Friday, October 23, 2015

moss creek basin

     The temperature had dropped to 30 degrees Friday morning, October 16th. I arose, dressed warm, loaded supplies in the truck and drove out to see if I could paint in the cold. I had on insulated overalls, layers and layers of shirts, and my bright orange vest. My confidence level had risen. The Lord had strengthened me to TRY this in faith. And I did.

    On the corner of Highway 10 and County Road # 211 I could see across the length of Moss Creek. After having practiced the routine of starting fresh this large in my own yard, it was a thrill to do it at my favorite location. See next photo.

    From the back of my pickup I pulled a factory-sealed canvas measuring 30 by 40 inches. After opening and disposing the wrapping I edged the sides with blue painter's tape. Though the view was wide and horizontal I chose a vertical format.

The foliage from either side of the basin dipped down in a great U-shape at my feet and was completely in shadow when I first got there. I wanted to keep that in the painting. My focal point was the silhouette of a lone bush in the lower center of the U-shape.

Twenty minutes. Double click on image to see enlarged.

     With lots of sunshine, the temp climbed to 46 degrees. Soon I worked on the sky and the light orange above the horizon. I pushed the west and southern banks back into the distance. I wanted a large body of water with the hint of trees. Lord willing, this piece would draw me back to the area.

   At 9:30 am, roughly half way through the painting, a combine driver stepped out of his cab and told me to park my truck off the road on the grass. That would give grain trucks more space to make their turn onto Highway 10. We checked and found a level spot. I parked the truck out of the way. Carroll County, in which Moss Creek was located, was in the middle of the fall harvest.

Forty minutes.

    There was traffic on the rural highway, the sound of passing trains, and a number of pickups kicked up dust, coming and going on the gravel road. One pulled along side and two men walked over to view the activity. Was the back-lit shadow on the canvas a distraction for me? No, I replied. I paid no attention to it. What about the dead limbs in the water and the tall broadcast antenna on the far shore? Was I going to include them in the painting? I wanted to keep the design simple, I explained. Something to help build my confidence. Then I showed him a pond study,next.

In which I ignored the young saplings standing in the water and did not paint them-- to see what the painting would look like that way. The surface of that pond was covered green with duckweed. I imagined it blue, then painted it blue, just to see what it would look like. And both of those decisions transformed how I saw my source material. For the better.

   Another car pulled up. Out stepped Bonnie Rodenberg of Norborne, MO. She told me stories of my father, Reinhold Marxhausen, who was her art professor while attending Concordia in Seward, NE. He was able to make every student feel like they COULD do art. No matter how insecure they felt. One day she came to class wearing a bright maroon outfit. Back then, she explained, girls were required to wear skirts to class. Bonnie said when he came by her table, he exclaimed with an exuberant "Wow." He was quite a teacher, she concluded.

     As I was trying to finish the painting, something came up. I had altered my palette to a slightly different green, when I switched from Viridian Hue Mixture to Viridian Hue. It screwed up the way the paint looked, next to what I had already painted. It made me nervous. Aargh! What to do? I made it right (but I don't remember how I did that. Ha.) When I finally stopped it was 12:30 and 59 degrees. I signed my name. Whew!

Moss Creek Basin,
acrylic on canvas,
It was the FIRST 30 by 40 canvas I had EVER done in ONE sitting on ONE DAY!!!! Yea!!!!!!!!! A confidence builder to do more. YES.

This showed me I could bundle up and paint outside in colder weather.


POSTSCRIPT: I have since learned that I need to take more breaks to stand up and walk around for my leg circulation. I am working on that. Because, after the wonderful stint of that day my ankle hurt much more that evening. I had to take more pain medication as a result. So -- hurrah, but, moving forward, I need to pace myself and take more breaks.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015



Classes at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln introduced me to Lithography and Intaglio (or Etching). Lithography is drawn on treated Bavarian limestone. Heavy heavy expensive limestone. The kind you work with in school with provided for school equipment. Not the kind of tools I would have in my bachelor apartment after graduation. Ha.

