Drawn from the heart

several shells drawing in notebookDurer wrote about drawing from memory, enjoining artists to use their memories and imaginations to create images.  I can’t remember the whole quote, just the last (as I know it in English — he was German of course) … “drawn from the heart he gives them form.”  He saw the great artist as being someone who is “inwardly full of figures.”  Durer was himself inwardly FULL to overflowing with figures!

Well, I’m working on it.  Not inwardly full quite yet, though I do draw from memory more and more often these days as part of my regular discipline.

But this drawing of seashells was made sur le motif.  I have a bunch of seashells on the table.  I paint them again and again.  I draw them again and again. I love the shells because they are so complex.  They offer the artist so many lines, textures, shadows, angles.  You can turn the shell and see something totally different.  Drawing and redrawing them aids in painting them because I grow better at understanding their forms. Ah, the clever conch who makes these objects doesn’t have to work half so hard at his task!

Another fun thing about a drawing like this is that I don’t do all the drawing in one sitting.  It is, instead, my thing that I can pick up and put down.  I nibble away at it.  Adding a bit more now and again.

I thought this one was complete now, but as I look at it again I see more things to draw such as the large ginger jar on the left which is only barely indicated here — and the foreground of the table offers many possibilities ….  So many things remain for delight …

So one’s seashell thoughts stretch out over days and occasions.  I find my enchantment again and again.

Tropical Flower from the Sea

Conch seashells are beautiful

DSC_1053 (2)

and conch seashells are complex in form. Drawing them offers a consistent and wonderful challenge.  They have many irregular properties; for instance their shapes are complicated, no matter from what angle one looks. Turning the seashell round and drawing it from various aspects provides an artist with a delightful drawing challenge and offers the viewer an intriguing visual spectacle.  Also their surfaces have varied textures — one side is polished and subtle in hues, the back is more chalky and rough.  All the surfaces are covered with ridges and the spindle of the shell is circled by radiating points.  Undulating like a pleasing mountainous landscape, the  queen conch shell has patterns of variegated light and dark from its convex and concave surfaces.  Certain shells are also amazing for their lovely pearlesque colors.

I love to place the shells into differently colored still life settings.  In the picture Tropical Flower from the Sea a beautiful queen conch in profile is set upon a tabletop with a pale violet cloth and against a dark background where a deep red flower design abuts one curved edge of the shell. Shapes throughout the whole picture lock together like puzzle parts in a design with strong abstraction.

Tropical Flower from the Sea is an oil pastel painting on toned paper measuring 12 x 9 inches

A la prima

shell 3 25 17a

The shell began in morning light. The first marks were still morning thoughts. Interruption.  We needed to leave for our much longed for, much anticipated Saturday walk.  We’d waited all week for the chance.  But that walk took far longer than we had imagined.  We probably walked 46 city blocks.

The walk began at Jason’s where we get a light lunch — an egg and cheese bagel with coffee for me.  After the meal, my daughter and I walked to an art store across town over 20 blocks away past all manner of urban landscape. Coming back we were exhausted.  I had bought an armful of canvas panels.

Back at home returning to my seashell I found the light radically different.  But I hadn’t gotten very far along in the morning so I decided to keep working on the painting. While I painted I noticed that the muscles in my legs felt like they were vibrating.  Around 5pm the light changed.  It had become crystalline.  Waning light wrapped around each surface.

There is a beautiful, ineffable character to evening light. The clarity enchants.  Artists who paint twilight skies have little time to capture their effect.  And the same quick departure of the light influences the indoor still life too.  The table and its objects — the shells, the big fat black ginger jar decorated with a fruit motif, the pale blue table cloth — all coalesce in suspended time.  In dream light. Time, space, gravity, mass are all entangled in weird ways according to the physicists.  Well, you can sure believe it in late and waning day.

Finally I had to quit the painting. Mentally, though, thoughts linger inside that other light.

