THE BOOKS: “Notes & Definitions on Picture-Painting”

[The Book Series]

Notes & Definitions on Picture-Painting: Book One (Book Two . . . et al.)


 (Scroll to Bottom for Contents of Book One)

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SERIES TITLE:   Notes & Definitions on Picture-Painting: Book One (Book Two . . . et al.)

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The Artist keeps a private journal: daily entries on works assigned to the easel; notes on themes, decisions regarding composition and palette; comments when errors and misdirections are adjusted, when works are – for whatever – abandonment or completed and sent forth.

Journals also used to sketch out the goals and structure of each series, and, now and then, stray thoughts on one’s painterly philosophy, such as it is.

The Book Series snatches up journal entries, folds in other commentary, and chronicles the birth of each work.

Book Series to be sold through Amazon’s Kindle. Hard-copy edition to follow. Published thrice yearly, mostly in conjunction with exhibitions of completed Provocative Paintings. Good for “getting-talk-going”!

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Volumes organized on the outline below

[Contents for Book One follows]

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[COVER TITLE]  Notes & Definitions on Picture-Painting: Book 1 (Book 2) (Book 3 . . . et al.)

[AUTHOR]  Stephen L. Golay

[PUBLISHER]  Chiefly Western Press





Statement on the Book Series objective: record production notes on works conceived and completed prior to publication of volume.  A brief on the Book Series format and how the Series enhances the reader’s viewing of the art.



Overview of the current volume’s organizing themes, highlighting the production of recently completed works and exhibitions, especially those of the Provocatives Series.

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Select journal entries recording the production of recent & projected paintings and drawings: subject and theme choices, experiments with composition and palette, challenges encountered and their solutions . . . and so on. This section’s the core of each volume.

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The Artist is a reader: deeply so in the craft (process, theory and history) and widely over various fields. Books read are vigorously annotated. These margin notes, outside ones kept for production notes, substitute for a daily journal (paper, blog or whatever).

[If you want to know if a bad piece of beef kept the Artist laid down low, and off the easel, it’s there in some jotted down margin note!]

Margin Notes interact with the content of the page; or better, the day’s artistic and personal challenges join what’s being read: jotting down inspiration, frustration, and pictorial solutions – and the belly aches!

Most of the titles are obvious; they relate to the craft or the subject and theme of works recently completed. Others reflect the Artist’s larger worldview on what he paints, and why.

Now and then a title pops-up looking a bit out of place. At first glance the book may have nothing to do with painting pictures, but it does. Reading the lifted off margin notes will tell.

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Drawing, painting, teaching the craft – even, the art of how to kick the stuff out the studio door into the wide world – takes thought, even a bit of meditation. This section collects brief essays sketching out what’s going on: on the easel, inside the Artist’s head.

We take the risk! Doing up these definitions can be a heretical act in this Post-Modernist Age of ours, defying as it does the reigning dogmas of picture-making and picture-viewing. But we’ll bull-rampage ahead, smashing the delicate, precious doctrines of the Theorists.

[Most of the Definition Essays are reflection byproducts from the execution of The Provocatives Series paintings. A review of its dedicated page will quickly reveal why.]

Craft Challenges: Painting-out pictures bumps into challenges, frustrations, modifications, solutions, and lessons critically learned from Past Masters. Through it all, definitions are discovered, or, if held, refined. Since what goes on and off the easel is uniquely tasked, good to have a record of how it all came down.

Subject Selections: Even the most doctrinaire Abstract artist works with (or, more correctly, against) subjects: inanimate or animate, fleshly or not. In our work, the subject will not be denied or ignored. Picture-painting means painting-out the presence of subjects: full-bodied, demanding to be truthfully seen.

The Modernist Project eliminated the authority of the subject; the Post-Modernist Project deconstructs the authority of the viewer and the artist. Here is our nemesis, what our picture-painting labors against.

So, what goes into the selection of ours? The output of all this mulling-over should be good for a few (at times, surprising) definition essays.

