I have been looking for butterflies without much success. We used to have a garden that attracted butterflies, but not this year. And the few I have happened upon accidentally have flitted away before I could fetch my camera. They are known for their flitting.
However, in the absence of actual butterflies, I see no reason why one couldn’t invent one’s own. So now I’m hunting things that are like butterflies and the first items that have answered my search are these two leaves that are early in their transformation, anticipating autumn.
Like the inventor in The Artist of the Beautiful, Nathaniel Hawthorne’s haunting short story, I’m out to create my own do-it-yourself flitter critter. My version of the quest is less haunting and romantic, more optimistic and can-do in spirit. But mine is also less actual in yearning for painting is illusory from the outset — my quest more so, is unreal two-fold, an illusion of an illusion.
The difficulty one encounters in trying to paint dreams is that often you cannot remember them. Dream memory is exceptionally fugitive. That feature of itself draws in a certain scientific interest (for those who study dreams) because it’s so startlingly different from ordinary perception. While you will most probably forget what you did this morning over the course of a few days, you are most unlikely to forget it seconds after it happens. But how often has one awakened from a dream only to see it seem to disintegrate even as one watches?
Some dreams last in memory and others don’t. Even what distinguishes the one sort of dream from the other is unknown. But while dreams cannot be counted on to furnish stable material for art, the process that one’s mind uses to dream is most probably accessible — to some extent — in a waking state.
I’m searching for some random things to include in certain pictures that are in the works. I say the things are random, but I only mean that they’re random in the way that dream elements often seem to come in bizarre forms. And one thing clearly connects to another as though by some great law of causality. But when you tell the dream to someone, it seems to make no sense at all. I am putting things into pictures just because, and wondering afterwards if the stream of consciousness leads somewhere.
Your dreams, O years, how they penetrate through me! (I know not whether I sleep or wake.) — Walt Whitman, Years of the Modern
This small painting Sea Flower will be on exhibit beginning this week in Old Town Alexandria, Virginia, at the Torpedo Factory. It combines two of my favorite things — a Queen conch seashell and my favorite floral cloth.
Here’s another view of the cloth, a detail from another painting.
The favorite floral cloth ends up in a lot of things.
In Sea Flower the two subjects almost blend together in a fairly abstract image. It was the camouflaging of the seashell in the painting that made me realize that the Queen conch is kind of a flower itself, a hard beautiful calcite flower.
The painting on exhibit is for sale. Inquire for details.
Today I’m doing a rehearsal drawing for a painting that’s in the works. This still life drawing — itself still in the works — makes up one part of the painting. I make the drawing to reacquaint myself with all the objects and because it is fun to draw it.
I work on this practice drawing from a photograph I took a long time ago and also from a drawing I made in front the actual still life, also from a long time ago, and as it happens all the objects in the two references are seen from a slightly different angle than they are seen in the painting, which as you may have guessed, I began a long time ago. So I will have to turn the positions of the things from memory. And making the rehearsal drawings is one way to better understand the things in relation to each other.
Here’s some of the seashell drawings propped in the studio. Those readers who followed my Big Tidy Campaign of 2017 as it was inspired by Marie Kondo’s delightful book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, are perhaps shaking your heads now wondering where I fell off the rails.
Well, the Big Tidy continues. But sometimes the studio gets a bit cluttered. Tis all part of the creative process. (Or that’s what I tell myself. )
A year or so ago, I forget when it was, I decided to do the seashells larger than life. It was a distinct departure for me because previously I had always portrayed them apparent size or life size. But I had some pastels I wanted to experiment with and a yen to work large and the seashells were all sitting right in front of me so the synergy all lead toward a large seashell.
Those experimental drawings I made are sitting where I can see them and have been prompting me to have a new whack at the motif. Hence the drawing above. Looking at the set up that inspired the first large seashell, you can tell that I was seeing the seashells from above them. Given a certain artistic ambiguity that particular fact doesn’t completely register in the drawing itself.
However for the drawing I began last week, the shell sits on a shelf at eye level and fits into the representational scheme of “things seen on a ledge.” It also takes up much more of the paper than the first one did. The first large seashell drawing I made was on an 18 x 24 inch sheet. This drawing measures 19.5 x 25.5 inches. The seashell itself is about ten inches long. So the drawing portrays it about twice life size. This latest drawing is the start; it will be interesting to see where it leads.
