I have a still life going, but I can’t show it here yet. These flowers are very shy, too shy to expose to light. They are shade-loving flowers. I make a grisaille of them using only black, white and Naples yellow. Later there will be colors. But I begin with a drawing-in-paint. It’s a bit like this pencil drawing above, which I copied from Jan Bruegal — like this in hints of gold and silver though my flowers have an entirely different personality.
The flowers are an alter-ego. They symbolize the way of being in the center of one’s own life, and having put oneself into a vase, watered one’s feet, having sought nourishment from air, from gravity’s pull, from the sun, from the rain washing over one’s face. You put yourself into a kind of stance, a spot, that frankly says “this is me.” That part, though very strange to admit, is necessary for being human — this having to confront the world with this identity that each one has. Here I am. I am on display (somewhat) but more mysterious than anyone ever knows. Mystery to oneself as well. And each one is thus ….
Sometimes the point is just to be living. Doing work, having a schedule, being busy, being responsible even — they are all necessary parts of life. But I found too that walking down the hallway and noticing the carpet gives me a different relatedness to time. And noticing whatever just happens to be around — not in an artistic way, but in a very non-artistic way — I discovered that this is important too. Sometimes you have to take time to just notice that life is here all around you.
There is a way of being that is to life/work/responsibility what a scribble is to painting.
I thought that being an artist made me a better observer — and in a technical sense, it’s probably true that artists observe some aspects of things more astutely than do the non-artists. But I failed to realize that paying attention to things without making any purpose of it — to merely look around, to watch and wander through at least parts of the day — I discovered that I needed this. It has been like taking a vacation to another planet.
Only the planet is this planet. I have landed on earth. And it’s a pretty nice place.
If you want to increase your freedom in painting, sometimes it’s useful to designate a specific painting as the official “junk” painting. The junk painting is one that doesn’t matter. It’s the canvas upon which any liberties at all can be taken. You can use cheap materials, you can paint in poor light, you can have a headache, you can change your mind as many times as you want. Expend the last dregs of your palette, all the half dried and sticky mess that remains behind from your “real” painting sessions on this unfortunate canvas. The canvas you might have thrown out is wisely saved to be used with the paint you should have thrown out. And with these junky tools allow yourself to take chances, to draw freely, to rehearse any idea. Here you can be a completely free spirit.
Everything you learn you can later use in a serious painting. The junk painting can also be a way of warming up. You can get started thinking visually with great freedom on the little canvas that doesn’t matter.
The photo above is sort of like “finding Waldo.” How many versions of the picture do you see…?
If it should happen that you find yourself typically doing better in the junk art — with its expansive freedom — than in the “real” arena — with its more expensive materials and greater sense of duty and its various crippling “shoulds,” then some fine morning just switch them — only forget to tell yourself. On that fine day, use the expensive canvas and the choice paints for the “junk” picture du jour and worry yourself silly with the cheap canvas and the palette scrapings. Just don’t tell your brain about the switch! Mum’s the word ….
Top of the post: a “junk” painting in progress ….
If you want to know the inner contents of your mind, rather than looking at somebody else’s butterfly ink-stain pictures, make some of your own — then look into the in-between details. There in the indefinable whatever of your heedless marks — those that you made while your mind was all fixed upon some idea — those that look so crisp and abstract when removed from their context — that’s where you look.
And if you want to peer even deeper, stack a bunch of those randomized details one on top of the other, as I’m doing here. You can find the inner corridors of your brain and you can take a little walk around in there.
Wow, it’s dark in here. Anybody got a flashlight?
What you’re supposed to do with this deep psychological information is anybody’s guess. But I know where you can look to find it. It’s there in the hidden whatcha-ma-call-it moments of the picture. Your own Rorschach upon which you can endlessly Dr Freud-analyze yourself!
And it’s so deep.
I got a bouquet of flowers and discovered that I have forgotten how to draw real flowers after so many occasions of drawing their fake counterparts. Interesting thing is that the flowers are not wilting nor are they in any way uncooperative. Therefore I surmise that I have not really forgotten how to draw them. Instead I have forgotten something more fundamental.
It’s a wonderful befuddlement. Sometimes after all these years, I really surprise myself. It’s difficult to come at old experiences in a new way. But here I am turned ingenue of flowers just like that! Poof! Voila!
After some desultory efforts, among which is the version posted here (the above is a detail), I re-considered that when I don’t know how to do something I can nonetheless immediately begin taking it apart. I know how to learn now. Do some little sketch — on a napkin, with whatever pen happens to be lying about. Draw it very small. Or scribble away on a regular sized sheet and just put down whatever linear-visual thoughts pop into my head. Visual wondering has its own free association. Had Freud owned a paint brush, he’d have known this.
I also decided that just having the flowers there is one way of beginning to walk a path back into transient subject matter. I can look at it, think about it, remember it, pout when they begin to fade (which gives one a healthy sense of urgency). I guess I re-discovered that all the solutions don’t have to announce themselves upon the first decision to begin a new thing. I can wade into this circumstance.
I don’t know how any other artists out there think about their art. But the hesitancy of drawing is not something I want to shy away from. To look at the thing, not knowing what to do, brings me back to a beginning that I celebrate. I feel like I am confronting something wonderful for the first time — again! To throw down lines where I think they belong and correct them soon after, leaving the old lines there, records thoughts as they make passage through my brain. It is as though one recreates the reality of the flowers in one’s mind, through one’s hand, over the course of time spent thinking and having trial of this and that.
I want to have this newness. Sometimes you even get a good picture from it. But even the newness all stripped bare of success has its marvel. And that’s the place I’m at right now, feeling marvel-ous.
Comes a busy day I don’t get to work…. Late at night, I survey the day wondering where the time went, wanting to just do — something. A couple nights ago was like that. There was a bag of apples at the table where I was bemoaning the busyiness of modern life. And my eyes were lighting on those apples in the translucent bag. I began marveling at the colors — the intense colors of the apples and their muted counterparts seen through the bag.
Then the inner light bulb flashed! I invoked my “five minute rule” that says it’s better to draw, even if for only five minutes, than to do no drawing at all. It turned out to be much longer than five minutes, and I was destined to be sleep-deprived the next morning — though the better for it … and I drew my apples.
They were practically right under my nose. Oh, that turns out to be as fascinating as the colors. One eye sees something, and the other sees something else. Up that close, the stereo is unmistakable! I didn’t know where to put the rungs of the bag! “Here” or “here”? My choices ended up being like coin tossings.
One eye is bound to be disappointed, but what are you going to do?