This a painting I did of St. Nicholas Church in Stevenage. The current building as you see sits proudly atop the hill across some fabulous rambling fields. The tower itself dates back to 1100 AD and an ancient stone font with a medieval carved wooden cover.
In 2012, my father came to visit us in England. He was 84 at the time. We took him on many walks around Forster Country which surrounds St. Nicholas Church. One day, on our walk, we stopped in to visit the church. The Rector of St Nicholas Church, Dave Brown, came out and gave us a great tour of the building. He showed us some fantastic little Latin graffiti on the center columns of the church. I can't remember what it said though. It was probably something like "Dave Was Here".
The church survived the plague and escaped the Blitz (a nasty piece of work sponsored by Herr Hitler). I don't know of many Hitlers in Germany (not that I know many people in Germany). Did all of the Hitlers corporately change their name to something else. Maybe Hitler was an Austrian name. Anyway - he was, as we all know dreadful. I would certainly change my name if it was Hitler.
My dad was blown away by how old the church was and how friendly the Rector was when he basically gave us a private tour. It was one of the highlights of his visit.
Back to Forster Country...
Way back in 1883 through the summer of 1893, a fella called Edward Morgan Forster, known as Morgan to those close to him, more popularly known today as E.M. Forster, lived in a little place off the Weston Road close to Stevenage in Hertfordshire. His early family home, called Rooks Nest House, was the model he used for the home described in his novel as Howard’s End. Other works you might know include, Where Angels Fear To Tread, The Longest Journey, and A Passage To India.
We still often walk the fields and farms around Rooks Nest House. The house, which sits atop four and a half acres of land, was recently put on the block for 1.5 million pounds. The decision to sell was probably prompted by the uninvited encroachment onto their spectacular pastoral views. You see, The Stevenage Borough Council has approved the development of an inordinate number of homes to replace this lovely greenbelt area. It will surely decimate this tranquil and peaceful setting. I’m sorry to see the fields and farms succumb to our wanton exploding population.
Forster was unhappy with the expansion of New Stevenage when it occurred. He said, “it would fall out of the blue sky like a meteorite upon the ancient and delicate scenery of Hertfordshire” (Hertfordshire Life, 12 August 2010). New people started pouring into the new town in 1952 and the population has steadily climbed since that time.
I’m sure Mr. Forster would be equally opposed to this encroachment on to Forster Country today. He may, I imagine, like his name removed from the abomination it could become.
Though the plan was passed in 2017, the development plan has been placed on hold for the time being. The local MP, Steven McPartland, asked to have the plan put on hold. It means no development can currently proceed. It is not a permanent fix but it means there still might be a glimmer of hope that this amazing greenbelt can be saved.
I will enjoy the walks while I can though. It is beautiful.
I love this place and I thought you might like to see it before you hear the engines of the bulldozers grind to life.
I will keep my fingers crossed.
Until next week I wish you peace.
This week's artist sends me back to my childhood. It sends me back to my teenage years at least when I was taking a cartooning class at Woodside High School. The instructor's name was Paul Buck. Some of you from Woodside might remember Mr. Buck and the art department.
The artist I want to highlight today is Al Hirschfeld. Hirschfeld drew caricatures and his style is quite unique. I was enthralled in my teen years.
When we were at the play last week at the Noel Coward Theatre I saw a Hirschfeld drawing of Noel Coward on the wall. It brought me back to my teen years.
Hirschfeld would "hide" his daughter's name in most of his drawings. He used to put a number to the right of his signature to indicate how many times his daughters name, NINA, showed up in capital letters in the drawing. If there was no number NINA usually only showed up once or perhaps the drawing was done before she was born.
One of the things you strive for as an artist is a unique style. Something that is your own. As Srini Rao might say Unmistakable. When you are the only one you have no competition. Herschfeld exemplifies that unique style. He was one of a kind.
Hirshfeld's drawings were published in a number of publications including the New York Herald Tribune, The New York Times, and others.
Though he is well known for his black and white drawings he also produced many full-color caricatures that were quite unique as well.
If you feel you'd like to take a trip down memory lane, back to an iconic artist of the 20th century, you could do worse than checking out Al Hirschfeld. He's not on Facebook or Instagram or any
You can find his work at The Hirschfeld Foundation website or you could just search his name in your favorite search engine.
He was truly the caricaturist to the stars and I want to thank him for this pleasant flash from the past.
Life has changed so much since I was an ankle biter.
I have to keep adapting to new things. I guess the minute you stop adapting you start down the long miserable path to slothful decrepitude. Don't wanna go there.
