Tuesday, December 24, 2013

The Christmas Card: Joy-Filled Art Making

The Joy Fiasco 2012: Making Christmas Cards

For about 10 years now I've been making my own Christmas cards.  It is always filled with a certain amount of anxiety: what will the subject be, will I get a decent painting in time, where will I get it printed, how might I get it printed more efficiently, and ultimately - will I be able to get the cards out in time for Christmas.  And so, last year I got into my head that I could just paint 80 Christmas cards instead of running to the printer.  I did several small pieces before I finally settled on the theme "Joy."  Are you laughing yet?

I decided to post the images on Facebook as they came out in a series, and was delighted that so many friends liked them and commented on how they enjoyed seeing these little messages everyday.  

Soon I realized that when it came to actually sending out the cards I would have to decide who got which card, and I'd be deciding until long after Christmas which "Joy" painting was most appropriate for any one of my 80 recipients.  I stopped seriously trying to produce 80 cards at about image 14 or so.  I took 4 or 5 images to a local printer and eventually settled on one for production.

The image above was not selected to be last year's card. Although it was one of my favorites, it didn't work quite as well as I wanted for the format of the card. So, I put it on a coffee mug on Zazzle.   

"Joy" has some of my favorite elements in it - the look of being old, hanging around for generations and being dis-covered, and renewed.  Always here - past and present.  

Monday, December 23, 2013

iPoinsettia: Digital Art

iPoinsettia, Digital Painting by Jim Carpenter

The Christmas Card 

I created this card while on the deck of a ship while on a transatlantic crossing in November 2010. I had owned my iPad for about 3 months and took it on the trip with me to see how I might "Paint" without having to carry along art supplies. When I sat down to do this painting the sun was shining on the water, and I was very comfortable in the deck chair looking out at the ocean, and fully aware of the feeling of gratitude flowing through me.  

It didn't take long for me to become totally absorbed in what I was doing. I was learning the Art Studio app on the run so there was no chance of becoming bored or distracted.  I had only my finger to guide me and there was a lot of experimentation going on.  Nothing new there, right? I mean, it's always an experiment when I paint, never "knowing" what is going to happen - just armed with a lot of hunches.  

Four hours later when I finally looked up from the iPad, the view had changed drastically; the sun had gone in and the fog had rolled out, and I had my iPainting completed.  It was a relief, really, to have the Christmas card done in November.  There's a first time for everything.  

And I had found a new way to make art while on vacation: just bring along my trusty iPad.  It gives a whole new meaning to the phrase "finger painting."

Friday, November 22, 2013

Directing The Eye Through Composition and Word

"The End Of The Pilgrimmage" by Jim Carpenter, Acrylic on Paper, 22" x 30"

Directing The Eye Through Composition

Artists use composition to focus and direct the eye of the viewer.  You might find as you look at this painting that you first look at the figure that is in the highest position, and then move to the large figure in the center and then to the tallest figure further to the right. And then you notice the long line of figures moving from the right to the left at the bottom of the paper. Then back up to the figure on the upper left.  

The easy and natural path for the western eye to follow is from left to the right, the way we read. And so that figure up there on the left is perhaps the starting point of travel through the painting.  The figure in the center - the center being a hot spot - would dominate the painting were it not for the height of the figure on the upper left or the size of the figure to the right of center.  There is a balance and a tension between these three figures. Who they are and what they represent may not be specific but they are in positions - on the page - that suggest they have more authority or power than the other figures in the painting.  

Then we come down to the figures starting on the right side of the paper. They seem to be moving left, or rather, our eye is traveling left with them.  This travel goes against the grain - the opposite way of our reading habits - and this makes that movement strong, giving these smaller figures some strength of focus.

Directing The Eye Through Words

How the viewer looks at the painting can also be affected by the title. I came up with three possible titles for this painting.  Let's try each one out and see how it affects the way the painting is viewed.  

"Above and Below"

If the title is "Above and Below" the viewer is encouraged to see two levels and to make sense of it - the top and the bottom, the big guys and the little guys, the spiritual and the human... there are countless possibilities.  It focuses on polarity.

"Degrees of Separation"

The title "Degrees of Separation" allows the viewer to look a little more deeply into the painting. For example, it might lead first to an examination of the separation between the figures below and each of the figures above. And subsequently to an examination of the ways in which the upper figures are separated from one another - higher or lower, closer or more distant from one another. It also would lead to an examination of the obvious degrees of separation between the figures on the bottom as they relate to one another, and how they might relate or not relate to the figures in higher places.

"The End of the Pilgrimage"

This title does all that the previous two do, but adds some new direction for the viewers. It adds character and plot and meaning in a way that the other two titles do not. When I think of this as a snapshot of the end of the pilgrimage - that is, the pilgrims/travelers have arrived at their destination - I am led to look at the figures at the bottom in all of their positions, and I see that the positions indicate a state of being for each character - an attitude.  At the same time the figures above them also take on more human characteristics. What are they thinking now that they have their audience before them?  Are they a part of this or are they looking for something else?

