Monday, November 26, 2012

Wrestling with Angels

Yeah, so I've been gone a while.

In my defense, I've been crazy busy, yo. Between straight razor buying, show preparing and whatnot, I've bought a house, moved into it and hosted events parent, in-laws and all the other things that make you an adult.

I have not been painting much.

And it horrifies me. Horrifies me! I lay in bed at night and suddenly the urge to to be a painter, to draw, to glaze and varnish comes up deep within me and then… I fall asleep. I have thought about this a tremendous amount the last few days. Between my time shooting space aliens in the head on distant words (Starcraft) and organizing the forest legions against chaos (Warhammer) and looking for where I put that goddamn drill bit (under the magazines near the utility panel) my thoughts are chew chew chewing on the gristle of a single problem:


It has occurred to me in that few weeks/months that I know how to paint. In my own opinion very well.  but I have little to no clue about how to be a painter. I have wrestled with this problem for a good long while now.

I have always contended that painting was an angel and I have been, up to this point, Jacob; wrestling with my intention through a long night.

It should come as no surprise that the story of Jacob and angel has been visited numerous times in painting. From Rembrandt:

Rembrandt's version, "Jacob hugs an angel"

To Gauguin
Gauguin's version, "Angel noogies"

The actual passage in the Old Testament is very short, not more than a paragraph. But it's one of those few events in the biblical stories where everything changes. Of all the bible stories I remember as a child I can recall very few that can be thought of in terms of "before this point" and "after this point" in such stark terms. Yes, Jesus fed a bunch a of people. But he did that all the time. Yes, Paul sent a ground breaking letter to the infant church. He sent a few of those. But in that particular story, Jacob literally awoke one man and went to bed another.

As the story goes, Jacob wrestled with the angel all night and in the morning, as neither one had the upper hand, the angel reached down and dislocated Jacob's hip. Then the angel said, "Let me go, it is daybreak". Jacob refuses unless the

And Jacob refused. Exhausted after a full night of wrestling with an opponent of otherworldly strength, a literally unbeatable foe, Jacob continued wrestling. His opponent reach own and then literally wrenched his hip from its socket. And still, Jacob, sleep deprived, physically exhausted and in pain refused to submit. Not only did he refuse submission he agreed to stop attempting to kick the angels ass only if the angel agreed to bless him.

To be honest I have always prided myself on my tenacity. But I have to admit that my strength is fading. Gift for painting or not. Unrealistic expectations or not. At this point I am feeling Less like this:

Alexander Leloir, "Jacob Wrestling with
the Angel" 1865

And more like this

Monty Python, "Monty Python and 
the Holy Grail" 1975

The story says nothing of how Jacobs feels. Only that he wrestled and prevailed. I think I know. For those readers who know me and have endeavored to ask, "What's it like to be painter?" You know. for those of you who read this that I haven't met, or don't paint and what to know what it's like. Try arm wrestling yourself. It feels much like that.

In the beginning it's nothing but a wrestling match. Against yourself. And so, As I contemplate running away, giving up my blessing and staying Jacob forever a part of me, armless and legless whispers;

"Get back here you bloody coward. I'm going to bite your legs off."

Monday, September 17, 2012

Deep Blue

When I was 6, I fell in the pool.

My father and I were outside on a cool, November day somewhat early in the morning. The pool we had was large by backyard pool standards; 20 feet long, 10 feet wide and 10 feet deep. My father held my hand as we walked around the pools edge and he was telling me about how they were going to take all the water out of it the next day.

I thought what he was telling me was boring.

Then I noticed, out of the corner of my eye, something floating on the surface, maybe a foot and a half from the edge. I don't clearly remember what it was, but what I do clearly remember was that I had to have it, and I had to have it right then.

I let go of my father's hand and got down on my hands and knees.

"Don't Fall In." Came my fathers voice from behind me.

I reached. It was floating there. Just beyond my fingertips.

"Don't Fall In Franko." From behind me again.

I stretched.

Almost there…

I stretched again.

Almost there.


And suddenly, everything was blue.

Truthfully, it happened so very fast I didn't have time to try and prevent it. One moment, I was on the ground and next I was floating; totally and completely weightless. I didn't even try to struggle. I just hung there; stupidly, a foot under the water.

And then I was out.

