Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Things Evolve

"Trees", watercolor, VClaff, 2012

I remember listening to an interview on public radio many moons ago wherein a 
writer was speaking about his process. I don't remember who he was. I have
thought about his words many times and wish I could hear the interview again. 
When asked about his daily routine, the writer said that he started his day with a 
cup of coffee and the newspaper. He would begin to think about getting to his 
writing desk, but instead would have another cup of coffee, and find something 
to do that would buy him more time. Eventually he would eat breakfast and then 
find something else that might prolong the journey to the desk. He admitted that 
getting to writing was a daily practice of slowly moving closer to it in a round about 
way. It sounded to me like a predator slowly circling his kill, waiting for the 
exact moment to strike. Eventually he got to his desk and began writing. When 
asked about the practice of writing, he said that writing is something that it easy 
for everyone, except if one is a writer, then it is extremely difficult. 

"Gray Mountain", watercolor, VClaff 2010

Last week I had the week off from teaching, and had the gift of many days in the 
studio. The words of the writer were with me as I circled around the studio the first 
morning, considering one possibility or another, before landing on a course of action 
for BEGINNING. Though I had been painting here and there over the last few weeks, 
this was the moment of deepening the exploration and inquiry, not just getting back 
to putting brush to paper. 

I opened a very old sketchbook that was only partially filled, tore out the old 
drawings, and began with spirals. It was a bit like journaling as I found myself 
scribbling words beside the spirals, a good way to begin. I liked that occasionally 
the spiral bled through to the next page. The words near the spiral below are:

Just to be clear, I don't know where I'm going. 

Eventually, after many pages of these, I pulled out my new stock of watercolor 
paper, ripped the sizes I wanted, taped them to boards, and began to paint landscapes. 
It was the moment to strike. After the first day, the bit about writing being hard 
for the writer was definitely where I was at - substitute painting being hard for the 
painter. I spent that evening worrying that my work had become too conventional, 
that my obsession with trees and mists and distant ridges was repetitive and that 
during that whole day I had produced nothing of value. 

Luckily, I've been at this long enough to know that I needed to get to the studio the 
following day and continue. After untaping the paintings from the day before, I 
began to see that possibly a few were OK. I continued for the remainder of the
week, and found myself in a blissful flow of work. Not that self-doubt is gone, no, 
it keeps me digging deeper into the possibilities of the materials and the image and 
taking risks to find something surprising. More than anything, I need to engage 
deeply in my process, with enough time and space that the rest of the world melts
away. In those moments my imagination takes me high into the hills with views across 
vast spaces to the mountains beyond. There is absolutely nothing I can do about 
my obsession with this. One can really only make one's own work, otherwise, its 
just pretending. 

"Ridges & Mists", watercolor, VClaff 2012

The paintings in this post were made last week. The top two 
are small, about 7x5 inches, the rest are larger, roughly 12 x 10 inches or so. 
Seeing them here, I think the color is somewhat off. I need to re-shoot them, 
but you get an idea. 

"Ridges & Mists", watercolor, VClaff 2012

"Distant Hills", watercolor, VClaff 2010

"Winter Hills & Sky", watercolor, VClaff, 2012

The new studio is simply a joy to work in. Beautiful light, warm, open space, I love it.
Even Pasha has found his place here. I leave you with images from the studio and 
from walks with Pasha this week and last. Things truly evolve, and it feels good to  
be having an intimate dialogue with my work again. Thoughtful listening and strings
of questions lead to new understanding  - and then there is dreaming... 

Sunday, March 4, 2012


I drove out on an adventure last weekend: a gray, snowy day with mists rising from icy
ground, filling the deep spaces. The cold and wet wind blew in through the car window 
as pointed my camera towards the softened treetops and distant ridges. I can clearly 
see that this place has rooted itself in my imagination - deeply - to become the inspiration for my work. 

"Ridges", watercolor 2011

It was a strange and variable weather day. I drove through white out snows and high winds, then suddenly bright sunshine illuminated icy branches and sparkling brush. 

The day was a long, woven braid of sun and wind, snow, ice and mists. Subtle blues 
and grays played with the dancing bare branches in fields where the evergreens 
at the edge of the forests, watched. I wonder if I can do justice to the magic 
when next I put paint to paper?  As soon as I ask this I know that THIS is the quest, 
and it will never be done, because always, the next painting holds the promise of 
some other subtlety I might capture, some color, some dance of light and pattern. 

Warm days of sunshine melted almost all of the snow, 
revealing the source of other creative endeavors. 

But early March is hardly spring, and I awoke one morning to soft new snow clinging 
to the beech tree outside my bedroom window. My bed sits next to a large 
picture window, from which I see the view below. Once, an enormous bull moose 
walked under the window, his rack slowly rising from the earth as if a new tree was 
sprouting there. In the early morning light, he was dream-like, melting into the forest
with a grace that seemed incongruent with his bulky form. 

By early afternoon a warming sun turned snow to water and an endless 
shower of drops and plops was the rhythm of the day. 

Strange how fast the day shifted from cold and frozen to warm and soft and wet. 
More snow came but just as soon the sun, and my late afternoon walk yesterday
 was full of a hide-and-seek light, surprising me at every turn.