In etching class I learned how to combine vine ash and linseed oil to make a cool black. Bone ash and linseed oil makes a warm black. And you smoosh it together with a metal spatula on a hard smooth surface.

In Intaglio (or Etching) a metal zinc plate is coated with a melted rosin that resists acid and left to cool. Then one draws a design by scratching through the coating. The plate is put into an acid bath tray for a specific amount of time. The acid eats lines into the metal. Light lines if you take the plate out after a short time. Dark lines if you leave the plate in longer. Much trial and error. Learning by doing. And you rinse acid off with water in the sink. So when you click on the above image, you will notice the lines are irregular and bumpy. Some people like their etchings to have a gritty texture. Others are super careful and attentive and can achieve some incredible line work.

For awhile I admired the rich darks that Rembrandt was able to get with his etchings. The etching I did above is called Night Road And Lights.
The impression is 5 by 7 inches on BFK intaglio paper.

When a design has many lines in it you can do what Rembrandt did. With a cardboard scrap you pull a thin coat of ink across the prepared metal plate. Then you scuff the plate with a stiff mesh fabric called a tarlatan. You end up with ink in the etched grooves of the plate. Usually the un-etched smooth portions of the plate are buffed to a shine. But, because many lines will hold much more ink, one can choose where to scuff and where to let heavier amounts of ink remain on the plate. It is that dirtiness of the ink that will create the awesome velvety atmosphere that Rembrandt did. In Night Roads And Lights I wanted the night sky to be a dark as possible. You can only see the road where the headlights illumine and barely see the dim lights ahead. That, my friend, was done on purpose!!

Experimentation. If your ideas aren't working out do something desperate and hope. I did a deep etch and changed the edge of the rectangle. I like abstract and grit and there is room in the world of intaglio for such results.

You will notice that my steps above resemble the style of Arthur Geisert. In the summer of 1977 I moved to Galena, Illinois to work for Geisert. I inked and pulled proofs for him in his hillside studio, that required me to climb up up up his many many wooden steps. 

Geisert is an artist who includes lots of detail and humor. The caption reads: "Arthur amuses himself, building steps in the backyard." I pulled eight proofs of "Steps." It measured 5 by 7 inches. Thanks to David Lange for sharing the one he has below, as I have no photos of my early work.


In keeping with whimsy while in Galena I did an etching called "Compress." It measured 6 by 9 inches.

Circa 1977. Arthur Geisert did a four-plate hand-colored etching called "Noah's Ark." His images are full of detail and humor. Three minute video. This work is in the Reinhold Marxhausen collection at Concordia University in Seward, Nebraska. Geisert was an alumni, class of 1963, a friend of my father, and a skilled printmaker.

Summer spilled in to the fall of 1977. See more of that by clicking on

I chose to stay out of college one semester and worked in Galena until Christmas. I found out I was required to finish my schooling at UNL, as my parents were paying for the education they wanted me to have. I returned to Nebraska and stayed with my parents at the Columbia Avenue house. In the spring of 1978 I took a semester of classes across the street at Concordia Teachers College. And in the fall of 1978 I returned to the UNL to complete my Bachelor in Fine Arts degree.

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Thanks to David Lange (Illinois) for his photos of my etchings in his private print collection. More on Lange

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tah dah

        One Friday, October 9th, he saw my painting chair in the yard and went to sit in it. Right next to an empty easel. He announced to me he wanted to paint. That day, while I was watching him, we went in the house and drew with what I called "dried paint." We drew with oil cray pas on paper. Those handle in a softer way than crayons do. That solution worked on that day.
        The next Wednesday, October 14th, I was watching him at our house after school got out. The same request came out of his mouth: "I want to paint." What to do?
        He followed me to my storage shed. I pulled out the paint kit and the paint supplies in the knapsack. On our way down to the easel, I showed him a weathered board by our tomatoes. Did he think he can pick it up? He tried. Oh yes, he told me. I told him to stop and take breaks if he needed to. He met me by the cloth camp chair, where I usually work from. I offered him a wood stump to sit on. He insisted he wanted to sit on the chair.

