a ripple in the vast universe

cosmic fish 1Last night I succeeded in asking myself what I wanted to think about when I woke.  When I did wake, I asked myself again: what do you want to think about now that you’ve just opened your eyes? You can hardly blame your mind, you know, if it produces worry if you took no care even to ask for good things.  Get something better by asking for it.

I remembered to ask and that was a good beginning.  I got some very good thoughts, too.

What do you want to think about? If your thoughts were a landscape, what would you wish it to look like? People choose their vacation destinations more carefully than they choose their thoughts.  Where do you want to travel imaginatively in the very present?


My dog Lucy began whining as soon as she knew I was awake.  Unfortunately for me, the hour is early.  I might go right back to sleep if she would not whine.  But perhaps she has been awake much longer, traveling in a landscape of dog thoughts that led her to the conviction that eating — immediately — is what she wants.

Nevertheless, I did entertain the notion that her whines might be my echo.  Am I, like her, whining inside? Life is such a miracle that we cannot see it and can barely appreciate it.  Why am I not awestruck by just the light and air that fills the room?

lucy dog

Oh well, I am not.  And I whine.  I whine inwardly just like the dog.  Dogs are alert.  Maybe she senses my whining and echoes it back to me, supposing that she does me a favor.  I thought the habits of my thoughts perhaps set up echoes in other people too, a particular person whose habits choreograph with my own — unknown, unrecognized, invisible to either side.

So I had asked myself if what I was doing encouraged or even caused the dog to whine. Merely asking a new question gains you new options. By confining her to the kitchen during the morning I make her unhappy. So I let her out. I still wasn’t going to feed her yet, but I would trust her to wander about the house and trust her not to disturb me too much.  Indeed letting her out got her to relax.

Turning thoughts around lets you consider them from different vantage places.


I have decided to believe that a good outcome will arrive regarding a particular worry that causes me inwardly to whine like Lucy. I’m not going to put too much expectation on it other than that — keep the expectation vague like the lovely smudginess of a drawing that sketches first possibilities and leave the time element vague as well so that life can quietly flow toward you. I want to change the circumstances by changing myself. I got Lucy to whine less by letting her go, and mentally I let go of these thoughts that dog me, that plague me with their whining, barking, and agitation.  I open the gate. There they go.


How will that mental change influence the cosmos? Assume that it will. There, that’s cheeky of you.  You creature of a great cosmos.  Assume that your influence has effect.  If invisible particles can travel through vast distances and affect planets, cannot you and your silent thoughts create a ripple in the temporal pond?

What shore will it touch?


Answering the question “why”

drawing of a basket by Pierre Bonnard

As I said already, the path to a clean the house is not a straight line.  I take detours. Reading Marie Kondo’s book “the life-changing magic of tidying up” gives me ideas for how to clean my house and unclutter my mind. Once I am living inside that less cluttered mind, there’s the question of what to do. I am also reading a book on mindfulness.  I found it at the end of the aisle at Barnes and Noble.  It’s a “bargain book.”  Costs under eight dollars.  Thus even as I am moving other books out, I acquire new books.  Such is life.

This book on mindfulness asks me at the beginning of the third chapter (after I have tasted a raisin) why I am reading the book.  It’s kind of a talking book.  It asks questions and you’re supposed to answer them.

I bought the book because I read books on psychology.  Mindfulness is a topic that interests me.  But why now?  It was at the end of the aisle where it caught my attention.  And it cost less than eight dollars.  Seriously.  That was the reason.  Okay.  But why did I not notice the myriad other books on the ends of aisles?  Barnes and Noble stores have many aisles.

Psychological topics interest me. I buy the book to learn how to talk about mindfulness, but mindfulness itself is familiar territory. Of course, one can always learn new lessons from familiar things.  When I was a youth we called it “being lazy.”  In my family’s world sometimes you disparaged something that in fact you really believed you need — so don’t be mislead by the description. No one wanted to be always working and lack time simply to live.

The book asks me questions, I can ask questions too.  Why a basket?  Why Bonnard’s basket to illustrate this post? You don’t have to answer, though, not unless you want to.

WHAT?  What kind of question is that?  Why did I post a basket or why did Bonnard draw one?  Either question will do.  Or some other.  I’m not particular. But the topic is basket. My subconscious chose it.  If you have a problem with that, take it up with my subconscious.  Not my area …

An artist draws this and not that.  The subconscious is always posing suggestions — “draw this.”  And the suggestions raise questions, “why this?”  And the questions are often difficult to answer.  Sometimes the answer I offer myself is “why not?”  But that reply is not an answer, it’s an evasion.  It can be taxing to answer questions. Laziness (in the way my family understood it) is a way of getting answers by evading the questions in the first place.  You just let your mind wander around.  Not that we were even self-conscious enough to notice we were being mindful.

As for the book I read its name is, aptly, “Mindfulness: a practical guide” by Tessa Watt.  Someday — perhaps even soon — I’m going to begin writing a book called “Drawing: an impractical guide.”  But that’s a matter to take up in future posts.

moving the needle

face scribble notebookWhen I want to get myself to do something, I write about it a little.  I have a bunch of notebooks that I keep — journals — with writing in them — leftover habit from English major days.  Sometimes I just think in ink — “what if I did X ?”

One of the things I thought about was that I should make more little sketches — incoherent little sketches that are to drawing what making lists in notebooks are to writing.  Now I am much quicker to give thoughts a visual shape even when I have no motif in front of me.

Recently I made a little sketch of a still life.

sketch of three things

I don’t know if I even realized that it’s a sketch of the ruby red still life.  But next thing I knew the thought that I should make a painting of the pastel was firmly rooted in my brain, and I was sifting through the stacks of stuff looking for a canvas panel of the right size.



