Wednesday, October 1, 2014

The Idle Challenge: Discovery, Rediscovery, and Recovery

"Real dreams are about seeing what others miss. If you have your head in the clouds, you can see the world more clearly." - Tom Hodgkinson, How to Be Idle

Reflections On The 30 Day Ramble 

What a month of painting and reading and writing and daydreaming this has been. Thanks to Leslie Saeta and her 30 Day Challenge over 1000 artists participated in a challenge to paint and write and post for 30 days. The collage image above was created on PicMonkey and was much easier than I ever expected.  The paintings are on my website now and I would be delighted if you were to take a swing by there to look at the gallery, and just click on an image to see the full painting.  

The 30 day challenge was very much a 30 day ramble, a reflective walk through the landscape of my own creative process. 


A good reflective ramble will open one's eyes, and I discovered a number of things this time around. First of all my trusted guidebook, "How to Be Idle" was a great eye-opener. I actually didn't know what a ramble was until I read this book. And I never really thought about how weavers were in charge of their own day until manufacturers came along and became their bosses. I have a couple of people to thank for this - my friend, artist Aryana B. Landir introduced me to creativity coach Mark McGuinness who recommended I read Tom Hodgkinson's "How to Be Idle." I loved finding a quote from the book to accompany each painting and to inspire the spin of my reflection on the painting experience. Blogging, like painting, is an opportunity to reflect.


It may be hard to imagine losing sight of the joy of painting, and before the challenge I was burying the joy under a whole lot of unnecessary stress. It was time for me to step back and rediscover the joy of painting for the sake of painting. What other reason could I possibly have to paint but that I enjoy it? Why not paint figures? Why not paint flowers or landscapes? Why not take a crack at non-objective abstracts? Why not collage? Why paper? Why not Yupo and Crescent Board? How about mixed media?  

Recovery? I Don't Think So.

I have enjoyed this challenge because I allowed myself not to be covered - buried - under the stress of doing. I don't want to be re-covered in the kind of stress I felt before I started the challenge - I want to continue to be the loafer, the daydreamer, the rambler, who paints because it's fun. I've uncovered the joy. No need to "re-cover!"  

Thanks for following along. I hope it was as much fun for you as it was for me.  I'll continue blogging along - not every day - but I plan on writing once a week.  

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Would You Accept Flowers From A Loafer?

"Floral III" by Jim Carpenter, Watercolor on Yupo, 26" x 20"

"Talking, sharing ideas and stories with friends old and new, this is the lifeblood of the loafer." 

Day 30 Challenge:  Blogging & Painting & Loafing

For the last four days I have been trying to get this blog post posted, but every day I ran out of time, for all of the talking, story telling, and story listening. On Friday my Irish cousin and his wife arrived on our doorstep on the last leg of a two month road trip covering 8,000 miles. Do you think we had a lot of story telling to do?  The talking stopped only long enough for us to catch our breath between phrases. After they left we went to the movies, then watched a great film at home. On Sunday we went to see a brilliant production of  "The Cripple of Inishmaan" staged by the theatre department at The University Of Florida.  Yesterday, I was writing my blog post when I received an email from my colleague at the co-op saying "I'm stuck in traffic but on my way" and then I looked at the time and realized I had just 2 minutes left before I was to meet her at the parking lot where she was to pick me up for the drive out to the gallery for the meeting. If you have ever been in a co-op and it is anything like mine you know there was a lot of talking going on. In other words, if what Hodgkinson says has any truth to it, these last few days I have been in loafer's paradise!

What a month this has been!

Thursday, September 25, 2014

On Being Idle: Star Gazing, Daydreaming, Painting

"Memory" by Jim Carpenter, Acrylic on Crescent Board, 17 1/4" x 20"

"Gazing at the stars opens our minds to another reality. a mysterious eternal world, beyond material struggle." - Tom Hodgkinson

Day 25 - The Crowd Appears

It is day 25 of the 30 Day Challenge, and I'm a couple of paintings behind, but my boss is ok with it. I took two days to finish "Memory" to my liking. So many decisions go into making a painting, and when there is a deadline of sorts, decisions that I normally might put off to "never" get made within 25 hours. I took a box cutter to the painting early in the morning and cut off about 180 square inches. And later in the day I eliminated a couple of figures and also set about delineating the space the figures inhabit - this vague mysterious environment hinting of doorways, arches, light, passages.

Hodgkinson has a chapter in How to Be Idle titled Midnight: The Moon and The Stars, in which he writes about the importance of star gazing in the life of the idler, of how contemplating the stars "reconnects us with the childlike sense of wonder at the mysteries of the universe."  In a similar way, painting can reconnect the artist with the childlike sense of wonder one has about the mysteries of the universe. Perhaps it can also awaken or reconnect that same sense of wonder in the viewer.  I suspect that those who create works of art in any medium - music, dance, theatre, visual art, literature - have a generous sense of wonder driving them to explore and create.  What do you think?  

