I was drawing at the National Gallery of Art yesterday — practicing figurative drawing for the regular life class I attend — and made this drawing after Jules Dalou’s portrait of Alphonse Legros. I suppose they had an idea about hair — as an expressive feature — that really gets exploited in 19th century art. In Alphonse Legros’s own self-portrait (see below) he seems to have somewhat less dramatic hair than that with which Dalou portrays him.
While I was drawing the sculpture, I got very caught up in the features of Legros’s magnificent, fictional, lionesque mane. My drawing is inside a 9 1/2 by 6 1/4 inch Stillman and Birn notebook. I also made a slightly larger drawing on Strathmore drawing paper (not pictured). And I’m eager to get back to the museum soon and make some more drawings after the sculpture — because — the hair!
Here’s a photo of the sculpture on NGA’s website — different angle — but it’s a link to an image that you can zoom into if you’re so inclined ….
At first I thought the bust was by Rodin because the room is full of Rodin sculptures of various sorts and sizes. I had never heard of Dalou before, but now I learn that he was an amazing sculptor with a quite expansive, varied oeuvre.
And while looking for information about the National Gallery’s Rodins, I happened upon a fabulous Rodin drawing that NGA owns. The link below also has a zoom feature. So, I’m thinking about this kind of drawing too as inspiration for life class. How freely Rodin approached the figure, but of course his freedom is built on tons of knowledge. Here’s the link to the drawing:
So many things to see, so many things to draw, ain’t life grand?!
For the last three weeks I’ve been attending a life class that meets at the historic Arts Club. As I get back into the habit of drawing from a model, I’m thinking about different ways to focus the experience. Last session, though, I had no particular plan and I ended up drawing very fast, and it was a wonderful session. The model was lit by a bright studio light in the front and by cool outdoor light in the back. The outdoor light brightened as the session lengthened and I had the opportunity to observe some fabulous color effects.
I’ve approached each session so far a bit differently. And that makes sense given the differences in the models and the set up. But I think I’m developing a plan for what I want to achieve from life drawing. So next session might be a little more structured — for me — in terms of what I draw, what materials I use, and so on.
New thing. Always got to keep shaking loose the ideas. Drawing the figure is utterly different from what I’m pursuing in my regular work, so the class offers a chance to change gears.
But last session was intense. I just drew. Not much thinking about it. Indeed, for some reason I felt that I had to draw as fast as I can. So it was a bit of a race. And when it was over I was suitably tired! That’s a great feeling. I could tell that the model was getting tired as well. When he was most tired, he got a fierce look on his face that was marvelous to behold which I tried to capture. I think he was striving to hold still as his muscles were getting fatigued from the stillness. And that strife in his face …!
Well, you can’t tire someone out on purpose so just take the images that the moment gives you and draw them as well as you can!
A few weeks ago in September I went to the Botanic Gardens to draw with a Meetup group. I decided to use some Sennelier oil pastels that I have — just because — and it turned out to be rather a challenge. Sennelier oil pastels, as you may know, are expensive and lip-stick like (when new) and corrosive to the paper (eventually) because of the oil in them. I used them on Arches oil paper, and since mine are not new, rather than being lip-stick like, they were just sticky. I knew then that precision was not the effect to seek and so I bashed the color around. And it’s kind of pretty if somewhat incoherent.
For a second drawing, I used Neopastels (Caran d’Ache) which I love. Not much detail or evident precision in this drawing either but by the time I began it I had been standing rather a longish time, balancing my box of pastels under the drawing itself, a very ungainly way to work! The flowers are composed of little flowerets that cascade across in a ball. I got the ball quality, but not the parts. Still, not bad to get some if not all of the complex perception.
The gooey Sennelier drawing sits inside the closed Arches oil paper tablet. The Neopastel sits propped against furniture on the studio floor where I can see it as I work. (I’m working on a largish painting of a moth at the moment). Seeing it there it has begun to affect me with its bright colors. And even though the kind of flower portrayed isn’t even evident from the drawing, I find myself wanting to go back to Botanic gardens and make more incoherent drawings like these. And I’m wondering if I could make a whole incoherent painting of them, one made exclusively from drawings.
So, we’ll see. But for now, I’m all moth.
