Without knowing anything about Buddhism and with no particular intention to learn about Buddhism (except indirectly) I have been reading and rereading Shunryu Suzuki’s little book “Zen Mind Beginner’s Mind.” I’m on my 4th reading, and truly I find new things inside his simple commentaries with each rereading.
I got the book with the intention of seeing how it might apply to art. The application to art turns out to be very direct and useful. So, one notion found in this philosophy is to become fully active and aware (as much as possible) in doing whatever you are doing in the moment you are doing it. In art this can include the desired elements of focusing on the drawing, but it can also incorporate incidental elements like opening and closing tubes of paint, cleaning brushes, or standing back to look at the painting or at the motif.
Whatever you are doing, be inside it. Notice that you are here now doing this. The idea of no gaining is to let go of results, which is not the same as not having a plan or abandoning a plan, or abandoning standards or any of those negations. You can still have a plan, have standards and ideals, and want to paint a nice picture. However, you make yourself aware how future oriented all those tasks are, and thus focus your attention upon what you are doing now — this line, this color, this impression, and so forth. In doing whatever you are doing now, you can let go of the gain. It’s not that the gain is bad or unimportant. It’s merely that the gain is somewhere that is not “now.”
So one is simply focused on now. It is more focus, not less focus. It is to become part of the line, the color, the materials, the thought process — only in its unfolding rather than in its abstract and hoped for future manifestation.
Or, that’s my understanding at least. My understanding right now. I might understand it differently at some future moment, who knows ….
I abandoned my blog. And today I return. It’s been about a year. Well, Delacroix’s notebooks include a 22 year hiatus, I believe, so my neglect is not as bad as his was. Whether I’ll resume regular posting or not matters not. I am living inside the moment!
Above is a little drawing made from a photograph. And below is a little painting I made from the above drawing.
I have a plan. It’s a continuation and elaboration of an experiment I have pursued for a while. The plan is to use photography to practice making landscape drawings, and afterwards to paint using exclusively the drawings. Then once the warm weather returns I hope to venture out into the spring and draw very quickly from life — since I will have practiced beforehand using the photos — make many quick landscape drawings and afterwards paint the landscape from the drawings. Hence the practice is meant to develop a better quickness.
Then I can paint landscape “from life” (so to speak) without painting en plein air and lugging all the paint paraphenalia to some location. It’s much easier to draw from life than to paint — much quicker, much lighter, much less cumbersome and even much more direct.
Does it sound like a good plan? We’ll find out! Until spring I am making many small landscape practice drawings and paintings as well as continuing various larger projects.
I’m wondering what will happen if I just let the ideas appear, not judging or interfering in the perceptions. I think it would be delightful to be surprised by my own painting. Sometimes that happens. It is as though someone else painted the picture. If you know you’ve got a certain measure of skill, what if you just forget about all the “shoulds” that you ever heard, and instead use the skills you have (whatever they are) to respond to the motif, and let the chips fall where they may?
Then what happens? I am wondering what it’s like to do painting as a form of inquiry, as a way of asking lots of questions, following the thoughts with the colors of paint, and then be as surprised as the next person about the results.
I have some plans for a largish painting that will feature an abundant amount of red. I think about it often. The studio is set up for other things at present, so I have to finish those first. But for my “warm ups” I have begun doing small pictures that are very red.
It’s fun. It’s thrilling — to have a few bits of the much longed for experience. I love playing around with colors.
The painting at the top measures 9 x 12 inches. The lower on is 8 x 10. Both are painted with acrylics.
Autumn is arriving — has arrived. The effects of the changing light appear in the landscape bit by bit as the seasons change. I try to observe that change which is continual. Looking at the outdoors one looks at Nature’s clock and the effects are similarly clock-slow. The length of days is gradually shorter. The angle of light is more pronounced. The trees and plants respond and begin to let go of their summer fullness.
Nevertheless, for landscape drawing, incidental change occurs rapidly. Light changes quickly and getting the features that you see means drawing quickly — which I enjoy. I set up outdoors and make fast drawings of the little red house.
I throw myself into it. It is not so much drawing in the sense of creating an image as it is noticing lines, shapes, colors, positions and putting them down as fast as one can think. The image arrives later by itself. I play a game that’s like tennis with the scene in front of me. It throws light at me and I bat at the sensation. The percepts keep coming and I keep swinging — until some moment when the whole effect has obviously changed. Then the game is over. Possibly that’s it — or else you set up for another round.
In the past I have used oil pastel often as a sketching medium, as a way of trying out ideas before committing myself to painting. But lately, particularly now that I’m using acrylic paint, I have been going straight to the painting to experiment with ideas directly there. Consequently I’m using oil pastels much less.
They’re a beautiful medium so I don’t want to neglect them entirely. I am enjoying the directness of just painting though. I find that I can blast away more with paint.
I decided to embark upon a more visceral sort of painting so sometimes I take a small canvas and just paint. I thought it would be fun simply to respond to what I see in as unmediated a fashion as I can manage.
So here’s one small painting made with that “get ready, get set, go!” spirit. It measures 8 inches square.
Still life is a contemplative kind of painting. When you think about it, what does a still life offer? It’s simply a set of objects to gaze upon. Sometimes the objects may have clear symbolic meanings, but often — perhaps most of the time — the objects are just themselves. They might not even be fully themselves, depending upon how they’ve been painted. In the still lifes of my hero Matisse, sometimes the objects are caricatures of themselves, sometimes they are almost cartoon versions of things — bounded by heavy contour lines, generalized into broad colors.
To place overmuch attention to the acquisition of things is called “materialism,” in our culture (which has some uneasy feelings about its various economic successes). And yet we live in a world of objects, and we build our human nests (after a fashion) and fill them with things we think we need or that we cherish. And so still life painting puts the focus squarely upon the things. It offers up the quiet drama of things — or possibly a vision of sentimental attachments — or reflections of private life.
The paper horse was something I rediscovered while cleaning the attic, a relic of my daughter’s childhood when we routinely made things from paper. I brought it down and it almost instantly landed on the still life table. All the objects have some bit of sentimental energy in them (for me, possibly visible to the viewer too). But the objects on the table also seem to insist upon their abstract presence. They are simply and frankly things. Bound to the table by gravity, visible by the light they reflect, they simply are. So they hang there in space like planets revolving around a star or like the particles that physicists tell us make up the physical cosmos.
They have an abstract beingness. They just are. They are stuff. And what do artists do? They look at stuff and copy it into pictures.
Paper Horse measures 48 x 36 inches, is painted in acrylic paint on canvas.
I drew and redrew the same image of flowers from a photograph. None of them quite looked like the flowers. But the image was mesmerizing and the chaos drawings that arose were … something … I don’t know what they were.
This is one of them above.
Now, oddly enough, it’s also one of many studies for a Flower Wall painting I made that was exhibited this summer.
The passage down at the very bottom of the painting, to the left of the butterfly, is how it appeared in the painting itself. I made lots of drawings of the image. Not sure how many. No doubt — some time or other — I’ll make others — or will draw something like it.
Here’s how Flower Wall looked in the exhibit. It measures 48 x 48 inches.
And the theme of the butterfly crossed into the large Butterfly Emblem. Not planned. It’s just the way of butterflies — they flit from one place to another.