materials of art

Finding the right combination of materials

Kuschan sea shell  in pastel large 18 x 24

is a challenge. In anticipation of teaching a pastel class in the fall at McLean Project for the Arts, I’ve been trying out pastel ideas. The most basic relates to materials. What kind of pastels do I recommend for beginning pastellists? What sorts of surfaces will I recommend? At first I was leaning toward a 30 half stick set of Rembrandts, but certain colors of the sticks can be difficult to use. So I’ve purchased a 24 stick set of NuPastels which I’ll be testing for a while.

I’m already familiar with both brands, but the question in my mind is which small set of pastels would be easiest for someone new to the medium? NuPastels grand set is 96 sticks large. I love them. But I’m not recommending that the newcomer invest in a large set from day one. While some people in my class may have used pastels before, and may have their palette already well sorted out, I need to consider the absolute newcomer too.

101_8702 (2)

Here are the pristine NuPastels vying with the bananas for attention. I got these at Artist & Craftsman Supply in Hyattsville, MD, a new store in this region. (You can buy stuff from them online also.)

While trying out materials with the beginning artist in mind, I was using Canson mi-teintes papers. That was the surface that certain Rembrandt sticks weren’t liking. When fighting with pastels — some sticks get slick and won’t crumble onto the paper and adhere — I was thinking what a shame it is that I cannot recommend sanded papers which work a lot more easily with all kinds of pastels.  They’re expensive though and expensive surfaces are not good choices for newcomers.  You don’t need to feel intimidated by a sheet of paper.

It dawns on me now that maybe using one of the acrylic pumice mixes might solve the problem so I’m headed back to Artist & Craftsman later today to get some Golden Pumice Gel to use on Strathmore watercolor paper.  I’ll be testing this combination using both the NuPastel 24 sticks and the Rembrandt 30 half sticks.  My chief question will be how full is the palette in range?  How easily are these materials used in this particular combination?

When I did my  kois which were the feature of the previous post I was working on UART fine sanded paper and Canson mi-teintes “touch” papers with a variety of pastel brands including NuPastels, Rembrandts, Senneliers, Richeson, Unison, Diane Townsend and Great American.  They’re all wonderful. It helps that I had depicted the koi in other media before I began doing them in pastel.

Meanwhile, the drawing featured at the top, seen below in scale, was an experiment too, one made before I knew I’d be teaching a pastel class.  I just wanted to make a larger than life size shell to see what that would be like, and I used ordinary Strathmore 400 series paper with Conté pastels.

Kuschan sea shell in pastel large studio view

I like to try things. Strathmore 400 series medium tooth paper is all purpose. It’s not designed for pastel, but it was not difficult to use. You wouldn’t want it for soft pastels, but it’s a decent surface for the harder ones. The notebook pictured on the easel is 18 x 24 inches.

If you look very closely you can see a highly specialized artists’ tool on the upper right hand corner of the drawing.  It’s used for keeping the pages of the notebook tight while it rests on the easel.  I believe it’s called a “clothes pin.”

At McLean Project for the Arts registration is open for my “coloring book” class — a study in line.  That happens in July.

 

the kois in pastel

Back in September, the koi were everywhere.

studio 2 (3)

The one on the easel has been pulled from storage and will make the trip to the framer soon.  Hopefully soon.  It needs an application of fixative for which I need to be able to go outdoors, and anyone in the Washington DC area can tell you that we’ve had an unprecedented season of rain.  I have contemplated building an ark.

Last fall I made a lot of koi drawings in pastel.  Other drawings are visible around the sides of the easel. I loved that long session of painting with pastel and am eager to resume using the medium again. Even though many of my life class drawings were made with pastel, I don’t think of those as being the same as these koi drawings since the kois were made on sanded paper.  The sanded surface allows for options that the plain paper doesn’t.  They are both wonderful, though — now I’m feeling guilty.  All art supplies are wonderful, each in their own ways.  But maybe it’s also the control I can exert while working in my own studio that isn’t possible in a life class. Most of my pastel palette had to stay home when I did the life class drawings.

