Letters from an Artist

May, '99


Yesterday I walked up to the mailbox at the top of our driveway with birdy. As I was checking for new bills and junkmail I noticed birdy getting anxious on my shoulder. It occured to me that taking him up to the top of a hill in a breeze wasn't an especially bright idea. Sure enough, birdy launched. His wings are clipped so he can't fly uphill but he can sure flap downhill. He flew about 80 feet, his longest ever. He went right past the neighbors caged retreiver and landed out of sight in their back yard. As I went running down their driveway and around the house, I offered a silent prayer to the cockatiel gods that all the cats were sleeping. It is fortunate that birdy was calling or I wouldn't have been able to find him with my glasses off. Just as I caught up to the stupid little fowl, he launched again for another 30 feet. I grabbed him finally and cupped my hands around his body which he hates. He felt very light and helpless, struggling to escape as I carried him back to his cage. I felt pretty stupid. It could be compared to walking your dog and letting him run out in traffic. This is precisely why I bought a cheap bird instead of a $900 African Grey. We will make mistakes.

I had a long week. I worked 5 days, two of them were 14's and none were under 11 hours. I bought a new Logitech Keyoard today with the standard key format. I love my Microsoft natural keyboard with the wide angled spacing but nobody else has them so I struggle to type if I am not home. Now, with practice I can type well anywhere. Plus this one has 17 new buttons that act like the toolbar on Internet Explorer 5.0. It is nice to not have to be constantly reaching for the mouse. We all went to the driving range today. My swing is getting better since one of my sons friends gave me some tips. I got rejected from the Northwest Pastel Society show in Seattle. It's ironic because I have donated around 20 hours of pre-press labor into getting the poster ready to print. But, hey, in the art business as well as the printing business, you won't get anywhere without a sense of humor.


Me and birdie were sitting out in the sun when I woke up today. I lost six pounds, down to 160, so I had my shirt off. Birdie's feathers ruffled in the wind as he scanned the woods around us, keeping a close eye on all the strange creatures flying through the air. He loves to have his head scratched but keeps interrupting it to watch the other birds. I am thinking seriously about going back to school in computers. I need to get a few days off mid week so I can go out to the tech schools and investigate the offerings. Of course, if I had any balls I would use my savings to paint full time. The trouble with that charming idea is my wife would cut me off. She demands that steady paycheck and couldn't care less about my frivolous painting hobby. Oh, she loves to brag about how talented I am to her co-workers and has even sold several paintings. But as far as me quitting printing, forget it. Grow up, she says, you'll never make it. I think Paul Gauguin walked out on his family for art. He landed in Tahiti and lived the life of Riley, painting all those half clad natives.


I have been printing a lot on our 2 color KOMORI press lately. It seems like every job has a problem. Most of them are related to the lousy powder unit. For the uninitiated, the powder unit is a little machine on the end of a printing press that sprays powder between the wet sheets as they are printed to keep the wet ink on the sheets of paper from gluing the stack of paper into a big, three hundred pound paper brick. Just imagine painting a sheet of paper with house paint. Now paint another sheet of paper, really slather the paint on all over the sheet. Do that to 500 or a thousand sheets and stack them all up together in a neat, wet stack. It would turn into a brick right? The powder unit keeps all the sheets away from each other while the ink drys. It is quite amazing how well it works when it is designed correctly, like on a Heidelberg. So, I have been suffering. And I was printing some greasy metallic ink that kept scumming no matter how many goats I sacrificed. The floor was covered with blood, metaphorical, virtual blood I mean to say. Fortunately the incense I was burning for good karma covered up the stink of fear. At least I remembered to check the form rollers. Two were barely touching. Day shifts maintenance habits leave a little to be desired. That's enough whining for one night. I am heading out to the Aerodyne for a workout. I have to get that out of the way so I can have my brandy nightcap, the best part of my lonely day.