My Father had reached out like a holy bolt of lightning from heaven, grabbed me by my winter coat and heaved me from the water with a violent jerk. (Suddenly I was no longer weightless, in fact I weighted nearly twice what I had no more than 17 seconds prior.) Before I had even fully realized what had happened, it was over.

I have long suspected that I suffer from a mild to moderate from of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Sometimes, it is worse than others. Most often it takes the form of insomnia. And it's funny because it's not that I'm not tired. In fact, I'm often incredibly tired. But my mind will not shut down. And I am left with the low hum of an unspecific anxiety.

That hum has become so familiar to me now. I almost don't notice it anymore. It is the grip that won't relax. It a ray of sunshine turned in on itself until it burns paper. And I know it's unspecific and unfounded because it's not what I felt, hanging in blue space under the surface of my pool.

It's what I felt when I saw that thing floating on the surface of the water.

While it happened faster than I had a chance to react, I knew full well what kind of situation I was in while floating weightless in the void. And while I sure as hell was concerned, I wasn't anxious. But when I was walking with my six year old hand in my father's on that November morning and I saw that, thing, floating on the surface of the water I had to take it out of the pool. I could think of nothing else.

Perhaps that is how I know everything is just fine. Because when it matters, I am never worried or anxious. I am only anxious when everything is alright.

Still sucks I can't sleep though.



Friday, June 29, 2012

Disposable Blade = disposable men.

"I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived."

-Henry David Thoreau

Six months ago, I woke up and decided it was time to be a man.

It sounds silly. In fact, it's also slightly embarrassing to admit to a group of people who you're not related to. But after a little research I found a good deal of men felt the same way I did. There is a growing movement that suggests the the ideals of masculinity are in trouble. Young men have so few positive roles models, no rites of passage and are often discouraged from being aggressive and competitive. Who feels the need to dig deep when everybody gets a trophy?

So, In december of last year I began sitting down and carefully, methodically examining my life and evaluating what was important to me. To throw out all of the old prohibitions, the old attitudes and expectations. I came up with a lot of things. I stopped playing video games. I stopped watching television. I stopped doing almost all the things that caused me to waste time and money. But one of the most visible changes was this:

Robert Duvall: Straight razor.
BOOM. It don't get more
manly than that.

Cartridge razors, in my opinion, are the single greatest lie marketed to men. When I picked up my straight razor for the first time, I was nearly certain I was going to die. It took me nearly a hour to shave. But now, it takes no more time to shave than with a cartridge razor. And time aside, when I started shaving with a straight, something drastically changed.

I began to actually enjoy shaving.

I'm a fan of precision. I like it when things do as they are supposed to. I also like simplicity. Straight razor shaving embodies all of that. So far, this is what it looks like:

This is where the magic happens.
Note the ever-present cup of tea on the counter

It takes some getting used to, but with a little practice you can get the absolute closest shave you have ever experienced. I mean nothing but skin, in any direction. And come 5:00? No 5:00 shadow. The hair hides in fear…

Gentlemen choose your weapon.

This is my razor collection. From the bottom up, a Theirs Issard extra hollow 6/8 round tip. Next up, a George Wostenholm 5/8 quarter hollow, "Pipe razor" with square point. Above those two are razors that are being restored. An unknown 7/8 extra hollow square point made in Sheffield England around 1860. A Wade and Butcher 7/8 wedge with a square point and full smile. At the top a Tally-Ho razor, 7/8 square point wedge with a full smile. The two vertical razors on the side are both 5/8 that I use to practice sharpening. Speaking of which..

For that "extra sharp taste"
according to the translation on the packaging

These are my sharpening stones. The grey stone up top is a diamond plate used to flatten the stones below. From the top down the grits are 325 for the lapping plate, then 1,000, 5,000, 8,000 and 12,000. The little stone is a vintage barber hone and sits probably around 8-10k which I use for touch ups. The round stick is chromium oxide paste which I use on a leather strop for finishing. What's a strop you ask? Oh ho:

Got more leather in my shave den than
a Dominatrix has in her closet. Then again…

A strop is used to keep the blade ready for shaving. It's basically a long piece of treated leather that the blade is rubbed on prior to shaving. I have two. One that is pasted with the green stick above and one that is used plain.

