The Texas Chili Contest

Although this joke is probably old enough to vote, each time I hear it I howl and roar. Frankly (pun intended - see below) I think this "interesting" year deserves to end with a good belly laugh.

My sincere apologies in advance for a little salty/saucy language...I tried to clean it up but it just wasn't as funny....

Note that Judge #3 was an inexperienced Chili Taster named Frank, who was visiting from Peterborough, New Hampshire (the land of bland food).

When interviewed, Frank said "Recently, I was honored to be selected as a judge at a chili cook-off. The original person called in sick at the last moment and I happened to be standing there at the judge's table asking for directions to the Coors Light truck, when the call came in."
"I was assured by the other two judges (Native Texans) that the chili wouldn't be all that spicy and, besides, they told me I could have free beer during the tasting, so I accepted". 

Here are the scorecard notes from the event: 


Judge # 1 -- A little too heavy on the tomato. Amusing kick. 

Judge # 2 -- Nice, smooth tomato flavor. Very mild. 

Judge # 3 (Frank) -- Holy shit, what the hell is this stuff? You could remove dried paint from your driveway. Took me two beers to put the flames out. I hope that's the worst one. These Texans are crazy. 


Judge # 1 -- Smoky, with a hint of pork. Slight jalapeno tang. 

Judge # 2 -- Exciting BBQ flavor, needs more peppers to be taken seriously.

Judge # 3 -- Keep this out of the reach of children. I'm not sure what I'm supposed to taste besides pain. I had to wave off two people who wanted to give me the Heimlich maneuver. They had to rush in more beer when they saw the look on my face. 


Judge # 1 -- Excellent firehouse chili. Great kick. 

Judge # 2 -- A bit salty, good use of peppers.

Judge # 3 -- Call the EPA. I've located a uranium spill. My nose feels like I have been snorting Drano. Everyone knows the routine by now. Get me more beer before I ignite. Barmaid pounded me on the back, now my backbone is in the front part of my chest. I'm getting shit-faced from all of the beer. 


Judge # 1 -- Black bean chili with almost no spice. Disappointing.

Judge # 2 -- Hint of lime in the black beans. Good side dish for fish or other mild foods, not much of a chili. 

Judge # 3 -- I felt something scraping across my tongue, but was unable to taste it. Is it possible to burn out taste buds? Sally, the beer maid, was standing behind me with fresh refills. That 300-pound woman is starting to look HOT...just like this nuclear waste I'm eating! Is chili an aphrodisiac?


Judge # 1 -- Meaty, strong chili. Cayenne peppers freshly ground, adding considerable kick. Very impressive.

Judge # 2 -- Chili using shredded beef, could use more tomato. Must admit the cayenne peppers make a strong statement.

Judge # 3 -- My ears are ringing, sweat is pouring off my forehead and I can no longer focus my eyes. I farted and four people behind me needed paramedics. The contestant seemed offended when I told her that her chili had given me brain damage. Sally saved my tongue from bleeding by pouring beer directly on it from the pitcher. I wonder if I'm burning my lips off. It really pisses me off that the other judges asked me to stop screaming. Screw those rednecks.


Judge # 1 -- Thin yet bold vegetarian variety chili. Good balance of spices and peppers.

Judge # 2 -- The best yet. Aggressive use of peppers, onions, and garlic. Superb. 

Judge # 3 -- My intestines are now a straight pipe filled with gaseous, sulfuric flames. I shit on myself when I farted and I'm worried it will eat through the chair. No one seems inclined to stand behind me except that Sally. Can't feel my lips anymore. I need to wipe my ass with a sno-cone.


Judge # 1 -- A mediocre chili with too much reliance on canned peppers.

Judge # 2 -- Ho hum, tastes as if the chef literally threw in a can of chili peppers at the last moment. **I should take note that I am worried about judge # 3. He appears to be in a bit of distress as he is cursing uncontrollably.

Judge # 3 -- You could put a grenade in my mouth, pull the pin, and I wouldn't feel a thing. I've lost sight in one eye, and the world sounds like it is made of rushing water. My shirt is covered with chili, which slid unnoticed out of my mouth. My pants are full of lava to match my shirt. At least during the autopsy, they'll know what killed me. I've decided to stop breathing it's too painful. Screw it; I'm not getting any oxygen anyway. If I need air, I'll just suck it in through the 4-inch hole in my stomach.


Judge # 1 -- The perfect ending, this is a nice blend chili. Not too bold but spicy enough to declare its existence.

Judge # 2 -- This final entry is a good, balanced chili. Neither mild nor hot. Sorry to see that most of it was lost when Judge #3 farted, passed out, fell over and pulled the chili pot down on top of himself. Not sure if he's going to make it. poor feller, wonder how he'd have reacted to really hot chili? 

