Very Orange

I’ve rewritten this post, so though I reblog it’s actually brand new.

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Once you decide it’s going to be orange, there’s just no turning back.

shell inverted shell

Complementary colors are ones that appear especially intense because they contain opposite frequencies of light.  Blue and orange, red and green, yellow and violet are all color opposites. One subject that I portray often in my art — the koi pond — has a natural blue/orange opposition since many of the fish are orange and the water, reflecting the sky, is blue. But the sea shells I collect have strong passages of orange too and placed against a blue cloth they stand out very boldly.

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Exploration of color is one of the principle motives of my artwork. So I try to understand color, making a particular effort to explore different colors and different color combinations. Toward that end I collect objects from different color groups. The orange vase that sits nestled among the objects on my still…

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Thoughts up Close

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When you look at the details of a picture, you see how its illusion is created.  The image above is a detail of one section of the flower bouquet.  It zooms in on the flower patterns of the cloth that’s piled up against the vase of flowers.  From this vantage, much of the expression of three dimensions is lost to sight.  The shadows and the lights appear to exist on the same plane.  In the detail, one realizes how much the third dimension of this particular drawing was created by the motif as a whole since without the whole motif we cannot see distinctions of figure and ground.

These “textile” flowers are as impressionistic as were the “real” flowers in the vase.  Both are abstractions: shapes that appear in masses whose details consist of lines, hatchings and scribbles.  So, for instance I began some of the flowers of the textile’s pattern as rough, smeared shapes…

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drawing the model in life class

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— near the end of the session I made some small sketches. The one above is about 4 inches in height.  I had drawn the head in pastel, larger than life size, on a standard sheet of Canson paper. I had been looking at the pose for most of the three hour session and I could no longer see my drawing.  The drawing was right there. My eyes were working fine.  Glasses, clean. But my brain was “give out” as my relatives used to say so I made some sketches to address the questions that lingered.

I was sitting in front of other artists. To avoid blocking their view I was sitting on the floor and the model on the stand was slightly above me so I saw her head slightly at an angle, slightly foreshortened.

I made the first of the sketches in my pocket calendar. This drawing is about three inches high.

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This smallest of the drawings felt most connected to my large drawing.  It’s rainy today so I’ve just photographed the pastel on the easel in the present light, such as it is. At least the easel communicates some of the scale of the drawing.


I see now that I forgot to take the manufacturer’s sticker off the sheet of paper!

My other little sketches are less structured, yet each one seems to get some little bit of information. After a while I was tired but it was still pleasant to think with the pen.

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Even an inaccurate drawing communicates a bit of mood sometimes.  Ideas sneak in.

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The proper structure of the underside of her jaw was a big question. The other special challenge was getting the left side of her face since in the course of posing it would wax and wane as the model shifted slightly.  She was an amazingly disciplined model. No one can sit perfectly still.  Her left eye wasn’t even visible most of the pose but it appears in my large drawing so perhaps it was visible at the beginning.  I’m not sure …

(Some of the other drawings from the life class are here. And the first ideas for the series, here.)

my super fast flower drawing

quick drawing

I have to leave for the life class soon. But it’s still possible to draw something.  So oil pastel for freedom, small notebook (8 x 10), little bouquet of fake flowers quickly assembled and then “draw fast.”

I love oil pastel’s freedom. So direct: think the thought, make the mark.


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Even as I’m working on koi paintings, I think ahead to new projects.  One of those projects will be flower paintings.

Some years ago I began doing flower bouquets that ranged in size from about 30 x 40 inches to 36 x 48 inches large.  It’s a size in which the flowers can be portrayed life size, and the scene as a whole can have some real punch.  I wonder to myself how an artist can make flowers iconic, and what do flowers mean when one tries to put them into a spotlight like this?  Is it the transcience, the beauty, the delicacy of flowers?   It’s subject that I’ve wanted to come back to, and I’m thinking now’s the time.

And as I prepare to begin this motif again, I see similarities between the koi and the flowers.  How strange is that?  Have I got fish in my eyes? Yet, the formal similarities relate to…

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Enchanted by a Limoges Vase

The vase is key to the painting.

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This Limoges vase occupies center place in a planned floral still life, and it has itself flowers adorning its surface. And I love drawing it. So I’ve drawn it, so far, four times to get well acquainted with its beautiful design and to put it against the main colors of the picture: a light green cloth the color of spring grasses and sky blue for the general background.

I also did a quick preliminary study of the cloth and put this drawing next to the Limoges vase drawing to get a sense of the overall scheme.