 

Dynamic Swimmers

advancing swimmersZig-zagging, radiating reflections announce the movement of the koi that swim in lazy formation toward the spectator. The calm quietude of the koi contrasts with the reflections created by their wake. They are dynamic in effect even when their actions are measured and smooth. The waves the koi make as they swim through the pond travel far from the fish ensemble. Their waves announce them to distant places and telegraph their presence to distant shores, saying, “The koi were here.”

Where the koi assemble, coming toward the spectator, passages of warm yellow, orange and red mix with pale luminescent silvery blue and mild violet tones in the level water. They swim in our direction and those jagged reflections begin to fall far behind them.

Dynamic Swimmers is drawn using Neocolors on Nideggen paper and measures 38 x 25.5 inches.

what drawing is

little lattice drawingDrawing is abstract. Drawing is the idea visible.  Drawing is artifice.

I drew in a little notebook some of the time while we listened to Musicians from Marlboro last night at the Library of Congress.

I was remembering a once and future painting of a fish who swims in a dream, of a lattice that surrounds ideas, of a bird that sings at night and of roses blooming.

Shimmering Crowd

Each substance has its own peculiar beauties.

koi swimming crayon (2)

Crayons are a medium that produce a particularly soft effect, accessible through a careful hatching technique.  The fish can seem suspended in a truly restful moment of easy floating in this picture in part because of the silkiness of the crayon marks themselves.  Parallel lines weave together like strands in a tapestry making gentle gradations of color, like undulations of wave that fuse contour and form. From this shimmering quality of light, the picture takes its name.

Shimmering Crowd   Caran d’Ache Neocolors on Nideggen paper, 38 x 25.5 inches

Random insights

two trees in the gardenI am learning about the ebb and flow of days. There is always something to do, and in art especially one can always draw.

I realized late last night that it doesn’t matter whether I work from a photograph, or from life, or from drawings, or imagination, or memory, or invention, or whatever.

What matters is the sense of conviction — when you feel that each decision is “true” then you put things together using your unconscious skills.  The picture will have cohesion because the ideas in your head will have cohesion.

I like to work from life most of all because in that instance I am least aware of making the choices and am most caught up in the motif so that the unconscious can have complete sway.  It is the very opposite of slavish imitation — it is a complete freedom from imitation that one finds inside imitation.

Koi Silk

 

Kois are wonderful animals.

bright fishes

They are lively, gregarious fish.  They are beautiful, graceful and swift swimmers. I often seek a parallel expression when I’m drawing and painting the koi.  I want the drawing to represent the qualities of the fish themselves.  The drawing should be direct and swift-seeming. Sometimes that directness is best achieved through the most obvious means.  Sometimes I draw the fish quickly and boldly so that the gestures of drawing can echo the movements of the swimmers and the water that flows around them. Hatch marks (parallel lines used to create passages of color and tone in drawing) help to further convey a sense of things moving, and calligraphic gestures of line also evoke motion and urgency. This drawing is one where the sense of swift movement — even more than of form — becomes the subject of the picture.  One partly submerged fish is so blurred that his forms are broken into a broad abstract shape and the blur takes on a loveliness of its own. Some pictures of animals focus on their anatomy, but in my koi pictures I have sought the relationship between the fish and the water and the ways that they fuse visually.

Koi Silk is painted using oil pastel on Nideggen paper and measures 38 x 25.5 inches.

Reassertions

detail green flowers

When I was eighteen I thought I had an instinctive understanding of art. The things that I loved hit me with force.  I didn’t question the things I liked.  I didn’t question what I didn’t like either.  I moved toward what I wanted and ignored the things that didn’t appeal to me.  I had ideas — really they were closer to feelings — about what should be done first, about how a thing ought to be drawn, and about the inner nature of color.  I didn’t know at first how to mix colors, but I was pretty sure that I could learn it because something about color just felt familiar.  I thought I could see the “colors inside the colors.”

