Tuesday, May 27, 2014


I have lived most of my adult life as a fringe dweller. I wasn't really aquainted with the term or really aware that that was what I was doing until I was well into my 30's. I knew the life I was living was different than most, but my awareness of the fact that I was living on the fringes of society was something that came along gradually. At some point, I embraced it. I realized that I was most happy there. There are many reasons for choosing to live this way. In one way, it's a tool for dealing with a world that doesn't make much sense.

SOLITUDE by Barry Howard

When I think about Human kind, the Crown of Creation, and the potential world that could have been created, and compare that with the real world that we live in...with buildings that sit empty while people live on the street...food that gets thrown away as people go hungry...more people on the planet than it can comfortably support while people live their lives in loneliness...unimaginable technological abilities that get turned toward destroying one another and our own environment as well...then living on the fringe is a way to move through life with a sense of perspective. Maybe I'm just too sensitive. Some can dive in up to their elbows and get involved in trying to fix things, unravel the madness, make it all make sense, but when I've dipped my toes into being an activist I find that it tends to make me an angry person. Whatever strength of character one needs to try to bring about change, I don't seem to have it. The best I can do is to use my energy to try to bring some beauty into the world. To spotlight the part of the world that is good and clean and inspiring. It's all I can do and still maintain my own inner peace and happiness. So I paint my paintings and build my little Nomadic dwellings and feel grateful that these things seem to make people smile.


As I look back, I lived on the fringe even as a kid. I always felt like I was watching things from the edges, not really as a participant. It's how I made it through school too. In a way, I feel like I am indeed, only a visitor on this planet. It's an interesting planet, but the inhabitants are batshit crazy for the most part. Especially the ones who seem to be in charge. Living on the fringe seems very compatible to being somewhat of a loner as well. I do like people. I like them quite a lot....but in limited doses. I spend about 90 percent of my time alone. I am not suggesting that this is necessarily good. I really kind of envy people who are outgoing and gregarious, who have tons of friends. But time alone is somehow necessary for me to feel I am in balance. When I am with people, I usually enjoy it, but it's a very outward experience. I have designed a life where most of it is lived from a very inner experience. When I am just with myself, not involved in conversation, there is a natural process that goes on in my head. I am more aware of my thoughts and I spend more time looking at the life I am living and thinking about where I want to go from here. I spend a lot of time thinking about art and how I want to evolve my work. I spend a lot of time thinking about my micro-dwellings and doing a sort of ongoing design process that I keep filed away in my head. Living so much in my head has strengthened certain parts of my brain, especially the part that thinks visually. Lots of people have asked me if they could get plans for my micro gypsy caravan and I have to tell them that , alas, there are no plans. I visualized the caravan in my head, then visualized each design detail in my head as I went along. I've always built this way. It's harder for me to draw plans first. In a few instances I've had to, in order to show them to a client, but it's something I would just as soon skip.

There are whole libraries of places in my head with drawings and plans and expanded detail drawings and they are always there, waiting for me when I need them. I don't know how many other people work this way, but I assume most people don't. People often seemed surprised when I say I don't draw any plans for my work and I think maybe I don't need to because I have spent so much of my time alone with my thoughts. I have a studio in my head...it's a very comfortable and interesting place to hang out. It's a place where I can work on my projects, examine my life, and explore things that intrigue me. When I go out and spend time with friends, (which is pretty rare,) as much as I might enjoy the interaction, there is always a part of me that is impatient to get back to my quiet inner sanctum.