Maintaining Ambiguity

I try always to allow plenty of room for interpretation of my paintings.  What this painting is really about is something that only the viewer can decide.  Though a "pilgrimage" is generally viewed as a journey to a sacred place - the pilgrims in the middle ages would travel great distances to view the relics of a particular saint - a pilgrimage does not have to be solely about the sacred.  It can stand as a metaphor for any journey of great import that we happen to be on.  What happens once we get where we are going?  The end of the pilgrimage is something to consider.  

Thursday, November 14, 2013

TransFiguration: The Creative Process

"TransFiguration" by Jim Carpenter, Acrylic on Paper, Mounted on Canvas, 14" x 11"

Transfiguration: A Change of Shape or Form

"Trans" is the Latin preposition meaning, among other things, "across." We see it everyday in such common words as "transatlantic" "transmigration" "transportation" "transfer" "translation" - and now your mind is reeling with all of the "trans" words you know that I haven't mentioned, right?  

The word "Transfiguration" was first used to describe "the change in appearance of Christ before his disciples," but later its meaning broadened to include the secular -  "a complete change of form or appearance into a more beautiful or spiritual state."  

I think that this painting suggests the mysterious and miraculous types of trans-formation we might experience ourselves or witness in others.   And I think the relationship between the two characters is an interesting one to consider.  How does "trans-figuration" apply to each of them?  What is being trans-figured here?  

The capital "F" that I placed in the middle of "TransFiguration" has a purpose: to remind the viewer of "the Figure" and to suggest the notion of "figuration" - the act of drawing figures.  And, I also wanted to connect this painting with an earlier work that I titled, "Figuration."  
"Figuration" by Jim Carpenter, Acrylic on Paper, 9.25" x 17" 

"Figuration" has always made me think of "the figure" being created from out of the chaos.  We start with chaos and somehow manage to pull out of it - "draw out of it"? - some meaning, literal or figurative.  

It's good to be back!  

Monday, September 30, 2013

The Shared Scene: Solitude With Others

"Shared Scene" by Jim Carpenter, Acrylic on Paper 7 1/4" x 11"

Day 30 - Painting #23 - The End of the Challenge: A New Beginning

Well, here is my last painting for the challenge designed by Leslie Saeta.  When I started this 27 days ago I had no idea whether or not I'd be able to do it.  I guess that is what a challenge is all about.  You take a risk to meet the challenge.  Artists need to be willing to take risks. Isn't there the risk of failure every time we pick up a brush or put our work on display?  

I titled this painting "Shared Scene" because I noticed that the figures are in position for a shared scene on the stage.  That triangle can shift the focus from one character to another with the slightest of movements.  Right now it looks to me like the figure down left (viewer right) has the focus. The figure in the back is looking toward him.  Just imagine any one of these figures turning their gaze, shifting the focus from the figure down left to the figure down right, or to put even more emphasis on the figure in the center imagine both figures turned toward him.

What is the point? I just want to suggest that the story being told in this painting is ongoing. That the three figures each have a certain amount of power to take focus and to raise questions about who they are and what they are considering regarding themselves and one another. They are separate but they are in this scene together, much like the 400 artists in Leslie's challenge. It is through opportunities like this that we get to breach the solitude of the studio and share the scene with our colleagues.

I have to say too that this painting, and the challenge itself, makes me think about not abandoning our muses, or, perhaps more to the point, about not fearing that our muses will abandon us. They are present - maybe not always easily detected - but they are present. We may need to dig deep to find them hidden away in some ancient cavern just waiting for us to call on them for inspiration. I am reminded of that when I look at my 23 paintings from this challenge.

I will continue to paint daily and to blog - not daily - but to blog often.

Congratulations to all of my art buddies in the challenge!  Phew!  We did it.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Taking A Break From Doing and Entering Into Being

"From  A Distance" by Jim Carpenter, Acrylic on Paper, 11" x 7 1/2"

Painting #22 Day #29 In the 30 in 30 Challenge

I have been so busy preparing for the opening reception for my show coming up on Friday Oct. 4, that I have not been able to paint for two days.  I've been busy with the framer, with my inventory list, pricing, post cards. Well, you know how it just goes on and on.  

I will admit to worrying that my colleagues in the Challenge and the friends following me would think that I was shirking my commitment, but I felt like I had no choice. The show must go on.

I won't go into details about the utter craziness of the last 48 hours of "doing" in prep for the show. Let it suffice to say that at about noon today all of the concern was put to rest and I was able to have a nice lunch and relax.  At about 4 o'clock I went into the studio with the plan to mount some of my paintings on canvas, but I had 2 starts waiting for me to tackle for the challenge and I thought, "Why not!  You need to paint. It is still light out!  And, it will make you feel better." Painting is more about "being" than about doing anyway.

"From A Distance" is the result of deciding to paint - of deciding "to be" in the creative process -  before getting down to "doing" the business of gluing paper to canvas. That I finished it in record time - I didn't even get through my Flamenco Guitar cd more than once - and that I was able to sign and photograph it before sunset... well it's all shocking to me.  The broad outline of the large figure, the curve around him, and outlines of several other figures were there in "the scrubbed-out start" which I had abandoned many months ago.  It was all blue.  And I had no idea when I started working on it where it was going to go.  

I can't help but be mystified by this painting. How did it happen so fast?   Was it because I was too tired to think or to worry about restrictions?

