I was really getting engaged with an advisor who was helping me plan aspects of my future, re-imagining myself, planning for possibilities, dreaming, etc. when these words were uttered in regards to me asking if painting shows an aspect that might tie into all that we were discussing; “It is a quaint hobby but I do not see how that pertains to future goals”. Time stopped, lights dimmed, the world became silent, and I swear that the Sun went out for a second. As I took a gasp of air to bring myself back to life, I stared back through time, the words echoing in my head.

Did I get defensive? Nah. Did I get snarky? Nah. Did I get up and flip my whole desk over? Nah, I chuckled and let it go.

I have always been of the mind that everyone is creative but some of us need to get it out of our head and create it visually to understand our thinking. To me this is the magic which makes us who need to go through this creation process very good at critical thinking and problem solving. Like, very good. These tools are invaluable for anyone who is planning for anything, e.g. the rest of your life or making a sandwich.

So to all the naysayers, for some of us who have physical manifestations (a portfolio of thinking to show), please know that it is more than a portfolio, it is a LOT of thinking, deciding, solving, and doing.


You Must Learn

My quest to find a new job has had so many benefits I had not anticipated. For one, there is time to think, reflect, and the liberation from a non-self-imposed schedule (minus the few job interviews I have had thus far). The growing sentiments in the past few years of work-life balance for me have slowly transitioned into life-life balance, like a new day dawning. I am aggressively seeking the perfect new career, a new focus, something close to my heart, and at the same time, focusing on aspects of my life-living, e.g. giving myself time for an hours long bike ride, an activity which is close to my heart.

A chain of events has become a blessing for me. Firstly, my severance agreement from my previous job has offered me the opportunity to take as much professional development that I can absorb. As stated in a previous post, sleep can be daunting for me, so I found myself loving the opportunity to absorb professional development in long stretches with hyper-focus. Within the learning platform of which I had become more and more fascinated with, I had discovered and touched base with someone who seemed to have a very similar professional skill set. I was excited because these skills are an odd mix and a little broad. The more I communicated with my new found connection I became inspired by her breadth of knowledge and her passion for learning and teaching.

As time went by I found out that she was very much in the sleepless yet passionate mindset as I had been. This prompted me to share educational opportunities that I had free access to with her, cause… gotta’ spread the love while I can. These opportunities were of shared interest and the more she inspired me the more I kept digging for courses for both of us. All of this activity made her a better and better friend and directed me to be more and more focused in my pursuits. Amazing resume, done. Organized profile, done. Sharing the resources I was permitted to with the whole learning platform, done. But most importantly I learned determination, focus, stamina, and an actual improvement in getting sleep, thanks to this new found partner in re-imagining one’s self. Gifts and blessings between us have encouraged us both to know we are not alone, and we are not unique in where we were in regards to being self-focused and determined. I am thankful and have also learned within the life-life balance I am living now, that networking can be broader than the traditional professional networking. It can be life-life networking. I am honored and humbled to have a common “eye on the prize” with her and hope to meet many more who share this mindset.


Bare Necessities

Staring at a blank canvas is big-time intimidating. That being said, staring at a blank canvas is an infinite number of possibilities. I had described the dynamics of painting as a conversation previously, and with a blank canvas, I sometimes have to start the conversation. This is most effective for me by going by pure gut, intuition, and vibe. Overthinking this initial step sets me back and leads me down a wrong path, sometimes several times. It is as if I need to just pick a color, close my eyes, grab a tool, and just “go”. Then the hard part. I sit back, look at what happened, and wait for the painting to tell me what to do next. I don’t feel personally that it needs a concrete definition or needs to make sense. My most exciting paintings are the ones that do not make sense. If that initial “go” moment from me does not offer guidance, then I have to just “go” again. Usually, after the first action, a composition starts to unfold. If not, then the second action is sure to point me in a direction.

I have sketched out ideas when a composition gets confusing. I relish the confusion but want to make sure the next steps are right. Usually, I do not need to sketch though, and can continue with painting on the canvas. If the conversation starts to get stagnant or to predictable then I opt to throw in another action to keep up the momentum.

Why do I paint? Not sure but it focuses my total attention. What are my paintings about? No idea. Do they have titles? No. Why did you throw paint at a canvas outdoors during a rainstorm? No idea, you would have to ask the painting.