Wednesday, May 21, 2014


Some years ago I was living in New Mexico in the little artist colony town of Taos, where Easy Rider was filmed and where Dennis Hopper called home for a while. I rented a tiny art studio, upstairs among 8 or so other artist studios.
Corner of Taos Plaza, artist studios upstairs
A few of us lived in our studios, covertly, outfitting them with dorm-sized refridgerators and sleeping on the floor. There was myself, and a former Russian ballerina who defected, joined the San Francisco Ballet, retired from dancing and became a still-life painter, and a gay dude named Rodney who was an impressionist .  Next door to my studio lived a crusty, hygienically-challenged old drunk with no front teeth, named Gus who also happened to be the best painter I ever met. He was my next-studio neighbor. It always seemed odd to me that he was an artist...he seemed more like he would have been a tow-truck driver or a rancher. There was a very open, friendly vibe to the place. We were always dropping over, visiting one another, borrowing paint when one of us was low, sharing a beer or a tequila shot and commenting on each other's current work. It was very honest...especially Gus. He was old-school and didn't offer any empty compliments. If he liked something, you knew you had something good, and if he didn't he had no problem telling you it was lousy. Gus had been some hot shot illustrator in Chicago years before and made the big bucks. Use to fly to Alcapulco to play golf. Illustrated for some major magazines back in the day. He had a wife and family and big house and cars and one day he just walked away from everything. Said he couldn't take the pressure anymore. He ended up in Taos and rented the studio next to mine. Built an easel out of old two-by-fours with a bare light bulb over head. Had a ratty old blanket and an even rattier old foam pad that he slept on. There was an old TV in the corner that only the bottom half of the picture worked, that was always on. He had one of those dorm-sized refridgerators but didn't use it and warned people not to open it. To add to the general ambiance, he had randomly distributed old, half-empty cans of Spam with plastic forks stuck into...whatever the contents had evolved into.
There were piles of Beer cans everywhere....really cheap beer...the kind that is $1. 89 a six pack. The floor was covered in cigarette butts and ashes. Gus would would start his day with a styrofoam cup of coffee he got from McDonald's and a cigarette and a six pack of the cheap beer. Then he would sit in his folding metal chair and pick up a canvas that he had already painted over 15 or 20 times and begin to work. Gus didn't have much of a social life...just us, mostly and he was always happy when someone dropped over. He would tell you to shove the books off the other folding chair and have a seat...offer you a beer and talk to you while he painted. His brushes were mostly shit...he bought them at the grocery store and they came 6 to a pack, variety of sizes, with brightly colored all plastic handles for $1. 69 a pack. They were made by Crayola. Didn't matter. Gus could paint with a stick if that was all that was available. I would sit, talk with him, drink one of his crappy beers and watch him paint. He had no method...employed no tricks...he began by what he called "hacking". "Hacking" involved taking paint and just sort of sticking it on the canvas in what seemed to be a random approach. No drawing there yet...just sort of finding his way into something. Then, gradually, the most amazing image would begin to appear. He would use very rough brushwork, put down light, shadow, shape it, move it, and something absolutely beautiful would emerge from this non-teqhnique. At some point, he would put in a rough drawing with his brush and continue to bring the painting to life.

He painted old missions, horses, a young girl holding a bucket, a clipper ship, indians, a still life, a portrait. By noon there was always something exceptional on the canvas. He would chat, smoke, drink his beer...beer cans piling up on the floor. Around noon he would have finished the six-pack and would walk over to Ralph's to buy the second one for the afternoon session. Come back and keep working...open another beer, light another camel, and keep working. Once into his second six-pack, things would begin to go downhill. He got a little more careless, his colors becoming muddy, convinced that it didn't matter because he was getting to something. We, who were watching, would silently watch something exquisite turn into a grey, sloppy piece of crap. Gus, by then well into his second six-pack, was convinced he had a masterpiece. He loved the thing. Next morning he would be starting all over, having painted the whole previous day's work out. "What happened Gus? I thought you loved it?"

"I did," he would reply, "but I was fucking drunk"...so he would start again, undaunted. We use to joke that he should sell his paintings by the pound, they got so thick. I was amazed that this whole process, which was pretty much repeated every day, didn't discourage him...but it didn't. Gus just loved to paint...the outcome didn't seem to matter to him all that much. It was more painful for the rest of us to watch than it seemed to be for him. Countless masterpieces came and went, lost forever in a haze of cheap beer. We use to say, if you could get one of his paintings off the easel before noon you would have something exceptional. Occassionally, someone would do it...just grab the thing away as he began to get too drunk and put a new canvas up on his easel before he could protest too much. In general though, his paintings usually didn't get finished...they just kept changing into something else. There was one gallery that would periodically have a show of his work...and somehow, he would manage to actually finish a dozen or so of the canvasses leaning up against the walls in his studio. The show would always sell out right away because people who knew art, knew how good he was. But that was rare. It always seemed like a miracle that he was able to actually complete enough for a show. Gus was a true friend...he was intelligent, had a heart of gold and would give you the shirt off his back...(you wouldn't want it, but still, he would give it to you if you did.) He was a no-bullshit, straight up, what-you-see-is-what-you-get kind of guy. He was the most loyal friend a person could have. He had no phone or address and when I moved away from Taos I lost track of him. I think of him often and over the years I realized how much I learned from watching him paint. His approach was absolute honesty...no flashy tricks or techniques...nothing intelletual or conceptual...just incredibly good painting from someone who knew what he was doing and wanted nothing more than to keep doing it. I really miss him sometimes.