Here’s a detail of the gooey Sennelier where you can see the texture available. It’s a very expressive material for a certain kind of work. I wasn’t quite in the mood for it that day I used it, but its appeal sneaks up on you later on after the work is done ….
The color relationships are not unlike those of the flower painting I made recently, which is now on the wall at the Virginia Art League during the month of October.
I have been painting a lot lately so much that I haven’t had time to blog about it. And nearly all of the paintings depict flowers. The painting above measures 30 x 40 inches. After having painted so many flowers in vases on tables, I wanted to do something amorphous. The theme of amorphous arrangements is one that I’m just beginning to explore, and there will be others besides the one above. Indeed there’s an even larger painting in the works.
I still paint the flowers on table tops, of course, and one of the recent pictures is a traditional still life because I love the flat receding plane of the table top with its still life theatre.
Long time readers know that I like to paint pictures of koi swimming and this still life has a fish component, so that was fun. The painting above measures 16 x 20 inch inches so it’s small, but it’s got attitude. And what’s particularly new about these paintings is that I painted them using acrylic paint which I haven’t used in a long time. I have had such a blast using this fast drying paint. Each kind of artist material has its own peculiar charms and I like to range among the opportunities. I think particularly now that using acrylic paint is going to teach me things that I can afterwards apply profitably in oil painting.
The fish pattern paper featured in the second painting comes from a wonderful store in Old Town Alexandria called The Paper Source. It will be fun showing the store’s staff what I did with the beautiful deep blue paper I bought there — the first of the paper’s soon-to-be frequent appearances in my art.
My flower mélange is partly inspired by the store window of Caruso’s Florist at 17th and M Streets in Washington Dc where there’s a dramatic window display. I was walking in the evening in mid-September, strolling around the block a couple times because I was early for a meeting. That’s when I came upon Caruso’s store window. It was one of those great felicitous accidents of happening upon something that you had been hoping to find! When I returned to the store the next day with my camera, the store’s owner greeted me. He is just about the nicest guy you’re likely to ever meet. So, if you visit Washington DC and want to meet somebody delightful, make a straight path for Caruso’s Florist.
I have a lot of project ideas right now. Some of them are underway, others are just buzzing about in my brain. It’s been a very exciting time of full days.
In other news if you received one of the cards with a reproduction of my paintings and are a new visitor to the blog, welcome. Hope you find many things to enjoy.
The earliest depictions of flowers dates back to the Old Kingdom (~2500 BCE) and the earliest evidence of the collecting of flowers in bouquets is demonstrated in the archeological finds of ancient vases. It’s a motif that’s been around a long time in art. And it’s still going strong.
I painted this 16 x 20 inch bouquet yesterday using acrylic paints, a medium that I haven’t used in a long time. Taking it up again is a blast. I love it.
So you should walk like an Egyptian, think like an Egyptian and paint flowers like an Egyptian. You can even listen to the song while you’re painting. Ay oh whey oh.
The drawing that I chronicle here continues to gain more stuff. I say “more moth,” but it’s really more leaves — though aspects of the moth evolves as well. I see the edges of the moth in relation to the leaves, and it’s necessary to get the leaves in there so that everything can be altered later as necessary. You can’t know what you want to change until it’s there to see.
This 32 x 24 inch drawing is preparatory for a painting. The painting is larger and includes another element not present in this study. I have a second more careful preparatory drawing that’s in the works as well. These are the rehearsals.
A polyphemus moth in real life is large, easily 4 inches across. This moth, of course, is much larger — though not as large as Mothra. And it won’t be transporting any Japanese girls anywhere. Nor is it likely to fight Godzilla — or King Kong — or anybody else. It’s a peaceful moth. The leaves in the picture are metaphors, and I wish I could tell you what they stand for metaphorically — I really wish I could. But I haven’t a clue.
Sometimes the artist is the last to know. I just paint what I’m supposed to paint. It was my idea. But my own brain is very hush-hush and “need to know” about the topic. The conscious me who writes this blog doesn’t possess a high enough security clearance to be granted access to the Top Secret information …. so there you go.
Once all the leaf stuff is in this version of the picture, I can start moving leaves around. It is as self-help guru Brian Tracy wrote, “anything worth doing well is worth doing badly at first.” Not that I judge my moth and its leaves as bad. Quite the contrary, I like them. But a rehearsal might go really well too. It’s still a rehearsal.
