Among Shadows and Ruins

In my last post I showed some of my recent paintings done on paper. These were in watercolor and pastel. At the moment, I really enjoy working on paper – just something about that natural texture and light weight of paper. However, I have become a bit impatient to let the watercolor dry before I go over it in pastel.

So…I dusted off my old bottles of Acrylic paints and started playing around with it. Not expecting anything to come out of these play sessions, I was amazed at how much I enjoyed the combination of Acrylic and paper.

The images in this post are some abstract works (size about 50 x 33 cm) that have come out of these play sessions – some of these have been getting quite a lot of pins when I posted them on Pinterest, so I guess I am not the only one liking them!


I have also posted some of these on my formal website, and in doing this I found that putting a border around the image gives a much better indication of what the work would look like when it is framed with a mat behind glass. In the case of abstract work, I have always found that the border makes up an intrinsic part of the composition, so it is quite important to see it with a proper border.



A good break over the new year, together with increasing exposure to sunlight, nourishing but sparse food and lots of exercise has enabled me to put some distance between my demons and my angels. At the moment I am living with my angels mostly, but in the end I realize – they are all mine. All part of this particular life as a sentient being on a ball twirling in a corner of the vast eternal universe.

When consciousness can relax into the simplicity of bare presence, something opens up. We are in harmony with a greater intelligence, or more accurately, the illusion that we are separate from this falls away.

Tollifson, Joan. Nothing to Grasp (pp. 103-104). New Harbinger Publications. 

With a more energized viewpoint, I noted that my need to go into the studio has ever so slightly diminished – like everything else this will change – but for now I am keeping a curious eye on it. I have learned not to overthink these changes in my internal seasons too much. Besides, thinking is quite overrated. To quote Tollifson again:

Some of our thinking is useful and functional, but we can notice that much of our thinking, maybe most of it, does nothing but generate suffering and confusion. With awareness, we can begin to feel when thought ceases to be useful, when it slides over into obsessive rumination. The more we pay attention with awareness to any thought process, the more we can become sensitive to where it ceases to be functional. Ultimately, the clearest and most truly creative decisions, discoveries and breakthroughs come from a place totally beyond the thinking mind.

What I have learned to my surprise (again!) over the past few weeks is that a healthy, nourished body exposed to a lot of sunlight really does tend to host a more positive, healthy mind. The old “healthy body, healthy mind” cliche, a bit more personally experienced.

But there is something of benefit in all internal seasons. What beauty is there not also in the spirit in repose, slightly reflective and objective. I can only imagine the mood of Pessoa when he wrote:

The more I contemplate the spectacle of the world and the ever-changing state of things, the more profoundly I’m convinced of the inherent fiction of everything, of the false importance exhibited by all realities. And in this contemplation (which has occurred to all thinking souls at one time or another), the colourful parade of customs and fashions, the complex path of civilizations and progress, the grandiose commotion of empires and cultures – all of this strikes me as a myth and a fiction, dreamed among shadows and ruins. But I’m not sure whether the supreme resolution of all these dead intentions – dead even when achieved – lies in the ecstatic resignation of the Buddha, who, once he understood the emptiness of things, stood up from his ecstasy saying, ‘Now I know everything’, or in the jaded indifference of the emperor Severus: ‘Omnia fui, nihil expedit – I have been everything, nothing is worth anything.’

Pessoa, Fernando. The Book of Disquiet (Penguin Modern Classics)


Thanks for visiting my blog. I hope you are happy and content.

Slow Sea of Indigo

A while ago I became frustrated with a landscape I was doing in pastel. It was looking a bit too pastoral and pretty for my taste. It left nothing for the viewer to complete with her imagination. It lay around on my studio floor for some days while I walked and shuffled over it as I came and went. The image improved considerably!

I then reworked it a bit, took a photo and then edited the photo (adding warmth and editing the contrasts), until I came up with the image below. I loved it. It has the warmth and emotional honesty of a true landscape – that is – a landscape seen through eyes of someone who actually feels, fears, lives and breathes.