Teaching and Mentoring: Some of the best definitions (re-definitions) get shaped upon the anvil of teaching – even ours.

Handing off what’s been handed over – watching how other hands manhandle the gift of it – is often the best definer of definitions.

Worldview Issues: Picasso’s Guericathough in ways untruthful – is a powerful work, born from a tenuously held view of looking about the world. Something this well done (its near revelatory in design, its colors and tones properly keyed) takes no little conscious thought. For any master works all that’s needed is the perfect union of mind and heart (and eye) taking on the world before it.

From the opposing pole, Michelangelo’s singular vision conceived and executed two revolutionary frescoes: the History of Redemption, unrolling across the Sistine Ceiling, and, decades later, his monumental Last Judgement rising above the chapel’s altar. Their brilliance – their pictorial and moral authority – like Picasso’s, was born from a consistent, all-consuming way of being in the world.

The genesis of Michelangelo’s worldview was sparked by the powerful preaching of the Dominican Friar, Savonarola: in the end torched, by a fear laden pope, upon the faggots in Florence. With his first stroke Michelangelo painted, across the vastness of the ceiling, Savonarola’s prodigious vision of salvation’s story: not only the world’s redemption, but his own.

Worldview painting – no less an imperative for us!

Along with our abandonment to the easel, we’re shameless in drafting out our worldview in these volumes. No apologies. It pertains to what we paint, and how we paint.

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Like all genres, the concept of art periods, though convenient, is a bit slippery. Still, the organizing notion is useful.

We live in our own art period, Post-Modernism impoverished as it is! Though invasive and colonial over all it sees, the period will be short-lived. (Something as Gnostic & Manichean as Post-Modernism cannot survive.) Its reign of dulling sight and imagination will wither: exhausted both by its cannibalizing doctrines and its refusal to be nourished from without.

Pictorially, we won’t waste time or effort living in the present age! Our task gets its mustering orders from beyond the narcissist temptation, from Past-Masters & tested habits. Not that we don’t, now and then, strike out from them ourselves! Yet, this is where we begin.

Doing so gives us pause to reflect on what our Masters taught us; and how, in our hands, those lessons have been re-gloved, refitted to work. Being good students we’ll pen out summary essays on what was learned during the picture-making.

Three historical periods (their fundamentals and styles) inform our work more than others: the Enlightenment, Romanticism, and Realism. These three may be a bit of a surprise, if one assumes our pictorial predilections would head us off towards periods more traditional or religious!

Not the place to give a brief on why these art periods were chosen, or how they guide our fundamentals and methods. Each volume, though, will roll out the commentary under the headings: “Relighting the Enlightenment”, “Redeeming Romanticism”, and “Restoring Realism”.

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Final section. One or two longish essays. Too varied to list here. Now and then a revealing tale about the Artist. That ought to be interesting!

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[Book One]

Stephen L. Golay

Chiefly Western Press

 Sept, 2015 (projected)

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The Widow Waunda: For opening her home of thousands of books & Russian Samizdat

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See format note above.

The Book Series inaugural address!

The word out there says artists shouldn’t comment on their work; doing so, they say, squats on prime territory reserved for the professional critic. We’ll ignore that. Sage advice!

Artists, like parents, tell tales about their children’s coming into the world. With this first volume we’re putting ourselves out there – and our painterly foot down.



See format note above.

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See format note above.

Record of journal (working) notes on current and recently completed paintings and drawings.

This volume covers 2014 through Aug. 2015. Most entries record experiments, thought sketches and decisions, for the two major (out-sized) paintings for this period: “Cowboy, Clown & Bull” (Mother Lode Cowboy Series), and, “The Guardian Angel of Hetch-Hetchy: One Damn Beautiful Dam” (The Provocatives Series). See their pages for details.

