Where Thou Art



On the left, a sketch done "live". On the right, the latest oil painting in what is becoming a series with the theme of jazz musicians. Struggled with values on this painting, and controlling how much activity there was. At first it seemed chaotic and overly busy, no focus or flow. I worked on shifting and toning layers.

I wanted to keep some chaos, it is about jazz improvisation after all, and to capture the quality of a live sketch. I frequently draw musicians at the local jazz venue, "The Deer Head Inn". The elusive immediacy of these sketches has been difficult to translate to a painting. I think I'm getting there...

Tradition, Craft & Connection


"Jim Angeline"

Copyright©2012, James Gloria

Summer break has arrived, and with it the usual conflict between having free time and needing discipline in my work habits. Normally, I over-schedule my commitments partly to provide a structure to my life. As an artist, I chafe under the 9-5 work week, but tailspin when I don't have to answer to a schedule.

This year, I'm approaching the problem from a different angle. Instead of booking endless projects, I'm engaging in an exercise in praxis. According to Aristotle, There were 3 types of knowledge: theoretical, poetical, and practical. Praxis being actual action taken to test the theoretical.

I have always been intrigued by traditional forms and techniques--the craft of art making. I have never accepted the superficial knowledge of a course of study; instead, being always compelled to suss out the details. Partly, this was in search of less expensive, but durable materials. On the other hand, the connection to craft informs my work through familiarity. In fresco, that meant learning properly about slaking quicklime, puozzolanic aggregates, and grinding color. In Scagliola, it was understanding the chemical properties of CaSO4, and writing about the process.

Now it is oil painting. Unsatisfied with gesso from a can, synthetic oils and ready made canvas, I have been embarking on a process of discovering more historic materials and techniques.

Now, this could be an exercise in pedantry. Many artists have pursued ancient techniques in search of mystical properties to impart to their work, as a kind of alchemy. I am only interested in making the process more direct and less processed.

As it happens, this coincided studio time to work on a portrait commission, and 2 landscapes. As a result, I developed an allergic reaction to the solvents in my paint. Already sensitive to dust from working with plaster, I knew that I would be in trouble soon if I couldn't remedy the problem. That, or I would be destined to work only en plein aire. Somehow, the stars aligned that evening and I stumbled on the website of Tad Spurgeon. It was though I had received a custom response to my dilemma. Tad has done an enormous amount of work researching the origins of oil technique, and specifically the chemistry of linseed oils and media. Not only that, but his philosophy of craft and analytical nature balanced with a love of the painting process has reinvigorated my interest.

So, praxis. ( I swear I'm getting to it!)

Traditional practice for me always meant materials. Now I realized I had a perfect opportunity to make it also about process. As an art teacher, I have struggled with presenting material to young teens in a way that was compelling, real and made use of what I have learned, while not becoming too "serious". Somehow I hit the right formula this spring, and had a great group of kids These "kids" ( or more accurately, their parents) are now looking for something to occupy them this summer. Why not try the Atelier format? Artists frequently complain about the academic format of art education and want to hark back to an earlier era. Why not try this out?

So, we have begun meeting, 3 times a week in the mornings to both work on art, while helping me clean up the place. Labor for labor. They have taken to it with enthusiasm, and next time, I will blog about the experience.


(detail, an oil portrait of my hard-working friend, pianist, composer)

"Eric Doney Composes"

Copyright©2010, James Gloria

Came across this quote today from one of my favorite musicians, Esperanza Spaulding in Newsweek magazine/Daily Beast:

...She's reading a book called The War of Art- about creative thinking- that is helping her focus. "Artists tend to get so caught up in their image of themselves as an 'artist' " she says, but that's the wrong attitude. The author, Steven Pressfield, argues that creative people instead need to commit themselves to the "everyday, diligent, warrior-like mentality of just 'Get up and do your work,' " Spalding says. "If it's four hours, just get up and do your four hours. I really like that. It's liberating somehow."

It perfectly captures something I've been thinking about lately, the image of artists that non-artists have of the creative process. I call it the "magic wand theory". It derives from the expectation that some workshop students have about how you will transmit creative knowledge to them. That somehow, work plays a secondary role in the creative process to native talent and luck.

I know this is not a unique thought. But, I was reminded again of the persistence of the idea, when listening to the author, Johah Lehrer, talk about "opening up your creativity" and his new book. I haven't read it yet, but from his interviews he seems to be focusing on how to "unblock creativity", and techniques for opening up creative thought.

I guess the demon I face is not how to access creativity, but rather how to remain disciplined; how to establish regular work habits, and stick with them. A painter I know has an almost religious adherence to working from 10-noon daily. When I first met him, I wondered whether he could be serious, given his large body of work. I soon learned that working in fits and starts, with bursts of production interrupting long stretches of non-production (my method) is much less efficient. I am the hare to his tortoise. He is a "creative warrior", putting in the hours that begin to work like compound interest; doubling exponentially as they are accumulated little by little.


Submit |səbˈmit|

verb ( -mitted , -mitting )

1 [ intrans. ] accept or yield to a superior force or to the authority or will of another person: Jim frequently must submit to the demands of being a parent. Like when he must deal with a certain intransigent teenager, rather than focus on his work.

• ( submit oneself) consent to undergo a certain treatment: Jim submitted himself to the brainwashing of the media.

• [ trans. ] subject to a particular process, treatment, or condition: scagliola samples submitted to frequent polishings.

• agree to refer a matter to a third party for decision or adjudication: Jim refused to submit to the taxman.

2 [ trans. ] present (a proposal, application, or other document) to a person or body for consideration or judgment: Jim worked until 4:30ish to finish the mural proposal so that it could be submitted to the jury committee.

• [with clause ] (esp. in judicial contexts) suggest; argue: he submitted that such artistic measures were justified.

Navel Gazing

I'm starting this blog partly out of a need to communicate about things that excite me and partly out of frustration with the Facebook model. Typically, I log into FB, scan through 10 posts and find myself returning to the posts of the same 4 friends. Then, I will post something I've read or seen online that moved me and wait for a response and maybe have a dialog.

My thought is that if everyone else is doing what I am (and I suspect they are) then most people don't want to read what I have to say.

So why not start my own blog, and the 1 or 2 or 3 people who like what I do can check my work out. If it is too much trouble, they can stay ignore it. Plus, I don't have to give up my copyright to the art I post, my first born or any other object contained in the constantly drifting sands of FB rules and regs.

Enough about social media....

What better place to start than with a portrait. Photographer, William Cohea had me sit for a series of photos yesterday. I couldn't be more pleased with the results. I was reluctant at first. After all, as an artist I already spend an inordinate amount of time navel gazing and trying to keep my fragile ego in check. But, the process was really fun, as we both jabbered on about life, perception and craft. It reminded me of why I do what I do: the enjoyment of the process of creation. The end result is important, but almost secondary.