Drawing Fast

In my on-going effort to relearn the art of painting en plein air, I sometimes make very fast drawings like this.  I don’t remember all the circumstances.  It was unseasonably cold, but some extra hardy early mosquitoes were biting anyway.  I wasn’t exactly enjoying being outdoors, yet I felt “I must” draw.  And so I drew as fast as my little fingers would move.

Done.  I’m outta here.

I debated whether it was worth sharing this little snippet of an afternoon with the world, and then it dawned on me that life is composed of these little snippets.  Even the great art of the old masters is composed of lots of little snippets, little snippets all sewn lovingly together.

Searching for Splendor at the Salvation Army

My daughter and I went teacup shopping yesterday at the Salvation Army.  We found only one suitable teacup and saucer.  But we found several other wonderful things that we weren’t looking for– indeed, restraint became the motto-of-the day because around every corner we found something that one or the other of us wanted to buy.  I was, of course, shopping for still life things.  It’s incomprehensible to most people that you’re looking for only one teacup and saucer of any particular pattern.  (What am I going to do with a set?)

Our trip was an adventure and a great treat.  I would very soon be quite poor if I went second hand shopping very often.  And that would be uncomfortably ironic, wouldn’t it?  — though I would be in the right place — if I needed their assistance — because I was poor — because I spent all my money at the Salvation Army. 

I’m sure it’s never been their intention to make anyone poor.

The objects I got are amazing.  Please don’t judge them by these first drawings.  My loot — oh, my loot.  The potter who made that jug is a genius.  The more I look at it, the more I see the figure in it.  It has a personality, it has gravitas, and my first drawing is like the portrait artist who gets five minutes with the prime minister.  I’ll come back to it.  Ah, the devotion it deserves.

And the creamer — don’t even get me started ….

More Myopic Thoughts

With a Howard Hodgkin controversy still floating in my head, I happened to glance at my still life still in progress and found myself wondering if a little Howard Hodgkin at the center wouldn’t help things out — a loosening of the forms throughout the flowers.  Some of it, as above, is already there, as you can see in this detail of the center flowers.

Below, a Howard Hodgkin for comparison:

And below the whole still life as it now stands:

I first wrote about it here.

I like my little guitarist.

She is at present the only part of the picture I am completely happy with, which makes this picture, at the moment, a Picture of a Spanish Guitarist “with bouquet of flowers and other stuff near by.” So, you see, I’m still dealing with myopia — only likeing parts of my picture.

My my my Myopia

Myopia, nearsightedness,  is a visual defect in which distant objects appear blurred because their images are focused in front of the retina rather than on it.  A more serious defect than myopia, however, would be small-mindedness.

I voluntarily got entangled briefly in a discussion on the merits of British artist Howard Hodgkin, in which I found myself somewhat reluctantly coming to Mr. Hodgkin’s defense.  Some readers know I can be curmudgeonly where “modern art” is concerned, and though I like Mr. Hodgkin’s paintings, I did wonder if it was worth the bother to defend him, after I had been so cruel to harmless Ellworth Kelly.  And given that people simply like what they like, the defense seemed like it would be (and was) an exercise in futility.

Nevertheless, the buzz about Hodgkin prompted me to revisit a book that contains some of the artist’s own words about his art, and I always find his erudition totally charming and insightful.  So, armed with that, I was prompted to think some more about Degas, Hodgkin’s hero and mine.  Of Degas, Hodgkin writes, “His technique is amazingly inventive, but surely without conscious virtuosity; it was a search for a language of maximum directness and simplicity….”  He says further, “There is a tradition equating marks in nature and marks made by an artist which goes back to Leonardo and his blotchy wall, to Hercules Seghers, Turner, etc.  But there is something of a painter’s philosopher’s stone about the mark which is itself a final pictorial statement, and something representational in itself, and also emotionally expressive.  Degas looked for different ways of making these marks all his life and kept finding new solutions.”

I decided I’d try looking at Degas through Hodgkin’s painting (in my way).  Got the books out and set up to copy.  On a whim, I took off my glasses — thinking of the eye problems attributed to Degas in his later years.

