Considering Quality Materials for a Studio Artist

In order to produce the finest artwork I can make, I often find myself considering quality materials for a studio artist. Some of that involves re-learning the use of standard traditional materials.

The Future was Then

Very much has been made throughout the last century about “experimentation” in materials and what defines a work of art.  The moment of creation is, of course, highly important.  What is often not considered is the artwork’s survival after the moment of creation.  Several artists have returned to traditional practices borrowing from long ignored academic study. These artists are looking to know more and re-educate themselves about standard materials and how to use them properly.

Sometimes paintings are made with materials that were not intended to be artist materials. The material quality of the painting can become questionable. Photo by Taelynn Christopher on Unsplash  

Quality is Relative but Not for Materials

There is a lot to talk about here. Instead of looking at the subjective qualities of an artwork, let us focus on the qualities of standard art materials.

I continue to educate myself about standard professional artist materials.  My goal is creating a high-quality painting. Here, “quality” has nothing to do with subject matter or any of the subjective qualities of “what” is art. I use quality here to mean the painting as an object.  Quality also refers to the grades of the products used in my work.

Putting the Materials Together

I like to stretch my own canvasses and reserve store bought canvases for studies. When I began as a painter, I started with pre-stretched canvases. I learned quickly that they vary in quality. Some of them were so bad, I just threw them away. I began making my own. At my studio, each part of the canvas is carefully assembled to support the oil paint.

Stretching canvas. Studio artist Curtis Green. Several quality canvases in process of being stretched and ready for priming and painting.
Canvasses properly made in the studio from good materials are often better, sturdier and last longer than off the shelf, mass manufactured canvases.  Photo by Curtis Green

Stay Grounded

A primer,or “ground”, is used as a protection layer between a raw canvas and the oil paint. It was brought to my attention some time ago, that “absorption” or “sinking in” of the oil paint can occur when using a water based acrylic primer. This causes dullness or “dry” areas and can even aid in canvas deterioration. This is less likely to happen with an oil based primer. Therefore, I use an oil based primer for priming my canvasses. I sometimes still use acrylic “gesso”, but I typically use the oil ground.

Brush it On

The brushes I use are the best grade I can find. I use professional artists brushes based on their quality. I think of violinists when they are considering which bow to invest in. The weight, the balance of the brush in my hand is like holding a fine instrument.

Artist Oil Painting Brushes
High quality brushes make all the difference in handling paint.  When cared for, they become an artist’s instrument for years.  Photo by Curtis Green

Preference Considerations

The oil paints I prefer to use are made from materials mined from locations around the world. It helps to consider the manufacturer’s color knowledge and raw material expertise.  It is important to assess their care in making high grade pigments for professional use. I like to think of certain manufacturers as “wine makers.” A discussion about pigment and paint is like discussing the “notes” of a fine wine.

Painters Palette at the Ready
Quality paint films on canvas begin with the manufacturer.  Quality materials make better handling while painting and better archival quality after painting.  Photo by Curtis Green

Seal the Deal

After the painting is finished and has had time to dry, I like to apply a conservator’s varnish. This can “bring out” the painting as well as protect it from particles and light.

Strike a Balance

For me, there is always a balance between expression, skill, intention, and materials. Each of these components are important in creating a work of art. I like to think of the artwork after I am done making it.  The possibility of it belonging to someone’s collection must be kept in mind.

Material Collaboration

When I make, (or enjoy) a painting, I primarily think of two things; subjective and material qualities. The subjective qualities of the artwork are manifested through artistic practice. Material qualities are mostly depended on others. The makers I choose put as much care into making their product as I do into making my paintings. In a way, I can begin each painting as if it is a collaborative goal for offering my best in terms of material quality.  That collaboration includes the thought of artwork’s future owner.

If you would like to learn more about my work and what goes into it, feel free to visit my contact page.

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Quality and the Professional Artist’s Process

What is an example of quality?  Is quality based on aesthetics, style, or materials?  These are some questions to ponder when thinking about quality and the professional artist’s process.

Purpose and Quality

In John Canaday’s, “ The Lives of the Painters”, chapter one includes a description of an event that happened on June 9th, 1311 in Siena, Itlay. A devout and celebratory crowd gathered at the door of Duccio, the master artisan’s studio.  From the doors of the studio a large panel of a Madonna and child was extracted with much fanfare.  The panel was in the center of a jumping and boisterous crowd.  The crowd began to move and parade the panel down the unpaved street lined with cobblestone buildings toward the town church.  It was a day of celebration, for the church will soon have an altar piece as soon as the crowd reaches the holy structure. 