When I look at this painting I keep hearing Bette Midler singing "From A Distance" in the background.  I don't know quite what to make of that.  After all, I was listening to Flamenco music when I painted it.  

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Solitude: Keeping It Simple & The Creative Spirit

"Solitude" by Jim Carpenter, Acrylic on Paper, 9 1/2" x 7 1/2" 

Ah! I need solitude. I have come forth to this hill at sunset to see the forms of the mountains in the horizon — to behold and commune with something grander than man. -Henry D. Thoreau  [Journal, 14 August 1854]

Painting #21 Day #26 in the 30 Day Challenge - Solitude!

Although the word solitude can have some negative connotations, like loneliness and isolation. There is something positive to be said for seeking solitude from the business of the world. Thoreau leads the way in explaining the benefits of seeking solitude.  

This painting was a struggle.  I wanted it to be something much more elaborate and perhaps a bit more colorful, but it would have none of it.  As I've noted before my paintings seem to have a mind of their own and don't care much one way or the other what I want.  The paper has been through a lot of painting and scrubbing. It was in every orientation at least once and populated with many figures, but none of them were satisfying.  I was very close to abandoning this piece of paper forever.  I suppose a little bit of solitude would have helped both the painting and me at that point.  So I left and had dinner. 

When I returned to it I decided to start on a new piece altogether but I kept being called back to this now aged piece of paper.  I had two figures in it, superimposed and not very successfully.  I kept thinking "get rid of one of the figures" and then argued with myself "but if you do that there will be only one figure and there's nothing else going on in that painting." Then I thought about several other paintings in which I had just one solitary figure.  And I thought, "Keep it Simple, Jim" and so I said to the painting, "If that is what you want to be, then so be it."  I proceeded with the idea that this was going to be a simple painting with simple shapes and a simple neutral palette.  And now, I sort of love this painting.  

Monday, September 23, 2013

Suspending Action: Ponder, Poise, Balance

"Poise to Ponder" by Jim Carpenter, Acrylic on Paper, 7" x 9"

Painting #20 Day #23 in the 30 in 30 Challenge

I can't believe this is painting #20.  How interesting it has been for me to watch these small paintings take on various formats and configurations.  

The title of this painting is "Ponder."  To ponder means to weigh something mentally before making a decision or before coming to a conclusion.  The three figures in the painting may be poised to make a decision, although I see some slight movement in the third figure on the right, as if he is moving to a place to think on his own.   Interestingly enough the root of "ponder" is the Latin verb ponderare which means to consider or to weigh [mentally.] Weight is in the balance here, in terms of the composition of the painting as well as the meaning of the words ponder and poise, both of which trace their roots back to words that relate specifically to weight and weighing.  

The main character in this painting is the figure on the right.  He is he one whose pondering we are being asked to consider.  He is facing the viewer; one can make out some expression on his face.  He seems to have more weight than the other two figures combined and seems to be closer to the viewer.  I see him as moving into position - a little further to the right is where he will finish, and then the scene will be balanced.  But for now he is suspended in motion, poised, and likely will move after a moment's pause.  At least, that's how I see it.  Are my days as a stage director showing?  

Sunday, September 22, 2013

The Creative Spirit Has A Mind Of Its Own: The Emissary

"Carolyn & Bill" by Jim Carpenter, Acrylic on Paper

Painting #19 Day #21 - 30 in 30 Challenge

I know that this seems like quite a departure from the rest of my paintings in the challenge -- letters, numbers, words you can read, and the couple in a kiss.  But, there are some things it has in common with the others. The figures are abstract.  The palette is identical to all the others.  There is written text on the wall that looks like it has been carved into over the years by the two lovers. And the entire painting has a feeling of having been around for a while. 

I actually love this little painting...  And it appeared as if by magic.  I was unable to attend the 50th Golden Anniversary celebration of my dear friends Carolyn and Bill because their party was 900 miles away and taking place on the same weekend that I was to receive my Signature membership in the Florida Watercolor Society.  When I say that this painting appeared as if by magic, I mean exactly that. This painting was something else entirely before it became what it is.  The painting that was twice as long - and was about "journey."  In fact, I had actually written a blog post to go with it (written while I was trapped in a garage for 5 hours while my car was being serviced!) But, as usual, as I was finishing up the "journey" late at night I made an adjustment to the central figure, and then everything started to shift, and in short time I understood where the painting wanted to go and what it wanted to become. 

I am beginning to believe that if we can relax and let the creative energy flow, that our intentions will come to fruition.  In this instance, the Creative Spirit just swooped in and created something that I could send as an emissary for this special weekend for two very special friends.  

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Life's Images: Artifacts

"Artifacts" by Jim Carpenter, Acrylic on Paper

Day 21 Painting #18 in the 30 in 30 Challenge

I don't often paint with metallic paints, but I loved the neutral palette and the faded ancient look of these figures. They reminded me of the iconic images one might see in a painting in a sacred space.  And so I got out the liquid gold acrylic and let it flow around the images.  

A recurring theme in my paintings is the un-covering or dis-covering of a painting done long ago, the image faded but the mark and the care of the artist still discernible. To  me it speaks of the longevity of art, the images that persevere through time, the traces we all leave behind.  

