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A few days ago I joined the Texas Gourd Society. I’ve been in love with these creatures for a while, so it’s only right to make it official.

Gourds seem an artisan’s universal canvas. They provide great surfaces for oil and acrylic paint, are ideal for pyrography and wood carving of all caliber, and are all-around pleasant entities. The gentle undulations in their form, the soft, smooth finish, the fibrous innards and sweet, earthy aroma make working with them a soothing, rhythmic exercise as much as a meditative practice. They’re also great for embellishing with weaving, and encrusting them with beads, glass, sea shells, and much more. But what really attracts me to them as an art medium is the fact that they are round.

When you paint on a flat surface, the story you tell has a definite beginning and end. In Western art, I would postulate, it reads from left to right. For instance, the traditional reclining nudes typically have their heads on the left half of the canvas and their feet point towards the right side. That way, as you’re scanning the painting, “reading” it by force of habit from left to right, you first see the head, the key element and then the rest of the body. The edges of the canvas serve as the frame of the composition, a focal lens through which the artist shows us a specific, limited reality.

With gourds, the story depicted has no beginning or end. It goes on and on, or it doesn’t go at all. It is as rhythmic as a musical round or chant, it ebbs and flows and you can grow mesmerized, turning it about its axis, following the patterns with your eyes. Besides offering this unique medium on which to create, the gourd adds flavor and dimensionality to your piece with its shapeliness. A narrow, curvy top doubles as a neck inclined in perplexity. A fat, full-bellied bottom makes a lovely foundation to weave on.

Incidentally, the idea of a perpetual decorative field is not limited to the well-shaped pumpkin. The concept of ornament, prolific in many ancient cultures and reaching into modernity, is the most wide-spread attempt to create a sense of an unending, rhythmic motion on a two-dimensional surface. The patterns and designs repeat with no visible end in sight, often finishing where they started, turning in on themselves, fractalling or transmuting across the borders of wooden carvings, friezes, church walls, dress hems. A more contemporary example of squeezing the perpetual into a flat rectangle of space can be seen in M.C.Escher’s work. Hands continue drawing hands ad infinitum, stairs descend with no visible plan to reach the bottom, birds morph into fish that morph into birds that morph…

But still, the gourd is better suited for this type of work. Plus, you can even use its internal space to embellish the pictorial message on the outside surface. The only problem posed by the unusual shape is how to display it: you can’t hang it on a wall, you can’t put it in a frame. You can’t really even set it down because the artist might have painted or decorated it all the way around on the bottom. But I am certain that those creatives who tackle gourds in the first place, will come up with appropriate ways to display their craft.


“Le Pecheur” by Paul Desire Trouillebert

We had been talking about buying pictures for a long time. The same way that people talk about buying yachts, retiring in Tuscany, or becoming an astronaut. At some point Gri shared a solid argument in favor of chosing fine art as an investment option. He said that you can invest in real estate, bonds, stock, or even jewelry. And the object will just sit there, appreciating, meanwhile giving you no joy. However, if you invest in paintings, they will hang on your walls and make you happy. When the time comes, you will sell them and buy new ones, and be happy again.

Ofcourse he did not use those exact terms. He said “you will derive aesthetic pleasure.”

For him it was and will always be about the artistic idea. When, taken to its logical conclusion, the idea pinned him against the metaphorical wall, he confirmed without batting an eye: yes, he would rather buy a beautiful painting by an unknown artist at a garage sale then win an ugly Picasso on Christie’s.

For me, the allure has been multifasceted. Yes, it would be nice if the painting touched you personally, resonating with an inner vibration of your soul. But a piece of art is an object, with its own history, entourage, name. Some think that every house should have a pizza-cutter; others believe a dog is essencial. I think a home should have objects which embed it into the ebb and flow of history. Imagine – a painting created 250 years ago in a small town in Holland: made by commission and sold to an aristocrat, or kept within the family. Think of the journey it’s taken through the rise of industrialization, through wars and cease fires, through regime consuming regime. Hidden in attics, forgotten under beds, the painting lived its secret life, waiting to be rediscovered. The varnish cracked and sometime in the harsh winter of 1929 it was almost burned for firewood. Then, languishing in a county museum, it was dropped by an intern and a bit of the gilded frame chipped off.

I would want to be a part of that journey. As it sleeps some more in an auction backlot in the 2070’s, I want it to remember the many years (a brief time, by its standards) that it hung on my wall, proudly illuminated and peered over. I want it to remember the children’s crazy shouts and squeals, the salmon smells wafting from the kitchen, the oohs and aahs of infrequent guests.

