It’s all an estimate

Sometime in 1995 I picked up a copy of “Fear of Physics: A Guide for the Perplexed.” I don’t quite remember whose recommendation this was or what triggered it, but it was delightful read. Mostly the book is about estimating. That’s right, estimating. About how physicists use estimating to understand the universe.

This morning I was painting and this occurred to me:

I’d never thought about it like this before. Painting, especially with my style, is just a process of estimation. I’m not trying to create photo realism. I’m making portraits that contain colors and brushstrokes That often have little to do with reality. Actually, they have mostly little to do with reality. What happens is the placement of color and certain brush strokes pull the rest together to estimate an image of a person. It’s pretty cool when it happens well.

The funny thing is that this is what I do at work, only with data. I work with large quantities of data that are themselves estimates. From those I create more estimates, estimates that are highly precise, but estimates nonetheless. Today was the first time I thought of these things as being so similar. In the past I thought about the relationship in terms of design, visualization, and layout, not estimation. So I think this is pretty cool as well.

It also takes the stress off. Estimating is easier than duplicating. Really though, estimating is just another way to say “suggesting,” which is what artists are generally taught to do. Estimating is more comfortable to me for some reason, probably  because of the parallel to the rest of my life.



There is simply not a canvas big enough to contain Tressie McMillan Cottom. She exceeds. Intellect. Humor. Grace. Passion. Because of this, I chose a smaller canvas and just let her dominate and exceed it.


Tressie. 18″ x 24″, Oil on canvas. 2017.


Explaining “Laura”

Yesterday I wrote about my return to painting. I even went so far as to declare myself an artist because at the least two of the subjects of current efforts responded strongly to the work in progress. Laura explained her reaction in her blog. She also admitted that she is good at selfies. She’s wrong. She’s very good at selfies. Not only that, she is extraordinarily thoughtful and self-aware about why she does her selfies. This post where she demonstrates selfies as a form of self-documentation is an example of this. It led to my post exploring the changes in my face over seven years.


Laura. Oil on canvas, 24″x36″, 2017.

Laura says this: “I intentionally use my hair to hide the intensity around my eyes – I’ve never liked the way it looks. It looks too hard or hungry or masculine to me. I don’t like it but I can’t shake it and the only time I can erase it is when I have a beer and take the selfie laying down.” It’s not like the rest of us don’t see her intensity.  It’s hers, she owns it. Of course, I see it because I am a kindred spirit. Personally, I think her intensity is marvelous. There wasn’t any thought of not making an issue of it. I also had no interest in de-emphasizing that wry, wicked smile that happens so often.

Laura is a force of nature – bringing kindness and awesome intellect together with delightful good humor.

In which I declare that I am an artist

I stopped painting years ago. When the boys were young, we decided that my typical subject matter was probably not going to be helpful since the oldest boy had been sexually molested. At the same time I had transitioned from the MFA program to the MPA program and I had more bookwork to do. That was followed by the doc program that overlapped starting a new career. There was no time to paint when I was trying to master programming and counting and all the reading and study requirements. So painting got lost along the way.

Over the course of the three years I spent studying art as an undergraduate I became something of a credible artist as a technical matter, particularly as a painter. I was a fair designer and maker of silver jewelry and decent as a potter. Generally though, my painting and drawing evoked only minimal interest. It didn’t really reach people. I look back on that work now and I understand why. It was shallow.

Worse, it was all interior monologue. Subject matter tired to references that I carried around with me but no one else did. In other words, inside baseball, but fantasy baseball. It wasn’t easily reachable. Like many of my jokes. It worked for me at the time because are became therapy to get through a nasty divorce and find a new starting place.

Even worse though than being shallow, the treatment of of the subjects in the paintings tended so far towards the superficial they were almost symbolic. Symbolic can work, but only with a much stronger sense of design and language of the design. Something that carries from work to work. 

I know why this was. I didn’t really connect with people and so it was too much to expect my paintings to connect with people. And it is not that I really noticed. I too often had other things on my mind. I was impatient.

Now I am painting again. There have been other starts over the years, but this feels different. I have four canvases underway. I have given up all pretext of believing I should follow certain rules and ideas I was taught. I don’t care any more. I’m going to follow my muse, however short and chaotic he or she seems to be, and paint what I feel. And right now that is portraits from selfies. My skills and techniques are rusty. I am occasionally unsure. But there is something there that was missing before.


There are strong connections at play in these pieces. The subjects and I have connected. I am seeing more deeply who they are and what I want to show, and I am able to show that. At least to them. Their reactions have stunned me. They have stunned me into believing that I have got this. These paintings are connecting. Apparently, my muse is all about connections.

I am looking forward to showing these pieces when finished, because I am an artist.