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Late Day 22: An Idle Excuse, Day 23

Floral II by Jim Carpenter, Watercolor on Yupo, 26" x 20"

"And there are new enemies of leisure today." - Tom Hodgkinson

Revision Mania: What Happens When Leisure Is Under Attack!

This was painted on Day 22 - but there was no time to photograph it and post it. So here it is, sans much writing and posted on Day 23. Maybe I'll add to the post at a later date!

Briefly, this painting is the second in a series of florals I'm painting on Yupo. I will surely write more about them as I present them, but the story behind this one is that I did not start it as part of the challenge, but rather ended up totally revising a painting I painted back in March. If, back in March,  I had painted the floral on traditional watercolor paper I'd not have been able to "revise" it in the same way. Actually, I pretty much obliterated the original bouquet, and save for the vase, this is a totally different painting from what it was. That's the magic of Yupo.

Since it is a wholly new painting, I decided to put it in for Day 22, but then "Leisure" was under attack and so, now it is being posted for day 23 of the Challenge. What can I say other than, I am enjoying the challenge and painting on Yupo is a total blast!

Sunday, September 21, 2014

At Sea: At Ease

"At Sea" by Jim Carpenter, Acrylic on Crescent Board, 18" x 20"

"My own theory is that the world is divided into two types: the idle and the anti-idle."

Day 21 - The Challenge To Be Idle

To be "at sea" literally means to be "on the sea" or on a sea voyage. But, oddly, when it is used figuratively it refers to be being "lost" at sea and is used to suggest that someone is "confused or at a loss." I suppose this painting could be viewed as a metaphor for being at a loss or it could be taken literally, to be on a sea voyage.  

For some, a cruise is a bore unless it is filled with activities to keep them going every minute of the day and night, eating, dancing, gambling, drinking, singing, shopping, playing games, watching stage shows, working out in the gym, taking tours. For idlers the best cruise days are days at sea, where there is nothing to do except eat, sleep, read, lounge around the pool, or lounge around the deck, or lounge around the lounge, and read or write or paint or snooze or daydream.  Guess which category I fall into. 

I am totally at ease at literally being at sea where I always choose to be idle. This month, for Leslie Saeta's 30 Day Painting/Blogging Challenge,  I'm hoping to find the same ease at being idle on land in my studio!  So far, I'm on idle!  

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Being Idle in Paradise

"Landscape" by Jim Carpenter, Mixed Acrylic Media on Crescent Board, 6 " x 11" 

"I count it as a certainly that in paradise, everyone naps." - Tom Hodgkinson

Day 20: Day 19 Cut Out

Ok, so today is day 20 of the 30 day challenge and day 19 came and went without my posting a panting or a bit of prose.  I didn't paint yesterday. But I did get into the studio. And I made this painting by cutting away about 200 sq inches.  

They say "Sleep on it" when you need to get some distance on a decision, and I slept on this for about 2 years. Even Hodgkinson would agree that is a pretty long nap. But yesterday, I knew I had one painting with a lot of excess baggage attached to it, and so I took mat corners and looked for the best crop. Today I took the painting to the framer.  

Speaking of napping, I decided at about 7 pm, after teaching my Friday night Chi Kung class, that I was going to be idle for the rest of the evening and head to the snoozer early. It meant that I would not blog and I would not paint. I think that to do so, last night, would have felt like work and that would really defeat the purpose and intent of my 30 straight days of painting and blogging.  I am doing this to reclaim the joy of painting and writing - and as I wrote earlier - I'm the boss of my idleness. I make up my own rules. And yes, I am having a good time at this.  

I think this little landscape is very much a cousin of my usual process of "finding the painting" - in this instance instead of rubbing out another painting I cropped this one out of a larger one.  Cutting out the excess to find the painting inside.  So I'm including it in the challenge. After all, it really didn't exist until yesterday when I cut away the excess.  

But Wait! Two Days In One!

Have you seen those commercials for back scratchers? Just as you think they are over they shout "But Wait" and announce that if you buy one for $19.95 they will send you a second back scratcher for free.  Well, here's my "But Wait!"  The excess of the painting is Landscape Part II. This one I did have to tweak with some painting. I'm not complaining because I loved doing it.  So, here is the painting for Day 20.  

Landscape II by Jim Carpenter, Mixed Media on Crescent Board, 12 3/4" x 13 1/4"

Thursday, September 18, 2014

The Questions Of An Idle Mind: Ah Mystery!

"Between Worlds" by Jim Carpenter, Acrylic on Crescent Board, 20" x 28" 

Dreamers "are told to start living in 'the real world.' We might ask, though: what is this 'real world,' exactly?" - Tom Hodgkinson   

Entertaining Questions

It is the dreamer who both entertains questions and is entertained by them. What does it mean to "live in the real world"? What is the real world? What is the dream world? What does it mean to be "between worlds"?

I begin with this series of questions only because I don't really want to write too specifically about the painting. I can't. It asks questions of me and suggests paths of thought for me – it prompts thinking about many things: perhaps long-held beliefs, or various states of mind, or personal history, or ancestry. Where it came from remains a mystery to me, but I sense that it is the stuff of dreams I have not yet unravelled. 