Judge # 3 - No Report 

Tickling Your (Holiday) Punny Bone

This guy goes into a restaurant for a Christmas breakfast while in his home town for the holidays.

After looking over the menu he says, "I'll just have the eggs benedict."

His order comes a while later and it's served on a big shiny hubcap. He asks the waiter, "What's with the hubcap?"

The waiter sings, "There's no plate like chrome for the hollandaise."

A Common Studio Frustration

So how do I keep lint, dust, dirt and cat hair out of my paint?


I start with a tack cloth - any brand will do. You get them from your local hardware or paint store.

Out of its package, my tack cloth looks like this (above).

The tack Cloth (sometimes called a Tack Rag) is a (cheap) reusable cloth impregnated with beeswax and it gobbles up dust. You wipe the dry surface of your canvas and your palette before you begin to paint.

You can also wipe down your easel (especially the tray in front).

Keep it fresh between uses in a zip-loc plastic baggie.

You can skip my Stress Reduction Kit above and buy some Shop Towels instead.

I usually buy them by the case at an auto supply store or the car section in a large store (i.e., WalMart). Lint free paper towels also come in a large box but I prefer the rolls as they are easier to store.

Out of the package, a Shop Towel roll looks like this. It is an ugly bright blue but is totally lint free. Always use them to wipe your brushes.

Using ordinary paper towels, you will eventually cause a significant buildup of lint in your paint.

Still frustrated?

Also try this:

1. ALWAYS hang your wet paintings vertically on a wall to dry.

2. Do NOT lay a wet painting flat on a surface (like a tabletop) to collect dust as it dries. 

3. Do not rest a wet painting on the floor.

4. Damp mop your studio floor (or vacuum) as often as necessary to pick up dust.

5. Use an air cleaner - the "Ion" type is best.

Do what you can. It all helps. 

And know that dirt and other things that don't belong in paint was a common problem for the Old Masters too. 

Go to any large museum and find some of those gigantic epic paintings and take a close look at the surface of the paint. 

I remember seeing (at the Musee du Louvre shown above) all kinds of nasty things (like remains of bugs, fingerprints, dog hair) that embedded themselves in thick wet (probably slow-drying)  paint centuries ago. 

Critique: Think "Values" To Get Back On Track Quickly

It is said that "if someone can learn to really see, they could easily learn to paint and draw like the Old Masters."

I tend to agree with this.

A reader sent me a WIP (work in progress that she is struggling with). 

She's not that far off and she can easily correct her painting when she can "really see" what is wrong.

Above is her painting so far and the original reference she is using. I'm NOT going to critique the original photo - that is another subject completely. (But a good reference photo has certain criteria makes painting a lot easier).

So, with a digital camera, a computer and Photoshop (there is other softwares that also work) you can begin to "see for yourself."

(There's a "low tech" solution at the end of this post if you need it.)*

Color can get in the way and be confusing so the first step is to get rid of it.

I removed all color via Photoshop. 

Value and patterns of value (sans color) are the places to begin when you're clearly in trouble.

I converted her Original Reference to greyscale (above). 

Note how "soft" it is as the light gently flows down the figure. The lightest object is the shirt, then the face. The hair is the darkest. The background is lighter in value than the hair and defines the overall shape of the hair - a nice design element in this picture.

In this WIP, the face and shirt are of equal value. The value of the hair is broken with too much light and isn't defined as a distinct shape from the value of the background.

You can see the Photoshop process above as I posterized the original greyscale reference into 11 levels of value. 

I could have chosen any number of levels that clearly shows the center of light and how the light and shadow is distributed on each object.

Note that there is a specific pattern of light on the hair. 

The lightest value (highlight) on the face is on the side of the nose. 

The secondary light is confined to  the near side of the nose, cheek and chin. ALL other light on the face and neck are NOT as light as these.

Form is determined by how light turns into shadow. This is called the halftone (neither light nor shadow). You can see how the halftone describes the far cheek and chin.

If you can accurately paint the halftone, your painting will be essentially finished!

In the 11 level posterization of the WIP, you can see that the distribution of the light and dark values of the general objects (face, shirt, hair) are incorrect in relation to each other. 

Also, within each object respectively, the light and shadow patterns differ from the original reference material.

Of course, you can use a photo as a mere reference or "suggestion" but if you want to paint more or less realistically, you cannot reinvent the rules of light until you understand them.

