bemusing musings of a bewildered brush-wielder

a day

I thought it might be interesting to document a day in the life of a painter.  So, here goes.

5:27 a.m.-  Liam wakes up, proceeds to smash me in the face, shouting “Eggs please.”

6:20- Eggs, coffee, and hot chocolate.  Liam insists on pairing everything we own- “Dad’s coffee cup, Liam’s coffee cup.  Dad’s shoes, Liam’s shoes…” etc.

7:14 a.m.-  We bike down to the water.  By this point in the day, my thoughts have gained momentum.  As an artist, I find the mornings to be challenging- I’ll explain why.  When I spackled, I knew that if I worked nine hours, I would get nine hours wage.  But, as an artist, I can work nine hours and have nothing to show for it- in fact, the painting could be worse off than before I began.  On the other hand, I could work nine hours and have the greatest painting to show for it.  It is this uncertainty that is so daunting for a father of two.  Only an hour or two into the day, I’m already standing at the top of a hill with a snowball, ready to roll it down a hill of wet snow.  I just have to pick the right hill.  And so, here is my vaccination against thoughts run amok: looking out on the water of the bay, I recite verses that have been memorized by heart for years now.  “For I know the plans that I have for you, plans to prosper you, and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future”  Jeremiah 29:11.  “Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.” Psalms 37:4.  “Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and your plans will succeed.”  Proverbs 16:3.  I remind myself that I will indeed produce bad paintings, but I just have to fight my way through it, in order to produce the next painting (which might be great.)  One time, I went down to the boat yard where my father in law keeps his old sail boat.  I went and sat on the edge of the docks with Mararet.  Suddenly, beside the boat, a snorkel appeared, then a head, then a face… it was my father in law.  He had a metal tool in his hand.  We asked him what on earth he was doing, and he replied “I’m scraping the barnacles.  She’s dragging.  Need to move faster.”  That’s what reciting these scriptures are to me- barnacle scraping, removing the anxiety, fear, and self doubt that wants to creep in.

As I focus my thoughts on these good things, hopeful things, I find that I am better able to see beauty in simple things.

8 a.m.-  Liam and I head back to the house.  I head to my studio at the Islip Presbyterian Church.  They have been really kind to me, and let me use a beautiful north room for a studio.  It is ideal, I don’t know what I would do without it.  Being that it is a room which belongs to the church, I have to move furniture everyday.  I move all of their couches, tables, etc. to the side.  Then I run into the church basement and begin schlepping my easels, paints, what not.  I set up my still life, lay out my paints…

8:40 a.m.-  I begin painting, running back and forth across the length of the room, stopping often to look and think.

10:30 a.m.- I stop painting altogether, sit down, and stare at the painting for a long time.  What am I trying to say in this painting?  I’ve intentionally juxtaposed the wine glass and bottle with the flimsy, portable music stand.  I thought it would be funny to show the two in the same painting.  I want to mess with people’s ideas of classical music- why can’t you place your music on a flimsy metal stand?  A few friends have looked at the painting and think that I’m successful in pitting the highbrow and lowbrow against eachother, though perhaps too much- they say it is distracting.  Many composers, such as Mozart, Dvorak, did derive many great orchestral pieces from “peasant music.”  There’s a million paintings out there, better polished than this, with perfect violins and wine glasses and wedges of cheese and what not.  I wanted to make a whimsical pairing, to catch people off guard… sheesh, I’m stumped as to what to do.

10:45 a.m.-  Time to stop staring at painting.

11:02 a.m.- Okay, no really, time to stop staring at the painting.  Time to get going.

11:10 a.m.-  I get up and get going.  I have to pick everything up and move it over to my house, to begin my afternoon painting of Margaret playing the piano.  The moving is not so fun.

11:32 a.m.-  Set up in the house is done.  Ready to start mixing paint.  This is why I always wear gloves when I mix paint- the side of the tube popped open when I squeezed it.

11:45 a.m.-  Margaret puts Evan to sleep.  I can begin to paint her now.  I’ve been able to work on the rest of the painting, but not on the figure of her.  As of today, I’ve only spent a couple of minutes painting her figure.

