Have Fun [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

I’ve been working on my painting, Train-Through-Trees. It’s been a while since I painted so I have one intention: have fun. I’m using big brushes and tools Master Miller sent so I don’t too soon lapse into nit-picky detail. It’s in the detail that I begin to take myself too seriously.

It’s harder than you might imagine to “play” after such a lengthy hiatus. Like all artists I puffed myself with fear-fog and wondered if the muse had left the building. This interruption was circumstantial and not a dry-spell. It’s lasted longer than any dry spell I’ve experienced and has left some doubt-residue. To play is akin to re-entering childhood. To not care about the outcome and follow the paint rather than try and control it. The tools from Master Miller mandate the equivalent of finger painting and help my “fun” intention.

Like all fog, fear-fog isolates. It’s a heavy blanket that descends and fools you into thinking that you are alone. It leads you the believe that the landscape is barren – that you are barren.

I am not alone. Master Miller is in NYC recharging his artistic batteries. He’s sent images, paintings of Lucian Freud and Nabokov’s synesthesia. Dwight sent a right-on-time-book. Rob shared his latest 10 minute play. Mark discusses with me what he’s writing and his movie ideas. Kerri wanders into her studio, sits at her piano, and plays; each time I am transported – out of the fog. Enlivened.

These people are like the sun to fear-fog. Their good hearts and dedicated artistry dissipate the wet blanket and warm me to the bone. They open the landscape and infuse me with energy. They remind me that there is really only one intention: have fun. And that is best done with others.

read Kerri’s blog about FOG

Let It Rain [on DR Thursday]

We are reading Raynor Winn’s new book, Landlines. It is terrific. We make a cup of tea, get under a blanket on the old couch in the sitting room, Dogga asleep at our feet, and Kerri reads to me. Life does not get better than this.

A theme in the book is to put yourself in the way of hope. It has become my mantra for the turn of the year. Hope is coming through; stand in its path.

I started a new painting. I’ve been making sketches for a few weeks. It is the theme I snagged on when broken wrists and lost jobs stopped all artistic motion.: train through trees. As David Bayles and Ted Orland write, there is a difference between stopping and quitting. I stopped for a spell. Putting on my painter-clothes and descending into the studio felt like coming back into myself. Embodiment. As I lay out the composition and layered in some under tones, I felt as if air rushed into my lungs after holding my breath for too long.

We mimicked our smack-dab cartoon and took a midnight walk along Lake Michigan to bring in the new year. “Star dust is raining down on us,” Kerri said, in the first minute of 2023.

Stardust. Standing in the path of hope. A deep full breath. A good book and a warm blanket. A cup of tea. The excitement of rushing to photograph a train racing through the trees – and all things that inspire a painter to paint, a composer to compose, and two writers sitting side-by-side to capture their thoughts as the ritual beginning of each new day.

Life does not get better than this.

read Kerri’s blogpost about BUFFALO PLAID

Witness [on DR Thursday]

It’s almost impossible for us to keep walking when the sun sets. We stop wherever we are. In quiet, we watch it descend. It’s as if we are full participants in the day’s end. Holy moments. Holding sacred space. It’s the role of the witness.

I feel the same is true now, at this year’s end. It’s not always true in December but this year is different, It’s almost impossible for us to keep walking. In quiet, holding hands, we are watching the year descend into the past.

I wonder what we are, in fact, witnessing? We stepped off the known path and are once again traveling the unknown trail. That is not new in our experience. It is actually more common in our lives to be stepping into new territory. To not know where we are going. This time feels different.

A few years ago I painted a picture that I like very much. It is simple. Kerri calls it Pax. Peace. The figure in the painting is satisfied. Present. At peace. I’ve not thought about this painting for a long time but it’s walking with me right now. It’s asking to be pulled from the stacks.

Witnessing is not passive. This painting will be our witness during the setting of the year. We will witness it as it daily reminds us to be at peace. Holding hands in sacred space. Not rushing to get out of the woods even as the light wanes.