You see, my glasses are laying there to the left.  And I’ve got Degas’s Dancers (Toledo Museum) and my notebook, and the Howard Hodgkin book open to two of his paintings, and Jennifer Bartlett snuck in as well at the top with pages from In the Garden.  The remote control is nearby so I can listen to Maria Rita.

Emboldened by Hodgkin’s abstraction and my own myopia, I just had at it for an hour or so.  To treat (a few) of the details of the faces in the Degas, I had to press my nose right up to the image.

And it was more of these quick days of pretending that oil pastel is paint.

I don’t wish to be too hard on narrow minded folks, though, for then I must reprimand myself, and furthermore I think sometimes we need our prejudices when they serve a purpose.  And artists especially sometimes dearly need their prejudice, what with the world being such an awfully, achingly big place ….

Little IKEA studio in the kitchen

Since I’ve been working with oil pastels so much, it dawns on me that I could experiment with different ways of using them.  Habitually I draw with hatch marks whenever I use oil pastels, but certainly they are very blendable, almost as blendable as paint is.  Some people add solvents and blend them with a brush.  I’m not a solvent kind of person.  I’m more inclined to rub the crayons into the paper, or into each other, in layers of application.  I got to wondering how I might exploit these qualities more boldly.   And, well, I have to set the task apart as a particular question, since when I’m working with the bigger drawings, there so much paper to cover and so much stuff to look at and depict, that I just never get around to asking myself questions that are more overtly technical. 

Had to add it to the “To Do” list and — happy day — today was the time I decided to begin messing around with them.  For these purely “theoretical” questions, a small sheet of paper is better than a large one, a small honey jar with only a gazillion little nuances of color and keen vibrant edges of light and blur is universe enough.  And to all artists who lament lacking a large studio, take heart that a small IKEA table top was all the atelier I required today.  Indeed, a small table, a convenient lamp, the small set up, a single sheet of small paper — these are superior tools for my questions today than any 19th century lavishly spacious studio could ever be!

The honey jar was only meant to provide the provocation for thought.  But nothing’s ever an accident, is it!  After it had come around a little, I thought I saw some resemblance to Bonnard’s jar that I had copied when an exhibition of his paintings visited the Phillips Collection years ago.

So I was stalking Bonnard all this time?  Okay, sounds good to me!  I’ve only begun my little experiment and whatever news I get somehow needs to be applied to the bigger pictures.  (All in good time.)  Until then I am going small — into the little spaces of waxy pigment, asking myself what will it take to tame the wild crayon ….

You can see the texture.  Like paint!  I like that.

En Plein Bouquet

I say I’ll paint outdoors again, so naturally I stay inside.  It’s hard to make plans.  I never could get away so I made a virtue of necessity and drew still lifes indoors. 

The bouquet is just as good as a tree top.  Up it goes (see how nearly trunk-like the glass vase is) and out it expands, flowers like boughs, everything hanging this way and that, expand, expand.  A little bit of satin blue-grey-green sky all around.  A bright shiny lawn of exceedingly vivid satin green.  Presto chango — the outdoors imagined!

Never were faux silk flowers more attuned to Nature.

Glass Music

I found her at a second-hand shop.  It was a shop I frequented back when my daughter was a baby.  I remember seeing the Spanish guitarist on the shelf, turning it over to find the price (it wasn’t very expensive), and placing it back on the shelf.  I don’t know why I hesitated, but I left the store with some other items.

It was after I had driven all the way home, I was seized with the thought I had to have it!  I needed particularly to get it for my daughter (why I don’t know).  I got back into the car.  Was there time?  Would the store be closed when I got there?  They close early on Sunday.  Would the Spanish guitarist still be there?  (Suddenly she had become a rare and coveted item, every shopper eyeing her and calculating their purchase.)

Well, you know the ending.  There she is.  My daughter never played with her, of course.  It’s not a thing you play with, and I don’t think my daughter ever even expressed the slenderest interest in the little figurine.  I’ve drawn her lots of times.  She represents my obsessions — though she has something to do with being a mother.  She’s my childhood sought, not my daughter’s.  And I heard her smooth, shiny, crystaline, glass music from afar.