Monday, October 25, 2021

Falling into Fall

 Falling into Fall


Thursday, 10/21/21

Thursday night is my night to stay up late, get a  good buzz going, and spend the evening doing stuff other  than sitting here at the desktop. But I went to bed early on Wednesday, woke up at midnight, couldn't get back to sleep, and couldn't even doze off for a nap this afternoon. I've been a zombie all day, and I  got no work done at all. So Thursday night is off this week. The whole week has been sort of off key. 

Can't get focused, no energy, just tired to the eyeballs of life the universe, and everything. The world is a warm, flat beer, right now. It's cold, stale coffee with sour milk. If the world was a girlfriend, I'd break up. If it was a job, I'd quit. If it was a sandwich I wouldn't eat the second half.

Last night I was looking at old posts here at the WFB. I've had this blog up for twelve years. Much of the early stuff came from my exchanges with the folks who were posting at "Gagdad" Bob Godwin's blog, One Cosmos. And much of the stuff I was writing about then, I'm still writing about, now.


From February 2009...


... Actually there wasn't much left to say on the topic of losing the burn. I started carving rocks, and didn't stop until the fire went out, which it did abruptly, and without even extending me the courtesy of letting me finish the last piece I was working on. But it was great while it lasted. I turned rocks into three dimensional versions of the forms that I had formerly put on paper. I'll get out the camera and take some pictures later this week. It took a whole new set of brain muscles to start seeing, and working in three dimensions. It was like going from swimming laps in a pool, to surfing. The [Celtic] knotwork drawings are impossible figures. They can exist only in a world restricted to height, and breadth. 

Stone will not tolerate that kind of fanciful nonsense. It makes you play by real world rules. Along with height, breadth, and depth there is balance, strength of material, hardness, flaws, and all sorts of other considerations to deal with. And oddly enough, courage. Courage? Well, it's like this. It's really tempting to carve thin, to carve delicate, to carve with lots of open work, and things soaring off and hanging in space. It sounds really cool to make something with a lot of mass sitting on a tiny foot, and depending on a precisely placed center of gravity to keep it stable. 

Until you have a two hundred dollar chunk of alabaster, and ten weeks worth of hard work sitting on the table in front of you. I'm reminded of people who go around climbing rocks, but that's a whole 'nother kind of idiocy. And I wouldn't be so presumptuous to compare breaking a sculpture with breaking me. I'm sitting here right now looking at one of my early, loopy efforts which was instantly transformed from one piece of stone into three, courtesy of last summer's earthquake. It was disappointing, but it didn't involve the loss of blood. But I'm getting all sidetracked here, and besides, that's about all I have left for now... 


Friday, 10/22

So, now, it's Friday night. Mary always has a couple of friends come over for dinner. She usually does some vegetarian thing for them. This time it was sweet potato lasagna, so I phoned in an order for a taco plate from J's Grill. When I went to pick up the food, they had a television on playing KCET, the national public network. The telescreen is always on. I couldn't hear the broadcast, but in the time it took to pick up my order I saw the news go from Covid hysteria, to a huge "climate emergency" protest in Germany. Every. single. protester, and all the TV people were masked. The faceless interviewing the faceless. Television is unadulterated sewage.   Since we don't have one, every time I actually see a TV, I find it horrifying. And I'm not exaggerating for dramatic effect here, either. Gut level horrifying. The propaganda is so blatant, so heavy handed. 

 Everyone working in the burger hop is masked. Everyone who walks in during the ten minutes or so I was there, was masked. I do not mask. Ever.  I always sort of steel myself, wondering if anyone is going to say anything. I click off the safety on my asshole switch. I hate being an asshole, but I'm embarrassingly good at it. Nothing happened. Truth to tell, very few people will say anything. Most shopkeepers aren't going to turn down a sale to enforce the mask rule. Still, I hate it more than I have words to tell. This is why I don't go out much. Mostly I sit here at the desktop, or work in the yard. The news I get across the internet is depressing as hell. One quick excursion off grounds confirms everything I just got depressed  reading about.

