The Emergency of Presence

Happy Vernal Equinox!

It's the first day of Spring (Yay!) up here in the Northern Hemisphere. The beginning of the astrological calendar. Everything is budding and bursting or just about to (under a fresh layer of snow).
While painting yesterday, I was thinking about how we need to be absolutely present as we work with watercolor. Certainly not the first time I've thought or talked about that!)
There are few experiences that force us into being absolutely present for any length of time. Meditation is usually a nice try but even masters of meditation, Pema Chödrön for example, reveal that stilling our wild minds is a practice that helps tremendously but rarely leads to long periods of being here now.
Chödrön's teacher, Chögyam Trungpa wrote a great little book called Meditation in Action. There's a lot to that title because, in my experience, some of the greatest practices that keep us present are those involving some kind of physical engagement. Which makes sense because, after all, we are living in physical, temporal structures. Playing music, tennis, and, definitely, painting with watercolor are those sorts of activities that require physical attention with temporal limits. We have to be absolutely present or we'll lose our place, miss a ball, ruin a painting.
Emergencies are another sort of experience that require our complete presence. You know that when an emergency arises you can't be thinking about the past or the future, you are suddenly, solving immediate problems with your full attention and you can usually, in retrospect, break your memory of the entire experience into a narrative of milliseconds.
The word emergency comes from the Latin emergere "arise, bring to light" and, of course shares that root with emerge.
Spring is an emergency of sorts, isn't it? One day, there's snow on the ground. Then, suddenly, a crocus. The cherry trees bud and blossom. A cast of color passes over bare branches and our flowering friends burst forth again. And, boy, are we happy to see them.
Painting in watercolor is my favorite meditation practice (though it's more than that).  An images arises and is brought to light, through light, actually. It requires all the focus that any emergency requires. But don't take my word for it...

"Painting in watercolor is making the best of an emergency."

—John Singer Sargent

White on White (on White)

Painting inspired by an adorable Bichon Frise. Title inspired by Malevich after last night’s online lecture on 20 century painting. But this IS white on white (on white). Rife with (fun) problems to solve. Reminder that I’m running a free webinar next week on a brief history of watercolor.

Why Transparency Matters

After a long, cold, rainy day, it's snowing now. Dim and grey though it may be, my windows let the lovely light in. With the doors and windows shut against the cold, the light makes being inside bearable.

Grateful for the plain old panes of window glass, I shudder to think of life in buildings without windows.

I love watercolor for many reasons but one, for sure, is its transparency. (Not all watercolor is transparent but it's the main game and what I've used for over half-a-century.)

At best watercolor is clean, clean, illuminated. Like window panes, watercolor is transparent, which matters because it lets the light shine through.

To send light into the darkness of men's hearts - such is the duty of the artist. —Robert Schumann

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Prélude au dimanche après-midi d’un faon

Wow. I have been breaking my brain, straining my personality, taxing my ability to withstand personal assault while creating a long, broad and deep set of practicum courses in the history of painting via one particular watercolorist’s curation. That would be me and I’ve been putting myself through the mill that I’m asking my students to work through.
After a bit over 12 months and running the practicums live and online, at what I thought was total sacrifice to my personal practice, I’ve had a personal breakthrough. It’s been arising over the past month but after some recent posts and the last two assignments that I demoed for my 20th century painting practicum, I laid this baby out.
She’s been coming along over the past month but now I see the full effect on me of creating the courses and doing the demo work over the past year. It’s good. This is one of those moments I can definitively say, boom. I’ve evolved onto a new level of expression.
I’m psyched and overwhelmed with emotion. Pleased. Happy. Let’s see if I can keep this up and expand upon the foundation.
It doesn’t matter what anyone else sees or perceives in these pivotal works. Ask any creator. These are moments we live for.
Join me for a free webinar I’m hosting on a brief history of watercolor.