day 2: "there are the mountains!" by Philip Tarlow

4:4 PM: today i had a little visitor with his dad. lets call him a. he’s 7 1/2; half the age of k., who i’m mentoring once a week. i gave him the same suggestion i had given to k. yesterday. so he scanned one of my taiga books and settled on a painting he liked. then he proceeded to make his drawing and began applying gouache colors, which he’d never used before. just look what he did!

before he arrived, i had a chance to do some more work on the painting i started yesterday: there are the mountains!

DETAIL of there are the mountains!

i applied a tan-ish ground, which is featured in 5 of the 6 previous paintings in this series. some creek rocks have entered the picture, on the lower third. it’s ripe for more work tomorrow.

the work i did yesterday peeks through the tan ground , which has been scraped. it’s up in the air where it will want to go from here. tomorrow is our dayto walk up the trail, so i’ll get to work a bit later than usual.

there are the mountains! by Philip Tarlow

3:36 PM: i’m leaving landscape with pink trees as is, at least for now. it’s just too fresh to mess with.

i started work today on there are the mountains! on the canvas i stretched yesterday. thus far, it’s a drawing and has no oil paint. as a kid i had a darkroom, and this is what it felt like when the image began appearing in the tray of developer liquid.

since i do believe, & i’m not alone in this, that paintings & drawings are living, breathing entities, i feel increasingly that we need to give them space; as you would a child learning to speak or walk. so in starting a new painting in this way, what it bils down to is taking it slow. giving it space.

my mentee k. just arrived, so i interrupted my writing to suggest a path he could take today. he liked the idea, so instead of painting in oils today, he’s using gouache & watercolor to make a study of a taiga watercolor titled wonderous scenery of matsu.

since we’ll be gone all day tuesday, when i’ll be having cataract surgery in denver, i was feeling a bit rushed. like oh, i’ve got to complete this before we leave. when we get back tuesday night, it will be at least 3-4 days or more before i’m able to get back to work. can’t really say when my vision will be good enough to paint, but probably by the end of the week or the weekend.

of course there’s no rush, and yhere’s no reason i need to complete this new painting before we leave. in any event, it will let me know. perhaps as i lay sleeping tonight!

the title: there are the mountains! comes from a japanese poem incorporated into one of the taiga scrolls i’ve been studying. we feel that way every day in our home, with its views of the sangre de christo mountains.

starting landscape with pink trees by Philip Tarlow

2:25 PM: today was a short day. we walked up the trail this morning so i arrived at the studio a bit later than usual. and at 4:30 we have to be at an event here in crestone. i was excited to begin work on this new flute over water series, as i’m now calling it. landscape with pink trees is the first in the series to be painted on a white ground, rather than the tan-ish ground i’ve been making. painting on this extra fine, quadruple primed portrait linen is thrilling. the shapes create themselves, and every mark counts. i felt taiga’s spirit more than ever; his ikkaku, or intrammeled personality, his gashu, or elegant resonance.

i employed few colors, one of which is my favorite oil paint made by williamsburg, originally developed in brooklyn, where i was born: canton rose.

it may be a one sitting painting; it will be very difficult to recapture the feeling i had this morning, colored strongly by our walk up the creek at 6am.

i loved using the primed white of this linen to paint on, and i may do more in this series.

now i’m going to go back to the house & lie down for an hour before we have to leave for our event, which is a pot luck.

sound of a flute over the river by Philip Tarlow


2:17 PM: first thing i did this morning was to stretch another 78x26” canvas, which will become the sixth in this series. i started the drawing, while casting critical glances at sound of a flute over the river, which i’ve been working on and revising over the past few days. at a certain point, as often happens, what i needed to do clicked in.

essentially, what i did breaks up the activity in the central portion of the composition with curvilinear forms, as taiga often did and as i have done throughout my career.

so now, rather than examining and identifying the numerous leaf & branch marks in the central portion of the composition, the viewers eye immediately discerns snake-like patterns. this allows you to breathe into these new rivers of tan, stopping along the way to admire the figure in red, for example, or the mountain peak at the very top of the composition. i think i did good work today.