I'm not a digital native by any stretch of the imagination. There were no personal computers when I was growing up and I learned to type on a Remmington manual typewriter. I’ve had to learn plenty of different systems since I first poked my toe in the digital waters. I've worked with an IBM Selectric, a CPT 8000, a Wang, an IBM PC Jr, WordStar, Word Perfect, Word, Lotus, Excel, Pages and many more.
Technology has produced many changes in the way we live our lives. A change in technology needs a change in approach. Let's take shopping for instance.
Some retail dinosaurs that didn't see the technology comet slinging on across the sky. They're struggling to survive.
Macy's is floundering. JC Penney's stock price has plummeted. Sears, once a retail giant, is closing stores and burning through cash trying to adapt to how people shop today.
We buy much more online now. I've become more comfortable buying things online now than I have been. I'm getting there. I'd not call myself an early adopter but we do more that involves the internet every day. We buy everything from clothes, furniture, groceries and, for me painting supplies all off the inter-web or as some of our friends call it T’internet.
We stream television programs online and we get to skip commercials. To me, watching advertisements is like dragging your bare knuckles over a sharp cheese grater then asking for some lemon and salt to soothe your wounds. Can I hit my finger with a hammer again, please?!
Technology has changed our lives in many ways.
Some changes are good. Some of them aren't so good.
I used to get the random spammy letter through the letterbox (chain mail, advertisements, investment fraud). Now, I can't tell you how many times I’ve inherited millions of dollars from some kindly old lady who calls me endearing terms like, my love, my dearest one and on and on.
The Artificial Intelligence (AI) creeping into our lives too. It can be helpful but to me, it's truly creepy. AI giveth with one hand (Alexa, what's the weather today? Raining, look outside you blithering idiot!), and AI taketh with the other (Sorry, Scott, we no longer need your services, we've got an app for that now). I've heard Alexa listens to you even when she's not engaged.
The internet has disintermediated galleries as the main venue to buy and sell art. There are many people out there making quite a good living without having gallery representation. Having your work physically available to view and buy is good, but the internet has really opened up fantastic ways to sell artwork. Saatchi Art, eBay, Etsy, Redbubble, Society 6, and DeviantArt are all great places to display and sell your work. And there are more.
I plan on opening a shop to sell my original artwork. Unfortunately, I think I need a good kick in the pants to do that. Anybody got a boot?
Life feels so much different today than it did when I was growing up.
Overall, I am so happy with my life, I could jump out of my skin and dance a jig. I'd need to be out of my skin, because, in my skin, I neither have the coordination nor do I have the rhythm to perform such a jig.
I think of where I've been and the opportunities and challenges ahead and find it daunting but exciting too.
I'm enjoying the English countryside. I painted this a little while back. It reminds me of our lovely walks here.
Until next week, I wish you peace.
Bold colors and grand gestures are so inviting, aren't they? They are to me anyway.
I'm going to throw a one named person at you today. Let me suggest you explore the artwork of Voka.
Voka's work is often bigger, bolder, and more colorful than life. He creates his artworks with very saturated colors and bold marks. His paintings jump off the canvas (or at least off the screen). His studio and gallery are in the eastern Austrian Alps in a place called Puchberg am Schneeberg.
He is a favorite amongst wealthy investors and cultivates a bit of a celebrity following. He looks bigger than life. When you're in awe of someone's work you're liable to put them up on a pedestal. I don't necessarily think that's a good thing, but it does help him cultivate a pretty decent following.
I don't want to do that. I'm not a pedestal kind of guy. I love the way he uses color expressively and makes paintings on a grand scale. I do like his style.
I'd like to share one of my favorite words.
I have 65,000 thoughts banging round at any one time and now I know why a most of them don't get done.
Like, sometimes I think it would be nice to win the lottery. No, I'd love to win the lottery, but I seldom, if ever, buy a ticket.
I'm pretty sure you can't win the lottery if you don't buy a ticket. I've never heard of that happening. Have you?
I'd love to write a symphony, but alas, I can't be bothered to learn the music or practice.
It's velleity pure and simple.
Velleity is a wish or an inclination that's not quite strong enough to lead to action.
There go my lottery winnings.
Put another way, velleity is the lowest degree of volition, a slight wish or tendency.
I like my mother's definition best though. My mother loved words. She loved colorful words. Colorful words for a colorful lady. She would say:
Velleity is wanting something so much you're not willing to get off your a$$ to get it.
I think the Romans may have made it up first. It's a Latin thing.
As for me, I first heard the word velleity in an Ogden Nash poem.