Plus I like working large.  In my studio I was working about as large as is practicable (unless I get a bigger studio).  The largest work (seen behind the easel on its side above, and on the easel in the photo below) was made by taping together two large sheets of sanded paper. When the paper is large, the fish seem more real.  They begin to approach life size.  Kois can get big!

studio 4 (2)

The board that the paper is attached to is 40 x 6o inches.  But the biggest of the fishes (excluding the ones that got away) are on individual sheets of the large sanded paper.  I put two sheets on a board and would cover up the one on the bottom whenever I worked on the top one to prevent pastel dust from falling upon it. They stay on these boards in storage until they’re ready to be framed.

101_0087 koi tower

During winter with the space being so close I have avoided the big pastel binge, but with the weather improving I long to return to pastel again in a big way.  Need to find these guys a home, and then probably the next up will be flowers.

yesterday’s prep for today’s class

Went better.

101_8696

I began making some small oil pastels for practice, using photographic sources. I make them late at night and “some times the magic works and sometimes it doesn’t” as said the old Indian in an old movie I saw ages ago.

I also began making a copy of the head of a painting that I only learned about yesterday via Twitter. Wonderful thing about the internet is that you discover bits of art history that you never knew.  The painting is by Albert Herter.  What I post here will be just a detail from his painting. My oil pastel copy in the works appears immediately below, and his original below that.

101_8699

 

albert herter (2)

PS – in the “learn something new everyday category,” while I was looking for a link to Herter’s painting, having just learned about him yesterday, I misspelled his name. Well, it turns out that there’s an Albert Hertel who was a painter also.  You can learn about him here.

life class today

 

Very challenging pose

101_8686

and I don’t like the drawing.  The model was fantastic.  I would have loved to do a straightforward portrait. I definitely wasn’t looking for a reclining pose, and the unaccustomed view was difficult to manage. However I was glad to get a version of the face that seems to have its parts in almost the right places. I found myself wishing I was painting for the sake of color and for paints greater ease of making corrections.

Before doing the life size version on the dark grey paper, I made a smaller color version on 9 x 12 Strathmore paper.  I like it a lot better though its more caricatured. It seems sweet somehow.

101_8701 (2)

I made several small fast drawings in the notebook at various junctures during the session, which I like better even though they are very spare and exaggerated.

101_8688

They all appear at this blog as though they’re nearly the same size as the oil pastel, but the lines tell you that this is writing paper so you can judge that these are small images. It’s kind of fun to see them enlarged so that they compete with the oil pastel above which is approximately life size.

101_8689 (2)

When I draw this way I am just thinking to myself. It’s a way of putting things where I think they belong, and with each subsequent drawing I strive to correct errors of prior attempts. And yet I’m not focused on error, just drawing and putting lines down.

101_8689 (3)

I’m going to be teaching soon, beginning in July. I could have left these in the file but I include them because I am so often preaching about making mistakes and taking chances. I shouldn’t be lecturing anyone about mistakes if I’m not willing to make some very publically myself. Or — it’s not even that these are mistakes. They are drawings that are not particularly refined. They each have helpful information in them (helpful to me anyhow).

Sometimes artists will find a method that is pretty reliable that they can use in demos. When I teach I plan to avoid the prepackaged technique, and I’m hoping that the students will appreciate my high wire act. By taking chances I could, after all, fall on my fanny. And that would be awkward.

But if I do fall, I’ll dust myself off and continue drawing.

101_8691 (2)

Representing the eyes as slits was especially delightful. I strove to pare things down to big essential shapes.

101_8694 (2)

I turned this one around because I like it better from this angle. That’s another thing about making these sketches: they give me ideas. Here it’s not a reclining person, it’s a face of someone upright.

101_8694 (3)

A pose like this one is difficult to draw and to get true. The positions of the features are confusing when seen at this angle. We’re used to seeing people upright. Also the effect of gravity changes the features and a really good drawing will capture that change. The movement of the face is toward the floor so the lower cheek will be drooping a little, even in a young model with very plastic features.

I rely on perception and I throw the line like you’d throw a baseball. Aim, throw. If you don’t take chances then a certain versatility never has a chance to occur. Sometimes you get one shot at something, and to do it the way you experience it may take bravado. But if we always demure and follow a safe route we never learn how to seize the moment, never prepare emotionally for the bold gesture.

