I don’t know. Perhaps I enjoy self-evisceration and the sensation of gnawing on my own intestines. After all, it is frequently frustrating and, unlike some artists, I have never found it particularly relaxing. Often, especially when there is deep emotion involved, it is simply exhausting. There is satisfaction in taking a sheet of fiberboard, smearing water, eggs, and pigment on it using hair from a Russian rodent glued to a stick, and having it look like something, but it’s a fleeting and whispy satisfaction and soon skips town to make room for the latest idea. Maybe I paint because I am optimistic at heart; always hoping the next work will be better than the last, that I will discover something new, that I can prepare longer or work harder, and when it comes together and I find myself still unsatisfied, believe a better painting is yet to come because artists invariably improve with age. Yearning for perfection but knowing I’ll never reach it because of the limits of my ability, effort, and time, and because I’ll die too soon.
There is meaning and emotion in my paintings, usually a memory or a fantasy which is rarely discernible to anyone else, but that is of small importance. I don’t want anyone knowing what I feel. If a painting makes a person think, or experience an emotion, even if it is worlds away from mine, I call it a success on that end and I am somewhat satisfied. Otherwise, I wouldn’t paint. I have no interest in grand vistas, pretty scenes, barns, blue skies, and covered bridges, and in spite of my love for the outdoors, I don’t care to paint nature without some human element, however small it is, for it is the human element which interests me the most, whether past, present, or in a hoped-for future.
I paint in my studio using sketches and a few reference photos, though I seem to use the photos less and less. I feel comfortable with several mediums but my soul mate is egg tempera, the only painting technique which requires a chicken. Egg tempera paint is made from pigment (an artist’s term for smashed rocks), water, and egg yolk applied to a rigid surface (stiff, if you watch sitcoms) with sable brushes. It dries in seconds so is necessarily constructed of countless layers giving it a unique appearance unlike any other medium. For me, painting is a slow, deliberate, painstaking process and the more thought, planning, and sketching I do before beginning the painting the better it turns out. Egg tempera is perfect for an artist that works as I do. Simply put, it is not a medium for impatient people, unless they’re also masochistic.
As for materials there’s not much to say. I avoid store-bought eggs. They’re just not as thick and rich as Henrietta’s. I use medium density fiberboard (MDF) as a support and apply around fifteen coats of traditional gesso after sealing it with rabbit-skin glue, and then sand it smooth using a fine grit paper. I purchase powdered pigments from a variety of sources, my favorite supplier being Kremer Pigments, but I also collect and grind some myself. As for brushes, I use Escoda kolinsky sable brushes exclusively. I have painted with many fine brushes but, in my estimation, they are simply the best brush made.
When I was young this little stream near my home was my favorite place, and still is. I’ve never seen fish in the water but there are crawdads and salamanders to catch. Since it’s under the forest canopy it is perpetually cool, even on the hottest days. There is nothing a boy enjoys more than a stream. After all, from a pre-pubic perspective the three most exciting things in the world are water, mud, and rocks, in no particular order. Throw in solitude, an occasional snake, as well as the freedom of peeing outdoors, and it’s a veritable paradise. Thirty some years, one wife, and three kids later I may enjoy it more than I used to, albeit for different reasons. If I could never paint anything else, I would be content. While not old growth, the trees in this area are more mature than most places in Ohio. There are rocks scattered on the slopes around the stream, several waterfalls, one of which is perhaps eight or nine feet high, and the water is always crystal clear. In the spring the forest floor is covered in trilliums, squirrel corn, and dutchman’s breeches. It doesn’t have a name, at least not officially.
If one follows the stream it empties into Little Beaver Creek, a national wild and scenic river for what it’s worth, full of smallmouth bass, darters, sauger, and many other fishes, and is so chock full of bait-fish that the kingfishers get fat and just lounge around on the sycamore limbs waiting to digest enough food to get airborne. It is uncommon not to see a bald eagle, osprey, or a great blue heron. Most of all, it’s just plain pretty; full of rocks, lined with vegetation, and there’s enough of a fall to make gurgly sounds and swishes. The banks are lined with huge sycamore trees, flowers full of bees, and there are beavers, muskrats, turkeys, deer, and all sorts of other critters. If it sounds like paradise, that’s because it is, or pretty close. But I don’t paint these places because they’re pretty. There are pretty places everywhere. I paint them because it feels like home, because it is home. Because I’ve been there for forty years and it still thrills me. Because things have happened there, two hundred years ago and to me. If I had to drown somewhere, the toughest choice would be which of these two streams to do it in.
For your listening pleasure you may click on the player below and hear a recording of the same small stream.