Mindfulness at work. From the Studio 2-15-15.

Mindfulness in the studio.

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]I’ve been working on the Emptiness series all week and getting nowhere. A large canvas has been tormenting me for several months and I have allowed it to do so, and that is why it is failing. The important thing is not that it is not coming out the way I want it to, but that my mind is not clear when it doesn’t look right and I have to start all over again. I get pissed, stressed and bring those feelings home and into others’ lives. My family shouldn’t have to deal with this. And with this one large canvas I am striving for perfection; a big mistake. Nothing is ever perfect. The 3rd Patriarch says:

One thing, all things
move among and intermingle,
without distinction.
To live in this realization
is to be without anxiety about non-perfection.

I am on the fourth attempt now and that is all I will try with this one. If it fails again I will have to live with it. Often, jazz musicians in the past only recorded three takes on a composition. After that the performance went stale because the spontaneity and freshness were gone. Maybe I should listen to them.

Mindfulness at work

A big part of this series is the practice of mindfulness while I am painting. While doing the work I try to focus on my breath, the sound of the brush hitting the canvas, the waves from the lake below crashing against the rocks, the wind blowing against my back. The moment. This is where it is really at. My practice. It IS meditation and the nature of this series allows me to stay in the moment while I am working. I have to stay present because any little slip up will ruin the painting.

One piece I was working on in tandem with the large canvas was successful after the second attempt and I am happy with the results of that piece. I can see where my mind was while making that piece. But I don’t get all excited. I look at it as part of the bigger picture. Practicing mindfulness is an important thing so I can better understand the nature of reality and my true being. Doing a great painting or a bad painting are secondary. Clarity and realization are what I hope to achieve with my art. And this is what Ra’Co life is all about. The middle way.


I should have been better practicing mindfulness when painting this piece. I ended up killing it.
This one I actually messed up. The next one I kept.

As the larger canvas dries,  I am now looking at things from the proper perspective. The big picture, the practice of mindfulness.  Stay clear while working, learn from and accept the mistakes, and let the pieces live, warts and all. They are there as a reminder.

The failed third attempt in progress. More mindfulness next time.
The failed third attempt in progress.

These words remind of a time when I was playing in a band called the Meta-G’s in Cleveland, Ohio. We were ill, real ill. The funkiest and the heaviest band with massive potential. 3 rappers, guitar, bass and the funkiest drummer around. 3 black dudes, 2 Jewish cats and me, the weird white guy. We were the future. But nothing ever really came of the band because everybody wanted to be rock stars without making the necessary sacrifices. Too much ego, too many distractions too much of everything. Anyway, we had a big gig lined up at The Hard Rock Cafe in Boston which was about a 12-14 hour drive from Cleveland. We practiced and prepared for that gig for a long time. When it came time to leave for Boston we were all crazy with excitement about what exposure we might get from a goof performance. We were going to blow up.

We got to Boston, partied the night before, and slept long into the next day resting up for the gig. Everybody met at the club that night and we went backstage to warm up. After the first band finished we were all tuned up and ready to go. Or so we thought. The place was packed and people were amped and we took our place behind the curtain to await our introduction. Smoke was filing the stage, lights flashing, people screaming. Just then, right before the guy called out name, I noticed that my guitar was drastically out of tune. Turns out I had tuned up in silence with a chromatic tuner that was set wrong and I was tuned totally wrong. I did my best to get back in tune in about 3 seconds before the curtain went up but it was too late, the gig was shot. We finished the set but most of the people had started to filter out. We all walked out of the club, heads hung low…I had blown it for everyone.

Later that night we watched the video from the gig and it was torture. I tried to get up and walk away but somebody yelled at me, “Sit down, these are game tapes and you have to watch them”. They were right. I had to let it sink in so nothing like this would ever happen again.

The Meta-G’s broke up a few months later, but the truth is it had nothing to do with that gig. We needed a lot more work before we were ready and we needed to play a lot more of those gigs before the big one hit.

The only time we practiced mindfulness was when we were playing music.
The Meta-G’s around ’94 or so.


And I have nightmares about that gig to this day. Well, maybe not anymore. I learned a lot from it and now I am applying it to what I am doing with my paintings. I need to do a lot more of them before I am really happy with the results. A few bad paintings are not going to ruin the whole series, they will make it stronger. I plan on creating 50 paintings for the Emptiness series and then moving on. I’m only on my fifth one. Time to get back to work.

So how do we practice mindfulness? Check out this post from mindful.org to get you started. The practice should be carried out in every aspect of your life. Working, cooking, brushing your teeth, walking the dog…all are opportunities for realization. Just try. With time and practice a mysterious feeling will creep in. You may start to feel lighter, more ebullient, your problems will seem less important, and you will feel a sense of gratitude for your life. The calmness and clarity that comes from serious mindfulness practice is worth the effort. Give it a try.









Strong Partners, Art and Life, From the Studio

I’ve been floating around all my life. Into one thing and onto another. That includes jobs, relationships, homes, apartments, countries, states. You name it. I’ve been a construction worker, a pizza boy, a tailor, a carpenter, a raw food chef, a designer, a monk, an unemployed searcher, a writer, a musician. I could go on. Never sure of who I was or what I should be doing. But all along one thing I have always been sure of is that I am an artist. Never being success oriented or driven to conquer the world, I have let it blossom over time and enjoyed the beautiful struggle all along.