Friday, September 20, 2013

Conferring: With the Master

"Conference" by Jim Carpenter, Acrylic on Paper

Painting #17 - Day #20 - 30 in 30 Challenge

It would seem that this is a recurring theme in the paintings I've been turning out, not just in this challenge but in the last few years.  That is, the theme that we are always in need of conference with masters.  Our masters are not replaced or superseded or retired. Their number expands to include more teachers, great artists of other times, and perhaps even ourselves.  

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Contemplation & Art

"Contemplation" by Jim Carpenter, Acrylic on Paper, 11" x 11"

Day 19 - Painting #16 "Contemplation"

The word contemplation means long or thoughtful observation. Sometimes it carries the connotation of religious or spiritual meditation.  It comes from the Latin roots "com" which means "with" and "templum" which was "a place for taking auguries." An augur studied and observed nature very closely  and interpreted nature, determining what was a sign and what the sign meant.  

I titled this painting "Contemplation" because the figures either appear to be in deep thought or are a standing invitation to step into deep thought.  

Perhaps painting itself is an act of contemplation.  The artist takes her paint and canvas into the field and observes nature and in deep thought interprets it.  Every painting is an act of interpretation.  Is every painting the result of some contemplation either in the immediate act of painting or from previous study.  Can a brilliant painter of flowers paint a flower without ever having contemplated the flower? Its structure. Its color?  Its detail?  

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Breaking Solitude: The Artist Approaches The Muse

"Consultation" by Jim Carpenter, Acrylic on Paper, 6.5" x 4.5"

 Painting #14 - Day #17 in the 30 in 30 Challenge

This is a small painting about a big idea.   I might see it as a reminder that, although it is often said that being an artist is a lonely occupation, conjuring up images of the artist alone in his studio with nothing for company save the canvas, there are countless ways for artists to socialize and to be supportive of one another, to paint together, to collaborate, and to share knowledge and insights.  This 30 in 30 challenge is a perfect example of the community spirit in art. 

Still, when push comes to shove, in the sense that art is a form of personal self expression, and is the artist's own interpretation of the world around him, making art is seen largely as a solitary endeavor.  And, I would suggest that artists have felt this aloneness for thousands of years, and have acknowledged a need for courage, support and inspiration.  That's why in ancient Greece we find these elements embodied in the Nine Muses

I see this painting, "Consultation," as allegorical. The apprentice seeks counsel from the master, the artist approaches the Muse.  Where does the individual artist go for inspiration and support and courage today? 

Monday, September 16, 2013

Interpreting the Landscape

"Reading" by JimCarpenter, Acrylic on Paper, 7 1/2" x 9 1/2"

Painting #13 Day 16 in the 30 in 30 Challenge

Jim: Can I paint this field purple instead of green?
Linda : It all depends.  Did you bring you license?
Jim: My license? What license?
Linda: Your artistic license.

Yes, this dialogue actually took place when I was a student of artist Linda Pence.  Though the subject was not specifically the purple field, I had asked her a question of similar import, and I assure you that I was totally baffled when she asked me if I brought my license with me.  Still the lesson is a hard one to learn.  

One spring I went out painting with Linda and another art buddy. After hours of looking at beautiful fields layered with intermingling swaths of pink and purple and yellow wildflowers, we ended up inexplicably selecting a plain green field with nothing to distinguish it from any big patch of green grass.  There were a few weedy pale pink flowers hidden in it but they were obscure and negligible.

I resigned myself to painting this somewhat boring flat green field, and soon got lost in the painting.  I was picking out the flowers in the field, squinting to track their spotty layout, and by the time we decided to pack up a few hours later my painting of the green field was filled with swaths of blue and pink and purple flowers. 

It can take a few minutes after a painting session to distance oneself from what has been done, and when I stepped back to look at the painting I laughed at myself for painting something that would never pass as an accurate recording of the green field.   

Perhaps this was a foreshadowing of the way I would come to paint a few years later in the studio, but at the time I didn’t recognize it as personal expression or personal interpretation of the landscape.  I owned the purple field, but it didn’t register that it was necessarily a step in the right direction for me. 

I find it amusing now that I was not more tuned in to the notion that an artist interprets the world around him.  I know that is what artists do, but somehow I wasnt thinking I had the license to do it myself, despite the many times my teacher reminded me that if I brought my artistic license with me I could paint whatever way I wanted. 

I titled this painting “Reading” because to read means to interpret text, both verbal and non-verbal.  Artists are constantly interpreting the text of the world around them, and their interpretation – a dance, a film, a piece of sculpture, a poem, a painting, a song – is there for all of us to read.  

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Museum: A Place to Be

"Museum" by Jim Carpenter, Acrylic on Paper, 11" x 11"

Painting #12 - Day #15,  The 30 in 30 Challenge - "Museum"

Originally "museum" meant "a seat or shrine of the Muses."  Today we think of it as the place where we go to see artifacts, ancient and modern, art and technology.  But I would like to go think more about museum as a shrine of the Muses.  What is a museum if not the dwelling place of items that exemplify what it means to be inspired.  In a museum, we can see how man has been inspired through the ages to make a mark in the world.  