This story struck me when I read it many years ago and the idea of it still means a lot to me. The idea is that during the middle-ages, when altar pieces were created by township artisans, the panels would represent so much to the community it would serve, that the whole town would enthusiastically celebrate its installation.

Cimabue, Maestà or Santa Trinita Madonna and Child Enthroned, 1280-90, tempera on panel, 385 x 223 cm (Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence) (photo: Steven Zucker, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Early panel pieces were just that, typically made on a wood panel depicting crude symbolic portraits of religious figures.  Usually, the Virgin Mary and the Christ child were outlined. Then it was painted with a tempera and sometimes gold leaf would be applied.  If you see examples of these at a museum, it is obvious that some survive better than others.  The reasons may be exposure, or the craftsmanship and quality of materials were either lacking or superior, depending.

Traditional Process as Quality

Much later, particularly in oil painting during the renaissance, an entire tradition of processes developed.  These processes were passed on through the workshops of the “masters” that employed apprentices and workers.  Many of the processes were known for centuries as to be the way to “build” a painting properly.   Included were those skilled in making the wafts and weaves of linen or cotton into a canvas.  Those who knew how to cultivate the earth for materials to become ground pigment powders.  These powders would be mulled by those who knew how to turn the powders into paint. Various skills and disciplines were required to produce the quality of paintings for the court or the churches that they mirrored.

La Bottega del Pittore Giovanni Stradano

Subjectivity as Quality

Quality, these days especially, is a wide term.  As it pertains to art, we may derive quality based on style, or an aesthetic preference.  Quality in this sense is subjective to taste.  One may consider their style preference as “good art”.  Personally, I know of a lot of bad art that some consider, “good” because it simply suits them. though I cannot figure how or why.  Some equate expensive with quality. I generally consider this to be a false equivalency.  

Ideas and Process

The standard traditional methods of oil painting have been nearly abandoned in recent decades.  There may be many reasons for this.  Modern nineteenth century advents like the portable paint tube allowed artists to buy paint ready made from colorists and art supply shops.  Gone were the studios full of apprentices.  The artist could abandon the studio and work outdoors. The Impressionists spearheaded this practice as their movement’s primary purpose.  The burgeoning question of what could be considered art led to an abandonment of traditional practice altogether.  Artists were free to express themselves however they wished by experimentation of materials.  Think of Jackson Pollock and his cans of house paint for example. 

Artist Jackson Pollock dribbling sand on painting while working in his studio. (Photo by Martha Holmes//Time Life Pictures/Getty Images) Former fn: 50336384_10

Process as Primary

What occurred in the schools of art was a primary focus on the motivation or “the why” of making anything.   Artwork moved further and further from painting as it is classically understood.  Art was moving into the conceptual realm. Linguistics, light, the sun and earth, physical interaction, found objects, pop-culture, etc., became the materials for the artists to use.  The result produced “de-skilling” in the areas of primary drawing and painting. Nearly lost was the knowledge of the classic, traditional processes of building a painting for the purpose of longevity and permanence.  Some, as do I, would regard the latter as the earmark requirement of quality as equal to the subjective qualities of the image itself.

Next month, I would like to continue this topic and describe the processes that I employ to create the best product I know how, as an object of art.

In the meantime, I would like to say thank you to all of you who read, follow, or engage with this blog or my other platforms. 

Please take a moment to peruse my new public profile which has new artwork added to it often. 

Time for Getting the Studio Organized

A pile of stacked canvases on a table

The fall season is a favorite time for many people.  I like fall because of the brisk and crisp air.  The solar equinox produces a nice even light in the northern hemisphere.  We break out our sweaters.  All of this reminds me a bit of academia.  These sensory queues make me remember this as a time when school is back in session.  We all know about spring cleaning.  There seems to be something about clearing clutter in the fall.  If spring is the season for cleaning, then fall must be the time for getting the studio organized. 

What was I Thinking?

I am busy these days here at the studio.  There are a lot of work and sketches laying around that have accumulated over the years.  Time to sort through it and catalogue a few things.  It hard not to spend a little extra time reminiscing over several of the canvases that I will likely remove from their stretchers.  Like looking at old photographs, I can look back some of them and remember where I was and what I was doing that entire day.  Sometimes, I look and see the progress that has been made in my work.  I will often admonish myself and wonder what I was thinking at the time.

Terrible painting of hills in Aliso Canyon, California by Curtis Green
First attempt of painting some hills in Aliso Canyon, California circa 2011 by Curtis Green. I remember being very upset and even angry at my lack of skill!

