A painting a day: #22, Textbook

If you haven’t kept up with this project, here’s a quick summary: I did the first 12 paintings all on the same big sheet of paper. Those were all fairly realistic still lifes. For the second sheet of paper, I’m doing more free/abstract reworkings of all the paintings from the first sheet. The idea is that since the first sheet gave me practice in rendering objects accurately from life, the second sheet will be practice in painting freely, without so much care for the way things really look.

As I explained yesterday, I doubled up on my previous paintings — doing two or even three a day — so I could have a break while road-tripping to the Berkshires. I had a lovely time seeing Kuukua, my first snow flurries, stunning old mansions, and a purry tuxedo-cat named Matteo.* Western Massachusetts is full of big open spaces and dense woods (the thin trees now bare for winter, so different from a California redwood forest); it’s almost rural, except that the towns, though small, are historic and so delightful.** We visited a tiny library in the village of Housatonic and by pure accident I sat down right in the middle of the (impressively extensive) watercolor and graphic novel section.

Housatonic (the library is the beige building at left):


There wasn’t a whole lot to do — quite the opposite of living in a city — but that felt just right, at least for an extended weekend. And since Kuukua is a resident director at an early college program, I spent a couple of days surrounded by teenagers, their vibrating energy providing a counterpoint to the stillness of the landscape.

Lake Mansfield, behind Kuukua’s college:


I didn’t think about the daily painting project for most of our trip, but on our drive back to Boston on Monday, I found myself considering The Geological Closet and pondering options for revision. I really like the original painting; I think it’s perfect — not perfect objectively, but it’s the best work I’m currently capable of producing, and I can’t imagine any way I could improve it. So how does one redo something like that?

I’m not sure where I got the idea, but somehow I thought of antique instructional illustrations, and laughed out loud at the notion of translating Geological Closet into one of those diagrams. That tickled feeling is a very good sign. Not too long after we got back to Boston, I sat down with my sheet of paper, made a very light pencil grid, and then just started painting. It was a very intuitive process; I didn’t pre-plan any of my pictures, so they’re just whatever I felt like doing in the moment. With the captions, too, I just invented them on the spot, though some of them do have a weird subconscious resonance. I welcome your attempts at interpreting their meaning. 🙂


The captions came out pretty French, which isn’t too surprising; those antique diagrams are French (as were the ones I found online for reference), and also, I amused myself on our road trip by changing the GPS voice directions to French.*** Although — I didn’t realize “entropie” is how you write “entropy” in French; I just wanted to alter the English spelling of the word.

Transcribed/translated captions, L to R and top to bottom:

  • Fig. 1
  • Fig. &
  • Zxh
  • Camille;
  • entropie
  • ¿vương (I don’t know anyone with this Vietnamese surname, though it’s a common Chinese surname as well; it means “king”)
  • [upside-down] 親愛 (Chinese for “beloved” or “dear”)
  • Dé5olée (désolée means “sorry” in French, and it’s the feminine form of the word)
  • #sacrée (sacrée means “sacred” and it’s the feminine form)
  • Electi0nXX

It may interest you that I came up with an initial list of possible captions while I was still in the car; I liked them at the time, but once I started painting, most of them didn’t feel right anymore. But here is that list: Fig. 1, Fig. @, Zxh, turpentine, Elizabeth, 5entient, xyzzyva, carloS, ima(“n, ¿sacrée, Charlef Town

Different from the original, isn’t it:



Music: I didn’t listen to music while making this painting — which took me an hour — but I did soothe my non-visual senses with a cup of Taza hot chocolate (salted almond). I do not like hot cocoa, but I do like chocolate, and this one was nicely thick and not too sweet nor too rich. When it was done I poured hot water into the mug and that second “steeping” was pretty good too.


*Or Mateo. Not sure about the spelling.

**Kuukua works in Great Barrington, incorporated 1761 — before the US was even a country.

***“A zéro-virgule-cinq miles, tournez à gauche.” Apparently “miles” is pronounced just like in English, except with a French accent. The voice was listed in the settings as “français européen – Agathe,” to distinguish it from “français canadien,” which we found considerably harder to understand. And the Canadian voice did not pronounce it “miles” but “meel.” Très déroutant! BTW, I tried pretty much all the languages available in the menu. Japanese we found soothing; we didn’t like the Russian (“Elena”), Italian (“Simona”), or Spanish (“espanõl americano – Ana”) voices; and the second American-English voice (“Michelle”) sounded like a ditzy college student.