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The ideas for this painting develop bit by bit. Most of the ideas are still confined to my head.

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I’ve started another drawing, this one on Strathmore 400 series 18 x 24 paper, where I experiment with the arrangement of flowers. I wonder how many arrangements I’ll do before settling on the bouquet. It’s time consuming because I go flower by flower. Later when there’s a group of them, I have to somehow invent the flowers “behind” the visible flowers and do something about the fall of light and indicate some sense of dimension, of flowers occupying different positions in space.

All that lies ahead.

Reckless Abandon

I’m painting a version


of the current flower painting, reusing a canvas. Recycling the canvas signifies for my brain that I can do absolutely anything to the painting in the most careless way imaginable and nothing really matters. I can take any chances. Of course much of the initial painting consists in covering up what was there before. Until a sufficient amount of the covering is done, it’s hard even to make the present subject come forward.  But even the rude beginning has its charms, not for the spectator perhaps, but definitely for the artist. Places where the old and new paint sit together provide intriguing color juxtapositions. Textures of built up paint are like a moon landscape.

I began with the Limoges vase. Somehow when all is done, the painting is probably going to be “about” the Limoges vase. Flower by flower afterwards, I have been filling the vase to make a bouquet. I need a bouquet, any old bouquet. Until there’s a group of flowers, it’s difficult to see what doesn’t work.  So first I put them in. I can adjust them, tweak, shift them around later. Subsequent versions of the painting lie in the unknowable future. Right now, I just deal with this thick paint, these crude two dimensional flowers and bright glaring colors.


The painting’s surface is so rough from the repainting. The texture reminds me of features that I like from two works I admire, both painted around the same time — by Cezanne and Matisse, respectively. One is the National Gallery of Art’s late Vase of Flowers (c 1900/03) and the other is a large, dark, rough table top still life in the Hermitage (c 1902) by Matisse that I know from books.


Cezanne above, Matisse below.

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Cezanne reworked his flowers so much that the paint mounds in ridges along the contours of the major forms and the color is inky dark.  Matisse, in turn, painted something that to my eyes seems like a magnificent failure. Everything about the painting is so ragged, and yet it has such mystery and gravitas — even delicacy in how its rough paint is scumbled across its darks.

My neon version of flowers with its glaring color is a different world from that of these heroes, but there’s a manic element that is somehow aiming in their direction. A painting holds secrets.  I believe I’m doing one thing, and yet I look at my painting at the session’s conclusion and kind of wonder what’s really going on. Well, that’s what I’ve signed up for. I could control this painting more than I’m doing but I might as well find out where recklessness leads.

It’s strange to talk of yielding control when I make so many little drawings and studies, when I do so much rehearsal and practice. It’s like jazz.  The repetitions allow you to improvise.  And I have discovered weird things through making of this picture, and it’s not done being weird yet.

I steal the flowers from various art historical sources. You can’t really put crocuses into a vase, but this is a painting, a fiction. So it’s got a crocus taken from the garden of the engraving below.

crocus crispijn van de passe

In odd moments I make little sketches.

vase of flowers sketch

Ideally the reckless version of a painting could be produced as freely as the little sketch above. But in reality even a reckless painting is plodding.

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Hours of mooshing paint around has brought me this far.




putting flowers into the dark


I have an idea for some flowers to put in the upper left corner of one version of the bouquet that I’m working on.  These flowers are stolen from Huysum and are turned around sideways for the purpose of my painting. However, I’m not sure how to put the flowers I’m borrowing into the darkness as Huysum has done here.   I have to figure out where the light is coming from, why this side of the bouquet is dark and how to reconcile the dark flowers with a light background behind the bouquet as a whole.

Stuff to figure out.

Meanwhile I’m looking at that leaf Huysum painted. It’s like a map.  It’s extraordinary. You can get lost in just a single leaf.

beginning of an idea

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The idea to draw larger than life size heads in pastel began with a drawing from memory in my notebook. I was impressed by a group of charcoal drawings made by students in a workshop and wondered to myself what it would be like to have color function in a pastel drawing the way that tonality was functioning in their charcoal drawings. I made a sketch from memory of their model based on someone’s drawing and kept the idea tucked away for the proverbial rainy day. Now I’m attending a life class once a week that I devote to my experiment.

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The parallel lines are the rules in a writing journal.  Thus the drawing above is very small. What’s visible above measures about 3 x 5 inches proving that you never know where some small thing will lead.