A Little Reminiscing

A conversation comes up quite often around here about hanging on to things too long.  Does the accumulation of detritus and do-dads suffocate our growth, or does it support it?  A philosophical reflection perhaps.  I tend to believe that there is a time to jettison some of what I accumulate for the sake of moving on into another phase of my journey. 

A tonal oil painting study of a scene in Carbon Canyon
A tonal oil painting study of a scene in Carbon Canyon near Brea, CA. I was likely using a limited palette of black, white and ochre as suggested by some reading I was doing. This is probably my first attempt at doing this.

The Giants may be Laughing

There is a wonderful thought that is familiar to many of us. It suggests that our accomplishments are from standing on the shoulders of the giants that came before us.  I look at the big pile of canvases, boards, sketches, and studies.  If not discards, then what are they?  They seem to be the work that was necessary to get me to the point I am now.  If not for these honest efforts and bumbling manifestations, I would be at the beginning of what I want to accomplish, and not somewhere along the way towards realizing something.

Plein air Study
Believe it or not, this muddy mess is a view of Eaton Canyon near Pasadena, CA. The ability to distill the scene into some essential features was not yet realized! The principle of atmospheric perspective was not yet comprehended either!

Will I Graduate?

This pile represents the courage it took for me to begin the journey into doing the painting I want to do.  It is like looking through an old family album, perhaps.  Each one has its share of happy reflection mixed with a bit of cringe worthy embarrassment.  I can attentively re-examine each one and have my moment with it and then move on to the next one.  Sometimes, I can sit with a cup of coffee and just look at the giant pile of so much visual journaling. There are successes and failures. Then, there is the seemingly foolish pursuit of painting in the first place. 

A sketch of a trail in Malibu, CA
My first attempts were filled with delicate sensitivity in handling. I had not realized yet that the expression comes from painting not by coaxing! Although, I do kind of like this one. A trail in Malibu, CA.

But they represent me also.  I did all of these.  The question comes again, at this moment in my artistic life, will they suffocate my growth by hanging on to them or support it by letting them go?  I look at them one more time and I sense something.  They are like a beloved teacher and the time has come for the student to depart.

Note: This was fun, I may put together a special online “gallery” of my own “Salon de Refuse’s” to display my embarrassing first attempts. Why not? Hopefully it would be and lighthearted and encouraging .

Placing a Hand in the Path of Ants

Someone once showed me how ants will organize themselves in a line and follow their path between two points.  Block the path of ants in some way and they will scramble around and reorganize themselves between the same two points, but the path will be different. Stasis, stability, calm, order, cohesion, whole.  A disruption occurs, and the stasis and cohesion break apart, shifts, and reassembles itself. 

I think creativity lives on that edge of breaking continuity.  In a way, that break in continuity, is a definition of creativity.  After all, it becomes necessary to leave the proverbial “box” to think outside of it.  A teacher I had in college said to me, it is ridiculous, as an artist, that you can just sit down and think, “Today I will create a masterpiece! That just does not happen.”, he continued. 

Mapping out the Noodles

Some years ago, the musician Prince was noodling around with a piano while a tape machine was recording.  His estate recently shared some of that recording where one can hear him stumble upon the prosaic sketches that would eventually become his iconic creative work, Purple Rain.  I can imagine Beethoven working out his fifth symphony. Was it a playful joke at first that eventually had meaning?

Disconnect Two, 2020; Oil sketch over existing painting on canvas; 12″x9″; by Curtis Green

I’ll Have the Cubist Salad

Pablo Picasso did not sit down after lunch one day and start laying out a body of work that he called cubism.  He and his studio mate and friend, George Braque tooled around as painters in a traditional style for some time before the ideas eventually worked their way into breaking the picture plane. They made the work, shifted the order of things, someone else labeled it, even more started copying it.  Even after that threshold of visual tinkering was transgressed, cubism itself morphed into different kinds of cubism, which morphed into other visual languages as well and continue to do so. It is as if Pablo and George, Prince and Beethoven spent some time laying their hands in the paths of ants, watching what they might do. 

Disconnect One, 2020; Oil on Canvas; 11″x14″ by Curtis Green

The Art of Bumbling Around

Stasis, calm, harmony, order.  These ideas are states we often identify as existing on the spiritual plane.  They are states of desire, perhaps.  These are where we wish to be or what we wish to attain.  Like the ants, we struggle here in this physical world, bumbling around and into ourselves, sometimes achieving order and other times not.  We may impose disorder on ourselves, as in the case of cubism for example.  We may have disorder imposed upon us.  Then, like the ants, we find intuitive or creative ways to manage the new circumstance and once again return to order but, it may look a little different than it did before the disruption happened.