I posted the above image on my Instagram feed and (sigh) it has received the most likes of anything I posted! I set out trying to reproduce this style of image on paper. My strategy was to lay a foundation in watercolor to get the right warmth, then add the rest in pastel and stomp on it to add some random marks. This is what I came up with:

Mixed Media on Fabriano Paper (approx 50 x 33 cm)

The image was not quite the same – it lacks the glowing warmth of the edited photo. But it is real and has a charm of its own, so I decided to try some more paintings in this style. Below are some results:

Mixed Media on Fabriano Paper (approx 50 x 33 cm)

Every time I look at Marie Marshall’s blog, I am amazed at the richness of the imagery that I find like pearls in her poems. Here is an excerpt from a poem she posted recently:


Mixed Media on Fabriano Paper (approx 50 x 33 cm)

It has been a hard year for our family. The original family unit was down from five to four when I was eight years old. Now in the last half of this year year we lost two more. They live on in the minds of the remainder and the many others that loved them.

I keep seeing in my dreams landscapes where the light has another color. Perhaps something like the painting above? Rolf Jacobsen wrote about this:

In countries where the light has another color
the faces along the streets at dusk
can turn to pearls in a slow sea of indigo.

And you must ask yourself - what do these
fiery diadems reflect here, and whose hands
have scattered them across these dark waters?

Rolf Jacobsen - from:
The Roads Have Come To an End Now, translated
by Robert Bly, Roger Greenwald and Robert Hedin


Read that again – that last verse. Those are big questions, aren’t they?


Thanks for visiting my blog. I hope you are happy and content as the year roars to its end.


#A5: September Skies

Late home tonight, and tired; so only time for a quick acrylic sketch. This one is a bit larger than normal, and I dashed it off in about 40 mins. Source/concept photo (below) is from back in Africa, many seasons ago.


A poem by Wang Wei after a hard day:


September skies are clear to the distance 
Clearer still so far from human kind. 
A heron by the pool, a mountain cloud, 
Either of them makes the mind content. 
The faintest ripples still and evening’s here. 
The moon turns silver and I dream, 
Tonight leaning on a single oar, 
Drifting without thought of going home.

translated by Kline, A. S.. 
Like Water or Clouds: The T'ang Dynasty and the Tao 
Poetry in Translation.


Thanks for visiting.

#A4: Silence and Sentiment

My painting for the day. It did not make it to the night, but it was good practice. I do not always like the way the featured image shows in WordPress, especially in the Reader – it seems like it is being pushed into your face.

Below is what I believe the painting would have looked like in a frame, when viewed across a room:


There are probably times for all of us when things becomes clear – the beauty and brutality of life is seen for what it is – and the need to change it is muted. We strive for the meta-physic, but our life is lived in the physic.

Here is the poetry-prose in the closing scene of the astonishingly beautiful movie, The Great Beauty (“Le Grande Bellezza”):

This is how it always ends, with death.
But first there was life, hidden beneath
the blah, blah, blah.
Its all settled beneath the chitter chatter 
and the noise.
Silence and sentiment.
Emotion and fear.
The haggard, inconstant flashes of beauty.
And then the wretched squalor and miserable humanity.
All buried under the cover of 
the embarrassment of being in the world:
Blah, blah, blah, blah.

Beyond, there is what lies beyond.
And I don't deal with what lies beyond.
Let this novel begin.
After's just a trick.

Thanks for visiting my blog.

#A3: Streets of Philadelphia

This is an acrylic based – very roughly it turned out! – on the charcoal and chalk drawing shown below. With this composition, I wanted to see if I could invent a landscape that had more middle ground focus and also was a bit more challenging in terms of form.

Apart from some silly large acrylic canvasses I painted a few years ago, this is only my second attempt at acrylic this year. So I am willing to cut myself some slack and say – “I like it!”


This afternoon I read New Zealand born author Katherine Mansfield’s short story “The Garden Party”. The story deals with the preparation and aftermath of a garden party at the home of a wealthy family. Just before the party, the daughter Laura – a sensitive person full of empathy for others – learns that earlier the day the breadwinner of a poor family (living on the fringes of their property) had fallen from a horse and died.

