Here are some progress images from a new 3×4 foot painting where I’m layering abstractions based loosely on photos from my walks in nature.
I’ve been interested in how music influences the improvisational aspects of my mark making, and as such I am making this painting while listening to a single album on repeat – Makaya McCraven’s “In the Moment” (which is itself built from pure improvisation). So far so good.
I have just started exploring my way into a new painting concept I’m calling “Obverstractions.” In this series I am attempting to marry my bent toward abstraction with my passion for nature and observationally driven works, balancing these few facts about myself as an artist:
I feel most “at home” and connected to my work when it’s abstract. Painting with observation as a starting point works for me.. Observing the natural world closely is my biggest inspiration. I desire to connect with a “live,” improvisational energy while painting
My first couple of small attempts have proved to be instructive and validating. I’ll write more about my process as the series progresses.
I was encouraged by the results of the first study (below) and doubly encouraged by the second (above). To me, #2 is more successful as it arrives closer to the destination I envisioned while also departing furthest from the initial observation. I am using my mindfulness training as a compass for doing these works, and I felt that with #2 I was able to embrace uncertainty more and get into a more connected improvisational state while still channeling the subject (or at least my view of it).
Stay tuned for more of this work. I’d love to hear what you think of it.
In late June I started writing songs after a dry spell of many years. The melodies and the lyrics are just popping up and I am letting them, giving them a space to be alive and change and grow. I am tending to them as I would a poem or any writing, but the process is different—a fluid exchange between set ideas and improvisation. It often starts with a melody and a couplet or two, and then expands as the music takes shape, because the written words on the page don’t tell the whole story.
The Roller Coaster is the third “finished” song this month, the first recording I want to share. It all started out with four lines that didn’t make it to the finished work. Those (ultimately discarded) lines formed the framework of the melody, which gave birth to the first lines of the finished song (and the concept as a whole). It was written over the course of a week, and this recording (the third in the process) was made on July 31st.
Musically, I’m in a strange place. My ear is better than it’s ever been, and my vision for what I want to do is clear. But i’m out of practice, and it takes real work to get what I hear in my brain out onto the tape. When it happens successfully, It’s a true and absolute joy. One thing I’ve been surprised by is how much the skills i’ve learned over the past several years doing non-music projects have made me a better songwriter. Things like: working incrementally and iteratively, taking breaks when things aren’t working, putting time in when it feels right AND when it doesn’t, practicing, accepting where I’m at, Taking risks.
My goal is to release a record before the year is through, but right now I’m focused on shepherding these songs into the world. I have faith that they will all come together in a way that makes sense to me, and hope that I can form them into a work that resonates with others, too.
The Roller Coaster
I’ve been getting high again just to come back down. All the turns you took me in turned me inside out.
As we fall, that’s all there is— I can’t even see. At the top I’m losing it, I can barely breathe.
Feels like I am going to die as I strap on in to face the fear and feel what’s here, not what might have been.
Most evenings I walk from my office through downtown Chicago to catch a Metra train home. The walk is 1.1 miles, heading South and West from State and Hubbard to Union Station’s Madison Street entrance. The direction I’m heading cuts diagonally across downtown, which creates a lot of flexibility when it comes to route choice. Regardless of which streets are taken, there are at least eleven intersections to pass through and upwards of 20 navigation decisions to be made along the way.
There are essentially three factors that impact how fast the entire journey will be. 1. How fast I’m walking 2. Weather 3. How much time I must wait at intersections
The real opportunity here is in defining a routing methodology that minimizes time not walking. I’m in direct control of my walking speed, and the weather bows to no man.
Over time, I’ve developed the following guidelines for route taking to minimize time not walking per trip to an average of 18 seconds.
Never wait by choice* Every intersection choice point has two valid directional options—South or West. In most cases, waiting is not necessary because if one direction is blocked, the other is open. *This guideline must sometimes be overruled in order to stay away from the perimeter of the route.
Hop to it! If I can run a few paces to make the tail end of a “walk” sign, I’ll do it. The extra benefit is that when crossing near the end of light, I can immediately turn and cross again when I get to the other side.