I have sometimes wondered why I paint. Today I know without doubt the reason.

Pax, 24x24IN, mixed media

read Kerri’s blogpost about SUNSET

pax © 2015 david robinson

Knit It Together [on Two Artists Tuesday]

Bold lines that break the visual plane. Once upon a time it was how I started a painting. Impulsive, reactive, spontaneous slashes that fractured the image and, in my mind, made it more interesting. Those lines gave me a popcorn trail to follow. A hard edge to push against.

Sometimes I think my life’s work can be reduced into a single word: disruption. I was the guy brought in to offer a counterpoint. I am the guy brought in to tell the story that no one wants to speak. What if? Why not? The bold line to break the visual plane. There is always a pattern. There is rarely a problem. Problems incite blame-games. With pattern comes responsibility and the revelation of choice.

John Muir famously wrote, “And into the woods I go to lose my mind and find my soul.” We walk in the woods for the same reason. The circle comes around. The big bold slashes no longer break the visual plane but pull it together.

Mind breaks it. Soul knits it together. Ebb and flow.

Today is a day to walk in the woods.

read Kerri’s blogpost about BLACK TREES

Tell The Story [on KS Friday]

The last time I saw Emily she was showing her simple watercolors in a coffee shop in West Seattle. She sat at a table, her head wrapped in a scarf. Emily was not shy. She was wildly alive and would have had no problem revealing her bald head, a result of the treatment. She wore the scarf because she loved it.

At the time, I was telling stories. At conferences. At facilitations. With symphonies. Pulling people together through a story into a shared metaphor. I did a full stop in front of Emily’s piece, The Storyteller. I knew it was coming home with me. Artists love it when one of their creations speak-out-loud to you. I told Emily about my full stop and she confessed that she loved The Storyteller, too.

After I paid for the small painting, we talked about her treatment. We talked of her hope for remission. Recovery. She was upbeat. Laughter-full. As always. In recounting this memory, I remember that she had no health insurance. It was years before the ACA. We talked about her path through experimental treatments, the only route open to her. She was selling her paintings, everything she had, to try and defer the bill collectors.

I left the coffeehouse art gallery with a new treasure and filled with Emily’s bright spirit. How could she be so vibrant against such a monumental wave of adversity? You already know the next chapter of this tale. Emily died less than a month later.

The Storyteller has lived in my studio. It reminds me of many, many things but mostly of Emily’s lesson: I am not my circumstance. Life is vibrant. This little watercolor is among my greatest treasures.

Dan recently gave me this do-rag: Snap-on, Socket-to-Breast-Cancer. It came at the perfect time as my sister-in-law was entering treatment. I wore it for her on the day of her first treatment but I also wore it for Emily. I wore it for Beaky. I wore it for Beth. I wore it as a wish for a someday cure, for anyone who has or will have to sit at a table and hear a doctor say, ‘You have breast cancer.”

This month is Breast Cancer Awareness month. Be a Storyteller and help pull people together.

This is a piece Kerri wrote and sang when she was working with oncologists raising awareness for Breast Cancer Research

Kerri’s albums are available on iTunes & streaming on Pandora

read Kerri’s blogpost about BREAST CANCER AWARENESS

i am alive © 2005 kerri sherwood

Find The Universe [on DR Thursday]


“There is nothing more truly artistic than to love people.” ~ Vincent Van Gogh

I don’t know why but Van Gogh is lately on my mind. He died at age 37. Most of his paintings came through him in the last few years of his life.

He wrote letters to his brother. That’s why we have so many of his words. His contemporaries thought he was mad. They had plenty of evidence of his mania so that was what they saw. Crazy Vincent making crazy paintings. Nothing serious. Swirls of color in an age of dreary.

Only a crazy man would assert that artistry is to love other people, right?

As a young man he was an art dealer and his experiences in the market drove him to become a missionary in Belgium. The art market drove him to religion and he found religion so depressing that he started to paint. This, of course, is my telling of the tale.

