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Thoughts & Notes

On the subjects I paint

Ways of Being, the Universe, Thought & Action

Thinking & Exploring Life Through the Making of Art

Journal Entry: Nature of Pattern, Lifeforms, Art & the Everyday

Reading Time: 11 minutes

Ways of Being, the Universe, Thought & Action


“The sense of a separate self is only a shadow cast by grammar.” Ludwig Wittgenstein

Brightness Lies Within

The World is Pattern

A Strange & Entangled Thread

Pattern is ubiquitous in art, nature and our minds. This Journal Entry: Nature of Pattern, explores the many forms and functions pattern assumes in the world. I believe pattern is hardwired into a complex, multi-faceted universe.

As are other species, we are shaped by the patterns we see and the ones that condition our responses. We interact with each other and respond to our environment within a framework built of overlying pattern. In this Journal Entry: Nature of Pattern, I examine my work through a filter shaped by pattern, at the many patterns I see and the roles they play.

“The world is a confusing and turbulent place, but we make sense of it by finding order. We notice the regular cycles of day and night, the waxing and waning of the moon and tides, and the recurrence of the seasons. We look for similarity, predictability, regularity. Those have always been guiding principles behind the emergence of science. We try to break down the complex profusion of nature into simple rules, to find order among what might at first look like chaos. That makes us all pattern seekers.

Philip Ball: Patterns in Nature: Why the Natural World Looks the Way It Does

The American theoretical physicist, Richard Feynman wrote, “Nature uses only the longest threads to weave her patterns, so each small piece of her fabric reveals the organization of the entire tapestry.”

I love this quote. It is beautifully visual and poetic. It points to a truth we often don’t consider. In reality everything is, indeed, interconnected to everything else. It suggests without stating the obvious, that if one of nature’s many threads are pulled or cut we should expect a reaction. We may gain some profound insight into life’s complexity or completely unravel the fabric of our universe to our detriment.

With threads running in every direction, we are woven into a complex tapestry. Weaving and unweaving this tapestry, is surely work designed for scientists as well as artisans. In research, artmaking and pointillism, each dot, each brushstroke, every fingerprint or insight is a thread, and pulling it apart requires thought and attention.

The Art of Pattern

In Painting & the Natural World

Pattern exists all around us. We respond to its many forms, both consciously and unconsciously. I marvel at what I see in the world. Whether looking at animal, insect, flower, fish or landscape, pattern is rich and intoxicating. It is visible in the shapes of trees and the intricate form of a spider’s web.

Patterns also exist deeper, at the instinctual. We easily recognize patterns in our external world, but do we recognize the ones that manifest in our ways of thinking and being?

How pattern manifests in my artmaking is the focus here. But, to say I will thoroughly explore the subject borders the subjective. I see it when it shows up in my work but, do I always notice it in my driving desires? To say yes, would be untrue. Pattern finds root in psychology as well as in the basic forces of chemistry and physics. Evolution has refined it to a stunning degree. I feel like an amateur.

Mother Nature of Pattern

The One True Artist

I have long held to the belief, that there is only one original artist. And nature is that artist. The rest of us do our best at reinterpreting her designs in the making of our own. But, our limits are obvious if not accepted. What we see and experience is only copied in one fashion or another.

This copying of pattern is evident in the art of every culture on Earth. No society, person or system is terminally unique. I particularlly love the regularity of design and pattern found in the artwork of the Aborigines of Australia. It is evident in cultures both ancient to modern.

Repetition manifests itself in the work of artists. It can be quite beautiful, even mesmerizing. Pattern is not, however, limited to repetitive marks or even symbols. It holds space within a framework and structure bigger than any of us. It is writ large across the universe and we are, only infants in the understanding of its intricate nature. As a species, we are as much form and product of the universe, as we are witness to its wonder.

Dreaming of Cloudscapes

Reading Sky Pattern

To sit quietly and watch the clouds linger, shift and roll by is a magical experience. I have always thought there to be something especially wonderful when looking at that space were ocean meets the sky. Ocean waves meet swirls and the delicate, short, detached, hair-like strands of Cirrus‘ clouds. It caresses the edge of the dense mounds, domes and towers of Cumulus clouds. That edge, that stitched together horizon adds a sense of thrill to life, to being alive.

In relation to that vastness, to the immensity of the atmosphere and hydrosphere, at what height do we possibly stand? I feel at times, as if I am stretched gossamer-thin before the sea and vast sky. In their realm, I am aware of my fragility, of being only one tiny being, in a universe that seems to stretch on without end. And here I stand, both aware and subject to the whims of pattern.

“Make of yourself a light” said the Buddha before he died. I think of this every morning as the east begins to tear off the its many clouds of darkness, to send up the first signal – a white fan streaked with pink and violet, even green.”