May 21

Friday is finally here. I need to get out and do something fun this weekend. I am getting fat. 165 pounds lumbered up onto the scale this morning. In my prime I weighed 150. It doesn't seem to matter that I exercise 3 or more times a week and have an active, run around kind of job. I love to eat. I refuse to get hungry. I have this drawer at work that I keep stocked with dried fruit, top ramon and peanuts. It used to be for emergencies when I worked overtime. Now it is for feeding this gut. I avoid sweets on principle except when they are free or I smell them. Not much of a diet plan and I am growing the gut to prove it. Climbing used to keep me in shape until Sue decided she was tired of scaring herself to death and refused follow me. They used to come along and belay me on the ground but now they would all rather stay home and play with their friends. What I need to do is mount this computer on my Aerodyne exercise bicycle. Instead I am going to go rollerblading right now.

May 19

To celebrate my birthday I lost my keys. They disappeared when I went to lunch. It is odd how we have to carry those strange little slips of metal around with us. I wasn't even having a bad day. Fortunately I had extra car keys but I had to beat on the door when I got home. Sue got freaked out, thought she had a weirdo. I am thinking about adding an index to this journal. It is getting big enough that it needs a little more order. I have the day off tomorrow. It will be great to do the family thing.

May 17

Hello again. I went out to a birthday dinner today at a local Golf Club Restaurant. I am 45. Not much excitement about birthday parties at this age. The only thing good about getting old is it beats the alternative. I haven't felt like painting yet this spring. I have a still life set up out in the garage. I put together a scene with wrenches and a tape measure inside a large box where I can control the light with a spot shining through a hole in the side of the box. Looks pretty neat. I feel frustrated with my career as a tool user so I thought a painting of tools would get me going.

I seem to be falling into that trap of parenthood where our children have more fun than we do. Today, my parents came up early for my birthday dinner. My son Clint had to show them his latest jump out in the woods. He had built it a foot higher for a total of five feet high at the top of the launch ramp. The top face of the ramp is dead vertical. He had a friend with him who had not jumped in a month. His parents showed up as well plus a couple younger kids. So Clint was looking at doing the new, higher jump for the first time for a crowd of 12 people. Talk about a choke factor. We try very hard not to push him since there is the potential for serious injury. What the friends parents didn't realize is Clint and his buddies have spent 2 years working there way up to jumps of this size.
He hemmed and hawed, adding a little more dirt here and a little more dirt there, patting it all down like the closet sculptor he is. Finally he seemed satisfied. Once again Sue and I reassured him that he shouldn't do it if he wasn't ready. He went for it. No hesitation, just pedaled like mad for 70 feet, pulled up at the lip and flew! Damn, that kid is good. Pulled off the landing with a grace hard to believe. The bottom of his wheels were a full ten feet off the deck. That is quite a sport.

May 15

It is a good thing I didn't work too much overtime this week. I caught my wife's cold. Sue works as an Occupational Therapy Assistant in the School District. If there is a bug going around, one of those kids will have it and Sue will bring it home. Watching her get sick is like getting tied to a train track and hearing the whistle off in the distance. Despite having a cold we all went to the Golf Driving Range today. My son Clint (14) swore he was going to sit in the car. He said golf was dumb and wanted to go to Grandmas instead.

Funny thing was, as soon as we pulled into the modern parking lot facing the huge facility he was all for it. My wife surprised me as well, whacking a passle of balls like a giggling schoolgirl until one of her old muscle sprains acted up. Even on his first effort with a borrowed club,Clint did the best, relying on his natural gift for anything athletic. Not to mention all the muscles he's developed working out, sparring in Karate and riding BMX bicycles.

May 10

My daughter Lisa and I went to a golf driving range today for the first time. We bought a bucket of a hundred balls and commenced to embarrass ourselves in front of the Mercedes crowd. We were both completely missing the ball every 6 swings. Either that or we'd hit the rubber matt under the ball. Once one of Lisa's balls rocketed off sideways down the front of the booth. Another time she was working on her backswing and hit one of the metal support columns, setting the entire facility ringing like a bell. I am amazed my three dollar Goodwill driver didn't break in half. I did manage to whack about 10 of the balls into low earth orbit. They went so far it was like watching a missile launch. My problem is consistency. Many of the other golfers were swinging like well oiled machines. Their swinging arcs were a pleasure to watch. I have to find a golfer to give me some free tips. Lessons are forty dollars. That's 6 buckets of balls.