So why the fuss? Because some things are better when you take the time to do them right. Lemonade tastes better when you make it from real lemons: not from a plastic jug. Bread is better when it's heavy and baked at home. Furniture wears better when it's actually made out of wood. Not chips of wood and glue.

Yes these things cost more. all in all I can say I've spent nearly $500 for everything in the pictures above. $700 if you count the stones (which were a gift). I've spent that much because I like it. I have real fondness for these things. But you could get a solid working kit for under $100 easily.

So expensive right? Here's a little math for you.

Let's say you're a man who shaves. You're not really fond of shaving, but you're not real fond of looking like a homeless man either. So you shave every other day during the week and not at all on the weekends. That's 3 days per week. You use a disposable cartridge razor, say a Mach 3. You're not stupid and you sure as hell aren't going to switch those cartridges every day so what, every 2 weeks? Three if your pushing it? For the sake of argument, we'll say every three weeks. Wallmart sells 10 blades for $35.00. If you're changing blades every three weeks, that means 10 cartridges lasts you 30 weeks.

I had to start shaving regularly when I joined the workforce. I started working full time at around 18. The average American man lives to be 75. That's roughly 57 years of shaving. Granted you're not going to shave until the day you die (at some point, you'll probably "experiment" with facial hair). So let's say 50 years. 50 years of regular shaving with a regular, middle priced razor, changing the cartridge every 3 weeks. Do you know what that works out to be in razors alone in your lifetime?

$3,033. Spent on razors. Which you probably hate.

Let's say you hate waiting that long to change razors. And change them every two weeks.


Every week?


That's crazy talk. nearly $10,000 dollars spent on razors just so I don't have to feel as though Satan is pulling my hair out at the root?

Here's a real mind boggler…

Wade and Butcher.
One of the finest manufacturers of razors pretty much ever.

This is the Wade and Butcher I showed you earlier. I bought it from an antique dealer for $40. It needs some work, it's dull, has some chips and broken scales. It will take roughly $150 to restore it to it's original condition. It was manufactured in England somewhere between 1840 and 1850. That makes this razor, give or take, 165 years old.

It is very possible to shave every day with this razor. In fact Wade and Butcher made razors for barbers use. Barbers who probably shaved 10-20 customers a day. If you replace your razor every two weeks, that's 6 shaves. As I said before, this razor is 165 years old, what the equivalent cost in Mach 3 blades?


With care this razor could easily last another 300 years.


Don't even talk to me about electric blades either. Comparing the shave off an electric and a straight is like comparing the blast radius of a rock and ballistic missile. And I guarantee your electric will not last 465 years. Besides, when the zombie apocalypse comes, I won't have to plug my straight razor in...

Like a Boss

Disposable Blades = disposable men.

Genius out.

A brief interlude.

Originally this was intended to be a painting blog.

But I get distracted easily. I know there are those out there that read blogs on painting, but without feedback, I am just a random stream of consciousness. In some ways, hate mail might be nice. I can always use more haters….

So, since I don't know what interests YOU, I will write about what interests me. Until I hear otherwise.

So let actual posting begin!

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Painting is like being trapped behind enemy lines.

Painting has changed drastically for me in the last 8 months.

Not just what I do, but particularly how I think about what I do. When you start painting nearly all of your attention is wrapped up in controlling paint. (provided that your goal is to make paintings that look like something, not expressions of emotion or as I like to call them, "Temper-tantums.") Really, for the first 10,000 hours or so, all you are trying to do is make the painting DO what the hell you tell it to. You spend your time studying painters. Sargent, Vermeer, Gerome and Bouguereau. You pick them apart for their genius, their technique and their brilliance.

Sargent was a brilliant painter. And for that I
will never forgive him.

After a while, this learning curve levels out and the focus of your work no longer becomes the acquisition of skill. That's not to say that you don't actively try and improve, but there is a big difference between training to "just finish" a mile and to "shave two minutes off your time". It is here when you realize what that game is really about.

I had a an acquaintance through a mutual friend in college. His father served in England's SAS, or "Special air Service" as a medic. The SAS are world renowned for their training and tactical ability. Generally if you are a "bad-guy" the SAS are generally people you want to stay away from.

If you see a bunch of guys dressed like this
swing in through your window. Run.