The “Hetch-Hetchy” painting has the additional chore of introducing The Provocatives Series, the backbone of the Artist’s body of work. Journal entries are more than production notes; we’re recording the series’ inaugural fleshing out. For being the first one out the “Hetch-Hetchy” notes will showcase much.

Eventually, the Rubicon must be crossed when a work done well enters its own stand-alone esse (existence). At that point the Artist becomes more steward than creator, much like God, really, molding Man & Woman from mud & rib.

Also included, journal notes on the painting’s preparatory studies and Original Drawings, et al.

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See format note above.

Selection of jotted down margin notes, with commentary, from the following books.


The Artist’s Complete Guide to Figure Drawing by Anthony Ryder (Watson-Guptill; New York, 2000).

The primary text for the Artist’s course “The Drawing Fellowship”. (See Art Instruction pages) Margin Notes are wide-ranging: from how best to structure and teach a course in drawing to Ryder’s formative influence on the Artist’s work.

Atlas of Human Anatomy for the Artist by Stephen R. Peck (Oxford; New York, 1951)

Knowing the human body (our bodily lives) is the first fundamental of any art instruction. The current Post-Modernist leveling of the body’s meaning and integrity is the prime sign of its death wish. The notes here – from this most classic of texts – shows the wonder that sustains the reason for picking up pencil or brush.

Composition: A Painter’s Guide to Basic Problems and Solution by David Friend (Watson Guptill; New York, 1975)

May be dated, maybe not. Friend’s text was the Artist’s introduction to the Principles of Composition. As with any good teacher, the lessons took. Recording old and new notes. Scooped up, is a clue or two about why “Heetch-Hetchy”, from The Provocatives, was painted this way and not that.

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Michelangelo: the Artist, the Man, and His Times by William Wallace (Cambridge, 2010); Michelangelo: the Achievement of Fame by Michael Hirst (Yale; New Haven, 2011); Michelangelo’s David: a Search for Identity by Charles Seymour (University of Pittsburgh Press; Pittsburgh, 1967); Michelangelo & the Pope’s Ceiling by Ross King (Walker & Co.; New York, 2003; Michelangelo and the Reinvention of the Human Body by James Hall (Primlico; 2006).

Each volume of Notes & Definitions takes a painter or two and pulls him (and her) through the grind of our daily task, makes a study of them as we work out present pictorial challenges. We expect guidance even as we salute and go our own way.

So, why begin with Michelangelo – beyond the obvious? Attend to the lifted-off notes, you’ll see! Has much to do with the “Hetch-Hetchy”!

John Constable: a Kingdom of His Own by Anthony Bailey (Chato & Windus; London, 2006); [et al.]

Will do the same for Constable.

In spite of his reputation as an innovative landscape painter, Constable couldn’t refuse the primacy of Man working & habituating Creation. (Take one honest look at The Hay Wain!) His landscapes were rooted in the presence of our bodily lives. We’ve taken his stance as ours. Saw something within his frames others don’t.

Also, in Volume Two Constable is our entry in discussing Romanticism’s judgment on the depleted art of our times, an art wrung dry of (Burke, Trilling & Himmelfarb’s) Moral Imagination.

Bay Area Figurative Art, 1950-1965 by Caroline Jones (University of California Press; Berkeley, 1989).

In the thinking of the doing paintings, we return not only to America but California.

Pictorially, our bearings and the shoring-up of doing anything well in California’s battered culture begins here. Unfortunately, California artists have slunk back to Europe: to Berlin, in point of fact, as in the days of Eaton they stayed too long in Dusseldorf.

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Painting and Reality by Etienne Gilson (World Publishing Co; New York, 1959) A. W. Mellon Lectures in the Fine Arts.

Confess, we do have an art philosophy! Needs support, bearing up. Might as well begin here.

Having one (or not) may not be a perquisite for doing art well, but, acknowledged (or not) our instincts says an Art Philosophy (of some sort or kind) hovers and hangs over every work, lies over and under-ground of every artist.