Let's hear what Ogden Nash has to say about the topic! Oh, glorious velleity!
Like Mr. Nash, the word gives me great satisfaction.
This week, I conquered my battle with velleity. I got out the pens, then the paper, and I drew this little drawing of my brother's family dog. Her name is Tally. She's a wonderful pup. The kind you could spend a lot of time around.
One must master their own velleity.
Until next week, I wish you peace.
This is a portrait of Jasper. I drew (or dotted) this portrait of my pal over the last week or so. Jasper and I are very good friends
We get along so well, he and I.
That’s probably because Jasper is a stoic. As a stoic, he never makes too much of a fuss, and he enjoys his alone time. He tolerates people but doesn't need a human for anything more than food and water. The boy's happy in his own skin as long as he can sniff around the refrigerator from time to time.
We both struggle with our weight. I think he's doing better on his regimen than I am. He's got an edge. There's no beer or potato chips in his life. A bit of an advantage, I'd say.
When I first met Jasper his belly was slightly closer to the ground than it is now. I don't think there was a pancake's worth of distance between that Tibetan belly and the hardwood floor (one of those thin English pancakes).
Both of us like our treats when they come, and both of us scoff them down way too quickly.
The other day, while eating some tortilla chips with a little bit of hummus, Jasper patiently stood in front of me. His big ole puppy dog eyes pleading without really pleading. Every once in a while his little doggie tongue ran across his little doggie upper lip. He looked like one of Pavlov's troopers.
As each chip went past my lips you could see his upper lip flap and hear a tiny puff of air like he was trying to blow a hair from in front of his eye. He was either disgusted at my eating or disgusted he didn't get any. I think it's the latter.
"It's for your own good", I tell him.
He says, "It's hard work being lovable."
Still, he didn't beg, but he didn't go away.
Persistence is one of his very strong suits. This Little Lord Fauntleroy does not give up easily.
We've been happy to have him stay with us many times. He's not much like his older brother Scout. Scout's a ball chasing, tail wagging, run-till-you-drop dog rocket. Jasper is the waddle till the next treat type of pup.
I love Jasper. I call him "Little Chunk" because, though he's dropped some tonnage, he still more resembles a plump chipolata than a svelte wiener.
The little fella is short, squat and chunky, just the way I like my Tibetan Spaniels. I rather think he'd like that description.
Well there Little Chunk, if you're reading this, I hope you're not offended. We love you very much and wish you plenty of small wooden swords from the seaside or at least a nice chewy bone to pass the time.
I'll bet Scout is really happy to have you around too even though he weasels in on every bit of affection that comes your way. I know. Yes, I know. You have ways to get back at him. I've seen it with my own eyes.
Until next week, I wish you peace.
As any experienced fixer-upper of things will tell you, "You need to use the right tool for the right job". You can almost always do a better job with the right tool.
Wouldn't you agree?
What if waiting for the right tool keeps you from doing the job at all?
If you think new tools will solve all your problem, you might want to think again. When I start waiting for the right brush, canvas or paint to come along, I could just kick myself.
Let me tell you a little story.
I was jonesing after a new set of golf clubs. I thought my problems with golf could be boiled down to the 30-year-old set of second-hand clubs I was playing with.
I thought a new set of clubs and it would fix everything. The handicap would plummet. I'd be a scratch golfer in no time.
The day came and my clubs were delivered. I loaded sticks and headed to the range.
My game would be born again!
I put the first ball down and pulled out my handy-dandy pitching wedge. The pitching wedge was always a go-to club for me. I never missed with a wedge.
I took a couple of practice swings.
I thought, "Damn, this will be good!"
I moved up to the ball. I used every mantra I knew to bless the shot.
The club went back. It felt so good.
Then the turn. This is where it all happens.
The turn was smooth and steady, inside-out, left arm straight, eye on the ball. Perfect.
Now, push, swing, follow through!
It all happened so quickly. My club made incredible contact.
I left a beautiful divot. It was an impressive divot. It was a professional divot. You would have loved my divot.
The ball, however, went 10 yards on the ground before it came to rest just past the tee box.
I learned a valuable lesson that day.
No matter how brand-spanking-new your equipment is it can only make you incrementally better.
New technology will help you hit the ball farther
- but not that much farther.
New technology will help you hit the ball a little straighter
- but not that much straighter.
What will make you better? Take lessons and practice.
Now I concentrate on practice.
I don't wait for miracles. If you're waiting for the right brush or pencil, don't.
Pick up your pencil and draw. Botch it up a thousand times. Persevere.
