Chicago. 24 x 24 inches, acrylic on wood. 2020

I finished this painting and I’m feeling pretty good about it. The goal was to paint 2 foot square acrylic version of the very small gouache painting I made last year (below), using only the painting as a reference rather than the original photo reference. I’ve hung it up in the house to spend some more time with it. It’s got a great presence.

Next up I’ll be trying this scene again, same size, but directly from the photo (with some new restraints). My thinking on that here.

Flood Reflections at Rutherford-Sayre Park, Chicago. 7 x 7 centimeters, gouache on paper. 2019
Studio mess.
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Setting aside “Balance” in favor of self-awareness

I’ve decided that I’m going to blow up my freshly created 2020 goals, and tighten them up so that this year I strive for immersive/passionate focus into just a couple of things, rather than pushing a number of larger goals forward incrementally.

The main driver for this change was reading Brad Stulberg and Steve Magness‘s excellent book, “The Passion Paradox” One of the main concepts in the book is that balance and passionate pursuit do not coexist.

“Balance” is more often than not an illustion, especially for someone who is wholly absorbed in a passion. Instead of striving for balance, then, the passionate person should stribe to be self-aware. Self-awareness … is the only force strong enough to counter passion’s overwhelming inertia.

The Passion Paradox, p. 163, Stulberg & Magness

It’s with this in mind that I’ve decided to put a passionate focus into self-awareness this year. Meditation and mindfulness training will be my biggest area of personal focus this year, because I’ve come to believe that this learning and growing is foundational for every other part of my life.

In January of 2019 I started a humble practice using Sam Harris’ meditation app – Waking Up. For the first half of the year I was doing a 10min guided meditation nearly daily, and for the last half I’ve been getting in a few sessions a week. Even with this minimal investment of time and attention, I’ve seen a remarkable change occur in my daily experience. I’m able to be less reactive, more calm, and generally more engaged with the present moment. More importantly, I am able to see that these changes are only the tip of the iceberg in terms of what’s possible in meditation practice.

What does this mean for me, practically? For now, it means that I’m committing to daily meditations and studying meditation beyond what’s included in Waking Up.

I’ve started Jack Kornfield’s free guided meditation course, “Mindfulness Daily” and will continue that for the full 40 sessions.

I’ve started reading “The Craving Mind“, wherein (from the jacket) “Judson Brewer, M.D., Ph.D., a leading neuroscientist who has studied addictions for twenty years explores how bad habits are formed, why they are so tenacious, and how the practice of mindfulness can help us to conquer the most stubborn addictions and step into a new way of being.which covers using meditation practice to break addiction and bad habits.” So far it’s incredibly insightful.

Next on the shelf is D.E. Harding’s “On Having No Head.” After that is Jon Kabat-Zinn’s “Full Catastrophe Living.”

See what i just did there?

Undoubtedly, as i move forward in this pursuit my plans will shift and change, but I’m committed to making this year one of huge growth in self-awareness.

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What am I trying to achieve?

As I was reflecting on the work I’m doing right now and my painting plans for this year, I became very certain that my primary goal is this: I want to learn to make mid-scale acrylic landscape paintings with a process and outcome that represent my sensibility.

The most important thing about framing the goal this way is that it prioritizes exploration, experimentation, and learning over outcomes. In other words, this is not strictly about making landscape paintings that Ben likes, or somebody else likes or wants in their home or whatever—this is about making paintings in service of discovering how Ben makes landscape paintings.

I want to learn to make mid-scale acrylic landscape paintings with a process and outcome that represent my sensibility.

In light of this realization, I’ve decided to spend one or two more sittings with the current painting and call it “done” because i’ve learned about everything I am going to learn from that painting. My next plan was to do a different scene with the same process, but I’ve changed my mind. My next painting will be the same scene, but with different constraints:

  • shorter painting sessions
  • limited overall time
  • limited brush sizes (not too small)
  • paint direct from photo source (as opposed to painting source)

Know what? I’m excited.

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Mix: 15 from 2019

I’ve put together another installment of my year-end favorite song mixes – this time it’s “15 songs from 2019.” There are a lot of really special songs that didn’t make the mix this year. I listened far and wide in 2019, but ultimately spent most of my time with several AMAZING records that came out this year (Vampire Weekend, Pavo Pavo, Tyler, The Creator, Burna Boy, Dangermouse & Karen O, Bon Iver, Leif Vollebeck).

In the end, I chose these fifteen and strung them together into a one-hour mix that represents my year of music pretty well. Download it as one long mp3, or try the Spotify version, or Google Play version if you prefer.

Below is the track listing, a favorite lyric from each song, and my thoughts about each song. Let me know what you think!

1. Fool’s Game – Glen Hansard
“I’m taking it with you and no other”
I first started to really appreciate Glen Hansard after listening to his incredibly good tribute to Jason Molina, the EP “It Was Triumph We Once Proposed… Songs of Jason Molina.” Early this year, Hansard released “Fool’s Game” as an advance single for his album, “The Wild Willing.” I just love the epic and surprising journey this song takes me on. Each time the swell comes, it arrests me and takes me with it, spitting me out at the end, and soothing me with soft sounds and a voice singing words I can’t decipher, but I do understand.