Making art is a bitch. An angry one at times. But at other times I can disappear into what I am making and everything seems to make sense. And I know I am good at it and that I love it and that is often enough. It has carried me through many a rough time, (though I often think those rough times were caused by the need to make things). And it has brought me to where I am today.

This is where I am today, check out the view from my studio:


Lake Atitlan, Guatemala
Lake Atitlan, Guatemala

From this you can see that I haven’t done too bad for myself. But what is a huge reason I am here? Support from others, my family, friends, but mostly from Rache. She gave me this studio as a gift of faith and love. This place where I am working now used to be a wet, rat infested, dark, useless storage space. Now it is a glorious studio filled with light and fresh air and art. And I am eternally grateful.

My woman is a real strong woman. And she was adamant that the first thing we were going to do when we moved into this isolated and empty home was to rehab the casita on top of the hill and turn it into my studio. We found the contractor, Rache made some material choices and lighting plans and set a budget, and off we went. Less than a week later I had the studio of my dreams.

And believe me when I say that when we moved into our house below, there was pretty much nothing. Nothing in the kitchen, no decent furniture or bedding or towels. No boat (we have no road in or out of here). No tools. Nada. The garden was practically dead (but over time Rache resurrected that also, and now we have all kinds of flowers and vegetables growing everywhere). So you can see where Rache’s priorities were; with her family and making others happy before she made any decisions for own happiness. This is what a strong and dedicated partner can do for someone; help them become what they are supposed to become and grow into what they were always meant to be. I hope I am or can become that strong and dedicated partner as well.

So everyday I wake up with gratitude and awe for the support and confidence that Rache has given me to keep moving forward and do what I am supposed to do; make art and be there for my family. It’s all I need and it’s all I want.

Now it is time to get my ass in gear and create some magnificently great work that will help to support us in all of our current and future plans (we have a lot of them, big dreams and big desires), put food on the table, give Rache the time to be a Mom and pursue the things that she wants to do and provide Iza with the means to survive in a future that looks very bleak for humanity. I have a lot to give back for what has been given to me. Thanks Rache for being that strong partner that I so needed. I am a complete pain in the ass and it takes a hell of a person to deal with me.

Please keep reading our blog and watch how my art unfolds and how The Brand Fams’  business develops. We have a lot of exciting projects to bring into fruition over the next couple of years and a million ideas to share and we hope you can be with us along the way.

More studio shots:






Let us know what you think and what your partner has done for you. We all need stories of inspiration, I hope my story inspires you to give daily gratitude and appreciation for the people in your life that appreciate you, love you and give you strength to keep on keeping on.

From the Studio: Emptiness

When we talk about emptiness, what exactly are we talking about? Is it the result of sadness, loss, desperation and loneliness? Or is emptiness the truth, something extraordinary to work towards, to be realized, transcendence, maybe the most amazing thing one could ever experience?

It is strange that two definitions of this word could be so vastly different. One definition existing in the east, and the polar opposite existing in the west. Why does the West view emptiness as a negative condition while religions such as Buddhism and Taoism see it much differently?

From the Heart Sutra, the most important text in Buddhist philosophy:

“Form is Emptiness, Emptiness is Form”. The idea implies that there is neither existence in form or lack of form. All things are empty. Once this is realized, true freedom appears.


An excellent translation is by Red Pine and is available here.

On the other side, from Woody Allen, a modern existentialist:

“The artist’s job is not to succumb to despair but to find an antidote for the emptiness of existence.”

In actuality there is no antidote to the emptiness of existence. Emptiness in existence is inherent. To search for an antidote to this condition is to create despair, delusion, because it can never be found.

My recent art endeavors to form my feelings and thoughts on the complicated subject of emptiness. How did I come upon this absurd and hopeless idea? As you know, my family, aka “TheBrandFam” are currently living in Guatemala, the land of shitty internet. As I write, Rache is screaming in the background that her pages won’t load, and I am on the edge of my seat desperately hoping that I can get this blog post up before the internet cuts out on me again. Good Luck! Because of the extremely slow and unreliable connection, often when I do an internet image search for source material for my art, I am left with nothing but a grid of empty grey boxes that are place fillers for the actual images I am searching for.


One day, after maddening frustration that these grey boxes kept popping up in place of the beautiful colorful photos I was searching for, I realized that the blank grey boxes that always appear are equally as beautiful and compelling as the images that I so longed for to appear. The frustration forced me to “let go” and dissolve into the beauty of the simple grey boxes cleanly laid out before me. This is why monks and serious meditators sit for endless hours in retreats. So the mind can actually let go of delusive thinking to allow a deeper experience to be realized.


The frustration I was speaking of, by the way, has been happening a lot lately. Living in a developing nation has some serious drawbacks, and lots (and lots and lots) of patience must be practiced. Being on time here is actually showing up an hour late. Getting something fixed that is supposed to be finished “mañana” and does not get done for a week is normal here. And it has taken us months to realize that the more we do NOT get what we think we want, the closer we will get to what we actually want but do not know it, that being an inner state of calm, the calm that is so often clouded by our desires, opinions and judgements.


So I started painting these boxes to express all of the thoughts and feelings I have on the subject of emptiness. And they are, to me, absolutely beautiful and I hope to paint at least 50 different compostions before I move on to something else. Or maybe they will continue indefinitely and expand into new mediums and modes of expression. What I have learned here tells me not to expect or force what they are to become. The daily work, like meditation, will allow them to be exactly what they are supposed to be.