The painting knows who painted it, but often, we do not. At best, it is just a name, forgotten but for those five centimeters of immortality on the canvas. But we would pose conjectures, and through them, that artist would live. Or, if it is a know painter, we would become a part of that story – no longer isolated from the great movements of civilization. We could have been a speck of driftwood, thousands of miles away from any life, isolated in life and in death. But now we would be in the thick of life, swimming along with whales and other proverbial giants, catching the historical current, surrounded by living organisms.

Such were my thoughts, and in my head they would have remained. Except this happened: I chanced upon a website that serves as a marketplace for large fine art auction houses all over the world. Suddenly I was looking at hundreds of paintings a day, many hours spent pouring over descriptions, prices, researching names, dates, shipping rates. Walking outside, my vision began to play tricks on me – the green of the trees smudged in its pastel variations. The cars on the roadways mutated to horse-drawn buggies, and I swear I saw a Danish Red cow with a couple of peasants in that field behind our house. The monochromy of the lake I pass every day variagated into a thousand airy brush strokes of blues, greens and canary yellows, the sky too danced and strutted in all of its impressionistic glory. Yesterday I had a dream that a squarish, jagged-edged spy was following me as I made my escape in a Mondrianesque labyrinthe.

Fortunately, these altered states of consciousness did not impede me from making a few very good bids. And I must confess, as we speak, several paintings from the far corners of the world are making their way towards me. And I am waiting.

I have been waiting…

The trick is: you have to pay attention.

To actively engage yourself in something, try to describe it, aloud. For example, say you’re trying to draw a tree. What could be easier, you think. You see the tree, why shouldn’t you be able to put down on paper what you see before you? The problem is that you’re engaging it passively, which means that you’re not engaging it at all. You “just” see it, but it doesn’t leave an imprint on your memory, so the minute you look away, it’s gone. Which side of the tree has more branches? What are the colors of the leaves? What are the shapes? Are some of the roots sticking out? Are you sure?

Now look at it again and describe it to yourself, preferably aloud. This may seem silly, but it works. The better you can verbally describe the shade and tone, the shadows cast on the trunk (what does the shadow look like?), the direction of the light as it hits the branches, the more successful you will be in depicting the tree on paper.

The same can be said for music. It boils down to awareness. Have you ever noticed that all of the sounds around you, the honking of a car, the beep of the alarm, even the whirring of the air conditioner, have a pitch and duration? If you hum along to that squeaky sound in your car engine, you may be surprised that it’s flat. A flat, that is. It certainly needs a tune-up.

A while ago I tried to write a small composition for the string orchestra. I had some ideas, having played in our school orchestra for many years, had the melody, and knew some basic orchestration and music theory. But to make the composition fuller I would listen to several of my favorite pieces, notably by Apocalyptica, and try to incorporate what I liked into my “symphony”. I found that though I could follow the melody, countermelody, and harmony in the Apocalyptica pieces, I would draw a total blank when I’d sit down to add similar elements into my own work. Eventually I realized that I have to literally write down, in words, what each of the four cellos from the band is playing. Only then could I put what I learned to work. This may seem obvious, but it’s not. You actually have to pay attention.

The other really cool thing about describing what you see/hear is best applied in art. When you learn to draw, one method that you can use revolves around finding ideal shapes in real-world objects, and depicting them as such. Here’s how it works: First you learn all about what an ideal (ie. perfect) sphere, cone, cylinder, cube looks like. You learn (by observation or instruction) where the shadows fall. You eat, sleep, breathe “light, shadow, core of the shadow, reflected light”, in that order. Then, you learn to find these ideal shapes in any object that you intend to draw. And finally, you draw the object as if it was an ideal.

This is pivotal.

By learning to see the ideal shape in the real object, and then by drawing that ideal shape (following the light/shade pattern ingrained in you), you will actually be depicting the real object. This is the draftman’s best-kept secret: YOU DO NOT DRAW WHAT YOU SEE. You draw what you know you *should* see, if the shape was perfect, and the result *looks* like the real thing in the eye of the beholder. Trust me. It works every time.

Why? Here’s what I think.

You have the artist and the art work on one end, and the viewer on the other. Between them there is a sort of translucent filter where everything going through loses some of its focus and intensity. Some information is always lost in translation – translation of sound, visual stimuli, emotion, thought. In order to make up for it you have to exaggerate. Think about the loud makeup on stage. Or about the extra expressive movement. Or about how in orchestra you play pianissimo when it says piano, and fortissimo for forte.

This is also relevant when you’re telling a story where the fish you caught was “LIKE FIVE FEET LONG, MAN!”, where your thrifty mother-in-law never gives you anything for Christmas, and where you went twenty days without seeing a soul, ten of which you didn’t have any food, and five of which there was no water. Oh, and you were going uphill both ways…

It’s curious how in order for the receiver of your information, be it a viewer of painting, listener of symphony, or empathetic friend hearing your survival story, to perceive the message accurately, you have to send it in an exaggerated form. You almost have to lie, in a way.