Casts and Choruses

Design is often searching for the “hierarchal element” that brings a unique feature into focus. It is meant to set apart from the repetitive elements that support the rest of the design.  In painting, the composition must have that same hierarchal element to be compelling.  In music, there is the flying melody over the repetition of the rhythm section.  In theater, there is the star and the supporting cast.  The disruption, the standout, the unique feature, is dependent on the stability of the repetition, the stasis.  Otherwise, neither of them, it could be argued, could exist or be visible until they appear together. 

Oil Painting of a Patina Tea Pot and Lemon Branch by Curtis Green
Patina, 2021; Oil on canvas; 18″x24″ by Curtis Green

Perhaps that is why we can be drawn at times to the tranquility of a still life.  Its solemnity invites reflection toward the spiritual, the order, the harmony.  But as humans, we often get bored with the monotony of a perfect order and tend to bend and stretch the order of things.  As mentioned before, sometimes we decide to mash things up a bit to learn a better way of doing things.  Maybe for practical reasons or for simple entertainment to humor ourselves.  Sometimes, we are unsure if the order of things are working or we need to step outside of the “box” and simply have a look around.  And when we do that, we learn a little bit, add to our perspective on things, and remind ourselves that no matter what, there is perhaps a harmony to it all. 

Looking at the Roses

An elderly woman relaxing in her backyard

The other day I saw my eighty-eight-year-old neighbor in her backyard, looking at the roses.
Like clockwork she is seen under her jacaranda tree enjoying the late afternoon. This time she had her feet propped up on a small outdoor table, the backdrop were vines along the fence. In my mind’s eye, I saw a painting coming together, so I ran out and met her. As usual she received me with her unique laugh that is translated as “well, here we are!”

Being an interesting matriarch of our neighborhood, she likes to tell us stories about her life as a dancer in Hollywood. I can imagine she must have been a young devilish girl. Sometimes she likes to recall some of her humorous transgressions, share her insights on the things she has learned and the things she doesn’t understand.

The More Things Change

When I visit with her, I remember this phrase; The more things change, the more they stay the same. As a young person, I would hear that and just nod with a perplexed smile on my face. How can things stay the same if they are changing? It makes no sense.

As I get older, the idea makes more sense. The experience of being human is likely very similar no matter what time I could be in. There are always problems and concerns, delights and joys. I imagine this human experience is generally the same whether I was living in my time now, where I can drive a car and check the internet or if I lived when I would have ridden a horse and sent a telegraph. The world around us changes, yet the experience generally remains the same. We laugh, love, gripe. We may even ask ourselves, if life is a joke, why does is no one laughing? Well, perhaps in the end we are, although sometimes we may be between punchlines.

A plein air painting of a woman seated in her backyard with roses by Curtis Green
In the Backyard, Looking at the Roses, 2021, Oil on Panel by Curtis Green

The More They Stay the Same

Every age seems to have its own modernity, a speed at which life operates, either by train or by plane, telegragh or internet. Yet, with all the answers and facts at our fingertips, we still wonder what this whole life is about, we still fail at things, we wonder how to relate to each other. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Art Informs Life, Life Informs Art

To look at art is to see ourselves. Whether art is imitating life or vice versa is a timeless question. I like to think that art and life inform each other. What we surround ourselves with or expose ourselves to, may influence our perspective on other things.
While I was making the painting of our beloved neighbor in the backyard that day, I remembered one of the single most important things when it comes to painting people. Above likeness, is character. There must be something that indicates within the strokes, a portrait of who the person is, and less of what he or she looks like. Get the character, get the portrait.

I noticed my subject for this painting, a woman of many stories, was sitting and looking far off. I was hoping she wasn’t bored or perhaps needed anything. Her pose was perfect, but I shouldn’t expect her to do anything she didn’t want to.

I asked her, “Everything alright? Can you stay like that for a while?”

She kind of “came to” from being lost in a thought and said, “Sure!”

She chuckled ”I was just looking at the roses anyway”.

Painting in the Canyon Lands of Utah

Oil Painting of Dead Horse Point by Curtis Green

I was invited to do some painting in the canyon lands of Utah. Driving around the most remote part of southeast Utah is a journey that leads one through Navajo reservation lands.  I know very little about the Navajo culture. What I discovered was beautiful.

In a town called Tuba City, Utah, there is a display that explains the dwellings the Navajo use(d) called, a Hogan. As a tourist, I learned the dwellings traditionally have male or female connotations. The female Hogan is, among other things, a place of welcome.  But it also seems to represent a state of departure. A display sign suggesting that as visitors, we are invited to choose our next steps as we go on our way from this place.

