May 11, 2013
I have gone squirrel hunting, with the blue ball point pen and with other tools, stalking squirrels using notebooks of various sizes, hunting night and day. I am training my squirrels for the hunt. I cleaned the window near the favorite tree so clean that the glass disappears. Such clarity unnerves the young squirrels, but they cannot refuse their noses, and they show up anyway. I put food that squirrels find irresistible on the sill.
I aim the camera and start snapping the pictures. You might think the proximity would catch some wonderful close-ups, but they fidget quite a lot because they see me poised too close, so I must train them even more. The best shots, for now, are the ones I get from the kitchen window where hungry squirrels sit patiently a few feet away, looking iconic-ally cute.
I’m training them to associate the camera with such impossibly tasty food — pistachios! Who can resist? And I am learning their wonderful squirrel forms, the agile hands, the glistening fur, the sturdy rodent bodies, drawing them again and again.
I have a very ancient fellow that some might recognize who helps me learn.
In time I hope to draw some of them from life, when they will have gotten used to me, when nothing separates us but the empty air. But I get ahead of myself. You don’t count your squirrels before you’ve hunted and tamed them.
Here’s one of the models, himself.
Who knows what’s reflected in his beautiful eye? Look closely and you might see me!
April 20, 2013
Always learning, I am still figuring out what “blogging” means. I used to find it mildly irksome those posts that some folks write explaining why they haven’t posted anything to their blog in a long time … until now. Now I join the genre. Here is my why I haven’t posted anything in so long post. Drum roll, please.
I recently moved all the contents of a large studio into storage. As a consequence that former challenge I used to face about figuring out where I left my keys has blossomed into a magnificent challenge about where I did I leave [fill in the blank]. Much of my entire life is now somewhere at an undisclosed location, and many of my belongings are incommunicato. The keys just laugh.
I have to sort through a mountain of stuff! Holy cow, wish me luck.
Added to all the above, I visited the arboretum yesterday only to discover that all the koi were gone! They too, it appears, have been put into “storage” while the koi pool is renovated. The smaller fry were sold, I learned, and the big guys are stashed away.
Me and the koi, both at the same time! What a coincidence! Anyway, someday, hopefully fairly soon, I will resume my big art adventures. In the interim, I enjoy small art adventures.
Pictured above, the studio before the studio that I just moved ….
March 13, 2013
I have a favorite still life cloth. It has big flowers printed on it. Has figured in several still lifes I’ve done over the years. It’s one of my enduring obsessions. One of those paintings has been restationed over my desk and I see the flowers everyday once more. Makes me long for flowers. A mass of flowers into which I could just lose myself drawing. Flowers, flowers, flowers!
So, let’s think about this some more. I had a still life set up of artificial flowers on a table, in a vase, sitting on a cloth that is decorated with flowers, and I made a painting of it, and the canvas is made of cloth — so it’s more flowers on a cloth.
I find myself stuck inside a very delightful feedback loop. Some obsessions are definitely worth obsessing over, if I may say so myself….
March 12, 2013
One reason for doing the separate compositional drawings of flowers is to discover how the elements exist in relation to each other. Later compare the drawings with the painting (since you cannot get back far enough from the painting to view both the painting and the still life at the same time). There is a pearl-like highlight on the upper left cup-shaped flower.
March 9, 2013
When the sky touches the land at some distant point ahead that you see afar off, then you know you have space enough to dream.
There’s so many ways to move through a landscape: through the air or on the ground, taking the path that goes under the tall deep green trees, or along that horizontal plain that escapes like an arrow to some unknown locale just beyond the range of vision. What lies over the hills of a dream? Where does the light lead? How green is the greenest green of life?
And what about the ball of light inside the clouds?
March 1, 2013
Fans of the great 20th century painter Pierre Bonnard know that in his pocket diaries he kept cryptic notes about the weather: beau, nuageux frais, pluie, beau nuageux, beau brumeux [fair, cloudy cool, rain, fair cloudy, fair foggy]. Besides having concise meteorological value as one man’s document of late 20th century weather in various regions of France, they suddenly have come to have personal meaning for me.
It’s as though the clouds have parted and I suddenly see their meaning.
Or, it’s like the clouds suddenly parted — the day before yesterday — and I suddenly saw my drawing. (The clouds have since closed the curtain again.) I have been working indoors, often late at night, for such a long succession of days and haven’t seen the full daylight colors of the pigments in so long that I had half forgotten what they were. So, the other day when the clouds parted and direct sunlight fell upon my drawing for a few hours, I was astonished and delighted beyond measure. And I can’t tell you how marvelous it was to be able to see the rich colors of my crayons after having worked in dim light for days on end.