Saturday, May 17, 2014


When faced with the necessity to claim an occupation, I have always written "artist" in the space provided. As of late, however, I have realized that, perhaps, I should come out of the proverbial closet and own up to my true vocation....that of Professional Beach Bum. In truth, it is what I have always aspired to...and the responsibility for this career choice can rightfully be placed at my older sister's doorstep. When we were little, (my sister being not quite as little as I), we use to go to the drive-in movies. Mom would drive us there in the family 1956 Buick Century. It was a big treat. There was a playground underneath the big screen that we could play at before the movie started, then go to the snackbar and get Cokes and popcorn, hang the little speaker inside the car window and watch the movie. My sister seemed to be the unofficial designated movie chooser. Probably a good thing since I was too young to have any strong opinions on the subject. So, deferring to my older sibling's guidance, I saw every Elvis Presley movie made, and every Beach Party movie as well. It was the Beach Party movies with former Mouseketeer Annette Funicello and Frankie Avalon, that impressed upon my young, malleable mind that there was an amazing world out there made of sun and sand and surfboards being waxed to the driving beat of conga drums and Dick Dale's percussive guitar rhthyms.



Having spent my youth in the flat, hot, land-locked town of Fresno, the lifestyle portrayed on the big screen in front of our big blue Buick seemed like Shangri-la to me. I wanted nothing more than to escape the spirit-crushing boredom of my hometown and live a life of waves and woodies and girls dancing in bikinis. Alas, that would have to wait a few years, as I was too young to move out on my own...so I endured the time by reading Surfer Magazine and drawing pictures of waves and surfers and dreaming of the day I could make my escape. Fate smiled on me when the telephone company transferred my mom to Los Gatos, a mere 30 miles from the Northern California surfing capitol of Santa Cruz. I began to ditch school as much as possible and hitchhike over the hill to the beach. When I turned 17, I moved out on my own to the coast. Since then I have spent the biggest chunks of my life surfing, sailing, and walking beaches from the island of Maui to the Florida coast. I have shuffled my feet through the sand from Key West to Puerto Rico and Jamaiica. And I have lived and camped along the endless beaches of the Northern California coast.

Bohemia, my trimaran at anchor

Later on, I took up sailing and let my feet dangle off the outer hull into the water as I sailed my trimaran along the Florida coast. Miles of white sand beaches drifted slowly by while I layed in the nets between the hulls and sipped on a cold Pacifico. Of course, I found that it really wasn't very much like the Beach Party movies portrayed it to be, but that really doesn't matter in the end. Life on the beach is different than the Hollywood version but no less wonderful.

To this day, nothing makes me happier than walking barefoot on the sand, letting the tide race up around my feet and watching the waves curl and break as they end their journey across the Pacific. I evolved from drawing pictures of waves to painting them in oils. Had things been different in my childhood, perhaps I would have taken a different path...maybe I would be a corporate executive, but instead, I'm a Professional Beach Bum, and it's all my sister's fault. There is, perhaps a certain stigma of irresponsibilty associated with my chosen lifestyle, and maybe that comes from the "Bum" portion of the term...but most beach bums do some sort of work. I actually work 5 or 6 days a week....just not anything most people would call a "real job". Nobody considers being an artist a real job. Even I don't consider it a real job....but then, I never wanted a real job. All I ever really wanted was enough to pay for my simple needs and get to spend a good part of my time at the beach. Well, that's worked out pretty well, as I now work and live and sleep at the beach. My childhood dream has been made manifest.....I am a Professional Beach Bum...life is good! The moral here is, don't be afraid to reach for your goals....no matter how lofty....


My studio on the beach


Friday, May 9, 2014


I am going to take this opportunity today to wax rapturous about the pure bliss of working with oil paint. When I lived in New Mexico I learned that they have an official state question, which is: "Red or Green?" It's what they ask you when you go out to eat there and it refers to what kind of chili concoction you want on your food. Among artists and art lovers, there is a commonly asked unofficial question which is: "Oil or Acrylic?" I am asked that question on a daily basis here at the Venice Beachwalk art show.

