Venturing into Oils

Kindness - New Oil Painting by Jed

Kindness – Jed’s first oil painting.

After years and years of painting solely with watercolors, I have completed my first oil painting. Whew. My perfectionism characteristics had been setting me up for possible failure, but the better part of me reminded me that this was the first step in learning, and even failure can lead to development of  style and technique. I guess there are lots of life lessons in that as well. If I only proceed with the assurance of success, or of a predetermined outcome, the borders of my universe are going to be fairly narrow and confining.

Many people have asked why I would I dive into the world of oil painting when I have achieved pretty good success with watercolor. The simple answer is “scale”. I’ve been wanting to expand my scale of expression. Watercolors seem to be more limiting in this regards – not only from the size of the materials, l.e. watercolor paper, but the medium itself. Watercolors can have a life of their own, and painting with them is often a race against the clock.

How nice it has been to work on a larger “canvas” and with paints that dry slowly and allow me to work in greater subtleties and detail. The flip side of that is that working in oil has required great patience on my part, since the paint dries much more slowly. Another life lesson there – the process of building, of taking one step at a time, and then trusting in the end result.

I’ve titled this painting “Kindness” because that is the overwhelming sense I get when looking at this man. I remember meeting him on the island of Tinos, in Greece, several years ago, and he was peddling his homemade wine. Those of you who know me and my work, know that I have a love affair with older faces and the unique map of lines etched in them. These lines convey so much, particularly in regards to a person’s history and their character.

Now I am taking a breather, as I begin packing my art supplies for the move back to Umbria for most of the spring and summer. My next canvas will be even larger, and I am contemplating my next subject matter. I’ll let you know what I choose, and how my next oil painting is progressing.

For this and other paintings and photography, please be sure to visit my online gallery.

 

 

Un’ottima scuola di Italiano: Torre di Babele Roma

If you're serious about learning to speak Italian properly, this is the school in Rome for you.

If you’re serious about learning to speak Italian properly, this is the school in Rome for you.

I recently completed a four-week intensive Italian language course at Torre di Babele Roma. At the conclusion of my last class my brain was beyond saturated with the complexities of Italian grammar, but I could not have been happier with the experience. And, I could not have been in more capable and more loving hands. This school is a class act in every regard.

I researched and visited another prominent Italian language school in Rome prior to choosing Torre di Babele, but I just wasn’t “feeling the love”. I’m sure the other school is capable, but I needed an environment where I would not feel stressed. I’m a serious student, but learning, for me, is most fruitful when the teaching includes smiles and patience. Thankfully, I took the trip to visit Torre di Babele, and found plenty of these traits.

The school is located in a lovely residential neighborhood, just a short walk from the Policlinico metro stop. Elegant wrought iron gates greet you, and the building looks like a stately home, nestled amongst lush greenery.

When I first visited the school I met with the director and she made time to sit with me and find out what I was looking for in a school and what I wanted to do with my Italian studies. She was also getting a sense of my aptitude and level of speaking Italian. She asked me if I had time to take a 20-minute test to assess my skills. I guess my years of doing Rosetta Stone paid off, and I was placed in the Level 4 class – that’s like a beginning intermediate level. Even then, I was advised to study conditional verb tenses in preparation for the class.

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In the Moment – Photo by Jed

In the Moment

In the Moment

This is one of my favorite photographs – for more personal reasons, which are inherent in the title. I have lived a very full life, yet sometimes the dark side of fullness is a cacophony of too much thinking and doing. Too much time in my head analyzing and labeling things, and too much time preoccupied with the future. Some philosophers have called it “intellectual violence”.

When I look back at this photo I’m reminded to “Be here now.” This photo was taken near the lovely Abbazia di Sant’Antimo, south of Montalcino (think spectacular Brunello wines) in Tuscany. I come across reflective moments like this in many rural Italian areas. In Umbria, I often see my neighbor, a woman in her 70’s, sitting out on her top step with her walking cane leaning against her, while she gazes, seemingly for hours, across her fields of vegetables to the spectacular mountain vista that surrounds all of us. Some people might look at the lives of such “salt of the earth” people and think they have boring repetitive lives. Maybe there is spaciousness and freedom in such lives that aren’t filled with non-stop “doing” or over-crowded by a world of constant digital connectedness. I suspect many of these people are more alive than we can imagine.