The structure of this painting was in place all day long but the sense of it didn't occur until - out of discomfort with the coldness in the right side of the painting - I got out the Quinacridone Nickel Azo Gold and warmed up the painting with it. It is astonishing how meaning can suddenly be made by layering in a pigment.  Now the figure leans against a wall covered in obscured messages, and seems to be observing the scene before him.

As I was working on the painting the white figure was always the main character. The painting is about him.  I assumed all along that he is alive and present and all of the other figures are not of the same reality.  But in a moment of honesty I admitted that he is stone-like.  Is it possible that he's a carved block of marble in a museum and all of the other figures are present and real? Is this what the Muses have in mind when an artist says, "I want to be in a museum someday"?   Perhaps.  

Saturday, September 14, 2013


"Composure" by Jim Carpenter, Acrylic on Paper, 11" x 11"

Composure: Painting #11 Day #14 in 30 in 30 Challenge 

I no longer can remember what my start looked like. The only thing I can remember is that I painted and lifted and painted and lifted a lot, and that figure on the right, this woman of great composure walking toward the viewer, was adamant about being there.  And it remained the only clear thing I could see in the paper during the entire process. I layered in paint to isolate the figure and that gave way to hints of a misty environment - given some substance by the second figure seeming to be walking behind and following.  

I like to think of many of the images in my paintings as the remnants and shadows of paintings laid down by artists of long ago, paintings that have been lost, long hidden, and I'm un-covering or dis-covering them. This particular image has those qualities, so I wanted to preserve it. But at the same time I felt that there needed to be contrast, something that was not uncovered yet, but rather remained somewhat buried or untouched, vibrant and obscure.  So I started layering paint on the area to the left, added some line and stamped in the figure "lifting the sky," the single most holistic pattern of Qigong, the ancient Chinese self-healing art form.  It's a composite that juxtaposes the covered and the uncovered, the light and the dark, the warm and the cool, the interior and the exterior, and what may be different moments in time.  

If all the delicate balances are correct and the viewer's eye is carried in the right way from one part of the painting to another then we can speak not merely of composite but of composition.  

Once again my theatre training comes to my aid. I understand that I am splitting the focus in this painting, dragging the focus of the viewer from the gold figure "lifting the sky" up left to the main figure down right.  If I didn't have this in my toolbox from directing plays, I'd be afraid to take the risk of doing this in a painting.  But, I want the viewer to consider both figures and draw conclusions on their own.  It's an invitation to the viewer to compose their own story about what is happening in the painting. 

Friday, September 13, 2013

Care: The Essence Of Making Art

"Care" by Jim Carpenter, Acrylic on Paper, 10"x 10"

There are over 400 artists in Leslie Saeta's 30 in 30 Challenge. What could possibly possess them all to do this online thing?  I'm sure we all have our reasons, but there is one characteristic, one motivating factor that applies to each and every artist in the challenge. Care. They care about art. They care about self expression. They care so much about their art form that they paint every day and make time for it every day. And, at one time or another I would imagine they have had to deal with the question, "Why."   

I am sometimes overwhelmed by what I see as tremendous care in a work of art - a novel, a painting, a chorus, a play.  I think about how the members of the National Symphony Orchestra have spent a lifetime mastering their instrument, spent countless hours in rehearsal, alone and with others, preparing for the concert. I watch them to see them listening and enjoying, to see them paying attention to the conductor, to the page.  And they do all of this to be a part of making music.  It's a stage full of care.  And so it is with any fine or performing art.  If you take the time to think about the care that each artist, whether an amateur or a great master, puts into the work, it's simply breathtaking,  Care is of the essence.  

My painting today - this 10th painting - was one that gave me a time.  They all do actually, but when it was finished and I had to title it, I was briefly stumped and feared that the painting didn't make sense.  But the central figure seemed to have a benevolence about him and is directing it toward the couple on the left.  The figure on the right seems to be burdened with concern.  And it was then that I realized that this painting is about caring.   The setting is theatre-like, and there's no surprise there, considering my attachments to the theatre.  

Hopefully the painting manages to rise above the literal and can be seen as allegorical. 

Thursday, September 12, 2013


"Vision" by Jim Carpenter, Acrylic on Paper, 9"x9"

Day 12 Painting #9 in the Painting Challenge

What coincidences can I dream up today to go with this painting?  It's painting #9 and it's 9" square, an oddball for that, but I plan to mount this on a 10" square canvas.  The painting seems to be true to the theme that is unfolding itself. Each painting seems to be a piece of some greater whole.  

The central figure is one that simply appeared in the paper as I lifted the paint. Well, not so much "simply" as "after much searching, backtracking, lifting, painting, lifting, painting, lifting."  

I'm very much interested in the decision making process.  When do I finally say "this is it" and leave it be?  I was tempted to go at it again, but sensed that it was my own fear of taking a risk that was pushing me not to accept this painting as it is right now.  I like this figure in the center of the painting and the figures that fill in the right and left of the painting. Some one needs to be seeing the figure in the center, and the figures on stage right and stage left serve that purpose.  They are sufficiently solid and by contrast give that illuminated figure in the center a "not really there but really there" character.  