But anyway- Mary's friends did not stay late, Mary turned in early, so I stayed up, and burned a few.

It was cold, and rainy most of the day Saturday. The San Pedro bloom is over. Summer's gone and all the roses fallen.


Beauty in the decay:

Sunday we had a cool, clear morning, and a sweet bright warm autumn afternoon. We got the cycle gang together for a club ride down to Seal beach. It's one of several cruises we do from time to time. We meet up in the corner of a huge Wal Mart parking lot that butts right up against the San Gabriel River bike path. It's about seven miles to Seal, when you take in the little detours for pit stops and safety meetings. Mary came along for the first time in a long while, and Russ brought his wife, Liz. Club members Dave and Mike were waiting for us not far from the pier. Dave is recovering from a very rough bout with cancer, and complications. Mike's back is bad, and he's been out of commission for a while. They joined us for lunch at the Mexican food place right across from the pier. RatRod Riders Bicycle Club is a small gang, but a tight one. The club is high on the list of things for which I am grateful. Love these guys. It was a wonderful finish to a mostly dull week. Couldn't have been a better day if we'd written a script for it.


Not a lot to report on the stone this week. Despite the distractions, and overall low energy, I did get some time in on the project. I'm still excavating; separating an inner figure from the shell/ base that will contain it. 


More and more I'm making use of the point chisels to excavate material, and to rough shape the figures. I'm getting the hang of doing the smoothing and rounding with the flat blades, before cleaning up the work with the rifflers. And I have a plan to fix up a jig for my heavy drill. This project is going to take a couple of long drillings, and I don't want to risk doing them freehand. More work. More fun. Love doing this stuff.

We got some rain coming up this week, and that's mostly a good thing. It'll slow down the work, though. Not the worst problem in the world by a good measure.



Monday, October 18, 2021

Step by Step


Step by Step 



 It's Tuesday night as I'm sitting down here to make some notes on the stone. Maybe other stuff, too. We'll see.

The picture of the stone that I posted last week showed sort of a head beginning to get separated from the lower pyramid. 


The lower shape was starting to remind me of a conch shell, or a fat slice of pie. I did that much, not knowing for sure what would follow. But somehow I knew that those first few steps were on the right path. Working this way is a lot like rock climbing, or caving. You sort of just feel your way along, and hope you don't make a wrong move, and get stuck. 

Of course, this risk of getting stuck doesn't entail falling a thousand feet to a certain death, or being trapped underground to slowly perish from thirst and hypothermia. (I'd take the thousand-foot fall, thanks for asking.) 

Oh, wait. I already told that joke, huh? eh, so what. I'll probably tell it again.

Anyway, Saturday night after dinner, I got the germ of an idea, so I grabbed a colored pencil, and did some rough sketching on the flat face of the rock. 

But that was in the dark, and at the end of a very long day that started early with a drive to the beach. Once I got to the beach, there was a wake n' bake with Penny and Jim, and a twenty mile ride with the rest of the bicycle club. Good times! But it was a long cruise followed with a long drive home, and more than a few bowls after dinner. 

Unfortunately, the rough sketch was, well, rough. Sunday morning it just looked like some stoner scribbled all over the rock with a colored pencil.


At first. 

I had to stare, and repeat several times, the magic incantation: "Wut th' fahhhhk". It was like trying to decipher the crappy hand writing, and short-hand spelling you'd use if you woke from a dream in the middle of the night, and felt like you had to write it down. But I caught the idea, and started refining the sketch. It took until Sunday night until the lights came on for reals, and I got that flash that would carry me all the way into the design. I'm not kiddin,' I actually jumped up and down. 


Eureka! and all that stuff. Monday I pecked in a few lines with the chisel, and then stopped. Inching forward, and all that.

And so the week has gone. Chisel a bit, plan a bit. cut, sand, draw some more. 