BELOW: yesterdays version is on the left; click on it, then toggle back & forth to see what i’m talking about.

more work on "the sound of a flute over the water" with the addition of a figure by Philip Tarlow

DETAIL showing the man in red on horseback.

5:27 PM: today was one of our every-other-day trail walking days. so i arrived in my studio late….like about 11;45am. i knew i wasn’t done with the sound of a flute over the water , but i felt it had so many beautiful passages that i was hesitant to do too much. i felt strongly that it needed one or two arears of stronger color.

but first i need to find a pathway into my groove. not so simple. i started by making some white vertical marks, borrowing from other paintings in this series. of course that didn’t work & i ahd to take those marks out. but that was my doorway in. i was engaged. then i found elements in taiga’s paintings that struck a chord, at the same time they were solving the problem of introducing primary color.`

i introduced a man on horseback; an image which can be found in many of taiga’s paintings. the first iteration was almost too small to be recognized. then i added a larger version, while leaving the smaller on as a kind of echo.

BELOW: the painting as ait looked yesterday, on the left, and today.

rework of "sound of a flute over the river" by Philip Tarlow

3:37 PM: i’ve been gazing at it for several days, waiting for the right moment to re-work sound of a flute over the river. today was the day. i’m tempted to say there’s too much going on now. although i just said it, i’m taking it back. it would be like saying there’s too much going on in a theofilus painting. not that i’m comparing myself to that great greek painter, but if you look at one of his paintings, you can see what i mean. he was a self taught, naive painter who had a profound influence on, amongst many others, my mentor & friend, the late yannis tsarouchis.

BELOW left, you see the painting as it looked before todays intervention. and on the right, how it looks now. you prefer the previous version? simpler; a more compelling composition; more along the lines of the other 4 in this series? maybe. tomorrow morning will tell the tale.

3 gouache studies in preparation for the next kyoto series painting by Philip Tarlow

3:27 PM: in preparation for the next kyoto series painting, i made 3 studies in gouache on paper , 2 are 15 1/2 x 5 1/4” and the third is 11 x 13 1/2”. they could be considered warmup exercises. i have more freedom to play on a small scale and on paper. the one in the center is probably the least successful as a work in it’s own right, but all contain one or more discoveries in terms of color combinations and mark making. i may move ahead with the next 78x26” oil on canvas tommorow, which hasn’t yet been stretched, and i’m considering painting on the primed white surface rather than painting a beige ground, as i’ve done for the previous 5 in this series.

4:51 PM: so before leaving the studio i did more work on the one you see on the lower right, including the addition of some collaged elements. i think it has turned out to be the most interesting of the three.

an important addition to dp creek III by Philip Tarlow

12:22 PM: following feedback from 2 people whose artistic judgement i trust, i made an important addition to dp creek III. the upper left corner seemed empty, so here’s the before & after:

made a world of difference, wouldn’t you say?

returning to "sound of a flute over the river" by Philip Tarlow

3:35 PM: yesterday i painted over this one. today, rather than mess with a good thing (refreshing early morning, which i started yesterday & has a lovely spareness) i returned to sound of a flute. i continued working on it until just a few minutes ago, subtracting rather than adding. it’s a definite improvement over it’s former state, which you can see BELOW left.

refreshing early morning by Philip Tarlow

3:34 PM: today i painted over sound of a flute over the river with that tan-ish color i so love, and started refreshing early morning, also 78x26” i may let this one sit for a day or so and return to sound of a flute… tomorrow, not sure. it’s good to be able to switch off so as not to get too attached to a particular direction. the trick is to remain in the energy of that particular painting whilst fearlessly riding the energy of unsuspected volcanic activity. a bold lot, we artists.