I pray to live a life outside of my head, and to reside more in my heart. I pray to experience truly what is right in front of me, right now.

To see this and other photographs and paintings be sure to visit my online gallery.

Simplifying and Pruning Back

Cutting back the overgrowth in all areas of your life can free up space and energy for the things that really count.

Cutting back the overgrowth in all areas of your life can free up space and energy for the things that really count.

Friday, March 13. Today, I was furiously attacking the shrubbery in the front of my Umbrian home. How dare it be thriving so much that it would impede the amazing view of the surrounding mountains? But, why was I pruning with such fervor? Then I realized this was a metaphor for aspects of my life that have become so overgrown that the “view” to the rest of the world was becoming obscured.

I have a wonderful life. I live in italy, one of the most beautiful places on earth. I have a wonderful home and an amazing partner. So, what’s the problem?

I have been in Umbria for almost five days. I came here to tackle a ton of stuff to get the house in readiness for making it home base for most of spring and summer. An ambitious “to do” list for my six days here (I’m heading back to Rome tomorrow night) was heavily weighted towards purging and pruning. Simone recently has been steering me towards books and online resources for simplifying and “tidying up” one’s life. I think he was sharing this information as a form of intervention. You see, I’ve allowed parts of my life to become overgrown and I have not been traveling “light”. I’ve been a great example of consumerism, subscribing eagerly to the belief that by adding more material possessions I was nailing a key part of the formula for happiness. Now I realize the pursuit of more has been crowding out who and what is truly adding to my happiness.

While this isn’t an earth-shattering realization for many of you, it is for me. Making a public confession is cathartic. As I write this, I’m wondering why it has taken so long for me to wake up to the facts that I am a hoarder – not the extreme kind you’ve seen on the news or in documentaries, where people live amongst stacks and stacks of useless stuff while sharing their living quarters with dozens of cats or dogs. I’ve been a hoarder simply because I’ve accumulated more stuff than I need or use. When I open my closets they’re jammed with so many choices (shoes included) that I become overwhelmed and opt for something familiar and comforting. Could my happiness really be about quality and not quantity? Could I feel more spacious and centered with less things vying for my attention?

Listening to Barry Schwartz’s TedTalk “The Paradox of Choice” was what initially help to wake me from my “gotta-have-more” slumber. Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing is now helping guide me towards a less cluttered life.

As of today, I have officially donated and “retired” at least 1/2 of my clothes and shoes. This involved five giant, packed, heavy-duty garbage bags. I almost strained my back trying to get them out of the house. Mind you, this was already after divesting myself of about 1/3 of my stuff when I moved from the States. Obscene? Yes. And, I am tempted to make yet another pass. I won’t believe myself anymore when I tell myself that I’ll use something “someday”. It’s a lie.

Soon I will tackle other areas of accumulation – most notably my computer data. Don’t laugh. Now that I have a new MacBook Pro to replace my very old iMac and MacBook Pro (over six years old), I’m downsizing, and planning on working with only my new laptop paired with a larger monitor. However, I’m a bit more intimidated by this task because I am weighed down by data – files and files of photos and documents. Again, I’ve been kidding myself when I say I’ll use it all. Time for major data pruning.

The list for pruning goes on and on…including the prolific growth outdoors here in Umbria. AND, and last (and certainly not the least) are the contents of my overactive mind. That is a topic worthy of its own post.

Staying on top of all of these things, and not allowing the same accumulations to insidiously creep into my life, is a step towards a freer mind and heart. More time and attention for the things that bring authentic happiness – my partner, family, friends, art, writing, and this wonderfully inspiring country called Italy!

A Seagull’s View of Venice – Photo by Jed

A seagull's perspective of the high waters in Venice.

A seagull’s perspective of the high waters in Venice.

