The Kiss of Life

The Kiss of Life

The Art of Daniel Ambrose

Hauntingly Beautiful Paintings & Illuminating Words
Love and Beauty, egg tempera painting of venus over the ocean at dawn by Daniel Ambrose. 2004

Love and Beauty, egg tempera painting by Daniel Ambrose. 2004 Private Collection.

Last January, my daughter called at twilight wanting to know the name of a bright star.

Venus, I replied. The evening star.

I was in the process of reworking a painting with Venus in it that I wrote about in Before I Sleep.

Our conversation brought to mind an egg tempera painting I made of Venus in 2004. Love and Beauty.

On my birthday, in 2004, I ventured down to the beach at three-thirty in the morning. The sea was darker than a pirate’s heart. The moist predawn air carried a breeze pregnant with salt. I walked the shore in the velvet darkness, and felt the cool sand sink beneath my feet. My only companions were the sound of the surf, and a lone, brilliant light in the eastern sky.


By that sea, that morning, I was waiting for the first blush of dawn. Watching for that barely perceptible moment when transition occurs. That liminal space in time when dark becomes light. A world devoid of color becomes luminous. Just as in life, that precise moment when awareness comes, and hope and renewal are born and possibility springs to life. The kiss of life.

Darkness eased off, and for a moment, a pale glow trimmed the horizon, a ribbon of pink caressed the sea. Quick, but with care, I laid her colors down in my sketchbook. Later in the studio, I created the painting Love and Beauty.

Not all of us are born out of love. Not all of us have beauty in our lives. But we can make it so.

A kind word of praise or pardon, a passing touch on a shoulder, a note or flower presented with coffee in the morning, a smile across a crowded room, can make his day. A few encouraging words, a listening heart, can change her stars.

There is beauty in kindness. There is love in quiet deeds. Come together and let the sound of your hearts beat among the silence of the stars.

We can be a bright light in our personal universe. Though we may never know who is watching us from afar, who is inspired by our words and deeds — who is holding us in their heart.

Love is energy connecting at the speed of light.

Beauty is a guiding star.

Be the kiss of life.

For someone.

For you.

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The Profound Beauty of Silence

The Profound Beauty of Silence

The Art of Daniel Ambrose

Hauntingly Beautiful Paintings
Drift Inn Beach, Port Clyde, Maine. Oil Painting by Daniel Ambrose

Two Trees, Drift Inn beach, Port Clyde, Maine. Oil painting by Daniel Ambrose

Sometimes words are too shadowy to describe the luminous spectrum of life experiences. When words fail, all that remains is the profound beauty of silence.

The need to express the ineffable existed in humans long before we invented the written word. We communicated in symbols and gestures. We burnt sticks and drew pictures on earthen walls, sharpened rocks to etch figures in stone.

What compelled us to do these things? To bring forth images that only lived inside ourselves, to birth beautiful things that lived not in the world, until we created them? What purpose did art serve in our evolutionary upbringing?

Does our art emanate from the same source as our instinct for spirituality? Will scientists someday identify the exact atom of inspiration? Where does this spark of creativity live in our bodies? Or. . . maybe our creative impulse resides in every molecule of our very being.

Maybe the art of humans is the blood and bone of everything we are, all that we have lived, cried over and cursed at, moments we laughed with others or lied to ourselves. Moments of awareness that shook us to the core.

Last week I returned from Maine, by way of Boston. During my trip I spent a lot of time drawing. Drawing focuses my rabbit mind. Something about pencil pressing on paper imprints the image in my mind. Typically I take notes too, but I wrote very little. I simply drew to remember this.

For maybe drawn memories are more viable truth tellers of the human experience than accurate recording of places.

I began a new tempera the day after I returned. The inspiration came out of the blue, and I have been working on it day and night for six days. It is mostly memory. I intended to post it and share my thoughts, but found I have no words. Only the painting can speak for me in the beauty of its silence.

So instead I’m sharing a painting I made in Port Clyde at Drift Inn beach over several mornings. I left this painting in Boston, but kept the memory.

Maybe in our brief lives here on earth, our art is simply the deepest expression of all that we witness and love.

Maybe we don’t need to know all the answers to everything. Embracing the sublime mystery of wordless things, and celebrating them through our art is enough to honor the profound beauty of silence.

I’ll leave you quietly with a poem from Longfellow:

The Sound of the Sea
The sea awoke at midnight from its sleep,
And round the pebbly beaches far and wide
I heard the first wave of the rising tide
Rush onward with uninterrupted sweep;
A voice out of the silence of the deep,
A sound mysteriously multiplied
As of a cataract from the mountain’s side,
Or roar of winds upon a wooded steep.
So comes to us at times, from the unknown
And inaccessible solitudes of being,
The rushing of the sea-tides of the soul;
And inspirations, that we deem our own,
Are some divine foreshadowing and foreseeing
Of things beyond our reason or control.

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Painting the Sound of a Seaside Morning

Painting the Sound of a Seaside Morning

The Art of Daniel Ambrose

Hauntingly Beautiful Paintings
Oil sketch recording seaside morning color sensations, Venice Beach, Fl.

