I have been away from my blog while deeply entrenched in a project to reorganize my whole house and studio. It’s been quite an adventure, has provided a massive physical workout, and I’m still not done.
However, I am so much closer to my goal and that fact makes me feel marvelous. I was inspired in part by Maria Kondo’s insightful book “the life-changing magic of tidying up.” Her advice comes in handy as I plow through decades of possessions.
For now though, for today, I’m taking a bit of a breather. I decided to fiddle faddle around with an old watercolor of koi. It’s been over a month since I’ve done any painting so I’ve earned a little art time. Once I get the first phase of my project completed, though, I’ll be able to use my still life table in ways I never before dreamed!
When I found this old painting again (featured in the previous post), I was greatly surprised to discover that I had painted the pull of the zipper. There it is in the lower corner and you can even see a bit of the zipper track.
I guess I came under its spell.
The household reorganization continues, and it brings many joys. Marie Kondo in her book “the life-changing magic of tidying up” recommends that you begin the big toss by starting with the easy things — starting first with clothes. I did that earlier this week, and it was marvelous to get rid of old items. I’ve trimmed down to essentials. Many things are going to the dumpster and many to the thrift store.
But I have also rediscovered many wonderful old things. Kondo, who is a great appreciator of art, has directed her book toward the non-artist public so she doesn’t address the whole still life question. Clearly artists face a more than ordinary temptation to hoard stuff. So I take her basic principles and merely apply them to this other category of things. But going through the clothes, a few things have now transferred from “clothes” to “still life cloth.” Some of those transfers are quite just because these are things that truly do “spark joy.” Now the future joy will no longer be in the wearing but in the spectacle of seeing the colors and patterns behind various still life objects.
Nonetheless, the clutter gradually and steadily recedes. New spaces and opportunities appear. These are joyful days. I reencounter many memories. I discover new possibilities.
I seem to discard things and get ideas in their stead. I become rich in ideas. And I love ideas! So I am indeed quite rich now. Isn’t it marvelous?
[At the top of the post, one of the early paintings I encountered again. I also retrieved the mustard colored cloth (actually a satchel) that appears in it. The cloth will be making new appearances in the days ahead.]
Many times a bouquet of flowers will be arranged as though to get at a perfect order. I arrange the flowers when I paint them. But the random arrangement of weary flowers is lovely too. The flowers bunched along two sides of the vase leaving one green fond striving upward in space alone. That single leaf intersects the purple shadow that descends from the cloth behind the bouquet locking the composition together .
The striped cloth is a marvel to look at. I love to portray it. Its bands describe the shape of the space they occupy like a physics of color. The bands of green along the sides of the gourd running perpendicular to the bands in the cloth are Nature imitating art. Many colors are scattered through this picture and only the precision of their positions gives them balance. In a picture like this one, the only goal is to put each color exactly where it belongs. And then the rest is easy. The picture composes itself. And then the image resembles the things, like a mirror of life.
Striped Cloth with Flowers and Gourd is a pastel painting measuring 18 x 24 inches.
At the National Gallery yesterday I encountered my old friend Cezanne and his Still life with Apples and Peaches. I made this rapid, unfinished drawing with water soluble crayons. Cezanne’s painting is dark. My version brightens it up a lot. The crayons are very pure. Cezanne’s painting has, no doubt, darkened with age. But he also mixed the colors to deepen and dull them, giving them a feeling of gravitas.
I made my little drawing very quickly. I choose to be impulsive nowadays. Don’t question whether you have time to draw or raise other obstacles. Just pull out the notebook and have at it. With the drawing above, my daughter arrived soon after I started so the drawing didn’t go very far. But I like it’s summary cheerfulness all the same.
Bold yellow tea roses, a brilliant violet color in the background, a white and blue table cloth along with three bright orange, plump persimmons: these compose the scene with additional help from a jaunty white pitcher in the center that has a single pink painted rose decorating its rondure. Sometimes the colors and positions provoke a mood. This arrangement seemed provocative to me. It feels assertive. I thought the objects seem to speak. It is for each individual spectator to decipher life’s bold messages.
Tea Roses is a pastel painting measuring 20 1/2 x 17 1/2 inches.