Now, I realize perhaps some of the reason why Bonnard recorded the weather … for the weather outside the studio determines the light that will come into the studio windows! And you know that an artist like Bonnard, who more than most people had such a fine appreciation for a window, would know that.
February 28, 2013
I count myself lucky because after years of studying art, I know how to do what I want to do. And regarding the things I don’t know how to do, now I know how to break through the knot of a problem and learn new skills. I know that recognizing my weaknesses is a gradual process and I am content to be ignorant about some of my defects. Indeed, I know that recognizing my strengths is also a gradual process and I am very content to be ignorant about my strengths as well. I have learned how to love the doing of art in the way that I do it, and from that foundation my art is able to grow naturally.
I used to have a big studio. Now I have a small studio. In the big studio, I made large works. Now I return to making small ones. Since I like working large, having to work small could disappoint except that the intricacy of vision is so compelling, and I already have experience in drawing small things and have found out for myself how complicated they can be — how large are the ideas available in compact reality. If nothing else, my notebooks have taught me that.
You can pack a lot of stuff into a small page. And thus the loss of a big studio can lead very naturally to the acquisition of that larger studio which is the world. With a notebook the artist suddenly gains access to vast territory. If my car were my studio, I know now that I can make landscape there or still life, possibly portrait too — I haven’t tried it yet, but I can imagine ….
I wish that I could impress upon people who want to learn how to do art that once you pick up the pencil you are doing it. All the possibility for regret never goes away, all the possibility for joy is continually available. You can only draw one line at a time so all the learning has to lodge in sequential decisions. Some artists have a specific style or idea of what they think art is, and for those artists to reach their goal, they have to assiduously practice the skills necessary to achieve their target: it’s like practicing an instrument.
Other artists don’t know what they want and must be constantly experimenting to find it, and they must also hone their skills and also be willing to plunge ahead in those moments (and they are frequent) when they have no idea what to do. I count myself in this latter group, but self-knowledge being such a difficult acquisition, I don’t know really if I’m the classical artist described in the first example or the jazz artist described in the second. Perhaps the identification doesn’t even matter.
I spent this winter indoors making oil pastel drawings from photographs and it has honed my skills and emboldened my confidence so that I’m ready to go outdoors again and work from nature. Once I step into that landscape the size of my studio will have enlarged to scary proportions! Am I ready? I’m not sure. But the point is that in art, you must begin where you are. And it happens that “where you are” changes with time. If you can inhabit that space where you find yourself in the present, you can do and learn wonderful things.
It’s always in the doing of the picture “right now” where learning happens. So if there was something that was stopping you from this doing, once you jump over that obstacle, you’re back in the game.
February 26, 2013
I’ll bet you can’t tell what this is. A few years hence, I might not be able to tell what it is either. I might still like it, as I turn it this way and that trying to figure out which side is “up.” None of that matters. It was by means of this drawing that I made an amazing discovery about something in the motif that I had completely misperceived.
Every artist ought to have some space in life where he or she can pursue an idea with total freedom. It’s a mistake-free zone, a freedom of inquiry place. In that space you can do whatever you want to do. Sometimes for psychological reasons one builds this space on the cheap. It’s being cheap helps it feel free. I have stacks of little notebooks into which I pour my “anything” ideas. They aren’t even drawing notebooks: that helps their cheapness status. It means they have these lines for writing that interfere with my drawing from the outset, something I have to ignore, work over. It pushes forward my sense of “what the heck” to have these out of place parallel lines staring back at me.
Along with a not-drawing notebook I have the blue ball-point pens that were not intended to be artists’ materials. The not-for-drawing notebook and the not-for-art pens tell me that I can make not-for-art ideas. I can talk to myself. I can say, “hmm, does that line go here? or maybe it goes here? don’t know, let’s try both.”
Through the regular, occasional making of not for prime-time drawings, I learn all kinds of useful stuff. And as it happens I even love the drawings themselves. I love them. I think this is a delightful drawing. I’m so proud of myself. And you’ll never even guess what it is, and years hence neither will I.
February 22, 2013
I am finishing landscape drawings today, and I need some inspiration. Some picture to look at to help me think about those last steps in my own pictures. I want something that captures the feeling of nature, the light, the air — that’s translated it all into pigment and kept the gritty directness of it.
So this scene by Willard Metcalf, “The North Country, from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York is going to be my “picture on the wall” today – on the wall in my mind. And whenever I need a breather, I think I shall go and breathe this air.