IIMG_0455                                I haven’t posted in a while but the recent sale of this painting got me to thinking! Thinking what you might ask. Well, thinking about my painting. You see, this work started out as two separate works (you can see one of them on an earlier post but I won’t tell you which one!) I was inspired by a misty moon glimpsed from our driveway one night for the top section, and by the smoke swirling around our campsite from the fire for the bottom. The ideas had been good, but neither painting really spoke of anything. I liked them but probably only because I held in my mind what their inspirations had been. So they sat. Then, last year, one of my art groups-Rogues Gallery-announced a show to be called “Wilde About the Theater” (paintings had to have something to do about theater). Ya know, right now in my wheelhouse are landscapes. What can I do to fit in this show? Oh, a farm scene could pretend to be inspired by “Oklahoma” (and was titled as such in the show-it made me feel like a fraud). Then I remembered these! I don’t know why, but the Shakespeare play “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” occured to me. With some added effects, Puck, and a famous line from the play I was all set! The words on the top are from Poe and were there already, but don’t tell anyone. So…back to my painting. I know I will always want to do plein air landscapes, but why can’t I sometimes branch out and do something different like this? I can be versatile, no matter what the experts say about sticking to a style. I am thrilled that people liked this piece (2 people wanted to buy it), so go me! I think I’ll be open to such diversions in the future! Oh, and I’m proud of how Puck turned out. Lots of sketches and a small brush were the secret!

Those Crazy Plein Air Painters

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The week after Easter I travelled up north to Menomonie Wisconsin (a 4 hour drive) for a plein air competition. It was officially Spring, so of course there was a snowstorm raging as I got to the apartment of Marc Anderson, the wonderful painter who was letting me crash on his couch for the week. As I drove into town to register the next morning, I marvelled at how the hilly countryside looked-a white blur. What the heck was I going to paint? How was I going to paint in a snowstorm? Was the day a wash?

Marc could tell I was a bit disheartened, but I told him I thought the snowy day was beautiful and asked where I could paint a misty view of something. Oh…I know everyone hates long blog posts so I’ll make this long story short. I drove down toward a park on unplowed roads to a park along a lake. I guessed where the parking lot was and parked. I set up and started to paint. I couldn’t get my easel umbrella to work so my canvas was getting snowed upon. It made the paint all bubble up so I quit. I drove away, but then I had a thought: I can get snowed on, but if I put the canvas in the Subaru and I stood outside, neither the canvas nor I would be likely to melt! So I dried up the canvas-losing half the paint-and started again. That’s the painting on the left.

The next morning Marc and I got up at 5 am and went off separately in search of a sunrise.  It was 8 degrees out-but hey-no snowstorm! So, with my paint barely coming out of the tube, and with useless medium, I scraped together the painting on the right. I was lucky to finish it to my satisfaction because even gloved, my fingers were about to fall off.

The snowstorm painting won second place, and has sold. So next winter (or spring)…bring it on!

Door at Oak Spring

Every Fall one of my art groups, the Wauwatosa Artists Workshop has what they call a “Challenge Photo”. Members bring in photos, we vote for one, then people paint their version and bring it to the December party where we share them. It’s fun! This year they chose my photo. Above is the photo, then my version of it. It was taken at Oak Spring Garden foundation. It’s the gate which leads you from parking into the main garden area. It was a bit of a challenge to paint but I think it turned out well. What was most interesting was to:

Hear that many people didn’t like the photo (why was it chosen then, huh??) and to see the various interpretations. There were a variety of media, and some people put a figure in. Someone even painted it as if you were on the other side looking in.

My goal has been to paint from a photo in the same way I would do a plein air painting-that is, impressionistic and with a sense of light. What do you think?

Artist’s Statement

This is my new “Artist’s Statement”. It’s not really a statement of my art or how I paint, as it is a rumination on how I began to paint.  I know that for those times I will need to provide an “artist’s statement for shows, etc. I’ll need to alter it to talk more about the art and how I paint, but I kind of like this anyway.    (the painting is a small 8×8)

In my childhood, there                                                                                                                               were dreams. I would paint. I would make beauty. Always present though:

IMG_3016           a shadow. Even my name was hateful to me.

Then, childhood passed. There would be no beauty. There would be other things though. Wonderful things: love, children, a career. Yet hiding in that shadow would be the art, the beauty.

There was a crash. I was unmoving. I was lost in the darkness. Until slowly, emergent, came art.

You see, I have suffered from severe anxiety and depression for much of my adult life. The shadow: blocking out the beauty. Then the finding: Asperger’s. Mild but present-and the knowing  brought light.

It was after I was unable to continue my career that I began to paint. Therapy, one could say. I say: a renewal of my childhood dreams. And so I began to know that I love standing on the earth and knowing that I am a part of its wonder. Yet I also know that time is fleeting.