That last part resonated with me.  I liked the idea of being ‘blessed’, if you will, by the gesture of gratitude and hospitality a visitor receives. That ‘blessing’ can be carried forward by the choice of the traveler’s next steps.  It made me consider that the traveler can pass the graciousness to others and be mindful of how one interacts moment by moment with the world around us from that point on. 

Just Scrolling Along

Later in the day, I was mindlessly scrolling through some old posts and found a quote that I used in one of them.  It said, “A painting, is a creation made from love, care, courage, a lifetime expressed in a few strokes.”  I thought, that is rather good.  Then I wondered who it was that said that.  It turned out to be me.  Apparently, I came up with that.

Could I be noticing a remote but possible relationship between that idea in painting and what the Hogan apparently represents?

Processing the View

I was asked to do a painting at a place called Dead Horse Point.  The display of natural wonder there is immense.  Overhearing comments from fellow visitors, I realized I was not the only person feeling the need to “process” the view.  I wandered to this place and now I felt as though I were the guest here.  Insignificant, humbling, pacifying, are some feelings that can come around if one is open to those considerations.

Setting up to paint the view was going to take a little time to understand the enormity of the canyon landscape.  Little by little I continued with what I knew how to do as far as setting up my palette and easel.  Then I was ready to begin.  But, where and how?  There is so much to take in!

Start by Feeling

At a moment when I was standing before my blank canvas with my brush and paint ready, I remembered the Hogan and how we can choose our next steps.  It is often said that a journey begins with the first step.  In a way, that is what I did by pushing some paint all over the canvas, looking and learning the gestures of the canyon, “feeling” the forms that were in the foreground compared to the patterns and layers in the distance.  One gesture with the brush laid in the space where the main formation would be placed on the canvas. The painting went on from there.

Each step, or rather, decision was guided by that principle of purposefully choosing the next step in the drawing and painting of the scene.  It was as if I was in a dialogue with the landscape, as if it were telling me a story and I was writing it down in bits of color and light. 

Oil Painting of Dead Horse Point by Curtis Green. Painting in the Canyon Lands of Utah
“View from Dead Horse Point”, by Curtis Green; Oil on Board; 2021 (private collection)

Learning the Visual Language

I have not before painted in the southwest canyon lands of the United States.  The painting took me about two and half hours.  That is longer than I usually work on a plein air painting at one time.  The colors were analogous and value ranges were not far apart, except in shadows.  This was new to me, so in a way, I needed to slow down and let the landscape reveal itself as I slowly picked up on its unique visual language.  

For example, mixing an orange for a cliff facing the sun was a new challenge while being unfamiliar with how the light works here. The value of that color might be high, but its hue intensity was still saturated, so adding white to make the color brighter was not the only answer to raise the color’s key. There was a need to ‘declare the color’ but be subtle at the same time.  Like footsteps, each mark on the canvas was a decision guided first by an observation, then an offering of a mark, then a decision to modify it or to leave it as such.

I Think You Got It!

After a while, the painting seemed to say that it was done.  Other visitors made their way by me as I was finishing.  One person said, “I think you got it!”.  I agreed and thought it would be best to stop.  Some painters say that while working they are “in” the painting.  I can understand that because I often feel that way.  When I was done, I felt as though I was departing from my conversation with the landscape, the story- teller, and my visit to the visual particulars of that place.  I was “coming back” to the tasks of cleaning up, packing my gear, and loading the car. 

Order My Steps

Remembering the Hogan, I learned briefly, it is a structure built in part by observing how the animals live and how it should be oriented in the environment.  The door faces east to greet the sun.  The octagon shape is inspired by the bird nest.  The roof is the sky, the walls are the cliffs. Each pole represents a prayer or a song. All these things I just learned by some quick reading, and I am not an expert on Navajo tradition.  Rather, I was a guest that day and I was treated to the hospitality of the landscape.  But the ideas are edifying, and I consider them a gift I get to keep and share.

When I was ready to throw my stuff over my shoulder and walk away, I remembered that from this point, I am invited to choose my steps.  There was a feeling of proceeding to the car with a little more consideration of my movements than usual.  Perhaps I was just taking it all in.  With each step I felt the roll of my foot over the ground. I realized it put me in a different place physically. I was moving forward, and away from where I was, but closer to where I am going.

Should I Join the Club?

