living in truth, Surprise, Uncategorized, Uncertainty, urban sketching

Lake Reflections #2

LakeScene

Illustration: Watercolor sketch on 5.5″ x 8.5″ 140 lb. cold press Montval watercolor sketchbook paper by Black Elephant Blog author

On a day when a U.S. President seemed to threaten nuclear war (%@?*?!X?), further undermining our security relationships and standing around the world, the sanest thing to do seemed  to be to sit on a quiet lakeside beach and watch people on all manner of boats and boards enjoying a beautiful evening out on the water.  I have a whole lot of paintings to complete, mostly still in my head, from the recent trip to Europe.  Following the sudden, unexpected death of a sibling a couple of weeks ago–a sibling who so recently (only a month ago) was enjoying that same trip to Europe…he,clambering up steep cobble-stoned streets, admiring cathedrals, and admiring a replica of a Bronze Age village built on pilings over water on the edge of Lake Constance in Germany– I am finding I must ‘sketch-crawl’ my way back to working in the bright colors I prefer. It may take a while but enjoying the interaction of watercolor with paper seems likely to help me get there.

As I sit lakeside in the twilight of an evening, I do reflect on how uncommonly good people, such as my recently departed brother (who used to read this blog as it appeared in his email), sometimes have uncommonly rare things befall them, and are taken from us uncommonly early in their lives.  It is too soon to find any sense or solace in this.   But it has long been clear:   We must make more space for such people–the ones like him who are driven by a larger sense of global responsibility—to share their abilities with us while they are here in this earthly world.  The world needs uncommonly good people right now, who act in the awareness that we are all part of a larger whole.  Only by having a critical mass of such people exhibiting their genuine caring and leadership to making the world a better place, can we have a chance (in the remaining time left to us as a species) of tipping the planetary scales into a sustainable direction.  Nothing is more urgent these days, but it is restorative to watch people fishing and stand-up paddle-boarding on this evening as if they had no cares in the world. I will probably do more of that today.

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Surprise, Uncategorized, Uncertainty

Speyer Cathedral in Watercolor

 

Under overcast skies and amid a gentle breeze today it was pleasant to walk around Speyer, Germany, which is famous for its UNESCO World Heritage site, the Speyer Cathedral, and surrounding stately parks.  (This city also gave English the word for “spire” as in church “spire.”)  Speyer is one of Germany’s oldest cities:  located by the Rhine river, this area was first settled by the Romans (a Roman military camp was established here in 10 B.C.).

Speyer photo

Illustration: View of the Speyer Cathedral from Maximilian Strasse on July 2, 2017 (Photo)

Just yesterday evening, it would have been impossible to enter this area, due to the funeral services held in this historic Cathedral for former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, given all the dignitaries, including the current German Chancellor Angela Merkel and former U.S. President Bill Clinton, and security forces here as a result.

But this morning, with the shops closed for Sunday, it was calm and full of people sitting in outdoor cafes feasting from tall ice cream sundays and sipping on lattes.  Although the world came to this place just yesterday, with many eyes on the live coverage of the

Speyer Cathedral 1
Illustration: Watercolor and pen-and-ink, “Speyer Cathedral”, by Black Elephant Blog author, 2017

funeral of a man who is identified with the cause of European Union, today it was possible to feel a bit away from the distractions of the world, to wonder at the vast archaeological treasures of this region represented by impressive displays in a small museum–and to even sit in a cafe alongside the relaxed cafe drinkers.  From one of those cafes, protected by large umbrellas from a misty uncertain drizzle, I managed to sketch out a partial view of the massive 11th century (its construction began in 1030 A.D.!) church in front of me.

It is so big that I ended up sketching just the top half (seen above), with the historic buildings alongside the pedestrian mall crowding into the picture..