I put some of my feelings into a bundle arranged in different colors, placed them into a glass of cool fresh water, set them upon the table, then stood and gazed at them to begin learning who I am and what I want.
The two paintings separated by slightly over twenty years are similar. The subjects are essentially the same. A vase of flowers sits on the table. Surrounding each bouquet are light airy background colors. Whatever you see is there because I put it there. I arranged the flowers and then painted them. How the two works differ reveals not only what I learned in the intervening years, it reveals differences in the way I think in past and present. We know it doesn’t reveal anything about the flowers because the flowers don’t change.
What’s the difference between a white background and a pale blue one? What about the introduction of blue and orange together — those chromatic opposites — what is the meaning of that? Or the emotional effect? How does it make you feel to look at a bunch of daisies sitting on a table? What are the connotations of daisies. They mean something different from roses. Why? Nature has given them radically different forms. The rose has depths. One remembers so many different experiences of flowers by smelling them, holding them, watching them grow, by receiving or giving them as gifts.
Do the details take you deeper into the feelings? Are the details more elaborate emotional landscapes? Shouldn’t we bring things closer for inspection? Closer is more.
These things that reveal our lives to us are so important. For me it’s art, for others, it is something else. Give some thought to the things that connect you to your past and to who you are inside.
Even seeing the differences when you’re the spectator tells something about the two image ideas. The differences in your feelings when you look at different scenes can tell you much about yourself if you watch and listen to the thoughts and feelings.
After I drew the more elaborate Lattice picture during the concert last night (earlier post), the thought popped into my head that “I could put anything anywhere.” It’s just a compositional sketch, after all. Why limit your thinking? To try out different options, I could rearrange the furniture of things that I knew I wanted in the painting. I could do it in the most unencumbered and straightforward way possible.
You just ask yourself questions. I begin (it’s an on-going process) by asking myself questions like: “what if I put the fish here?” “What if I put the owl there?” “What if the fence goes all the way to the bottom?”
“What if the water were flat?” “What if there were some tall grasses on the lower right?”
And so on.
These might resemble the “thumbnail” sketches taught in art school. They could not be further removed. The rearranging of things in the sketches has nothing to do with notions about good design or golden sections or whatever the thumbnail sketches are supposed to help solve.
The little compositional thingies are just visual ways of saying “what if the couch faced the window?” Or “what if we unloaded that stock and bought Company X stocks instead?” Or, “should we get a dog or a cat?” “Compact car or sports car?” “Cupcakes or cookies?”
They are exercises in brainstorming. They are a visual list. They are dream narratives. They are choices.
I set up still lifes for everything. Having a still life doesn’t mean that you have to depict it literally, either. You can use it as a platform for generating ideas. It gives you something to look at and think about. I simulate that process here by arranging some photos of a lattice (part of a baby gate) placed in front of a cloth decorated with a chain grid pattern. I altered the colors as much as my primitive photo edit program will allow.
Of course, by drawing something like this, I can alter the colors in any way I please. My “programming” is more variable.
WordPress’s photo format lets me further alter them by creating a composition made of square tiles.
This other photo below was edited through resizing, stretching one side while leaving the other side alone.
Fences keep things out and keep things in. The apertures of the chain link fence let many things in — to say nothing of all the things that fly over it. Animals and people are kept out or let in. Birds and insects don’t know there’s even a fence. For the bird or the insect, it’s a perch. For the spider it’s a place to build the web.
Lattice fences hold a fascination for me. I don’t know why. But I note that many other things that I want to put into the painting have lattices in them also — fish scales, owl feathers, cicada wings, dragonfly wings, a spider’s web, leaves (okay, that one’s a stretch — but Pierre Bonnard — ask him about little leafy squares), wave patterns ….
I had done the lattice before without awareness of the many connections, as the chain link fence in this drawing which is also a drawing for a painting that is “in the works.”
The lattice is the ultimate in negative space. Half the fun is that you can paint the thing and the space inside it too. I see the whole picture as a matrix and a veil in front of the eyes, a reality one creates like the dreamer of Ursula Le Guin’s Lathe of Heaven.