When I bought this stone up in Ventura, I looked at a few blocks of limestone, as well. One of the sculptors on site talked about what a pleasure it is to work the stuff. Limestone is consistent in hardness, and I am told, has a very smooth, almost creamy texture when put to the steel. It's not especially pretty stuff, though. A sculpture in limestone is gray. Period.  Too, the limestone was sold in square cut rectangular blocks. That's like a completely blank canvas. I want to try it sometime.

I'm bringing this up as a contrast to working in alabaster.

This piece of stone is a perfect example. Limestone is consistent. On this chunk of alabaster, the milky translucent stuff is very hard, while the stuff with the red inclusions is much softer, and easier to cut. 


Shaping across two different degrees of hardness is a challenge. I can shape the colored stuff with a rasp, quite easily. The same rasp just skids across the harder stuff. It's a good thing I invested in the Milani chisels. 

I'll digress for a bit here. This has been an unexpected treat. I mentioned before that  the work I did in the past was done almost completely with drill, saw, and rasp. My chisel skills were non-existent. (Not a good admission for a stone carver) Now I have the chisels, and a proper mallet. And this stone is forcing me to get those skills up to speed. And I'm doing a pretty darn good job of it. Most of the shaping I've done so far has been with the point chisels, and mallet. It feels really good to learn new lessons. (Especially when it's in a remedial class)

Anyway- I mentioned that the limestone came in the blank canvas of a rectangular block. The alabaster always comes in a fractured boulder, part of a thick slab that was unearthed, and broken into chunks. Most pieces have cracks, and fissures to take into account. There are thick parts, narrow parts, plus color, translucency, varying degrees of hardness, all to add to the fun. Rather than impose your idea on an empty field, you're constantly in a dialogue with the irregularities of the stone.

And so the week has gone. Chisel a bit, plan a bit. cut, sand, draw some more. 

By Friday afternoon I reached an agreement in my 'dialogue with the stone', here.  Carving it is going to be a total pain in the ass challenge. But that's what makes it fun. I'm walking into this feeling like I have the potential to knock it out of the park.

 And I become aware again, that despite... 

Look,  I'm not going to waste anyone's time making a list of shit to get depressed about. Those lists are not just easy to find, they're hard to avoid. (Whoever's reading this just dodged one.)

Despite it all, I have much to be grateful for. For all my many faults, and shortcomings I have been gifted with an acute sense of gratitude. I approach seventy years of age with over twenty years of as close to a perfect marriage as ever has been. Mary and I are still stupid in love after all this time. We have friends, no debt, and a lovely home. I have an anchor in daily meditation and prayer, a quiet, if somewhat feral faith. 

When my old friend Pete Hampton died, in 2018, I found myself thrust into the huge task of doing The Lost Canyon Project, and later, The Lost Era Transcripts. My creative energies had been dead for years. But creative energies had little to do with those projects. I was driven with a sense of mission: This stuff had to be done, and I was the only one who could do it. I worked my ass off on those tasks, and drove myself into a complete burn-out finishing them. 

Then the End of the World As We Knew It hit. For a year, pretty much all I did was ride the bike, and get buzzed. But somehow, the combination of burning on those projects, and the  intense, horribly negative energy from the coup, and the lockdowns, drove me lower, and lower, until I dug into the fire, and re-lit the creative burn. Now, I'm working again. With four new pieces on the shelf, and this one on the table I'm once again feeling that sense of mission. I am as grateful for this as anything.

But, hey, let's digress, once more. This time we'll check out some beauty.

The best show of the week has been the San Pedro. The Pachanoi is popping.



Monday, October 11, 2021

On the way

 On the Way

 Last week I just sort of  let stuff tumble out onto the keyboard as I was thinking it. I guess that's what they call "stream of consciousness" writing. I'll try to stay out of the stream, and on topic. 

I  wanted to do this project from a set plan. That is, I wanted to have an idea for a completed figure in mind before starting in on the work.

It's not going to go that way with this chunk of rock. I do have a completed idea in mind, but I'll save it for the next stone. With this one I'll have to do the planning, drawing and sketching on the stone itself.