Color notes. Oil sketch recording seaside color sensations.

Seaside Morning

The sun is gleaming on the the water. Far out on the horizon, a rolling thunderstorm grumbles over the Gulf. Nearer to shore, cumulus clouds drift in a silent, lazy train.

I am surrounded by textures, immersed in patterns, forms repeat in various incarnations. Floating, curving and ever shifting forms. The moist air of clouds. Springy sea oats. Their lean lines curve and bow, and paint lacy patterns of blue gray on the warm, pale gray sand.

Ageless sand, coarse and fine and formed from innumerable shell and fossil fragments. Solid earth planted beneath a gaseous sky. Shells from the sea, water from outer space, and sun, always the sun, the color of light, the color of life.

Sparse, short grasses blanket the beach in patches. Slight mounds of warm green, dry domes of terse texture contrast with the upright dignity of swaying sea oats. If they were a language, the short grass would be the sturdy, slang, everyday words, while the sea oats would sing songs of poetry. Vivid yellow dune flowers embellish the melody like the high clear notes of a flute. All is a symphony of sound, shape and color.

Rambling morning glories weave themselves under the sea oats, competing for attention. Rambling and reaching their sienna tendrils out to lay claim to new territory. Bright, yellow-green oblong leaves show off tubular purple flowers. A morning dove wanders among the morning glory. Its feathered body casts a long blue shadow in the slanted sunlight. With a squeak and a flutter it flies away. Seacoast sounds.

Whispering sounds, the lapping of gentle waves, crickets in the grasses, birds sing in tune with the melody of this seaside morning.

The sun is getting hotter. The tide is rising. A breeze begins to stir from the sea.

I may go for a swim.

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The Art of Egg Tempera Painting: Preparing Panels

The Art of Egg Tempera Painting: Preparing Panels

The Art of Daniel Ambrose

Hauntingly Beautiful Paintings

Part 1 of a series titled The Art of Egg Tempera Painting summarizing the process that I use to prepare materials for painting in egg tempera. For the first post in this series, read the Introduction.

powdered hide glue for chalk gesso the art of egg tempera painting

Hide glue for chalk gesso.

The Art of Egg Tempera Painting

The humble egg has proven itself to be an enduring painting medium throughout art history. Egg was used as a paint binder by the ancient Egyptians and Greeks thousands of years ago. During the European Renaissance, the art of egg tempera painting flourished before gradually declining as oil found it’s way into painters studios.

Adding various oils instead of egg to pigments increased their drying time, and facilitated new painting methods. The advent of oil painting allowed artists to work on larger, lighter weight canvases. The invention of tubed oil paints in the 1800’s enabled painters to work outdoors, helping to ignite the plein air Impressionist movement.

As painters explored this new oil medium, the practice of painting in egg tempera waned. Over the succeeding centuries, egg tempera resurfaced a couple of times; in Britain in the 1800’s and America in the early part of the 20th century, when professor Daniel Thompson introduced it in his course at Yale.

The enduring, inherent jewel-like beauty of an egg tempera painting is unparalleled. Their satin surface shimmers with subtle hues of color, and their ability to reflect light, like a stained glass window, imbues them with an organic presence, emitting an inner glow. Egg tempera paintings retain their colors for centuries. It’s this lasting value combined with sublime effects of light, that has challenged and delighted me over the decades.

However, egg tempera is a demanding medium and proper steps must be taken to ensure its longevity. The first step in this journey of light, is preparing the panels.


The nature of egg tempera paint requires that it be applied on a rigid support, unlike other painting mediums which can be painted on a flexible surface such as canvas or paper. Small egg tempera paintings can also be painted on 8 ply, acid free museum board made from cotton.

Incidentally, premium paper is made from plants; cotton, or flax which produces fine linen paper used in stationery. Cheaper paper is made from the pulp wood of pine trees. In the early part of the 20th century, this cheap paper was used to print magazines featuring pot boiler detective and science fiction stories. These became known as pulp fiction. Many of the scrawny pine trees lining the interstates here in the southeastern United States are pulp trees. In Georgia, you know you are nearing Brunswick when you get a distinctive whiff of the paper mill.

To begin a painting in egg tempera, historically, an artist would have a carpenter make a wooden panel from oak or poplar wood. The carpenter glued narrow boards together to make the desired panel width. Sometimes linen was glued to the surface. Over time, atmospheric changes would cause the wood to contract and expand creating small cracks in the painting.

In 1924 William Mason invented a stable hardboard wood product available in large sheets. It was named Masonite and artists soon adapted it. The generic name for hardboard became known as masonite. In mid-century hardboard was “tempered” (dipped in linseed oil) which caused adhesive problems for artists. “Untempered” hardboard, though increasingly hard to find, is still available on the market, and is the material I currently use as panels for my paintings.

I make several panels at the same time and begin by cutting the hardboard to the desired sizes, then sand and clean them with denatured alcohol. The panels need to be sealed before they are prepped for painting. This sealant is called a “size.”

Sizing Panels

heating hide glue for chalk gessoTraditional glue “size” is prepared by soaking gelatin glue granules in water overnight. Next, it is slowly warmed in a double boiler to a temperature of about 110-130 degrees Fahrenheit. The formula is a 1:1 ratio of about 2 cups water to 2 tablespoons glue granules.