One night while at a friends house, SAS-boy shared a few of his fathers best war stories. One in particular revolved around a firefight in which he was separated from his unit. After being wounded by small arms fire, he avoided enemy capture, while bleeding, for two weeks. That's two weeks of blood loss, two weeks of not sleeping and two weeks of not being captured by a bunch of guys with guns who are actively looking for you.

Less like this.

More like this.

While it seems like an odd comparison being a professional painter is not unlike being SAS-boy's father. Survival in this game has nothing to do with technical genius, virtuosity or brilliance. Ultimately the one that comes out victorious, is the one that survives. Above all else, painting takes endurance.

This take endurance?

Ok ha, ha. Yes, holding a brush is not like being shot by a Desert Eagle .50 jackass. However, the resolve to continue painting after being rejected from a gallery, or have a show garner a bad review or to be working in a style deemed "dead" by art critics, is about the closest thing you can feel to being shot without actually taking one in the chest.

When I first started studying Sergeants work, I was absolutely awed by his ability. Now what awes me is the guys endurance. He painted over 900 oils paintings, 2000 watercolors and more sketches and drawings than I can possibly count. Van Gogh painted well over 900 oils as well. And yet, only ever sold one: for $1,600. Van Gogh lived to be 36. If you figure Van Gogh started painting when he as 28, that's an annual income of $200.

It is relatively easy for us to see how Van Gogh's endurance failed. But still even up to that point, his endurance is well and truly astonishing.

And before we well and truly blame financial failure on Van Gogh's suicide consider that Rembrandt found fortune early on, but died nearly bankrupt. And of the 600 paintings, 300 etchings and 1400 drawings he completed, some of the best ones were the ones that were created during the years of financial hardship bordering on destitution.

Ultimately, this is not a case of "The Tortoise and Hair" but more a case of "The Tortoise, the Hair and the Man made of rock with 18 pound balls of carbon steel." Ultimately the prize may not go to the guy who is the best painter. The prize goes to the guy who soldiers on despite being sleep deprived, shot, chased by pissed of enemy soldiers and lost.

In the end, the ones that succeed are not the fastest.

The ones who succeed are the ones who endure, even if it kills them.

Art is a Marathon People.

-Genius out.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012


Inertia is a helluva thing.

I desperately need inertia to be successful at anything I do. For me to be effective at doing something I almost have to build up a head of steam that can sustain me through the inevitable challenges that arise when taking on difficult tasks.

In other words, I hate stopping what I'm doing because it's very difficult to start doing that again.

Here's what our boy Newton had to say about things:

First law of motion: The velocity of a body remains
constant unless the body is acted upon by an external force.

I think of art not unlike a rocket.

Seriously? Is that the best picture
of a rocket you could find?

It takes a huge amount of force to move a rocket off the ground. But a relatively small amount of force to keep it going. So after a working rhythm is built up, I find painting ideas come to me with unnatural speed. (Mostly as I fall asleep.) It's almost as if my brain is so used to working on painting related problems that after I stop painting, it is so set in the groove that it says, "Well, that color combination worked really well today, I wonder what else we could do with it." and it rifles through is filing system pulling from my own experience as a painter and the paintings I study until it coalesces into a concrete idea.

I have found that painting's turn out best when begun from a concrete idea. I used to just show up at the canvas with a rough idea and waited to see what would happen. But I've since moved away from that. And that requires inertia.

I hate inertia.

So, hopefully I can get things moving again. I am tired of writing now. Because blogging is like firing up a rocket ship. So here is a picture of a bunny eating a banana:


Genius out n'stuff.

Monday, January 9, 2012

The Sad Pirate

By the time I was 5, I was almost completely blind in my left eye.

When I look back through family photographs, I would be challenged to find one where I don't look odd. Sweater vests, sailor suits and bowl cuts abound. However the ones that strike me as the most odd are those where I am posing with my just newborn sister. I was a very agreeable child and had not yet reached the age where I felt the need to exercise my god-given right to squirm relentlessly, nor had I realized that sweater vests made me look like a lumpy pumpkin. There I was, the very picture of smiling acquiescence gazing up at the camera (which I had been fooled into thinking was some sort of duck there to assume me) my right eye sparking with childlike wonder while my left eye seemed oddly preoccupied with what was going on on the other side of my face.