1:43 p.m.-  Hunger pangs.  I eat a quick lunch.

1:50 p.m.-  Resume painting.

2:45 p.m.-  Run for coffee. It helps me clear my head.  There’s something in me that needs some time to talk to people, leaf through a couple pages of a book, something to clear my head.  Eyes are muscles, they get tired, and so I need to let my eyes relax before I resume painting.  A coffee for me, a tea for Margaret.  I’m thinking about the painting, wondering what’s right and wrong with the canvas…  Margaret tells me to relax.

3:34 p.m.-  My brother Chris swings by.  I’m consumed by the painting.  I’m not a multitasker, I’m a super uni-tasker.  I’m having trouble with some things in the painting, and getting frustrated, and consequently super focused.  Perhaps this super focusing skill can be detrimental in art, though, if taken too far.  In my case, while I focus on the problems in the painting, I sometimes forget to pump my heart, inflate my lungs, etc.  Chris has a way of making fun of me, so as to let me know that it is only pigment smeared on linen- he succeeds to get me out of my funk.  I’m a bit more optimistic about the painting.

5:45 p.m.-  I am done painting today.  The light has changed, and so I place the painting on the floor, sit far away, and stare.  And stare.  My thoughts range from “It is the greatest thing I have ever done,” to “I bet you I could paint the canvas black, screw legs into the wooden frame, and use it as a nice coffee table type thing.”  This is how I view any painting when I am working on it.  And six hours after I’ve painted, as I type, I am staring across the room at the painting and thinking that this is one of my favorite paintings I’ve ever worked on.

6:00 p.m.- Time to clean up.  The thing I like least about being a painter.

I don’t know why or how I end up with so many dirty brushes.

I pour out the old mineral spirits, with the pigment settled on the bottom, into a new, clean jar.  Then I clean all the brushes in the spirits.

Palette dirty.

Palette cleaned.  I use ten acity to clean it.

I place a bit of my medium (sun thickened linseed, etc.) on the palette.  An amount the size of a quarter is good.

And the palette is cleaned and oiled.  The oil creates a beautiful glow (a nice foil to color), and it seals the wood so as to prevent the wood from sponging out the oil in the paints.

6: 32 p.m.-  Not done yet.  Have to go wash all of the mineral spirits out of the brushes.  If I don’t, the mineral spirits will eat away at the ferrules of the brush.  I wash them in soap and water, then hang them over a ledge, at an angle, to dry.

6:50 p.m.- Not done yet.  Now I have to go move all the furniture back into its place in the house, so that my longsuffering wife doesn’t leave me.  Right where I stand to paint, the chandelier hangs in our dining room.  So that I don’t smash my head into it, I tie it back for the workday, and bring it back down at the end of the day.  My poor wife, putting up with this.

Furniture is back in place, normality can now resume (relatively speaking.)

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4 responses

  1. Does Liam like coffee? Or is his coffee cup for something else? I hated coffee until I was about 17. My grandson, who is 11, won’t touch the stuff.

    May 5, 2010 at 3:42 am

    • Liam has tasted coffee, and he spit it out angrily. He prefers hot chocolate, actually tepid chocolate.

      My earliest memory of sound is the tinkling sound of my mom’s spoon hitting the sides of the ceramic mug as she mixed honey into her tea. I must have been under two years old.

      May 6, 2010 at 11:00 am

  2. lm

    So…, Kevin, this is how we must strive for simplicity … through complexity with much love and support. Your shoes and hats show much more than that!

    May 5, 2010 at 2:52 pm

    • It takes a village to create one of my paintings. My father in law supplies my linen for an overly generous price (he is a linen supplier), my mother in law hands out my cards to potential buyers, my wife poses for the paintings, my older brother writes to me and helps me envision, clarify, and understand what it is that I am doing in life and art, my younger brother lives art and gives me ideas for actual paintings, my sister babysits while Margaret poses, my parents babysit… I could go on.

      May 6, 2010 at 11:05 am

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