First time Fishing


I remember such a long time ago.  I was a high school student who had fallen in love with a much, much older guy — this guy above, the artist Duccio di Buoninsegna who painted this picture of Jesus calling Andrew and Peter.

As Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” At once they left their nets and followed him.

For me the calling I heard was to become a fisher, a fisher of pictures.  When I catch people, I catch them through art.  Drawing and painting have become the bait I use to catch people.  When I catch them, it’s to say “Look!  Look!  The world that God made is filled with marvelous things! Let’s look at them and think about them together.” Okay, maybe I don’t say it in quite that goofy way but that’s the basic sentiment nonetheless.

Let’s pay attention to what we see because we are surrounded by marvels.

In my youth I fell in love with “the Italian primitives” at the National Gallery of Art.  I started my journey in Gallery No 1, and it was shock and awe from thence onwards.  I had no idea how to do any of the things I saw, not drawing, not mixing color, not painting.   But I felt instinctively that it was the thing for me.  Somehow I would learn.

Little did I know how lasting the influence of the first loves would be.  Little did I know how much just Duccio di Buoninsegna’s painting alone would affect me.  Decades later I am mesmerized by lattices such as the one in his painting, the net that holds the fish.  I paint them in different ways than he did, but they occupy lots of space in my cranium.


Even a fish’s body has a lattice incorporated in it.


So, artists and art lovers, let yourself fall in love with art — and see where it will take you.

somewhere between energy and matter is thought

on light bright air melodious insects/ swill silence, drink a void/ cicadas shimmer the green leaves/ in electric chatter emanating lines/ of choral contrapunctal waves which/ ebb and really swell with dilating buzz/ in brightening unmoored yet tautened sound

the singing’s vibration wavers not fast enough/ to transmute energy into matter/ though they create dreams and thought fabrics/ whose flutters and unfurled folds/ loosening unfix the mind’s atmosphere/ raises it aloft, afloat in porous delight


I think you should steal other people’s ideas.  (Hope the FBI is not listening.)  Indeed, I’m planning a big heist.  Please, however, let me be up front in asserting (the FBI would say “alledging”) that there’s a big, huge difference between copyright infringement and out-right stealing.  I only want to steal, not to infringe.

Copyright infringement involves making money from someone else’s commercially viable ideas.  I love money, but making it has never been a forte.  And, in any case, I’m too honest to do that kind of stealing.  Also, if I could make money from somebody else’s ideas, I suppose I could as easily make money off my own!  The stealing that I advocate and to which I aspire  involves enlarging your mind from someone else’s ideas.

Stealing, as I figure it, is very difficult to do because it requires first off that you be aware what the other person’s ideas are.  Sometimes you think you know, but in fact you don’t.  You can steal the ideas that you think belong to them — that would be the idea you see inside their stuff.  Unfortunately, you’re only stealing what you see, and “what you see is what you get.”  That’s actually a very wise saying.

So that thing you see, you decide to steal!  But that “je ne sais quoi” may not be the actual idea, not the real McCoy, which is why “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery” but is not the big heist.  And thus copies often advertise themselves in bright neon as being the not quite ready for prime time wonders that they are.  Sigh.

The real ideas of truly original minds, though they sit in plain sight, lie hidden often under thick veils tied with seven seals.  They are hidden in the glass-enclosed transparent vault of insight as thick and as strong as life itself.

Above, I drew my copy of some Picasso figures some years ago.  These are his ideas that I thought back then to steal — and what I got … well, I’ll be counting the loot later on, someday, but it’s still not the Big Heist.

Art Quote du Jour

“Je n’ai, pour ma part, jamais évité l’influence des autres, j’aurais considéré cela comme une lâcheté et un manque de sincérité vis-à-vis de moi-même.”

“For my part I have never avoided the influence of others. I would have considered it cowardice and a lack of sincerity toward myself.”            — Henri Matisse


Influence is something that sneaks up on you.  Where do your ideas come from?  Do you know?

I’ve looked at my daughter’s painting of a tree many times.  For a long time it sat on the kitchen table and we saw it daily.  It has the big plain features characteristic of children’s art, a bold simplicity that modern masters like Matisse and Picasso found compelling and used as visual sources in their works.  I like my kid’s painting.  Not just because she made it.  Certain works of hers I have already copied directly into paintings of mine, when they fit into the scheme of a painting.  She draws really well (though it’s not obvious in this particular image) so I’m accustomed to using her ideas and of being “influenced” by her. 

But the similarity between these two paintings, hers of the tree and mine of the honey jar, didn’t strike me until they just happened to be sitting in accidental proximity.  From across a room, the resemblance is especially evident.  The cradling branches of her tree become the wooden honey ladle balanced on the lid of the jar.  The trunk becomes the jar itself.  The dark shadow cast by the tree occupies the same area as the path of white flowers of the patterned cloth in my picture.  The green boughs are folds of jade cloth in mine.  And the litle cloud becomes the ribbed end of the dipper.

I cannot say for certain that my daughter’s picture affected mine.  But influence is something like that — a quiet affect of images remembered.  Lots of other influences, no doubt, also found their way into my little picture.  I have been looking at still life a lot lately and found many artists whose works I love that I’ve spent serious time enjoying — a feast for the eyes.

The surest way to teach your visual sensibility is to just look.  Pick strong, beautiful paintings and just look at them.  A lot.  The understanding of how the best artists compose their pictures comes to one silently through long observation.  An ordering principle works its way into your mind through such a process of looking.  It is never a matter of rules.  A strong sense of how things fit together doesn’t come through a conscious process of following instructions, but through a kind of visual osmosis that is the result of looking and staring.  The best instruction comes through the manifestation of your own longing when you see something and think, “Wow.  I wish I’d painted that.”