Like Vincent, run to the edge of society. Run to the very margins, turn around and look. What do you see?It’s enough to make anyone turn away from sane society and start painting swirls of color. You’re certainly crazy if you consider society and its politics sane. Right?

Vincent painted and moved further out, beyond the margins. Beyond the power games and posturing. The pretending-to-be. He left behind the Joneses. He found entire universes in simple things: sunflowers, the night sky. Bowls of blueberries.

He must, at the very end, have turned and looked back, again. This time seeing through the eyes of a painter. Was it wishful thinking that he saw artistry as love? Was it a prayer for humanity?

Oscar Wilde, Vincent’s contemporary, a man brutalized by the society that once adored him, wrote, “Art is the only serious thing in the world. And the artist is the only person who is never serious.” Oscar tried to live on the margin and in the center, all at the same time.

Love makes us giddy. It helps us drop our pretense and gaming. I think Vincent saw, not through the lens of madman, but life without a lens., into pure life, pure love. Swirls of color. Entire universes in bowls of blueberries and in other people. Artistry.

read Kerri’s blogpost about BLUEBERRIES

bass player © 2002 david robinson

Call It Realism [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

This garlic could have been painted by Jan Vermeer. To my eye it looks like the work of a Dutch master, an artist more concerned with realism than the ideal.

Art that reveals the beauty in the ordinary. For a few weeks in my surly youth I studied with a realist painter. I was wowed by his technique but could not yet grasp his dedication to capturing the everyday. Only later did I come to understand that his art was not about the technique but about bringing attention to the experience of the everyday. He rejected the aloof and desired to pull art down from the pedestal so it might reflect the lives of the “common people.” He believed that people needed to literally see themselves in the paintings to have access to the painting. They needed to see their hardship and toil as well as the objects that surrounded them.

Bertolt Brecht believed the opposite. In order for people to have access to the deeper messages of a play, they needed to be removed from their circumstance. So, in his way of thinking, people are more capable of seeing themselves in a piece of science fiction than in a reality-mirror.

David is working on a re-imagining of Pirandello’s play, Six Characters In Search of an Author. One of the questions of the play is, “Who is telling your story?” And, how are they telling it. I reread the play and was struck by how relevant it is to our times.

The beauty in the ordinary. The turmoils and struggles of the everyday. Ours is a time of tumultuous story tug-of-war. I wonder, in a hundred years, what historians will write about our time. I wonder what aspect of artistry – if any – will be considered “realism.” As defined by Vermeer and Pirandello, it’s to reach across a social line, from the privileged to the working class. For Brecht it is spatial: step out to look in.

One thing is constant, while reaching across time and artificial boundary, it is always the role of the artist to help their community ask the questions: Who is telling my story? Whose story am I telling? What is the story that we are telling?

I imagine those someday-historians will write tomes on our messy struggle to sort out what is “real” and what is not.

read Kerri’s blogpost about GARLIC

Look Around [on DR Thursday]

My sketchbooks are punctuated by weird landscapes. It was a practice. When I felt the need to draw regularly, to exercise my artistry, I worked on compositions for future paintings. And, when I had no idea what to draw, no composition in my head, I sketched my weird landscapes. They were fun and I got lost in them.

There was a blowback effect. I’ve never been a landscape artist. I considered my weird landscapes as not-serious exercises. Yet, they were made of scribbles and patterns and it became a game to collect patterns from nature. My not-serious exercises required me to look around. To get close. To look at the edges and splashes and etchings available in nature. To see. My weird landscapes became eye-opening meditations.

There are miracle-patterns in bark. Orchids, I recently learned, are a master-class of pattern, shape, and color. It is impossible to find a hand painted brush and ink painting as perfect or as spontaneous and lively as the strokes on the rattlesnake plant. Go to the garden if color combinations are in question.