 Trying to coordinate the three sided pyramid shape, the flat plane on one face, and the lumpy contours of the back face is a serious challenge. I made a start on some of the preliminary shaping, but I had to just stop, and shift back into planning mode. The rest of the week was just drawing on the rock. Saturday evening the light came on.
By Sunday afternoon I had the beginnings of a plan. I'll get grinding on it today.

Sunday, October 10, 2021


 1950 Schwinn B6

One of my treasures


Monday, October 4, 2021

Anza Borrego One: The Bloodstone


Anza Borrego One: The Bloodstone 


Hey, how's that for a snappy title, huh? Just like the first installation of some  rocket ship time travel to another futuristic universe way back in the past type of novel: 
" The green skinned judge ran a quick tongue across his lower eyeball, and pronounced sentence on the hapless Earthling, Grank Dawston.
"For the crime of space smuggling, I sentence you to 20 years hard labor in the bloodstone mines on planet Borrego, in the Anza One solar system."
 Or maybe a Western.  
"O, Mateo, do not go to the Anza Borrego. It is a place muy mal, con  muchos desperados."
" But, I must go, Chiquita Muchacha. When a fortune in bloodstone calls, no man can resist."

But it's just another chronicle of an amateur sculptor doing backyard art.
I'm looking at doing these five stones as a single project. Works in a series, I guess. Maybe create an imaginary spiritual narrative around some big theme or other. Each stone represents a different facet of the grand cozmik yoo hoo.

 All goofing aside, this is the first "new" alabaster I've bought in a couple of decades, and it does represent a very separate phase in my grand avocation of being a sculptor.  The last four projects were all done with material I bought not long after my wife and I were married, in 2000. A warm-up exercise for this.

I have new stone, new tools, and a still newly ignited burn to work. I've got shapes like silent earworms twisting, and shouting in my head, and I can't turn it off. Don't want to.
 I do know that these five stones are five chunks of prehistoric California, a California that was here before it had a name. This stone slept in the ground while the land above it went from wilderness to the slouching, dystopic mess that remains today.
Now it's in my back yard; in my hands.
Regardless of what my state has become, or will yet become, I'm going to make these five pieces of it into something...
Fuck, I don't know-
 into something I leave behind me when I'm gone.
Like an old song on the radio when the singers are dead.
 Which brings me to one of my favorite topics: coincidence.  
I'm going to jump back three years, to June of '18.   I had a fragment of a song from the 60's stuck in my head, but for the life of me, I could not remember the title, the words, or who sang it. It was becoming a most annoying ear worm.  I remember talking to one of Mary's friends about it, and she came up with The Mamas and Papas tune, "12:30".  I looked it up on you-tube. That was it! The song was stuck in my head when I set out on this huge adventure.
A couple weeks ago, one of the blogs I visit, "The New Neo" , did a post on "12:30".
Here was the song, again, now showing up at Neo's blog, in my daily cruise through the bookmarks. I had to listen once more.

"12:30",  paints a picture of  California at its apex. The kooky, crazy, California hippy sub culture was in full bloom. California was everything that urban America, personified in New York City, was not. We defined cool. Of course, for anyone my age, the scenes in the video spark the memory of having been there.
 They were good times; better than we knew. Now, when I heard the song, the memory of the dream-like cactus trip was woven into the sixties nostalgia. The contrast of how things were, then, with the slouching, filthy, totalitarian mess of how things are, now, just about broke my damn heart. And  I mean the bitter contrast of today with  June of 2018. When I looked all the way back to 1967 I had tears.
 Oddly enough, though, getting all misty was not from anger or grief. The tears came from realizing how very fortunate I have been. I was there. I lived that California dream. Surfing, motorcycles, traveling Highway 1, dropping acid in San Francisco... And despite the horror of the last couple years, daily life for Mary and me, and for our friends remains very much intact. I am acutely aware of this, and profoundly grateful. For this one day. The ship may have hit the iceberg, but the water isn't up to our room just yet...The song is stuck in my head again. It's still haunting me. 
 But enough melancholic musing.