Black Wine Glasses on a Window Sill

Last month’s blog described a story about a realization I had after a wine tasting event.  My presumptions of a snobby afternoon were obliterated by the overall message from a fully credentialed sommelier, the event’s speaker.  At the end of last month’s blog, I asked myself a question. Is it my responsibility to appreciate things? Should I join the club?

Refuse my membership, please

Groucho Marx famously quipped, “I refuse to join any club that would have me as a member.”   What I imagined of a wine pairing class is that I probably would not fit in.  I did not breathe rarified air.  There was no social standing, pedigree, or position that I could claim or speak toward.  I had no exciting stories and frankly, this business about wine pairing seemed like a useless pre-occupation based on matters of opinion and expenditure status.  I found out later that my resistance, and in some ways, my prejudice was based on my own fear and feelings of inadequacy.

Do That, Don’t Do That

There are times when the tendency to trivialize prevents participation.  It is a defense mechanism, perhaps.  Supporting our children to take art classes, then deciding that there are “more important things to do” for when they get older might be a broad example.  On a smaller scale, my assertion that the wine pairing class was a “stupid thing” I got dragged into was a way for me to “win the game” before I even started playing.

What is The Real Question?

My question going into the class was, “why am I here”.  The question coming out the class was the same.  However, the context of my question was different.  Going into the class I felt there were more important things to do and think about.   Coming out, I found myself feeling that what I learned was pretty darn important, if not essential to my daily life.

Art of living

What I believe I learned has much to do with the so-called art of living. The appreciation of delightful things does not require a lot of money.  It has no consideration for economic status.  It is good to emphasize, as it was that day, that the true pleasure and edification of cultural experience is based on an almost child-like openness, not on pretense or elitism.  To decide seemingly inessential aspects of life are un-important or for a privileged few is a probably a prejudice itself.  I certainly exercised that thought on that day. 

I left there with the permission to play and be curious.  It was okay to “not know” and ask questions about things I did not understand.  But it may not be okay shut myself down and say to myself, I do not want to know.  How do I (we) enrich my (our) life and share with others?  What I may have been asking myself is, would God want me to waddle through my life without noticing or appreciating anything?  Would it be well for us to share and offer what we learn or offer what we notice with each other without disqualifying it or ourselves?

With respect to Groucho Marx, that is a club I will join. If it will have me.

Wine Pairing and the Epiphany in the Parking Lot

A Glass of Wine with a Cheese Plate on a wood cutting board. Photo by Camille Brodard

I attended a wine pairing class at a fancy marketplace known for their gourmet shopping selections.  “Hoity-toity” might be the expression used to describe it.  My initial feeling was, I will probably forget everything I sat through in the class by the time I get to my car in the parking lot.  The class was being led by a bon-fide sommelier (some-mah-YAY).  These individuals really know their subject.  Apparently only eight percent of students who seek the accolade ever achieve it.   

Yes, my eyes were darting around, assessing the crowd and the classy surroundings with a smug smirk on my face.  Very polite people in black aprons were offering me an assortment of hors d’oeuvres on trays. They held a tray with one hand while the other was behind their back.  They bent slightly forward in a posture of gracefulness.  The environment was a studio kitchen. It was lit well with warm task lighting directly over the counter tops.  Stainless-steel, state of the art appliances gleamed while set within blonde wood.  Very chic. 

Buzzing Already?

The place was buzzing with expectation. I sensed a few erudite presumptions on the faces from those hoping to confirm their subjective guessing into actual knowledge.  After all, one does not often meet a real sommelier. One of them is about to appear and at last provide the affirmative truth whether to choose red or white.   “Red or White?”   That is a question often answered based on whether the host will be serving meat, poultry, or fish.  See, I know this stuff already!  I’ll just help myself to more free crackers.

A Bumbling Guru?

The moment has arrived.  Our wine pairing grape master guru for the evening is about to appear and enlighten us.  There was a brief welcoming by the hosting establishment. As the announcements were made, I imagined a gentleman butler type. His hair would be grey on the sides. He would have a long nose, lifted and airy eyebrows. Maybe he would have a white towel draped over one arm. Maybe he would speak academically.   

Applause broke my imagining.  A man bounced, more like bumbled into view, waving his arms wildly.  His eyes were squint and his face smiling abundantly.  His hair was shoulder length and curly. He wore a vertically striped shirt with an open collar tucked somewhat into a pair of blue jeans.  In fact, he kind of looked like a mix of Columbo and Mac Davis!  (Google him).   

For Five Bucks, I’ll Blow Your Mind.

Like a comedian, he got started right away.  He said he gets hit up all the time by friends and others for consultation.  “What should I serve with my Duck l’Orange?”  He said he would quickly advise on getting a cheap five-dollar bottle table wine from the local market.  The crowd either laughed or gasped.  I leaned forward.  This was going to be good. 