If a befuddled robin happens to land on a limb in front of you while you’re drawing, you haven’t time to say to yourself “this is an oval, here’s another oval.”  You better just start drawing — fast — before the bird realizes his mistake.

If I needed this pose for a painting, I’d hire a model and do several versions until I got it right. But in life class you do the day’s pose and then move on. You never know what you’ll get and you just try to be adaptable!

For my ego’s sake, I want to post a similar drawing I did that worked out.  I drew it from a photo, but I still think it has some bragging rights.

reclining child

Similar idea except that this time it succeeded!

 

Another koi drawing

101_8681 (2)

This drawing in oil pastel is near completion. All the fishes still need a going over; some more than others (like the guy on the lower left who’s only blocked in).  When I see it across the room I love the design and the overall affect of the colors. Partly for that reason I sometimes fail to notice how much is unfinished. My mind jumps to the things I like. Seeing the painting reduced in photography helps me sort out what needs attention.

It’s oil pastel (Caran D’Ache Neopastel) on violet Canson mi-teintes pastel paper. The darkish violet-purple is a wonderful tone to work on, making all the colors really strong, especially the lights.

This one’s going to the framer when it’s complete.  Hopefully that will happen fairly soon.

If it looks familiar, that’s because I’ve also been working on this motif in a painting that’s still in the works too.

101_8682 (2)

I like doing the same motif more than once. The differences interest me.  I’m not sure why. They become variations on a theme as in music.

Certainly the white ground of the painting verses the violet tone of the paper makes them dramatically different in feeling and mood.

 

talkin’ to myself

Notes to myself, some things to consider

matisse-copy-detail
after Matisse

 

for the next life class.

One is to work smaller. I could do a drawing at a comfortable size (apparent size) from anywhere in the room. Go back to the easel, copying my own drawing (that I just made) make the actual pastel at the easel location, enlarging the drawing to whatever size I want, inventing color based on whatever view of the model I have at the easel (even though it’d be a different view).  Down side is having to move back and forth between the two locations (which would be distracting for other participants). Up side: you’d have to rely heavily on memory and invention, good skills to develop.

Another option is working on smaller versions through the whole session, having less investment in a specific image. (No more larger than life size.)  Spread out the risk, less stress.  If one drawing turns out to be particularly good, you could enlarge it at home. You could, after you’ve done all you can in the pastel, also gather more information using another drawing that you make with pen in a notebook.  Advantage is that you stay put.

drawing-wacky-version-after-ingres-close-up
after Ingres

 

Another option is that you can be all que sera about it. If you get the back of the model’s head, draw the back of the model’s head. Let Fate decide. Stay with the larger format, do everything you were doing before, accept whatever you see from your easel’s location. Fully accept the challenge of the uncertainty.

drawing-after-degas-dancers-detail-two
after Degas

 

Or you could stand holding a notebook (no easel) and work in spaces between other participants’ easels using oil pastel (less messy than dry pastel). Down side: how much space is there, really, between easels?

Invest in one drawing — biggish, though maybe not larger than life size — or not very much larger. You could spend a lot of the time on the drawing as a whole. Working in vine charcoal to get the form right; then do pastel from that point forward.  Would be a way of thinking about the large lines of the drawing (like certain Matisse drawings), using erasure as an effect.  I’m sort of leaning toward this choice.  Thinking of Diebenkorn’s riff on Ingres. However, this option assumes you have a good pose.

b0208e372a41135dd0fc4f03cd40fc1a
after Ingres, imitating Diebenkorn

Also, giving more attention to drawing (at the outset) means being less spontaneous than what I was being before. The recklessness prompted me to make bolder use of pastel as a medium, but maybe it’s time to move toward getting a core for the motif.  Less about color, more about line.

(Paintings from life classes long ago.)

What to do, what to do ….

UPDATE: just saw this on twitter and am thinking now that if I put my own background behind the model (imaginatively) it matters less what the pose is.  So there’s another possibility.

albert herter (2)
Albert Herter “Woman with Red Hair,” 1894 detail

 

More drawings of faces

I draw faces with a pen.101_8650 (2).jpg

It helps me get ready for the life class. I like scribbling and trying to create the face evocatively, pulling it out of the darks. I love making the dark areas using hatching lines. I love the deep blue of the bic cristal pen’s ink and the way that you can smudge it subtly with a paper towel.