Remember, "A poor workman blames his tools."
I once saw a guy draw with an Oreo cookie and it was pretty darn good.
Make a mark people will remember.
Until next week, I wish you peace.
I wish we could all be more kind to each other. We all need to be a bit more patient and understanding but sometimes it's just harder than hammering a 9-inch nail into concrete with a teaspoon.
As some of you might know, I try to maintain a rather stoic outlook on life. I try not to let things bother me. It's not that I don't care, I just choose not to get all riled up. I know what I'm like when I'm angry, and I don't like him very much.
Traffic seems to bring out the worst in people. It drives me a bit buggy. Sometimes, other drivers just rub me the wrong way. The fact that ninety percent of drivers think they are better than the average driver does not surprise me at all. We all can't be above average, can we? I must run into the 10 percent more often than other folks.
Last week, we had two occasions to climb on to the M25. This can, at times, rattle even the most zen seeking and peace-loving among us.
Sunday was a perfect day to go out and enjoy the seaside. We decided to take a longish ride from Stevenage to Whitstable. For those of you who don't know Whitstable, it is a seaside town on the east coast of England. It sits at the entrance to the Thames Estuary. I have to tell you, overall, I loved our little excursion to, as my daughter used to call it, the big water.
We crossed the River Thames at Dartford Crossing. Traffic at Dartford Crossing is heavy at the best of times. This dystopian combination of junctions, mergers, two tunnels, and a bridge is a fustercluck if ever I saw one. The traffic at Dartford Crossing can be a nightmare, and it was a touch like that on our northward crossing under the river.
Tuesday, we had the occasion to share a meal with some good friends in Chorleywood just before the England/Colombia match. Chorleywood is a village just off junction 17 on the M25. We left home at 5 pm to be there at 6 pm. We should have given it a bit more time, but I was true to form, and running a bit late. I hate to admit it, but I'm usually the one who makes us late.
I will tell you, rush hour is not the time to drive in or around London. Having said that, somehow we opted, you guessed it, to mount the M25 in rush hour. The entire journey wasn't too bad, just parts. It certainly wasn't like the mind-numbing, zen-crushing, soul-destroying traffic in and around Los Angeles. However, merging on to the M25 from the A1(M) was like squeezing out a kidney stone the size of a bowling ball. (I would have used a childbirth analogy here but, being a guy, I have no frame of reference.) It was painful, raised my blood pressure and seemed neverending. I wouldn't recommend it.
I know, given the tinderbox state the world, traffic on the M25 is only a nit in the fabric of life but even nits, compiled one on top of the other, can be endlessly irritating.
I guess it's not so much the traffic that's at issue, it is how people treat each other zipping around from within the confines of their little glass, fiberglass, and metal boxes. Just because your car has zoom-zoom doesn't mean you always have to zoom-zoom.
Three things I hate about traffic jams:
Sometimes it's best, for your own well being, to sit back and let it all wash over you. Nothing is so pressing that you have to put your own life or somebody else's at risk.
I leave you with this. The best thing you can do in a traffic jam is to:
Lastly, crank up Led Zeppelin as loud as you can to drown out the second-hand hip-hop coming out of the car next to you.
Seriously, be sane, be safe, and be kind. Love each other and make the world a better place, not a worse place.
Until next week, I wish you peace.
We're all memory builders but the memories we build are so very different. Though we are the same, we are, most definitely, very, very different.
Almost everybody has a refrigerator magnet or two.
We have one that I love.
"Remember that life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away!"
I love that quote, though there is some debate over where it originated. It's something that I think we can all agree on the sentiment.
We've just wrapped up another memorable holiday in Cornwall. I'm already getting nostalgic for the long walks, bright sunrises, stunning sunsets, and relaxing to the sound of the sea.
Part of the whole holiday experience, for me, is the train ride from St Erth to Paddington. The train passes by some of the most picturesque countryside. We pass Dawlish, Teignmouth, and Saltash. We finally arrive in London at Paddington Station.
It was the stuff that takes your breath away. What great memories.
When we got back to Kings Cross last week, I paid a bit more attention than I normally do to the throng gathered at "Platform 9 3/4". Under the sign, there's a trolley, some suitcases, and a birdcage partially embedded in the brick wall.
Of course, Platform 9 3/4 is where Harry Potter famously transitions from the real world into the magical world of Hogwarts, magic wands, and Quidditch. It's the beginning of his magical journey.
I can be a bit cynical about this kind of stuff.
Why do people get so excited about a book or a movie or a sports team? I'm trying to understand.