Mary Oliver in her poem the ‘Buddha’s Last Instruction’.

Caldera Sky: Volcano National Park

A glowing array of intense orange sherbet and soft deep purple fills the evening sky often, here in Hawaii. I remember the first time I saw it. I was stunned into silence. What I had imagined as being only true on a postcard, was right there before me. I was bathed in its glory. There was power here.

Watching that sky, those clouds, I couldn’t help feeling the sky was filled with pattern and portent. Little did I know years later I would be moving to the islands.

Found in the magic of heavenly formations are dreams and imaginings. They take shape and then fade into the wind, like longings and desires. How could it be otherwise? How could we, how could I, not look for answers in the presence of such super-natural colors?

A glimpse of the unknown is cradled in the atmosphere. We have always looked skyward as a species. We have imagined all manner of beings inhabiting its realm. Arguably, our success as a species may have depended on this ability. Across the heavens I see patterns. There we find maps, star charts, and guides. Each star in the sky a sign on a journey, begun long ago.

Zen Story

The Nature of the Real

“There was a hermit monk living in a cave in the mountains of Japan. He was a talented artist, and over time he painted a picture of a tiger on the wall of the cave. He was extremely meticulous in his work, and it took him several years to finish. When it was finally done, the tiger was so realistic that when he looked at it, he became frightened.”

– Painted Tiger: Zen Story

We Act According to …

Underlying Pattern in Habit & Thought

Life is pattern. In the universe, in thought, in action and in being. There is a rambling pattern in this post. I look for it in my art practice. Not just on the picture plane, but in the inception. What are my motivators? What pattern drives and shapes the course of my work? Are there clues and answers to be found?

There is, although any found are skeletal at times. Organizational forces, structures, not always clearly visible. Yet, they do act with power. ‘Why?’, is a constant question in my mind. It is a mind that seems to find little joy in resting. It is a monkey mind. How can I better understand these forces and know myself when faced with more questions than answers?

“To be hopeful in bad times is not just foolishly romantic. It is based on the fact that human history is a history of not only human cruelty but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness. What we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine our lives. If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something.

If we remember those times and places – and there are many – where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act, and at least the possibility of sending this spinning top of a world in a different direction. And, if we do act, in however small a way, we don’t have to wait for some grand utopian future. The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think humans should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory.”

Howard Zinn

Patterns in Nature

Yes, the Leopard has Spots

“In the living world, pattern formation seems both to restrict the options for adaptive change and to offer new adaptive opportunities – to operate, in other words, in parallel and sometimes in sympathy with Darwinian evolution. It supplies, for example, the color markings that animals put to striking use in camouflage, or as a warning signs to predators, or so that members of a species can recognize each other. Those patterns might not be arbitrary, but they can be useful.”

– Philip Ball: Patterns in Nature: Why the Natural World Looks the Way It Does

Both Howard Zinn and Phillip Ball throw breadcrumbs at my feet. They point to the value of pattern, its recognition, and the ability to see below its surface. There are often counter-currents. One pattern exerting a force against another.

The visible patterns in nature are one set of elements in a universal system. A single equation, and a single part of the Ecosphere. The Ecosphere, or Biosphere is the global ecological system that integrates all living beings and their relationships. It includes any interactions with the elements of the lithosphere, cryosphere, hydrosphere, and the atmosphere. It is a vast system with many overlapping patterns. I am part and parcel, a number in this larger equation.


I have always been fascinated by the patterns of animals. The symmetry found in a butterfly’s wings, in the scales of a fish, the colors of a beetle, the strips or spots of a big cat’s skin.

Monarch & Caterpillar

Journal Entry: Nature of Pattern

Stories in Species

There are beautiful patterns to be found in painted desert hillsides, mountaintops, and in the flow of a river to the sea. They hide in the stripes and blotches of zebra or giraffe. I am drawn towards these subjects, I stand in awe of them.

“While geology opened windows into the deep past, it simultaneously illuminated the landscapes of the present … geology taught its practitioners how to read the landscape, to understand what its features revealed about the processes that had shaped it in the past and were still shaping it in the present. To the geologically informed, the earth’s topography yielded its biography”

Rebecca Bedell: Essay, History of the Earth. In Endless Forms: Charles Darwin, Natural Science, and the Visual Arts

Deep evolutionary patterns emerge in the natural sciences. Reactions and actions at the surface and in the depths. Actions betray pattern, words, the landscape of our minds. Fight, flight and survival is a complex narrative. It is one we need to read.

“More supple than the notion of system, more historical than the notion of structure, more empirical than the notion of complexity, the idea of network is the Ariadne’s Thread of (these) interwoven stories.”