I need my practice moths so that my more deliberate moth can sail through its pictorial night and accomplish its symbolical purposes. And if I do it right, who knows? My brain might even tell me what it all means.
I have been wondering about these leaves. Clearly the scale of the leaves and the scale of the moth are at odds with each other. But I felt from the outset that the leaves should be that way — that they should fracture the surface. And my intuition told me it should be those leaves, too, because the color is right — even though the color is false because I artificially altered the colors of the photograph and now I don’t even remember what kinds of leaves they were.
But the clearest sign I have that the leaves are the right leaves is that parts of the most recent dream comes back while I draw. I don’t recall the dream exactly, but moments of it come into thought where I seem to see the images in peripheral vision. Then the memories scatter as dreams often do.
The dream tone is there. The emotion functions like a rope that you can use to pull yourself back into the outer margins of the dream even though, of course, you’re wide awake.
So if these leaves can evoke the dream tone, then something about them must be right. They don’t have any logic. These leaves have nothing to do with this kind of moth — not in real life. But in terms of some kind of symbolism their convergence makes sense. I’m going to go with that. A picture can have a logic all its own.
I want it to have logic. I want it to cohere. But it has to happen on its proper terms. I don’t feel that I choose those conditions. Somehow I found them and I just recorded them.
I’m drawing the moth today — preparations for a painting that’s in the works. But my thoughts keep returning to this landscape painting above that I began perhaps two years ago and which I return to from time to time — and which I need to finish fairly soon.
It will have a lattice across the middle to represent the chain link fence. At long last it will have many other minor additions of dot or color.
Something about drawing the veins of the leaves reminds me of the small passages of the garden painting and of the ways that I seem to re-enter the garden whenever I work on it — as though the flowers were still there, as though the blueberries were still being prepared for planting, as though time were standing still back one morning years ago and the shaded leaves still bent under the weight of the dew.
One seems to have a sense of the future, but you can’t really know what the future will be. The future one imagines is not the future that arrives. And the past that you relive is not the same as the past that occurred. The present — even the present shifts — even as you live inside it.
Van Gogh was such a wonderful writer as well as being a great artist. If you rummage through his letters even at random, you always find something remarkable. So it is that I find this passage today:
The poor soil of Drenthe is the same, only the black earth is even blacker — like soot — not a lilac black like the furrows, and melancholically overgrown with eternally rotting heather and peat. I see that everywhere — the chance effects on that infinite background: in the peat bogs the sod huts, in the fertile areas, really primitive hulks of farmhouses and sheepfolds with low, very low walls, and huge mossy roofs. Oaks around them. When one travels for hours and hours through the region, one feels as if there’s actually nothing but that infinite earth, that mould of wheat or heather, that infinite sky. Horses, people seem as small as fleas then. One feels nothing any more, however big it may be in itself, one only knows that there is land and sky.
For Van Gogh on that day it was his being in an enormous prospect outdoors, among infinite seeming fields. For me it is the confined corner of my studio where I find another sort of infinity — for everywhere I look I see some small thing that opens large with details and beauty. And everywhere I look the things seem imbued with ideas. Nature has filled the room with thoughts and the things are poems.
I just learned that my pastel “Pickle Jar of Flowers” has been selected for inclusion in the upcoming “Mark” exhibit at the Torpedo Factory in Alexandria, Virginia.
Here’s how the gallery describes the exhibit:
Pencil marks, painting strokes, woodcuts, or a dynamic editorial eye are all marks artists use to create their works. Mark-making has been associated with conventional pen, pencil, and paper, but artists make marks on ceramics, plates, fabric, and film, with tools ranging from sticks to scrapers to pixels. Artists can also be marked with memories, conditions, or experiences that shape how their artwork is made. Specific tools, techniques, and the artist’s physicality are embedded in every work of art. This exhibit will show the viewer how the artist’s mark can be the most important element in transforming the ‘blank canvas’ into an image. Artists are also encouraged to provide a brief statement about their ‘mark’. The curator is Charles Jean-Pierre.
The exhibit will be on view from September 5th through October 1st with a reception taking place on Thursday September 14th from 6:30-9:30 pm.
A print of the painting is available for purchase here: