Thoughts up Close

When you look at the details of a picture, you see how its illusion is created.  The image above is a detail of one section of the flower bouquet.  It zooms in on the flower patterns of the cloth that’s piled up against the vase of flowers.  From this vantage, much of the expression of three dimensions is lost to sight.  The shadows and the lights appear to exist on the same plane.  In the detail, one realizes how much the third dimension of this particular drawing was created by the motif as a whole since without the whole motif we cannot see distinctions of figure and ground.

These “textile” flowers are as impressionistic as were the “real” flowers in the vase.  Both are abstractions: shapes that appear in masses whose details consist of lines, hatchings and scribbles.  So, for instance I began some of the flowers of the textile’s pattern as rough, smeared shapes of red crayon.  And afterwards I went back into that red with lighter or darker shades to begin the process of imitating the tonal differences within the flower.  The irony is that is so doing one makes a “picture of a picture” since another artist designed the textile that I use in my still life.

The character of the drawing materials is hard to conceal, and I made no effort to hide it.  The visibility of the drawing is what attracts me to the use of crayons.  But it makes the illusion of the subject harder to achieve.  The tonal qualities of light passing over objects — the light and shadow of the cloth and its folds, or the diffusion of light around the contours of the vase, or the contrasts of light and shade amid the masses of flowers and leaves — all these effects have to be created through either hatchings or smudges and are refined by careful positioning of light or dark or warm or cool tones.

The visual qualities that pass before your eyes, the numbers of choices available to sight, are staggering in potential complexity.  From among all these possibilities one chooses a path that is your rendering of the picture.

It’s as though you confront a vast field thick with flowers and wild plants.  You see a prospect you want to reach, and you ponder what direction to take through the brush to reach your destination.  If you follow something you learned from an old master, it’s as if you have found a path that you can walk for a distance.  And when that path wears away and returns to the full wilderness of the meadow, from that point onwards you must walk your own path.

And this fact is not a difficulty.  It is freedom.

Painting is a slow path

I let a bunch of time go by without posting anything.  Like many bloggers, I spend some time musing and pondering this new medium called “the blog,” and wonder aloud about the different genres of writing that it can evoke.  For me as an artist, I would have to say that it’s impossible — or nearly impossible — to write about the work I’m actually doing —  at least when I’m doing it.  Art doesn’t make good journalism.  Art is not an “every day” kind of topic.  No “breaking news” going on.  It’s mostly quiet stuff.

I mean I could write a narrative of how I actually work.  But would anyone read it?  And survive?  Awake?

Painting is a slow art form.  Sometimes it’s like watching an ant parade.  You make all these abstract decisions: how large is this shape?  what color is this exactly?  should I put this here or there? should this line be wider?  lighter?  should it taper? or should it be bold?  or is it okay — even wise — to fudge?  to guess?  to be in doubt? Should an edge be hard or soft?  Do I draw today?  Or should I paint?  And for me, lately, my questions are ones like “do I finish the koi or begin the flowers?”

How does one make these questions interesting for a reader?  Even my mother is not holding her breath waiting for the answers, yet these choices are — they really are vibrant, living questions.

To be able to describe the act of painting and all its attendant thought processes would be a fascinating project if you could truly put the reader into the same relationship with things that you’re in when you paint.

That’s one of the things I try to do, but it’s hard.  We are the heros of the dramas we live ourselves.  Yet it doesn’t always look so exciting to the outside observer.  To capture the authentic excitement of quotidian existence ain’t easy!  Especially when its small and it unfolds slowly.  Like molasses leveling.

But I try.