I make no representation about whether my ideas were “correct.”  It doesn’t matter because the whole notion of correctness is difficult to assemble anyway. These were simply my ideas. It never dawned on me to question them any more than I would question the wisdom of taking the next breath. They felt right.  But I also had hidden ideas, ones I wasn’t aware I possessed, ones that I note in retrospect from the advantage of age.  So, for instance, I would portray my motif a certain size without noticing that I was making the choice.  A particular, very specific placement of the motif into the canvas felt right and I had made the choice without first even asking the question. I had selected something that seemed obvious.  I wasn’t aware of choosing.

So I had a natural relationship to what I was doing. Ah, youth.  How easily one can spoil one’s happiness.  I was impatient as a young person (not an unusual quality in the young).  I expected things to begin “looking right” sooner than was even possible.  I made no provision for error.  What happens when you make a mistake?  I got easily discouraged.  I was impetuous.  Sometimes when a painting was actually going well, I abandoned it because it didn’t satisfy the ideal I had in my head that I was chasing.

That was then. Now I have noticed as I paint, as I have observed myself in a mental movie that plays inside the walls of the cranium, that I was putting down lines and marks technically in a fashion that’s a lot like the way I painted in my youth at the very beginning.  Moreover, I have seen a resemblance between the still life I’m doing now and one that I made decades ago.  How do I describe the delight?

It is almost as though I get another shot at one aspect of being young.  If you could travel via time machine to one random moment in your past, not even selecting some special moment, but if you could relive the most ordinary moment, but by so doing could recall the way the world seemed to present itself to your awareness at that young age — how marvelous that would be.  That’s how this experience feels now.  Not quite that intense, but I do get to re-experience some random thoughts I had long ago — only this time I get to bypass the adolescent impatience and self-criticism.  I just enjoy the surface of the painting as it unfolds.  It is as though one wakes up and looks out the window at the morning with the exuberance that a ten year old feels.

It’s an elixir of youth. Spring is coming, but not for the first time.  What if in anticipating the coming spring, one remembers the many springs of time past?  What is the combined impression of many spring times converging into the same channel?

Perhaps it’s the green of the table cloth that is like the green of new plants or the blanched background that wants to be bright like a bold, yellow sun.

Dark and Light Spaces

Dark and light are elemental.

koi swimming in light and darkness

Large fishes swim out of the dark recesses of the pond toward the light. The closest fish is near in size to the actual living fishes.  When the koi are near enough to touch, they look like this.

Light and dark are elemental — day and night, sleep and wakefulness, insight and confusion, known and unknown.  This picture has two separate sides, one dark, one light.  On the left side where the pond is dark, the white fish with orange patches stands out keenly. On the right side where the water is lighter, where pale blues colored like morning abide, the textures become almost silky. Whenever a picture separates into left and right, I look for possible correspondences in thought since our brains have left and right sides that perceive things differently. Sometimes the hints of different orders of perception will manifest themselves visually in a picture with “right” and “left.”

They do blend together also.  The fishes clump together. The alternate states blend together too.  Sometimes knowledge and mystery are all mixed up like fishes.

The fishes are more particular in depiction than in some other pictures of the koi.  You see into the fishes’ sympathetic eyes, can see their conspicuous whiskers. Some of the fishes’ bodies gleam with reflections of light when their wet skin meets air as they momentarily rise to the surface.

Like left and right, like dark and light, the fish rise to the surface or else swim beneath it unseen.  Like thoughts the fishes swim sometimes into places where they become visible.  Like thoughts, too, they are good metaphors for all the things that we don’t know about ourselves.  When they slip beneath the water, their disappearance is like the unraveling of a dream.

Well, here they swim — keenly seen and fully visible. Some fishes, it’s true, are more blurred and veiled by water that passes over them. The random partial views of animals form signposts, contribute to the theme running through the story that is the life you live, presenting the metaphor that an invisible director offered in this real life movie so that hints and clues can sparkle and gleam, like reflections of deeper meaning and poetic connection.  By randomness some things — fishes in this case! — are seen and other things are hidden or are visible only in part.  One sorts out a life puzzle without instruction. Or are the directions there too, also hidden in metaphors?

“Light and Dark Spaces” measures 19 x 24 inches and is drawn with dry pastel on Canson Mi-Teintes textured paper.