Archive | skill and craft

Final week of work and wrapping it up for the term…

My painting is all but finished and I have only to matte the 10 darkroom pieces I have made this term.  That may not seem like a lot, but the class time for painting has been an enormous commitment.  Two different drawing classes, the painting classes and time outside of class to finish my work in a timely fashion.  It has been an adventure but one I am not rushing to repeat.  I liked painting and did well, but it took so much time away from my photography that I feel I have let myself down a little in that department.  Call it a sabbatical of sorts, or a journey into a new way of seeing light, but I will stick to my cameras from now on.  I feel better with a good lens and a roll of 100ISO film.  The fall, I hope, will be a better reflection of that.

After next weekend I am taking off for a week or so and do some solo island hopping.  The nearby islands are easy to get to and will make for a nice change from Paros.  Sifnos, Serafos, Komilos, Milos, etc…They all wait for me.



Photography, painting, crunch-time, stress and beauty…

My 4×5 work is turning into something more than I imagined.  What started out as portraits of artists in their studios has turned into images of the people I know or have become friends with over the past two years here on Paros.  Artists, students, shop owners, cafe proprietors are all part of the parade.  It is a lovely mix of personalities and a small documentary of those around me.  My ability with the 4×5 has increased as well, especially when I view the images I made last spring.

This change is also apparent in my painting.  The first painting and drawings I made at the beginning of the term do not compare to what I am capable of now.  I can look at almost any object, person or still life and know exactly how to go about drawing it, giving it depth and space and setting it into a place with a relative weight.  This is truly astounding.  This has also been a experiment.  In grade school I was told by my teachers that I could not draw or paint anything realistic.  As a young and impressionable child I believed them and stayed away from this art for over 40 years.  I have now proved them wrong and there is a certain kind of satisfaction in this.  It reminds me that a teacher should never treat a child in negative way.  To them all things are possible.

We have 23 days until the show and I am stressed.  Yes, I am sure all will be done, but it will be a tough road.  My darkroom work needs to be finished sooner rather than later and my digital along with it.  It is the painting that will take the time.  The paint needs 4-5 days to dry before we hang so that cuts that time down to 18 days.  Subtract the 4 days I will be in Athens next week and that leaves just two weeks of painting.  I can do it, I know I can.  I have a whole bunch of teachers to prove wrong.

The light is stunning and clear, the sunsets are magical and the cool night air rings with sounds of the sea.  Our hikes have been exhilarating and refreshing and an antidote for the stress of these past weeks.  The exercise clears my head and the light and perfumes of the wild island interior acts as aromatherapy for my aching mind.  Beautiful indeed.



Turbulence, shifts and changes…

Easter has come and gone here on Paros and the symbolic nature of “from the darkness comes the light” is not lost on me or, indeed, many of us here at the Aegean Center.  It has been a difficult week personally and artistically and, for the faculty, professionally.  Last Friday one of our core instructors suffered a stroke.  Luckily she was able to be airlifted off the island and was in an Athens hospital within 5 hours of the event.  In the 9 days since she has made great strides in recovery, siga-siga of course, but great strides nonetheless.  She is talking, eating, sitting up and some feeling has returned to nerve damaged limbs.  Here at school the reaction of the students and faculty has been strong and supportive.  There have been moments of great calm and moments of emotional over-compensation, but that is to be expected.  This kind of event can scare anyone.  I have faith in the process, however, and feel that what needs to be done will happen and that everything is exactly the way it is supposed to be.  This can be a hard reality to grasp, but in my experience it is the truth.

A good friend and I were having dinner the other night and she spoke of an element of Chaos Theory that proposes that all systems, whether biological, social or psychological, undergo a period of Chaos before their next great evolutionary leap.  Perhaps this is what I am witnessing both here on Paros, in Greece and the world as a whole.  Currently the Earth seems to be shifting on its social axis, tipping the scales to what seems like a point of no return.  Is this true or are these just the growing pains if a young species on a much older planet?  Are we suffering the same Chaos in the macro as occurs constantly in the micro?  Is the actual Design of Everything a fractal equation, repeating itself ad infinitum, identical on any scale?  This is a very logical image and one put forth by both mystics and quantum physicists throughout the years.  Is the suffering and recovery of one person a micro-mirror image of the constant shift and turbulent change we are witness to globally?  For me, I will continue on my charted course, adjusting my theoretical sails when I find it necessary to do so.  Some might say this is not thinking outside the box.  Some others might say this is the best course possible for it allows for changes to be made within the eye of the Chaotic hurricane rather than having Chaotic winds drive one’s direction.  I’ll stick with the second camp.  Time will reveal the winner, if there is such a thing.  In my heart, however, I will have the strength of integral values stronger than any trend or fad and which affords me more artistic balance.

Siga-siga: slowly-slowly.



Here at Mikro Cafe…

“Latte, please,” JDCM said.  Colin stands behind the bar, talking of his love of chewing on coffee beans.  Fresh from his bi-athalon on Naxos, he is feeling sprightly and full of energy.  He was able to shave off 6 seconds from the last event of this type so that’s a win and new personal best…Bravo Colin!