Do I take creating seriously? Hell yes! There was only one moment that I exploded during a critique. It was just an animal response to an automatic thought triggered by emotion. I got dissed on composition and references were made to old dead white artists. Boom! I went on a tirade about composition being crucial to me and how the hell can anyone speak to and/or judge the creative voice of another? “Why are we even here?” I raised my voice more on that last point. A moment of silence and me breathing heavy, no fake smile, all eyebrows. Then everyone started clapping and the critics smiled broadly. What a hot mess. I would have rather been chalk drawing with children at the playground to really get inspired.


Persuasive Mythicality

The phoenix is an immortal bird associated with Greek mythology that cyclically regenerates or is otherwise born again. Associated with the sun, a phoenix obtains new life by arising from the ashes of its predecessor.

I am not one to subscribe to mythological or religious pursuits but can more than respect the inspiration. Visual creations to represent such beliefs are some of the most inspired and pain-staking works globally and have been for centuries. That being said, for me, an awareness of this is very beneficial to understand where we are now. I do not necessarily feel the need to know the why or how of it… but totally dig it.

Maud Lily Cox, Phoenix Rising

The world is so much more complex now and changes are moving at the speed of sound. The phoenix might decide to take a minute now to gather its thoughts and compose itself before rising again nowadays. The depth of inspiration for me can be in the simplest forms. Waiting for the Metro somewhere in the outskirts of DC I found myself staring at a pattern of rust and various other minerals (and probably chemicals) that had been oozing out of the concrete wall on the opposing platform. It had obviously been happening so slowly over a long period of time, growing, changing, staining. This is an example of something that took me 30 years to figure out about why I do what I do on canvas. I am attracted to chaos and the thought of organizing chaos, or on the flip side, attracted to impeccable order and imagining ways to incorporate chaos. After going through that mental journey and the conversations I have with the canvases from beginning to end, it is all about composition. It is the composition aspect that is the loudest voice from the painting that tells me, “yo, stop, I’m done”.

Am I talkin’ smack?

Yeah, a little. What I feel at this moment of the what and why of my painting could really be way off. A “spot on” assessment of who I think I am is just in my head as I type these words. Anything can happen to redirect what inspires me to paint. If I were to propose that there is some “deep” reason for painting I would laugh at myself. It just feels exciting, personal, and intimate for me. Beyond family, friends, anyone I connect with, painting is just a thing I do. It is like sharing a secret and moving on to another secret while disconnecting or explaining the last secret that happened.


What Makes Folx Art?

There are a few languages in African communities as well as in American Indigenous communities where the word “art” does not exist… visual thinking is a way of life, of living, of storytelling, of function. There are examples of this all over the world going back thousands of years. “High Art vs. Primitive Art”? Attributing categories to creativity based upon an elitist eurocentric view is hard for me to digest.

Why is art history something to teach? Why do we not look now and forward for the current and/or contemporary ways of visual communication? What goes in the masters wing of a floor of any given museum? What is and is not a museum?


What comes out of a child’s mind… or a bathroom… can be a great inspiration

One of my children, from being a toddler would pause, maybe in the middle of dinner, and just stare at the tree outside of our window. Two siblings would notice and want to comment, but I nipped it in the bud at first glance. This is a process that should not be interrupted. What is going through the mind when we stare? The two siblings did not do this so these were magical moments for me.. looking from a distance and marveling, wondering about the visual mind. This same child, one day, as I watched some brainless television show, was walking back and forth, back and forth, and once in a while going into the bathroom. An hour or so later I noticed perfectly formed little paper bowls made out of toilet paper which had been made wet and compressed into bowl shapes. They were all had the same diameter and depth. Each bowl was placed to the right side of each window sill, exactly one inch from the window frame.

It just happened. It came out of the young mind. It was important to do. Was it connected to staring? Maybe a level of vision that just had to be expressed in a tangible way with medium(s) easily available.

I had much respect for that and the bowls stayed on the windowsills for a long time. “Masterpieces”? Nah, they just came out and I have much respect for the not staged, the lack of a “still life”, the random, the spontaneous, the “have to get this out of my head” way of thinking.

Am I talkin’ smack?

Yeah, a little. I do enjoy going to museums to “speak” with paintings that are calling my name. I go straight to what catches my eye and am able to just cruise past the rest. Seeing the balance and depth of a Jackson Pollock can keep my attention for a while. Making others folx visual creations accessible is important. With so many people and so much to say it feels like the world is a constantly changing museum as well in many ways.


Is the way we see a process of our thinking?