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Innovation, living in the truth, Risk, Surprise, Uncategorized, Uncertainty, Watercolor Painting

Scams, Shams, and (Body) Slams

While preparing for a presentation (and a little book stemming from it), and doing some color studies for sketches to accompany them, the news has continued to be very distracting as it is presumably for everyone. In the last 24 hours alone, from a journalist sent crashing to the floor allegedly “body slammed” by a person aspiring to elected office (or is he already in office?)–to confirmation from the CBO (Congressional Budget Office) that the health of our nation is going to take a huge body blow if the latest health care plan is passed–to disconcerting news about NATO (also “body slammed?”), it is tough to keep one’s eyes on the task at hand.  But perhaps the combination of these colliding impressions is good for something after all…

In sorting through older material, I came across the famous “boiling frog”–a metaphor, of course, for not noticing when there are gradual changes in your surroundings, until it is too late.  According to the metaphor, a frog in a pot of slowly heating water will not react quickly enough to save himself and will eventually die.  (This is literally not true; the frog will jump out if he can, apparently.  I myself have not tested it, but I respect scientists and experts and they have).

boiling frog image

Image: Watercolor, gouache, and ink by Black Elephant Blog author (2014)

This is a week too in which we have heard the word “suborn” used in open testimony. It’s a useful word.  It seems related to another one rarely heard:  “inure”, which the dictionary defines as “becoming accustomed to something, especially something unpleasant.”  (Perhaps this is a good time to recommend a currently best-selling new little book, available on Amazon for less than $6:  On Tyranny:  Twenty Lessons From the Twentieth Century,” by Timothy Snyder, a professor of history at Yale.)

With so much coming at us almost hourly, it sometimes seems like the fate of the world is being decided right now.

WhereDoWeGoFromHere?

Illustration: Color study, Watercolor, acrylic and gouache, “Where Do We Go From Here?” by Black Elephant Blog author (2017)

People are tired of being distracted by it but the most conscientious know that too much is at stake to turn away. Much as we might like to, we can’t tune out what is going on because it’s unfortunately true– the fate of the world is being decided right now.  And if we tune out, we will surely not be as fortunate as the sensitive frog who manages to escape the dangers of his warming world.

So, we must not become inured to the bruising pace of the news cycle.  It seems to me essential to find ways collectively to both deal with every incoming distraction and yet look beyond it to make sense in time of where we are going and might wish to go instead.

Momentous times indeed, but I have faith we will prove to be at least as smart as  frogs.  So back to the drawing board…

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living in truth, Risk, Uncategorized, Uncertainty, urban sketching

Half-Truths and Lies

Events recently reminded me of sketches done while wandering in the halls of the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C. not so long ago.  This is an inspiring place which often is missed by visitors to the capital because it is not on the Mall. It is is a bit off the beaten path.  But in this Gallery is so much history, so much art, and so much that is astonishing.  It is a relaxing place too with lots of places to sit, including in a covered light- and plant-filled atrium.

tennyson

“A lie that is half-truth is the darkest of all lies.” – Alfred Lord Tennyson Illustraton: Pencil sketch by Black Elephant Blog author of a bronze bust of Alfred Lord Tennyson sculpted by William Ordway Partridge and located in the Smithsonian Museum of American Art

Co-joined with the Smithsonian’s Museum of American Art (which is where I came across an intriguing bust of Alfred Lord Tennyson), this entire city block is devoted to the proud history and artistic accomplishments of the people of the United States, and visitors to the United States, right up to the present time.  Like the National Constitution Center and Independence Hall in Philadelphia, these two museums present powerful evidence of the fact that this nation is built on a pretty solid foundation, if only we would bother to understand and protect it.

With so much to keep up with these days, it’s more likely than not that we will pay inadequate attention to the requirements for this solid foundation–which is a huge risk that has been with us at least since the onset of the digital revolution.

In our social media-saturated world, we are more likely to be guilty of rushing to judgment than pausing long enough to try to understand what’s going on.  That’s why taking some time out to sit in the National Portrait Gallery can be helpful!  Sketching has a way of concentrating the mind at the same time that it opens us up to new perspectives.  At the National Portrait Gallery, you can bring your drawing tools right inside, and the atrium/courtyard is a perfect place to practice drawing people in motion too.