I will never invent anything as imaginable, as impossibly beautiful, as what already exists in this world. I will never produce any painting as glorious as the paintings in nature. The best I can do is play. Look and marvel. And isn’t that a great relief?

read Kerri’s blogpost about RATTLESNAKE PLANT

eve © 2006 david robinson

Shape The Vessel [on Two Artists Tuesday]

George Ohr was one of the great ceramic artists of the late 19th and early 20th century. Like Van Gogh, he died unknown, never experiencing the success of his work. Robert reminded me of George Ohr’s story and I reminded Robert that Ohr would be a terrific story for him to tell through a one-man play.

What is it to follow your art-call with heart and dedication with nary a hint of financial reward or success on the horizon? Vincent Van Gogh would have been called an amateur during his life since the making-of-money is the flag we plant in the sand marking the line between being a professional and a dilettante. Those lines do not exist for artists with a deeper call. The money does not the artist make.

The Ohr-O’Keefe Museum of Art was designed by renowned architect Frank Gehry, quite a journey for the unseen work of George Ohr’s life to find so much vibrant admiration after his passing. Had he known it would have changed nothing. He’d have spent his days at the potter’s wheel either way.

“Shape clay into a vessel; It is the space within that makes it useful. Cut out doors and windows from a room; It is the holes that make it useful. Therefore, profit comes from what is there; Usefulness from what is not there.” ~Lao-tzu

Profit and usefulness. Shape and space. Mary Oliver asked the question: What will you do with your one wild and precious life? It hits the nail squarely on the head. It was not the pots that George Ohr made or the paintings that Van Gogh painted, it was the space they entered while throwing pots and painting paintings. It was the world they entered through their artistry, more expansive than financial success, more necessary than renown. A wild and precious life lived wildly and with avid appreciation.

Standing amidst the brilliant orchids, some of the flowers were in their last days. Their beauty fading, they cared not a wit. It is not in their nature to stretch their faces and pretend that the cycle of life is more valuable in the early bloom than it is in the late retreat. All is treasured, beguiling. Every last moment, not to be stalled or held onto. The root as necessary as the bloom, the winter as indispensable as the spring.

read Kerri’s blogpost about FIREWORKS

Constellate [on KS Friday]

Our 3am banana conversation was about cleaning out. The past few years have, as Skip is fond of saying, tipped the apple cart. Our life-apples are akimbo. So, as we pick them up, we are also sorting. It’s not just the stuff in our closets or the post-water-line-mess-explosion in the basement, it’s also the psychological/mental/spiritual/emotional debris. What bag of trash can we finally toss in the bin? What small treasure was unearthed that surprised us? What will we carry forward into the next chapter that informs who we’re now becoming?

I sat in the basement for a few minutes yesterday, staring at the canvas on my easel. Each day I see a little more of the painting that I will someday paint. I do not now have the time or energy to make it visible. This canvas is becoming a marker in time. It calls. My creative energy is dedicated to other projects and I am careful not to over-tap it. That is new. Knowing my limits. Honoring the creative well is part of who I am becoming. I am in no rush. That’s new, too.

“I’m certain these were my momma’s,” Kerri said, showing me the tic-tacs. She was cleaning out the pantry and found them in the way-back. Beaky was a fan of tic-tacs. Treasure. And, how did they get lost in the recesses of our pantry? No matter, they inspired some good stories, reminiscing. “It makes no sense, but I’m keeping these,” she said. Treasures do not need to make sense.

I learned a big lesson during the decade that it took me to complete and produce The Lost Boy: I started it as a project for Tom to perform and it became a project I had to perform for Tom. His passing was the final piece necessary to complete the story he wanted to tell. His passing made the play possible to perform. The lesson: we cannot see it all. We think we understand “why” but mostly our reasoning is constellation. Dots connected in the vast open sky.

The tipping of the apple cart. 3am bananas. Next chapter imagined and arriving. A tic-tac kiss from the past. Making space for constellation. We are in awe and not in a hurry.

Kerri’s albums are available on iTunes and streaming on Pandora

read Kerri’s blogpost about TICTACS

connected/released from the heart © 1995 kerri sherwood