What I am not… an Artist

1.) a person who practices or is skilled in an art, e.g. painting, drawing, or sculpture

2.a person who displays in his or her work qualities required in art, such as sensibility and imagination

“is skilled in art”? “qualities required in art”? AND… “painting, drawing, or sculpture”? Creativity comes in so many ways, so, why even try to give antiquated examples. Sounds very limited to me.

These are historical “aspirations” which denotes that some people are simply more creative than others and their visual creations are a) worthy of creation itself, and b) that their visual creations are/would be worthy of earning admiration from others. So unfair.

What really happens…

I paint. I get all up in there yo. I have intimate communication with my paintings, and yes, they argue at times, fool me, and sometimes downright lie. Once in a while it is a pleasant conversation from beginning to end. When I paint the whole world goes away. I do not know how or why this happens but towards the end of each painting it is able to tell me exactly what to do to complete it. Before completion they sometimes tell me to use sandpaper, wire, razor blades, squeegees, mops, anything in that moment. I am a tool to make it happen. When a painting is done it is no longer mine. It is itself and it is done with me.

Most people experience the world with all senses from waking to sleeping. Some of us are in need of getting the resulting thoughts out of our heads to see them, feel them, and experience them to understand them.

A small book really inspired me… don’t recall the title… I recall that it was small. Each page illustrated visual creations that were made in some of the most brutal prisons in the world. Brick dust, saliva, fingers, scratching, making picture planes out of found and collected fiber. This was decades ago. I found the book in a library in Boston, evidently lost behind larger books and forgotten. I slowly flipped each page and stared, some of the pieces were created in a Turkish prison for example. At that time cells had dirt floors and not enough height to stand fully. I imagined the level of inspiration required for someone to painfully, with long-term dedication, put the components together to visually create what was in their head.

Art school?

Yes, I went to college to study art. It offered suggestions of tools to use and technical ways to use mediums. Suggestions usually incorporated the “right” and the “wrong” ways of obtaining the visual goal. I refer back to the small book I found. What is an artist? What is right? What is wrong? If spattering of pigeon feces baked into a sidewalk under the hot sun in Brooklyn catches your eye, is it not that communication that happens? Maybe worthy of a camera to capture what about it caught the person’s eye? Blown up in black and white and framed… could be stunning! Art school did not teach me that and is that even something to be taught? It just happens to everyone from waking to sleeping in my very humble opinion.

Am I talkin’ smack?

Yeah, a little. Why do I have this page displaying my paintings? What’s up with that!? Well, they came out of my head and shows more of who I am, conversation starters if you will. I got into a conversation with a good friend of mine, Veronica. It came up that she took pictures. I asked to see them, and wow! It showed part of what came out of her head with moods, feelings, and deep thoughts. It is an intimate moment for two to share that part of themselves, a kind of vulnerability and trust. Galleries are the antithesis of that intimacy. They are product based and all about the “me” in the choice of who to display and when and why, more a reflection of the gallery and possibly exploitation? My conversation with Veronica was the total opposite as it happened organically and was beneficial to both of us. Rather than having strangers, basically, look at your mind, your thoughts, displayed in a gallery, Veronica and I took each other out of our own heads just for that moment voluntarily. It is an act of trust and inspires to keep doing what I suggested previously… getting thoughts out of your head to to see them, feel them, and experience them to understand them.


Is the therapeutic nature of creativity learned or innate?

Painting for me puts me in the moment. I describe it as “making the world go away”. As I live with Bipolar I as an important part of me… thoughts can race. I read somewhere a long time ago that depression is connected to thoughts about the past and anxiety is connected to thoughts about the future. Not sure if this is psychologically true but it did cause a head nod. An example, for me, of the innateness of using the right brain, would be to doodle. There are many folks who are present in a work meeting, taking in the information, able to report out when the time comes, but spend time to doodle. Why then? One usually does not doodle in a restaurant, as a passenger in a car, between innings, or while riding mass transit. The seems connected to me. Using the innate connection from mind to creation while really wanting to leave the boring meeting you are in. Doodling might be animal instinct, an attempt of the right brain to coax the left brain to just hang in there a little longer.


She’s Got Glass

I joke once in a while when asked about my childhood, mostly to get a rise out of people because it is fun to do. I tell them that I grew up walking on glass. Faces usually twist or a nervous laugh ensues. Priceless. The truth of the matter is that my mother was a leaded glass artist. Leaded glass is glass panels made by combining multiple small pieces of glass, which may be stained, textured, or beveled, with cames or copper foil. The first floor of our row house was a doctor’s office. He was evicted for being a real a-hole to our family and my folx knocked a couple of walls down to make a glass studio to support her work. Once in a blue moon, I would walk through with bare feet and get the very smallest glass splinter. Not too painful but surely hard to find to pull out.