Just a little over a month ago we were in Venice during two days of very challenging rain, wind and high waters. While the weather didn’t make getting around the city easy, the conditions provided me a different perspective on the city. Not only in Venice, but in other cities in Italy, I’ve been asking myself, “How does a bird experience its surroundings?” So, I played around with this. In this image, taken in Piazza San Marco, I risked dropping my camera into the flood waters. And, given that this is Venice and the city has a reputation for not having the most sanitary water accumulating in public places, I also risked taking an onerous biological sample back with me to Rome. Thankfully my grip on the camera was solid.

Here you see the result of my “playing around”. I love how the seagull is the focal point, in a way that doesn’t dominate the photo. The Doge’s Palace and its reflection provide the framework. I plan to explore the birds eye view in future photography pursuits. So, as always, stay tuned!

A surprisingly inspiring bus ride on a rainy morning in Rome.

A rainy early morning on the 3B in Testaccio, Rome.

A rainy morning on the 3B in Testaccio, Rome.

Thursday morning, March 4, 2014. Beauty can show up in the most unexpected ways when you open your eyes and step aside from your normal perspectives.

I woke up this morning…reluctantly. Outside was cold, steady rain. I’m a sunshine man. I live to see the sun, and I usually pout internally when the sun is in hiding, and when I have to face inconvenient weather elements. Still, I roused myself, took a shower, had a strong coffee, bundled up and headed out to catch my bus to my intensive Italian language class. I couldn’t shrug off the class, because I paid handsomely for the course (worth every euro), and I didn’t want to lose my bearings in the middle of a very important segment on pronoun placements when using imperative verb forms.

My normal commuting strategy for less-than-ideal weather is to pop in my ear buds, navigate my Iphone to YouTube or ITunes, and shut out the world until I arrive at my destination. But, today, I was more keenly aware of this inclination and made a different choice. I purposely packed away my ear buds and made a conscious decision to pay attention to the world around me. I put my Iphone in readiness as a camera.

I looked everywhere, observing how the citizens of Rome were dealing with the weather. I first scanned the landscape inside the bus, and then my gaze move outside. And, I discovered that the rainy window on my left was presenting me with a different perspective on the world. So, as we approached the subsequent bus stops, I started clicking ways. Here you see the results – a pretty significant departure from my usual photographic style. With only slight color enhancements, these images are basically un-retouched. I love how they capture the mood and essence of the morning and the weather, and how they feel more like paintings than photographs.

I’m experimenting and playing. I can hear the voice of my Momma Liz urging me to play, to color outside of the lines of normal convention…and to not be afraid to fail. Thanks Mom, you still reside within me and inspire me.

While this post is primarily about art and creativity, today’s experience is helping me to relax the tenacious grip I have on the steering wheel of life. I’m learning to let go of a mountain of conditioning and preconceived notions of how life is supposed to show up, and to quit trying to control everything. Life has a funny way of taking you to places and experiences that can be pretty damn amazing if you just get out of the way.

 

A quick and simple shot through the rainy window on my daily bus ride.

A quick and simple shot through the rainy window on my daily bus ride.

Art and magic is everywhere. A rainy buswindow adds a beautiful filter for the world outside.

Art and magic is everywhere. A rainy bus window provides a beautiful filter for the world outside.

Swimming in an Ocean of Italian Verbs

Caravaggio's "Medus" (one of my favorite paintings in the Uffizi) aptly illustrates my first reactions to the abyss of Italian verb tense and conjugations.

Caravaggio’s Medusa (one of my favorite paintings in the Uffizi) aptly illustrates my first reactions to the abyss of Italian verb tenses and conjugations.

Sto nuotando in un oceano di verbi Italiani. I am swimming in an ocean of Italian verbs.

I’ve just completed three weeks of intensive Italian language classes and have proceeded to the next level. “Yay!”, but I really have to commit this stuff to memory by practicing as much as I can. This isn’t like a dreaded, required college course that you take, pass and leave in the review mirror as quickly as possible. My success at building a robust life in Italy depends on my having a strong command of the language.

This most recent level was level 5. Believe me, this is difficult stuff, unless you are a prodigy when it comes to languages (like my dear friend Arun). I’m a bit envious of my fellow students at the school who come from other romance languages like Spanish, French and Portuguese since Italian shares many similarities with them. For English speakers, and students from vastly different languages like Japanese, Russian, and Swedish, I feel a greater kinship. I see the same looks of confusion on their faces when we’re forming sentences with a different logic and syntax from our native tongues.