Then there’s oil pastel. Drawing with oil pastel helps me even more directly, helps me think about how I’ll use color in the life class.  Copying the Victorian photos using fauvist colors provides practice thinking about color as a form of invention. And it’s nearer to what I  do in the life class where I’m using dry pastel as my tool. The pen drawing above and the oil pastels below are more inventions based on Julia Margaret Cameron’s Pre-Raphaelite photographs.

 

101_8652 (3)These oil pastels are small drawings, on Canson mi-teinte pages measuring 9 x 12 inches.

101_8653

a koi drawing

101_8669 (2)

The central tangle of nervous lines is what I see first. I thought I had done about as much work on these koi as I could, but I now realize that all the dynamism occurs in the center. The upper part of the picture remains uncomposed. I put the field of blue there thinking that the solid color was all that was needed. But the nervous green lines of those central fish require some counterpoint from the other sections of the drawing. I was so mesmerized by the center that I didn’t recognize the problem.

I’ve worked on it some more.

I added a fish’s nose at the upper right, which is a better correspondence with the source photo I use.

101_8678 (2).jpg

I had to get rid of as much blue as I could with a heavy eraser to be able to apply the orange.

After I added the fish nose, I began working on the opposite side simply to put more stuff there, stuff in this case being contrasting marks of dark and light blues.

101_8677 (3)

I press the oil pastel deeply into the paper sometimes and it frays away the top of the crayon, creating an impasto.

101_8676 (3)

Without the context of the rest of the drawing, details become episodes of abstract painting. The criss cross hatching on the right depicts a koi’s scales.

101_8675 (3)

Here’s the fish with the scales again. Ripples of water roll over the fish and into their open mouths.  The network of gestural lines follows these waves.

Here’s the whole thing again after these most recent changes. I might see more things to add or change after I look at it some more.

101_8672 (3)

It’s 18 x 24 inches on Strathmore 400 series. Usually colored papers work better for pastels (even for oil pastels), but this is a sheet of ordinary white paper. No doubt the white contributes to the over all luminosity of the drawing.

 

Getting it Right

Everyone talks about what’s wrong

101_8656

but I think most people have difficulty figuring out what they got right. Recognizing mistakes is often easy. (Making them is easy too!) When a picture has a lot of mistakes, how do you discover what you did right? How do you marshal skill to get things right, to recognize and correct mistakes, and to go forward toward new decisions?  Sometimes it gets sticky.

In the picture above, which is a large practice cartoon for a painting idea, I have wanted to emulate Pierre Bonnard since I’ve loved his art for nearly as long as I can remember. Bonnard’s work is chaotic, “naïve,” fuzzy, idiosyncratic. His pictures are filled with features that could easily be categorized as mistakes. He made an art of mistake. So it seems unlikely that I’m going to get very far along his path if I assiduously strive to draw everything correctly.

101_8660

How do you achieve the mistake that is art? How do you recognize the mistake that is a mistake? Context is everything. For most people, mistakes are things they wish to avoid. In the art that I’m addressing the mistake is a goal to be achieved because I’m seeking the kind of perfect mistake that is expressive, that uses exaggeration to reach a truth that cannot be gotten by following the path of precision.

Since this is a working drawing, made solely for the purpose of figuring something out, I taped a page over top of an area that was “more mistaken” than what I was seeking. Afterwards I continued integrating the new sheet into the existing image.

101_8662

It’s a back burner picture right now since I’m busy with other things. I bring it out of the closet to think about what mistakes are and why we must make them if we want to learn new skills, and why sometimes they transform into marvelous discoveries if we just plow forward.

I also want to address the idea of appreciation.

101_8659

I love the criss cross shadow cast by the compotier. The criss cross opening on the compotier basin is just barely indicated in this drawing — by some hatching beside one of the apples. I loved seeing this feature in the still life set up. I loved drawing it quickly and crudely in this drawing. I realized afterwards that I had hit some Bonnard pay dirt, since his art is full of hatching and squares of various sorts. And my still life was full of them too in ways I hadn’t noticed when I put it together. (Give your subconscious the respect it deserves.)