Playing in Photoshop is a good way to "see." The above pix shows a screen shot of my computer when I turned the original reference into a 6 level posterization. The lower levels will give you more of an "abstract view. " 

And a really good abstraction is the best foundation for any painting.

*But don't despair if you're not a techie, here's a LOW TECH solution for you: 

Before I got a computer and went nuts learning Photoshop, I used to take a transparent sheet of red acetate (Office Supply Stores sell them as "report covers") and put it over a colored photograph.

The red acetate will eliminate the color beneath and reveal the values. Any red lens or red glass will do this also.

'Tis the Season to be Artsy & Jolly & Kind*

And of course we'll be extra extra kind* to one another - all year 'round.

The savvy little art buyer pictured above is joyfully leaving our studios and galleries after buying some of our more spectacular works of art.

I predict that despite the glum reports, this coming year will be verrry good for art sales!

"This is my simple religion.
There is no need for temples;
no need for complicated philosophy.
Our own brain, our own heart
is our temple; the philosophy is kindness."

- The Dali Lama

Power Reconnected!

Reconnected as of December 23, 2008 at 4 pm - thank heavens! 

It feels historic. How did mankind exist before Ben Franklin's kite experiment?

The power outage between 12/10/08 and 12/23/08 put us into a basic survival mode...we just aren't geared up to live like this nowadays.

How does anyone make sense of electricity?

Even hanging Christmas lights can be a challenge for some of us.

Without Power Since 12/12/08

On the evening of December 23rd, our power was restored. 

The following video clip gives a feeling of what it looked like driving down a road that had just been "cleared:"

This Peterborough NH's Storm Headquarters:

And this is what it looked like outdoors after the initial ice storm:

We cannot wait until this truck is in the street in front of our home. 

Our current status is that an essential pole that snapped off near us has been replaced but PSNH (Public Service of New Hampshire) is waiting for more transformers, switches and power lines.

During the day, my studio window is a good place to read - but there isn't enough steady light to paint.

Just to complicate things we got hammered with a Nor'easter yesterday which dumped another 2 feet of snow. Another storm is due tonight (through tomorrow).

Meanwhile, we remain camped out in front of the fireplace - the only warm spot in the house.

Someone, I know not who, sent me a pkg of 8 D Cell Batteries from Sam's Club via UPS. 


The shortest days of the year are upon us and they have powered a much needed lantern so we aren't stumbling around in the dark.

Batteries and generators are in verrrrrry short supply around here as you can imagine.

We've been without power since December 10th. This means no heat, light or running water. It also means no painting.

Yesterday, before the latest snowstorm, the road outside still looked like this, i.e., the remaining power lines are holding up the trees. 

We have crews in the region from as far away as Texas and Canada working 18 hour days to clear the roads and eventually restore power.

But now we may be looking at mid-January. 

Generators and batteries are in short supply. Last night (Saturday) mother nature decided to dump an extra foot of snow on us. There is a rumor that more is coming on Sunday. The temperature is about 9 degrees F.

We lost power after New England's most punishing ice storm in memory. Hundreds of thousands of homes remain without power...including mine.

It's a mess. Pretty, but still a mess. If I tried to paint what I am seeing it wouldn't be "believeable."

The above close - up pictures show how much ice was built up. If you can imagine the volume of ice that froze in the treetops, you will understand why many branches and even whole trees and telephone poles snapped with the weight and volume of that ice.

Firefighters, police, utility crews and what remains of our National Guard still wade through a vast path of destruction of downed utility poles, snapped power lines and tree limbs. 

This was my driveway after the freezing rain stopped. It was dangerous to walk under these trees as the limbs were still breaking from the weight of the ice.

After a week, many roads are still shut down in the Monadnock region of New Hampshire.

After the ice melted, the trees that did not break began to straighten upward again.

For most of us there is no electricity, no heat, no water. We live and sleep on the floor in front of the fireplace to keep warm.

It's a lot like camping - but not as much fun.

This tree limb landed just in front of me with a huge shower of ice. I thought I was standing far enough away from the tree line. I was lucky.

I can get out now and am in the Peterborough Town Library with my laptop. The downtown areas and the hospital were at the top of the priority list for help.

Being rural, I might be at the bottom of that list. The power company can't even give us an estimate as to when our power will be restored.

We sleep on the floor in front of the fireplace to keep warm and get water and shower at the local Red Cross shelter (South Meadow Elementary School) . 

This is the view from my studio. Thank heavens we removed all the tall trees near the house last summer.

My fingers are crossed that we will have our power restored by Christmas. 

We'd love to leave the house and go some place warm for a while, but we have to stick it out, keep the pipes from freezing and feed the animals.

More later when I can get to the (delightfully warm) Peterborough Town Library.