After the party, Laura walks to take a basket of party left-overs to the widow. Laura is deeply moved by the tragedy, but cannot help but recognize the joy inside her – another leftover from the party:

It was just growing dusky as Laura shut the garden gates. A big dog ran by like a shadow. The road gleamed white, and down below in the hollow the little cottages were in deep shade. How quiet it seemed after the afternoon. Here she was going down the hill to somewhere where a man lay dead, and she couldn’t realize it. Why couldn’t she? She stopped a minute. And it seemed to her that kisses, voices, tinkling spoons, laughter, the smell of crushed grass were somehow inside her. She had no room for anything else. How strange!

An excerpt from a poem by Wang Wei:

Oftentimes - with joy in my heart -
Alone, I roam here and there.
It is a wonderful thing
That I am aware of myself.
When the streamlet ends my trip
I settle down and catch
The moment of rising mists.
Now and then I meet
A furrowed dweller of the woods.
We chat and laugh;
Never do we want to go home.

Wang Wei, quoted in
Creativity and Taoism, by Chung-yuan Chang

It is a wonderful thing that I am aware of myself!

Thanks for visiting my blog. I hope you are happy and content.

#A2: Storm Coming

Sunday. Some time to paint but caught without prepared canvas panels. I did find this one small gesso’d panel and decided to just do an acrylic version of the charcoal and chalk sketch shown below.

I am quite happy with the result and think I will try my hand at a few more acrylics again. The white gesso is quite rough and clearly shows in places, but it seems to give the painting a bit of pop and energy. I am also quite fond of this composition and this afternoon I made a charcoal and pastel version which I hope to post soon.


This morning I read an interesting interview with the artist Ying Li on Painting Perceptions. I was quite inspired by her life story and also to see how she moved from realism to very abstract painting. The following quote in particular resonated with me:

Sometimes I stay in more representational manner because I feel I really got the character or something right there. Or the painting just works. However most times I don’t trust that feeling, I try to get past that point and dig harder into the painting, to find what it is really about. At a certain point the painting gets muddy and flat and I hit a wall. It bounces back instead of going deeper. Sometimes I find I am just repeating my own paintings. I have to paint through those moments, and look harder, I find the solution is always out there, the looking part leads to the clue.

Ying Li – from the her interview on Painting Perceptions.

I have always loved the following poem – the haunting sense of someone leaving at dawn without notice:

On this frosty day, 
clouds and mist congeal, 
On the mountain moon, 
the icy chill glows. 

At night I receive a letter 
from my home, 
At dawn I leave without 
anyone knowing.

The Nun "Fahai", quoted in
Grant, Beata. Daughters of Emptiness: 
Poems of Chinese Buddhist Nuns (p. 47). 
Wisdom Publications. Kindle Edition.

Thanks for stopping by my blog.

Field of Boundless Emptiness

I have been quite busy at work, and at night amidst pouring rain in my dark, leaky, beautiful studio I work to prepare panels for the weekend ahead. So no new paintings to post. I am scraping the bottom of the barrel and posting an acrylic painting I made during my brief foray into acrylics last year.

Invented Landscape, 2015 (Acrylic on Canvas, approx. 61 x 61 cm)

As I noted in an an earlier post, I struggled with certain aspects of acrylics, and now I only have six surviving acrylics, and the above is one of them. I have always been attracted by the idea of a thin line of water reflecting an evening sky, leading the eye to a field beyond – a field of boundless emptiness. Continue reading “Field of Boundless Emptiness”

A Clear Circle of Brightness

I left work after dark today – no time or light to even open the door of my studio. So I thought I would post a picture of an acrylic painting I did a while ago.

A Field of Boundless Emptiness (Acrylic, 76 x 50 cm, 2015)

Last year I tried for a few months to get back into a painting routine. Having not painted regularly for several years, I thought I would try a new medium – acrylic. I painted bigger and bolder than before, and the painting above is one of about six that I kept (the others went to the big paint box in the sky). Continue reading “A Clear Circle of Brightness”