Which brings me back to analyzing information in order to make sense of it. Making “sense” means finding patterns. Finding patterns means making generalizations (case in point). In the end, generalization and exaggeration are just two sides of the same coin. Both must be used to convey truth. Right?

* This is a quote from Fight Club. It won’t make much sense if you haven’t seen the movie or don’t remember this being said.

"Old" by Liza Ezhevskaya of

Pain and Painting

No wonder pain and painting have so much in common:
The root is the same.

Because what drives the hurts
Drives the words.
Because you take something from the inside – out
Like teeth.
You bleed.

When I pain, I hurt –
Dripping red from my heart onto the bloody page.
A canvas stretched on wood, taught, like the nerves you could pluck.
With oil dripping off my brow
As I labor, as I pain.

Blues of solitude.
Dusty sand tones spread across strips of longitude.
Of alonegitude.

In blue – I see you.
I only longed to bask in your love.
But the blue in your eyes,
Like the blue in your veins,
Strums my arteries,
Leaving grayish blue stains.

No wonder pain and painting have so much in common.

Because the yellow I see reflecting in her smile
Is brighter than the sun, in my daughter.

Adulterated by fear.

Because the agony of the possibility
Of a certain absolute certainty
Is intolerable…
I hide under a blanket of white stars falling.
Their hyperbolic trajectory
Curves into shapes, letters,
A mouthful of rain
With which I pain.

If only I could see.

But I can’t see that well.
My eyes are swollen.
Outside the stars have fallen.
It is dark.

And then at night
I paint with words.

"Bit of Land" by Liza Ezhevskaya of

Those of us who are creative, artistic types, or who are into the mothering bit, or both, have a tendency to start projects and never finish them. The inspiration is there in the beginning, but then you get sidetracked, disappointed with how your project is turning out, distracted by the random crying child, or inspired to do something else. The result: an unfinished, unrealized sketch/draft/idea that could have been a masterpiece . Call it what you will, but I will be honest: what we lack is basic, boring old discipline . But, ladies and gentlemen, the time has come to bring these half-finished creations and half-hearted efforts to fruition!

And so, I hereby pronounce the first ever Week of Project Completion! (I am open to more creative week name suggestions). Over the course of the seven days comprising the week, I will endeavor to finish seven projects that have been idling for weeks or even months in the recesses of my home or my mind. Incidentally, the week will start on Sunday, July 25th, and end on Saturday, July 31st. I say “incidentally” because July 25th just happens to be my sister’s birthday, and she is a notorious procrastinator and project-starter-and-not-finisher. So, my dear Lizard, may this be a twisted sort of birthday present for you, so that you too may participate in this first but not last Week of Project Completion and feel compelled to bring at least seven projects you started to completion.

In fact, I would like to invite all of my 2.7 readers to participate! Feel free to blog and/or leave comments about your progress on my entries during each of the seven days of this week, keeping us updated on your victories over unfinished/unrealized creations. This way we may feel more accountable to do what we set out to do, and more encouraged as we see others succeeding.

All “Unfinished Projects” should fit into one of the three categories below:

– Category One: These are the artistic unfinished projects – a partially painted canvas, a roll of film shot last spring and still undeveloped, a short story, written but not edited, a collection of poetry, edited and revised to death, but not formatted for print…

– Category Two: These are the homemaker unfinished projects – pots bought to plant flowers weeks ago, and still no flowers in them, curtains and curtain rod, neatly stowed under the bed and waiting to be hung for months, furniture fix ideas, interior design alterations…

– Category Three: These are the thought projects, revolving in your frazzled mind like laundry on spin cycle. You and I need to do the things we’ve been thinking about needing to get done for N number of weeks, and get some new thoughts! These include thoughts on trying out new recipes, new bedtime routines, or new discipline techniques. But careful here: make sure these category three thought projects don’t turn into another Incomplete. In other words – you have to finish it in the one day allotted.

A few words about my situation: This Sunday I am working 1am – 4am (hey, up there in space they don’t care that it’s night here on Earth) and Monday I’m working 7pm – 6am. On top of that, Friday evening after work I am flying out to San Diego , and returning Sunday, the last day of the Week of PC. So that bodes well for my success, right? Well that is the point: we don’t finish these projects because there is always something going on, something more important to do, distractions, distractions…

So, let’s think of the project we’ll tackle, post about them over the weekend (like New Year’s Resolutions) and then get to finishing them!

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