Leaded glass, the process

The glass of various colors, hues, sometimes with a marbled effect of multiple colors or hues is chosen to be cut into pieces to create the composition. This is just like how I mix paint to do a painting but, of course, much more laborious. The different colors of glass are cut into the desired shapes to make the composition. This is like cutting out puzzle pieces to make a puzzle. There are limitations since it IS glass, to how wide a piece can be, limits to the curvature of a cut, etc. Some limitations can be overcome, e.g. curvature, by using tools like a diamond band saw to cut the glass. There is still a risk to the strength and integrity of such details which is part of the creative gamble. Copper foil is kind of like a thin roll of tape but made of copper. The copper strip is applied to the edge of each piece of glass and then folded over around the edge. The fold is usually one-eighth of an inch.

leaded glass

Once a piece has the perimeter wrapped in the copper foil, flux is spread onto the copper strip with a stiff brush. The purpose of flux is to clean the outer layer of copper foil or lead so that solder will stick to it. Pieces are then soldered together, kind of like gluing puzzle pieces together. Solder is a tin/lead alloy with the exception of lead-free solder which is a tin-copper alloy. The solder comes like wire in a coil and is melted to the fluxed copper. I would liken it to welding on a delicate scale. Unfortunately, my mom used the lead-based which she found out later actually gave her a 3 on a scale of 1-5 for lead content in her blood. She is okay but that explains why some artisans, e.g. glass blowers or old school printers of etchings do have a shorter life span. Once all of the glass pieces are soldered together into the totality of the desired composition the flux has to be cleaned off of the glass. The classic way is to use a powder called “whiting” and brush it with an old toothbrush. there are modern flux cleaning liquids now.

Stained glass

Stained glass is what most people refer to as any colored glass window joined in pieces (leaded glass). But stained glass is actually the painterly quality used to mimic painting onto the leaded glass, e.g. the face of Christ on a face-shaped piece of glass that you might find in some places of worship. The colors are “stained,” or colored by the addition of various metallic oxides while it is in a molten state. You can paint on glass with what would be the equivalent of “glass paint” and then heat it at an extreme temperature to bake it into the glass. My mom did a little bit of this well into her creative life but really preferred to explore composition in the “puzzle” way of thinking.

stained glass

Am I talkin’ smack?

Not at all and why this boring explanation? I think it is nice to have things explained to share an understanding. That is what I love about my psych. It is not just about prescribing meds. He takes the time to explain the chemical reasons and how the brain responds or does not respond and why. Over time terminology might change, be simplified, or just be forgotten. I am not one to cling to the past as the only truth but do like to know how things started and how and why they changed over time. Heck, nowadays you can bake colored pieces of acrylic in your oven for a similar leaded glass effect in a very small fraction of the time, but it is not that hundreds of years of glass history and should not be misinterpreted as such.


Battle of the Weather Titans

I am not one to subscribe to mythological or religious pursuits, but this time of year really fires my brain up and I cannot help but visualize a few powerful forces of Mother Nature battling it out. I am writing this on March 13th. 2 days ago it felt like mid-spring or maybe even very early summer. With a light sweatshirt, I could imagine walking on a beach. Currently, however, there is an inch of snow on the ground.

War of the Titans

First, the incoming challenger is the goddess Persephone who is known for serving as Goddess of Spring. Then you have the former champion Hiems, the Roman personification of winter. Appropriately, all Mother Nature can do is look on as a spectator, understanding that such a contest has to happen each year. Ultimately Persephone will win the fight but, as is the case today, Hiems is putting up a good fight.

  • Caelus was the god of the skies before Jupiter
  • Sol Invictus was the god of the sun
  • Summanus was the god of nocturnal thunder
  • Neptune was the god of the sea and earthquakes
  • Fulgora was the personification of lightning
  • Aurora was the goddess of the dawn
  • Tempestas was the goddess of storms or sudden weather
Like the Greek gods of weather, there were many other, more minor Roman gods with their connection to different elements of the weather

Seeing the world like this is usually something that makes me chuckle to myself as I walk about outdoors. Mother Nature and ALL the ways she manifests her wondrous powers upon us is always something that gives me pause, kind of like seeing a perfectly circular rainbow above. A rare sight. The clarity of clouds and the depth of blue within the circle is a very noticeable contrast to the lighter hue and faded quality of clouds outside of the circle. I could go and research why this visual trickery happens but I prefer visualizing the goddess Iris who personifies the rainbow doing her magic.


