after Rubens

I’m always looking for ways to trick myself into drawing.  One thing that I’ve found helpful is to use those occasions when you are naturally off guard.  For instance, late at night is a good time for fooling yourself into taking drawing chances — especially if you are tired.  You tell yourself — I did this only last night and it worked excellently well — you say to yourself, “Just one more drawing, and I’ll hurry.”  Contained are two effective hypnotic suggestions:  “just one more drawing” becomes “why make a big deal when it’s just one drawing among many” and “I’ll hurry” means “whatever mistakes I make I can blame on the hour.”  These are good incantations for removing qualms.  And once you are drawing qualm-free, sometimes you become free enough to learn new things.

I started this drawing after Rubens (above).  It’s nearly one-to-one in relation to the image in the book I used, and this old book is printed all in black and white.   I started lazily, but as even just minutes creeped by — it was nearly midnight –fatigue started tugging at me. So I decided to step up the pace, until finally I raced through things that ordinarily I might have decided I didn’t even have to draw — like the buttons and do-dahs on the bodice of her dress.

Scribbling fast lines and making instanteous impressions of the buttons and pearls — just tossing them down wherever it seemed like they belonged (point and shoot drawing) was exhillerating.

What a great thing to do right before going to bed.  It’s a wonder that I didn’t dream all night long of pearls in scribbles.

after Rembrandt

At the National Gallery of Art in Washington I made a study of the head of a Rembrandt portrait.  I was consciously trying to think about the drawing in a way that fit what I know of Rembrandt’s drawings.   So I was looking at the painting, but thinking about Rembrandt drawing and trying to imagine what an early version of the painting might have looked like — when Rembrandt was drawing in the features with his brush.

drawing at the museum

Just returned from the National Gallery of Art in Washington where I made some drawings after old masters.  I can give advice about ways that artists can learn to draw more spontaneously, but it’s harder when I have to take my own advice.  Drawing in museums where masterworks hang all around can be intimidating, and as I wandered through the galleries it was difficult to settle upon one thing and just draw it.  Once I decided to draw, it was also challenging to begin when so many visitors were nearby possibly to observe me.  But I did recall to myself the advice I give out.  And I can hardly expect anyone to listen to me if I won’t listen to myself.

So I just started.  One of the drawings I made is the sketch above.

thinking small

Small drawings offer a special kind of freedom because you have no unmanageable expectations regarding their importance.  And so from the outset it’s easy to let yourself go.

Thus doing small insignificant drawings can become one’s laboratory of invention and helps an artist form the habit of spontaneity.  One needs tasks that lead to occasional carefree moods.

Add to the small scale drawing an uncooperative subject such as a wild bunny and you have even more compelling reasons to let go of all caution.

Fake flowers will sit still, but lively wild bunnies will not.  And you have to catch whatever you can and be glad.  There ought to be some space in every day for drawing that is like breathing — that just is — that has no barriers.

And so sometimes line is set free …

against avoiding mystery

They should not have wanted to eliminate the confusions in art.  Instead those confusions should be sought.  One ought to want to go inside the difficulties.  If you seek mystery, isn’t this the place to find it, in confusion?  If you don’t know what you are seeing — or you know the name of the thing, but even as you are looking at it, you cannot decide what it looks like … isn’t that an authentic question?  Shouldn’t an artist desire the direct impress of seeing that includes all sorts of unanswered questions that come into your mind, one question after another, as you attempt to take the vision apart?

It goes toward some foundation of perception to ask yourself almost daily, “What does the world really look like?”  Pose it as a question.  If you think you know, you have already layered it over with thoughts.  Keep asking the question of the different objects of sight, at different times of day, in the different seasons of time.

Oceanic feeling

When I was a secretary working for the United States in the government green hallways of the labyrinthine State Department building my job saw me often being the go-fer (go get this, go get that) and I learned to navigate the maze of block-long hallways as though I lived there.  Doing errands represented the part of my job I liked best because it was so dream-like: probably 85% of my dreams involve moving through strange architectural spaces.

During one of my routine gofer journeys I passed through an eddy in the space-time continuum and my life changed.  I was walking down the hall and turned a corner.  That was all I did physically.  But as I entered the new hallway after the turn, I realized that something strange had happened.  I even stopped in the middle of the empty hall (sections of hallway were often empty since people were usually in their office suites).  I stood there a moment and looked around to see if I could detect what had happened.

I knew that my life had just changed direction, and that it was an exceedingly subtle but perceptible change.  I recalled the metaphor of the oceanliner that changes course by turning –subtle change for the giant boat on the big sea — turning a wee fraction and arriving at some vastly different place on the globe than if it had kept to its original course.

My walking through the hallway was like that.  Slight turn and I was heading toward a wildly different destination.  Later I quit my job and began doing art full time.  I began by turning from one federal hallway into another one.

Squirrel at the Window (les écureuils)

Yesterday while I was at my computer busy composing blog entries, a squirrel came to the window — the window right beside my desk — and stretched himself out on the ledge for a little siesta.  I dropped everything (part of my new plan to be spontaneous) and I drew two views of his face before he scampered away.

He sat barely inches from me!  Nothing separating us but some dirty glass (add to the “to do” list to clean the windows).  Obviously the presence of that glass provided security that he trusted though he still gave me some nervous looks.