Moments exist when I “get it” and I actually can put together a sentence that isn’t remedial. I won’t allow myself to feel like I’m stuck in the Italian equivalent of the Dick, Jane and Spot series from my first grade in elementary school. To achieve this I have to practice, practice, practice…and then practice some more. For this reason I crave having additional homework exercises.

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My Italian Stone Wall is Finished

The wall repairs are complete. Beautifully and meticulously built, and ready to handle the next deluge.

The wall repairs are complete. Beautifully and meticulously built, the wall is ready to handle the next deluge.

Saturday, February 28, 2015. I slept so much better last night. My stone wall is finished. I arrived in Umbria yesterday, after taking the train from Rome (immensely less stressful than trying to drive from the center of Rome on a Friday afternoon). I picked up my car from the Cortona-Terontola train station and made the drive from there. When I pulled into the driveway, a handsomely finished wall greeted me….and one that indeed will hold the land above the house, even when rains are unrelenting.

I also have a nice area above the wall to plant lavender and/or rosemary. Before it was a jungle of brambles.

An added bonus to the completed work on the wall is a slightly wider parking area next to the house. You see, the old wall was “bowing” outwards, making parking, and being able to get out of my car, impossible.

If you’ve been following the previous posts about the initial collapse and the work in progress, you’ll appreciate that this particular trip was not laden with other challenges. This time the heating and hot water system worked beautifully, and I was able to have a celebratory hot bath, and a long, restful sleep.

This morning I met with the workman to make another installment payment on the wall, and I’ll be back in a few weeks to make the final payments. Also, my next trip will include a massive deep cleaning and paring down of all of the stuff I’ve collected. This is in spite of having purged many things prior to the move here. Simone has been reading, and singing the praises, of a recent bestseller called The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo. I plan to download the Kindle addition and become ruthlessly dedicated to exemplifying “less is more”. Stay tuned for more about paring down and the freedom it can bring. Let’s see how I do embracing this strategy to have more space – literally and emotionally!

The “New” Old Italian Stone Wall is Under Way

The "new" old wall is reinforced and is being carefully constructed in the best possible way (including new drainage). And what a handsome wall it will be!

The “new” old wall is reinforced and is being carefully constructed in the best possible way (including new drainage). And what a handsome wall it will be!

This past week, after yet another week of intensive Italian classes, I raced home, grabbed an overnight bag, and began the three-hour drive to my home in Umbria. The sole purpose of this short trip was to see the progress being made on my Italian stone wall adjacent to the house, which collapsed after heavy rains just three weeks ago. If you want to follow the journey from the beginning of this saga, be sure to see the photo and read about the initial collapse in another post.

Again, I have to salute my dear neighbor Carlo, who made calls and orchestrated getting the work going (a bit of a rarity to be able to initiate work so quickly here in Italy). When I drove up to the house at dusk I saw a cement mixer, piles of sand and large stones (mostly reclaimed from the collapse of wall). And, I saw a beautiful new section of wall about 2/3 of the way to completion. Setting aside internal calculations as to what this would set me back, I marveled at the amazing craftsmanship and structural integrity. This was a wall under construction that would mesh beautifully with the existing wall, while providing me assurance that heavy rains wouldn’t bring the land above me crashing down. I could sleep with greater ease.

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How Ripe? – Painting by Jed

Watercolor of How Ripe?

How Ripe?

“How Ripe?” is a watercolor I completed just prior to my permanent move to Italy. I’ve always been enamored with the people of the Mediterranean cultures – especially the older people, because their faces convey so much. This particular scene is from the wonderful island of Folegandros (about a 2-hour ferry ride from Santorini). Folegandros is my favorite island, and I hope to be crossing the Mediterranean more frequently to enjoy its brutal, yet spectacular landscape, and to find even more subject matter for future paintings. I almost feel guilty taking a little break from focusing solely on Italy in my posts. It feels like I’m cheating on Italy. While I will always be married to Italy, surely I can have Greece as a mistress?

Be sure to check out this and other paintings in my online gallery.

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