Bruno Latour

Journal Entry: Nature of Pattern

Stories in Life & Landscape

I have changed much over the years. I see this more than just in the mirror, in the lines in my face. I see it in adaptations. How I live, how I work, and in my own Ariadne’s Thread.

Co-evolutionary adaptive patterns are at work among species that exist in close interaction. Plants do this with insects, predator with prey, parasite with host, man with virus. These patterns are all visible ways in which organisms adapt to their environment. Sometimes they occur in what could be thought of as an escalating arms race. A race of defense to offense, and offense to defense.

Science sheds light on great mysteries. Science has impacted and changed the arts. There was a great shifting of role for the artist throughout the nineteenth century. What was once, a handmaiden of gods, church and emperors became an apostle of science. It was heresy and it reverberates.

“For landscape painters, the new vision of the Earth bestowed on their chosen subject – the land – a life and a history. Geology’s revelations deeply affected their creative imaginations, drawing them to new subjects and impelling them to develop new pictorial strategies to express their transformed understanding of the Earth. Perhaps most importantly, geology theory informed and thereby transformed artist’s vision. Seeing and knowing are intimately related.”

– Rebecca Bedell: Endless Forms: Charles Darwin, Natural Science, and the Visual Arts. Diana Donald (Editor),
 Jane Munro (Editor),  Fitzwillian Museum Cambridge (Editor)

Journal Entry: Nature of Pattern

Stories in our Behavior

“Snap-to’ conclusions, anxiety, doubt and depression. They flow outward and inward. Joyous leaps of faith and love, find root and purchase in the past. I remember, in the great river of life, not to cling to the banks. I remember, not to hold on to the familiar and embrace change as I move with the flow.

Do you live in the present or cling to the past? Are you aware of the threads that bind them altogether? Am I, aware?


Our thoughts betray patterns. How conscious we are of these depends on how much time we spend observing them.

Clone: Green

“To choose doubt as a philosophy of life is akin to choosing immobility as a means of transportation.”

Yann Martel; Life of Pi

Trapped at sea, in a boat with a tiger. What trick is needed to survive, when doubt is aways familiar? What emotions hold me fast? I am looking for the end shape of my sum-total of experiences in this life. The past stretches out behind me and the future remains unclear.

These questions percolate as I write this and search for appropriate words. To be clear in the in the lack of clarity. This Journal Entry: Nature of Pattern can’t completely encompass my life or my art philosophy. That is, if there exists a distinction between those two things.

My countless compulsions, interactions, thoughts, fascinations – they all rest on a foundation of pattern. The patterns found on animals suggests survival is found in our adaptive changes and strategies. External forces exert their pressure. One pattern overlying cross-currents of pattern, atop yet another.

Being Mindful

I manifest through action. A domino tumbling in time. Rippling patterns flow away from a skipped stone across a still lake. The water ripples in reaction and soon resumes its calm placidity. In the practice of mindfulness, I can glimpse a path in harmony with this rippling wavelength and calm placidity. I hear echos and precussion in the ringing in my ears. It can be like drifting in the water of a gentle shore or drowning in a blackened sea. Is acceptance the only key?

Pattern in Science

Ancient Greek philosophers looked for universals and meaning in the world they found around them. These early scholars sought pattern in what they observed. Not much has changed in the sciences, save perhaps the tools.

Mathematics looks to define and explain regularities of any kind. Physics seeks to apply these abstracts to the real and tangible world. Biologists and other scientists seek to define the patterns that govern life. What role does an artist play?


There are subtle patterns in life that go unnoticed, seeking always to defy logic, perception or reason.

Cell: Green with Blue

“A critically important part of a cell, be it a prokaryote or a eukaryote, is its outer membrane. Although, just two molecules thick, this outer membrane forms a flexible ‘wall’ or barrier that separates each cell from its environment, defining what is ‘in’ and what is ‘out’. Both philosophically and practically, this barrier is crucial. Ultimately, it explains what life forms can successfully resist the overall drive of the universal towards disorder and chaos. Within their insulating membrane, cells can establish and cultivate the order they need to operate, whilst at the same time creating disorder in their local surroundings outside the cell. That way life does not contravene the Second Law of Thermodynamics.”

– Paul Nurse : What Is Life? Five Great Ideas in Biology

The Rhythm of Life

In the Framework of Pattern

Nature is the scientist’s greatest teacher. I think this is true for the artist, as well. Gently coasting along symmetries, spirals, waves, cracks and stripes, this is a meandering road of metaphor.

We learn, I have learned, from observing the branching of trees, plants and rivers. The galaxy’s spirals lead me without, while I seek forever what lies hidden, within.

There is pattern in creating a pointillist painting. A repetitive act of placing one dot next to another. Hours coalesce into the new. Swirls and eddies, beetles and butterflies, fish, water and sky.

Evolving #5

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