Above: Water Can, Spritz Bottle

    I showed him what knobs to twist. He opened the palette box. The clothespin on the side, the empty plastic coffee can in a fashioned orange netting sling, this is what he poured water in. Not just a bit, but full up to the brim.  From the supply pack I pulled out three tubes, Bright Blue, Titanium White, and Dioxazine Purple. He worked from the three dabs on his palette. We talked about being gentle with the paint brushes. I rolled open my array of used and worn brushes and he picked out a couple.
    When it came time to clean off the glass palette, we went back into the house to get a couple paper towels from the kitchen. I grabbed my camera. Back outside, I showed him how to spritz the paint with a mist from the pump bottle. Then, I prompted him to wipe up off the mooshed watery paint. He did. The second round of paint dabs were Cadmium Red Light, Titanium White, and Alizerin Crimson. And he carefully squeezed the tubes out. Not too much.

    Some how it all worked out. Him dabbing paint. Swishing out the brushes in the water, even giving it a little shake toward the ground.

A purple heart and  "J-a-n" for his Jan Jan. My wife, his art teacher, at school.

The next day my wife asked me whether he stuck out his tongue in concentration. The answer: yes he did. It must run in the family.


     He had picked out a fan brush, loaded it up with red paint, and smooshing it into the wood panel. Well, I talked to him about this special kind of brush. Even as he grabbed the bristles with his palm and tried to squeeze the wide spread out bristles into a tight bunch, pinching them together. Aaugh! This kind of brush can make super thin lines. We treat it gentle. Then, I coaxed him to make the thinnest lines he could. And he tried. See next photo.

One minute video. That thing about sunlight in your eyes when you paint.

Blocking the sunlight out, he signs his name at the top.


When it was all done and the paint kit cleaned up, I folded the tripod with the paint kit on it and asked if he to could carry it back. He figured it out. He took many breaks but he carried it back to the shed. Ownership. Very cool.

24 by 20 inches,
acrylic on panel 

Monday, October 19, 2015

big tree

For an hour and a half Wednesday morning (Sept. 16) I began to make good on filling the ready blank canvas (see next video). You can see I was flanked by two encouraging canvases. The ivy tree on the left and the vertical canvas I worked on the day before. It reminds me of the colors I enjoy looking at. It helps me believe "this is worth trying."

The blank canvas, ready to be used. Two minutes. I CAN paint OUT DOORS with THAT SIZE.

There is nothing instant about painting. I put in my hours and my efforts accomplish much.

Video. One of three. Painting faintly I build my image. It's how I work. As the design settles I work on the color, mixing the color from six tubes of heavy body Utrecht acrylic paint. Spritzing the palette with a mist of water helps keep it from drying out. A retractable razor is handy if I need to scrape the glass palette and squeeze out fresh paint from the tubes.

Video. Two of three. I am asked about the shadows that move around on my canvas when I work outdoors. I ignore their pattern. I settle on the task at hand. Mixing paint on the palette, swishing my brush in the water to clean the bristles for the next color I will use, staying hydrated with my water bottle, keeping the palette moist, and so on. You do this long enough, you just tune out the sound of traffic, you focus, you tune into what you are doing.

Video. Three of three.


This is what I have completed my first day on the Big Tree.

The next day Thursday, Sept. 17, I resume working on the big tree from 8:00 to 10:30 am. No videos today. The design is where I have placed it. So, today, I am working on embellishing areas. My goal is to make key areas clear. As always there are pieces of information I have not included. Yes. Now there are limbs that I have made faint. You can barely see them. They belong in the painting "faint" on purpose. Did you know that FROM EACH PIECE I am gaining knowledge. For instance, how the vine drapes, how to make the foreground move to the background. The sunlight can move around all it, my intent is clear. Do you want to know what I was trying to achieve? Just notice the details I KEPT IN the painting. This painting will encourage me when I trying something outside of my comfort zone. It will remind me that my tries PAY OFF. Each is a confidence builder. I am a learner. I CAN DO THIS.

This is what I completed my second day on Big Tree.