It seemed that my right eye was like a pair of miss-matched siblings. One was studious and focused (who we will call Clark) and the other's attention was prone to wandering (we will call this eye Morton). While Clark watched television, Morton would get suddenly bored and decide it was time to nap. Going dormant, Morton would roll around in the bed that was my socket whenever startled by bright lights of cameras that were masquerading as ducks.

As I got older my parents thought there must be something wrong. Eyes are supposed to be a package deal and it seems at least one of them didn't get the memo. The trip to eye doctor was a curious experience for my now 5 year old self. I remember the large heavyset man shifting some sort of a machine that could only have come off the set of "Star Trek" over my tiny head (beam me up Scotty!) and asked me to look at the screen.

Scotty: Do you know your letters?

Me: Uh huh

Scotty: Ok read the third line.

I concentrated…

Me: "D F N" (Hell yes. And WHY can't spelling tests be this easy?)

Scotty: Ok now. With just your right eye, read the fourth line.

I concentrated some more.

Me: (with growing confidence) P T X Z (WOOT! Me and Scotty were an unstoppable team. Together we would conquer the galaxy and have incredible adventures.)

Scotty: Ok, now just your left eye. Read the third line again.

The hell is that?

Me: Uh. Q….. a backwards Q… and... I think that's a triangle...
Scotty: Oh. Ok, try the second line instead.

WTF? Is that a spider?!

Me: (deeply confused) H… P… or possibly a seven. I can't be sure.
Scotty: Ooo. Ok one more, try the top line.

I want my mommy.

Me: (desperately trying to remember the letter at the top of the chart) I… don't know what it is.

Scotty: Ok I think that's enough.

The traitor Scotty informed my mother that I had failed the test and was kicked out of the spaceship club. I had failed the eye test so badly in fact, fatty-fatty-fat-pants said there wasn't even an eye test designed that I was capable of passing. As it turns out, my right eye was Superman and my left eye just got tired of trying to live up to his older brothers expectations. As such, left eye decided to quit it's job, take up online gambling and possibly try meth.

So how do we make lazy eye feel like a winner? Easy.

We chain down Superman eye with Kryptonite patch.

I remember when my mom first brought me the patch. She explained that I had to wear it everyday until my lazy worthless left eye could get off drugs and rejoin society. At first I was easy to convince. Mom handed me the eye patch and I put it on.

You mean I get to walk around and look like this (plus an eyepatch)
every day? Avast ye Scuurvy dog!

Awesome! I was a bonafide pirate. I immediately took of at full steam and after six or seven minutes of me running about the room chasing the dog with a discarded paper-towel roll. My mom caught me and sat me down.

She looked upset. Had my impersonation of Blackbeard not been spot on? Our dog was being punished for not swabbing the decks fast enough. Perhaps I had been too stern a disciplinarian? My mother looked directly at me and a never before seen compassion swelling in her eyes and said, very softly, "No, son. The patch goes on your other eye." I paused and gingerly slid the patch over my nose imprisoning Superman in darkness and dragging his meth- addled lazy brother Morton, screaming into the light.

And Morton couldn't. See. Shit.

I literally could not see anything more than 3-5 inches in front of me. I spent most of these agonizing days watching television, simply because it prevented me from moving around too much. When I was forced to move (either due to the call of nature or because my legs had gone numb), it was a precarious affair.

Ever get up in the middle of the night in total blackness and walk around with your arms stretched out so you don't kill yourself? That was my life. All day every day, all the time. In order to truly communicate my ability to see things, I have composed a sophisticated diagram.

A picture takes a thousand words to describe to a

kid wearing an eyepatch.

It took me three years before I was able to wear glasses sans pirate patch. My prescription for Superman was no stronger than that of a sheet of cellophane. Morton on the other hand, got coke-bottle level lenses which made my face look something like this.

I'm an artist. Did you know that?

It would be nearly ten years before I was able to stop wearing glasses as my vision slowly corrected itself. Morton changed his name to M-Dawg and now runs a successful chain of auto-body repair shops.

Good for him.

In closing, t the start of the new year I occasionally find it helpful to remember how I arrived at where I am, even that means remembering the day I got to be the saddest damn pirate on the seven seas. However, not everybody can say they "Got over being blind". And if nothing else at least I can say I don't look like these guys:

I had to wear a patch. These guys chose to.

I have big things planned for 2012. Big things.

Keep your eye(s) peeled…