I slowly add the granules to a bowl placed on a saucepan of water, stirring until it is warmed to the desired temperature and dissolved.

Next, I remove it from the burner, let it set for a while to cool then leave it in the refrigerator overnight.

The next day the congealed glue is heated the same way as the day before until it melts.

Glue size in pan before heating

Preparing to heat the glue size.

The warm glue is immediately brushed on the hardboard panels, and allowed to dry overnight. While the panels are drying, I begin the next step which is making the gesso.

Panels coated with glue size for painting in egg tempera.

Panels coated with glue size.

In the next art of egg tempera painting article, I’ll describe the gesso making process, and what artists typically think of as gesso is not true gesso.

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A Poem: Two Birds

A Poem: Two Birds

Two Birds

The sea, at dawn
finds me spinning
light into silver,
you slumbering.
Was I returning
for your morning
voice murmuring
across the satellites?
Good morning maestro!
I’m coloring slumping
remnants of child’s play.
A castle of sand abandoned
to careless tides of yesterday.
Were you eating organic yogurt,
wild blueberries gathered, sipping
green tea from a porcelain cup in
that room washed in flaxen light?
That unwavering beginning,
two storm birds dreaming,
the beginning of forgetting.
Hair of fine hue, eyes of
trembling blue, your
silken, secret voice
circles the light

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She is Wild and Free

She is Wild and Free

wild-and-free-seacape painting by daniel-ambrose

Wild and Free, oil painting by Daniel Ambrose

The candle burns low, the paling stars have traced their ageless path through the heavens, and the black edge of night is graying.

A sighing…hesitant, like a ragged whisper, the candle flutters, curtains stir, the wind begins to moan and hums upon my windowpanes.

She is near. Softly she is calling.

Her presence eases the primal yearning in my soul. Her voice, will I ever cease longing for the sound of her voice? Whence comes this restlessness that arises in my breast whenever I venture far from the perfume of her embrace?

When was this distress at separation born in me? As a baby, I crawled on the shimmering blanket she spread before me. Her iridescent colors spun from sea and sky. As a child, I rolled in the sunshine of her laughing belly. When as lost teenager, I fled far inland, westward to the mountains, than found I was homesick for her. Then a father, I raised a family on the river she fed. And now, a solitary man, I honor her haunting beauty in paintings, gilded in silver. When the cares of the world intrude, she comforts the child in the man. Her soothing breeze caresses my troubled spirits, assuring me everything will be all right.

At sunrise I seek her sovereign shores, and walk the tawny sands of her soft shoulders. Her salt is my salt. She strings endless necklaces of white shells to adorn her saline contours. Beneath my bare feet, a flash of  golden sunlight ignites her liquid border, running like fire along a gunpowder fuse.

In her dancing light I am drawing, adoring her graceful movements, the fickle way she changes direction, each new wave, breaking like a passing thought. She is always reaching for a distant shore. Searching. Sometimes she retreats into herself, her calm face disguises the dark undercurrents troubling her soul. In vulnerable moments, she trusts, transparently revealing secrets anchored in the channels of her heart. Standing defenseless before her, like Job listening, I feel her reaching for me, the trying touch, the pause, the long slow retreat. And I know, too late, she is withdrawing from me.

In the ripples of her departure she leaves me eternal gifts. Her summer song murmurs the lullabies of my cradled childhood. She comes to me when the palms begin to sway in the night.  Every star winks at her in vain, while the moon lays a glittering path for my dreams to float over the fullness of her undulating body.

She sings mournful ballads of all who trespassed against her, and the great secrets of kings and queens she harbors in her fathomless womb. She confesses of the storms that rage in her depths and offers forgotten fables to birds who come to pluck nourishment from her life-giving breast. Fabulous tales of of birds that never leave the earth, men who could fly, and one who once walked on water.

At twilight she clothes herself in radiant veils of aqua and lavender hues. White birds come one by one to ritual bow before evening darkness cloaks her fluid being. Night descends, and their silent bodies leave no shadow to follow them as they melt away in the dying light.

In her dangerous presence I founder, knowing her power to drown all my senses, succumbing to the knowledge she is my saving grace. Knowing I could never say what she has no need to hear, never return what she does not want. For her, I exist solely to bear witness to her terrible beauty.

Time and again, my life giving queen seduces me with her capricious nature. I offer my gift of art, and still she asks for all that I have, and will someday receive my remains into her bosom. Her wealth is boundless, and yet, she is the frailest of vessels. Her fragile soul is scarred, her treasury stolen from her, even while she seizes all that her relentless tides can swallow.

So tender and terrifying. . . is she mistress or muse, ruled or ruler, my mystical siren?

Shall it be I who needs her, or she who needs me?

Image of candle burning in artist Daniel Ambrose studio

The candle flares, my cat pads into the room, coffee has cooled.  There can be no dream without the dreamer. Fire needs air and love is the fuel.

The wind shifts seaward… come with me, she whispers.

Come and be… wild and free.

Come to love.

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