One of my favorite quotes is by writer James Agee: “…and who shall ever tell the sorrow of being on this earth, lying on quilts, on the grass, in a summer evening, among the sounds of the night.”

Life was for a time, for me, full of sorrow. A sorrow I wanted to end. Painting brought me out of this darkness. When I was in the hospital, the one book I brought along was about oil painting. So when I came home, I began to paint.

I hadn’t painted much since I was young, but now I began to see it as a way to a new life. I wanted to be an artist, and so I painted.

I found other artists. I joined art groups. I painted.

Being a painter has brought me into the light in so many ways. Sometimes being in it can be hard for me. I still struggle, I don’t know how or what to say. But painting has saved my life. I can look and say: here, that’s me. My name is Tom Smith, and I am an artist.

What’s the Point?

This is the painting (Virginia Sky) that was done from a photo I virginia skytook while visiting my son Max in Virginia. It won an honorable mention in an exhibition, and was recently juried in to another. I think it’s pretty good. Sometimes, though, I wonder: “what’s the point?” I see and read a lot about art and artists working today. If you look at the artists who get all the accolades, attention, and press you see that it is nothing like what I do. It tends to be abstract or avant garde-it has some “deep meaning” (which by the way, I usually find needs to be explained to the viewer). So, I wonder-what’s the deep meaning in my art? It makes no political or moral statement-it makes no comment on universal truths. Why should I bother with it then-what’s the point. Depression and lethargy set in.

In our dining room hang two paintings done by a Czech artist in the 1920’s. These paintings and several others were always hanging in my Grandparents’ house as I was growing up. I tried to find out more about the artist (L. Orlicky) even taking them to the antiques roadshow! Nothing. Two beautiful paintings by an artist that no one knows anything about. What was the point of painting them? Yet I love them. The subject (two farm scenes), the brushstrokes, the color, the captured light. When I was a kid they made me want to be able to paint. They inspired me. Deep meaning? No. but worthy of love? Yes.

So I suppose I can reconcile the fact that though my art has no “deep meaning”, it does have meaning. What’s wrong with creating art that (hopefully) brings beauty, pleasure, and perhaps inspiration to others. Enough with my deep meaning doldrums! I’m gonna paint on!

Time For Another Silly Story

Warning! The following story contains graphic descriptions of grisly death and destruction. Any reader who feels as if they would be sicked by reading depictions of immolation and extreme tragedy should skip it. Oh, what the heck-go on!snakit(this is not the original photo the story is based upon-I lost it!)

Ah, yes. 1931. The year that would become know as the “Annus Horribilis” of Snakit Ridge, Tennessee. It had started in late January with the 50 tornadoes that had swept through Snellhorn County, of which Snakit Ridge was the principal town. Then, on April 11th came the rains. It rained for 39 1/2 days and 14 nights, completely flooding not only the entire town, but most of the surrounding farmland (only farmer Noah Streetlove’s property was spared, and that only because his barn and home were both destroyed in the tornadocapolis and he had turned them into sawdust which soaked up the rain).

Once the rain had stopped it was not to return until the end of August. Thus the dry conditions worsened until the verdant forest on Snakit Ridge itself was bone dry. The photo above was taken by Elmer Headpin-snapped with his brand new “All Weather, Waterproof and Heat Resistant Blondie Camera” as the Kodak company bragged. In it are pictured his parents Edna and Elmo Headpin, his brother Ernie, and his sisters Erna and Ellie. This portrait was to be their last. Earlier that day, two young boys, Arnold Whickenluffer, and Guy de Maupassant had decided to take a walk on the ridge. Being only 12 years old, the boys wanted to do what boys of that age do best: act stupidly. Thus, Arnold had stolen his father’s pipe, tobacco pouch and some matches. In trying (and failing) to light the pipe, Guy dropped the still smoldering match. As they ran back home-hoping to replace the items before Arnold’s father saw them missing-neither boy saw the tinder dry undergrowth of the forest begin to smoke.

Meanwhile, becoming a bit tired from the lovely but warm walk, the Headpin family neared the spot which had moments before been the scene of the young boys’ malfeasance, and decided to take a rest. At the very moment this photo was taken, what later would be called “The Great Tennessee Hellfire and Burning Up of Every Living Thing In and On Snakit Ridge and All the Rest of Snellhorn County Including All the People, Animals, Buildings, and Anything Else That Was There” began. Within seconds of taking the photo, a huge burst of fire flared up and consumed the Headpins, reducing them to cinders within seconds. The fire raged on for over 75 days, stopping only when rains returned.

In 1975, while diving in the beautiful Snakit-Snellhorn Lake (the largest in Tennessee) Bob Snootboots discovered an old Blondie camera with the name “Elmer” carefully painted on the side. There was only one photo on the strip of film, which had been beautifully preserved-thus proving the Kodak advertisement had not been mere hyperbole.