I love a mystery. It is mystery after all that keeps one locked into the quest. And as long as there is a quest there will be questions to entertain.

"Between Worlds" is painting #18 in the 30 Day Challenge. All of these paintings are on my website, Jim Carpenter Fine Art, in one gallery, "On Being Idle."  I hope you will stop by and look at the Idle paintings as well as my other works.  

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The Trailer: Painting Opens Tomorrow!

"The Trailer" by Jim Carpenter, Acrylic on Crescent Board, 20" x 11"

"Take the weavers. Before the invention in 1764 of the spinning jenny... weavers were generally self-employed and worked as and when they chose." Tom Hodgkinson

Remember Who Is In Charge! 

Since I have committed to the 30 Day Challenge I do find myself wanting to produce a painting a day. My process really isn't one that produces a painting a day - and everything I've produced in the Challenge, save the Alaska painting, has begun with a start - and in some instances, a "start" that is pretty far along.  I usually can manage to pull it out, but today I got busy on a "start" and it turned into something that I am quite intrigued with and I've decided not to try to finish it today. 

I want to wait until tomorrow when the conditions are better. It's dark out now and I want to finish this in the daylight.  So I am revolting against my boss, Jim Carpenter (aka Me,) who is saying that I really should finish it tonight otherwise I'm failing at my job. "Job!" Ha! This is not a job, Carp! This is my idle pleasure time.  

As a compromise I am submitting 1/3 of the painting. Wild, huh.  Well, you know, I am in charge. Like the weavers of yesteryear, I get to choose.  So I am revealing - as a "trailer" - one part of the painting - the far right side. My hunch is that I won't be touching this portion of the painting tomorrow. But you never know.  

I suppose I could make this a triptych. Then I'd be good till Friday!  

Happy Rambling, folks!  

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Imagination At Work Is Imagination At Play

"Rambling After Underpinnings" by Jim Carpenter, Acrylic on Crescent Board, 20" x 28" 

"For the creative spirit, the act of walking harmonizes work and play." - Tom Hodgkinson

Harmonizing Work & Play: Day 16 Meditation

A friend commented about the irony of all of the activity I am engaging in for the 30 Day Challenge while claiming that I am being idle. I have to admit it does seem pretty contradictory. The truth is that I am enjoying every aspect of the challenge. Today's painting may be one that reflects that irony and the efforts one makes to harmonize work and play. 

The painting is banded above and below by a strip of calm space, a place where the eye, as well as the heart and spirit, can rest. It is the in-between that holds all of the activity and the bits of symbols and text and marks and remnants of history. 

What lies beneath the landscape?  

Monday, September 15, 2014

Being Idle: Gathering Thoughts, Dreams, and Images

"Prairie II" by Jim Carpenter, Acrylic On Crescent Board, 20" x 28" 

The nature poets Wordsworth and Coleridge were great walkers. They ambled all over the coast of North Devon and Somerset in the years immediately following the French Revolution, and later wandered in the Lake District. Walking for them was a crucial part of the creative act; it was when they thought, dreamed and also gathered images. - Tom Hodgkinson

A Creativity Ramble: Gathering 

Here in Gainesville, FL we have a favorite nature spot, Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park. It is the place to go to see gators and wild horses and birds and wild flowers and butterflies. I like to go to look out at the vast landscape of grasses and sky. Others go there to see the wildlife - it is where we take visitors to see the gators.  It is a great source of inspiration for local artists.  

Tom Hodgkinson tells us that the ramble for Wordsworth and Coleridge was "a crucial part of the creative act." What strikes me most about this - in light of today's painting - is the notion of gathering images. I have been to the prairie many times and snapped many photos, but I seldom if ever look at them. They never measure up to what I saw; they never capture my impressions of the Prairie.  Upon reading this text by Hodgkinson I realize that I have indeed been "gathering images," but not on my camera or on my computer or in my photo box. I have been gathering them in my head.  

Is taking photograph after photograph a distraction from the daydream? Would it be more productive to be idle? What if one were to just look at the vista and soak up the imagery, store it in the mind's eye, and let it simmer in the imagination where it can be transformed by creative self-expression? 

I may leave my camera at home the next time I go to the Prairie. 

I prepped the piece of crescent board about a year ago with various acrylic gel mediums. Painting it today was so enjoyable, and so satisfying, I wonder why I waited so long to get to it.  Being idle is making me more productive!  Go figure!  

This is painting #15 in the 30 day challenge

Sunday, September 14, 2014

The Challenge of The Dream

"If You Dream" by Jim Carpenter, Acrylic on Crescent Board, 20" x 28"

"Our dreams take us into other worlds, alternative realities that help us make sense of day-to-day life. Dreaming is a connection to our unconscious.`" - Tom Hodgkinson

When The Dream Presents Itself, Follow!