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acrylic painting, living in truth, Uncategorized, Uncertainty, urban sketching, Watercolor Painting

Marching for Science

Illustration: “Marching for Science on Constitution Avenue in Washington, D.C.” (2017), acrylic on 12″ x 16″ canvas by Black Elephant Blog author

On a rain-slicked Saturday afternoon this past weekend–on Earth Day and March for Science Day–tens of thousands of people walked patiently and enthusiastically down Constitution Avenue holding up signs affirming the importance of science and facts. It was a scene that would have been impossible to imagine (especially:  to imagine even as necessary) only a year or so ago. The spirit of the people seemed high, despite the constant drizzle and occasionally stronger rain. It was a sea of umbrellas; and the biggest challenge for me was to keep my umbrella out of other people’s way.  All around us, scientists, teachers, doctors, and children made their way towards the U.S. Capitol on an otherwise mild Spring day.

The colors and atmosphere of this historic event seemed to call for an effort in the new acrylic paints I’ve just started trying out.  Using several photos of groups of people passing in front of the National Archives afterwards, I found that trying to capture the reflections on the wet pavement was a fun challenge.  In some ways, the scene seemed easier to capture in acrylic than in the more familiar (for me) watercolor.  I’ll now have another medium to choose from in the future.

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Innovation, Risk, Uncertainty, urban sketching

Learning from the Masters cont’d- “S” for Sargent and Signac

signac-2

Illustration: Watercolor, pencil and charcoal copy (approximately 9 x 12 on the new Canson Heritage Aquarelle hot press paper) by Black Elephant Blog author of Paul Signac’s watercolor (circa 1926?) of the town of Bourg-Saint-Andeol

In times of uncertainty, there’s no question that a hobby can be helpful! So amid the swirl of information which responsible citizens must keep on top of somehow (greatly taxing the “left brain”), it’s important to make time for that hobby.

It can be relaxing–I imagine sort of like those “zen-tangles”–to take on the task of trying to copy a painting by a master. The beauty of this approach is that you don’t need the perfect day weather-wise–you can try this almost anywhere.

simplon-pass

Illustration: Watercolor copy (on a quarter sheet of Arches cold press) by Black Elephant Blog author after John Singer Sargent’s “Simplon Pass” (1911, oil on canvas) at the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

To serve as my model will either be a photo I’ve taken of the original, as in the case of John Singer Sargent’s (1856-1925) “Simplon Pass” painting in oil, or simply a painting selected from an art book, as in the case of the Paul Signac watercolors I’ve found in a beautiful book, Paul Signac: A Collection of Watercolors and Drawings (Harry N. Abrams, Inc., Publishers in association with the Arkansas Arts Center, 2000).

Signac (1863-1935), like Sargent his contemporary, is best known for his oil paintings, but I came across a couple of watercolors of his during a recent visit to the Barnes Collection in Philadelphia.Signac’s style, known as neo-impressionism, intrigued me as did his compositions, mostly of port scenes with lots of ships and masts. It seems he was an inveterate ‘urban

signac-still-life

Illustration: Watercolor with charcoal copy (approximately 9×12 Canson Heritage Aquarelle hot press) by Black Elephant Blog author of Paul Signac’s “Still Life” (c. 1924 or 1918)

sketcher’ as so many of these watercolors clearly were done ‘live’, as it were, at the site.

One learns almost by osmosis about composition, color, and light effects when trying to copy the masters.  It is an elaborate and structured form of doodling as you don’t have to do as much planning but you can still relax and have fun.  There is more pressure when you are doing your own work, from start to finish.  Copying from anyone else, even the masters, is still just copying…–and  not something I want to do as a matter of anything other than as a learning exercise.  As all good teachers will tell you, it’s important to do your own original work, which means using your own photos, if you are using photos, or take the step to obtain permission from the owner of the photo you’d like

signac-book-cover

Illustration: Photo of book cover

to use.  But in the case of learning from the Masters, there’s nothing like copying to try to re-trace their thought processes and choices (really strategic decision-making!) in composing their works of art. In the end result, usually:   The destination  remains elusive for all but the rarest of artists but the journey’s worth taking, familiarizing me a bit more with individual works of art by the masters.