101_8664

I can draw, I can draw! I’ve supplied various examples at this blog to demonstrate that fact to myself and to others. I did so just so I could grant myself the freedom to make a bushel basket full of mistakes if I want. Just look at how pretty the colors are, the marks as marks.

101_8663

I don’t mind telling you that drawing this image was fun. And it’s not finished or anything, I just abandoned it because something else came up.  I’ll go back to it eventually I suspect, if the past is any indication of the future.  Look at how freely I drew some of this stuff. Look at the wonderful way that the crayon scumbles, light over dark.  The texture of the paper is definitely a factor.

Since I’m emulating Bonnard, I include some of his painting for comparison.

bonnard still life

Mine is a large drawing. I had to bend over to draw the bottom, reach up to do the top, move the thing around on the easel to get to this and that part. It’s physical.

101_8658 (2)

Things are the wrong sizes relative to each other. Ellipses don’t work. The angle of vision is confusing. I have no idea where I would be standing to see it. Things are cartoonish. (I love the flowers.)  Some of the colors are wonderful. The whole thing has a clunkyness that I sometimes love, sometimes hate.

I’m praising the good things about my picture because I think that’s what you should be doing as well (praising the good things in my picture  oops — I mean, praising the good things in YOUR pictures).

Another Bonnard, this one with a compotier:

fruit-bowl-1914 bonnard

Having standards will make you strive, and that’s a good thing. Developing appreciation nourishes your spirit. It’s hard to persist in a complicated project if you are often berating yourself. For those reasons, I give myself full reign to enjoy the pictures I make. I like drawing. I like this kind of inventive drawing, which is very different from setting up a still life and painting it directly. I began a new thing and gave myself a challenge. And I post these images here because they have a lot of mistakes in them.  To succeed fully enough mistake has to be siphoned away or transmuted until just invention remains.

101_8667.JPG

That’s a high wire act because people like different things. (Some artists and art lovers hate Bonnard.) At long last there’s no authority you can turn to that can assure you that you took the correct path. The definitions of success and mistake are amorphous. But if I succeed according to my own idea the picture will find an inner logic. I don’t know yet what the result will look like, but I am encouraged — in all my pictures, not just this one — to go forward toward finding that logic.

A detail of a large Bonnard still life below, notice the wonderful stripes:

SONY DSC
Bonnard, detail of a large still life

Information about the painting above is available HERE.

I’ve written about mistakes but still haven’t identified the most significant mistakes of my picture. As I look at it now, its problems begin with the large design. Putting in more information will help sort out what the large compositional problems are (the whole lower left of the picture is still blank, for instance, though it’s supposed to feature a design on the table cloth).  Until the additional stuff is there, it’s impossible to judge how the parts will relate to each other. And after I put more stuff in, it’s possible I might have to take some of it out again (which is the reason for making the practice cartoon in the first place).

All the figuring out what is a mistake is something I leave for another occasion.  For now, I’m just focusing on what I like because people don’t pay enough attention to what is right when they are busy seeing “mistakes.”

101_8665

Green and yellow, above, and energetic lines, colors that push up against each other: these are things I like.

 

Amusement, whimsy & lines

Drew some faces rapidly with a pen for amusement

101_8643

and practice.

I made several versions of an image based on a photograph by Julia Margaret Cameron, the Victorian era photographer. (Above and below)  Each one is different, but all are based on the same photo.

Other faces come from other historical photos that I’ve found on the internet.

101_8648

They decorate a journal that I keep. They entertain me while I’m relaxing, watching tv, in my idle moments. And they are very freedom inspiring. You can’t undo a pen line (though I did use oil pastel to soften some passages) so I am swashbuckling in my use of the pen. It’s a wonderfully expressive tool. Built for exaggeration and impulse.

101_8642

I like to be often scribbling. I love the appearance of even just the ink on the paper. Pen ink is such a beautiful thing.

When I was a child learning cursive, I loved the shapes of letters and the shiny beauty of ink. That love has stayed with me across the many years.

101_8647

A gestural line, dense hatchings: I find them endlessly fascinating. The energy of cross-hatching can be exhilarating and yet also relaxing because it is both dynamic and repetitive.

101_8649.JPG