(Thanks again to Mary Tornetta!)

Oak Spring

This is my latest painting.

For some reason, I’m feeling really proud of it. I think it’s because I  used a photo that I IMG_2787 (3)took at the Oak Spring Garden Foundation. I had really loved the way the sunlight was playing on the tree and wall. I wanted so much to capture that light. When I started working on it, I wasn’t sure if I could do it justice. I think I did, and I’m really happy with it. This is a big thing for me to say, because even though I think I paint okay, I never really feel successful. So, I’m proud of this painting, and I’m proud that I can feel good about it. Maybe I’m making some progress! Well, I’ll see what my therapist thinks!

Music 2

Today I found out one of my paintings won an award at a show in Kenosha, Wisconsin. The awards aren’t really being given out ’till Sunday, so I’ll be mum on the group and venue. It’s this one: “Aquarelle”.


So, what does this have to do with music? Here’s what: Today I was playing string quartets with some friends just for fun, and when we took a break I was talking about my art. When I got home, I began to think about the fact that at this point in my life, somehow, I seem to be doing the things that I was meant to do. This summer has been filled with painting, but as I was playing string quartets, I had one of those “I can’t believe I’m doing this” moments. It happens occasionally when I’m playing. Sometimes it’s “how are my fingers doing this?” and sometimes it’s “I’m really playing music, I’m a professional and I’m surrounded by this gorgeous sound!” It’s like an out of body experience. When I’m playing, whether it’s a solo, chamber group, or full orchestra, I have moments when I’m so totally filled up, and my body is doing this thing, it seems like I am the music. Yes, listening to music can bring me to tears, but there’s something about being in the middle of it that is magical. It’s a feeling that can not be described, only experienced. Soon, I’m going to be experiencing it a lot!


So, I’ve posted about my art and some writing, but I’ve been silent about my musical life. So here goes:

For those of you who don’t know (all 2 of you who will read this) I am a professional cellist. I have been, for over half of my life. Right now I am in wedding season. So far this summer I’ve only done about four. That’s not many. It used to be about one a weekend. Orchestra season is coming soon-then I will turn into a musician again. Sometimes I feel like this part of my life is not important anymore. Especially when playing Pachelbel’s Canon. I know, well I hope, that when I get back into playing for the Ballet or Festival City Symphony I’ll feel differently though. It’s a strange feeling. When I was a kid I dreamed of playing in a real orchestra someday. Check. For like 35 years. Yet I also dreamed of being an artist. A real one. Check. A smaller check no doubt, but at least a check. I’m not feeling profound right now, so I won’t write about what these two aspects of my life mean to me. I’ll save that for later. Meanwhile, I’ll leave you with “The Wonderwheel” (painted at the Wisconsin State Fair)


Another Silly Story

Here’s another story I wrote from one of Mary Tornetta’s facebook posts. It was headed:

“She wouldn’t trade him. Not even for a new pair of shoes. (One of Horace Warner’s Spitalfields Nippers, 1902.)”


Here’s my silly story:

No, not even for a pair of shoes! Evelyn Burbank, seen here at the age of 7 with Scooters, her cat, grew up so poor, as a matter of fact, that she rarely had a pair of shoes. When she did, they were usually cardboard. Leather was an expensive commodity! Fast forward 10 years, and Scooters, who by that time was 13 years old, died. As Evelyn (now 17 and still dirt poor) prepared to give her beloved friend a proper burial in a vacant lot, she had a sudden epiphany! To paraphrase Mrs. Lovett from Sweeny Todd: “seems an awful waste..with the price of leather what it is…” Lo and behold, the next week Evelyn was wearing a new pair of shoes-the wonder of the neighborhood! In fact, so unusual were her new shoes (fur lined!) that she caught the eye of every young man on the street. Another two years, and Evelyn was now Mrs. Manuel Blahnik. Manuel was a good husband and provider-he worked in construction-and soon the Blahnik family was growing! The eldest of their 14 children, born in 1914, was Olivia Mariposa. When she was 20 she married Espinoso Rodriguez, and Olivia, who had grown up during the “Roaring 20’s” was quite the feminist. Unusually for the time,she insisted on keeping her maiden name, and became Olivia Blahnik Rodriguez .Espinoso worked in a leather making factory. They had 25 children together, the 8th of which they named Manuel, in honor of Olivia’s father. Everyone in the family had nicknames-and-you guessed it-little Manuel became known as Manolo. One day, when he was 12 years old, he discovered an old pair of fur lined shoes that had belonged to his grandmother. Before long he was begging his dad for scraps from the leather factory and….well now you know the true history of the famous Manolo Blahnik!

(Manolo Blahnik is a famous shoe designer-in real life-really!)