The word "vision" seems appropriate for the title.  It can mean the ability to see, which is served by the characters on the right and left. And it can mean the object being seen, the character in the center of the painting. It can also suggest things of the imagination, things one dreams about, and can carry connotations of the supernatural, the spiritual, and the mystical, all of which are possibilities regarding the illuminated figure.  

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Muse-ing For Inspiration

"Muse" by Jim Carpenter, Acrylic on Paper, 10"x10"

Where art thou, Muse, that thou forget'st so long
To speak of that which gives thee all thy might?
- Shakespeare, Sonnet 100

Day 11 - Painting #8

Five years ago I titled a painting "To A Muse," a joyful painting with floating figures and lots of color.  There is also the play on words, "to amuse" which suggest something enjoyable and entertaining.  But, "amuse" derived from the French "amuser" has as its roots a sense of diverting one from serious business, "a" meaning "from" and "muser" meaning "to ponder," or  "to divert someone from pondering."  And now I look at today's painting with its neutral palette, its near colorless figures grounded in a place that suggests ancient walls and illuminated caverns, sacred places with messages carved into the walls.  And I wonder (muse) about my Muses and the path they have taken me on.  

The figure on the lower right is smaller and he has a cloak, and color in his face, all suggesting to me that he is in this place but not of this place.  Is it possible that he is the source of the figures that rise up larger than life?  Or has he gone to this other worldly place to find his inspiration?  

In the classical tradition we call upon the Muses to inspire us.  Shakespeare in Sonnet 100 asks his Muse where she is, and where she's been!  It is a matter of convention to call upon the Muse for inspiration.  Interestingly enough the verb form of "muse" means to reflect deeply on something, or to meditate. I think that the figure on the lower right of the painting is doing just that.  

Now you may see this painting in an entirely different light.  As I said earlier, my reading of my painting is just my interpretation.  And remember, I don't plan my paintings out, so it is not as if I painted this with set ideas in mind of who is where doing what.  

This painting took me most of the day to complete.  It went through numerous changes before I found what to me what the story of this 10" x 10" painting.   Here are the images of the painting as it evolved.

 The Start

I thought it was done!

I thought I had it all figured out, but ultimately had to admit that it wasn't working.  It didn't make sense to me. The figure on the lower right was just so solid and the figure just above him had a face that looked like a detailed engraving and I was "in love" with it. But the figure on the lower right was central and I wanted him to have focus so I took out the other guy!  In my previous life as a theatre director such removal would be painful for all concerned, but in a painting no one cares! Besides, I know this old man is still there in the painting, under a few layers of acrylic but still there adding character and mystery to the canvas.  And then I looked at the moon and the rest - well, what was I thinking?  I just got out the isopropyl and rubbed it all out and what I was left with was something that looked like the original start but with a little man in a cloak down right.  And I started over again looking for the painting. 

This is my search. This is how I paint.  This is my process. Paint, uncover, paint uncover, paint dis-cover.  This is what I guess my Muse likes to put me through.  I'm not complaining.  I am having a great time on this 30 in 30 Challenge that is being hosted by artist Leslie Saeta.

How does the word "Muse" (muse?) fit into your own vocabulary?  

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

The Mentor: Finding Courage, Wisdom, Inspiration

"Mentor" by Jim Carpenter, Acrylic on Paper, 10" x 10"

 Well, just so you know how organic it all is, I didn't know the etymology of "Mentor" until after I looked at this painting and understood that it was about teaching and learning, teacher and student.  I thought that this soaring figure might represent the spirit of the mentor, one who teaches and guides the apprentice.  For a fuller understanding of the term I looked up the definition of "mentor" and discovered that the word has its origins in The Odyssey.

"Mentor" was a friend of Odysseus. When Odysseus left for the war  he placed Mentor in charge of his Palace and his son, Telemachus.   So Mentor was a guardian.  But, on occasion, the goddess Athena sometimes entered that palace disguised as Mentor and advised Telemachus.  Athena was, among other things, the goddess of wisdom, courage, inspiration, and the arts.

Here  is the start for "Mentor."  It was left over from a paint out I participated in several years ago.  I had prepared several 10" square substrates by covering Stathmore Aquarius II watercolor paper with Acrylic gel medium.  Dissatisfied with my painting efforts I did what I often do, I lifted all of the paint off of the image with isopropyl alcohol.  And this is what was left.   I liked it and knew that some day I would paint on it.  I have looked at it many times and just never had the "courage" to tackle it, and waited to be "inspired."  How appropriate it is that this would turn into "Mentor."  

Monday, September 9, 2013

The Art of Practice

"Practice" by Jim Carpenter, Acrylic on Paper, 5 1/2 " x 7 1/2" 

"Practice" is my painting #6 in the Leslie Saeta's 30 Day Challenge.  Notice that it ought to be painting #9 since this is Day 9, but I started 3 days late.  Now I'm working on catching up.  Guess what the best thing for that is.  Practice!  And this 30 Day Challenge is a great way to sharpen one's skills, and a great way to build in the discipline of painting every day.  But let's talk about practice and the painting for a minute.  