I don't get all hyped-up for some fake trolley stuck in a wall.
Though people are the same in so many ways, we are oh so different as well. Maybe Harry Potter was a big thing for them.
I guess I shouldn't get so cynical about it.
I remember telling a friend, one time, that I was going on a holiday and there was nothing but beach for miles. This was my idea of heaven.
She said, "Where's the bar? Where's the nightclub? Where's the excitement?"
That's the point! I was after no excitement.
She said, "That would drive me crazy real fast" (she really said bat-shit-crazy but I'll give her the benefit of the doubt here).
Different people have different priorities. What I find lush and relaxing can be seen as boring and dull by somebody else.
The same way, I didn't grow up with Harry Potter but the kids who did are now getting out and feeling their way around the world. The trolley and the wall must evoke pleasant memories for them. I guess they're trying to capture a bit of that feeling again.
Perhaps, more than anything else, Harry Potter lets us dream like my generation did with Peter Pan, Alice in Wonderland, or Bilbo Baggins.
They bring us out of our everyday lives and make us feel like we're partners on their fantastic journey.
We're vacating our existence to participate in their world.
I guess it's kind of a vacation.
For me, that's what art should be as well.
Good art should help us to vacate our normal life and be transported to another magical world. Art lets us build memories or remember things that are important to us.
That's probably why I've painted this lighthouse above so many times. It reminds me of our four-mile beach-walk to have lunch at the Godrevy Cafe here. When I look at this painting it all comes flooding back to me. Life is good.
I'll probably paint that lighthouse many more times in my life. Just because it makes me feel good. It's a whopping great memory.
So, when I breeze through Kings Cross, and I see the crowd of people gathered around that half a trolley, I'll try not to be so cynical. I'll try not to be so critical. I can feel good for the memories they're creating or reliving.
I can understand why but I guess I still don't get it.
For me, I'll stick to long walks, fresh air, and a bit of color splashed here and there.
Not bad, I think.
Until next week, I wish you peace.
Everybody knows that when you travel you have to be at least tangentially aware of local customs and traditions.
We just had a walk on a secluded cliff edge path. It was a bit drizzly but a really nice walk just the same. Topping off the day, we decided to stop in a little harbor town called Porthleven to see the beach, visit some shops and watch the tide come in.
After getting a bit shopped out the sun made a brief guest appearance.
There was a nice pub portside. I thought it would be great to grab a pint and some chips because I really love chips. Okay, I really like beer too. What's not to like about chips and beer except the calories and the starch and the grease and the ... Okay - I did it cause I like 'em.
Having ordered my chips (fries), a beer, and a ginger beer for you know who, we sauntered, as you do on any great day, out to the patio area next to all the fishing boats in the harbor.
We waited patiently for the fries to arrive. When they were delivered there was a plate and chips but where was the stuff you put on the chips. There has to be stuff to put on the chips.
By the time my brain caught up with my mouth, the server had disappeared into what seemed to be thin air.
The accompaniments were all inside. So I got up to go inside to get salt, vinegar, and perhaps some mayo.
As soon as I turned my back to the chips the Devil's horde descended from the heavens in their multitudes (okay there were three) digging their nasty little beaks into MY chips.
Andrea deftly scooped up the dish with the fries and swooped them under the table. Several people shooed the vermin from the table which enabled me to go forth and continue my condiment quest.
When I came back to the table, I gathered the plate within my protective space, hunched around it, and growled at any seagull that would dare encroach on my chow-space. I was even offered a loan of a very cute little black cocker spaniel to help guard my chips (I thought that little pooch was a bit too eager so I decided to pass).
The point here is I didn't think twice. Even though their horrible little H1N1, Avian Flu carrying, tick-infested nasty carrion-eating winged critters had their muzzles full-in on my vittles, I had no problem scoffing the rest of them down. I didn't think twice.
You see when the zombie apocalypse comes it will be some poor idiot like me that will be patient zero. He'll be the idiot that the monkey bit or who ate his fries after some pox infected feathered freeloader lunged face first into it.
Yeah, it's just somebody like me who thinks they're a hardy person cause they ate quite a bit of dirt when they were a kid. It will be somebody who thinks that not much of any kind of disease can affect them.
Yup, I'm not much worried about the zombie apocalypse. I'll probably succumb to something more mundane. I'll probably be taken by something like Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga Gull Fever and squawk my way to the grave.
Maybe I'll have to pay more attention and start being a bit more cautious. Maybe I should be a bit more respectful of those creatures who could inadvertently do me harm.
Whether or not I survive till next week, I wish you peace.