It was just a day or so ago I announced the beginning of the “last” koi painting (with “last” being understood as a relative term). I am in finishing mode, I said. The picture above, stored at my secret bunker studio in an undisclosed location in Washington DC is among those in need of the finishing. Having established that fact, I promise I will not discuss the koi pond every day between now and the final strokes (of either the brush or the crayon).
Finishing the pictures is a task unto itself, with its own erratic schedule, creative whimsy, strategies and longish time spans. Finishing is like Phase II in relation to which creating the first overall image (or “blocking in”) was just the framework. Everyone is different. I seem to never start a picture and continue straight through to its completion. I start a whole bunch of pictures, often supposing that various ones are “almost” done, only to go back to them again and again realizing that the topic held much more than I ever supposed.
On one level, one could say that finishing a picture involves adding more details — except that the details are as variable as the whole picture is, as amorphous, as open to discovery. Indeed, it’s in the discovering of whatever “details” there are that I seem so often to find out what the painting is. As though the painting were a large flat surface filled with doors, each detail seems to provide an access to some kind of world lying behind the picture’s surface.
I often don’t know where to start when I recommence work on a picture. I just pick somewhere and get to scribbling. It’s almost as though you could play a piece of music by beginning arbitrarily upon any measure and still turn out okay! (A reason why I prefer painting to music.)
Since the koi are (and must be) based upon photos, this opening of doors, happens when I translate sections of photos into the picture. The transcription of a photo into a picture can be a very creative endeavor, and the same is equally true about the details of a photo. I find that the details become virtually pictures in themselves or almost pictures within pictures.
I look at a bit of photo that is perhaps a few centimeters across as I hold it in my hand (enlarged above) and draw whatever features I notice, whatever strikes my fancy, exactly in the order in which my fancy is struck. You can see a fish that swims underneath what looks like a reflection caught in the wave crests. The warm orange colored koi with black spots and stripes slides under and also (it seems) through this dark veil. The reflection both reveals and hides the fish.
Translating it into crayon, as seen below on a different koi, I draw and scribble out shapes of colors. Later I go back into these passages with other colors, that adjust or contrast with them. The drawing with crayon resembles a warp and weft of fabric strands and can produce the most astonishing color effects, that seem naturalistic from a distance, but which are a crazy quilt of transpositions up close.
It’s both naturalistic and abstract simultaneously.
Later in the morning I was turning round in my mind the question of whether to add a large koi to the lower left of the picture. I have a good candidate, but I wasn’t sure whether to put him in there or not. I decided to rough him in, drawing over top an earlier idea that I had for that section. When I was younger, I would never have attempted to put something so haphazardly into a drawing of this kind, but these days I know I can draw the guy. It’s just a question of yes or no. Slopping him into the pond with a few scrubbly colors doesn’t faze me because I realize my drawing skills are up to the task of rendering him, and I know these crayons are tough enough to take enough layers of work to “forgive” a few tactical changes.
The fish shapes get his size and position. I’ll put more fish into his form on another occasion. In the picture above he still floats over the shape of the earlier version. By the time I got finished this morning’s work, some of the earlier drawing had already begun being covered up. I’m going to draw the guy, too, on a separate sheet to get to know him better. I can’t help begin thinking of these fish as individuals, almost as though they were pets.
Still standing back to see how the new guy will get along with the rest of the pond. He’s a big guy, a regular Moby Dick.