On other notes my portrait sessions have begun and I have photographed one student, the artist Jackie Massari and one of the instructors, the painter Jun-Pierre Shiozawa.  I hope to work with Colin Brown and his wife Stella later this week, perhaps Wednesday afternoon.  Couples are more difficult than single subjects, but I hope to work this out.  I’ll do some research on the subject so I can get some ideas first.

Other students are using the studio as well which is a good thing, and I am eager to see their work.  My painting is moving along and I am getting the hang of glazing, scumbling and the balance of colors.  We are still using a limited pallet and I understand why.  I am champing at the bit, however, to open up the brighter, more vibrant hues and work them in.  This will come with time.

Weather still fine, cool at night, etc…



Painting, portraits and 4×5 photography…

The Fayum portrait I am copying

I have discovered an excitement and love of painting.  That is the only way to describe how I feel.  Using this medium to see light as opposed to the photographic process is a joy.  Although I tend to be a ‘fast’ painter, the inevitability of having to let paint dry keeps me from getting to far ahead of myself.  We are still engaged in tonal studies, but have branched out into some color variations based on ‘hot’ and ‘cool’.  Very interesting.   We have also begun the ‘Fayum’ process as well and using the tetrachromy is a challenging form that dates back to the beginnings of the Common Era (30 ACE to the 3rd century).  Art historians believe that these colors are actually the four used by the Greeks in the 4th an 5th centuries BCE and reference the four elements.  The spiritual aspect of this intrigues me.  The Fayum portraits themselves seem to have survived purely by chance while only written descriptions exist of the height of Greek painting from the classical age.  As a student of history I am happy to be looking at this course from both an artistic and academic point of view.

This afternoon I cleaned up the light studio and set up the four studio lights and scrims we use here at the Aegean Center.  This means that I can begin my portrait work this week, I hope.  I will use my 4×5 camera and produce images similar to the portraits made in the late 19th century.  The lighting will be dramatic and raking, borrowing  more from the style of Rembrandt than anything else.  My subjects will be students and locals and will be both an important part of my portfolio and my learning curve.  This vision may change, of course and I may find I like the open studio light concept better than the drama.  The composition will be head and shoulders only, 3/4 view or something like that.  We shall see…




Painting, Paros and changes in the weather…

The weather has finally turned around on Paros, at least it seems that way for the next few days.  Last week it was brutal and maritime with Force 8-9 winds at night and rain most of the 24 around the dark.  That lasted three days but yesterday the wind shifted and blew the clouds and rain south and began to dry the world.  In the sun it is warm and comforting, but step into the shade and the coolness returns to still chilled bones quicker than you can say ‘parakalo’.  I am looking forward to the hike tomorrow into the hills surrounding this small piece of vegetation covered marble floating in the wine dark sea.  I need to clear my head.  Two years of feelings cannot be discounted so easily, but as a friend reminded me,”on to the next hill!”  I digress–another story for another time perhaps.  Anyway, the walk will do me good.

My painting courses have been a series of remarkable epiphanies.  It turns out that I am pretty good at it and have a decent eye for color, tonal values and composition.  I have never painted in my life and find I love working with oils. They are forgiving in may ways but not to be taken for granted.  The white spirits used to thin them can run against me so I must be stern with the pigments and move them vigorously, not the other way around.  I can bully them around and they will behave.  So far we are using tonal values of black/white in exercises and today we began to use glazes and scumbling to build up color on that same grey-toned background.   Our pallets are limited on purpose so we get used to blending slowly.  Yellow Ochre, Burnt Sienna, Ultramarine Blue, Ivory Black and Mars White can be mixed to make myriad shades and colors.  One aspect I have discovered is the commonality between painting and photography.  Balance and tonal values rule the canvas as they do on the paper.

Tonight is Pub Quiz at Mikro Cafe here in Parokia.  My team, J.A.G., has won the quiz in the past two weeks.  If we win tonight that will be a hat trick.  I have joked about retiring from the quiz if that happens.  It’s just a joke.  I have no intention of retiring.  It is one of my ways to blow of steam.  That and the hike…

More to come…



Back on Paros…

I arrived here on Paros a few days ago.  The weather has been alternatively sun, wind, some light rain and clouds but overall very pleasant.  The new group of students is smaller this spring, but they are an enthusiastic bunch, very bright and ready for the challenges the school will put before them.  Having been through this process three times already I can attest to these challenges and will admit freely that once through does not mean that anything should be taken for granted or assumed.  We are all in for a wonderful and exciting time!

Today was the first official day and we have spent most of it in orientation and introductions.  The assorted work spaces have been visited and already people are eager to sign up for as many courses as they can handle.  I am helping out Liz Carson in the Silver Darkroom but I have also decided to take the painting classes.  As a third formal course I am going back to Creative Writing and will try my hand at some personal essay.  This is a heavy load, but I can manage the time and work required of me.  The Painting course means that I will be also attending the Figure Drawing, Basic Drawing and Free Draw sessions.  In total that is 15 hours of class time.  The Creative Writing is another 4 hours per week in workshop.  I will consult with Liz for probably another 2 hours per week.  On top of this I will be attending the Art History lecture (1 1/2 hrs), Classical Literature (1 1/2 hrs), and maybe Photo History (1 hr).  This is my official week of class time.  That’s 25 hours.  Top that off with the time I will be spending in my studio painting, working in the darkroom, writing and reading and I am looking at about 50 hours total per week working.  I am hoping to get some time in for Greek language classes so let’s just say that is another 2-3 hours total.  The Friday hikes will be a much needed breather for me and, I imagine, the others.