2. Don’t Know How to Keep Loving You – Julia Jacklin
“What if I cleaned up? what if I worked on my skin?”
I have to mention Jason Molina again because it struck me one day as I listened on repeat—this Julia Jacklin song evokes a lot of what is so great about Magnolia Electric Co. records. It comes brimming with tension and energy, teetering on the edge of something. A superb rock song. What an amazing voice (the whole record is worth a listen).

3. What It Is – Angel Olsen
“You just wanted to forget, you just wanted to forget.”
Angel Olsen took her songwriting and sound to the next level on “All Mirrors.” The entire album is really special. I was fortunate enough to see her and her phenomenal band at The Riviera this year—one of those shows where the songs take on new, subtle layers of glory that make subsequent listens all the more enjoyable.

4. Every Woman – Vagabon
“We reserve the right to be full, when we’re on our own.”
I first heard Vagabon as the opener for Angel Olsen. “Every Woman” captures most what i liked about that live show: a unique voice and lots bubbling below the surface.

5. The Way That You Feel – Leif Vollebekk
“You took me where I want to go, to the way that you feel.”
I’m a huge Leif Vollebekk fan, and his new record, “New Ways,” is everything I hoped it would be. It was difficult to pick just one song from the record, because almost all of them are special to me in some way. Even now i’m second guessing myself (Hot tears? Blood Brother? I’m not your Lover?). I saw Leif play at Lincoln Hall and the music and performance was just out of this world. The players were excellent, and the songs tugged every heartstring available and some that I didn’t even know existed. I highly recommend the record and the live show.

6. Ministry – Karen O & Danger Mouse
“Make me crystal clear, cast my heart anew.”
I got hooked on this record on the first listen. The grooves and music themes that get built on and reflected throughout the record make this one of my go-to records for Sunday mornings or chill evenings. This is a great collaboration, and for me the record is more compelling than what either artist typically produces on their own.

7. HIGHEST IN THE ROOM – Travis Scott
“Hope I make it outta here.”
This is my guilty pleasure of the year. I have listened to this one song more than any other and I really can’t stop. Mike Dean production FTW. Hope I make it outta here.

8. Dangote – Burna Boy
Burna Boy’s “African Giant” is a complete jam. It became my go-to selection for morning workouts and late night pinball sessions alike. It’s nearly impossible not to move your body to these songs. I picked “Dangote” for this list because for months whenever it came on I’d run over to my phone to see which track it was (but could never remember!). “Anybody” from the same record is another one to seek out.

9. EARFQUAKE – Tyler, The Creator
“I just need some confirmation on how you feel, for real”
“Igor” is another one of my most played albums this year (another top pick for morning workouts and downtown walks). The production, lyricism, and performances throughout are some of the best in hip-hop. EARFQUAKE is the most obvious single, but i could have picked any number of songs for this list.

10. Mystery Hour – Pavo Pavo
“I’m designed to be unsatisfied”
This song pushes all of my buttons. Layers and layers of fuzzy clouds of sound. Vocals, like two birds soaring above, weaving a path through the mist. Sadly, shortly after releasing this album, Pavo Pavo split up. I’ll never get to see a live show, but i’m thankful for the two great records they let into this world.

11. Flower Moon (feat. Steve Lacy) – Vampire Weekend
“It was the right place, wrong time. Another night at the borderline.”
My favorite song of my favorite record this year. If I didn’t have a self-imposed rule of only including one song per artist, there would be at least four Vampire Weekend songs on this list. “Father of the Bride” is, in my opinion, the best produced, best arranged, simply the best record of this year. The songs and melodies are catchy, and there’s a depth to the lyricism and the arrangements that makes my love for this record grow with each subsequent listen. On my trip to Colorado this September, I had this record playing on repeat through the mountains, and each time I listened I heard something subtle and new. “Flower Moon” is particularly great. The vocal harmonies, the horns, the percussion, the groove. The MAGIC.

12. Nina – Crumb
“Nothing makes much sense you’ll see.”
Allison turned me on to this moody, subtle, atmospheric record. Another go-to pick for Sunday morning breakfast making soundtracks, and chill evenings painting in my studio.

13. Naeem – Bon Iver
“And I cannot seem to carry this all.”
The high point of another stellar record that got lots and lots of studio/workshop/driving play this year. It took me a couple of listens to connect with these songs and the overall approach to the arrangements and production. Part of me still pines for the Bon Iver of old, the bearded porch-sitting aesthetic I so love. But these songs (Naeem included) retain deep veins of that essence while presenting as something completely different. The lyrics are still revealing and hiding in equal parts, evoking emotional response in fragments—but this time the fragments are elevated by the mastery of creative arrangement and production. The heart and soul of this song is Vernon’s vocal delivery and the delicate connections in sound and words. This song brings tears to my eyes nearly every time I hear it.

14. Come Home (feat. André 3000) – Anderson .Paak
“No one even begs anymore.”
Andre 3000 delivers one of the best performances ever in his guest verse. That alone is enough to put it on the list, but the rest of the song, and Anderson .Paak’s smooth soul delivery throughout makes it a sweet, sweet, song to listen to, and listen to again. One more time?

15. All My Happiness Is Gone – Purple Mountains
“No way to last out here like this for long.”
David Berman dropped this amazing record, then promptly left us. I don’t have the words to write about it, the song is enough.

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