Maximize choice points Every intersection that is not on the perimeter of the route contains 1-2 choice points, each with two valid directional options. For example, let’s say I’m coming south on the east side of Dearborn and I arrive at Wacker Drive. My first choice point is to either continue South on Dearborn (crossing Wacker), or to turn right on Wacker, (crossing Dearborn). Once either of these moves are made, I cross the street and immediately encounter my next choice point, continue or turn.
In most cases, choice should be made entirely by the “Never Wait” guideline, but there is another principle at play that makes it advantageous to wait for short times (if necessary) in order to stay away from the perimeter. The perimeter of route is where waiting happens, because there are no longer any choice points and directional options that don’t increase the overall distance of the trip. If the light is red, I’ve gotta wait. The guideline I use is to avoid the outside perimeter and the next block in from it until I’ve reached the Lyric Opera at Washington and Wacker. I may wait 8 seconds or less at an early intersection to ensure that I avoid perimeter woes.
Avoid multiple Wacker drive intersections All intersections are not created equally. Waiting, if necessary, takes longer on intersections where at least one of the streets are two-way. I try to head quickly to cross the River, then if I’m not lucky enough to cross Wacker right away, I’ll walk west until I get to an intersection where I can cross without any waiting.
In conclusion If I am optimizing for speed, this is how I do it. I may make another post some time about optimizing the same walk for beauty, which I have thoughts about too. Enjoy walking!
I’ve had the Sayre Park painting hanging in the living room to observe for the past few weeks. It’s been a great reminder of the kind of work i don’t want to do. Through talking about this with Zion and Josiah last weekend, we decided it looked more interesting turned on its side. Once I did that, the painting was crying out to become an underpainting for something new.
A couple of days later, an artist named Katie Vernon posted a painting to her instagram that inspired me to start my new painting in a particular way. Here is her painting:
Last night I found just the right photo source for the new painting and got to work. I starting blocking white, then gray, then blue and brown and greenish grays. I made a few passes over it and really got into a flow and had a lot of fun. I’m absolutely loving the direction this took and I’m looking forward to digging back in to it.
Covered a lot of ground and had a really fun painting session last night. I blocked in more of the hills and mountains in the distance, and put in a couple of washes on the lake itself. I expect the final painting to not look much like this at all, but it’s heading in the right direction. Next passes will focus on sky and some elements in the foreground that haven’t been painted yet.
It feels inevitable that all this diving into observational painting is just taking me the long way back to complete abstraction. I’m not trying to go there, but as I continue to incorporate mindfulness into everything i’m doing, it’s hard to ignore the bursts of excitement and delight that I get when I’m making marks for marks-sake. Who knows!??!!!!
Put in time last night doing an underdrawing and putting some paint down on this 48×36″ panel. Lately i’ve been trying to just work on whatever i’m drawn to in the moment, and last night I was feeling this big one. I lost a little momentum looking for the right source photo. to work from. I landed on a view of The Loch, a lake I hiked past on the way up to Sky Pond in Estes Park.
One thing i realized right away was just how much this change in scale changes the game for the way I’m painting, and really the way i’ll *be able* to paint. This one is going to be a challenge but i’m determined to learn as much as possible.
The main drawback of jumping into this painting is that I won’t be able to iterate as fast, which is going to slow down the overall learning cycle. To this end, i’m going to get one or two smaller works going over the weekend so when i’m not ready to dive into the big one, i’ll still be able to make progress.
Update: I abandoned this painting to make something else on that panel!
Working on freeing myself up a bit more, so I’m going to be making some low-risk, low-stakes landscapes on paper. I have some ideas about what i’ll do with these but I’ll discuss that when I actually do something. I’m thinking this needs one more pass before calling it “done.” This scene is inspired by a photograph I took on my hike to Chasm Lake, just after climbing above the treeline.
Everything about this roughly two hour painting session felt good. It had its ups and downs but more often than not I was experiencing a flow state. I succeeded in not overworking anything, and I now have a clear vision of where this painting will end. I am toying with a tone change in the sky but I want to add the foreground elements before changing anything.
one thing that has been working well when my intention is to paint looser and more intuitively is to put on improvisational jazz music. The last couple of painting sessions were powered by Makaya McCraven. Something about the groove and the open ended improvisation really helps me get out of my head and paint more by feel.