His point was that the duck should be the star of the evening, not the wine.  A fine bottle should be simply enjoyed with lite fare, making the wine more important. He continued his main point about de-mystifying the world of wine and that the value of a wine is not about the price placed upon it.  The world of wine pairing becomes more enjoyable once the snobbery is removed. Not that the pleasure should descend from the enjoyment of sophistication, but rather the pleasure and enjoyment should be assessable.  Exclusive, sure, exclusionary, no.   

Irreverent Memorable Madness!

We went on to learn more about wine pairing terminology.  Most important and enlightening to me was busting the myth about red or white.  We learned that the general rule of thumb is not always a hard fact.  Sometimes, a red grenache pairs well with a blue cheese, thus violating the white goes with cheese rule.  A pinot grigio can be paired with a prosciutto, violating the red goes with meat rule.  Enjoying wine was less about the rules and terms, but more about the exploration and playfulness of tastes and discoveries.  Yes, the rules and terms mattered, but often to support the creativity. 

My original thought was that I would forget everything from this class before I met my car in the parking lot.  Instead, I was having an epiphany. The class ended up becoming one of the most enlightening and memorable moments of my life.  It changed my view of so much; such as they way I look at art, taste food, smell a flower, listen to music, acknowledge others, or linger with a simple pleasure.

Part Two – Next Month

I ask myself the question if the appreciation of things is a responsibility to life?

The banner photo is by Camille Brodard. Visit her website at Kmile Design Studio Boutique

Look at Renoir and Get Ready to Dance

Dancing at the Moulin de la Galette by Pierre Auguste Renoir

The attempt at writing my blog post this month has had some starts and stops.  A theme seems to have been developing that centers around our lives during 2020 Covid pandemic.  So much has been offered as recollections and reflections, like occupying thoughts while staring out of a window between points of excitement or interest. I imagine a room where there is a dance, and the music plays to a tired audience.  Let us pick up the beat and get ready to dance!

A Shift in the Rhythm

Spring has arrived and there is “light at the end of the tunnel”.  An exuberance is developing towards an era that may become known as post-Covid.  Perhaps we can all feel the tendency to perk up in our chairs a little and detect a shift in the rhythm.  I see and hear on my own social-media and email, announcements for museum and gallery re-openings.  When that fully occurs, it will be like hearing a familiar song for the first time.  It reminds me how much can be taken for granted. Often the specialness of something re-appears at the thought of never having it again.

Dancing at the Moulin de la Galette by Pierre Auguste Renoir
Dancing at the Moulin de la Galette by Pierre Auguste Renoir, d. 1876

What will it be like to “return to normal”?  Much has been discussed about “normal” and “returning” to it.  Spring is a time of rebirth and renewal, and perhaps re-invention.  I look at this painting, Dancing at the Moulin de la Galette by Renoir now housed at the Muse’e d’Orsey and I see what everyone sees.  People dancing and gathering.  How does this make us feel, looking at it now in the year 2021?  The painting, is both timeless and current, couldn’t we say?

Insight on the Joy of Being Together

How much of this scene is familiar or desirable? Plenty in my mind.  After having been “socially-distancing” myself for so-long, I see this painting less as a work of historical sentiment but rather an artistic statement of truth.  The truth is that people need each other. We have invented many ways to express our joy of being together.  Here we see a scene of dancing and relaxing in conversation with one another.  The efforts we make to organize and attend these gatherings is a community effort making the point even clearer.  Then, to further emphasize, the artist points his brush at recording it and gives it back to us.  But, not as a photograph would record the scene. 

Here, the artist uses the brush as the writer would her words.   This is not a painting of a dance, but a painting of joyous human interaction.  See that after assessing the compositional weight of the painting (towards the darks in lower right balanced by the dancing couple bathed in light) we are drawn into the painting as if the surface dissolves and we are there, in it.  I can imagine the woman speaking, probably in French, while the noise of music and chat fill the air.  A man is there, daydreaming while leaning on the tree.  I might think of him as the center-point for the entire conception of the scene, contemplating all that I am writing about now.  Even that notion transcends time and illustrates even more how this painting repeats its observation in the here and now.

Hit the Floor and Get Ready to Dance

The knowledge that I can once again be in front of works like this and others has given me chills of excitement and a pause.  Perhaps, I will no longer take the moment of entering a museum (or any place) for granted.  Enjoying an outdoor patio or indoor café or to share a table and conversation with people I just met will be a familiar experience, but one I may feel like I will be having for the first time.  The music of life has changed its beat. My toes are starting to tap, my shoulders are starting to move, it is soon time to “hit the floor” and shake my booty.  Let’s get ready to dance together. I cannot wait to join in again and share with you there in joy.