Christ & Time by Oscar Cullmann (Westminster Press; Philadelphia, 1962); Salvation in History by Oscar Cullmann (Harper & Row; New York, 1967); The Killing of History by Keith Windsschuttle (Free Press; New York, 1996).

What’s this bit of theology doing here? Every artist takes a stance for or against history – that is, for or against Space & Time. (And by history we mean something much more than the history of art.)

History defines, better “finds’ us as persons – and artists. Time & Space is the habitat of all work, of any art. Rebelled against or not, history sits upon the point and tip of our pencils and brushes. We are historical beings – maybe theological ones to boot.

The Rise of Rome by Anthony Everitt (Random House; New York, 2012); How Rome Fell by Adrian Goldsworthy (Yale; New Haven, 2009).

This has nothing to do with Roman Art, but – here it comes – identity! Even our nemeses, the Post-Modernists, must assent that they, too, are Western artists (maybe even dead, white, male ones!); that they, too, cannot evade the scent and marks of being Sons of the West.

(If the tags “Western” or “Sons of the West” bring to mind the great American Western vastness, it was meant; even the Rise & Fall of Rome must come to terms with how the American West took it up.)

What Hath God Wrought: the Transformation of America, 1815-1848 by Daniel Walker Howe (Oxford University Press; Oxford, 2009)

Same as above.

This Artist can’t “do art” in America without being an American – and, in his boots, a Westerner. Even a Westerner begins his tales & sketches of the Great American West with the formation of the American Republic. In some volume we’ll go there, explain why. Here, we take up a little considered period of American  History – that of 1810-45 – and picture-out how it fundamentally defines American Art – maybe because it was the least European (that is, French & German).

Carnage & Culture: Landmark Battles in the Rise of Western Power by Victor Davis Hanson (Doubleday; New York, 2001)

Of course, this book has nothing to do with picture-painting. Yet, it does provoke the question: What has war to do with the task of painting pictures? Everything, for war  has much to do with the Time & Space which creates the habitat for Art.

No picture is painted de-anchored and uprooted from households, plowed up fields, and public squares. Not Fra Angelico coloring up chapel walls and monk cell nooks; not Andrei Rublyov searing his name on that most anonymous of arts, iconography; not Eakin, Bellows, Homer, Diebenkorn, painting up boat rowers, boxers, lunch counter eaters, and poppies.

This will be a many-layered meditation over several volumes . We’ll begin with Hanson’s delightful little book. Mediate on the intersection between the Art of Painting and the Art of War.

As we do ask the question:  Can the Art of Painting be a platoon in Just War Theory’s take down of a false peace?

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See format note above.

Brief essays reflecting on work recently completed or lifted up onto our easel.

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Notes & Definitions on the Craft, and Such: 

  • On Selecting & Organizing the Palette: or, How We Put Oils on Our Hog-Bristle Brush
  • Why Only the Hog-Bristle Brush?
  • Why Restrict the Hog-Bristle Brush to Select & Elected Strokes?
  • How Our Series Got Selected & Elected
  • On Banning Abstractionism from Our Easel
  • Painting-Out the Myth of Native Americans
  • Sitting Down Sitting Bull
  • The Canonization of Chief Joseph
  • Painting out the French Revolution (Part 1)
  • Why Progressivism Can’t Draw or Paint (Part 1)
  • If Allah has no Eyes to see how can Islam Draw & Paint? (Part 1)
  • Why it takes a Californian to Draw and Paint (Part 1).
  • Why it takes an Adam & Eve to Draw and Paint (Part 1)

Notes & Definitions on the Provocative, “The Guardian Angel of Hetch-Hetchy”:

  • On the Look-Out for the Perfect Stand-In for the Guardian Angel
  • Oh, the Angels Who were Kicked Out of our Heavenly Canvas
  • David with Wings – Maybe
  • Off to Qumran Gathering Angelic Clues
  • To Nude or not to Nude a California Guardian Angel
  • Weaponizing an Angel Up
  • Coloring Up a California Guardian Angel
  • Mining Hues & Tones from the Sierra-Nevada
  • Picking California Flora & Hunting California Fauna for the Painting
  • Why Over-Sized?
  • Rightly Dividing the Composition
  • Dam & Reservoir: Placing Them Rightly on the Canvas
  • Striking-Out Brush Strokes Down to the Right Ones
  • Laboring Over Preparatory Studies
  •  The California Water Project: a World Wonder & Quencher of Hunger
  • Engineering Creation for the Praise of God & the Glory of Man
  • Damming up the Virgin Beauty of Hetch-Hetchy Valley for the Good of Man
  • Hetch-Hetchy: Blessing a City of Sin. Can the City Give Thanks?
  • Digging up the History of the Thing to Paint the Damn Dam
  • The Drought Damned Up by Sacramento and Flooded Over California
  • Floating Santa Barbara Out to Sea

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See format note above.

Situating – and rescuing – our painting program by sinking its taproot the History of Painting: The Enlightenment, Romanticism & Realism.

THIS VOLUME: Relighting the Enlightenment

The Enlightenment gets hauled out to light up a point or two. Forget Voltaire, we’ll rescuing B. Spinoza. Don’t be surprised: Spinoza does have something to do with how we pile up the oils on our Hog-Bristle Brush. While we’re at it, check the Guillotine’s blade; see if  the  Big “E”  had dulled it or razored it sharp.

Books Touched Upon:

The Enlightenment & the Intellectual Foundations of Modern Culture by Louis Dupre (Yale; New Haven, 2004); From Enlightenment to Revolution by Eric Voegelin (Duke University Press; Durham, 1975)’ The Road to Modernity: the British, French, and American Enlightenments by Gertrude Himmelfarb (Alfred A. Knoff; New York, 2004)

[Next time Romanticism]



Our Foe, Our Nemesis

Good Lord (Great God), Give Our Hog-Bristle Brush the Strength, the Courage to Paint the Enemy into a Corner & Out the Door

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On almost every page, of this and our companion site, we’ve been quite critical of Modernism: both its worldview and its expression in Art.  And rightly so. Some have taken issue with that; not by crossing swords against our stance, our observations, our hard-hearted reasoning, but by welding an exasperated astonishment: “How can anyone not be Modern?”

What’s exasperating, really, is their refusal to sit down for an honest chat. Over beer & coffee, we’d be happy to tell why we hauled Modernism out back as we gave it a whack or two here & there. Big deal!

The Great Modern Project is (in truth) what makes us Westerners; though it’s not been much of an Age of Reason Modernism has a bit to go before its course is run; and  if it would stop being misdirected by the bastardry of our day, still much to offer.

Modernism has always been adolescent in its look-about, always in need of having its ears tweaked and its neck scrubbed. Glad to do our part [. . .]

[Cont’d: POST-MODERNISM: Our Foe, Our Nemesis]

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See format note above.

  • Art & the Obedience of Natural Law

Every iota of Creation, every act of Man, devolves and descends from some authority, some  standard, from some lawfulness. This also holds for the materials, the tools, and, above all, the act of drawing & painting. Picture-painting devolves, is answerable, to a lawfulness – of a kind. What is it?

What’s the law? How is the art of drawing & painting answerable to it?

  •  Art & Environmentalism the Religion.

A meditation on the working-out of The Provocative painting, “The Guardian Angel of Hetch-Hetchy: One Damn Beautiful Dam”.

Doing so, we stumbled upon a stubborn fact: Environmentalism (along with two other of its litter siblings) has become the privileged state religion of the Post-Modern Age; its lordship over our culture is near total.

This toe-stubbing, bruising fact folded into how we composed, and how we painted  The Provocative, “Hetch-Hetchy: one Damn Beautiful Dam”.  Seems worth a summary reflection as we shut down our labors on the work – for we were truly provoked.

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  © Stephen L. Golay


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