During this 30 Day Challenge it seems that the topic of dreams keeps coming up. That's mainly because I've been reading "How To Be Idle" by Tom Hodgkinson and using it as a way into my blog posts. His comments about dreaming and daydreaming are particularly interesting to me because they give me a way to look at my paintings. 

Could it be that my paintings are the manifestations of daydreams? These figures and the setting they are in are dreamlike, are pure imagination, are the stuff dreams are made of. And, if that is the case, then I am winning the challenge to be idle.  

Best part is - it was fun!  

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Taking It Apart & Putting It Together

"Water Lily" by Jim Carpenter, Watermedia Collage, 9.5" x 9.5" 

"Skiving is a direct act of revolt against the arid philosophies of living that we're indoctrinated with at school and at work, the notion of suffering now, pleasure later. Well, that way of thinking is anathema to your idler. He can't wait until tomorrow." - Tom Hodgkinson

I Was Skiving Today!

Today was my day to sit the gallery, a "job" that I commit to in order to be a member of the gallery. However, I also have this 30 day challenge to deal with and I was trying to figure out how I could meet the challenge while sitting the gallery.  Painting would be out of the question. Too wet and messy. For the last few months I've been toying with doing some collage while at the gallery, but with limited success. So today, as I headed out to Melrose, I packed a carryall with tons of torn up watercolor papers and acrylic starts, and adhesive. 

I spent the good part of 3 hours of my 4 hour shift making 3 or 4 pieces.  For me, the worst part of collage is that there are a bazillion possibilities for combining papers, while the best part of collage is that I get to make something totally out of some of my favorite original pieces of paint on paper. And let's not forget to mention the fun part of tearing up paper!  Talk about revolt and rebellion!  I decided that I would just go for it and stick these pieces down when I liked what I saw. Otherwise, I'd be dillydallying. 

I'm showing 3 of the collages to you today - I think this will catch me up so that I now am up to date with the challenge and have one to spare. I can't help but think that in a way I am cheating. While the rest of my colleagues are painting away, I'm tearing up paper and gluing it down. And though it is not cheating for those who do collage all the time, for they are experts and collage is their art form, for me, a painter, it seems like... oh well, skiving is what Tom Hodgkinson calls it. In that sense, I guess one man's work can be another man's skiving! 

"Lily Pod" by Jim Carpenter, Watercolor Collage, 4.5" x 6.25"

"The Prairie" by Jim Carpenter, Watermedia Collage, 6.5" x 4.5"

You know, if it weren't for the challenge, I'd probably still be looking at these pieces of paper - all totally unglued. I'm increasingly grateful for the challenge! How about you?

Friday, September 12, 2014

Underpinning: What Lies Beneath

"Underpinnings II" by Jim Carpenter, Acrylic Mixed Media on Crescent Board, 18" x 20"

"The undermind is what we're looking for when meditating, that part of our self which is beyond the intellectual, emotional, and physical." - Tom Hodgkinson

Support: The Creative Spirit

"Underpinnings II" takes me to a place I've wanted to go to for a number of years - the abstract landscape. Again this is a painting that I had worked on and shelved over a year ago. I forgot I even had it in my files. But I pulled it out today, not knowing where I would take it, or rather where it would take me. But painting it today was that kind of connected experience that we aim for when engaged in any process. It felt good to paint it today. From that perspective alone, I achieved - at least for today - my objective of enjoying the experience of painting. If you are an artist you know exactly what I mean. The paint goes down in a way that just feels good, every stroke feels good. 

Finding the quote from Hodgkinson's book was a serendipitous gift. I titled the painting before I found the sentence referring to "undermind" a word I had never seen before. Nevertheless, the word "undermind" supports the theme of the painting, and of my work in general. I practice Chi Kung, an ancient Chinese art form of standing meditation, and I believe that practice frees the creative spirit, strengthens one's courage, and clears the mind so that the imagination - and the creative spirit - can take over.

I struggle to explain my paintings - where they come from, what they might mean, how they affect me, how they came into being. I write about them and talk about them, always with the note that what they are, and how they are, is always little bit mysterious to me. I believe that they may come from accessing "that part of our self which is behind the intellectual, emotional, physical."

"Underpinnings II" may represent that ancient abstract ancestral landscape that we tap into when we create.   

I remain grateful for the 30 Day Challenge, which has prompted me to get in the studio, take risks, and enjoy the creative process of both painting and writing.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

"Be Brave, Idleheart!"

"Called To Presence" by Jim Carpenter, Acrylic on Paper, 9" x 22.5" 

"Once the vision is in place, then the life will eventually follow. Be brave, idleheart!" 

Being Present & The Idle Heart 

Today is day 11 of Leslie Saeta's 30 Day Challenge. I've been focusing on the notion of being idle and using Tom Hodgkinson's book "How To Be Idle" as my reference guide. I'm doing this because sometimes I forget that I am actually retired and I fall into the old habit of thinking that painting full time, which I started 11 years ago for enjoyment, is a job. The idea of "job" eventually takes some of the fun out of it - and adds unnecessary pressure. What would happen if I were to look at my painting as something I do in the luxury of my leisure? What I'm discovering is that it gives me a new sense of freedom, and a new stash of bravery to support risk-taking.