You Know! That Thing!

I probably spend more time looking at my paintings while in progress than I do a painting. They have to tell me what to do, so I look and wait. If I painting gets stone-cold quiet it goes up on the wall and I just look and wait while I start the next one. I usually do this apprehensively because each painting speaks a different language and this forces me to be trilingual should the painting on the wall choose to speak up out of the blue.

That thing, this big and shaped like this!

It is always interesting to me what catches my eye/mind. This is in two parts. The first part is painting is a process where I am told that I need a certain color, shape, size, texture, whatever, etc. My most outrageous request happened to me in a shared studio space in Boston. It had to be silver, layered, almost canvas width, flexible, organic shaped… what a challenge! I sat and thought, and thought, and thought, and “aha!”. Now before I tell you, you need to understand that when I have such a revelation, I need the solution NOW. This particular revelation took me outside to take the intertube out of the tire of my bicycle parked outside. It was snowing at the time so I moved rather quickly. I knew I was walking distance from my house and had a replacement tube in my apartment, so no biggie. Whew! Problem solved.

Now the second part is not about a painting in the process but rather the identification of a tool or object that catches my eye. These revelations have had me jump into a couple of dumpsters in the past. If it is a tool then it is usually one I need (e.g. bicycle intertube) for current work in process. If it is an object of interest I know that it will be “my muse” for an upcoming piece. This cannot be a solitary reason for painting. The whole idea needs to come to mind to inspire the addition of another object to add to the composition (e.g. bicycle intertube). If the idea does not become concrete in my mind then I bid the beautiful object adieu and it goes back in the dumpster, apprehensively of course.

Poor understanding family

Television is not of interest to me unless there is a good Marvel movie on (visually stimulating). For my family though, binge-watching can be a thing on a quiet Saturday. As I am downstairs painting I have one of these immediate needs that my painting in progress had communicated to me. As stated previously… I need it NOW. I hustle around the house looking at everything. Room to room. Ugh, cannot find that “thing”. Last resort is for me to barge into the living room, holding up my hands, and asking in a desperate tone, “Do any of you know of a round thing, this big, with a flexible end and a curved end with this diameter?” I get the infamous 5-second stare, and maybe 3 seconds of consideration, and finally a person or two apologizes for not really knowing of anything matching my description. With a big sigh and a thank you, I turn and start pacing the house again. I usually find something in the garage or can make it by breaking something.


The Power of I Don’t Know

What is your painting about? I don’t know. What inspired your painting? I don’t know. Is that a painting of dogs playing poker? I don’t know. Part of the creative process for me is going into it not having a clue to how to start, what to do after you start and how the painting is going to conclude. There is strength and power of “I don’t know”. Not knowing gives you a purpose to find out. Not knowing is a place to start. For a brain like mine, a paint-by-numbers would be a challenge to start because there are way too many variables that I would be looking at and would know too much. Something that can be downright damaging is pretending to know. I would be misleading myself and others. Pretending to know would cause me to miss many things that would happen before my eyes that might be clues or answers leading me to know. On the reverse side, I would be discrediting myself if I doubted a gold nugget that might be a piece leading me to know. If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck

finally! thank you!

Do I know any examples?

Since this logic or lack of logic is universal I will give an example totally not related to painting. Over the decades I have been curious about my family heritage. Thus far I have very few clues. I have yet to do the family ancestry DNA test which might help but I am on the fence about doing that. A few times I have asked my parents. Each time I got a different answer. The last answer was the worse which was that “we are a little bit of everything”. The mind is now swimming in all of the possibilities and not knowing, trying to guess, if anything made or makes sense. I am left to try to be content with not knowing, but here is the kicker. If the response to my question was “I don’t know”, that is actually something to work with. I would then know a) to stop asking, and b) I need to go elsewhere for the answers.

Another example of this logic was offered to me by a manager of a book store I worked at. The manager was having a casual conversation with me during a quiet time and said “Reed, if a customer asks you for something they are looking for and you do not know the answer, tell them you do not know but will find out for them”. The light bulbs went off in my head. This made sense. He then concluded that if I did not intend to find out either, just keep it at “I don’t know”. Now, this, in the retail biz, seemed pretty toxic, but the brutal honesty of that response would at least cause the customer to seek someone who might know.

“I don’t know”, for me, is applicable to everything and that is a wondrous thing.

Am I talkin’ smack?

I don’t know.