I am very excited about the days and weeks ahead.  Right now dark clouds are rolling in and I hear thunder nearby.  It is supposed to rain tonight and I am looking forward to this as it means more green things in the hills of this lovely place I am beginning to call home.




16 days, crossing things off the list and postal updates…

I haven’t been counting the days recently so imagine my surprise when I realized that I had only 16 days until I head back to Greece!  Amazing, really, just amazing.  I am very excited to return to Paros and the Aegean Center and begin working. It feels like I do no work here.  Although I take pictures and develop film I seem to spend more time combing through my Netflix queue and meeting friends for coffee and all that.  On Paros I have days full of reading, dark room work, digital work, artistic discussion and more that are much more fulfilling.  I also get more exercise which is good since I tend to loaf around here more than anything-and gain weight in the process.  This isn’t saying that I do not “get things done” because I do.  I have been crossing many things off the list recently and  am confident that I will be departing Ancramdale in ship-shape-and-Bristol-fashion.

The tree work and storm cleanup has been finished.  The place looks lovely and we are getting everything ready for spring, which is just around the corner.  No snow to speak of, but we are supposed to get some tonight and this weekend.  the ‘Farmer’s Almanac’ claims a big storm later in the month, but thankfully before I leave.  We shall see.  Mom’s care is all set-up and all the important adjustments have been made for her going forward for the next few months.  I have visited my father in Pittsburgh and followed through on that commitment.  The donations to charities have been made and I feel hundreds of pounds lighter than I as before–not so much material stuff anymore.  It has been a cathartic few weeks for sure.  I have also hired some new employees to replace my mother’s long-time home maintenance man.  He has been a good guy but in the past few years has begun to flake out due to burnout.  It is time to switch to those who have the resources and will to do the job.  I’ll bring the Mini Cooper up to the shop in Latham next week for a tune-up and then it will be ready to sit quietly until I return in July.  I’ll have someone drive it once in a while during my absence.

The boxes I have sent to Paros have all but arrived.  Three are on the island and have been delivered to the school, but four are still in customs, waiting to be released.  I have had to jump through some hoops to have them cleared but I think that they will be soon.  I’ll be charged a fair amount of money for their freedom, but it will be worth it in the end.  The other night I had to call Greek Customs at 3:40 AM to speak to the official there, but I think I have solved that problem.  It was not without a lot of help so, from the bottom of my heart, I thank those who eased the tensions and fears around this issue and acted on my behalf.  You know who you are!

On another note, I have so many wonderful interactions with other Aegean Center alums here in New York that I am bowled over by the solidarity.  First was the meeting at the Metropolitan with Jeffrey, Liz and the others and then the other day I met with some other former students at MoMA and the Met for a wonderful day of art and conversation.  Really great!  I am grateful to have had the time with them and thankful that I am able to do so.  Super photography, beautiful paintings and a lot of crappy post-modern junk have assured me that I am on the right path and that my ethics are true.

More to come…



Travel news and photo exhibits…

In about three weeks I’ll be back in Greece.  I cannot wait.  My time in the US has been excellent and I have been able to take care of business, visit with family and maintain an adult demeanor most of the time.  Certainly there is a great deal of emotion surrounding my leaving for this extended period of time because in many ways I am moving to Europe.  I will return periodically, of course, to visit with family and friends, but my heart is now directed towards a new life.

I have shipped 7 boxes of personal goods to Greece and so far only 1 has reached Paros.  4 are still in Greek Customs and await negotiating to be let through.  There are no goods for sale, no items of great import except of personal value.  I am imaging a huge fee for their release.  The remaining 2 are most likely in Greece by now and I hope they will be let through easily.  Those 2 have my medium and large format cameras in them as well as some clothes and books.  I’ll cross my fingers.

I have just visited my father in Pittsburgh and yesterday we went to the Carnegie Museum of Art to view an exhibit on the photojournalist Teenie Harris.  It is an amazing show and worth seeing more than once.  Massive amounts of 4×5 prints spanning almost 40 years.  He did not consider himself an artist.  He worked and fulfilled his job.  Through this I feel that he has accomplished more than the artist that goes out to purposely to ‘create’ an image.  There is a purity to his work and it cautions me to the perils and pitfalls of assuming I am an artist.  My work will decide this for me and it is up to others to assign a label even if I find this label arrogant or incorrect.  I would rather be known as a hard worker and someone who tried to perfect a craft rather than a popular figure in the art world.  Skill and craft: the cornerstones of my life these days.  On Paros I can practice this.  Soon I will be back in my comfort zone and hard at work.