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Innovation, Uncategorized, Uncertainty

Goodbye to a Tumultuous Year

boating-and-fishing

Illustration: Watercolor by Black Elephant Blog author (December 2016)

As 2016 winds down, it’s fitting in the quiet week before a New Year to consider the meaning of Black Elephants, Black Swans and the other metaphorical creatures of surprise, such as the boiling frog,  who opened up this blog two years ago this month.  There’s been a lot more attention given to them since then in other venues.  It’s surprising but true.  It’s equally surprising but true that the journey of many artists has, it seems to me, much to offer the rapidly changing world in which we find ourselves today–if we were to want to face up to these creatures of surprise.  This is because artists often try to see beyond the surface impressions to get at the truth of things–that’s what gives art its special meaning to many of us.

One could even say that we live in Black Elephant times if, by that, what we mean is what Thomas Friedman referred to in his op-ed of two years ago, called “Stampeding Black Elephants.”  In that article, he defined the metaphor “Black Elephant” as follows:

 “a cross between “a black swan” (an unlikely, unexpected event with enormous ramifications) and the “elephant in the room” (a problem that is visible to everyone, yet no one still wants to address it) even though we know that one day it will have vast, black-swan-like consequences.”

As I understand it, the phrase (which Friedman picked up from an environmentalist he’d recently met) “Black Elephants” refers to the concept of the uncomfortable, unthinkably unpalatable “elephant in the room” that we would rather not discuss or acknowledge, and therefore–too often–fail to address in time.  (This is also known as the “boiling frog syndrome,” or the “ostrich with its head in the sand,” or the “deer in the headlights” syndrome, etc.)

boiling frog image

Image: Watercolor, gouache, and ink by Black Elephant Blog author (2014)

This concept covers the increasingly (but extraordinarily dangerous) popular tendency to avoid what the accumulated history of knowledge and scientific progress tells us to be true. And so, perhaps it is another “Black Elephant” to observe that these “elephants” may be multiplying right now (paradoxically and quite sadly as their real-life versions dwindle in number due to poaching and encroachment on their natural habitat.)  Facing up to these “elephants” is something that calls for well-honed critical and creative thinking skills–whereby people of all backgrounds including, of course, artists–join forces in shedding new light and creating new possibilities for dealing with the challenges of today in a fact-based way.  This is in fact how mankind has conquered so many diseases that previously killed so many in childhood.  Understanding how innovative breakthroughs occur,and accelerating our society’s capacities for innovation in so many sectors, are right now key to survival on a collective level.

Fortunately there is more awareness of these challenges, as well as our own inherently human desire to ignore them–aided by the fact of more frequent “black elephant” and “black swan” events in the last two years alone.  It turns out this awareness extends well into the suites of CEOS around the world.  I refer in particular to a recent paper, Thinking the Unthinkable: A New Imperative for Leadership in a Digital Age, which I’ll turn to soon.  Last month I had an opportunity to hear the authors brief an audience on their research findings, and found their conclusions compelling enough to include in a revised syllabus for the coming semester of classes.  Interestingly, they too distinguish in their report between “Black Swans” and “Black Elephants”; the creatures of surprise are everywhere!

Black Elephants 1

Illustration: Watercolor, gouache, ink, pencil, gesso, and coffee grounds by Black Elephant Blog author (2014)

But for now with another spring-like day of temperatures in the 60s Fahrenheit, it’s time to be out enjoying the warm December weather, and re-charging our own personal energy reserves for what promises to be a challenging 2017!   Best wishes to all for a joyous New Year!

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