Once I got the chunk broken out of the stone it was time for my least favorite parts of the whole game: first, taking down the surface irregularities with the angle grinder. Power tools are loud, messy, dangerous, but fast.

Then came the business of deciding how the stone is going to sit. Here's where I have to look at the big flat plane. It would be easy to use the cut as the base. but doing so leaves me with a "mountain" shape, which is static, and not particularly interesting. I want a dynamic, upright composition that will let me bring out the colors and patterns in the stone. There's a lot of very clear stuff in this material, and I want to bring out all the surface area that I can to show it off.
Tuesday morning I made a trip to the hardware store, and got new blades for the bow saw. I got the rock mounted up, and strapped down to the table.
I've done the base cut a bunch of times, but this is the first time it didn't come out right. I did not get a clean straight cut, and the stone would not sit flat. Looking back, I can understand what caused the cut to bend. It's a mistake I won't make again. But what should have been a flat plane was bowed out and slightly convex. It took the rest of the day, and some serious hard labor to get a clean, flat bottom started.
 The next morning, I figured it would take a couple or three hours to finish getting the base sanded flat. I was wrong. This was a long tough grind, shoving that seventy pound stone back and forth down the sanding board. It took the whole day before I got the bottom where I wanted it to be. Even so, the stone leans back a little farther than I had intended. 
I'm OK with it, though. 

 This is easily the most beautiful material I've ever worked. Look at this. It's part of the slice I took from the bottom. Check out the snow-globe effect in the water-clear matrix, the deep scarlet red running through the clear, also the opal-like milky stuff. 

 Whatever I do with it has to be more than special. So here's the blank I have to work with:  I was worried that this stone may be mushy soft like the last two that I worked. No.  This stuff rings. In fact, it's quite hard for alabaster, which is as good a thing as I could ask for. It will hold as sharp a line as I'm willing to cut, and it'll polish up like greased glass. That's why it took so long to get that base flattened down. This is some seriously fine stone.
The basic shape is sort of a three sided pyramid with one face machined flat, one face sort of flat, and one side all lumpy. It's going to be a challenge.

This is the biggest problem I face: what do I do with that straight, flat plane? As of Saturday morning, it's a mystery.

 Here begins The Part Where Nothing Happens. Right now,  I cannot seem to get a toehold on a design. This is one where I want to plan what I'm going to do, not make it up as I go along. But the lights just haven't come on for any particular idea. I realize, in my head, that this is just part of the process. I remember driving myself halfway nuts  trying to get an idea working on one of the big crystal pieces. It took days of staring, but ultimately the project ended up being one of the best things I've done. 
But I feel uncertain, now, in a way I did not feel twenty years ago. Now I have that carping voice telling me I'm dried up, played out, and all my ideas are soggy, and cornball. I wonder if I've already done my best work. I wonder what kind of disaster will come down the pike before I'm done with this five-stone tale. Grim thoughts. 
It all stems from the end of the world as we knew it, and the gut dropping realization that this insane evil isn't going to stop, short of war. It comes from feeling that my back is against a wall, as everything goes to shit, and all that stands between me, and hopelessness is prayer, and the burn to work. This is the path in the spiritual wilderness. The drive to simply get up, and do another day is gifted out like manna: exactly enough for a single day, none to keep, and none to spare. Tomorrow arise, pray, and move forward.
Now I know this crap is all melodramatic as hell. Especially considering that I've already expressed thanks for the abundance we still enjoy. Despite everything, I have not lost my abiding sense of gratitude for the good we have. But it doesn't take much: a couple hours of news and current events, a visit outside the Suburban Hermitage to go to the store, or ride the bike. The faceless.  It becomes an awful background music, an infestation of petty reminders that seeps into every crack in every thought, and conversation. It precipitates down into my back yard thoughts, and makes me wonder if I'm just wasting my fucking time here. But I started rounding in the lower edges, lifting them up off the base. Sunday evening I began to get the germ of an idea. Even so, there's a whole lot of sitting and staring at the rock ahead.