People usually act surprised when I say I work in oils...I guess because the majority of painters work in Acrylics these days. I use to use Acrylics myself, many years ago and was always a bit frustrated by them. They dry so quickly that there is almost no time to work with the paint. You end up with layers of paint that are, for the most part, separate from each other. Oils, on the other hand, stay wet and give you time to move them around, blend them together or wipe parts away. Often times people will say they would love to work in oils but they don't have the room....I usually just smile and point out the fact that I live and work in a 12 square foot home/studio. Granted, it helps if you are a naturally tidy and organized person. If you are one of those artists who sling paint around like Silly String at a Spring Break keg party and you end up with it all over yourself then yeh, maybe working with oils in a small space wouldn't work for you. Fortunately for me, I am one of those aforementioned naturally tidy and organized artists. I do my best to keep track of where the wet paint is so I don't end up spreading it all over everything I own. Once I finish working on a painting for the day, it goes into a pizza box where it lives until it is dry. I've mentioned in other posts that I use a medium called Liquin in my paint. It mixes with the oil paint right on the palette and has a number of wonderful qualities, one of which is that it makes the paint dry overnight. I have all day to work with the paint and blend and move it and don't have to wait weeks for it to dry.

LIQUIN with salt & lime

The Windsor & Newton Company, which makes Liquin, doesn't pay me to promote it, but they should, considering how much I encourage other painters to try it. It also works as a glazing medium, making colors more transparent the more you mix in. It enhances color and leaves a very tough surface after it dries. Blending color is a wonderful advantage over acrylic but I think what I like best about working in oils is working wet into wet. When you pull your brush from one color into another color, the color and value of the stroke changes as you go, creating a whole spectrum of spontaneous variation. With acrylics your brush stroke is going to be pretty much whatever color you have on your brush and that's all. Where's the magic in that? Interesting paintings are very much about subtle variations and spontaneous and unplanned results. Although in fact the results are not completely unplanned, as you more or less know what will happen, but there are subtleties you will be delightfully surprised by.

RAVEN by Barry Howard

And then there is that somewhat intangible aspect to oil paint vs. acrylic...and that is the indescribable and subtle difference in the look of the paint itself. Not to get too New-Agey but there is something about oil paint that can't adequately be expressed through verbal description...it's like the moment when a rainbow falls across your eye, infusing the world with color...it's like the whisper of dragonfly wings on your cheek...the fragrance of Gardinia on a tropical moonlit night....like being kissed on the forehead by the lips of the Goddess.



Tuesday, May 6, 2014


Lately I have been parking the caravan down along the beach at night. The sound of waves crashing on the beach is the soundtrack to my dreams. It's hard to imagine a more peaceful place to sleep. Summer is definitely drawing near with warm nights and warm, even a few hot days now. The mornings have been so beautiful lately that I have even started my day, (after coffee of course,) with a swim in the ocean. It always leaves me feeling exhilarated and blissfully alive.

WINDOW ROCK by Barry Howard

My days and weeks have settled into a routine of sorts here in Venice...after the sun comes up and breakfast is done I roll down to my spot on the boardwalk and set up my paintings and my easel and spend the early part of the day working on new pieces. I am really enjoying these small paintings. I usually finish two or three a day and put them in the drying box, (which is really a pizza box, but hey, it works perfectly). I always look forward to opening the box the next day and seeing what I did with a fresh eye. I am told by the other artists that soon the tourists will come and sales will pick up....as it is, it seems I have survived the long, moderate winter of Southern California.

In the evening, after the art show on the boardwalk, I pedal down to my favorite tree and make my dinner, have a beer and maybe read for awhile. Then I head over to the cafe on Pier St. to do my computer stuff over a pot of peppermint tea. Finally I roll on back to the beach for the night. Weekends are a bit rowdier than the rest of the week. Tonight as I write this, the Doors cover band is in full swing at the nearby bar, and the party people have left the beach and are now being raucous and drunk along the beachwalk. Down the beach there are fireworks going off...probably to celebrate Cinch de Mayo. Myself, I am quietly settled into the caravan, happy to have a refuge from the roudiness of the weekend circus that is Venice Beach.

NIGHTWAVES by Barry Howard