Right there!  On the ledge outside my window.   I still marvel at the good fortune!  If he’d had a notebook and a blue ball point pen, he could have drawn me too!  He was that close.  And we scruntized each other very intensely.  He was so cute.

And I’m sure he thought the same thing about me too …

Making the Blue Ball Point Pen famous, one artist at a time

Fellow blogger friend Bénédicte of Carnet de Dessins has been inspired by my recent postings to begin drawing with the famous blue ball point pen!  She’s posted two drawings she made using the fabulous pen.

Perhaps I can persuade others to try drawing with a blue ball point pen, and I would recommend doing a test drawing something like the one above as a way of getting started — just to get the feel of the tool.  [FYI:  Shhh, we call it a “test” drawing so that other people who are wondering what we’re doing can get a satisfactory answer:  “Oh, I’m just testing out this new pen.”  While actually we’re really having a lot of fun.  However “mum’s the word.”]

I drew the fake rocks above using a Bic Cristal ball point pen, one of the world’s cheapest pens.  The “fake rocks” are kind of an ordinary, average sort of manufactured product too — rather like the pen.  To be more specific, I drew a foot mat that I’d purchased at Lowes’ and I didn’t even draw it from life, but instead from a photograph since the real mat is outside on the front porch where all the hungry mosquitoes like to hang out.

If you want to test your pen by drawing fake rocks and don’t have a doormat from Lowes — or do have a doormat but have the same mosquito problem that we’ve got, well feel free to use mine.  I give my photo to the world for the sake of art!

Also, as a full disclosure, I also use other brands of blue ball point pen.  I’m experimenting with blue Uni-ball roller pens, Bic “bold writing” Velocity pens, Bic’s “for Her” pens, and Pilot Bottle 2 Pens (made from recycled materials, save-the-planet while you write).  In addition I bought some  Sarasa “zebra” pens displayed at the check out counter at Staples and Pentel RSVP RT pens that were also sold individually at the front of the store.  I looked for as many varieties of blue ball point pens as I could find in the interest of getting slightly different shades of blue color as well as different qualities and textures of ink.

As to my motif, it’s too complicated to get into here but the fake rocks actually relate to imagery I’ve used in some of my paintings.  Nothing is too slight for art if it matters to someone in their heart of hearts.

And while you’re looking for your heart’s delight, give the pens a try.  You never know.

Thoughts in the Wild

When I was a youth and didn’t know anything, I had (as far as I can tell) the closest thing I’ll ever get to an experience of natural cognition.  My ideas, perceptions, experiences were wild and untamed.  I saw stuff and my reaction was composed all of “ooh” and “ahhhh.”  My feelings were strong and optimistic.  I faced a visually intriguing world and thoroughly enjoyed looking at it.  Were I in search of raw natural vision, I can think of no better access to it than what I felt back then.  Adolescence is a great invention that way.

Unfortunately, the period when I had that direct access to Integer Nature was the time when I was least prepared to do anything about it.   I didn’t know how to draw.  I made brave efforts using instincts that I still cherish (cherish your instincts always).  I tried to capture the wild thoughts of my experience using my bare hands, a ploy that took me on many a Wild Goose Chase during which, as often as not, the goose got away.

Those visions came from I know not where.  They slipped out of the forest and afterwards escaped back into the forest of thought as suddenly and as mysteriously as they had first appeared.

In contrast now I have all these tools.  I am like the hunter who has three kinds of firearms, a state of the art bow and arrow, a laser-accurate sighting scope, the best camouflage clothing that money can buy,  bird calls, electronic animal calls, a GPS … I got all this stuff.

And I stand here sometimes and wonder, “Where are all the animals?”

Later in the artistic life, you don’t draw the wild.  You draw at the zoo, and the wild animals are in cages.  Of course, I’m speaking metaphorically.  So you spend a lot of time trying to figure out how to let the animals out of the cages — and equally much how to find that habitat where they all used to live — and you want to take your fancy tools — the contour lines, the hatching and cross-hatching, the smooth tonal washes, the textured brush-strokes or the finely managed continuous tones, the color mixing, the knowledge of the medium — all that stuff and use it on these wild thoughts.

And the mixing of the raw and the refined — well, it’s difficult.  As difficult as it was trying to catch those wild things when you were wild too.  Tis merely a different kind of chase.

What barriers stand between me and my wild, native thoughts?  That takes a bit of pondering in itself.  Perhaps one reason that I meditate so often on “beginnings” is that my youth marks that time when my thoughts seem to have been most free — most untamed — and yet they were raw and unfiltered precisely because I didn’t know anything.

Drawing the bunny from life, lessons in spontaneity

We have a cute little bunny in the garden.  I decided that whenever I hear notification that there’s a bunny sighting, I will leap away from whatever I’m doing, grabbing pen and notebook in mid-volt, and draw the little fellow.

Guess what?  He has exactly the same idea!  Everytime I appear at the window he disappears!

I got off maybe six lines up there?  Six lines in 2 seconds.  Poof!  Empty space where a bunny used to be.

Once upon a time I had my OWN bunny.  She was much more cooperative.

The new rabbit is too frisky.  His momma told him always to be frisky in the garden because the gardener doesn’t like little bunnies.  Alas, he always takes his momma’s advice!