The figure on the left is a print from a stamp that I made about 4 years ago. It is based on the Chi Kung (Qigong)  pattern called "Lifting the Sky" - the best single Chi Kung pattern in the world.  It is one of the most beautiful of the patterns and, for me, the figure stands as a symbol for this ancient Chinese self-healing art form that has in many ways changed my life.  This ancient art form is transformative - well the practice of this art form is transformative.  You have to practice regularly to get results.  

And that is what I think this painting is about, the transformative power of  practice.  Whether it is Qigong you are practicing or tap dancing or the piano  or spinning on your toes, you develop your skill  through practice.  

It is a common misconception to think that artists are able to do what they do because they have a natural talent and it comes easy to them.  But we know that isn't so.  You don't get to spin like Osipova does in the clip linked to above without practice.  Fred Astaire, one of the most gifted dancers of the 20th Century, was known for spending long hours in the rehearsal studio perfecting his work.

To get to the right side of the painting you have to pay attention to the figure on the left - "Practice!"  I'm grateful for the 30 in 30 Challenge.  I need the practice!  How about you?

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Fortitude: Braving the Art of Self-Expression

"Fortitude" by Jim Carpenter, Acrylic on Paper, 5 1/2" x 7 1/2"

"I have had a most rare vision. I have had a dream—past the wit of man to say what dream it was. Man is but an ass if he go about to expound this dream. Methought I was—there is no man can tell what. Methought I was, and methought I had—but man is but a patched fool if he will offer to say what methought I had. The eye of man hath not heard, the ear of man hath not seen, man’s hand is not able to taste, his tongue to conceive, nor his heart to report what my dream was. I will get Peter Quince to write a ballad of this dream." - A Midsummer Night's Dream, Shakespeare
In the fantastical world of William Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Night's Dream," Bottom for a brief time is literally turned into a jackass with ears.   He recalls it as a dream and wants to tell others about it but he reasons that the story is too fantastic for anyone to possibly believe it, and it is too grand for him to put into words and give it justice.  Besides, people will think him a fool if he were to tell anyone about it.  So he decides not to tell the story himself but instead to hand it over to another to craft it for him.

What a gift that dream would be to an artist who felt he had the ability to turn it into a work of art! Imagine someone who wasn't afraid of taking the risk of telling a story that was so fantastical that no one would believe it.  Someone like uh, I know, William Shakespeare!

The work in the world of the arts that stops me in my tracks and takes my breath aways strikes me as a courageously honest example of self-expression.  I think, "Wow! You just lay it all on the line!"

I am very much aware of the need to have courage when I paint.  I sometimes carve the words "practice fortitude" "be brave" "courage" into the paper as I'm working, and as I am seeking more authenticity in my own self-expression.  And that is what this painting seems to signify today; the figure is standing inside, peeking out into the light, considering the pitfalls and the rewards of authentic self-expression, mustering up the courage to step forward into the world of creativity and risk-taking .

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Honor the Creative Spirit

 "Honor" by Jim Carpenter, Acrylic on Paper, 9 1/2" x 6 1/2"

Painting #4 in my day 7 of Leslie Saeta's 30 in 30 Challenge.

When I looked at the finish my first thought was "this is about honor." So I titled it "Honor" and see it as a logical sequence in a line of titles: Seek, Pause, Endure, and now Honor.  I always make an effort not to box a painting in with a title because I want the viewers to be free to create their own story from what they see.  In that sense visual art is collaborative.

As I look at the painting now I see that I pulled the composition out of my theatre bag.  I really didn't think about it at all when I was in the midst of the creative process.  But, I spent decades directing plays and exploring story-telling by moving people from one place to another in a big empty space, and so I shouldn't be surprised to see that experience informing me now.  They say, "Paint what you know" and I say, "If you paint intuitively, you have no choice but to paint what you know.  You cannot do otherwise.  In fact, you may discover what you know by simply painting from the heart."

I've said previously that I believe in "not knowing" and perhaps that is why I view my paintings as vehicles for informing me about the stories that really matter to me and would remain untold were I not to paint.

I sometimes will look at a painting long after I'm done and I say, "Oh, so that's what matters to me!"

Do you find yourself creating meaning when you look at the figures in this painting?  What is going on in the scene?  I'd love to hear your stories.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Endurance: It Is About Time

"Endurance" by Jim Carpenter, Acrylic on Paper, 7 1/2" x 9 1/2"

Time past and time future

What might have been and what has been

Point to one end, which is always present. - TS Elliot, Burnt Norton

"Endurance" is my painting #3 in Leslie Saeta's 30-30 Challenge.  Once again the painting and the title seem to be related in someway to the experience of the challenge itself.  I didn't plan it this way, but as I wrote earlier, planning the outcome of putting paint on paper is not a big part of my process.  I titled the painting "Endurance" because the figures appear hardened, literally stone-like, and in the case of the figure on the right, encased or embedded in stone like a fossil.  One of the roots of the word comes from Old French word endurer which means "to continue in existence"  and from the Latin durare which means "to harden."

My first thoughts as I looked at the finished painting were that it is about time and the ways in which we travel through it, leaving remnants of ourselves behind and thereby always being present.  We pause. We observe.  We endure.

The 30 day challenge is already teaching me lessons.  My usual format is a full sheet - 22" x 30" - of water color paper.   I was not expecting that creating small works could nearly as satisfying as it is right now.  The creative spirit continues to teach no matter what the size of the canvas.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Pause to Paint: Paint to Pause

"Pause" by Jim Carpenter, Acrylic on Crescent Illustration Board, 9 1/2" x 6 1/2"

Is it a certain madness that drives 417 artists to agree to making 30 paintings in 30 days and to blog about them?  Is this just another opportunity to race with the clock?   

I recognized that hopping onto a challenge that seems to hold a promise of working, working, working, might be a bit crazy for me to attempt right now, given all that I have on my schedule.  But, underlying this rush of productivity is the current of creation, of self- expression, of dis-covery of self and of what is around us.  It's essentially an opportunity to "pause."  

It may seem at first glance a bit ironic that the painting that came along on day 2 for me in a 30 day challenge of productivity is one that reflects the importance of taking time to pause, but I find it surprisingly appropriate.  To take pause in the journey, to be curious, to read the text and interpret the symbols that surround us, to wonder at the mystery and to become fully engaged with it -- all of that is what making art is about.  

Here is the "start" that  led me to pause. Can you see the figure pausing in there, waiting for me to dis-cover it?  

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Start Seeking: Find a Start, Dis-Cover Art

"Seek" by Jim Carpenter, Acyrlic on Crescent Illustration Board, 9 1/2 " x 6 1/2"

Seek and ye shall find!  It would seem that all of my time in the studio and in the creative process is pretty much "seeking" in order to find or to dis-cover.  First I have find an appropriate "start." Somedays I only create "starts" that will be put aside for future use.   But a start, which is a great warm up activity because you get to play as much as you want with the paint, is just a start and it can remain a start for a few days or a few weeks or months or even years.  For my first painting of the challenge I selected one of several starts on crescent illustration board.  Better now than never.
The Start for "Seek"

I'm into "not knowing," so, there is no such thing as a detailed concept when I begin. I create some chaos on the paper and then seek out the painting.  I do have some trusted guides to help me though the journey.  For the most part, I work with the same pigments and generally stick to a limited palette using a red, a blue and a yellow, and several opaque whites.  I also have a favorite violet that I use occasionally and some metallics.

But it really is this process of just put paint down, making marks, stirring things up and then looking for the images to emerge from the chaos that challenges and juices me.  I am always amazed at where the paint leads me and know that if I had tried to imagine the painting before hand that I would never have imagined what I end up with.

The quest for knowledge, for guidance, for wisdom, for any worthwhile goal is as old - and as new - as mankind.  We are all about seeking.  And now I wonder if this painting - which I've titled "Seek" emerged for the express purpose of reminding me that we are all seeking something, looking for the clues, looking for the blessings, asking for guidance to help us un-cover something regarding the mystery that surrounds us.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

The Challenge of Finishing What One Starts

My studio is full of "starts" -  the beginnings of paintings left unfinished. What can bring me back to them?  

Leslie Saeta has invited artists to join her in a 30 day challenge for the month of September - a painting a day posted on one's blog.  Having just finished the Whole 30 recently I've learned that one really can make a change in one's habits in 30 days.  So, I am going to accept Leslie's challenge to do 30 paintings in 30 days, and to post them on my blog.  That means I also have to write on my blog for 30 days.   Hmmm.  I’m already three days late on this, but we are assured that if we fall behind we can just catch up. 
I have not spilled many beans about my creative process, but let’s just say that the painting I begin is not often the one that ends up being in the frame.   I do a lot of covering and uncovering before I find the painting.  Sometimes that means erasing as much of the original painting, either by trying to remove the paint from the paper or by covering the paper with new layers of paint. 
Since I’m gearing up for a show in October, I think that for me to take on a challenge such as this would be a crazy.  But I do have a lot of “unfinished” paintings, many of them 5” x 7” just waiting to be addressed. So, I’ve decided to accept the challenge of 30 paintings in 30 days by taking the many starts and near finishes I have in my studio and finishing them. One day at a time.   
I will on occasion post the starting point of the painting so you can get a sense of where I begin and where it all ends.   

More of my "starts" ...

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Re-Turning Early Work On Loan

"Yellow Roses"
Watercolor - 15" x 11"

A number of years ago I lent a painting to a friend who was just starting out in a new apartment.    As the years passed he lived with and loved the painting, but now he was moving to a new city and opening a new business, and establishing a truly minimalist lifestyle, and so he returned the painting to me.  I was happy to see it again – to see it with fresh eyes – and to remember what it was like to paint it.  “Yellow Roses” was the first of a series of five paintings of the same bouquet of yellow roses, capturing the various stages of the bouquet’s life.  I remember noticing that even as I painted the buds in this bouquet they were opening.   So by the time the painting was completed at the end of the session, neither the canvas nor the buds were as they had been hours earlier. But that is to be expected, isn’t it?  Buds open.  The paper gets paint on it.  And I was not attempting to capture a moment on paper; I was just trying to understand the beauty before me.

As I look at the painting now, with the hindsight of the paintings that followed, I am struck by the fact that they are just buds beginning to open.  Now I can see them as an apt metaphor for the creative process.