I don’t know what they have to do with each other, but sometimes two things just end up in a sketch book side by side. The woman is drawn after a Renaissance sculpture at the National Gallery of Art and the duck, I think it’s from a Cloisonne figurine. But I don’t know why they are together or why they look in the same direction.
So, that’s why you draw. You do it because you have whimsical ideas that come into your head for reasons that afterwards you cannot fathom. A drawing is a record of thoughts. And sometimes you should just think them with the tools and not ask why, but let them appear. It’s like a leaf falling from a tree or a dandelion sprouting in the grass. You just let “because” be enough.
I had been looking at old master drawings, and some of them — perhaps Delacroix’s drawings from his trip to Morocco? — had notations in their margins. I figured that anything the old masters did was good for me to try, so if they took notes so would I. I might have intended to paint this later on, but I never did. So it’s all notated up with no where to go.
My dog was a perpetual subject. I’d named him Hokusai after the great Japanese master who was known for his drawings of animals as well as for his scenes of Mt. Fuji.
Well, it was a long time ago. My Hokusai barks at the Heavenly Mailman now. And while I still sometimes take notes on drawings, I only do so for practical reasons. But my dog was cute, and I did cute things like imitate Delacroix taking notes, and I was cute then in other ways, too. It was a cute time, and this, a souvenir of my “cute” phase.
The first Hokusai, meanwhile, said this about drawing: “From around the age of six, I had the habit of sketching from life. I became an artist, and from fifty on began producing works that won some reputation, but nothing I did before the age of seventy was worthy of attention. At seventy-three, I began to grasp the structures of birds and beasts, insects and fish, and of the way plants grow. If I go on trying, I will surely understand them still better by the time I am eighty-six, so that by ninety I will have penetrated to their essential nature. At one hundred, I may well have a positively divine understanding of them, while at one hundred and thirty, forty, or more I will have reached the stage where every dot and every stroke I paint will be alive. May Heaven, that grants long life, give me the chance to prove that this is no lie.“
If you are starting out in art, I think the basic thing is to learn to draw. And to learn to draw takes time, of course, but along the way and at the beginning, you should just draw everything. Or anything.
I used to have rabbits back in the 80s. Peter was especially sweet and tame. I named him after the fellow of the famous Beatrix Potter stories and would follow him around in the yard to draw him. He would come running to me if I called his name. He was incredibly affectionate.
Drawing animals from life takes patience and some willingness to start over a lot since they can move at any moment. But when animals are comfortable they’ll usually hold a pose “long enough.” And sometimes even their movement can be compensated by their having a repertoire of behaviors. So, sometimes even though they scoot, you’ll find that they’ll resume the same posture again a few moments later.
In the top right-hand side, the rabbit standing is — I’m pretty sure — copied after a Potter drawing. A brief appearance of the namesake.
We have a rabbit hanging around the yard many evenings now — now that there’s a lush garden outside growing all the things that rabbit’s love. And I am able to walk up to her and have a conversation. But as yet this wild rabbit is too skittish to draw. Just a little conversation and poof! She’s gone.