Is There Life Without a Smart Phone?

Photo of New Mexico Interstate and Sunset by Raychel Sanner

Have you ever tried to imagine life without a smart phone?  The other day, I needed something.  The stores I needed to go to are either closed, too far away or the item I want is out of stock.  So, I started searching online, with my so-called “phone”.  I found what I needed in ten minutes and soon it was being processed for delivery to my front door.  I never got out of bed.

A New Day Dawning

Just before that, I was watching the sunrise through the windows.  Silently, I was thinking about how are those of us in the creative arts going to continue?  Last year, just before the Covid-19 pandemic hit, I had a successful private show where I sold several paintings in one afternoon!  How will I do this now?  When can artists, like myself, start showing again? 

As the sun moved more over the horizon, I tried to imagine life without technology.  I am old enough to remember the rotary phone and the Rolodex, so yes, I could imagine it.  Oddly enough, I could not remember it.  If someone were to ask me to imagine a world without smart-phones, I could. 

As I laid there watching the day get brighter, I realized that, like many of us, I have sailed so far into the ocean of technology, that imagining was no problem, I just plain forgot what it was like!

Dude, You can Do This! Where’s my Phone?

What did I do all day before checking my email or Facebook every ten minutes? Thirty years ago, how did I manage to drive all the way across the country without a phone for miles? Why now today, will I not leave the house to go grocery shopping without my “devices”?

Wait a minute … I am from the twentieth century!  I can DO THIS!  Without panicking, I can figure out how to live without a constant resource in the palm of my hand!  I can live without being pre-occupied by instant news, social media, metrics, algorithms, notifications, or whatever it is we all do all the time now.  Somehow I have trained the seventies and eighties right out of me.  Within me rose a renewed sense of ironic yet forward-thinking purpose. …  I must re-learn my old ways! 

Nice try.  No matter what I do anymore, it seems to involve some form of technology.  So then, there must be some sort of balance.  Perhaps, that is the part I forgot.  Maybe we all have. 

What Road Are We On?

I remember when the internet was called the “information super-highway”.  The vision was one where our tasks would become easier to manage and take much less time to accomplish errands or work projects.  We would be organized and be free as never before.  The promise was that we would have more time enjoying our free time since our responsibilities would take just moments to finish. 

Consider, email.  No more writing by hand, searching for stamps, standing in line at the post office after driving across town to get there.  Nice!  But, instead of cherishing our newly acquired “free time”, we decided to fill it up with doing more.  Twice as much time, twice more productive!  So, instead of welcoming a world of ease and free time, we ushered ourselves into the age of multi-tasking.  Also, I never regularly purchased reams of paper until we became a “paperless society”. 

Stolen Moments, Not What I Had in Mind

Is being constantly informed really a good thing? I think it depends on what information is being received.  Is what I am bombarded with daily truly important or did it become important because it just slid into my frame of reference?

This is where I ask myself if I can remember life before so much technology at my fingertips.  I wonder how much is me being “concerned” with what is in front of me versus how much is me having my attention stolen? 

That’s a question I would love to ask my younger self. Some decades ago, I was driving through the center of New Mexico. The windows were down, and it was raining while the sun was shining. The thrill of life, the beauty of everything I saw was all around and I was literally soaking it up.  I had no compulsion to record the moment or feel the need to update my status or check in anywhere.  There was no way of knowing where I was on a moving map.  I only knew I was in the middle of “nowhere” and it was gorgeous.  My AM radio was not receiving stations, and I had no tape player.  I just was “there”, physically, mentally, emotionally.

I Am From My Future!

If I, as my present self, were watching my younger self from the passenger seat, I could ask myself a question, “Where’s the nearest options for food, how do we get there, and how long will it take, what does the menu look like? Also, where is the motel and how much will it cost, what does it look like, where is it exactly, what have other people said about it, where’s the gas station, how close is it to the highway, what is the weather like when we get there, when does the sun rise, what is on tv tonight, who won the game, did your friend ever get back to you, are you going to call them right now, is there any traffic ahead, how much money do you have, did you pay the gas bill before you left, what’s the temperature right now?

I could only imagine my younger self, staring ahead for a moment with glints of sun in my eyes and in my hair, the wind swirling all around from the open windows at highway speed.

I’d probably turn to my future self and say after a long pause, …,


Banner Photo by Raychel Sanner – and Raychel Sanner