"Called To Presence" is a painting that follows a familiar theme in my work. The long and narrow format is one of my favorites, and to me it is suited for storytelling and for a lineup of figures. What I sense in this painting is the meditative quality of the figures. They look contemplative - present to the world around them - observant. They are idle. Perhaps daydreaming. Meditating.

The title, "Called To Presence," refers not only to the figures in the painting but also to those who take the time to look at the painting and allow it to spark the imagination. Being present, being able to daydream, being idle, is something that is essential for creativity. It is in the idle moments that our imaginations can run free. It is in the idle moments that we can daydream and imagine a world that we would like to live in. And as Hodgkinson points out, "once the vision is in place, then the life eventually will follow." So, idleness is an essential element in a life of creativity. We have to have time to dream. 

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Don't Dillydally, Dauntless: Just Be Idle

"Scene Unseen XX" by Jim Carpenter, Mixed Media on Board, 16 x 20

"I am struck by how the phrase 'Study to be Quiet' expresses the paradox of idling, which is that you have to work at being idle." - Tom Hodgkinson

I'm Not Dillydallying. I'm Getting It Done Without Working.

This is day 10 of the 30 day challenge and I'm on painting #9.  Some of you may recognize the reference in the title of my blogpost. The line "Don't dillydally Dauntless" is a favorite alliteration of mine uttered by the stern but "sensitive" mother-Queen in the musical comedy Once Upon A Mattress. It's also appropriate here because the painting above is one I've been dillydallying over for a while - just as I have over several other paintings I've put forward in the challenge. In fact, I am using this challenge to stop dillydallying and finish - or transform - or dismiss entirely - all of the paintings I have lying around in my painting-Limbo. Oddly enough, it is the call to be idle that is allowing me to finish up what I could not do otherwise.

This gentle shift in point of view - of seeing the painting as something I love to do rather that seeing it as a job - something it is not now and never really has been, except when I thought it might be - is what is allowing me to be free to paint as I wish. It is my idle time - my time to relax and enjoy and be inspired. 

Between the book, "How to Be Idle" by Tom Hodgkinson, and the Challenge from Leslie Saeta, and the 700 other artists painting along in the challenge - it is easy to be inspired and encouraged and idle even when being challenged. 

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Being Idle:Being Present

"Presence" by Jim Carpenter, Mixed Media on Crescent Board, 20" x 10"

"He abandons all possessions...and takes to the road. He is a holy figure, admired." 

The Challenge: Painting and Being Idle

I spent the day today not painting. I was having such a good time being idle that I considered not going into the studio, and then, late in the afternoon I thought I would give it a go. It was raining and I thought I'd not be able to photograph anything I might actually finish up. But I'd at least make an attempt to paint to honor my commitment to the 30 day challenge.  

I grabbed a landscape that I had worked on about a year ago. I had been experimenting with various acrylic mediums and collaged papers on crescent board. I liked the surface and the palette of this one but it just was not working as a landscape. I thought I'd try again. And again, no surprise here, I started working on it and in a matter of seconds I began to see the figures. And I really had no time to argue with the if I wanted to get my painting done for the day. And besides, I really liked what I was seeing. Why hadn't I seen them before?  

To be truly idle, I think one has to be present. Hodgkinson is writing here about the "ramble," the walk in which one is present to the walking. "Taking To The Road" might be the subtitle for this painting.  

Monday, September 8, 2014

Meet The Challenge: Escape

"Escape" by Jim Carpenter, Acrylic Mixed Media on Crescent Board, 20" x 20" 

"They tell us that we have our heads in the clouds, they tell us to stop daydreaming, to stop staring out of the windows." -Tom Hodgkinson

A Challenge To Escape

Leslie Saeta's 30 Day Challenge is really more than just a challenge to paint and to blog every day for 30 days. It's a challenge to artists to do what they love. And it's a challenge to their followers to take time out from their busy work days to do a little bit of daydreaming, to "stare out the window," as Tom Hodgkinson suggests. 

It is very easy to fall back into work mode, even when you are retired and can design your own schedule every day of the week. So, in accepting this challenge, I've also challenged myself to let it feel not like a work challenge but rather an "enjoyment" challenge. 


One sure way to escape into making art is to see it as an experiment. In the making of "Escape" I was experimenting with acrylic gel mediums and collage. I love the way crescent board soaks up the paint as well as what happens when gel mediums are applied. I created the structure for this painting many months ago, but cast it aside when it wasn't working. I pulled it out for the challenge, thinking that if I just gave it some time and decided to focus on the words "fun" "enjoy" "love" I would resolve the issues. Before, it was a job. Today, it was fun. 

An Invitation: Look Out The Window

The painting is as much a blank canvas for the viewer as is looking out the window. There are no figures here to lead you into constructing a story. Instead there are just land and sky and water, and oh maybe some life under the water, and maybe some life on that land and beach. Surely, this is what "idle" is all about, a chance to daydream, a chance to let your imagination run free. 

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Recalling Idle Sundays: Old Friends, Figures, and Flowers

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

"We are still painfully underserved when it comes to days off." - Tom Hodgkinson

Sunday: A Day of Rest

I have always loved Sundays. Although I may have whined at times about being bored, the truth is that Sundays were different from every other day of the week because all of the stores were closed. All of the chores were squeezed into the other 6 days of the week – the grocery shopping, the store shopping, the oil change – and Sunday was reserved for reading the paper, going out fishing in the boat, going to the pond to ice skate in winter, going to the beach for a picnic in the summer, taking in a movie, and family dinners at 3 in the afternoon.  

So, I was not going to let Leslie Saeta's 30 Day Challenge become a work day for me. I decided to take it easy. I was thinking of taking the day off. But I had this floral hanging around that I had been working on and thought I might be able to finish it today.  As you might guess, two weeks ago this was a traditional floral, with no figure in it. I scrubbed it out and threw it on the floor by my painting table and let it sit there to remind me that I had a painting with potential waiting for the finish.  

Florals and Figures, Surprise, Oh My!


When I decided to tackle this little 10" x 10" square floral, I wondered about the switch from figures to florals. It seemed that I was on a roll with the figures these last few days, and the switch seemed odd. But I went with the hunch that it would be ok to switch mid-stream. Why not? But I was not expected to uncover a figure. And once I gave in to its presence in the painting, things started to fall into place.

I think the figure gives the painting a story. We can look at this painting simply as an old still life painting that has been uncovered on a wall, chipped and faded, a remnant of the past. Or we can look at the flowers in the vase and the figure in the background as symbols – players – in a narrative. The figure stands in the back, looking at the flowers.  And I began immediately to weave allegorical stories about their relationship to one another.  Daydreaming is what we do on Sundays.  

A Sunday Painting

"Company" stands as a reminder of the leisurely "do nothing" "work not" Sundays of yesteryear, when we would easily enjoy the company of family and friends, relaxing after a week of work and chores and business.  

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Be A Rebel: Daydream

Idle Thoughts by Jim Carpenter, Acrylic on Paper, 10.25" x 8.25" 

"How the idle at heart suffer for their daydreaming. How cruel the bureaucrats, teachers, and usurers, who tell us our visions and fancies are a waste of time." - Tom Hodgkinson

Meeting the Challenge: On Being Idle, Day 6 

Today is day 6 of Leslie Saeta's 30 Paintings in 30 Days Challenge. At one point I wondered if I was going to paint at all today. I did my morning running routine - a 37 minute "ramble" in the rain through my neighborhood we call "the forest" for its trees and its creek. I kept thinking about yesterday's post "This is rambling! Pay attention!" Then I made breakfast and we settled into watching 2 episodes of "Homeland." Was I being idle? Yes. Idle so I could better consume an art form - acting, script writing, fiction. Even now I'm listening to a beautiful piece of music - Oblivion - as I create this bit of text.  When I finally decided to get to the painting, I turned on the music, and got to work. I should have timed it, because this painting really did emerge easily. But as I told another artist friend today, these paintings don't happen quickly. They go through a lot before they emerge. This painting had several incarnations before it was obliterated and became "Idle Thoughts." I might liken it to rehearsing a play for 7 weeks before the play finally appears on opening night. Ah, the creative process!

Idle Thoughts: Idle Conversation

I love the tilt of the head in the figure in green. What, I wonder, is he thinking? To my mind he is curious. Contemplative. Questioning.  He's almost looking at that figure sideways, a slight turn of the body under those robes. And when I look at the face on the giant figure I know that this is not a static meeting: the two figures are in communion with one another. That looming spirit is looking back, watching that robed figure with a knowing focus, and perhaps with a bit of amusement. He is another benevolent figure that appears in various guises in my paintings. I'm happy for that. 

It's a good thing these two figures don't have to run off to work at the mill. They can take their time and contemplate whatever the questions might be and pose possible answers. Or not. Maybe they are there to just think and observe.

I'm Really An Idle Daydreamer At Heart

So really, what is this all about? The paintings with the figures? The talk about being idle?  I'm "working on" not working. How is that for irony? This is all about having fun not having work. And I'm working on fully owning that I paint what I paint because that is what I paint and I enjoy it. I like to spend time wondering "why" I paint these things - and I like to daydream about where these paintings come from. 

How weird is it that this painting today was hidden in a painting that I cut in half yesterday and rubbed out with alcohol? And how weird is it that the painting fits perfectly with my theme of being idle so you can daydream and contemplate what it means to be in this world? How weird is it that the painting ends up being in sync with my theme? I do not plan ahead of time what I am going to paint and the painting. I look at the paper and look for the painting.  

I think maybe it is not weird at all. I think that it may just be what the creative process is all about.

Friday, September 5, 2014

The Ramble: The Challenge To Be Free

The Ramble by Jim Carpenter, Acrylic on Paper, 10.25" x 8.25" 

"The pedestrian is the highest and most mighty of beings...he is happy in the company of his own mind, he wanders detached, wise and merry, godlike."- Tom Hodgkinson

Enjoying The Journey

It is day 5 of Leslie Saeta's 30 Day Challenge. I am one day behind. My focus, however is on enjoying the experience of painting. So, so what if I'm one day behind? 

Here's what happened today. I had a painting that I was developing yesterday for completion today. And I finished it at about 2 p.m. Great! I'd be early with my post today. But there was a problem: I really didn't like the painting very much. Although I think the painting might have found an approving audience, to me it was stiff and empty. I'd have nothing to write about it come blogging time. So, I decided to turn to my old standby of alcohol (the rubbing kind) and paper towels, and I began to scrub it out. Talk about a feeling of being free! I was throwing the painting under the table and starting over. Almost. 

Erasing it was a risk, but it was a risk worth taking. I discovered that I really do love the feel of erasing what isn't working and watching a surface full of possibilities emerge. This painting looks nothing like the other. It's half the size and has 3 times the number of figures in it.  But this is the painting that was on he paper before I knew it; it was the painting that I needed to uncover.

The experience of painting this was easily identified as terrifically satisfying. Although I was not certain of what the painting actually meant, everything I was feeling was telling me that the painting was worth painting because I had really enjoyed it. The meaning would come later. 

"For the creative spirit, the act of walking harmonizes work and play."- Tom Hodginson

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Iconic Idleness: Reflection on Day 4

Before Ikons by Jim Carpenter, Acrylic on Paper, 20.5" x 7.5"

"Gazing at the stars opens our minds to another reality,  a mysterious eternal world, 
beyond material struggle." - Tom Hodgkinson, How To Be Idle

Imagery: The Mysterious Eternal World

I can only make a good guess where these icon-like images come from. My 12 years of parochial  schooling seems to be the most obvious answer. Perhaps, being the descendant of Irish and Polish immigrants, I carry some deep ancestral memory for icons. I only know that I have no concept of the image when I begin a painting.  

The figures in this painting are no strangers to me. The ancient image on the wall - uncovered, surviving decay and remaining present through the ages, the figure observing the image, the wise man gazing at the viewer, and the small white figure in a doorway of light are all recurring figures in my paintings.  

If your were to ask me which figure the painting - the story - belongs to, I'd say it belongs to the small white figure at the bottom of the page. 

The icons stand before us. Inviting us to contemplate the mysteries of the eternal world.  It is an invitation only the idle can accept.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Landscape: Go Figure! - Day 2 (or 3?) of the 30 Day Challenge

Ancestral Landscape by Jim Carpenter, 
Acrylic Mixed Media on Crescent Board, 28" x 20" 

"Work and life were intertwined. A weaver, for example, might weave eight or nine yards on a rainy day. On other days...he might weave just two yards before he did 'sundry jobs about the lathe and in the yard & wrote a letter in the evening.' Or he might go cherry picking." 

Playing Hard

I'm a day late posting my painting for day 2 because I didn't finish my painting yesterday. You might think that "a painting a day" is about making a painting in a day from scratch, a blank canvas, but for me it is also the opportunity to finish paintings that I have been stalling on. I easily have 20 or so paintings in various stages of completion.

For Day 2 of the challenge I chose to "finish" a problematic landscape I started in 2013. Have you ever had a project that you felt you could work on forever and never finish? That is the point I got to with this landscape, I made adjustment after adjustment and just could not get it to balance out. After dinner and a Chi Kung class about "conserving the chi" I decided to go to bed early and just solve the painting the next day, or, if necessary, tear it up and move on to the next painting.

I was reminded of Matthew Daub's rhetorical question: "Why are you so intent on saving a painting?" And his suggestion: "Throw it under the table and just start a new one!" I was ready to throw it under the table. But I also know my own creative process and its time table. For 30 years without fail I would plunge into despair at the end of the fifth week of play rehearsals, convinced that the play would be a disaster. And again, without fail, at the end of the sixth week, I would know for certain that the play was going to work. I experience the same thing with my painting. I get to the point where I am certain that after pushing through the tough spots nothing can save it and I want to throw it under the table. But I also remember that some of my most personally satisfying paintings come from paintings that I destroy first, and then recover. So I pretty much destroyed the landscape in an hour and went to bed at 12:20 a.m.
 Original landscape
 We might call this the "Week 6" phase!
What I woke up to!

This painting is on crescent board and I used various gel mediums and some collage to create a variety of surface textures on it, so I could not lift the paint off the way I usually do on paper. Instead I just painted over it, using a palette knife and later a brush. I began to see some possibilities emerging even then, but it would mean moving away from an abstract landscape into something that incorporated figures. So what else is new?

It was a choice. I admit that I felt the pull to let the figures emerge, even though I didn't know what I would do with the landscape orientation. In retrospect, I see that I still do not easily listen to my intuition. I have to argue with it a little bit. I could write a play.

Intuition: Oh look! There are some nice figures imbedded in there!
Me: Oh, yes. But I am painting an abstract landscape, not figures. So forget about it.
Intuition: Ok. But, the figures are really cool. And the landscape is uh, ok whatever. Follow that path until you get frustrated with it, then block it out, and paint what I was suggesting in the first place.

This painting has all of the things I love to see in my paintings: the immediacy of improvisation, a sense of discovery, the notion of unearthing the remnants of some long lost work of art, the sense of the past always being present, ancestral history, reverence. It may take some doing, but it subverts the notion of "job" and supports my quest for idleness.

Monday, September 1, 2014

The 30 Day Challenge: Cruising Day I

“Alaskan Glacier” by Jim Carpenter, Watercolor on Yupo, 9” x 12” 
To find out about purchasing the painting click here.

“It’s time to say no to jobs and yes to fun, freedom and pleasure. It’s time to be idle.”

The Challenge: Cruise On Labor Day 

When I retired from teaching in 2003, we set sail on a cruise from NYC to London on Labor Day. The significance of sailing on Labor Day could not be overlooked, as it was the first time since I was 6 years old that I was able to take a vacation on Labor Day and not be restricted by having to go to school the next day.  And so it seems most appropriate that this 30 Day Challenge begins on Labor Day, reminding me that I paint because, like cruising, painting is saying yes to fun, freedom, and pleasure. 

I'm Working On Being Idle

The theme for the 30 Paintings in 30 Days Challenge is “On Being Idle.”  Now that does not mean that I will be doing nothing. It means that I am going to focus on eliminating any notion that what I am doing is a job. I am, after all, retired. I paint because it is fun. I paint because I love the creative process. I paint and I write because reflection is pleasurable.

Why did I choose to paint Alaska for my first painting in the challenge? It would seem a welcome choice given how hot and humid Gainesville, FL has been this summer. And I agree that was part of the argument for it. But, that isn’t the only reason. About 8 years ago we took a cruise to Alaska. What could be more leisurely than a cruise? What could drifting in a bay watching glaciers calve be besides a leisurely activity? It would have been more leisurely had I not felt the need at the time to take a thousand photos of the glacier. And honestly, with all of that snapping, I never painted a painting of the glacier, in part because who in Florida would buy a painting of a glacier? Right? It’s not the right market. See? That’s an example of “job” insidiously creeping its way into my daily existence, and blocking my fun. So, today, I gave myself permission to paint it. The boss is easing up!

“Alaska” is a watercolor on Yupo Watercolor Paper, a slick plastic surface that can be challenging and fun at the same time. I just ordered a supply of Yupo from Dick Blick Art Materials, so, yes, I will surely paint on it again in the next 30 days.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

At Your Leisure

The Clearing by Jim Carpenter, Watercolor, 15” x 22” 
$285 - to purchase click here

Tomorrow I will join in Leslie Saeta’s 30 Day Challenge – a painting and a blog post a day for 30 days. Artists from all over the world are signing up to take on the challenge. My theme this year is “On Being Idle: Getting Back To The Garden.”

“Do this, do that, do this, do that, and then do this. Ok?”

When I retired from teaching, I envisioned myself leading a life of leisure.  I imagined reading a lot of novels, going to the beach and the pool, and maybe hanging out with artists and doing some painting. Now, painting is a huge part of my life and it seems at times to have taken on the characteristics of a relentless demanding job, with tons of issues and a boss who can be a bit of a tyrant.

Ha! I know. As my sister-in-law laughingly reminded me yesterday over a leisurely  breakfast at the cafe, “But Jimmy, you are doing this to yourself!” I know! I am the boss of me.  If I don’t have time to finish the Pulitzer Prize winning novel, The Goldfinch, it is no one’s fault but my own. If I don’t make time to go to the pool on a beautiful hot day, it’s my own fault. If I can’t stand up to the boss, then who can?

Creativity coach Mark McGuinness astutely recommended that I take a look at Tom Hodgkinson’s How To Be Idle. It is a wonderfully intelligent and wonderfully subversive work on “work.” I plan to use Hodgkinson’s book, at least for starters, as a guide for my blog posts to help me reflect on what it is like to paint and what my motivation for painting really is.  Since reflection leads to new understanding and new knowledge, I expect that I will learn something in the process of painting and writing. And since my blog posts are most often reflections they fit perfectly into the realm of leisure – we must have leisure time in order to reflect.

Is it not possible that my paintings are reflections? I think so. Perhaps I have just laid the path for getting back to the garden.

Notes on the painting: “The Clearing” is one of my earlier works. I entered it in a show in Live Oak, FL a number of years ago and after the show I was offered the chance to put it in a nice gallery/gift shop in a nearby town. I failed to keep an eye on it and discovered that the painting had disappeared and the owner of the shop had no recollection of it. Years later the painting was uncovered and returned to me. I chose it for this blog post because were it not for leisure it would not exist. It had been a particularly wet spring, and we knew that the wildflowers were in bloom. So two artists and I piled into a car on Mother’s Day and drove off into the countryside looking for fields to paint. 

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