Also today I subscribed to The Pastel Journal. A new Pastel only magazine which looks promising. There was an incendiary letter to the editor in the latest issue which complained about how no one is doing avant garde, cutting edge pastel paintings. The writer accused us of clinging to the past and asked when we were going to quit copying Degas. That really hit my hot button. I have included my response to the editor below:

This letter is in regards to the "Letters to the Editor" in the May/June issue titled "No More" by C.R. Lange.

C.R. asked why pastelists cling so tenaciously to the past and why don't we ever do avant garde, cutting edge art. C.R. also asked, "Isn't it time to bury the past and quit copying Degas?"

What about Mozart and Beethoven? Should classical composers stop writing for string quartets because it isn't avant garde? Should all our music now sound like Madonna, Smashmouth or the Dixie Chicks for the new century? Representational art has stood the test of time.

The ancient cave painters in France were some of the first practitioners of representational art. They used charcoal and colored mineral chalk (the ancestors of Pastel) to make pictures of the hunt on the walls of the caves. It had meaning to them. Other people looked at it over the eons and also found meaning. There is something about the way the human mind and hand transform what the eye sees that appealed 17,000 years ago and continues to appeal today.

I live near Puget Sound. I frequently go out painting on location. Sometimes people walking by stop in their tracks and stare in dumbfounded awe at my little paintings. It is as if I and my box of pastels had supplied a missing ingredient for their soul they were unaware they needed. Often times a camera dangles from their neck. They take a picture of the painting because they know I have created something magical that their camera can't begin to do. They bemoan the fact that they can't draw. I never know what to say. It may be a gift. Impressionism became popular one hundred and thirty years ago because it worked then and it still works now. There will always be an avant garde, cutting edge style in the art business. It seems to change every few decades. If you want to see it, go to New York or Los Angeles and bring a suitcase full of cash.

If you want to see and buy art that you can hang on your walls and live with; art that your children will beg to inherit; art that will most definitely not end up in a basement, look for a painter of recognizable landscapes, figures or still lifes. Cruise the art shows and watch for a painting that stops you in your tracks. Look for a painting that stills your mind and brings you peace. Look for a painting that makes you want to live with it for the rest of your days. You have found art.

Mark Webster

May 8

Another week of printing is over. They say you shouldn't drink and drive. I wonder if one can drink and write html? I will give it a try. I believe in a shot of brandy before bed. Just one, I don't enjoy drunkenness, those days are long gone. Someday, when I get on dayshift I hope to dump this nightcap habit. Going to bed as the sun comes up is downright impossible without a little help from brandy. Especially with a house full of people getting up to go to work and school. I think it was Alistair MacLean who gave me this idea. Him and his World War 2 stories about living on destroyers and being up all hours of the night fighting the evil Nazis. He swore by his brandy nightcap and so do I.

May 5
I had a nice Wednesday off today after a couple 12 hour days. Took some action photos of my son Clint jumping his BMX bike over his new jump. This jump has a lip that is as tall as I am, five foot nine. The landing ramp is six feet away. He was flying about 12 feet off the ground in perfect control. He recently jumped so high that he cracked his GT Pro Performer frame. We took it into Old Town Bicycle in Gig Harbor and they gave him a brand new GT Fueler frame which is made stronger for the big air. These guys give awesome service to bike riders.

I stopped by Abolins to get some 4x5 film for my Speedgraphic camera. Jorge is your man at Abolins if you have questions about photographing artwork or technical photography questions in general. He always has time to explain photography and is an artist himself.

I wish I knew how to get rid of this ringing in my ear. The doctors think it is allergy related. They can't find any swelling on the outside however they say there is fluid in the inner ear canal. It makes me extremely sensitive to loud noises. How fortunate that I work around noisy printing presses.

May 3
I just got my prints back from Richcolor from my latest painting. Pictured below is the finished painting on the right and the same painting at the halfway point. This is the painting referred to in my April entry: The Admiring Public.





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