The koi are getting ready to take their act on the road. I make last minute adjustments to their pond and to them. Tonight I can swim till midnight. The making-ready adds an extra thrill to the days, and tonight I almost feel as though I’ll visit a real pond. After all the house is asleep, I paint.
It’ll be just me and the fish.
This is the last week of preparation for an exhibit. I will hang a group of the koi paintings at Parkside Restaurant in Baltimore, Maryland this weekend. The exhibit will open April 6th. I’m not quite sure what to expect. I will see this group of paintings in an ensemble for the first time once they are brought together on the wall. It’s a strange fact that often the artist doesn’t know his or her own work particularly well. You put things aside. Canvases go face to the wall. Some pictures are around all the time, but reorganizing canvases causes you to see them in new relationships.
This will mark the most koi I’ve ever gathered togethered in one place. I hope these slippery fellows are ready!
The first stage of the painting is like Matisse. Surely (it seems obvious) Matisse must simply have discovered that the ebauche has so much punch on its own, when the first large forms of an image are rendered solid from the dreamy vapors of imagination. Edges are crisp, shapes as simple as elementary school cut-outs, the colors like color names. One’s green is green, and a sky is blue.
So often people wonder at how they should talk about art as though it comes prepared with prescribed rules. Something in our notion of “culture” makes one reluctant to shout one’s delight in that bold way children do. “Kids are born curious. They’re always exploring. We spend the first year of their lives teaching them to walk and talk, and the rest of their lives telling them to shut up and sit down,” said scientist Neil de Grasse Tyson.
A lot of people become fairly mute in front of a painting for fear of misinterpreting it somehow. Now, I’ll admit, it’s not really such a bad thing to let an image function purely as a feast for the eyes. But everyone wants to express themselves sooner or later in words, and it’s okay to let your own thoughts take to the air without worrying whether or not one has found the authoritative key.
Well, I decided to continue beyond the ebauche and wander into that territory of making the painting more specific. I pad into the landscape with footsteps that are still mushy and soft. Still not much specificity as yet at this stage. But the colors divide themselves into more variegated sections. From one simple form several interior passages unfold. My manner of painting resembles to me a garden that blooms first spindly and tentative and later leafs out and grows dense.
And thoughts grow dense. The landscape of the painting what mental forms is it meant to describe? What refuge is available in the wilderness of paint, in the solitary travel through one’s own quiet picture garden?
The purpose of the painting? Shh — that would be culture talking. Just be delight. Even to talk pure nonsense. Just look and delight.
A picture of hills with fuzzy little shrubs and trees that wend their way down to a stream is the subject I’m developing in one of my paintings. I’ve been making several versions in drawings to sort out ideas. Here’s two I did today.
An earlier drawing looks like this:
All three pictures have as their source the same reference photo. You can look at the same image — a static photo, in this case — and create different things since there are many roads to invention. I’m even finding a new one that I know some other artists have already discovered before me: running out of supplies. I once knew a guy who used color in the most amazing way, but he was impecunious to the most unfortunate degree. Whenever he ran out of paints, not being able to immediately run out and replenish his supply, he just continued along with whatever colors he still had. The colors he achieved using Necessity as the mother of his invention was astonishing.
And, now, I’m starting to run out of certain key pigments — but for some of the drawings, I continue along with what remains. More on that another day.
Meanwhile, a hillside looks different in a picture depending upon whether its silhouette is near the edge of the paper and achieves a different effect when more sky floats above. Similarly changes in hue or temperature affect the mood. Having many delineated, nubby little shrubs or a few generalized lumps also make one’s hillside change in personality.
Many moods to find in a little hillside by the stream.
«Le tableau est fini quand il a effacé l’idée.»
The painting is finished when it has erased the idea. — Georges Braque
Made several little drawings as preparations for painting. I “rehearse” the image a little. It will help me decide what to paint.
I’m working from photos. But it dawned upon me as I was working today that some of the flowering shrubs of my photos will be blooming in a few weeks. Drawing these motifs from photos certainly prepares one for working from life. I will have engaged many aspects of the scene during my dress rehearsals here before the flowers bloom. And once they are there blooming before me all in real life …
won’t I be ready! (Are we having fun yet? You bet!)
All in a rush about work! The morning begins with drawing and the evening ends with drawing. I have to make several paintings this week and next, and the only way I can do it is to draw. First I draw, and I can develop ideas without having to think very much. And at the moment I do not wish to think! I haven’t the time!
Some of the drawings I made today might reflect a bit of intellection. But mostly, it was see, point, shoot. Still — even just looking can become wearying even when it makes one feel delightful and buoyant! Though I am tired, I have to keep running! So, I made these drawings to be quicker than quick, drawings which I can attest are completely devoid of any thoughts at all!
Van Gogh says something that describes my day and its speed, though he was less lifted by it:
I’m also utterly incapable of judging my own work. I can’t see whether the studies are good or bad. I have seven studies of wheatfields,5 unfortunately all of them nothing but landscapes, much against my will. Old gold yellow landscapes — done quick quick quick and in a hurry, like the reaper who is silent under the blazing sun, concentrating on getting the job done. [To Emile Bernard. Arles, Wednesday, 27 June 1888]
He felt, for the reasons of his time and circumstances, that he must judge his work and not being able to do so was wearying. For me, however, modern girl that I am, not judging is part of my whole goal for these drawings. Merely to draw, to draw a lot, to draw quickly, to get down many things, to pass through many images, to keep my fingers moving, moving, moving.
Quick, quick, quick!
Writing about my art presents me with a daily challenge: how to keep being interesting? How do I translate my experiences, my humble quotidien, personal, repetitive experiences into something that various unknown others can feel. So often my first impulse is merely to say, “I did thus and so.” I, me, myself did this marvelous happy artist thing today. And the pronouns glare at (me) as (I) sit here tapping away on (my) keyboard.
Make it about something else, about someone else! (I say.)
Making it about you is more challenging. Oh, it makes my brain hurt! (After a long day.)
And, that’s part of what the painting is for — for you. My pronouns transformed into colors and forms are my quotidien razzmatazz intentions carved out into colored air, something we can both see, and something I can say — oh, so earnestly — without my brain having to work too hard.
The above is a painting based on the drawings of a previous post. I’m still working on it.
Certain artists were so visually inclined that I think they drew very nearly every idea that crossed the screen in their heads. Ingres was like that. If Ingres thought maybe this finger should be closer to that finger or that maybe the sitter should be wearing a ring instead of a bracelet, he drew it.
I’ll never be in Ingres’s class, but he inspires me to work. If I have an idea, I try to draw it. And to draw many ideas, you have to draw a lot. I try to have lots of ideas. And if I find I don’t have ideas, I draw anyway. Sometimes any idea will do.
This drawing was about nubby little trees and shrubs on a hillside.
These days with a deadline looming, I work wherever, whenever, I can. My kid had a school event, and I had to wait around. Poof! A drawing. I tell you, these days, if I find myself sitting in one spot for fifteen minutes, I whip out the notebook.
Note of warning: don’t try this while you’re driving.