Here’s an in situ view of the shell in progress.
It’s a rainy dark day today so I won’t be working on this seashell. It’s my natural light shell and sits recessed on the shelf so that it’s dark even in daylight. But I have a nighttime seashell that I work on too. Ironically the nighttime seashell is brighter than the daytime seashell because I draw in it artificial light.
Actually I draw in the dark a lot. I love drawing in low light. But when I began doing en plein air drawing again, the first shock was seeing how bright the sticks look in the sunlight! I usually never see them that bright when I’m working.
People have often commented on the bright colors in my artwork (I love color) but would be surprised to know how often I work in low light conditions where the actual colors aren’t fully visible. Nevertheless, I know what I’m doing (I think) because the pictures come out with a balanced effect. But I don’t always see what I’m doing.
It seems like a very natural way to work, in my view, because color changes all the time anyway. All the time, all day long, as the light changes, so does color. Therefore you might as well just chase color in the wild — in its natural habitat — and get used to it. The chase is where you feel the adventure!
I visited Old Town Alexandria, Virginia, today for some outdoor drawing in its beautiful historic neighborhood. I was looking for crepe myrtles but didn’t find exactly the sort of tree I wanted, and so I settled instead for a drawing of a leafy shrub growing along the wall of someone’s town house. I have a painting project that includes many leaves in a dense pattern so drawing studies of leaves is an always helpful exercise.
For this drawing I used oil pastel on an 18 x 24 inch notebook. The ends of the metal easel are visible at the top and bottom of the photo.
I took a photograph of the plant and if anyone knows what it is, please leave the plant name in a comment. I am notoriously ignorant about plants, much as I love drawing them. But I do wish to learn their identities!
In making my drawing of leaves, I’m influenced by the way that Eugene Delacroix drew plants. Below is a drawing of hollyhocks (rose trémière) that illustrates his characteristic short hand way of drawing the contours of the plant’s parts.
With such a proliferation of leaves my drawing doesn’t deal with the whole plant in any way. I chose instead to focus on particular branches. During the course of drawing I got lost and forgot momentarily which branch I was drawing, which of itself provided some interesting information because it revealed how similar the different branches really are, right down to the shapes of individual leaves. I noticed then for the first time that the ends of the branches sometimes terminate in very similar leaf patterns.
So, as always when drawing from life, you learn something new.
Crayon lines form a landscape of assembled scribbles, like a drawing made of brightly colored spider web threads.
When I was engaged in the thick of my Big Tidy Campaign of 2017, having read Maria Kondo’s book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, I found things that had disappeared into life’s alluvia. I found, for instance, the photographic inspiration for this fanciful landscape at around the same time as I found the drawing itself, which I had started as only a vague sketch. Having the two things converge in time once more seemed like a token from the universe that maybe I should continue drawing — and so I did.
It was a great confluential good fortune, actually, because I had really loved the idea but I don’t recall now what event interrupted my work, causing the drawing to languish. With photo and drawing reunited, I could take up the theme once more. Indeed, I found the photo first and remembering the drawing thought to myself to have a new whack at it. But then soon after I also found the drawing. It measures 24 x 36 on beautifully woven, straw colored Nideggen paper.
I love the devil-may-care approach afforded by crayon drawing. It’s scattershot, a roll of the dice.
I love the dynamism of scribbled lines applied to a peaceful foggy clouds covering rolling serene blue mountains.
The crepe myrtles are blooming right now. All over the region they are in fullest flower, some trees are covered with blossoms. I have always loved them from my earliest childhood. My mind connects them to the many journeys to North Carolina to visit my Grandmother back when parts of North Carolina were still rural and wild. I remember the heat and an enormous landscape, a quiet that overflowed with insect noise.
We all have different sources of nostalgia, but I think that sometimes in art we communicate the nostalgia inside the painting — even if your summers had radically different referents — perhaps you can feel the nostalgia as a force in itself and find in a picture something that returns you to a place of special meaning in your heart.
I painted this landscape a couple years ago. And it’s today’s featured work for my new website at Fine Art America where reproductions of some of my pictures are sold.